Tip Top 25 in helmets, smaller
                                                    Home

Fixing the Final 1972 AP College Football Poll

1) Southern Cal 12-0
2) Oklahoma 11-1
3) Texas 10-1
4) Nebraska 9-2-1
5) Auburn 10-1
6) Michigan 10-1
7) Alabama 10-2
8) Tennessee 10-2
9) Ohio State 9-2
10) Penn State 10-2
11) Louisiana State 9-2-1
12) North Carolina 11-1
13) Arizona State 10-2
14) Notre Dame  8-3
15) UCLA 8-3
16) Colorado 8-4
17) North Carolina State 8-3-1
18) Louisville 9-1
19) Washington State 7-4
20) Georgia Tech 7-4-1
To the left is the final 1972 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. 

#4 Nebraska is the most overrated team in the 1972 AP poll, and it's not just because they have a worse straight record than the next 6 teams behind them. It's because they lost to #15 UCLA, they were tied by unranked 5-6-1 Iowa State, and the best team they defeated was #14 Notre Dame. That does not look like a #4 team.

The problem here is that #5 Auburn, though 10-1, did not perform nearly as well as Nebraska, and no one who saw both play much in 1972 could believe that Auburn was even close to as good as Nebraska. But even if we all agree that Nebraska was a better team than Auburn, does that mean that Nebraska should be rated higher? No.

Nebraska may have been a better team, but Auburn accomplished more. Furthermore, while Nebraska may compare well with Auburn, they compare poorly with #7 Alabama and #8 Tennessee, both of whom Auburn defeated.
Southern Cal running back Anthony Davis
USC running back Anthony Davis led the team in rushing and scoring for 3 straight years, finishing with a career 5400 all purpose yards, 52 touchdowns, and a 35.1 kickoff return average. He scored 6 touchdowns against Notre Dame this season.

Nebraska

9-2-1 Nebraska took an upset loss and tie, but the reason they were rated so highly is because in their other 10 games, they were very impressive, even in their other loss, 17-14 to #2 Oklahoma. Their 9 wins came by an average score of 50-4, including 33-10 at #16 Colorado and 40-6 over #14 Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl. Auburn, by contrast, may have gone 10-1, but they barely survived in game after game, and their average score for the season was just 19-13, an amazingly low average point spread for a 10-1 team. Quite possibly the most overachieving team in college football history, Auburn was an underdog in 8 of their 11 games, and won 7 of those! Their loss came at #11 LSU, and it was quite ugly, 35-7.

Auburn's win over Alabama to take the SEC was the most miraculous win in that series' storied history. Alabama had jumped out to a 16-0 lead, missing what proved to be a crucial extra point. Auburn blocked 2 punts for touchdowns in the last 6 minutes of the game, and won 17-16 despite producing just 80 yards of total offense!

Given all those facts, Nebraska may look like a rock-solid option to be rated higher than Auburn. But Auburn defeated 4 rated teams, Nebraska 2, and Auburn defeated 2 more who will make the top 20 of the fixed poll (7-4 Georgia and 5-5-1 Florida), giving them 3 times as many such wins as Nebraska. Auburn also defeated #7 Alabama and #8 Tennessee, while Nebraska beat no top 10 opponents.

Nebraska vs. Alabama and Tennessee

Let's compare Nebraska to Alabama. Nebraska had an upset loss and tie, while Alabama's losses came to the #3 and #5 teams. Nebraska defeated the #14 and #16 teams, while Alabama defeated the #8 and #11 teams (and 2 more who will make the fixed top 20). All of Nebraska's wins were routs, but all of Alabama's wins were routs except for their 17-10 decision at #8 Tennessee, and Nebraska did not defeat a team ranked as highly as that. Tennessee was a similar story. Their only losses came to the #5 and #7 teams, they defeated 3 ranked opponents, 2 of them higher-ranked than anyone Nebraska beat, and they defeated a 4th who will make the fixed top 20. And only 2 of Tennessee's wins were close, 24-17 over #11 Louisiana State and 28-21 over #10 Penn State, both better than anyone Nebraska defeated.

