Top 25 Heat Check: Who is most likely to flop in 2017?
Top 25 Heat Check: Who is most likely to flop in 2017?
Top 25 Heat Check: Who is most likely to flop in 2017?
By RALPH D. RUSSO
Aug. 22, 2017
The preseason Top 25 is out and for all those fans feeling good about their team to start the season, there is plenty of history that can spoil the fun.
Over the last 10 years (2007-16), 38 percent of teams that have started the season ranked in the AP poll ended it unranked, which comes out to about 10 teams per season. That includes an average of two top-10 teams per year that wash out.
So don't get too excited, especially if your favorite team landed outside the top eight. And if your team is unranked, don't fret. There will be plenty of openings.
Alabama fans probably don't have to spend much time worrying about the Crimson Tide tumbling out of the rankings. Alabama has not finished a season unranked since 2007 and will start this one No. 1 for the second straight year.
Only once since the AP poll expanded to 25 teams in 1989 has the preseason No. 1 finished the season unranked (Lane Kiffin's 2012 Southern California team). In fact, since the preseason poll began in 1950, the only other times a preseason No. 1 finished unranked were during the early 1960s, when the rankings briefly only went to 10.
Ohio State is this year's preseason No. 2, followed by Florida State, Southern California and defending national champion Clemson at No. 5.
With the 2017 season opening on Saturday, the first AP Top 25 Heat Check of the year examines the preseason poll to assess each teams potential to break their fans hearts:
No. 1 Alabama
Open: vs. No. 3 Florida State in Atlanta, Sept. 2.
Over the last 10 years ... one preseason No. 1 has finished unranked.
Heat check: Since Nick Saban's second season in 2008, the Tide has had one season in which it has lost more than once before the bowls. Maybe that changes in 2017, but Alabama is flop-proof.
No. 2 Ohio State
Open: at Indiana, Aug. 30.
Over the last 10 years ... no preseason No. 2 has finished unranked.
Heat check: The question in Columbus is whether new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and new quarterback coach Ryan Day make J.T. Barrett and the Buckeyes be more effective against defenses they can't simply overwhelm. Urban Meyer has enough elite athletes to keep Ohio State from its first unranked finish since he took over in 2012.
No. 3 Florida State
Open: vs. No. 1 Alabama in Atlanta, Sept. 2.
Over the last 10 years ... one preseason No. 3 finished unranked.
Heat check: This might be Jimbo Fisher's best team since the Seminoles won the national title in 2013. Finishing outside the rankings would be shocking, but the schedule is nasty. This seems like a good time to note that from 2007-16 only about half the teams that started the season ranked in the top 10 finished that way.
No. 4 Southern California
Open: vs. Western Michigan, Sept. 2.
Over the last 10 years ... two preseason No. 4s finished unranked.
Heat check: The Trojans come into the season with a nine-game winning streak and Heisman Trophy favorite Sam Darnold at quarterback. They should be really good, but considering what happened the last time USC entered a season with such high expectations it seems fair to brace for the worst — just in case.
No. 5 Clemson
Open: vs. Kent State, Sept. 2.
Over the last 10 years ... two preseason No. 5s finished unranked.
Heat check: Replacing a quarterback as great as Deshaun Watson is hard and history suggests a step back is to be expected. The Tigers have enough talent to make another playoff run, but uncertainty at quarterback creates volatility. The idea that Clemson could go from winning a national championship to finishing unranked a year later seems plausible.
No. 6 Penn State
Open: vs. Akron, Sept. 2.
Over the last 10 years ... one preseason No. 6 finished unranked.
Heat check: Penn State went on a magical run to the Big Ten title last season after a 2-2 start. There are lots of reasons to believe what the Nittany Lions did was sustainable, starting with the return of RB Saquon Barkley. But magical seasons can be tough to repeat and Penn State seems primed for a market correction.
No. 7 Oklahoma
Open: vs. UTEP, Sept. 2.
Over the last 10 years ... one preseason No. 7 finished unranked.
Heat check: The Sooners have some recent history of face-planting after starting in the top 10. In 2009, they started third and finished unranked when QB Sam Bradford was injured in the opening game. In 2014, OU went from No. 4 to out of the final rankings. Part of the reason Bob Stoops stepped aside this offseason was because he believed he was leaving the program in good shape for new coach Lincoln Riley. Having QB Baker Mayfield should help, but you never know what kind of head coach a guy is going to be until he is actually a head coach.
No. 8 Washington
Open: at Rutgers, Sept. 1.
Over the last 10 years ... two preseason No. 8s finished unranked.
Heat check: The Huskies made a big leap into the playoff last season and conventional wisdom is that Chris Petersen will now have Washington a regular contender. Having three-fourths of a secondary drafted in the second round is nothing to brush off, but Petersen and a manageable schedule make Washington a safe play to avoid a big fall.
No. 9 Wisconsin
Open: vs. Utah State, Sept. 1.
Over the last 10 years ... five preseason No. 9s finished unranked.
Heat check: Nine has been the spot where the volatility really picks up. From 2007-16, teams ranked ninth or lower in the preseason finished ranked only about 55 percent of the time. Wisconsin expects improvement from QB Alex Hornibrook, but also spent a chunk of the offseason looking into grad transfers. A defense that carried a so-so offense last season has a first-year coordinator in Jim Leonhard and has already lost star LB Jack Cichy to a season-ending injury. Among top-10 teams, Wisconsin is most likely to disappoint.
No. 10 Oklahoma State
Open: vs. Tulsa, Aug. 30.
Over the last 10 years ... five preseason No. 10s finished unranked.
Heat check: The Cowboys became a trendy top team when QB Mason Rudolph and WR James Washington decided put off the NFL for another year. Still, are they really that much better than Kansas State, Texas or even TCU? Big 12 teams outside Oklahoma are always risky bets.
