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Fixing the Final 1981 AP College Football Poll

1) Clemson 12-0
2) Texas 10-1-1
3) Penn State 10-2
4) Pittsburgh 11-1
5) Southern Methodist 10-1
6) Georgia 10-2
7) Alabama 9-2-1
8) Miami-Florida 9-2
9) North Carolina 10-2
10) Washington 10-2
11) Nebraska 9-3
12) Michigan 9-3
13) Brigham Young 11-2
14) Southern Cal 9-3
15) Ohio State 9-3
16) Oklahoma 8-4
17) Arizona State 9-2
18) Iowa 8-4
19) Missouri 8-4
20) Oklahoma 7-4-1
To the left is the final 1981 AP college football top 20. The fixed final AP poll, expanded to 25 teams, follows the article below. 

Let's get right to it. #11 Nebraska (9-3) took an upset loss, while #10 Washington (10-2) took 2, and Nebraska lost theirs by 3 points, Washington by 19 and 31 points. Washington also barely beat losing teams Cal and Texas Tech, while Nebraska's only close win was at #19 Missouri.

Like Nebraska, #9 North Carolina (10-2) took one upset loss, but theirs came to unranked 6-6 South Carolina 31-13, whereas Nebraska's came at #18 Iowa 10-7 in their opener. North Carolina had 2 close wins over losing teams, Nebraska none. And NC beat no ranked teams, while Nebraska beat 2.

Nebraska was ranked #4 in the last regular season poll, well ahead of both these teams, and it makes no sense that they were dropped so far after losing to #1 Clemson 22-15 in the Orange Bowl. So we'll move Nebraska ahead of both teams, to #9, dropping North Carolina and Washington one spot each.
Clemson receiver Perry Tuttle in 1982 Orange Bowl
Receiver Perry Tuttle celebrates what proved to be the winning touchdown in Clemson's 22-15 win over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl for the school's only national championship.

Washington and North Carolina

Washington has 2 upset losses and North Carolina just 1, but Washington's losses came to teams who will finish ranked in the fixed and expanded top 25 (9-2 Arizona State and 7-4-1 UCLA), while UNC's came to a 6-6 South Carolina team that is nowhere near any top 25. Washington also defeated 2 ranked teams (#14 Southern Cal and #18 Iowa) and a 3rd who will make the fixed top 25 (8-3-1 Washington State), but UNC did not defeat a ranked opponent in either the original or the fixed AP poll. Washington is therefore 3-2 against teams in the fixed top 25, 7-0 against unranked, while UNC is 0-1 against ranked teams, 10-1 against unranked. Washington has the better record in both regards.

Switch 'em: Washington #10, North Carolina #11
.

Iowa and Michigan

#12 Michigan (9-3) has 3 losses to lower-ranked opponents and no wins against ranked teams-- obviously overrated. There is an easy fix to this, though, as Big 10 champ Iowa (#18, 8-4) won at Michigan 9-7, which is why the Hawkeyes went to the Rose Bowl. Iowa also has 3 losses to lower-ranked teams, but they made up for one of those with a 10-7 win over now-#9 Nebraska, and of course they beat Michigan head-to-head.

Move Iowa ahead of Michigan, and put both teams in the middle of where they're ranked now, behind Southern Cal. That results in the following ratings shift: Brigham Young #12, Southern Cal #13, Iowa #14, Michigan #15, Ohio State #16, Arizona State #17, and West Virginia #18.

Brigham Young

With 2 losses to unranked opponents (6-6 UNLV and 8-3 Wyoming), and no wins over rated teams, 11-2 Brigham Young is, as usual, overrated. Let's compare them to 9-3 Michigan.

Both teams have 2 losses to lower-ranked opponents, but one of Michigan's upsetters is rated (9-3 Ohio State). Michigan's upsets were also both close (7 and 5 points), whereas BYU lost to Wyoming 33-20. And they played comparable bowl opponents, Michigan beating 7-4-1 UCLA 33-14 and BYU defeating 8-3-1 Washington State 38-36. UCLA and WSU tied each other, and had the same record in PAC 10 play, so Michigan's bowl performance is much better than BYU's.

Drop Brigham Young behind Michigan, to #15, moving Michigan, Iowa, and Southern Cal up one spot each.

Southern Cal

9-3 Southern Cal now sits right behind 10-2 North Carolina. Both took one upset loss, but USC defeated a ranked opponent (#20 Oklahoma) and 2 more who will make the fixed top 25 (7-4-1 UCLA and 8-3-1 Washington State), while UNC, again, defeated no ranked opponents.

Switch 'em: Southern Cal to #11, North Carolina #12. That's the end of UNC's dropping here, but I would rank them much lower than this myself.

UCLA

Unranked 7-4-1 UCLA has a loss and a tie to unranked opponents, but the tie came against a team that will finish ranked, and the Bruins defeated #10 Washington 31-0 and now-#17 Arizona State 34-24. That gives UCLA a better relevant record than a bunch of teams at the bottom of the AP poll's top 20, including Arizona State. Compare them to now-#15 Brigham Young.

