The AP Poll is actually great, but its voters have a hard job. Ranking teams before they’ve played is always going to look iffy in hindsight.
Some people complain every year that we should get rid of preseason rankings, but they’re wrong, because then we’d have less to yell about in August!
Let’s go back through every preseason AP Poll ever and spot the team that made preseason voters look the silliest.
- We don’t want teams that started #1 and finished #12; we want teams that went from top 10 to 2-10.
- These are technically the most overrated college football teams ever, but they didn’t ask to be ranked. Many have nuanced context at play, such as a key injury, but the rankings are the rankings.
- The underrated version of this list is over here. Both lists have a ton of Auburn.
2019: Tough call. Preseason #10 Texas, #12 Texas A&M, and #13 Washington disappointed AP voters, but won good bowls and finished in the mid-20s. I think it’s Michigan State, going from #18 to no votes at all, six losses, and another year of grim offense.
2018: Miami makes its first appearance on this list, going from preseason #8 to 7-6 and a blowout loss to fellow overrated team Wisconsin in the Pinstripe Bowl.
2017: From the biggest season-opening game ever to calling Reddit fake news in defense of your Independence Bowl bid as Jimbo Fisher bolts before an emergency game against ULM? #3 Florida State, thank you.
2016: Michigan State started #12 and finished 3-9. Notre Dame started #10 and finished 4-8. Tiebreaker: Notre Dame lost to Michigan State. (This will end up being a big result by the end of this list.)
2015: SEC media picked Auburn to win the conference. The AP #6 Tigers finished last in the SEC West.
2014: South Carolina was #9 when it hosted Texas A&M to start the season. The Aggies won by 24 and took over at #9. The two lost a combined 11 games.
2013: #10 Florida finished 4-8, lost an FCS game, and got memed.
2012: Arkansas went from #10 to 4-8 with a demented comedian as interim coach, topped by USC plummeting from #1 to 7-6 and a two-touchdown loss in a bowl it didn’t want to attend. Lane Kiffin is a four-time head coach.
2011: #8 Texas A&M wasn’t bad, with only one of its six losses coming by more than a TD, but those included a loss Texas fans will talk about until the meteor takes us.
You think that’s funny, Texas fans?
2010: This #5, seven-loss Texas season gave us:
You think that’s funny, Oklahoma fans?
2009: From #3 to 8-5 isn’t disastrous, but Oklahoma lost to archrivals Texas and Nebraska and got destroyed by Texas Tech, all with an injured Sam Bradford.
2008: The defending champ LSU Tigers went 8-5, the #9 Clemson Tigers went 7-6 and lost their head coach midseason, and the #11 Auburn Tigers went 5-7 and fired their OC midseason. I think it’s the Tigers. Auburn’s (x2), that is, which ended their longest-ever Iron Bowl win streak in a 36-0 loss to Bama.
2007: Louisville turned #10 into 6-6, while Michigan only fell from #5 to #18. But Michigan got blown out twice, lost to Ohio State, and lost what many consider the biggest upset of all time.
2006: Florida State (x2) fell from #11 to 7-6 on the field.
Florida State fell from #11 to 2-6 in the NCAA records, via sanctions stuff.
The NCAA’s alternate facts make for a funnier tiebreaker than FSU’s win over Miami, which went from No. 12 to 7-6.
2005: Going from #3 to 5-6 puts Tennessee on the board.
2004: Bill Snyder’s capable of being overrated! #12 was too trusting for a Kansas State that’d lost a bunch of talent and would go 4-7.
2003: Auburn (x3)! Started #6, got blown out four times, lost to Ole Miss, and had former OC Bobby Petrino trying to take Tommy Tuberville’s job.
2002: Going 7-7 is a rare feat (the NCAA experimented with 13th games as season kickoffs), but #10 Nebraska pulled it off.
2001: Oregon State: #11 to 5-6? Northwestern: #16 to 4-7? Mississippi State: #20 to 3-8? Think it’s Northwestern, which SRS considers the worst of the three and a below-average FBS team. The Wildcats lost to five teams that finished within a game of .500 and a MAC team. It was Urban Meyer’s MAC team, but still.
2000: One everybody can enjoy! Alabama went from #3 to 3-8! Shut out by Southern Miss! Lost to UCF! It gets worse: this year contributed to a two-year bowl ban. It gets worse: one assistant who was out of a job because of this season would beat the Tide in the 2016 title game.
1999: #3 Penn State vs. #4 Arizona looked like one of the biggest openers ever. It was 41-0 with two minutes left. The Wildcats went 6-6 and lost to Arizona State for only the fourth time since 1981.
You think that’s funny, Arizona State fans?
1998: #8 Arizona State pulled off three different losing streaks in one season, with each including one blowout. #9 LSU finished 4-7, but was only really out of one game.
1997: Colorado, Texas, and Alabama went from top-15 to under-.500. But 4-7 Texas (x2) was 10 points worse than either, according to SRS, and suffered a 63-point loss to UCLA. Thirteen years later, the Texas-UCLA series would give us this:
You think that’s funny, A&M fans?
