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Fixing the Final 1995 AP College Football Poll

1) Nebraska 12-0
2) Florida 12-1
3) Tennessee 11-1
4) Florida State 10-2
5) Colorado 10-2
6) Ohio State 11-2
7) Kansas State 10-2
8) Northwestern 10-2
9) Kansas 10-2
10) Virginia Tech 10-2
11) Notre Dame 9-3
12) Southern Cal 9-2-1
13) Penn State 9-3
14) Texas 10-2-1
15) Texas A&M 9-3
16) Virginia 9-4
17) Michigan 9-4
18) Oregon 9-3
19) Syracuse 9-3
20) Miami-Florida 8-3
21) Alabama 8-3
22) Auburn 8-4
23) Texas Tech 9-3
24) Toledo 11-0-1
25) Iowa 8-4


To the left is the final 1995 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. 

The '90's saw the sudden emergence of several eternal cellar-dwellers into top 25 programs-- Kansas State, Virginia Tech, Oregon, Wisconsin. In 1995, it was Northwestern's turn. Long one of the worst programs in major college football, Northwestern had not won a Big Ten title since 1936. But they won the conference championship outright in 1995, and shared titles in 1996 and 2000.

And as you can see, they finished 10-2 and ranked #8 in '95, their losses coming to unranked Miami-Ohio at home and to #12 Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl. Kansas, who was yet another Cinderella of the '90's themselves, also finished 10-2, and they were ranked right behind Northwestern. But Kansas had no losses to lower-ranked opponents and a big 40-24 win at #5 Colorado, so one has to wonder why Kansas was ranked behind Northwestern.

One could wonder the same thing about #11 Notre Dame. Yes, Northwestern defeated Notre Dame in South Bend 17-15, and had a 10-2 record to Notre Dame's 9-3 to boot. But this is another good example of a case where there is more to the story than the head-to-head result and the straight records.

The proper rating of college football teams requires a more careful look at who teams defeated and who they lost to. So let's do that with Northwestern and Notre Dame.




Tommie Frazier 75 yard touchdown 1996 Orange Bowl

Nebraska quarterback Tommie Frazier near the beginning of his famous 75 yard touchdown run. You can see how Houdini escaped here. Nebraska embarrassed Florida 62-24.

Northwestern and Notre Dame

This case is similar to the Northwestern-Michigan case in 1996, except that Northwestern performed much more strongly in 1995 than they did in 1996.

While Northwestern defeated Notre Dame, the Irish still effectively finished one game better than the Wildcats. That is because of Northwestern's 2 losses to teams ranked behind Notre Dame (ND's other 2 losses both came to teams ranked higher than NW). NW's upset loss to Miami-Ohio came early in the season, but their win over ND was even earlier. And NW's loss to Southern Cal (a team ND beat 38-10) was by more than a touchdown, and in their bowl game, giving it greater weight. ND's bowl loss was 31-26 to #4 Florida State, a much better performance.

And NW's 17-15 win over ND, while on the road, was not at all decisive. They won because of a missed extra point, which forced ND to go for 2 on their last TD to tie.

So we'll put Notre Dame ahead of Northwestern, and have the teams meet in the middle of where they are ranked now. That moves Kansas to #8, ND to #9, NW to #10, and Virginia Tech drops to #11. But the Hokies, also upset by 2 lower-ranked teams (4-8 Boston College and 6-5 Cincinnati), are not done dropping...

Virginia Tech

9-2-1 Southern Cal, who now sits behind Virginia Tech, is effectively one and a half games better than VT. And if you give their bowl game upset of Northwestern greater weight, that lead increases.

9-3 Penn State, who sits behind Southern Cal, is effectively one game better than Virginia Tech, as they have one upset loss (to 4-5-2 Wisconsin) to VT's 2 such losses. Now, Virginia Tech's 2 upset losses came in their first 2 games, and they performed very strongly after that. They were no doubt a much better team in their final 10 games than in their first 2, and they were most impressive in their bowl game, beating #14 Texas 28-10 in the Sugar Bowl. But Penn State's loss to Wisconsin also came early, and they were also impressive in their bowl game, beating #22 Auburn 43-14. And Penn State's schedule was tougher. They defeated 4 ranked opponents, twice as many as Virginia Tech did.

So we'll drop Virginia tech to #13, and move Southern Cal and Penn State to #11 and #12.

Texas Tech

This is a simple head-to-head matter. 9-3 Texas Tech (#23) defeated 9-3 Texas A&M (#15) 14-7. The two teams couldn't look more equal in their seasons and performances, which makes the rating disparity here quite odd.

