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Fixing the Final 2013 AP College Football Poll

1) Florida State 14-0
2) Auburn 12-2
3) Michigan State 13-1
4) South Carolina 11-2
5) Missouri 12-2
6) Oklahoma 11-2
7) Alabama 11-2
8) Clemson 11-2
9) Oregon 11-2
10) Central Florida 12-1
11) Stanford 11-3
12) Ohio State 12-2
13) Baylor 11-2
14) Louisiana State 10-3
15) Louisville 12-1
16) UCLA 10-3
17) Oklahoma State 10-3
18) Texas A&M 9-4
19) Southern Cal 10-4
20) Arizona State 10-4
21) Notre Dame 9-4
22) Wisconsin 9-4
23) Duke 10-4
24) Vanderbilt 9-4
25) Washington 9-4
Here is the final 2013 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 rank Central Florida and Baylor ahead of Oklahoma, I would rank Stanford in the top 5, and I would rate Louisville higher than LSU, just as a few examples. 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.

The AP poll has gotten much better in recent years at paying attention to head-to-head results, but my first couple of fixes to this poll involve situations where head-to-head results should not have trumped the rest of the season's results. Just because two teams have the same straight record does not mean that they are equal. When rating teams, you have to look deeper than just looking at a team's straight record.

But let's get to the specifics here...
Florida State receiver Kelvin Benjamin's late touchdown catch to beat Auburn 34-31 for the 2013 season national championship

My painting of Florida State receiver Kelvin Benjamin's touchdown catch with 13 seconds remaining, beating Auburn 34-31 for the national championship.

South Carolina and Missouri

11-2 South Carolina beat 12-2 Missouri in Columbia this season, which may explain why South Carolina is rated #4 and Missouri #5, but there is a problem here. Although these teams both have 2 losses, their relevant records are not equal. Missouri's 2nd loss came to #2 Auburn, who is of course rated higher than South Carolina. But South Carolina's losses came to Georgia and Tennessee, both unrated, and both teams that Missouri defeated. That's why Missouri won the SEC East over South Carolina in the first place. Missouri was effectively one game better than South Carolina on the season despite the head-to-head result.

There is one complication in South Carolina's favor, however. They beat #10 Central Florida 28-25 on the road, and they squashed #8 Clemson 31-17, and Missouri did not defeat any top 10 opponents. That almost swayed me to let the AP poll have this one. But SC and Missouri played a lot of common opponents this season, and the fact is that Missouri consistently and decidedly outperformed South Carolina against those teams.

SC lost to Georgia 41-30, Missouri beat UGA 41-26; SC beat Vanderbilt 35-25, Missouri beat them 51-28; SC beat Kentucky 35-28, Missouri beat them 48-17; SC lost to Tennessee 23-21, Missouri beat them 31-3; SC beat Florida 19-14, Missouri beat them 36-17. That's 5 common opponents, and SC outscored them by a total of 9 points, Missouri by 116. That is just too big a difference to ignore. And South Carolina's win over Missouri came in overtime, hardly decisive.

Move Missouri to #4 and South Carolina to #5.

Oklahoma and Alabama

Here we have a similar case. 11-2 Oklahoma beat 11-2 Alabama 45-31 in the Sugar Bowl, which is why Oklahoma is rated #6 and Alabama #7. However, while these teams were both 11-2, their records were not really equal. Alabama's other loss came to #2 Auburn, who is rated higher than Oklahoma, while Oklahoma's 2 losses were 36-20 to unrated Texas and 41-12 to #13 Baylor, both rated well below Alabama. Alabama therefore has a relevant record that is effectively one game better than Oklahoma's despite the head-to-head result. Alabama also outperformed Oklahoma on the season, as the massive scores in Oklahoma's losses show. Oklahoma also beat 4 unrated opponents by 3, 8, 9, and 10 points, while Alabama's closest games against unrated opponents were won by 13, 25, 25, and 25 points.

Frankly, I find it dubious that 11-2 Oklahoma is rated higher than 11-2 Baylor, who stomped on the Sooners and thereby won the Big 12's Fiesta Bowl slot. In fact, I would personally rate the teams like this: 12-1 Central Florida > 11-2 Baylor > 11-2 Oklahoma > 11-2 Alabama. UCF's only loss came to now-#5 South Carolina, rated higher than all these teams. They beat Baylor in the Fiesta, who routed Oklahoma, who beat Alabama in the Sugar. Oklahoma could be validly rated higher than Alabama in this scenario, because with Baylor ranked ahead of them, the Sooners would have just one upset loss instead of two.

