The College Football Preseason Rankings are Broken
Nine. Nine teams. That is the number of teams that sit in the Associated Press’s 2021 Top 25 college football rankings for week four with a loss. There are plenty of unbeatens that remain on the outside looking in. How can that be? I’ll tell you how: the preseason rankings system is broken. It’s in need of a fix, and I have a proposal for that fix.
Whose Fault is This?
Why do we still allow ourselves to believe the preseason rankings for college football? Year after year, a handful, if not more, of teams, are completely overrated. Putting your faith in a team that is regarded as one of the best teams in the nation – albeit before they play a game – is not your fault. It’s the system’s fault. So how do we overcome this?
The college football world is too high stakes and too unpredictable to be this upsetting. Just use the Oklahoma Sooners from the early portion of this 2021 season as a quick example. They should cover -31.0 points at home against Tulane because they are the #2 team in the nation, right? Or how about -22.5 at home again versus Nebraska when ranked #3? Both are unranked teams, but both gave the Sooners serious problems and covered the spread. This is not yours or my bank account’s fault for trusting the AP’s way-too-high ranking of them. They’ve done so to trick us, and, hell, it worked. In fact, the trick has worked repeatedly – year after year.
Let’s ditch preseason rankings in college football. In my proposal, each of the 129 Division 1 FBS teams will be unranked for the first three full weeks of the season. That means for three games, the Alabama Crimson Tide will be equal with the Old Dominion Monarchs. This allows for each team to shake off the cobwebs of the early season and establish themselves as a good, trustworthy football team. Week four will be the first official ranking, using information from the three prior weeks to assign each worthy team a number, 1 through 25.
I’ve conducted my own five-year research project for my proposal. I studied the past five seasons from ’17-’21, excluded 2020’s weird COVID mess. I looked at AP Top 25 teams who, over the first three weeks of the season, were tested but won, or just flat out lost. I also included the number of teams with losses that were ranked in week 4, and where they finished in the final College Football Playoff rankings.
- #3 Florida St.7-24 loss vs. #1 Alabama
- #17 Florida 17-33 loss vs. #11 Michigan
- #16 Louisville 35-28 win vs. Purdue
- #23 Texas 41-51 loss vs. Maryland
- #22 West Virginia 24-31 loss vs. #21 Virginia Tech
- #25 Tennessee 42-41 win/OT vs. Georgia Tech
- #2 Ohio St. 16-31 loss vs. #5 Oklahoma
- #13 Auburn 6-14 loss @ #3 Clemson
- #14 Stanford 24-42 loss @ #6 USC
- #24 Notre Dame 19-20 loss vs. #15 Georgia
- #20 Washington State 47-44 win/3OT vs. Boise St.
- #14 Louisville 21-47 loss vs. #3 Clemson
- #4 USC 27-24 win/OT vs. Texas
- #18 Kansas State 7-14 loss @ Vanderbilt
- #19 Stanford 17-20 loss @ San Diego St.
- #23 Tennessee 20-26 loss @ #24 Florida
- #25 UCLA 45-48 loss @ Memphis
- Six one-loss teams ranked:
- #10 Ohio St. – finished #5
- #12 Florida St. – finished unranked
- #15 Auburn – finished #7
- #19 Louisville – finished unranked
- #20 Florida – finished unranked
- #25 LSU – finished #17
Three for six. The first red flags went up when Florida St. and Florida got dominated by two superior opponents. But the rankings gave them a pass. Both were ranked in week 4 because the AP thought they were allowed a pass for losing to “great” teams. Alabama went on to win the national championship, but where did that Michigan team end up? Unranked, in fact, just like the Seminoles and Gators. Louisville was the third team to finish unranked after cracking the week 4 top 25. They ended the year 8-5 after losing the TaxSlayer Bowl.
- #11 Michigan St. 38-31 win vs. Utah St.
