Brett McMurphy’s Instant Reactions to the AP Preseason Top 25 Poll

With a nod to the 1972 film “Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask),” I’m going to take you through the college football AP Preseason Poll in a similar fashion: “Everything You Wanted to Know About the AP Preseason Poll* (*But Were Afraid to Ask).”

The AP Poll was released on Monday and the college football season is only five days away. Let’s break down the top 25:

2019 AP Preseason Poll Brett McMurphy’s 2019 AP Ballot
1. Clemson 1. Clemson
2. Alabama 2. Georgia
3. Georgia 3. Alabama
4. Oklahoma 4. Oklahoma
5. Ohio State 5. Michigan
6. LSU 6. Ohio State
7. Michigan 7. LSU
8. Florida 8. Notre Dame
9. Notre Dame 9. Utah
10. Texas 10. Florida
11. Oregon 11. Oregon
12. Texas A&M 12. Texas A&M
13. Washington 13. Auburn
14. Utah 14. Texas
15. Penn State 15. Penn State
16. Auburn 16. Mississippi State
17. UCF 17. Michigan State
18. Michigan State 18. Iowa State
19. Wisconsin 19. Washington
20. Iowa 20. Wisconsin
21. Iowa State 21. Missouri
22. Syracuse 22. Nebraska
23. Washington State 23. Northwestern
24. Nebraska 24. Memphis
25. Stanford 25. Army


My rankings are based on how strong I believe the teams are entering the season; this is not my prediction on how I believe they will finish. My predicted finish can be found in my weekly bowl projections starting next month.

The AP preseason rankings are certainly not the end all, be all. Quite frankly, we’ve done a lousy job predicting the eventual national champion, as you can read below. But the poll has done a pretty good job in getting a better idea of who will be the national champ – again, keep reading for the tea. 


Preseason No. 1 = No Title (Most of the Time)

In the past 15 years, only two preseason AP No. 1 teams went on to win the national title: Alabama in 2017 and USC in ’04. Of all those preseason No. 1 teams since 2004, only one – Lane Kiffin’s USC Trojans in 2012 – finished the season unranked.

Thirteen of the past 15 preseason No. 1 teams have failed to win the national title, so good luck to Clemson after earning its first No. 1 preseason ranking in school history.


Looking for the Champ? Don’t Look Past the Top Seven

The preseason No. 1 team doesn’t usually end up winning the national title, so how can we narrow down who will win it all? Look no further than the top seven teams in the AP preseason poll. Since 2004, every national champion was ranked among the AP preseason top seven teams with only two exceptions.

In 2010, Auburn started at No. 22, but won the national title. Three years later in 2013, Florida State won the national title after being ranked No. 11 in the preseason poll.

So, looking for your 2019 national champion? History says it’s either Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, Ohio State or Oklahoma.

More recently, in the five-year history of the College Football Playoff, every champion has been ranked among the preseason’s top five teams. That’s probably not a surprise since Clemson and Alabama have won four of the five titles. However, in each of the past four years, at least one team outside the preseason top 10 ended up making the College Football Playoff.

Who will be this year’s surprise playoff entrant? I’ll take a flier on Utah, the favorites to win the Pac-12. 


The AP Preseason Poll (Surprise!) Isn’t Perfect 

Don’t sweat it if your favorite school or alma mater isn’t in the top 25. In the past eight years, an average of nine teams ranked in the preseason AP Top 25 poll finished the year unranked. Last year, nearly half of the preseason top 25 – 11 teams – finished the season unranked.

Since 1993, there has been at least one team every year, with the exception of 2011, that started the season unranked but finished the year in the AP top 10.

