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How Teams Ranked No. 15 In The Preseason AP Top 25 Poll Have Fared In Recent Years

Penn State football will begin the 2019 college football season at the No. 15 spot in the AP Top 25 poll.

Rankings like the AP Top 25 poll aren’t definitive assessments of how good or bad each team in the country is, but they give fans a decent idea of how certain programs compare to each other and the rest of the nation. With that in mind, could the preseason AP Top 25 poll serve as an omen or sign of things to come for Penn State this year?

We decided to look back on every team ranked at No. 15 in the preseason AP Top 25 poll since 2014, which was James Franklin’s first season as Penn State’s head coach and the start of the College Football Playoff era. How did the past preseason No. 15s’ seasons shake out?

2014: USC

USC finished the 2014 season with a 9-4 record, and its season ended on a high note following a 45-42 victory over Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.

After beating up on Fresno State in week 1, the Trojans made a big statement in the Pac-12 by taking down then-No. 13 Stanford on the road. The victory moved the team up to No. 9 in the AP Top 25 poll, but Boston College pulled off a 37-31 upset the following week to knock USC back.

USC failed to string together more than two consecutive victories throughout the 2014 season, and it suffered losses to Arizona State at home and Utah on the road. However, an upset on the road against then-No. 10 Arizona and a 49-14 blowout win over Notre Dame were major highlights in what turned out to be an up-and-down season for the Trojans.

Cody Kessler had an excellent season as the team’s starting quarterback (3,826 passing yards, 39 touchdowns, and five interceptions), and future first-round NFL Draft picks Leonard Williams and Adoree Jackson both had strong seasons on defense. However, it wasn’t the most spectacular season in USC’s storied history, and the team finished the year at No. 20 in the AP Top 25 poll — five spots below its preseason ranking.

2015: Arizona State

If you only use the 2015 Arizona State Sun Devils as an example, being No. 15 in the preseason AP Top 25 poll is a sign of horrible things to come. Head coach Todd Graham led his Sun Devils to a dismal 6-7 record, and their season ended with a heartbreaking 43-42 loss in the Cactus Bowl against West Virginia.

Arizona State lost a neutral-site season opener to Texas A&M by a final score of 38-17, and it didn’t return to the AP Top 25 poll after that. The Sun Devils were 4-2 after consecutive victories over then-No. 7 UCLA and Colorado in weeks 5 and 6 of the season, but three straight defeats to No. 4 Utah, Oregon, and Washington State derailed all of that momentum.

Victories over Washington and Arizona secured the Sun Devils’ bowl eligibility for that season, but it ended with consecutive losses to Cal and West Virginia. Unsurprisingly, the team didn’t finish anywhere near the final AP Top 25 poll of the year following its bowl defeat against the Mountaineers.

Arizona State’s defense was its downfall in 2015. It allowed 33.5 points per game, including six games in which the opponent scored at least 35 points.

2016: Houston

Like the 2014 USC Trojans, Houston finished the 2016 season with a 9-4 record. However, it finished the season outside the AP Top 25 poll after a 34-10 Las Vegas Bowl defeat against San Diego State.

The Cougars’ 2016 season got off to a near-perfect start after they upset then-No. 3 Oklahoma in week 1. Head coach Tom Herman’s squad rattled off four consecutive wins after its huge season-opening upset, and Houston comfortably occupied the No. 6 ranking in the AP Top 25 poll from then.

However, an upset at the hands of Navy squashed the Cougars’ high-flying run to start the year. Houston, which fell down to No. 13 following the loss, bounced back to beat Tulsa the next week, but a road loss to SMU knocked the team out of the AP Top 25 poll. A blowout victory over Lamar Jackson and then-No. 3 Louisville, however, brought Houston back up to No. 18 in the poll.

The Cougars’ 2016 season came to a disappointing close with consecutive losses to Memphis and San Diego State. Perhaps the biggest storyline of Houston’s season, however, was Tom Herman’s coaching future. Herman left the team to take the head coaching job at Texas, and he’s posted a 17-10 record in two seasons in charge of the Longhorns.

2017: Georgia

Georgia’s phenomenal 2017 proved that starting the year at No. 15 doesn’t resign you to a 9-4 record or a seven-loss season. The Bulldogs finished the year with a 13-2 record, an SEC championship, a Rose Bowl victory, and a national title game appearance under its belt.

Quarterback Jake Fromm took over starting duties from veteran Jacob Eason, who went down with a knee injury in a week 1 victory over Appalachian State. Eason recovered from his injury, but Fromm’s performances kept the former five-star recruit on the bench for the remainder of the season.

Georgia entered its trip to then-No. 10 Auburn’s home turf with a 9-0 record, but the Tigers blew out the Bulldogs 40-17. That was the only blemish on the team’s regular season résumé, and Auburn’s Iron Bowl victory over Alabama set up a rematch between the teams in the SEC title game.

Head coach Kirby Smart’s squad outclassed Auburn en route to a 28-7 victory to secure the conference championship. Georgia and Oklahoma played a Rose Bowl for the ages in the College Football Playoff semifinals before Alabama knocked off the Bulldogs in the national title game.

Although Fromm was excellent at quarterback, he got a lot of help from his backfield. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel posted a combined 2,572 yards and 31 touchdowns on the ground, and three backs — D’Andre Swift, Brian Herrien, and Elijah Holyfield — all recorded at least 50 carries.

2018: USC

Despite losing star quarterback Sam Darnold, USC began the 2018 season at No. 15 in the AP Top 25 poll. Darnold’s departure seemed to hurt the Trojans, who finished the year with a 5-7 record and no bowl appearance.

Consecutive road losses to then-No. 10 Stanford and Texas knocked USC out of the AP Top 25 poll entirely, but Clay Helton’s team responded with three straight wins — including a home upset of then-No. 19 Colorado. After starting 3-3, USC’s only victory of the second half of the year came on the road against Oregon State.

The Trojans lost to Utah, Arizona State, Cal, and UCLA before then-No. 3 Notre Dame took down the Trojans in its final game before securing a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Although Clay Helton is still USC’s head coach, his team’s brutal 2018 season prompted rumors of his replacement. James Franklin was the subject of some of those rumors, but he obviously didn’t leave Happy Valley to take the Trojans’ head coaching gig.


If we only use the No. 15 teams in the preseason AP Top 25 poll to predict Penn State’s 2019 season, the Nittany Lions are just as likely to have a seven-loss season as they are to win nine games again. Based on this line of thinking, there’s also a chance of this team winning its conference and making the College Football Playoff.

After all, anything can happen in college football.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

Mikey is a senior majoring in journalism and Onward State's Sports Editor. He grew up in Bedminster, NJ and is way too obnoxious about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is hard. If you're dying to see more hockey/golf content on your timeline, you can follow Mikey on Twitter @mikey_mandarino. Send all hate mail, death threats, and your vote for the best chicken parm in State College to [email protected]

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