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Re-Grading the AP's 2013 Top 25 Preseason Poll

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistAugust 12, 2014

Re-Grading the AP's 2013 Top 25 Preseason Poll

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    There are many valid arguments against the idea of preseason polls in college football, but maybe the most credible one relates to their accuracy. Or, rather, the lack of accuracy.

    When it comes to The Associated Press preseason Top 25, which is voted on by the media, or the Amway Coaches Poll, those submitting ballots must do so based on information that is either wildly outdated or incomplete.

    Simply put, preseason rankings are a product of past performance and potential future results, and because of that, there's plenty of room for error.

    The 2013 AP preseason poll was no exception.

    Alabama was coming off back-to-back national championships and returned numerous key players from those title runs. Ohio State had gone undefeated in 2012, though that didn't include a bowl game because of a postseason ban.

    And teams like Oregon, Stanford and Georgia had veteran-laden units that had all put up great seasons in 2012 and were expected to do so again the following season.

    That quintet, which began the year ranked in the AP's Top Five, all ended the year seventh or worst. And one of them wasn't even ranked at the end.

    In fact, 10 of the preseason poll's Top 25 were unranked when the final rankings were released in early January, while four teams that participated in the final crop of BCS bowl games began 2013 outside the Top 25.

    If preseason polls were to be put on trial, the 2013 version would be Exhibit A in the case against them.

    But these polls don't look like they'll be going away any time soon. The AP's 2014 version is set to be released on Aug. 17, and in anticipation of this, we're taking a look back at last year's preseason rankings to grade how well the media voters did with their votes.

    Grades are based on where teams ended compared to where they began, taking into consideration a tendency for voters to drop teams farther than normal in final polls after bowl losses.

Others Receiving Votes (And Those That Didn't)

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    As mentioned in the previous slide, 10 teams that began the 2013 season ranked in the AP's Top 25 were unranked come the final poll.

    Consequently, that meant 10 schools who ended the season in the rankings were not among the Top 25 back in August.

    And what a list those unranked teams made up:

    • Auburn (2nd)
    • Michigan State (3rd)
    • Missouri (5th)
    • Central Florida (10th)
    • Baylor (13th)
    • Arizona State (21st)
    • Duke (23rd)
    • Vanderbilt (24th)
    • Washington (25th)

    One of the teams that played for the final BCS National Championship wasn't ranked at the start of the season, but that really shouldn't be surprising since Auburn was coming off a 3-9 record in 2012.

    But also absent from the preseason poll was the eventual Big Ten (and Rose Bowl) winner, Michigan State, along with Big 12 champion Baylor and the inaugural American Athletic Conference champ, Central Florida.

    Three other teams that played in each of their league's respective title games (Arizona State in the Pac-12, Duke in the ACC and Missouri in the SEC) were unranked when 2013 began.

    Granted, those teams went 8-5, 6-7 and 5-7, respectively, the season before, which is further evidence that preseason polls are heavily influenced by recent results.

    Grade: D

25. Oregon State

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    2013 record: 7-6, 4-5 in Pac-12

    Final AP ranking: Not ranked

     

    If you really think about it, the team that sits at 25th in a top 25 poll isn't necessarily the consensus pick as the 25th-best team among eligible choices.

    They just happen to be the one that collected the 25th-most votes, which in the case of Oregon State in 2013 meant it got 34 more votes than the No. 26 team and 37 more than the No. 27 choice.

    The teams that effectively ranked 31st to 43rd collected more total votes than OSU, which shows what kind of vote of confidence the Beavers got.

    But someone has to take the No. 25 spot in every poll, and for the initial one last year, it was the Beavers, who had gone 9-4 the season before and finished 20th in the final 2012 rankings.

    Then they lost their opener, at home, to an FCS team, and it was goodbye Beavers.

    Even after OSU won its next six, it didn't get back into the rankings, a foreshadowing of things to come as the Beavers would drop their final five regular-season games before beating Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl to salvage a 7-6 mark.

