The 6 Most Overrated College Football Teams in the 2014 Preseason AP Poll
In the grand scheme of things, preseason rankings in college football are quite meaningless. Even more than in years past, where a team is ranked (or not ranked) to begin the season has almost no bearing on its spot in the polls or standings when the year is over.
The College Football Playoff has rendered such polls almost moot, since the selection committee charged with picking teams for the first-ever four-team tournament will use its own rankings based on data completely unrelated to how FBS coaches or national media members catalog the country's best teams.
But that still doesn't mean such polls don't have a place in today's game. They're a great source of discussion and debate, as anyone who checked in on Twitter in the hours after The Associated Press unveiled its initial poll can testify to. Outside of defending champ Florida State at No. 1, it was hard to find a consensus that agreed any other team was completely worthy of its ranking.
In many cases, a team earned a preseason ranking that seems far higher than it deserves based on how it performed in 2013, the quality of the starters it has returning and how good its newcomers are expected to be. Off-the-field conditions may also impact how the 2014 season will go, and if those factors aren't taken into consideration, a team can end up with the dreaded "overrated" label.
Looking at the AP preseason Top 25, here are six teams who fit that description (listed alphabetically).
Arizona State Sun Devils
AP ranking: No. 19
Arizona State played in the Pac-12 title game last season after winning the South Division, and its 10 wins were the most it's had since 2007. The Sun Devils look like they're really starting to build something under Todd Graham, who enters his third season at a school for only the second time in his four head-coaching stints.
Those are the reasons that ASU's ranking seems warranted, but the detracting factors are much heavier.
The Devils lost their last two games in 2013, getting run at home by Stanford in the conference final and then blown away by Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl. Both games showed how much the loss of pass-catching running back Marion Grice—who went down with a leg injury in mid-November and didn't return—affected offensive flow, while ASU's strong defense allowed 75 points in those two games after yielding an average of 21 during the preceding seven-game win streak.
That same defense lost its two best players, defensive lineman Will Sutton and linebacker Carl Bradford, and all told ASU is one of the least veteran teams in the country. It ranks 108th on Phil Steele's experience chart, with only six senior starters.
CBS Sports listed ASU as its most overrated team of the Pac-12, so it makes sense the Devils are the most overrated team from their conference in the AP preseason Top 25.
AP ranking: No. 16
Clemson has put together the best three-year stretch in program history, winning 32 games and reaching two BCS bowl games. The last time the Tigers were on the field, they posted possibly their biggest win ever, a 40-35 triumph over Ohio State in the Orange Bowl.
What do those three seasons and that final game all have in common? They all featured great performances from a slew of offensive stars who have all graduated or are in NFL training camps, yet the No. 16 ranking gives us the impression that there will be little drop-off for Clemson.
The Tigers ended 2013 ranked seventh, so it's not as if they've been slotted in the same place. Instead, they're getting a lot of credit from AP voters who expect that well-regarded coordinator Chad Morris will earn his $1.3 million contract and put another strong offense on the field. That, and that Clemson's solid defense, paced by All-American defensive end Vic Beasley, will help hold down the fort while that offense gets acclimated.
By the time the 2014 season is over, Clemson may be nearly as good as it was during parts of the past three years. But to expect that to be so right out of the gate, as a No. 16 ranking would indicate, ignores the fact it plays two road games in the first month (at Georgia and Florida State) where a win in either would be considered a significant upset.
Clemson rings more like a team that will get better as the year progresses, but because of this ranking it will likely be one that falls out of the polls before climbing in sometime later.
AP ranking: No. 12
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Maybe that doesn't apply to AP voters, because a year after ranking Georgia No. 5 in the preseason (and seeing it unranked by year's end), they have the Bulldogs again in the top half of the poll.
Georgia lost five games in a season for the third time in Mark Richt's 13-year tenure, and if past trends are any indication this year isn't apt for a major turnaround. The Bulldogs went 8-5 in 2009 as well (after starting No. 13 in the preseason poll) and opened at No. 23 the ensuing season...only to go 6-7, the program's first losing record since 1993.
