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Stats Corner: The No-Good Pre-Season Poll

Looking at the Pre-Season and Post-Season AP Polls

2024 CFP National Championship - Michigan v Washington Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Another football season has come and gone. At the end of the year, we are going to take this opportunity to reflect on the foolishness of the Pre-Season Polls as we do every year on Stats Corner. Of the 25 teams who started the season ranked, 8 of them, 32%, left the rankings through the year. Those are #6 USC 8-5, #9 Clemson 9-4, #14 Utah 8-5, #16 Kansas State 9-4, #17 TCU 5-7, #19 Wisconsin 7-6, #21 North Carolina 8-5, and #23 Texas A&M 7-6. Of those teams 2 were from the ACC, 2 from the Big 12, 2 from the PAC 12, 1 from the Big Ten, and one from the SEC. Meaning that once again all the teams who dropped out were from the Power 5 conference, not a single group of 5 was ranked in the pre-season and dropped out, since 2018 only Boise State (2018), UCF (2018, 2019), Coastal Carolina (2021) , Houston (2022) and Tulane (2023) have started the season ranked. Boise State and UCF were ranked at the end of the year, Coastal Carolina was not after a terrible 10-2 season, and Houston was 8-5 and not ranked. Tulane was ranked 23rd this year after starting at 24th.

The teams who finished, but did not start the season ranked were #9 Missouri, #14 Arizona, #16 Louisville, #17 SMU, #18 Liberty, #19 North Carolina State, #22 Oklahoma State, and #24 James Madison. That gives G5 3 of the 8 schools (37.5%) who joined the rankings after being left out.

Some of the big changes were Washington moving from 10th to 2nd, Texas moving from 11th to 3rd, Georgia dropping from 1st to 5th, Oregon moving from 15th to 8th, Ole Miss moving from 22nd to 11th, Oklahoma moving from 20th to 12th, LSU dropping from 5th to 13th, and Tennessee dropping from 12th to 25th.

Over the last 15 years only 2% of schools who started the season unranked made it into the top 10 by the end of the season. While each year there is at least one top 10 team which ends up being unranked, in this case #6 USC and #9 Clemson.

Over the last five years there 125 teams ranked in the pre-season top 25, 52 of them or 41.6% were not there at the end of the season. Of those 52, 51 or 98.1% were from the Power 5 conferences. Of the 52 teams who replaced them 21 or 40.3% were from the G5 conferences. This shows that the preseason poll is bias towards Power 5 schools, it takes several weeks for the G5 to break into the top 25 and only after they win multiple games and the teams ahead of them lose. The rankings should be done on the field during the games, there really should never be a week one upset because we do not know how good the teams are (should Duke’s week 1 victory of Clemson be called an upset? We did not know that Clemson was a 9-4 team and Duke was 8-5 it was based solely on how they did last season). With the transfer portal leading to a larger turnover in roster than ever before, the preseason poll creates a paradigm which is not correct and can take weeks to overcome. The preseason poll should end and the first poll should not take place until at least week 4. Despite what they say the committee uses the polls as a guideline, with so much riding on rankings in the polls, it is not fair for teams to start so far behind and play catchup during the season. The other problem with the preseason poll is that it creates a disadvantage for certain teams, pick any undefeated G5 program, the only way to move up is for the team in front of you to lose. If they do not lose, you are not moving up. Think MWC 2004 Utah, they started at 20th, and six weeks later after beating Texas A&M, Arizona, and North Carolina they only moved to 11th. Then it was 2 weeks at 9, two weeks, at 7, and two weeks at 5 waiting for Virginia, Purdue, Miami, and Wisconsin to lose before they could move up. Even 12-1 Michigan had to wait until the teams in front of them lost before they could claim a place in the college football playoffs. Teams should not be punished because of their rankings which occurred before any games had been played.