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Fixing the Final 1986 AP College Football Poll

1) Penn State 12-0
2) Miami-Florida 11-1
3) Oklahoma 11-1
4) Arizona State 10-1-1
5) Nebraska 10-2
6) Auburn 10-2
7) Ohio State 10-3
8) Michigan 11-2
9) Alabama 10-3
10) Louisiana State 9-3
11) Arizona 9-3
12) Baylor 9-3
13) Texas A&M 9-3
14) UCLA 8-3-1
15) Arkansas 9-3
16) Iowa 9-3
17) Clemson 8-2-2
18) Washington 8-3-1
19) Boston College 9-3
20) Virginia Tech 9-2-1
To the left is the final 1986 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. 

The most overrated team of the 1986 poll was #7 Ohio State (10-3), and the most underrated was #18 Washington (8-3-1).

Ohio State took all three of their losses to teams ranked behind them, so you know something's wrong there. Here's their relevant record: they beat #13 and #16, and lost to #8, #9, and #18. So you could logically conclude that they likely belong behind #9 and ahead of #13, right? That would normally be true, but in this case, they belong behind #18.

#18, you see, is the aforementioned most underrated team, Washington. They beat Ohio State by the hard-to-believe-it's-just-an-accident score of 40-7. 
Penn State sacks Testaverde, '87 Fiesta Bowl

Heisman Trophy winner Vinnie Testaverde had a bad night at the Fiesta Bowl, throwing 5 picks. Penn State's defense did all the heavy lifting to upset Miami 14-10 for the national championship.

UCLA, Washington, and Ohio State

8-3-1 Washington (#18) tied 8-3-1 UCLA (#14) 17-17, and both went 5-2-1 in conference play, tying each other for 2nd place in the PAC 10 as well. Behind them in 4th place was 9-3 Arizona, who went 5-3 in the conference (they lost to UCLA, but did not play Washington), yet Arizona is mysteriously ranked well ahead of both in the AP poll, at #11. Washington lost to #9 Alabama, and UCLA to #3 Oklahoma, but Arizona played no ranked nonconference opponents. Clearly both belong ranked ahead of #11 Arizona, and if we move them there, then we can drop Ohio State behind Washington, and the Buckeyes would then be ranked behind every team that beat them, but ahead of every team they defeated. That is what we call perfect around here.

So that's what we'll do. Michigan, Alabama, and Louisiana State each move up a spot as Ohio State drops back. Michigan and Alabama beat Ohio State anyway, and Michigan being ranked behind the Buckeyes was particularly odd, because they had a better straight record than OSU as well, so the AP voters really dropped the ball on this one.

UCLA moves up to #10, Washington all the way up to #11, and Ohio State drops to #12. So now we don't have to pretend that Washington's 40-7 win over OSU was just an accident. UCLA and Washington each had one upset loss, while Ohio State had no upset losses, but that is no surprise, given that the PAC 10 was 25-11 against nonconference opponents (2nd to the SEC's 40-15-2), while the Big 10 was 22-16, and the PAC 10 was 4-1 against the Big 10 (the Big 10's only win was champion Michigan beating 3-8 Oregon State).

Arizona, Baylor, and Texas A&M each drop 2 spots as UCLA and Washington move past them. Dropping one spot each are Arkansas, Iowa, and Clemson.

Alabama

In a small adjustment, I'm thinking 10-3 Alabama (now #8) should be ranked ahead of Michigan (now #7). All 3 of Alabama's losses came to top 10 teams (#1 Penn State, #6 Auburn, and now-#9 LSU), while Michigan lost to unrated 6-5 Minnesota and #4 Arizona State. 9 of Alabama's 10 wins were by more than a touchdown, the exception being a 16-10 win over 10-3 Ohio State in the season-opening Kickoff Classic in New Jersey. Michigan had 4 close wins, 2 over unrated opponents. And as mentioned, the SEC was 40-15-2 against nonconference opponents, the Big 10 22-16.

A simple switch here, Alabama to #7 and Michigan to #8.

Texas A&M and Baylor

9-3 Texas A&M ended up ranked right behind 9-3 Baylor, despite beating Baylor 31-30 and winning the SWC outright. A&M also outscored 7 common opponents 248-87 compared to Baylor's 191-115. Sheer laziness, this error is.

Another switch, Texas A&M to #14 and Baylor to #15.

