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Fixing the Final 1988 AP College Football Poll

1) Notre Dame 12-0
2) Miami-Florida 11-1
3) Florida State 11-1
4) Michigan 9-2-1
5) West Virginia 11-1
6) UCLA 10-2
7) Southern Cal 10-2
8) Auburn 10-2
9) Clemson 10-2
10) Nebraska 11-2
11) Oklahoma State 10-2
12) Arkansas 10-2
13) Syracuse 10-2
14) Oklahoma 9-3
15) Georgia 9-3
16) Washington 9-3
17) Alabama 9-3
18) Houston 9-3
19) Louisiana State 8-4
20) Indiana 8-3-1
To the left is the final 1988 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 follows the article below. 

We've now reached the era when the AP poll just ranked a top 20, rather than a top 25, so in addition to fixing the AP polls, from now on I will also be expanding them to 25, so as to be consistent with the modern polls. In most cases, this will not be difficult, as every year I find that a number of teams should logically be rated ahead of some of the teams the AP poll has ranked anyway.

Take 1988. #20 Indiana (8-3-1) had 2 losses to unranked opponents and a tie with 3-7-1 Missouri, and they did not have a win over a rated opponent. What are the chances of a team like that being a legitimate top 25 team, let alone top 20? It would have to be a very weak season. And 1988 was a weak season, but alas, not weak enough for Indiana to hold on in the fixed and expanded AP poll.

So I won't be simply adding 5 teams to the AP's top 20 for each season, because plenty of teams will naturally and logically be moving ahead of some of the clunkers already (mis)ranked there, usually due to ignored head-to-head results.
1988 Notre Dame's Pat Terrell prevents Miami's 2-point try

My painting of the play of the year
: Notre Dame's Pat Terrell goes up high to deny Miami's 2-point conversion attempt, preserving a 31-30 win for the Irish and the eventual 1988 national championship.

Southern Cal and UCLA

The 1988 poll features a plethora of ignored head-to-head results, starting with this one. 10-2 Southern Cal triumphed at 10-2 UCLA 31-22, thereby winning the PAC 10 outright. Yet somehow there they sit at #7, one spot behind UCLA in the final poll. This is a case of Lastgamitis, and a double dose this time, as USC fell behind UCLA because they lost their last two games. Those losses, however, came to #1 Notre Dame and to #4 Michigan, both rated higher than UCLA. UCLA's second loss, on the other hand, came to #16 Washington State (9-3), meaning that Southern Cal finished two games better than UCLA did in PAC 10 play. This rating is simply a joke.

Switch 'em. Southern Cal #6, UCLA #7.

Nebraska

#10 Nebraska (11-2) lost only to #2 Miami and to #6 UCLA, while #9 Clemson (10-2) lost to unrated North Carolina State (8-3-1), and #8 Auburn (10-2) lost to #19 Louisiana State (8-4). That makes Nebraska effectively one game better than each.

This is, as usual, another case of Lastgamitis, as Nebraska dropped behind Auburn and Clemson in the final poll because they were drubbed 23-3 in the Orange Bowl by #2 Miami, while Auburn lost by a closer 13-7 to #3 Florida State in the Sugar, and Clemson defeated #14 Oklahoma 13-6 in the Citrus. However, Miami defeated #3 Florida State 31-0, so in reality, Auburn losing by 6 to FSU on a neutral field is not necessarily better than Nebraska losing by 20 at Miami. As for Clemson's bowl performance, Nebraska had just beaten Oklahoma 7-3 in Norman at the end of the regular season, so Clemson's close win over the same team should give them no advantage over Nebraska. 

In the fixed poll, Nebraska will have defeated #11, 12, and 19, with no upset losses. Auburn will have beaten #18, 23, and 24, with a loss to #17. Clemson will have beaten only #11, with a loss to an unrated team. That clearly says "Nebraska." But even the original poll says "Nebraska"-- the Huskers beat #11 and 14, Auburn beat #15 and 17 (losing to 19), and Clemson beat #14 (losing to an unrated team). The poll voters just weren't listening to their own rankings.

We'll move Nebraska to #8, dropping Auburn and Clemson one spot each.

Oklahoma and Oklahoma State

#14 Oklahoma (9-3) won at #11 Oklahoma State (10-2) 31-28, but the Sooners ended up ranked lower because they played a much tougher schedule. Odd way to rank teams, don't you think? Oh, I know that in reality AP voters ranked OSU higher because they had one less loss than Oklahoma, but in this case it's exactly the same thing as voting them higher for playing an easier schedule.