- #6 Washington 16-21 loss vs. #9 Auburn
- #10 Penn St. 45-38 win/OT vs. Appalachian St.
- #14 Michigan 17-24 loss @ #12 Notre Dame
- #23 Texas 29-34 loss @ Maryland
- #8 Miami 17-33 loss vs. #25 LSU
- #19 Florida St. 3-24 loss vs. #20 Virginia Tech
- #15 Michigan St. 13-16 loss @ Arizona St.
- #2 Clemson 28-26 win @ Texas A&M
- #8 Notre Dame 24-16 win vs. Ball St.
- #17 USC 3-17 loss @ #10 Stanford
- #25 Florida 16-27 loss vs. Kentucky
- #23 Arizona St. 21-28 loss @ San Diego St.
- #6 Wisconsin 21-24 loss vs. BYU
- #7 Auburn 21-22 loss vs. #12 LSU
- #8 Notre Dame 22-17 win vs. Vanderbilt
- #15 TCU 28-40 loss vs. #4 Ohio St.
- Nine one-loss teams ranked:
- #9 Auburn – finished unranked
- #10 Washington – finished #9
- #17 TCU – finished unranked
- #18 Wisconsin – finished unranked
- #19 Michigan – finished #7
- #21 Miami – finished unranked
- #22 Texas A&M – finished #19
- #23 Michigan St. – finished unranked
- #25 BYU – finished unranked
Three for nine. Besides Michigan exceeding expectations for the second straight year, this is a grim year for the AP rankings. Three weeks in, Auburn had played two “ranked” teams and finished regular season play 7-5 after losing to #1 Alabama by 31 points. TCU had to win their last two regular season games just to make a bowl. Wisconsin and Miami met in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl in a battle of 7-5 teams. Michigan St. and BYU both finished 7-6 after their respective bowl appearances. The AP overrated BYU’s win over then-#6 Wisconsin, when, the Badgers were never near the sixth-best team in the nation. Michigan St. should have turned people away after squeaking by unranked Utah St. by seven points at home and losing to Arizona St. (who lost to unranked San Diego St. the very next week) the next week. Miami, who we see a lot in this study, received way too much love after snagging #10 in the final 2018 CFP rankings.
- #8 Florida 24-20 win vs. Miami
- #11 Oregon 27-21 loss vs. #16 Auburn
- #21 Iowa St. 29-26 win/3OT vs. Northern Iowa (FCS)
- #24 Boise St. 14-7 win vs. Marshall
- #12 Texas A&M 10-24 loss @ #1 Clemson
- #9 Texas 38-45 loss vs. #6 LSU
- #7 Michigan 24-21 win vs. Army
- #14 Washington 19-20 loss vs. California
- #25 Nebraska 31-34 loss/OT @ Colorado
- #9 Florida 29-21 win @ Kentucky
- #13 Penn St 17-10 win vs. Pitt
- #18 Michigan St. 7-10 loss vs. Arizona St.
- #20 Washington St. 31-24 win @ Houston
- #19 Iowa 18-17 win @ Iowa St.
- #21 Maryland 17-20 loss @ Temple
- #24 USC 27-30 loss/OT @ BYU
- #25 Virginia 31-24 win vs. Florida St.
- Four one-loss teams ranked:
- #12 Texas – finished unranked
- #16 Oregon – finished #6
- #17 Texas A&M – finished unranked
- #22 Washington – finished unranked
One of four. Another bad year. Texas, Texas A&M, and Washington all ended up 7-5 at the end of the regular season. The Aggies went 0-5 versus ranked opponents. Oregon was a surprise playoff contender until a crushing 31-28 loss at unranked Arizona St. in week 12 ended that dream. Washington’s loss to California was downplayed. The Golden Bears entered the top 25 in week 4 but finished on the outside. Texas was treated nicely for losing to the eventual champion, the LSU Tigers. Still, they flopped and didn’t make the final top 25. Florida makes this section twice, both against unranked teams. As it turns out, the Gators finished 11-2, and their only two loses were to #5 LSU and #8 Georgia.
