Tip Top 25 in helmets, smaller
                                                    Home

Fixing the Final 2014 AP College Football Poll

1) Ohio State 14-1
2) Oregon 13-2
3) Texas Christian 12-1
4) Alabama 12-2
5) Michigan State 11-2
    Florida State 13-1
7) Baylor 11-2
8) Georgia Tech 11-3
9) Georgia 10-3
10) UCLA 10-3
11) Mississippi State 10-3
12) Arizona State 10-3
13) Wisconsin 11-3
14) Missouri 11-3
15) Clemson 10-3
16) Boise State 12-2
17) Mississippi 9-4
18) Kansas State 9-4
19) Arizona 10-4
20) Southern Cal 9-4
21) Utah 9-4
22) Auburn 8-5
23) Marshall 13-1
24) Louisville 9-4
25) Memphis 10-3
Here is the final AP poll college football top 25 for the 2014 season. 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 poll 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 be inclined to rank UCLA back behind Arizona, who won the PAC 12 South, and I would rate Michigan State ahead of Florida State, and probably ahead of Alabama as well, 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 they have never gotten better at looking beyond a team's straight record and accounting for very different strengths of schedule. This has led them to ignore quite a few key head-to-head results this season that should have had a major impact on the bottom half of the ratings.

But on the positive side, no changes are needed for this poll's top 11... good job on that, sportswriters!
Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott scoring a touchdown against Oregon in the national championship game for the 2014 season
My painting of Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott scoring one of his four touchdowns in a 42-20 win over Oregon in the national championship game. He finished with 246 yards rushing.

The Key Head-to-Head Chain

The key head-to-head chain that should have made it easy to unlock the proper rating for a bunch of the teams in the bottom half of these rankings is as follows: 8-5 Auburn won 35-31 at 9-4 Mississippi, who won 35-13 on a neutral field over 12-2 Boise State, who won 38-30 in their bowl game over 10-4 Arizona, who won 42-35 at home over 10-3 Arizona State. And that is indeed the order these teams should be ranked. The AP poll, however, ranked them in almost the opposite order, heeding only Boise State's bowl win over Arizona. Of course, that also happens to be the only point in this chain when the winning team had the better straight record.

The AP poll's single biggest problem is relying far too heavily on teams' straight records to rank them. It is a lazy and poor approach to rating teams. Let's look at these teams and their schedules more closely.

Auburn and Mississippi

Auburn finished 8-5, Mississippi 9-4, which wholly explains Auburn being rated #22 and Ole Miss #17. But Auburn defeated Ole Miss 35-31 on the road, and should therefore be ranked higher. The reason Auburn has one more loss is because they played #9 Georgia from the other division of the SEC, and Mississippi did not. Let's look at this game-by-game...

Mississippi bagged 2 big upset wins over #4 Alabama and #11 Mississippi State, both of whom Auburn lost to, and that puts Ole Miss effectively 2 games ahead of Auburn. But Mississippi also suffered upset losses to unranked teams LSU and Arkansas, both of whom Auburn defeated, bringing Mississippi and Auburn even. Auburn took an upset loss to unranked Texas A&M, whom Ole Miss defeated, putting Ole Miss ahead by a game, but Auburn's head-to-head win at Mississippi evens them up again. Auburn's loss to #9 Georgia is irrelevant to this comparison, since Georgia is ranked much higher than Mississippi. So while Mississippi may have had the better straight record, the 2 teams had the same relevant record. But Auburn owns the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Furthermore, these teams played 5 common opponents, and Auburn outscored those teams by 29 points in total, Ole Miss by just 2 points. And their bowl results further reinforce Auburn's claim to a higher ranking. Ole Miss lost their bowl game 42-3 to #3 TCU, and while TCU was a very good team, no other winning team fared that poorly against them. Auburn's bowl loss came 34-31 in overtime to #13 Wisconsin, and that result indicates that the teams were virtually even that day, with Wisconsin barely better. Yet Auburn is ranked #22, Wisconsin #13. That doesn't make much sense, and in fact, when I am done fixing this poll, Auburn will end up ranked right behind Wisconsin. Judging from their bowl result, that's where they belong.

