Did you know 11 of the past 22 national champions opened the season ranked No. 5 or worse? Six started the season ranked No. 10 or worse. Three of those were SEC teams: No. 10 Tennessee in 1998, No. 14 LSU in 2003 and the biggest “Cinderella story, outta nowhere” in the group, No. 22 Auburn in 2010.

One exceptional year might make them a champion, but it doesn’t automatically make them a perennial overachiever.

Who might those teams be, you wonder?

Using the AP Top 25 preseason poll as a starting point, we dove into the numbers from 2010-2019, and this is what we found.

  • 13 teams in this span finished in the Top 25 at least 1 more time than they started in the Top 25.
  • 21 teams had the same number of Top 25 starts as Top 25 finishes.
  • 31 teams finished in the Top 25 at least 1 fewer time than they started.

Immediately, our focus was on the 13 teams that finished in the Top 25 more often than they started there. Classic overachievers. Interestingly, 1 team that broke even — Kansas State — and another team that was in the red — TCU — had compelling cases to be considered underrated but fell just shy of the top 5 Power 5 teams that consistently outperformed their preseason ranking.

5. Mississippi State

  • Preseason Top 25 rankings: 2
  • Final Top 25 rankings: 3
  • Wins: 79 (No. 28 among Power 5)

Skinny: Preseason polls are largely reputation votes, football’s equivalent of a team’s marketing score. Mississippi State went to a bowl game every year in the past decade, posting a 6-4 mark. They won at least 8 games 6 times. You’d think that would be enough to generate more than 2 appearances in the preseason Top 25, with a high of No. 18.

All 3 seasons the Bulldogs finished in the Top 25, they were unranked in the preseason poll, most notably the 2014 season in which they rose to No. 1 midway through and finished No. 11.

4. Northwestern

  • Preseason Top 25 rankings: 1
  • Final Top 25 rankings: 4
  • Wins: 72 (No. 35 among Power 5)

More proof that brands drive preseason rankings. Northwestern had as many 10-win seasons (3) as programs such as Auburn and Virginia Tech and more 10-win seasons than programs such as Nebraska (2), UCLA (2), Miami (1), Texas (1), Texas A&M (1) and Tennessee (0). Yet each of those programs appeared in the preseason Top 25 more often than the Wildcats.

Why? You’d have to ask the rotating cast of AP voters.

Northwestern was not ranked in the preseason poll each of the 4 seasons it finished in the Top 25 this decade.

3. Baylor

  • Preseason Top 25 rankings: 3
  • Final Top 25 rankings: 5
  • Wins: 83 (T-No. 22 among Power 5)

The Bears finished in the top 13 5 times in the 2010s but only started there twice. All 5 times, they finished higher than where they started. (Their 3rd Top 25 preseason ranking was No. 23.)

They weren’t even ranked in the preseason entering Robert Griffin III’s Heisman year, though they finished at No. 13.

2. Utah

  • Preseason Top 25 rankings: 1
  • Final Top 25 rankings: 4
  • Wins: 83 (T-No. 22 among Power 5)

This lack of respect started long before this decade. Utah has only been ranked in the preseason Top 25 3 times (and just 1 time this decade). It opened the 2019 season at No. 14 — its best preseason rank in program history and its only preseason appearance this decade.

The 2008 team that finished 13-0 and No. 2 in the country didn’t even crack the Top 10 until November that season. The 2009 team opened at No. 19, won 10 games … and the 2010 team opened the season unranked. What other team wins 33 games in 3 years and appears in the preseason Top 25 just 1 time in that span?

Moving to the Pac-12 hasn’t slowed down the Utes, but it hasn’t exactly helped their Q score, either.

Utah finished last season ranked No. 16 — its best final ranking since 2008. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll start 2020 in the Top 25?

1. Clemson

  • Preseason Top 25 rankings: 8
  • Final Top 25 rankings: 9
  • Wins: 117 (No. 2 among Power 5)

Hey, CWright, are you seriously trying to suggest that Clemson has been underrated?

I’m not only suggesting it, I’m about to prove it. The Tigers not only have been underrated, they’ve been the most underrated.

Let’s start with a fun little comparison between Teams A, B, C, D and E. Again, this is over the past decade. One of these teams is Clemson.

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Need help? Team A is Alabama. Team B is Ohio State. Team C is Oklahoma. Team D is little ol’ Clemson. Team E is LSU.

Well that don’t make no damn sense, Pawwwwllll! CWright is a damn idiot. He probably likes ketchup on his hot dog. Of course Alabama is gonna drop some because the Tide always start higher! You can’t go higher than 1, Pawwwwl!

Fair enough, but let the record show that the most Clemson dropped from preseason to postseason in any poll this past decade was 1 spot — this past season when the Tigers opened at No. 1 and finished No. 2. Alabama opened No. 2 and finished No. 8 — a 6-spot fall that matched its 2013 fall. Both were shy of the 9-spot fall the 2010 team suffered when it started No. 1 and finished No. 10.

But let’s look beyond Alabama. Let’s open it up to every Power 5 team that appeared in a preseason Top 25 poll the past decade. Here’s a look at which Power 5 teams, regardless of their preseason rank, improved that ranking most often.

Oops. Clemson is still on top.

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Bottom line: As great as Clemson has become, the Tigers still haven’t gotten enough credit. Seven times in the past 10 seasons — more than anybody in America — they finished a season with a better ranking than where they began. Heck, this past season, they were the undefeated, reigning champion and weren’t even included in the Playoff selection committee’s initial top 4.

Oh, the outrage.

Dabo, I feel your pain. At least you don’t have to worry about being underrated anymore.