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Fixing the Final 1956 AP College Football Poll

1) Oklahoma 10-0
2) Tennessee 10-1
3) Iowa 9-1
4) Georgia Tech 10-1
5) Texas A&M 9-0-1
6) Miami (Florida) 8-1-1
7) Michigan 7-2
8) Syracuse 7-2

9) Michigan State 7-2
10) Oregon State 7-3-1
11) Baylor 9-2
12) Minnesota 6-1-2
13) Pittsburgh 7-3-1
14) Texas Christian 8-3
15) Ohio State 6-3
16) Navy 6-1-2
17) George Washington 8-1-1
18) Southern Cal 8-2
19) Clemson 7-2-2
20) Colorado 8-2-1
To the left is the final 1956 AP college football top 20. You can access all of these teams' full schedules here: College Football Data Warehouse (amongst a number of other places). The fixed final AP poll, expanded to 25 teams, follows the article below.

Oklahoma played one of the weakest schedules ever
faced by an MNC team this season, if not the weakest, featuring just 1 rated opponent, #20 Colorado. Every other team they played had a losing record, and their opponents were just 32-63-6 in all-- far worse than even Brigham Young's 1984 opponents.

But Oklahoma had just finished their 3rd straight unbeaten and untied season, and they stomped that weak schedule by an average score of 47-5, so Oklahoma 1956 often makes people's lists of the greatest teams of all time.

Still, if I had been an AP voter in 1956, I would have gone with 10-0 Tennessee at #1. They gave #4 Georgia Tech their only loss and won the rest of their games by more than a touchdown each. But then Tennessee was upset by #11 Baylor in the Sugar Bowl, proving the AP voters correct after all...
Oklahoma running back Tommy McDonald
Oklahoma running back Tommy McDonald was a 2-time All American and a college and pro football Hall of Famer. Oklahoma was 31-0 during his 3 years
.

Baylor and Tennessee

9-2 Baylor's win over 10-1 Tennessee came in a bowl game, giving it extra weight, so unless there is a compelling reason not to, Baylor should be moved up ahead of Tennessee. And I don't see a compelling reason not to. Baylor took an upset loss to #14 Texas Christian, but their other loss came to 9-0-1 Texas A&M, who is ranked #5. Tennessee's bowl loss would have dropped them back behind the Aggies in a post-bowl poll anyway.

Since Georgia Tech lost to Tennessee, they'll have to drop back as well. 9-0-1 Texas A&M > 9-2 Baylor > 10-1 Tennessee > 10-1 Georgia Tech. Sure, maybe Baylor's Sugar Bowl win was an upset... but it's just as possible that Tennessee and Georgia Tech weren't all that great to begin with. Tennessee's only win over a rated opponent came over Georgia Tech, and GT's only win over a rated opponent came over #13 Pittsburgh 21-14 in the Gator Bowl-- and GT was outgained 313-207 yards in that game.

Drop Tennessee and Georgia Tech behind Texas A&M, and move Baylor up ahead of Tennessee. That results in the following ratings shift: 9-1 Iowa #2, 9-0-1 Texas A&M #3, 9-2 Baylor #4, 10-1 Tennessee #5, 10-1 Georgia Tech #6, 8-1-1 Miami-Florida #7, 7-2 Michigan #8, 7-2 Syracuse #9, 7-2 Michigan State #10, and 7-3-1 Oregon State #11.

Minnesota

6-1-2 Minnesota (#12) defeated both 7-2 Michigan (now #8) and 7-2 Michigan State (now #10), and they should be ranked ahead of both teams. Michigan State also defeated Michigan, but the Spartans were upset by 2-5-2 Illinois, and Michigan pulled off a huge 17-14 win at 9-1 Iowa (now #2), so Michigan can remain ranked ahead of MSU.

We'll just move Minnesota up ahead of Michigan, because Syracuse (now #9) and Oregon State (now #11) both lost their bowl games, and both would have dropped in a post-bowl poll anyway.

Move Minnesota up to #8, dropping Michigan, Syracuse, Michigan State, and Oregon State 1 spot each.

Pittsburgh and Miami-Florida

Here's another example of how it wasn't just bowl games the AP poll ignored. December 8th, a week after the final AP poll was published, #13 Pittsburgh (7-3-1) won 14-7 at then-#6 Miami-Florida (8-1-1). A regular season game.

Both teams took an upset tie (Pitt to 6-2-1 Penn State and Miami to 3-6-1 Georgia), and Pitt took an upset loss at 3-7 California. That left both teams with the same relevant record, but Pitt had the head-to-head tie-breaker. Pitt had 2 more losses than Miami only because they played and lost to 6-1-2 Minnesota and 10-1 Georgia Tech, a pair of top 10 teams (both games were close). Miami did not play a top 10 team (other than perhaps Pitt-- see final fixed AP poll below).

