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Fixing the Final 2010 AP College Football Poll

1) Auburn 14-0
2) Texas Christian 13-0
3) Oregon 12-1
4) Stanford 12-1
5) Ohio State 12-1
6) Oklahoma 12-2
7) Wisconsin 11-2
8) Louisiana State 11-2
9) Boise State 12-1
10) Alabama 10-3
11) Nevada 13-1
12) Arkansas 10-3
13) Oklahoma State 11-2
14) Michigan State 11-2
15) Mississippi State 9-4
16) Virginia Tech 11-3
17) Florida State 10-4
18) Missouri 10-3
19) Texas A&M 9-4
20) Nebraska 10-4
21) Central Florida 11-3
22) South Carolina 9-5
23) Maryland 9-4
24) Tulsa 10-3
25) North Carolina State 9-4
Here is the final 2010 AP college football top 25. If you want to play along, you can access all of these teams' full schedules here: College Football Data Warehouse (amongst a number of other places). The fixed final AP top 25 follows the article below. 

But before I get to correcting the AP poll's errors, let me make one thing clear. This is not about what I would personally prefer to see in the rankings. I myself would probably rank Boise State around #5, put Mississippi State ahead of Michigan State, and Florida in the top 20 (let alone the top 25). But all those choices the AP poll made are fine-- logically valid choices. This is about fixing only those AP poll choices that are not logically valid or fair.

You see, I'm all about truth, justice, and the American way. Unfortunately, too many of the AP voters appear to be all about falsehood, injustice, and the Communist way--"Hey, I got an idea! Let's share the wealth with Conference USA!"

Well, I am here to preach the truth, and it is this: CUSA sucks. Sorry to be so blunt about it, but it had to be said. Before I get to CUSA's "Wonder Twins," however, let's start near the top of the poll, with a very typical rating injustice AP voters perpetrate every year...
Auburn's Michael Dyer rolling over an Oregon tackler

My painting of the key play in the BCS National Championship Game. Auburn's Michael Dyer rolled over a would-be tackler, his right knee just an inch off of the turf. Everyone stopped for a moment, including Dyer, but the refs never blew a whistle, so he started running again, netting a huge 37 yard gain that put Auburn in position to kick a field goal on the last play, defeating Oregon 22-19 for the national championship... or co-championship, if you ask some TCU fans.

Wisconsin and Ohio State

If you've read my comments on the AP poll over the last month, especially my last article, written before the BCS National Championship Game, then most of my fixes to this poll will not be a surprise to you. The AP voters made all the rating errors I predicted they would, and I will be making all the repairs I expected, starting with Wisconsin's wholly illogical fall behind Ohio State.

#7 Wisconsin (11-2) defeated #5 Ohio State (12-1) 31-18, securing as their reward the Rose Bowl, as well as a higher rating than Ohio State in the regular season AP poll. Wisconsin lost 21-19 in the Rose Bowl to #2 TCU (13-0) on a missed 2-point conversion at the end of the game, and Ohio State defeated #12 Arkansas (10-3) 31-26 in the Sugar Bowl. Those results went exactly as AP poll voters should have expected them to, since the voters themselves had TCU rated higher than Wisconsin and Ohio State higher than Arkansas to begin with. And both games were close. So how does it make any sense at all that Ohio State should move ahead of Wisconsin in response to those games? It doesn't.

Sure, Wisconsin has 2 losses and Ohio State has 1, but that is only because Wisconsin played a tougher bowl opponent! And they drew the tougher opponent by beating Ohio State, so what the writers are doing, in the end, is rating Ohio State higher because Wisconsin beat them.

This injustice shall not stand. Move Wisconsin up to #5 and drop Ohio State to #6 (Oklahoma, which had been #6, will be dropping out of the top ten anyway, as detailed below).

Arkansas and Louisiana State

The same injustice Wisconsin received was also dealt to #12 Arkansas (10-3). Arkansas defeated #8 LSU (11-2) 31-23 in their regular season finale, thereby securing the Sugar Bowl, as well as a higher ranking in the regular season AP poll. Arkansas lost a close game in their bowl to a higher-ranked opponent (Ohio State), while LSU defeated a much lower-ranked opponent in their bowl, and the writers consequently moved LSU well ahead of Arkansas in the final poll. Is this case also wholly illogical? It is illogical, but perhaps not wholly so.

