History can tell us a lot about the future, right? Well, if there is one thing history really shows, it’s that most of us are horrible at making college football predictions.
Check out this 2015 College Football Preview from last year. Everyone had Ohio State making the College Football Playoff (they didn’t make it). Practically no one had Clemson (they did). Some “experts” thought that teams like Arizona, Arkansas, and Boise State would be among the top four teams in the nation (it goes without saying what their fates were).
I hate to pick on Grantland, but take a look at their predictions from 2014 as well. South Carolina, whose season ended as quickly as it began, was a common Final Four pick. Oklahoma was poised for big things with returning quarterback Trevor Knight, yet they didn’t come close to even winning the Big 12. Someone picked Kevin Hogan to win the Heisman! Oh, and only one writer picked Ohio State to even make the College Football Playoff- no one envisioned them winning the national title.
It’s common for preseason predictions to look this foolish. I could provide more examples from recent years, but the point is this: College football is very unpredictable. And yet, in nearly every preseason prediction article I across, everyone essentially rewrites the preseason rankings when making predictions. Of course, some of the teams ranked in the preseason Top 25 are legit. After all, the average preseason ranking of national title winners is 5th, so don’t bet the house on the national champion coming out of nowhere.
With that said, many highly touted teams will disappoint in 2016. Here are the prime candidates.
Preseason Ranking: 12
2015 Record: 12-2
The Spartans had a successful 2015 season…until they were demolished by Alabama in the College Football playoff. Bad news Michigan State fans: That game was a harbinger of what’s to come this year.
Michigan State was a terrific 6-1 in one-score games in 2015. In general, teams that play really well in close games see their record in these situations decline the following year. UCLA, for instance, was 6-1 in one-score contests in 2014, but only went 3-2 in these games last year. Simply put, there’s a lot of luck involved, which is why teams tend to hover around the .500 mark in one-score games in the long-run. In Michigan State’s case, they will be lucky to be above .500 in these situations in 2016.
Moreover, the Spartans no longer have Connor Cook at quarterback. His presence enabled Michigan State to post one of the best turnover margins in college football. I don’t want to spend too much time explaining certain theories, but it’s commonly understood nowadays that turnovers are notoriously fickle. In short, Michigan State won’t be able to control the turnover battle like they did last year with Cook. That, along with less success in close games, will cause the Spartans to decline significantly in 2016.
Preseason Ranking: 13
2015 Record: 11-2
Like Michigan State, TCU was also 6-1 in one-score games last year. It’s unlikely they’ll be as good in those situations in 2016. Plus, they will also have a new quarterback this year, too. Trevone Boykin has moved on to the NFL, so I can’t imagine the Horned Frog offense being as good as it was last year even with former Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill under center. And lastly, TCU had one of the better fumble recovery percentages in the nation last year, which is an indication that they were lucky on the turnover front. All these signs point to a two-three win decline.
Preseason Ranking: 17
2015 Record: 12-2
Did anyone surprise us more than the Hawkeyes last year? Iowa made an enormous five win leap in 2015, but that’s actually bad news for them this year. According to the Plexiglass Principle–which is something I’ve discussed before in previous articles–teams that have large increases in their win totals tend to regress to the mean the following season. That’s likely to happen to Iowa, particularly since they were 5-1 in one-score games and had one of the better turnover margins in the nation last year. They won’t sneak up on anyone in 2016.
Preseason Ranking: UR
2015 Record: 10-3
Northwestern outperformed their expected win total by three full wins in 2015. In the NFL, teams that overperform like that decline by an average of roughly three wins. It doesn’t help that they project to face the country’s 9th toughest schedule, either. The Wildcats will struggle in 2016.
Preseason Ranking: 15
2015 Record: 13-1
A lot of people think the Cougars are a good bet to make the College Football Playoff because they return one of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Greg Ward Jr. and have an extremely easy schedule (season opener against Oklahoma aside). But I’m not as high on Houston. The Cougars led the nation in forced turnovers and had the country’s second best turnover margin in 2015. I’m not saying they were lucky in 2015, but that kind of success isn’t sustainable. For the record, Houston had the nation’s 44th best turnover differential in 2014; they may have a better roster now, but they certainly haven’t acquired a natural ability to force turnovers like no other team in the nation.
Houston’s schedule is too easy for them not to win upwards of 9 games. However, don’t expect them to be as good as they were last season. It was a mirage.
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