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Polls schmolls

Polls voters: Are you not ENTERTAINED?
Polls voters: Are you not ENTERTAINED?

So the Mrs. WBE and yours truly have a new friend in Arizona, and he asked me last week if Auburn had made the top 25 yet. (He doesn’t follow college football very closely, but being Canadian, he’s excused.) I said no, but that if they won against West Virginia, they’d sneak into the bottom of the poll. I didn’t think twice about it–they’d be a 3-0 SEC team with some level of reputation and both a league victory and a big non-conference win. I’d never expect to go from unranked into the top 15 or anything, but since when have teams with that profile not shown up somewhere?

Since this week, apparently, as you’ve no doubt noticed by now. Auburn wasn’t even all that close to the poll, in fact: No. “28” in the AP, No. “29” in the coaches. My first reaction was the same, I’m sure, as yours: Say whaaaaa?

But after a few moments of reflection, I realized that 1. the omission is perfectly understandable 2. it doesn’t matter all that much.

Taking the reasons behind conclusion No. 1 first:

These are poll voters we’re talking about here. Catching them up to speed on current events in college football has always been and will always be like herding a particularly slow-witted breed of cattle. You probably noticed where Florida St. went to BYU this weekend and tore the Cougars to itty-bitty Cougar-colored shreds, but the “coaches” (or whoever’s voting for them) sure didn’t: BYU’s still hanging in there at No. 20 while the ‘Noles lurk down at No. 25. (FSU’s lone loss, for the record, was on a dropped last-second touchdown pass to Miami, only the hottest team in the country at the moment.) The AP has almost corrected for the fact that Houston has both a better record than Oklahoma St. and beat the Pokes on the Pokes’ home field–the Cougars are only one slot back. But the “coaches”? Houston No. 23, Oklahoma St. 16.

So, yeah, expecting the preseason consensus on Auburn to be tossed aside so quickly by a group of people with the collective mental processing speed of Ents on valium was always going to be wishful thinking. We’ll just have to be patient.

We can be honest about this: there’s a lot of teams that have a claim. I expected to go through the poll and find half-a-dozen teams that Auburn deserved to have more votes than … but, eh, there’s not really that many.

One of them is Nebraska; the Huskers made a valiant effort against Va. Tech in Blacksburg Saturday, but still, their only two pelts on the wall are Florida Atlantic and Arkansas St. Georgia Tech already looked wobbly at home against Clemson before getting their doors blown off by the ‘Canes–why they’re still getting votes (other than that they were ranked preseason, of course), I’m not sure.

But other than those two examples, every other team in contention for those last few spots has some kind of argument to make. Washington has that huge win and a close loss to a top-10 team. North Carolina has a road win over a quality Big East team. Kansas is 3-0 and didn’t suck last year. Missouri crushed Illinois on a neutral field. Georgia has two SEC wins over quality competition. Florida St., see above. Etc.

If Aubun hadn’t gone 5-7 last year, we could expect them to get the benefit of the doubt amongst this kind of pool of candidates. (As they did last year, when–you’ll recall–they stayed ranked even after losing at Vandy.) But since they did, this is the way it goes.

West Virginia is underrated, too. You kind of have to forgive voters for not expecting much from the ‘Eers, who lost the last cogs of the RichRod machinery (save Devine) and the face of the program in Pat White, and replaced them with a quarterback who no one had ever seen play and the less-than-reassuring visage of Coach Stew. They were barely drawing votes even before coming to Auburn.

This’ll change once WVU starts racking up the victories (with Grothe out at USF, a home date against UConn looks like the only real hurdle between the ‘Eers and a 7-1 record heading into their meeting with Cincy Nov. 13), but for now,  a win over this set of ‘Eers doesn’t count as much as it probably should.

So we can see why it’s going to be at least another week and possibly longer for Auburn to get the respect from the polls we feel they deserve. The good news is that in the meantime we can take a deep breath and remember: It doesn’t matter.

This isn’t 2004. Auburn’s not in contention for any kind of BCS attention and remains very, very unlikely to need the polls for any kind of divisional tiebreaker. (You’ve seen our defense, right?) The polls won’t change what bowl Auburn (probably) goes to, shouldn’t change anything about Auburn’s recruiting efforts, likely won’t even change Auburn’s TV assignments. Getting ranked is worth maybe a brief highlight or two extra in ESPN’s end-of-the-night wrap-ups, and that’s about it for practical benefits.

I know there’s also the nice feeling of seeing our team’s good work recognized, and that’s not an insignificant feeling for the many of us who have fallen head over heels for this Auburn team. But even that’s still just a kind of temporary buzz at best, and missing it’s not worth getting worked up over.

This is the first post of the season devoted solely to griping about the polls; I can promise you now, whether Auburn hits the top 25 in due time or not, it’s also going to be the last.

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