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Fixing the Final 2016 AP College Football Poll

1) Clemson 14-1
2) Alabama 14-1
3) Southern Cal 10-3
4) Washington 12-2
5) Oklahoma 11-2
6) Ohio State 11-2
7) Penn State 11-3
8) Florida State 10-3
9) Wisconsin 11-3
10) Michigan 10-3
11) Oklahoma State 10-3
12) Stanford 10-3
13) Louisiana State 8-4
14) Florida 9-4
15) Western Michigan 13-1
16) Virginia Tech 10-4
17) Colorado 10-4
18) West Virginia 10-3
19) South Florida 11-2
20) Miami (Florida) 9-4
21) Louisville 9-4
22) Tennessee 9-4
23) Utah 9-4
24) Auburn 8-5
25) San Diego State 11-3
Here is the final AP poll college football top 25 for the 2016 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 Miami-Florida ahead of West Virginia, whom they crushed in their bowl game, and I would not be inclined to rank South Florida in the top 25 at all, just as a couple of examples. But those choices the AP poll made are logically viable. This is about fixing only those AP poll choices that are not logically valid or fair.

For the second year in a row, this was a bad year for the AP poll, far worse than the previous 2 seasons. I'm wondering if this is an effect of the college football playoffs, the voters somehow thinking that the AP poll no longer really matters, and so ranking teams more lazily. But the purpose of the poll was never really to name a national champion, it was to properly rank the top 25 (or 20, or 10 in years long gone).

And that's something they've once again largely failed at this season.
Clemson receiver Hunter Renfro catching the winning touchdown pass against Alabama in the national championship game


My painting of Clemson receiver Hunter Renfro catching the winning touchdown pass with 1 second left in a 35-31 win over #1 Alabama in the national championship game. Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson threw for 420 yards and 3 touchdowns, and he ran for another score. That put Clemson at 14-1 and #1, Alabama at 14-1 and #2, the reverse of what happened the previous season.

Ohio State > Oklahoma

This is one of those errors that is so atrocious, anyone who rated these teams this way should not be allowed to vote in the future. 11-2 Ohio State (#6) went to Norman and stomped on 11-2 Oklahoma (#5) 45-24. It just doesn't get any clearer than that, nor any easier to rate these teams relative to each other.

There is just no argument for Oklahoma here. Yes, Ohio State lost 31-0 to #1 Clemson in the playoffs, but hello, that is the #1 team! How can you possibly compare that result to anything Oklahoma did this season? It is not possible. But here's a really easy point of comparison: Ohio State went to Norman this year and stomped on the Sooners 45-24.

Oklahoma did beat 3 rated teams, which is nice, but so did Ohio State, and OSU's wins came over #5, #9, and #10, while Oklahoma's came over #11, #18, and #24, all rated lower than OSU's victims. Oklahoma did play 7 winning teams, also nice, but OSU played 8. Ohio State did take an upset loss, to #7 Penn State, but that is far better than Oklahoma taking an upset loss to unranked Houston, and by more than a touchdown!


Rating Oklahoma ahead of Ohio State is completely ridiculous.

Switch 'em, Ohio State to #5 and Oklahoma to #6.

Washington > Southern Cal

This one is pretty bad too, but at least 10-3 Southern Cal (#3) did go to Seattle and beat 12-2 Washington (#4) 26-13. The problem is, Southern Cal lost 27-10 to Stanford, whom Washington beat 44-6, and Southern Cal also lost 31-27 to Utah, whom Washington beat 31-24. That leaves Washington one game better than Southern Cal for the season, and Washington should therefore be rated higher than Southern Cal.

Similar to Ohio State (as discussed above), Washington is being punished for losing 24-7 to #2 Alabama in the playoff. But guess what? Southern Cal played Alabama too, and they lost 52-6! But there's more. In addition to doing much better against Alabama, Stanford, and Utah than Southern Cal did, Washington also did better against these common opponents: Colorado (USC beat them 21-17, Washington beat them 41-10), Oregon, Cal, and ASU. USC and Washington played 8 common opponents, and USC beat those teams by a total of 38 points, while Washington beat them by 180 points! This is just not even close.

