Disclaimer** I tried to make this question as unbiased and as unopinionated as possible. I notice a discrepancy in how teams are ranked in college football polls vs how they are ranked in NFL power rankings, but I was not able to use solely facts and figures to explain what I notice. Rather, I tried to explain what I observe and why I observe it that way. If this does not meet StackExchange guidelines, please advise me to clarify instead of simply closing.
How I understand NCAA football polls...
Voters seem to vote fairly rigidly based on game outcomes, something to the effect of "Games X, Y, Z ended in scenario A, B, and C, so we must rank the teams accordingly." Watching teams move up and down in the polls, combined with the analysis I watch/hear, rankings seem to have the following significant factors:
- Good wins
- Bad losses
- Margin of victory
- Strength of schedule
- Strength of conference
This all sounds completely logical, but many times I'll see an upset or a fluke ending to a game that will totally mix up the polls, and overestimate or underestimate the true quality of a team (per 2014 week 7 polls, it seems unlikely that voters believe Ole Miss is truly the 3rd best team in the country). I see a lot of week-to-week volatility in the polls that doesn't seem to accurately reflect who is truly the best, second best, third, etc. It seems the voters use the above criteria to rank teams based on who deserves specific rankings, instead of truly who is the better team.
On November 18, 2006 #1 Ohio State edged out #2 Michigan 42-39, and Michigan fell from #2 to #3 in both the AP and Coaches polls. The rankings suggests that after this loss, the voters no longer thought Michigan was the second best team in the country. But if the second best team loses to the best team by only 3 points, there is little else that could be done to assert that team as the second best. This just doesn't make sense to me.
I also see these scenarios often, which don't seem "fair":
1) Team A starts the season ranked #1, loses in week 2 and goes to rank #10. They go undefeated the rest of the season, while teams ahead of them lose, and Team A works its way back to #1 by the end of the season. 2) Team B starts the season ranked #1 and wins its first 11 games, still ranked #1. They lose the 12th game and fall to #10 and finish the season at this spot. It seems the voters methods allow a team that loses early in the year a better opportunity to finish high in the polls than a team that loses at the end of the year.
How I understand NFL power rankings...
NFL power rankings seem to be a less "by-the-book" assessment of teams' quality, but more about taking an overall look at a team's quality and applying some consistent estimate to their quality.
Observe ESPN's 2014 Week 3 power rankings. The 1-1 Patriots were ranked 5th, ahead of the 2-0 Cardinals ranked 9th. The 0-2 Colts were ranked 15th ahead of the 1-1 Cowboys ranked 22nd. It seems most NFL power rankings take a broader view of a team's quality, and do not let individual games affect a team's rank as much as it would in college football.
Why do college football polls tend to rank teams more according to who deserves the position, as opposed to who are truly the better teams?
- I understand college plays fewer games, so each has more impact (33.3% more)
- I understand there are more college teams and less parity
These 2 factors just don't seem big enough to justify the discrepancies in ranking I have outlined above.