Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

21 Aug 2009

FO in the WSJ: Attention Florida : Huge Favorites Usually Flop

Football Outsiders will be providing occasional content for the Wall Street Journal's daily "The Count" column. First up: A look at overwhelming preseason favorites in college football's past. You might be surprised to learn that Florida will have to seriously buck history in order to win back-to-back titles.

Posted by: Bill Connelly on 21 Aug 2009

10 comments, Last at 30 Aug 2009, 7:27pm by Sam II


by Bad Doctor :: Fri, 08/21/2009 - 3:42pm

"None of these teams went undefeated—in fact, their average finish in the final polls was a mediocre 3.6."

Bill, I forget what your alma mater is, but most of us would consider finishing in third and a half place in the country to be pretty darn good!

by DavidL :: Fri, 08/21/2009 - 4:17pm

Not to mention that an average 3.6 placement presumably means a healthy showing in the top two, which equates to a title game appearance.

by Joseph :: Fri, 08/21/2009 - 6:18pm

Um, Bill? Huge favorites usually DON'T LIVE UP TO LOFTY EXPECTATIONS would be a better title. Of the teams listed, the worst ended up in EIGHTH!!! place. David, only the 05 Trojans made the title game, losing to Texas. Bill, I don't think those Trojans flopped. They lost in the final seconds of one of the greatest CFB games ever played.
Regarding the other teams, one presumes that they moved up a few places in the final poll after (probably) winning their bowl game.

by Bill Connelly :: Fri, 08/21/2009 - 8:08pm

I didn't write the headline...though I guess that definitely set a certain tone... :-)

by Kibbles :: Sat, 08/22/2009 - 3:18pm

The AP Poll was released, and it's official- Florida is the most overwhelming preseason favorite in AP history. 58 out of 60 possible first place votes (96.7%), and the only two people who didn't vote them first still voted them second, giving them an obscene 1498 out of 1500 possible points. I think that total is going to stand untouched for a long time.

by Led (not verified) :: Sat, 08/22/2009 - 5:30pm

What's the average final position in the poll for all pre-season #1's? I bet it's a good bit lower than 3.6.

by Bill Connelly :: Sun, 08/23/2009 - 1:03am

Average finish (since 1968): 4.8.

Lowest finishes: Penn State 1997 (#16), Ohio State 1980 (#15), Auburn 1984 (#14), Georgia 2008 (#13), Michigan 1981 (#12). So being preseason #1 still means you're going to have a pretty decent year even when you don't win it all.

Preseason #1's who won it all: USC 2004, Miami-FL 2001, Florida State 1999, Nebraska 1994, Florida State 1993, Oklahoma 1985, Alabama 1978, Oklahoma 1975, Oklahoma 1974, Nebraska 1971. Just ten times in 41 years.

by Sam II (not verified) :: Sun, 08/30/2009 - 7:27pm

"just ten times in 41 years"... Am I wrong to think that 10 times in 41 years is a little bit impressive? Do preseason favorites in other sports win titles at that rate?

by RickD :: Mon, 08/24/2009 - 2:20pm

Yes, it's a flop if the preseason #1, who gained 90+% of the first-place votes, finishes 3rd or less.

Consider, for example, the 1991 UNLV Runnin' Rebels in college basketball. They were the dominant basketball team in the nation for a two-year period. They made it to the NCAA finals and lost to Duke.

That was a flop. It doens't matter that several hundred other programs would have been pleased to have finished second.

by t.d. :: Tue, 08/25/2009 - 4:21am

The 1991 Running Rebels lost in the semifinals. Duke beat Kansas to win the title that year.