5 teams that are getting too much national love in post-spring Top 25 rankings
Spring ball is over, which means we’re all sippin’ the Kool-Aid.
But not everyone is sipping the same Kool-Aid as it relates to preseason rankings in college football. It’s one of the best offseason/preseason topics to debate, despite the fact that we can all but throw away rankings a week into the season, especially when a team pukes on its shoes and loses to Maryland (sup, Texas).
Rankings are just that. Discussion. They shape narratives and expectations for a given season.
Some teams get more love than others. Today, we’ll focus on 5 teams that are getting a bit too much buzz in the preseason.
1. Penn State
Rankings: No. 9 (The Athletic), No. 20 (CBS Sports), No. 21 (USA Today)
Sell! Sell! Sell!
Oh, pardon me. That’s what I’m doing with my James Franklin stock. Rather, that’s what I did with my Franklin stock a year ago. It absolutely baffles me to think that anyone could put Penn State in their top 10. I don’t think the Lions are worthy of a Top 25 spot. Why?
- Lost most productive QB in program history
- Went 0-3 against Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State last year
- Rank 100th in FBS in percentage of returning production
- Had slew of offseason departures/transfers
Starting to catch my drift? On top of that, I’m just not sold on Franklin as an in-game decision-maker. I get that the Lions have had 3 consecutive top 20 finishes, and they posted a 21-6 conference record in that stretch, but I’m not convinced on Franklin being the guy to maximize their talent. I think he surrounded himself with some integral assistants in Joe Moorhead and Josh Gattis, who played a huge part in getting Penn State back to national relevance.
Call me crazy, but I feel like 2019 will feel a lot like the pre-Moorhead era (2015).
Rankings: No. 12 (The Athletic, CBS Sports)
Is Kyle Whittingham one of the most underrated coaches in America? Absolutely. I think it would surprise the casual fan to know that Utah won 9 games in 4 of the past 5 seasons.
But starting as a borderline top 10 team seems like a bit of a stretch for a group that finished 2018 unranked and without a single win against a team that finished in the Associated Press Top 25.
A lot of this preseason love seems predicated on the fact that basically everyone on offense is back, including quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss, both of whom missed the final 5 games last season. But let’s not forget this offense ranked No. 76 in scoring last year. And while Utah’s top 20 defense was a strength and it does return a slew of All-Pac-12 performers, it still ranks No. 81 in FBS in percentage of returning production.
Maybe I’m just not shaking off Utah’s dud Pac-12 Championship performance and the collapse in the Holiday Bowl, but I’m having a tough time believing the program is worthy of starting at what would be its highest ranking since Nov. 2016.
Rankings: No. 13 (The Athletic), No. 16 (USA Today), No. 22 (CBS Sports)
It’s important to emphasize that this is about starting position. I believe that Auburn can finish as a top 15 team, but starting in that neighborhood seems like a bit of a reach given how mediocre Gus Malzahn’s squad was for most of 2018. And obviously incoming talent is part of that, but we’re still talking about a first-year starting quarterback (Joey Gatewood or Bo Nix) and a running game that didn’t really make any major changes following a rare down year.
It seems like a lot of Auburn’s preseason buzz is centered around the Music City Bowl, wherein Malzahn finally got back to his play-calling roots and the Tigers scored points at will. It was impressive, no doubt. But the Tigers still went 3-5 in the SEC and was actually relatively healthy (not so much before the season). There’s no guarantee that Malzahn calling plays and a new quarterback changes that.
As good as Auburn figures to be on defense — especially on the defensive line — I’m just not ready to say this is a top 15 team with major offensive questions to answer following a year of disappointment. I’d start Auburn as a fringe Top 25 team at best.
4. Iowa State
Rankings: No. 14 The (Athletic) No. 15 (USA Today), No. 18 (CBS Sports)
So I have 2 things that I believe leads to us getting too high on teams in the preseason. It’s bowl wins/end-of-season win streaks and returning starting quarterbacks. Iowa State, I feel like, is a good example of getting too much love because of the latter. It probably helps that the Cyclones have one of the top up-and-coming coaches in his ear.
I’m not down on Brock Purdy or Matt Campbell. The Cyclones were a different team when Purdy took over in Campbell’s offense post-September last year.
But Purdy won’t have David Montgomery behind him, and top target Hakeem Butler is also gone. Butler had 3 times as many receiving yards and more than twice as many receiving touchdowns as the next-closest Cyclone receiver. Those are major, major losses that you don’t just replace easily at a place like Iowa State.
This is still a group that only beat 1 team with a winning conference record last year, and it hasn’t finished as a Top 25 team since 2000. By starting Iowa State in the top 15, it seems based on the belief that Purdy is ready to take a major Year 2 step with Campbell.
Could it happen? Sure, but treating the Cyclones a preseason fringe Playoff contender from the jump feels like a reach.
Rankings: No. 17 (CBS Sports), No. 19 (USA Today)
Ah, the Husker hype train. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing. It often starts chugging along with such promise and hope, only to get derailed after big-game losses. But just for fun, let’s ride the Husker hype train and see where it takes us.
Did Nebraska finish 4-2 with nail-biter losses on the road against a pair of teams who finished in the Top 25? Yup.
Do the Huskers return a preseason Heisman Trophy contender quarterback in Adrian Martinez who has all the makings of a star? Yup, yup.
Do they have Scott Frost, AKA the guy who led UCF to an incredible, undefeated season in Year 2? Yup, yup and yup.
So why is Nebraska not worth being a top 20 team to start the year? Well, a few things.
One of which is the elephant in the room. Despite that impressive finish, it was still a 4-win team. An extremely flawed 4-win team, at that. The Huskers were atrocious from a discipline standpoint (No. 116 in penalty yards per game). For a team that essentially attempts to play bend-don’t-break defense, that doesn’t work. This team, which ranked No. 88 in scoring defense last year, has major questions to answer on that side of the ball, which isn’t exactly Frost’s area of expertise.
And yeah, while this is Year 2 with Frost, Penn State and Purdue are actually the only teams in the Big Ten who return less of their production from 2018 (top receiver Stanley Morgan, leading rusher Devine Ozigbo and top defensive playmaker Luke Gifford are all gone).
There are a lot of teams worthy of being ranked to start the season. Nebraska just isn’t one of them.