theknightswhosay

Preseason Versus Final Rankings

In College Football, Rankings Commentary on January 24, 2015 at 4:38 PM

The Broncos were the highest finishers among unranked teams in pre-season.

The Broncos were the highest finishers among unranked teams in pre-season.


I'm including the Horned Frogs since most people had them even higher at the end.

I’m including the Horned Frogs since most people had them even higher at the end.

I haven’t noticed any major media organization that does this. I guess they just want to be able to come out with new preseason rankings in six or seven months and have people accept them. Surely, I suppose they think, people will have forgotten last summer by then; but they might not forget something six months before, so best not to remind them. I think it’s fun though, so I’m doing it.

Some of these differences are owing to differing philosophies. I think Sagarin is just based on accumulating recent rankings. Sports Illustrated and the polls are mostly based on predictions; but sometimes there is deference to teams that did well last year even if maybe they shouldn’t be expected to do well in the coming year.

What I mostly do is look at who I think will be the best teams right away, so I’m a little more interested in returning starters, and of course I also take into account last season. If a 1-win team has 23 returning starters next season, you wouldn’t expect them to finish with a winning record; and if one of the top teams this year had only 10, they might finish in the top 10 again. But when in doubt, I’m going to go with the team that has proven more in the last year or two and has more returning starters. If a team has very few, I count recent seasons for less. That’s why Oklahoma St., for instance, was not a team I ranked.

Final Top 25

Here are my Preseason Rankings. I also did an SEC West Preview.

The teams are listed in order of how they finished in my final rankings.

Preseason ranks: mine, Sports Illustrated, Sagarin, AP, Coaches’

1. Ohio St. 9, 4, 10, 5, 6
Even when I heard about Braxton Miller, I didn’t move the Buckeyes down. I had a feeling this would be a very good team with 12 returning starters and one or two players wouldn’t make a difference. So even though I didn’t put them very high, I think I used sound reasoning. Also, when I do preseason rankings, I have a skeptical stance toward untested players, and it’s not quite as much about potential as how much they have to start the season. The loss came pretty early.

2. Florida St. 1, 1, 3, 1, 1
There just wasn’t a compelling case to drop FSU down after last season. None of the other contenders stood out, and there really wasn’t an impressive team overall on the field either.

3. Oregon 3, 8, 2, 3, 4
I can’t complain about my pick here. The Ducks had the highest number of returning starters among teams that were ranked after 2013, so I was not shocked to see them in the title game.

4. Alabama 4, 2, 1, 2, 2
I didn’t have Alabama first in the SEC, I had Auburn. That’s not how it worked out, but Alabama was actually less dominating in most games than I thought they would be. They just won all but one in conference.

5. Boise St. NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
I thought the Broncos might be done with these seasons given the fact that coaches keep leaving, but few apart from maybe some Marshall fans can argue they weren’t the best non-P5 team this year.

6. TCU NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
I thought the Horned Frogs might bounce back, but I was thinking maybe 7-5 or 8-4 instead. I’m not sure whether to give them credit or the rest of the conference blame.

7. UCLA 7, 5, 21, 7, 7
The Bruins finally had the top-10 season we’ve been promised a few times in the past. I mostly only put them this high because I couldn’t find other teams that were very compelling, but like I said earlier, that turned out to be the case in reality, so that’s why I got this one right.

8. Michigan St. 13, 6, 19, 8, 8
I couldn’t tell how much of the preseason buzz was based on the previous year or based on how good they really seemed. Looking back though, none of the results of their games were different than I projected based on my ratings. I did think they might lose to some lesser team, so I guess I’ll give them credit for surpassing my expectations in that regard.

9. Marshall NR, 25, NR, NR, NR
Credit to SI here for ranking them at all. It didn’t even occur to me to rank a CUSA team, to be honest.

10. Georgia Tech NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Like I had started to explain with Ohio St., I think to an extent, you have to look at how good teams likely are relative to one another at that point. Georgia Tech really wasn’t that good early in the season. They struggled with Tulane (early on anyway) and Georgia Southern and seemed dead in the water against Virginia Tech, but they kept getting better, and it seemed like they were a much better late-game team than they possibly ever were before under Paul Johnson.

