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Fixing the Final 2017 AP College Football Poll

1) Alabama 13-1
2) Georgia 13-2
3) Oklahoma 12-2
4) Clemson 12-2
5) Ohio State 12-2
6) Central Florida 13-0
7) Wisconsin 13-1
8) Penn State 11-2
9) Texas Christian 11-3
10) Auburn 10-4
11) Notre Dame 10-3
12) Southern Cal 11-3
13) Miami (Florida) 10-3
14) Oklahoma State 10-3
15) Michigan State 10-3
16) Washington 10-3
17) Northwestern 10-3
18) Louisiana State 9-4
19) Mississippi State 9-4
20) Stanford 9-5
21) South Florida 10-2
22) Boise State 11-3
23) North Carolina State 9-4
24) Virginia Tech 9-4
25) Memphis 10-3
To the left is the final AP poll college football top 25 for the 2017 season. 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 Ohio State ahead of Clemson, and I would likely put Fresno State in my own top 25, 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.

Historically the AP poll has been better than the coaches poll, but last year the coaches did a better job with their top 25. Well, I am happy to say that this was not a trend. This year, there are 5 notable differences between the 2 polls, and the AP poll made a better choice, in my opinion, in all 5 cases.

The big problem with both polls, as usual, is a disrespect for head-to-head results. The major polls will probably never get this right, which is too bad, because it is generally a very easy thing to get right. If two teams are 9-4, and one beat the other, the winner should be ranked higher the vast majority of the time.
Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith catching the winning touchdown in the national championship game against Georgia
My painting of Alabama freshman receiver DeVonta Smith wide open for a 41 yard touchdown bomb in overtime to shock Georgia 26-23 and win Alabama's 5th national championship in the last 9 years. And that pass was thrown by a freshman quarterback, protected by a freshman tackle, and the Tide's leading rusher was a freshman too, so brace yourself for even more Alabama national championships.

A Few Words on the 2017 National Championship

I don't normally address the mythical national championship (MNC) in these articles where I am fixing the AP poll. I have been slowly writing season-by-season articles on the MNC starting with 1901, and giving my opinion on who the champions should be for each season, and I have most recently finished writing up the 1969 season. I am probably 10 years away from getting around to 2017 (at least)! However, I've already been getting emails asking what I think about Central Florida's case for at least sharing the 2017 MNC, so I decided to save myself some email-answering time and address the issue now and here.

The case for UCF is pretty straight-forward: they were 13-0 and beat the team that beat 13-1 Alabama (Auburn). In fact, Auburn also beat #2 Georgia. That makes UCF a very strong contender, no doubt. Not a bad choice as an MNC for 2017. However...

I'll be looking at this issue much more closely when I get around to writing my MNC article about it (10 years from now?), but as of now I would not consider UCF to be an MNC for 2017. In the fixed poll (details in the article to come), UCF defeated the #8 team and that is it. Alabama defeated #2, #4, #19, #20, and they lost to #8. That is a massive schedule difference. Note that in the fixed poll, UCF victims South Florida and Memphis both fall out of the top 25. The reason for that is simple. USF did not beat a single team with a winning record, and Memphis lost to unrated Iowa State in their bowl game. And UCF barely beat both teams. UCF also beat 7-6 SMU by just 7 points. Alabama, on the other hand, had no close wins over unrated opponents (Texas A&M scored a very late touchdown to make Alabama's 27-19 win over them look artificially close).

Finally, I think there is a huge difference between Alabama's game with Auburn and UCF's game with them. Alabama played them on the road, when Auburn was still playing for a playoff spot, and Alabama is by far Auburn's greatest rival. But Auburn was playing for nothing at all in their bowl game against UCF. The motivation difference for Auburn in those 2 games is gargantuan.

This issue is actually very similar to the 1943 MNC race. 9-1 Notre Dame is the MNC for that season, even though 9-0 Purdue beat the team that beat them. Then there's 1927, when 8-0-1 Texas A&M is an MNC, but 10-0 Centenary, who beat the team that tied A&M, is not. I think UCF is very close to meriting a share for 2017, but in the end I think they fall just short.

It's too bad, because we should not have a system where a 13-0 team has no shot at playing for the national championship. UCF should have gotten their shot.

