Who's Overrated & Underrated?

Who's overrated? Who's underrated? Who's going to be a big surprise, and who's most likely to disappoint? Around this time of the year, these are the kinds of questions that it seems like everyone wants answered. So, to add to the debate, I decided to take an in-depth look at who really is overrated and who just isn't getting any respect.

 

Who's overrated?  Who's underrated?  Who's going to be a big surprise, and who's most likely to disappoint?  Around this time of the year, these are the kinds of questions that it seems like everyone wants answered.  So, to add to the debate, I decided to take an in-depth look at who really is overrated and who just isn't getting any respect.

First, though, I had to actually figure out what the general opinion of the teams actually was.  To do that, I averaged out the following 16 Top 25 polls: The Sporting News, Athlon, Phil Steele, Street & Smith's, Gold Sheet, CBS Sportsline, Lindy's (they were all at my bookstore), CFN's pre-preseason top 25, the post-spring polls by Dennis Dodd (CBS Sportsline), Stewart Mandel (CNNSI), and Ivan Maisel (ESPN), Dodd's preseason top 25, the preseason coaches' poll, and two different casinos' odds for winning the National Title.  In the end, 37 different teams made it in at least one of these polls.

Arkansas (13th in Steele), Boise State (19th in Steele), Navy (20th in Gold Sheet), UTEP (23rd in Maisel), South Carolina (tied for 23rd in one of the casino rankings), Purdue (24th in Steele), and Missouri (25th in CFN's preseason poll) each made it into just one of the Top 25's, while UCLA managed to tie for 17th in one casino ranking and tie for 18th in another.  Of these, Missouri, UCLA and UTEP seem the most egregious inclusions, though Navy and Purdue have virtually zero chance of living up to a top 25 ranking as well.  Arkansas has a shot of hitting the top 25, but #13? To me, that's really pushing it.  Boise State, on the other hand, seems like a team that more people should have included (and indeed many had them just outside of their top 25); it's really surprising that they only got ranked by one source.  South Carolina is an iffy choice, but it's not terrible either.

A short note on the polls: the coaches' poll was by far the most consistent with the general consensus, with TSN and one of the casinos basically tying for second on that front.  On the other side, Phil Steele once again was by far the most against the grain, leading the way after ranking Louisville 3rd, Miami 6th, Arkansas 13th, and dropping West Virginia to 17th, dropping Florida to 20th and LSU to 21st.  The other offbeat pickers, Gold Sheet and CFN Preseason, weren't quite as wacky, with Gold Sheet simply dropping Clemson, Oregon, Nebraska and Penn State out of their rankings entirely, while putting Navy at #20, and CFN Preseason bumping Miami to #5, Tennessee to #10 and Clemson to #12, while dropping West Virginia to #15, Notre Dame to #18, and Oregon out of the top 25 altogether.

There really wasn't any sort of consistency at the top of the polls this year, though half of the voters put Ohio State at #1, and only one had the Buckeyes out of their top 5.  After that, everyone was up and down, as virtually no one could agree on the rest of the top 5, much less the rest of the top 10, and #s 11-25 were especially chaotic.  Notre Dame, West Virginia and LSU got especially bumped around by everyone, with each getting at least one first or second place vote, and each getting dropped outside the top 15 at least once as well.  For whatever it's worth, outside of the top 4 Auburn was the most consistently placed, as most voters had them somewhere between #5 and #10, with the highest vote being at #2 and the lowest being a tie for 10th place.

Anyway, taking away all of the teams who were only in one or two top 25 polls, we are left with 29 possibly overrated teams, in the order of average ranking:

1 – 5: Ohio State, Texas, USC, Notre Dame, Oklahoma
6 – 10: West Virginia, Auburn, LSU, Florida, Cal
11 – 15: Florida State, Miami, Louisville, Michigan, Georgia
16 – 20: Iowa, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Oregon, Nebraska
21 – 25: Penn State, Tennessee, TCU, Arizona State, Texas Tech
26 – 29: Alabama, Boston College, Utah, Georgia Tech

It would be easy to pick on Oklahoma after the business with Rhett Bomar, but since no one knew about that when they made their votes, I won't bother beating that dead horse.  Another team which might be easy to pick on is Ohio State.  With all that they have lost on defense, do they really deserve the #1 ranking?  I'd say no, but I can't really come up with a slam-dunk team that is a better fit, and since plenty of voters didn't have them at #1, it's hard to call them overrated.  Rather, they simply happen to look like the best of an unusually mediocre group of teams at the top.

