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Most Overrated and Underrated College Football Programs in AP Poll History

Now that I've repaired every AP poll (1936-2016), we can take a look at the totals and see which college football programs have been the most overrated and underrated in AP poll history. Of course, teams gained a lot more ranking places in the fixed polls than they lost overall, because in addition to logically fixing all the AP polls, I've extended them all to 25 teams. Before 1989, the AP poll only ranked 20 teams, and 1962-1967 they only ranked 10 teams. And during World War 2, they ranked military all-star teams, which I threw out, leaving just 15 college teams in 1943 and 10 in 1944. So there were a lot of ranking places to be gained during all those years.


Here are the most overrated programs in AP poll history, and the total number of ranking places these teams lost in the fixed polls 1936-2016:

1) Brigham Young    -53.5  (overrated 14 times, underrated 3)
2) Virginia Tech        -39     (overrated 10, underrated 6)
3) West Virginia        -36     (overrated 10, underrated 9)
4) Air Force               -30     (overrated 4, never underrated)
Louisville               -29     (overrated 7, never underrated)
6) Utah State             -26     (overrated 2 times, never underrated)
Oklahoma             -25.5  (overrated 19, underrated 14)
8) Holy Cross            -24.5  (overrated 5, underrated 1)
9) William & Mary     -24     (overrated 3, never underrated)
10) Boston College  -23.5  (overrated 8, underrated 5)
11) Maryland             -22.5  (overrated 10, underrated 7)

Brigham Young

Brigham Young is no surprise at the top of the list. Every year the AP poll hands out token placements to "Little Big" teams who forge strong-looking straight records against weak schedules, and BYU has historically been the biggest beneficiary of that habit. I'm not saying that BYU is bad-- they've been generally good since the 1970s, and Lavell Edwards did a tremendous job building that program up, but they have not been as strong as the AP poll voters appear to have believed (though I doubt those voters would have put their own money on BYU against many of the teams they ranked lower).

In the 14 seasons that BYU was overrated, they won at least 10 games each time, but they defeated a total of just 7 ranked opponents, and they lost to 15 unranked teams. If you take the single best team that was rated behind BYU in each of those seasons, those teams totaled 15 wins against rated opponents and 7 losses to unrated teams, the complete opposite. The most bogus rating BYU has achieved was #14 in 2007, when they went 11-2, but did not play a single rated opponent, and won just 17-16 over 6-7 UCLA in the Las Vegas Bowl.


The biggest surprise is Oklahoma at #7, the only elite team on this list, and in fact the only team I would call "elite" that lost ranking placements at all. However, Nebraska was the next closest "elite" team to being negative, at +18, and that gives a clue as to what Oklahoma's problem was-- their conference. Prior to the 1960s, the Big 8/7/6 (Colorado joined in 1948 and Oklahoma State in 1958) was, other than Oklahoma, at a power level somewhere between today's CUSA and the Sun Belt. Oklahoma lost 28 ranking places in the fixed polls 1936-1963, and their total for the AP poll era is -25.5, so that early period is responsible for all their historical overranking. Well, except for 2006, when they were vastly overrated at #11, but that was a one-year anomaly. That season, Oklahoma was BYU-like, 11-3 with no wins against rated opponents.

West Virginia and Virginia Tech

West Virginia, #3 with 36 lost ranking places, lost almost all of that in the fixed polls of 3 straight years, 1953, 1954, and 1955.

#2 Virginia Tech is the better threat to one day supplant Brigham Young at the top. VT was actually underrated 4 times in the 1990s, when Frank Beamer first built them up, but ever since they played in the national championship game for the 1999 season, they have been overrated 7 times. Of course, maybe their problem was joining the ACC-- that conference has 3 teams on the list, and #11 Maryland was also in the ACC for most of its history. Whatever the reason, since 2000, Virginia Tech has been the king of overrated teams.


Here are the most underrated programs in AP poll history, and the total number of ranking places these teams gained in the fixed polls 1936-2016:

1) Florida                     +142.5   (underrated 32 times, overrated 4)
2) Purdue                     +123.5   (underrated 20, overrated 5)
3) Southern Cal           +101      (underrated 28, overrated 12)
4) UCLA                        +91.5    (underrated 22, overrated 14)
5) Auburn                       +88      (underrated 29, overrated 11)
6) Georgia Tech           +87.5    (underrated 23, overrated 6)
7) Washington              +77.5    (underrated 21, overrated 9)
8) Georgia                     +77      (underrated 26, overrated 5)
9) Northwestern            +66      (underrated 16, overrated 3)
10) Tennessee             +64.5    (underrated 28, overrated 18)
11) Michigan                 +58.5   (underrated 27, overrated 24)
12) Texas                      +56      (underrated 22, overrated 15)
13) Ohio State              +54.5    (underrated 25, overrated 20)
14) Notre Dame           +52.5    (underrated 27, overrated 13)
15) Mississippi State  +50.5    (underrated 10, overrated 2)
16) Miami (Florida)      +49      (underrated 15, overrated 5)
17) Oklahoma State     +48      (underrated 12, overrated 4)
18) Wisconsin               +45       (underrated 15, overrated 8)
19) Louisiana State     +42.5    (underrated 23, overrated 13)
20) Florida State          +41.5    (underrated 20, overrated 8)


