AP Poll: Where BCS Champions Rank in the Preseason

Where have the BCS National Champions been ranked in the preseason and what does it mean for 2013?

When we sit down to iron out our Top 25 Poll each year at Athlon Sports, we are trying to project the final year-end standings not build a preseason power poll. It might be a small and subtle difference but an important one to acknowledge.

We don't necessarily think Louisville or Boise State is the 9th- or 11th-best team in the nation as they sit in our rankings, but rather, they will finish 9th and 11th in the final polls of the year. Frankly, I would take LSU in a best of anything series against either team but the Tigers' schedule is much more difficult and will likely result in more losses and therefore a lower postseason ranking.

Makes sense, right?

In 2013, Athlon has predicted the Alabama Crimson Tide will topple the Ohio State Buckeyes in the final BCS National Championship Game. Thus, 'Bama and OSU are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in our preseason magazine. But when trying to pick your national title winner — or pinpoint those capable of making a historic run — there are a few figures to consider.

The 2013 Preseason AP Poll is set to debut for the first time this weekend. Preseason rankings may seem arbitrary to some, in fact, many believe strongly that polls shouldn't exist until later in the year. But every one of the 15 BCS National Champions has been ranked in the preseason AP Top 25 and it has been 29 years since a team came from outside of the AP preseason Top 25 to win the AP National Championship (a controversial BYU title in 1984).

So here are some seriously intriguing factoids to consider:

Be Ranked In the Preseason Top 20
Only one team ranked outside of the AP Top 20 has ever won a BCS National Championship. The Auburn Tigers of 2010, behind junior college transfer and relative unknown commodity Cam Newton, began the year ranked No. 22 in the nation. The Tigers are the lowest ranked preseason team in the BCS era to win the title and are the first team outside of the top 20 since 1990 to even clinch a share of the title. Additionally, Oregon began 2010 outside of the top 10 at No. 11 — making that BCS National Championship game the only national title contest in the last 30+ years to feature two teams that began outside of the top 10 in the preseason polls. Notre Dame last year is the only team during the BCS era to even make it to the BCS title game without being ranked in the preseason AP Top 25.

Really Though, Be Ranked In The Top 10
Only four times in 15 years has the national champ come from outside the preseason Top 10. In addition to Auburn, Oklahoma in 2000 was ranked 19th, LSU in '03 was ranked 15th and Ohio State was ranked 13th. Only three additional teams since 1984 — Notre Dame in 1988 (13th), Michigan in '97 (14th) and Georgia Tech in '90 (UR) — have won the national title starting outside of the top 10. And Tech didn’t claim the AP title.

The Top 5 Is the Place To Be
Five of the last six national champions were ranked in the top five in the AP preseason poll. Alabama in 2009 and Florida in '08 each started the season at No. 5 — although, it should be noted that Athlon Sports had the Gators No. 1 in '08 — while LSU in '07 and both of Alabama's most recent crystal footballs were claimed by teams that were ranked second. In fact, 17 championship teams (including split titles) in the last 24 seasons began the year ranked in the top five. This means, according to Athlon Sports’ rankings, that there is a better than 70 percent chance that either Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon, Georgia or South Carolina will win the final BCS championship this year. It also means there is less than a 30 percent chance that the champion comes from the other 120 teams. Sorry, Texas A&M, Louisville, LSU and everyone else.

No. 1 Is Just... Okay
So where is No. 1 in all of this you ask? Nowhere to be found, at least, not in the last decade. The USC Trojans in 2004 were the last AP preseason No. 1 team to claim the national championship. On top of that, the preseason No. 1 team in the AP poll hasn't even played in the national title game since 2006 when Ohio State lost to Florida. In fact, since 1982, only three preseason No. 1 teams have gone on to win the title. Florida State in 1993 and '99 were the only other teams to match the ’04 Trojans' wire-to-wire dominance. Additionally, more teams have lost the national title game as preseason No. 1's than have won it during the BCS era. Yes, six trips (of 15) to the BCS title game is a respectable prediction rate — and obviously most fan bases would take a guaranteed trip to the title game — but more times than not that team loses. The AP preseason No. 1 team is 2-4 in the big game.

