Only 3 of the Last 25 College Football Teams to be Ranked Preseason #1 Finished the Season #1.

College football season will be upon us in just a couple of days and I thought it would be interesting to see how indicative being voted #1 in the AP poll was at predicting where teams would end up at the end of the year. In a vacuum, the #1 preseason SHOULD have the best chance at being #1 at the end of the year.

Turns out that’s….not quite the case.

Over the last 25 years, only three teams Alabama 2017, USC 2004 (disregarding the vacated wins), and Florida State 1999 ended the season with the same #1 preseason ranking. USC and Florida State were wire-to-wire #1 voted teams, while Alabama spent Weeks 13 and 14 at #5 and #4 respectively before winning the national title and regaining the #1 spot in the AP poll.

The preseason #1 ended the year at #2 six times and #3 four times. In 21 of the 25 years sampled, the preseason #1 ended up in the top 10. Only one team, USC in 2012, failed to make the rankings after being voted #1 in the preseason. USC was supposed to be primed that year for a championship run after post-season sanctions, but the season turned into a complete train wreck. The 4th quarter of the Arizona/USC game that year marked the start of a nearly year-long slide which culminated in Joey Freshwater Lane Kiffin’s firing.

Note (8/23/19): Auburn right now sits at #16 in the AP poll and +800 to win the SEC West. This is a decent bet as the SEC West could very well come down to the Iron Bowl. A $25 bet would net $200 if Auburn were the SEC West champs.

In most years, there are 2-3 real contenders for the preseason #1 slot, along with an additional 5-6 teams with a legitimate shot of ending the season #1. It seems like the best ranking to snag in the preseason though is the #2 spot, as they have ended up atop the AP poll 9 out of the last 25 years.

In case you were wondering, the lowest ranked team in the preseason to win it all was Auburn in 2010 (Cam Newton’s final year at Auburn) which came in at #22 before the year started.