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How Accurate are College Football Preseason Polls?

Every year preseason polls come out for college football to help to get fans hyped up for the season. While these polls don’t mean much, as every Power 5 conference team controls their own destiny, the polls do generate great discussion. Should fans believe the polls though? This article will look back at how accurate the preseason polls have been since the inception of the College Football Playoff.

2014-2015

Ezekiel Elliot (Photo by nytimes.com)

The 2014-2015 season was the first for the College Football Playoff. While it generated excitement, all four teams that made it into the CFP were ranked in the top five in the preseason AP Poll. The teams were also ranked in the top six in the preseason Coaches Poll.

Florida State was ranked first and Alabama was ranked second in both polls. Oregon was ranked third in the AP Poll and fourth in the Coaches Poll. Ohio State was ranked fifth in the AP Poll and sixth in the Coaches Poll. The teams were seeded in the following manner by the end of the season by the CFP Committee: 1. Alabama, 2. Oregon, 3. Florida State,  4. Ohio State.

Ohio State won the first-ever College Football Playoff as the last team in the field. Preseason polls that year were proven to be pretty accurate, with the champion being ranked fifth and sixth respectively.

2015-2016

In the 2015-2016 season, the preseason polls probably did their worst job in the CFP era of predicting how things would turn out. Every team was ranked in both top 25s, as has always been the case for CFP teams, but two were ranked outside of the top 10 in both.

Alabama, Michigan State, Clemson and Oklahoma were the teams that made the CFP that season. Alabama was ranked third, Clemson was ranked 12th and Oklahoma was ranked 19th in both polls. Michigan State was fifth in the AP Poll and sixth in the Coaches Poll. For the CFP, the teams were ranked: 1. Clemson, 2. Alabama, 3. Michigan State, 4. Oklahoma.

The Crimson Tide won the National Championship Game to kick off the Alabama vs. Clemson saga. There were some teams ranked outside of the top 10 to make the CFP, but the champion was ranked third before the season.

2016-2017

How Accurately can Preseason Polls Predict the College Football Playoff?
Deshaun Watson (Photo by usatoday.com)

The preseason polls did a good job of projecting who the top teams would be again for the 2016-2017 season. For this season, all four teams were ranked in the top 20, which has also always held true for CFP teams. Three CFP teams were in the top 10 for the preseason polls.

Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Washington made the CFP. Alabama was ranked first in both polls, while Clemson ranked second in both. Ohio State was ranked sixth in the AP Poll and fifth in the Coaches Poll. The AP Poll ranked Washington 14th, but the Coaches Poll ranked the Huskies 18th. Alabama was the first overall seed and were followe d by Clemson, Ohio State and Washington in that order.

Clemson won the National Championship as the second seed, beating Alabama in the National Championship Game. The preseason polls nailed the top two teams in the country to start the season, but their order should’ve been flipped.

2017-2018

All four teams who would go on to make the CFP were ranked in the top 15. Three of the four teams who qualified for the CFP were ranked in the top 10.

Two teams from the same conference made the CFP, Alabama and Georgia, to go along with Clemson and Oklahoma. Alabama was ranked first in both polls, Clemson was ranked fifth in both and Georgia was ranked 15th in both. Oklahoma was seventh in the AP Poll and eighth in the Coaches Poll. The teams were ranked in the following order by the CFP Committee: 1. Clemson, 2. Oklahoma, 3. Georgia, 4. Alabama.

Tua Tagovailoa saved the day for Alabama as they beat Georgia in overtime of the CFP Final. They were the fourth seed, but the polls picked the best team from before the season.

2018-2019

How Accurately do Preseason Polls Predict the College Football Playoff?
Trevor Lawrence (Photo by fansided.com)

The polls did a good job of predicting once again for the 2018-2019 season. All four CFP teams were ranked in the top 12 in both polls in the preseason.

Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Oklahoma made the CFP. Alabama and Clemson were ranked first and second, respectively, in that order, by both polls. Oklahoma was ranked seventh in the AP Poll and fifth in the Coaches Poll. Notre Dame was ranked 12th in the AP Poll and 11th Coaches Poll before the season. Alabama was the first seed, Clemson was the second, Notre Dame was third and Oklahoma was fourth for the CFP.

Clemson won the National Championship behind the arm of freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence, beating Alabama. The top two teams were flipped, but Clemson and Alabama as the top two teams were nailed once again by the preseason polls.

The Rest of the Top 25

The CFP is the peak of college football, but there are still plenty of other teams that the preseason polls rate. From the start of the 2014-2015 season, both polls have done a decent job of predicting which teams could be bowl eligible. Of the 125 teams ranked over the four-year span, 114 of them have made bowl games in both polls (vacated wins/bowl apperances are not taken out of these calculations, since the teams were accurately predicted based on what happened on the field), which is good enough for a percentage of 91.2.

While it seems easy to predict which teams make it to the many bowl games in college football each year, it is harder than it looks when considering injuries and other factors. The high percentage of hits is nice, but the polls both were at 100 percent before the 2014-2015 season.

Conclusion

The data provided has given fans at least a few things to expect every season when these polls come out. Each year the National Champion has been ranked in the top six of each poll. Teams that have made the CFP Final and lost, have all been ranked in the top 15. To make the CFP at all,  teams seemingly have to be rated in the top 20 in both preseason polls. In most cases, all but one or two teams in the top 25 of both polls make a bowl game.

While the polls definitely have their misses (Florida State was No. 3 in 2017 and just barely got to a bowl game), and teams do control their own destiny if they are in a big conference, the polls have done a good job of slimming down the realistic CFP contenders in their top 25s each season and giving a solid picture of which teams could be bowl-eligible.

 

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