The Associated Press pre-season college football poll – which began in 1936 – was the barometer by which the top 10, then 20 and then 25 were once measured.
The AP poll remains in play, but basically for entertainment and measurement purposes. In an effort to improve upon the process – and limit human error – computers were introduced. The human element, with the heavy use of statistical data, is significantly in play once again with the arrival of the playoff system and a selection committee to make the determination of the top four.
Ohio State – last year’s national champion – fittingly has been ranked in the AP pre-season poll more than any other program. With the 80th AP pre-season poll due Aug. 23, the Buckeyes will garner their 62nd pre-season ranking, which used a top 20 from 1936-60, a top 10 from 1961-67, a top 20 once again from 1968-88, and a top 25 ever since.
No. 2 on that list is Oklahoma with its 57th pre-season appearance coming up, followed by USC (55), Notre Dame (53) and Texas, which is seeking an unlikely 51st pre-season ranking.
During the Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz eras – a combined 195-47-6 in 22 seasons (1964-74, 1986-96) – Notre Dame was a fixture in the pre-season top 10.
After failing to garner a pre-season ranking in his first season, Parseghian’s Irish were in the top 10 heading into the season eight of the next 10 campaigns. Likewise with Holtz, after extending Notre Dame’s pre-season streak of “unrankings” to six following the Gerry Faust regime, each of Holtz’s last eight squads received pre-season top 10 status.
Notre Dame perennially has proven to be one of the more difficult teams to evaluate. Of the 24 times the Irish have been ranked among the nation’s top 10 in the AP pre-season poll since Parseghian’s arrival, Notre Dame has finished among the nation’s top 10 just 13 times with Parseghian (7) and Holtz (4) combining for 11 and Dan Devine following through with pre-season projections in 1977 (No. 3 pre-season, No. 1 final) and 1978 (No. 5 pre-season, No. 7 final).
From 1965-96 – 32 seasons – the Irish were ranked in the pre-season poll all but once as Holtz took over for Faust in 1986. Even Faust, with his 30-26-1 career record with the Irish, made it into the nation’s top 20 pre-season poll all five of his seasons at Notre Dame, although none of his five teams finished among the top 20.
Since 1996 – Holtz’s final season at Notre Dame – the Irish have been ranked among the nation’s top 10 in the pre-season just one time, and that was in 2006 when Charlie Weis’ second Irish squad opened at No. 2 and finished No. 17. Notre Dame has been unranked eight of the last 15 pre-season polls.
Notre Dame is ranked No. 11 in the Amway Pre-season Coaches Poll that came out earlier this week, which some think might be a tad low. The Irish could find their way into the AP pre-season top 10 for the first time in nine seasons.
Of the eight times the Irish have been ranked in the pre-season top 25 since 2000, the Irish have finished unranked five times, including the 2011 (opened at No. 16) and 2014 (opened at No. 17) seasons under Brian Kelly. Kelly’s highest pre-season ranking since arriving at Notre Dame was No. 14 in 2013 when the Irish needed a Pinstripe Bowl victory over Rutgers to finish No. 21 in the AP poll.
Only once in five seasons under Kelly has Notre Dame exceeded its pre-season rating in the final tally, which of course came in 2012 when the unranked (No. 26 in the voting) Irish finished No. 4 following their four-touchdown loss to Alabama in the national championship game.
For Notre Dame, the lower the pre-season projection the better, at least based upon the last half-century. Of the last 50 AP pre-season polls, the Irish have finished higher than their AP pre-season ranking just 13 times, only five of which have come in the last two decades.