Interpreting the Way-Too-Early 2014 Rankings

By Nicholas Jervey on January 19, 2014 at 6:00a
He's only going to be better.

Preseason polls in August are judgments made before seeing any action on the field. Preseason polls in January, which are everywhere when the the bowl season ends, are judgments made before seeing any action on or off the field. They are the absolute dumbest thing about college football journalism.

Way-too-early polls, as they are commonly called, are 80% how the team finished the season, 10% gut instinct, 5% who stays for their senior year, and 5% predictive data. Overachievers and strong finishers are a shoo-in for the top 10 the following year, never mind the chance of dropping off. Hello, 2010 Ole Miss and 2013 Florida!

Besides that, preseason polls are groupthink. Everyone sees each others' opinions and writes the same thing. Then, when offseason news forces voters to re-evaluate, they all make the same bland adjustments. Preseason polls commit the cardinal sin of online content: they’re boring.

Nevertheless, these snap judgments do provide insight on how the media forms a consensus and the expectations for individual teams. They may be useless themselves, but they do tell us which narratives and relative strength of conference journalists are predisposed to write about.

Herein lies an aggregation of these “Way-Too-Early Polls.” Of the 12 way-too-early polls being averaged, eight of them acknowledged that the polls were too early in their titles. Less than two weeks after the end of the 2013 season, ESPN is already on the second edition of its poll. In fact, two of these polls were written before Christmas.

The "Way-Too-EarlY" Top 25 Meta Poll
Place School Points
1 Florida State 300 (12)
2 Alabama 276
3 Oregon 268
4 Auburn 264
5 Stanford 240
6 Ohio State 235
7 Oklahoma 216
8 Michigan State 201
9 Baylor 193
T-10 UCLA 191
T-10 LSU 191
12 Georgia 153
13 South Carolina 149
14 USC 121
15 Wisconsin 112
16 Missouri 105
17 Arizona State 87
18 Clemson 85
19 Notre Dame 84
20 Oklahoma State 79
21 Texas A&M 70
22 Ole Miss 56
23 Washington 42
T-24 Texas 33
T-24 UCF 33

Strengths and Weaknesses

The Buckeyes range anywhere from third to 13th – thanks for ranking Ohio State lowest by four spots, ESPN – with vote explanations ranging from glowing to mixed.

Shockingly, Braxton Miller returning for his senior season helps the Buckeyes. Miller has been the focus of the positives, since many of the voters think he has Heisman potential.

Another striking thing about the analysis is the faith voters have in the coaching staff. In a few cases, the analysts flat out stated that Urban Meyer's force of will would keep the offense from backsliding. Having a killer recruiting class and potential superstars like Joey Bosa doesn't hurt either.

On the negative side, the reports emphasized the loss of Carlos Hyde, Ryan Shazier, Bradley Roby, and much of the offensive line. Worse, the “Ohio State can’t beat elite teams” meme is back from the dead; some voters docked Ohio State for being 0-2 against top 15 teams under Meyer.

The funniest concern, however, came from Sports Illustrated's Martin Rickman, who worried that, “the Buckeyes' two-game losing streak to end the 2013 campaign could affect Meyer so deeply that he falls victim to a crippling Papa John's addiction he can't shake.” Urbz has to lay off the (garlic) sauce.

Triumvirate of Pain

Ohio State is expected to be the Big Ten’s top-ranked team. The Buckeyes enter the aggregate poll at sixth, sandwiched between Stanford and Oklahoma. Ohio State and Stanford are near doppelgangers in the combined poll, appearing on every ballot, having the same median and range, and being separated by only five votes.

Michigan State is next up for the Big Ten at No. 8. That sweet Rose Bowl win combined with the return of the diabolical Pat “Dr. Frankenstein” Narduzzi leaves the Spartans in good position, but they may be overrated. They bring in a middling recruiting class and lose several All-Americans on defense; can the defense really reach last year's standard?

The Spartans are a top ten team with a sophomore quarterback who will be under pressure with two new offensive tackles. Michigan State's road game at Oregon will reveal how good they are, but they could easily bust. The uncertainty is why Michigan State has the widest range of any ranked team, from 5th to 22nd.

