The college football preseason AP Poll has devolved to unanimous laziness.
The preseason 2015 College Football Associated Press (AP) Poll was released on Sunday, August 23, 2015. It should come as little surprise that Ohio State is #1, receiving all 61 first place votes. The predictability of that unanimous choice comes from the fact that these AP voters have behaved in predictable ways the last seven seasons, and we are in the college football prediction business. These pollsters annually fail to change their “methods” for predicting college football champions, despite good evidence to suggest they should.
AP College Football Polling in the Past
Since the (final) college football AP Poll began in 1936 (spanning 80 college football seasons), a repeat (AP Poll) national champion occurred 10 times- once out of every eight seasons (12.5%). The AP has conducted a preseason college football poll every year since 1950. From 1950 to 2008, the first 59 preseason polls, the AP voters chose the previous year’s national champion as the next national champion 16 times (27.12%). They were right to do so (meaning their pick was, indeed, the national champion) for three of those preseason polls (18.75%). From 1970 to 2008 (39 seasons), the AP pollsters picked a champion to repeat just seven times (17.95%), and they were correct in two of those instances (28.57%). It appeared that AP voters were getting wiser.
A New Era of Laziness within the Age of Information
We truly are living in the Information Age where obtaining all kinds of data on college football teams is easier than ever. There are new college football websites, television networks, and news feeds cropping up every year. We can read players, coaches, and beat writers’ Tweets the moment they are sent. Spring games are often televised and then archived on YouTube for anyone to search and research. We have access to a handful of reality television shows that expose the inner workings of a (growing) handful of college football programs. The excuses for being ill-informed are now inexcusable. Given the ubiquity of college football information, one might expect college football journalists to have increased their predictive power. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. Since 2009, the most recent group of AP voters has chosen the previous season’s national champion to be the next national champion for five of the last seven seasons (71.53%). In that span, they have been correct exactly no times (0%).
What is going on here? Are these AP pollsters the unluckiest group since the AP Poll’s inception, or are their methods for predicting future national champions terribly flawed? There is already some stir generated by Ohio State being the first unanimous #1 in preseason AP Poll history. Do not be fooled. The lemming-like behavior of this group of pollsters had all (but three) voted Florida State #1 last season (when Ohio State won); all but two voted Alabama #1 in 2013 (when Florida State won); all but six voted Alabama #1 in 2010 (when Auburn won); and all but two voted Florida #1 in 2009 (when Alabama won). On a tangential point, in 2013, after Alabama became the last repeat national champion, despite the fact that no team in the history of the AP Poll ever won a national championship three years in a row, 58 out of 60 (96.67%) AP voters were convinced Alabama would be the first. The unanimity of this season’s predicted national champion, coupled with the failed methods used by this group of pollsters to predict a national champion, bode well for any team but Ohio State to win it all in 2015-2016.