    Grade: C-

24. USC

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    2013 record: 10-4, 6-3 in Pac-12

    Final AP ranking: 19th

     

    Coming off a very un-Trojan-like 7-6 season in 2012, USC coach Lane Kiffin entered the 2013 season on a hot seat that paid no mind to continuing NCAA sanctions and their impact on scholarship-player depth.

    This was USC, and winning was expected, so the preseason ranking of 24th was as much based on what the Trojans were supposed to do as on what they were capable of.

    And USC showed that capability, although not until after Kiffin was fired midseason and the Trojans shook off numerous injuries and a slow-in-developing offense.

    The Trojans' final ranking of 19th was their high-water mark for 2013, but it also should come with an asterisk.

    They were unranked heading into bowl season, but the combination of a very impressive win over Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl—played more than two weeks before the final poll was released—stuck in voters' minds and boosted them from unranked to a Top 20 finish.

    It was the media poll version of turning in an extra credit assignment after the final exam but before the grade book was put away for the year.

    Grade: B

23. Wisconsin

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    2013 record: 9-4, 6-2 in Big Ten

    Final AP ranking: 22nd

     

    Wisconsin had played in three straight Rose Bowls entering the 2013 season, but it also had lost six games the year before and saw its coach surprisingly bolt for Arkansas before that last Rose Bowl could be played.

    There was talent on both sides of the ball coming back, but what could the Badgers be expected to do under a new coach (Gary Andersen) whose previous claim to fame was leading Utah State to a win in the...Famous Idaho Potato Bowl?

    The AP's voters erred on the side of cautious optimism, putting Wisconsin at No. 23 in the preseason poll. Its average rank on the 60 ballots was just a hair above 23rd, but the Badgers also weren't on every voter's list.

    When the 2013 season was in the books, they finished closer to their preseason ranking than all but one other team in the final poll.

    Wisconsin fell out of the rankings after losing at Ohio State in late September to drop to 3-2, but by late November, it was up to 14th thanks to a six-game win streak.

    A surprising home loss to Penn State in the regular-season finale caused a drop to 21st, then after moving up two spots in the final regular-season poll, the Badgers landed in 22nd but were only 14 votes from being 20th at the end.

    Grade: A

22. Northwestern

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    2013 record: 5-7, 1-7 in Big Ten

    Final AP ranking: Not ranked

     

    Northwestern ended the 2012 season as the second-highest-ranked Big Ten team, behind only unbeaten Ohio State, yet in the preseason poll seven months later, the Wildcats were fourth-best among schools from the B1G.

    A 10-3 record from the year before and a lot of starters coming back wasn't enough to sell voters on this non-traditional power, almost as if they had a copy of the sports almanac Biff Tannen brought back from the future.

    But if that were the case, Northwestern wouldn't have been ranked at all, especially if that book listed how the Wildcats went from 4-0 and set to host Ohio State with ESPN's College GameDay in town to losing seven straight games in what seemed like increasingly frustrating ways.

    The final two months of 2013 were so full of bad luck, including the amazing fact that Northwestern "lost two games last season they were winning with zero seconds left on the clock," as alum and ESPN radio host Mike Greenberg noted.

    You can predict wins and losses with some level of accuracy, but to project such an ominous collapse as what the Wildcats went through is improbable.

    Still, grades are grades, and the AP voters didn't get a good one when it came to Northwestern.

    Grade: D-

21. UCLA

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    2013 record: 10-3, 6-3 in Pac-12

    Final AP ranking: 16th

     

    Jim Mora's first season at UCLA in 2012 resulted in a trip to the Pac-12 championship, but because it also featured a three-game losing streak at the end, there was a limit to the expectations put on the Bruins heading into 2013.

    As a result, UCLA began the year ranked at the top of the bottom rung of the preseason Top 25, despite the Pac-12 media picking it to again represent the South Division in the conference title game.

    UCLA didn't make a third straight conference final, but it did get to 10 wins for the first time since 2005, and it climbed to as high as ninth before a two-game slide knocked the Bruins back down to 17th.