Auburn

10-4 Auburn, at #10, is by far the highest-rated 4-loss team, but they are still underrated. They took an upset loss (to #18 LSU), but so did the two teams ranked in front of them, TCU and Penn State. However, Auburn more than made up for that loss with the biggest wins of the season by any team, over #1 Alabama 26-14 and over #2 Georgia 40-17. TCU and PSU did nothing that was close to comparable. #7 Wisconsin (13-1) did not take an upset loss, but Auburn could also be ranked ahead of them, as the top 10 stands now, because they defeated 2 teams ranked higher than Wisconsin, and only lost to 1 team ranked lower than Wisconsin. That gives Auburn a relevant record that is effectively 1 game better than that of Wisconsin.

So my initial inclination is to move Auburn up to #7, right behind 13-0 Central Florida, who defeated Auburn in the Peach Bowl. However, 13-1 Wisconsin could be ranked ahead of 13-0 Central Florida, and if so, then naturally they can be rightfully ranked ahead of Auburn as well. Wisconsin's loss came to a team ranked higher than UCF, and Wisconsin played a tougher schedule than UCF did and performed better against it. The Big 10 was the best conference this season, 39-11 in nonconference games and 7-1 in bowl games.

UCF had 1248 poll points, Wisconsin 1194, and Auburn 917, so I think that Wisconsin > UCF > Auburn is closer to what the AP poll voters wanted than UCF > Auburn > Wisconsin. As such, we will go with former.


Move Wisconsin up to #6, drop UCF to #7, and move Auburn up to #8. Penn State and TCU drop 1 spot each.

Miami (Florida) > Notre Dame

10-3 Miami-Florida stomped on 10-3 Notre Dame 41-8 in mid-November, and there isn't much more to say than that. Notre Dame played a tougher schedule and beat more rated teams, and they performed a bit better across the season as well, but neither advantage makes up for 41-8. That is about as decisive an outcome as you could ask for.

The thing is, the AP poll had Miami ranked ahead of Notre Dame before the bowls, and I don't think their bowl results should have caused Miami to drop behind Notre Dame. Sure, Miami lost their bowl game and Notre Dame won theirs, but Miami was playing a higher-rated team and Notre Dame was playing a lower-rated team. Those bowl results were exactly as one should expect them to be.

Notre Dame should remain ranked ahead of Southern Cal, whom they beat 49-14, so we'll just move Miami up ahead of Notre Dame, to #11, dropping ND and USC 1 spot each.

Michigan State

10-3 Michigan State (#15) took an upset loss (to #17 Northwestern), but they made up for it with an upset win over now-#9 Penn State. The teams now ranked in front of them, 11-3 Southern Cal and 10-3 Oklahoma State, each took an upset loss as well (each to an unranked team), but neither team defeated a higher-ranked opponent to make up for it, and MSU therefore had a relevant record that was effectively 1 game better than USC and OSU did.

I should also note that the team USC was upset by, Washington State, was creamed 42-17 by Michigan State in the Holiday Bowl. And as I previously noted, the Big 10 was the best conference this year, while the PAC 12 and the Big 12 had the worst records against nonconference opponents among the major conferences.

Move Michigan State up to #13, dropping USC and Oklahoma State 1 spot each.

Stanford > Washington

I predicted and addressed a lot of the problems with this AP poll last week, and I've been harping on this particular issue since November. Look, Stanford (9-5, #20) beat Washington (10-3, #16) 30-22 in mid-November. That's why Stanford played in the PAC 12 title game and Washington did not. The only reason Stanford has 5 losses and Washington 3 is because Stanford played Southern Cal twice, and Washington did not face the Trojans at all.

Stanford took 2 upset losses to unranked teams (San Diego State and Washington State), while Washington took 1 (Arizona State), but Stanford's head-to-head win evens things up in terms of relevant record, with that head-to-head tiebreaker giving Stanford the edge. But that is not all, because Stanford also owns an upset win over Notre Dame (now ranked #12), leaving them with a relevant record that is effectively 1 game better than Washington's for the season. Note that Washington, who played a ridiculously easy schedule this year, did not beat a rated team at all.

So Stanford should be rated ahead of Washington. Where do we put them? The average poll points for Washington and Stanford is 500.5, and Louisiana State had 368, so we'll place them both ahead of LSU, who will be dropping anyway
.

