How Has Michigan Done as a Top-Five Preseason Team?

How Has Michigan Done as a Top-Five Preseason Team?
Fact Checked by Thomas Leary

How should a college football program take an especially high preseason ranking in the AP preseason poll? Should the football program be flattered or wary?

On the one hand, starting out with a high ranking means a team simply has to keep winning to stay at the top of the rankings to vie for a national championship, and that’s certainly an advantage over having to climb past other higher-ranked teams.

But the downside is that teams with high preseason poll rankings immediately have a target on them, as regulars across the Michigan sports betting scene know.

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Is This The Year Michigan Breaks Through?

Going into the 2023 season, Michigan is ranked in the top five of the AP Poll. In fact, the Wolverines are ranked No. 2 behind defending national champion Georgia. Just behind Michigan is No. 3 Ohio State, and then there’s No. 4 Alabama, all regular powerhouses on Michigan sportsbook apps.

This is the first time since 2007 that Michigan has been ranked in the AP preseason top five. With that in mind, BetMichigan.com took a look at the 18 previous occasions – going back to 1950 – when Michigan started as a top-five team, and how they ultimately fared. All rankings and records came from Sports-Reference.com.

The last time Michigan had a top five ranking was in 2007 when they were ranked No. 5 in the preseason AP poll. The Wolverines were knocked off that perch immediately when they were stunned in the opener at home by Appalachian State, 34-32, and while still reeling, Michigan was crushed at home by Oregon, 39-7. 

Michigan, with an 0-2 start, did recover to win eight straight, and capped the campaign by beating Florida in the Citrus Bowl to finish 9-4 and were ranked No. 18.

Past Michigan AP Rankings And Final Records

YearPreseason RankFinal RecordFinal Rank
2007#59-4#18
2005#47-5Unranked
2003#410-3#6
1998#510-3#12
1994#58-4#12
1993#38-4#21
1991#210-2#6
1989#110-2#7
1986#211-2#8
1982#19-3#12
1977#210-2#9
1976#210-2#3
1975#38-2-2#8
1973#510-0-1#6
1971#411-1#6
1965#44-6Unranked
1955#37-2#12
1950#36-3-1#9

Past Top 5 Performances

Michigan was top five in the preseason poll two other times in the 2000s. In 2005, they were ranked No. 4 but struggled to a 7-5 record and finished the season unranked. In 2003, the Wolverines were also ranked No. 4 in the preseason and finished 10-3 and ranked No. 6 after losing to No. 1 USC, 28-14, in the Rose Bowl.

Over the years in recent times, Michigan began the season ranked No. 1 twice -- in 1982 and 1989. In 1982, they finished 9-3 and ranked No. 12. In 1989, the Wolverines posted a 10-2 mark and finished the season ranked No. 7.

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Proof Is In The Pudding

As it turns out, starting the season ranked in the top five has been a curse for Michigan. In none of the 18 seasons when the Wolverines were ranked in the top five in the preseason poll did they finish with a higher ranking than they started with.

Preseason polls aside, Michigan has laid claim to 11 national titles, but the only one since the mid-20th century was in 1997 when the Wolverines went 12-0 and beat Washington State, 21-16, in the Rose Bowl. 

Future pro football Hall of Famer Tom Brady was on that Michigan team, but he was a backup quarterback with Brian Griese the starter. Prior to their championship season, the Wolverines were ranked No. 12 in the Coaches poll.

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Author

Bill Ordine, senior journalist and columnist for BetMichigan.com, was a reporter and editor in news and sports for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Baltimore Sun for 25 years, and was a lead reporter on a team that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News. Bill started reporting on casinos and gaming shortly after Atlantic City’s first gambling halls opened and wrote a syndicated column on travel to casino destinations for 10 years. He covered the World Series of Poker for a decade and his articles on gaming have appeared in many major U.S. newspapers, such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald and others.

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