Nearly every year, at least one team from the preseason Coaches' Poll top 10 falls out of the rankings at season's end. In each of the past three years, I've tried to order the top 10 teams in terms of likelihood of that happening to them. In two of them, the team I picked as most likely did end up finished unranked. In the other, 2011, none of the preseason top 10 finished out of the polls.
So, here is my guess for the likelihood of each team finishing unranked. It's based on how likely I think each team is to hit five losses, a threshold at which almost no team ever makes the final poll. Bear in mind that the format dictates that I list all ten teams; even looking at history, it's not particularly likely that any one given team among them will finish unranked.
This team has no margin of error for this season, and given the fact that Jeff Driskel has yet to play through an entire season healthy, it might have negative margin for error (if there is such a thing). His backup is former two-star recruit Tyler Murphy, who was unable to pass up the dreadful freshman versions of Driskel and Jacoby Brissett in 2011 despite being a year older. If (when?) Driskel goes down, opposing defenses will be able to gleefully tee off on the run, as Murphy and Florida's awful receiving corps probably won't be able to make them pay.
On defense, I don't know if anyone really appreciates how big a downgrade it is going from Matt Elam and Josh Evans to a pair of converted corners at safety. Plus, about the only veteran linebacker with high grade potential is currently sidelined in part for barking at a police dog.
Now, look at the schedule. The non-conference slate includes two of the ACC's better teams in Florida State and Miami. The SEC portion includes Georgia, South Carolina, and LSU. That's five potential losses right there. Toss in a feisty Vanderbilt, a potentially resurgent Tennessee (which has used "beat Florida" as its offseason mantra), and a proven ability to play terribly, and you've got your top 10 team with the best chance of being unranked in January.
The Gators were an easy top pick. It gets a lot harder from there. I'm putting the Cardinal here essentially on the basis of scheduling alone. Stanford got the (early) consensus top three teams from the Pac-12 South in UCLA, Arizona State, and USC. It also plays in the Pac-12 North, which means it'll face Oregon. Toss in the customary Notre Dame game and decent Washington and Oregon State opponents, and five losses could happen in there.
Clemson, South Carolina, LSU, and Florida are the simple four potential losses on this team's schedule. Beyond that? Uh, at Tennessee the week after LSU, perhaps? A sneaky trip to Vandy in the last pre-Cocktail Party game? Georgia... Tech...? Yeah, I don't know either. However, running four potential losses up no sweat is more than can be done for any of the rest of these teams.
4. South Carolina
The Gamecocks might not be a better team than the Bulldogs are (though they could be; we'll see), but they only have three obvious potential losses in UGA, Florida, and Clemson. The SEC schedule fairies finally heard Steve Spurrier's cries and gave the team Mississippi State along with Arkansas from the West. Now, that doesn't mean this team is totally set. It nearly bit the big one against Vanderbilt last year, and opening game opponent UNC is in the second year of a new coach. Three road games in a row to Arkansas, Tennessee, and Missouri doesn't sound so bad, but all three plan to be better this year than they were last year. I'm grasping at straws here, which is about normal for this spot on the list.
There is a reason the Solid Verbal guys turned "Clemson" into a verb that means "to disappoint", no? This squad also has three obvious potential losses: Georgia, Florida State, and South Carolina. After those three it's hard to imagine any ACC schools having the firepower to keep up with this team, particularly since it skips Miami and Virginia Tech from the, uh, let's see here, Coastal division. With two potential losses in the non-conference, I guess a potential ACC title game loss could be out there to help it get to five. The team goes behind South Carolina on this list because of conference affiliation, but never forget this is Clemson.
6. Texas A&M
This is mainly a vote on slow-moving train wreck potential, as the schedule does not have than many built-in potential losses. Alabama and LSU are about it. The team has eight home games, and the non-conference is pure garbage. Seeing five losses requires a lot of ifs: if Johnny Manziel can't keep it together, if SEC defenses get a better read on the offense after a year to study it, if Kevin Sumlin just got lucky last year, etc. Those aren't totally out of the realm of possibility, and one could snowball on the other given the intense pressure to win this year. This spot, however, is the turning point where it's really tough to see anyone finishing unranked.
The fact that the Ducks are appearing this early tells you something about how awful the schedules get from here on out. This team is all kinds of loaded, but it does have a new head coach. Of course, that new head coach was the old head coach's right hand man, and the assistants are mostly all still there. Stanford (maybe) is the only team in this one's vicinity on the schedule, but the new head coach factor puts it ahead of the rest on this list.
What? Alabama isn't No. 10? How can this be? Well, for one, the Crimson Tide does have three potential losses on the schedule: Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, and LSU. That makes it roughly 500 times harder than the schedules of the last two teams. There also is the SEC factor, which it means some teams might be close enough to steal something if the Tide just gets dumb (and every team gets dumb at times). It won't lose five games barring a bubonic plague outbreak in Tuscaloosa, but the next two wouldn't lose five even with beak-masked physicians running around campus.
9. Ohio State
The pressure to go undefeated nearly incapacitated Urban Meyer the last time he experienced it, but the Buckeyes could fly in Steve Addazio from Boston and Ron Zook from Ocala to be co-head coaches and still go 9-3 with this schedule. Ohio State's talent level is far and away the best in the Big Ten, and road trips to Northwestern, Purdue, and Illinois don't offer much in the way of loss potential. If these guys fall before January, and I'm not sure they will, it'll be because they lost a game, not because someone beat them.
Teddy Bridgewater could play every game with four offensive linemen and still go 11-1. It's not Louisville's fault that its lifeboat out of the Big East's wreckage doesn't arrive until next year, but in the meantime, it faces only two challenges. One is not to lose interest this year. The second is to become only the third team since 1950 to win every game by 14 or more points.