That results in the following ratings shift: Northwestern #16, Washington #17, Stanford #18, Louisiana State #19, and Mississippi State #20. I should note that Northwestern could be ranked even higher, and I would rank them higher myself, but due to performance, keeping them ranked behind Oklahoma State will work too.

Mississippi State > Louisiana State

So here we have another ignored head-to-head result, and this one is particularly silly, since the AP poll wound up ranking 9-4 Louisiana State right in front of 9-4 Mississippi State. MSU defeated LSU 37-7. Doesn't get much clearer than that.

Switch 'em, Mississippi State to #19 and LSU to #20.

Washington State > Boise State

And here we go again. 9-4 Washington State (unrated) defeated 11-3 Boise State (#22) 47-44 in overtime. Now that was a very close home win, not at all decisive, and it was in September, so if that was all, then perhaps Boise State could be rated ahead of Washington State. However, that is far from all, as WSU also owns wins over Southern Cal and Stanford, both of whom were rated higher than Boise State, and that ends all rational debate. WSU did take a pair of losses to unrated teams, but so did Boise State (aside from the loss to WSU), so there is no advantage for Boise State there. WSU had a relevant record that was effectively 3 games better than that of Boise State on the season!

WSU was correctly rated ahead of Boise State prior to the bowl games, and the two teams' bowl results should not have dropped WSU behind Boise State. WSU did lose badly to Michigan State in the Holiday Bowl, but MSU was rated higher than Boise to begin with, so that result should be little advantage to the Broncos. And Boise State's 38-28 win over Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl gives them no advantage, since WSU already beat Oregon on the road 33-10 this season. In fact, I'd say any advantage goes to WSU there.

The thing is, if they're not rated behind Washington State, Boise State makes for a very poor inclusion in a top 25, since that would leave them with a huge 3 losses to unrated teams, and they have no wins over rated opponents. But if you correctly place Boise State behind WSU, they make a lot more sense as a top 25 team.

This is a no-brainer. WSU > Boise State. So where do we put them? Washington State sits atop the "Others receiving votes" section of the AP poll, and the two teams combine for an average of 167.5 poll points. #23 North Carolina State has 232 and #24 Virginia Tech has 126, so we'll slide Washington State and Boise State between them.


That leads to the following ratings shift: North Carolina State #22, Washington State #23, Boise State #24, Virginia Tech #25, and Memphis falls to #26 and thus out of the top 25. Virginia Tech does have a better relevant record than Boise State does, but one of Boise's upset losses was to Fresno State (#32 in the "Others receiving votes" section), who is higher-rated than anyone Virginia Tech defeated. And Boise State defeated 3 near-rated teams, including Fresno State in the MWC title game, while Tech beat no one in the "Others receiving votes" section. So the AP poll can keep Boise State ranked ahead of the Hokies.

South Carolina > North Carolina State

And again. This is the 5th head-to-head result ignored by the AP poll this year. Why should teams play each other at all if AP poll voters can't be bothered to remember who beat whom? 9-4 South Carolina (#27 in the "Others receiving votes" section) defeated 9-4 North Carolina State (now #22) 35-28 on a neutral field in the season opener for both teams. SC did take 2 upset losses, while NC State took just 1 (other than their loss to SC), but the head-to-head win evens things up and gives SC the tiebreaker, so South Carolina should be rated higher.

Virginia Tech had just 1 upset loss, while South Carolina, again, took 2, so we'll put SC and NC State right behind Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech also performed much better than South Carolina did, including a better showing against common opponent Clemson.

Our latest ratings shift: Washington State #22, Boise State #23, Virginia Tech #24, South Carolina #25, and North Carolina State falls to #26 and thus out of the top 25.

South Florida

10-2 South Florida, ranked #21 by the AP poll, did absolutely nothing to merit a top 25 ranking, so they will have to go. They took one loss to an unranked team, and they did not defeat a single team with a winning record. Their best win came in their bowl game, 38-34 over 6-7 Texas Tech, and that is just not worthy of a spot in the top 25.

10-2 South Florida and 10-3 Memphis, who currently sits at #27, played 6 common opponents, and Memphis did better against all 6, so there is no rational reason for USF to be ranked ahead of Memphis. Memphis took 1 upset loss, just like USF did. That upset loss came to 8-5 Iowa State 21-20 in their bowl game, which is why AP poll voters dropped Memphis back behind USF in the final poll, but think about it. USF beat Texas Tech by 4. Memphis lost to Iowa State by 1. And Iowa State beat Texas Tech 31-13 on the road this season. Those scores tell me that Memphis' bowl result was not actually worse than USF's.