    Those two games were both on the road against Stanford and Oregon, mind you. A division-deciding home loss to Arizona State sent them down to 22nd.

    Wins over rival USC and in the Sun Bowl against Virginia Tech—by a combined score of 77-26—brightened UCLA's complexion in the eyes of voters, resulting in the late surge to 16th to tie its highest final ranking in eight years.

    Grade: B

20. TCU

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    2013 record: 4-8, 2-7 in Big 12

    Final AP ranking: Not ranked

     

    With a 47-5 record from 2008-11, TCU's move into the big leagues of power-conference football in 2012 was rewarded with a No. 20 preseason ranking.

    But a 7-6 overall record and a 4-5 mark in their Big 12 debut prevented the Horned Frogs from finishing that season among the Top 25.

    Voters gave TCU another chance last season, once again rating it as the 20th-best team in the country in the preseason.

    And again the Frogs failed to meet expectations, in fact falling woefully short of them in posting their first losing record since 2004.

    TCU actually peaked after the first week of the season, and even that was a loss. The 37-27 setback to LSU in a neutral-site contest only dropped the Frogs to 24th in the AP poll.

    But when they lost to Texas Tech 12 days later, it was a steady decline first out of and then further and further away from the rankings.

    The Frogs' final ranking in Bleacher Report's power ranking of all 126 FBS teams in 2013 was 91st, the lowest of any team that began the season rated in the AP's preseason poll.

    Grade: F

19. Boise State

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    2013 record: 8-5, 6-2 in Mountain West

    Final AP ranking: Not ranked

     

    The preseason rankings are often like an old boys club, made up of the traditional powers and longstanding standard bearers of college football.

    There's not much room for the little guys, though Boise State has proven to be the exception the last few years.

    How were voters to know this was going to be the year the Broncos fell back to Earth after seven straight seasons of carrying the torch for the non-power conferences?

    And that it would happen right off the bat, with an opening 38-6 loss to Washington that was the program's worst result since getting crushed by Georgia to start the 2005 season.

    After that it was a lot more "firsts" for Boise, none of them good. The first loss to Fresno State in eight years, in the process handing the mid-major BCS-buster flag over to the Bulldogs.

    Then the first-ever loss to BYU and the first consecutive losses to the same opponent (San Diego State) since falling to Washington State in both 2000 and 2001.

    That also gave Boise its first four-loss regular season since 2001, and after falling to Oregon State in the Hawaii Bowl, it marked the Broncos' worst record since going 6-5 in 1998, their third season of FBS play.

    Grade: C

18. Nebraska

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    2013 record: 9-4, 5-3 in Big Ten

    Final AP ranking: Not ranked

     

    Though most of the coaches and a lot of the players stay the same from one year to the next, in college football, each season is completely different from the one before and the one after.

    Yet with Nebraska, at least in the Bo Pelini regime, five seasons with roughly the same record will make it enticing to just average things out when predicting an upcoming year's performance.

    We can't know if that's what voters were collectively thinking for 2013 with the Cornhuskers, but we do know this: From 2009-12, Nebraska's average preseason ranking was 16th, and its average final ranking was 20th.

    Split the difference and you get 18th, where the 'Huskers sat in the 2013 preseason poll.

    And wouldn't you know it? Nebraska lived up to its recent past, at least record-wise, once again losing four games while winning nine times for the third time in Pelini's six years (the other three resulted in 10 wins each).

    But despite ending on a high note with a 24-19 victory over Georgia in the Gator Bowl, Nebraska finished outside the rankings in the final poll for the first time since 2008.

    It finished with losses in the previous three years and stayed among the Top 25, but not this time, as Nebraska fell out of the rankings in late October and never managed to climb back in.

    Grade: C+

17. Michigan

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    2013 record: 7-6, 3-5 in Big Ten

    Final AP ranking: Not ranked

     

    Voters were willing to give Michigan and coach Brady Hoke the benefit of the doubt heading into last season, shrugging off the 8-5 record from the year before—and finish outside the Top 25—with a No. 17 preseason ranking to open 2013.

