College football is a really hard sport to predict. On top of that, if you end up overrating a team, fans of its rival will never let you hear the end of it. And over time, fans and media come to agree that certain programs are just always overrated (and/or underrated).
You know, like how every time Texas or Michigan or Notre Dame is ranked highly, everyone complains?
We know that the media tends to miss on its conference champ predictions. The SEC media’s preseason picks have become an annual joke that even Nick Saban makes fun of. And the preseason AP Poll wildly overrates and underrates at least one team every year.
But what about using those preseason conference standings as a whole, over several years, to figure out which schools have been most overrated and underrated?
I went back a decade in each Power 5 league’s preseason picks to figure that out.
The methodology: each spot in the conference standings gets a point value, both in the preseason poll and in the final standings.
For leagues with divisions, for example, the predicted champ in a seven-team division gets seven points, second place gets six, etc.
And I’ll compare those expected finishes with what happened in real life.
- 2017 Clemson predicted finish: Second in the ACC Atlantic
- 2017 Clemson’s actual finish: First in the ACC Atlantic
- That’s +1 for the Tigers in 2017 because they outperformed what those in the ACC media thought they’d do.
Conferences have long had uneven structures, so I’ve found ways to adjust for realignment (Nebraska’s number includes its Big 12 past, for instance), conferences without divisions, conferences that didn’t release official polls in certain years, or ones that added divisions since 2008 (which explains why the Big Ten has decimals and the Big 12’s scale). Because of those differing setups, I’m only comparing each conference to itself, rather than creating a master list.
Let’s get to it.
ACC predicted finish vs. actual finish, 2008-2017
- The big surprises to me were Boston College and Virginia Tech, which hasn’t had any losing seasons, but which did slump during the middle of this sample. I figured BC would be pretty properly rated. But they got to the conference title game in 2008 and finished second in the Atlantic in 2009, far outperforming their media prediction (last in the coastal in 2009).
- Louisville’s up high, thanks to consistently overperforming in the Big East.
- It’s surprising that Florida State would underperform, but they’ve only been picked lower than second in the Atlantic one time (2008). 2017 really tanked the Noles’ number here, as they were picked first and finished sixth. It might feel unfair to rank FSU last almost entirely based on one season, but it really was that big of a disaster.
Big Ten predicted finish vs. actual finish, 2008-2017
- The Big Ten made the exercise as difficult as possible. There is no official preseason poll for the league at media days anymore (but the Cleveland Plain Dealer takes up the task every year, thankfully). When there was an official preseason poll, it only ranked the top three teams. Nerds.
- Yep, Rutgers is high, thanks in part to the Big East. And in the Big Ten era, if the Scarlet Knights are picked to finish last, but actually reach fifth (as happened in 2017), that’s another two points.
- It’s a testament to what Jim Tressell and Urban Meyer have been able to pull off that the Buckeyes have not only set huge expectations, but almost always met them. OSU has been picked to finish first or second in their division and/or the entire conference since 2008. Besides 2011, amid a surprise coaching change, they’ve done that.
- LOL Michigan.
- Yes, Michigan State, you’re numerically underrated, but it ain’t by much.
Big 12 predicted finish vs. actual finish, 2008-2017
- Unpredictability is in the eye of the beholder. The charitable way to look at these results is that Iowa State, Baylor, and Oklahoma State are consistently underrated.
- While that may be part of the equation, another way to view it is that a consistent Texas/Oklahoma bias has the Big 12’s heavyweights consistently overrated, taking up spots they shouldn’t be in.
- I’m surprised Kansas State’s overperformance isn’t higher than it is, though this sample does include Bill Snyder’s second rebuild.
- Kansas got underrated from 2007-2009, when they’d caught lightning in a bottle. The media eventually re-adjusted and got back to picking the Jayhawks dead last.
- (Again, the Big 12 is on a different point scale, because of its lack of divisions over most of this span. K-State and Texas haven’t been that much more mis-rated than other teams on these lists.)
Pac-12 predicted finish vs. actual finish, 2008-2017
- I was surprised with how relatively static the league is. The Los Angeles schools being consistently overrated isn’t shocking, but it seems like the media gets the beat of the rest of the conference right more often than not.
SEC predicted finish vs. actual finish, 2008-2017
- LOL Tennessee
- Much like Ohio State, it’s impressive to see Alabama consistently get voted at or near the top of its division and meet the expectation.
- I was absolutely floored that Auburn panned out the way it did, given the fact that if you do this with the AP Poll, the Tigers are wildly unpredictable going back way further than a decade. They’re all over the place from year to year, but the fluctuations even out over time.
- Missouri and Texas A&M’s numbers include their Big 12 results from 2008-2011, but never forget that the Tigers actually won the East twice in years they certainly weren’t prognosticated to do so.
- Finally, a big shoutout to our friends at For Whom the Cowbell Tolls, who did this exercise on a smaller scale with the SEC.