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Monday Musings: Preseason Polls

Is Clemson the 4th best team in the country? Maybe.

Syndication: The Greenville News
The season is here. How good will the Tigers be?
Ken Ruinard / staff / USA TODAY NETWORK

Welcome back, everybody. The long off-season drought is finally over and we are back to watching our favorite college football team try to make it to the national championship promised land once again. This year I’m trying something different here at STS. I’ve been doing the post-game recap for a while, but this year I’m going to do a weekly piece that is a little more free-form and will hopefully generate some interesting discussion.

This week I want to talk about preseason rankings, in particular Clemson’s #4 ranking this year. Of course, with rankings during the year, after we’ve seen plenty of games played, there are still arguments about who belongs where. Such is the nature of the situation when you are comparing teams who won’t face each other or even common opponents. With preseason rankings, it’s even more difficult because no-one has played anyone else. We have to depend on how teams looked at the end of the last season and how we think the losses and gains of players and coaches (and other variables) will affect the teams. So, it’s tricky. How good have the preseason rankings been? Let’s look at the AP Coaches Poll top-5 teams and compare the preseason and final rankings going back to the 2015 season.

Coaches Poll

Year/Rank Preseason Final
Year/Rank Preseason Final
1 Ohio St. Alabama
2 TCU Clemson
3 Alabama Stanford
4 Baylor Ohio St.
5 Michigan St. Oklahoma
1 Alabama Clemson
2 Clemson Alabama
3 Oklahoma Southern Cal
4 Florida Washington
5 LSU Oklahoma
1 Alabama Alabama
2 Ohio Georgia
3 Florida Oklahoma
4 Southern Cal Clemson
5 Clemson Ohio St.
1 Alabama Clemson
2 Clemson Alabama
3 Georgia Ohio St.
4 Wisconsin Oklahoma
5 Ohio St. Notre Dame
1 Clemson LSU
2 Alabama Clemson
3 Georgia Ohio St.
4 Oklahoma Georgia
5 Ohio St. Oregon
1 Clemson Alabama
2 Ohio St. Ohio St.
3 Alabama Clemson
4 Georgia Texas A&M
5 Oklahoma Notre Dame
1 Alabama Georgia
2 Oklahoma Alabama
3 Clemson Michigan
4 Ohio St. Cincinnati
5 Georgia Baylor

In 2015, 2 of the 5 (40%) teams picked as the top 5 ended up there at the end of the season. In subsequent seasons, the percentages were 60%, 60%, 60%, 60%, 60% and 40%. That’s not too bad. But, you’ll notice that certain teams in the preseason poll finished in the top 5 regularly. Alabama started in the top 5 seven times and finished there six times. Clemson started in the top 5 six times and ended there six times. Ohio St. started in six top 5 rankings and ended up in 5. So, those teams have been good top 5 picks at the start of the season. An illustrative case on the other end is Oklahoma. They were ranked in four preseason top 5 polls, but only finished there once in those years. Three times they started outside the top 5 but ended the season in the top 5.

So, a handful of preseason top 5 teams since 2015 have been properly assessed as so. Clemson is one of those teams. This year the Tigers start off ranked #4. The question is whether 2022 will be like 2021, or more like 2016-2020. There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about a top 5 finish for the Tigers that won’t be addressed until we see them play a few games.

Unlike the previous decade or so, Clemson goes into the season with some major coaching changes. The most concerning are the offensive and defensive coordinators. I am particularly concerned about losing the best defensive coordinator in the country.

Syndication: The Greenville News
How will the loss of Brent Venables affect the Tiger defense?
Ken Ruinard / staff / USA TODAY NETWORK

On the player side of things, the offense is surrounded by questions. Will D.J. Uiagalelei approach or enter the performance realm of Watson and Lawrence, or will he continue the woes of 2021? If the latter, will Cade Klubnik step in give the Tigers that top-tier QB performance needed to compete for a national championship? Whoever is in the pocket, will the WR group perform well enough to bring the WRU talk back? The Tigers return an offensive line that many pundits are positive on, but I’ll be watching them closing in the early games. If they can gel as a group and spring the talented RB group, it will bode well for the team’s success.

Syndication: The Greenville News
Which D.J. Uiagalelei will show up this year, the 2020 version or the 2021 version?
Ken Ruinard / staff / USA TODAY NETWORK

On the defensive side of the ball, there are many fewer concerns. The defensive line might be the best in the country. The LB group should also be one of the better groups in the nation, having better athleticism than we have seen in a long time. One area of concern could be the secondary, especially at CB. There is a lot of talent there, but that will have to be translated into play on the field. Barring injuries, I’m not too worried about the defense. They certainly should do their part to help the Tigers get back into the title hunt.

So, is Clemson a top 5 team? There are certainly some questions that need to be answered to convince me. Top 10? Sure. But I’ll need to see a few games before I’m convinced that we’ll be watching the Tigers in the playoff come the end of the year.