There is one key difference between this case and the Wisconsin-Ohio State case. Wisconsin beat Ohio State decisively, by more than a touchdown (31-18), whereas Arkansas only defeated LSU by 8 points (31-23). Also, LSU was very impressive in their bowl game, winning 41-24, albeit against a much lower ranked opponent: #19 Texas A&M (9-4). But Arkansas only beat A&M 24-17 (playing in the same stadium in which LSU faced them). So perhaps it is worth looking at these two teams more closely to see if the AP voters have a case here.

We'll start with their overall records. Arkansas lost to Alabama, whom LSU defeated, but Arkansas' win over LSU makes them even, with Arkansas having the head-to-head edge. Both teams lost to Auburn, and Arkansas took a third loss to Ohio State, but that game is irrelevant when comparing these two teams because it was a close game and OSU is rated higher than LSU anyway.

Now let's look at performance. As stated, LSU beat A&M more handily than did Arkansas. And they also performed better than Arkansas in wins over Mississippi State (LSU beat them 29-7, Arkansas 38-31 in overtime) and Auburn (LSU lost 24-17, Arkansas 65-43). Those 3 outcomes certainly do look very good for LSU, but you need to look at all the games, not just those that fit how you feel like rating the teams. Arkansas defeated Mississippi by 2 touchdowns, LSU by 1. Arkansas defeated 9-5 South Carolina by 21 points, while LSU defeated 8-5 Florida by 4 (and SC beat UF 36-14). Finally, Arkansas defeated 6-7 Georgia by 7 on the road, while LSU beat 6-7 Tennessee by 2 at home (and Georgia defeated Tennessee 41-14). So in the end, the teams are even again, each outperforming the other in 3 comparable games. That still leaves Arkansas with the head-to-head tie-breaker over LSU.

And let's take another look at that head-to-head win. Was it really so close as the 31-23 score indicates? No, actually, it wasn't, and this is a good example of why you can't just look at the scores when ranking the teams. Arkansas ended that game with the ball at the LSU 1 yard line, where they mercifully knelt for the victory. And they outgained LSU 464 yards to 294. It was a decisive outcome, and it occurred at the end of the regular season, giving it more weight. So yes, Arkansas should definitely be rated higher than LSU.

But Arkansas was punished even more severely than Wisconsin was, and they also now sit behind #10 Alabama (10-3). Now, Alabama did beat Arkansas head-to-head in the regular season, but Arkansas defeated two teams that beat Alabama (South Carolina and LSU), and they therefore finished with a better league record and are effectively one game ahead of Alabama, regardless of their straight records being the same 10-3 mark. Arkansas has one more loss only because they had to play Ohio State in their bowl game, and Ohio State is ranked well ahead of Alabama by the AP voters themselves.

We'll drop LSU behind Boise State and move Arkansas up ahead of LSU. That puts Boise State at #8, Arkansas at #9, LSU at #10, and Alabama at #11.

Oklahoma

#6 Oklahoma (12-2) is the most overrated team in this year's final AP poll, and it's pretty easy to see. They defeated the #13, #17, and #20 teams, which is good, but they also lost to the #18 and #19 teams, each by more than a touchdown. And unless you're talking about a season with a lot of upsets amongst the top ten teams, which was not the case this year, that is just not the record of a #6 team. The only excuse for so high a ranking would be tremendous performance, but as you'll see, looking at Oklahoma's performance does far more to hurt their case than to help it.

Oklahoma beat Utah State by 7, Air Force by 3, Cincinnati by 2, and Texas by 8, and all of those teams finished unranked (and three of them had losing records). Cincinnati did score a late touchdown to make their score look artificially close, but it was still a worse performance against the Bearcats than a multitude of unranked teams posted. Oklahoma's losses to #18 Missouri and #19 Texas A&M, both by more than a touchdown, are the performances of a #21-25 ranked team. Their 3 point win over #20 Nebraska, given more weight because it came at the end of the regular season, is the performance of a #15 team at best. Oklahoma only had 1 game that was definitely the performance of a #6 team (or better), and that was their 47-17 beatdown of #17 Florida State. But that one game is greatly outweighed by the 7 I just listed before that.

Oklahoma also stomped on 5-7 Colorado, 5-7 Iowa State, 8-5 Texas Tech, 7-6 Baylor, and 8-5 Connecticut, but those results don't actually tell us much. Take their 48-20 bowl whipping of UConn. That score may look impressive, but 7-6 Michigan beat Connecticut 30-10 and 7-6 Louisville beat them 26-0. So crushing Connecticut may be the performance of a #6 team, or it may be the performance of an unrated 7-6 team. Or anywhere in between (this issue, by the way, is the biggest problem for computer systems that try to measure average performance).

