Northwestern isn't ranked and Florida is, which epitomizes why early-season rankings are dumb
I know. Early-season polls don’t mean anything. They’re just there to generate discussion. Being triggered by them is pointless because this stuff always works itself out.
Good, I got that out of the way.
Now, I can tee off on why Florida being ranked and Northwestern not being ranked is the epitome of the lunacy that is early-season polls.
Before I rant, let me preface this by saying I have zero rooting interest for either side. If Northwestern never won a game again — something that seemed like a perfectly realistic possibility a few decades ago — it wouldn’t do anything for me. And if Florida never lost a game under Dan Mullen, my life would be exactly the same it is today.
Good, we got that out of the way, too.
In case you didn’t see the latest Associated Press Top 25, Florida came in at No. 25 while Northwestern was unranked. The Wildcats were unofficially at No. 30 with 28 votes to make the poll.
Northwestern, as you’ll recall, currently has the longest winning streak of any FBS team at 9 games. That’s a mark that dates back to their last loss, which was the first weekend of October 2017 against Penn State. Last Thursday, Northwestern went on the road and beat a 7-win Purdue team to clinch that ninth consecutive win.
Here are a few facts about the teams Northwestern beat during the current 9-game winning streak:
- 1 win vs. team who finished in final AP Top 25 (Michigan State)
- 2-0 record in crossover matchups vs. B1G East
- 4 wins against teams who played in bowls (not including 2018 Purdue)
- 5 wins away from home field
- 9 wins against Power 5 teams
- 17 points allowed per game
So yes, Northwestern is coming off a 10-win season and it started off 2018 with a solid road win against a Power 5 bowl team.
Compare that to Florida, which started off the 2018 season with a win at home against a 6-win FCS team. I understand that rankings aren’t based on just one week because then we’d have things like Maryland ranked ahead of Georgia and Ohio State, which would be ridiculous.
But you know what’s also ridiculous? Rewarding a Florida team that beat an FCS team following a 4-WIN SEASON. Because after all, it’s Florida. Surely the Gators are worthy of being considered one of college football’s elite because look at those athletes!
Florida’s ranking definitely isn’t based on its putrid on-field performance. It couldn’t be. Check out the Gators’ train wreck in the last 11 months while Northwestern has been beating actual football teams:
[table “” not found /]
So what did Florida do to earn its ranking, you ask? Fire its coach, hire one who turned around a program without much history, and beat an FCS team at home.
Meanwhile, Northwestern has had to win 9 games in a row against Power 5 teams with a coach who’s already the best in program history, yet it can’t crack the top 25. At least not this year.
I included the crossover stats in there because both Florida and Northwestern play in the weaker division in their respective conferences, so how they fared against the stronger division is noteworthy.
Still, though. It. Makes. No. Sense.
And before you tell me that Florida deserves that kind of love because it won its division 2 of the last 3 years, consider this.
During that stretch (2015-17), Northwestern had two 10-win seasons while Florida had one, and Northwestern went 18-8 conference play while Florida was 16-8. Both teams had the exact same amount of top-25 finishes in that stretch (2), and Northwestern’s “down” year in that stretch was still a 7-win season with a winning conference record and a bowl win.
In other words, these rankings aren’t about who deserves it. At least not early in the season. They’re often driven by offseason storylines and ancient history, which is silly.
I mean, the Chicago Tribune doesn’t even have a Northwestern beat writer. In that market, it’ll never be the big offseason story. Actually earning national respect is a far greater challenge for Northwestern than it is for Florida. There’s no debate about that.
What there is still debate about is why we even do preseason and early-season rankings in the first place. Some would rather adopt the Playoff poll system, which doesn’t have a top 25 until the final month of the season. Then, there’s at least a large enough sample size to determine how good a team really is.
For all we know, Florida might be better than Northwestern in 2018. That could play out, but nothing from the past 11 months suggests that the Gators are the more deserving top-25 team right now.
Let’s not forget that we have still yet to see a team that started off unranked in the preseason AP Top 25 actually make the Playoff. Teams like 2014 TCU and 2016 Penn State had “too steep of a climb” after starting off the year unranked, even though that supposedly doesn’t matter to the Playoff selection committee.
I’m not saying that Northwestern is going to be competing for a Playoff spot, but I am saying that we let offseason perception define far too much in the sport. It’s a subjective ranking system that doesn’t seem nearly objective enough at times. The traditional powers always have and always will get the benefit of the doubt.
Florida basically earned a top-25 spot by not tripping over its own shoelaces. The good news for the Gators is on Saturday, they have a chance to earn their first win against a Power 5 team since last September against Vanderbilt. If the Gators can muster a win against powerhouse Kentucky — another team Northwestern beat during its 9-game winning streak — they’ll likely rise in the top 25.
Meanwhile, Northwestern will try to win its 10th straight game vs. a Power 5 team…and probably still find itself outside of the top 25 next week.
But hey, never change, early-season polls.
Keep being the dumbest thing we do in college football.