O-VER-RATED! Comparing The TeamRankings and AP Preseason Polls

This past weekend The Associated Press released their annual preseason poll. The usual crew of favorites was well represented at the top with Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, and Oregon all repeating their positions in the preseason top 5. USC may have surprised a few by being number one, but they were a consistent dynasty before being derailed by “lack of institutional control” a few years ago.

For the second straight season we at TeamRankings.com have created our own preseason ratings.  These ratings are mostly for use in our college football season projections, but they function as an early rankings system too. And because our preseason projected ratings are based entirely upon mathematical formulae and models developed from the past decade or so of data, our methods often result in rankings that differ notably from the AP or Coaches poll consensus.

(Note: The preseason rankings listed below for the 2012-2013 have not yet been published on our site. For now, they exist only in this blog post. These are what are referred to as our “New Rankings” on the site.)

Both sets of rankings (polls and algorithmic ratings) are useful to consider going into college football season, for two primary reasons:

  • Our numbers are not subject to biases or media hype that can and often do influence human pollsters. That’s good.
  • Our rankings may miss things that scouts or media folks who watch lots of practices and games would see such as individual skill changes, or the promotion of very talented backups at key positions. That could be bad.

One caveat remains before you dive into the rankings below. While the AP’s poll is their official preseason version, we still have a few adjustments to make with our rankings before we finalize them. Notable changes to come include the addition of more data on returning players and team rosters, and some adjustments to account for scenarios such as the latest Penn State transfers. Teams that have lost important components of their passing game, such as Oklahoma State and Stanford, will likely drop some from their current levels. Teams that have received a new starter or two will get a small bonus.

With that said, we present (drum roll please)…the 2012 preseason AP Poll and preliminary TR rankings comparison:

Associated Press Preseason Rankings

AP RankTeamTR RankDifference
1USC87 better
3LSU41 better
4Oklahoma13 worse
5Oregon32 worse
6Georgia2014 better
7Florida State1710 better
8Michigan135 better
9South Carolina2516 better
10Arkansas122 better
11West Virginia2918 better
12Wisconsin142 better
13Michigan State2613 better
14Clemson4632 better
15Texas96 worse
16Virginia Tech2812 better
17Nebraska192 better
18Ohio State162 worse
19Oklahoma State514 worse
20TCU1010 worse
21Stanford615 worse
22Kansas State231 better
23Florida716 worse
24Boise State186 worse
25Louisville6136 better

There are many teams that we believe the AP is overrating.  If you have questions about specific teams, feel free to ask in the comments. In the meantime, here are some explanations for three scenarios of note:

USCThe Trojans were the surprising #1 in the preseason poll. As we’ve covered in our projections already, we see only a good, not great, team in LA. Southern Cal had a successful season last year, has a good number of returning starters, and has no red flags of decline. The problem for Matt Barkley is that his team was still a ways below the top tier last season. We think they’ll improve, just not enough to overcome the LSUs and Alabamas of the world.

South Carolina. The Gamecocks have many of the classic markers of a team that will decline. Their small number of returning starters, positive turnover margin, and talent lost to the NFL likely indicate that their top 10 hype is probably unwarranted.

Clemson. Clemson is exactly the type of team polls tend to overrate.  They escaped with many close wins last season, which is nice at the time but likely can’t be repeated.  The Tigers will probably regress to the mean and sink to where their talent level fits:  the middle of the pack.

TeamRankings.com Preliminary Preseason Rankings

TR RankTeamTR RatingAP RankDifference
1Oklahoma19.843 better
3Oregon18.252 better
4LSU17.131 worse
5Oklahoma State15.81914 better
6Stanford15.42115 better
7Florida14.72316 better
8USC14.017 worse
9Texas13.6156 better
10TCU12.22010 better
11Texas A&M11.53625 better
12Arkansas10.7102 worse
13Michigan10.585 worse
14Wisconsin10.4122 worse
15Notre Dame10.32611 better
16Ohio State9.6182 better
17Florida State9.3710 worse
18Boise State9.0246 better
19Nebraska8.9172 worse
20Georgia8.5614 worse
21Missouri8.53817 better
22Houston7.34119 better
23Kansas State7.2221 worse
24Utah7.1306 better
25South Carolina6.7916 worse

Our ratings projections system also sees a few teams that are being unjustly overlooked by The Associated Press.  Again, fire away in the comments if you’re curious why. Here are three that stand out.

FloridaThe Gators have seen a fall from grace since golden boy Tim Tebow left for the NFL. We expect this season to be a return to prominence, however, as Florida fits the classic profile of a team making the leap. 18 returning starters are an obvious bonus but the benefits of low passing numbers and a bad turnover margin aren’t as clear. It turns out that both of those stats tend to regress toward the average, and for Florida’s squad that means improvement.

Texas A&MThe SEC West’s newest members are underrated for the same reason Clemson is overrated: luck. At first look the Aggies seem to have had a pretty weak 2011 season, finishing only 7-6. Their losses were close though, and they faced one of the FBS’s toughest schedules. Despite those six losses, we had them number 13 in our final new ratings. We think that’s closer to where they’ll end this year.

Notre DameRick Reilly may be a little down on the Irish this year, but we might see a pot of gold (or silver, at least) at the end of this rainbow. Notre Dame didn’t have too bad of a season last year, spending some time in the late season top 25. They also had a fantastically bad turnover margin. As we’ve discussed, turnovers are largely luck, and don’t carry over from year to year. A few less giveaways, a few more takeaways, and suddenly the Irish are a borderline BCS bowl bid.