Switch 'em, Washington to #3 and Southern Cal to #4. And congratulations to the coaches on getting this one right in their poll.

Florida State > Michigan > Penn State > Wisconsin

I predicted and addressed a lot of the problems with this AP poll last week, and this is the first issue I addressed in those comments. This is a pretty simple head-to-head chain: 10-3 Florida State (#8) beat 10-3 Michigan (#10) 33-32 in their bowl game, Michigan beat 11-3 Penn State (#7) 49-10 (I would call that very decisive), and Penn State beat 11-3 Wisconsin 38-31 in the Big 10 title game. And that is the order in which these 4 teams should be ranked. It is particularly senseless that Michigan is ranked behind 2 teams they defeated, as they also beat Wisconsin 14-7.

Look at Wisconsin: they lost to #6, #7, and #10, and they defeated #13 and #15. It is very easy to see where they should be ranked: behind #10 and ahead of #13. A 5th grader could easily discern this logic, yet AP poll voters apparently cannot.

It should also be noted that the ACC went 51-17 against nonconference opponents this year, the Big 10 just 35-17, and the ACC went a dominating 9-3 in bowl games, the Big 10 a miserable 3-7, so it seems apt that a 3-loss ACC team should be ranked ahead of every 3-loss Big 10 team. Furthermore, FSU defeated 4 ranked teams (only #1 Clemson and #2 Alabama defeated more), Michigan defeated 3, and Penn State and Wisconsin each defeated 2, which reinforces the notion that FSU > Michigan > Penn State > Wisconsin.

Florida State #7, Michigan #8, Penn State #9, and Wisconsin #10.

Colorado > Stanford

This is another simple matter of a head-to-head result, as Colorado (10-4, #17) won 10-5 at Stanford (10-3, #12), and should therefore be ranked higher. Colorado has one more loss than Stanford does because they played #10 Michigan and #11 Oklahoma State, while Stanford did not play a rated nonconference opponent. The AP poll needs to stop punishing teams for playing tougher schedules.

Colorado took no upset losses: the 4 teams that beat them
were ranked #3, #4, #10, and #11 by the AP poll (all higher than Stanford). Stanford took one upset loss, to unranked Washington State (8-5), but they balanced that out with a big upset win over #3 Southern Cal. That means that both Colorado and Stanford posted better relevant records than Louisiana State (8-4, #13) and Florida (9-4, #14) did, as LSU and Florida both took upset losses, and neither balanced those out with wins over teams ranked in the top 12. As such, Stanford should remain ranked ahead of LSU and Florida, and we'll just move Colorado up ahead of Stanford.

Move Colorado up to #12 and drop Stanford to #13. LSU, Florida, Western Michigan, and Virginia Tech all drop one spot.

Florida > Louisiana State

AP poll voters appear to have paid no attention whatsoever to head-to-head results this season. In late November, Florida (9-4, originally ranked #14) went to Baton Rouge and beat Louisiana State (8-4, #13) 16-10, and Florida should therefore be rated higher. Hey, AP poll voters: why should teams bother playing the games at all when you can't be bothered to remember who beat whom for longer than a week?

Switch 'em, Florida to #14 and LSU to #15. This is another one the coaches got right. Most years, the AP poll is better than the coaches' poll, but that is not the case this time.

Tennessee > Virginia Tech

And here we go again. 9-4 Tennessee (originally ranked #22) defeated 10-4 Virginia Tech (#16) by the very-convincing score of 45-24, and they should be rated higher than the Hokies. Virginia Tech suffered 3 "upset" losses to lower-ranked teams, and they did not beat any higher-ranked teams, so they were definitely overrated by the AP poll at #16. However, if Virginia Tech is placed behind Tennessee, where they belong, they make a lot more sense as a top 25 team. Like Virginia Tech, Tennessee took 3 losses to lower-ranked teams, but unlike Virginia Tech, Tennessee defeated a higher-ranked team (aside from the win over Virginia Tech), topping now-#14 Florida 38-28.

