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Fixing the Final 1969 AP College Football Poll

1) Texas 11-0
2) Penn State 11-0
3) Southern Cal 10-0-1
4) Ohio State 8-1
5) Notre Dame 8-2-1
6) Missouri 9-2
7) Arkansas 9-2
8) Mississippi 8-3
9) Michigan 8-3
10) Louisiana State 9-1
11) Nebraska 9-2
12) Houston 9-2
13) UCLA 8-1-1
14) Florida 9-1-1
15) Tennessee 9-2
16) Colorado 8-3
17) West Virginia 10-1
18) Purdue 8-2
19) Stanford 7-2-1
20) Auburn 8-3
To the left is the final 1969 AP college football top 20. The fixed final AP poll, expanded to 25 teams, follows the article below. 

The controversy of 1969 was 11-0 Texas vs. 11-0 Penn State, but it wasn't much of one. Texas' only close games were wins over #5 Notre Dame and #7 Arkansas, whereas Penn State had 3 close wins, 2 of them over unrated opponents. This was the second straight season PSU finished perfect but #2, but it's hard to feel too bad for them, since they threw away a chance to settle the debate on the field of play.

Penn State could have gone to the Cotton Bowl to play Texas, but Paterno let his players vote, and they chose the Orange Bowl, which was really a matter of choosing Miami over Dallas. In their defense, however, when they voted, Ohio State was #1 and an 8-0 juggernaut, and no one thought there was any chance that the Buckeyes would be upset. When Michigan did upset them, PSU was already locked into the Orange Bowl.

Blame the bowls, which always tried to secure teams in mid-November, before the season was done.
Texas fullback Steve Worster in the 1970 Cotton Bowl
Texas fullback Steve Worster powering through the Notre Dame line in the Cotton Bowl. "Big Woo" was the game's MVP, racking up 155 yards at the heart of the original college football wishbone.

Michigan

#9 Michigan (8-3) had a better relevant record than both of the teams ranked ahead of them, 8-3 Mississippi and 9-2 Arkansas. Ole Miss lost to a pair of unranked teams, 2-8 Kentucky and 6-5 Alabama, and also to #12 Houston-- a big 3 upset losses, so Michigan moving past them is a no-brainer. Arkansas had just one upset loss, 27-22 to Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl. Michigan also had 1 upset loss, 23-12 at 4-6 Michigan State. That's a much worse team than Arkansas lost to, but Arkansas' upset loss came in a bowl game, giving it greater weight than it would otherwise carry. And Michigan made up for their upset loss with a huge 24-12 win over #4 Ohio State in their regular season finale. They also beat #18 Purdue 31-20, and Arkansas did not beat a rated opponent at all. Michigan's other 2 losses came to #3 Southern Cal and #6 Missouri, both rated higher than Arkansas anyway. Michigan should be moved up ahead of Arkansas.

If the AP poll had not chosen to rank Ohio State so highly, it would have been logically valid for them to rank Arkansas ahead of Michigan. In fact, given that Ohio State lost handily to Michigan, and beat no team better than #18 Purdue, the AP poll could have ranked OSU back behind Michigan. But OSU was so powerful before taking that loss, winning by an average score of 46-9, and no team coming closer to them than 27 points, that the AP poll can keep them ranked at #4.

Move Michigan to #7, dropping Arkansas and Mississippi 1 spot each.

Purdue and Notre Dame

#18 Purdue (8-2) is by far the most underrated team of this AP poll. Their losses came to #4 Ohio State and now-#7 Michigan, and they defeated #5 Notre Dame 28-14. They had a better relevant record than every team ranked ahead of them up to Michigan, and that's where they should be ranked, right behind Michigan. 9-2 Arkansas, who currently sits behind Michigan, beat no rated opponents, while Purdue beat 2 (in addition to #5 Notre Dame, they also beat #19 Stanford). 8-2-1 Notre Dame, meanwhile, lost decisively to Purdue, and they should be dropped back behind the Boilermakers. Dame did tie #3 Southern Cal (10-0-1), but they did not defeat a ranked opponent, or even one that is close to ranked.

