Reigning national champion Florida State, dynastic Alabama, sartorially splendid Oregon and old-school Oklahoma are Nos. 1-4 in the Associated Press’ preseason poll. The chances of that foursome qualifying for the inaugural College Football Playoff semifinals?
No offense to the Seminoles, Crimson Tide, Ducks and Sooners. Indeed, there’s plenty of reason to be bullish on each.
But while fine debate fodder, preseason polls are notoriously unreliable in forecasting eventual prominence. And history tells us that this group, collectively, won’t be playing New Year’s Day in the Rose and Sugar bowls, which this season serve as the national semifinals.
Full disclosure: The following research was prompted by ESPN Radio’s “Mike and Mike,” who Monday morning, riffing off the AP poll’s Sunday release, talked about how Auburn last season and Notre Dame in 2012 reached the Bowl Championship Series title game after starting the year unranked.
Their two-season snapshot is interesting, but let's delve deeper. Let's take the top four teams in the final BCS standings, which were released after the regular season and prior to the bowls, and chart where they were ranked in the AP preseason poll.
Not to suggest the playoff selection committee will be as wedded to polls and computer ratings as the BCS was -- chances are the 13-member panel will be more nuanced, But since the BCS standings determined who played in the national title game, they seemed the best metric for this exercise.
The BCS ran for 16 seasons, from 1998-2013, which translates to 64 teams in the top four. Some overall findings before a year-by-year chart.
# Seven of the 64 were not among the AP’s preseason top 25: Colorado in 2001, Penn State in 2005, Cincinnati in 2009, Stanford in 2010, Notre Dame in 2012, and Auburn and Michigan State a year ago.
# Only twice in the 16 years were all of the BCS’ final top four among the preseason top 10. That was in 1998 (Tennessee, Florida State, Kansas State and Ohio State) and 2011 (LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma State and Stanford).
In 2007, the BCS final top four of Ohio State, LSU, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma were Nos. 11, 2, 9 and 8 in preseason.
# Half of the 16 preseason No. 1s, including Alabama last year, finished top-four in the BCS. Moreover, from 2002-06, in a remarkable run of chalk, the preseason No. 1 was atop the final BCS.
# The only season in which no top-five preseason team finished in the BCS top four was 2010, with Auburn, Oregon, Texas Christian and Stanford.
# The preseason rankings of the 64 teams that were top-four BCS breaks down as follows: 25 were top five, 15 were Nos. 6-10, nine were Nos. 11-15, five were Nos. 16-20, three were Nos. 21-25, and seven were unranked.
In short, 49 of the 64, just over three quarters, were top 15 in preseason. So if form holds, three of this season’s semifinalists will come from among Florida State, Alabama, Oregon, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Auburn, UCLA, Michigan State, South Carolina, Baylor, Stanford, Georgia, LSU, Wisconsin and Southern California.
# No program charges off the pace like Auburn. The Tigers began the season No. 17 in 2004, No. 22 in 2010 and unranked in 2013, but finished among the BCS’ top four on each occasion.
As promised, here are the top four in each of the final BCS standings, with their preseason AP rank in parentheses.
2013: Florida State (11), Auburn (UR), Alabama (1), Michigan State (UR).
2012: Notre Dame (UR), Alabama (2), Florida (23), Oregon (5).
2011: LSU (4), Alabama (2), Oklahoma State (9), Stanford (7).
2010: Auburn (22), Oregon (11), Texas Christian (6), Stanford (UR).
2009: Alabama (5), Texas (2), Cincinnati (UR), TCU (17).
2008: Oklahoma (4), Florida (5), Texas (11), Alabama (5).
2007: Ohio State (11), LSU (2), Virginia Tech (9), Oklahoma (8).
2006: Ohio State (1), Florida (7), Michigan (4), LSU (8).
2005: Southern California (1), Texas (2), Penn State (UR), Ohio State (6).
2004: USC (1), Oklahoma (2), Auburn (17), Texas (7).
2003: Oklahoma (1), LSU (14), USC (8), Michigan (4).
2002: Miami (1), Ohio State (13), Georgia (8), USC (20).
2001: Miami (2), Nebraska (4), Colorado (UR), Oregon (7).
2000: Oklahoma (19), Florida State (2), Miami (5), Washington (13).
1999: Florida State (1), Virginia Tech (13), Nebraska (6), Alabama (20).
1998: Tennessee (10), Florida State (3), Kansas State (6), Ohio State (1).
And who makes this season’s CFP semifinals? Well, in keeping with the formula of three preseason top-15s and one gatecrasher, let’s go with Florida State, UCLA, Oklahoma and Arizona State.
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