So we'll drop South Florida back behind Memphis, where they belong, which is to say, out of the top 25. And let me add this: I don't think that Iowa State's win over Memphis really is an upset anyway. 8-5 Iowa State is ranked #28 in the "Others receiving votes" section of the AP poll, but they ought to be moved ahead of Memphis. Unfortunately for the Cyclones, however, it doesn't matter, as this would still leave them out of the top 25.

USF's fall from the top 25 gives us another ratings shift: Washington State #21, Boise State #22, Virginia Tech #23, South Carolina #24, and North Carolina State #25. NC State is back in! But alas, not for long...

Iowa

8-5 Iowa, ranked #34 in the "Others receiving votes" section of the AP poll, is easily the most underrated team by the poll this year. For one thing, they're ranked well behind 8-5 Iowa State (originally #28), despite the fact that they beat ISU on the road this season. Yet another ignored head-to-head result. But that is the least of it.

Iowa took one upset loss, to 7-5 Purdue, but they made up for it with a huge 55-24 win over #5 Ohio State. North Carolina State, South Carolina, Virginia Tech, and Boise State all took upset losses as well, but none of them made up for it by beating a higher-ranked team, let alone stomping on a top 5 team.

Iowa should be ranked ahead of all those teams, and they should be ranked ahead of Washington State as well. WSU was like Iowa, except that they took 2 upset losses, and made up for them with 2 wins over higher-rated teams. So Iowa and WSU have the same relevant record. However, Iowa clearly performed better. WSU's losses came by 34, 21, 27, and 25 points, while Iowa's came by 2, 7, 7, 24, and 9 points. And WSU had 4 close wins (touchdown or less), while Iowa had 3. I just can't see any reason for WSU to be rated higher than Iowa.

Iowa's 8-5 record may look ugly, but other than the 1 upset loss, their other losses came to teams now ranked #6, #9, #13, and #16, and the games against those last 3 opponents were all close (touchdown or less). And as previously noted, the Big 10 was the best conference this year. Iowa could be ranked as high as #17. However, Louisiana State, now sitting at #20, did perform better than Iowa did, so the AP poll can keep LSU rated higher.

Iowa's entry gives us this last ratings shift: Iowa #21, Washington State #22, Boise State #23, Virginia Tech #24, and South Carolina #25. North Carolina State falls to #26 and thus out of the top 25. Again
.

Fixed AP Poll Top 25

Three teams fall out of this fixed AP poll top 25: 10-2 South Florida (#21), 9-4 North Carolina State (#23), and 10-3 Memphis (#25). They are replaced by 8-5 Iowa (#21), 9-4 Washington State (#22), and 9-4 South Carolina (#25). The 3 teams that fall out totaled 4 losses to unranked teams, and they did not defeat any AP-rated teams. The 3 teams that replace them totaled 5 losses to unranked teams, but they had a big 5 wins against AP-rated teams. On top of that, the new teams were 1-0 head-to-head against the teams falling out (South Carolina over North Carolina State). Once again, we have a huge difference in favor of the fixed AP poll.

And here it is, your fixed final AP poll for the 2017 season, now logically coherent.


1) Alabama 13-1 --
2) Georgia 13-2 --
3) Oklahoma 12-2 --
4) Clemson 12-2 --
5) Ohio State 12-2 --
6) Wisconsin 13-1 +1
7) Central Florida 13-0 -1
8) Auburn 10-4 +2
9) Penn State 11-2 -1
10) Texas Christian 11-3 -1
11) Miami (Florida) 10-3 +2
12) Notre Dame 10-3 -1
13) Michigan State 10-3 +2
14) Southern Cal 11-3 -2
15) Oklahoma State 10-3 -1
16) Northwestern 10-3 +1
17) Stanford 9-5 +3
18) Washington 10-3 -2
19) Mississippi State 9-4 --
20) Louisiana State 9-4 -2
21) Iowa 8-5 IN
22) Washington State 9-4 IN
23) Boise State 11-3 -1
24) Virginia Tech 9-4 --
25) South Carolina 9-4 IN

OUT: #21 South Florida 10-2
#23 North Carolina State 9-4
#25 Memphis 10-3

Fixed AP Polls
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