Every Monday afternoon this season, I'll be looking at college football polls to check for anything that looks amiss, or otherwise looks interesting. I'll start with the AP preseason college football poll. I scraped data from every voter in the AP poll listed on the AP's website and looked through them for some interesting patterns or, namely, curious ballots. You can download the raw data here in *.csv format.
Knowing well that preseason college football ballots are mere guesswork in the broad scheme of things, here are some interesting items from the AP ballots I gathered and what they may mean for conversations about the college football season that starts this week.
Are Auburn and Baylor Legit?
Auburn (no. 6) and Baylor (no. 10) are both preseason top ten teams in the AP. Auburn ranks as high as no. 2 (Adam Sparks' ballot) and as low as no. 13 (Jon Wilner). Baylor ranks as high as no. 4 (Eric Hansen) and as low as no. 15 (Chadd Cripe). The range (the appropriate measure of spread for ordinal variables) is unexceptional compared to other teams for which there is disagreement in the AP (e.g. Ohio State). However, I wonder if their position in the preseason ballot squares at all with what we can expect to see near the season's end.
To Auburn's credit, the Tigers went from unranked and receiving no votes in the AP preseason ballot last season to being on the doorstep of an improbable national championship season. However, "improbable" is the key word. Auburn won close games befitting an SEC champion, but, let's be frank, the wins against Georgia and Alabama are ultimately colossal (if entertaining) flukes.
Auburn returns the starting quarterback but loses the Heisman candidate tailback and starting left tackle. The games at Georgia, Alabama, and Ole Miss may be bigger issues than the issue of attrition.
Meanwhile, despite Baylor's range in the AP preseason poll, there is some agreement on Baylor as a fringe top-ten team. Baylor's standard deviation (assuming an interval-level measurement for the moment) is much smaller than other teams like Auburn, Michigan State, Ohio State, and UCLA. My question is why we keep entertaining Baylor. Baylor hasn't beat a top-25 team on the road in more than a decade (ed. I stopped looking after 2004).
Further, these losses tend to be total defensive implosions as well. Baylor's defense conceded 49 points (Oklahoma State, 2013), 42 points (Oklahoma, 2012), and 56 points (Texas, 2012) in its last three road losses against top-25 competition. Baylor has other attributes of a good team, but not a great team. It also travels to Austin and Norman this year.
Buy or Sell Georgia?
Georgia is the preseason no. 12 team and the highest ranked team to not appear in the top-25 in some ballots. Chadd Cripe and Logan Lowery left Georgia off their ballots. Meanwhile, Scott Wolf puts the Bulldogs as high as no. 4.
Georgia is a puzzling team to rank. In 2012, it was a goal-line play removed from contending for an SEC championship and berth in the national championship game. In 2013, just about everything went wrong en route to an 8-5 season.
Whatever optimism people may have about Georgia hinges on the ability to replace Aaron Murray. On short notice in 2013 after his career ended with an ACL injury, Georgia stumbled. The hope is Georgia found a suitable replacement while managing the loss of three starters on the offensive line.
We'll find out whether Georgia is a buy or sell after the first week. The Bulldogs host no. 16 Clemson in its season-opener. Its next game, after a quick by in Week 2, is at no. 9 South Carolina.
Why Doesn't Marshall Have More Votes?
Ask Phil Steele about Marshall and he'll likely rave about the Thundering Herd. He has them projected into the Orange Bowl against Auburn, just missing the four-team playoff. Picking Marshall as an undefeated team is quite trendy.
So, why don't the Herd have more votes? The quick answer draws attention to Marshall's schedule, which has non-conference games at Miami of Ohio, Rhode Island, Ohio, at Akron, and at Old Dominion. Their schedule is weak to put it lightly. It hosts Rice (which waxed Marshall in the Conference USA championship game last season) and loses East Carolina to the American Athletics Conference.
Marshall is 32nd on points in the AP poll. The Herd appear as high as no. 15 in one poll (Jon Wilner). Donald Heath puts Marshall at no. 19.
The AP Poll is an amalgamation of several individual ballots. Some ballots conform quite well to the poll writ large. Bill Rabinowitz's ballot correlates well with the AP poll, minus his inclusion of Mississippi State at no. 25. Same can be said for Ferd Lewis save for his no. 25 vote for Texas. Jay Binkley and Tommy Deas differ very little from the AP Preseason Poll released last week.
Still, there are some ballots that are quite bizarre, prima facie, and can be highlighted here. Drew Sharp was the lone no. 1 vote for Alabama in the AP. He also puts Florida State at no. 3, Ohio State at no. 11, Michigan State at no. 16, Arizona State at no. 13, and even gave a no. 20 selection to Texas Christian.
Jon Wilner's ballot stops making sense after the first five or so spots. Wilner is one of three no. 2 votes for Ohio State, puts Wisconsin at no. 5, South Carolina at no. 18, Marshall at no. 15, and Oregon State at no. 19.
Others Receiving Votes
Michigan's highest spot in an individual ballot was no. 17 (Seth Emerson).
Doug Doughty voted Iowa at no. 14. Logan Lowery voted Louisville no. 15.