Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Poll Position

Princeton was picked to finish fifth in the Ivy League media preseason poll today. You have to go back quite some time since a team picked fifth ended up winning the Ivy League title.

All the way to 2006.

That year, Yale earned a share of the Ivy title after being picked fifth in the poll. Of course, the Bulldogs shared that title with Princeton, which made an even further move from sixth to first.

The Ivy League preseason poll has always been one of the focal points of Ivy League Media Day. It gives reporters something to write about, and in modern days, it sparks debate on message boards. Each school provides two media members to vote in the poll, and one national representative votes. TB doesn't know who represents every other school, but he knows the two Princeton voters have more than a decade of experience covering Ivy League football.

So how often is the media poll correct?

Over the last 20 years, 26 teams have won or shared Ivy League titles. Of those 26, only five were picked in the top position. Four were picked second. Prime real estate in the media poll is apparently third; 11 eventual champions came from that spot, including three of the last four. That must be music to Phil Estes' ears; Brown is third in the current poll, and in both 2005 and 2008, the Bears won the Ivy League title from the number three position.

Three teams have won from the No. 4 position, two from the No. 5 and Princeton from No. 6. In the last decade, just as many teams have won from the bottom half of the poll as have won from the top position.

Does this mean the poll is completely invalid? Obviously not. Based on last year's results, returning talent and unanswered questions per team, the poll seems legitimate enough to TB. But there is so much more that decide the annual champion per year.

First of all, the three non-league games matter. Look back at what Princeton did in 2006; the Tigers went into the heart of the Ivy League season having earned comeback wins over Lehigh, Lafayette and Colgate. You can't measure the positive momentum those games gave Princeton that year.

Also, each of the eight Ivy League teams are basically choosing from the same pool of talent. You can see which teams have the most returning seniors or All-Ivy players, but no team is so deep that it can't withstand key injuries. In the SEC or PAC-10, maybe you can get by with a backup quarterback or multiple defensive injuries; in the Ivy League, it's far tougher.

In many ways, this is what makes the Ivy League so special. Sure, you have an idea of who will probably be good, but by late October, at least one or two teams you weren't expecting are still in the race. That team made a big play or two at the end of a game and feels a little better about itself than others do. That team becomes very dangerous in November.

TB thinks that could be the way it is for Princeton in 2009, but we'll save that for another day.

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