So if Oklahoma is overrated, where should they be ranked? To figure that out, we need to start comparing them to the teams ranked behind them. But let's cut to the chase and compare them to #10 Alabama (10-3). Alabama has more losses, but they played tougher teams, and their losses came to #1 Auburn by 1 point, to #8 LSU by 3 points, and to #22 South Carolina by 14 points. So only one loss came to a lower-ranked team, and only one loss was by more than a touchdown. Oklahoma, again, lost to #18 Missouri and to #19 Texas A&M, both lower-rated teams, and both losses by more than a touchdown. Both Alabama and Oklahoma defeated 3 rated opponents. Alabama defeated #12 Arkansas by 4, #14 Michigan State by 42, and #15 Mississippi State by 20. Of course, note that I have already moved Arkansas up to #8, where they belong, so that is actually a win over a higher-ranked opponent. Oklahoma's wins came over #13 Oklahoma State by 6, #17 Florida State by 30, and #20 Nebraska by 3. So Alabama beat higher-ranked teams than did Oklahoma, even if you count Arkansas as a #12 team, and they won those games much more handily.

Alabama also crushed every unrated opponent they played, with no close games, beating such teams by an average score of 42-7. As demonstrated, however, Oklahoma had 3 close wins over unrated opponents, and beat such teams by an average of 40-18. So as you can see, not a single factor here favors Oklahoma. The Tide had fewer losses to lower-ranked teams, lost by smaller margins, beat better ranked opponents and did so by higher margins, and performed better against unrated opponents. Any real comparison between these teams is a complete rout for Alabama.

So we'll drop Oklahoma to #11, behind Alabama. And let's be honest here. Who do you really think would win if they played? Excepting Oklahoma fans, we all know the very likely outcome of such a matchup.

Texas A&M

Here's a tricky one, so I suppose sportswriters can be forgiven for missing it. #19 Texas A&M (9-4) sits right behind Missouri (10-3), who beat them in College Station 30-9. Case closed? Nope.

It may sound strange, since I'm always going on about head-to-head results mattering, but Texas A&M should be rated ahead of Missouri. Yes, Missouri beat them, but Mizzou also lost to #20 Nebraska and to unrated Texas Tech, both of whom Texas A&M defeated. That means that Texas A&M is effectively one game better than Missouri despite the head-to-head loss. So why does Texas A&M have one more loss than Missouri? Well, first of all, they played #13 Oklahoma State, and Mizzou did not. And they also faced 2 top ten nonconference opponents, whereas all of Missouri's nonconference opponents were unranked. Oh, and by the way, Missouri lost to one of those unranked opponents (8-5 Iowa), plus it was in their bowl game, giving it extra weight. So Texas A&M is effectively two games better than Missouri, more depending on how much extra weight you give to bowl games.

I'd normally look at performance and see if a case for Missouri can be built there, but there's no way of making up an effective 2 game gap when saddled with a bowl loss to an unranked opponent. So let's switch 'em: Texas A&M to #18, and Missouri to #19, just ahead of Nebraska, who had an even worse bowl performance. They belong together.

I took a long look at dropping Missouri behind Nebraska, who beat the Tigers 36-27. Nebraska's win was decisive, and the teams' records are effectively even (Missouri 2 upset wins and 2 upset losses, Nebraska 1 upset win and 2 upset losses, and their win over Mizzou makes them even). But Missouri outperformed Nebraska on the season to such a large degree that voters have a case for keeping them higher. Missouri was not taken to overtime by Iowa State, like Nebraska was, and they won at Texas A&M 30-9, where Nebraska lost 9-6. And Missouri's upset losses were far less damaging than Nebraska's. Mizzou lost at 8-5 Texas Tech by 7, whereas Nebraska lost at home to 5-7 Texas by the same score. And Mizzou lost by 3 to 8-5 Iowa in their bowl game, while Nebraska lost by 12 to 7-6 Washington in theirs. And Iowa will be making the fixed top 25 (details below), while Washington is nowhere near the top 25.

I also looked long and hard at Texas A&M possibly moving up ahead of Florida State (10-4), who now sits right in front of them. Texas A&M looks better overall, and I might rate them higher myself, but I gave the voters their way here due to FSU's strong performance over their last 4 games.

