Preseason rankings are useless this year
The most incredible thing I saw all weekend was someone who pointed this out on Twitter: Penn State (7-2) has more wins than Notre Dame (3-6) and Michigan State (2-7) have combined.
The Fighting Irish started at No. 10, while the Spartans were No. 12 in the preseason AP poll. The Nittany Lions, on the other hand, didn’t receive a single vote in the Top 25 until they beat Ohio State two weeks ago.
Now, PSU is 12th in the College Football Playoff poll — likely to rise to at least 10th this week after losses by Nebraska and Florida — and Sunday the Lions moved up to 12th in the AP poll, 14th in the coaches poll.
Sports are crazy. We should all know that by now.
But holy cow, how in the world could everyone have been so wrong about these teams?
It’s not just Notre Dame and Michigan being vastly overrated, or Penn State being underrated, either. If ever there was an example of why preseason polls are meaningless, this is the year.
Let’s take a look at some of the glaring gaffes from the preseason AP poll:
• Stanford (now 6-3 and unranked) was No. 8.
• Tennessee (now 6-3 and unranked) was No. 9
• Ole Miss (now 4-5 and unranked) was No. 11
• TCU (now 5-4 and unranked) was No. 13
• UCLA (now 3-6 and unranked) was No. 16
• Iowa (now 5-4 and unranked) was No. 17
• Georgia (now 5-4 and unranked) was No. 18
• Oregon (now 3-6 and unranked) was No. 24
In addition to missing the boat on all of those teams, there also were major issues on teams ranked in and around the top five:
• Oklahoma, Florida State and LSU were ranked 3, 4 and 5, respectively, and while the Sooners have two losses, the Seminoles and Tigers have three apiece
• Michigan (now No. 2 and looking awesome) was merely No. 7
• Washington (now No. 4) was way down the list at No. 14
• Louisville (now No. 5 and with projected Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson) was drastically overlooked at No. 19
All told, 12 teams from the preseason Top 25 are not ranked right now. (Houston, which started 15th, and USC, 20th, are the other two not previously mentioned.)
Looking back, it’s hard not to wonder if this year’s preseason poll is among the worst we’ve ever seen in college football. The fact alone that each team slotted 8th through 13th isn’t even ranked anymore might be proof of that.
What it’s also proof of is that trying to predict what a group of 100 young men ages 18-22 will be able to accomplish in a sport with more parity now than ever before is close to an impossible task.
Penn State is a great example of that.
There’s probably not a single person in this country, outside of those in the program, who would have honestly believed back in August that the Lions would be on the cusp of being ranked in the Top 10 right now. Penn State entered the Ohio State game as a three-touchdown underdog, and it took one of the program’s biggest wins of all time to get to where things are today in the rankings.
There are those out there who believe PSU is overrated. Ryen Russillo from ESPN Radio, for one, made that claim for several minutes on the air last week.
But here’s the thing: What do any of us really know?
That includes me, you, Russillo, Kirk Herbstreit, other talking heads, AP voters, or anyone else.
Most of us thought Michigan State would be good, and yet the Spartans have been terrible.
Most of us figured Louisville would be just OK, and now it’s clear the Cardinals could probably beat any team in the country, outside of perhaps Alabama.
Most of us thought Penn State was a year away, and yet here the Lions are at 7-2, with a chance to go 10-2 and land in the Rose Bowl.
I’ve admitted several times the past few weeks how wrong I was about this year’s Penn State team, and just about everyone else was equally as wrong. There’s plenty of humble pie to go around for all of us.
Then again, with the way college football has played out this season, just about everyone who loves and follows the sport closely has to be absolutely amazed with how much things have not gone according to plan for so many teams.
Or the pollsters.
Cory Giger may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org