Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin reacts after his defense stopped Texas A&M on a 4th down during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)

USA Today released its Coaches preseason college football poll, which has the Internet and the sports talk shows buzzing. And that’s OK, as long as you realize that the preseason poll and the one that will come out after the bowls and playoffs in January will bear little, if any, resemblance.

And I know what some of you are thinking: Who better to rank the teams in the preseason than the coaches themselves?

Answer: Just about anybody.

Rick Cleveland

The coaches are biased in favor of their own teams, their own conferences and their own sections of the country. They see less football around the country than practically anyone because they are so wrapped up in their own teams in their own leagues. Not that they actually make the selections themselves, at least not many of them do. Most delegate the poll picking to someone in their sports information offices or someone on their operations staff. How do I know this? Because coaches often have told me just that.

As for the accuracy of the preseason coaches poll, let’s take a quick look at last year’s. Here’s what you need to know about that….

Alabama was picked to win the national championship, garnering 55 of a possible 66 ballots for the No. 1 team in the country. But Bama lost twice in the regular season, both times to teams (Tennessee and LSU) that were unranked in the preseason poll. Georgia, which got six first place votes in the preseason poll, won 15 straight games and the national championship.

And that’s only the beginning of just how inaccurate the 2022 preseason coaches poll was.

You want to localize it? OK, let’s do that. Glance at this year’s poll and you will find that Ole Miss is ranked No. 22. Hotty Toddy, you say. We’ll see. This time last year the Rebels were ranked No. 24 in the preseason, and you know what happened. The Rebels lost five of their last six games and finished the season unranked. Meanwhile, Mississippi State, which was unranked to begin the season, defeated Ole Miss the Egg Bowl, won four of its last five games and finished No. 19.

Mississippi was not alone. It was like that in a lot of places where the preseason coaches poll was concerned. We can go on and on. In fact, let’s do.

Seventeen of the teams picked to finish in the Top 25 last year did not.

Five of the teams picked to finish in the Top 10 did not.

Texas A&M, picked to finish No. 7, finished with a losing record. The Aggies were not alone.

Oklahoma, picked to finish No. 9, finished instead with a losing record. Meanwhile, Tulane, which did not receive a single Top 25 vote, defeated Southern Cal in the Cotton Bowl and finished No. 9.

Baylor last year was picked to finish No. 10 in the nation. The Bears instead finished with a losing record. So who actually did finish No. 10? Florida State, which was was unranked to begin the season, did.

Oklahoma State was picked to finish No. 11 in the country but finished with a losing record in its own conference. The Cowboys not only lost to Oklahoma and West Virginia, two teams with losing records, they also lost to Kansas State 48-0.

It gets worse.

LSU, unranked to begin the season, won 10 games, defeated four ranked teams (including Ole Miss by four touchdowns) and finished No. 15.

Miami, picked to finish No. 17, finished with a losing record and did not even qualify to play in a bowl game.

Troy, unranked to begin the 2022 season, won 12 games and finished No. 20. There’s more, lots more, but you get the idea.

The truth is, preseason polls have never been particularly accurate. But these days – with the wholesale roster changes due to the transfer portal – it truly is a fool’s errand. The preseason polls are fun to talk about, and that’s all that’s useful about them.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.