Final poll is only one that matters

Updated: November 18, 2004, 1:41 PM ET
By Chris Fowler | ESPN Insider

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College Football Saturday
Who: BYU at No. 6 Utah
When: Sat., 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Where: Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City

It's the story of the week: Who's No. 2?

You've no doubt read a bunch already about the debate over the merits of Oklahoma and Auburn, the pluses and minuses of each team's résumé. Uh, I assume this little column is not the only college football coverage you seek each week, right? It's been hard to avoid the poll fuss, so I won't pulverize the topic.

But I will offer the reasoning behind my AP ballot. And you can spare the effort to shoot off angry e-mails (I don't have an account at ESPN.com, and my voicemail box is perpetually overloaded). And remember this: For all the fussing and fuming – the talk-show fodder and talking-head hot air – the only polls that really matter are the ones three weeks from now, after the games of Dec. 4.

There's also a trendy shift away from USC this week, with respected pollsters such as Tony Barnhart and Craig James now voting USC third and questioning why the Trojans have been etched at the top of both polls. A sloppy, unimpressive victory over Notre Dame or UCLA might cause more voters to question Troy, particularly in the AP poll, where voters are usually more flexible than the coaches.

But it would take an historic shift away from the season-long No. 1 to cost a 12-0 USC team a BCS title shot. Many voters believed USC was jobbed by the BCS formula last year, so I don't see that happening. But just to be sure, the Trojans should focus on closing strongly.

Chris Fowler

College Football
Since 1989, Chris Fowler has been ESPN's primary college football and men's college basketball studio host. He's anchored College GameDay, the network's award-winning Saturday morning college football preview show, since 1990.