Daily Focus: Comparing PFF’s Top 25 to the AP preseason poll

With the AP preseason poll released yesterday and the season just days away, Steve Palazzolo takes a look at how PFF's ranking compares.

| 10 months ago
(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Daily Focus: Comparing PFF’s Top 25 to the AP preseason poll

Yesterday marked the first AP Top 25 of the season, so it’s only fitting that we compare their initial top 25 with the PFF College Top 25 that was released just last week.

Here’s a look at the most notable differences:

AP Higher than PFF

Michigan State – AP (12), PFF (unranked)

Other than AP slotting in Stanford for North Carolina, the top 11 or so teams are very similar between the AP and PFF, but it’s at No. 12 that we hit our first major difference. The AP has Michigan State at 12 while PFF kept them out of the top 25 entirely. While head coach Mark Dantonio has done a fantastic job of keeping the Spartans in contention the last few years, they are slated to face three of our top 11 teams in Michigan, Ohio State, and Notre Dame all while losing key players on both sides of the ball. QB Connor Cook, WR Aaron Burbridge, and LT Jack Conklin were three of the best at their respective positions while DE Shilique Calhoun had the nation’s second-best pass rush grade and all four players have moved on to the NFL. With a difficult top end of the schedule and so much talent moving on, it will be difficult for Michigan State to live up to their No. 12 preseason AP ranking.

Georgia – AP (18), PFF (unranked)

There’s not a major difference between the AP and PFF rankings though it’s the indecision at the quarterback position that had kept them out of our top 25. Blue chip true freshman Jacob Eason may very well be the guy early in the season, but whether it’s him or senior Greyson Lambert who was inconsistent last year, there are plenty of questions at the position heading into the season. When you throw in their losing 58 percent of their pressures to graduation and the NFL, Georgia has enough questions in key areas to keep them out of the preseason top 25.

USC – AP (20), PFF (unranked)

Similar to Georgia, USC has a lot of returning talent up and down the roster, but it’s where they’re lacking that is a concern. They have quarterback questions of their own as with junior Max Browne winning the job, and while he has the pedigree and experience within the system to step in and replace Cody Kessler, he’s not a lock to replace Kessler’s impressive two-year production. More importantly, USC has major question marks on the defensive line. While Utah transfer Stevie Tu’ikolovatu is a crucial addition after he tied for the seventh-best grade among Pac-12 defensive linemen a year ago, USC is extremely thin when it comes to returning talent along the defensive front. Between questions at quarterback and along the defensive line, an early non-conference game against Alabama, and a challenging week-to-week schedule in the Pac-12, USC has another challenging season ahead.

PFF Higher than AP

North Carolina – AP (22), PFF (10)

While it may be inconsistent to put North Carolina so high in the PFF top 25 given their questions at quarterback, the well-dispersed talent up and down the roster should carry them as new quarterback Mitch Trubisky gets comfortable. Running back Elijah Hood The three-headed wide receiver monster of Mack Hollins, Ryan Switzer, and Bug Howard is as good as it gets in the country while cornerbacks M.J. Stewart and Des Lawrence from one of the nation’s best duos. Running back Elijah Hood and defensive tackle Nazair Jones earned spots on the PFF College 101 while sophomore DT Jeremiah Clarke may be right there with them in a year’s time. Circling back to Trubisky, the sample size is small, but he was excellent in a relief and mop-up role a year ago completing 40 of his 47 passes and his being surrounded by one of the nation’s best groups of skill position players should lead to monster numbers and perhaps even an outside shot at Heisman Trophy consideration.

Oklahoma State – AP (21), PFF (12)

It’s a similar story for Oklahoma State as the passing offense features a number of talented receivers while QB Mason Rudolph didn’t get the attention he deserves after finishing with the fifth-best passing grade in the nation last season. Another strong year could have Rudolph knocking the door down at the Heisman ceremony while also putting himself into first-round consideration in the draft. The defense loses a lot of production, including Emmanuel Ogbah’s No. 5 pass rush grade, but they return starters at every level and they’ll be charged with holding the fort for an explosive offense.

Boise State – AP (unranked), PFF (14)

Lovable underdog Boise State has lost some of their luster in recent years, but they’re still as dangerous as ever. Offensively, they return QB Brett Rypien who quietly posted the No. 2 grade among true freshmen quarterbacks a year ago, to go with the top-graded returning Mountain West running back (Jeremy McNichols) and wide receiver (Thomas Sperbeck). Throw in four positively-graded offensive linemen and the offense will be called upon to carry a defense that lost playmakers at every level including second-round defensive end Kamalei Correa and third-round safety Darian Thompson. Still, they return a number of positively-graded defensive players, even if the sample size is small, and it won’t surprise to see Boise make another run at an undefeated season if they can get past Washington State in week two.

Washington State – AP (unranked), PFF (18)

Speaking of the Cougars, head coach Mike Leach posted his first winning season in Pullman last year and with one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Luke Falk and nine of the top 10 pass catchers returning, the Air Raid is poised to have its best season since Leach was at Texas Tech. As always with Leach teams, the defense is the question mark, but the most significant loss is DT Destiny Vaeao while the rest of the graduating defensive players posted negative grades a year ago. DT Hercules Mataafa and CB Darrien Molton are poised to break out as Washington State will make some noise in the Pac-12 North this fall.


| Senior Analyst

Steve is a senior analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has been featured on ESPN Insider, NBC Sports, and 120 Sports.

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