1996: Texas A&M (x2) fell from #13 to 6-6, with a loss to a Louisiana-Lafayette that didn’t even go by Louisiana-Lafayette yet (it now tries to go by Louisiana) and a 36-point loss to Texas.
1995: Howard Schnellenberger led Miami to its first national title, Louisville to its first bowl win, and FAU to its first conference title. He also led #15 Oklahoma (x2) to its only 5-5-1 record.
1994: #2 Notre Dame (x2) played a tough schedule and had averaged only 1.5 losses over the previous six years, but 6-5-1 is 6-5-1.
1993: Georgia and Stanford have cases, but Syracuse fell from #6 to 6-4-1 and lost a combined 92-0 in back-to-back games.
1992: Penn State and Iowa fell, but go with Clemson, which turned #13 into a 5-6 record with losses to 3-8 Maryland and two 5-6 rivals. Discord eventually led to head coach Ken Hatfield leaving to take the Rice job — stay tuned to that storyline as this post continues.
1991: Houston finished 1990 with the country’s best offense and an overworked defense, then entered 1991 at #10 with a first-place vote. UH lost five blowouts and two close games.
1990: Jack Crowe took over Arkansas from the guy who’d go on to leave Clemson for Rice. The Hogs ended a streak of five nine-win seasons, going from #14 to 3-8 amid roster turmoil, and Crowe was fired in 1992 after losing to The Citadel in the Razorbacks’ first game as an SEC team.
1989: LSU went from #7 to 4-7. UCLA went from #9 to 3-7-1. LSU beat a decent Ole Miss and didn’t lose to any bad teams. UCLA lost to bad Oregon State and Stanford teams. UCLA.
1988: #9 Iowa went an incredible 6-4-3 — sounds like an illegal soccer formation — and #15 Michigan State went 6-5-1. But praise Tennessee (x2) for losing every game before October 22, going from #17 to 5-6 and beating nobody better than 6-5 Memphis. At the end of a 38-6 loss to Auburn, Tigers coaches were urging their players not to score.
1987: Earle Bruce had eight top-15 finishes in eight years at his alma mater, Ohio State. His ninth year — from #4 to 6-4-1, with three close losses after star WR Cris Carter was ruled ineligible — somehow got him fired.
1986: #13 Florida (x2) went 6-5, the last Gators to lose to Kentucky in football for like a million years.
1985: SMU went from #3 to 6-5 after four straight 10-win seasons. They’d go 6-5 in 1986, then get DEATH PENALTY’d. This makes September 28, 1985, the last peak of SMU football.
1984: Started #3, didn’t win a second game until the second-to-last week, and aren’t known for anything other than losing to dubious national champ BYU in ESPN’s first live college football broadcast? Hey, Pitt!
Here’s what football looked like at the time.
1983: USC (x2) turned # 9 into a 4-6-1 finish with losses to sub-.500 Kansas and South Carolina.
1982: #15 Miami went 7-4, but had three close losses to ranked teams. #18 Notre Dame went 6-4-1 with two close losses. It’s Alabama (x2), which finished unranked at 8-4 after starting #3 in Bear Bryant’s final season, ended winning streaks against Bama’s three biggest rivals, and lost to Southern Miss to break a 19-year Tuscaloosa winning streak.
1981: #3 Notre Dame (x3) lost to four good teams. It also lost to two non-good teams.
1980: Lou Holtz makes his second appearance, with #6 Arkansas (x2). Four of Wikipedia’s five non-obvious sentences about these 7-5 Hogs concern punting.
1979: #10 Michigan State (2x) went 5-6 and lost to rivals Notre Dame, Michigan, and Ohio State by a combined 90-10.
1978: Kentucky started #15 a-
Kentucky had a preseason ranking?
... and finished 4-6-1, b-
Well, that part makes sense.
1977: Texas Tech had a Texas Tech season, hitting 42 or more points four times and giving up 33 or more points in three of five losses. The rare part: the #8 ranking.
1976: Dropping from #3 to 4-7 gives Arizona State (x2) one of the weirdest spills ever, since it came in ASU’s glory days, the end of the Frank Kush era.
1975: #8 Auburn (x4) turned Shug Jordan’s final year into a 3-6-2 finish that became 4-6-1 once Mississippi State forfeited a tie.
1974: #9 LSU went 5-5-1, with a 30-0 loss to Alabama and a tie against Rice, which otherwise went 2-8.
1973: Colorado, the #11 starter and 5-6 finisher that lost to a bunch of good teams (but also to prehistoric Kansas State). It was head coach Eddie Crowder’s final season, and I’m finding a lot of coaches stick around one year too long.
1972: Local legend Frank Broyles’ Arkansas (x3) hit a slump when #4 turned into 7-5. It started with a blowout loss to USC. Why does Arkansas ever play USC? The average score in their five-game series is 35-13, Trojans.
1971: UCLA (x2) turned in a 2-7-1 effort after starting #15 in Pepper Rodgers’ first year. Week 1: a loss to eventual 3-8 Pitt.