    Surely, the Wolverines were more apt to be like the team that ended 2011—Hoke's first at the helm—in the Top 10 than it would be like the season after.

    Nope.

    At first, though, they looked like geniuses. Michigan was 5-0 and had a win over Notre Dame notched on the belt, but that only resulted in a rise to 15th in the AP poll.

    This was thanks to 11 unbeaten teams above the Wolverines, including three that began the year ranked lower or not ranked at all.

    Then came the triple-overtime loss to Penn State, and it was all downhill from there.

    The Wolverines plummeted to 24th with the lone loss. Three weeks later they were out of the rankings altogether, never to return that season.

    Grade: D

16. Oklahoma

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    2013 record: 11-2, 7-2 in Big 12

    Final AP ranking: 6th

     

    The top programs in college football are more often subject to being overvalued than underappreciated, but in 2013, Oklahoma was part of the latter category despite tying for the Big 12 regular-season title in 2012.

    Maybe voters gave far too much weight to the Sooners' most recent result, a blowout loss to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl—a touch of ironic foreshadowing to how their dominant win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl a year later would translate into major hype for 2014.

    Oklahoma ended 2012 at No. 15 in the final AP poll, collecting 600 total votes, and it was almost as if most voters just kept the Sooners in the same spot.

    They only lost 21 total votes to drop to 16th, and despite a 6-0 record, they got up to just No. 10 before losing for the first time to Texas.

    Another loss four weeks later at Baylor put Oklahoma down to 17th, dropping another spot the week after even with a 38-point win (although against Iowa State), and it seemed left for dead.

    Then the Big 12 got turned on its head, with first Baylor losing to Oklahoma State and then OSU falling to the Sooners in the final month, and suddenly Oklahoma was a Top 10 team.

    When the dust settled and the final poll was out, the Sooners were at a season-high ranking of No. 6, seven spots better than any other Big 12 team and with more than twice as many total votes as when the year began.

    Grade: C

15. Texas

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    2013 record: 8-5, 7-2 in Big 12

    Final AP ranking: Not ranked

     

    Though not an official term, sometimes in college sports a certain team will earn its ranking based more off reputation than on performance or expectations.

    A good way of describing this is a "legacy pick," and it could explain why Texas began the 2013 season ranked 15th in the preseason poll despite being picked to finish fourth in the Big 12.

    The Longhorns ended the previous year at No. 19, moving back into the rankings at the end on the strength of an Alamo Bowl win over Oregon State.

    The prediction of No. 15 to start the 2013 campaign reeked of being too high, a notion made all the more noticeable when Texas fell out of the rankings after the second week thanks to a blowout loss to BYU.

    AP voters seemed to sour completely on the Longhorns after that, despite rebounding from a 1-2 start to win six in a row.

    They didn't get back into the Top 25 until Week 12, sitting at No. 23 before losing to Oklahoma State and never sniffing the rankings again.

    Now under the guidance of a new coach in Charlie Strong, we'll see if Texas earns another preseason ranking to start 2014 despite five losses the year before.

    If the Amway Coaches Poll is any indication—Texas begins at No. 24—that may just happen again.

    Grade: D

14. Notre Dame

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    2013 record: 9-4

    Final AP ranking: 20th

     

    A participant in the previous season's BCS National Championship Game, Notre Dame had a lot to accomplish in order to surpass what it had done in 2012.

    The voters didn't think that was possible, projecting a pretty significant step back by putting the Fighting Irish in the bottom half of the preseason Top 25.

    That wasn't just because of the graduation of mercurial linebacker Manti Te'o, but it was also due to the season-long suspension of quarterback Everett Golson, who went 10-1 as a starter in 2012.

    There were a lot of questions about Notre Dame heading into the year, and despite plenty of winnable games on the schedule, the chances of the Irish faring well enough to even get back into the BCS weren't strong, according to preseason voters.

    They were right, as Notre Dame lost twice in its first five games to all but eliminate itself from BCS contention.

