Last week University of Alabama Quarterback AJ McCarron graced the cover of Sports Illustrated’s College Football Preview issue. Unfortunately it wasn’t a two page spread covering the intricate details of his chest ink, rather it was because Alabama is the top team in their annual preseason rankings. Some Crimson Tide faithful see this as a negative, making reference to the SI Cover Jinx, while others think this is confirmation that Coach Saban and his troops will be holding up the crystal ball in Miami come January. During a debate on this, one Roll Bama Roll commenter asked a question I couldn’t manage to get out of my head. When is the last time SI’s number one team finished atop the polls.
That was a pretty easy answer to come up with since Alabama was ranked 1st in last year’s issue as well, but this planted more questions in my mind. Before last year, how many times had SI’s preseason #1 previously gone on to win the National Title, is this foreshadowing a 15th National Championship, or should we be concerned because it rarely happens. After combing through SI’s online archive I came up with some answers.
Sports Illustrated has been in print since 1954 and has ranked the top teams in 55 of their 58 years. The first four rankings listed the “Eleven best Elevens” alphabetically so they don’t figure into the totals. According to NCAA.com there have been 65 teams recognized as National Champions in the 51 seasons Sports Illustrated has been ranking teams in the preseason. Of those teams, only seven were number 1 in the College Football Preview issue the year they won: Alabama in 2011, USC in 2004, Florida State in 1993, Notre Dame in 1977, Oklahoma in 1975, Ohio State in 1970 and Texas in 1963. Picking a winner only eleven percent of the time doesn’t seem like it would be all that impressive, but when you dig into the numbers a little more you see that SI’s prognosticators are actually better than you might imagine.
If you expand the scope to include the 2nd ranked teams you increase the accuracy to 23 percent. There have actually been more teams win National Championships after being ranked 2nd than any other individual ranking. The eight teams that did this were LSU in 2007, Texas in 2005, Florida State in 1999, Penn State in 1986, Alabama in 1979, Oklahoma in 1974, Nebraska in 1971 and Texas again in 1969.
SI’s preseason top 5 teams have won a combined 29 National Championships over the years, and the top 10 have won 47 of the 65. So it seems that being in the top 10 would most assuredly be beneficial to your chances of winning.
So while it’s certainly not a bad thing to be SI’s king of the hill before the season starts, the fact that Coach Saban is pleased with the progress Bama’s made during the Summer and Fall camp is more comforting than anything the editors at Sports Illustrated could ever do. Either way, in just over a week we can stop using to these articles to satiate our obsession with all things Alabama Football and just enjoy the games.
Next week look for more insight into Sports Illustrated’s Preseason College Football issues through the years as it pertains to Alabama Football specifically.
Here are some additional interesting facts I found while researching:
- Fourteen times the magazine has ranked the winner of the National Championship the previous year as the number one team including 2012. Only two of those teams, Oklahoma in 1975 and USC in 2004, went on to win it all.
- Up until 1961 it was just known as the Football Preview Issue even though it mainly featured college teams. 1962 was the first time it was actually touted as a College Football Preview.
- The top 25 debuted in 1995, but 1993 was the first year SI ranked all of the teams in Division I Football.
- 1965 was the first top 20 ranking. Up until then only the Eleven Best Elevens were listed.
- There were no preseason rankings in the 1960, 1961, or 1962 issues.
- With six teams ranked 3rd ending the season on top, it’s the third most accurate position after the top two.