6 Most Overrated College Football Teams in the 2016 Preseason AP Poll
Preseason football Top 25 polls can be an exercise in futility. Taking factors like graduation, early NFL draft departures and incoming recruiting classes into account, sportswriters and sports information directors—we mean, head coaches—attempt to rank teams and set the stage for the upcoming college football season before the first toe hits leather.
They’re a good measuring stick, but that’s about all they are. Polls shift and change weekly throughout the season. By season’s end, the final poll often bears little resemblance to the poll that drives so much online discussion in late August. Sunday morning, the Associated Press came out with its annual preseason Top 25.
As usual, there were teams that were ranked far too high given their recent track record and their experienced talent, or lack thereof. Here’s a look at the most overrated teams in the preseason Top 25.
How much difference can one coach make? We’re about to find out at Georgia.
Following a third consecutive season that ended short of the SEC Championship Game, UGA and Mark Richt parted ways following 15 seasons that included 145 wins and two SEC championships. Georgia finished outside of the final Top 25 despite a 10-3 record.
The Bulldogs hope that former Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, Nick Saban’s top lieutenant, can reverse the recent SEC trend. SI.com's Andy Staples writes that Smart was brought to Athens, Georgia, with the hopes of duplicating Saban's Alabama success. That isn't on Smart's mind, at least publicly.
"The media is going to portray it as 'Are you going to win the SEC East? Are you going to win the national championship? Uh uh," Smart said this spring. "We're worried about practice No. 10. Then we're worried about practice No. 11."
Voters clearly believe in Smart, given the No. 18 preseason ranking. Smart inherits 13 starters, but there are questions in the offensive backfield. Will touted freshman quarterback Jacob Eason wrest a starting role away from Greyson Lambert? And is he ready for the rigors of SEC play?
Will powerful tailback Nick Chubb (who missed the final seven games of 2015 following major knee surgery) return with the vigor and bounce he showed pre-injury? Will fellow 1,000-yard rusher Sony Michel (who fractured his forearm in an ATV accident) be ready to run beside him Sept. 3 against North Carolina?
Richt didn’t leave the talent cupboard bare, but Smart has plenty to prove in his first season in Athens. A Top 25 team? Yes. No. 18? Not yet.
Ole Miss and Hugh Freeze had an excellent 2015 season. The Rebels broke through with a 10-3 record, highlighted by the program’s second consecutive win over Alabama and a Sugar Bowl rout of Oklahoma State. It was the Rebels’ first 10-win season since 2003 and only the second since 1971.
So, yeah, it was a big deal.
This fall, we get to see if Freeze can sustain his magic or if it was a fluke. The Rebels return 10 starters from that group, but they lost a trio of NFL early-entry first-round picks in receiver Laquon Treadwell, offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche. Senior quarterback Chad Kelly (who threw for 4,042 yards with 31 touchdowns against 13 interceptions last fall) should be one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, but he’ll be protected by true freshman left tackle Greg Little.
However, Kelly is also the leading returning rusher, which creates questions about offensive balance. Top 2015 tailback Jaylen Walton graduated and junior Jordan Wilkins (who rushed for 379 yards and four scores last fall) was declared academically ineligible. That will put the onus on senior Akeem Judd, who had 421 yards and three scores as a junior.
Ole Miss also has a tough schedule. The Rebels open against Florida State in Orlando and also face Alabama and Georgia in September. Then, they travel to Arkansas and LSU back-to-back in October. In 2004, the Rebs followed their last 10-win season with a 4-7 record after Eli Manning graduated. They won’t slip nearly that far in 2016, but it’s hard to consider them a top-12 team right now.
TCU’s recent resurgence coincided with a move to the Air Raid offense and handing the offensive keys to quarterback Trevone Boykin. The Horned Frogs won 23 games over the past two seasons with one of the nation’s most potent attacks, averaging 42.1 points per game last fall. But the offense faces a total rebuild in 2016.
Boykin has graduated, top receiver Josh Doctson left early for the NFL, and only one offensive starter from 2015 returns (junior left tackle Joseph Noteboom). Texas A&M transfer Kenny Hill must prove he can be a reliable starting quarterback. He started with a flash at A&M, throwing for 511 yards in his starting debut at South Carolina, but by the end of the 2014 season he had lost his starting role to Kyle Allen.