South Carolina

With one upset loss to 6-7 Kentucky and one upset win over #10 Alabama, #22 South Carolina (9-5) has a better relevant record than several teams ranked ahead of them, despite their ugly-looking 9-5 straight record. Let's compare them to Missouri.

Missouri has 3 upset losses (#20 Nebraska, 8-5 Texas Tech, and 8-5 Iowa) and 2 upset wins (now-#11 Oklahoma and now-#18 Texas A&M). So in this regard, SC is one game better than Mizzou, and again, it is more than that depending on how heavily you weight bowl games. Performance may give a slight edge to Missouri, but it's not enough to make up the difference in relevant records. SC lost 3 games by more than a touchdown, Missouri only one, but Missouri had 1 close win (over unrated San Diego State), while all of SC's 9 wins were by more than a touchdown. And while Missouri beat an impressive 6 bowl qualifying teams, SC did them one better, defeating 7.

So let's move South Carolina up to #19, dropping Missouri, Nebraska, and Central Florida one spot each.

I would also rank South Carolina higher than Texas A&M myself, but the AP voters have a case for A&M here (same relevant record, very similar overall performance), so the Aggies shall remain right in front of South Carolina.

Central Florida and Tulsa

Wow, what a banner year for Conference-USA, eh? Not one, but two ranked teams: now-#22 Central Florida (11-3) and #24 Tulsa (10-3). Everyone's always talking about how great the Mountain West is for a non-automatic qualifier conference, but the MWC only got one ranked team in this year (Utah, though 10-3, fell out of the final top 25). CUSA must have really kicked some ass this year, right?

Er, not so much. While the Mountain West went a mediocre 21-21 against nonconference opponents, that record looks stellar when compared to CUSA's dismal 23-33. And the MWC went 4-1 in bowl games, while CUSA went 2-4 (UCF and Tulsa the only winners). And one of those bowl games featured a 6-6 MWC team playing a 6-6 CUSA team, resulting in a 52-24 romp for the MWC (BYU over UTEP). So given all that, how likely is it that a 3-loss CUSA team is really better than a 3-loss MWC team? I mean, it's possible. Maybe CUSA as a whole was bad, but two of their teams were really good. Could that be the case with UCF and Tulsa?

Er, not so much. Conference champion Central Florida lost to 2 unranked opponents, Kansas State and Southern Miss, and their best win came 10-6 over 6-7 Georgia in the Liberty Bowl. Given that Georgia is maybe the 50th best team in the country, UCF's performance in that game is that of a #40 team at best. And again, that's their biggest win. UCF also lost to #25 North Carolina State, and they have no business being ranked ahead of the Wolfpack. But of course, they have no business being ranked anywhere in a top 25 anyway.

Tulsa, who did not even make the CUSA title game, actually has a couple of strong wins, starting with their 62-35 romp over 10-4 Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl. That is definitely a top 25 performance. And they also defeated a decent 8-5 Notre Dame team 28-27 on the road. Unfortunately, like UCF, they also lost to 2 unrated opponents: 6-7 East Carolina and 7-7 Southern Methodist. And they had repeated poor performances, winning their last 3 regular season games over unrated opponents by scores of 28-25, 31-28, and 56-50.

Sorry, fans of underdogs, but both of these teams have to go. But cheer up, that makes room for another "little big" team, 10-3 Utah, who has but 1 upset loss and should be ranked higher than UCF and Tulsa anyway. In fact, Utah falling out was by far the biggest surprise of the final AP poll. Rather harsh punishment for losing their bowl game to a top ten team.

Anyway, as UCF and Tulsa fall out, Maryland moves up to #22, North Carolina State to #23, and we'll move the AP Poll's #26 and #27 teams, 10-3 Utah and 8-5 Iowa, up into the last 2 slots.

North Carolina State, West Virginia, and Maryland

Here we have a head-to-head problem. Now-#22 Maryland (9-4) beat now-#23 North Carolina State (9-4) 38-31 at home in their regular season finale, but the problem is that NC State beat 9-4 West Virginia 23-7 in their bowl game, and WV beat Maryland 31-17 in September-- obviously too far back in time for your average AP voter to remember (typical memory appears to be about 1 day), but it happened. So these 3 teams, all 9-4, defeated each other in a circle. They also each took a further 2 upset losses to unranked opponents (NC State losing to East Carolina and Clemson, Maryland to Miami and Clemson, and WV to Syracuse and Connecticut). What separates them is that North Carolina State also has an upset win, 28-24 over #17 Florida State. That moves the Wolfpack effectively one game ahead of the other two. Furthermore, NC State's 23-7 win over West Virginia is the most impressive of the 3 games against each other, coming by the most points and in a bowl game, while Maryland's win, by 7 at home, is the weakest of the 3. So clearly NC State > West Virginia > Maryland.

