Sunday, September 06, 2009

Those Crystal Balls

A quick observation after a Saturday of college football overload...

It took less then one half of football to render almost every pre-season prediction and prognostication virtually meaningless. That's all the time it took for Oklahoma quarterback and Heisman winner Sam Bradford to get hurt, potentially for the season (although most opinions at this point have him back in 2-4 weeks).

But aren't those the same opinions that had OU ranked 3rd in the nation and a likely contender for the national championship? And the same opinions that had Bradford ranked in the top 3 of Heisman contenders, even though not one game had yet been played? Most pre-season guesses are based on what happened the previous season (with obvious justification), but didn't anyone notice that Oklahoma lost almost its entire offensive line? Bradford got hurt because inexperienced lineman couldn't protect him. It's easy to say that OU lost because Bradford got hurt, but even before he left the Sooners were not playing like the 3rd-ranked team in the country.

This just reinforces the pointlessness of preseason predictions, bowl projections, polls and Heisman races. There are simply too many variables (especially injuries) to figure out things with any kind of precision. More unfortunate, the opinions of these 'experts' plays too great a role in determining the national champion because of the BCS formula. (To a lesser extent they also unfairly narrow the field in the Heisman race, as Trent Seltzer and Michael Mitrook recently reported in JSM).

It's one thing to be wrong; it's another to be wrong when it costs some team millions in bowl revenues. Many qualified teams have had trouble overcoming poor pre-season rankings (just ask the 2004 Auburn Tigers, which started the season ranked 17th, went 13-0, and couldn't get in the BCS title game because USC and Oklahoma also finished unbeaten and started the season ranked higher).

So what purpose do these predictions serve? They create interest among an already rabid sports audience and they fill space. For those reasons alone they will likely continue for a long, long time.


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