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Daniel Wilco | NCAA.com | August 19, 2019

Does college football's preseason AP poll predict the final AP poll?

2019 college football quarterbacks to watch

Clemson and Alabama lead the 2019 preseason AP Poll. But is that poll really a good indicator of how the season will go?

After looking at AP rankings from 2010 through 2018, we’re fairly sure that answer is no.

PRESEASON RANKINGS: The Top 25 polls for the 2019 season

Over the past nine years, 225 teams have been ranked in the preseason Top 25. Of those, 139 were still ranked in the final poll. That’s just 61.8 percent. And even the ones that stayed ranked rarely held their position.

That also means that 86 teams that were not ranked in the preseason poll ended up in the final Top 25.

Of those 86, 17 managed to make it all the way to the Top 10. One — Auburn in 2013 — found its way to the No. 2 spot by the end of the year. The Tigers had finished 3-9 in 2012, but led by Tre Mason and Nick Marshall, they went 12-2 in 2013, making it to the last-ever BCS championship, which they lost 34-31 to Florida State.

UNRANKED IN PRESEASON TO TOP 10 IN FINAL
Year Team Preseason Final Final record
2018 Florida NR 7 (10-3)
2018 Washington State NR 10 (11-2)
2017 UCF NR 6 (13-0)
2017 Texas Christian NR 9 (11-3)
2016 Penn State NR 7 (11-3)
2016 Wisconsin NR 9 (11-3)
2015 Houston NR 8 (13-1)
2015 Iowa NR 9 (12-2)
2014 Texas Christian NR 3 (12-1)
2014 Georgia Tech NR 8 (11-3)
2013 Auburn NR 2 (12-2)
2013 Michigan State NR 3 (13-1)
2013 Missouri NR 5 (12-2)
2013 UCF NR 10 (12-1)
2012 Notre Dame NR 4 (12-1)
2012 Texas A&M NR 5 (11-2)
2010 Stanford NR 4 (12-1)

And then there’s the flip side: The falls from grace. 

Since 2010, 45 teams have started the season in the Top 5. Of those, seven were unranked at the end of the year:

STARTED SEASON AP TOP 5, FINISHED UNRANKED
Year Team Preseason rank Final rank Final record
2018 Wisconsin 4 NR (8-5)
2017 Florida State 3 NR (7-6)
2014 Oklahoma 4 NR (8-5)
2013 Georgia 5 NR (8-5)
2012 USC 1 NR (7-6)
2010 Florida 4 NR (8-5)
2010 Texas 5 NR (5-7)

None of those were more surprising than USC in 2012.

After returning 18 starters (including 13 All-Pac-12 players) from a team that went 10-2 and finished No. 6 in the AP poll, the Trojans earned the No. 1 spot in 2012’s preseason rankings. Then they went 7-6, highlighted by losses to No. 21 Stanford and unranked Arizona. USC became the first team since Mississippi in 1964 to start No. 1 in the AP poll and finish unranked.

But just looking at raw numbers doesn't tell the whole story.

For one final bit of analysis on how closely related preseason and final polls are, we employed the correlation coefficient. This method measures the relationship between two sets of variables, using a scale of -1 to +1, with -1 meaning a perfect inverse relationship (as one set of numbers rises, the other falls the exact amount), and +1 meaning a perfect 1:1 relationship (as one set of numbers rises, the other rises the exact same amount).

Our two sets of variables used for this were the preseason top 25, and the final top 25. And their correlation coefficient was an insignificant 0.29 (on that scale of -1 to 1), reinforcing what the raw numbers seemed to show: The two are just barely related. 

That threadbare relationship isn’t unsurprising.

Preseason polls are, at best, really good guestimates. Throughout the course of the season, teams will suffer injuries, watch highly-touted players fall short of expectations, unheralded players become stars, veterans have breakout seasons, and many more unpredictable storylines. With 130 schools in the FBS, it would be an extremely impressive feat to predict all the chaos that will unfold in a 16-week season.

