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Fixing the Final 1976 AP College Football Poll

1) Pittsburgh 12-0
2) Southern Cal 11-1
3) Michigan 10-2
4) Houston 10-2
5) Oklahoma 9-2-1
6) Ohio State 9-2-1
7) Texas A&M 10-2
8) Maryland 11-1
9) Nebraska 9-3-1
10) Georgia 10-2
11) Alabama 9-3
12) Notre Dame 9-3
13) Texas Tech 10-2
14) Oklahoma State 9-3
15) UCLA 9-2-1
16) Colorado 8-4
17) Rutgers 11-0
18) Kentucky 8-4
19) Iowa State 8-3
20) Mississippi State 9-2
To the left is the final 1976 AP college football top 20. The fixed final AP poll, expanded to 25 teams, follows the article below. 

1976 was a very difficult year to rate the top 20 teams, mostly because of the chaotic Big 8. Just looking at conference play, here is the order teams in the Big 8 finished:

1) Colorado: 5-2, beat Oklahoma and OSU (AP #16)
2) Oklahoma State: 5-2, beat Oklahoma (AP #14)
3) Oklahoma: 5-2 (AP #5)
4) Iowa State: 4-3, beat Nebraska (AP #19)
5) Nebraska: 4-3 (AP #9)
6) Missouri: 3-4
7) Kansas: 2-5
8) Kansas State 0-7

However, nonconference play muddied the waters quite a bit, and as you can see, the AP poll rated these teams nothing like their finishes in conference play. The top 4 teams went 15-3-1 in nonconference play, 0-2 against rated teams, while the #5 to #7 teams went 12-1-1, 4-0 against rated teams. And that makes for a difficult mess to untangle.
Pittsburgh running back Tony Dorsett
Heisman winner Tony Dorsett led the nation with 1948 yards rushing, then added 202 more in Pitt's 27-3 Sugar Bowl win over Georgia to secure the national championship. His 4-year total of 6082 rushing yards set a new career record that stood for 32 years.

Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado, and Texas Tech

You know that something is probably not right when 9-2-1 Oklahoma is rated #5, while their Big 8 co-champions, 9-3 Oklahoma State and 8-4 Colorado, are rated so far back at #14 and #16, especially since OSU and Colorado both defeated Oklahoma head-to-head. Oklahoma and Nebraska both appear to be overrated at #5 and #9, as they each had 2 losses and a tie to teams ranked below them, neither defeated a top ten team, and they really finished 3rd and 5th in their own conference.

Texas Tech

Similar to the Oklahoma/Oklahoma State/Colorado situation, #13 Texas Tech (10-2) was rated far apart from their SWC co-champion, #4 Houston, and they were also ranked well below #7 Texas A&M (10-2), who was 3rd in the SWC, losing to both Texas Tech and Houston. The main reason for both Texas Tech's underrating and Nebraska's overrating appears to be Nebraska's 27-24 victory over Texas Tech in the Bluebonnet Bowl. But let's fully compare 10-2 Texas Tech to 9-3-1 Nebraska.

First of all, that bowl win was terrific for Nebraska, and salvaged a rather poor season, but it was hardly dominating. Nebraska admirably came back from down 10, blocking a punt in the 4th quarter to set up the winning 23 yard touchdown pass. But Texas Tech's only other loss came to #4 Houston, while Nebraska lost to #19 Iowa State and to unranked 6-5 Missouri, and they were tied by unranked 6-4-1 LSU. Those results more than drown out Nebraska's one close bowl win over Tech. In addition, Texas Tech defeated #7 Texas A&M, who is rated higher than Nebraska. Altogether, that gives Texas Tech a relevant record that is effectively 2 1/2 games better than Nebraska's, even with the close head-to-head loss. Of course, their straight record is a game and a half better too.

Texas Tech also has an effective 2 1/2 game lead on Oklahoma, and a better straight record as well. Sure, Tech lost to Nebraska, whom Oklahoma defeated. But they also defeated Colorado and Texas, who beat and tied Oklahoma. Texas Tech should be rated ahead of all the Big 8 teams.

Colorado

#16 Colorado won the Big 8, defeating co-champions Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and thereby gaining the Orange Bowl berth, but they took a couple of losses in nonconference play and finished 8-4, which is why they are ranked so low. However, those nonconference losses came to 9-2-1 Ohio State and 10-2 Texas Tech. Oklahoma did not themselves defeat any nonconference opponents as strong as those 2, or in fact any rated nonconference opponents at all. Moreover, OU was tied by unrated Texas. Colorado is therefore effectively a half game better than Oklahoma in addition to beating them 42-31 head-to-head, and should be ranked higher.