Nebraska's tie with 5-6-1 Iowa State alone leaves them with no argument for being ranked higher than Alabama and Tennessee, who beat all of their unrated opponents by more than a touchdown.

Nebraska vs. Penn State

So where should Nebraska drop to? Let's look at #10 Penn State. 10-2 PSU took their losses to #8 Tennessee and to #2 Oklahoma. So Nebraska's loss to #15 UCLA and tie with unrated Iowa State leaves them with a relevant record that is effectively a game and a half worse than PSU's. Nebraska performed better-- 77-7 over 6-4 Army, 62-0 over 6-6 Missouri, and 40-6 over #14 Notre Dame are quite eye-popping. But those are just style points. Penn State had only one win by less than a touchdown themselves, 14-10 over Iowa. That's not good, but it's a win, unlike Nebraska's game against Iowa State. And PSU beat Army 45-0-- it's not 70, but that difference is irrelevant. As for Nebraska's bowl blowout, 8-3 Notre Dame was not that good to begin with. They did not beat any rated opponents this season, and lost to 6-6 Missouri, whom Nebraska beat 62-0. Notre Dame's biggest win came over 5-5-1 Michigan State.

The performance difference between Nebraska and Penn State is not enough to overcome Nebraska's upset loss and tie. However, their performance is enough, I think, for Nebraska to remain ranked higher than #11 Louisiana State. Like PSU, LSU had a relevant record that was better than Nebraska's. But unlike PSU, LSU struggled repeatedly against unranked opponents, beating Rice 12-6, Mississippi 17-16, and Tulane 9-3. LSU is a tough case, as I would definitely rank them higher than Nebraska myself. They have the same 9-2-1 record, but did not take an upset loss, played in a tougher league (SEC #1 this year at 32-10 against nonconference opponents), and beat #5 Auburn 35-7. But the overall performance difference is wide enough to let the AP poll have its way here.

Myself, I'd drop Nebraska even further than behind LSU-- I'd rank them behind #15 UCLA (8-3), who beat them. This was another tough case, the toughest I faced when fixing this poll. But UCLA's win over Nebraska was close, at home, and in their season opener. UCLA took just 1 upset loss, so they had a better relevant record than did Nebraska in addition to beating them, but UCLA's upset loss came in game 10, and they had poor performances the week before and after that. So I decided the AP poll just did have a case for rating Nebraska higher.

Drop Nebraska to #10, moving Auburn, Michigan, Alabama, Tennessee, Ohio State, and Penn State up one spot each.

Ohio State and Michigan

This is practically a clone of the Ohio State vs. Michigan case in the 1974 AP poll. Exactly as in 1974, Ohio State and Michigan each took a close loss in conference play, OSU at Michigan State and Michigan at OSU, and OSU then took a second loss to a higher-rated Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl while Michigan sat at home, after which the Buckeyes fell back behind Michigan in the final poll. The one big difference between 1974 and this season is that OSU lost to USC by 1 point following the 1974 season, and they lost to USC by a score of 42-17 this season. That's a big rout, but does it mean that Michigan should be rated higher?

No. Southern Cal was a good 10-1-1 in 1974, but they were a perfect 12-0 this season. And by perfect, I don't just mean that no one beat or tied them-- no one came within a touchdown of them. They were the first team to beat every opponent by more than a touchdown since WWII, and it would be 23 years until the next team did it (Nebraska '95). So no, I don't think that Ohio State getting pounded by one of the best teams in modern history gives cause for them to drop back behind a team they had just beaten, and who did not play a bowl game at all
.

Michigan should not have been rated ahead of Alabama or Tennessee either. Michigan lost to Ohio State, who was ranked behind both Alabama and Tennessee, while the Tide and Volunteers took no upset losses. And Michigan had 2 close wins over unranked opponents, Alabama and Tennessee none. And Michigan beat just 1 ranked opponent, while Alabama beat 2 (4 in the fixed poll) and Tennessee beat 3 (4 fixed).