Oklahoma and OSU both lost to Nebraska, OU by 4 points and OSU by 21 points. Oklahoma's other 2 losses came to now-#6 Southern Cal and to now-#10 Clemson, both rated higher than OSU. The Cowboys, in fact, did not play a rated nonconference opponent at all (though a couple will end up in the lower reaches of the fixed and expanded poll).

We'll move Oklahoma to #11, dropping Oklahoma State, Arkansas, and Syracuse one spot each. Arkansas was a bit overrated anyway, with 6 close wins, 5 over unrated opponents, including 30-26 over Tulsa (Oklahoma State beat them 56-35), 27-24 over Texas (Oklahoma beat them 28-13), and 25-20 over Texas A&M (OSU beat them 52-15).

Georgia

#15 Georgia (9-3) may be a member of the almighty SEC, but if you peruse their 1988 schedule, you'll notice that they looked an awful lot like an overrated "little big team" that year. But perhaps I am being unkind to little big teams here, because there are at least 5 of them that I would rate higher than Georgia for 1988. Georgia played just one rated opponent, losing to now-#9 Auburn 20-10. They lost to 2 unrated opponents, 8-4 South Carolina and 5-6 Kentucky, and they defeated just 2 winning teams, 7-5 Florida and 6-5-1 Michigan State in their bowl game. How in the world does this team get rated #15? Laziness, obviously. Writers saw the name "Georgia" and the 9-3 record, and looked no further.

The SEC as a whole had a down year in 1988, going just 27-18 against nonconference opponents. And Georgia did not even play 8-4 LSU and 9-3 Alabama in SEC play, so if you take those two out of the mix, the SEC Georgia actually played in went 20-15 against nonconference opponents, not much different than the WAC's 20-16. Thus Georgia's resemblance to an overrated little big team.

Georgia could be rated behind unranked South Carolina, who beat them 23-10. But I suppose AP voters had some reason to consider that result an upset, due to SC's really ugly losses: 34-0 to 3-8 Georgia Tech (whom Georgia beat 24-3), 59-0 to #3 Florida State, 29-10 to now-#10 Clemson, and 34-10 to #20 Indiana in their bowl game. The Indiana result was particularly bad, as Indiana had 2 losses and a tie to unranked opponents, worse than even Georgia. Indiana did perform better than Georgia (they also stomped on the 2 unrated opponents that beat Georgia, while Georgia beat one unrated team that stomped on Indiana), but the half game difference between the two-- Indiana's tie with 3-7-1 Missouri--gives the AP poll enough reason to rank Georgia higher than Indiana.

But that's the best I can do for the AP poll here, dropping Georgia down to just ahead of #20 Indiana. Georgia's record just does not compare well to the rest of the rated teams. Take #19 Louisiana State (8-4), a fellow SEC team who also suffered 2 losses to unranked opponents (4-6-1 Ohio State and 7-5 Florida). They are equal to Georgia in that regard, but LSU also has a win over now-#9 Auburn (whom Georgia lost to) and another over #17 Alabama, which blows away Georgia's wins. As for #18 Houston, they are 9-3, like Georgia, but took only one upset loss (it will be none in the fixed poll), and the Cougars' 34-10 win over 11-2 Wyoming is easily better than any win Georgia achieved. In fact, unranked Wyoming should be ranked ahead of Georgia themselves. But I'll get to Wyoming later.

For now, let's drop Georgia to #19, moving Washington State, Alabama, Houston, and Louisiana State up one spot each. But of course, Georgia is not done dropping. 

Arizona and Washington State

Here's another ignored head-to-head result. Unrated Arizona (7-4) wacked now-#15 Washington State (9-3) 45-28, and both teams went 5-3 in PAC 10 play. However, their PAC 10 records aren't actually equal, because Arizona played conference champ Southern Cal, and WSU did not. So in real terms, Arizona was a game better in conference play. The Wildcats took a 4th loss to now-#11 Oklahoma, but that game is irrelevant when comparing Arizona and Washington State, due to OU being rated higher than both.

Arizona also performed better than Washington State, stomping them by 17 head-to-head and also averaging a slightly better scoring margin against 6 common opponents. And Arizona did not get to play loser Stanford, whom WSU only beat 24-21. This is a slam dunk for Arizona, and they should be rated ahead of WSU. But where should we put them?

Washington State sits right in front of 9-3 Alabama, who will be passed up by 8-4 Louisiana State (covered next). Since 7-4 Arizona and 9-3 Washington State have essentially the same records as LSU and Alabama, and since the PAC 10 was the top conference in 1988, going 29-7 compared to the SEC's 27-18 (a huge winning percentage difference at 81% to 60%), I think the PAC 10 pair belongs ahead of the SEC pair.

Therefore, we won't drop Washington State, and instead we'll simply move Arizona all the way up ahead of them, to #15, dropping Washington State and all the teams behind them one spot each. Indiana is now #21.