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So, if your team is hyped up enough to land a Top 5 spot in the first AP poll of the 2019 season, maybe hold off on buying your CFP tickets for just a little while. And if you’re outside the Top 25, don’t give up hope. You never know.

If you want to take a look at past results yourself, here is a table of every team that has started the season ranked, and where they ended up in the final AP poll:

Year Team Preseason rank Final rank
2018 Alabama 1 2
2018 Clemson 2 1
2018 Georgia 3 7
2018 Wisconsin 4 NR
2018 Ohio State 5 3
2018 Washington 6 13
2018 Oklahoma 7 4
2018 Miami (FL) 8 NR
2018 Auburn 9 NR
2018 Penn State 10 17
2018 Michigan State 11 NR
2018 Notre Dame 12 5
2018 Stanford 13 NR
2018 Michigan 14 14
2018 USC 15 NR
2018 Texas Christian 16 NR
2018 West Virginia 17 20
2018 Mississippi State 18 NR
2018 Florida State 19 NR
2018 Virginia Tech 20 NR
2018 UCF 21 11
2018 Boise State 22 23
2018 Texas 23 9
2018 Oregon 24 NR
2018 LSU 25 6
- - - -
2017 Alabama 1 1
2017 Ohio State 2 5
2017 Florida State 3 NR
2017 USC 4 12
2017 Clemson 5 4
2017 Penn State 6 8
2017 Oklahoma 7 3
2017 Washington 8 16
2017 Wisconsin 9 7
2017 Oklahoma State 10 14
2017 Michigan 11 NR
2017 Auburn 12 10
2017 LSU 13 18
2017 Stanford 14 20
2017 Georgia 15 2
2017 Louisville 16 NR
2017 Florida 17 NR
2017 Miami (FL) 18 13
2017 South Florida 19 21
2017 Kansas State 20 NR
2017 Virginia Tech 21 24
2017 West Virginia 22 NR
2017 Texas 23 NR
2017 Washington State 24 NR
2017 Tennessee 25 NR
- - - -
2016 Alabama 1 2
2016 Clemson 2 1
2016 Oklahoma 3 5
2016 Florida State 4 8
2016 LSU 5 13
2016 Ohio State 6 6
2016 Michigan 7 10
2016 Stanford 8 12
2016 Tennessee 9 22
2016 Notre Dame 10 NR
2016 Ole Miss 11 NR
2016 Michigan State 12 NR
2016 Texas Christian 13 NR
2016 Washington 14 4
2016 Houston 15 NR
2016 UCLA 16 NR
2016 Iowa 17 NR
2016 Georgia 18 NR
2016 Louisville 19 21
2016 USC 20 3
2016 Oklahoma State 21 11
2016 North Carolina 22 NR
2016 Baylor 23 NR
2016 Oregon 24 NR
2016 Florida 25 14
- - - -
2015 Ohio State 1 4
2015 Texas Christian 2 7
2015 Alabama 3 1
2015 Baylor 4 13
2015 Michigan State 5 6
2015 Auburn 6 NR
2015 Oregon 7 19
2015 USC 8 NR
2015 Georgia 9 NR
2015 Florida State 10 14
2015 Notre Dame 11 11
2015 Clemson 12 2
2015 UCLA 13 NR
2015 LSU 14 16
2015 Arizona State 15 NR
2015 Georgia Tech 16 NR
2015 Ole Miss 17 10
2015 Arkansas 18 NR
2015 Oklahoma 19 5
2015 Wisconsin 20 21
2015 Stanford 21 3
2015 Arizona 22 NR
2015 Boise State 23 NR
2015 Missouri 24 NR
2015 Tennessee 25 22
- - - -
2014 Florida State 1 5
2014 Alabama 2 4