The third and final Big Ten team in the top 25 meta poll is Wisconsin. The Badgers check in at No. 15 on the strength of Gary Andersen’s 9-4 opening season, Melvin Gordon’s legs and Joel Stave's arm. The Badgers probably aren't the 15th best team in the country after losing much of its defensive front seven, but some Big Ten team has to be in the mix and Wisconsin is as good a guess as anyone. A number of people are putting Wisconsin here because of their easy schedule; that defeats the purpose of a preseason poll, especially since the Badgers play LSU in their opener.

In the "receiving votes" section comes the remainder of the Big Ten's likely bowl teams. Nebraska checks in with ten points, solely from USA Today's Paul Myerberg. Then come Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota with five, four, and two points respectively.

I suspect nobody wanted to rank the Big Ten’s middle tier, but four or five Big Ten teams have to be ranked at some point this year. Michigan was seemingly everyone's next team out of the poll; if they get off to a strong start and the offense is good under Doug Nussmeier, they’ll be in the top 15 soon. ESPN thinks Iowa will be a top 20 team thanks to its weak schedule, even after replacing its linebacker corps. You're weird, Worldwide Leader.

Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-PollBetter luck with the preseason Top 25s next year, Bo.

Florida State and the Gang

As for everyone else: Florida State is the unanimous first place choice, to the surprise of Neptunians who haven’t received ESPN’s radio waves yet. Once again the Alabama death machine is in position for a championship run, and Oregon is right there if the Crimson Tide falter. Auburn rides its supposed team of destiny to the No. 4 spot, then comes Stanford and OSU.

Once again, the SEC will get the bulk of the preseason hype with eight ranked and three top 10 teams. The ACC isn’t getting much respect from the BCS wins over Auburn and [MEMORY OF THE 2014 ORANGE BOWL DELETED]; Clemson is the league's only other ranked team. (Notre Dame, you don't count. You’ll never belong anywhere.) The Big 12 has four teams represented, the Pac-12 has six with three top 10, and Central Florida rounds out the list as the sole AAC representative. Too bad, so sad for midmajors; the Big Six blanked the Poor Four.

The way-too-early poll is the shining example for recency bias, failure to account for regression to the mean, and voting inertia. And yet, it’s better than nothing. Now let’s get all worked up about #narrative for the next seven months like Missouri fans.

Polls from the following media outlets were used: Athlon Sports, CBS Sports,, Fox Sports, Lost Lettermen, National Football Post,, Sports Illustrated, Sports on Earth, The Big Lead, USA Today, and U-T San Diego.


Comments Show All Comments

NoVA Buckeye's picture

I see Michigan State as easily being one of those fraudulent teams that'll do something like beat an even more overhyped Oregon that is going without DC Nick Aliotti but then easily come back and lose to Notre Dame which you know won't happen, but let's not rule it out

The offseason begins when your season ends. Even then there are no days off.

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

Hey, I say let them rank us lower in the preseason polls.  That way when the Bucks start kickin some ass next year the victories will be that much sweeter! 
Realistically I like us in the 5 to 8 range to start the season.  I think the team will be a NC contender as long as the LB and secondary develop.  I have much more concern on the D side of the ball.  OL will have 4 new starters, but Pat Elflein proved he is a starter already, and there is a lot of talent there, so I think OL will be fine.
Go Bucks!!

TMac's picture

2013 Preseason Poll - FSU = AP #11 & Coaches #12;  Auburn = nowhere to be found, not even others receiving votes.   I expect the Buckeyes to be top ten in August and climb from there!
Just WIN Buckeyes!!!!
The Chase Continues!

ONE Not Done!

Gametime's picture

With Chris Ash coming in and taking over the secondary, I'm expecting the team to challenge them more. Damn the "we don't have the DBs" talk; CBs have to be able to play man & Safeties gotta be disciplined with range & ball skills.

Last year we had an anomaly of expectations. The secondary was supposed to be the strength of the defense with all the returning experience while our front 7 was supposed to have growing pains.

While it seemed like the cupboard was bare with our LBs outside of RDS, our DL will only get better. A healthy Diesel moving inside with Bennett along with Bosa & Spence with great guys rotating in will continue to allow us a strength in the trenches.

If incoming LBs along with the current ones, the Abusement Park & Trey J, can step in & Luke Fickell can focus on working his linebacker magic we could have something we didn't truly have last year: a championship caliber defense.