So at this point, we have Texas Tech > Colorado > Oklahoma > Nebraska. What about Big 8 co-champion Oklahoma State, who beat Oklahoma? OSU tied Oklahoma at 5-2 in Big 8 play, but they lost to unrated 5-5-1 Arkansas, which is of course half a game worse than Oklahoma's tie with 5-5-1 Texas. And Nebraska's bowl upset over Texas Tech gives them a better relevant record than OSU as well. So the AP poll got that much right-- Oklahoma and Nebraska belong ahead of OSU.

Where to Place These Teams

Okay, so we have Texas Tech (AP #13) > Colorado (#16) > Oklahoma (#5) > Nebraska (#9). Where do we rank the four teams now? Their average ranking is 10.75, so we'll put all four between #10 Georgia (10-2) and #11 Alabama (9-3). That creates the following ratings shift:

5) 9-2-1 Ohio State
6) 10-2 Texas A&M
7) 11-1 Maryland
8) 10-2 Georgia
9) 10-2 Texas Tech
10) 8-4 Colorado
11) 9-2-1 Oklahoma
12) 9-3-1 Nebraska
13) 9-3 Alabama
14) 9-3 Notre Dame
15) 9-3 Oklahoma State
16) 9-2-1 UCLA

This works very well in a number of ways. Texas Tech is closer to SWC co-champion Houston (who is #4), and the 3 Big 8 co-champions are much closer to each other as well. Oklahoma and Nebraska, with all their upset losses and ties, make much stronger #11 and #12 teams than they did #5 and #9 teams, especially with Texas Tech and Colorado moved appropriately ahead of them.

Ohio State

With an upset loss to unranked Missouri and a tie with now-#16 UCLA, both at home, 9-2-1 Ohio State looks overrated at #5. They were routed 22-0 by #3 Michigan, and their schedule was very weak, their only win over a rated opponent coming 27-10 in the Orange Bowl over now-#10 Colorado. That tells us that they were better than Colorado, but they have a worse relevant record than every team ranked between themselves and Colorado, and a worse straight record as well. Let's compare them to now-#9 Texas Tech (10-2).

Texas Tech matched Ohio State's biggest win, beating Colorado 24-7. But Tech also defeated 10-2 Texas A&M (now #6), whereas OSU beat no other rated team. Both teams took an upset loss, but Texas Tech's came to now-#12 Nebraska, whereas OSU's came to unranked Missouri. And OSU took the upset tie with now-#16 UCLA, while no one else upset Texas Tech.

So we'll drop Ohio State back behind Texas Tech, to #9, raising Texas Tech, Georgia, Maryland, and Texas A&M one spot each.

Oklahoma State

As I established, 9-3 Oklahoma State belongs behind Oklahoma and Nebraska despite winning a share of the Big 8 title and defeating Oklahoma. But do they belong behind 9-3 Alabama and 9-3 Notre Dame, who now sit right in front of them? Let's compare them to Alabama. Both teams took an early upset loss (Alabama to 5-6 Mississippi and Oklahoma to 5-5-1 Arkansas), but Alabama took another upset loss to Notre Dame, who sits right behind them, and OSU won 31-24 at Oklahoma, who is rated higher than Alabama. OSU also defeated 7 winning opponents, Alabama just 4. So let's move Oklahoma State ahead of the Tide. Supporting this shift is the fact that the Big 8 was the best conference in 1976, going 28-7-2 against nonconference opponents to the SEC's 35-16-1.

You may wonder why 9-3 Alabama should be rated ahead of 9-3 Notre Dame when the Irish beat them. This could go either way, and I might have rated Notre Dame higher myself, but Alabama is the only rated team Notre Dame beat, and it was a very close 21-18 home win. Alabama defeated #20 Mississippi State (9-2) 34-17 and now-#16 UCLA (9-2-1) 36-6 in their bowl game, so they looked much more impressive than Notre Dame. I think the AP poll was correct on this one.

Put Oklahoma State at #13, Alabama #14, and Notre Dame #15.

Rutgers

#17 Rutgers went 11-0, but this was before the NCAA's division 1 split into 1A and 1AA, and Rutgers played what would today be considered a 1AA (or FCS) schedule, with opponents such as Bucknell, Princeton, Cornell, Lehigh, Columbia, Massachusetts, and Colgate. But it was weaker than even that, because there were only 2 winning teams on their entire schedule, 6-5 Lehigh and 8-2 Colgate, both of whom they beat by just a touchdown. They also edged 2-7 Cornell by just a touchdown.

