Ranking The Most Underrated College Football Programs of Last Decade


Yesterday, I took a look at which football programs of the last decade have been the most overrated, comparing preseason and postseason AP Polls. Today, we reverse that using the same methodology, and rank the programs that have most often over-performed where the pollsters saw them ending up.

For programs that were unranked at the beginning of the season, I assigned a ranking of “30” for uniformity (though certainly some seasons are worse than others).

Among the 42 programs that had at least four different seasons where they appeared in either the preseason AP poll or the postseason one (or both), here are the ten that have most over performed expectations since 2006.

#10 Oregon State Beavers (2 seasons ranked preseason, 4 seasons ranked post, +25)

Oregon State had a 35-year stretch without a bowl appearance until 1999, but over the last 15 years have been a steady underrated program. Four different times in the last decade under Mike Riley, they were unranked preseason but finished ranked, with at least 9 wins. The only two times they were ranked in the preseason (at #24 and #25) they didn’t finish year. Last year was rough in Gary Andersen’s first year, so we’ll see if the Beavers can continue what Riley and Dennis Erickson started.

#9 Baylor Bears (2 seasons ranked preseason, 4 seasons ranked post, +28)

Baylor hasn’t been in the news lately, have they?

Under Art Briles, they twice finished ranked #13 after being unranked, and have been in six straight bowl games. You have to go back to 1994 for the last bowl game for Baylor before this run.

#8 BYU Cougars (2 seasons ranked preseason, 4 seasons ranked post, +29)

The move to being an independent hasn’t really worked out for the Cougars in terms of national prominence. They haven’t finished a season ranked since 2009. But for a four-year stretch from 2006 to 2009, the program won 10+ games every year, finished ranked every year, and earned a trip to Las Vegas for their raucous fans at the end of each season.

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#6T Stanford Cardinal (5 seasons ranked preseason, 5 seasons ranked post, +32)

In the overrated post, we saw USC near the top. Who has been the anti-USC over the last five years? Stanford, steady and physical under Jim Harbaugh and then David Shaw. The Cardinal have finished in the Top Ten in 4 of the last 6 years–and were 11th one other year–but have only started their twice. They have twice now finished in the Top 5 after coming in lightly regarded.

#6T TCU Horned Frogs (8 seasons ranked preseason, 7 seasons ranked post, +32)

Other than the first two years in the Big 12, TCU with Gary Patterson has been a steady and dominant power over the last decade. Consistently ranked in the preseason, they’ve still outperformed that by finishing Top 8 in half the seasons this decade. For some perspective, that’s the same number of times that Florida and Georgia–combined–have finished ranked in the Top 8 this decade. Yet, they don’t get the same respect in the preseason.


#5 Michigan State Spartans (4 seasons ranked preseason, 6 seasons ranked post, +40)

Mark Dantonio loves nothing more than to play the “no respect” card, and the Spartans have certainly not been as highly viewed by the experts as their average finish, though that may have changed, as the team was a preseason Top 8 in each of the last two years. You know that he loves that Michigan is getting all the publicity right now.

#4 Boise State Broncos (7 seasons ranked preseason, 7 seasons ranked post, +41)

Boise State has finished the season unranked after entering it ranked in two of the last three years. Before that, though, Boise was a perennial under appreciated program. Four top ten finishes between 2006 and 2011, and some very memorable bowl games. They get knocked down a few notches for the blinding turf.

#3 Missouri Tigers (4 seasons ranked preseason, 5 seasons ranked post, +45)

Missouri has fairly low expectations this year, after a disastrous 2015 season in Gary Pinkel’s final year. In the recent past, Missouri has excelled when expectations have been lower. Missouri has averaged over 9 wins in seasons where they came in unranked, including two Top 5 teams. Conversely, in the four seasons where Missouri came in ranked (including last year), the program has gone 34-19, only exceeding expectations in 2014, and finishing unranked twice.

We’ll see if that continues under new coach Barry Odom.

#2 Utah Utes (1 season ranked preseason, 4 seasons ranked post, +51)

Utah has only entered the season ranked once in Kyle Whittingham’s tenure, but has finished there four times, and just missed out one other time after losing a bowl game to fall to 10-3. This doesn’t even include Urban Meyer’s final season, when they finished 4th overall and 12-0 after also being unranked.

#1 Cincinnati Bearcats (0 seasons ranked preseason, 4 seasons ranked post, +53)

I don’t think anyone thinks of Cincinnati when they think of the top 30 or so programs in college football, but plenty of other schools would kill for their success. The last four coaches have been Mark Dantonio, Brian Kelly, Butch Jones, and now Tommy Tuberville. The program has played in a bowl game in 9 of 10 seasons. They’ve won 9 or more games in seven of them. You probably didn’t expect to see them here, which is a testament to how underrated Cincinnati has been over the last decade.