Mississippi and Boise State

Unlike Auburn vs Mississippi, Mississippi vs Boise State is not even close, because while Auburn and Ole Miss had the same relevant record, 9-4 Mississippi was effectively 2 games better than 12-2 Boise State on the season, despite the appearance of their straight records. Ole Miss took 2 upset losses to unranked teams, but they balanced those losses out with upset wins over teams that were ranked much higher than Boise State (#4 Alabama and #11 Mississippi State). Boise State took one loss to an unranked opponent, but they did not balance it out with a win over a higher-ranked opponent, so Mississippi was effectively a game better on the season even without the head-to-head win. That win over Boise State puts Ole Miss effectively 2 games better on the season.

And that game was not close. Ole Miss beat them 35-13 in Atlanta. The AP poll came close to getting this right, with Boise State coming in at #16 and Mississippi at #17, but in the end, they did what they always do: punish the team that played the vastly tougher schedule. Ole Miss played 6 ranked opponents and Boise State played 2. Does anyone really think Boise State would be ranked at all right now had they played Mississippi's schedule? Well, even if some people do think that, this much can not be disputed: the two teams played, and Mississippi beat them by 22 points.

Arizona and Arizona State

Arizona finished the regular season with a 42-35 win over Arizona State, putting them at 10-2 and into the PAC 12 title game as winners of the South division. Then they lost to #2 Oregon, and to 12-2 Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl, dropping them to 10-4 and down to #19 in the final AP poll. ASU, meanwhile, just had to play unranked Duke in a minor bowl game, surviving 36-31, and they finished 10-3 and zipped past Arizona to a #12 ranking. This is a very clear case of a team being punished for playing a far tougher schedule. Arizona played an incredible 7 games against ranked opponents, while ASU faced only 4.

Throw in the fact that Arizona defeated #2 Oregon during the regular season, while ASU did not even play Oregon this season, and there is no rational reason for ASU to be rated higher.

Note that UCLA could be viably ranked behind Arizona as well, as Arizona won the South division of the PAC 12 outright. However, UCLA defeated Arizona head-to-head, and they collected a huge 5 wins over rated teams this year, so I think the AP poll has a case for rating UCLA higher. Not so with Arizona State, who lost to Arizona.

Where to Rank These Five Teams?

So Auburn > Mississippi > Boise State > Arizona > Arizona State. Where do we put these 5 teams? Well, their average ranking is 17.2, so we'll put them all where Mississippi is (#17). This places all 5 teams ahead of #18 Kansas State, which is nice, because that solves another head-to-head problem this AP poll had. Auburn, you see, was ranked behind not 1, but 2 teams they had beaten, as they won 20-14 at Kansas State.

9-4 KSU was overrated at #18 aside from that head-to-head result, as they just didn't do much this season. Their "big" win came 31-30 at unranked 8-5 Oklahoma, and they lost all 4 of their games against ranked opponents. And they barely got by another pair of unranked opponents, Iowa State and West Virginia. So we'll be seeing KSU drop even further as we move along.

For now, fixing the poll for all these head-to-head results gives us the following ratings shift: #12 Wisconsin, #13 Missouri, #14 Clemson, #15 Auburn, #16 Mississippi, #17 Boise State, #18 Arizona, #19 Arizona State, #20 Kansas State, #21 Southern Cal, and #22 Utah.

Clemson

10-3 Clemson, originally rated #15, had a better relevant record than did several teams ranked ahead of them. Clemson's 3 losses came to #5 Florida State, #8 Georgia Tech, and #9 Georgia, and they beat one ranked team, #24 Louisville. 11-3 Missouri, ranked right in front of them, took a loss to an unranked team, 4-8 Indiana, and Missouri did not beat a ranked team. In fact, Missouri is the most overrated team in this AP poll. But I'll get to them below.

11-3 Wisconsin, ranked just ahead of Missouri, did beat one ranked team, Auburn (now #15), but they were beaten by two unranked teams, 5-7 Northwestern and 8-5 LSU. Clemson should clearly be ranked ahead of both Missouri and Wisconsin. Clemson could also be ranked ahead of 10-3 Mississippi State (#11), as MSU took an upset loss and Clemson did not. However, MSU's upset loss came to Mississippi, who is rated higher than anyone Clemson defeated, and MSU played a tougher overall schedule, so I think the AP poll has a case for rating Mississippi State higher.

Move Clemson up to #12, dropping Wisconsin and Missouri one spot each. But Missouri is not done dropping...