We'll put these teams in the middle of where the AP poll ranked them. Move Pittsburgh up to #11 and drop Miami-Florida to #12. Minnesota, Michigan, Syracuse, and Michigan State all move up a spot, and Oregon State drops a spot. Pittsburgh also defeated now-#9 Syracuse, but Syracuse lost their bowl game, and will be dropping back behind the team that beat them, Texas Christian, as detailed below. That will also put them back behind Pitt. Pittsburgh defeated 4 teams that will finish ranked in the fixed and expanded AP top 25, and another 2 teams just outside the top 25. Quite a schedule.

Oregon State

7-3-1 Oregon State (originally ranked #10) was overrated, and they lost the Rose Bowl 35-19 to now-#2 Iowa, so they would have dropped in a post-bowl poll. I don't know how far they would have dropped, but they shouldn't have been rated ahead of 6-3 Ohio State in the first place, so we'll drop them back behind the Buckeyes. That leaves Oregon State just ahead of 6-1-2 Navy, who took a loss and 2 ties to unrated opponents, and beat no one. The Beavers can certainly be rated higher than them.

Ohio State took just 1 "upset" loss, while Oregon State had an upset loss and a tie. And Ohio State's "upset" loss was to 6-2-1 Penn State, so not really an upset. PSU will be coming in ahead of the Buckeyes (covered below), leaving Ohio State with no upset loss or tie, and thus effectively a game and a half better than Oregon State.

Drop Oregon State to #15, moving Texas Christian and Ohio State up 1 spot each.

Texas Christian and Syracuse

8-3 Texas Christian (originally ranked #14) defeated 7-2 Syracuse (#8) 28-27 in the Cotton Bowl, another big "upset" bowl win for the SWC. TCU took an upset loss at 2-7-1 Texas Tech, but they made up for that with an upset win over now-#4 Baylor. The bowl win holds sway here, so TCU needs to be moved up ahead of Syracuse, as they almost certainly would have been in a post-bowl poll anyway. We'll just drop Syracuse back behind TCU, because Miami-Florida, who currently sits in front of the frogs, won at TCU 14-0.

Drop Syracuse to #13, moving Michigan State, Pittsburgh, Miami-Florida, and Texas Christian up 1 spot each.

Army, Penn State, and Ohio State

6-3 Ohio State, originally ranked #15, lost 7-6 at home to unranked 6-2-1 Penn State, and PSU should be ranked ahead of them. PSU also tied now-#10 Pittsburgh in their finale. Their losses came to now-#13 Syracuse and to unranked 5-3-1 Army. Army's losses came to now-#8 Michigan, now-#13 Syracuse, and now-#10 Pittsburgh. Their tie came to 6-1-2 Navy, originally ranked #16.

It made no real sense that Navy was ranked and Army not. Obviously it happened because Navy was 6-1-2 and Army was 5-3-1, but all 3 of Army's losses came to teams the AP poll ranked higher than Navy, and Navy took a loss and tie against unranked teams. Army took no such upsets, meaning that they were effectively a game and a half better than Navy on the season. Navy was basically rewarded for playing zero rated opponents (though Army should have been rated), while Army was punished for playing 5.

Army belongs ahead of Navy, and they also belong ahead of Penn State, who belongs ahead of Ohio State. Army and Penn State also both have better relevant records than Oregon State, who currently sits right behind Ohio State.

Move Army into the rankings at #14 and Penn State at #15, dropping Ohio State and everyone behind them 2 slots each.

Southern California and UCLA

8-2 Southern Cal (originally ranked #18) took a pair of upset losses at 4-6 Stanford and at 4-4-2 Oregon, but they made up for one of those with a 21-13 upset win over now-#17 Oregon State. 8-1-1 George Washington (originally ranked #17) took an upset loss and a tie and beat no one. USC belongs ahead of them. 6-1-2 Navy, who sits in front of George Washington, also took an upset loss and a tie, but they made up for the tie by tying now-#14 Army, so they have the same relevant record as USC. But Navy did not beat any team that finished with a winning record, whereas USC defeated 7-3-1 Oregon State and 7-3 UCLA. So USC needs to be moved up ahead of Navy as well.

Then there's 7-3 UCLA. Their losses came to Southern Cal, now-#17 Oregon State, and now-#8 Michigan. They took no upset loss or tie, unlike Navy or any of the teams currently ranked below Navy. UCLA also defeated a team that will be ranked in the fixed and expanded AP top 25 (Oregon, as covered below), and Navy did not defeat a team who came close to being ranked.


Move Southern Cal up to #18 and put UCLA into the rankings at #19. Navy and George Washington drop 2 spots each, and Clemson and Colorado drop 1 spot each.