    After a four-game win streak that included victories over Arizona State, Navy and USC, the Irish dropped two of three down the stretch and sat in 25th place heading into bowl season.

    Losses by five of the six teams above them in bowl games contributed to the Irish's final poll jump to No. 20, a bigger contribution than their own bowl result—a convincing win over an unimpressive Rutgers team.

    Grade: B-

13. Oklahoma State

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    2013 record: 10-3, 7-2 in Big 12

    Final AP ranking: 17th

     

    Even though Oklahoma State was coming off a subpar 8-5 season, the media that cover the Big 12 were sold on the Cowboys enough to pick them to win the conference in 2013.

    But such a nod didn't hold that much weight with voters on a national scale, as OSU began the season ranked just 13th and represented the lowest-rated presumptive power-conference winner in the preseason AP poll.

    The Cowboys nearly lived up to the Big 12 reporters' prediction, holding the top spot in the conference heading into the final week of the regular season before losing late at home to rival Oklahoma.

    This allowed Baylor to take the league crown—and its automatic BCS bid.

    OSU had to settle for a matchup with Missouri in the Cotton Bowl, another game it lost late and which contributed in a drop from a season-high sixth in early December to 17th by mid-January.

    Those final two results, in a way, got the Cowboys closer to preseason expectations than at any time in the year.

    They steadily moved up from 21st in late September to just outside the Top Five before tumbling late, and they were actually No. 13 heading into bowl season.

    Maybe voters were predicting where the Cowboys would be at the end of 2013, not after an early 2014 contest.

    Grade: B

12. LSU

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    2013 record: 10-3, 5-3 in SEC

    Final AP ranking: 14th

     

    While the approach that each individual AP voter takes in selecting his or her preseason Top 25 will differ greatly, it's hard to argue that looking at where a team finished in the previous season's final poll doesn't have at least some factor in the process.

    And when it came to LSU, looking back at the final 2012 rankings turned out to be all they needed to do.

    The Tigers finished 14th in the last 2012 poll, and that's where they ended up after 2013 was complete.

    That's only a two-spot drop from where they began the 2013 season, which is quite small compared to many other teams in that initial poll.

    LSU hovered around the upper-10s for most of the season, though it rose as high as No. 6 before falling to Georgia. It was as low as 18 after dropping to 7-3 following a loss to Alabama.

    Wins over Texas A&M and Arkansas to end the regular season started the final climb, culminating in a rise to 14th after knocking off Iowa in the Outback Bowl.

    Never a legitimate title contender in the eyes of the voters, LSU also never fell in danger of dropping out of the rankings.

    Grade: A-

11. Florida State

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    2013 record: 14-0, 8-0 in ACC

    Final AP ranking: 1st

     

    The AP voters don't get a particularly good grade for their Florida State pick in 2013, but in a way this was a test that was almost impossible to pass.

    Florida State had an untested redshirt freshman quarterback at the helm, and though Texas A&M had managed to parlay a similar scenario in 2012 into a breakout season, it was foolish to think Jameis Winston could do the same for the Seminoles.

    And he didn't; he blew what Manziel did out of the water.

    Winston posted the best season for a freshman quarterback in FBS history, obliterating records and piloting FSU to the national title as the only undefeated team in the country in 2013.

    The Seminoles steadily rose up the rankings, moving into the Top Five ahead of the Week 8 showdown at Clemson and then into the Top Three a week later.

    They were second in mid-November, staying there until Alabama lost, then holding onto the top spot through the BCS championship.

    It wasn't that people weren't sold on the Seminoles entering 2013—ESPN.com's Phil Steele had them as his team with the "best shot of any preseason non-top 10 team of winning the national title" last June.

    But the X-factor of a young passer and other factions made FSU more of a dark horse than an odds-on favorite. As a result, the national champs had to climb the ladder from 11th to first.

