Ohio State Football: Preseason Ranking Exciting, Irrelevant

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 31: Running back Mike Weber
GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 31: Running back Mike Weber /

Four weeks from football, the anticipation for teams across the nation to take the field starts to mount.

Fans must satisfy their football needs by clinging to anything they can get. Enter the preseason Top 25 poll.

The validity of preseason polls has been debated often. Do the irrelevant rankings unfairly benefit teams who have yet to take the field by setting certain expectations?

College football tried to rid some of this by delaying the start of the College Football Playoff poll until November. The hope for this was that on the field performance would trump brand name and hype.

Preseason Excitement

However, sporting news sources still lit up yesterday at the release of the first Amway Coaches Poll and with good reason. Fans, players, coaches, and pundits are all ready to get this season rolling. The first preseason poll signals the transition from the off-season that harkens back more to the 2016 season and the true beginning of 2017.

For Ohio State, this moment is a relief of sorts. All off-season news immediately tied back to the embarrassing Fiesta Bowl loss. New hirings were immediately linked to that great failure.

Fans and media analyzed spring camp for changes in the offense that bottomed out on New Year’s Eve. Every time JT Barrett’s name came up was with a twinge of doubt.

Now with a number two tied to Ohio State’s name until August 31st, all eyes shift forward. Fall camp does not tie back to the Clemson loss but rather a slew of wins to come.

Kevin Wilson can implement his new system, and Barrett can focus on developing chemistry with receivers instead of answering questions about last year’s group. This is why the preseason poll excites.

Not So Fast

The excitement should not distract from the flaws of the poll, though. The preseason edition essentially lists off the brand names programs around the country with a little insight into expectation.

Ohio State with Urban Meyer at the helm is a shoe-in for a high ranking, like many other premier programs. The preseason poll accurately evaluates the talent on a team, but talent does not perfectly translate to on-field success.

The recent past teaches us some lessons about the fickle nature of the preseason rankings. Last year’s Buckeye team started out ranked sixth in the Coaches Poll last year despite losing twelve players to the NFL draft. The losses decimated  the secondary along with the receiving corps and offensive line.

Pollsters leaned on Urban Meyer’s coaching acumen and deep recruiting stables as clues to how the team would do. But no one could say for certain.

The Buckeyes responded with an early route of Oklahoma that proved they deserved the lofty ranking. However, no one could have predicted the breakout success of Marshon Lattimore and Malik Hooker, at least not to the degree of dominance demonstrated on the field.

While the voters hit on Ohio State, other evaluations of teams in the preseason rankings showed that it is mostly luck and guess-work. Midwestern stalwarts Notre Dame and Michigan State started out ranked nine and eleven respectively. Texas and Michigan State exposed Notre Dame within three weeks, and the Irish fell out of the polls for good.

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Michigan State kept up their charade with the win over Notre Dame and moved up to the eighth spot. Moving forward, the Spartans crashed into one of their worst seasons in recent history. They only won once more against an even worse Rutgers team and finished 3-9.

While Michigan State bottomed out in the Big Ten, two conference mates rose above their lack of expectations. Nebraska did not enter the rankings until week four but rose as high as seven during a 9-4 campaign.

More surprising was a Penn State that did not appear on the radar until week eight. Their arrival coincided with an upset win over the Buckeyes. That launched a steady rise through the poll on the way to winning the conference.

At the end of the day, the Coaches Poll provides a conversation piece and not much more. Buckeye fans can be excited by the team’s lofty expectations as they gear up to an actual kick-off. But teams on the other end of the spectrum can lament the voters for snubbing them and prepare to shock the world.

Next: Season depends on stopping these four players

Either way, all can be excited because it will be settled on the field in just four weeks.