In January, Florida State beat Auburn in the last-ever BCS National Championship Game, capping an undefeated season that earned it the No. 1 ranking in the final Associated Press poll. Seven months later, the Seminoles are atop the college football world, ranked No. 1 in the AP’s preseason top 25 poll. How rare is it for the defending champs to return to No. 1 the following preseason? And how has that rate changed over time?
Since 1950, defending No. 1s have begun the following season atop the polls 23 times, or once every 2.8 years. Four of the last six preseason No. 1s were defending champions — although before that, it only happened three times in 12 years, and seven times in 33 years. On average, the top team in the AP’s preseason poll checked in at No. 3.1 in the final poll taken after the previous season.
Top preseason teams have gone on to win the championship 10 times in the 65 seasons since 1950, or 15 percent of the time. The last preseason No. 1 to finish the season No. 1 was Southern California in 2004.