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Fixing the Final 1998 AP College Football Poll

1) Tennessee 13-0
2) Ohio State 11-1
3) Florida State 11-2
4) Arizona 12-1
5) Florida 10-2
6) Wisconsin 11-1
7) Tulane 12-0
8) UCLA 10-2
9) Georgia Tech 10-2
10) Kansas State 11-2
11) Texas A&M 11-3
12) Michigan 10-3
13) Air Force 12-1
14) Georgia 9-3
15) Texas 9-3
16) Arkansas 9-3
17) Penn State 9-3
18) Virginia 9-3
19) Nebraska 9-4
20) Miami (FL) 9-3
21) Missouri 8-4
22) Notre Dame 9-3
23) Virginia Tech 9-3
24) Purdue 9-4
25) Syracuse 8-4


To the left is the final 1998 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. 

Let's get right to it: UCLA (10-2, #8) won the PAC 10 outright by beating Arizona (12-1, #4) on the road 52-28. Arizona only played 2 ranked opponents in 1998, going 1-1 against them. UCLA played twice as many, going 2-2 against rated opponents. The two teams are basically even, with UCLA owning the head-to-head tie-breaker.
And a very decisive head-to-head outcome it was.

So for our first fix, we'll raise UCLA up behind Wisconsin, who beat the Bruins in the Rose Bowl, and drop Arizona behind UCLA. This works well because Arizona was overrated in any case. Their weak schedule and poor performances compare poorly with the two teams the AP poll ranked behind them, Florida and Wisconsin.

Florida's 2 losses came to the #1 and #3 teams, and they had only one close win (to Arizona's 4), so Arizona had no business being ranked ahead of Florida. Wisconsin had pretty much the same straight record Arizona did, but they also had fewer close wins, and defeated 3 rated opponents to Arizona's 1. So dropping Arizona behind UCLA makes a lot more sense in every way.

Move Florida and Wisconsin up one spot each, UCLA to #6, Arizona to #7, and drop Tulane to #8.


Tennessee sacks FSU's Outzen in 1998 championship game

Injuries forced Florida State to start their 3rd string quarterback, Marcus Outzen, for the 1998 championship game. Here is my painting of Tennessee unwrapping their gift. The Volunteers won the title game 23-16.

Texas A&M

Our second fix is similar to the first. Texas A&M (11-3, #11) won the Big 12 by beating Kansas State (11-2, #10) 36-33 in overtime in the Big 12 championship game. Texas A&M has more losses than KSU because they played (and lost to) the #2 and #3 teams, whereas KSU played no such highly ranked opponents. Both teams had one upset loss. But Texas A&M's upset loss came at rival Texas (#15), whereas KSU's came in their bowl game to #24 Purdue, which is pretty much inexcusable. This should be a no-brainer, and the AP poll came oh-so-close to getting it right, but instead, there KSU sits, exactly one spot ahead of Big 12 champ Texas A&M.

Easy fix-- we'll just switch them around, putting Texas A&M at #10 and KSU at #11.

Syracuse

And here we have a third conference champion that was ranked behind a runner-up they defeated in 1998! In fact, Big East champ Syracuse (8-4, #25) is ranked behind two conference teams they beat: Miami (9-3, #20) and Virginia Tech (9-3, #23). The reason Syracuse has one more loss than the other two is because they won the conference, and thereby drew Florida (originally ranked #5) as their bowl opponent, whereas Miami and Virginia Tech drew unrated bowl opponents. On top of that, Syracuse also played #1 Tennessee during the regular season.

And brace yourself for this-- Syracuse won the Big East title outright by beating Miami in their regular season finale 66-13. You read that right, 66-13. At the end of the season, making it rather difficult to forget. What goes through these sportswriters' minds as they're filling out their ballots? Anything at all?

So we'll drop Miami behind Missouri, and move Syracuse up ahead of Miami. Normally, I'd put them both behind Notre Dame, but Notre Dame will be dropping anyway (in the very next section, in fact). That moves Missouri to #20, Syracuse to #21, Miami to #22, and Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, and Purdue all drop one spot.

Virginia Tech and West Virginia

Now, about Notre Dame dropping. At 9-3, ND has one upset win (over #12 Michigan in their opener), and two upset losses to unranked opponents (including their regular season finale at Southern Cal). Ranked right behind them, Virginia Tech is also 9-3, and also has one upset win (over Miami), but they only have one upset loss. So that makes VT effectively one game better than ND. Furthermore, ND had 3 close wins over unranked opponents, while VT had none. And ND lost by more than a touchdown in each of their upset losses. So we'll move VT ahead of ND.