    Grade: C

10. Florida

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    2013 record: 4-8, 3-5 in SEC

    Final AP ranking: Not ranked

     

    Florida wasn't the highest-ranked team from the preseason poll to end up outside the Top 25 when the 2013 season was over—congrats on that, fellow SEC foe Georgia—but there's no denying the Gators were the most disappointing of the lot.

    As a result, the AP voters swung and missed worse with this pick than any other.

    The 10th-ranked team in the final 2012 AP poll, Florida State, went 12-2, so it would make sense to project a similar record for the Gators based on their preseason ranking.

    Instead, they went 4-8, the program's first losing season since going 0-10-1 in 1979. Since '79, they'd won three national titles and won at least 10 games 13 times.

    Florida was coming off an 11-2 season, its best in three years, and things appeared to be trending up under coach Will Muschamp.

    But right out of the gate, Florida struggled on offense, the result of major injury attrition and overall poor execution. Yet the Gators still managed to start 4-1 and 3-0 in the SEC before the bottom fell out.

    They lost their last seven games, reaching the 20-point plateau only twice, and it seemed things couldn't get any worse when they did in the form of an embarrassing home defeat to FCS Georgia Southern.

    Florida wasn't even in the same hemisphere of the "others receiving votes" teams at the end of the 2013 season, and in Jeff Sagarin's computer ratings, it finished No. 53—behind two FCS programs and six schools from non-power conferences.

    Grade: F

9. Louisville

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    2013 record: 12-1, 7-1 in American

    Final AP ranking: 15th

     

    Louisville was the class of the Big East in 2012 and was expected to be the flag-waver for the revamped (and renamed) American Athletic Conference in 2013.

    This was thanks to highly regarded quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and an ironclad defense that lived and breathed the work ethic of Cardinals coach Charlie Strong.

    But the Big East/American also remained the least-regarded league in the BCS—and subsequently would lose its "power conference" status.

    As a result, Louisville barely cracked the Top 10 to start the season despite being considered as big a lock to get its conference's automatic BCS bid as any other team in the country.

    It's also why, after just one loss midway through the season to a team that turned out to be far better than anyone could have predicted, the Cardinals could never get close to even sniffing its preseason ranking.

    Louisville was ranked No. 8 heading into a Friday night home game against Central Florida, which had looked impressive by winning at Penn State and falling by three at home to South Carolina.

    After UCF pulled off the shocking 38-35 win, the Knights jumped into the rankings at No. 21, while Louisville plummeted all the way to 18th.

    No amount of wins could boost the Cardinals back to their old perch, as the No. 15 final ranking was their highest after the loss and marked a three-spot leap from the final regular-season poll.

    The voters weren't sold on Louisville being a national power before the loss, and afterward they didn't give the Cardinals much consideration, either.

    Grade: B-

8. Clemson

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    2013 record: 11-2, 7-1 in ACC

    Final AP ranking: 8th

     

    Any AP voter from 2013 who would want to highlight that distinction on their resume should use Clemson as the footnote to that entry, because the panel nailed it when it came to how the Tigers would fare last season.

    Clemson began at No. 8 and ended in that spot, the only team to accomplish that feat in 2013.

    Granted, Clemson would have preferred it if the preseason voters had used that clairvoyance on a higher ranking, but then it would have had to back that up by winning one or both of the two most high-profile games on the schedule.

    At home against Florida State, and at in-state rival South Carolina.

    The first loss, with both teams in the Top Five in October, prevented the Tigers from reaching the ACC title game. The second one nearly kept them out of the BCS, but the Orange Bowl folks picked them anyway.

    Clemson responded by putting together a great final performance in knocking off Ohio State.

    Grade: A+

7. Texas A&M

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    2013 record: 9-4, 4-4 in SEC

    Final AP ranking: 18th

     

    When Texas A&M joined the SEC in 2012, no one knew what to expect of this Big 12 expatriate that was under the guidance of a new coach and had an untested quarterback at the helm.

    But in 2013, the voters resoundingly showed their expectations by ranking the Aggies in the Top 10 and putting them as the second-best team from the ultra-deep SEC West.

    This ranking was strongly influenced by what can best be called the star-player factor.

