Which football programs of the last decade have been the most overrated? To answer this question, I took an objective approach by comparing the preseason AP Top 25 to the end of season poll after the bowl games, for every year since 2006. (all info from http://www.sports-reference.com/cfb/.)
For programs not ranked at the end of the season, I assigned an end-of-year ranking of “30” for uniformity (though certainly some seasons are worse than others). That way, a team ranked 25th would still get a penalty, but it wouldn’t be the same as the fifth overall team finishing unranked (and more in line with the fifth overall team finishing 10th).
To get on this list, a team generally had to be pretty good, and have some high expectations. Teams with no expectations cannot be overrated, since no one is rating them in the first place. Programs on this list won four national championships in the last decade, so don’t weep for them too much. Check back tomorrow for the most underrated programs of the last decade using the same method, and here you go with the top 10 (well, eleven, since there was a tie).
#10 (Tie) UCLA Bruins (4 seasons ranked preseason, 2 seasons ranked post, -31)
UCLA went through some lean years in the not-so-distant past, but those appear to be gone with Jim Mora. The program has been ranked entering the year each of the last three seasons. Last year, however, the team failed to finish there, marking the second time in the last decade (2007, 6-7 after preseason #14 ranking) that UCLA has fallen out entirely.
I thought about giving a “has your program had a crazy story involving a rapper and his son” bonus, but even without it, UCLA makes this list.
#10 (Tie) Virginia Tech Hokies (7 seasons ranked preseason, 6 seasons ranked post, -31)
For much of Frank Beamer’s tenure, Virginia Tech would have appeared on an underrated list. From 1995 to 2000, for example, the Hokies matched or exceeded their initial ranking every year.
But the last decade has been a slow slide, and Virginia Tech starts a new era this year with Justin Fuente. Virginia Tech hasn’t finished a season ranked in the top 25 since 2011, and only exceeded expectations (barely) once in the last decade, finishing 15th in 2008 after an initial 17th ranking.
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer is carried by his players after defeating Virginia 23-20 at Scott Stadium. Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports
#9 Florida Gators (8 seasons ranked preseason, 6 seasons ranked post, -34)
For most of Urban Meyer’s tenure, the Gators were expected to be great, and matched or exceeded those expectations, winning two national titles. The team faltered in his final season, entering fourth but finishing unranked, and that slide continued with Will Muschamp, where the team finished in the AP Top 25 only once despite lofty expectations. It looked like they were going to reverse that trend last year unexpectedly, as the team entered unranked for the second straight year. But a late collapse dropped them to only 25th in the final polls.
#8 West Virginia Mountaineers (6 seasons ranked preseason, 5 seasons ranked post, -35)
Slam too many Red Bulls, you end up here. The Bill Stewart era was better than fans appreciated. The largest chunk of this comes from the 2012 season, when the Mountaineers entered at #11 in their first year in the Big 12, but finished at 7-6 and unranked. The program has not been in either the AP pre or post Top 25 since. I’d like to think it’s the curse of Baby Holgorsen.
#7 LSU Tigers (10 seasons ranked preseason, 8 seasons ranked post, -40)
Want to know why some natives are restless in Baton Rouge, and Les Miles narrowly survived last season? LSU hasn’t been ranked higher than 14th in any of the last four seasons when the smoke cleared. They are perennially perceived as a top program, as the last time they were unranked entering a year was in Saban’s debut season (2000). (Only once has LSU been ranked outside the top 14 over that span in preseason polls). Since the 2007 national championship, LSU has as many seasons where they finished unranked as in the top 12.
#6 Florida State Seminoles (9 seasons ranked preseason, 7 seasons ranked post, -48)
This placement is mostly a function of the end of the Bobby Bowden era, where the program was ranked three different years in the preseason but went 7-6 each season.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher argues a call during a game against Georgia Tech at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Georgia Tech won 22-16. Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
#5 Texas Longhorns (9 seasons ranked preseason, 7 seasons ranked post, -48)
Texas would appear even later on this list except voters stopped ranking them, as they have yet to appear on the AP poll at any point in the Charlie Strong era.
Since the 2009 appearance in the BCS title game, the program has gone 41-35, and finished the season ranked only once (19th in 2012), a stretch that included being ranked in the preseason top 15 three different times, including a 5-7 year in 2010 after being preseason #5.
At least we’ll always have Natalie Portman from 2012 before things went completely to hell.
#4 Oklahoma Sooners (10 seasons ranked preseason, 8 seasons ranked post, -56)
Without last season’s surge to the BCS playoffs after entering at #19, Oklahoma would have been second on this list. The derisive “Big Game Bob” label for Bob Stoops has built steadily over the years as the Sooners had routinely underachieved expectations, which often placed them near the top. Oklahoma has been ranked in the preseason Top 10 eight different years in the last decade, but has never finished higher than fifth, and has two seasons finishing unranked after being top 5 preseason.
#3 Nebraska Cornhuskers (8 seasons ranked preseason, 4 seasons ranked post, -64)
Expectations for Nebraska have declined in the last decade, and the program has still managed to far undershoot those. Here’s a shocking piece of info: the program has only finished higher than 20th in the final AP poll once since Frank Solich was fired at the end of the 2003 season (2009).
Nebraska has only been ranked preseason top 10 on two occasions recently, but the program has still finished the season ranked lower than it started on seven of the eight times it was ranked at the outset. As Bo Pelini might say, that’s some m—– f—— p—– b——-, c——.
#2 USC Trojans (10 seasons ranked preseason, 7 seasons ranked post, -66)
Southern Cal has twice replaced coaches after five games in the last five years. It is the only program to start the year preseason No. 1 and finish unranked in the last decade (2012). Last year, the team was expected to be pretty good with a No. 8 preseason ranking, before Steve Sarkisian’s alcohol problems and early disastrous results sunk the team. It’s hard to duplicate what the program did from 2002 to 2008, but the fall has been precipitous recently, and expectations have remained high.
#1 Georgia Bulldogs (10 seasons ranked preseason, 6 seasons ranked post, -75)
Mark Richt has moved on to Miami, and there is a chance that program garners its first preseason ranking in the top 25 since 2010 (let that sink in). But, recent Richt history is not kind to that optimism. The Bulldogs were perennially ranked, and rarely matched expectations.