11. Missouri NR, 22, 13, 24, NR
12. Baylor 22, 10, 15, 10, 10
These two are pretty much the same for me, so I’ll cover them together. I just thought they had one-off seasons in 2013. I didn’t anticipate that the two coaches would be able to “reload” so well. Missouri did lose the early game to Indiana and got blown out by Georgia, but they matured in a hurry after those setbacks. Baylor didn’t have early losses like that, but they did only have 9 returning starters, so 22 was high in light of that, at least from my perspective. Usually teams like that don’t come anywhere close to the successes of the previous version even though they get preseason rankings elsewhere.

13. Georgia 6. 12, 16, 12. 12
All the people who had them #12 did pretty well. I was right about how good they could be but wrong about how bad they could be. I would have never expected them to lose to South Carolina and Florida knowing about those two teams what I know now. Even though I had Auburn so high, I mentioned in the preseason that this was one of the games that might cause Auburn to have trouble winning the SEC West. I mentioned the Missouri game, but Auburn was an even more impressive big win at the time.

14. Wisconsin NR, 15, 9, 14, 14
I was surprised that Wisconsin ended up so high. I thought they would be more similar to last year’s team. But in my defense, they didn’t start out so well. On paper, they didn’t have much to start the season, which I think was an accurate understanding.

15. Ole Miss 16, 18, NR, 18, 19
I did a good job on this one. I didn’t expect them to make an appearance in the top 5 in the first place. This is an improving program though, so I don’t expect them to be an easy win in the SEC very often going forward either.

16. Mississippi St. NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
They were too mediocre in 2013 for me to seriously consider them for the top 25, but as I had mentioned in my SEC West preview, I thought they could beat some of the better SEC teams, which they did. So I wouldn’t say I was shocked here, I was just more reserved in the preseason.

17. Arizona NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
I honestly didn’t even consider the Wildcats. They had a number of teams with potential in the recent past and they all tended to fizzle, so I was most surprised to see them in the top 20.

18. Clemson 12, 16, 17, 16, 16
I thought there would be a second ACC team in or near the top 10, but I was wrong about which one.

19. Arizona St. NR, 19, 14, 19, 18
I remained skeptical about the Sun Devils based on so many seasons where they were supposed to have a good team and either didn’t at all or were wildly inconsistent. They were among the last teams I eliminated though.

20. USC 11, 17, 12, 15, 15
Where I picked them was a little ambitious, but where I dismissed teams with potential before, I thought USC would be more immediately good. This was not a good team to start the year though.

21. Auburn 2, 7, 24, 6, 5
Auburn was a disappointment in the end, but they were one of the best teams in the early going. They really should have beaten Alabama and Wisconsin later in the year. I think sometimes what happens is a team goes from competing for a national title to just trying to make a decent bowl and it’s deflating. Whereas another team that was mediocre the previous season would be excited to be ranked and so forth.

22. Colorado St. NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Like Marshall, this wasn’t a team I looked at or considered.

23. Kansas St. NR, 21, 18, 20, 21
I think I was justifiably cautious about the Wildcats. Had the Big XII been more than a couple of teams deep, I don’t think they would have finished this high.

24. Northern Illinois 25, NR, NR, NR, NR
For some reason, you get a bunch of flak for picking a small-conference team to perform similarly as in recent years, whereas other teams who have very little coming back are ranked with no one batting an eye. I have to admit I feel somewhat vindicated here.

25. Memphis NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
See Marshall and Colorado St.

Top 5 Unranked Busts

36. Oklahoma 5, 3, 6, 4, 3
The Sooners made the cover of Sports Illustrated for the preview issue and received 4 first-place votes between the two major polls. They did look a little bit better early, but they just didn’t seem to improve from how good they were in September.

49. South Carolina 8, 11, 8, 9, 9
They only showed a glimpse of the team they were supposed to be when they beat Georgia. This is a reminder going into next season that if you don’t have leadership (they lost their top defensive and offensive players after 2013), you don’t have much.

