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Unboxing the College Football Polls: Week Two

Once again, we examine the machinations of the voters and see what they're really telling us.

Welcome back to the conversation, you silly gobblers.
Welcome back to the conversation, you silly gobblers.
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

A couple of high profile missteps and a rethinking of the order atop the ballot has made for some interesting poll shenanigans as we begin our weekly look into the real meaning of this week's polls.

Before we get to the actual table, some housekeeping: we've added two columns to the table, but for the sake of sanity we removed a bunch of others -- namely, the breakdowns of the AP and Coaches poll. That information is readily available, and where it's relevant we'll discuss it below. Had we included it, our table would be an absolute train wreck.

The two columns we added are last week's PPB and the PPB delta from last week to this week, both of which are sort of relevant since they're the metric on which this entire crazy series of posts is based. One suggestion we received was to invert the PPB so that instead of "24.whatever" we'd show "0.whatever" and thus illustrate how far away from unanimity a team's rank was, but we'll leave it to you to do that; it's a confusing inversion, and in my opinion makes the difference between the teams in the 20-25 range and the teams in the "also receiving votes" zone appear far too narrow.

With a reminder that we make a very slight adjustment to the formula in order to counteract the extra raw points available in the coaches' poll, our week two results (which are now sortable!):

Florida State 1 1 1 89 24.522 1 0 24.552 -0.030
Oregon 2 4 2 22 23.138 4 2 21.902 1.236
Alabama 3 2 3 2 22.689 2 1 22.523 0.166
Oklahoma 4 3 4 5 22.213 3 -1 22.038 0.185
Auburn 5 5 5 20.881 5 0 20.278 0.603
Georgia 6 6 6 1 19.758 7 1 18.219 1.539
Texas A&M 7 8 7 2 17.965 12 5 15.368 2.597
Baylor 8 7 8 17.845 9 1 16.226 1.619
Louisiana State 10 9 9 16.914 13 4 15.072 1.842
Southern California 9 10 10 16.715 14 4 11.825 4.890
Notre Dame 11 11 11 13.711 15 4 9.204 4.507
UCLA 12 12 12 13.040 10 -2 15.641 -2.601
Michigan State 13 13 13 12.033 6 -7 18.310 -6.277
Mississippi 14 15 14 10.770 16 2 7.907 2.867
Arizona State 16 14 15 9.960 17 2 7.640 2.320
Stanford 15 16 16 9.651 11 -5 15.440 -5.819
Virginia Tech 17 19 17 7.248 38 21 0.230 7.018
Wisconsin 18 17 18 6.557 18 0 6.041 0.516
Ohio State 22 18 19 5.092 8 -11 17.167 -12.075
Kansas State 19 20 20 5.060 20 0 5.692 -0.632
Missouri 20 22 21 4.241 23 2 2.749 1.492
Nebraska 26 21 22 3.775 19 -3 6.030 -2.255
South Carolina 24 23 23 3.529 21 -2 3.827 0.298
Clemson 23 24 24 3.426 24 0 2.617 0.809
Louisville 21 26 25 2.982 26 1 1.764 1.218
Brigham Young 25 27 26 2.492 33 5 0.627 1.865
North Carolina 27 25 27 2.024 22 -5 2.988 -0.964
Florida 29 28 28 1.446 28 0 1.086 0.360
Oklahoma State 28 30 29 1.420 27 -2 1.638 -0.218
Mississippi State 33 29 30 0.919 29 -1 0.989 -0.070
Duke 30 31 31 0.802 30 -1 0.879 -0.077
Texas Christian 32 33 32 0.412 34 2 0.427 -0.015
Penn State 31 52 33 0.292 35 2 0.408 -0.116
Marshall 34 35 34 0.263 37 3 0.239 0.024
Washington 39 32 35 0.211 32 -3 0.636 -0.425
Iowa 36 36 36 0.156 36 0 0.335 -0.181
Minnesota 45 34 37 0.137 39 2 0.129 0.008
Tennessee 35 52 38 0.117 41 3 0.117 0.000
Cincinnati 37 37 39 0.115 40 1 0.123 -0.008
West Virginia 37 39 40 0.098 42 2 0.115 -0.017
Pittsburgh 40 41 41 0.065 48 7 0.024 0.039
Arizona 44 38 42 0.065 44 2 0.082 -0.017
Oregon State 45 39 43 0.048 47 4 0.040 0.008
Northern Illinois 45 41 44 0.040 50 6 0.016 0.024
Texas Tech 40 46 45 0.033 45 0 0.074 -0.041
Rutgers 45 43 46 0.032 46 0 0.066 -0.034
Memphis 45 43 46 0.032 52 6 0.008 0.024
North Dakota State 40 52 48 0.025 49 1 0.017 0.008
Utah 43 52 49 0.017 55 6 0.000 0.017
Michigan 45 45 50 0.016 31 -19 0.792 -0.776
Boise State 45 46 51 0.008 52 1 0.008 0.000
Texas 45 48 52 0.000 25 -27 2.260 -2.260
Louisiana-Lafayette 45 48 52 0.000 43 -9 0.113 -0.113
Colorado State 45 48 52 0.000 50 -2 0.016 0.016
Temple 45 48 52 0.000 52 0 0.008 0.008