Southern Cal

Unranked 7-5 Southern Cal won at 9-3 Baylor 17-14. Upset? USC was quite erratic. They lost to 2 unranked teams, Washington State and Notre Dame, but those upset losses are balanced out by upset wins over 9-3 Arizona (now #13) and 8-3-1 Washington (now #11). Baylor had one upset loss, to unranked Southern Methodist, but they have no upset wins to balance it out. So with the head-to-head win, Southern Cal is effectively 2 games better than Baylor. And remember the PAC 10's 25-11 against nonconference opponents? The SWC went a WAC-like 17-14. So no, there's no reason to believe that USC's win at Baylor was an upset.

Baylor can fall no further, as Arkansas, whom they beat, is right behind them, so we'll just move Southern Cal into the top 20, up ahead of Baylor, to #15. Baylor and the teams behind them all drop a spot (Virginia Tech is now #21). 

Clemson and Stanford

8-2-2 Clemson, originally ranked #17, definitely looked like a team that should not be ranked when I first perused this top 20. They took 2 losses and 2 ties to unranked opponents, and beat no rated teams. That is quite awful. Normally, I'd just kick them out, but the real problem here is where a couple of teams Clemson defeated were ranked (or not ranked, as it were).

Clemson beat unranked 8-4 Stanford 27-21 in the Gator Bowl. Stanford had one upset loss (17-11 to rival Cal), but they also notched upset wins over now-#10 UCLA and now-#13 Arizona, so even with the Gator Bowl loss, Stanford is effectively three games better than Clemson. And that is not even close.

Where should Stanford be ranked? Let's compare them to 10-3 Iowa, now ranked #18. If we move Stanford ahead of Clemson, they have 2 upset losses and 2 upset wins, with greater emphasis placed on one of the upset losses, since it took place in a bowl game. Iowa has 1 upset loss (to 4-7 Illinois), and no upset wins, or any wins over rated opponents. Stanford had one close win over an unrated opponent, beating 8-4 San Diego State 17-10, while Iowa had 4 close wins over unrated opponents, including 39-38 over San Diego State, winning on a game-ending field goal. That's the only winning opponent Iowa defeated, while Stanford beat 4 (in addition to UCLA, Arizona, and SD State, Stanford also beat 10-2 San Jose State 28-10).

I would likely not rank Iowa at all myself. But for now, we'll just move Stanford into the top 20, ahead of Iowa, to #18, dropping Iowa and all the teams behind them one spot each. Clemson now makes more sense as a ranked team, with that bowl win now coming over a higher-ranked opponent, but 2 losses and 2 ties to unranked teams is still pretty poor even with the bowl effort.

Florida

Seems like every other year, I'm promoting an unranked Florida team into the fixed AP poll. In my last fixed poll (1987), a 6-6 Florida team ended up #17. And here comes another one, 6-5 this time. Why does this keep happening?

Two reasons-- 1) Florida was usually pretty good, and 2) Florida's schedules used to be ridiculous. In addition to their SEC schedule, they used to play both Miami and Florida State every year-- and this was when Miami and FSU were generally the best teams in the country.

This 1986 edition was, like a lot of the teams in the bottom of this AP poll, very erratic. They lost to 6-5 Mississippi State and to 5-5-1 Kentucky. But they also defeated #6 Auburn, 8-4 Georgia, and 7-4-1 Florida State (and Georgia and FSU will be making the final fixed top 25). Compare them to Iowa. They have equal relevant records (Florida 2 upset losses and 1 upset win; Iowa 1 upset loss and no upset win), but Florida's upset losses both came on the road, and to teams that finished .500 or better, while Iowa's upset loss came at home, to a 4-7 team. Florida's 31-19 win over Georgia and 17-13 win at Florida State, teams that sit at #21 and #24 in the AP poll's "Others receiving votes" section, blow away Iowa's one 39-38 win over San Diego State (their only win over a winning opponent). And finally, Florida performed better, with 2 of their wins being close (and those were against #6 Auburn and Florida State, who will finish ranked), compared to 4 for Iowa (and none of those opponents are or will be ranked).

Florida wins. We'll move them into the top 20, ahead of Iowa, to #19. Iowa and all the teams behind them drop a spot (Virginia Tech is now #23).

Georgia and Boston College

This is similar to the Stanford-Clemson case above. 9-3 Boston College, originally ranked #19, lost to two unranked opponents, 5-5-1 Rutgers and 6-5 Southern Methodist. Their best win in the regular season (and only win over a winning opponent) came 38-29 over 6-5 Temple, a team that is not close to being rated. But then BC beat 8-4 Georgia 27-24 in the Hall of Fame Bowl, by far their biggest win of the season. Georgia had been #17 in the final regular season poll, but fell out with the bowl loss.

