The most underrated college football teams per decade

The school first fielded a football team as a junior college in 1933, and it took until 2002 for college football fans to start taking note.

That’s when Boise State found itself ranked in the AP Top 25 for the first time — Nov. 17, 2002 — after winning nine straight games. None of its opponents had been ranked, and the Broncos were playing in the Western Athletic Conference — which no longer has football — but an 11-1 regular season was followed by a Humanitarian Bowl victory over Iowa State and a No. 15 finish.

It started a pattern.

Every year for the rest of the decade except for 2005, Boise State ended up ranked in the final AP poll, even though it had only been in the preseason poll just three times. It culminated with a No. 4 finish and a win in the Fiesta Bowl at end the 2009 season, up 10 spots from where the Broncos began the year.

By then the voters had finally caught on. Chris Petersen’s team began both the 2010 and 2011 seasons as a top-5 team and ended inside the top 10, but only after eight years of defying everyone’s expectations.

As SEC Country continues its deeper look at the most overrated and underrated programs, Boise State’s 2000-09 decade clearly stands out and has been unparalleled during the poll era (since 1936).

To rate teams, the preseason and postseason AP polls for each year were used. The difference from where a team was projected initially to where it finished was measured in points, so if a team was preseason No. 1 and postseason No. 3, it scored minus-2.

Anything outside of the Top 25 wasn’t weighted, as if every other team was tied for No. 26.

The most underrated teams per decade aere as follows:

1930s: TCU/Villanova

The poll started in 1936, so there’s only four seasons to tally, but TCU claims the 1938 national title and Villanova went from unranked to finish No. 6 in 1937. The Wildcats may now play at the FCS level, but it was an independent for 87 years (1894-1980) and played in several bowl games.

Rest of the top 5: Cornell, Missouri and UCLA.

1940s: Tennessee

Few expected the Volunteers to maintain their high level of winning when Robert Neyland left for a second time to return to the military, but John Barnhill went 32-5-2 on an interim basis over four seasons during World War II. There was talk the game had passed Neyland by while in the Pacific Theater, but Tennessee came storming back en route to winning the 1951 national title.

Rest of the top 5: Oklahoma, LSU, Mississippi State, Tulsa

1950s: Syracuse

When Ben Schwartzwalder took over the program in 1949, Syracuse had won nine games over the previous four seasons. The 1959 team led by Ernie Davis, who went on to win the Heisman Trophy two years later, went 11-0, won its first bowl game and captured the program’s only national championship.

Rest of the top 5: Clemson, Wisconsin, Ole Miss, Princeton

1960s: Missouri

Dan Devine’s 1960 and 1961 teams propelled the Tigers, who went from 6-5 to 10-1 and 7-2-1. The 1960 team went from unranked to No. 5 (and held No. 1 for one poll). From 1961-67, the AP poll ranked only 10 teams, except for the final poll in 1961, during which Missouri finished at No. 11.

Rest of the top 5: Arkansas, Minnesota, Navy, Michigan

1970s: Miami (Ohio)

Miami has an amazing legacy when it comes to coaches, which includes Paul Brown, Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, Ara Parseghian, Sid Gillman, Weeb Ewbank and Jim Tressel. However, during a four-year stretch from 1974-77, Dick Crum’s teams went 34-10-1 with bowl wins against Georgia and South Carolina. The 1974 team finished No. 10 in the final AP poll, and the 1975 squad No. 12. Bill Mallory’s undefeated 1973 team was No. 15.

Rest of the top 5: Auburn, Toledo, North Carolina, Oklahoma

1980s: BYU/Tennessee

Brigham Young never had been ranked before LaVell Edwards took over the program in 1972. Sort of like Boise State would be two decades later, the Cougars were almost always overlooked in the preseason polls, only to regularly end up in the top 10. Tennessee was nowhere to be found in the rankings the first half of the decade, but Johnny Majors turned that around with two top-5 finishes, including No. 4 in 1985.

Rest of the top 5: Georgia, Oklahoma State, Miami

1990s: Kansas State  

Before Bill Snyder took over in 1989, which was when the AP poll expanded from listing 20 teams to 25, Kansas State had been ranked during just two seasons, 1969-70, and didn’t finish that way during either. From 1993-95, the Wildcats went from unranked to No. 20, 19 and 7, respectively.

Rest of the top 5: Virginia Tech, Oregon, Southern Miss, Ole Miss

2000s: Boise State

One of the most remarkable things about the program’s ascension was that there were three coaches who strongly contributed to it, beginning with Dan Hawkins. His teams went 44-7 over his first four seasons, which included the first times the Broncos were ranked and finished in the AP Top 25.

Rest of the top 5: Utah, Iowa, TCU, Oregon.

2010s (through 2017): Missouri

The back-to-back appearances in the SEC Championship Game in 2013-14 made a lot of believers of Gary Pinkel. Coming off a 5-7 first season in the conference, the 2013 Tigers went 12-2, including five wins against ranked opponents, and finished No. 5. The decade isn’t over yet, but Missouri has a history of being overlooked.

Rest of the top 5: UCF, Auburn, Michigan State/Mississippi State (tie)

This is the second in a five-part series. Our story Wednesday will focus on the most overrated teams per decade.

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