Tip Top 25 in helmets, smaller

Fixing the Final 1993 AP College Football Poll

1) Florida State 12-1
2) Notre Dame 11-1
3) Nebraska 11-1
4) Auburn 11-0
5) Florida 11-2
6) Wisconsin 10-1-1
7) West Virginia 11-1
8) Penn State 10-2
9) Texas A&M 10-2
10) Arizona 10-2
11) Ohio State 10-1-1
12) Tennessee 9-2-1
13) Boston College 9-3
14) Alabama 9-3-1
15) Miami-Florida 9-3
16) Colorado 8-3-1
17) Oklahoma 9-3
18) UCLA 8-4
19) North Carolina 10-3
20) Kansas State 9-2-1
21) Michigan 8-4
22) Virginia Tech 9-3
23) Clemson 9-3
24) Louisville 9-3
25) California 9-4

To the left is the final 1993 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. 

1993 brings us 3 viable candidates for #1: 12-1 Florida State, whom the AP poll chose, 11-1 Notre Dame, who beat FSU, and 11-0 Auburn, who was on probation and could not play in a bowl.

As you no doubt know by now, I place a great deal more emphasis on head-to-head results than the AP poll does, so my own choice for #1 would have been Notre Dame.

But the AP poll has a case for FSU, because Notre Dame's win over them came at home, and it ended up being close (31-24), with FSU getting a shot at the tying touchdown from the 14 at the end. And FSU played a tougher schedule (6 rated opponents to 3), and performed more strongly against it (2 close games to Notre Dame's 4).

As for Auburn, well, they played a weak schedule, and while AP voters could have ranked them #1 if they had so chosen, placing them #4 behind Nebraska is also a valid option.

So what needs fixed here? Catching my eye first are 3 top ten teams that lost to teams ranked way behind them: #8 Penn State lost to #21 Michigan (as well as to #11 Ohio State), #9 Texas A&M lost to #17 Oklahoma, and #10 Arizona lost to #18 UCLA (thus sending UCLA, and not Arizona, to the Rose Bowl). Let's take a closer look at these teams...

Charlie Ward 1994 Orange Bowl

Nebraska's Trev Alberts, playing with a broken arm, bearing down on Florida State's Heisman winning quarterback, Charlie Ward. The game was highly dramatic and back-and-forth, but messy and incredibly poorly officiated, so it is not considered a classic. But Florida State and Bobby Bowden came away with their first national championship 18-16.

Ohio State and Penn State

We'll start with the easy one. Ohio State (10-1-1, #11) defeated Penn State (10-2, #8) 24-6, and the Buckeyes have a better overall record and league record. In fact, OSU shared the conference title with Wisconsin (10-1-1, #6) due to tying them on the road, while PSU did not even play Wisconsin. The most glaring error of the '93 poll, this is one of those that should have precluded anyone rating the teams this way from ever voting in the poll again.

We'll move Ohio State ahead of Penn State, where they belong (they also have a better overall record and relevant record than #10 Arizona and #9 Texas A&M), putting them at #8, and dropping Penn State, Texas A&M, and Arizona one spot each.

Michigan and Penn State

If AP voters could not even see the Ohio State-Penn State error, they can be forgiven for not appreciating the Michigan-Penn State situation, which was far trickier and more complex, Michigan being 8-4 and Penn State being 10-2. Michigan did win at Penn State 21-13, but they also suffered 2 ugly upset losses to 6-6 Michigan State and 5-6 Illinois. Michigan was 5-3 in league play, Penn State 6-2. So what is Michigan's argument for being ranked higher than Penn State?

Michigan defeated league co-champion Ohio State 28-0 (who beat PSU 24-6). That makes up for one of Michigan's upset losses, and their head-to-head win at PSU makes up for the other. Michigan and Penn State have the same relevant records, with the head-to-head result breaking the tie in Michigan's favor.