Related: Potential Darkhorse National Championship Sleepers

So where is the best spot to be?
No. 2 is where you want to be when the preseason AP Poll comes out. Five of the last 13 national champions began the season ranked No. 2 in the preseason, more than any other preseason ranking by a wide margin. Alabama in 2011-12, LSU in '07, Texas in '05 and Miami in '01 all won the crown beginning from the second starting spot. The preseason No. 2 team has played in the BCS National Championship Game nine times, more than any other slot. Of the 30 total BCS title game teams, 30 percent have started the season as the No. 2 team in the AP poll. The next highest spot is No. 1 with six appearances, and that position is tied with the AP preseason No. 5 team with just two BCS wins.

Where Not To Be?
The preseason number you don’t want your team to be? Third or fourth to start. No team in the BCS era has won a title beginning the year ranked No. 3 or No. 4 — despite No. 4 making three appearances in the BCS Championship Game (0-3). Florida in 1996 was the last preseason No. 4 team to claim the title and Miami in '91 was the last team ranked No. 3 in the preseason to win the big prize. So for Athlon's ranking, this presumably knocks out Oregon (No. 3) and Georgia (No. 4). During the BCS era, teams ranked preseason No. 3, No. 6, No. 8 and No. 9 have never even played in the BCS National Championship game much less won it — although, USC won the AP title in 2003 ranked No. 8 in the preseason. The No. 6-ranked team hasn't won a title since 1997 (Nebraska) and No. 9 hasn't clinched the championship since '92 (Alabama). For good measure, No. 11 hasn't won a title in the last 33 seasons.

What do all these numbers mean for college football in 2013? Maybe nothing, maybe everything. But the stats do indicate that preseason polls are extremely accurate measuring sticks when attempting to pinpoint the quest for the coveted crystal football. So buy your Athlon Sports College Football preview magazine here!

Here is a quick list of how each of the national champs have ranked in the preseason:

Year Team AP Rank BCS Runner-Up AP Rank
2012 Alabama No. 2 Notre Dame UR (No. 26)
2011 Alabama No. 2 LSU No. 4
2010 Auburn No. 22 Oregon No. 11
2009 Alabama No. 5 Texas No. 2
2008 Florida No. 5 Oklahoma No. 4
2007 LSU No. 2 Ohio State No. 10
2006 Florida No. 7 Ohio State No. 1
2005 Texas No. 2 USC No. 1
2004 USC No. 1 Oklahoma No. 2
2003* LSU No. 15 Oklahoma No. 1
2003* USC (AP) No. 8 -- --
2002 Ohio State No. 13 Miami No. 1
2001 Miami No. 2 Nebraska No. 4
2000 Oklahoma No. 19 Florida State No. 2
1999 Florida State No. 1 Virginia Tech No. 11
1998 Tennessee No. 10 Florida State No. 2
1997* Michigan (AP) No. 14 -- --
1997* Nebraska No. 6 -- --
1996 Florida No. 4 -- --
1995 Nebraska No. 2 -- --
1994 Nebraska No. 4 -- --
1993 Florida State No. 1 -- --
1992 Alabama No. 9 -- --
1991* Miami (AP) No. 3 -- --
1991* Washington No. 4 -- --
1990* Colorado (AP) No. 5 -- --
1990* Georgia Tech Unranked -- --
1989 Miami No. 3 -- --
1988 Notre Dame No. 13 -- --
1987 Miami No. 10 -- --
1986 Penn State No. 6 -- --
1985 Oklahoma No. 2 -- --
1984 BYU Unranked -- --
1983 Miami Unranked -- --
1982 Penn State No. 8 -- --

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