    With reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel back at quarterback, expectations of how he would top his magical 2012 season masked any concerns that should have been raised about A&M's defense.

    That, and the fact the Aggies beat eventual national champ Alabama the year before were the reasons CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd cited for putting them No. 1 in his way-too-early top 25.

    If only because it has to end sometime, this Alabama thing has to end soon. Call it the Law of Aggie Averages. Texas A&M is the preseason No. 1 because it was the only team to beat the postseason No. 1 in 2012. That's a good place to start. So is the Heisman Trophy winner, who -- considering he is only a sophomore -- has yet to play his best game.

    Instead, A&M lost at home to Alabama in the third week of the season, and though the game was tons of fun to watch, it signaled how the season was going to go.

    A lot of Manziel doing whatever he could to will a win, while the defense made no effort to support him on the other end.

    The same thing happened in a home loss to Auburn, and then as Manziel began to wear down late in the season, the production dropped off as A&M scored just 31 points in its last two regular-season games—after averaging 49 in the first 10.

    A&M fell as low as 22nd before ticking up at the end, thanks to Manziel's swan song performance in the Chik-fil-A Bowl win over Duke.

    Grade: C

6. South Carolina

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    2013 record: 11-2, 6-2 in SEC

    Final AP ranking: 4th

     

    Before Steve Spurrier came to South Carolina, the football program had never won more than 10 games.

    But entering 2013, the Gamecocks were coming off back-to-back seasons with 11 victories, and all signs pointed to another year along those lines.

    And while Carolina wasn't able to get that elusive BCS bowl bid, it did deliver on the win total and overall success.

    Not being in the BCS is the only reason the Gamecocks didn't finish higher, but at No. 4, they were the highest-ranked team that didn't participate in any of the five premier games.

    Instead, they methodically defeated a very good Wisconsin team in the Capital One Bowl for their third straight Jan. 1 bowl triumph.

    It was the highest final ranking in school history and solidified South Carolina as one of the most consistent programs in the country in this decade.

    In fact, of the preseason Top 10 teams from 2013's AP poll, the Gamecocks were the only one to exceed expectations when comparing preseason to final rankings.

    Grade: A

5. Georgia

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    2013 record: 8-5, 5-3 in SEC

    Final AP ranking: Not ranked

     

    There are a lot of reasons for why Georgia was ranked so high to begin the 2013 season, but as the year went on, just as many arguments could be made for why such a lofty preseason perch was uncalled for.

    In the end, the Bulldogs slugged through a roller-coaster season that ended outside the rankings.

    The Bulldogs were behind the eight ball right away, thanks to an opener at fellow Top 10 team Clemson, losing 38-35.

    The loss was excusable, considering the competition, but the poor defensive performance wasn't and would set a tone for the rest of the season.

    Georgia would allow 31 or more points five more times, resulting in three more losses.

    It wasn't all bad, as Georgia knocked off South Carolina and LSU early, but then injuries on offense messed with chemistry and consistency and enabled East Division upstarts Missouri and Vanderbilt to capitalize with landmark victories.

    A freak ending to a loss at Auburn wiped out an amazing comeback, but after rallying to beat rival Georgia Tech behind a backup quarterback, the season ended with a bowl loss to Nebraska.

    Georgia ended up with just 13 votes in the final AP poll—compared with 1,249 in the preseason, including one first-place nod—and finished in a tie for 31st place with Iowa.

    That was two places behind North Dakota State, an FCS team that got 17 votes in the final poll after winning a third straight national title.

    Grade: F

4. Stanford

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    2013 record: 11-3, 7-2 in Pac-12

    Final AP ranking: 11th

     

    Like high grades, high rankings were becoming the norm for Stanford.

    The program had reached three consecutive BCS bowl games, doing so under two head coaches and with near-constant turnovers in the backfield or at quarterback.

    2013 was primed to be just like the last three years.

    A No. 4 preseason ranking was a perfect placement for the Cardinal, but in the end, the season would prove to be somewhat of a disappointment despite a Pac-12 title and second straight Rose Bowl appearance.