Brigham Young has 2 upset losses, UCLA an upset loss and tie. BYU beat one team that will finish rated, 8-3-1 Washington State, and they're the ones who tied UCLA, but UCLA's win over #10 Washington trumps that, and the Bruins also have a win over another rated team, 9-2 Arizona State. UCLA is effectively a game and a half better, and defeated twice as many ranked opponents.

Move UCLA into the top 20 (now 21), ahead of Brigham Young at #15, dropping BYU and everyone behind them one spot each.

Arizona State

9-2 Arizona State has just 1 upset loss, and like UCLA they also defeated #10 Washington (26-7), so let's move the Sun Devils ahead of Brigham Young too.

That moves ASU to #16, BYU to #17, and Ohio State to #18.

Washington State

While we're at it, maybe we should go ahead and move unranked 8-3-1 Washington State ahead of Brigham Young as well. BYU did defeat WSU 38-36 in the Holiday Bowl, but they also lost to 2 unranked opponents, and WSU lost to no one that is currently unranked (or rated lower than BYU). That means that WSU was effectively 2 games ahead of BYU before they even played their bowl game, and as you may know by now, while I think bowl results should be emphasized, I do not think they should count double. Furthermore, WSU also defeated now-#16 Arizona State and tied now-#15 UCLA, both of whom are now rated ahead of BYU, so WSU has as much as an effective 2 and a half game lead on BYU even after the bowl loss.

That's just too much for one bowl win to overcome. I could give the AP poll a break here if BYU had romped WSU in that game, and they almost did, jumping out to a 31-7 lead, but a 38-36 win isn't nearly convincing enough to counteract the fact that BYU lost to 2 bad teams and that WSU defeated and tied higher-rated teams.

Put WSU into the top 21 (now 22), ahead of Brigham Young at #17, dropping BYU and everyone behind them one spot each. This actually bolsters BYU's ranking, as they have a win over a higher-ranked team now to balance out one of their upset losses.

Oklahoma

7-4-1 Oklahoma (now #22) lost 19-14 at 8-4 Missouri (now #21), but the Sooners went 4-2-1 in Big 8 play, Missouri 3-4, and Oklahoma should be rated higher. OU's other 2 losses came to #2 Texas and to now-#11 Southern Cal.

But why stop there? Let's cut to the chase and compare Oklahoma to 9-3 Ohio State. Ohio State had 3 losses to unranked opponents, and while they made up for one of those losses with an upset win over now-#14 Michigan, that still leaves them with 2 upset losses. Oklahoma took an upset loss and tie, putting them effectively a half game ahead of Ohio State. And Oklahoma's upset loss came to a ranked opponent (Missouri). Oklahoma also performed better, with only one close win over an unranked opponent to Ohio State's 3 such games. Their bowl results are most telling: Ohio State beat 7-4-1 Navy 31-28, and Oklahoma beat 7-4-1 Houston 40-14-- and Houston will make the fixed and expanded top 25 (details below).

Move Oklahoma to #19, dropping Ohio State, West Virginia, and Missouri one spot each.

Southern Mississippi and Mississippi State

We now have 22 teams, so we've got 3 more slots to fill. Let's start with 9-2-1 Southern Miss, whom the coaches ranked #19, and 8-4 Mississippi State, whom the coaches ranked #17. The coaches messed those rankings up, because USM won 7-6 at MSU, and they therefore deserve to be rated higher. Both teams lost to now-#22 Missouri.

Put Southern Miss at #23 and Mississippi State at #24.

Houston and Arkansas

For the last slot, I present 8-4 Arkansas, whom the coaches ranked #16. Except that Arkansas lost 20-17 at home to 7-4-1 Houston, and Arkansas was 5-3 in SWC play, Houston 5-2-1, so really, I present 7-4-1 Houston for the last slot. So it is written, so shall it be done.

Fixed AP Top 25

In what has become a welcome trend, no team falls out of this fixed and expanded AP top 25. The 5 new teams had a total of 4 losses to unrated opponents (discounting games against each other), and they had 4 wins and 2 ties against teams the AP poll had rated.

1) Clemson 12-0--
2) Texas 10-1-1--
3) Penn State 10-2--
4) Pittsburgh 11-1--
5) Southern Methodist 10-1--
6) Georgia 10-2--
7) Alabama 9-2-1--
8) Miami-Florida 9-2--
9) Nebraska 9-3+2
10) Washington 10-2--
11) Southern Cal 9-3+3
12) North Carolina 10-2-3
13) Iowa 8-4+5
14) Michigan 9-3-2
15) UCLA 7-4-1IN
16) Arizona State 9-2--
17) Washington State 8-3-1IN
18) Brigham Young 11-2-5
19) Oklahoma 7-4-1+1
20) Ohio State 9-3-5
21) West Virginia 9-3-4
22) Missouri 8-4-3
23) Southern Miss 9-2-1IN
24) Mississippi State 8-4IN
25) Houston 7-4-1IN