BamaInsider - HURT: Preseason polls dont matter
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HURT: Preseason polls dont matter

Nick Saban mentioned on Friday that making pre-season prognostications about the eventual results for a college football team were like "going to the fortune teller." Personally, I had gone to the fortune teller earlier that day and she told me that the first day of practice probably wasn't the best time to point out to Saban that (for this year at least) he voted in a pre-season poll and I didn't.
Saban is one of six Southeastern Conference coaches voting in the USA Today poll every week. (Call me crazy, but I would love to see Les Miles' weekly ballot.) I voted in the Associated Press poll last season, but because the state of Alabama has just two AP votes, it rotates among the news outlets that regularly cover college football, so I probably won't vote again for five or six more years. And, all kidding aside, I do understand the difference in my perspective on pre-season polls and Saban's, which he shares with a lot of other college coaches.
To me, preseason polls are simply fun, a conversation starter and nothing else. Some people argue that pre-season polls can skew the perception of certain teams and give them an easier path to the national championship game because other teams have to "work their way up" to make it. The classic argument for that paradigm was 2004, when USC and Oklahoma were ranked high from the outset and Auburn, despite an undefeated season, couldn't jump them. But I am not sure if there was any system that would have worked for Auburn that year, except a consultation with Saban's fortune-teller, who could possibly have known that USC wasn't really supposed to be there.
On the other hand, being rated a pre-season No. 1 didn't do anything positive for Alabama last year, and it didn't deny Oregon (pre-season No. 11 in the coaches' poll) or Auburn (No. 23 in the 2010 preseason) a chance to work their way up the polls and into the BCS title game. (By the way, if the 11 vs. 23 matchup comes through again this season, we'll have Nebraska vs. Florida.) I think that was really Saban's point, and it wasn't intended for poll voters, or even fans. Not all of his press-conference soliloquies (because that is quite often what they are) are intended for the people sitting in the room. Occasionally, he is simply saying to the public what he is also saying to his team, and there is no theme that he has sounded more often in the past year than "the rankings mean nothing."
Saban would never say this to anyone, but it's easy to get the sense that last year's team lost three games (to very good opposition, taking nothing away from South Carolina, LSU or Auburn) in part because they were more complacent than the 2009 team. Furthermore, I would suspect that Saban would prefer, coming off a three-loss season, to start out where the Crimson Tide ended up last season, somewhere around No. 10 or No. 11. He'd rather LSU or Arkansas or Auburn have the pressure and attention of being the "SEC favorite." (Part of the equation in 2009, after all, was having Florida to pursue.) He'd probably rather be at least a little bit of underdog sometime, somewhere, against someone.
Instead, in a double-edged tribute to the continual influx of talent that Saban has recruited, Alabama, despite its three losses and not having a veteran quarterback, finds itself right back at No. 2. The talent, from the brief weekend media glance at the incoming recruiting class, continues to roll in. I don't know if this class compares to one of Alabama's "watershed" recruiting classes - 1983 (which never won a championship), or 1991 (which did) or 2008 (which also did.) But it is a group with good size on the defensive front and a lot of impressive athletes -- Cyrus Kouandjio, Xzavier Dickson, Christian Jones and LaMichael Fanning are all eye-catchers physically, and that is not a complete list (or a guess at freshman playing status.) It doesn't take a fortune-teller to see that Alabama has a strong base of talent for the foreseeable future. But, as Saban noted, it does depend on what they do, not what people expect them to do. But the one thing that can't do, perhaps to Saban's chagrin, is sneak up on anyone -- as usual.