Every year, the college football world casts preseason ballots, and a few teams are dubbed with the honor of being the "it" programs for the upcoming season. We're not talking about the perennial contenders that populate the majority of preseason top 10 lists, like the top three teams in ESPN's preseason power poll -- the LSU Tigers, Alabama Crimson Tide and Oklahoma Sooners. Those three teams have each appeared in and/or won a recent BCS championship game. Each is loaded with talent because of elite recruiting, and each has a head coach with a proven track record.
No, we're referring to the teams who land high posts in the preseason rankings for being "programs on the rise," teams ready to break through from outside the usual suspects. And almost every year, those programs don't meet the lofty expectations thrust upon them.
Take, for example, the 2009 Ole Miss Rebels. In that year's preseason polls, Mississippi earned "it" program honors, ranking in the top 10 despite having had a losing record in four of the previous five seasons. In 2010, it was Nebraska's turn to play the role, garnering top-10 status in the preseason on the heels of solid but not spectacular recent performances. In both cases, our Football Outsiders projections nominated those teams as destined to fall short of a top-10 finish. Both teams were decent, of course, but not quite ready for prime time -- and thus were considered by some to have had disappointing seasons. The "it" program tag might be more of a curse than anything else.
So who fits the "hyped teams most likely to disappoint" bill in 2011? We have a metric that can show us: Program FEI (PFEI). It takes five years of possession-by-possession team efficiency data to rate the strength of college football programs, and it provides us with a reliable way of determining next-year success. The results speak for themselves; In the last 10 years, all 20 teams that participated in the BCS championship game had entered that season ranked among the top-20 teams according to PFEI.
And as for the "it" programs that weren't quite ready to fulfill their great expectations? Both Ole Miss and Nebraska entered the year ranked outside of the top-40 in Program FEI in those respective seasons.
In summary: Championship programs don't just come out of nowhere. And that's why we should view the following five preseason darlings with a heavy dose of skepticism: