Ever wonder where Lloyd Carr ranks Michigan when he fills out his ballot for the USA Today coaches’ poll? Or for that matter, how high – or low – any of the 62 head coaches who participate in the poll place their own team?
Thanks to an unprecedented display of forthrightness on the part of these particular pollsters, you no longer have to – at least for a week.
All 62 ballots were published in Monday’s edition of USA Today, the first time the coaches have elected to make their votes public. Not that the coaches made the decision on their own. BCS officials requested that the coaches disclose their voting after the 2004 season, when Texas rode late support in the coaches’ poll to a BCS berth and California was relegated to the Holiday Bowl. Something smelled fishy, and – for once – the BCS took action.
That’s all well and good, but how will publishing the ballots begin to erode the poll’s secrecy if no one bothers to analyze them? That’s where I come in. Even though some of you have no doubt scoured the ballots for proof of conspiracy a la 1997, I’m sure most people on campus are too consumed with finals to follow suit.
So in the grand tradition of Upton Sinclair, I’m going to hold the big boys accountable and see what I can learn about balloting bias along the way.
Let’s start with Michigan. For the record, Carr ranked his team 20th – one spot higher than in the actual poll. But that placement is reasonable, especially when you consider that Carr has Wisconsin at No. 19. The Badgers beat Michigan and finished with a better overall record, so they should be ranked higher than the Wolverines. And none of the teams Carr placed below Michigan – Florida State, Boston College, Clemson, Iowa and South Carolina – can really claim to be much better, even though the Seminoles found their way into a BCS bowl game. As is to be expected, most of the coaches put No. 21 Michigan somewhere between 20th and 22nd, with a handful placing it 19th or 23rd. Six coaches didn’t rank the Wolverines at all, which is fine with me. Maybe I’m still a little frustrated with all the late-game breakdowns, but I’m not sure if Michigan deserves a top-25 ranking either.
And then there’s Indiana’s Terry Hoeppner, Arkansas’s Houston Nutt and Northwestern’s Randy Walker. Using a methodology only they can truly understand, those three coaches ranked the Wolverines 14th, 15th and 16th, respectively. A four-loss team is the 14th-best squad in the nation? Sure, and Max Martin is a lock for the Heisman this year.
I’m guessing Hoeppner and Walker were just a tad influenced by the way Michigan dominated their teams en route to two of its most convincing wins of the season. Their ballots make one thing clear: If a decent team destroys your squad, you’re probably going to inflate its ranking. As for Nutt – his last name seems to say it all.
And then there’s my favorite pollster – Troy State’s Larry Blakeney. First, his ballot reflects a wacky reshuffling of teams that deserve to be in the top-25, such as making Ohio State the No. 9 squad in the nation. And then on top of that, he includes a number of teams that make you scratch your head. In one of several odd moves, he gave Toledo its lone point by voting the Rockets in at No. 25. Blakeney was also one of those eight coaches who didn’t rank Michigan. I might be down on the Wolverines, but I still think they’re better than the second-best MAC team (no disrespect to Toledo).
And I guess Blakeney’s placement of Nebraska at No. 24 indicates that his money is on the Cornhuskers come Dec. 28. His ranking exemplifies an additional norm of balloting: If you don’t coach in one of the BCS conferences, you have permission to make your ballot a little off-the-wall.
So what has this examination of balloting practices taught us? Blakeney’s singular pursuit of originality aside, most of the coaches’ polls looked pretty similar, and most of them refrain from ranking their team 10 spots higher than it deserves to be. In almost every case, I doubt the conspiracy theories were true. More than likely, Texas rose in the rankings last year because it deserved to, not because there was a widespread conspiracy against California.
Now that the coaches’ ballots have been made public, the knowledge that their voting practices could be disclosed at any time is probably a good safeguard against any coach participating in corrupt behavior in the future.
Too bad Phil Fulmer wasn’t held accountable in 1997.
– Stephanie Wright thinks Texas coach Mack Brown should have ranked his Longhorns ahead of Southern Cal. Stand up for your boys, Mack. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.