The 2017 preseason coaches’ poll has been out a few days, and fans across the SEC are already debating and grumbling about what it means. The short answer: Not much.
Preseason polls don’t mean anything – unless you’re Alabama. The formula has been simple: Voters always pick the Tide to finish high in the rankings, and it always does. That makes a high preseason ranking for Alabama about the closest thing to a lock in today’s college football, up there with predicting New Mexico State not to reach the College Football Playoff.
Otherwise, though, the recent record of preseason polls regarding SEC teams includes projected national contenders that ended up as busts and near-ignored teams that later earned high rankings — even, in Auburn’s case, a national championship.
Skeptical? We’ve crunched the numbers.
Of the 48 SEC teams ranked in the preseason coaches’ polls since 2010, 31 (65 percent) of them have ended up ranked at the end of the season.
During the same span, 11 SEC teams – about one and a half per year – weren’t ranked at all in the preseason, but won a spot in the year-end poll. That group includes three teams that finished in the top five and another that spent a month at No. 1.
Here’s a look at how SEC teams ranked in every preseason coaches’ poll this decade, along with the conference’s teams in the final polls for each season.
Preseason (six teams ranked): No. 1 Alabama, No. 3 Florida, No. 16 LSU, No. 19 Arkansas, No. 21 Georgia, No. 23 Auburn
Final (six teams ranked): No. 1 Auburn, No. 8 LSU, No. 11 Alabama, No. 12 Arkansas, No. 17 Mississippi State, No. 22 South Carolina
Analysis: The preseason poll was on target with the number of ranked teams, but not which ones. As it turned out, John Brantley couldn’t come close to replacing the graduated Tim Tebow, and Florida’s short-lived dynasty came to a crashing halt at 8-5. Meanwhile, the polls also missed on a different former Gators quarterback who resurfaced in the SEC West. Five months later, Cam Newton was a Heisman winner and a national champion, and Auburn – ranked 23rd in August – was on top of college football. Dan Mullen’s Mississippi State also exceeded expectations, not for the last time.
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