After the University of Wisconsin Badgers football team beat Michigan last weekend, they found themselves ranked No. 8 in the AP Poll the following day.
Wisconsin fans know all too well the inconsistencies of the poll and its tendency to undervalue the Big Ten as a whole — specifically the Badgers — seemingly every year.
This inconsistency is based around the preseason poll, as writers from around the country construct a top 25 without seeing the teams play, and then require massive victories or surprising losses before they move a team far from their preseason rankings.
The preseason poll is also often based around performances from the previous year, and not the current talent level of the teams.
The most prominent example of this has been seen this year with Head Coach Paul Chryst’s Badgers.
Chryst’s team came into 2018 after a stellar 2017 season in which they finished 13-1 and fell one drive away from a birth in the College Football Playoff.
They began the year ranked No. 4 in the nation despite losing much of their defensive talent from the previous year.
Wisconsin then won in week one and dropped to No. 5, won in week two and dropped to No. 6 and narrowly lost in week three and dropped to No. 18.
This movement makes sense in the context of last year: The team won their first two weeks against poor teams but didn’t look dominant doing so, and then went on to lose to an unranked BYU in week three.
The Badgers dropped out of the rankings after week nine and ended the season ranked outside of the top 25.
After a disappointing 2018 season, Chryst returned his defensive core and injured players and entered the season undoubtedly with a far more talented offense and a better quarterback under center.
Fairly, the AP Poll had the Badgers ranked No. 19 entering the year.
What has happened during the first four weeks of the year has shown the AP Poll’s inability to forget its preseason rankings and actually evaluate the teams based on their performances during the present season.
The Badgers opened the season with a 49–0 victory on the road against South Florida.
The win was an impressive one and saw the Badgers look dominant on both sides of the ball. Nearly all of their preseason questions were answered this game, including whether Jack Coan could effectively lead the team, if the new offensive line would hold up and how the defense would perform without T.J. Edwards, Ryan Connelly and D’Cota Dixon.
Despite the dominant performance, the Badgers moved up only two spots. Two spots. And they were still ranked below Oregon, a team who lost week one.
Had the “original” rankings come out after the first week of the season, which is what should happen, the Badgers would have been ranked at least in the top 12 and close to the top 10.
Joel Klatt—a college football analyst for Fox Sports—agrees. In back-to-back tweets last week, Klatt mentioned two major grievances with the AP Poll.
First, Klatt said that preseason polls suck because teams that don’t deserve to be in the top five, like Clemson, still find themselves there after four weeks because of preconceived bias.
He followed this tweet up just a day later stating that without the preseason polls, Wisconsin might be a top 3-5 team in the rankings right now based simply on the “eye test.”
Nevertheless, Chryst’s team followed up their shutout victory week one with another shutout, this one 61–0 against Central Michigan.
Over two weeks, the Badgers had outscored their opponents 110-0, their best point differential through two games since 1915.
How far did they move up after another dominant performance? Three spots, to No. 14.
They still sat behind Texas, who lost that week, and Michigan, who needed overtime to beat Army.
Week four came around and the No. 13 Badgers throttled No. 11 Michigan 35–14, and only moved up to No. 8.
Through three games the Badgers have outscored their opponents 145–14 and now, in the words of the national media, have finally played somebody good.
After ranking the Badgers No. 19 to start the season, the AP writers have been hesitant to move them above other teams in the rankings, despite the Badgers looking like one of the most dominant teams in the country.
This year can’t be the only time the AP undervalued the Badgers in the preseason, right?
After searching the AP Poll records dating back to 2004, history shows that since that year, the Badgers have ended the season with a ranking higher than their preseason ranking in ten of 15 years, including going from unranked at the beginning of the season to ranked at the end of the season on four different occasions.
In order for the AP poll to improve its authority, they must do two things. First, release the first poll after the first week of games, not in the preseason. Second, evaluate teams based on their performance, not whether they’re in the Southeastern Conference with the likes of Alabama.
If the AP can change their system in these ways, the Big Ten and the Wisconsin Badgers will start getting the national respect they deserve.