College Football’s Most Overrated and Underrated Teams of the Past Decade

Unfortunately for the ACC, Members Such as Florida State and Miami Rank Among College Football’s Most Overrated

Over on SB Nation, Bill Connelly brought up an interesting point the other day: Has Florida State underachieved this year? It’s a fair question when looking at the overall weakness of the ACC, coupled with the talent FSU possesses on both sides of the ball and their continual refusal to dominate weaker in-conference opponents. The bigger issue here, however, is in the question itself. How do we define “underachievement” in college football? The best measure would likely be the polls, despite obvious flaws. How does a team annually stack up against its expectations that are set by preseason polling? And better, if we want to get a significant sample size, how does a team stack up to expectations over the span of a decade (2003-2012)?

We decided to take on that question, by digging through the last 10 years of the ESPN/USA Today Coach’s Poll. For each season, we took a look at every team’s preseason and postseason rankings (except for 2012, where the most recent rankings are used), and measure the distance between expectation and reality. To get even more data, we also included teams that “also received votes” and listed them in order, as if the polls continued past 25. If a team appeared in the preseason poll (let’s say there were 50 teams altogether), and not the postseason poll, that team’s postseason rank would be 51 — one past the total number of teams. This is repeated for each additional team in that situation so we can get the differentials, even for teams that fail to be included in both polls. Lastly, we averaged the differentials for each team based on however many years they appeared in the polls, and that gets you a picture of just how “overrated” or underrated these teams may be. In general, if it’s within five full spots or so on the poll, a team can be considered “accurately” ranked.

We’ll start with the “underrated” teams, before the yelling starts later on for the “overrated” ones:

Most Underrated Teams in College Football (2003-2012) (multiple poll appearances):

Navy — 4 appearances; average differential: 20.75

Middle Tennessee State — 2; 18.50

Tulsa — 6; 16.00

Stanford — 4; 15.75

Connecticut — 5; 14.60

Northern Illinois — 7; 14.14

Central Michigan — 2; 12.50

Cincinnati — 6; 11.83

Baylor — 2; 11.00

Hawaii — 6; 10.00

So in a nutshell, each of these teams, on average, was listed 10 or more spots below where their final ranking ended up being in the respective seasons they were included in one or both polls (preseason/postseason). Of the 10 teams here, just two (Stanford, Baylor) are from the Big Five conferences. But what about the “overrated” teams?

Most Overrated Teams in College Football (2003-2012) (multiple poll appearances):

North Carolina — 4; -25.50

Colorado State — 2; -18.50

Purdue — 4; -16.25

USF — 6; -16.00

Miami (FL) — 10; -13.30

Notre Dame — 10; -13.00

Tennessee — 9; -12.56

Florida State — 10; -11.5

New Mexico — 3; -11.00

Washington State — 4; -11.00

Each of these schools were listed 11 spots or higher in preseason than they would finish their respective seasons at. UNC’s a surprising team at the top, for sure, but for the most part, you can predict many of the schools listed here. And unfortunately, this blog will begrudgingly note that a lot of them are from the ACC, or at least find themselves in loose association with the conference (ND). This also brings us right back to our initial question: Has Florida State underachieved? Or were they simply overrated? Looking at these numbers, one could certainly make a case for either, though I’d prefer overrated over underachieved. “Overrated” implies you didn’t live up to meaningless hype — which the preseason polls certainly are. Underachieved, on the other hand, would make a case that meaningful data and results should’ve yielded a certain result, yet didn’t. Since the polls are unscientific, it’s hard to make the case for underachieved as the proper terminology.

Finally, since this is an ACC blog, we’ll take a glance at where all 14 teams (and Notre Dame) fell on average. Warning: this is not a fun exercise for fans of those schools.

Average Differentiation for ACC Schools (2003-2012):

Boston College — 8; 3.00

Wake Forest — 4; -1.50

Syracuse — 1; -2.00

Duke — 3; -2.33

Virginia — 7; -4.14

Maryland — 7; -5.00

Georgia Tech — 10; -6.40

Clemson — 10; -6.60

Virginia Tech — 10; 7.30

NC State — 7; -9.29

Pittsburgh — 8; -11.00

Florida State — 10; -11.50

Notre Dame — 10; -13.00

Miami (FL) — 10; -13.30

North Carolina — 4; -25.50

Just one team (Boston College) found themselves to be more underrated than overrated in the past 10 years, though their three-spot differential is not necessarily a significant margin. Five other schools registered insignificant negative margins of five or lower — meaning that nine of the ACC’s 15 associated schools found themselves overrated, on average, in the past decade.

We’ll have more numbers up next week, as these figures were ran for every team that appeared in the rankings (102, in total). Obviously, the numbers will continue to change as well, since the 2012 rankings aren’t finalized yet.

Agree with your team’s assessment? Curious whether your team is overrated or underrated (if not listed here)? Make a request in the comments.

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