Missouri

Despite the fact that Missouri hails from the mighty SEC, and even won their division, they played a shockingly weak schedule that included just 2 rated opponents! Both of those opponents stomped on them. Mountain West champion Boise State played as many rated teams as Missouri did! And Boise State was 12-2, Missouri 11-3, so that looks like a problem. And it is. Boise State lost to one unranked opponent, but a good one, 10-3 Air Force (#29). Missouri, on the other hand, lost to a bad 4-8 Indiana team. And Boise State defeated a rated opponent in the Fiesta Bowl (Arizona, now ranked #17), and of course, Missouri did not beat a ranked team.

But let's cut to the chase. Missouri needs to be dropped behind Arizona State, who also took an upset loss to a losing team, but who beat 2 ranked opponents and another 3 that were close (#26 Notre Dame, #27 Stanford, and #30 Duke). And Arizona State was ranked ahead of Missouri in the original poll to begin with (ASU #12, Missouri #14), so it makes sense to drop Missouri back behind them again.

I myself would also rank 9-4 Kansas State ahead of 11-3 Missouri, as KSU took no upset losses, while Missouri, again, lost to 4-8 Indiana. However, as previously noted, KSU's wins were quite lacking, highlighted by a 31-30 win at unranked 8-5 Oklahoma (#35), while Missouri did beat 3 near-ranked teams: 7-6 Arkansas (#33), 8-5 Minnesota (#34), and 8-5 Texas A&M (#35). On that basis, I can let the AP poll have this much, and keep Missouri ranked ahead of KSU.

Drop Missouri down to #19. That moves all of the following teams up one spot each: Auburn, Mississippi, Boise State, Arizona, and Arizona State. But Missouri is still not done dropping...

Southern Cal and Utah

Here are this year's worst ratings. 9-4 Utah defeated 9-4 Southern Cal 24-21, and yet Utah was ranked #21 in the final AP poll and Southern Cal #20. But that isn't what makes these the worst ratings of this year's poll. It's the fact that before the bowl games, the AP poll correctly rated Utah just ahead of Southern Cal. In their bowl games, Utah defeated 10-3 Colorado State 45-10 and USC defeated 9-4 Nebraska 45-42, so it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever for USC to have passed up Utah based on those results. And yet that's what happened.

This is proof of something we all know, and that is that AP poll voters are biased in favor of "name-brand" teams. Having a big-time name outweighs actual on-field results. Well, not here. This was simply ridiculous, and needless to say, every writer who moved Southern Cal ahead of Utah after the bowls should not be allowed to vote in the poll at all
. So we'll move Utah back ahead of USC, where they belong.

But wait, there's more! Utah and Southern Cal should also both be moved ahead of Kansas State and Missouri. Utah and Southern Cal each took an upset loss to an unranked opponent (Utah to Washington State and USC to Boston College), but each made up for the loss with an upset win a over higher-ranked team (Utah over #10 UCLA and USC over now-#17 Arizona). Missouri, remember, took an upset loss to an unranked team, but they did not beat any ranked teams at all to make up for it. Kansas State took no upset losses, but they also did not beat a ranked team. Utah defeated 2 ranked teams, and another 2 that were close (#27 Stanford and #38 Colorado State). Southern Cal defeated 1 ranked team, and another 3 that were very close (#26 Notre Dame, #27 Stanford, and #28 Nebraska).

And Stanford and Notre Dame will be ranked in the final fixed poll (as covered below), which will give Utah and Southern Cal 3 wins each over ranked opponents! Both Utah and USC accomplished far more than KSU or Missouri.

Move Utah up to #19 and Southern Cal to #20, and drop Missouri down to #21 and Kansas State to #22.

Stanford

8-5 Stanford was ranked just outside the top 25 at #27, but they should be ranked inside the top 25. They did lose 17-14 at 8-5 Notre Dame, who is also just outside the top 25 at #26, but Stanford was effectively a game better than Notre Dame on the season despite that head-to-head result. Notre Dame took an upset loss to 5-7 Northwestern, which makes the teams even, with Notre Dame holding the head-to-head tiebreaker. But Stanford won 31-10 at #10 UCLA in their regular season finale, and that's what finished them effectively a game ahead of Notre Dame on the season.

But that's not all. Stanford lost to Southern Cal 13-10, while Notre Dame lost to USC 49-14. And while Stanford's 16 point loss at Arizona State wasn't a good performance, it was still better than Notre Dame's 24 point loss at ASU. Furthermore, UCLA beat USC 38-20, and it was one week later that USC beat Notre Dame 49-14 and Stanford beat UCLA 31-10. That should make the situation here pretty clear. And Notre Dame's 17-14 home win over Stanford, decided on a 4th and 11 touchdown pass with a minute to go, was not a particularly decisive result in the first place.