The only reason Michigan has an extra loss in league play is because they played league co-champion Wisconsin, and PSU did not. Wisconsin is rated higher than Penn State, so Michigan's loss to Wisconsin is irrelevant when comparing Michigan and Penn State (especially since Michigan only lost to the Badgers 13-10, and on the road). In nonconference play, Michigan lost to #2 Notre Dame 27-23, another loss that is irrelevant when comparing Michigan and Penn State, since the Irish are ranked well ahead of PSU. If you discard those losses for comparison purposes, Michigan and Penn State effectively have equal 2-loss records. And again, Michigan won at PSU 21-13.

Michigan also performed better than Penn State, with only 1 of their 8 wins being close (at PSU), compared to 3 for PSU. As a side note, the two teams played 5 common opponents, with Michigan outscoring them by 83, PSU by 46 (and that doesn't include their game against each other). And Michigan was extremely strong down the stretch, starting modestly with a 25-10 win over Purdue, then beating Minnesota 58-7, Ohio State 28-0, and North Carolina State in the Hall of Fame Bowl 42-7. Penn State had a great bowl game, beating #12 Tennessee 31-13 in the Citrus Bowl, but they did not otherwise finish strong, edging 6-6 Michigan State in their previous game by a missed MSU extra point, 38-37.

So Michigan should be ranked higher than Penn State. The AP poll was just punishing Michigan for playing a tougher schedule, which is unfair and irrational. But where do we put them? PSU can't drop far, given their beatdown of #12 Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl, so we'll put them right there, ahead of Tennessee. Michigan moves all the way up to #11, Penn State drops to #12, Texas A&M and Arizona move up a spot, and Tennessee and all the teams that had been ranked between Tennessee and Michigan drop one spot each.

UCLA and Arizona

Here is a very similar situation to Michigan-Penn State, but a bit clearer. UCLA (8-4, originally ranked #18) defeated Arizona (10-2, #10) 37-17. Very decisive. With both teams at 6-2 in league play, that put UCLA into the Rose Bowl. The reason UCLA has 2 more losses than Arizona is because they played #3 Nebraska and #6 Wisconsin, losing those games 14-13 and 21-16. Obviously those games should not count against UCLA here, so like Michigan and Penn State, UCLA and Arizona should be seen as equal in comparison with one another.

As far as performance, UCLA had 2 close games (a third, at Stanford, was made to look close by a late touchdown), Arizona 4. And 3 of Arizona's close games were exceedingly poor: 16-13 over Pacific and a pair of ugly wins by 16-14 over Illinois and 9-6 over Washington State. But what really matters here is 37-17, the score by which UCLA smashed Arizona. I don't see how you can argue with that.

So UCLA should be ranked ahead of Arizona. Arizona can't drop far due to a 29-0 Fiesta Bowl drubbing of Miami-Florida, who will be moving ahead of now-#14 Boston College due to beating them (details below), so we'll put UCLA and Arizona ahead of Boston College for now. UCLA moves up to #13, Arizona drops to #14, Michigan, Penn State, and Tennessee all move up a spot, and Boston College and all the teams that had been ranked between BC and UCLA drop one spot each.

Texas A&M

Texas A&M (10-2, #9) got blown out by Oklahoma (9-3, now #19) 44-14, and the only ranked team they beat was #24 Louisville (42-7). Texas A&M played a putrid schedule thanks to a putrid SWC, and for me personally, this is a no-brainerTexas A&M should be ranked all the way back behind Oklahoma. But does the AP poll have an argument here? This is a very tough case, by far the toughest call in fixing the 1993 poll.

Texas A&M rolled over the rest of their regular season schedule by huge scores, excepting rival Texas, whom they beat 18-9. But even that was by more than a touchdown. And in the Cotton Bowl, they lost 24-21 to #2 Notre Dame, the performance of a team that is nearly as good as the #2 team. So you can easily argue that the Oklahoma game was an anomaly, with their other 11 games reflecting a top ten team.

