Tip Top 25 in helmets, smaller

Ranking the Top 25 Teams for the 2016 Season


AP poll voters' top 25 ballots will be due right after the National Championship game between #1 Alabama and #3 Clemson, but hopefully they have already started working on their final rankings. With a full week to go before the final game, AP voters have plenty of time to look carefully at all the relevant teams and to put together a solid final top 25. To help in that regard, I offer some advice on how certain teams should be ranked (below), but first let's look at the final regular-season AP poll, along with the teams' subsequent bowl results thus far:

1) Alabama 14-0 Defeated #4 Washington 24-7
2) Ohio State  11-2 Lost to #3 Clemson 31-0
3) Clemson 13-1 Defeated #2 Ohio State 31-0
4) Washington 12-2 Lost to #1 Alabama 24-7
5) Penn State 11-2 Lost to #9 Southern Cal 52-49
6) Michigan 10-3 Lost to #10 Florida State 33-32
7) Oklahoma 10-2 Defeated #17 Auburn 35-19
8) Wisconsin 10-3 Defeated #12 Western Michigan 24-16
9) Southern Cal 9-3 Defeated #5 Penn State 52-49
10) Florida State 10-3 Defeated #6 Michigan 33-32
11) Colorado 10-4 Lost to #13 Oklahoma State 38-8
12) Western Michigan 13-0 Lost to #8 Wisconsin 24-16
13) Oklahoma State 10-3 Defeated #11 Colorado 38-8
14) West Virginia 10-3 Lost to 9-4 Miami (Florida) 31-14
15) Louisville 9-4 Lost to #19 Louisiana State 29-9
16) Stanford 10-3 Defeated 8-5 North Carolina 25-23
17) Auburn 8-4 Lost to #7 Oklahoma 35-19
18) Virginia Tech 10-4 Defeated 7-6 Arkansas 35-24
19) Louisiana State 8-4 Defeated #15 Louisville 29-9
20) Florida 8-4 Defeated #21 Iowa 30-3
21) Iowa 8-4 Lost to #20 Florida 30-3
22) Pittsburgh 8-5 Lost to 7-6 Northwestern 31-24
23) Temple 10-4 Lost to 7-6 Wake Forest 34-26
24) Nebraska 9-4 Lost to 9-4 Tennessee 38-24
25) South Florida 11-2 Defeated 6-7 South Carolina 46-39 OT

Others Receiving Votes (in order from most poll points to least)

Houston 9-4 Lost to 11-3 San Diego State 34-10
Utah 9-4 Defeated 6-7 Indiana 26-24
Boise State 10-3 Lost to 7-6 Baylor 31-12
Washington State 8-5 Lost to 9-4 Minnesota 17-12
Texas A&M 8-5 Lost to 9-4 Kansas State 33-28
Air Force 10-3 Defeated 6-7 South Alabama 45-21
Navy 9-5 Lost to 8-5 Army 21-17 and to 9-5 Louisiana Tech 48-45
Tennessee 9-4 Defeated #24 Nebraska 38-24
San Diego State 11-3 Defeated 9-4 Houston 34-10
Western Kentucky 11-3 Defeated 8-5 Memphis 51-31
Miami (Florida) 9-4 Defeated #14 West Virginia 31-14
Georgia Tech 9-4 Defeated 7-6 Kentucky 33-18
Kansas State 9-4 Defeated 8-5 Texas A&M 33-28

Florida State > Michigan > Penn State > Wisconsin

This is how these 4 teams should be rated relative to each other. It is as simple as this: 10-3 Florida State defeated 10-3 Michigan 33-32 in their bowl game, Michigan defeated 11-3 Penn State 49-10, and Penn State defeated 11-3 Wisconsin 38-31 in the Big 10 title game. Michigan also defeated Wisconsin 14-7 for good measure.

Here is another reason I think FSU should be rated ahead of all 3 of these teams: The ACC is currently 50-17 against nonconference opponents, while the Big 10 is a mere 35-17, and the ACC is 8-3 in bowl games, while the Big 10 is a putrid 3-7.

Colorado > Stanford

It looks likely that 10-3 Stanford (#16) will pass up 10-4 Colorado (#11) in the final AP Poll, but they shouldn't. Colorado settled that issue when they beat Stanford 10-5 on the road in late October. Colorado has one more loss than Stanford does because they have played #6 Michigan and #13 Oklahoma State, while Stanford has not played a currently-rated nonconference opponent at all. The AP poll needs to stop punishing teams for playing tougher schedules.

Florida > Louisiana State

In the final regular season poll, Louisiana State was ranked #19 and Florida #20. Both won their bowl games, so LSU seems likely to edge out Florida in the final poll, but here's hoping that AP poll voters wake up and realize that 9-4 Florida defeated 8-4 LSU 16-10 on the road late in the season. Florida should be ranked ahead of LSU.

Tennessee > Virginia Tech

Here's a case I've been making for weeks now: 9-4 Tennessee (unranked) defeated 10-4 Virginia Tech (#18) by the very-decisive score of 45-24, and they should be rated higher than the Hokies. These teams are very similar in that they have been highly erratic, and both have taken a huge 3 losses to unranked teams. At that rate, Virginia Tech was overrated at #18 in the last poll. But placed behind Tennessee, where they belong, they make a lot more sense as a top 25 team.

Tennessee has played an incredible schedule, featuring 11 bowl qualifying opponents in 13 games, compared to 8 in 14 games for Virginia Tech. And performance? Tennessee has had 2 close wins (touchdown or less) and 2 ugly losses (more than a touchdown), while Virginia Tech has done worse in both categories, posting 3 close wins and 3 ugly losses.

