How they voted: Breaking down the AP top 25
Those of you who have been reading the blog a while know it's not quite football season here until I've rambled on and on about how much I enjoy the "Pollstalker" feature at pollspeak.com, which does a great job of taking the individual ballots from the Associated Press top 25 poll and putting them into an easily searchable database, both by school and voter.
I fall prey to the same silly giddiness each December when USA Today makes the final regular-season coaches ballot public on its site, because there's a ton of cool observations to be found upon close examination of the ballot. It's college football writer anthropology -- how the balloters vote, who they like and who they dont' like. (I probably like the coaches' one slightly more because they tend to do strange things with their ballots more often.)
-- This is never more interesting than in the preseason, when there's such a huge disparity of opinions all over the place. Take Oklahoma, which has the honor of being No. 1 on one ballot and No. 25 on another. There are eight teams that appear both in the top 10 on at least one ballot and are entirely missing from another ballot -- here they are with their highest ranking to go with an unranked: Pitt (4), Miami (5), USC (6), Auburn (7), Georgia Tech (7), Penn State (8) and Cincinnati (10).
-- Emerging teams? Of the 48 teams to appear on at least one AP ballot, only five won less than eight games last year. So I'll curious to watch Florida State (7-6), South Carolina (7-6) and Notre Dame (6-6), but also Texas A&M (6-7) and Washington (5-7), who each appeared on three ballots. Two of A&M's three voters were national guys in Craig James and Chris Fowler.
-- I've never had an AP ballot myself, but the Times' Brian Landman has in recent years, and I'm always intrigued by how I'd vote, with a delicate balance between having a unique ballot and being an off-the-charts outlier. Pollspeak identifies what it calls "extreme voters," or those with the greatest deviation from the general consensus -- again, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially for conversation like this. The early extreme leader is Joe Giglio of the Raleigh (N.C) News & Observer, who isn't afraid to be out there on his own. There are eight teams who have their highest ranking on Giglio's ballot -- he gives Boise State its lone No. 1 vote, then easily has the highest votes for Pittsburgh (4th, next closest is 10th), Auburn (7th, closest is 12th) and Cincinnati (10th, closest is 16th), and gives Florida its lowest vote (15th) by five full spots in the rankings. He was the only voter to include Temple or SMU (which won five of its last six last year).
-- It's fun to see how the national TV guys rank teams, with ESPN's Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit and CBS' Craig James among the 65 balloters. One constant: They like Georgia Tech, with those three having the three highest rankings of the Yellow Jackets -- James has them No. 7, Fowler No. 9 and Herbstreit among a few voters at No. 10. James definitely doesn't like Miami, leaving them off his ballot entirely. Herbstreit has some rare inclusions at the bottom of his poll, with Arizona (which lost 33-0 to Nebraska in its bowl game) at No. 22 and Boston College getting its only vote with his No. 25.
-- Local bias? Part of me says that if anyone is going to notice an upstart team being better than expected, it's the guys who write or at least read about them every day; that familiarity could also give them an inflated opinion of a team as well. Take Wade Denniston of the Logan Herald-Journal in Utah -- BYU is ranked on just two ballots this year, yet he has the Cougars at No. 11 in his poll, also giving Utah its highest ranking at No. 17. He also gives Mississippi (which does not play in Utah) its only ranking, at No. 20 no less.
-- Who likes the Big East teams? The highest votes for Connecticut come at No. 21 from the Hartford Courant's Desmond Conner, who has covered the Huskies since Skip Holtz's days as coach, and from the Tampa Tribune's Scott Carter, who boldly gave UConn its lone No. 1 vote in the Big East preseason media poll. West Virginia's highest ranking comes at No. 12, from Mike DeArmond of the Kansas City Star, who also liked Pittsburgh at No. 11. Cincinnati? Only two writers gave the Bearcats higher rankings than SI.com's Andy Staples, who had them No. 18 as one of three Big East teams on his initial ballot, along with Pitt and UConn.