Which SEC teams most often fail to live up to preseason expectations?


Preseason polls get cursed at and over-analyzed by most fans outside of the SEC, because their argument is that the country and media outlets prop up several different SEC teams, and eventually one will come out either unscathed or become a one-loss conference champion and play for a national championship. Several talking heads have expressed waiting until a few weeks into the season before ranking the top 25 and doing away with preseason polls altogether. Hell, I want to add more preseason polls, because it gives us something to talk about and makes for some great preseason commentary.

But with preseason expectations come teams that don’t live up to that hype during the season. And I came across a fascinating website by Chris Stassen that compares teams’ annual performances relative to preseason expectations.

Strassen’s preseason and postseason polls were complied by different media outlets added over time, including Athlon, Sporting News, Phil Steele and Lindy. You can see an example of the 2003 preseason compilation here and 2012 compilation here. Post season rankings are based on final AP rankings.

Over the last decade (2003-2012), the SEC has won eight national championships with LSU, Florida and Alabama all winning multiple titles – Auburn hoisted the crystal ball once as well.

But which teams during that time continually underachieved with respect to their preseason hype? Kentucky is the only current SEC member never to start or finish the season ranked. Missouri and Texas A&M are added for comparison, even though they were Big 12 members for most of the time period.

Team Combined Delta (2003-2012)
Tennessee -35
Florida -29.5
Georgia -21
LSU -13.5
Auburn -1.5
Missouri -1
Texas A&M -1
Vandy 3
Arkansas 4
Miss State 6
South Carolina 11
Ole Miss 17.5
Alabama 26.5

As you can see from the chart above, Tennessee is the biggest underachiever of the last decade in comparison to preseason expectations with a combined difference in preseason and postseason ranking of -35. 2005 was the Vols’ worst year after starting third and finishing unranked. That’s good for a difference of -23 in ‘05 alone.

Florida is right on Tennessee’s heels with -29.5, and the Gators will be ranked close to the top 10 to begin 2013 once more.

On the contrary, Alabama is one of the two best performers that have lived up to the hype. In fact, they’ve surpassed expectations. Along with Bama, Ole Miss has consistently been a steady overachiever at a +17.5 differential.

The biggest underperformer in college football has been Oklahoma. If you thought Tennessee underperformed, Oklahoma is nearly double with a differential of -69. Yes, Big Game Bob is at his worst in big games, and only two years did OU actually live up to the hype of their preseason expectations during that time.

Here is a breakdown per season, starting in 2012 and finishing in 2003:


Team Delta Pre Final
Texas A&M 20.5 5.5
Florida 12 21 9
South Carolina 3 11 8
Vanderbilt 3 23
Alabama 1.5 2.5 1
Georgia 1.5 7 5.5
LSU -11.5 2.5 14
Arkansas -16 10


Team Delta Pre Final
Arkansas 8 13 5
South Carolina 5 14 9
LSU 3 5 2
Alabama 0 1 1
Georgia -1 18 19
Florida -4 22
Miss State -5 21
Missouri -7 19
Texas A&M -15.5 10.5


Team Delta Pre Final
Auburn 22 23 1
LSU 11 19 9
Miss State 11 15
Missouri 8 18
Texas A&M 7 19
South Carolina 4 22
Arkansas 3 12
Georgia -4 22
Alabama -9 1 10
Florida -22 4


Team Delta Pre Final
Alabama 5.5 6.5 1
Florida -2 1 3
LSU -7 10 17
Ole Miss -7.5 12.5 20
Georgia -13.5 12.5


Team Delta Pre Final
Alabama 18 24 6
Ole Miss 12 14
Florida 4 5 1
South Carolina -1 25
Tennessee -8 18
Georgia -11 2 13
Missouri -13 6 19
Auburn -15 11
LSU -17 9


Team Delta Pre Final
Missouri 22 4
Georgia 12 14 2
Auburn 3 18 15
LSU 1 2 1
Tennessee 0 12 12
Arkansas -2 24
Texas A&M -3 22
Florida -7 6 13


