Weekend Whimsy: Airbrushing the Irish as a ‘Top 10’ program
Is it the beginning or the end? There isn’t much clarity in preseason rankings, because most are labeled improperly. Focus on the numbers and complete order, and you may be able to read into the thoughts of those providing the source. But honestly, these premature publications should fall under two separate categories, instead of being bunched beneath a single heading.
When I see a numerical order of college football programs, the initial thought is of power, listing them on a twenty five step ladder that descends from strongest to weakest. This is a ranking system, as seen week by week in the NFL and NBA. But not all preseason magazines are providing a power based list for college football. In fact, I would say it’s very few. The majority offers a projected order of finish, which consists of factors outside of rosters and coaching to draw their conclusions. There is a capacious difference between a ranking and a projection, yet they are marketed as one in the same.
Phil Steele is a perfect example of misinterpretation. His preseason publication continues to be one of the most popular, and his top 25 the most head scratching. The newest edition has the Notre Dame Fighting Irish appearing in the seventh position of a list titled “The Top 40”. This is only a power ranking if you’re speculating that the 2009 Domers would defeat 111 opponents on a neutral field. And obviously, this isn’t the case. But if you factor in the diluted Notre Dame schedule and the probability of finishing with no more than one loss, you can easily see this as a projection. The Irish may not be the seventh most powerful team in the country, but they possess a schedule that may inevitably earn them a top seven finish in the end of season polls, and a BCS bowl birth.
The mere sight of the Irish appearing at No. 7 will spark debate and tag Steele as a crackpot. But he isn’t referencing Notre Dame as a top 10 program (at least, I hope not), as much as he’s referencing the weakness of upcoming opponents to find proper placement. This is further evidenced with the complete omission of Oregon among his 40 listed programs, yet UCLA appears in the top 25, and Arizona is No. 40. If you look at the Ducks’ schedule, half their opponents may be nationally ranked, increasing the odds for losses and a poll finish lower than both the Bruins and Wildcats.
I’d love for Notre Dame to be a top 10 program, even if it comes airbrushed, because in this world of subjective opinion, USC could use all the poll points they can get.