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Fixing the Final 1989 AP College Football Poll

1) Miami-Florida 11-1
2) Notre Dame 12-1
3) Florida State 10-2
4) Colorado 11-1
5) Tennessee 11-1
6) Auburn 10-2
7) Michigan 10-2
8) Southern Cal 9-2-1
9) Alabama 10-2
10) Illinois 10-2
11) Nebraska 10-2
12) Clemson 10-2
13) Arkansas 10-2
14) Houston 9-2
15) Penn State 8-3-1
16) Michigan State 8-4
17) Pittsburgh 8-3-1
18) Virginia 10-3
19) Texas Tech 9-3
20) Texas A&M 8-4
21) West Virginia 8-3-1
22) Brigham Young 10-3
23) Washington 8-4
24) Ohio State 8-4
25) Arizona 8-4

To the left is the final 1989 AP college football top 25. You can access all of these teams' full schedules at the College Football Data Warehouse (amongst a number of other places). The fixed final AP top 25 follows the article below.

11-1 Colorado's first national championship was delayed by a year when #2 Notre Dame (12-1) beat them 21-6 in the Orange Bowl. As a result, Colorado dropped all the way to 4th, behind Florida State, despite the fact that FSU had 2 losses. Fair or foul?

Well, this is one of those cases that flew right over the top of the foul pole.

Colorado certainly had the better season overall. Their only loss came to #2 Notre Dame, who is ranked ahead of Florida State anyway, whereas FSU lost to #12 Clemson, and far worse, to 5-6 Southern Miss. Colorado also outperformed Florida State, winning by a slightly higher average margin against rated opponents (both played 4), against winning unrated opponents, and against losing opponents (actually CU's average scoring margin against losers was more than slightly better than FSU's, 45-12 compared to 43-20).

On the other hand, Florida State's 2 upset losses came in their first two games, giving them less weight. They finished 10-0, and saved their best for last, destroying #11 Nebraska 41-17 in the Fiesta Bowl. Colorado needed a 4th quarter rally to beat Nebraska 27-21 at home. And FSU also beat #1 Miami 24-10, making up for one of their two upset losses. That game and FSU's 22-14 win over #6 Auburn give FSU 2 wins over teams who are better than anyone CU defeated. And Colorado was quite unimpressive in their 21-6 bowl loss to Notre Dame.

Back on the first hand, Miami was without starting quarterback Craig Erickson when FSU played them (substitute Gino Torretta threw 4 picks). And they struggled to beat unrated Florida 24-17 in their regular season finale, whereas Colorado had no struggles against unrated opponents.

Tough case. In the end, I think either team is a valid option for #3, so Florida State can stay where they are.
Sports Illustrated cover 1989 national champion Miami

Florida State finally beat Miami, but unfortunately it came in a year when they suffered upsets in their first 2 games, handing the national championship to Miami. "No doubt about it," says Sports Illustrated, though there is 100% doubt about their ranking of Southern Cal at #4. Sure am glad I don't have to fix their top 25... ugh.

Auburn, Alabama, and Tennessee

These three SEC co-champions defeated each other in a circle. The AP went with Tennessee as the best of the three since they were 11-1, and the other two were 10-2, but that's hardly fair, since Auburn played #3 Florida State (losing by 8), and Alabama played #1 Miami in the Sugar Bowl (also losing by 8). So they all had essentially the same record, and the AP poll, as usual, rewarded the team who played the easiest schedule. But needless to say, that is a very poor way to rate teams. So let's rate them properly.

First of all, we'll look at their games against each other. The home team won in each case, Auburn over Alabama 30-20, Alabama over Tennessee 47-30, and Tennessee over Auburn 21-14. Obviously, Tennessee's win was the weakest of the three.

Next, we'll look at the rest of their games. Other than Alabama and Auburn playing top 3 teams (and losing close games), the three teams' schedules were similar (each defeated one rated nonconference opponent), which is not a surprise, being that they are in the same conference. So we'll look at performance. Auburn and Alabama each had 2 close wins over unrated opponents (Auburn over 4-7 LSU 17-14 and 7-5 Florida 10-7, and Alabama over 1-10 Vanderbilt 20-14 and 7-4 Louisiana 24-17), while Tennessee had 4 poor performances, twice as many as the other two (they beat 5-5-1 Colorado State 17-14, 6-6 Georgia 17-14, 4-7 LSU 45-39, and 1-10 Vanderbilt 17-10, all but the LSU game at home).

So obviously Tennessee was the weakest of the 3, and since Auburn beat Alabama in their regular season finale, the teams therefore come out like so: Auburn > Alabama > Tennessee.

Alabama, ranked #9 in the final poll, was punished for losing their last 2 games, but those games came against Auburn and Miami, and Alabama's 8-point loss to #1 Miami in the Sugar Bowl in particular was a very strong performance, one they should not have been dropped for (#2 Notre Dame lost to Miami 27-10 in their regular season finale). So we'll move Alabama up with Tennessee and LSU.

We'll put Auburn at #5, Alabama #6, Tennessee #7, and drop Michigan and Southern Cal one spot each.

Illinois

10-2 Illinois now sits right behind 9-2-1 Southern Cal, a team they defeated on the road 14-13. USC jumped the Illini in the final rankings because they upset Big 10 champ Michigan in the Rose Bowl 17-10, and Michigan won at Illinois 24-10. So like Auburn, Alabama, and Tennessee, these 3 teams defeated each other in a circle. However, unlike the SEC trio, these three teams are not equal. USC was tied by 3-7-1 UCLA in their regular season finale, so they are a half game back of the other two, both in straight record and relevant record. You could argue that USC's win over Michigan should carry more weight because it was a bowl game, but it was also essentially a home game for USC, whereas the other two teams won their games on the road, which is more impressive.

