How Accurate Is The AP's No. 1 Pick?

Bert HancockCorrespondent IAugust 20, 2010

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 07:  Quarterback Garrett Gilbert #3 of the Texas Longhorns under center against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the Citi BCS National Championship game at the Rose Bowl on January 7, 2010 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

For many of us college football fanatics, the off-season is an endless chasm between seasons, similar to a desert wanderer looking days for water. For some of us, the life-saving liquid is found in the pre-season publications and prognostications and the agreements and arguments they produce. Whether there's an ounce of accuracy in them or not maybe only matters like an extra point in a blowout.

For others, we may want to know if there's any real wisdom in the forecasts themselves, especially toward that all-important question: "Who's number one?"

The ultimate measure to use from a historical edge is the long-standing AP poll of writers and broadcasters. They've been analyzing, gossiping amongst one another, and throwing darts at targets since 1950 in trying to figure which squad would end up with the mythical championship. So just how accurate are these supposed "experts?" We're curious to know what kind of odds the next pre-season #1 has of actually taking care of business between the hash marks and not the writers' heads.

With that in mind, let's go to the track record the pundits, for better or worse, can't hide. Here are the hits:

1951 Tennessee

1952 Michigan St

1956 Oklahoma

1974 Oklahoma

1975 Oklahoma (yes, again)

1978 Alabama

1985 Oklahoma

1993 Florida St

1999 Florida St

2004 Southern Cal

Despite missing the "sure thing" with Notre Dame in 1950 (Irish had not lost a game since 1945), the AP writers combined to pick two of the first three and three of the first seven right. But, just as they started with some self-congratulatory pats, a huge drought hit that encompassed the whole one-platoon era (where rules mandated both offense and defense for a player) and several seasons of two-platoon. It took all the way to 1974—18 years later—before the AP got it right again, once more with Oklahoma.

Though the Coaches Poll (UPI at the time) neglected to vote Oklahoma due to NCAA violations, the AP crowned the Sooners again in 1975, marking the third time OU proved to be good pre-season money.

Alabama with Bear Bryant followed in 1978, making three years in the last five—an even more accurate streak of prognosticating than the first seven seasons. But then OU’s occurrence in ’85 was the only hit during the next 15 seasons. Florida State broke the near-drought in 1993 and Bowden’s boys followed up with the next correct call in ’99.

Then, in 2004, Southern Cal, behind Heisman talent Matt Leinert and Reggie Bush, captured the crown as a summer favorite.

Not sure about you, but consider me surprised that seemingly worshipped Notre Dame has not been picked pre-season #1 since 1971, nearly 40 years ago. That miss made the Irish zero-for-five, and it’s almost as if the AP has since banned the Golden Domers from the top pre-season spot. Lately, of course, anyone would be out of his or her mind to vote ‘em No. 1 at any point before, during, or after the season.

Other than phases of clarity in the early to mid-1950’s and the mid-1970’s, it’s hard to find any kind of pattern, and that’s to be expected when you consider the AP has only gotten it right a couple handful of times. You can see that twice in the last 11 years and three times over the last 17 have the picks met their mark, which is almost exactly in line with the historical rate of success. Apparently, despite the access to more and vastly quicker information than ever, succeeding in choosing the champion before a cleat has met the turf hasn’t become any easier.

Having said that, with the ratio of one hit for every six years on average and the last bullseye being exactly six years ago, are we due to see an accurate guess for 2010?