Tip Top 25 in helmets, smaller

Fixing the Final 2008 AP College Football Poll

1) Florida 13-1
2) Utah 13-0
3) Southern Cal 12-1
4) Texas 12-1
5) Oklahoma 12-2
6) Alabama 12-2
7) Texas Christian 11-2
8) Penn State 11-2
9) Ohio State 10-3
10) Oregon 10-3
11) Boise State 12-1
12) Texas Tech 11-2
13) Georgia 10-3
14) Mississippi 9-4
15) Virginia Tech 10-4
16) Oklahoma State 9-4
17) Cincinnati 11-3
18) Oregon State 9-4
19) Missouri 10-4
20) Iowa 9-4
21) Florida State 9-4
22) Georgia Tech 9-4
23) West Virginia 9-4
24) Michigan State 9-4
25) Brigham Young 10-3
Here we have the final 2008 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 difficult top 25 to fix, specifically #15-25, which was a logical mess. It was like undoing the knots in my kid's tennis shoes. But I got 'em all out, and it's ready to be tied up into a perfect bow.

But first, the most obvious problem with this edition of the AP top 25 is not at all difficult to unravel and fix. That would be 12-1 Boise State at #11, right behind 10-3 Oregon, whom they defeated 37-32 in Eugene. On top of that head-to-head result, Boise State’s only loss came by 1 point to #7 Texas Christian, whereas Oregon lost to an unranked opponent.

This is worse by far than any error in the 2009 AP top 25, and in fact I would say that it is so bad that anyone who voted Oregon higher in 2008 should definitely not be allowed to vote anymore, as they clearly have no idea what they are doing.

So the first fix is Boise State to #10, Oregon to #11. On to the rest...

2008 Tebow Painting

Tim Tebow did not win a second Heisman, but he did win a second national championship ring in 2008. This time, however, he was the starter. Here he is howling his approval of the proceedings at the BCS national championship game, which Florida won 24-14 over Oklahoma.

Texas Tech

The above fix leaves 11-2 Texas Tech one spot behind 10-3 Oregon. Both teams had an upset loss, but Tech’s came to the #14 team, while Oregon’s came to an unranked opponent. And Texas Tech defeated a much higher-ranked opponent, #4 Texas, which makes up for their upset loss. Oregon has no such win. The highest-ranked team Oregon defeated was #16 Oklahoma State, but Texas Tech defeated them too, and in fact did so more impressively than did Oregon (Tech beat OSU by 36, while Oregon beat them by 11).

So for the next fix, move Texas Tech to #11, Oregon to #12.

Untangling the Knots

Now things get tricky. The other problems in this AP poll look like a confusing mass of tangled up knots, and unraveling the knots is not so simple. The first thing that stands out to me is #15 Virginia Tech, who at 10-4 lost to a startling four teams that are ranked lower than they are! This is a team that is very clearly overrated.

The second thing that stands out is the fact that 9-4 Georgia Tech is rated #22, and 8-5 Louisiana State is unranked, even though LSU beat GT by a more-than-decisive 38-3 score in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. Then I notice that GT is ranked one spot behind 9-4 Florida State, whom they defeated.

Put this all together (along with other facts), and this is how these particular knots untangle:

LSU (AP #28) > GT (#22) > FSU (#21) > VT (#15) > Cincinnati (#17)

In other words, I am proposing that these five teams should be ranked in almost the opposite order of how the AP poll ranked them. But let’s take them one at a time.

Louisiana State

First of all, I don’t know how you can ignore a bowl score like 38-3, which you have to do to rate Georgia Tech higher than LSU. Yes, LSU had one more loss than did GT, but 4 of their 5 losses came to teams ranked in the top 14, much higher than GT. That leaves LSU with just one loss to an unranked opponent. But GT had two losses to unranked opponents (LSU makes a third according to the AP poll, but I am arguing that LSU should be ranked here). So LSU actually had the better relevant record anyway. But if 38-3 in the bowl game doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what can.

Georgia Tech, Florida State, and Virginia Tech

9-4 Georgia Tech defeated 9-4 Florida State 31-28, who defeated 10-4 ACC champion Virginia Tech 30-20, who defeated Georgia Tech 17-14. So those three teams make a head-to-head circle. But although VT won the ACC, each of these teams had nonconference opponents too, and in the end, VT now has more losses to unranked opponents than GT and FSU do (three for VT, two each for GT and FSU—now that I am moving LSU ahead of GT). That leaves VT effectively one game back of the other two teams.

On top of that, GT has an upset win, over #13 Georgia, which balances out one of their upset losses, and effectively moves them one game ahead of FSU and two games ahead of VT. So that is the order they should be ranked.

Note that this ranking of these teams greatly eases the problem of Virginia Tech’s original AP poll ranking, wherein they had a ridiculous 4 losses to lower-ranked opponents. Put behind GT and FSU, VT only has 3 losses to lower-ranked teams, and 1 win over a higher-ranked team (GT, albeit by only 3 at home), which is far more reasonable.


