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Fixing the Final 2004 AP College Football Poll

1) Southern Cal 13-0
2) Auburn 13-0
3) Oklahoma 12-1
4) Utah 12-0
5) Texas 11-1
6) Louisville 11-1
7) Georgia 10-2
8) Iowa 10-2
9) California 10-2
10) Virginia Tech 10-3
11) Miami (FL) 9-3
12) Boise State 11-1
13) Tennessee 10-3
14) Michigan 9-3
15) Florida State 9-3
16) Louisiana State 9-3
17) Wisconsin 9-3
18) Texas Tech 8-4
19) Arizona State 9-3
20) Ohio State 8-4
21) Boston College 9-3
22) Fresno State 9-3
23) Virginia 8-4
24) Navy 10-2
25) Pittsburgh 8-4


To the left is the final 2004 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. 

Because I am something of a head-to-head hardass, my own top 25 would look very different. I would put unranked Texas A&M (7-5) ahead of #18 Texas Tech because they beat them. Then #9 California would drop behind #18 Texas Tech because Tech beat Cal in the Holiday Bowl by a couple of touchdowns.

I'd certainly drop #8 Iowa behind #19 Arizona State, who romped on the Hawkeyes 44-7. And #14 Michigan and #17 Wisconsin would drop with them.

Then there's #13 Tennessee, who I would move up because they beat #7 Georgia and won the SEC East.

However, all of the AP poll's choices in these cases have strong enough arguments in their favor to be valid. A head-to-head result is still, after all, just one game, and each of these teams played at least 11 other games.

So let's move on to an ignored head-to-head result that is not valid...


Southern Cal 2004 National Champions Sports Illustrated Cover

13-0 Southern Cal's stomping of Oklahoma left 13-0 Auburn in the shadows in 2004, or to be precise, in the lower right corner insert, muttering "What about us?" 12-0 Utah didn't even get that much.

Florida

Unranked Florida (7-5, #26) won at #15 Florida State (9-3) 20-13. Both teams have one loss to an unranked opponent, and both have one win over a ranked opponent. The main difference between them, other than the fact that Florida has 5 losses and FSU has 3, is that Florida played 5 ranked opponents and FSU played 2. Which explains the losses entirely.

Florida's win here was not an upset. FSU just wasn't that good. If it weren't for the weak schedule they played, they likely would have finished with 5 losses, as they did the next season. In fact, the 8-5 Seminoles of 2005 were probably better than this 9-3 FSU team.

So we'll move Florida into the top 25 ahead of FSU, and we'll place both teams in the middle of where the AP poll had them, behind Ohio State. That moves Ohio State up to #19 (and moves up the teams that were between OSU and FSU), Florida to #20, FSU to #21, and drops the teams that had been behind Ohio State one spot each.

Louisiana State

Florida State's departure from the #15 spot leaves 9-3 Louisiana State right behind 9-3 Michigan, which makes me wonder why LSU was ranked behind Michigan in the first place. Michigan has a big win over #8 Iowa, but they have two losses to lower-ranked opponents (#20 Ohio State and unranked Notre Dame). LSU has no upset losses, putting them effectively one game ahead of Michigan. Other than that, these teams look pretty much equal. But that one game difference is more than enough to move LSU ahead.

Which puts 9-3 LSU right behind 10-3 Tennessee. These teams look even more equal than LSU and Michigan did. The only difference between them is that LSU had 2 close wins over bad teams, and Tennessee had 4 such wins. Because I could not find a good reason for Tennessee being ranked higher, that difference is enough to move LSU up again.

LSU moves to #13, Tennessee to #14, and Michigan to #15.

Arizona State

As I said at the outset, Arizona State beat #8 Iowa 44-7, and I would rank them higher than the Hawkeyes. That score is hella convincing. I have a hard time agreeing with the AP poll's dismissal of that game, but in the voters' defense, ASU got stomped by the other two ranked teams they played (Southern Cal and Cal), lost to unranked Arizona in their regular season finale, and barely beat unranked Purdue in their bowl game.

Still, the majority of teams in the top 25 lost to an unranked opponent, whereas only 8 of them defeated a top ten opponent. And Arizona is a rivalry game. And bowl opponent Purdue will finish in the fixed top 25. So ASU is definitely underrated at #19 (now #18). Michigan, for example, also beat Iowa (though not as impressively), but they lost to 2 lower-ranked teams, and by more in each than ASU lost in their one upset. And Michigan struggled against Purdue as much as ASU did. So we'll move ASU ahead of Michigan, and then ahead of Tennessee for the same reason LSU did above: better performance.

