The AP poll isn’t directly part of the national title picture anymore unless you consider that it might be a crib sheet for lazy voters in the coaches and Harris polls. We are able to see how individual members of the media voted, and it’s useful that some AP voters take the time to walk us through their ballot.
This isn’t about anyone’s placement of Georgia. I agree with Doug when he basically says look – there are several really good teams all with a reasonable claim to the top spot at this moment. Putting Georgia first, third, sixth, whatever is the voter’s prerogative at this point, and I won’t argue. You might think that I’m going to rake Jon Wilner over the coals for naming Florida #1 and dropping Georgia to #6. I’m not. I credit him for being open and even going back after the fact to look at his preseason rankings.
Wilner’s just a convenient example of a common approach to handicapping the Dawgs in 2008. "The Dawgs are the most talented team in the country," he begins, but oh, the schedule. So instead of ranking "the most talented team" at the top, he anticipates a few losses and starts Georgia out at #6.
The problem is that this approach to the poll changes during the season. Instead of remaining predictive, it becomes reactive. Ranked teams that lose fall in the polls. That’s the way it works. If, and it’s an if, Georgia loses, they’ll fall in the polls. Fine. But those using Wilner’s approach will ding Georgia twice – first in the initial poll and then again when the loss comes.
Georgia has a tough schedule, yes. Just how tough might be overstated a bit (seriously – by now it sounds as if in addition to eight SEC games Georgia’s playing the NFC East, the Redeem Team, and Michael Phelps). If that’s the case, it’ll play itself out during the season. Georgia will either win, or they’ll drop a few of these tough games and fall in the polls. If, as I do, you look at preseason polls as pole position for a race, dropping Georgia in the first poll because of a tough schedule makes about as much sense as moving a race’s top qualifier a few rows back because the race features an especially strong field.
Wilner’s reasoning should be of concern to those who want to see better and more interesting interconference games. The signal being sent is that it’s more important to navigate a manageable schedule than it is to be a good team that schedules ambitiously. Fortunately, as the first poll indicates, not too many voters feel that way.