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June 26, 2012

TO Believe or NOT TO Believe the Hype...

THAT is the question.

In 2012, will Coach Richt and quarterback
Murray lead the Bulldogs to a rare season
where high expectations are realized?
When a whopping six of Georgia’s eight positional units – QBs, RBs, WRs, DL, LBs, and DBs – appear to be amongst the very best in the nation, and a schedule is seemingly rather manageable, plus the recent announcement that the team is an early favorite in every game this year a collective hype entering the 2012 season matched by few Bulldog teams in recent preseason memory.

All indicators point to Georgia ranking between 5th and 7th in the nation when the preseason AP Poll is released less than two months from now. In their history, the Bulldogs have ranked higher than 7th in the preseason AP Poll just three times: 1967 (6th), 2004 (3rd), and 2008 (1st).

Speaking of 2008, I've attempted to block the disappointing first (in the nation)-to-second (in the division) campaign out of my memory, but it still persists. Upon the preseason poll's release, I recall announcing to my wife that Georgia was the country's top-ranked team for the first time in more than a quarter-century; what a season it was going to be! I recall receiving a blank, how-on-earth-would-that-get-you-excited stare a look I have grown accustomed to in our 8+ years of marriage. Still, I believed the hype.  My wife, on the other hand, I assume, was not to be fooled.

Three losses later, the Dogs were far from the best in the nation by the end of the '08 season; not even the best in their division. Georgia did finish with a respectable No. 13 ranking, but its final positioning was far from the hype heard just four months beforehand. Worse, the season was part of a disappointing era where the Bulldogs have produced mostly underachieving campaigns, at least, according to the preseason opinions of the AP pollsters.

In the last eight seasons from 2004 to 2011, only twice (2005 and 2007) have the Bulldogs finished in the AP Poll higher than where they were ranked at the beginning of the season. Even last year, when Georgia appeared to quiet its critics by capturing a divisional title while saving its head coach from termination, the Bulldogs actually finished the 2011 season exactly where they started (19th).

In comparing Georgia's preseason ranking to its final position in the AP Poll, I discovered that the Dawgs have, on the whole, disappointed during the eight-season stretch.

In my dissection of this disappointment, I considered positioning in "others receiving votes" besides the poll's top 25.  For example, Georgia did not finish in the AP Poll's top 25 in 2009; however, it was 8th in other teams receiving votes, or a final national ranking of 33rd. Also, if the Bulldogs did not receive a single vote in any of the preseason or final polls, which occurred just once, I assigned them the value of the median number of FBS teams for that season. So, Georgia's 6-7 losing effort in 2010, when it didn't receive any votes in the poll, accorded the team a national ranking of 60th.

Using the aforementioned guidelines, the Bulldogs' average preseason ranking from 2004 to 2011 was 12.5, while their average finish was 20.9, or an average difference of finishing 8.4 spots lower than originally forecasted.

I decided to compare Georgia's pattern of "poll letdown" over the last eight seasons to the rest of the FBS. To be considered, any particular team had to be at least receiving votes, and not necessarily ranked in the top 25, in half (eight) of the 16 combined preseason and final AP Polls a stipulation which retained a total of 40 teams. In discovering the bottom 10 teams in terms of AP Poll underachieving, I found that Georgia had the 10th-worst average difference:

Miami (Fla): -19.0
Tennessee: -17.6
Florida State: -16.1
Notre Dame: -13.1
California: -12.8
South Carolina: -10.4
Texas A&M: -10.4
Florida: -10.1
Clemson: -9.4
GEORGIA: -8.4 

The top 10 overachieving teams: 

Rutgers: +6.8
TCU: +6.3
Tulsa: +6.3
Boise State: +5.9
BYU: +5.6
Wisconsin: +4.9
Virginia Tech: +2.0
Oklahoma State: +1.9
Boston College: +1.8
Virginia: +1.0

Admittedly, for various reasons, one could certainly argue that my average comparison analysis is flawed. Take Florida, for example. How could the Gators be regarded as one of the bottom teams in meeting AP Poll expectations, when they finished ranked No. 3 or higher in three of the eight seasons measured? 

Also, it could be argued that the results of the analysis are hardly surprising at all. Of course, one might declare, there is going to be a log jam of traditional powers at the bottom, while second-tier conference teams, who achieve the occasional overachieving season, place towards the top. Reputable programs, like Tennessee, South Carolina, Florida, and Georgia from the SEC, are going to often be highly regarded in the preseason and usually ranked; however, these renowned programs play one another and, simply put, someone has to lose when they face off. Thus, a 7-6 Florida squad in 2011 might not have received a single AP vote, yet the well-respected Gators may have been deserving of its No. 22 preseason ranking. 

First off, remember, revealed is an average difference, and Florida's disappointing finishes of 26th in 2004 (when preseason ranked 11th), 31st in 2010 (when originally No. 4), and 60th in 2011 (when originally No. 22) count just as much as the accomplished seasons. 

Also in defense, take a look at the teams in the bottom 10 and ones in the top group. For the most part, both groups are prime examples of team sets acknowledged by college football followers in recent years as either one that normally finishes better (the overachievers), or one that usually isn't quite as good (the underachievers), than originally forecasted.
From 1975 to 1983, with a little help from his
friends, Coach Dooley exceeded expectations
seven times in nine preseason AP Polls.

And for those who assert that traditional powers would have little chance of being an AP Poll overachiever over an extended period, on the contrary…  In Georgia’s case, there was a time, or two, the Bulldogs actually far exceeded poll expectations. 

In a similar comparison analysis, in nine seasons from 1975 through 1983, Coach Dooley’s Dogs finished an average of 3.8 spots higher than originally forecasted.  Also, in the seven seasons leading up to my original comparison – 1997 to 2003 – Georgia’s average preseason ranking was 18.0, while its average finish was 13.1, or an average difference of finishing 4.9 spots higher than initially predicted.  

For the upcoming season, my hope is that the Bulldogs can return to their overachieving ways of yesteryear, breaking their recent trend of faltering under high expectations.  Like before, I want to start believing in the preseason hype again; it makes for a far more enjoyable off-season.  Maybe then, and only then, the blank stares I’ve been receiving concerning the Bulldogs will be transformed to ones of exciting acceptance.

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