If anything, the Bulldogs are more worthy of being an "under-the-radar" team because they're heading into 2014 with a new quarterback—Hutson Mason is a senior, but he has two career starts and is replacing the SEC's all-time passing leader—and a defense that still has more questions than answers even after coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was plucked away from Florida State.
Instead, Georgia is being given a pass on what happened last year and is expected to get back to the land of double-digit wins.
We should know very early what direction Georgia is headed this season, as it opens at home against Clemson and then visits South Carolina.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
AP ranking: No. 17
Notre Dame's preseason ranking is the result of the same approach taken by AP voters for the other teams in their Top 25. It's based on the quality of the team the Fighting Irish are expected to put forth this year and how that team should perform.
The difference between Notre Dame and everyone else, though, is that a major piece of news occurred between the time voters turned in their ballots and when the poll was released. And that news has the potential to have a huge impact on the Irish's season, so much so that being ranked 17th suddenly has them very overrated.
Last week Notre Dame announced it was conducting an investigation into potential academic fraud, and as a result four players (including wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, defensive end Ishaq Williams and cornerback KeiVarae Russell, all starters) have been held out of practice pending the results of that investigation.
If those players are suspended for any or all of the 2014 season, CBSSports' Chip Patterson wrote, Notre Dame goes from a good team with a tough schedule to one that faces a very uphill battle.
So how has Notre Dame's outlook changed since? Notre Dame betting lines were pulled from the board when academic scandal rumors began Friday, but it will take an impressive showing from the Irish defense to overcome the losses and reach eight wins.
Prior to the news, ESPN's Sports & Info Twitter account noted that Notre Dame was only favored in six of its games using its Football Power Index. What will it be like if the Irish are without the above-mentioned players?
AP ranking: No. 4
Entering the final week of the 2013 regular season, Oklahoma was basically a forgotten team. Despite being 9-2, the Sooners were ranked 17th in the AP and hardly even in the discussion for a BCS bowl. Then they won at rival Oklahoma State, surged in the polls and computer ratings and earned a bid to the Sugar Bowl.
A blowout win over Alabama later, and Oklahoma was an early trendy pick for national title contender. That love for the Sooners stuck around all offseason and translated into their 10th preseason Top Five ranking since 2001. The No. 4 spot in the AP poll is actually a hair worse than the No. 3 slot from the Amway coaches' poll, but still at the same level of loftiness.
High early rankings aren't uncommon for Oklahoma; not living up to that hype is a frequent occurrence as well based on research done by Rich DeCray of SB Nation's Crimson & Cream Machine blog. Using preseason and final AP rankings under Bob Stoops as a barometer, and factoring in a plus/minus margin error similar to what political polls use, there have been five seasons where the Sooners' results showed they were overrated at the outset.
In all five of those years (2002, 2005, 2009, 2011 and 2012), Oklahoma began in the Top Five but finished anywhere from four to 23 spots lower.
Is the same thing happening again? Oklahoma looked great at the end of last season, but that's really based off of a two-game sample. And quarterback Trevor Knight, who was masterful in the Sugar Bowl, was far less than that beforehand.
Texas A&M Aggies
AP ranking: 21st
Texas A&M was coming off an 11-2 season and had the reigning Heisman Trophy winner when it began 2013 ranked seventh in the AP preseason poll. The Aggies were riding the Johnny Manziel hype express and milking it for all its worth, but despite their quarterback's magic and an all-around great offense, the complete lack of defensive competence led to a disappointing 9-4 record and No. 18 final ranking.
Manziel is gone, but the defense (or lack thereof) is still there. Somehow, that only warrants a three-spot drop from the end of 2013 to the beginning of 2014.
A&M just named Kenny Hill its starter late last week, long after the AP ballots had been submitted. And that defense, which can't possibly get any worse, "is still too young and thin in certain positions to take a huge step forward," according to Bleacher Report's Michael Taglienti.
The Aggies defense will get tested right away, opening at South Carolina, and aside from its matchups against FCS team Lamar and Sun Belt mid-tier program Louisiana-Monroe, it is apt to be overmatched in every other game. No one has said Hill is the next Manziel, but he may have to be for A&M to live up to its preseason ranking.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.