For OSU and other teams, rankings matter later, not now

Brad Fuqua / Corvallis Gazette-Times /

Published Aug 23, 2013 at 05:00AM

The preseason college football polls have all been released and it’s no surprise to see two-time defending national champion Alabama in the top spot.

Oregon State is ranked No. 25 in both The Associated Press and the USA Today polls. Dating back to last season, the Beavers have now been ranked in the AP’s Top 25 for 13 straight weeks and will open the season ranked for the first time since 2010.

Of course, it’s not where you begin the season but where you finish. And OSU hopes to find itself battling among the top teams when the bowls arrive.

Historically, the Beavers have finished a season ranked a dozen times. The high point occurred in 2000 when OSU finished No. 4 in the AP, No. 5 in the coaches poll and No. 6 in the BCS following an 11-1 season and a 41-9 win over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.

OSU’s rankings heyday was in the 1960s with ranked teams five out of seven seasons (1962-68).

In last weekend’s AP poll, the Beavers were included on 29 of the 60 ballots from the voting media.

Who has the most confidence in the Beavers to start the season? Patrick Brown, a Tennessee Volunteers beat writer for the Chattanooga Times, voted OSU in at No. 13 — five spots higher than three others who have the Beavers at No. 18 (sports writers in Massachusetts, Indiana and Nebraska).

Brown shared what he called an honest disclaimer with me that he is not the biggest proponent of having polls before October and that preseason rankings are almost purely conjecture to forecast the future.

With that in mind, he did tell me why he voted the Beavers at No. 13.

“I thought Oregon State had a strong season last year with some nice wins (UCLA, Wisconsin) and three of their four losses were by four (points) or less to solid to good teams,” Brown said. “They return two quarterbacks who were effective last season and an established playmaker at receiver and tailback and have experience up front on the offensive line.”

Brown also mentioned another factor in his thinking — the Beavers’ games against teams from the Pac-12’s other division. OSU will play Southern California at home and also has Colorado and Utah, who were a combined 6-18 last year.

The lone voter from Oregon — Gary Horowitz of the Salem Statesman-Journal — has the Beavers at No. 21.

To me, the preseason football polls don’t mean a whole lot other than being fun to look over to see where your favorite team might be sitting.

One argument in favor of its importance could be that starting the season ranked high might allow a team with one loss to still end up in a BCS game or playing for No. 1. If your team starts out ranked low, a perfect record would likely be the only way to get into that same position.

As for accuracy, well, my colleagues in the sports media have not fared so well when it comes to predicting champions in the AP preseason poll.

Since the start of the BCS era 15 years ago, Florida State’s 1999 team and Southern Cal’s 2004 squad have been the only wire-to-wire No. 1-ranked teams. In recent years, four of the past five teams that were top-ranked in the preseason AP poll finished No. 10 or lower. Last year, preseason No. 1 USC finished 7-6 and unranked.

So, will this year’s Nos. 1 and 2 teams — Alabama and Ohio State — meet for the national title? It hasn’t happened since the 2005 season when that year’s top two preseason teams — No. 1 USC and No. 2 Texas — ended up meeting in the title game.

My own predictions? I am not well-versed enough on all of the teams to crank out a top 25 here for you but I will say this: Alabama won’t win the national championship.

Why? No reason, really, I’m just tired of SEC teams finishing No. 1.

That, and another little factoid from recent history. The SEC has won the past seven national championships, but during that stretch, teams from that conference that started the season at No. 1 did not go on to win the national title. Georgia in 2008, Florida in 2009 and Alabama in 2010 all failed in that quest.

“Someone has to beat the SEC at some point. Why not the Buckeyes?” said Bob Asmussen of the Champaign (Ill.) News-Gazette, one of two media members not to vote Alabama at No. 1, obviously in this case taking Ohio State instead.

“And the schedule is so good,” he added, “other than the final game against Michigan.”

The other non-Alabama ballot was a vote for Georgia by Glenn Guilbeau of Gannett News Services Louisiana.

“I just think it might be their turn,” Guilbeau said. “I think that’s what happens; sometimes it’s just a team’s turn.”

The Tide deserve the No. 1 preseason ranking and should remain on top until another team can beat them. But in the end, I’m ready for a Pac-12 or Big Ten team to hoist the trophy.