However, the AP poll has Baylor ranked well lower than that, and it is a valid option, as Oklahoma is the only rated team Baylor beat. And UCF's performance on the season was rather poor, with 6 close wins over unrated teams. But with Baylor being ranked down at #13, Oklahoma's loss to them is just too ugly, in combination with the even more ugly loss to Texas, for Oklahoma to be rated ahead of Alabama.

Switch 'em, Alabama to #6 and Oklahoma to #7.

Stanford and Oregon

Here we have a head-to-head result that the AP poll should not have ignored. 11-3 Stanford beat 11-2 Oregon, and went on to win the PAC12. Their reward? A Rose Bowl game against Michigan State (then rated #4), which they lost in a close game, while Oregon got to play and beat unrated Texas. And somehow those results dropped Stanford from #5 to #11, falling behind #9 Oregon in the final poll. It makes no sense at all.

That Rose Bowl could not have been much closer, and Michigan State was rated higher than Stanford going into it. Why in the world would you suddenly drop Stanford 6 places after that game? If anything, they showed that they were indeed the #5 team by playing the #4 team so close. #2 Auburn didn't drop at all after their close loss to Florida State in the BCS National Championship Game. Doesn't seem fair that Stanford was hit so much harder.

Stanford is the most underrated team in this AP poll. They won 6 games against teams rated in the AP poll's own top 25, the most of any team this season. I would rate Stanford in the top 5 myself, but alas, that won't happen here. Still, I feel that the AP poll has screwed them over, punishing them for playing an incredibly tough schedule.

But there's no doubt that they belong ahead of Oregon, whom they beat head-to-head on the way to winning the conference title. Oregon won just 2 games against ranked teams, 1/3 the number Stanford notched, and Oregon performed very poorly down the stretch, getting trounced by unrated Arizona and edging Oregon State by 1 point. Central Florida sits between Oregon and Stanford at #10. They have 959 poll points, while the average of Oregon and Stanford's poll points is 955, and by that slim difference of 4 points, UCF will be placed ahead of both teams. They performed more poorly than did Stanford, but since they took no upset losses, and Stanford took 2, UCF can be validly rated higher.

Move Central Florida up to #9, Stanford to #10, and drop Oregon to #11.

Southern Cal, Arizona State, and Notre Dame

As I've said in previous years, the AP poll voters do a better job of paying attention to head-to-head results at the top of the poll than they do at the bottom. Indeed, for the bottom of the poll, they appear to just fill in teams by "feeling," which is why that part of the poll usually requires the most fixing. In the case of #19 Southern Cal, #20 Arizona State, and #21 Notre Dame, the voters don't appear to have looked at these teams' schedules much at all, because that is the exact opposite order of these teams' head-to-head results.

All 3 of these teams had 4 losses, but Notre Dame defeated both Southern Cal and Arizona State during the regular season. How could they be rated right behind both
? Very poor, sloppy rating there. And Arizona State defeated Southern Cal 62-41. That score doesn't leave much room for doubt. Yes, ASU was upset by unrated 8-5 Texas Tech in their bowl game, but they also defeated #16 UCLA, who beat Southern Cal 35-14 the next week. ASU won the PAC 12 South, and USC was third in the division. There's just no good reason for USC to be rated ahead of ASU.

Reverse the order. Notre Dame to #19, Arizona State to #20, and Southern Cal to #21.

Washington

It was good to see 9-4 Washington make the final AP poll at #25, but as I said last week, Washington should be ranked ahead of 10-4 Southern Cal (now #21). In fact, I might as well just repeat what I wrote there:

"All 4 of their losses have come to currently rated teams, and they have beaten 5 bowl qualifiers, all by more than a touchdown (average margin of victory in those games 23 points). They beat 8-5 Brigham Young 31-16 in their bowl game. Compare them to 10-4 Southern Cal. Both have 4 losses. Southern Cal has a 20-17 upset win over 11-3 Stanford, who beat Washington 31-28, but USC lost 10-7 to 6-7 Washington State, whom Washington beat 27-17. The teams are even. But we can separate them by performance.

USC has 2 close wins over unrated opponents, while all of Washington's wins came by more than a touchdown. The teams have played 8 common opponents, which is a lot for good comparison, and USC beat those teams by a total of 34 points, while Washington beat those teams by a total of 104 points. So Washington should be rated higher than Southern Cal."

