The Most Overrated College Football Preseason Teams of the BCS Era
For many, the official start of the college football season begins with the publication of the Associated Press’ (AP) preseason rankings. It is typically released in mid-August, and its arrival ushers in the first legitimate conversation regarding which team will be the best.
The discussion generated ranges from who is over or underrated to who was snubbed altogether.
At times, fans agree on how the rankings shake out but, to be completely honest, after No. 10, it’s mostly subjective and doesn’t seem to be derived from any reasonable formula.
That being said, it’s not hard to imagine how many times the rankings have ended up being dead wrong about a team’s place on this heralded list.
What follows are the teams ranked in the preseason AP Poll, during the BCS era, that failed to live up to the hype. I’ve chosen only one team for each year of the era—simple enough.
As usual, there will be some disagreement on either the team chosen to represent that year’s disappointment or on the reason why they failed to meet the expectations given—I’m always okay with that because it can encourage healthy, intelligent, debate.
What you see are simply my opinions. You should feel free to leave yours—respectfully of course.
1998: Arizona State—AP Preseason No. 8
Despite the loss of Jake Plummer in 1996 and Pat Tillman in 1997, there were still high hopes for the Sun Devils in 1998.
They entered the season ranked in the top 10 and coach Bruce Snyder was being counted on to continue the success of his prior two seasons—one of which saw the Sun Devils go 11-1 and win the Pac-10 Championship (1996).
Apparently, people in Tempe took the attrition of guys like Damien Richardson (DB), Jason Simmons (DB), and Jeremy Staat (DT) for granted because, without them, the team was no longer the defensive juggernaut they saw shut Pac-10 offenses down in 1997.
The season began with two quick losses, in succession, to Washington and BYU respectively. After that, the team struggled to find any rhythm on the field—offensively—for the rest of the season.
They finished a disappointing 5-6 and failed to even qualify for a bowl bid.
1999: Arizona Wildcats—AP Preseason No. 4
In 1999, Sports Illustrated writer, Ivan Maisel had this to say about the Arizona Wildcats:
“Tomey has his best team since arriving in Tucson in 1987. If you don't see the Wildcats in Pasadena on Jan. 1, look for them in New Orleans three days later, playing for the national championship.”
The Wildcats were coming off a stellar 1998 season in which they finished 12-1. High hopes followed them into 1999 because so much of both their offense and defense was returning—including both Trung Canidate (RB) and Dennis Northcutt (WR).
However, despite the talent that returned on offense, they failed to even get out of the blocks on a strong note as a season-opening road loss to No. 3 Penn State officially blew the wind out of their sails.
They stumbled through conference play as well, finishing 3-5 on the year, and essentially sank any dreams of going to the Rose Bowl.
They completed the season at 6-6 and failed to make it into the postseason play.
2000: Alabama, AP Preseason No. 3
The Tide seemed to be going in the right direction following the success of 1999. They’d won the SEC Championship and, although they lost a heartbreaker to Michigan in the Orange Bowl, were feeling good about the team’s chances for a better outcome in 2000.
The brilliant one-two punch of Tyler Watts and Andrew Zow was set to return at quarterback and it was hoped that running backs, Ahmad Galloway and Brandon Miree, would be able to ease the pain of losing Shaun Alexander to the NFL.
What happened instead was an early season injury to Tyler Watts that ended up exposing the glaring weaknesses in Andrew Zow’s play.
Couple that with an ineffective run game and you have a team that spiraled into mediocrity in a hurry.
The Tide finished 3-8—losing five straight games to end the season.
2001: Florida State, AP Preseason No. 6
In hindsight, it seems a little peculiar that the Seminoles were ranked this highly coming into the season.
After all, they lost their offensive coordinator (Mark Richt), they said goodbye to their Heisman winning quarterback (Chris Weinke), and they still had not recovered from the devastating loss handed to them in the Orange Bowl by the Oklahoma Sooners the prior season.
Perhaps it was their 14 straight seasons of 10 wins or more, their complete and utter dominance of the ACC, or the total measure of respect given to head coach Bobby Bowden for maintaining such a high level of success that granted them such high regard in the polls.
Whatever the reason, people were willing to give Bobby Bowden the benefit of the doubt because he knew how to win.