Team Delta Pre Final
Arkansas 11 15
LSU 6 9 3
Florida 5.5 6.5 1
Tennessee -2 23 25
Auburn -2.5 6.5 9
Georgia -7 16 23


Team Delta Pre Final
Alabama 13 21 8
Auburn 3 17 14
Georgia 3 13 10
LSU 1 7 6
Florida -3.5 9 12
Texas A&M -10 16
Tennessee -23 3


Team Delta Pre Final
Auburn 9 11 2
Tennessee 0 13 13
Georgia -4 3 7
Missouri -11 15
LSU -12 4 16
Florida -12 14


Team Delta Pre Final
Ole Miss 13 13
LSU 12 14 2
Georgia 3 10 7
Florida -0.5 23½ 24
Tennessee -2 13 15
Alabama -2.5 23½
Auburn -21 5

Photo Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports



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  • Of course we are…Hopefully Butch Jones can stop the trend.

  • It all depends on where you start out in the pre-season rankings. If a team is seldomly ranked pre-season, but cracks into the top 25 a few times, then the Delta is likely to be positive (see Ole Miss, South Carolina, Arkansas, MSU and Vandy).

    In the case of Alabama, all or their positive Delta all came before their championship run began (+28.5 from 2003 to 2008) when they were the competive equivalent of Ole Miss.

    What your Delta is actually measuring is SEC futility. Take away the newcomers and pre-Saban Alabama and what are you left with in non-negative Delta territory? Kentucky, Vandy, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Arkansas and South Carolina. These are the teams that beat preseason expectations over the last decade? Looks more like a list of perennial SEC cellar dwellers.

    What teams are in negative Delta territory? LSU, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Auburn and post-Saban Alabama. These are the teams that failed to live up to preseason expectations?

    • More times than not they have failed to live up. Certainly Georgia has in the past, and I thought they would be the ring leader instead of Tennessee. But Florida and the Vols are both worse. The numbers certainly are interesting, though. To me, it reflects more in the mind of the voters, and that they have long memories. Florida, LSU and Auburn all won championships and still have negative deltas, and they will always get the benefit of the doubt in the voters’ mind because they’re historical powers. Voters think they will eventually get back to form and win another championship. Obviously this doesn’t tell the whole story, and Alabama post-Saban certainly is the anomaly.

      • But comparing the cumulative deltas of Florida and Vanderbilt is like comparing apples and oranges. One was ranked pre-season 10 times, the other was never ranked pre-season. Vanderbilt, by virtue of being bad, could do nothing but surprise to the upside. Florida, by being good, had 10 opportunities to underperform. That Vandy has a higher cumulative delta is statistically inevitable. It tells very little about the thinking, or biases, of the pollsters. The team that most often beat pre-season top 25 expectations was LSU. In six of the last ten seasons LSU finished the year ranked higher than in pre-season. Alabama and Auburn did it 4 times, Florida and Georgia 3 times, South Carolina twice and Arkansas once.

        • Great stuff. The preseason polls tell me more about the voters’ minds as opposed to postseason. Of course teams like Vandy, Ole Miss, Kentucky, Miss State etc have chances to only over perform. And outside of a select few years, those three teams are irrelevant to letdowns from preseason rankings because they’re not even ranked.

        • Thank you for putting this stupid article in it’s place. This is mainly based off of preseason polls, which any sports fan with a brain knows, that college football preseason polls are one of the dumbest things in sports. Jon, you went and crunched a few pointless numbers to try and tell me that Florida with 2 national titles is more overrated than Ole Miss? LMAO. The stuff I read on here. I suppose next you will figure out a way to call Mississippi State the greatest dynasty in SEC history?

        • Florida with 2 national titles in the last decade.

  • Tennessee has not finished a single season, in the last 10, ranked higher than in the pre-season. Ouch!

  • Facts don’t lie, Tennessee sucks.

  • I think your data and logic is messed up. In 2003 LSU preseason ranking was apparently 14. In the final you show we finished 2. Uh, im positive The Tigers have a crystal ball that indicates they finished #1 that year. So when i saw that in your article it became a non-article.

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