Switch 'em: Illinois #9, Southern Cal #10.

Virginia

10-3 Virginia was unduly punished for their 31-21 loss to Illinois in the Citrus Bowl, and dropped several places behind 8-3-1 Penn State, a team the Cavaliers defeated 14-6 on the road. This is the worst error of this year's AP poll, because Virginia had a better straight record than Penn State, all their losses came to top 12 teams, and Penn State was tied by 3-7-1 Maryland. There is simply no excuse for it.

We'll move Virginia ahead of Penn State and have the teams meet in the middle of where they are ranked now, placing them behind Michigan State. That moves Michigan State to #15, Virginia to #16, Penn State to #17, and Pittsburgh to #18.

Brigham Young

As per usual, we have a little big team to kick out of the rankings, and as per usual, that team is Brigham Young, already the most overrated team of all the polls I have fixed so far. BYU was 10-3 in 1989, which looks nice, but they lost to unrated 6-5 Washington State, were destroyed 56-14 by unrated 9-3-1 Hawaii, and of course defeated no rated opponents.

So out goes BYU. Who to replace them with? I nominate 8-4 Duke.

Duke

The middle-Atlantic region was deeper than usual in good teams in 1989. 10-2 Clemson and 10-3 Virginia finished ranked, but there were a bunch of good unranked teams from this region too, including 8-4 Duke (beat #12 Clemson), 6-4-1 Virginia Tech (beat #21 West Virginia), 6-4-1 South Carolina, 7-5 North Carolina State, and 7-4 Georgia Tech (who also beat #12 Clemson, won 7 of their last 8 games, and would share the national championship the next season).

The best of these was Steve Spurrier's last Duke team (Florida called him up to the big leagues after the season). Duke was dropped from the final poll because they were trounced 49-21 by #19 Texas Tech (9-3) in the All American Bowl. That is an ugly result, but plenty of teams in the bottom of the poll had poor bowl performances. #21 West Virginia (8-3-1), for example, lost their bowl game to #12 Clemson 27-7. And Duke beat Clemson 21-17. In fact, let's go ahead and compare Duke and West Virginia further.

Duke took an upset loss to an unranked opponent (South Carolina), but that came in their season opener, and it is balanced out by their upset win over Clemson. West Virginia also took an upset loss (to Virginia Tech), but unlike Duke, they did not beat a ranked opponent. They did tie #17 Pittsburgh, but that leaves them effectively a half game back of Duke. Duke also performed better, with only one close win over an unrated opponent, while West Virginia had 3 such games (including a 14-10 win over Maryland, a team Duke beat 46-25).

No contest. Let's bring Duke in ahead of West Virginia, at #21, dropping the Mountaineers to #22.

Fixed AP Top 25

My own top 25 would look very different from the AP poll. Take Nebraska. They rolled up huge scores, but played a weak schedule and didn't beat anyone of much value, losing to the only 2 rated teams they played (and getting trounced by FSU in the Fiesta Bowl). Sure, maybe they were the #11 team. Or maybe they were the #25 team. Due to their schedule, we'll never know. I'd rank them lower than #11, but the AP poll has a case here, because #12 Clemson was upset twice, and Nebraska suffered no upsets.

I would also probably rank 6-4-1 Virginia Tech and 6-4-1 South Carolina, who tied each other and both played deep, strong schedules. The bottom teams of the AP poll were not very impressive. #24 Ohio State (8-4), for example, lost to all 4 rated opponents they played, and did not come within a touchdown in any of those losses. And they only beat one winning team, edging 6-5 Minnesota 41-37, a very poor performance. They also struggled to beat losers Indiana 35-31 and Boston College 34-29. As you can see, their defense was pretty bad this season. But on the other hand, the Buckeyes did avoid taking an upset loss, and all 4 rated teams they played were top ten, so there's little harm in a #24 team getting slapped around in those games. It's impossible to know for sure how good or bad Ohio State was, since they played no teams that would rank between #11 and #40. Maybe they were better than Virginia Tech and South Carolina, maybe not. But I'll give AP voters the benefit of the doubt here.

So that's it. A very good year for AP voters, with just a few fixes, and only one team falling out, 10-3 Brigham Young. Interestingly, this is the second poll in a row when I've had to kick out a 10-3 BYU team that was ranked #22 (1990 being the last poll I fixed). Brigham Young had 2 losses to unranked opponents and no wins over rated teams. Their replacement, Duke, had but 1 loss to an unrated opponent and 1 win over a rated team. Yet another win for the fixed poll.

1) Miami-Florida 11-1--
2) Notre Dame 12-1--
3) Florida State 10-2--
4) Colorado 11-1--
5) Auburn 10-2+1
6) Alabama 10-2+3
7) Tennessee 11-1-2
8) Michigan 10-2-1
9) Illinois 10-2+1
10) Southern Cal 9-2-1-2
11) Nebraska 10-2--
12) Clemson 10-2--
13) Arkansas 10-2--
14) Houston 9-2--
15) Michigan State 8-4+1
16) Virginia 10-3+2
17) Penn State 8-3-1-2
18) Pittsburgh 8-3-1-1
19) Texas Tech 9-3--
20) Texas A&M 8-4--
21) Duke 8-4IN
22) West Virginia 8-3-1-1
23) Washington 8-4--
24) Ohio State 8-4--
25) Arizona 8-4--

OUT: #22 Brigham Young 10-3

 
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