Ranking the 10 biggest preseason AP Top 25 poll flops over the last 10 years

Cleveland.com's Doug Lesmerises wrote a hilarious story about his departure as an Associated Press college football poll voter after 10 years.

"Although I sometimes mocked questioned the veracity of the poll, I always appreciated the way it ruined my Sunday morning opportunity to vote, and dreaded enjoyed the interaction with readers who hated debated my voting methods," Lesmerises wrote. "The rankings always served as a meaningless way for fans to channel anger conversation starter."

You want to argue? The meaningless preseason polls are here to help, and of course, to generate online page views, talk-radio fodder and shiny numbers next to school names on TV schedules. (Full disclosure: I will be voting in the CBS Sports 128 and on the Football Writers Association of America poll this season. Why? I'm a glutton for punishment, I guess, and get easily bored on Sunday mornings.)

Every year, we get some preseason rankings spectacularly wrong. It's the nature of the beast. At least the preseason rankings don't directly impact who plays for the national championship anymore.

Still, with the Sunday release of the AP Top 25, these rankings set a narrative for 2016. So let's dig into how right and wrong these rankings are.

  • Beware, No. 1 Alabama. No preseason AP No. 1 has finished No. 1 since USC in 2004. Eight of the past nine preseason No. 1s didn't reach the College Football Playoff or play for the Bowl Championship Series title. Only Florida State in 2014 cracked through -- and then got trounced by Oregon in the semifinals. Five of the past eight preseason No. 1s finished ranked No. 7 or lower, though that hasn't happened yet in the playoff era.
  • Here's a friendly reminder of how last year's final AP top 10 teams were ranked in the preseason, in order: Alabama (No. 3), Clemson (No. 12), Stanford (No. 21), Ohio State (No. 1), Oklahoma (No. 19), Michigan State (No. 5), TCU (No. 2), Houston (no votes), Iowa (no votes), Ole Miss (No. 17). In other words, the media went 4-6 in correctly picking top-10 teams. Coaches would get fired with that kind of record.
  • For nine straight years, at least three preseason AP top 10 teams finished the season with four or more losses. Or to put it another way: 36 percent of the preseason top-10 teams since 2007 ended with four to eight losses. The odds are that three of these teams will be a major disappointment in 2016: Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, Florida State, LSU, Ohio State, Michigan, Stanford, Tennessee and Notre Dame.
  • There's a more alarming, but not surprising, stat for coaches. Since 2007, 19 percent of the preseason top 10 coaches were out of a job within two years, either by getting fired, forced out or retiring amid struggles.

Injuries, hype, complacency, team chemistry, poor coaching and plain bad luck can all cause a preseason top-10 team to crash and burn. In honor of feeding the beast with preseason hype, here's one more poll: The worst preseason top 10 picks over the past 10 years.

10. 2015 USC -- preseason No. 8, finished 8-6: First, Steve Sarkisian acted bizarrely at a speaking function while under the influence of alcohol and painkillers, and then he got fired after showing up to a team meeting under the influence. Clay Helton helped prevent the year from being a lost cause by taking the Trojans to the Pac-12 Championship Game.

9. 2011 Texas A&M -- No. 8, 7-6: With speculation swirling about the Aggies joining the SEC, the Mike Sherman act ran out and he got fired for new blood. It's fair to point out that five of Texas A&M's six losses came against ranked teams and by one touchdown or less.

8. 2014 South Carolina -- No. 9, 7-6: The Gamecocks' rough season started by getting routed 52-28 at home against Texas A&M on the first SEC Network broadcast. Steve Spurrier left the cupboard bare when he quit midway through 2015.

7. 2008 Clemson -- No. 9, 7-6: This season helped define "Clemsoning," a not-so-flattering term that has since been retired. Clemson was considered a dark horse national title contender, got blown out by Alabama in Week 1, and saw Tommy Bowden forced out midway through the season.

6. 2015 Auburn -- No. 6, 7-6: Quarterback Jeremy Johnson was hyped up in the preseason by Gus Malzahn and the media. Then he was benched before September was out. Malzahn nearly won the national title in 2013, but he now faces a pivotal 2016 season.

5. 2008 Auburn -- No. 10, 5-7: Tommy Tuberville switched to hurry-up offensive coordinator Tony Franklin without letting him hire his own assistants, and Tuberville was hurriedly out of a job after the season. Who can forget Auburn 3, Mississippi State 2?

4. 2012 Arkansas -- No. 10, 4-8: Bobby Petrino deserves this infamy. He got fired in the spring for lying to his boss about a motorcycle accident involving his mistress. That left interim coach John L. Smith as a highly entertaining disaster waiting to happen with losses to Louisiana-Monroe and Rutgers.

3. 2013 Florida -- No. 10, 4-8: One year removed from the Sugar Bowl, the Gators got bit by their lack of offense in a season that included home losses to Georgia Southern and Vanderbilt. Will Muschamp, once the head-coach-in-waiting at Texas, was gone after 2014.

2. 2010 Texas -- No. 5, 5-7: If not for wins over Rice, Wyoming and Florida Atlantic, Mack Brown would have challenged for No. 1 on this list. These Longhorns were a year removed from playing for the national championship. This was the first sign Brown's tenure was crumbling.

1. 2012 USC -- No. 1, 7-6: Lane Kiffin owns the dubious distinction of coaching the first preseason No. 1 since 1950 to lose six games. The season ended with the Trojans showing up 90 minutes late to a dinner at the Sun Bowl, defensive lineman Leonard Williams using an expletive to describe El Paso, Texas, and Kiffin somberly dressed in a black windbreaker with hood and dark sunglasses for the embarrassing Sun Bowl loss. Nothing says flop quite like a 13-month swing from preseason No. 1 to getting fired at the airport.

Tread carefully in 2016, preseason top-10 teams. Some of you will stumble. The fall won't be pretty, especially since the media helped set the narrative in the first place.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Jon Solomon is CBS Sports's national college football writer. A former Alabama resident, he now lives in Maryland and also writes extensively on NCAA topics. Jon previously worked at The Birmingham News,... Full Bio

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