1970: Five of #11 Missouri’s six losses were by multiple scores. Head coach Dan Devine, who’d led Mizzou to four of its six top-10 finishes, left for the NFL and returned to lead Notre Dame to the 1977 national title. Mizzou wouldn’t again finish in the top 10 until 2007.
1969: Georgia and Michigan State are contenders, but #6 Oklahoma (x3) takes it, with blowout losses to good Missouri and Nebraska teams, a loss to national champ Texas, and ... a blowout loss to 5-5 Kansas State. Footage of KSU scoring 59:
1968: A&M and UCLA finished 3-7. A&M started higher (#12 to #16), but UCLA (x3) had more ugly losses and would’ve been a touchdown underdog to the Aggies, per SRS.
Speaking of UCLA and the state of Texas:
1967: Michigan State (x3) entered at #3 after two straight undefeated seasons. It left at 3-7 and would lose five-plus games in all of Duffy Daugherty’s final five years.
1966: #9 USC (x3), despite its four losses coming against final top-10 teams. One was a 51-0 home loss to national champ Notre Dame, the worst L in USC history.
1965: #5 Michigan (x2), you went 4-6.
1964: Ole Miss pulled off the rare #1 collapse, going 5-5-1 and losing to 4-6 Mississippi State. The Rebels lost their Bluebonnet Bowl to Tulsa, whose Missouri Valley Conference had five members.
You think that’s funny, Northwestern fans? (Ole Miss and Northwestern are secret archrivals who’ve never played. The rivalry is too heated.)
1963: #6 Northwestern (x2) went 5-4 under Ara Parseghian, meaning three schools (also Arkansas and Missouri) made this list with coaches who’d later win titles at Notre Dame. Notre Dame is so overrated, even their good coaches are pre-overrated.
1962: #1 Ohio State went a decent 6-3, #4 Michigan State an ugly 5-4, and #7 Purdue an ugly 4-4-1. Purdue beat MSU, so give it to Michigan State (x4).
1961: #1 Iowa scored 27 or more in its five wins and 14 or fewer in its four losses. Rookie head coach Jerry Burns wasn’t a great college guy, but would have a 25-year NFL career. A typical play from Iowa’s shutout loss to Purdue:
1960: #6 USC (x4) went 4-6 and was shut out four times, #10 Oklahoma went 3-6-1, #17 Notre Dame had an eight-game losing streak, and so on.
1959: #5 Army went 4-4-1, but #7 Ohio State (x2) reached 3-5-1 with three zero-point days, worse showings than Army’s against Duke and Illinois, and a loss to a pretty bad Michigan.
1958: #4 Michigan State (x5) squeezed out 3-5-1 and scored all of 13 points between October 11 and November 15. #16 Miami going 2-8 was one of many other rough developments for voters.
If you think modern preseason rankings are bad (they’re actually good), look at the ‘50s.
1957: #4 Minnesota lost five games by multiple scores, but #19 USC (x5) finished one touchdown away from 0-10, thanks to major recruiting sanctions and a first-time head coach. East Coast voters not know about the sanctions, or something?
1956: Notre Dame (x4) went from #3 to 2-8, getting outscored by an average of 16 points. The media stuck by its squad. ND’s Paul Hornung somehow won the Heisman. He was a distant second in all-purpose QB yards, behind Stanford’s John Brodie, and had a three-to-13 TDs-to-INTs ratio. JIM BROWN AND PLENTY OF OTHER OPTIONS WERE RIGHT THERE. This is the dumbest Heisman ever.
1955: The preseason #11 averaged 11 points. Rice! Head coach Jess Neely had arrived at the tiny school after choosing to leave Clemson, meaning Hatfield in 1994 was the second to do so.
1954: Another sprawling disaster. #5 Illinois landed at 1-8 and last in the Big Ten, but Texas, Michigan State, and others could’ve won this.
1953: #7 Ohio State going 6-3? #8 USC going 6-3-1? #15 Florida going 3-5-2? It’s #13 Navy, which went 4-3-2 and lost to a Penn that scored 10 points per game.
1952: Yet another bad year, but #5 Illinois (x2) tops TCU and others, thanks to a 4-5 record and loss to 2-6-1 Northwestern.
1951: Meet the preseason-ranked team SRS grades worse than The Citadel, Hardin-Simmons, Loyola Marymount, and 96 other ‘51 teams and two points worse than 2016 Rutgers. #12 Nebraska (x2) won one game (over 4-4-1 Iowa State), but had a tie with 1-7-1 Kansas State changed to a win due to an ineligible player.
1950: The first preseason AP Poll set a tone with two familiar names. #1 Notre Dame (x5) stumbled to 4-4-1, and #12 USC went 2-5-2 (but beat the Irish).
And now, for the all-time Most Overrated crown, according to this year-by-year method:
Thanks to 2019’s weird year (without any true WILDLY OVERRATED teams), Michigan State moves into an all-time tie for first place with two teams that are thought of as being far more overrated. MSU is often underrated as well, though, making it the Big Ten’s Auburn.
- Five each: Michigan State, Notre Dame, USC
- Four: Auburn
- Three: Arkansas, Oklahoma, USC