Georgia's other 3 losses all came to teams now ranked higher than Boston College, and they defeated #6 Auburn. So given BC's 2 upset losses, Georgia was effectively 3 games ahead of BC before the teams even played their bowl game. That's too big a lead to ignore just because of one bowl game, especially one that ended up being decided by a mere 3 points.

Georgia did not perform any better than BC on the season, and BC's upset losses both came early in the season, which help BC's case here. But on the other hand, Georgia defeated 8-3-1 Mississippi (a good unrated team that will make the fixed AP poll) in addition to their upset win over Auburn, while BC's only win of real value this season came over Georgia.

So we'll move Georgia in ahead of Boston College, at #22, dropping BC to #23 and Virginia Tech to #24. Boston College actually looks much stronger as a ranked team with Georgia ranked ahead of them, because that win then helps balance out one of their upset losses. I myself would rank Georgia ahead of Clemson as well, but I think the AP poll voters have a case here, so Clemson (who did win at Georgia 31-28) will hold them off in the fixed poll.

Florida State and Virginia Tech

9-2-1 Virginia Tech, originally ranked #20, is the last problem in the 1986 AP poll. They took 2 upset losses (5-6 Cincinnati and 6-5 Temple), and also suffered an upset tie (3-6-2 South Carolina). A 20-14 win at Clemson makes up for one of their upset losses, and they also beat nearly-rated 8-3-1 North Carolina State 25-24 in the Peach Bowl. Several teams, however, suffered fewer upset losses, and are more deserving of being rated.

7-4-1 Florida State finished right behind Virginia Tech, at #21 in the "Others receiving votes" addendum. They suffered just one upset tie (to 7-4-1 North Carolina), but they also had no wins of value (their best came 27-13 over 6-6 Indiana in the All American Bowl). That fact would be enough to forgive Virginia Tech's multiple upset problems and allow the AP poll to keep them ahead of Florida State if it weren't for a huge performance gap between the teams.

All 7 of FSU's wins were dominating (more than a touchdown), while Virginia Tech struggled all too often to beat back losing teams (West Virginia 13-7, Kentucky 17-15, Richmond 17-10, Vanderbilt 29-21). One of Tech's upset losses was also a very poor performance, a 16 point loss to 6-5 Temple.

So we'll move Florida State in at #24, dropping Virginia Tech to #25.

Mississippi

8-3-1 Mississippi had one upset loss (7-5 Tennessee) and an upset tie (Arkansas State), so they took one less upset loss than did Virginia Tech. And their win over now-#9 Louisiana State is better than VT's over now-#22 Clemson. Mississippi also performed better (half as many close wins as VT).

So Mississippi shall claim Virginia Tech's #25 spot, which is too bad. This was Tech's first finish in the AP poll in 32 years, and only their second ever. I was rooting for them, and they had a nice straight record, but the facts just do not support them.

Fixed AP Top 25

For the third straight poll I've fixed ('88 and '87 the previous), the only team that falls out is the team that was ranked #20. This year's victim, Virginia Tech, had 2 and a half losses to unranked opponents, and one win over a ranked opponent. The 6 teams that enter the fixed and expanded AP poll had a total of 6 losses and 2 ties to unranked opponents (just over 1 loss per team), and 8 wins over teams the AP poll had ranked.

1) Penn State 12-0--
2) Miami-Florida 11-1--
3) Oklahoma 11-1--
4) Arizona State 10-1-1--
5) Nebraska 10-2--
6) Auburn 10-2--
7) Alabama 10-3+2
8) Michigan 11-2--
9) Louisiana State 9-3+1
10) UCLA 8-3-1+4
11) Washington 8-3-1+7
12) Ohio State 10-3-5
13) Arizona 9-3-2
14) Texas A&M 9-3-1
15) Southern Cal 7-5IN
16) Baylor 9-3-4
17) Arkansas 9-3-2
18) Stanford 8-4IN
19) Florida 6-5IN
20) Iowa 9-3-4
21) Clemson 8-2-2-4
22) Georgia 8-4IN
23) Boston College 9-3-4
24) Florida State 7-4-1IN
25) Mississippi 8-3-1IN

OUT: #20 Virginia Tech 9-2-1

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