Coach Meyer & coach Herman have to own up to playing it safe on offense, even if that was because of Braxton's limitations as a passer. More guys need opportunities in the games. Not everybody practices as well as they play in games, that's the truth, and they've gotta put guys in the fire. Let then make mistakes, but trust them to make plays.

Coach Warriner leaves me with zero worries regarding the offensive line. That man can coach.

Last but not least this all rides on the swan song of Mr. Miller. In our wildest dreams we hope to see a repeat leap of Troy Smith-esq proportions, which would be great, but I feel even that is setting the bar low for Braxton. He has every bit the chance to be better. I'm talking about turning in seasons like the last two Heisman winners. All he has to do is trust his coaching, trust his arm, keep chemistry with his guys, and keep having fun!

This is Urban Year 3 and a lot of pundits said this year would be the one. Let's not disappoint. Let's make history. The first ever college football playoff champion: The Ohio State Buckeyes has a nice ring to it no?

The Chase...has just begun!

Between goals and achievement is discipline and consistency. That fire you have inside to do whatever you love is placed there by God. Now go claim it. ~ Denzel Washington

Crumb's picture

"My my I just can't lie, it's the speed and the sound that I'm dyin to try, my my I just can't lie it's the love of THE CHASE that created the ride!" We'll get it done in 2014!!!!!

"The only good thing about it is winning the d*** thing" - Urban Meyer on The Game The War

footballohiost's picture

Check this out.
Look at B1G East projected order of finish...........UP-CHUCK/BARF/EAT ME!!!

Knarcisi's picture

I expected Sparty, but scUM ahead of us!  LMAO!

Knarcisi's picture

Those that disagree care to explain?  scUM is a joke. 

buckeyepastor's picture

In the BCS, anything below 10th and it was difficult to climb to the title game.  Now, as long as we're in the top 15, it really doesn't matter to me.  

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

Blackbeards Delight's picture

It's awesome that for the first time in the history of preseason polling that Virginia Tech isn't overrated (meaning ranked in the top 15.) interesting how this coincides with the fact that OSU is playing them this year and there not in the top 25. Looks like we will be thanking them like we thanked Cal.

"Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 23yr, it's what's for breakfast"

- Me


Seattle Linga's picture

These preseason this and preseason that rankings are only there because of a slow media day. The NC was just awarded and NSD isn't for a few weeks. There has been a lot of talk about how rankings shouldn't come out until mid-season. Let's not pay too much attention to these and I know I'd be saying the same thing if we were ranked no. 1

BuckeyeRealist13's picture

Ahh the curse of Ohio State. They schedule these big time OOC opponents, by the team the game comes around they are average at best. See Miami, Cal, and now Va Tech and to a lesser extent Cincinnati. At least Oklahoma should still be a top 15 team in a couple of years. 

"You're damn right thats daddy" - Urban Meyer 

BoFuquel's picture

If we're not top 6 in August you can kiss it goodbye. I don't see that happening, The tickets to this mess they call a playoff are going to be a hard sell to teams that have to travel the long distances. I think most fans will take the wait and see road and wait till the MNC Game. That can be fixed by putting the home teams in the playoff. Same way it's been done for decades.Surely the all-knowing choosing ones will grasp this quickly. GO BUCKS!

I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then.

ScarletNGrey01's picture

All this lends credence to the assertion that rankings should not happen until about week five.

The will to win is not as important as the will to prepare to win. -- Woody Hayes

ibuck's picture

Another reason why the polls are a joke, and will be given minimal value by the selection committee.

Our honor defend, so we'll fight to the end !

If you can't win your conference, just quietly accept your non-playoff bowl game.

TomD's picture

Don't underestimate Michigan State.  So what if their recruiting classes have not been/are not impressive.  They beat us with "lesser" recruits last year . . . with better coaching.

"I love football.  I think it is the most wonderful game in the world and I despise to lose."  WOODY HAYES

Buckeyevstheworld's picture

They beat us with "lesser" recruits last year . . . with better coaching.

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

TomD's picture

"I love football.  I think it is the most wonderful game in the world and I despise to lose."  WOODY HAYES

Buckeyevstheworld's picture

I was going to use that one, but it creeped me out.

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

harleymanjax's picture

Stanford at #5, they must think they will play Stanford football next year?

"Because I couldn't go for 3"