So we'll drop Michigan back behind all 3 teams, where they belong. Alabama moves up to #5, Tennessee to #6, Ohio State to #7, and Michigan drops to #8.

UCLA

8-3 UCLA sits right behind 8-3 Notre Dame, though UCLA beat now-#10 Nebraska and #19 Washington State, and Notre Dame beat no rated teams. Both took an upset loss, but UCLA's came against 8-3 Washington (who will make the fixed and expanded top 25), and Notre Dame's came to 6-6 Missouri. So UCLA should be moved ahead of Notre Dame.

That would put them just behind 10-2 Arizona State, a WAC team that beat no rated opponents and lost to 2 unrated teams (4-7 Wyoming and 6-4 Air Force). No question that UCLA should be rated ahead of them, and in fact ASU will be dropping further (handled in the next topic).

Move UCLA up to #13, dropping Arizona State and Notre Dame one slot each.

Arizona State

Arizona State was your typical overrated WAC team. Nice 10-2 record, but they played no rated opponents. Their big win came over 6-6 Missouri in the Fiesta Bowl, which awed 1972's sportswriters so much that they ranked the ASU #13. Notre Dame didn't post any better a win, but they only lost to 1 unrated team, so they've got ASU there. Dame did get routed badly by #1 Southern Cal and now-#10 Nebraska, but since ASU did not play a rated opponent, there's no basis for comparison. The two teams performed similarly, each posting just one close win (touchdown or less), so ASU's 1 extra upset loss is the only real difference between them. But it's enough to move Notre Dame ahead of ASU.

8-4 Colorado, like ASU, took 2 upset losses, so the teams are even there. But unlike ASU, Colorado beat a rated team, and it was a huge one, 20-14 over #2 Oklahoma (11-1). And that was Colorado's only close win, so they performed better against their unrated opponents than ASU did.

Drop Arizona State to #16, moving Notre Dame and Colorado up one spot each. But ASU is not done dropping yet.

Georgia and North Carolina State

Boy, was 7-4 Georgia underrated. In fact, they were not rated at all, despite the fact that they took just one upset loss (at 6-5 Tulane in game 2) and they beat #17 North Carolina State 28-22 and #20 Georgia Tech 27-7 in their finale. They even had a better straight record than GT, but I guess that's the power of going to a bowl game, even a crappy one. GT went to the Liberty Bowl, where they beat 5-6-1 Iowa State 31-30, while Georgia sat home. Needless to say, this rating-- or non-rating-- of Georgia is just ridiculous. If 1972's sportswriters could not be bothered to even try, one has to wonder why they bothered accepting a ballot at all.

Georgia should be moved into the top 20 ahead of NC State, but why stop there? Georgia had a better relevant record than did Arizona State (1 upset loss for Georgia, 2 for ASU), and NC State did too (just 1 upset tie), so let's drop ASU back behind both. I'd move Georgia and NC State ahead of Notre Dame and Colorado as well, but the AP poll can have that.

Georgia comes in at #16, North Carolina State remains #17, Arizona State drops to #18, and all the teams that had been ranked behind NC State drop a spot.

Florida

Here we go again. How many times has a .500 (or nearly .500) Florida team busted into a fixed AP poll? 1972-2010, Florida has been moved into a fixed AP poll 9 times, and 5 times they had 5 or more losses-- counting this year's team, which went 5-5-1. They took an upset loss to 7-4 Southern Methodist in their opener, but their other 4 losses all came to rated teams (now that Georgia is in). They tied #11 Louisiana State, and all 5 of their wins were routs, including 42-13 at 7-4 Florida State and 16-0 at 5-5 Mississippi. And they lost very close games to now-#4 Auburn, now-#16 Georgia, and to #12 North Carolina (11-1) in their season finale.

Florida has a better relevant record than does each team currently sitting behind North Carolina State, so let's move the Gators in behind NC State and ahead of Arizona State. ASU, again, had 2 upset losses, one more than Florida, and Florida had the tie with #11 LSU, and they had no close wins, so they easily outperformed ASU on the season.

