I never claimed projections, especially preseason ones, as my strong suit, but a lot of smart people who spent more than a couple of hours before they make their projections picked LSU and/or Oklahoma to make the national semifinal. Sometimes I project the final rankings better than the professionals, and sometimes I don’t. I think I’ve done a pretty decent job over the years for the focus that I give to it.
I’ve always had a greater motivation to give teams proper credit for what they’ve done, and I’ll strive to do that for the wins over LSU, Oklahoma, and Bowling Green. (Those are the three results where there is the most apparent discrepancy with my preseason rankings so far.)
I actually spent more time in the off-season looking at my formula (so that later this year I do give teams the rankings they deserve) than I spent looking at anything to do with preseason.
I expected LSU to have a close game against Wisconsin in the state of Wisconsin. I just didn’t expect them to get into winning-field-goal position and for the quarterback to inexplicably throw It to the wrong team. I also didn’t anticipate that Wisconsin would hit two long field goals, the second of which was to take the lead in the fourth quarter. If they miss the second one, there is little doubt that LSU wins.
Although I did not rank Wisconsin at the end of last season, I ranked them at the beginning of this season because I believe they can play good teams, especially close to home, and have a chance to win if said good team chokes. I don’t think they’ll beat everyone, but I would be surprised if they didn’t beat another ranked team at some point. I moved Wisconsin up more spots than I moved LSU in the preseason. Also, I only ranked LSU 3 spots higher than the AP poll did. I didn’t do anything crazy there.
As for Houston, 18th is pretty high for a preseason ranking for a non-power-5 team. I was surprised that the Houston defense took control late rather than the Oklahoma offense. Usually you expect a good offense to wear down a suspect defense, but maybe the Cougars are going to be a more balanced team than in past seasons. Absolutely no one should be surprised Houston scored 33 points (although the special teams is responsible for one touchdown), but holding Oklahoma to 23 was a bit surprising.
Regarding Ohio St., which got the most immediate push-back, I did want to say a couple of things about not buying in to certain preseason considerations that are present in other polls and rankings. This is typical of my preseason outlook of only seeing a team as worthy of continuing in the top 10 if they have most of their key players back.
Although Florida St. had about twice as many returning starters last year as Ohio St. does this year, I still got criticism for dropping the Seminoles from #2 (where I had them at the end of 2014) to #12. They finished #14 in both polls (and even lower in my rankings, obviously), so I was actually conservative in demoting them. Like Ohio St., the Seminoles had won the national championship two years before. Unlike Ohio St., they had an undefeated regular season and made the national semifinal the prior year.
Even if they’d rallied to end the year in the top 10, my skepticism in preseason was still warranted by the level of play early on. I try to accurately reflect how tough a team it is now or at least in the near future more than I try to look into the crystal ball to predict what might happen in late November and afterward, but often they mean the same thing. If you have a lack of experience now, that will in most cases plague you throughout the year because for most teams the experienced players will get even better, so it’s hard to surpass them.
I also think the pushback is a function of Saban’s success at Alabama, though he’s generally had 11 or 12 returning starters, which is a a lot more than 6. Everyone thinks their team should be able to be really good yet again if they were good last year. Never mind how much the final top 10 changed from one year to the next. Urban Meyer is a great coach, don’t get me wrong, but even great coaches have years with a few losses. Half of his Florida teams had at least three losses and a third of them had at least four.
Speaking of Florida, I dropped them to #13 in the 2013 preseason when they only had 10 returning starters after finishing the regular season with one loss the year before (they lost the bowl game, but not showing up for the bowl game the year before didn’t stop Alabama in 2009 or 2015 (it also didn’t stop the Tide from making the national semifinal in 2014). Anyway, I should have dropped that 2013 Florida team a lot more than that since they finished 4-8.
I’m not saying anything like what happened to Florida in 2013 will happen to Ohio St. this year. I’m only picking one Ohio St. team to have a few losses.
The only real argument I got in response was that Urban Meyer is a really good coach and recruiter. In 2010 (when they had 10 returning starters according to Phil Steele), even Alabama had 3 losses. That was Saban’s fourth year there, so there isn’t some other coach to blame for that. There is just only so much even the best coaches with even the best recruits can do with raw talent in the offseason.
Maybe Ohio St. better talent than some of these other examples, maybe they’ll be really good at avoiding injuries. Maybe they’ll have a couple injuries, lack depth, and start having trouble. All this is about is assessing likelihoods. With 128 teams playing 12 or so games apiece, a lot of unlikely things are going to happen.
The final score in the Bowling Green game doesn’t mean much to me. Urban Meyer always liked to run up the score. There is absolutely no reason in a game like that to score 42 points in the second half. I don’t think Louisville scoring 70 means they should be in the top 10 either, and I also didn’t think that when Boston College scored 76 in a game last year that they deserved a ranking.
I’m not making a prediction at this time, but I’ll be very interested in the outcome of Ohio St.@ Oklahoma in a couple of weeks.
I’m sure there will be examples where I made better picks than the experts and examples where I made worse picks. The decision not to rank UCLA, for instance, is looking pretty good at the moment. Also, I was 9-1 against the spread in SEC games. Of course I would have preferred to go 1-9 with LSU winning, but that’s life.
Addendum: Review of 2014 and 2015 Preseason Rankings
I didn’t do a blog after last season about it (I was busy writing the NFL blogs, and then I just got onto college basketball and didn’t think about it again).
I think I did a good job when I reviewed the results after 2014. I got 3 of the top 4 right in preseason that year. I also had two other top 10 teams who ended up in the top 10, Ohio St. and UCLA. I got the exact rank correct for UCLA.
No one (by no one I mean the other major preseason listings I compared) had Boise St., TCU, Marshall, or Ga. Tech. Some had Michigan St., but I had them pretty close to the top 10 myself.
I also had Ole Miss higher than anyone else did in 2014. Northern Illinois was a good pick no one else had.
The only one I ranked in preseason who didn’t make a bowl game was Michigan. Brady Hoke always surprised me by how much talent he was able to waste.
I know you think I always hate the Big Ten, but I’ve actually been too positive about some Big Ten teams over the years. I think I’ve picked Ohio St. #1 in preseason more than any other team, although it’s possible Alabama tied or passed them up recently.
I also had the wisdom not to pick North Carolina or Oregon St. in 2014. They were both worse than Michigan. Other good non-picks were Texas A&M (which resulted in some criticism here) and Washington.
In 2015, I just calculated this really quickly:
In my preseason top 4: 1
In AP preseason top 4: 1
In my preseason top 5: 2
In AP preseason top 5: 2
In my preseason top 10: 3
In AP preseason top 10: 3
*Ohio St. finished in the AP top 4 but did not make the semifinal. The AP and I both had them in the preseason top 4.
AP final top 10:
5 were in my preseason top 10
4 were in AP preseason top 10
6 were in my preseason top 11
4 were in AP preseason top 11
The AP and I both had 8 in preseason top 25 (we did not have Houston or Iowa)