By Hugh Falk, Pollspeak.com
Pollspeak's Christmas comes early every year, and Monday the 7th was this year's Christmas Day. When I woke up, I was treated to 233 presents...233 shiny new ballots from the AP, Coaches' and Harris Interactive Polls. OK, I've peeked at the AP "presents" all year, but it's great to finally open the gifts from Harris Interactive and the Coaches. Of course, we'll never know how closely the current ballots resemble those of the previous weeks. Someday, if there really is a Santa Claus, we'll get to see every ballot made public.
Until then, let me share some of my best presents with you...
Oh, first, I want to wish a Merry Christmas and hearty congratulations to the Central Michigan Chippewas who earned their first EVER AP ranking last week, checking in at No. 25. They just missed out with the Grinch-like Coaches and Harris voters who ranked them No. 26. However, they are listed as high as No. 18 by Wolfe's ratings.
Now on to those presents...
You can see the ballot summaries for each poll here:
Some of my favorite ballots are:
Scott Wolf in the AP. With 13 extreme votes and 2 near-extremes, it makes me wish we used green instead of yellow for highlighting. Then this truly would be the most festive holiday ballot. No voter in any poll has as many. I'm not saying he's a bad voter...just unique...and certainly very jolly.
Ray Fittipaldo in the AP is Saint Nick and Scrooge rolled into one. He is Saint Nick because he gave 7-5 Oklahoma their only vote (No. 19). Merry Christmas! He is Scrooge because he is the only AP voter not to rank 9-3 Miami, who beat the Sooners. Bah! Humbug!
In the Harris Interactive Poll, three voters ranked TCU No. 1: Akbar Gbaja-Biamila, Bob Wagner, and Rondo Fehlberg. These three all have some ties to a Mountain West school. Gbaja-Biamila is a San Diego State alum; Fehlberg is a BYU man, and Wagner is a former TCU defensive coordinator. However, there is nothing wrong with this (according to Harris Interactive, at least). While the AP doesn't allow voter "homerism" or any formal association with the schools, Harris Interactive goes out of its way to collect homers. Harris Interactive lets the conferences propose voters and then selects from the list. At least they make sure each conference (even the smaller ones) has the same number of homers; so it should all balance out. Of course, these things are hard to predict. For example, Wagner is more famous for his ties to Hawaii; so he could have just as easily voted fellow WAC team Boise State higher. Try predicting why Fran Curci (of Miami and Kentucky fame) would give 7-5 Tennessee their only vote ...at No. 19.
Long time North Carolina Journalist, Larry Keech was definitely in the giving mood. He gave Troy, Middle Tennessee and Temple their highest (and typically only) vote. He also gave Central Michigan their highest vote at No. 13. Of course, he who giveth can also taketh away...and in Keech's case, it was at the expense of PAC-10 teams, Oregon State and Stanford.
In the Coaches' Poll, it is much easier to identify homerism since current school employees can help decide if they or their peers get bonuses or if their conferences get a boost in TV revenue, bowl money, etc. Sometimes they may just want to send a message of respect (or disrespect) to their opponents. Unlike Harris Interactive, though, the Coaches' Poll doesn't ensure that all conferences are treated equally.
Look at ballots like: DeWayne Walker of New Mexico State, who gave conference-mate Nevada their only vote and Boise State one of its highest. He also has Oklahoma State highest (where he coached), USC nearly highest (where he coached) and BYU nearly lowest (where he coached). I'll let you guess if there are any connections there...or with the other five extreme choices he made. Of course, it is possible his votes aren't reflections on his personal relationships and resume.
Meanwhile, Washington State's Paul Wulff, might be a little more transparent, voting fellow PAC-10 teams Oregon, Arizona and USC highest of the coaches. Can you blame him? Wouldn't you do the same given no direction from the poll about bias, and having the most direct experience with other PAC-10 teams? After all, the Cougars did lose to every single PAC-10 school.
One vote that seems to be completely unbiased and maybe a bit controversial is Air Force coach Troy Calhoun's lone vote for Florida at No. 2.
Former Florida assistant and current Mississippi State Coach, Dan Mullen, has Florida next highest at No. 3 and another former school, Utah, highest at No. 16. Meanwhile he treats fellow SEC teams well, ranking ‘Ole Miss and LSU highest.
Recently fired Louisiana-Monroe coach, Charlie Weatherbie seems to be taking his frustration out by voting for the underdogs. He gives Texas their lowest ranking at No. 4, Troy one of their two votes, Northwestern their highest at No. 16, West Virginia their highest at No. 11, and Georgia Tech their highest at No. 7. Why the Yellow Jackets? Maybe because Tech's Paul Johnson was Weatherbie's offensive coordinator at Navy for a couple of years. Weatherbie was also the only coach not to rank LSU. There could be some in-state rivalry frustration on that call, but he did need to make room for Troy.
With coaching legend Bobby Bowden retiring this year, I'd like to point out some of his generosity this holiday and football season. He voted long-time wins-record rival Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions highest at No. 8, Clemson (who fired his son Tommy) highest at No. 22, former FSU offensive coordinator Mark Richt's Bulldogs highest (their only vote) at No. 25, and former rival and defensive coordinator at Florida, Bob Stoops' Sooners, second highest at No. 24. (The only coach ranking Oklahoma higher is Bob Stoops himself.) Coach Bowden, I think I speak for all college football fans (except maybe Oklahoma State and Pittsburgh fans, whom you left unranked) when I say we will truly miss you.
It is fortunate for poll voters that Texas kicked that last-second, game-winning field goal against Nebraska, or the rankings would have devolved into a free-for all. There would have been far more people with an agenda trying to get Cincinnati, TCU or Boise State into the BCS Championship. Who knows how many Texas and Florida sympathizers would have voted their teams No. 2 in hopes of getting their one-loss team into the big game. So we can all thank Texas kicker, Hunter Lawrence, for peace in the polls and good will towards voters this holiday season.
I haven't gotten through all of my presents yet. 233 are just too many to handle at once. So I've put them in Pollstalker to share with all of you, and I encourage you to take a look and separate the lumps of coal from the Red Ryder carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifles. Feel free to leave comments or drop me a line about who you think has been particularly naughty or nice this year.