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College Football: A Historical Analysis on the Accuracy of the AP Preseason Poll

Posted by Andrew McKillop on August 29, 2011

Post Highlights

  • Since the first AP preseason poll in 1950, about only 1/3rd of the ranked teams have been able exceed or match their preseason AP poll ranking in the final AP poll.
  • Amongst schools with ten or more preseason poll appearances, Georgia has the highest percentage of seasons (44.8%) in which they finished the season with a higher ranking than the one they had in the preseason poll.
  • Amongst schools with ten or more preseason poll appearances, Stanford has the highest percentage of seasons (71.4%) in which they finished a season unranked, after being ranked in the preseason poll.

 

I don’t think the AP’s college football preseason poll should be interpreted as a prediction, as much as it should be interpreted as an indicator of a school’s strength and talent heading into the season.  None the less a top ranking in the preseason poll raises expectations.  Historically expectations raised in the AP poll are difficult to match.  Since the first AP preseason poll in 1950, about only 1/3rd of the ranked teams have been able exceed or match their preseason AP poll ranking in the final AP poll.  Checkout the list below for a breakdown on how many times each school has exceeded, met, or missed a preseason poll ranking.

 

Facing AP Preseason Poll Expectations

Legend: Pre Polls (# of preseason polls the school has been ranked in; doesn’t include this year’s preseason poll)

+ (# of times the school had a final poll ranking that was higher than their preseason ranking),

/ (# of times the school had the same ranking in the preseason poll as the final poll)

(# of times the school had a final poll ranking that was lower than their preseason ranking)

UR (# of times a school started the season ranked in the preseason poll but ended the season unranked), % (Percent of seasons in which a school ranked in the preseason poll  finished the season higher, same, lower, or unranked in the final poll)

Atlantic Coast
School Pre Polls + % / % % UR %
Boston College 4 3 75% 0 1 25% 1 25%
Clemson 21 6 29% 2 10% 13 62% 10 48%
Duke 8 2 25% 0 6 75% 4 50%
Florida St 32 9 28% 5 16% 18 56% 8 25%
Georgia Tech 13 3 23% 1 8% 9 69% 6 46%
Maryland 16 7 44% 0 9 56% 5 31%
Miami FL 29 8 28% 1 3% 20 69% 8 28%
NC St 6 2 33% 0 4 67% 4 67%
North Carolina 16 4 25% 0 12 75% 11 69%
Virginia 8 1 13% 0 7 88% 4 50%
Virginia Tech 14 6 43% 1 7% 7 50% 2 14%
Wake Forest 1 0 0 1 100% 1 100%
Big East
School Pre Polls + % / % % UR %
Louisville 4 1 25% 0 3 75% 2 50%
Pittsburgh 20 5 25% 0 15 75% 12 60%
Rutgers 1 0 0 1 100% 1 100%
South Florida 1 0 0 1 100% 1 100%
Syracuse 14 3 21% 0 11 79% 6 43%
West Virginia 14 2 14% 1 7% 11 79% 7 50%
Big Ten
School Pre Polls + % / % % UR %
Illinois 13 2 15% 0 11 85% 9 69%
Indiana 2 0 0 2 100% 2 100%
Iowa 22 8 36% 1 5% 13 59% 11 50%
Michigan 43 12 28% 0 31 72% 6 14%
Michigan St 25 2 8% 4 16% 19 76% 15 60%
Minnesota 5 0 0 5 100% 5 100%
Nebraska 41 12 29% 2 5% 27 66% 5 12%
Northwestern 6 1 17% 0 5 83% 5 83%
Ohio St 57 17 30% 4 7% 36 63% 14 25%
Penn St 43 19 44% 2 5% 22 51% 10 23%
Purdue 15 3 20% 1 7% 11 73% 7 47%
Wisconsin 20 6 30% 2 10% 12 60% 9 45%
Big 12
School Pre Polls + % / % % UR %
Baylor 4 1 25% 1 25% 2 50% 2 50%
Iowa St 1 0 0 1 100% 1 100%
Kansas 6 0 0 6 100% 6 100%
Kansas St 9 3 33% 0 6 67% 3 33%
Missouri 7 1 14% 0 6 86% 5 71%
Oklahoma 52 13 25% 9 17% 30 58% 9 17%
Oklahoma St 4 0 0 4 100% 4 100%
Texas 48 14 29% 4 8% 30 63% 13 27%
Texas A&M 26 7 27% 1 4% 18 69% 10 38%
Texas Tech 6 2 33% 1 17% 3 50% 3 50%
Pac-12
School Pre Polls + % / % % UR %
Arizona 9 2 22% 0 7 78% 4 44%
Arizona St 20 6 30% 0 14 70% 11 55%
California 12 2 17% 0 10 83% 7 58%
Colorado 16 4 25% 0 12 75% 6 38%
Oregon 8 4 50% 0 4 50% 4 50%
Oregon St 5 0 0 5 100% 4 80%
Stanford 14 3 21% 0 11 79% 10 71%
UCLA 35 9 26% 0 26 74% 16 46%
USC 50 12 24% 4 8% 34 68% 15 30%
Utah 2 2 100% 0 0 0
Washington 28 7 25% 0 21 75% 15 54%
Washington St 2 1 50% 0 1 50% 1 50%
Southeastern
School Pre Polls + % / % % UR %
Alabama 44 15 34% 2 5% 27 61% 10 23%
Arkansas 23 9 39% 0 14 61% 9 39%
Auburn 33 13 39% 1 3% 19 58% 10 30%
Florida 32 6 19% 1 3% 25 78% 14 44%
Georgia 29 13 45% 0 16 55% 10 34%
Kentucky 4 1 25% 0 3 75% 2 50%
LSU 30 11 37% 2 7% 17 57% 7 23%
Mississippi 15 6 40% 1 7% 8 53% 4 27%
Mississippi St 6 0 0 6 100% 5 83%
South Carolina 6 1 17% 0 5 83% 5 83%
Tennessee 38 10 26% 4 11% 24 63% 10 26%
Independents
School Pre Polls + % / % % UR %
Army 6 2 33% 1 17% 3 50% 2 33%
BYU 11 2 18% 0 9 82% 4 36%
Navy 6 2 33% 0 4 67% 3 50%
Notre Dame 49 11 22% 2 4% 36 73% 17 35%
Non-BCS
School Pre Polls + % / % % UR %
Air Force 1 0 0 1 100% 1 100%
Boise St 4 1 25% 0 3 75% 2 50%
Colorado St 3 0 0 3 100% 3 100%
Fresno St 1 0 0 1 100% 1 100%
Hawaii 1 1 100% 0 0 0
Houston 10 4 40% 0 6 60% 3 30%
Marshall 1 0 0 1 100% 0
Miami OH 1 0 0 1 100% 1 100%
Rice 3 1 33% 0 2 67% 1 33%
SMU 8 3 38% 0 5 63% 4 50%
Southern Miss 2 0 0 2 100% 2 100%
TCU 11 3 27% 2 18% 6 55% 3 27%

