For a few years, I had something going with the Charles Rogers Theorem. With seeming scientific accuracy, I could write a column before the season in which I would spot teams that would finish well below their preseason rankings by looking at two factors: (1) a disparity between returning skill position and line talent; and (2) a hot finish obscuring average results over the first ten games. Then, the Theorem spit out Florida in 2006 and Georgia in 2007. Florida won the national title in 2006 and Georgia finished #2 in 2007. If the available evidence disproves a hypothesis, then the hypothesis ought to be retired.
Orson's post on the consensus preseason top ten sent me in a new, simpler direction: just pick the non-traditional powers in the top ten and confidently assert that they are overrated. Doesn't that accomplish what the Charles Rogers Theorem purported to do? Wouldn't that have caught Michigan State in 2002, Auburn in 2003, and Clemson just about every year?
The trick is identifying the elite of college football properly. For instance, one would have to have spotted quickly that Florida State and Miami had departed that category at some point in the first part of the decade. One would have to decide whether Alabama is now in that category or will be joining in the next season or two. Is Virginia Tech an elite program or merely a good program swimming in a shallow pool? Was West Virginia elite when Rich Rodriguez was there? (Could they ever be elite with their recruiting base?) And what about Notre Dame? They certainly fit the definition of traditional power, but they haven't played like one since Lou Holtz's heyday.
However, if you identify the elite properly, then picking overrated teams is easy. Pollsters start to struggle after their first five picks, so they start scraping for teams that will make their preseason polls look interesting. This year, those teams are Ole Miss and Oklahoma State. Last year, those teams were Missouri, West Virginia, and Clemson. In 2007, it was West Virginia, Louisville, and Wisconsin. In 2006, it was Notre Dame, West Virginia, Auburn, and Florida State. On that list, do you see many teams that met expectations, other than the White/Slaton/Rodriguez Mountaineer teams?
The thinking behind this new theory is fairly basic. The elite programs compete with one another to sign the top high school talent. To varying degrees, their rosters are full of it. The programs in the next tier down have talent, but not on the same level. Thus, they are more vulnerable to injuries over the course of the season. They are vulnerable to the phenomenon of good players playing above their talent levels for a period of time and then coming back down to earth. They are vulnerable to having their average defenses finally catch up with them.
I'll freely admit that this new theory has a definitional problem: which programs are truly elite? Which programs are joining that category and which ones are leaving it? The theory also needs a cool name, maybe something from C. Wright Mills' oeuvre? As basic as it sounds, it does seem fairly useful.