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Doug Robinson: Polls crazy thanks to even teams, spread offenses

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 30 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Here we go again. The college football polls are a jumbled, nonsensical guessing game.

The voters are clueless, and nobody can blame them. Their job is impossible.

Just four weeks into the season, only three members of the preseason top 10 — Florida, Alabama and Texas — are unbeaten.

Nine teams ranked in the top 10 have a loss.

And — surprise! — BCS teams are getting a mulligan.

Oklahoma, which fell from No. 3 to No. 13 after a season-opening loss to No. 20 BYU, is already back in the top 10, checking in at No. 8 — 12 spots ahead of BYU.

USC, which fell from No. 3 to No. 12 after losing to unranked Washington, has already rebounded to No. 7.

When it comes to BCS teams, it's forgive and forget.

Oregon has returned to its preseason ranking of No. 16 after losing its opener to Boise State.

Then again, BYU, once ranked as high as No. 7 before losing to Florida State, is back to No. 20, where it started the season.

Let's face it: Ranking teams is much more difficult than it once was. The top 10 or 20 used to be a constant reshuffling of the same teams — Nebraska, Ohio State, Texas, Penn State, USC, Michigan, etc., etc. — but not anymore.

Voters would do just as well to throw a dart at a list of teams to determine the weekly rankings than whatever it is they're doing now.

The parity created by scholarship limits — which prevented powerhouses from stocking up on talent and depth — affected the game, of course. But now the popularity of the spread offense has further leveled the playing field. The spread offense has done what the passing game did for BYU in the mid '80s — it has enabled the have-nots to compete with the haves.

The traditional powers, loaded with big blue-chip players, once could simply overpower teams. Then along came the passing game that enabled teams to win with finesse. The spread offense has taken finesse to a new level. By spreading the field, it has created a need for speedier, smaller players on both sides of the ball to cover more of the field. It allows finesse teams to run the ball as well as throw it.

It has turned the game on its ear.

In recent years, we've seen Appalachian State beating Michigan. We've seen Boise State beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. We've seen Utah beat Pitt in the Fiesta Bowl and Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. We've seen BYU knock off Oklahoma. We saw South Florida beat Florida State the week after the latter's lopsided win over BYU. And it goes on and on.

The BCS is doing its best to maintain the status quo, but it's losing ground. This year it's TCU and Boise State that seem bound to gum up the BCS system.

The spread offense has contributed to the frequent upsets and the unpredictability of college football. It has made a joke of trying to rank teams. More than ever, it's simply too difficult to evaluate the merits of one team against another.

Maybe this wouldn't matter if so much weren't riding on the rankings. The rankings are what determines the BCS bowl matchups and the national champion. It's how so many deserving non-BCS teams are excluded from the BCS bowls.

If it is increasingly difficult to rank the top 10 teams with any reasonable accuracy, the BCS system becomes all the more absurd.

In other words, it all leads to the same old argument: College football needs a playoff system, now more than ever.

This season is no aberration. During the 2007 season, half of the top 10-ranked teams lost in Week 5; four of the top 10 teams lost in Week 6; the top two teams lost in Week 7. That was pretty much the way the entire season went. Ten teams ranked No. 1 or 2 lost that season.

In 2008, six teams ascended to the No. 1 ranking before Florida finally fell into the spot in the end. The final top 10 poll consisted of one unbeaten team (Utah), three teams with one loss, four teams with two losses and two teams with three losses. Four non-BCS teams were ranked in the top 12.

The spread offense is the best thing to happen to college football in years — and the worst thing that could happen to the BCS.

e-mail: drob@desnews.com

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