Some early thoughts on Texas A&M's inevitable preseason ranking and the big-picture flaw it shows
There’s a decent chance that when the preseason Associated Press Top 25 is released 7 months from now, we’ll be talking about Texas A&M as a top 10 team. Some voters might even get frisky and put the Aggies in their top 6 or 7.
And therein lies a frustrating big-picture issue with college football, especially as it relates to the preseason AP Top 25.
Before I dig into the significance of preseason polls, let me stop you right there. You might have read those first few sentences and thought that I don’t believe in A&M in 2020. You’re probably expecting a rant about how I’m not a Jimbo Fisher fan and that he is still reaping the benefits of an all-world 2013 season.
This, believe it or not, isn’t the point that’s being made here today (but he does have just as many Top 25 wins and overall wins as Mark Stoops the past 3 years).
A&M will open as a top 10 team based on the logic that the Aggies, with that favorable schedule, could win 10 games in 2020. They might.
But for the millionth time, strength of schedule should have nothing to do with preseason rankings. Anticipating a team’s finish in a preseason poll is flawed voter logic. Completely.
In the same way that A&M shouldn’t have been punished with a bad preseason ranking for its daunting schedule entering the 2019 season, the same logic should be applied to the Aggies in 2020. If strength of schedule is mentioned by any voter, that’s dumb. Really dumb.
Mark Schlabach does tremendous work for ESPN, but I can’t stand that this was even mentioned in his ranking of A&M in his way-too-early Top 25:
…With nonconference games against FCS opponent Abilene Christian, North Texas, Colorado and Fresno State, the Aggies might be 6-0 going into an Oct. 17 road game at Auburn. They close the regular season with back-to-back games against Alabama (road) and LSU (home).
End this madness now.
Subconsciously, voters project because they want to look smart at the end of the season. If voters think 2019 A&M or 2018 LSU (that team had a far better roster than voters gave credit for) have daunting schedules that’ll result in 7 wins, to them, it’s justifiable to have them as a fringe Top 25 team regardless of what the previous season and the talent on the returning roster suggests. It’s an ego thing. No voter wants to look bad and have fans say, “wow, I can’t believe you thought A&M was a top 15 team” after the Aggies go 7-5.
But again, that’s dumb.
A preseason ranking should be based on how good a team is when they line up for their season opener. Voters don’t project down the road for any midseason polls, so why do it in the preseason poll?
Oh, and how do we know how good a team is in August? We look at things like the previous season, returning starters and new additions.
While A&M’s top 10 argument is sufficient in the “returning starters” category with 17 expected back, the “previous season” category falls flat. Big time.
In 2019, the Aggies had a 7-5 regular season. All 5 losses came to teams that finished in the top 15 of the AP Poll (Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia and LSU). But unlike the previous year when A&M did things like beat LSU in 7 overtimes and go down to the wire against Clemson, A&M did this against top 15 competition in 2019:
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If you were keeping track at home, A&M in 5 games against top 15 teams in 2019:
- A) Led for 7 minutes and 42 seconds (out of a possible 300)
- B) Never led in the 2nd half
- C) Lost by an average of 17 points
- D) Hit 21 points once
- E) All the above
It’s “E.” It’s always “E.”
Now tell me that team deserves to start in the top 10. It doesn’t.
Yet sadly, you’ll see more writers/voters in preseason polls referencing how A&M could start 9-1 or 10-0 because of its favorable schedule.
If A&M had more moments against elite competition like it did in 2018, I’d be fully in board with the top 10 talk. But even if expected improvement comes with that roster, what suggests that it should start so high? A preseason ranking is not a win projection.
Now you may be thinking to yourself, what do preseason rankings matter? This will all play out on the field, right?
That’s true, but in a sport with an offseason longer than any other, it shapes perception. Go ask athletic directors at programs like Kentucky and Mizzou what preseason rankings mean. It sells tickets. It recruits. It gets more funding from boosters. Those things can absolutely help sell a program.
Now does A&M have an issue in those 3 areas? Nope. The Aggies are going to have 100,000 people show up on fall Saturdays, regardless of where they’re ranked in August. And they’ll be able to pay Fisher’s lucrative contract, too.
The issue is A&M’s drastic year-to-year shift in scheduling shows how flawed the preseason voting logic is. It’s the same logic that allowed 29 of 62 voters to put a 4-win Nebraska team that was No. 93 in percentage of returning production in the preseason AP Top 25 (we must never forget that happened).
It’s funny because in the pre-Playoff era, college football was criticized for not letting the on-field results carry enough weight and that too much subjectivity was involved in the sport. That’s still happening with stuff like this in the preseason poll.
If A&M really is a top 10 team, it should have to earn it by dominating that cakewalk first half schedule to a 6-0 start. Go on the road to Auburn and beat a Top 25 team for the first time since 2014. Do things that top 10 teams do. Do things that can be acknowledged by all voters, and not just the ones with flawed logic.
Until then, though, save me the explanations for why A&M deserves to be a top 10 team the next time it steps on a football field.