This is where this series will start to ruffle some feathers.
Because it’s a lot easier and more common for teams to drop out of rankings than make a major climb upward, the programs you’ll see mentioned as the most overrated are almost uniformly considered national powerhouses.
After all, to free fall out of the rankings, a team must first be listed very high in the polls.
There’s almost always one name program a year that has huge expectations, and then has an early setback and never recovers. Last year that was Florida State, which faced Alabama in what was widely hailed as the greatest season opener in college football history.
The Seminoles lost the game, lost their starting quarterback with an injury, lost four of the next seven games and lost their coach as Jimbo Fisher subsequently bolted for the green pastures at Texas A&M. FSU had been ranked third in the preseason Top 25, and Alabama was No. 1.
As a reminder, the most overrated and underrated teams are determined by using each year’s preseason and postseason AP poll. The difference from where a team was initially projected to where it finished was measured in points, so if a team was preseason No. 1 and postseason No. 3 it scored minus-2 for that year.
Anything outside of the poll wasn’t weighted, so for a year featuring a top 25, every other team was treated as if was No. 26.
The most overrated teams per decade were as follows:
At some point during each of the 1936-39 seasons, Pitt reached No. 1 in the AP Poll, but finished there only once. There was no preseason poll at the time, with the first rankings released in mid-October. Pitt went from No. 1 in the Oct. 16, 1939 poll after a 3-0 start to a 5-4 finish and falling completely out of the top 20.
The next four: Texas A&M, Michigan, Army, Northwestern/Purdue (tie)
George Munger is considered a coaching legend at the Ivy League school. Over 16 seasons he was 82-41-10, with three of his teams finishing in the top 10 including No. 7 in 1947 and No. 8 in 1945. Penn would almost always get off to a good start and lofty ranking when the first poll came out in early October, and then hit the meat of the schedule. It went from No. 8 to unranked in 1942, No. 6 to No. 18 in 1943 and No. 9 to unranked in 1944.
The next four: Minnesota, Texas, Ohio State, Purdue
1950s: Notre Dame
When Frank Leahy’s dynasty came to a close, there was no way the Fighting Irish could maintain that level of success. The season that was particularly costly to Terry Brennan was 1956, when Notre Dame was No. 3 in the preseason poll and lost its opener to SMU, 19-13. It turned into a 2-8 season.
The next four: SMU, Ohio State, Duke, Tennessee
The Sooners struggled after Bud Wilkinson’s final season in 1963. Replacement Gomer Jones inherited a team that was No. 2 in the preseason poll, only to finish unranked, and the follow-up season resulted in a 3-7 record. Chuck Fairbanks had a great inaugural season with a 10-1 finish in 1967, yet saw the Sooners go from preseason No. 6 to unranked in 1969.
The next four: Syracuse, Texas, Michigan State, Illinois
1970s: Penn State/USC (tied)
Joe Paterno brought Penn State to a final No. 2 AP ranking in 1968 and 1969, but during the years to follow the Nittany Lions weren’t able to match it. Every team in the 1970s began ranked, but three teams had major drops with 1970 from No. 7 to 18, 1976 from No. 10 to unranked and 1979 from No. 5 to 20. USC went through something similar with No. 3 to 15 in 1970, No. 5 to 20 in 1971, and No. 6 to No. 17 in 1975. Let’s just say it could be a tough decade.
The next four: Notre Dame, Ohio State, Florida/Michigan/Texas (tie)
Yes, Barry Switzer and the Sooners won the 1985 national championship, but there were also some disappointments like the 1983 team going from the preseason No. 2 to unranked. The 1981 team was also preseason No. 2 and finished No. 20. His final season, 1988, Oklahoma went from No. 3 to No. 14.
The next four: Ohio State, Notre Dame/Southern Cal (tie), Nebraska
1990s: Notre Dame
Lou Holtz revived the program, but in 1994 the Fighting Irish were preseason No. 2 only to struggle to a 6-5-1 record and out of the AP Top 25. Perhaps the most remarkable thing was Notre Dame still landed an invitation to Fiesta Bowl for a rematch with 1989 and 1990 bowl opponent Colorado (and lost). In 1997, the Bob Davie era began at No. 11 only to finish unranked.
The next four: USC, Miami, Penn State, Oklahoma
2000s: Florida State
The cracks during the Bobby Bowden era became impossible to ignore when the Seminoles went from No. 6 to 15 in 2001, and No. 3 to 21 the subsequent season. Three of his last four teams (2006, 2007 and 2009) went from being in the preseason Top 25 to finishing unranked. Jimbo Fisher took over in 2010.
The next four: Tennessee, Michigan, Florida, California
2010s (through 2017): Nebraska
After Bo Pelini’s team went 10-4 and finished No. 14 in the final poll of the 2009 season, the Cornhuskers appeared to be on the brink of a major revival. However, the best finish among the next five teams was No. 20 in 2010, after they had all been ranked in the preseason polls and two in the top 10. Mike Riley got Nebraska up to No. 7 at one point of the 2016 season, but the Cornhuskers floundered by losing four of their last six games.
The next four: Texas, Florida State/Southern Cal, LSU
This is the third in a five-part series. Our story on Thursday will list the most underrated teams of all-time.