Where should Florida State football be ranked to start the 2009 season?

After seeing that Athlon released their preseason rankings, I decided to take a look at the national consensus for the 'Noles.

In fact, I decided to jump back to middle school math and run a standard deviation on the preseason rankings (15 polls in all). 

Rank Team Average Standard Deviation
1 Florida 1.09 0.38
2 Texas 2.18 1.11
3 Oklahoma 3 1.24
4 USC 4.45 1.88
5 Alabama 6.91 2.71
6 Virginia Tech 7.55 4.61
7 Oklahoma State 7.64 2.56
8 Ohio State 8.55 3.09
9 Ole Miss 8.64 3.03
10 LSU 9.09 3.25
11 Georgia Tech 12.45 1.98
12 Penn State 12.81 2.35
13 Oregon 13.81 5.77
14 Boise State 15.18 5.82
15 Georgia 16 3.73
16 Cal 16.72 4.46
17 Florida State 17.63 5.80
18 Utah 19.54 3.36
18 TCU 19.54 4.93
20 North Carolina 20.54 5.79
21 Iowa 21.18 4.69
22 Kansas 22.9 3.48
23 Notre Dame 23 5.06
24 Texas Tech 23.72 2.82
25 Pittsburgh 23.81 3.79

Inside, we'll take a deeper look and the numbers and try to determine what really goes into a preseason ranking. 

So FSU checks in at #17, on average, as high as 7th by one writer, and unranked by College Football news.  More on that in a bit.

What teams do the writers agree on?

Florida (standard deviation of 0.38), voted #1 by 13 of 15 contributing polls, and 2nd in the other two.  They a chance to go down as the best team in history and are the definitive number one.  Those who would rank someone else to start the season are attention whores and nothing more.

Texas (S.D. of 1.11), a near consensus #2, with over half of contributing writers naming the Longhorns as college football's 2009 maid of honor (a wedding joke, it's wedding season).

Oklahoma (S.D. of 1.24) checks in at #3 in the poll and as 9 of the 13 polls have the Sooners in the three hole. 

USC (S.D. of 1.88) batting cleanup here, as the writers were slightly more comfortable choosing the Trojans ahead of Bama, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma State or Ohio State. 

Not surprisingly, causal writers are most familiar with the elite teams and you often see smaller variance of opinion in the top five.  There was one non top-five team that the writers agreed on--

Georgia Tech (S.D. of 1.98).  The Yellow Jackets caught me off guard here.  They checked in at #11, as 13 of 15 writers placed Tech in the 12-14 slots.  The outliers?  One has them at #10, and one at #17.


Which teams spur the most discussion? 

Boise State (Standard Deviation of 5.82).  Boise State checks in at #14 in the aggregate poll.  The Broncos were thoroughly outplayed by TCU in their bowl game and were pretty unimpressive throughout the season.  One writer has them unranked, while most place Boise State between 14-21.  What really skews this number?  Pat Dooley of the Gainesville sun ranks them #6, a full 9 spots better than their average. 

The Florida State Seminoles (S.D. of 5.80).  Ah, FSU.  When questions such as "who is coaching the team?" and "will any wide receivers be out of prison in time for opening night?" persist, you can forgive the writers for being all over the board with the 'Noles.  One writer has FSU unranked, while two call the Seminoles a top 10 team (no doubt spurred by the Bowl game in which the margin of victory didn't indicate how close the game really was).  9 of the 15 polls, however, have the 'Noles at slots 13-19, which probably seems right (more on this below). 

The North Carolina Tarheels (S.D. of 5.79) are the 3rd most difficult to rank team in the early going.  Ridiculously, two writers leave off the 'Heels, who return an amazing defense, 4 of 5 starting linemen, and their quarterback, but lose their top three wide receivers.  One writer has them in the top 10 at number 9 (college football news), but most of this variance comes because the writers can't decide whether the 'Heels are a top 15 club, or just top 25.  

The Oregon Ducks (S.D. of 13.81) were undoubtedly very good at full strength in 2008, but were ravaged by injuries to the quarterback position.  That made it difficult to determine their true talent level.  They also lost some key veteran players to the draft, but have recruited well in recent years.  Mix in some East Coast Bias and the horrible TV deal the PAC10 has, and the Ducks don't get as much exposure as they probably should.  The writers have them at #13, and with super genius Chip Kelley running the show, Oregon seems correctly placed as a top 15 club.  The disagreement here comes from three writers placing the Ducks at 8 or 7, and three writers placing them between 21-24, both of which seem a little extreme.


