After spring games conclude and the long summer offseason begins, there isn't much for college football fans to read (or write) about until the polls come out. At that point, the polls can be discussed at great length and talk at the office about if the #5 team can make the playoff or not. In the words of Bleacher Report, "Football is back, and it's a beautiful thing".
A newer ranking used by ESPN is the FPI, Football Power Index, as preseason rankings are usually incorrect, heavily based on prior success and the reputation of the program, causing typical power programs to be ranked higher. The FPI uses more raw data of the program and team of that season. The top 3 teams of the 2014 FPI were Florida State, Oregon, and Alabama. This index is not indicative of a team's potential success however, as LSU was ranked 3rd in the initial 2015 preseason FPI and they have road games in Tuscaloosa and Starkville this season so a finish outside the top 10 is possible. In the first FPI release, Tech was 47th (and now have risen 2 spots), predicted to have the #10 offense, and #83 defense. Just for fun, the Red Raiders are predicted to go 5.8-6.2, have no chance at winning out, less than 1% chance at winning the Big-12, and have the 26th strongest schedule.
There are 4 areas that go into the FPI; last season's efficiency on all sides of the ball, the number and quality of returning starters, recruiting, and the coaching tenure. This index is updated through the season and lists each team's current record, projected final record, chance at winning out, chance to win the conference, rank of the strength of their remaining schedule, and the actual FPI number. Different teams have a higher ranking in a portion of the FPI. Baylor and Texas A&M have had top-10 offenses in the past 3 years, even with different players under center. The ratings see this as a good system and coaching staff so they are ranked high again this year (3 and 8, respectively). Notre Dame returns 19 starters this year, higher than any power 5 school, and they are ranked 18th. The FPI can be found here.
A normal preseason poll is flawed, as history has suggested, but the FPI is a newer and seemingly more accurate way to predict the season. If this holds true in 2015, we may see a pair of Big-12 teams in the 4-team playoff, even though we all know this will not happen barring a collapse of multiple powerhouse teams.
I am not a fan of preseason polls. They give media folks, bloggers (like ourselves) and fans something to talk about for a few weeks prior to the season starting, but that is the only purpose they serve. The problem is that it impacts teams when bowl season arrives and more specifically the college football playoff now. In fact, this poses even more problem with the playoff giving four teams a chance to the win it all. The preseason polls could even be bigger issue if the playoff is expanded to eight teams. Over the past three seasons, AP has averaged 50% in their preseason rankings. 15 teams out of 30 ranked in their preseason poll also finished the season ranked in the top ten. The USA Today/Coach's poll has done slightly better by correctly ranking 17 teams out of 30 in the preseason top 10 that finished in the top ten. If they were being graded in the school, neither of them would be receive a passing grade.
Here's an example of how the preseason polls failed in the past. In 2004, The Auburn Tigers won the SEC regular season and championship game titles, went undefeated and didn't get a chance to compete for a national championship. USC and Oklahoma were ranked #1 and #2 in both preseason polls. Auburn was ranked #17 in the AP poll and #18 in the USA Today/Coach's poll. The reason they were left out is because they started the season lower than the other two teams. With the BCS in place in 2004, one team was going to be left out but why should it have been the team ranked lower in the preseason poll. I feel like that was the determining factor, not the best two teams being chosen. Voters weren't going to move Auburn in front of Oklahoma without a loss.
I think waiting until October to rank the teams will allow voters to really get a sense of how good some of these teams really are. Just looking at last season, the AP actually had Oklahoma ranked #4 in their preseason poll including one first place vote, but they didn't finish in the top 25. TCU wasn't ranked but ended up being ranked #3 in the final poll. I understand it isn't an easy job to rank teams prior to seeing them play and most of the time over the course of the season wins and losses on the field work out the pollers mistakes but there will be a time and has been a time when preseason polls have kept a team from playing for a national championship. That is what it is all about for me, giving all teams a chance to compete for the ultimate goal of winning a national championship.