Florida is #1, primarily because their schedules have been pretty monstrous, and the AP poll tends to reward teams that play weak schedules and punish teams that play tough ones. Florida plays an SEC conference schedule, of course, and on top of that they play Florida State every season, and on top of that they used to play Miami every season until 1987. In the 1950s, Florida was actually overrated, and they lost a total of 12 ranking places in the fixed polls through 1959. That all changed with the arrival of Hall of Fame coach Ray Graves in 1960, and Florida gained a total of 61 ranking places during his tenure 1960-1969. That is mostly because the AP poll only ranked 10 teams 1962-1967, and when I extended those rankings to 25 teams, Florida gained 57 places right there. But they should have been rated in the top 10 in 1964 and 1966. Those were Steve Spurrier's years, and he won the Heisman at quarterback.

The 1960s gave Florida nearly half their overall gain, but they've been underrated every decade since: +15 in the 1970s, +37.5 in the 1980s, +8 in the 1990s, and +33 since 2000. They've gained the most during their off years, of course, because they were dismissed due to weak-looking straight records. Take 2003, when they were 8-5. That team was ranked #24, but all 5 of their losses came to the AP poll's own top 15 teams, and they defeated the AP poll's #2 and #7 teams (they also beat unranked 9-4 Arkansas). Clearly they were underrated, and should have at least been #16, behind the lowest-ranked team that beat them. Some of the teams ranked ahead of them were a joke-- 10-3 Nebraska, 10-3 Minnesota, and 10-2 Utah did not beat any ranked opponents, and all lost to unranked teams. This was a classic example of the AP poll punishing a team for playing a tough schedule.

Purdue and the Big 10

This list's surprise, unless you've read through my fixed polls of the 1960s, is #2 Purdue. Like Florida, Purdue had a Hall of Fame coach leading them to unprecedented strength during that decade. Jack Mollenkopf went 84-39-9 1956-1969, and through 1969 Purdue had gained 117.5 places in the fixed AP polls. They are only +6 in the 47 seasons since. 1969 was the worst injustice done to Purdue during this time period-- they were 8-2 that season and ranked #18, but they lost to the AP poll's #4 and #9 teams and defeated their #5 and #19 teams. #5 was 8-2-1 Notre Dame, and Purdue should have been rated higher than them. But Purdue was 7-3 against Notre Dame that decade, and often ranked behind them even when they beat them.

The Big 10 in general may seem like a surprise. While the SEC dominated the list of most underrated teams 2000-2009, this list for 1936-2016 has the Big 10 quite a bit closer to them, with 5 teams on the list to the SEC's 6. Well, gather around children, and let me tell you a story. There was a time, long ago, before the internet and desegregation, when the Big 10 was the most powerful conference in the land, as powerful as the SEC is today. No, this is not a fairy tale. It all ended around the mid-1960s. Northwestern (#9 on this list), behind Hall of Fame coaches Pappy Waldorf in the 1930s and 1940s and Ara Parseghian in the 1950s and 1960s, gained a total of 71 ranking places through 1963 (Parseghian's last year). They are -5 in the 52 seasons since. #13 Ohio State gained 68 ranking places through 1965, but they are -13.5 since. Similarly, #12 Michigan gained 69 ranking places through 1969, but they are -10.5 since.

Georgia Tech

Wait, did I say the SEC has 6 teams on this list? Technically, they have 7, because #6 Georgia Tech made almost all of their gain in the fixed polls while they were a member of the SEC. But the real driving force behind Georgia Tech's gain was Hall of Fame coach Bobby Dodd, who was at the wheel 1945-1966. Georgia Tech gained 81.5 ranking places in the fixed polls through 1965, and they're just +6 in the 51 years since.

The West Coast

The West Coast is represented by #3 Southern Cal, #4 UCLA, and #7 Washington-- by far the most successful PAC programs of the AP poll era. Writers still talk about bias against the West Coast, but while I don't think that bias exists any longer (the PAC as a whole is actually at zero ranking places gained or lost since 2000, perfectly on target), it appears to have been very much a real thing up until that point (the PAC was +53.5 in the 1990s). It's hard to believe that glamorous Southern Cal would be underrated so much (+102.5), but then they have not been underrated once since 1997, so perhaps the glamor shines more brightly for today's writers than it did in the past, when few writers saw them. Indeed, there was a time when many writers were voting without even seeing the West Coast scores.

Texas and Miami-Florida

Texas comes in at #12, but their days of being consistently underrated may be over. They were +69.5 through 1990, but they are -13.5 since then. That's 26 years of being overrated.

Miami-Florida emerged as an elite power in the 1980s, but that is not when their great gain in the fixed polls came from. They benefited from being good in the 1960s, gaining when I expanded those polls from 10 teams to 25. They were +33 1961-1968, and they are only +16 in the other 69 years of AP poll history.