Preseason polls will come out soon and set up a largely baseless caste system for the 2012 college football season. Said polls will be dissected. Accusations of favoritism and bias will fly in every direction. I decided to look at data from the last five seasons to determine which teams, if any, were being overrated.
Methodology: I compared the initial AP poll to the final SRS rankings. The former is a consensus indicator of media opinion. The SRS rankings, accounting for strength of schedule and margin of victory provide a reasonable objective indicator of how teams did. I averaged the disparities over the five-year period.
I eliminated every team that did not receive an initial AP vote in any of the five years, under the premise that you can’t be the most overrated team if no one voted for you to start a season. This saved Wisconsin from claiming the top slot. Had I used the Coaches’ Poll for 2009, Wisconsin would have come out +10.6. Here are the top ten that came out.
Notre Dame [+10.4] This is the team one would expect to be the most overrated. However, it is an aberration that has them this high. In 2007, Notre Dame was ranked 39th in the AP poll and finished 82nd in SRS after a 3-9 season. However, over the past four seasons Notre Dame’s average AP poll ranking was 23.6 and their average SRS ranking was 25.4. An average disparity of just +1.8 leaves them fairly accurately rated.
Texas [+9.8] This was all 2010 when the Longhorns started 5th in the AP poll and finished 57th in SRS. Texas’ combined rating for the other four seasons was just [+0.6].
BYU [+8.6] Ty Detmer is not walking out from that tunnel. Voters drastically overrated BYU in 2008 (+23) and 2010 (+27) and slightly in 2011 and 2009.
Florida State [+8.4] No surprise here, though voters have become more realistic about the Seminoles. They have added just +3.5 on average to Florida State the past four years, as opposed to +17.75 from 2004 to 2007.
Georgia [+7.8] Voters overrated Georgia drastically from 2008 to 2010, placing them 14.7 places higher than they finished on average. Last year the Dawgs started 19th in the AP and finished 21st in SRS.
Ohio State [+6.8] This was all 2011 where, without Tressel and Pryor, Ohio State began 18th in the AP poll and finished 42nd in SRS. Counting just 2007 to 2010, the average margin was (+2).
Auburn [+6.6] Media members have no grasp on Auburn. The average margin of difference either positively or negatively between the initial AP poll and SRS the past four seasons is 28. The closest margin in that period was (-19) in 2010 when the initial AP poll had them 22nd and they finished 3rd in SRS. Auburn is here because of drastic overratings in 2008 (+51) and 2011 (+23).
Nebraska [+6.6] Voters overshot Nebraska by (+42) in 2007. Undershot them in 2008 (-26), were closer in 2009 (+5) and then off a bit in 2011 (+9) an 2012 (+15) as the Cornhuskers did not take their expected step forward.
Florida [+5.8] The Gators were underrated by an average margin of (-1) from 2007 to 2009. The media than overrated them significantly in the last year of Urban Meyer’s tenure (+22) and the first year of Will Muschamp’s. (+12)
Penn State [+5.4] This was one outlier season. In 2010 Penn State began the season ranked 19th in the AP poll and finished 7-6, 50th in SRS. The Nittany Lions were significantly underrated in 2008, when they finished 5th in SRS and slightly overrated in 2007, 2009 and 2011.
Teams that Were Underrated: Oklahoma State using the Coaches’ Poll for 2008 had an average margin of (-12.4). Oregon had a margin of (-9.4), last year when AP rated them 3rd and they finished 5th in SRS, was the only year they were overrated. Missouri (-6.8) has finished the season in the SRS top 20 four of the past five five seasons and begun the year rated in the AP Top 20 just once.
Teams that Were Accurately Rated: Despite the Craig James factor, AP voters have locked down on Boise State. They were slightly underrated (-1.6) over the last five years. The margin has been within three in either direction the past three seasons. AP voters have also been within two places on West Virginia the last three seasons and four of the last five. The one hiccup was in 2008 (+21) when the Mountaineers transitioned from Rich Rodriguez to Bill Stewart.
Unpredictable: Besides Auburn, Michigan has also given voters some trouble. They have received an initial AP vote in three of the past five seasons. The closest margin was 2007 in Lloyd Carr’s last year when Michigan started 5th and ended up 30th in SRS.
Conclusion: AP voters do not appear to be systematically overrating any team. Individual biases are largely cancelled out by the group. Those overrated on average had one fluke season or did not play to the level of their talent. Voters accurately smaller juggernauts such as Boise State. They realize Chip Kelly’s offense is not a gimmick. That said, non-traditional powers, such as Missouri and Oklahoma State, still face an uphill battle.
When voters err greatly, it is almost always diminishing the impact of transitions, particularly huge drop offs in quarterback experience. Just looking thorough this data set… Ohio State w/out Pryor in 2011 (+24), Florida w/out Tebow in 2010 (+22), Texas w/out McCoy in 2010 (+52), Penn State w/out Clark in 2010 (+31), LSU w/out Flynn in 2008 (+30), Michigan w/out Henne in 2008 (+52), Auburn w/out Cox in 2008 (+51). With that in mind, keep an eye on Baylor, Stanford, Oklahoma State and Boise State to not live up to their initial AP valuation in 2012.
[Photo via Getty]