I stumbled upon a blog entry in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that takes a look at the preseason and postseason Top 25 rankings for college football teams during the past 20 years. The author examined the AP Top 25 poll from 1990-2009 and calculated the average differences between the two numbers.
Note: We can certainly debate whether some factors should be weighted (schedule strength, injuries, etc.). This is just a basic snapshot of preseason and postseason rankings, but it still reveals some interesting things about these teams and how they're ranked.
There is an inherent flaw that the author addresses: What happens to teams unranked in the preseason that enter the poll or teams that are ranked but fall out of it? Teams that are ranked preseason but fall out of the polls are assigned a value of 26, so the biggest drop a team can endure in a single season is 25 points. Conversely, teams that are unranked preseason and ranked postseason start from No. 26 and rise, so the most they gain is 25 points. It's not a perfect system, but it does account for both possibilities.
Now, before we go any further, it's important to note that being "overrated," according to this definition, is somewhat of a compliment. Teams are in the polls for a reason, and the more they're in there before the season, the more they have to live up to their billing and the larger chance they have of finishing with a lower postseason ranking. Boise State, not surprisingly, finished as the nation's most underrated team with a plus-81 total. But the Broncos didn't appear in the AP poll until the final rankings of 2002. Washington State and Oregon were consistently underrated during the past 20 years.
So where does the ACC figure into this?
Well, Florida State finished as the nation's most overrated team with a minus-77 ranking for the 20-year period, an average drop of 3.85 spots from preseason ranking to postseason ranking. The Seminoles had a higher postseason ranking than preseason ranking only three times (1992, 2003 and 2008).
Now before Noles fans go nuts, consider that your team didn't have much of a chance to improve on its preseason ranking between 1990-2000, ranking No. 5 or higher in the preseason polls. And Florida State finished no worse than No. 5 in the postseason polls during that span, which is absolutely amazing. Florida State's rating gets hurt more by seasons like 2002 (preseason No. 3, postseason No. 22) and 2006 (preseason No. 11, postseason unranked). Plus, the Seminoles were ranked in the preseason poll in 19 out of the past 20 years, which reduces their chances for a major rise.
Clemson comes in as the nation's fifth-most overrated team with a total difference of minus-65 between preseason and postseason rankings. Miami is No. 8 at minus-52, though the Hurricanes, like Florida State, had a similar pattern in the late 1990s and early 2000s, only to endure bigger drops in recent years. Virginia has a total rating of minus-15.
Boston College is the ACC's most underrated team with a plus-48 rating between 1990-2009. The Eagles are the nation's sixth-most underrated team overall. N.C. State (plus-23), Virginia Tech (plus-22), Maryland (plus-17), Georgia Tech (plus-13) and Wake Forest (plus-7) are also deemed underrated. Of all those squads, Virginia Tech impresses me the most because of how often the Hokies are ranked in the preseason.
Clemson and Virginia Tech also made the list of biggest tumbles after falling from No. 9 preseason to unranked (Clemson in 2008, Virginia Tech in 2003).