When fixing these AP polls, I don't normally spend much time on the coaches and players, as I am making these decisions based solely on facts rather than famous names. But just for fun, let's take a closer look at this Purdue team, because it was the last year of Purdue's greatest era. Not coincidentally, it was also the last year for their Hall of Fame head coach, Jack Mollenkopf. During his 14 seasons 1956-1969, Purdue went 84-39-9, finished ranked in a major poll 8 times (12 times in the fixed and expanded AP polls), and went to their first Rose Bowl following the 1966 season
.

The last 4 years of the run, 1966-1969, they finished 9-2, 8-2, 8-2, and 8-2, and they had a player finish in the top 3 of Heisman balloting all 4 seasons. This time it was quarterback Mike Phipps, who finished 2nd in Heisman voting and went on to a 12 year NFL career. Ten players from this team played pro ball. They finished in the top 10 the 3 previous years, so how likely is it that this year, with the same record as those 3 years, they were suddenly #18 rather than top 10 again? Very, very unlikely. And in fact, it simply wasn't the case at all-- the AP poll just screwed up.

Missouri and Michigan each move up a spot, Purdue moves all the way up to #7, Notre Dame drops to #8, and all the teams that had been ranked between Purdue and Michigan drop a notch.

Nebraska

This is a tough case, because 9-2 Nebraska (now #12) vs. 9-1 LSU (#11) is close. The problem is that 8-3 Mississippi is ranked right in front of LSU, and Nebraska vs. Mississippi is not close at all, given that Ole Miss lost to 3 lower-rated teams, 2 of them unranked, while Nebraska lost only to #3 Southern Cal and now-#5 Missouri. As such, I think Nebraska should be moved ahead of Mississippi. LSU dropping to #12 seems a low ranking for a 9-1 SEC team, but they did lose to Ole Miss, and the only rated team they defeated was #20 Auburn, a game they only won 21-20. Nebraska beat 4 teams that will finish in the fixed and expanded top 25.

Move Nebraska to #10, dropping Mississippi and LSU 1 spot each.

Let me here address how awkward the AP poll's relative ratings were for Arkansas (originally rated #7), Mississippi (#8), LSU (#10), Houston (#12), and Florida (#14). I would have ranked those teams very differently, as so: 9-1 LSU > 9-1-1 Florida > 9-2 Houston > 8-3 Mississippi > 9-2 Arkansas. LSU did lose to Mississippi, but it was a close road loss (26-23). Florida took an upset loss (to #20 Auburn) and a tie (5-5-1 Georgia), but they defeated Houston 59-34, and Houston defeated Mississippi 25-11. Florida also had a better record than Houston, who had a better record than Mississippi. As for Arkansas, they did not defeat a single ranked opponent, so I think their bowl loss to Mississippi should place them at the bottom of this totem pole.

I have spent weeks looking at this mess, and have come close to pulling the trigger on making the above changes, but in the end, the AP poll has a good enough case for how they ranked these teams. I won't go over every detail of that case, but an important factor for Mississippi is that they took their losses in the first half of the season, and were clearly a very different team in the second half, beginning with their win over LSU. They followed that up with a 38-0 win over #15 Tennessee and the big bowl win over Arkansas. And while Arkansas did not beat a rated team, they did perform very highly, losing by a single point to #1 Texas and stomping on the 9 opponents they defeated, including a 39-0 win over Oklahoma State, who will finish in the fixed AP poll (as detailed below).

But while I am not fixing this mess, I do think my ranking of these teams would be better.

Stanford

#19 Stanford (7-2-1) lost only to #3 Southern Cal and now-#7 Purdue, and by only a total margin of 3 points, and they tied now-#14 UCLA (8-1-1). UCLA's only loss came 14-12 to #3 Southern Cal. I would move both UCLA and Stanford into the top 10 myself, right behind Notre Dame, but neither beat a ranked opponent, so I'll largely give the AP poll its way here.