Stanford also has a better relevant record than several teams at the bottom of the top 25. Memphis took an upset loss to an unrated team, and beat no rated teams, and the same can be said for Louisville and Marshall. Kansas State did not take an upset loss, but as previously noted, they did not beat a rated team, their best win being 31-30 at 8-5 Oklahoma, who is way back at #35. Stanford's upset loss came to Notre Dame, who is rated higher than anyone KSU defeated, and Stanford's 31-10 road win over #10 UCLA blows away KSU's "big" win. Missouri, like Memphis, Louisville, and Marshall, took an upset loss to an unrated team and did not beat a rated team. And like KSU, Missouri did not defeat a team as strong as Notre Dame, the team that upset Stanford.

Move Stanford in and all the way up to #21, dropping Missouri and everyone behind them 1 spot each. This drops 10-3 Memphis out of the top 25, which is just as well, since they took a loss to unranked 8-5 Houston, and they beat no one of any real value, not even a team in the "Others Receiving Votes" section of the AP poll. Memphis was a poor top 25 choice to begin with. As for Stanford, they now sit just behind Utah and Southern Cal, which fits well, since they took a razor-close 3-point loss to each team.

Louisville, Notre Dame, and Marshall

13-1 Marshall is now #24, 9-4 Louisville #25, and 8-5 Notre Dame #26, but though their straight record looks very impressive, I'm sorry to say that it's time to wave goodbye to Marshall. Marshall played the weakest regular season schedule that I have ever seen an FBS team face, with absolutely zero threats, yet they still took a loss to lowly Western Kentucky in their regular season finale. And with that schedule, they simply could not afford any loss if they wanted to legitmately earn a spot in the top 25. They played no "Power 5" conference teams, their only creditable opponent being 11-3 Northern Illinois in their bowl game. That was a nice 52-23 win, but NIU didn't beat anyone themselves, and 7-6 Arkansas, who will not be ranked, beat NIU 52-14, so Marshall's win over them doesn't really say much.

Louisville also took an upset loss to a bad team, but Louisville's 31-28 win at Notre Dame is more than Marshall accomplished in all 13 of their wins. Notre Dame too took an upset loss to a bad team, but they beat now-#21 Stanford and 8-5 Louisiana State in their bowl game, and LSU would definitely be ranked in the top 25 if not for that loss. In fact, with wins over #13 Wisconsin and now-#15 Mississippi, LSU should be ranked ahead of Marshall too. For that matter, 8-5 Texas A&M and 7-6 Arkansas (who beat Northern Illinois even worse) should be ranked ahead of Marshall as well.


If Marshall wants to be considered a legitimate top 25 team, they should start by trying to schedule a few "Power 5" conference teams. Or at least one.

Marshall drops out of the top 25, moving Louisville to #24 and Notre Dame to #25. LSU is stuck just outside the top 25 due to their 31-28 loss to Notre Dame in the
Music City Bowl.

Fixed AP Poll Top 25

13-1 Marshall (#23) and 10-3 Memphis (#25) fall out of the fixed AP poll top 25, replaced by 8-5 Stanford and 8-5 Notre Dame. Marshall and Memphis totaled 2 losses to unranked teams, and they beat no ranked opponents. Aside from their game against each other, Stanford and Notre Dame totaled 1 loss to an unranked opponent and 1 win over a team the AP poll had ranked. Yet another win for the fixed poll over the original.

And here it is, your fixed final AP poll for 2014, now logically coherent.


1) Ohio State 14-1 --
2) Oregon 13-2 --
3) Texas Christian 12-1 --
4) Alabama 12-2 --
5) Michigan State 11-2
    Florida State 13-1
--
--
7) Baylor 11-2 --
8) Georgia Tech 11-3 --
9) Georgia 10-3 --
10) UCLA 10-3 --
11) Mississippi State 10-3 --
12) Clemson 10-3 +3
13) Wisconsin 11-3 --
14) Auburn 8-5 +8
15) Mississippi 9-4 +2
16) Boise State 12-2 --
17) Arizona 10-4 +2
18) Arizona State 10-3 -6
19) Utah 9-4 +2
20) Southern Cal 9-4 --
21) Stanford 8-5 IN
22) Missouri 11-3 -8
23) Kansas State 9-4 -5
24) Louisville 9-4 --
25) Notre Dame 8-5 IN

OUT: #23 Marshall 13-1
#25 Memphis 10-3

Fixed AP Polls
Home