Here are the teams that were unloved and went from unranked in the preseason to top 10 in the final poll since 2012. Of those sweet 16 schools, nine did not even receive one measly preseason vote, marked below with asterisks:

    • 2018 No. 7. Florida
    • 2018 No. 10 Washington State*
    • 2017 No. 6. UCF*
    • 2017 No. 9 TCU
    • 2016 No. 7 Penn State*
    • 2016 No. 9 Wisconsin
    • 2015 No. 8 Houston*
    • 2015 No. 9 Iowa*
    • 2014 No. 3 TCU
    • 2014 No. 8 Georgia Tech*
    • 2013 No. 2 Auburn*
    • 2013 No. 3 Michigan State
    • 2013 No. 5 Missouri*
    • 2013 No. 10 UCF*
    • 2012 No. 4 Notre Dame
    • 2012 No. 5 Texas A&M


Who’s my pick to go from unranked to top 10? I’ll go with Memphis as the AAC champion. I voted the Tigers 24th on my ballot and the Tigers are projected to be favored in every game this season. We’ll find out if they’re contenders/pretenders in the Tigers’ home opener vs. Ole Miss.

Are AP voters flat-out horrible at picking the nation’s top 25 teams or do the teams deserve some blame for failing to live up to these expectations? It’s kind of like the chicken/egg dilemma, but as an AP voter, it’s obvious to me the teams are underachieving.


Psst… Preseason Top 10 Teams Are Also Terrible

The preseason top 10 teams are supposed to be the nation’s elite, the best of the best. The legit national title contenders. 

However, that is not always the case. Every year since 2002, there has been at least one preseason top 10 team that finished the season unranked. Last year, three of the preseason top 10 teams – No. 4 Wisconsin, No. 8 Miami and No. 9 Auburn – went from preseason top 10 penthouse to postseason unranked outhouse.

Here’s a look at the 14 AP preseason top 10 teams since 2011 that had such early high hopes, but finished the season unranked:

  • 2018: No. 4 Wisconsin, No. 8 Miami, No. 9 Auburn
  • 2017: No. 3 Florida State
  • 2016: No. 10 Notre Dame
  • 2015: No. 6 Auburn, No. 8 USC, No. 9 Georgia
  • 2014: No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 9 South Carolina
  • 2013: No. 10 Florida
  • 2012: No. 1 USC, No. 10 Arkansas
  • 2011: No. 8 Texas A&M


Of those floundering 14 teams, six coaches of those teams that went from top 10 to unranked are still active, but three are now coaching at different schools, marked below with an asterisk: 

  • Paul Chryst, Wisconsin (2018)
  • Gus Malzahn, Auburn (2018, 2015)
  • Jimbo Fisher*, Florida State (2017)
  • Brian Kelly, Notre Dame (2016)
  • Will Muschamp*, Florida (2013)
  • Lane Kiffin*, USC (2012)


So take a glance at this year’s preseason top 10 above and pick which team(s) will fall out of the rankings by season’s end? My choice? Since I’ve got to pick one, I’ll go with Florida to finish out of the top 25 come January. I’m not sold on quarterback Felipe Franks operating behind an offensive line that has to replace four starters, and the second half of the Gators’ schedule – at LSU, at South Carolina, at Missouri and vs. Georgia in Jacksonville – could take a toll.


Malzahn & Richt’s Unfortunate Bond

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn and former Georgia and Miami coach Mark Richt have something that links them together: They are the only coaches since 2011 that twice had preseason top 10 teams that finished the season unranked.

Malzahn did so in 2018 (preseason No. 9) and in ’15 (preseason No. 6), while Richt did so in ’18 at Miami (preseason No. 8) and in ’15 at Georgia (preseason No. 9).

Malzahn doesn’t have to worry about that this season, with the Tigers starting outside the top 10.


Don’t Sleep On Clemson — Again

For each of the past eight seasons, Clemson has finished the season ranked by the AP the same or higher than its preseason AP ranking. That’s a national record for Clemson and coach Dabo Swinney. Every year, the Tigers are undervalued – yes, even last year, when they started at No. 2 in the preseason, but finished No. 1.

This year, it will be even more difficult as the preseason No. 1-ranked Tigers would have to win the national title to run their streak to nine years.

Here’s Clemson’s preseason and final AP rankings for the past eight years:

Year Preseason AP Ranking Final AP Ranking
2018 2 1
2017 5 4
2016 2 1
2015 12 2
2014 16 15
2013 8 8
2012 14 11
2011 N/R 22


MORE: Brett McMurphy’s College Football Preseason Top 25