But Stanford should definitely move ahead of 10-1 West Virginia, who beat no one themselves, while Stanford at least tied a higher-ranked team. 8-3 Colorado (now #17) is a closer case. Colorado took an upset loss to unranked Oklahoma, but they made up for that with a 31-24 upset win over #5 Missouri. Stanford's tie with #14 UCLA makes them effectively a half game better than Colorado, but Colorado defeated 2 teams that will make the fixed and expanded top 25 (Oklahoma State and Kansas State, as covered below), and they beat a near-rated Alabama team in their bowl game, while Stanford beat no one of value. The difference in performance, however, is vast. Stanford had just 1 close win, 29-28 over rival California. As stated, they lost to #3 Southern Cal by 2 points and to now-#7 Purdue by just 1. Colorado had 3 close wins, including 17-14 over a bad Kansas team, and they were stomped by #2 Penn State 27-3, by unranked Oklahoma 42-30, and by now-#10 Nebraska 20-7.

So we'll move Stanford up to #17, dropping Colorado and West Virginia one spot each. Tennessee can stay ahead of Stanford because they beat a ranked opponent and 4 near-ranked opponents, a huge advantage over Stanford's zero quality wins. I think that Stanford is still underrated at #17, but the AP poll voters were just not used to thinking of Stanford as a good team. They were of course unaware that Stanford would go on to win the next 2 Rose Bowls after this season.

Auburn

A no-brainer. 8-3 Auburn (#20) lost only to now-#16 Tennessee, #12 LSU, and #13 Houston, and they defeated #15 Florida 38-12. That gives them a better relevant record than West Virginia and Colorado, and even Stanford, but Stanford performed much better, so Stanford can stay ranked higher. West Virginia and Colorado cannot.

Move Auburn up to #18, dropping Colorado and West Virginia 1 place each.

San Diego State and Toledo

The top 20 is fixed, so now it's time to expand it to 25 teams. 11-0 Toledo was next in line for AP poll voters, but the coaches had a better choice in 11-0 San Diego State (#18 in coaches' poll). Neither team played anyone-- SD State played 6 teams that are not FBS level today, and Toledo played 4-- but SD State had just 1 close win, Toledo 2.

Not much of a difference, but some difference makes for a better ranking reasoning than none, so let's give slot #21 to San Diego State and #22 to Toledo.

Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State

We'll give the last 3 slots to the 3 teams with the best relevant record amongst unranked teams. As a group, 6-4 Oklahoma, 5-5 Oklahoma State, and 5-5 Kansas State had no losses to unranked teams and 2 wins over ranked ones (Oklahoma over now-#19 Colorado and Oklahoma State over now-#13 Houston). These 3 teams beat each other in a circle, but Oklahoma and OSU got those upset wins to move an effective game ahead of KSU, and Oklahoma won 28-27 at OSU.

6-5 Alabama would be next in line. They beat now-#11 Mississippi, which is better than 5-5 KSU's win over Oklahoma, but Alabama was also upset by 4-6 Vanderbilt, and KSU did not take an upset loss. KSU also performed very well, losing to #2 Penn State by just 3, to now-#5 Missouri by 3, and to now-#10 Nebraska by 3. So congrats to KSU, as they had to wait for the 1990s to attain their first actual AP poll finish-- but now we see that they would have been #25 in a proper top 25 as early as 1969.

Oklahoma #23, Oklahoma State #24, Kansas State #25.

Fixed AP Top 25

Discounting games against each other, the 5 added teams took no losses to unranked opponents, and they notched 2 wins against teams the AP poll had rated.

1) Texas 11-0 --
2) Penn State 11-0 --
3) Southern Cal 10-0-1 --
4) Ohio State 8-1 --
5) Missouri 9-2 +1
6) Michigan 8-3 +3
7) Purdue 8-2 +11
8) Notre Dame 8-2-1 -3
9) Arkansas 9-2 -2
10) Nebraska 9-2 +1
11) Mississippi 8-3 -3
12) Louisiana State 9-1 -2
13) Houston 9-2 -1
14) UCLA 8-1-1 -1
15) Florida 9-1-1 -1
16) Tennessee 9-2 -1
17) Stanford 7-2-1 +2
18) Auburn 8-3 +2
19) Colorado 8-3 -3
20) West Virginia 10-1 -3
21) San Diego State 11-0 IN
22) Toledo 11-0 IN
23) Oklahoma 6-4 IN
24) Oklahoma State 5-5 IN
25) Kansas State 5-5 IN