(Written by Ken Crawford)
Preseason rankings are a real challenge. If nothing else, it’s all based on opinion since no games have been played. But additionally one has to decide how to rank them. Does one rank them based on how good they think they are right now, i.e. if they were to play every possible team in the first season of the week, you’d expect all teams above them to beat them, and all teams below them to lose to them, or do you rank them where you expect them to land at the end of the season?
There seems to be a movement towards taking the 2nd strategy and I couldn’t disagree more. It creates all the wrong incentives and pre-biases the teams the wrong way. What it all comes down to is schedule. Teams with hard schedules will get ranked lower because the ranker “doesn’t see how they can get through that schedule unscathed” (or something like that). Teams with weak schedules but who by the ranker’s own admission aren’t as good, who have a shot at being undefeated will likely end the season higher ranked based on the benefit of the doubt and their record, they’ll put higher.
The result, since pre-season rankings only affect “seeding”, is that the team who most needs some early season ranking support when the ranking drops after they lose one or more of those tough games, is least likely to get it. The team that is weak and needs to do something to earn it, doesn’t have to because they start at the top.
There’s already far too many powerful incentives to schedule weak. We don’t need another.
Pre-season rankings should be based on how good the team is in the opinion of the ranker as they exit training camp without any biasing towards the ease or difficulty of the schedule. I understand why the pundits want to talk about it, and in concept I’ve got no problem with that, but when they put their rankings down on paper, they need to forget it.