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AP Voters continue to try to get it right; continue to fail miserably

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The new CFB polls came out on Sunday, and after a week fraught with upsets, they were a predictable mess.  An even bigger mess than the last time I ranted about the polls.  This is where we stand:

AP USA Today Jeff Sagarin
#1 Florida (55) Florida (58) Florida
#2 Texas (1) Texas (1) Boise State
#3 Alabama (4) Alabama Virginia Tech
#4 LSU LSU Alabama
#5 Boise State Boise State Iowa
#6 Virginia Tech Virginia Tech USC
#7 USC USC Oregon
#8 Oklahoma Oklahoma LSU
#9 Ohio State Ohio State Texas
#10 Cincinnati TCU Oklahoma
#11 TCU Cincinnati Cincinnati
#12 Houston Oklahoma St. TCU
#13 Iowa Penn State Ohio State
#14 Oklahoma St. Georgia California
#15 Penn State Houston Miami (FL)
#16 Oregon Kansas Georgia
#17 Miami (FL) Iowa Georgia Tech
#18 Kansas Mississippi South Florida
#19 Georgia California BYU
#20 BYU Michigan Clemson
#21 Mississippi Miami (FL) Arizona
#22 Michigan BYU Missouri
#23 Nebraska Missouri Penn State
#24 California Nebraska Florida State
#25 Georgia Tech Oregon Nebraska

I want to make it perfectly clear up front that I’m not saying the Sagarin Computer Rankings are gospel.  Honestly, how many of us thinks that Iowa is a top-5 team, that Boise State has played the 35th-toughest schedule, that Virginia Tech belongs ahead of an Alabama team that crushed them in week one, that the Pac 10 deserves two top-ten teams, or that Arizona deserves to be ranked?  These things have a tendency to average themselves out with time (so the first BCS Poll of the season won’t be totally screwy), but for now, it can serve merely as an interesting comparison to the other polls as one that is devoid of prejudice or bias.

The first thing that the human polls have to explain that the computers do not is how you justify having a team jump way up or fall way down in one week.  Sometimes it’s obvious.  For example, it makes sense that Miami would fall eight spots after getting dismantled in its first game against an opponent that doesn’t struggle to stay in the top-25 on a week-by-week basis.

Others are harder to explain.  Here’s one  for the AP voters – can you explain why you only gave Iowa 39 points in week 3 (putting them not only out of the top 25, but also behind six other unranked teams), but then felt that one game made them a top-15 team?  One game made the difference between not-even-close-to-ranked and top-15?  The logic of that escapes me.

You could argue that they were just making up for mistakes in past weeks.  They were underrated, and they compensated this week, you might say.  That’s a fair argument.  But, then it has to go the same way for the teams you thought were good but actually are not.  California played three games against weak teams and then got positively steamrolled at Oregon.  They fell 18 spots (and appropriately so), but what justifies them being in the top 25, other than that they were once ranked high?

The team that exemplifies the benefit of early high ranking even more than that is Ole Miss.  They are 2-1 and played poorly against South Carolina last week.  Nothing logically justifies them even sniffing the top-25, and yet they are 21.  They are the lowest-ranked team on Sagarin’s rankings (47th!) to be in the top 25.    This is one where you must be compelled to admit Sagarin is much closer to the truth than the human polls, as no logic can justify the Rebels currently being ahead of teams that have played better and have better records.

You also might notice that USC, just one week removed from losing to an unranked team, is already back up to No. 7.  That’s some kind of recovery.  They moved up five spots just for beating Washington State at home.  That’s much better than Oklahoma State who, two weeks removed from a loss to No. 12 Houston, is somehow sitting way down at No. 14.  It’s good to have name recognition.

Speaking of name recognition, there is nobody in the country benefiting from it more right now than LSU.  The Tigers have been thoroughly unimpressive, playing three out of four games very close against opponents that are not the toughest in the world, yet they come in at No. 4.  I’m beginning to think voters feel morally obligated to have three SEC teams in the top 5.  They are ahead of Virginia Tech who, even with one loss, has wins over Nebraska and Miami to its credit.  That’s more than LSU can boast.  They are also well ahead of another slew of undefeated teams (Cincinnati, TCU, Houston and Iowa) all of whom, I assure you, have played better to date than LSU.  This one really kills me because they play at Georgia this week.  That means that one of those teams are going to come away looking better this week than they really are because they’ll have defeated an opponent that is ranked far too high.