On the other hand, rolling up huge scores on a bunch of bad teams is no great feat. Oklahoma, for example, also scored big in their 9 wins, and in fact none of those opponents got as close to Oklahoma as Texas did to Texas A&M (Oklahoma beat Texas 38-17, and it is equally a rivalry game for them). And even A&M's 42-7 win over #24 Louisville is made less impressive by the fact that #12 Tennessee beat Louisville 45-10 the week before. Anyway, #19 Oklahoma illustrates the problem with trying to gauge the power level of a team that rolls over a bunch of weak opponents. That could be the performance of a #9 team, but it could just as easily be the performance of a #19 team.

Oklahoma's 3 losses came to teams now ranked #3, #18, and #21. Texas A&M did not beat a team ranked as highly as any of those 3 themselves, but Oklahoma was not competitive in any of those games. So Texas A&M's close loss to #2 Notre Dame, given extra weight due to being a bowl game, looks very good in comparison to all 3 Oklahoma losses. I suppose that that, combined with A&M's late-season destruction of #24 Louisville, is enough to let the AP poll voters have their way here.

So no fix here. On the other hand, 44-14... oh well,  I'll just hold my nose and move on...

West Virginia

Here is a serious case of Lastgamitis, a disease that afflicts the central logic system of most AP poll voters. West Virginia (11-1, #7) lost the Sugar Bowl to #5 Florida 41-7. That is ugly indeed. But is it really more ugly than losing to 4-7 Minnesota (by any score), as Wisconsin (10-1-1, #6) did? I think not. In fact, I don't think it's even close to as poor a result. On top of that, Wisconsin was also tied by Ohio State at home, giving them both a loss and a tie against teams ranked lower than West Virginia. And Florida is ranked higher than Wisconsin. Furthermore, Wisconsin has 2 wins against rated opponents, while West Virginia has twice that many.

The AP poll is really slipping up here, as this is the second case thus far of the voters wrongfully ranking a team higher than a team with a better straight record (Penn State-Ohio State being the other), something the AP poll doesn't usually have a problem with. Typically, they don't look at much except straight records.

Switch 'em. West Virginia to #6, Wisconsin to #7.


As mentioned earlier, Miami-Florida (9-3, now #17) needs to be moved up ahead of Boston College (9-3, now #15) due to winning at BC 23-7. The 'Canes also finished 6-1 in the Big East, BC 5-2. BC did notch a big upset win over #2 Notre Dame, but they also lost an equally big upset to 2-9 Northwestern.

Move Miami up to #15, dropping BC and Alabama one spot each.

North Carolina

North Carolina (10-3, now #20), with a loss to unranked Virginia, has a worse relevant record than both of the teams now ranked right behind them, 9-2-1 Kansas State (one loss to an unranked team, and a win and a tie with teams ranked higher than UNC) and 9-3 Virginia Tech (no losses to unranked opponents). Let's compare them to Virginia Tech.

As stated, UNC has a loss to an unranked opponent, and VT does not (and VT beat the team that beat UNC, 7-5 Virginia). On the other hand, VT did not beat a rated team, whereas UNC defeated Clemson (9-3, #23) 24-0. And while Clemson will not finish in the fixed top 25 (details coming next), Southern Cal will, and UNC defeated the Trojans in their opener 31-9. VT's 45-20 bowl win over 8-4 Indiana is comparable to UNC's win over Clemson, but they do not have a win as strong as UNC's victory over USC.

So the question is, which matters more-- UNC losing to a team that VT defeated, or UNC getting a big season-opening win over a team that is ranked lower than VT anyway? I have to go with the former.

We'll drop North Carolina to #22, moving Kansas State and Virginia Tech up one spot each.


