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3 overrated college football teams in 2016 by preseason analytics

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NCAA Football: Cotton Bowl-Michigan State vs Alabama Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Oh, the excitement of preseason college football. Hope springs eternal before a game has been played, and fans can dream big with that zero in the loss column. How about a New Year's trip to Atlanta or Phoenix for a playoff game?

However, this excitement can fade by mid October. The title contending team drops two games as a favorite, and all travel plans get put on hold.

Which college football teams will suffer this fate in 2016?

We'll look for overrated teams based on the preseason polls. And it's not as easy as it seems. Preseason polls are remarkable predictors of team strength, as the higher ranked team in the AP poll has won 60.2% of bowl games since 2005.

However, no poll is perfect. Here, I'll use my preseason model at The Power Rank to find overrated teams in the preseason AP poll. This regression model considers four years of team performance, turnovers and returning starters to rank teams.

The model is far from perfect. For example, it makes no distinction between a returning starter at quarterback versus linebacker. It could care less about recruiting.

Still, the model has predicted the winner in 71.7% of college football games from the 2013 through 2015 season (1519-559, with no prediction in 144 games). In addition, it helped me nail Auburn, Florida State and USC as overrated last year on Football Study Hall.

Let's look at 3 overrated teams heading into the 2016 season.

Michigan State

AP 12th, The Power Rank 29th, S&P 22nd

How can the Spartans keep surviving the loss of talent on both sides of the ball?

In 2013, the defense was spectacular. Coordinator Pat Narduzzi had two future first round NFL draft picks at cornerback, and the defense led the nation in my yards per play adjusted for schedule.

In 2014, Darqueze Dennard left for the NFL, but the defense still had Trae Waynes. The defense slipped to 22nd in my rankings, as offenses started putting their best receiver in the slot against a safety.

In 2015, the defense slipped further, as the secondary struggled without either Dennard or Waynes at cornerback. Luckily, they still had a ferocious front seven that keep the defense 30th.

Even though the defense wasn't elite the past two season, the offense and QB Connor Cook picked up the slack for Michigan State. Cook threw the deep ball with amazing accuracy, as the offense ranked 9th in 2014 in my adjusted yards per play. It certainly helped that tackle Jack Conklin protected Cook's weak side.

Entering the 2016 season, Michigan State no longer has the services of the best QB and tackle in program history. It doesn't help that receiver Aaron Burbridge left for the NFL as well. The Spartans also lost a ton of production on the defensive line, although all world Malik McDowell returns at tackle.

I recently asked a Spartan fan how they would replace Cook and Conklin, to which he replied, "I don't know, but... In Dantonio We Trust."

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Ohio State Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports


AP 15th, The Power Rank 41st, S&P 53rd

Tom Herman had a remarkable first season as head coach of Houston. They went 13-1 with a signature win over Florida State in the Peach Bowl.

However, Houston wasn't as good as their record suggested. As Bill Connelly noted in his preview, the Cougars won tight games over Cincinnati and Memphis despite getting outgained in yardage. In addition, they needed +3 in turnovers to get a 3 point win over Louisville.

It gets worse for Houston as we break the team into offense and defense. The Cougars ranked 54th on offense and 63rd on defense by my yards per adjusted for schedule. Neither rank put them in the top 4 of the American Athletic Conference.

With these type of numbers, a team only wins 13 games when other things go well. For example, Houston was +21 in turnover margin last season, part of a remarkable +51 over the past three seasons.

Unfortunately for Houston, turnovers in the past have little ability to predict turnovers this upcoming season. My preseason model uses regression to make adjustments for turnovers, and this contributes to their rank of 41st.

Houston could live up to the hype of 15th in the nation. However, they would need QB Greg Ward Jr. to win the Heisman and Tom Herman to become the next Urban Meyer.

NCAA Football: Texas State at Houston Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports


AP 17th, The Power Rank 36th, S&P 38th

Most years, we talk about the "bowl bounce" when the preseason polls come out.

For example, West Virginia destroyed Clemson 70-33 in the Orange Bowl to end the 2011 season. Influenced by this small sample size of one game, pollsters ranked the Mountaineers 11th in the 2012 preseason AP poll, which didn't look so prophetic when they went 7-6 that season.

However, there doesn't seem to be the corresponding "bowl dump." In the Rose Bowl last season, Iowa got trounced 45-16 by Stanford. Pollsters seem okay with this result as Iowa starts the season 17th in the AP poll.

My preseason model doesn't like Iowa because their on field performance last year.

Before the Big Ten Championship game, Iowa completed a perfect 12-0 regular season. But at that time, the Hawkeyes ranked 27th on offense and 20th on defense by my yards per play adjusted for schedule. Solid numbers, but not usually the ranks for undefeated teams.

Iowa slipped in their last two games, and they ranked 24th in my season ending team rankings. My preseason model gives this number the most weight in ranking Iowa 36th this preseason.

Could Iowa outperform their preseason rank of 36th? Sure. The defense could end the season in top 15 because of key returning starters at all position groups. Quarterback C.J. Beathard could improve on his 62% completion percentage from last year and remain a deep threat.

However, it's hard to believe Iowa can be a consistent top 25 team year after year. They have some 4 star recruits on the roster, but my recruiting rankings, which look at a four year window, have Iowa 50th behind teams like Virginia and Duke.

Numbers suggest an unsatisfying season in Iowa City.

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl-Stanford vs Iowa Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Check out the win totals report

Over at The Power Rank, I have win totals for 128 bowl subdivision teams based on my preseason model. To grab a pdf of this win totals report, click here.