I don't think Rutgers should be rated at all, but hey, they did go unbeaten, and they were in the same division, at this time, as the rest of these teams we're discussing. So we'll see what we can do for the AP voters as the poll is expanded to 25 teams. But for now, no team in the AP's top 20 should be rated lower than Rutgers. The AP's #20 team, 9-2 Mississippi State, lost only to 9-3 Alabama and 8-4 Florida (who'll make the fixed top 25), and they defeated #18 Kentucky. Rutgers does not even compare.

So we'll drop Rutgers to #20, moving Mississippi State, Iowa State, and Kentucky up one slot each.

Iowa State, Missouri, and Kansas

Again, the Big 8 was by far the best conference this season, going 28-7-2 against nonconference opponents, and the conference was also very deep. 7 of the 8 teams in the conference finished with winning records, and 5 finished ranked, the only time in history that any conference as had a majority of its teams make the AP's top 20. But 7 of 8 should have finished in the top 20. Check out 6-5 Missouri. They defeated 4 teams the AP poll had rated: 11-1 Southern Cal, 9-2-1 Ohio State, 9-3-1 Nebraska, and 8-4 Colorado, all currently ranked in the top 12. That is an amazing number for an unranked team, but of course they should not have been unranked in the first place. Then there's 6-5 Kansas. All 5 of their losses came to teams the AP poll had ranked, but they defeated #18 Kentucky 37-16, and definitely should have been rated ahead of the Wildcats. Kansas also beat Missouri 41-14, but Missouri was a game better in conference play, and they notched those huge nonconference upset wins as well.

8-3 Iowa State (#19) beat both Missouri and Kansas, and the Cyclones will have to move past 8-4 Kentucky with them. But of course, ISU never should have been rated behind Kentucky to begin with, and it only happened because Kentucky played in a bowl game and Iowa State did not.

Put Iowa State at #17, Missouri #18, Kansas #19, Kentucky #20, Mississippi State #21, and Rutgers #22.

Florida and Louisiana State

Three more slots to fill. With upset wins over 10-2 Houston and 9-2 Mississippi State, 8-4 Florida belongs in the top 25, and their accomplishments blow away Rutgers', so we'll put them in ahead of Rutgers. Kentucky, Mississippi State, and Florida defeated each other in a circle, and the three could be validly ranked in several different ways relative to each other. The AP poll's choice of Kentucky > MSU > Florida is a legitimate option.

6-4-1 Louisiana State lost 28-23 at Florida, but with Florida's entry into the top 25, LSU has no upset losses, and they tied now-#12 Nebraska, so they blow past Rutgers right behind Florida.

Put Florida at #22, Louisiana State at #23, and Rutgers at #24.

North Carolina vs. Baylor

We have just 1 slot left to fill, and 2 teams next in line for it: 9-3 North Carolina and 7-3-1 Baylor (who finished #19 in the coaches' poll). Baylor beat no one (just 1 winning team, 6-5 South Carolina), and they were tied by 5-5-1 Arkansas. North Carolina lost to 3-7-1 North Carolina State, but they also defeated 8-4 Florida (now #22) and 9-2 East Carolina. Both teams performed very unimpressively (Baylor 4 close wins and NC State 6, though 2 of those were over Florida and EC), but Baylor may have an edge here due to a close loss to now-#8 Texas Tech in their finale compared to a 21-0 loss by UNC to now-#20 Kentucky in their bowl game. But that isn't enough to make up for the fact that Baylor accomplished nothing, while UNC brought home 2 wins of value.

I'd rank both UNC and Baylor ahead of Rutgers myself, but both performed so poorly, and both took upsets while Rutgers didn't, so the AP poll can keep Rutgers at #24, putting North Carolina at #25 and Baylor on the outside looking in.

Fixed AP Top 25

No teams fall out of this fixed and expanded AP poll. Discounting games against each other, the 5 teams that enter the top 25 had a combined 2 losses to unranked opponents and a gigantic 7 wins and a tie against teams the AP poll had rated.

1) Pittsburgh 12-0--
2) Southern Cal 11-1--
3) Michigan 10-2--
4) Houston 10-2--
5) Texas A&M 10-2+2
6) Maryland 11-1+2
7) Georgia 10-2+3
8) Texas Tech 10-2+5
9) Ohio State 9-2-1-3
10) Colorado 8-4+6
11) Oklahoma 9-2-1-6
12) Nebraska 9-3-1-3
13) Oklahoma State 9-3+1
14) Alabama 9-3-3
15) Notre Dame 9-3-3
16) UCLA 9-2-1-1
17) Iowa State 8-3+2
18) Missouri 6-5IN
19) Kansas 6-5IN
20) Kentucky 8-4-2
21) Mississippi State 9-2-1
22) Florida 8-4IN
23) Louisiana State 6-4-1IN
24) Rutgers 11-0-7
25) North Carolina 9-3IN