West Virginia also clearly outperformed Maryland on the season, with 2 close wins to Maryland's 4, and only 1 loss by more than a touchdown to Maryland's 3.

North Carolina State, being the top team of this threesome, can stay where they are, but Maryland needs to drop behind West Virginia. So where should we put them? If we put them in the middle of where they are ranked relative to each other (West Virginia is way back in the "also receiving votes" section), that puts them right behind Iowa. And that works out fine, since Iowa has a better relevant record than West Virginia does anyway (as does Utah, who is just ahead of Iowa).

That moves North Carolina State to #22, Utah to #23, Iowa to #24, and West Virginia comes in at #25. Maryland is left out in the cold at #26. Which is just as well, since they don't look much like a top 25 team anyway. Sure, they put a huge score (51-20) on 6-7 East Carolina in the Military Bowl, but they also put a not so huge score on Duke (winning 21-16), Boston College (24-21), Navy (17-14-- 9-4 San Diego State did much better against Navy in their bowl game, and 9-4 Air Force did better against them too), Clemson (a 31-7 loss to a 6-7 team!), and Miami (lost 26-20).

Florida

West Virginia's stay in the top 25 will be brief, as 8-5 Florida is about to replace them. While West Virginia took 2 losses to unranked teams, Florida took none. That's right, all 5 of their losses came to ranked opponents. So UF is effectively 2 games better than West Virginia in that regard. They also defeated 6 bowl qualifying opponents to WV's 4.

So we'll just replace West Virginia at #25 with Florida. AP voters were punishing UF for playing a very difficult schedule (11 bowl qualifiers in 13 games!), as they are wont to do. Florida was even ranked behind Miami-Ohio in the "also receiving votes" section, despite beating Miami 34-12. I have read that blueberries improve memory. Perhaps AP voters should make them a part of their daily diet, at least during football season.

Fixed AP Top 25

Well, AP voters did not perform as well as they did last year, which is too bad. The Wisconsin, Arkansas, and Oklahoma errors are typical of them, but the two CUSA teams coming into the final poll over 10-3 Utah is not a typical AP poll error, and pretty hard to forgive.

11-3 Central Florida, 9-4 Maryland, and 10-3 Tulsa fall out of the fixed top 25, and 10-3 Utah, 8-5 Iowa, and 8-5 Florida replace them. The teams falling out had 7 losses to unranked opponents and 1 win over a top 25 team, while the teams replacing them had only 4 losses to unranked opponents and 2 wins over rated teams. So that's a big improvement for the fixed poll right there.


Iowa was highly erratic this season, but I think they certainly merited inclusion in the top 25. They did lose to an ugly 3 unranked opponents, but they made up for 2 of those with a 37-6 win over #14 Michigan State and a 27-24 bowl win over now-#20 Missouri, and that one should carry more weight than the regular season games (usually, you can count on AP voters to overemphasize bowl results). They also lost to now-#5 Wisconsin by only 1 point and to now-#6 Ohio State by only 3.

Anyway, here it is, now logically coherent, your fixed final AP poll for 2010.


1) Auburn 14-0--
2) Texas Christian 13-0--
3) Oregon 12-1--
4) Stanford 12-1--
5) Wisconsin 11-2+2
6) Ohio State 12-1-1
7) Boise State 12-1+2
8) Arkansas 10-3+4
9) Louisiana State 11-2-1
10) Alabama 10-3--
11) Oklahoma 12-2-5
12) Nevada 13-1-1
13) Oklahoma State 11-2--
14) Michigan State 11-2--
15) Mississippi State 9-4--
16) Virginia Tech 11-3--
17) Florida State 10-4--
18) Texas A&M 9-4+1
19) South Carolina 9-5+3
20) Missouri 10-3-2
21) Nebraska 10-4-1
22) North Carolina State 9-4+3
23) Utah 10-3IN
24) Iowa 8-5IN
25) Florida 8-5IN

OUT: #21 Central Florida 11-3
#23 Maryland 9-4
#24 Tulsa 10-3

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