Tennessee played an incredible schedule, featuring 11 bowl qualifying opponents in 13 games, compared to 8 in 14 games for Virginia Tech. And performance? Tennessee had 2 close wins (touchdown or less) and 2 ugly losses (more than a touchdown), while Virginia Tech did worse in both categories, posting 3 close wins and 3 ugly losses.

But all of that is icing on the cake, the cake being that Tennessee beat the snot out of Virginia Tech when the teams played. So Tennessee needs to be rated in front of Virginia Tech: where do we put them? Well, the average rating between #16 Virginia Tech and #22 Tennessee is #19, which is where South Florida is ranked. Since Virginia Tech had 610 poll points and Tennessee had 253, which averages out to 431.5, and South Florida had 358 poll points, we'll place Tennessee and Virginia Tech just ahead of South Florida.


That leads to the following ratings shift: West Virginia #17, Tennessee #18, Florida #19, South Florida #20, Miami (Florida) #21, and Louisville #22.

Miami (Florida)

Because 9-4 Miami-Florida (originally ranked #20) won their bowl game handily, 31-14, over 10-3 West Virginia (#18), I would be inclined to rank Miami ahead of West Virginia, and I think that is a much better way to rank these teams than what the AP poll came up with. However, since Miami took 2 upset losses to lower-ranked teams and West Virginia took none, ranking West Virginia higher is logically viable.

On the other hand, I cannot quite see a good argument for ranking 11-2 South Florida (#19) higher than Miami. South Florida only took 1 upset loss, but Miami made up for 1 of their 2 upset losses with an "upset" win over... well, West Virginia in their bowl game. Since West Virginia is ranked higher than USF in the AP poll, Miami and USF have the same relevant record. So we have to separate the 2 teams by schedule and performance, and Miami comes out clearly on top in both regards.

Miami's schedule was vastly more difficult than was South Florida's, and Miami defeated 5 winning opponents, USF just 2. Performance? USF was blown out in both of their losses, whereas Miami only took 1 loss by more than a touchdown, and USF posted 4 close wins (touchdown or less), all over unranked opponents, while all of Miami's 9 wins came by more than a touchdown. Finally, as the cherry on top, South Florida lost to Florida State 55-35, while Miami lost to FSU just 20-19 only 2 weeks later! This is not close.

Another switch, Miami (Florida) to #20 and South Florida to #21.

Kansas State

9-4 Kansas State did very little that was impressive this season, collecting just 2 victories over winning opponents, both unranked, so I am not surprised that they were left out of the AP poll's top 25 (they finished #26, atop the "Others receiving votes" section of the AP poll). However, the fact is that all 4 of their losses came to teams that were ranked #18 or higher, and that gives KSU a leg up on South Florida, Louisville, Utah, Auburn, and San Diego State, all of whom AP poll voters incorrectly preferred for the bottom of their top 25. Let's take these one at a time.

KSU vs San Diego State

First of all we have 11-3 San Diego State (#25), who took all 3 of their losses to unranked teams, and beat no ranked opponents. And like Kansas State, San Diego State only defeated 2 winning opponents, so with that number of upset losses, rating San Diego State anywhere near a top 25 is senseless. Because Kansas State took no losses to unranked teams, they were effectively 3 games better than San Diego State on the season.

