In each of the past seven Februaries, I have come up with a projected top 10 of the preseason AP poll on my website. This is done six months in advance of when the actual AP poll is released, and before spring practice has even started. I do not consider it "way too early," as in the past seven years, I have hit 66 of the 70 teams that are in the preseason AP top 10, for a 94.3 percent success rate.
I do this by taking several different factors into account:
-- Most AP voters look at the number of returning starters the team has coming back, particularly at the offensive skill positions. Teams that return most of their starters on offense but lose a lot of defensive playmakers are usually more highly regarded than teams that return a majority of defensive starters but lose top skill position players on offense.
-- Another factor weighed heavily is the performance of the team in its bowl game, which is undoubtedly the lasting image voters carry with them during the offseason. A team coming off a huge bowl win is usually more highly regarded than a team that is coming off a bowl loss, regardless of what their schedule looks like for the upcoming season.
-- Also weighed heavily is where the teams finished the previous year. Naturally, teams that finished somewhere in the rankings (Top 25) have a much better chance of being preseason top 10 than a team that finished unranked.
-- I have the last four recruiting classes factored into my formula, including the 2016 freshman class. This gives me solid perspective of the total talent on hand.
Using these factors, along with a few others including strength of schedule, I make my projections. Now, as you all know, a lot can happen between February and August, including injuries, suspensions and transfers. But over the past seven years, I have been very successful using this method, including a perfect 10-for-10 in the past two seasons.
Before I go into the rankings, it is important to make the point that this is not my preseason top 10 for next season, rather what I am projecting the AP top 10 will look like to start the season. Also, you'll note that in 2016, I am doing something a little different and giving you an extra team. I have a tough time eliminating any of the 11 from the top 10, so I am very confident that when the AP rankings roll out in August, these will be the first 11 teams listed. Next week I will release a couple of more teams on Twitter (@philsteele042) as well as online at philsteele.com.