Louisiana State and Alabama

Yet another disregarded head-to-head result, and similar to the Arizona-Washington State case, except that LSU was more respected than Arizona, and thus at least finished ranked, albeit 2 places behind #17 Alabama. But LSU won at Alabama 19-18, and in fact they won the SEC title (6-1 league record, including the head-to-head win over co-champion Auburn, compared to 4-3 for Alabama). LSU did take an upset loss in nonconference play, at 4-6-1 Ohio State, but that does not make up for Alabama's 2-game gap in league play.

LSU took nonconference losses to #2 Miami and to now-#14 Syracuse, but both are ranked higher than Alabama, who did not play a ranked nonconference opponent (though Texas A&M, who lost to both Alabama and LSU, will finish ranked in the fixed poll, as discussed next). Alabama also performed poorly compared to LSU, barely beating unranked opponents 4 times. Another slam dunk here.

We'll move LSU ahead of Alabama, where they belong. That puts them at #17, and Alabama and Houston each drop a spot.

Texas A&M and Houston

And here we have still another ignored head-to-head result. Texas A&M may have finished 7-5, and Houston 9-3, but the fact is that Texas A&M was the SWC runner-up, going 6-1 to Houston's 5-2 (both lost to SWC champ Arkansas), the difference being Texas A&M's dominating 30-16 win at Houston. This was not a fluke, as Texas A&M also outperformed Houston in conference play: the Aggies had one close win, 28-24 at rival Texas, whereas Houston had 2 such wins, 27-24 at Baylor and 30-29 at Texas Tech. Both lost by 5 points to Arkansas.

Texas A&M had more losses because they played a ridiculously overambitious nonconference schedule, losing to now-#8 Nebraska, to now-#17 LSU, to now-#12 Oklahoma State, and to now-#18 Alabama. All of those teams are now rated higher than Houston, and although Texas A&M performed poorly in most of those games (losing badly to all but Nebraska, who beat them 23-14), Houston didn't beat anyone ranked so highly as any of those teams themselves.

Texas A&M also has a better relevant record than 9-3 Georgia, who currently rests right behind Houston. A&M took 0 upset losses to Georgia's 2, and A&M defeated a rated opponent while Georgia did not.

So let's move Texas A&M ahead of Houston, putting them at #19, Houston at #20, Georgia at #21, and Indiana at #22.

Wyoming

It's not often you see an 11-2 WAC team go unranked, but that's what happened to Wyoming in the 1988 AP poll (although they were ranked in the coaches' top 20). Why? Because they were annihilated 62-14 by now-#12 Oklahoma State in the Holiday Bowl. Ouch. Still, even a very ugly loss is just one loss, regardless of the final score. The fact is, Wyoming only lost twice, and both losses came to rated teams. Much unlike Georgia, who lost to two unrated teams. And while Georgia beat just two winning teams (who finished 7-5 and 6-5-1), Wyoming defeated five (who finished 9-4, 8-3, 6-5, 10-3, and 9-3).

So let's move Wyoming in ahead of Georgia, at #21, dropping Georgia to #22 and Indiana to #23.

Washington

Am I really going to suggest that a 6-5 PAC 10 team should be ranked ahead of a 9-3 SEC team? Yep. As you may recall, the PAC 10 went a blistering 29-7 against nonconference opponents (prior to 1988, you had to go back to 1960 to find a better record by any conference), while the SEC went 27-18. You may further recall that Georgia did not even play 2 of the 3 other rated teams in the SEC (LSU and Alabama), and that if you take those two out, the SEC only went 20-15. Those facts explain the disparity in records between Washington and Georgia right there. Washington simply played a far tougher schedule than Georgia did in 1988.

Washington lost one game to a currently unrated opponent, at 6-6 Oregon 17-14, while Georgia, again, lost twice that many. Washington's other 4 losses came to now-#6 Southern Cal by 1 point, now-#7 UCLA by 7, now-#15 Arizona by 3, and now-#16 Washington State by 1.

We'll slide Washington in ahead of Georgia, at #22, dropping Georgia to #23 and Indiana to #24. The good news for Georgia is that they are now done dropping. For Indiana, however, oblivion awaits...

Indiana, Michigan State, and Southern Mississippi

If you can believe it, we have another unjustly ignored head-to-head result here. 6-5-1 Michigan State won at 8-3-1 Indiana 38-12, a rather convincing outing, and they also went 6-1-1 in Big Ten play (good for 2nd place) to Indiana's 5-3 (good for 5th). Michigan State has more losses because they played nonconference games against #1 Notre Dame, #3 Florida State, and now-#23 Georgia (to whom they lost 34-27 in the Gator Bowl). Indiana, of course, did not play a rated nonconference team.