    That's because Stanford fell victim to one of the biggest upsets of 2013 when it lost at Utah. Then despite dominating Oregon for three-plus quarters to take control of its division, it needed help to make the Pac-12 championship after losing to USC as well.

    In the end, the three losses were the most in a season since 2009, with the last coming in a hard-fought defeat to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl.

    Though a good year in the overall sense, it was a minor step back for the Cardinal and didn't end with a Top 10 ranking.

    Grade: B-

3. Oregon

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2013 record: 11-2, 7-2 in Pac-12

    Final AP ranking: 9th

     

    Coming off three straight 12-win seasons, Oregon looked primed to return to the national championship game even as it underwent a coaching change.

    Mark Helfrich took over for Chip Kelly, now in the NFL, but the former Ducks offensive coordinator still had quarterback Marcus Mariota and a seemingly unlimited supply of skill-position weapons.

    What he didn't have, though, was an answer for nemesis Stanford, and after that an antidote for late-season complacency.

    The Ducks began 8-0 heading into an early November showdown with Stanford but were overwhelmed by the Cardinal.

    Oregon trailed 26-0 before it finally made a heavy push in the fourth quarter, falling 26-20 and tumbling out of the national title picture.

    The Ducks might have been able to crawl back in while still being in line for a Rose Bowl berth, but disinterest in that game from some players and a blowout loss to Arizona two weeks later cemented the 2013 season as a disappointment.

    Oregon rebounded to hold off rival Oregon State. It then ran over Texas in the Alamo Bowl in one of its more inspired performances.

    But doing so outside of the BCS, the Ducks couldn't climb all the way back in the rankings.

    Grade: B-

2. Ohio State

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2013 record: 12-2, 8-0 in Big Ten

    Final AP ranking: 12th

     

    Only one team went undefeated in 2012, and that was Ohio State.

    But because the Buckeyes were unable to play in the postseason—either in the Big Ten title game or a bowl—they missed out on a chance to play for a national championship despite a perfect record in Urban Meyer's first season.

    Much of that team returned for 2013, heavily influencing OSU's No. 2 preseason ranking that included a first-place vote.

    It immediately dropped to third in the first regular-season poll, then wavered back and forth between No. 3 and No. 4 until December despite winning all of its games.

    A weak nonconference schedule and minimal conference challenges contributed to that ranking.

    The Buckeyes moved back up to second ahead of the Big Ten final against Michigan State, putting them in prime position to earn a spot in the BCS title game with another win.

    But OSU was beaten by the Spartans and then fell to Clemson in the Orange Bowl to end on a two-game skid after winning its previous 24 contests.

    OSU's preseason ranking was ambitious, but public perception waned throughout the season because of schedule-strength concerns.

    The drop out of the Top 10 was typical of a team losing two in a row, though falling 10 spots shows the power of recent results in voting compared to a team's overall body of work.

    Grade: C

1. Alabama

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2013 record: 11-2, 7-1 in SEC

    Final AP ranking: 7th

     

    Where would you have ranked the two-time defending national champions, who had the quarterback from both of those title teams—and plenty of other stars—coming back for another year?

    Alabama received 58 of 60 first-place votes in the preseason poll in 2013, which was not surprising in one bit.

    The Crimson Tide had dominated Notre Dame in the BCS championship, and with AJ McCarron leading a solid offense to go with a defense that would see five starters get drafted the following spring, the expectations were as high as ever.

    The Tide lived up to the hype for most of the season, starting 11-0 heading into the Iron Bowl at Auburn.

    They led that game for much of the way until the Tigers rallied late and then converted a missed field goal into a game-winning touchdown to claim the SEC's West Division.

    Alabama then went on to lose to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, a game that was apparently treated as a "consolation game."

    Had 'Bama won its bowl, a finish as high as No. 3 would have been very likely. Instead, the Tide dropped to seventh, their lowest ranking since ending the 2010 season 10th in the final AP poll.

    Grade: B-

     

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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