Dan Shanoff offers a dead-on take on the unfortunate importance of the coaches' preseason poll on his blog. Shanoff's point: What starts off up tends not to come down. Shanoff's point underlies what I consider to be the biggest problem with the BCS system, and it's not that college football needs a payoff.
By all accounts, voters--be they the coaches themselves or an athletic department intern--seem to treat the polls more like a tennis club ladder than a power ranking. Instead of judging teams based on what happens on the field, pollsters try to peg them before their first practices. That wouldn't be a problem, except the majority of voters seem to hold off on adjusting their evaluations until a loss forces them to reconsider. Then, the knee-jerk reaction is to just bump up the next teams in line, and move the losing team to the back of the queue of contenders.
The result is what amounts to a game of musical chairs. That means the ranking process becomes guided by arbitrary axioms like "it's better to lose early than to lose late."
Late in the season, the disparities regarding conference championship games adds yet another layer of confusion to the mix. For example, Mizzou didn't pick up it's second loss until the Big XII championship, with a highly regarded Oklahoma being the only team to beat the Tigers all year. So Mizzou didn't win its conference; did that make the Tigers less qualified for the national title game than Big Ten champ Ohio St., whose resume included no real marquee wins and a home loss to good-but-not-great Illinois? What about LSU, which lost to middling Kentucky and Arkansas, with the Arkansas loss coming in Baton Rouge?
I don't know the answer to such questions. I do know that I'd rather not feel like LSU and the Buckeyes made the title game because they were next in line after West Virginia and Missouri fell in the last week of the regular season.
As I've mentioned before, I'd like to see the powers that be form a selection committee to vote on the championship game participants. After all, despite the minor nitpicking, the process seems to work just fine for the NCAA basketball tournaments. The committee could consist of a rotating group of athletic directors or conference commissioners, for example.
It certainly wouldn't end the ceaseless bickering among fans and talking heads. But, if done in a way that promotes transparency in the decision process, I can't help but think a selection committee would produce a more satisfying matchup in the end.