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Fixing the Final 2001 AP College Football Poll

1) Miami (FL) 12-0
2) Oregon 11-1
3) Florida 10-2
4) Tennessee 11-2
5) Texas 11-2
6) Oklahoma 11-2
7) Louisiana State 10-3
8) Nebraska 11-2
9) Colorado 10-3
10) Washington State 10-2
11) Maryland 10-2
12) Illinois 10-2
13) South Carolina 9-3
14) Syracuse 10-3
15) Florida State 8-4
16) Stanford 9-3
17) Louisville 11-2
18) Virginia Tech 8-4
19) Washington 8-4
20) Michigan 8-4
21) Boston College 8-4
22) Georgia 8-4
23) Toledo 10-2
24) Georgia Tech 8-5
25) Brigham Young 12-2


To the left is the final 2001 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. 

This was a tough one, and I've spent more time on it than on any of the others thus far. Teams were highly erratic in 2001, and in the end there probably isn't much difference between any of the teams ranked #5 to #25.

Take #19 Washington (8-4). They lost to #1 Miami 65-7 and to unranked UCLA 35-13. Yet they also defeated #16 Stanford 42-28 and #10 Washington State 26-14. They lost to unranked Oregon State 49-24, but beat #20 Michigan 23-18.

Then there's the mess at the top of the Big 12. You could logically rank any of that league's top 4 teams higher than the other three, depending on what you want to focus on. Yet it all seemed so simple heading into the Thanksgiving Holiday. 11-0 Nebraska had beaten 10-1 Oklahoma 20-10, who had beaten 9-1 Texas 14-3, who had beaten 8-2 Colorado 41-7. Pretty easy to rate that foursome.

But then Colorado beat Nebraska 62-36, and all hell broke loose. The national championship
race at the end was by far the wildest and strangest of the BCS era, topping the similarly wild 2007 finish as well as the 2003 #2 vs. #3 absurdity. And we'll not see a stranger one...
Virginia Tech's Ernest Wilford drops 2-point conversion pass against Miami in 2001

Miami's perfect season was preserved in their last game of the regular season when Virginia Tech's Ernest Wilford dropped a 2-point conversion pass attempt at the end of the game, leaving eventual national champion Miami a 26-24 winner.

The 2001 National Championship Race

The 2001 national championship race was dull for much of the season, with Miami and Nebraska cruising unthreatened through their schedules. The race opened up when Colorado embarrassed Nebraska 62-36 the Friday after Thanksgiving, but after a blizzard of upsets and drama at the end, we just ended up back where we started, with Miami playing Nebraska in the national championship game. It was a lot like 2007, the "year of the upset," when Ohio State and LSU both blew it, only to return to the top when everyone else blew it too.

After Nebraska's loss, Oklahoma had a shot at it. But they choked immediately, losing to unranked Oklahoma State 16-13 the next day. That put 10-1 Texas into the Big 12 title game against 9-2 Colorado, whom they had already beaten 41-7. But Texas choked that game away, losing 39-37.

That same day, 9-1 Florida was hosting 9-1 Tennessee, a game that had been postponed from earlier in the season due to 9-11. Florida had looked like a juggernaut almost all season, rolling up giant scores against everyone but Auburn, who had upset them 23-20. But in one of the the best games of the decade (that I saw, anyway), Tennessee upset Florida 34-32 on a late missed 2-point conversion attempt. Travis Stephens rushed for 226 yards for Tennessee, and Florida's Rex Grossman threw for 362. Everyone who watched that game, an emotional give-it-all-you-have affair, knew Tennessee was in trouble heading into the SEC title game the next week. So I would not call Tennessee's 31-20 upset loss to LSU in that game a choke. Just another contender biting the dust.