Oregon, Colorado, and Clemson

8-2-1 Colorado (originally ranked #20) defeated 7-2-2 Clemson (#19) in the Orange Bowl, so Colorado needs to be moved ahead of Clemson. But Colorado also lost to 4-4-2 Oregon 35-0 at home, and that is too dominating a score to ignore. Oregon took upset losses to 5-5 Washington and 4-6 Stanford, and they were tied by 3-6-1 Washington State-- that's 2 and a half games to the deficit. But they also tied now-#17 Oregon State and they defeated now-#18 Southern Cal, leaving them just 1 game to the deficit. Colorado was tied by 4-5-1 Missouri, leaving them a half game to the deficit. Throw in Oregon's win at Colorado, and in the end Oregon was effectively a half game better than Colorado on the season. And as I said, Oregon's win at Colorado was too dominating to ignore.

Put Oregon into the rankings at #22, move Colorado to #23, and drop Clemson to #24. One space left to fill. Well, make that 2...

George Washington

Time to dump 8-1-1 George Washington (originally rated #17), one of the oddest AP poll inclusions of all time. They mostly played what we would consider to be an FCS schedule today, and they tied 1-5-2 Boston University. Their one major opponent was 6-4 West Virginia, who beat them 14-0, and it need hardly be said that they should be ranked behind West Virginia. So should West Virginia be moved into the top 25? They took no upset losses or ties, but they also didn't beat anyone of value (unless, like some 1956 AP poll voters, you believe George Washington to hold some value). They edged 1-9 Texas 7-6, 0-9-1 William & Mary 20-13, 3-6-1 VMI 13-6, and 2-8 Furman 7-0. So no, West Virginia should not be rated. And neither should George Washington.

One of the things that makes George Washington's #17 rating so odd is that Wyoming went 10-0 (rated #16 by the coaches) and Yale went 8-1 (#17 coaches), better than GW, and those are teams the AP poll usually gives token ratings to anyway.

Show George Washington the door.
Oregon, Colorado, and Clemson all move up a spot. Now we have 2 spaces left to fill...

Florida and Auburn

So who gets the last 2 slots? The coaches liked 10-0 Wyoming and 8-1 Yale, but as the title of this subsection indicates, those aren't the teams that will settle into our last 2 parcels of land. Yale lost to 4-5 Colgate and played an FCS level schedule, so forget about them. Wyoming was closer, but their schedule was worthless (best opponents 6-4 Denver and 6-4 Utah State), and their performance was poor (close wins over 4-6 Arizona, 4-6 New Mexico, and 2-7-1 Brigham Young-- and an 8 point win over 2-7-1 Colorado State).

The coaches also liked 5-4-1 Duke, rating them #20, but they lost to 7-3 South Carolina and belong behind them. South Carolina, in turn, lost to 3-7 North Carolina State, and they do not belong in the top 25.

Which brings us to the teams indicated in the subtitle above. 6-3-1 Florida, 7-3 Auburn, and 6-4 Kentucky all defeated each other in a circle, and none of the 3 teams were beaten or tied by an unranked opponent (other than each other). Florida tied now-#23 Clemson, which gives them a leg up on the other 2 teams, so they get slot #24. Auburn defeated Kentucky 13-0 on the road, so they get the last slot. Kentucky winds up #26, their noses pressed sadly against the glass peering in at the chosen 25.

Florida #24, Auburn #25.

Fixed AP Top 25

8-1-1 George Washington, originally rated #17, falls out of this fixed and expanded AP top 25. They had 1 loss and 1 tie against unranked opponents and no wins over rated teams. Discounting games against each other, the 6 teams that enter the fixed poll totaled 3 losses and a tie against unrated opponents, and they had 3 wins and 4 ties against teams the AP poll had rated.

1) Oklahoma 10-0 --
2) Iowa 9-1 +1
3) Texas A&M 9-0-1 +2
4) Baylor 9-2 +7
5) Tennessee 10-1 -3
6) Georgia Tech 10-1 -2
7) Minnesota 6-1-2 +5
8) Michigan 7-2 -1
9) Michigan State 7-2 --
10) Pittsburgh 7-3-1 +3
11) Miami (Florida) 8-1-1 -5
12) Texas Christian 8-3 +2
13) Syracuse 7-2 -5
14) Army 5-3-1 IN
15) Penn State 6-2-1 IN
16) Ohio State 6-3 -1
17) Oregon State 7-3-1 -7
18) Southern Cal 8-2 --
19) UCLA 7-3 IN
20) Navy 6-1-2 -4
21) Oregon 4-4-2 IN
22) Colorado 8-2-1 -2
23) Clemson 7-2-2 -4
24) Florida 6-3-1 IN
25) Auburn 7-3 IN

OUT: #17 George Washington 8-1-1