Then there's West Virginia, who finished 8-4 and unranked. All 4 of WV's losses came to ranked opponents, and they had one upset win (over Syracuse). So they are effectively two games better than Notre Dame, who again had 2 losses to unranked opponents. And like Virginia Tech, WV had no close wins over unranked opponents. ND, again, had 3 such games (including 31-26 over Boston College, whom WV beat 35-10, and VT beat 17-0). So we'll move WV ahead of ND too.

That puts Virginia Tech at #23, West Virginia at #24, and Notre Dame at #25. Purdue, unfortunately, drops out.

Air Force

This year's overrated little big team is Air Force, whose impressive 12-1 record against a schedule entirely made up of unranked opponents "earned" them a #13 ranking. Air Force lost to unranked Texas Christian and struggled to beat 4 other unranked opponents. They had only one win of value, a 45-25 bowl win over 6-6 Washington, a #30-40 type team.

The best I can do for the AP poll voters is to keep Air Force ahead of Notre Dame, who also performed poorly, and has the same relevant record as Air Force. So we'll drop Air Force behind West Virginia, who had no upset losses, a win over a ranked opponent, and no struggles against unranked opponents. That puts Air Force at #24, West Virginia at #23, and all the teams that had been between Air Force and West Virginia move up a spot.

Arkansas

Here's something we didn't see much of 2000-2009: an overrated SEC team! Like Air Force, 9-3 Arkansas (now #15) has no wins against ranked opponents and an upset loss to an unranked opponent. However, Arkansas played a much tougher schedule than did Air Force, and they performed better too.

Furthermore, I can see an argument for Arkansas being ranked ahead of West Virginia. West Virginia had no upset losses, but they also did not play any decent teams (top 50) outside of the 5 ranked teams they played (whom they went 1-4 against). Arkansas, on the other hand, played 6 decent unranked opponents, going 5-1 against them. So while West Virginia played 5 top 25 opponents to Arkansas' 2, Arkansas played 6 #26-50 opponents to West Virginia's 0. Ultimately, West Virginia's season boils down to just one big win (over Syracuse), whereas Arkansas had 5 wins of value (Air Force also had only 1).

However, I cannot see rating 9-3 Arkansas ahead of 9-3 Virginia Tech. Unlike West Virginia, VT got more than one big win, beating 2 top 25 opponents and winning a big bowl blowout over a near-rated opponent. So we'll drop Arkansas behind Virginia Tech.

That moves Virginia Tech to #21, Arkansas to #22, West Virginia to #23, and all the teams that had been between Arkansas and Virginia Tech move up a spot.

Texas

One small fix remains. 9-3 Texas sits one place behind 9-3 Georgia, and their records and schedule strength are pretty much the same, but Texas clearly performed better. Texas had only one close win over an unranked opponent, while Georgia struggled in four games against unranked opponents. And as a side note, the Big 12 was #1 in nonconference winning percentage, while the SEC was #3 (behind the Big 10).

Switch Texas and Georgia: Texas now #13 and Georgia #14.

Fixed AP Top 25

Like 1999, one team drops out of the top 25, and again, it was a pretty good one. 9-4 Purdue was upset by an unranked team in their opener (Southern Cal), but they won their last 6 games, capped by a huge 37-34 Alamo Bowl win over now-#11 Kansas State. But Purdue was doomed by their 31-30 loss at now-#25 Notre Dame in their 3rd game. Purdue could validly be ranked ahead of Notre Dame anyway, but since the AP poll voters did not do so, Purdue ends up locked out of the fixed top 25.

The team that replaces them in the top 25, 8-4 West Virginia, also had one win over a ranked opponent, but unlike Purdue, they did not lose to an unranked opponent, nor to the #25 team. And they did not have any poor performances, whereas Purdue did (including 21-19 over 5-6 Rice at home). So while Purdue was a good team, West Virginia still presents an upgrade.

1) Tennessee 13-0--
2) Ohio State 11-1--
3) Florida State 11-2--
4) Florida 10-2+1
5) Wisconsin 11-1+1
6) UCLA 10-2+2
7) Arizona 12-1-3
8) Tulane 12-0-1
9) Georgia Tech 10-2--
10) Texas A&M 11-3+1
11) Kansas State 11-2-1
12) Michigan 10-3--
13) Texas 9-3+2
14) Georgia 9-3--
15) Penn State 9-3+2
16) Virginia 9-3+2
17) Nebraska 9-4+2
18) Missouri 8-4+3
19) Syracuse 8-4+6
20) Miami-Florida 9-3--
21) Virginia Tech 9-3+2
22) Arkansas 9-3-6
23) West Virginia 8-4IN
24) Air Force 12-1-11
25) Notre Dame 9-3-3

OUT: #24 Purdue 9-4

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