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: