Tip Top 25 in helmets, smaller

Who I Am and What I'm Doing

Who I am is James Vautravers. I graduated from the University of Nebraska, then from Miami of Ohio, so there are where my biases reside. But I should add that I have also lived in Tuscaloosa, New Orleans, Seattle, and Copenhagen, and I have a tendency to root for the local football teams wherever I am. But in Copenhagen, of course, "football" meant soccer. I currently reside in Portland, Oregon.

I have been researching college football history since about 1986. Like hundreds of other left-brained college football fans, I once spent a great deal of time trying to come up with a magic ranking formula. This process started in 1979, and I kept trying different recipes for some 16 years before reluctantly coming to the conclusion that no mathematical formula could ever quite be adequate. Nothing can beat a good human ranking based on sound logical reasoning.

But therein lies the problem. I have never seen a good human ranking that is based on sound logical reasoning.  Which leads to what I'm doing. I am here to help my fellow peeps improve their ability to properly rank college football teams. On this site I provide a tutorial of sorts, along with what will grow into a great multitude of examples. In addition, I will be fixing every final AP poll, adding top 25s for the years before the AP poll, and selecting proper national champions from 1901 to the present.

For more detail on these activities, read on... otherwise, click the Home link at the top of the page. Or that one right there.

How it All Began

This all began in January of 1979, after the final polls for the 1978 season came out. The AP poll had selected Alabama #1, while the coaches' poll went with Southern Cal. I was 13, and a bunch of us kids were sitting around talking college football, and I ended up getting into a heated argument with a girl over who should be #1. I said 11-1 Alabama, and she said 12-1 Southern Cal, who had beaten Alabama earlier in the season.

My main thinking was that I had just seen Alabama top formerly #1 and unbeaten Penn State in a great game in the Sugar Bowl, and I had just seen Southern Cal win by a "phantom" touchdown in the Rose Bowl (USC running back Charles White clearly fumbled before entering the end zone, and Michigan recovered, but the refs missed it). But the girl kept coming back to USC beating Alabama, no matter what I said.

The argument boiled down to a disagreement on facts. I claimed that Alabama played a much tougher schedule, outweighing their one bad game against USC. After all, being a Nebraska fan, I knew that they had soundly beaten my Huskers to open the season, and they had just beaten #1 Penn State to close it. Plus, they played in the SEC, and USC played in the PAC 10. Enough said. The girl, however, adamantly insisted that USC played the tougher schedule.

I also argued that USC's win over Alabama was close, and at home, and she insisted that neither was true. So I went home to prove her wrong on all counts.

I dug out the newspaper that had printed the schedules and scores for every major team across an entire page, and diligently set out to look up the records of every team Alabama and Southern Cal played that season. To my horror and eternal embarrassment-- I still cringe when I think about what an idiot I was that day-- I found that the girl was right. And she was a girl. I wasn't going to be able to show my face outside the house again.

Not only had Southern Cal played a tougher schedule, it wasn't even really close (USC played the toughest schedule in the country that year as the NCAA measures schedule toughness-- Colorado 1990 is the only other such team to win a national championship). And of course, I was also wrong about the USC-Bama game, which USC won in Birmingham, and by a score of 24-14.

I had been talking out of my ass. And yet, there is a reason I had assumed the things I did-- if they weren't true, why would the AP poll have voted Alabama #1 in the first place? After looking at the facts, I had no answer to that question, so I did what I always did. I asked my mother. After all, she was always knew everything, and she was a huge college football fan to boot.

Good ol' mom did have the answer: Alabama was #1 because their loss came earlier than Southern Cal's did. When there is no major unbeaten team, she said, the team who lost earliest is voted #1. It was the most idiotic thing I'd ever heard, but she was right. USC passed Alabama in the poll when they beat them in September, but Alabama moved back ahead of USC for good when the Trojans lost to Arizona State (who finished 9-3) October 14.