And you’d better believe the AP loves wins against overrated opponents.  It’s what keeps Florida State and Georgia Tech hopping in and out of the rankings constantly.  Georgia Tech just leapfrogged into the top 25 with a win over North Carolina, who’d been quite unimpressive at No. 22.  For some reason, teams such as these keep making brief cameos in the top 25, while Missouri (which is undefeated and has played more consistently than others) has now been overlooked three weeks in a row.  They appeared in the top 25 in week two, then fell out after winning and haven’t been able to crack the rankings again.  They haven’t played a great schedule, granted, but the bigger problem is that they don’t have wins against overrated opponents to their credit.  The pollsters should realize that consistency deserves consideration over teams that keep coming out with one flashy showing (Florida State, Georgia Tech, Iowa, et. al.)

Missouri is, in fact, the only underrated Big 12 team right now.  Every other one is ranked higher than the unbiased computers have them, especially Oklahoma State (29th in Sagarin’s rankings) and Kansas  (35th).

The AP voters continue to get their weekly polls very wrong.  They continue to reward teams based on name recognition or based on beating other teams with name recognition that they expect to be good, but are not.  It is time to start rewarding teams for what actually matters – on the field performance.  We can only hope that they, and their somewhat less egregious counterparts in the USA Today/Coaches Poll, get their heads screwed on better by the time the BCS Polls come out.


Written by Austin Swafford

September 29, 2009 at 3:27 am

16 Responses

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  1. The simple fact is the entire system is flawed and it will continue to be until there is a respectable playoff system in place.

    As a fan I enjoy the games and love the sport, as an objective observer its a joke and very few champions can be considered unanimous (Texas, thank god is one of them – no one has doubts concerning their Title) As long as teams are on the outside looking in because of something written on paper its never going to be as relevant as a sport as the NFL, MLB, NBA etc.

    Over rated? Of course, there is a handful every year. Marketing, TV exposure, and name recognition are more important than the game that is played on the field. Ole Miss, Cal, Penn State etc etc are all examples of over rated teams that get the respect due to other programs like Mizzou, Houston and Va Tech,

    I have no doubt that a Boise State, or TCU, could beat anyone on any given Saturday (or Thursday…). Likely? No. Possible? YES. So until those possibilities are played out on the field and not determined by contracts, and some washed up beat writer scribbling his poll between finishing other deadlines, I continue to watch my Team play and keep my interest as invested as it can be in a sham.


    September 29, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    • I actually include Va Tech on my list of those typically overrated. They had a nice win over Miami, but I agree with Michael Wilbon when he said yesterday that both of these teams stink. Well…stink might be an exaggeration. But this is the same VaTech team that get annihilated by Alabama and needed a miracle play to beat a Nebraska team that’s not that great. There is always a handful of overrated teams, but it seems to be prevalent this year, almost systemic. They’re out of control jumping teams up and down because of one game.

      And while it would be nice to see a playoff system, I don’t see the BCS system being as broken as some others seem to think. In ’98/’99 nobody really had a claim against Tennessee as the national champion. ’99/’00, Florida State’s win over VaTech was legit. ’02/’03, nobody can contend that Ohio State over Miami wasn’t legit. ’05/’06, Texas was the clear champion over USC. ’06/’07 was a lame blowout, but I don’t think that anyone can deny that Florida and OSU were the teams that belonged. ’07/’08, LSU over OSU was legit. That makes 6 out of 11 seasons that I’d call indisputable.

      The disputed years…’00/’01 – Oklahoma played Florida State despite the fact that Miami had actually defeated FSU in the middle of the season. Miami should have been in that game, and who knows how it turns out? That’s a legitimate beef.

      ’01/’02 – Miami crushes Nebraska, who came in THIRD in their CONFERENCE, but were somehow #2 in the BCS. For the record, those who run the BCS realized one of their errors and removed margin of victory as a calculation after that season. Granted, Oregon should have been in the championship that year. But, Miami was so dominant, I have a hard time imagining it would have mattered, so that one doesn’t bother me so much.