So in the end, the contenders to play 11-0 Miami, who had avoided a final-game upset themselves when Virginia Tech missed a late 2-point conversion, were 10-1 Oregon (AP#2), 10-2 Colorado (AP#3), and 11-1 Nebraska (AP#4). Colorado coach Gary Barnett had been begging for pollster votes on the airwaves down the stretch, but the effort could not get him past Oregon in either poll. The rest was up to the BCS ranking formula, which was absurdly bloated back then. And what did the BCS national championship race come down to? It came down to 5-5 Texas Christian at 6-4 Southern Miss on December 6th. Oh, the wonder and glory that is the BCS!

Texas Christian vs. Southern Miss

Texas Christian, you see, had lost to Nebraska. And Southern Miss had played Oklahoma State, who played Colorado. This game mattered because of the BCS' strength of schedule component, which measured opponent win % (2/3) and opponents' opponent win % (1/3). So when TCU upset Southern Miss 14-12, snagging an interception at their own 10 in the final minute, it gave Nebraska just enough of a boost to barely edge Colorado for #2 in the final BCS rankings.

The BCS computers, which had equal footing with the human polls back then, and were allowed to account for margin of victory, loved Nebraska, but did not love Oregon. Oregon, who was #2 (in the polls that count... or should count), finished behind both Colorado and Nebraska in the BCS rankings.

So the BCS delivered to the nation #1 vs. #4 in the national championship game. Nebraska got whipped by Miami, and Oregon stuck it to Colorado-- and the BCS computers-- 38-16 in the Fiesta Bowl. Another job well done, oh geniuses of the BCS!

Colorado, Nebraska, and Oklahoma

As I said above, you could argue for any of the top four Big 12 teams to be ranked higher than the other three. The AP poll chose 11-2 Texas (#5). However, once that choice is made, the other pieces fall into place. Or should. Colorado beat Nebraska 62-36, and Nebraska beat Oklahoma 20-10. Oklahoma did beat Texas 14-3, but that upset win is balanced out by the upset loss to unranked Oklahoma State in their regular season finale.

Unfortunately, the AP poll has it backwards, with Oklahoma at #6, Nebraska #8, and Colorado #9. Oklahoma passed up Nebraska and Colorado in the final poll because those two lost to the #1 and #2 teams in BCS bowls, while Oklahoma struggled to beat unranked Arkansas 10-3 in the Cotton Bowl. I'm not sure what the "thinking" was there, but Nebraska passing up Colorado when they both lost was even more baffling. I suppose it shows that Barnett's vote-mongering for Colorado the last 2 weeks of the regular season must have had some effect after all. But after the bowls, the voters forgot all that. Whoops.

The fix: Colorado and Nebraska switch places-- how can you ignore 62-36? And exactly how short are sportswriter memories, anyway? Oklahoma drops behind both, putting Colorado at #7, Nebraska #8, and Oklahoma #9.

Florida and Tennessee 

Next up are 10-2 Florida and 11-2 Tennessee, who I am proposing should both be moved past #2 Oregon (11-1). Yes, Florida has 2 upset losses and Oregon has 1. But Florida played 6 top 25 opponents (7 in the coaches poll), and Oregon played 3. In Florida's 10 wins, the closest anyone came to them was #22 Georgia, who lost by 14. Next closest was #15 Florida State, who lost by 24. Oregon, on the other hand, won 5 games by a touchdown or less, 3 of them over unrated opponents. Which is why the computers had no love for them in the first place. This is no contest.

Tennessee is similar, though they were not as dominating as Florida. Still, they played 7 top 25 opponents (and it will be 8 in the fixed poll!), and had only one close win over an unranked opponent. Their 5-2 record against rated opponents is better than Oregon's 2-1, and their performance was better too.

You could rank Tennessee higher than Florida based on their head-to-head win, especially since it was on the road and at the end of the season, and I would do so myself, but Florida has an argument too. That game with Tennessee was very close, not decisive, and Florida definitely outperformed Tennessee on the season enough to have a case for being rated higher. So the AP poll can keep them ahead of Tennessee.