KSU vs. Auburn

Then we have 8-5 Auburn (#24), the only 5-loss team the AP poll ranked in their top 25. Why? That is a mystery. "SEC SEC SEC!" I guess, though the ACC kicked the SEC's ass this year (more on this issue below). Auburn did notch an upset win over now-#15 LSU this season, but they also took 2 losses to unranked teams, and that LSU win only makes up for one of them. Since KSU took no upset losses, they were effectively 1 game better than Auburn on the season. Furthermore, one of the upset losses Auburn took was to 8-5 Texas A&M, and KSU beat Texas A&M in their bowl game. Frankly, I don't even see why 8-5 Auburn should be ranked ahead of 8-5 Georgia, who beat them 13-7 in November.

KSU vs. Utah

9-4 Utah (#23) is like Auburn: they have one big upset win, over now-#4 Southern Cal in September, but that only makes up for one of their 2 upset losses, both of which came to losing teams. KSU was thus effectively 1 game better than Utah on the season. Utah did not beat a winning opponent over their last 9 games, and that stretch also included both of their losses to losing teams.

KSU vs. Louisville

9-4 Louisville (now #22) is similar to Auburn and Utah, in that they have one big upset win (63-20 over now-#7 Florida State), and they have 2 upset losses to unranked teams. Once again, KSU is 1 game better on the season since they suffered no upset losses. However, Louisville has a better case than Utah and Auburn, as they did beat 4 winning teams, while KSU only beat 2 such teams. Louisville also arguably performed better than KSU did this season.

However, my problem with rating Louisville ahead of Kansas State, aside from KSU being effectively a game better on the season, is the fact that Louisville was so consistently and completely atrocious down the stretch, which ought to count for a bit more than the rest of the season. Over their last 3 games, Louisville was destroyed 36-10 by unranked Houston, edged 41-38 at home by unranked Kentucky, and stomped 29-9 in their bowl game by Louisiana State (now #15). They were obviously not close to being a top 25 team after mid-November, whereas KSU was rather impressive over their last 5 games, and did perform like a top 25 team over that stretch.

KSU vs. South Florida

And finally we have 11-2 South Florida. As previously noted, USF took 1 upset loss to an unranked opponent, and since KSU took none, that leaves KSU effectively 1 game better on the season. USF defeated just 2 winning opponents, same as KSU. Both teams also posted 4 close wins (touchdown or less), so the only relevant difference here is the fact that USF took an upset loss and KSU did not.

Move Kansas State into the top 25 at #21, dropping South Florida and all the teams behind them 1 spot each. That drops San Diego State out of the top 25, and good riddance. Note that Kansas State also had a better relevant record than now-#20 Miami (Florida) did, but Miami played a far tougher schedule, beat more than twice as many winning opponents, performed far better, and finished with a big bowl win over West Virginia, who beat KSU this season. So yeah, no problem with Miami being rated higher than KSU.

Pittsburgh, North Carolina, and Georgia Tech

So the ACC, as previously stated, went 51-17 against nonconference opponents, capped by an amazing 9-3 in bowl games, best in the nation in both regards, while the SEC went 48-19, and a dreary 6-7 in bowl games. And get this: the ACC went a dominating 10-4 head-to-head against the SEC this year! But the AP poll voters don't seem to have gotten the memo, because the highest rated 4-loss teams in the AP poll were both from the SEC, and the only rated 5-loss team was from the SEC (Auburn, originally rated #24), while 9-4 Georgia Tech was left just outside the top 25 (and Georgia Tech also beat 8-5 Georgia 2 weeks after Georgia beat 8-5 Auburn).

But 8-5 Auburn, currently sitting at #25, isn't the only problem here. 9-4 Georgia Tech (#27 in the "Others receiving votes" section) should be ranked ahead of several teams that made the bottom of the AP poll's top 25, and the same can be said for 8-5 Pittsburgh and 8-5 North Carolina, both of whom defeated Georgia Tech.

