Tip Top 25 in helmets, smaller

Fixing the Final 1973 AP College Football Poll

1) Notre Dame 11-0
2) Ohio State 10-0-1
3) Oklahoma 10-0-1
4) Alabama 11-1
5) Penn State 12-0
6) Michigan 10-0-1
7) Nebraska 9-2-1
8) Southern Cal 9-2-1
9) Arizona State 11-1
     Houston 11-1
11) Texas Tech 11-1
12) UCLA 9-2
13) Louisiana State 9-3
14) Texas 8-3
15) Miami-Ohio 11-0
16) North Carolina State 9-3
17) Missouri 8-4
18) Kansas 7-4-1
19) Tennessee 8-4
20) Maryland 8-4
       Tulane 9-3
To the left is the final 1973 AP college football top 20. The fixed final AP poll, expanded to 25 teams, follows the article below. 

The 1973 season was unusually deep with MNC caliber teams: the top 6 in the AP poll were all tremendous. Notre Dame ended up #1 because they were 11-0 and they defeated previous #1 Alabama (11-1) 24-23 in the Sugar Bowl. But Notre Dame was not the only viable option for #1.

If I were to rate the top teams for 1973 myself, I would start with 10-0-1 Ohio State and 10-0-1 Michigan in a tie for #1, leaving Notre Dame 3rd, and if I were to split hairs and break the tie, I'd go with Ohio State #1 and Michigan #2.

So let's look at Notre Dame vs. Ohio State and Michigan.
1973 Sugar Bowl, Notre Dame vs. Alabama

The play of the year: Sugar Bowl MVP Tom Clements, deep in his own end zone, and with just a few minutes left in the game, completed a 35 yard pass on 3rd down, enabling 11-0 Notre Dame to hold on for a 24-23 victory over 11-1 Alabama.

Notre Dame vs. Ohio State and Michigan

Ohio State and Michigan were the tough luck teams of the 1970s. One or the other won the Big 10 every year of the decade, but then they lost in the Rose Bowl 9 times in 10 chances, often in big upsets. Four teams with perfect records were upset in the Rose Bowl, Ohio State 1970 losing to 9-3 Stanford, Michigan 1971 losing to 9-3 Stanford, Ohio State 1975 losing to 9-2-1 UCLA, and Ohio State 1979 losing to 11-0-1 Southern Cal. Another two Ohio State teams with 1 loss would have brought home an MNC with Rose Bowl wins to cap the 1972 and 1974 seasons. 1973 is the only season in the decade that the Big Ten rep won the Rose Bowl, and it was a big 42-21 rout for the Buckeyes over #8 Southern Cal, but unfortunately Ohio State and Michigan knocked each other out of the MNC race this year with a 10-10 tie. At least, in the eyes of poll voters they did.

Notre Dame beat Southern Cal 23-14 at home, while Ohio State beat USC in the Rose Bowl 42-21. Michigan did not play USC, but they beat 7-4 Stanford 47-10, who lost to USC by 1 point. Furthermore, Notre Dame beat unranked Michigan State 14-10 at home, while OSU beat MSU 35-0 and Michigan beat them 31-0. That was Notre Dame's only poor performance, but neither Ohio State nor Michigan were threatened by any opponent but each other. That's why I would rank OSU and Michigan higher.

Notre Dame's case rests entirely on their 24-23 win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Alabama came into that game 11-0 and #1, having beaten all 11 foes by more than a touchdown, including 42-21 over #19 Tennessee and 21-7 at #13 Louisiana State. So Notre Dame's win over them was more impressive than any win for Ohio State and Michigan, regardless of the score, and it is this win that makes Notre Dame a logically viable choice for #1.

Still, whoever you choose as #1, it seems to me that Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Michigan should all be considered mythical national champions for 1973. Without a playoff, it just doesn't make sense not to split it amongst the 3 teams, and in fact the National Championship Foundation did select all 3 teams to share the 1973 MNC. A job well done.

No fix is needed at #1, but Michigan at #6 when Ohio State is #2? That doesn't seem right, and I'll get to that soon, but first let's talk about #3 Oklahoma.

