The Consequences of Preconception

Our initial thoughts about anything we say, do, or experience will impact the end result. This concept was observed by French philosopher René Descartes when he proclaimed “I think, therefore I am.” It was also applied in my favorite television show, Seinfeld, when George Costanza claimed, “It’s not a lie if you believe it.” I want to apply this concept to college football, to illustrate a glaring bias that has a substantial impact on the post-season.

Today marks the first day of the college football season and is kicked off by a game between two top 25 teams, Texas A&M and South Carolina, both from the SEC. This game has significant post-season implications because both are ranked, so the winner will be able to point to this contest as a marquee win when it comes time to compare résumés for choosing the 4 teams to participate in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Teams from the SEC hold a huge advantage before play even begins this year due to their overwhelming representation in the Associated Press preseason top 25 (8 of the 25 ranked teams hail from the SEC). The breakdown for the rest of the Power 5 conferences in the poll is as follows: ACC (3 + Notre Dame), Big Ten (4), Big XII (3), Pac12 (6). These rankings give the preconception that the SEC is the strongest conference (which may or may not be true this year), and in doing so, inflate the résumés of every team in that conference due to a stronger strength of schedule and more opportunities for marquee wins. The preseason rankings have such influence that college football analysts are already claiming that it will be difficult for a Big Ten team to qualify for the playoff at all, even if one of them goes undefeated. To illustrate how absurd it is to let preconceptions influence consequences, I am going to create and update a poll of my own that flips the bias from the SEC to the Big Ten. This poll will begin with 8 Big Ten teams and only 4 SEC teams in the top 25, and I will update it as results come in. My hypothesis is that at the end of the year, the Big Ten will appear to be the strongest conference, solely due to their favorable starting point. I will also compare my poll against the AP poll each week.

Preseason Polls

AP Team Conference BoW Team Conference
1 Florida State ACC 1 Florida State ACC
2 Alabama SEC 2 Ohio State B1G
3 Oregon PAC12 3 Oregon PAC12
4 Oklahoma XII 4 Oklahoma XII
5 Ohio State B1G 5 Alabama SEC
6 Auburn SEC 6 Michigan State B1G
8 Michigan State B1G 8 Auburn SEC
9 South Carolina SEC 9 Wisconsin B1G
10 Baylor XII 10 Baylor XII
11 Stanford PAC12 11 Stanford PAC12
12 Georgia SEC 12 Nebraska B1G
13 LSU SEC 13 Iowa B1G
14 Wisconsin B1G 14 South Carolina SEC
15 USC PAC12 15 USC PAC12
16 Clemson ACC 16 Clemson ACC
17 Notre Dame Ind 17 Notre Dame Ind
18 Ole Miss SEC 18 Michigan B1G
19 Arizona State PAC12 19 Arizona State PAC12
20 Kansas State XII 20 Kansas State XII
21 Texas A&M SEC 21 Northwestern B1G
22 Nebraska B1G 22 Georgia SEC
23 North Carolina ACC 23 North Carolina ACC
24 Missouri SEC 24 Penn State B1G
25 Washington PAC12 25 Washington PAC12