I looked at the story of Auburn 2004 myself last month (more from a scheduling perspective) and came to a similar conclusion but with one key difference: Auburn’s problems started long before the preseason polls. I believe that the mess left after the 2003 BCS established default 2004 contenders from the second that the final whistle blew. The 2004 preseason polls were just the culmination of the controversy and eight months of debate.
We see a similar thing already happening this season. Even before any official preseason polls have been released, those who help to guide the discussion are already setting the table for a Southern Cal – LSU national title game. It’s theirs to lose.
I don’t disagree with the merit and logic of delaying official polls. It’s clear that "name" programs get the benefit of the doubt. I do think though that delaying polls runs contrary to the nature of a football fan. We are constantly measuring ourselves against our rivals and opponents in everything from recruiting to scheduling. Many of the preseason polls included in Stassen’s analysis do nothing but drive magazine sales. If an Auburn fan can hold something over the head of an Alabama fan, it doesn’t matter how premature, inaccurate, or trivial the poll is. Mascots? Been there. Stadiums? Done that. Coaches? Finebaum stirs that pot every summer.
Will that change if official polls are delayed? I don’t think so. Fans will still support the preseason magazine industry, and the rankings are the core of that business. I even suspect that the official polls themselves wouldn’t change much. Why? Because, as the Senator reminds us, people who vote in polls are lazy. How true that is. What that means in terms of releasing polls later in the season is that the pollsters will "cheat". The groupthink would be established over the summer by the pundits and the magazines, and no observer of the game can remain untainted. Why take the time to pour over a month of football when Phil Steele has done all of the work for you? Take the preseason consensus, adjust for the losses over the first month of the season, and you’re done. For that reason, I don’t expect that any poll released for the first time in October would be much different than the polls we already see in the fifth and sixth week of the season.
While the flaw the Senator points out is very real, I’m not so sure that delaying polls would provide any real changes.