Ranking College Football Winning Tradition


So, the SEC posted a All Time Final AP Football Poll. It is fairly entertaining and takes into all the AP polls since the beginning in 1936. Their methodology is pretty straightforward:

From 1936 to 1961 the wire service ranked 20 teams. From 1962 to 1967 only 10 teams were recognized. From 1968 to 1988 AP again resumed its Top 20 before expanding to 25 teams in 1989. Points were awarded based on a team’s finish in the final AP poll each year. Points were awarded on a 20-19-18-17-16-15-14-13-12-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis from 1936 to 1988, and a 25-24-23-22-21-20-19-18-17-16-15-14-13-12-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis 1989 to the present.

They gave out half points for ties which was also a good move. There is a flaw in their methodology though. If you were ranked before1989, you got an 5 points less than you would have if you had received an equivalent rating since then. This is unfair as teams shouldn’t be penalized for playing well before the AP voted for 25 teams. To be an accurate measure, being ranked number 1 in 1950 should weigh the same as 2007.

Upon further review, their rankings are also missing the 2006 and 2007 poll results.

Leveling the Field

There are two ways to resolve this. One would be to subtract five points from everyone since 1989. That would remove some teams from the list that otherwise wouldn’t be on it. It is also difficult as you can’t just remove five points for each appearance as a team should lose less than that if they appeared in the 22-25 range. The other approach is to simply give five points to every poll appearance before 1989. That is simpler, though it requires more time.

The next trick was to find all of the polls. It took some looking around, but I found them at CollegeFootballPoll.com. So I went through and added five point to every team I saw listed each year prior to 1989. I also accounted for 2006 and 2007. The result? Let’s look at the new top 25. Listed are their rank, points, and counts of various AP finishes.

Rank Team Points Top 20 Top 10 Top 5 1st 2nd
1 Michigan 926 53 37 15 2 2
2 Oklahoma 912.5 46 33 27 6 4
3 Notre Dame 895.5 48 35 22 8 5
4 Ohio State 845 46 28 19 4 7
5 ALABAMA 812 44 32 18 6 2
6 Nebraska 762 41 30 13 4 2
7 Southern Cal 735 41 25 17 5 5
8 Texas 718 39 24 8 3 1
9 TENNESSEE 678 40 23 13 2 4
10 Penn State 611 37 22 14 2 3
11 LSU 527 31 19 8 2 2
12 Miami (FL) 504 27 15 10 5 4
13 AUBURN 501 32 16 7 1 1
14 GEORGIA 490 28 18 9 1 2
15 UCLA 477 30 16 9 0 1
16 Florida State 453 23 15 15 2 2
17 FLORIDA 420.5 24 14 9 2 1
18 ARKANSAS 403 26 13 3 0 1
19 Michigan State 351 20 13 7 1 4
20 Washington 330 20 10 5 0 2
21 Texas A&M 329 22 11 2 1 0
22 Georgia Tech 307.5 20 10 5 0 2
23 OLE MISS 303.5 18 10 4 0 2
24 Pittsburgh 282 17 10 6 2 1
25 Clemson 278 20 6 1 1 0

Observations

  • 128 different schools have been ranked over the years.
  • Michigan has the history of a great program. They just can’t seem to win it all. Ohio State has twice the championships with 7 less appearances in the top 20. Michigan State has twice the AP Championships and only 40% of the accumulated points.
  • Oklahoma passed Notre Dame for 2nd place in 2007. I expect the difference to grow in 2008.
  • Auburn and Georgia, as always, are neck-and-neck. Auburn had three more top 20 finishes before 1989, giving them what they needed to pass Georgia. There are only 11 points between them, which puts Georgia in position to pass Auburn in 2008.
  • Auburn has a great chance to pass Miami next year. They just have to beat them by 4 spots.
  • Florida and Florida State are neck and neck. Florida has the richer history, but Florida State’s regular success began more than ten years before Steve Spurrier coached at Florida (1977 v 1990). If Bobby Bowden doesn’t get on the ball, Urban Meyer will have those Gators up to 16th in a couple of years.
  • The SEC has 8 teams in the top 25. As for the other conferences: Big 10 has 4, Big 12 has 4, ACC has 4, Pac 12 has 3, and the Big East has 1.
  • The other SEC teams are: Kentucky at 57, Mississippi State at 61, South Carolina at 75, and Vanderbilt at 102.
  • Duke actually used to be okay. They went from 41 to 33 in the rankings. That jump was all without the benefit of any recent rankings.
  • Kansas State dropped 13 spots to 49th as every top 20 finish has been since 1988.

Look at That

When you sit down and look at so many old AP polls, you can see trends and interesting facts popping-up everywhere. Things of note:

  • World War II polls were loaded with teams like Iowa Pre-Flight (#2 in 1943), March Field, and El Toro Marines (misspelled on the SEC site as Maines). Both Army and the Navy had good runs in that time-period as well. Playing football was apparently an important part of building morale for soldiers getting ready for war.
  • There are a lot of teams ranked that are now I-AA (Division I Football Championship Subdivision). They had been blocked from the AP polls until Appalachian State forced a rule change. Dartmouth was the last “small” school to appear in the polls in 1971 before the current divisions were created in 1973.
  • The official final poll was released before the Bowl Games, after the regular season, until 1968. There was an exception in 1965 which probably led to the move being final three years later.
  • In 1947, a poll was released after the Rose Bowl, but it didn’t “count” for the official championship. The difference? Michigan was the top-ranked team instead of Notre Dame in that “unofficial” bowl. How is that for a split-championship?
  • In 1955, Miami (FL) and Miami (OH) were ranked 14-15. I wonder if there were any voting errors that year?
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