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August 21, 2010

A Peculiar Poll Position

Georgia football is in a preseason position it hasn't been in since not long after the above hiring.  (Photo: GeorgiaDogs.com)

The AP Poll was just released and the Bulldogs find themselves at an unfamiliar standing, ranking towards the bottom of the preseason poll.  Georgia's number-23 ranking is its lowest since the 2001 season when the Bulldogs entered Coach Richt's first year unranked.  Nevertheless, don't fret Dawg fans; Georgia football has a long history of its preseason ranking having little to no similarity to its final position in the AP Poll.

It all started 50 years ago...  The Bulldogs were coming off an SEC championship season of 1959 and a No. 5 national ranking - their first AP final poll appearance in 11 seasons.  Returning most of its team, including Fran Tarkenton and All-American Pat Dye, Georgia was positioned at 13th by the Associated Press pollsters.  It was the first time the Bulldogs were preseason ranked since the AP first released preseason rankings in 1950.

En route to a disappointing 6-4 season, a favored Georgia team dropped its season opener to Bear Bryant's third Alabama squad by 15 points, falling out of the poll where it remained unranked for the next five-plus years. 

After three final poll appearances after not being ranked in the preseason (1959, 1966, 1968) and three times ranked in the preseason but not finishing in the rankings (1960, 1967, 1969), in 1971, Georgia started (18th) and ended (7th) the same season ranked for the first time.  However, there has been much inconsistency between where the Bulldogs began and finished many of their seasons as it relates to rankings. 

The 1975 Bulldogs were suppose to be even worse than the six-loss team from the year before, but led by a "Junkyard Dogs" defense, Georgia won nine games and achieved a top-20 ranking.  The 1978 team was forecasted to be dreadful; one media outlet predicted Georgia's game with Vanderbilt that year would decide who was the ninth-best team in the 10-member conference.  Instead, the "Wonderdogs" shocked the nation, recording a 9-1-1 regular-season mark and an eventual No. 16 final ranking.

Georgia's national championship team of 1980 started off ranked only 16th.  Of course, few writers knew how much an impact a freshman from Wrightsville would have.  In fact, during the Bulldogs' historic run from 1980-1983, their average ranking in the preseason was 12th but they finished higher in  each of the four seasons, averaging a ranking of better than 4th.

Recently, in five of Coach Richt's first seven seasons, the Bulldogs exceeded their AP Poll expectations.  Notwithstanding, the last two years have been disappointments, ranking No. 1 in the preseason two years ago and 13th last season, only to finish 13th in 2008 and not ranked at all last year.

In the distant past, there were other unfortunate letdowns: The 1977 Bulldogs returned two backs - Kevin McLee and Willie McClendon - from the '76 SEC title team, who would finish their careers ranked first and third in rushing at the school, and three other players recognized as All-Americans, but the team handed Coach Dooley his only losing season in 25 years.  Of course, no one imagined the '77 Dogs, who were preseason ranked 19th by the AP, would lose a school-record 35 fumbles and end their season playing a quarterback who was the sixth-stringer in summer practices.

In 2000, Jim Donnan made the infamous quote: “I’ve been waiting 55 years to be the head coach of a football team that has this much potential, and I guarantee you that we’re going to get it done.”  The AP writers seemingly agreed with the coach, ranking the Bulldogs 10th in the nation.  What followed was a four-loss campaign, a number-20 final ranking, and Donnan losing his job. 

Three other Georgia teams - 1969, 1979, 1993 - started their seasons ranked 13th or better only to finish unranked and with a record of 6-5 or worse.

So, how does Georgia's varying beginning and ending rankings from past seasons relate to the current Bulldogs that kick off in two weeks?  Probably very little, if at all.  But, for those who might be feeling somewhat down regarding the lowly 23rd ranking, perhaps, here's a little comfort:

Besides the fact that Georgia has finished eight seasons in the AP Poll when they weren't ranked in the preseason...  Of the seven seasons the Bulldogs were preseason ranked from 16th to 25th, they actually finished ranked higher in five of the seven years.

A few months ago, I showed that Georgia returning only a handful of starters on defense - something the media has pointed out ad nauseam - has no real historical significance.  Now, it also appears that media members, at least those that have voted in the preseason AP Poll, historically have had a difficult time assessing the Bulldogs in the preseason. 

Let's hope this is the case for 2010 as well.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Patrick,

The AP Poll has ranked Georgia CONSISTENTLY in their preseason poll.

Very consistently.

We haven't really deserved the rankings we have been awarded based upon the fact that we are the # 11 team in the nation in 1-A wins All-Time.

The rankings have given us in fact higher rankings in the Final AP Poll than we really deserved.

Where you start has EVERYTHING to do with where you finish.

A # 1 team preseason, who plays 3 games against teams of any quality at all who loses all 3, might drop to # 13 in the Final AP Poll.

Over the last 7 Consecutive years, the Final AP Poll # 1 team started the season NO WORSE than # 8 and that only 1 year.

With the exception of Georgia, the # 1 team in the Preseason AP Poll Finished the seaseon NO WORSE than # 8 over the last entire Dozen Years starting 1998.

As a matter of fact, the # 1 AP Poll Preseason team ended the season # 1 # 2 or # 3 10 of the last 12 years.

All this analysis by you Patrick, and pardon me we are the # 6 worst ranked team in The SEC.

Anonymous said...

Good write-up, Patrick. I remember all the disappointments (esp. 77 and 2000) but more so the surprises. It seems theres not much relation in many years where the Dogs started and ended in the AP. It'd be interested to see how it has been for other teams.. And I definitrely think we'll better than #23 this season.

Anonymous said...

Another excellent post. Your findings confirm my suspicions. Pre-season polls are a waste of ink, although they do generate interest in the forthcoming football season. Polling should be delayed until the season is about half completed.
Old Dawg

Patrick Garbin said...

Anon 12:03: You make a good point with your statement that the #1 teams usually end up ranked in the top three ("usually" being the keyword). Georgia's case in 2008 and in its historical AP starts/finishes, in general, are "unusual" compared to other schools.

Before I wrote this piece, I selected several SEC schools at random, took notice of their poll starts/finishes in history, and discovered that each of their starts/finishes were much more similar than Georgia's.

So, where a team starts may have something to do with their finish; however, in Georgia's case, its start/finish usually varies more, for whatever reason, than other teams.

Thanks for reading and posting.