Next up is Clemson, sitting at #23 thanks to a nice 9-3 straight record. Clemson played 2 ranked opponents, losing to #1 Florida State 57-0 and to now-#22 North Carolina 24-0. They also lost 20-16 to 2-9 Wake Forest at home. And they struggled constantly against unrated opponents, beating UNLV 24-14, Georgia Tech 16-13, North Carolina State 20-14, Duke 13-10, South Carolina 16-13, and in a particularly ugly performance in the Peach Bowl, Kentucky (6-6) 14-13. That one was quite painful to watch.

Not one of Clemson's 12 games is the performance of a top 25 team. In fact, almost every game they played only goes to prove the opposite.

So cut 'em loose. We can definitely find a better team to replace them with. More than one, in fact. Let's start with the two teams that beat #25 California...

Southern Cal, Washington, and California

Those teams that beat 9-4 Cal were 8-5 Southern Cal and 7-4 Washington. USC was 6-2 in PAC 10 play, while Cal was 4-4, and USC beat Cal 42-14. The reason USC has more losses is because they played (and lost to) now-#22 North Carolina, #11 Penn State, and #2 Notre Dame, while Cal played no rated nonconference opponents at all. This is a slam dunk. Move USC past Cal.

Washington was 5-3 in PAC 10 play, one game better than Cal, and they won at Cal 24-23. The only reason they have the same number of losses as Cal is because they played (and lost to) 10-1-1 Ohio State.

Cal won 2 big upsets over now-#13 UCLA 27-25 and #14 Arizona 24-20, but they lost that advantage with much bigger upset losses to 5-6 Washington State 34-7 and to 6-5 Arizona State 41-0.

We'll move USC and Washington into the top 25 (USC beat Washington, so leads them in), dropping Cal out. Also, USC compares favorably to now-#23 Louisville (9-3), so we'll move USC ahead of them too. All 5 of USC's losses came to ranked opponents, and they have 2 wins (over now-#25 Washington and #26 Cal) better than any of Louisville's (whose best wins came over 6-5 Arizona State and 6-6 Michigan State). They also have but one close win over unranked opponents to Louisville's 2, and that one was not as close as the score would indicate (their 28-21 bowl win over Utah). Washington, on the other hand, was upset by Arizona State (whom Louisville defeated), and thus will remain behind Louisville.

Southern Cal comes in at #23, Louisville drops to #24, and Washington completes the fixed poll at #25.

Fixed AP Top 25

Falling out are Clemson and California, losers of 5 games to teams the AP poll did not rank, and winners over 2 teams the AP poll did. Replacing them are Southern Cal and Washington, with 1 loss to unranked opponents and no wins over teams in the top 25 (discounting USC's win over Washington). So this marks the first fixed AP poll where the teams falling out had more wins over ranked opponents than the teams replacing them did. However, the replacements were 2-0 head-to-head against the old teams (USC and Washington beating Cal), which trumps that advantage. And the losses fall very clearly in favor of the replacements.

At this point, Washington is staking a serious claim on being the most underrated football program of the '90s. This is the fifth fixed poll in a row when they have risen, and the third in a row when a 4-loss Washington team that had been unranked has come into the fixed top 25. Probation, which disallowed Husky bowl appearances, appears to have been the main culprit.

1) Florida State 12-1--
2) Notre Dame 11-1--
3) Nebraska 11-1--
4) Auburn 11-0--
5) Florida 11-2--
6) West Virginia 11-1+1
7) Wisconsin 10-1-1-1
8) Ohio State 10-1-1+3
9) Texas A&M 10-2--
10) Michigan 8-4+11
11) Penn State 10-2-3
12) Tennessee 9-2-1--
13) UCLA 8-4+5
14) Arizona 10-2-4
15) Miami-Florida 9-3--
16) Boston College 9-3-3
17) Alabama 9-3-1-3
18) Colorado 8-3-1-2
19) Oklahoma 9-3-2
20) Kansas State 9-2-1--
21) Virginia Tech 9-3+1
22) North Carolina 10-3-3
23) Southern Cal 8-5IN
24) Louisville 9-3--
25) Washington 7-4IN

OUT: #23 Clemson 9-3
#25 California 9-4