How important are preseason polls? On the one hand, they’re not. At least, they shouldn’t be. They’re mostly just something to write about in August and get fans excited for the season with. On the other hand, they’re incredibly important, as teams claim their strength of schedule and perceived toughness based on the AP and Coaches Polls, dating back to the preseason polls. This, in turn, directly impacts the College Football Playoff Selection Committee argues for or against teams in their own rankings.
This means that it’s worth taking a look at these polls and seeing where the AAC is, and how they are being perceived, to start the 2021 season. So, let’s start with the more prestigious AP Poll.
Only one AAC team is ranked in the initial AP Poll, and that’s Cincinnati. They’re sitting at number 8 and will travel to two initially ranked opponents, in Notre Dame and Indiana, who sit at 9 and 17 respectively. Cincinnati may be the only AAC team ranked, but they’re not the only Group of Five team, with the Sun Belt’s Coastal Carolina and Louisiana both cracking the top-25.
No. 1 Alabama tops the preseason AP Top 25 while Oklahoma, Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia round out the top five. Cincinnati, Iowa State and North Carolina all make the top 10.— AP Top 25 (@AP_Top25) August 16, 2021
Full poll presented by @askRegions: https://t.co/7dTTUiSC1j pic.twitter.com/lQS5VIjDcU
UCF and Houston are both receiving 5 votes, which puts them in a tie for being ranked 38th in the poll. That’s about where UCF was expected to end up, given their talent and poor result last season. As for Houston, though, this doesn’t make much sense. There is some upside there, but Dana Holgorsen and company haven’t done anything to earn those votes, yet. You have to think that the voters have them confused with SMU, who absolutely deserves votes, but didn’t get any. Also, not receiving votes is last season’s AAC Championship Game participant Tulsa or longstanding force Memphis.
From there, we turn to the Coaches Poll, which has to be the most fun of the polls. That’s because it’s normally a staffer who votes, not the actual coach. Even then, they’re not voting based on well reasoned thought. Coaches and their staffs are too busy prepping the team for games, watching film, and recruiting to notice that Michigan isn’t good. They just vote by which helmet is the prettiest. Besides, it’s not like a coach would have a vested interest in where they or their opponents would be ranked. Right?
USA Today's preseason coaches poll pic.twitter.com/GGKivRnhjI— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) August 10, 2021
Again, Cincinnati is the only ranked AAC team, landing at 10th. They’ll still get games against a ranked Notre Dame and Indiana too. The real change for the AAC, however, in the coaches poll is just how many teams are receiving votes. UCF has by far the most votes, with 29, giving them an equivalent to the 34th ranking in the country. Tulsa managed 6 votes for a 43rd ranking. Houston, again getting too many votes, landed 5 votes for a 46th ranking. SMU then rounds out the AAC teams receiving votes with 4, for a 49th ranking.
Memphis, again, doesn’t receive any votes, while popular dark horse pick in the AAC, Tulane, is going to miss out on getting any votes in the initial polls as well.
For many G5 and AAC fans, it’s easy to dismiss this poll as something that doesn’t matter, but the fact is that it does. They show how teams are perceived at a given time, and perception is reality in college football. If I perceive Florida State to be better than UCF, then I give Clemson more credit for beating the Seminoles than I do for Cincinnati beating the Knights. The polls become a written record that a team is perceived as better than another, allowing for arguments about strength of schedule to be built on the back of these polls.
At the end of the day, most teams will be better or worse than their initial rankings, and just because you don’t have any votes yet, doesn’t mean you can’t end the season ranked. At the same time, in the AAC, it’s hard to take long strides forward without being initially ranked in the polls.