The Associated Press Top 25 Poll dropped Monday. For college football fans, the AP Top 25 dropping signals that the beginning of the college football season is imminent.
It also means we’ve reached the time of the preseason when national and local media members get to showcase their lack of knowledge about the Group of Five. I was probably guilty of this during my brief time as a voter, but would it kill today’s AP Top 25 voters to include multiple G5 teams in their preseason poll?
Tulane earned a token spot in this year’s poll, sliding in at No. 24. The Green Wave are replacing a few standouts from their 2022 campaign, but the overall roster looks strong. Hat tip to the AP voters for including Tulane.
But there’s almost no chance the Group of Five ends the season with only one team in the AP Top 25.
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AP voters dismiss the G5
After seeing this year’s poll, I started thinking about how it feels like AP preseason polls unnecessarily focus on Power Five teams. Was I right?
I looked through historical data at College Poll Archive to see how the number of Group of Five teams included in the AP Top 25 varied from the preseason poll to the final poll. It turns out voters do focus way too much on including Power Five teams in their polls.
Let’s break down the basic numbers from the last five seasons.
In 2018, the preseason poll included two Group of Five teams. The final poll included five G5 teams. The top-ranked preseason team was UCF at No. 21. UCF finished 11th in the final poll to pace all Group of Five programs.
In 2019, only UCF was ranked in the preseason. Seven Group of Five teams finished in the top 25 that season.
In 2020, two Group of Five teams were ranked in the preseason. Neither of those two teams were ranked better than 20th. Six teams finished the season ranked, including three teams inside the top 20.
The 2021 season was huge for the G5, with Cincinnati making the College Football playoff. The 2021 preseason poll included three top-25 teams from the Group of Five. The final poll included five Group of Five squads.
Last season, Cincinnati and Houston were ranked 23rd and 24th to start the year. Tulane finished ninth, with Troy (19th), and Fresno State (24th) also finishing in the top 25.
From 2018-22, Group of Five teams appeared 10 times in the AP Top 25 preseason poll. In those five seasons, G5 teams finished ranked in the final poll 26 times.
There’s a gigantic disconnect between preseason expectations for the G5 and end-of-season perception. Weirdly, those perceptions don’t last through the offseason as big-name Power Five programs take the place of the top G5 teams in the next year’s preseason poll.
Conference realignment shifts
But Bennett, with Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF leaving the AAC to the Big 12, won’t that destroy the Group of Five’s chances of ending the season ranked?
I doubt it.
A total of 12 different G5 teams appeared in the final AP poll in each of the last three seasons. Of those 12, 10 are still at the Group of Five level.
The Sun Belt also added JMU from the FCS level, and the Dukes made an AP poll appearance last fall. CUSA added Jacksonville State and Sam Houston from the FCS ranks, while also bringing in Liberty as a former independent. The Flames were ranked as high as 19th last fall.
Teams like UTSA, Troy, and South Alabama are proving themselves as rising programs with consistent top-25 potential. All three are prime candidates to end 2023 ranked. Other strong programs like Boise State, Coastal Carolina, Marshall, SMU, and Toledo have rosters capable of breaking into the top 25 this fall.
Once again, it seems AP Poll voters are underrating the Group of Five before the start of the season. Will they ever learn?