Also ahead of Washington are #22 Wisconsin, who lost to unrated Penn State, #23 Duke, who lost to 2 unrated teams, and #24 Vanderbilt, who lost to unrated Mississippi. Again, Washington took no upset losses, and none of those teams performed as well as Washington did either.

Move Washington up to #21, dropping Southern Cal, Wisconsin, Duke, and Vanderbilt one spot each.

Vanderbilt and Mississippi

8-5 Mississippi, sitting in the "Others Receiving Votes" section at #33, defeated 9-4 Vanderbilt (now #25) 39-35 on the road, and as such they should be rated ahead of the Commodores. Ole Miss did take an upset loss to unrated 7-6 Mississippi State, but they balanced that out with an upset win over #14 Louisiana State. Vanderbilt did not beat a rated opponent. Vanderbilt's other losses all came by more than a touchdown, and they had 2 close wins over losing teams, whereas Mississippi lost close games to #2 Auburn and #18 Texas A&M (who beat Vandy 56-24), and Ole Miss had no close wins over losing teams. So Ole Miss outperformed Vanderbilt in addition to beating them head-to-head.

The average of the original rankings of Vanderbilt and Mississippi is 28.5. However, Wisconsin (now #23), Duke (now #24), Nebraska (#26), Fresno State (#27), and Northern Illinois (#28) all took losses to unranked teams, and unlike Mississippi, none of them beat a rated team. With Mississippi rated ahead of Vanderbilt, Vandy has no losses to unrated teams. So Mississippi and Vanderbilt have better relevant records than do any of those teams.

Wisconsin and Duke

However, in Wisconsin's case, a performance argument could be made for them to remain ranked ahead of Vanderbilt. As noted above, Vanderbilt's performance this season was rather unimpressive, while Wisconsin barely lost to #20 Arizona State and they lost to #12 Ohio State by 7. All 9 of their wins were by more than a touchdown. I would be inclined to rate Vanderbilt higher than Wisconsin myself, since Wisconsin took a loss to an unrated team and Vandy did not, but the AP poll can keep Wisconsin ranked higher for their superior performance across the season. But Wisconsin does not have such a performance advantage over Mississippi, so Ole Miss will move up past Wisconsin.

10-4 Duke will fall behind all 3 teams, and thus out of the top 25 entirely, as Vanderbilt would then be #25. Duke took 2 losses to unrated teams, 38-14 to 7-6 Georgia Tech and 58-55 to 7-6 Pittsburgh, and Duke did not beat any rated teams. That leaves them effectively 2 games worse than Vandy, who again, lost to no unrated teams. Duke performed better than Vanderbilt did against a pair of common opponents, but Duke did not perform well on the season (4 close wins over unrated opponents), so there's just not enough there to forgive an effective 2 game lead for Vanderbilt.

And Duke would not even be #26. That should probably be Georgia, who defeated 2 rated teams (now-#5 South Carolina and #14 LSU), but lost to now-#25 Vanderbilt and, most critically, to unrated Nebraska in their bowl game.


Move Mississippi up to #23, drop Wisconsin to #24, and Vanderbilt remains at #25 as Duke falls out behind them.

Fixed AP Top 25

This was a relatively well done AP poll: much less fixing than usual required. The only team to fall out of the fixed AP poll is 10-4 Duke (#23), who had 2 losses to unrated teams and no wins over rated teams. Replacing them in the top 25 is 8-5 Mississippi, who had 1 loss to an unrated team, and 1 win over an AP-rated team. That's a clear difference in the fixed version's favor, needless to say.

And here it is, your fixed final AP poll for 2013, now logically coherent.


1) Florida State 14-0 --
2) Auburn 12-2 --
3) Michigan State 13-1 --
4) Missouri 12-2 +1
5) South Carolina 11-2 -1
6) Alabama 11-2+1
7) Oklahoma 11-2 -1
8) Clemson 11-2 --
9) Central Florida 12-1 +1
10) Stanford 11-3 +1
11) Oregon 11-2 -2
12) Ohio State 12-2 --
13) Baylor 11-2 --
14) Louisiana State 10-3 --
15) Louisville 12-1 --
16) UCLA 10-3 --
17) Oklahoma State 10-3 --
18) Texas A&M 9-4 --
19) Notre Dame 9-4 +2
20) Arizona State 10-4 --
21) Washington 9-4 +4
22) Southern Cal 10-4 -3
23) Mississippi 8-5 IN
24) Wisconsin 9-4 -2
25) Vanderbilt 9-4 -1

OUT: #23 Duke 10-4

Fixed AP Polls
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