Looking Back At the Preseason AP Poll: What Went Right and (Very, Very) Wrong

Sam Brief
Sports Illustrated
Looking Back At the Preseason AP Poll: What Went Right and (Very, Very) Wrong
Looking Back At the Preseason AP Poll: What Went Right and (Very, Very) Wrong

I have two surefire annual college football traditions. One is monitoring the inevitable overreaction to the preseason AP poll. Next is looking back at the end of the season to see how laughably off much of the poll was.

Conference championship week has descended on us, so it’s time to look back at this year’s preseason AP poll and see how well (or poorly) it predicted the 2018 season (using the Week 14 rankings as a comparison), broken up into three distinct categories:

On the Money

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Alabama (1), Clemson (2), Georgia (3), Ohio State (5), Oklahoma (7), West Virginia (17), Mississippi State (18), Boise State (22)

The voters nailed the 2018 outlook for these teams:

• Alabama got the No. 1 preseason vote for the third consecutive year, and it was spot-on—same for Clemson at No. 2. Voters knew the Tide and Tigers would rule college football, and the two teams, both undefeated, have done just that so far.

• Georgia, last year’s runner-up, was voted third, and the fierce Bulldogs will storm into the SEC championship game as the fourth-ranked team in the land.

• Ohio State’s preseason No. 5 ranking looked sketchy after being blown out by Purdue, but the Buckeyes’ 62–39 shellacking of Michigan vaulted them to sixth.

• Oklahoma was ranked at No. 7, and Heisman hopeful Kyler Murray had the Sooners between the fifth and ninth spots in each week but one. A second date with Texas looms for now-No. 5 Oklahoma.

• West Virginia’s No. 17 ranking seemed like a massive underestimate for most of the season, but the Mountaineers closed with two losses to finish No. 15.

• Both Mississippi State and Boise State finished within a few spots of their preseason rankings, 18 and 22, after big wins during Rivalry Week.

RAPAPORT: Previewing All 10 Conference Championship Games

The Overlooked

Notre Dame (12), Michigan (14), UCF (21), Texas (23), LSU (25)

The AP poll significantly underrated the five following programs:

• Just two years removed from a 4–8 run, Notre Dame was ranked at No. 12, the same number of wins it's racked up this year. The unbeaten Irish are ranked third and are almost certainly College Football Playoff-bound.

Michigan snuck up on folks this year as a playoff contender, and the Wolverines were ranked as high as No. 4 before a Big House-sized letdown in Columbus. The Wolverines still surpass expectations, ranked eighth, just behind…

UCF. This might have been a classic case of denial that UCF could repeat its 2017 national...fine, let’s just commit to it...championship season. The Knights, once ranked 21st, are 12–0 for a second-consecutive season and clock in as the No. 7 team in the latest AP poll.

Texas is back? Guess so. The 9–3 Longhorns barely scratched the preseason top 25, and they’ll round out the regular season in the top 10, ranked ninth.

• Ed Orgeron’s LSU team went on a roller coaster ride this season, climbing from No. 25 up to No. 4 before running into ‘Bama. The Tigers now rank 13th.

Swing and a Miss

Wisconsin (4), Washington (6), Miami (8), Auburn (9), Penn State (10), Michigan State (11), Stanford (13), USC (15), TCU (16), Florida State (19), Virginia Tech (20), Oregon (24)

These teams let us down, many in a major way:

Wisconsin was the preseason No. 4 team in America, with an SI cover and national championship hype flying all over—Lee Corso picked the Badgers to win it all. Paul Chryst’s team wraps up the regular season at 7–5, and it hasn’t been ranked since Week 9.

Washington, now No. 10, never posed a serious top-five threat like many imagined. This was a toss-up between the 'on the money' category and this one, but since the Huskies spent most of this season outside of the top 10, we’ll chalk it up as a dissapointment.

Miami started the 2017 season 10–0 and made its way to the Orange Bowl, helping it earn a preseason No. 8 ranking. But an opening night rout at the hands of LSU mixed with a four-game losing streak rendered the Canes unranked at season’s end.

Auburn was set to contend in 2018 after taking down Alabama in last year’s Iron Bowl, but the 7–5 Tigers limped to an unranked finish to a disappointing season.

• Despite losing Saquon Barkley to the draft, Penn State still rounded out the preseason top-10. Highlighted by a 42–7 loss to Michigan, this year’s Nittany Lions were never deserving of a top-10 ranking, finishing the regular season at No. 14.

Michigan State and Stanford both hung around the top 25 for most of the season before fizzling out and finishing among the unranked. Sparty almost lost to Rutgers on Saturday.

USC, the preseason No. 15, missed a bowl game and announced that it will stick with coach Clay Helton after a 5–7 season. The Trojans nearly pulled a shocker over Notre Dame.

• Coming off an 11-win campaign in 2017, there were high hopes for preseason No. 16 TCU, but a 6–6 season featuring a loss to Kansas makes the Horned Frogs a major letdown.

• For the first time in 36 years, Florida State will miss a bowl game after finishing 5–7 in Willie Taggart’s first season, despite getting a preseason No. 19 ranking.

Virginia Tech still has one more shot at bowl eligibility after it scheduled a last-ditch game with Marshall for championship week, but the unranked Hokies aren’t even a top-50 team after they ranked 20th to start the campaign.

• Highly-touted draft prospect Justin Herbert had Oregon as No. 24 in September, but the Ducks received just a single vote in the last regular season poll.

Others Receiving Votes

South Carolina 96, Florida 68, Utah 60, Oklahoma State 51, Florida Atlantic 38, Arizona 28, NC State 22, Texas A&M 21, Boston College 18, Northwestern 13, Kansas State 10, Iowa State 8, Houston 6, Memphis 3, Iowa 2, Troy 2, Fresno State 1, Arkansas State 1, Kentucky 1

Florida and Utah just missed out on the preseason top-25, and the Gators and Utes are Nos. 11 and 17 entering championship weekend.

• After partaking in the highest-scoring game in FBS history, Jimbo Fisher’s Texas A&M squad is No. 22. They received only 21 preseason votes.

Northwestern is off to its first-ever Big Ten championship game. The Wildcats, 8–1 in the Big Ten, garnered just 13 votes in the preseason poll.

• Both Fresno State and Kentucky earned the trust of just one faithful voter in the first poll. Kentucky boasted one of college football’s top defenses to finish No. 16, with Fresno State capping off the last regular season poll at No. 25.

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