When Alabama put the finishing touches on the national title destruction, our thoughts turned to next season. Our preseason #1 had won the national title. I know, I know, not exactly rocket science to have Alabama #1 since it has now won three of the last four titles. Except the majority of polls and publications did not. USC and LSU were #1 in the majority of them five months ago. The site collegefootballpoll.com compiled the preseason rankings of nine different sources, and the Sports Illustrated rankings were the other one with Alabama at #1.
I took those preseason rankings for the nine publications and then compared them to the final AP poll after the bowl games concluded. There were seven teams in the final rankings that did not appear in any of the preseason rankings. Texas A&M was the most notable, and I know they were in our discussion based on their SRS rating last year, but the unknown was quarterback. That kind of worked out in A&M’s first year in the SEC.
Meanwhile, there were 35 different teams that appeared in at least one of the rankings preseason (and thus, 18 of them ended the year ranked). To compare the relative rankings, for each of those 35 teams, I ranked each ranking publication by how close they were to the final ranking. The closest got a 1, and the farthest away a 9. In case of ties, points were split (so a two way tie for most accurate would get 1.5 points each).
Let’s take Ohio State, who ended up 3rd in the AP, as an example. Athlon had Ohio State at 6th, so they got 1 point. Big Lead/USA Today Preview Magazine had Ohio State 8th, the second closest. Phil Steele had them 11th (3 points), and Lindy’s had them 14th (4 points).
Do that for all 35 teams ranked by at least one of the publications, and here are the results.
- Big Lead Sports/USA Today (152.5)
- ESPN Live (163.5)
- Sports Illustrated (170)
- Preseason Coaches Poll (174)
- Athlon (174)
- Preseason AP Poll (175.5)
- Lindy’s (177)
- Phil Steele (185.5)
- Sporting News (204)
Our hits were Alabama #1, Ohio State in the Top Ten, Oregon ranked as high as anyone else (4th), having more skepticism of Virginia Tech and Michigan State than any of the other rankings, and being higher on Florida and Notre Dame. Our biggest misses were being lower on Georgia and Clemson than most, and I suppose, being higher on Oklahoma State (though they should have been ranked in the final poll and are one of the 25 best teams in the country).
Here are the number of times each publication was in the top two or bottom two in regard to the rankings on the 35 most frequently rated teams entering the season.
- Big Lead Sports/USA Today (10 in top, 2 in bottom)
- ESPN Live (7 in top, 4 in bottom)
- Sports Illustrated (10 in top, 8 in bottom)
- Athlon (6 in top, 6 in bottom)
- Coaches Poll (3 in top, 4 in bottom)
- Associated Press Poll (2 in top, 3 in bottom)
- Lindy’s (6 in top, 7 in bottom)
- Sporting News (5 in top, 7 in bottom)
- Phil Steele (8 in top, 13 in bottom)
Phil Steele is one of my favorite publications. He also does not pay attention to other polls, which is a good thing to avoid group think. He had the third most hits, but also the most misses, because his rankings are least correlated with any others. The AP and Coaches Polls, meanwhile, represent a survey of a large number of voters and tended to fall in the middle on most of the teams, and were rarely at an extreme on a team.
Our rankings were done with a philosophy that we were going to rank teams based on perceived quality, and disregard strength of schedule and trying to predict who might get ranked because of a gaudy won loss record. That probably cost us by having too many teams from the SEC and Big XII (13 of the 25) in our rankings on balance, but also kept us from overvaluing others that were not as strong as people thought. Ty Duffy had the final call on the rankings after we debated and discussed tiers and who should be in consideration. It was our first year doing the rankings for a glossy magazine, like the ones we used to read as kids, so it was good to see we acquitted ourselves well.
Of course, no ranking or prediction is perfect, and the season is nowhere near as predictable as we would like to believe with hindsight. I know that you knew that Texas A&M was going to be awesome, but remember that no one had them ranked and a year ago people were talking about how much of an error it was for them to go to the SEC.
[photo via USA Today Sports Images]