West Virginia really stands out as an overrated team.  They weren't all that great last year, getting dominated at home by Virginia Tech and barely squeaking by Louisville in three overtimes.  There are only two reasons that people are jumping on their bandwagon.  First, because they beat a pretty good Georgia team in the Sugar Bowl.  However, they barely hung on in that game despite having a monumental lead after the first quarter.  To me, that's not a sign of a national title contender, merely a team that happened to catch fire at the right time.  And second, the schedule.  There just aren't any very strong teams that they have to deal with, so the though process goes that they'll ride an easy path all the way to Glendale.  Except, of course, that the last time people though that, they barely hung on against Maryland, lost to the Hokies, and then lost two straight to end the regular season.  Even a mediocre schedule can trip up an unworthy team, which is probably what will happen to them this time around as well.

Penn State also looks overrated, for a bunch of reasons.  First of all, Paterno has already established the pattern of one great year followed by two lousy ones, which means that it's time for a lousy season.  Second, they lost a boatload of players, which is the same thing they do every time before dropping down severely.  Third, they were a lousy team on the road last year.  Sure, at home they were fantastic, but when your game away from the friendly confines is a three overtime stink fest against an FSU team that had no business being in the BCS, well, that's a pretty good sign that things aren't going to be so good.  And this time around they've got brutal road games against Notre Dame and Ohio State, plus three other games (Minnesota, Purdue and Wisconsin) that will hardly be walks in the park.  They've got four legitimately lousy teams on the schedule (Akron, 1-AA Youngstown, Illinois and Temple), and yet 8-4 would still be an achievement.  How that makes a top 25 team in anyone's eyes is completely beyond me.

And you can't forget about the other overrated Orange Bowl team, Florida State.  Other than Pitt in 2004, this was the least deserving BCS team ever (although Notre Dame in 2000 comes close), making the ACC Championship game mainly because nobody else in their division was all that good.  And from that team, they lose a boatload of talent.  On defense, they lost six of their top seven tacklers, and on offense they lost talent in the backfield, in the receiving corps and in the line.  The only good news on this team is that Weatherford should improve from his up and down freshman season.  The unfortunate fact remains that the Seminoles are nowhere near the same caliber team they were in the late 90's, and this year it'll be even clearer, especially as they bring in one of the youngest teams in the entire country, with only a handful of seniors anywhere on their roster.  They may improve in the future, but this year will probably be ugly.

Closer to the top, Notre Dame really doesn't look like a legitimate top 5 team.  Charlie Weis did a great job with Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija, but the rest of the team was overall no better than it was under Willingham, and maybe even a little bit worse.  Sure, they return a bunch of guys on defense, so you can expect an improvement, but I really don't buy this defense as being at all strong, and the secondary still looks like a disaster.  Unless Weis can find a couple of new guys to have major breakout seasons, this just doesn't look like a much better team than last year's version.  Moreover, their schedule should be tougher than last year, both because they add good teams in Georgia Tech, Penn State, UCLA and UNC, and also because many of the teams that they played last year look to be better.  Michigan should certainly be improved, and will have a great shot at beating them as long as Mike Hart doesn't get hurt again.  USC might take a step back, but it probably won't be a big one.  And both Purdue and Stanford should be better as well.  In other words, this is a borderline top 10 team, with as much of a chance of dipping back down as they have of rising up and being a legitimate national title contender.

It's certainly true that someone outside of a BCS conference will finish in the top 25, but is TCU really the best choice?  They had that big win at Oklahoma in the first week of the season, but followed it up with one of the least impressive 10-1 runs I've ever seen, losing to dreadful SMU and barely hanging on in game after game against their Mountain West opponents.  They return a decent amount of talent, but it just feels like this time around they won't get the same breaks that they did last year.

