You hear it in college football all the time.
"Team (x) is overrated. They have no business being ranked (x). They haven’t even played anyone!"
Maybe italicized *Michigan State or Iowa* fan is right. Or maybe not. Why leave it to perception? Why not find way to cut through the bias and reveal which college football teams really are the most overrated and underrated?
That's the golden question, and it's one that we answered. Here's how we did it.
We scored each program based on opening and final rankings in the AP poll from 1989 until the present. We’ll use Oregon as an example. The Ducks were ranked third in the opening 2014 AP poll. By the end of the season, they were ranked second. Therefore, they get +1 added to their cumulative score since 1989. If they were to have finished the season ranked seventh after opening at third, they would have gotten a -4 for the year.
Using that method, here are the five most underrated and overrated college football teams since 1989.
The five most underrated:
5) Michigan State (+50)
Everything’s coming up Sparty these days, isn’t it? After a thrilling win over rival Michigan in Week 7, it’s a heck of a time to be a Michigan State fan.
The popular narrative suggests the Spartans are perennially underrated. As it turns out, the numbers bear that out. Mark Dantonio’s teams are never flashy, but they’re consistently good and rarely garner oohs and aahs from preseason voters.
2013 gave the Spartans a huge boost in these rankings, as they entered the season unranked and finished as the third best team in the country.
T-5) Oregon (+50)
It took folks a while to embrace Chip Kelly’s (and now Mark Helfrich’s) fast-paced offense, attention to analytics and flashy uniforms, but it’s served the Ducks well in recent years.
Oregon’s biggest jump in the AP poll came in 2000, when it finished 19 spots better than expected. Surprisingly, Oregon has turned in five seasons of negative accumulation using this formula, but that tends to happen when teams are ranked in the preseason every year.
The Ducks’ most recent big jump came in 2008, which was Mike Bellotti’s last year as head coach. They finished 12 spots higher than voters thought; since 2008, Oregon hasn’t made up a ton of ground in these rankings. Voters recognize the Ducks are legit.
3) TCU (+62)
The Horned Frogs are the third most underrated college football program in the country. TCU’s biggest jumps came in 2008, when it finished 19 spots higher than the preseason polls predicted, and in 2014, when the Frogs went from unranked to No. 3 in the country by season’s end.
2) Kansas State (+63)
Clearly, preseason rankings mean nothing to Bill Snyder. Kansas State’s longtime coach consistently outperforms expectations, yet the Wildcats haven’t gotten the same respect as some of their Big 12 foes in years past.
Kansas State has been a model of consistency in surprising the college football world. There’s no +23 spike like the one Michigan State received in 2013; instead, the Wildcats have registered six seasons of double-digit jumps in the rankings.
Snyder’s first year at the helm for Kansas State was in 1989. The Wildcats went 1-10. Things have changed.
1) Boise State (+71)
Congratulations to the Broncos and their blue turf. Maybe voters just think it’s a gimmick, but Boise State has been college football’s most underrated team since 1989.
In the past 13 years, Boise has been ranked higher at the end of the season than the beginning on nine occasions. All hail that glorious patch of off-colored grass.
The five most overrated:
5) Florida State (-85)
The Seminoles endured a rough stretch in these rankings in the mid 2000s. Between 2004 and 2007, Florida State racked up an ugly -41 total, as those teams with high hopes consistently under performed.
However, it’s not all gloom and doom in Tallahassee. The Noles are undefeated this season, made the College Football Playoff last year and won the national championship the year before that. Most programs would take that in a pinch.
4) Michigan (-93)
HITCH UP THEM KHAKIS JIMMY pic.twitter.com/bn88TvFh92— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) September 4, 2015
Since 1989, the Wolverines have been worse than predicted 14 times. And while Jim Harbaugh is already steering the Michigan resurgance, he certainly won’t do anything to help temper folks’ expectations.
3) Texas (-94)
Thankfully, the Longhorns knocked off the Sooners in this year's Red River Rivalry (more on them to come) because 2015 hasn't served Charlie Strong's squad well thus far. Texas has had its fair share of success historically, culminating in a 2006 national championship. But based on these metrics, Texas has been one of the most overrated teams in college football since 1989.
They have finished 10 or more spots lower than predicted seven times. But on the plus side, Jerrod Heard could be the quarterback of the future the program has been searching for since Colt McCoy. There’s a silver lining in everything.
2) Oklahoma (-104)
USC was second on this list until Oklahoma’s rough go of it in 2014. After a promising 2013 in which the Sooners outperformed projections by 10 spots, perhaps expectations were a little too high for 2014.
They entered last season ranked No. 4 and left unranked. Baker Mayfield seems to have them on the right track in 2015, and if they keep this up, perhaps the Sooners can dig their way out of the most overrated teams in college football discussion. Just as long as they don't have to play Texas again, of course.
1) Nebraska (-105)
Sorry, Cornhusker fans. With the way 2015 has gone in Lincoln, perhaps it seems like a cruel time to bring this up.
HAIL MARY! Trailing by 1, BYU's prayers are answered w/ a 42-yd TD pass on the last play at Nebraska. Wow. WATCH: http://t.co/PgkMuk91Of— ESPN (@espn) September 5, 2015
Nebraska has finished lower than expected the last five years in a row, and barely edges out Oklahoma as the most overrated college football team since 1989.