Oklahoma vs. Alabama

10-0-1 Oklahoma was the best team in 1973, and they are a nearly unanimous choice for #1 amongst computer ranking systems for that season, but they were taken out of the MNC race by a 7-7 tie at Southern Cal in their second game. They outgained the Trojans 339 yards to 161, but were done in by fumbles. They had a much worse performance in their next game, a 24-20 home win over unranked 5-6 Miami-Florida, but after that they looked unbeatable, destroying their last 8 opponents by an average margin of 29 points. They beat #14 Texas 52-13, #17 Missouri 31-3, #18 Kansas 48-20, and #7 Nebraska 27-0. And the Big 8 was this year's toughest conference, 27-7-1 against nonconference opponents.

In many seasons this would have been national championship material. For example, Nebraska won the MNC in 1970 at 11-0-1 with an early tie at Southern Cal, and they played a weaker schedule than Oklahoma '73 and performed much less impressively against it
. But it just goes to show the obvious, that a great deal of luck is involved with finishing #1, and it is entirely random whether or not one loss or tie will take a team out of the race in a given season. Oklahoma's 11-1 MNC team of 1975 did not perform nearly as well as this 1973 team.

But there were a lot of very impressive teams in 1973, so as great as this Oklahoma team was, they not only did not belong at #1, they didn't belong in the top 3 either. Let's compare them to #4 Alabama.

Alabama also steamrolled their opponents (average scoring margin 30 points), and in fact no one came within a touchdown of them except for #1 Notre Dame. And that game was razor-close, a 24-23 final score with 6 lead changes and an exciting finish. Both teams missed an extra point, but the difference was that Notre Dame scored a 2-point conversion to make up for theirs. This loss certainly should not hurt Alabama in comparison to Oklahoma, given that the AP poll had Notre Dame at #1, ahead of Oklahoma, and Alabama could not possibly have played Notre Dame to a closer final short of actually tying them.
Oklahoma's tie at #8 Southern Cal, however, hurts the Sooners quite a bit in comparison, because USC is of course ranked behind Alabama (and USC lost to Notre Dame 23-14). Then there is Oklahoma's 24-20 win over 5-6 Miami. Those 2 games may have come early for Oklahoma, but it doesn't matter, because Alabama did not have even one game like that, whether early or late in the season. They were strong start to finish. Oklahoma was not.

Switch 'em, Alabama to #3 and Oklahoma to #4.


10-0-1 Michigan being rated #6 is awkward, given that they stomped on 10 opponents, then tied #2 Ohio State. They did play a weak schedule, and maybe that merits their being rated behind Penn State and Oklahoma, but the problem is that if Michigan is #6, then Ohio State's #2 ranking looks iffy, and if OSU is #2, then Michigan's #6 ranking doesn't seem right. And Michigan outplayed Ohio State in their tie game, vastly outgaining them in the 2nd half, but missing 2 field goals in the closing minutes. Ohio State went to the Rose Bowl on a controversial vote by Big 10 athletic directors.

Michigan's tie with #2 Ohio State sure looks better than Oklahoma's tie with #8 Southern Cal, especially since OSU routed USC in the Rose Bowl. And though Oklahoma played a much tougher schedule than Michigan did, the fact is that Michigan properly spanked all their opponents, whereas Oklahoma only won 24-20 over 5-6 Miami. This is a tough case, and I've gone a bit back and forth on it, but in the end I'm going to have to move Michigan up ahead of Oklahoma (and Penn State as well).

Alabama, on the other hand, can remain ranked ahead of Michigan, as their loss came to #1 Notre Dame, and unlike Oklahoma they had no poor performances.

Move Michigan to #4, dropping Oklahoma to #5 and Penn State to #6. 10-0-1 Oklahoma remaining ahead of 12-0 Penn State is fine, as PSU did not play a team nearly as strong as the team that tied Oklahoma (#8 Southern Cal), and they had a couple of close wins down the stretch, when Oklahoma was mauling every team they played.

