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Why Preseason CFB Predictions are Consistently Terrible

Craig Lawson

Week Zero is behind us and we’re just a two days away from the first full slate of college football. We've almost made it folks, but at this moment we're still suffering through national pundits making their annual, largely uninformed, and mostly incorrect predictions. Every August these people fill dead air with wild speculations mostly so they can be replayed and lampooned in the months to come. There's nothing wrong with that and it's all in good fun, but I recently found myself wondering how these predictions would change if the analysts were required to wager a percentage of their paycheck on them. If you're even remotely familiar with the roster of a program it probably wouldn't be hard to find an "expert" making mind numbingly stupid statements about that program.

Just last week I was listening to a college football analyst talk about my Georgia Bulldogs and the outlook for the 2022 season. As it happens, this pundit actually played for Georgia. He was clearly knowledgeable about schemes and the program in general, but as the half hour conversation progressed it occurred to me that this guy didn't know the roster half as well as I do, and I'm just some idiot fan. I talk football in group chats and twitter spaces, and nobody pays me to do it, but if I shared the kind of analysis that I was hearing from the aforementioned player I'd likely get responses like "no shit" or "are you new here?" There are respected media outlets putting players on preseason All American teams who may not even be starters at their respective schools, and you have nobodies like me laughing at them.

Then there was this shit from Desmond Howard

So why do the predictions from these alleged experts seem to get more ridiculous every year? Most of these guys played and/or coached college football at the highest level, and the ones that didn't, live and breathe college football. So what gives? I have two working theories. Theory #1 is that there are usually only 2-3 teams with a realistic chance to win a title in any given season, and those 2-3 teams usually come from a short list of the same maybe 7-8 programs. That being the case, pundits try to outthink reality in an attempt to be edgy or interesting. Picking the same few teams year in and year out could become stale. Hell, for all we know these predictions are coming from the people who sign the paychecks. Mickey Mouse doesn't care about correct predictions he cares about the ratings for ESPN broadcasts. It's inconsequential to the suits if somebody on the Gameday set ends up looking like a fool.

Theory #2: There are way too many damn teams and players for any one person to collectively keep up with. Add in the transfer portal, and the acceleration of activity brought on by NIL, and suddenly you're attempting to herd cats. There are currently 131 NCAA FBS football programs. Most of them have 85 scholarship players with enough walk-ons to push the roster well over 100 players. That's at least 13,100 athletes to keep up with, and that's likely a gross underestimation. Granted, there are only 64 teams in Power 5 conference programs, and generally there are only 2 maybe 3 teams from the Group of 5 conferences worthy of consideration, but we're still talking about thousands of kids names, stats, positions, and measurables to keep up with (not many people outside of Nashville knew Vanderbilt had a linebacker named Orji until he returned a fumble for a touchdown last Saturday).

So that's where I landed, I can't say for certain if either of my theories are accurate because, again, I'm just some idiot fan, but I feel pretty confident they're factoring in on some level. To be fair, not all predictions are bad. To his credit, former bulldog great, David Pollack, correctly predicted in 2021 that Georgia would lose to Alabama in the SEC Championship game and then avenge that loss in the national championship. I rolled my eyes at the time, but thank heavens he was right. 

Edited by Craig Lawson


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