The season started off handily enough with two breezy victories over both Duke and UAB, but an embarrassing loss to UNC humanized the Seminoles and the ACC smelled blood in the water.
Miami and N.C. State took advantage of their window of opportunity as well, and the Nole’s ended the year at 8-4.
2002: Nebraska Conrnhuskers, AP Preseason No. 10
Take your pick for 2002, Tennessee, Florida, Florida State, and Washington were all in the top 10—all fell short of expectations. However, Nebraska was the least successful of the bunch and struggled to make it to .500.
Perhaps the Cornhuskers felt they could get by using just their running backs since they no longer had the legs of Heisman-winning quarterback, Eric Crouch to lean on.
They were set to return some game-breaking talent in Dahrran Diedrick, and Jamaal Lord was expected to be competent at quarterback—even if he was inexperienced.
At first, it seemed, Solich had everything under control. Nebraska won their first three games with ease, but the road proved tougher and the senior presence on offense and defense became a glaring thorn in the side of the Cornhuskers as they began to completely unravel towards the end of the season.
In hindsight, Nebraska (Like FSU before them) may have also received an obligatory top-10 ranking based on their glorious history. However, a 7-7 finish to the season proved a painful dose of reality for the many who wouldn’t dare to imagine a season in Lincoln with less than nine wins.
2003: Auburn Tigers, AP Preseason No. 6
The team entered the season poised to finally start receiving the national respect they wanted under coach Tommy Tuberville.
For his part, Tuberville was ready to start showcasing the pro level talent he had stockpiled on his roster; that included guys like Carnell ‘Cadillac’ Williams (RB), Karlos Dansby (LB), Jay Ratliff (DE), Carlos Rogers (DB), Devon Aromashodu (WR), and Reggie Torbor (DE).
He had a stable of talented tailbacks in Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown, and Brandon Jacobs and it was expected that the Tigers would be able to use them to their ultimate advantage that season.
The team finished second in the SEC West the year before and it was felt that a return trip to Atlanta was imminent if the team could 1) field a healthy Carnell Williams for the duration of the season, 2) keep offenses from picking apart an inconsistent secondary, and 3) beat some tough road foes in LSU and Georgia.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, USC and Georgia Tech didn’t care about their plans and Auburn lost their first two games of the season without putting up a fight.
Even though they would recover as the season progressed, the year was ultimately a disaster as the team ended the year at 8-5—finishing third in the SEC West.
2004: Kansas State—AP Preseason No. 12
The Wildcats were hoping that the speed and exclusivity of running back Darren Sproles would keep them in the hunt. Unfortunately for Bill Snyder, the Wildcats needed more than a healthy dose of Sproles to keep those Big 12 defenses honest.
Despite his 1,300+ yards rushing, neither the passing game (which sputtered mightily minus the arm and legs of Ell Roberson), nor the defense (which yielded 30+ PPG), was able to get going on the field.
The result was an ugly 4-7 season for Bill Snyder from which the team has yet to recover.
2005: Tennessee—AP Preseason No. 3
The Vols had plenty of talent returning in 2005—including nine guys on defense. The Achilles heel, at least in 2004, was the pass defense.
The thinking heading into 2005 was that if they could right the secondary, and find an adequate replacement for the departed Cedric Houston, they would be fine.
Unfortunately, no one seemed to care that the Vols had an ugly SEC schedule that included road trips to not only Gainesville (UF), but to Baton Rouge (LSU), and Tuscaloosa (Bama) as well.
The team was talented, no question, but the schedule was brutal and the secondary was only marginally better than the year before.
Add the two together, and you have a team that was likely snake-bit from the beginning. They struggled in SEC play and failed to find any true playmakers on offense until the second-half of the season (Arian Foster proved to be a true find).
Their 5-7* record resulted in their first non-bowl postseason in more than two decades.
*This was their record as it stood in 2005. Alabama later vacated the win.
2006: Notre Dame—AP Preseason No. 2
Charlie Weis was expected to bring a title back to South Bend in just his second season. He, supposedly, had all the ingredients on offense to get the job done: An experienced leader at quarterback (Brady Quinn), a dynamic talent at running back (Darius Walker), and a sure set of hands at wide receiver (Jeff Samardzija).