Move Florida to #2, Tennessee to #3, and drop Oregon to #4.

Louisville

Here I go picking on another "little big" team. It's nice that CUSA gets a representative in the top 25, very democratic, but unfortunately I am fixing these top 25s on the basis of merit rather than affirmative action. So say goodbye to 11-2 Louisville (#17), who lost to 6-6 Texas Christian in their regular season finale, and who beat no one. Well, unless you count fellow little big Brigham Young, who was 12-2 and ranked #25. Which I don't. They lost to unranked Hawaii 72-45, and of course beat no one.

Let's drop Louisville to #24 for now, just ahead of their little big win, BYU. But they'll both eventually be passed up by teams that actually accomplished something anyway.

Boston College, Georgia, and Georgia Tech

Boston College (8-4, originally #21), Georgia (8-4, #22), and Georgia Tech (8-5, #24) all have the same relevant record, albeit in different ways. Boston College had no upset wins and no upset losses, Georgia had one upset win and one upset loss, and Georgia Tech had two upset wins and two upset losses. That makes them all effectively one game better than Michigan (8-4, #20), who had one upset win and two upset losses. Washington (8-4, #19), with two upset wins and two upset losses, has the same relevant record as BC, UGA, and GT. However, their performance is significantly worse than all three. Washington defeated 4 unranked teams by 3, 3, 3, and 2 points, and they lost to Miami 63-7. Georgia Tech had only one close win over an unranked opponent (BC also had one, and Georgia had none).

So we'll move all three ahead of Washington. That puts Boston College at #18, Georgia #19, Georgia Tech #20, Washington #21, Michigan #22, and Toledo #23.

UCLA

UCLA, 7-4 and unranked, also has a balanced relevant record, with a 35-13 upset win over now-#21 Washington and a 27-0 upset loss to unranked Southern Cal. That gives them a better relevant record than Michigan, and they also beat two teams that Michigan lost to (Washington and Ohio State). They also have a win over nearly-rated Alabama (7-5), no close wins over unranked opponents, and very close losses against #10 Washington State and #16 Stanford. How can they not be ranked? It mystifies me that anyone could actually look over their record, look over Michigan's, and decide that Michigan did better. And they both have 4 losses, so it's not a matter of straight record this time. I suppose it's because UCLA was left out in the cold come bowl time, and thus forgotten, but not playing a bowl game is better than playing one and losing 45-17, as Michigan did.

Justice shall be done! We move UCLA into the top 25 ahead of Michigan, at #22. Michigan and all the teams behind them drop a spot. UCLA stays behind Washington despite their 35-13 win over the Huskies, because Washington is still one game better. They only have the same number of losses because Washington lost to #5 Texas in the Holiday Bowl, whereas UCLA did not play in a bowl game.

North Carolina and Arkansas

Like the previous four teams I've moved up, North Carolina (8-5, unranked) and Arkansas (7-5, unranked) both have balanced relevant records, each with one upset win and one upset loss. That makes them both effectively one game better than Michigan too. However, both also suffered enough performance problems for Michigan to stay ahead of them.

I cannot say the same for now-#24 Toledo and now-#25 Louisville. Toledo is effectively two games back of North Carolina and Arkansas, and Louisville is one game back. Toledo and Louisville had their own poor performances, and almost no wins of value, so neither has any (legitimate) argument for being ranked higher than NC or Arkansas.

We shall therefore move North Carolina into the top 25 at #24 and Arkansas at #25.

Syracuse and Florida State

Here's a small fix in the middle of the poll. I propose we move #14 Syracuse (10-3) and #15 Florida State (8-4) ahead of #13 South Carolina (9-3) on the basis of better performance. They all have the same relevant record.

Syracuse had one close win over an unranked opponent, Florida State had none, and South Carolina had four. Syracuse defeated 2 ranked opponents, FSU beat 3, and SC beat 1.