No. 11 Michigan
Open: vs. No. 17 Florida at Arlington, Texas, Sept. 2.
Over the last 10 years ... three preseason No. 11s finished unranked.
Heat check: Jim Harbaugh has to replace a mountain of talent. That's no way for college football's most-celebrated coach who has never won an FBS conference title to climb out of third place in the Big Ten East. Though for many top coaches, year three is often a breakthrough season.
No. 12 Auburn
Open: vs. Georgia Southern, Sept. 2.
Over the last 10 seasons ... four preseason No. 12s finished unranked.
Heat check: The Tigers won a national title in 2010 after starting the season ranked No. 22 and played for the BCS championship in 2013 after being unranked in the preseason. They also went from No. 6 to unranked two seasons ago with a promising but unproven quarterback. That's the deal again with Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham on board. The optimism is more cautious this time around.
No. 13 LSU
Open: vs. BYU at Houston, Sept. 2.
Over the last 10 seasons ...seven preseason No. 13s finished unranked.
Heat check: A strong finish to last season, plus the hiring of creative offensive coordinator Matt Canada might be masking some issues such as offensive line depth. And just how productive the Tigers will be at quarterback is still anybody's guess. The honeymoon for coach Ed Orgeron will be brief.
No. 14 Stanford
Open: vs. Rice at Sydney, Australia, Aug. 26.
Over the last 10 seasons ... three preseason No. 14s finished unranked.
Heat check: If any team in the Pac-12 is going to get in the way of a possible playoff play-in between USC and Washington in the Pac-12 title game, it's the Cardinal. They also have a quarterback coming off major knee surgery and are replacing two top-10 picks.
No. 15 Georgia
Open: vs. Appalachian State, Sept. 2.
Over the last 10 seasons ... five preseason No. 15s finished unranked.
Heat check: The Bulldogs are working on two straight seasons of being ranked in the preseason but unranked at the end. So here they are again. Improvement from the offensive line and sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason could mean a big step forward in year two under coach Kirby Smart. More likely a small step forward keeps the Bulldogs from disappointing again.
No. 16 Louisville
Open: vs. Purdue at Indianapolis, Sept. 2.
Over the last 10 seasons ... six preseason No. 16s finished unranked.
Heat check: Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson is back, which is a great place to start. Still, the end of last season made the Cardinals' thrilling start seem like the anomaly. Put Louisville down for most likely to disappoint among teams 11-20.
No. 17 Florida
Open: vs. No. 11 Michigan at Arlington, Texas, Sept. 2.
Over the last 10 seasons ... four preseason No. 17s finished unranked.
Heat check: Two straight SEC East titles never felt less exciting. Notre Dame transfer QB Malik Zaire brings hope for an improved offense, though the defense that has been so dominant during Jim McElwain's first two seasons probably won't be as good. The Gators get Michigan to begin the regular season and Florida State to end it.
No. 18 Miami
Open: vs. Bethune Cookman, Sept. 2
Over the last 10 seasons ... seven preseason No. 18s finished unranked.
Heat check: The false alarms for the Hurricanes return to prominence have been plentiful in recent years. Uncertainty at quarterback tempers the enthusiasm for Mark Richt's second season as coach, but the 'Canes seem less likely to flame out this time.
No. 19 USF
Open: at San Jose State, Aug. 26.
Over the last 10 seasons ... five preseason No. 19s finished unranked.
Heat check: The Bulls are the lone team outside the Power Five in the preseason rankings. History suggests those conferences will be better represented in the final poll. USF has a nonconference schedule that has fans talking about an undefeated season. Not so fast. The American Athletic Conference should present challenges and all the hype can be hard to live up to.
No. 20 Kansas State
Open: vs. Central Arkansas, Sept. 2.
Over the last 10 seasons ... five preseason No. 20s finished unranked.
Heat check: Bill Snyder has his best team since Heisman finalist Collin Klein led the Wildcats to a Big 12 title in 2012. K-State is more likely to overachieve this season and finish in the top 10 than underachieve and wind up unranked.
No. 21 Virginia Tech
Open: vs. No. 22 West Virginia in Landover, Maryland, Sept. 3.
Over the last 10 seasons ... four preseason No. 21s finished unranked.
Heat check: The Hokies exceeded expectations in year one under Justin Fuente, and will need him to work a little magic with another first-year starting quarterback (redshirt freshman Josh Jackson) to avoid going the opposite way this season.
No. 22 West Virginia
Open: vs. Virginia Tech in Landover, Maryland, Sept. 3.
Over the last 10 seasons ... six preseason No. 22s finished unranked.
Heat check: The Mountaineers had an experienced team that did well in close games last season and finished a surprising 10-3. Florida transfer QB Will Grier has West Virginia fans feeling confident, but a step back is more likely than a repeat of last season's record.
No. 23 Texas
Open: vs. Maryland, Sept. 2.
Over the last 10 seasons ... seven preseason No. 23s finished unranked.
Heat check: The narrative is Charlie Strong left some good players for Tom Herman to work with at Texas. The Longhorns also are coming off three straight losing seasons. If nothing else, Texas should break that streak.
No. 24 Washington State
Open: vs. Montana State, Sept. 2.
Over the last 10 seasons ... four preseason No. 24s finished unranked.
Heat check: The return of QB Luke Falk is cause from optimism, but the Cougars ended last season with a thud that makes even this preseason ranking seem a bit much.
No. 25 Tennessee
Open: vs. Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Sept. 4.
Over the last 10 seasons ... six preseason No. 25s finished unranked.
Heat check: More modest expectations this season are just what the Volunteers and coach Butch Jones need.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP