Poll system encourages September routs

77-28, 52-9, 70-26, 77-17.

Ahh, college football in September.

The latest craze in college football the last few years is to score roughly the same number as your school's enrollment, preferably against a directional school, like Central Florida or Georgia Southern colleges that really require a compass to find.

There is an easy explanation to the scoring explosion that seems to occur this time each year (besides the fact that most college teams prefer to play high schools in September). It is the poll system.

There was a time when a team that was ranked No. 1 would stay No. 1 until it lost. Now however, it's not enough to simply win. Oh no, poll-conscious teams have to do more than outscore the opposition they have to make it look good, too.

Consider the case of poor Penn State. The Nittany Lions beat Indiana last season 35-29, and fell from No. 1 in the coaches' poll. Penn State led late in the game 35-14 when PSU coach Joe Paterno pulled his starters (a charitable move he'll not likely repeat). The Hoosiers scored two touchdowns against the bench, and to those voters who did not see the game, it looked like Penn State was given a real scare.

Fast forward to this year and another game involving Penn State. Texas Tech invaded Happy Valley and took the fourth-ranked Nittany Lions to the virtual limit, losing 24-23 on a PSU field goal as time expired. After the game, Penn State players expected the worst. They got it, falling to seventh in the next Associated Press media poll.

So are we to assume that these voters who, for all intents and purposes, pick the national champion value a 50-point bloodbath over, essentially, a local community college more than a tough win over a decent team? It's almost enough to make me want a playoff.

On the subject of running up the score, I saw an interesting interview last weekend during the halftime show of the Washington State-UCLA game. ABC's John Saunders was talking with media-friendly coach Bobby Bowden of the top-ranked Florida State Seminoles.

Bowden agreed with Saunders' assessment that the only coaches who are upset are those whose teams get stomped. That's not really news. It would be news, however, if Bowden walked into a press conference after a 70-10 win and yelled, "Gawd dang it all, we just can't keep doing this. I promise you good folks we won't score that much next week."

It also wasn't much of a revelation that he said he felt it was unfair to put in the third-string players kids who have practiced for just the hope of one day playing and then tell them to down the ball every time to avoid embarrassing the other team.

Nor was it shocking that while Bowden said he didn't feel too proud about winning by 50 points, he claimed he never ran up the score deliberately.

No, what was interesting was what wasn't asked.

While Bowden went on with his "aw, shucks" routine, I kept waiting for Saunders to pounce, to agree with all that Bowden had just said, and then ask: "But coach, if all that is true, why, when leading North Carolina State 54-19 last week, did you put your first team back on the field in the fourth quarter so your tailback, of all people, could throw a touchdown pass?"

That would have been fun. I can imagine Saunders trying to justify his question after Bowden didn't respond: "So Coach, with a 35-point lead, were you protecting your ranking, or perhaps did you feel the momentum swinging to the Wolfpack?"



Saunders never asked the question, but it would have been interesting, especially in these days of pointless routs over inferior teams, to hear the coach try to defend what amounted to a classless action.


Patrick Klein is assistant sports editor of the Arizona Daily Wildcat.

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