Saturday, January 10, 2009

Proving (literally) the foolishness of pre-preseason Top 25s

You will be wrong. Very wrong.

If you try to predict the Top 25 for next college football season only a few days after the current one has ended, you will make yourself look inept and foolish.

Yet all the major sports sites have someone do this very thing - year after year after year.

No doubt, people enjoy reading these predictions, which at the end of the day is why, and the others give someone the assignment, but I've never seen someone actually go back to the beginning of the year and calculate just how far off those predictions were.

And that's really the issue, isn't it?

Writers like Mandel consistently trumpet the problems that arise from preseason polls - especially in a sport like college football where there is no playoff to decide the champion.

In fact, Mandel has made bank from a book he wrote on this point (among other topics).

So why then, do these ridiculously early preseason polls exist? Is ESPN really going to suffer if it doesn't get the article reads from Schlabach's annual shot at clairvoyance? Is just trying to keep up with, er, not suck as much as the Jones'?

Whatever it is, it sure sounds a lot like hypocrisy to me.

Thus, in my frustration over seeing material for Aug. 15 written on Jan. 9, I decided to prove just how inept even the "experts" are at ranking teams this early on - an ineptitude that fuels terrible inaccuracy in the actual AP preseason poll.

Let me explain how it works:
(Or you can just skip this and look at the finished product below.)

1. Dig up the January 2008 predictions from Schlabach and Mandel
2. Place their predictions next to the actual Top 25 at season's end
3. Assign an average preseason ranking of 35 to all teams that Manbach didn't put in their polls.
4. Subtract the difference between where teams ended up, and where Schladel ranked them, and then add all the differences together.
5. Now divide your total difference by 25.

What do you get? The number of spots, on average, by which these guys were off in their pre-preseason rankings. For math dudes, call it the standard deviation (SD).

Read it and weep:
(Red numbers signify teams that were unranked by the writers.)
Click images to make larger.

In short, each writer missed at least 10 picks completely, and in the end, both mis-ranked teams by an average of more than 12 spots.

Now that's what I call a worthwhile exercise.

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