Southern Cal and Nebraska

Here's a no-brainer (unless, apparently, you're an AP poll voter circa 1973): #7 Nebraska and #8 Southern Cal both finished 9-2-1, but Nebraska lost to #17 Missouri and they were tied by unranked Oklahoma State, whereas USC lost only to the #1 and #2 teams, and they tied now-#5 Oklahoma. And Oklahoma beat Nebraska 27-0. This rating is just massively ignorant.

Switch 'em: Southern Cal to #7, Nebraska to #8.


#12 UCLA (9-2) lost only to the #7 and #8 teams, whereas the trio of 11-1 teams ahead of them all lost to a team ranked lower than UCLA. Arizona State lost to unranked Utah, Houston to unranked Auburn, and Texas Tech to #14 Texas, who actually won the SWC outright (and Texas Tech will therefore be dropping behind Texas anyway, as covered next). UCLA also performed very strongly, their 9 wins coming by an average score of 50-15, none of those teams coming close to them.

Move UCLA up to #9, dropping Arizona State, Houston, and Texas Tech 1 spot each.

Texas and Texas Tech

Sure, SWC champ Texas (#14) finished 8-3, and Texas Tech (originally ranked #11) was 11-1, but that is because Texas played top 10 teams Oklahoma and Nebraska. Texas did take an upset loss at 5-6 Miami-Florida in their opener, but they more than made up for that with a 28-12 win over Texas Tech in their next game. On top of that, Texas defeated all six of their other SWC opponents by more than Texas Tech did, outscoring those teams by a total of 208 points, compared to 94 for Tech. At that rate, if these teams had played each other 7 times, Texas would have gone 7-0.

So Texas belongs ahead of Texas Tech, but why stop there? Like 11-1 Arizona State and 11-1 Houston, Texas had 1 upset loss. But their 28-12 win over 11-1 Texas Tech was better by far than any win ASU or Houston managed, and all 8 of Texas' wins were by more than a touchdown, while ASU barely got by a losing Oregon team, and Houston had 3 close wins over unranked opponents.

So Texas belongs ahead of Arizona State and Houston as well, but why stop there? With Texas elevated to where they should be, 11-1 Texas Tech needs to move up too. Their only loss came to Texas, whereas ASU and Houston were upset by unrated teams (and Texas Tech beat Utah, the team that upset ASU). Furthermore, Texas Tech victim Tennessee (8-4, #19) is ranked higher than anyone ASU or Houston defeated.

Put Texas at #10, Texas Tech #11, and Arizona State and Houston at #12. The AP poll had ASU and Houston tied, and there's no reason not to keep them that way.

Kansas and Missouri

#18 Kansas (7-4-1) defeated #17 Missouri (8-4) 14-13, and more importantly, they went 4-2-1 in Big 8 play, Missouri 3-4. Kansas has a slightly worse record because they played 2 ranked nonconference opponents and Missouri played none.

Switch 'em: Kansas #17, Missouri #18.

Georgia, Maryland, and Tulane

Here's a prime piece of foolishness: 8-4 Maryland and 9-3 Tulane were ranked in a tie at #20, even though Maryland defeated Tulane 42-9 in their regular season finale. I guess the memory of this game was simply erased by Tulane's upset win of now-#14 Louisiana State in their regular season finale. But did no one watch the Bluebonnet Bowl, in which Tulane lost 47-7 to Houston? Earlier in the season, Tulane had lost 34-7 at 5-6 Kentucky. Maryland-- who won all 8 of their games in routs-- was so much better than Tulane that it is not even close. In fact, I'm thinking that Maryland was, oh, about 33 points better.

8-4 Maryland lost 17-16 to 7-4-1 Georgia (unranked) in the Peach Bowl. Georgia also beat #16 North Carolina State 31-12, and NC State beat Maryland to win the ACC. No question that Georgia should be rated higher than Maryland.

Bring Georgia in at #20, put Maryland at #21, and drop Tulane to #22. It's hard to justify ranking Tulane at all.