Let's start with 8-5 Pittsburgh, who sits at #31, in the "Others receiving votes" section of the AP poll. Pitt took 2 losses to unrated opponents, just like Louisville, Utah, and Auburn did, but unlike those teams, Pitt made up for both losses with huge upset wins over #1 Clemson and now-#9 Penn State. Pitt is obviously the only team that beat the national champion this year, and no team outside the top 5 can claim a better pair of wins than Pitt's big ones. On top of that, Pitt also beat 9-4 Georgia Tech. They belong ahead of the aforementioned teams that sit at the bottom of the top 25, and they also belong ahead of South Florida, who took only 1 upset loss, but beat no rated teams to make up for it. Even Pitt's win over Georgia Tech is more impressive than anything USF did. I think Pitt should also be rated ahead of 9-4 Kansas State, who currently sits at #21, but since KSU took no upset losses, and since one of Pitt's upset losses came in their bowl game, giving it greater weight, KSU can viably be ranked higher.

8-5 North Carolina (#37 in "Others receiving votes" section) is a very similar story. They were highly erratic, and took 3 losses to unranked teams, but they made up for all 3 with 3 upset wins, beating Pitt, who will be ranked #22, now-#7 Florida State, and now-#20 Miami (Florida). UNC also defeated 9-4 Georgia Tech 48-20. Note that although 8-5 UNC edged 8-5 Pitt 37-36 at home, Pitt actually had the better relevant record and should be rated higher.

Finally, we have 9-4 Georgia Tech. With Pitt rated #22 and North Carolina #23, all 4 of Georgia Tech's losses have come to rated teams. Furthermore, Georgia Tech owns a nice 30-20 upset win over now-#19 Virginia Tech, so they very easily have a better relevant record than do Auburn, Utah, Louisville, or South Florida. On top of that, Georgia Tech beat twice as many winning teams as South Florida did.

So move Pitt into the top 25 at #22, North Carolina at #23, and Georgia Tech at #24. South Florida drops to #25, and Louisville, Utah, and Auburn fall out of the top 25. Which is just as well, because you can read about each of them in the Kansas State section above to see that those teams just weren't top 25 material this year. South Florida was a rather iffy top 25 team themselves, but they manage to hold on to the last spot.

Fixed AP Poll Top 25

Four teams fall out of this AP poll top 25, the most since 2012: 9-4 Louisville (#21), 9-4 Utah (#23), 8-5 Auburn (#24), and 11-3 San Diego State (#25). They are replaced by 9-4 Kansas State (#21), 8-5 Pittsburgh (#22), 8-5 North Carolina (#23), and 9-4 Georgia Tech (#24). The 4 teams that fall out totaled an ugly 9 losses to unranked teams, and they had 3 wins against AP-rated teams. The 4 teams that replace them totaled just 4 losses to unranked teams, and they had 5 wins against AP-rated teams (not counting games against each other). Needless to say, that is a gargantuan difference in favor of the fixed AP poll.

And here it is, your fixed final AP poll for the 2016 season, now logically coherent.


1) Clemson 14-1 --
2) Alabama 14-1 --
3) Washington 12-2 +1
4) Southern Cal 10-3 -1
5) Ohio State 11-2 +1
6) Oklahoma 11-2 -1
7) Florida State 10-3 +1
8) Michigan 10-3 +2
9) Penn State 11-3 -2
10) Wisconsin 11-3 -1
11) Oklahoma State 10-3 --
12) Colorado 10-4 +5
13) Stanford 10-3 -1
14) Florida 9-4 --
15) Louisiana State 8-4 -2
16) Western Michigan 13-1 -1
17) West Virginia 10-3 +1
18) Tennessee 9-4 +4
19) Virginia Tech 10-4 -3
20) Miami (Florida) 9-4 --
21) Kansas State 9-4 IN
22) Pittsburgh 8-5 IN
23) North Carolina 8-5 IN
24) Georgia Tech 9-4 IN
25) South Florida 11-2 -6

OUT: #21 Louisville 9-4
#23 Utah 9-4
#24 Auburn 8-5
#25 San Diego State 11-3

Fixed AP Polls
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