Can You Smell It?

The more I read, the more confused I get. I try to avoid being swayed by the pundits but it's very difficult. I mean, their sole purpose in life this time of year is to sway. Is Ohio State's offense really the second coming of Vince Young's 2005 Longhorns? Will West Virginia's schedule give them an opportunity at the championship? Do I care?

Attached is an article about the last 35 years of pre-season polls that I think you will all find enjoyable. Clearly the purpose of the poll is to attract ratings for television and make sure that the big boys stay close to the top as long as they're somewhat respectable. (The second week of the season pits number 1 Ohio State against number 2 Texas in a prime time matchup on ABC, and I promise, neither team will finish with that ranking at the end of the year, however it would take an absolutely catostrophic collapse for one of those two to finish unranked).

But have you ever wondered how accurate the pollsters are? Michigan has had their fair share of mis-rankings (see last year's pre-season #4) but much to my surprise we have been relatively UNDER-RATED. Here's an exerpt...

24. Michigan: Since 1971, no school has been ranked in the AP preseason poll more times than the Wolverines. They've been unranked just once, in 1985, a slight that prompted a defensively-dominant 10-1-1 season and a Fiesta Bowl victory over Nebraska. Last year's unexpected freefall to 7-5 represented just the second time in the last 35 years that Michigan began the year in the Top 25, yet couldn't maintain their ranking at the end of the bowl season.

*Composite Score: -4.21

Here's the opening blurb to give you a little background...

Since 1971, 31 college football programs have graced the AP's preseason Top 20...Top 25 beginning in 1989...at least 10 different years. Some have routinely lived up to their expectations, rewarding voters by either meeting or exceeding summer expectations with a solid season. Many others over the last 35 years, however, have not been as kind to the pollsters, often fading quickly and failing to meet their advanced billing.

And maybe my favorite paragraph of them all...

8. Notre Dame Rejoice, Irish haters. The 35-year evidence bears out your long-held belief that Notre Dame football gets way more credit in the polls than it deserves. The Irish have been ranked in 30 preseasons since 1971, but have been able to maintain or improve upon that projection a mere eight times. And on 11 occasions, they slid completely off the charts by the time the final bowl game had been played. The last three times Notre Dame was ranked in the preseason 1999, 2001 and 2003...it failed to manufacture more than five wins.

*Composite Score: -10.40

However you might get an even bigger kick out of who's been the most over-rated...Nice work by the guys at collegefootballnews.com. They saved me from doing a whole bunch of work that I wasn't sure I wanted to committ too...Here's the link...

The major factor that is not addressed however is when a team starts the season unranked but finishes in the rankings. I realize the point of the article is to focus our attention solely on the preseason rankings but in determining if a program is under or overrated, both elements should be considered. And obviously the previous years success or failure will ultimately have some bearing on the respect the individual program garners in the preseason. Certainly this holds true for the teams that aren't consistantly in the polls.

For instance, in 1999 the Michigan State Spartans went unranked in the preseason however finished the year number seven in the country. That would make them a plus 18 in a season they weren't ranked in the pre-season poll! The following preseason, Michigan State was ranked 25 in the AP's initial poll yet finished unranked at the end of the season. That type of jump of course is normally found when looking at the mid-level, power conference programs. And by using Michigan State as an example, we stay within the parameters that were established by the author: Choosing one of the 31 teams that appear at least 10 times since 1971.

Still a very nice piece of work and maybe Richard will join us at some point during the season to answer a couple of questions for The Hammer and talk more college football. Enjoy the article!