But all of that is icing on the cake, the cake being that Tennessee beat the snot out of Virginia Tech when the teams played.

Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech, and Louisville

At this point, I expect 9-4 Louisville to end up ranked about #20, 9-4 Georgia Tech to end up ranked right at the bottom of the final top 25, and 8-5 Pittsburgh to end up unranked. But I think the relative order of these 3 teams should be reversed. Let's start with 9-4 Georgia Tech vs. 8-5 Pittsburgh.

Like all of the above cases, this issue comes down to the head-to-head result: Pitt defeated Georgia Tech 37-34 in mid-season. Pitt is a hard team to rate because they were even more erratic than Tennessee and Virginia Tech were. On the positive side, they defeated #3 Clemson and #5 Penn State, very impressive. But they also took losses to a pair of unranked teams, 8-5 North Carolina and 7-6 Northwestern, the latter loss coming in their bowl game (Pitt also lost to 9-4 Miami, who is currently unranked, but I expect the Hurricanes to be ranked about #18 in the final poll, thanks to their bowl win over #14 West Virginia). Pitt may have 1 more loss than Georgia Tech does, but they also played 2 highly-ranked nonconference opponents, #5 Penn State and #13 Oklahoma State, while Georgia Tech did not play any ranked nonconference opponents. Pitt should be ranked higher than Georgia Tech.

As for Louisville, they have been overrated for weeks now. We all expected big things out of Louisville after their 63-20 beatdown of #10 Florida State in week 3. That was an incredible performance. However, FSU is the only team with 5 or fewer losses that Louisville has beaten this year, and the Cardinals have been simply awful over their last 3 games: a 36-10 loss at unranked Houston, a 41-38 home loss to unranked Kentucky, and a 29-9 bowl loss to #19 LSU. Frankly, they do not appear to be a top 25 team at all.

As noted, Pitt has taken 2 upset losses (8-5 North Carolina and 7-6 Northwestern), but they made up for each with huge upset wins over #3 Clemson and #5 Penn State. Louisville has also taken 2 upset losses (9-4 Houston and 7-6 Kentucky), but they have only notched 1 upset win (#10 FSU), and that leaves Pitt with a relevant record that is effectively 1 game better than that of Louisville. Pitt has also beaten Georgia Tech, giving them 3 victories over 9-win teams. VT still has just the one. Pitt should be rated higher.

9-4 Georgia Tech also has a better relevant record than Louisville does, as the Yellowjackets have one upset loss (8-5 North Carolina) and one upset win (#18 Virginia Tech). Furthermore, GT just beat Kentucky 33-18 in their bowl game, and of course, in their previous game, Kentucky beat Louisville. So Georgia Tech should also be rated higher than Louisville.

But speaking of 8-5 North Carolina, was their win over Georgia Tech really an upset? I'm going to complicate things even further and say no...

North Carolina

8-5 Pittsburgh isn't the only team that should be rated ahead of 9-4 Georgia Tech due to their head-to-head result: 8-5 North Carolina should be rated ahead of Georgia Tech as well. North Carolina was as erratic as Pitt was this season, but one thing that is certain is that UNC crushed Georgia Tech 48-20 in November. UNC did take a big 3 upset losses (8-5 Georgia, 4-8 Duke, and 7-6 North Carolina State), but they also brought home a big 3 upset wins (10-3 Florida State, 9-4 Miami-Florida, and 8-5 Pittsburgh) to balance out their ledger.

UNC beat Pitt 37-36 at home, but Pitt still has the better relevant record, so should be rated ahead of UNC.

To sum all this up, these 4 ACC teams should be ranked in this order: 8-5 Pittsburgh > 8-5 North Carolina > 9-4 Georgia Tech > 9-4 Louisville. Frankly, Louisville could viably be ranked behind 7-6 Kentucky, who beat them in their regular season finale.

South Florida

In previous weeks, I've thought that the American Athletic Conference was underrated. That all changed when Navy was upset by Army in their regular season finale, and since then, Navy has lost their bowl game to boot, #23 Temple has lost their bowl game to 7-6 Wake Forest, and Houston and Memphis were stomped in their bowl games by unrated opponents. So the AAC fell apart badly in the end, and that hurts #25 South Florida's case because their only wins of any value have come against AAC teams.

South Florida barely did better than their counterparts, surviving their bowl game 46-39 in overtime against a losing team (6-7 South Carolina), but they are now 11-2 and will certainly be rated in the final AP poll. They have played just one team that will finish ranked, and that game was a 55-35 whipping at the hands of #10 Florida State. They were also rocked 46-30 by 10-4 Temple, who was the AAC champion, but will not be ranked. So is South Florida worthy of a top 25 slot? Probably not.

As an example, 9-4 Kansas State took all of their losses to top 25 teams, and should therefore be rated higher than South Florida.


9-4 Utah has one huge win, over #9 Southern Cal in September, but since then they have not beaten a winning opponent, and they have taken losses to 2 losing teams, 5-7 California and 4-8 Oregon. That gives them the same relevant record that South Florida has, so like USF, the Utes also make for a weak top 25 inclusion. As per the above, Kansas State has taken no upset losses, and KSU should therefore be rated higher than Utah.

San Diego State and Air Force

South Florida and Utah may be weak contenders for the final top 25, but 11-3 San Diego State and 10-3 Air Force should not be contenders at all. Both teams have suffered 3 losses to unranked teams, and neither has beaten a ranked team. I expect them to fall just outside the final top 25, but even that is too high, as these teams should not even be close to ranked.