The Last 3 Slots

We have 3 slots left to fill, and next in line is 9-1-1 San Diego State, who was tied for 19th place with 7-5 Florida in the coaches' poll. But let's look at Florida first, then come back to SD State. Florida defeated 6-6 Auburn, who defeated 6-5 Mississippi, who defeated Florida, so the 3 teams make a serpent eating its own tail. But Auburn is the team that rises to the top of this circle, because the rest of their losses all came to rated opponents, whereas Florida lost to 4-5-2 Mississippi State and Ole Miss lost to 8-3 Memphis. 6-5 Mississippi and 7-5 Florida have the same relevant record, but Ole Miss won 13-10 at Florida. They also outperformed Florida, winning the rest of their games by more than a touchdown, while Florida had 5 close wins, and Mississippi lost 3 games by more than a touchdown, Florida 4. So Auburn > Mississippi > Florida.

As for San Diego State, their 9-1-1 record looks a whole better than Auburn's 6-6, but needless to say, the 2 teams played completely different schedules. Auburn had only one upset loss, 12-8 to 7-5 Florida, and that is not as bad as San Diego State's tie at 5-4-2 San Jose State. The main difference between these 2 teams is that Auburn defeated a rated opponent, 7-0 over now-#12 Houston. And Houston happens to be the team San Diego State lost to, and the only rated team they even played. And of course Auburn defeated a second team who will make the fixed and expanded top 25, Ole Miss.

Speaking of Ole Miss, their upset loss to 8-3 Memphis is worse than San Diego State's tie at 5-4-2 San Jose State, and those games put SD State an effective half game ahead. But Ole Miss defeated #19 Tennessee 28-18, which puts them back ahead of SD State. And like Auburn, Ole Miss defeated a second team who will be rated, Florida.

So we're down to Florida vs. San Diego State for the 25th slot. Like Auburn and Ole Miss, Florida has a better relevant record than SD State, thanks to upset wins over Auburn and Georgia. But those wins came by rather slim margins, 12-8 and 11-10, and Florida performed poorly on the season, beating Southern Miss 14-13, Kentucky 20-18, and Miami-Florida 14-7. And their upset loss was an ugly 33-12 beatdown at 4-5-2 Mississippi State. All of that gives San Diego State a case for possibly being rated higher than Florida (Auburn and Ole Miss performed better than did Florida). But for the 25th slot, let's go ahead and do what the coaches' poll did, and put San Diego State and Florida into a tie with each other. That means we have a top 26 this year, which seems appropriate, since the original AP poll was a top 21 (Maryland and Tulane being tied at #20).

So we have 4 teams for the last 3 slots, Auburn #23, Mississippi #24, and Florida and San Diego State tied at #25. I would drop #22 Tulane, whose performances were extremely poor, behind all of these teams, or at least the 3 SEC teams, but Tulane does have the same relevant record as Auburn, and Auburn lost 4 of their last 5 games, and their last 3 by big margins, so I'll let it go. The AP poll can keep Tulane up there.

Fixed AP Top 25

No team falls out of this fixed and expanded AP top 25, or top 26 in this case. Discounting games against each other, the 5 new teams that enter the top 25 (or 26) had a combined 4 losses and 2 ties to unranked opponents and 5 wins over teams the AP poll had rated.

1) Notre Dame 11-0 --
2) Ohio State 10-0-1 --
3) Alabama 11-1 +1
4) Michigan 10-0-1 +2
5) Oklahoma 10-0-1 -2
6) Penn State 12-0 -1
7) Southern Cal 9-2-1 +1
8) Nebraska 9-2-1 -1
9) UCLA 9-2 +3
10) Texas 8-3 +4
11) Texas Tech 11-1 --
12) Arizona State 11-1
       Houston 11-1
14) Louisiana State 9-3 -1
15) Miami-Ohio 11-0 --
16) North Carolina State 9-3 --
17) Kansas 7-4-1 +1
18) Missouri 8-4 -1
19) Tennessee 8-4 --
20) Georgia 7-4-1 IN
21) Maryland 8-4 -0.5
22) Tulane 9-3 -1.5
23) Auburn 6-6 IN
24) Mississippi 6-5 IN
25) Florida 7-5
       San Diego State 9-1-1