That shook my world. It not only blew away my esteem for the AP's rankings, it stoked a growing suspicion that adults and professionals of all kinds were not, in fact, infallible.

The Fixed AP Polls

As I said, I am going to be fixing all of the final AP polls, removing the logical errors, one by one.

Why does it matter, you ask? Lots of reasons. Let's say you want to compare the Miami teams of the '80s with the Oklahoma teams of the '50s. You could look at their straight win-loss records, but that does not account for strength of schedule at all. Their average rankings in the AP poll, on the other hand, could account for everything... if only the AP poll were logical and fair! That's why I am fixing the polls.

Then you can properly compare "dynasties" and 10 or 20 year runs of programs from different eras. Who was the better head coach at Oklahoma, Wilkinson or Switzer? Average ranking would be a good place to start. And maybe you could break their win-loss records down into their records against ranked and unranked opponents. But to do either, you need a good and consistent ranking system. Not one that counted bowls at one time and not at another. Not one that has routinely ignored head-to-head results and strength of schedule.

It is important to note that the fixes I am providing to the AP polls are not based on my personal opinion, but rather on facts and logic. My own top 25s would look nothing like the fixed AP polls. When I fix an AP poll, I am only applying the bare minimum of changes necessary to make the poll make sense. For example, my fixed AP poll for the 2007 season involves a good deal of shifting around, but only one team falls out (Brigham Young) and one new one comes in (Penn State). But my own top 25 for that season would likely include Arkansas, South Carolina, Mississippi State, and Kentucky-- all unranked in both the original and fixed AP polls. And I wouldn't rank Southern Cal, Texas, or Boston College so high as the fixed AP poll does either.

You see, there isn't any one way to correctly or logically rank the top 25 college football teams. There are hundreds of valid permutations for any given season. But there are plenty of wrong choices too. For example, Wisconsin being ranked ahead of Michigan in 2006 is simply illogical, unfair, and wrong. So I am here to fix it.

And that brings up another good reason to fix the polls. Michigan fans should not have to sit there and listen to Wisconsin fans tell them that Wisconsin was better in 2006 just because the Badgers were (incorrectly) ranked higher in the AP poll. And 40 years from now, no one looking through the old rankings should be fooled into (incorrectly) thinking that Wisconsin was better that season. Because they simply were not, as was proven on the field of play. If I sound like a Michigan fan here, I assure you that I am not. I greatly prefer Wisconsin. But I am a fan of truth, justice, and logical rankings.

Top 25 1901-1935

As stated, in addition to fixing the AP polls, I am eventually also going to be adding top 25s for 1901-1935, before the AP poll started. For these top 25s, I will be heeding the AP poll's tendency toward regional representation (except, of course, that this regionalism will be within logical reason, like the fixed AP polls). And I will be paying attention to what teams voters would have preferred at the time, had there been an AP poll.

This is, of course, guesswork, but it is based on massive research-- I have been combing through literally thousands of old newspaper articles, school yearbooks, and football magazines in libraries coast-to-coast for some 25 years now.

Once I'm done, you'll be able to use the rankings to do things like compare Knute Rockne's record at Notre Dame to Frank Leahy's... or either to Bear Bryant's run at Alabama. Just as examples. And we can form a better, clearer list of the all-time best teams from 1901 to the present based on their all-time finishes in the rankings.

National Champions

Finally, I am also going to be selecting proper, just, and fair national champions for each season 1901-on. I will also be assessing the various organizations listed in the NCAA Records Book that have attempted (and inevitably failed) to do the job.

For each season, I will also be providing the facts and reasoning that support my choices. So you don't have to take my word for it... you can just look at the facts and judge for yourself.

National Championships, of course, don't really exist (at the FBS level). They're all just in the eye of the beholder. Nevertheless, I am certain that my list of champions is more sound than any other you have ever seen. But as I say, you can judge that for yourself.