That puts ASU at #14, Tennessee to #15, Michigan to #16, and Wisconsin and Texas Tech each drop a spot as ASU moves past them too.

Purdue

Didn't I just say Purdue would make the fixed top 25? This is a head-to-head issue. Unranked Purdue (7-5) beat now-#19 Ohio State (8-4) 24-17. Their Big 10 record was the same, but Ohio State did not play #8 Iowa that season, and Purdue did. Purdue's other loss came to Arizona State, who was ranked higher than OSU. Purdue came up just short of big things in 2004, losing to rated teams Wisconsin by 3, Michigan by 2, Iowa by 2, and Arizona State by 4. But as I say, they did beat Ohio State, who was rated lower than all those teams anyway.

Put Purdue in ahead of Ohio State at #19, and drop OSU to #20. All the teams behind OSU also drop one spot.

Worst Bottom Five

The 2004 AP poll's top 12 is going to remain intact. I salute them on a job well done there. But the 2004 poll's bottom five is the worst of the polls I have thus far covered. It looks like voters just jotted down random teams with strong win-loss records at the bottom of their ballots, and in fact, I am pretty sure that that is exactly what they did. Put together, these five teams have 9 losses to unranked opponents, and no wins over the top 20.

Can we find a better five teams? You know we can.

Florida and Purdue have already been lifted up into the top 25. The other three teams I am nominating are Texas A&M, Oregon State, and Oklahoma State. Together, these five teams have a total of only 3 losses to unranked teams (excluding Oklahoma State's loss to Texas A&M), and they have 3 wins over the top 20.

Texas A&M

Unranked Texas A&M (7-5) has one loss to an unranked opponent and one big win over #18 Texas Tech. They also defeated 7-5 Oklahoma State, who will be following them into the top 25. Florida State also has a loss to an unranked opponent, but no win over a higher-ranked opponent, and in fact, with Virginia falling out, FSU is left with no win over a top 25 team.

So we'll move Texas A&M in ahead of FSU at #22, dropping FSU to #23.

OSU and OSU

Oregon State and Oklahoma State are each unranked and 7-5, and neither lost to an unranked opponent (other than the Cowboys' loss to Texas A&M). Oregon State got a few points in the "also receiving votes" section, whereas Oklahoma State did not (though Colorado did, despite losing to Oklahoma State), so we'll keep Oregon State ahead of Oklahoma State. Florida State played more near-rated teams than either, so can stay ahead of both.

Bring them into the bottom: Oregon State at #24 and Oklahoma State at #25.

Fixed AP Top 25

So the entire bottom five fell out, the largest number of teams to fall out of a fixed AP poll yet. Wave goodbye to Boston College, Fresno State, Virginia, Navy, and Pittsburgh. Say hello to Florida, Purdue, Texas A&M, Oregon State, and Oklahoma State. As mentioned above, the teams that fall out had 9 losses to unranked opponents and no wins over ranked teams, whereas the five new teams had 3 losses to unranked opponents and 3 wins over ranked teams. A pretty big difference there.

Interesting note on 12-0 Utah: they won every game by more than a touchdown, the only FBS team other than 1995 Nebraska to do so in the last 35 years.

Interesting note on the Holiday Bowl: this was the first of two straight years in which a 7-4 Big 12 team defeated a 10-1 PAC 10 team in that bowl game.

1) Southern Cal 13-0--
2) Auburn 13-0--
3) Oklahoma 12-1--
4) Utah 12-0--
5) Texas 11-1--
6) Louisville 11-1--
7) Georgia 10-2--
8) Iowa 10-2--
9) California 10-2--
10) Virginia Tech 10-3--
11) Miami-Florida 9-3--
12) Boise State 11-1--
13) Louisiana State 9-3+3
14) Arizona State 9-3+5
15) Tennessee 10-3-2
16) Michigan 9-3-2
17) Wisconsin 9-3--
18) Texas Tech 8-4--
19) Purdue 7-5IN
20) Ohio State 8-4--
21) Florida 7-5IN
22) Texas A&M 7-5IN
23) Florida State 9-3-8
24) Oregon State 7-5IN
25) Oklahoma State 7-5IN

OUT: #21 Boston College 9-3
#22 Fresno State 9-3
#23 Virginia 8-4
#24 Navy 10-2
#25 Pittsburgh 8-4

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