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Does the preseason AP poll matter? Utah, BYU, Utah State provide some history

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Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham holds the trophy with Utah quarterback Brian Johnson (3) after beating Alabama winning the 2009 Allstate Sugar Bowl, at the Superdome, in New Orleans, LA. Friday Jan. 2, 2009. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

For the third straight year, the Utah Utes are ranked in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll, coming in at No. 24. As he always has, Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham reacted to the news with indifference, saying he “does not care one bit” about it.

“We haven’t played yet, have we?,” he asked. “Our goal and expectation is a conference championship. It’s good to have that recognition, but we don’t pay much attention to it.”

But are the preseason rankings a good indicator of how a team’s season might play out?

Dating back to 2004, we examined the preseason and final AP polls of the season for instances of Utah, the BYU Cougars (they received votes in the recent poll) and the Utah State Aggies to determine how good of a predictor the preseason poll was, for good or bad.

2004

In Urban Meyer’s first season leading the Utes in 2003, they went 10-2 and then were ranked No. 20 in the country to start the 2004 campaign. That season, of course, was an incredible one, as Utah went 12-0, busting through the Bowl Championship Series from the Mountain West Conference. 

The Utes capped things off with a 35-7 win in the Fiesta Bowl over Pittsburgh and finished the campaign ranked No. 4 in the country.

2006

No team from Utah started the year in the Top 25, but the Cougars broke in at No. 25 in Week 11 after a 24-3 win over Colorado State moved their record to 7-2. BYU wound up finishing the season with an 11-2 mark, drubbing Oregon 38-8 in its bowl game, and the Cougars were ranked No. 16 in the final AP poll of the campaign.

2007

Once again, no team from Utah started the season ranked, but once again, BYU put together an excellent season to finish in the Top 25. This time, it took the Cougars until Week 13 to break in at No. 23, which they did after beating Wyoming to move to 8-2. 

BYU moved up two spots in each of the next two weeks, and then shot up five spots in the final poll to finish No. 14 in the country after beating Oregon in its bowl game.

2008

Finally a season involving both the Cougars and Utes in the polls, and they each moved in rather different directions throughout the course of the campaign. 

After its 2007 season, BYU was ranked No. 16 to start 2008 and got as high as No. 8, but a 32-7 loss to TCU in Week 9 dropped the Cougars to No. 18. They stayed in the top 20 for the rest of the regular season but finished No. 25 after losing to Arizona 31-21 in their bowl game.

Utah, on the other hand, started the season unranked, although the Utes broke in the Top 25 after a season-opening win over Michigan. Like in 2004, the Utes ran the table and busted the BCS, then beat Alabama 31-17 in the Sugar Bowl to finish 13-0.

Utah concluded the season ranked No. 2 in the AP poll.

2009

Coming off excellent seasons, both the Utes and Cougars were ranked to start 2009, and they were right by each other in the poll, with Utah at No. 19 and BYU at No. 20.

Both teams had some wild swings up and down the poll in the first half of the season, but were ranked right about where they started by Week 13, with the Cougars at No. 18 and the Utes at No. 22 (both had 9-2 records).

BYU had a better finish, however, going 2-0 down the stretch to finish the campaign ranked No. 12 in the country. Utah went 1-1 in its final games and finished ranked No. 18.

2010

Technically this year might not qualify for this exercise, as no team from Utah either started nor finished the season ranked. That said, some context is important.

The Utes broke into the poll after the opening week and got as high as No. 6 in the country after moving to 8-0. But then they infamously got torched by No. 4 TCU 47-7, and the wheels kind of came off from there. That said, Utah was still ranked No. 20 entering bowl season, but fell to a Boise State team that finished No. 9 in the nation, and the Utes ended up unranked.

2012

No Utah team was ranked in the preseason, and while neither the Utes nor Cougars ended that way either, the Utah State Aggies came out of relative obscurity to finish the campaign ranked No. 16 in the country. 

Long a bad program, the Aggies had shown steady improvement in three previous years under Gary Andersen, having finished 7-6 in 2011 with their first bowl appearance in 14 seasons. 

Then in 2012, Utah State broke into the poll tied at No. 25 with Mississippi State in Week 13 (the Aggies were 9-2 at that point). Andersen’s bunch rose five spots the next week, another two spots the next and two more after a bowl win over Toledo to finish 11-2.

2014

No team started the season in the Top 25, but this is the first season in which “others receiving votes” information is readily available, and BYU got eight votes while Utah State received one in the preseason poll.

In the final poll, however, Utah was ranked No. 21 while Utah State received 11 votes and BYU got none. The Utes had been ranked as high as No. 18 after breaking into the Top 25 in Week 7 (BYU was also ranked for a short time during the season).

2015

Again, no team was ranked in the preseason poll, although Utah received 36 votes and BYU got two. Both teams did crack the Top 25 early in the year, however, and the Utes skyrocketed all the way up to No. 3 in Week 8 (with a 6-0 record) before losing to USC.

That started a tough back half of the season for Utah, though, as it went just 4-3 in its last seven contests and finished ranked No. 17. 

The Cougars snuck away with one vote in the final poll.

2016

In the first poll of the season, Utah received 74 votes, essentially ranking it No. 28 in the country. The Utes broke into the Top 25 after a 3-0 start and rose to No. 11 in Week 12 (8-2 record) before dropping all the way out of the Top 25 two weeks later. 

They got back in at No. 23 in the final poll, while BYU received nine votes.

2017

The Utes were essentially ranked No. 27 in the preseason poll with 85 votes and got in the Top 25 in Week 4 (No. 23), but they never got higher than No. 20.

2018

Utah once again opened essentially ranked No. 28, garnering 60 votes in the preseason poll. Interestingly, the Utes finished the season essentially ranked No. 29, as they received 43 votes in the final poll. 

That said, Utah had been ranked No. 17 the final few weeks of the regular season before losing to Washington in the Pac-12 Championship Game and Northwestern in its bowl game. In all, the Utes finished 9-5.

Elsewhere, Utah State didn’t get any votes to start the season, but in Week 10, the Aggies vaulted from unranked the week before to No. 18 after moving to 7-1 on the season under head coach Matt Wells. Utah State moved up to No. 14 the next three weeks before a loss knocked it out of the Top 25, but the Aggies got back in the final poll of the season at No. 21 after a bowl win.

2019

Unusually, the Utes started the season ranked rather high, as they were No. 14 in the preseason poll, and they justified that early, rising to No. 10 by Week 4. A loss bumped them down some, but by Week 10, they were ranked No. 9. They got to as high as No. 5 entering the postseason before losing in the Pac-12 Championship Game to Oregon and their bowl game against Texas and finishing the season ranked No. 16.

Utah State got eight votes in the preseason poll but was out of the picture early.

2020

Last season probably doesn’t need much refreshing, but the Utes started ranked No. 20 in the preseason poll before going just 3-2. BYU, on the other hand, began unranked but was No. 22 after thrashing Navy in its first game and then got as high as No. 8 before a loss to Coastal Carolina.

The Cougars were ranked No. 11 in the final poll.