 

Amongst schools with ten or more preseason poll appearances, Georgia has the highest percentage of seasons (44.8%) in which they finished the season with a higher ranking than the one they had in the preseason poll.

Exceeding AP Preseason Poll Expectations

Legend: Look above.

School % + Pre Polls
Georgia 44.8% 13 29
Penn St 44.2% 19 43
Maryland 43.8% 7 16
Virginia Tech 42.9% 6 14
Houston 40.0% 4 10
Mississippi 40.0% 6 15
Auburn 39.4% 13 33
Arkansas 39.1% 9 23
LSU 36.7% 11 30
Iowa 36.4% 8 22


Amongst schools with ten or more preseason poll appearances, Illinois has the highest percentage of seasons (84.6%) in which they finished a season with a lower ranking than the one they had in the preseason poll.

Missing Preseason Poll Expectations

Legend: Look above.

School % Pre Polls
Illinois 84.6% 11 13
California 83.3% 10 12
BYU 81.8% 9 11
Stanford 78.6% 11 14
Syracuse 78.6% 11 14
West Virginia 78.6% 11 14
Florida 78.1% 25 32
Michigan St 76.0% 19 25
Colorado 75.0% 12 16
North Carolina 75.0% 12 16
Pittsburgh 75.0% 15 20
Washington 75.0% 21 28

 

Amongst schools with ten or more preseason poll appearances, Stanford has the highest percentage of seasons (71.4%) in which they finished a season unranked, after being ranked in the preseason poll.

Preseason Ranking to Unranked in the Final Poll

Legend: Look above.

School % UR Pre Polls
Stanford 71.4% 10 14
Illinois 69.2% 9 13
North Carolina 68.8% 11 16
Michigan St 60.0% 15 25
Pittsburgh 60.0% 12 20
California 58.3% 7 12
Arizona St 55.0% 11 20
Washington 53.6% 15 28
Iowa 50.0% 11 22
West Virginia 50.0% 7 14

 

In  2010, Auburn started the season ranked No. 22 in the AP preseason poll.  They ended the season ranked No. 1.  It’s the greatest ranking jump from the AP preseason poll on record.

Greatest Jumps from the Preseason Poll

Year School Pre Rk Final Rk Jump
2010 Auburn 22 1 21
1998 Arizona 24 4 20
1954 Ohio St 20 1 19
1959 Syracuse 20 1 19
2008 Alabama 24 6 18
2000 Oklahoma 19 1 18
1991 Alabama 22 5 17
1996 Arizona St 20 4 16
2002 USC 20 4 16
2004 Utah 20 4 16
1984 Washington 18 2 16

 

In 1994, Notre Dame started the season ranked No. 2 in the AP preseason poll.  They ended the season unranked.  It’s the greatest drop from the AP preseason poll on record.

Greatest Drops from the Preseason Poll

Year School Pre Rk Final Rk Drop
1994 Notre Dame 2 UR -24
2000 Alabama 3 UR -23
2009 Oklahoma 3 UR -23
2005 Tennessee 3 UR -23
1999 Arizona 4 UR -22
2010 Florida 4 UR -22
2005 Michigan 4 UR -22
2002 Tennessee 5 UR -21
2010 Texas 5 UR -21
2003 Auburn 6 UR -20
2002 Florida 6 UR -20
1961 Iowa 1 UR -20
1950 Notre Dame 1 UR -20
1993 Syracuse 6 UR -20

 

Additional Facts

In their four previous appearances in the AP’s preseason poll, Oklahoma State has failed to finish the season ranked.  This year Oklahoma State is ranked No. 9 in the AP’s preseason poll.

In 1969 three schools finished the regular season with the same ranking they had in the preseason poll. Tennessee No. 15, Purdue No. 18, and Auburn No. 20.  The most occurrences of this in one season.

 

Reference: College Football at Sports-Reference.com, College Poll Archive, College Football Data Warehouse

 

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