Even during the last College Football Playoff, every team was playing the respect card, including Alabama.
“We do feel like we’re underdogs,” Crimson Tide linebacker Ryan Anderson said at the time, while trying to keep his teammates from taking for granted that they were playing for yet another national championship.
It didn’t quite work, more because of Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson than anything else. But there are some college football programs that are the real thing.
On Wednesday we listed the most overrated programs in college football. Now, it’s time to turn the tables and list the programs that have been overlooked the most.
The methodology remains the same — compare each year’s preseason and postseason Associated Press polls. The difference equals a point, plus or minus ,and anything outside of the top 25 doesn’t count toward anything.
Last year, Penn State made the biggest leap, from unranked to finishing at No. 7. USC, Wisconsin and Stanford followed the Nittany Lions. Among teams ranked in both polls, Florida moved up the most, from No. 25 to No. 14.
It turned out that teams making significant upward jumps on a regular basis have been pretty rare:
Most underrated team over the last 5 seasons: Missouri
Former coach Gary Pinkel delivered Missouri to back-to-back SEC East titles, with the 2013 Tigers finishing fifth in the final poll. In his final 10 years as Missouri’s coach — he led the Tigers from 2001-15 — five of his teams ended up ranked in the top 25, of which only two had been in the preseason poll.
After finishing 4-8 last season to post Missouri’s fewest wins since Pinkel’s first year in 2001, the Tigers and coach Barry Odom will be hard-pressed to avoid a drop-off. Many are picking the Tigers to place last in the SEC East this season.
Following the Tigers in underrated status were Penn State (all from last year), Utah, Central Florida, Clemson and Mississippi State.
Most underrated team over the last 10 seasons: Utah
Since 2008, when it finished No. 2 after upsetting Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, Utah has made five appearances in the final AP poll.
That’s even more impressive when factoring in that the Utes made the switch from the Mountain West Conference to the Pac-12 in 2011.
Utah barely edged Missouri for the 10-year distinction, ahead of Cincinnati and Stanford. Bunched behind them were Kansas State, TCU, Central Florida, Boise State and Mississippi State.
Most underrated team over the last 25 seasons: Utah
Utah has been ranked in the preseason top 25 only twice — that’s not just over 25 years, but ever: No. 20 in 2004 and No. 19 in 2009. Both times it had a better showing in the final poll. Utah was in the final poll for the first time in 1994, finishing No. 10 under Coach Ron McBride. Former coach Urban Meyer really got the trend going in 2003, which Kyle Whittingham has more than maintained.
The Utes finished ahead of Boise State, Kansas State, Oregon, Washington and Boston College.