That leaves 11-3 Cincinnati, who belongs behind Virginia Tech due to Tech’s decisive 20-7 Orange Bowl win over them. Now, I know that Cincinnati’s 11-3 straight record is awful shiny, but the Big East was weak in 2008, and once #23 West Virginia drops out of the top 25 (which will come below), Cincinnati will be left with no victory over a top 25 opponent. And a close look at their full schedule and performance will clearly show a team that belongs in the bottom of the top 25, not in the middle.

So, LSU > GT > FSU > VT > Cincinnati. But where do we put them? I will put them where the AP Poll had the middle team of this fivesome, which was FSU, ranked behind Iowa. Oklahoma State moves to #15 (as VT has dropped), Oregon State to #16 (as VT and Cinci have dropped), Missouri to #17, and Iowa to #18. That puts LSU at #19, GT at #20, FSU at #21 (where they were before), VT at #22, and Cincinnati at #23. West Virginia drops to #24 and Michigan State to #25.

Iowa Out and California In

For our next fix, before we get to West Virginia dropping out of the top 25, let's look at 9-4 Iowa (#20 in the AP poll, now #18 after above fixes). Like Virginia Tech originally had, Iowa also has four losses to lower-ranked opponents. On the plus side, Iowa had a huge upset win over #8 Penn State (knocking them out of the national championship game), but that is only one game, and it makes up for only one of their four upset losses, leaving them at 3 games back of where a team should ideally be for their ranking. Which is not good. A team at -3 or -4 is almost certain to be overrated. Most teams in the top 25 should be at -1 or -2 (one or two upset losses), although 0 is the ideal.

But this is just another case of the AP poll ignoring head-to-head results. 9-4 Michigan State (AP #24, now #25 after above fixes) defeated 9-4 Iowa, and they also had a better Big 10 record, at 6-2 to 5-3. Not only that, but 9-4 Northwestern (#31 in the AP poll’s “also receiving votes” section) also defeated Iowa, and they had the same Big 10 record of 5-3. So drop Iowa behind Michigan State, and move Northwestern up ahead of Iowa.

But this brings up yet another ignored head-to-head result: 9-4 California (#26, just outside the AP poll) beat 9-4 Michigan State. So move them up ahead of Michigan State.

As a result of all that, LSU, GT, FSU, VT, Cincinnati, and West Virginia all move up a spot (due to Iowa dropping), California comes in at #24, and Michigan State remains at #25. Northwestern and Iowa are out, sitting at #26 and #27.

West Virginia

And that brings us to the aforementioned West Virginia Mountaineers (9-4, #23). West Virginia had 3 losses to unranked opponents and no wins over ranked opponents, so they stand out immediately because of that. But the problem here is, yet again, a simple ignoring of a head-to-head result. West Virginia lost to 9-4 Pittsburgh (just outside the original AP poll at #27), so drop them below Pitt, and thus out of the top 25.

That moves Cal up a spot to #23, Michigan State to #24, and Northwestern comes in at #25. But not, alas, for long.


There is one team in the AP poll’s “also receiving votes” section that had no losses to unranked teams: 9-4 Nebraska (#29). Northwestern, on the other hand, had one really ugly loss to a bad Indiana team. Not only that, but Northwestern had repeatedly poor performances. While each team only defeated two winning opponents, only one of Nebraska’s 9 wins was by a touchdown or less (against 7-6 Clemson), while Northwestern had 5 close wins (3 of them over losing teams). In the end, though, the biggest difference is that loss by Northwestern to Indiana. All of Nebraska’s losses came to teams ranked in the top 25.

So that is our last fix: Nebraska in at #25, Northwestern back out.

Fixed AP Top 25

And there we have it. Iowa, West Virginia, and Brigham Young are out. LSU, California, and Nebraska are in. BYU, above all, never should have been rated in the first place. 11-3 is a nice straight record, but they have no wins of any value whatsoever (their best win was over a losing UCLA team), and they lost their bowl game by 10 points to an unranked opponent.

Altogether, the three teams that fall out had a huge 7 losses to unranked teams, and one win over a ranked opponent (Iowa’s upset of Penn State). The three teams now in, on the other hand, only had a total of 3 losses to unranked opponents, and they had 3 wins over ranked opponents. So once again, the AP poll is greatly strengthened by these fixes.

1) Florida 13-1--
2) Utah 13-0--
3) Southern Cal 12-1--
4) Texas 12-1--
5) Oklahoma 12-2--
6) Alabama 12-2--
7) Texas Christian 11-2--
8) Penn State 11-2--
9) Ohio State 10-3--
10) Boise State 12-1+1
11) Texas Tech 11-2+1
12) Oregon 10-3-2
13) Georgia 10-3--
14) Mississippi 9-4--
15) Oklahoma State 9-4+1
16) Oregon State 9-4+2
17) Missouri 10-4+2
18) Louisiana State 8-5IN
19) Georgia Tech 9-4+3
20) Florida State 9-4+1
21) Virginia Tech 10-4-6
22) Cincinnati 11-3-5
23) California 9-4IN
24) Michigan State 9-4--
25) Nebraska 9-4IN

OUT: #20 Iowa 9-4
#23 West Virginia 9-4
#25 Brigham Young 10-3