Texas A&M can't drop due to their 22-20 Alamo Bowl win over Michigan, so we'll move Texas Tech all the way up ahead of them, to #15. Texas A&M drops to #16, and of course, all the teams that had been between Texas A&M and Texas Tech also drop a spot.

Michigan

Another simple head-to-head fix. 9-4 Michigan defeated 9-4 Virginia 18-17 in an incredible finish in their season opener. Now, that was at home, and in the opener, and Michigan was lucky to win at all, but I see nothing in the rest of these two teams' seasons to dismiss it. Michigan performed better (only 1 close win over an unrated opponent to Virginia's 3) and played a tougher schedule (beating 2 rated opponents to Virginia's 1, plus a third team that will finish in the fixed top 25).

The AP poll had Michigan just behind Virginia, so all we have to do here is switch them. Michigan #17, Virginia #18.

Auburn and Alabama

The first problem here is that 8-4 Auburn defeated 8-3 Alabama 31-27, yet the AP poll places them one spot behind Alabama. Auburn has one more loss because they played a bowl game (losing to now-#12 Penn State), while Alabama was on probation and did not play in a bowl.

But there is a bigger problem here. Both teams lost to SEC West champion Arkansas, who finished 8-5 and unranked. Arkansas lost their opener at 1-10 Southern Methodist, and in the end lost their bowl game to unranked North Carolina. They cannot be ranked.

But Auburn and Alabama should also not be ranked. Auburn lost to 2 unranked opponents (LSU and Arkansas), and their only win of value is that win over Alabama. Their 43-14 demolition at the hands of Penn State in the Outback Bowl only further shows that they were not a top 25 caliber team. As for Alabama, they barely got by Vanderbilt, Southern Miss, and Mississippi State, and were demolished themselves in their only game against a legitimate top 25 opponent (41-14 loss to Tennessee).

So we'll toss them both out, and worry about who to replace them with below. Wow, hard to get used to this sort of thing after fixing so many polls in which SEC teams were underrated.

Washington and Oregon

9-3 Oregon was rather overrated by the AP poll at #18. They lost to 2 unranked opponents, defeated no rated opponents, and performed poorly in almost every game they played, capped by a  38-6 loss to Colorado in the Cotton Bowl. They did, however, have at least one big win, 24-22 at 7-4-1 Washington. Washington did not finish ranked, but they should have. In fact, despite losing to the Ducks at home, and despite having a much worse straight record, Washington should have been rated higher than Oregon. Such is the complexity of college football, where even teams in the same conference can play very different schedules.

Why should Washington have been rated higher than Oregon? Well, first of all, Washington actually shared the PAC 10 title with now-#11 Southern Cal. They finished with a loss and a tie in PAC 10 play, placing them ahead of Oregon, who had 2 losses. And Oregon did not even play Southern Cal, while Washington did (tying them). On top of that, Washington played 3 rated nonconference opponents, while Oregon played 1. Washington did get stomped by 8-4 Iowa (originally ranked #25) in the Sun Bowl, but Oregon did not beat any team ranked higher than Iowa, so there is no reason to believe that they would have done better themselves (and the Ducks lost even worse in their own bowl game).

Furthermore, Oregon was lucky to win at all at Washington, so it was not impressive. They blocked a Washington field goal with 3 minutes to play, then the Huskies missed a 36 yard field goal at the end. Not that it matters. Even if Oregon had beaten Washington handily, that one game advantage is erased and surpassed by the fact that Oregon lost to Stanford and Arizona State, both unranked. Washington lost to no unranked teams at all, and tied #11 Southern Cal.

So we'll move Washington into the top 25, ahead of Oregon. Iowa, who beat Washington 38-18 in the Sun Bowl, moves up with the Huskies. That puts Iowa at #19, Washington at #20, and Oregon at #21. Oregon cannot drop any further because of Miami-Florida's ugly loss to UCLA, as discussed next.

Miami-Florida, Syracuse, and UCLA

First of all, we have yet another ignored head-to-head result, as 8-3 Miami-Florida defeated 9-3 Syracuse in their finale 35-24, yet the AP poll has Miami one spot behind Syracuse (the third time in this poll that a team was ranked one spot behind a team it defeated). So Syracuse and Miami need to be switched around.