- #7 Iowa St. 16-10 win vs. Northern Iowa (FCS)
- #10 North Carolina 10-17 loss @ Virginia Tech
- #11 Oregon 31-24 win vs. Fresno St.
- #14 Miami 13-44 loss vs. #1 Alabama
- #12 Wisconsin 10-16 loss vs. #19 Penn St.
- #2 Oklahoma 40-35 win vs. Tulane
- #16 LSU 27-38 loss @ UCLA
- #3 Clemson 3-10 loss vs. #5 Georgia
- #17 Indiana 6-34 loss @ #18 Iowa
- #20 Washington 7-13 loss vs. Montana (FCS)
- #23 Louisiana-Lafayette 18-38 loss @ #21 Texas
- #9 Notre Dame 41-38 win/OT @ Florida St.
- #3 Ohio St. 38-35 loss vs. #11 Oregon
- #5 Texas A&M 10-7 win @ Colorado
- #8 Notre Dame 32-29 win vs. Toledo
- #9 Iowa St. 17-27 loss vs. #10 Iowa
- #14 USC 28-42 loss vs. Stanford
- #15 Texas 21-40 loss @ Arkansas
- #21 Utah 17-26 loss @ BYU
- #22 Miami 25-23 win vs. Appalachian St.
- #24 Miami 17-38 loss vs. Michigan St.
- #15 Virginia Tech 21-27 loss @ West Virginia
- #22 Auburn 20-28 loss @ #10 Penn St.
- #19 Arizona St. 17-27 loss @ #23 BYU
- #11 Florida 29-31 loss vs. #1 Alabama
- #13 UCLA 37-40 loss vs. Fresno St.
- #3 Oklahoma 23-16 win vs. Nebraska
- #16 Coastal Carolina 28-25 win @ Buffalo
- #6 Clemson 14-8 win vs. Georgia Tech
- Nine one-loss teams ranked:
- #9 Clemson
- #10 Ohio St.
- #11 Florida
- #14 Iowa St.
- #18 Wisconsin
- #21 North Carolina
- #22 Fresno St.
- #23 Auburn
- #24 UCLA
Who knows how this season will play out? Judging from the first few weeks, we can expect a wild ride. I won’t go into depth about last year’s COVID rankings in week 4, where Louisville was the only one-loss team in, but the Cardinals didn’t make the final top 25, either. Clemson, Ohio St., and Notre Dame make up 25% of the top 12 teams in the country, and none of them have looked like such. Oklahoma remains in the top four despite winning by a combined 12 points at home against their unranked FBS opponents. Why is Iowa St. so high? They averaged just 16.5 points per game before their route of now 0-3 UNLV. And their in-state rival Iowa can’t possibly be #5 after beating them and a now two-loss Indiana squad. Fresno St. has been a pleasant surprise so far, but UCLA is now receiving love for losing to them at the buzzer. You can see what we think of each 2021 college football team, and how to make a profit on SimBull, here.
Currently, 34 teams are unbeaten, yet only 16 are represented in the top 25. You’ve seen the process – 65% (13 of 20) of teams with a loss by week 4 don’t finish in the final top 25 of the year. The college football preseason rankings are a failure. Shouldn’t these teams be rewarded for winning? The system in place is obsessed with previous seasons and offseason recruiting classes. Why? How about focusing on the teams playing football games now? Teams should earn their top 25 ranking and not just have it handed to them.
College football is awesome because there is at least some amount of chaos every week. With the CFP rankings being non-existent until week nine (November 2), the official AP Poll is all fans have that shows who the best teams in the country are. Would it kill them to wait three weeks to rank them properly? The only ranking that means anything to me is the one announced December 5 – the one that tells what four schools make up the CFP.
Check out Vendetta Sports Media on Youtube, Twitch, Twitter, and Instagram!