      ’03/’04 – I’m sorry, Oklahoma deserved to be in this game. AP voters thumbed their noses at the BCS and declared USC as the champion, but they never had a claim. Voters wanted to punish Oklahoma not for who they lost to, but when they lost. Late in the season to a top-15 Kansas State team. Earlier in the season, USC lost to Cal, which was 8-6. USC didn’t deserve to be in the title game just because Oklahoma lost late. I consider that title legit and am still annoyed at voters that gave USC the right to say they won two championships when they only won one.

      ’04/’05 – Oklahoma got smoked in the championship game when Auburn and Utah were also both undefeated. Again, because of USC’s dominance, I don’t have a big problem with this game as I don’t think it would have mattered. But, for the sake of argument, I want to point out that, according to Sagarin’s computer rankings, Auburn played the 60th toughest schedule in the country, in large part because they played a I-AA team. Utah played the 67th toughest. USC was #7 and OU was #13. You wanna play in the championship game, go undefeated against a tougher schedule.

      ’08/’09 – Florida beats OU. I wasn’t wild about OU being in this game because I knew they’d lose. But two other schools had claims on this game. One was Texas, who defeated OU. I hate saying it, but seriously – Texas didn’t get screwed. They screwed themselves. They should have defeated Texas Tech. You can’t lose to Tech and say you should be in the championship. And after the way they played Ohio State, I have a hard time saying they would have challenged Florida. Utah has a legitimate complaint as the only undefeated team in the country. However, I’d also point out that they played the 56th toughest schedule in the country. The only team in the top 10 that was lower was TCU. And again, USC – stop whining. You lost to Oregon State, which was 8-4 in the regular season. You can’t keep losing these games and complain you’re being left out.

      So, by my count, that’s 6 undisputed, 3 where people complain without real justification, and only 2 where there were serious questions. I know that’s subjective, but that’s how I see it. A playoff would be nice to see and might give us a clearer picture of the real champion, but considering where we were before the BCS, I think we’ve all taken our eye off the ball a little bit.

      Austin Swafford

      September 29, 2009 at 12:47 pm

      • disputable or not, its the only sport that only 2 teams play for a championship in the post season. and to be fair, in that regard, the most unanimous Champs, including Texas, don’t have the same kind of Championship run that other sports do, so by those standards none of them are indisputable.

        As for the way it was before the BCS: it was just that. The way its been. The BCS was supposed to be THE fix and by that definition it has failed.

        Really think about it, of all those seasons you listed how many, after the title game was over, could you go back and say Wow… I wonder what if this OTHER team played instead of the loser. (any given saturday etc) I can think of two championships (this if off the top of my head, at work) is OSU over Miami (which the actual victory, not the decision who played, was questionable) and Texas USC. other wise most were blow out games that you could pick 4 or 5 OTHER teams that could have been in that game and played better than the losing team. (OU, Nebraska, OSU for examples)

        Sorry that ive gotten a little off subject here, while over rated teams and the BCS go hand in hand, I completely agree with your argument on who is under/over-rated this season. its a vicious circle because in other sports people think teams are over rated and they get beat in the playoffs, or visa versa teams are “unbeatable” and get upset (Giants Pats, Marlins Yankees, Pistons Lakers) apply the rules of NCAA football to those sports and we don’t have any of those Champions.


        September 29, 2009 at 1:35 pm

  2. Those are all true, but you’ll always get the people that say “what if.” If the teams had been seeded differently, if one of them hadn’t been playing in a place that basically gave them homefield advantage, if they’d played a different schedule, if this player didn’t get injured for whatever game. There’s always the what-ifs and there’s always the people who think a championship would have been better had someone else played. Even in tournaments. Having an insane 64 teams play in the NCAA Tournament hasn’t stopped people from talking about snubs, seeding conspiracies, and so on. A playoff might get a step closer, but as long as there are pundits, there will never be THE answer. I think the BCS system is just fine. But I know that’s a minority opinion.

    Austin Swafford

    September 29, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    • So you were fine with the way the Championship game was determined in 2009??