Then there's 7-5 UCLA, who stomped on Miami 31-8. UCLA was upset twice by unranked opponents, but they made up for one of those with a 24-20 upset win at #11 Southern Cal in their finale. UCLA and Miami are thus even in their relevant records, with UCLA getting the edge due to their head-to-head win. And it was a very decisive win at that. Miami did not perform much like a top 25 team anyway, barely getting by weak opponents like Pittsburgh, Boston College, and West Virginia. Their only win over a ranked opponent was Syracuse, who themselves did not defeat any ranked opponents, and lost to unranked East Carolina. So Miami is lucky to be rated at all.

So we'll move UCLA into the top 25 ahead of Miami, to #22, dropping Miami and Syracuse to #23 and #24. That leaves 11-0-1 Toledo at #25.

But that brings us another question. Should 9-3 Syracuse, with an upset loss, be ranked ahead of 11-0-1 Toledo, with an upset tie? That does not seem right, especially since Toledo's tie came against a team that also has a better relevant record than Syracuse. That would be "Little Miami," better known as Miami-Ohio.

Miami-Ohio

Miami-Ohio finished 8-2-1, a better straight record than Syracuse's 9-3. Miami did lose their opener to unranked 7-4 Ball State 17-15, but they made up for that the next week with a 30-28 road win over now-#10 Northwestern. Syracuse also lost to an unranked opponent (9-3 East Carolina), but they have no wins against any rated opponent, let alone a highly rated one like Northwestern. Miami also defeated Cincinnati, who defeated East Carolina and Virginia Tech (both of whom defeated Syracuse).

So we'll finish off the 1995 AP poll by putting Toledo at #24 and Miami-Ohio at #25, dropping Syracuse out. And while Syracuse was a good team, it's hard to feel any worse for them being unrated than for East Carolina, who was also 9-3 and beat Syracuse. As for Toledo and Miami, I would rate them much higher than this myself. You can bet that if a WAC team had gone 11-0-1, they would be top ten in the AP poll.

In fact, you may have noticed by now that the AP poll consistently underrates good MAC teams, while consistently overrating good MWC/WAC teams. Why is this? I don't know, but one possible explanation is the regional apportionment of AP voters. AP voterships are doled out by state, and AP writers in MAC country spend their time on the Big Ten, virtually ignoring the MAC. However, voters in Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Idaho, and Wyoming cover nothing but MWC/WAC teams. So MWC/WAC teams have advocates voting for them, and MAC teams do not.

I think Toledo and Miami-Ohio are still quite underrated here. But because of their generally weak schedules, the AP poll has a case, so they can remain at the bottom of the top 25.

Fixed AP Top 25

Falling out of the top 25 are Alabama, Auburn, and Syracuse. Replacing them are Washington, UCLA, and Miami-Ohio. Excepting games against each other, the departing teams lost 4 games to unranked opponents and beat no rated teams, while the teams replacing them lost 3 games to unranked opponents, beat 3 rated teams, and tied another 2 rated teams! The losses are close, but the wins and ties over rated opponents makes this another rout for the replacements, which makes this fixed poll another winner in a rout over the original. And for the second fixed poll in a row, we actually have a little big team coming in to a fixed top 25 (Miami-Ohio; it was East Carolina in the 1996 fixed poll). See? I really don't have a grudge against the little bigs.

In fact, I myself would replace 7-5 UCLA and 8-3 Miami with 9-3 East Carolina and 6-5 Cincinnati. Cincinnati lost to #7 Kansas State by 2, to #8 Kansas by 5, and to Miami-Ohio by 7, and they beat #13 Virginia Tech and East Carolina. But they also lost badly to 4-7 Kentucky in their 10th game, so the AP poll has a case here.

1) Nebraska 12-0--
2) Florida 12-1--
3) Tennessee 11-1--
4) Florida State 10-2--
5) Colorado 10-2--
6) Ohio State 11-2--
7) Kansas State 10-2--
8) Kansas 10-2+1
9) Notre Dame 9-3+2
10) Northwestern 10-2-2
11) Southern Cal 9-2-1+1
12) Penn State 9-3+1
13) Virginia Tech 10-2-3
14) Texas 10-2-1--
15) Texas Tech 9-3+8
16) Texas A&M 9-3-1
17) Michigan 9-4--
18) Virginia 9-4-2
19) Iowa 8-4+6
20) Washington 7-4-1IN
21) Oregon 9-3-3
22) UCLA 7-5IN
23) Miami-Florida 8-3-3
24) Toledo 11-0-1--
25) Miami-Ohio 8-2-1IN

OUT: #19 Syracuse 9-3
#21 Alabama 8-3
#22 Auburn 8-4

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