Explosive sophomore KaVontae Turpin offers big potential. Returnees like Ty Slanina and Deante Gray, who missed all or most of 2015 with injury, offer some experience, while Jaelan Austin and Taj Williams should also contribute.
But turning over nearly an entire starting lineup is a tough task, although a solid defense can pick up some of the slack.
TCU hosts Arkansas Sept. 10 and gets Oklahoma and Oklahoma State at home. The Frogs also must travel to Baylor and Texas.
A No. 13 ranking could be a bit high given the unproven offensive pieces.
Head coach Butch Jones clearly has Tennessee headed in the right direction. The Volunteers descended into mediocrity following the disastrous tenures of Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley, but Jones has recruited well and steadily improved the program’s fortunes in his first three seasons. The team went from five to seven to nine wins. Year four has the potential for even more.
The Volunteers return 18 starters, and the roster has an impressive collection of talent. Tailbacks Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara form an excellent backfield duo. Senior quarterback Joshua Dobbs is a steady dual-threat leader. Defensive end Derek Barnett is one of the nation’s top pass rushers, and senior cornerback Cameron Sutton should be one of the top defensive backs in the SEC.
That said, No. 9 is an awfully high ranking for a team which has made little impact at the highest levels of college football under Jones. In three years at Tennessee, Jones does not own a top-10 victory. Tennessee has only three wins against teams that were ranked in the Top 25 at the time of the game; No. 11 South Carolina in 2011, and No. 19 Georgia and No. 12 Northwestern last fall.
Tennessee hasn’t beaten Florida in 11 years and is also riding a nine-game losing streak to rival Alabama. The Vols will have opportunities against both teams this season. They will also be tested by a high-profile game against Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway, which is expected to draw more than 150,000 fans.
This is a talented team which certainly has the potential to win the SEC East and earn a lofty perch by season’s end. But it has done little under Jones to justify such a lofty preseason ranking.
Head coach Jim Mora Jr.’s third season at UCLA didn’t end the way anyone had hoped. The Bruins lost three of their final four games, including a Foster Farms Bowl defeat to a 5-7 Nebraska team that needed an NCAA waiver just to be eligible, and the Bruins finished 8-5.
UCLA returns 12 starters from that team, but the Bruins are still among the Pac-12 South favorites.
Sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen showed serious promise as a freshman, throwing for 3,669 yards with 23 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. He’ll be one of the nation’s top quarterbacks, but he’s one of only four offensive starters returning.
Paul Perkins departed after rushing for 1,343 yards and 14 touchdowns, and while sophomore Soso Jamabo flashed speed and skills, he’s still unproven as a feature back. Plus, the entire right side of the offensive line will be new this fall.
In addition, four of the top five receivers from 2015, including Jordan Payton (78 catches, 1,106 yards, five touchdowns) are gone, meaning Rosen must develop chemistry with new targets. Eight defensive starters return, but they’ll be tested by a tough slate that includes trips to Texas A&M and BYU and a visit from Stanford in the first four weeks. This looks like a Top 25 team, but within the top 16? Not really.
Remember back in January? When Washington started popping up on “sleeper” lists for 2016, when picking the Huskies to succeed was new and trendy?
Well, that train left the station a long time ago. We’re beyond the pale now, as Sunday’s placement as the nation’s No. 15 team showed. There’s no denying that head coach Chris Petersen has the most talented group in his three seasons in Seattle.
Washington returns 17 starters, highlighted by sophomore tailback Myles Gaskin (1,302 rushing yards, 14 touchdowns) and developing quarterback Jake Browning (2,955 yards, 16 touchdowns, 10 interceptions as a freshman). The defense, led by free safety Budda Baker and cornerback Sidney Jones, led the Pac-12 in scoring and total defense a year ago.
But if you’re looking for parallels with No. 15, that’s also the number of wins Petersen has in two years with Washington. He was impressive at Boise State, compiling a 92-12 mark in eight seasons, but he has matched that loss total in two years at UW.
Washington is 2-8 against Top 25 teams in his reign, defeating Southern California and Washington State.
There’s no question that this team will be better than 2015. But ranking it No. 15 without a track record of success behind it seems like too much, too soon.