What does all the instability in the College Top 25 so far this year really mean?
I believe it shows us three main things. First, assuming that we believe that the pollsters got it right this most recent poll, it means that we pretty much have no clue who the good teams are before the season or even in the first few weeks. Houston and Iowa are good examples of teams that no one thought were even worthy of mention in the preseason, and most people didn't even give Iowa any votes at all until the last 2 weeks. But all of a sudden, by virtue of a win over the #5 team at the time (Houston over then #5 Oklahoma State, and Iowa over then #5 Penn State), they jump way up on everyone's list. Houston went from receiving only 1 25th place vote to being the number 21 school in the nation, and is now all the way up to number 12. Iowa goes from 31 all the way up to 13. With differences that large, it sure looks like the sportswriters don't know what they are talking about that early in the season. This season is the perfect example why ranking should wait to start until at least the 4th week.
Second, regardless of whether the current polls are the 'correct' ones, pollsters are allowing their ideas of teams to be influenced way too much by the outcome of a single game. Florida State's swings in and out of the polls, Oregon's huge drop after losing to Boise State on the road, and subsequent huge jump back up after the win at home against Cal, are great examples of how people are easily swayed by the most recent outcome. The fact is, just because Oregon or Iowa or South Carolina had a good game last week and upset a highly ranked opponent, doesn't mean that they are now Top 15 or even Top 20 teams. While all have good enough resumes to include them jumping up into the Top 25, especially since they were being mentioned prior to this week, in no way is anyone justified in having Iowa ranked 13th or higher, unless (which I highly doubt) they had them ranked at at least 20th last week.
The last thing is that the coaches clearly understand how these things work much better than the media. All the numbers above were from the AP poll. The coaches poll had the same faults, but nowhere near the level of the AP poll. It started to mention Houston, but they didn't jump into the top 25 after they knocked off Oklahoma State, They ended up number 27. People realized that while it was a good win, at least 8 times out of 10, Oklahoma State would have won the game. Again, at this point, not to say that I don't think they should be ranked, since they do have one of the most impressive victories so far, but that victory was not so overwhelming that people had to think about putting Houston above Oklahoma State. Similarly, Penn State, Cal, and Mississippi all stayed above the teams that they were beaten by, but not by much. This accounts for the fact that most if not all of those teams had a bad game (which USC seems to have every year but gets a free pass for.) and not that they are all of a sudden horrible teams. If they lose another game, then they will drop like a rock right out of the Top 25. Until then, there is nothing to indicate that any of those teams don't deserve the ranking they have received, especially when you compare it to preseason expectations.