Michigan State and Indiana each have one upset loss and one upset tie, so MSU's head-to-head win puts them effectively one game ahead of the Hoosiers. And Michigan State closed very strong: they started 0-4-1, then won 6 games in a row by an average score of 34-8 before losing a close game to #23 Georgia. Obviously, Michigan State should move ahead of Indiana. But where do we put them?

Michigan State was tied with Fresno State for #26/27 in 1988's "others receiving votes" section, so putting MSU and Indiana in the middle of where the AP poll ranked them results in their being placed behind 10-2 Southern Miss, who was #23. Which seems more than fair, since Southern Miss' only losses came to #3 Florida State and to now-#9 Auburn, and they beat 10-3 UTEP 38-18 in their bowl game. In fact, I'd rate them ahead of Georgia too, but since Southern Miss did play a very weak schedule, and performed poorly against it (until their impressive bowl game-- their one impressive win), I suppose AP voters had a case for rating Georgia higher-- barely. It's a tough call.

We now have one more problem to resolve: sitting at #22 in the "others receiving votes" section, just in front of Southern Miss, was 8-3-1 North Carolina State (#21 was Wyoming, whom I have already moved into the fixed poll, as covered above). But North Carolina State brings up our last ignored head-to-head result of the 1988 poll, because NC State lost to 8-4 South Carolina 23-7 at home, and definitely should not have been rated higher than the Gamecocks in the first place.

NC State does own a terrific 10-3 upset win over now-#10 Clemson, but they are dragged down by 2 upset losses (Virginia and Maryland) and one upset tie (Duke). South Carolina also has one upset win (over now-#23 Georgia), but they have only one upset loss (Georgia Tech). So with the head-to-head win, SC is effectively two and a half games better than NC State. Not a close call at all. But at least the writers didn't put NC State into their top 20 in 1988, like the coaches did. Worse error by far than any the writers made this year.


Anyway, South Carolina lost to Indiana 34-10 in the Liberty Bowl, so we have this easy victory chain (further backed up by other data): Michigan State > Indiana > South Carolina > North Carolina State.

In conclusion, Southern Mississippi comes into the top 25 at #24, Michigan State drops to #25, and Indiana finally falls out.

Fixed AP Top 25

This was a quite a difficult poll to fix, one of the most difficult I've untangled thus far, largely because I had a tough time seeing the case for Georgia as a top 25 team.

My own top 25 would likely replace 9-3 Georgia and 6-5-1 Michigan State with 6-5 Arizona State and 10-3 UTEP. In fact, I would likely rate 9-4 Brigham Young, 8-4 Colorado, and 9-3 Hawaii higher than Georgia and Michigan State too. But after a long pondering of the facts, I concluded that the voters had a case for those choices, so Georgia and Michigan State shall remain. In fact, the more I looked at the two teams, the more I thought the voters were right about them. Of course, the voters didn't really put Michigan State in themselves, but they necessitated it with their high regard for Indiana. 38-12 in Bloomington was not an upset. When you really look at the 1988 results for MSU and Indy, there is simply no question that Michigan State had the better team.


Indiana (originally #20) is the lone team falling out of this fixed AP poll, but since I am expanding it to 25, six new teams come in to replace them: 7-4 Arizona, 7-5 Texas A&M, 11-2 Wyoming, 6-5 Washington, 10-2 Southern Miss, and 6-5-1 Michigan State. Indiana had 2 losses and a tie to unranked opponents in the original poll, while their six replacements have a total of 3 losses and a tie to such teams in the fixed poll (not counting games against each other). And Indiana had no wins against rated teams, while the replacements had 3. And of course, the replacements were 1-0 against Indiana head-to-head. Another rout for the fixed poll over the original.

And so, without further ado, I present the fixed and expanded final AP poll for 1988:


1) Notre Dame 12-0--
2) Miami-Florida 11-1--
3) Florida State 11-1--
4) Michigan 9-2-1--
5) West Virginia 11-1--
6) Southern Cal 10-2+1
7) UCLA 10-2-1
8) Nebraska 11-2+2
9) Auburn 10-2-1
10) Clemson 10-2-1
11) Oklahoma 9-3+3
12) Oklahoma State 10-2-1
13) Arkansas 10-2-1
14) Syracuse 10-2-1
15) Arizona 7-4IN
16) Washington State 9-3--
17) Louisiana State 8-4+2
18) Alabama 9-3-1
19) Texas A&M 7-5IN
20) Houston 9-3-2
21) Wyoming 11-2IN
22) Washington 6-5IN
23) Georgia 9-3-8
24) Southern Miss 10-2IN
25) Michigan State 6-5-1IN

OUT: #20 Indiana 8-3-1

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