We are less than two weeks from the kickoff of the 2011 college football season, and the preseason AP Top 25 will be released this weekend.
You undoubtedly will see writers, analysts, and fans breaking it down and debating its merit over the next few days. Most people will most likely end up saying that preseason polls "don't matter that much" and that they are never usually right anyway.
Therefore, I decided to test that theory and do some research on SEC programs and their rises and falls within the AP Top 25.
Just to get started and for a little fun, I looked at which SEC programs have been listed in the AP final poll since it has been continuously run, starting in 1936.
It wasn't until 1989 that the AP ranked 25 teams (as opposed to the 20 it ranked before then), so we are going to look at which teams within the current Southeastern Conference have been listed in the final AP Top 20 in that timeframe (1936-2010):
1. Alabama (47 times)
2. Tennessee (40 times)
3. Auburn (33 times)
3. LSU (33 times)
5. Georgia (29 times)
6. Arkansas (27 times)
7. Florida (26 times)
8. Ole Miss (20 times)
9. Mississippi State (9 times)
10. Kentucky (8 times)
11. South Carolina (5 times)
12. Vanderbilt (1 time)
Does it matter if your team is listed on the AP preseason poll?
To truly understand the importance and validity of the preseason AP poll and how much weight to put on the 2011 poll, I wanted to take a specific look at the last decade of AP preseason polls as they relate to SEC programs.
In the last 10 seasons (2001-2010), 54 SEC teams have been placed in the preseason AP Top 25. Of those 54 rankings, 39 times the SEC program finished the season still listed in the final AP poll.
That means the AP voters have been correct 72 percent of the time in predicting SEC top 25 teams over the past decade.
More importantly, there were 66 SEC teams over the last 10 years that were not ranked in the preseason AP Top 25. Of those 66, only eight ended up being listed in the AP Top 25 final poll.
That means that an SEC program not listed in the preseason AP Top 25 ended up on the final AP Top 25 only 12 percent of the time.
Even if you take consistently unranked Vanderbilt and Kentucky out of the picture, the rest of the league still only goes from unranked to ranked, from preseason to final poll, 17 percent of the time.
These stats could make a few fans look at the poll a little more closely.
If the trends over the last decade hold true and your team isn't placed on that initial preseason Top 25, there is very bleak recent history and a small chance that your team will be ranked in the final AP Top 25 (12 percent).
On the other hand, if your team does make the preseason top 25, there is a more-than-decent chance they could stay there (72 percent).
Of the SEC teams that make the top 25, are they placed in the correct spot?
Since we looked at teams making the top 25 in general, now lets looks at specifically where teams fall within the top 25 and their trends of rising or falling from the preseason AP Top 25 poll to the final AP Top 25 poll at the end of the season.
The list below is again based on when SEC teams have been ranked in the AP Top 25 over the last 10 seasons (2001-2010).
The teams that were not ranked in the Top 25 are assumed a 26th ranking. A plus number means the team did better than predicted in the preseason (underrated by AP voters) and a minus number means they did worse than predicted in the preseason (overrated by AP voters).
For example if Georgia were ranked 10th in the preseason and ended up finishing eighth in the final poll, that would be a +2. (The variation number is all 10 seasons combined.)
Alabama: 4 preseason top 25, 5 final top 25; +39 variance (underrated)
Ole Miss: 1 preseason top 25, 2 final top 25; +13 variance (slightly underrated)
Auburn: 7 preseason top 25, 6 final top 25; +12 variance (slightly underrated)
Arkansas: 2 preseason top 25, 2 final top 25; +11 variance (slightly underrated)
S. Carolina: 1 preseason top 25, 2 final top 25; +8 variance (slightly underrated)
Miss State: 1 preseason top 25, 1 final top 25; +5 variance (slightly underrated)
LSU: 10 preseason top 25, 8 final top 25; -12 variance (slightly overrated)
Georgia: 10 preseason top 25, 8 final top 25; -31 variance (overrated)
Tennessee: 8 preseason top 25, 5 final top 25; -49 variance (overrated)
Florida: 9 preseason top 25, 7 final top 25; -58 variance (overrated)
Kentucky: 0 preseason top 25, 0 final top 25; 0 variance (not rated)
Vanderbilt: 0 preseason top 25, 0 final top 25; 0 variance (not rated)
This chart tells us a few key things (if recent history holds true):
1. While we should feel comfortable that teams like LSU, Georgia, and Florida will make the top 25 based on consistently being ranked in previous seasons (as they will be in the 2011 version), they may be a placed few spots too high in the poll.
2. If teams like Arkansas, Auburn, and South Carolina find themselves in the 2011 AP preseason poll, as they should be, they tend to be ranked a few spots lower than they should be (which could be the case again in 2011).
3. After looking at this, I feel pretty comfortable with my, and many others', selection of Alabama as SEC champions this upcoming season. They should be ranked about No. 2 in the nation this preseason, and the Tide have usually moved up, not down, in the rankings from preseason to the final poll.
While anything can happen to throw recent history out of the window (injuries, schedules, and Cam Newtons for example), the items listed above may be things to consider as you review the 2011 AP preseason poll this week.
Recent stats show that the AP preseason poll may matter more than some of us thought and that inside the top 25 the probabilities of teams moving up or down could change a lot depending on which program is being discussed.
Some additional SEC highlights:
Biggest jump from AP preseason to AP final poll (2001-2010): Auburn 2010 (21 spots, from 22nd rank in preseason to 1st in final poll)
Biggest fall from AP preseason to AP final poll (2001-2010): Tennessee 2005 (23 spots, from 3rd preseason to not ranked in final poll)
Longest time not ranked in AP final poll: Vanderbilt (last ranked in AP Top 25 final poll in 1948, 12th)
Most top-five finishes in AP final poll (1936-2010): Alabama (19)
Teams without an AP top-five finish (1936-2010): Mississippi State, South Carolina, Kentucky, Vanderbilt
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