      September 29, 2009 at 3:55 pm

      • Yep. Like I said, UT needs to beat Texas Tech. When you lose to Texas Tech, you can’t complain about not being in the championship game. Oklahoma played the 7th hardest schedule in the country. Texas played the 14th. Yeah, Texas played one of the most brutal stretches in college history last year with Oklahoma, Missouri, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech (though that looked MUCH less brutal after the bowl games), but you have to win your games. There’s a cost to losing those. Of course I’d have loved to have Texas in the championship. But they didn’t get hosed. They lost a game they should have won. That’s how I see it.

        Austin Swafford

        September 29, 2009 at 4:12 pm

  3. I ❤ Austins Football brain

    Jon Castano

    September 29, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    • interesting… be perfect or its all worth nothing.

      Im glad my other sports arent like that, I would never see a Championship in my lifetime.

      Like those great Cowboys teams… those guys werent worthy of those Superbowls, they werent perfect right? Cant lose…


      September 29, 2009 at 5:08 pm

      • I didn’t say you can’t lose. Oklahoma lost to Texas and got in. Florida lost to Ole Miss and got in. That’s pretty messed up…they were helped by the fact that three of their last four games were against ranked opponents and they pretty well crushed them all. So, timing plays a factor, a little like USC in 2003. That’s frustrating, but pollsters do look at teams that have momentum going into the postaseason (just like they do with the NCAA tournament). I’m not wild about it, but it’s not like Miami in 1999/2000 or even like Auburn and Utah in 2003/2004. Texas lost a game they should have won. The system isn’t perfect, but no system is. And I’m not going to complain like they got messed over by the system. They should have won that game. If they win, there’s no problem.

        Austin Swafford

        September 29, 2009 at 5:41 pm

      • Indeed, I thought texas was going to win, however if “they should have won that game” why play it at all?


        September 29, 2009 at 5:45 pm

  4. Why play it at all? Because teams don’t always win the games they should win. They play it because Washington played USC, because South Carolina played Ole Miss, because Houston played Oklahoma State, and so on. There are considerations beyond the possibility of a big school’s season being ruined by their inability to catch the easiest interception of all time.

    Austin Swafford

    September 29, 2009 at 6:08 pm

  5. LOL

    easiest interception of all time. Ok. I will leave it at that before it starts getting ugly 😉


    September 29, 2009 at 6:22 pm

  6. First, it’s important to understand that the BCS was not created to “fix” the national championship issue, it was created so that major college conferences would have guarantees for marketing tie-ins and sponsorships in the form of bowl games. As long as it is profitable (which it is) and as long as the controversy doesn’t eat into those profits (which it doesn’t) it won’t change. It would take something like Boise State and Northwestern managing to get into the national championship game through loopholes and sheer luck. When viewership and revenue goes down, the committee might, I say MIGHT rethink the system.

    I said it before and am now thoroughly convinced that the polls are not telling us anything yet about where teams really should be ranked or where they will be at the end of the regular season. Not enough total games have been played yet to fully evaluate most teams, not enough in-conference games have been played yet to evaluate conference title battles, and there are not yet enough games played to look at unbiased strength-of-schedule analysis yet either.

    Austin, I think you are falling into your own trap a little here with your commentary about Missouri. You ask where is the logic in Iowa jumping 13 places after beating Penn State? Well, where is the logic in Iowa losing 13 spots after BEATING Northern Iowa?! Because that’s exactly what happened when they were moved from 22nd in preseason polling to 35th after week one. The argument I’ve heard is mostly, “Well, Iowa was supposed to beat UNI by more, and they were saved by not one, but two blocked field goals in the final seconds.” This is suggesting that somehow UNI wasn’t a good enough opponent. Why? Because they are FCS? They were ranked third in the preseason FCS poll, returning 14 starters from last years team that went to the FCS national semi-final. They are an in-state rival to Iowa, with many of the players on both teams having played against each other and even on the same teams as each other in high school. They have averaged a little over 37 points a game INCLUDING the loss to Iowa. They are ranked fourth currently in the FCS poll and 49th in the Sagarin index (one spot ahead of Fresno State, and one spot behind Washington). And it’s not like the FCS is nothing but pushovers… the FBS teams were only 6-3 against the ranked FCS teams in week one. And by the way, Iowa wasn’t “saved” by blocking those field goals… they meant to block those field goal attempts, and they did it. Twice. It isn’t like it was some random accident. Iowa’s three opponents so far all share the same record, 3-1, which accounts for their SoS ranking of 11th in the nation. Their convincing win over Penn State (who owns a 0.828 home winning percentage) as a 10-point dog was not “one flashy showing” – it’s how Iowa plays, and their performance could probably not be duplicated by most top-25 teams. Missouri on the other hand has NOT played more consistently than Iowa, and has a SoS rating of 91st.