How exactly is Virginia Tech ranked so highly?  They lost a bunch of talent to the NFL draft, and a bunch more just to graduation, and aren't really returning a whole lost of amazing talent throughout the roster.  Sure, they've got a great pair linebackers, but that seems to the only really outstanding thing here.  They break in a new quarterback, a new running back, and most of the offensive line.  Other than Adibi and Hall, a lot of the defense is rebuilding, and seems to be thin enough to be very vulnerable to injury.  The Over/Under on them is 9 wins, and to me that seems like a reach, even with a couple of cakewalks sprinkled in there.  They just have too many really tough games to expect to hit that mark, and against this schedule 8-4 or worse won't, and shouldn't, make the top 25 cut.

What about the teams that are underrated on the national slate?  Which teams are flying a bit more under the radar than they should?  Just as is the case with overrated teams, there's a long list of them.

Can it actually be true that Texas Tech is ranked only at #25, and outside many voters' top 25?  At this point, what do these guys have to do to get some respect?  They end up in the top 25 virtually every year, and there's no reason to think things will be any worse this time around; in fact, they might even take a step up in 2006.  They return everyone but the quarterback and running back on offense, and since Leach has plugged in a new guy every year and done great, there's no reason to believe things will be different this time around.  And the defense returns just enough to be decent, though certainly not great.  Thanks to the Rhett Bomar business, the Red Raiders don't have a single game on their schedule that's a sure loss.  No, they won't run the table, but 10 wins looks like a very real possibility, and when that comes against a slate that includes Texas, Oklahoma, TCU, and three of the better teams from the North (though no Nebraska), that looks like a team that definitely belongs in the top 15, even if it turns out to "only" be a 9-3 record.

And what about Iowa?  Does it take just one down year to deflate expectations about this team so much?  They return a bunch of talent throughout their roster, and they have only one tough road game.  Don't forget, in the last four seasons, they've only lost twice at Kinnick, which means heavily hyped Ohio State is probably in for a really rough battle on September 30th.  This is definitely a top 15 team, and they probably ought to start out around #12 or so.  And let's face it, with just about everyone above them facing serious issues, don't be at all surprised if they make some serious noise this year.

Georgia Tech is another team that stands out as not getting the respect they deserve.  Is sleepwalking through a blowout loss to Utah in a bowl no one cared about in the first place really the best indicator of where this team is going?  Keep in mind, this team had two of the most impressive road wins of anyone last year, beating both Auburn and Miami in their own places.  How many other teams registered multiple wins against top 15 programs? (and it would have been top 10 if Miami hadn't had that disaster of a bowl game against LSU)  They won't win the ACC, or even their own division, but it seems likely they'll register an upset in one of their games against Notre Dame, Virginia Tech or Miami.  And with cakewalks against Samford, Troy and Duke, plus very winnable games against all their other ACC foes (though Clemson could be tough), and a real shot against a Georgia team that doesn't look as good as usual, this is a team that belongs just inside the top 25, rather than just outside it.

And as long as we're talking about that bowl, Utah feels slightly underrated as well.  The Utes return the most amount of talent in their conference, and have both TCU and BYU at home, which means they ought to win the Mountain West.  Isn't that worth a top 25 mention?

Clemson is a team that is very capable of having a great year.  The Tigers return just about everyone of note on their roster, except for quarterback.  However, with a senior in Will Proctor coming in to replace Whitehurst, they should be in very good hands.  The schedule doesn't do them any favors, but they certainly have the talent to win the ACC, and have to be considered a dark horse candidate to win the national title.  It's certainly a long shot, but with everyone else in the country nursing big weaknesses, it's certainly not crazy.  They ought to hover around #11 or #12 rather than be relegated outside the top 15.

Cal is also a little underrated.  Sure, they've still got a very questionable quarterback situation, but almost everything else on their roster looks great.  They've got one of the best running backs in the country, plus a proven backup who's also very good, they've got a great receiver corps, and their defense looks outstanding.  I don't get how anyone can justify having them outside their top 10 (and plenty of people did just that), and really they ought to be somewhere around #6 or #7.  Vegas also has them at around 33:1 to win the national title, and around 3.5:1 to win the Pac-10.  Both of those are significant bargains.


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