32. Stanford 15, 9, 4, 11, 11
Maybe I should have been more pessimistic here, but they didn’t finish that far outside the top 25. Still, I’m glad I wasn’t tempted to rank the Cardinal in the top 10. I looked at them as a similar team to Baylor, and for whatever reason, Baylor had a great season and Stanford didn’t.

30. LSU 10, 14, 7, 13, 13
In my defense, I had LSU fifth in the conference. I had trouble judging which SEC teams would be better than which other teams. I was very disappointed with both coordinators overall. I don’t want to be sour grapes about former DC Chavis, but I expected better based on his very good years at LSU, especially before 2013. I think OC Cam Cameron may have forgotten how to develop a teenage quarterback rather than one well into his 20s as NFL starting quarterbacks typically are. LSU could have very easily won 11 games this year based on talent, but they also could have missed out on a bowl game entirely due to failures to close out games. I said the winner of LSU/Alabama would be the most likely SEC champion, so at least that part was true. Had LSU closed out that one and beaten Arkansas, they would have at least tied for the West title.

33. Notre Dame NR, 13, 20, 17, 17
I haven’t addressed the Music City Bowl in depth yet, but people who think that justified a top-25 ranking for the Irish are insane. Arkansas beat LSU 17-0 late in the season and since then beat up on Ole Miss and Texas, losing only to Missouri in a close game. Arkansas didn’t have a defensive stop over a touchdown gifted to them against LSU, and LSU’s defense didn’t just roll over on third downs time and time again. Also, somehow, Notre Dame made LSU look like a point-scoring machine at times. Anyway, I feel very justified in not ranking the Irish in preseason and in recognizing them as a bust now.

Other Disappointments

Mine: (14) Central Florida, (19) Texas, (20) Michigan, (21) Louisville, (23) Florida, (24) Duke
Michigan was the only bad team of the group, but they shouldn’t have been a bad team at all. I think Texas is improving but will take another year. Florida and Duke were good teams at times but inconsistent. Central Florida nearly beat Penn St. for the second consecutive season but somehow lost to Connecticut for their only conference loss. Louisville may have been about right had they won the bowl game.

SI: (20) Texas A&M, (23) Oregon St., (24) Nebraska
Nebraska and Texas A&M were by no means horrible and might have been a couple of bounces of the ball from being ranked, but I don’t know where Oregon St. came from. I know they beat Arizona St., but that was one bright spot in dismal year. In fact, it was the Beavers’ only win of their last 7 games. Their BEST win was at home over San Diego St. I still don’t understand Nebraska’s hiring of Mike Riley, by the way.

Sagarin: (5) Oklahoma St., (11) Texas A&M, (22) Washington, (23) Texas, (25) Florida
I’m not sure how Saragin’s preseason rankings work, but I think it’s mostly based on performances in recent years. Texas and Florida in particular would not have been surprising had the finished with those rankings. Oklahoma St. of course is ridiculous looking back, but it wasn’t too long ago that the Cowboys nearly made the title game, and in 2013 they were again one of the best teams in the country before dropping the last two games (Bedlam and the Cotton against Missouri). Like I said above, having A&M ranked wasn’t far-fetched, but of course #11 was a bit high to say the least. Washington never really clicked, but there was no shame in having them near the bottom of the top 25 in preseason. They made a bowl at least and played some competitive games against good teams. In fact, their only regular-season losses were to teams that were ranked at the time. Among those, only Stanford finished unranked.

Polls: (21, 20) Texas A&M, (22, 22) Nebraska, (23, 23) North Carolina, (25, 25) Washington, (NR, 24) Texas
I covered everyone but North Carolina above. I have no idea why they were ranked.

For the record, here are my final rankings of the teams in this section:
26. Nebraska
27. Louisville
31. Texas A&M
41. Florida
46. Duke
57. Washington
58. Oklahoma St.
59. Central Florida
63. Texas
65. Michigan
70. North Carolina
89. Oregon St.

Anyway, I’m sure I’ll have upcoming posts about other sports and sporadically football, but like I referenced above, we’re about halfway to the next preseason rankings, so I plan to have a lot to say then.

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