DURHAM, N.C. – You may think preseason polls are meaningless. If so, you’re mistaken.
Ten of the last 12 national football champions – the latest being Alabama – began the season as top 10 teams.
Notre Dame was trying — or were the Irish really trying Monday night? — to become the first unranked team to win a national title in the BCS era.
So being ranked, and being ranked in the top 10, before the season begins is a big deal.
Let’s start with the obvious: it means you’re a really good team. Even us ink-stained hacks can tell you who the elite players and teams are.
But it also allows for a greater margin of error. A preseason top 10 team can lose a game and still play for a national championship. An unranked team cannot.
That’s why it was a big deal for Clemson to finish in the top 10 of a poll on Monday (No. 9 USA Today, No. 11 AP) for the first time since 1990.
Clemson has a great chance to begin as a top 10 team next season.
Clemson ends the season in the top 10 and returns the majority of its roster. Moreover, according to oddsmakers at Bovada.com, Clemson is tied with Notre Dame and Louisville with the eighth best odds (22-to-1) at winning the 2013 national championship.
And Clemson will also play a national championship caliber schedule. Three of Clemson’s 2013 opponents – Georgia, Florida State and South Carolina – all finished in the top 10 of polls.
South Carolina has finished in the top 10 of the polls in consecutive years.
As long as polls play a role in determining who plays in a national title game or playoff, preseason polls will matter.
Polls also matter in recruiting, they matter in the perception of a program. They in part determine who plays in national spotlight games, etc.
As New York Times columnist David Brooks noted of political polls, polls are simply ‘snapshots in time.’ They are snapshots of public opinion, measures of a candidate or program.
But they are also historical markers and barometers. They show you were a program is going.
Never in the 70+ years of college football polls have South Carolina and Clemson finished a season both ranked in the top 10 of a poll. Polls have their limits but they also tell stories and set narratives.
Both programs are rising. The rivalry is rising. And perhaps it will reach a new peak in 2013.