College football is an unpredictable sport, which, naturally, makes life interesting for those of us in the business of trying to evaluate what’s going to happen next.
The preseason top 25 is a starting point as much as it is a prediction of what’s to come. We've had our share of hits and misses over the years, some No. 1 teams that have won championships, some leaps of faith tha panned out and some that did.
Certainly, we want to nail every pick, but we're just fine if not everything goes to plan. Who wants to watch a sport they can forecast perfectly months before the season?
Now that the Athlon top 25 has been released, and our magazines are available all across America, this is a perfect time to look back at this year’s top 25 and how teams rank compared to years past.
In some ways, this is a typical year. Ohio State and Alabama sit near the top of the rankings, which is pretty much a sure-thing at this point.
But at the same time, teams like Baylor, TCU and Michigan State all have their highest ranking in Athlon history while Florida and Texas are nowhere to be found in the top 25.
Here’s what made this year’s top 25 standout compared to Athlon’s preseason rankings going back to 1976.
• Ohio State is No. 1 for the fourth time since Athlon’s rankings began in 1976. Only Florida State (eight times), USC (six) and Oklahoma (five) have been ranked No. 1 more.
• The Buckeyes have the distinction of having the longest active streak in the Athlon top 25 at more than two decades. Ohio State has been in every Athlon top 25 since 1994. The next longest streaks belong to Oklahoma (in the top 25 every year since 2000) and Georgia (since 2002).
• Alabama, ranked second in this year’s top 25, has been ranked Nos. 1, 2 or 3 every year since 2010.
• Baylor’s No. 3 ranking is the highest ranking for the Bears in Athlon history, beating their old record of No. 10 last season. Baylor was unranked from 1992-2013 and had never been ranked higher than No. 14 in 1978.
• Another sign the Big 12 has been turned upon its head: No. 5 TCU is making its first appearance in the Athlon top 10.
• After back-to-back AP top-five finishes, Michigan State has finally taught us a lesson. The No. 7 Spartans have earned their highest ranking in Athlon history, topping a No. 11 ranking in 1988 — a team that finished 6-5-1 with a Gator Bowl loss.
• No. 21 Mississippi State is ranked for the first time since 2001, which the Bulldogs probably hope is a better omen than it was back then. Mississippi State followed an 8-4 season in 2000 by going 3-8 in 2001. Oops.
• No. 17 Oklahoma is tied for its lowest ranking since the last time the Sooners were last out of our top 25 in 1999. Oklahoma has been ranked in our preseason top 10 in all but three seasons since 2000 (ranked 17th in 2015, 2013 and 2000). Oklahoma won the national title in 2000 — but started the season ranked No. 17 by Athlon and No. 19 by the AP.
• Welcome back, Tennessee. The No. 22 Volunteers are ranked for the first time since 2008. Tennessee had been ranked every year from 1990-2008.
• More good news for Vols fans: Florida is out of the top 25 for the second time in the last four seasons. The Gators had been in our preseason top 25 every year from 1991-2011.
• Texas is out of the top 25 for the first time since 1998.
• No. 13 Arizona State highest ranking since 1998 when the Sun Devils were ranked eighth.
• The longest rankings drought ended in this year’s top 25 belongs to No. 18 Georgia Tech, ranked for the first time since 2009.
• How different was the college football landscape 10 years ago? Purdue (No. 15), Boston College (No. 17), Virginia (No. 22) and UTEP (No. 24) were all ranked in the top 25 in 2005. None have been ranked since. Pittsburgh was ranked 23rd in 2005 and has only been ranked once since then.
• Another sign of how things change: Oregon has been in the top 10 in six consecutive magazines. The Ducks had been ranked in the top 25 only five times from 1990-2008.