So let's make the switch. Syracuse to #13, FSU #14, and SC #15. Personally, I'd move Syracuse even higher, and though I had a very hard time finding a rationale for the AP poll to have Maryland ranked higher than Syracuse (in fact, I cannot remember what that rationale was now), I think I'll just let it go. Throw the voters a bone. But did I forget about 10-2 Illinois, who now sits between Maryland and Syracuse? No, it's just that they're dropping next...

Illinois

Illinois' schedule and results look an awful lot like the schedule and results of a little big team. In fact, their only win over a ranked opponent was 34-10 over little big Louisville, who is no longer ranked in the fixed top 25. Leaving the Illini with just two wins over nearly-rated opponents, a 45-20 loss to now-#23 Michigan, and wins over unrated opponents by 5, 7, 5, and 6 points. They may be 10-2, but those results are not at all those of a #12 team, where the AP poll ranked them. In fact, they don't even look like the results of a top 25 team at all. Still, they were the Big 10 champ, and it's inconceivable that the Big 10 champ could be unranked, isn't it?

Sure, the Big 10 went 24-16 against nonconference opponents and 2-4 in bowls, worst of the BCS conferences on both counts, and the only win over a rated nonconference opponent the entire Big 10 got was that Illinois win over Louisville. Meaning they really got none. Still, with all those TV sets in the rust belt, it simply isn't possible for their conference champion to be unranked.

The best I can do for the voters here is to drop Illinois behind UCLA, just ahead of Michigan. Michigan stomped on Illinois, but Illinois had the better record, which is why they won the conference. As for UCLA, sure they have twice as many losses as Illinois, but what matters is that UCLA and Illinois both had one loss to a lower-rated opponent. Where UCLA has the edge is in their win over a higher-rated opponent. Plus they have 2 wins over nearly-rated opponents, the same as Illinois. Plus they had no close wins over unranked opponents, whereas Illinois had 4. Plus they lost to now-#4 Oregon by 1 point, whereas Illinois lost to now-#6 LSU by 13. So everything says UCLA had the better season.

Drop Illinois all the way down to #22, and move all the teams that had been between Illinois and Michigan up one spot.

Fixed AP Top 25

How lovely to finally be writing the conclusion. I've been at this one for nearly two weeks. Which is kinda funny when you consider that most AP voters maybe spend an hour on their ballots in the first place. If that. Still, it is a lot harder to fix someone else's top 25, trying to stay as true as possible to what they want and feel as you possibly can, than to put together your own top 25.

Falling out are Louisville, Toledo, and Brigham Young. Replacing them are North Carolina, Arkansas, and UCLA. The old teams had 4 losses to unranked opponents and no wins over ranked teams (except Louisville's win over BYU). The new teams had 3 losses to unranked opponents and 3 wins over ranked teams. Sorry little big teams, but as they say, if you wanna be the best, you have to beat the best. I know the AP sportswriters are telling you that you can be the best by beating the worst. But they are wrong.

1) Miami-Florida 12-0--
2) Florida 10-2+1
3) Tennessee 11-2+1
4) Oregon 11-1-2
5) Texas 11-2--
6) Louisiana State 10-3+1
7) Colorado 10-3+2
8) Nebraska 11-2--
9) Oklahoma 11-2-3
10) Washington State 10-2--
11) Maryland 10-2--
12) Syracuse 10-3+2
13) Florida State 8-4+2
14) South Carolina 9-3-1
15) Stanford 9-3+1
16) Virginia Tech 8-4+2
17) Boston College 8-4+4
18) Georgia 8-4+4
19) Georgia Tech 8-5+5
20) Washington 8-4-1
21) UCLA 7-4IN
22) Illinois 10-2-10
23) Michigan 8-4-3
24) North Carolina 8-5IN
25) Arkansas 7-5IN

OUT: #17 Louisville 11-2
#23 Toledo 10-2
#25 Brigham Young 12-2

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