But what really goes into a ranking?

It seems to be a combination of perceived talent, program (and coaching) prestige, past performance, conference prestige, returning players, and media hype.  Preseason polls are quite silly, very inaccurate, but incredibly important.  There just isn't enough vertical liquidity once the season starts.  If a team has an unimpressive ranking to begin the season and compiles an impressive record, they will still feel the effects of the low preseason ranking. 

For my money, FSU was about the 16th best team at the end of the season, in a tier with UGA, Oregon, Pitt, Texas Tech, Missouri, Cincinatti, and North Carolina.  As an aside, I thought that Virginia Tech was at best the 3rd best ACC team, but they won their BCS bowl game, so give them credit. 

Final AP Poll 2009 PreSeason Polls Average
 1. Florida (48) 13-1 Florida
 2. Utah (16) 13-0 Texas
 3. USC (1) 12-1 Oklahoma
 4. Texas 12-1 USC
 5. Oklahoma 12-2 Alabama
 6. Alabama 12-2 Virginia Tech
 7. TCU 11-2 Oklahoma State
 8. Penn State 11-2 Ohio State
 9. Ohio State 10-3 Ole Miss
10. Oregon 10-3 LSU
11. Boise State 12-1 Georgia Tech
12. Texas Tech 11-2 Penn State
13. Georgia 10-3 Oregon
14. Mississippi 9-4 Boise State
15. Virginia Tech 10-4 Georgia
16. Oklahoma State 9-4 Cal
17. Cincinnati 11-3 Florida State
18. Oregon State 9-4 Utah
19. Missouri 10-4 TCU
20. Iowa 9-4 North Carolina
21. Florida State 9-4 Iowa
22. Georgia Tech 9-4 Kansas
23. West Virginia 9-4 Notre Dame
24. Michigan State 9-4 Texas Tech
25. Brigham Young 10-3 Pittsburgh

Gone from the new poll are BYU, Michigan State, West Virginia, Missouri, Oregon State, and Cincinatti.  They are replaced with Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Kansas, UNC, Cal, and LSU.  4 of the 6 teams that dropped out lost their quarterback, while all six newcomers return their man under center. 

Of course, a preseason ranking isn't only a function of whether a team got better, it's also a function of what happened to the other teams in college football.  FSU lost a lot on defense and it remains to be seen what will happen with the newcomers.  The 'Noles also took big hits at receiver, though the offense should still be one of the better ones in the country (assuming of course, that you're smart enough to account for pace and opponent quality).  The defense could surprise, as long as you expect them to be somewhere between awful and below average.  Teams like UGA and Texas Tech definitely lost more than the 'Noles did, while some other squads return their entire lineups.

As for talent, you'll remember that the 'Noles are currently being killed by the 2006 and 2007 recruiting classes (Jeff Bowden's last two), that have yielded hardly any talent.  Out of the projected 22 starters, only 8 will be from the 2006 and 2007 recruiting classes!  That's pretty poor, and the 'Noles will suffer from a lack of talented upperclassmen.  Ideally, I'd like to have 12 or more starters come from the 2006 and 2007 recruiting class.  It's a positive for the future, as talented young guys get playing time, but a negative for 2009.  Still, teams have been good playing a lot of young guys.  FSU seems to have a perceived talent level of a top 15 -20 team.

Another factor in determining how good a team was last year in order to determine how good they will be this year is injuries, and it's something that the National Media completely ignores.  The 'Noles were incredibly lucky with injuries in 2008, after having horrible injury luck in 2006 and 2007.  Still, the 'Noles had starters miss games due to suspension last year.  I'd call it a wash, as the administration isn't likely to impose irrational, arbitrary suspension standards this year, but the 'Noles will almost certainly lose more players due to injury (law of averages).

As for program and coach prestige, the media correctly thinks that Bowden is now a hindrance to this no longer elite program.  The off-season media coverage has mostly been negative, because Bowden and President Wetherell won't stay quiet about the appeal, and because FSU's wide receivers keep getting arrested.  

After going 9-4 last year, some expect a big jump, but they don't follow the 'Noles as closely as we do and don't realize that we were very lucky to beat Virginia Tech or that we should have been blown out by Georgia Tech.  The jump should come in 2010.  But that's not the question here.

The question is "where should the 'Noles be ranked in the pre-season?", and judging by last year's performance including a bowl game blowout, returning talent, and current reputation, the average national sportswriter is right to place them between 14-25.


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