The offensive line had some holes, and was a bit thin depth-wise, but it was still thought to be solid enough to keep the Irish offense chugging along quite nicely.
The defense, however, was a touch suspect—particularly in the secondary—despite the presence of Tom Zbikowski, Chinedum Ndukwe, and sophomore talents Kyle McCarthy and David Bruton. This was the one area that the Irish needed to shore up the most if they expected to be playing for a national title—if they could do that, the sky was the limit.
In the end, the title talk turned out to be for naught as the Irish lost to Michigan, in a blowout, at home, in their third game of the year. They went on to win the next eight games but a regular season finale loss to USC all but sealed any chance they had of playing for the national championship that season.
2007: Michigan—AP Preseason No. 5
The Wolverines finished the 2006 campaign in impressive fashion. No one was looking for them to end the year No. 2 in the nation, but they did, behind a suffocating run defense and a strong penchant for controlling the clock (No. 2 in the nation in time of possession).
They lost key players on both sides of the ball, including Steve Breaston, Leon Hall, Alan Branch, and LaMarr Woodley, but the bulk of their offensive unit (Chad Henne, Jake Long, Mike Hart, and Mario Manningham) was returning and they had enough playmakers on defense to make it through their brutal schedule—Shawn Crable and Jamar Adams were both back to play their senior seasons.
Most felt that even with the question marks surrounding their pass defense, the Wolverines would be able to get through the first half of their schedule relatively unscathed by using the home field to their definite advantage.
Sadly, for the Wolverines, their first opponent didn’t get the memo.
Appalachian State, a Division I FCS team, came into Ann Arbor and defeated Michigan on a last second field goal. They became the first FCS team in history to defeat an AP Top 25 team. It was an embarrassing loss for Michigan and, abrubtly, ended any shot they had at winning a championship.
The blowout loss the following week to Oregon added more insult to injury as the Wolverines ended the year 9-4—effectively ending Lloyd Carr’s coaching tenure at Michigan on a sour note.
2008: Georgia—AP Preseason No. 1
The Georgia Bulldogs were the hottest team in the nation at the end of the 2007 season. They finished the year winning six straight games, including three against ranked opponents.
However, a loss to Tennessee that season sealed their fate (nationally and in the SEC) and they were forced to settle for a spot in the Sugar Bowl against Hawaii—they won the game and carried high expectations into 2008.
The return of Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno, coupled with the presence of a seasoned offensive line, made hope spring eternal in Athens.
The hopes lessened with a loss to Alabama, at Sanford Stadium, and ended with a stomping by the Gators just a few weeks later. Add in an ugly home loss to in-state rival, Georgia Tech, and you have a team that simply didn’t live up to the hype of being No. 1.
The Bulldogs ended with a 9-3 record—earning a Capitol One bowl bid for their troubles.
2009: USC—AP Preseason No. 4
If Oklahoma had not lost both Sam Bradford and Jermaine Gresham to season-ending injuries, they would easily be the team earning this distinction.
However, their injuries likely played a huge role in the Sooner’s disappointing season. That said, the ax falls on the Trojans, who were ranked only one spot below the Sooners that year.
The Trojans lost eight players on defense, returning only three starters from the 2008 team, but no one believed for a second that Pete Carroll didn’t have more guys waiting in the wings to make it happen.
Even if the Trojans faltered slightly on offense, minus Mark Sanchez, there was no way they weren’t still capable of winning the Pac-10 with all the talent they had on their bench.
Pete Carroll’s reputation for churning out winners and reloading his team was a well-known, bitterly appreciated, fact. USC was USC—things were going to be fine.
In reality, though, even the mighty Trojans were due for a fall at some point. There was just too much good talent gone and too little experience returning at QB.
The Trojans found a way to win against Ohio State, but hiccuped early against a Washington Huskies team that was just starting to catch fire under former USC offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian.
Throw in losses to Oregon and Stanford (both of which were uncharacteristically gut-wrenching) and the team limped through the Pac-10 and fell out of BCS favor altogether.
Their 9-4 record on the year marked the first time in seven years that a Pete Carroll led team failed to reach ten wins.
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