Put Florida in at #18, dropping Arizona State and all the teams behind them one spot each.

Louisville

9-1 Louisville, originally ranked #18, has to be one of the weakest AP poll selections of all time. Their schedule, which would be considered FCS today, was as follows: Kent, Dayton, Tampa, North Texas, Wichita State, Cincinnati, Tulsa, Southern Illinois, Memphis, and Drake. They lost to 4-7 Tulsa. So really, how good was Louisville? 3-8 Kansas State beat Tulsa. And KSU beat Tampa 31-7, a team Louisville only beat 17-14. I myself would rank KSU ahead of Louisville, meaning that Louisville would be unlikely to make my top 50 for 1972, were I to rank a top 50.

On the other hand, they did take just one loss, and only 2 of their wins were close. Washington State, who sits behind them, took losses to 3-8 Cal and 6-5 Utah. Now, I think WSU would have crushed them like bugs, but we'll never know. I suppose I can hold my nose and let the AP poll have this one, but Louisville 1972 as a top 25 team seems awful silly to me. Fun fact: our television friend Lee Corso was the coach of this Louisville team.


No fix.

Washington

Here's another "Here we go again." This will make the 8th time Washington has entered a fixed AP poll 1972-2010, one less than Florida. It will be interesting to see which team has entered the most often when I've fixed all the polls going back to 1936. This Washington team went 8-3, so obviously belongs in a fixed and expanded AP top 25, but they weren't all that great. They had a better relevant record than 7-4 Washington State, who now sits at #21, but they performed poorly throughout the season, and lost 27-10 at WSU in their season finale, so WSU can remain ahead of them.

Now-#22 Georgia Tech, however
, was tied by 5-5-1 Rice and lost to 5-6 Duke, so Washington was effectively a game and a half better.

Bring Washington in at #22, dropping Georgia Tech to #23.

The Last 2 Slots

We have 2 slots left, and next in line is 10-1 San Diego State, whom the coaches rated #20. For some odd reason, the coaches liked 8-3 Utah State even more, putting them in at #19, but USU was such a poor selection that it is not even worth addressing. San Diego State, however, is a fine choice-- much better than Louisville, in my opinion. The Aztecs took one upset loss, to 6-4-1 Houston.

5-5-1 Michigan State took an upset loss to 4-7 Minnesota and a tie to 3-7-1 Iowa, but they made up for the loss with a huge 19-12 win over now-#7 Ohio State. That leaves them with a relevant record that is effectively a half game better than San Diego State's, and their win over OSU was their only close win, so they performed decently too.

Let's bring Michigan State in at #24, San Diego State at #25. Georgia Tech, now at #23, had looked like a poor top 25 selection, but they did beat Michigan State, so they now look solid with MSU's entry.

Fixed AP Top 25

No team falls out of this fixed and expanded AP top 25. Discounting games against each other, the 5 new teams that enter the top 25 had a combined 5 losses and 1 tie to unranked opponents and 4 wins and 1 tie against teams the AP poll had rated.

1) Southern Cal 12-0 --
2) Oklahoma 11-1 --
3) Texas 10-1 --
4) Auburn 10-1 +1
5) Alabama 10-2 +2
6) Tennessee 10-2 +2
7) Ohio State 9-2 +2
8) Michigan 10-1 -2
9) Penn State 10-2 +1
10) Nebraska 9-2-1 -6
11) Louisiana State 9-2-1 --
12) North Carolina 11-1 --
13) UCLA 8-3+2
14) Notre Dame 8-3 --
15) Colorado 8-4 +1
16) Georgia 7-4 IN
17) North Carolina State 8-3-1 --
18) Florida 5-5-1 IN
19) Arizona State 10-2 -6
20) Louisville 9-1 -2
21) Washington State 7-4 -2
22) Washington 8-3 IN
23) Georgia Tech 7-4-1 -3
24) Michigan State 5-5-1 IN
25) San Diego State 10-1 IN

Home