    (What might really upset you is that Iowa is actually ranked first in the ELO-CHESS index, which is what the BCS uses.)

    My point is that I know all these things because I follow Iowa football particularly, and the Big 10 closely, and the Big 12, SEC, and Pac 10 a little bit less, and everyone else pretty much only when they are newsworthy. There are probably not many, if any at all, poll voters that have the kind of knowledge I have about Iowa football for EVERY team. So they vote what they know and follow the trends and the hype when they can’t be bothered to really know.

    A lot of it just boils down to how do you decide if a team that everyone seems to think is really great but has an uncharacteristic loss should be ranked higher or lower than a team everyone seems to think is pretty good that has no losses and a surprisingly good win or two? What if there are no common opponents to measure against? How much difference does it make if it’s at home or on the road? A close game or a blowout? Early in the season or late? What if there are key players missing? There are just too many of these kinds of questions for voters to really have any consistency.

    Lastly, as for a playoff system, I happen to agree that as far as the BCS is concerned (which I obviously don’t approve of 100%) the regular season is the playoff. While it may be different than most other sports, it is that unique quality that makes college football so compelling. I wouldn’t mind some consistency between BCS conferences, like everyone having two divisions and a conference title game or things like that, but basically, the system has worked to do what it needs and is intended to do.


    September 29, 2009 at 11:52 pm

    • All point well-taken, though I didn’t fall into my own trap. I don’t necessarily have a problem with Iowa being ranked that high (though I think the ELO-CHESS thing will even out, as I also mentioned). My problem is people moving them so drastically after one game, be it up or down. You’re absolutely right – that drop is preposterous. And why did they drop so far? In part because of teams with name recognition (ie – Miami, Michigan, Notre Dame) getting pimped like they did something after one win. My point wasn’t that Iowa doesn’t deserve to be that high. My point is, what’s with the schizophrenic pollsters? What’s with people thinking they’re not even close to being a top-25 team one week and then immediately having them up in the top 15? My point is, whether it’s week 3 or week 4, they got one INSANELY wrong (and maybe even both…we’ll have to wait and see).

      Like I said, my problem isn’t that they jumped that high. My problem is schizophrenic pollsters bandwagoning after every perceived big win or every perceived big loss. That was my point. Personally, I’d have had them higher at 3-0. Just like I would have with Missouri and the rest. Houston, Cincinnati, TCU, Boise State…they all deserve to be a lot higher than most people are putting them. Whether they end up there, we’ll see. But to this point, they’ve earned it. I’m just sick of them having teams ranked in certain positions because of their name or ranked in certain positions because of the names of the teams they defeated.

      Sorry if my comment was taken as a knock on Iowa. I think they’re a talented team. I was using them as an example to knock the pollsters for getting it wrong.

      Austin Swafford

      September 30, 2009 at 2:01 am

  7. Iowa currently has the second longest active win streak (behind Florida), and hasn’t given up a rushing touchdown in the past 29 quarters of play.

    Hopefully Michigan beats Mich St this weekend so they’ll be unbeaten next week when they play Iowa.


    October 2, 2009 at 10:20 am

    • I think they will. The only way Michigan loses is if they beat themselves. I took a long look at both teams to see if I could justify picking an upset, but I can’t. Michigan State is a pretty bad team. I’m not sold on Michigan AT ALL, but considering what opponents have done to MSU, I can’t imagine their offense keeping pace with the Wolverines.

      Austin Swafford

      October 2, 2009 at 2:06 pm

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