2014 Oregon 3 2
2014 Oklahoma 4 NR
2014 Ohio State 5 1
2014 Auburn 6 22
2014 UCLA 7 10
2014 Michigan State 8 5
2014 South Carolina 9 NR
2014 Baylor 10 7
2014 Stanford 11 NR
2014 Georgia 12 9
2014 LSU 13 NR
2014 Wisconsin 14 13
2014 USC 15 20
2014 Clemson 16 15
2014 Notre Dame 17 NR
2014 Ole Miss 18 17
2014 Arizona State 19 12
2014 Kansas State 20 18
2014 Texas A&M 21 NR
2014 Nebraska 22 NR
2014 North Carolina 23 NR
2014 Missouri 24 14
2014 Washington 25 NR
- - - -
2013 Alabama 1 7
2013 Ohio State 2 12
2013 Oregon 3 9
2013 Stanford 4 11
2013 Georgia 5 NR
2013 South Carolina 6 4
2013 Texas A&M 7 18
2013 Clemson 8 8
2013 Louisville 9 15
2013 Florida 10 NR
2013 Florida State 11 1
2013 LSU 12 14
2013 Oklahoma State 13 17
2013 Notre Dame 14 20
2013 Texas 15 NR
2013 Oklahoma 16 6
2013 Michigan 17 NR
2013 Nebraska 18 NR
2013 Boise State 19 NR
2013 Texas Christian 20 NR
2013 UCLA 21 16
2013 Northwestern 22 NR
2013 Wisconsin 23 22
2013 USC 24 19
2013 Oregon State 25 NR
- - - -
2012 USC 1 NR
2012 Alabama 2 1
2012 LSU 3 14
2012 Oklahoma 4 15
2012 Oregon 5 2
2012 Georgia 6 5
2012 Florida State 7 10
2012 Michigan 8 24
2012 South Carolina 9 8
2012 Arkansas 10 NR
2012 West Virginia 11 NR
2012 Wisconsin 12 NR
2012 Michigan State 13 NR
2012 Clemson 14 11
2012 Texas 15 19
2012 Virginia Tech 16 NR
2012 Nebraska 17 25
2012 Ohio State 18 3
2012 Oklahoma State 19 NR
2012 Texas Christian 20 NR
2012 Stanford 21 7
2012 Kansas State 22 12
2012 Florida 23 9
2012 Boise State 24 18
2012 Louisville 25 13
- - - -
2011 Oklahoma 1 16
2011 Alabama 2 1
2011 Oregon 3 4
2011 LSU 4 2
2011 Boise State 5 8
2011 Florida State 6 23
2011 Stanford 7 7
2011 Texas A&M 8 NR
2011 Oklahoma State 9 3
2011 Nebraska 10 24
2011 Wisconsin 11 10
2011 South Carolina 12 9
2011 Virginia Tech 13 21
2011 Texas Christian 14 14
2011 Arkansas 15 5
2011 Notre Dame 16 NR
2011 Michigan State 17 11
2011 Ohio State 18 NR
2011 Georgia 19 19
2011 Mississippi State 20 NR
2011 Missouri 21 NR
2011 Florida 22 NR
2011 Auburn 23 NR
2011 West Virginia 24 17
2011 USC 25 6
- - - -
2010 Alabama 1 10
2010 Ohio State 2 5
2010 Boise State 3 9
2010 Florida 4 NR
2010 Texas 5 NR
2010 Texas Christian 6 2
2010 Oklahoma 7 6
2010 Nebraska 8 20
2010 Iowa 9 NR
2010 Virginia Tech 10 16
2010 Oregon 11 3
2010 Wisconsin 12 7
2010 Miami (FL) 13 NR
2010 USC 14 NR
2010 Pitt 15 NR
2010 Georgia Tech 16 NR
2010 Arkansas 17 12
2010 North Carolina 18 NR
2010 Penn State 19 NR
2010 Florida State 20 17
2010 LSU 21 8
2010 Auburn 22 1
2010 Georgia 23 NR
2010 Oregon State 24 NR
2010 West Virginia 25 NR

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