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A New Era in Polling?

With yesterday's release of the the third installment of season polls comes an opportunity to consider how the Big Ten fared. 

But before we do, I want to discuss something I'm seeing in this year's polling that could change the face of rankings as we know it.  I'm talking about active and not passive voting.  In years past, it seemed that voters were content to keep teams within a relative range of their previous standing.  Win a big game: move up a few spots.  Lose a big game: move down a few.  Win a game you're supposed to win: stay right where you're at, as long as that placement doesn't put you in front of a team you lost to with the same or fewer number of losses.

This conservative trend has dominated polling for as long as I can remember.  And for good reason: following an unwritten protocol makes rankings appear logical, consistent, and rational -- essential elements in maintaining the legitimacy of the system.

Yet, I believe voters are beginning to supplement the "consistency code" with a new subjective framework: the "look" test.  The look test is exactly what it sounds like: it asks how a team looked in comparison to others.  If Team A wins a game by 50 points against an FCS opponent, it moves ahead of Team B, who barely pulled out a close one against similarly situated competition.  

Sure, the look test is nothing new.  It's been a part of polling since its inception.  But is it just me or do the standings feel a little more fickle this year?  Let me show you what I'm talking about.

Ohio State was a preseason number 6 in both the AP and Coaches Poll.  After needing to stop a 2-point conversion to top Navy in Week 1, the Buckeyes slid to 8 in the AP, and 7 in the Coaches poll.  No. 22/21 Iowa fell out of both polls after needing two blocked field goals to top Northern Iowa.  LSU, by contrast, didn't slip when they struggled to beat then unranked Washington, they moved up 2 spots from 11 to 9 in the AP, and from 9 to 7 in the Coaches Poll.  Granted, the win was on the road -- but I think it's equally important that the Tiger's struggles were in the first half -- rather than the second half of the game.

Similarly Oklahoma fell 10 spots, from No. 3 to No. 13 in the AP, after losing its opening week contest.  Although the Sooners have played no real teams of merit since then, they've managed to "leapfrog" the Buckeyes, on the strength of two commanding shutouts.  (And likely the fact that everyone knows Sam Bradford will be back).

Onto the Big Ten.

With just three teams in the Top 25 (No. 5/4 Penn State, No. 13/11 Ohio State, and No. 23/22 Michigan) the Big Ten is in the middle of the pack among the FBS conferences.  Listed in order of appearances they are: Big 12 (5 AP/6 Coaches), SEC (5 AP/5 Coaches), ACC (4 AP, 4 Coaches), Big Ten (3 AP/3 Coaches), Pac 10 (3 AP, 2 Coaches), and Big East (1 AP/1 Coaches).