College football is hard to predict, even when it comes to the basics. With a small sample size of only eight or nine conference games, and with all the players being of such a volatile age, nobody’s gonna get it right much more than half the time.
Here’s one look: Power 5 favorites, according to each conference’s official preseason polls from the last decade-plus, compared to who actually won each year.
The straight-up title record of conference favorites over this span is 27-33, with some conferences’ media faring more accurately than others. That record looks slightly better if we give full credit for split championships in which the conference favorite lost a head-to-head game against another co-champ, but that's the Participation Trophy of conference titles.
To the records, which show this is a hard sport to predict, even for people who are supposed to spend all their working hours studying it.
Predicted ACC champs
|2006||Miami||4th in Coastal||Wake Forest|
|2007||Virginia Tech||Champ||Virginia Tech|
|2008||Clemson||T-3rd in Atlantic||Virginia Tech|
|2009||Virginia Tech||2nd in Coastal||Georgia Tech|
|2010||Virginia Tech||Champ||Virginia Tech|
|2011||Florida State||T-2nd in Atlantic||Clemson|
|2012||Florida State||Champ||Florida State|
|2013||Clemson||2nd in Atlantic||Florida State|
|2014||Florida State||Champ||Florida State|
|2017||Florida State||6th in Atlantic||Clemson|
The ACC is usually relatively easy to predict, because there are only so many serious football schools.
Predicted Big 12 champs
Just pick Oklahoma every year.
Predicted Big Ten champs
|2006||Ohio State***||Champ||Ohio State|
|2008||Ohio State||T-1st||Penn State*|
|2009||Ohio State||Champ||Ohio State|
|2010||Ohio State||T-1st||Michigan State*|
|2013||Ohio State||Leaders champ||Michigan State|
|2014||Ohio State||Champ||Ohio State|
|2015||Ohio State||T-1st East||Michigan State|
|2016||Ohio State||T-1st East||Penn State|
|2017||Ohio State||Champ||Ohio State|
Ohio State is the Power 5's most frequent conference favorite and is usually a near-miss at worst.
Predicted Pac-12 champs
Despite being the country's hardest conference to predict on a game-by-game basis, the Pac-12 might’ve had the easiest Power 5 champs to predict. Going back a few more years before 2006 would’ve made that even clearer, since USC would’ve tacked on multiple more.
Predicted SEC champs
The SEC media's record of picking champs compares fine with the Big Ten's or Big 12's as of late, but it’s the one most famously associated with a bad record (6-20 all-time), perhaps because only Alabama and a group of like four other schools ever have real chances to win it, so how hard could it be?
* In the event of tiebreakers, I listed the head-to-head winner.
** Big 12 polls until 2010 only listed division favorites, not conference favorites, so I used the AP Poll as a tiebreaker. A previous version of this post used raw Big 12 vote counts.
*** For a few older Big Ten and Pac-10/12 seasons, I couldn't find official releases, so I used the AP. The favorites seemed quite clear for each year.
**** The Big Ten stopped doing an official poll this year — what decorum, valor, sanctity, and scholarship! — so Cleveland.com handles it annually.
***** National champ though, lol.