Chaos at the top

The very first thing to note is that the distance between Florida State and #2 has withered from over two full points per ballot to a mere 1.384 PPB... and that's with the identity of #2 changing, as Oregon is now our consensus #2. Oregon gained a great deal of support this week with a dominating win over Michigan State combined with a relatively lackluster performance on the part of the Seminoles.

One thing which you don't see here since we're keeping the table sane: Florida State actually gained eight points in the AP poll despite losing eleven first place votes. What was a 138-point lead over Alabama in last week's AP has now been cut down to a 48-point lead over Oregon this week despite the Seminoles actually receiving more points.

Not only that, every team in the top six, which remains unchanged as a group from last week, gained points. I'm sure you're scratching your head now.

There's only one conclusion we can draw from this: Michigan State and Ohio State, despite not receiving any first-place votes last week, were drawing serious consideration within the top three before losing over the weekend -- and, in fact, one or both had to have been ahead of Florida State on most of the ballots which did not have the Seminoles #1 in order to counteract the 11 points the Seminoles obviously lost to Oregon. As a result, when they were punished for their failures, Florida State actually moved up on those voters' ballots, as did the entire top 6. Georgia actually gained 87 points, which is over a full poll position despite not even moving up.

TL;DR: Michigan State and Ohio State were part of the top cluster all along, and with their departure most of their votes have been redistributed among the remaining teams within the top 6.

Everything I just said about the AP poll is largely untrue of the coaches' ranking. Florida State lost eleven points there despite retaining all but 11 first-place votes. Oregon only picked up 49 points, most of them at the expense of their cohorts in the top four; Alabama and Oklahoma gained three and one points respectively. So they probably snagged a handful of votes from the Big Ten schools, but the intrustion into the top 6 by Michigan State and Ohio State prior to last week appears to have been very minimal.

As for our combined totals, whereas last week saw the Alabama-Oklahoma-Oregon triumvirate almost indistinguishable from one another, the separation between the three is much clearer now. They're still all within one position space, but they're also all separated by nearly half a ballot.

Auburn and Georgia are clearly consensus picks in 5th and 6th, Auburn more than a full place behind Oklahoma and Georgia almost two spaces ahead of Texas A&M.

A rising tide lifts all boats

And now we get to the fun part. Last week's 7 and 8 lost, as did 11th-ranked Stanford, and #10 UCLA paid the price for an ugly win over Memphis. As a result, there was a vacuum to fill -- and as you'll recall, the cluster between 9-13 was very tight last week, meaning the scramble to move up would make for fascinating viewing if we could actually watch it happen like, I don't know, an ant farm or something.

The winner was Texas A&M, vaulting all the way up to 7th from 12th in the combined ranking. That's largely on the coaches, who were single-handedly responsible for A&M being toward the bottom of the group last week. A&M added 195 points to their total in the coaches' poll, vaulting five spots in that ranking and leapfrogging Baylor and LSU, both of whom actually had sizable gains themselves. What was a massive traffic jam between 9-13 is now an only slightly less crowded group from 7-10; USC has pulled up tight with LSU now, only 25 points separating them from the Bayou Bengals over both polls. LSU, USC, and Notre Dame all moved up four places in the actual ranking.

As for Notre Dame, they cashed in as well in sliding up to 11th, but there's still three full places (literally, 3.004 PPB) separating them from USC. The Irish are almost alone on an island here, although UCLA's tumble leaves the Bruins only about 2/3 of a slot back of the Irish.

Neat and tidy in the middle

The next few spots are very cut-and-dried with one notable exception. Michigan State and Mississippi are standing alone in 14th and 15th, while Virginia Tech's well ahead of Wisconsin, and the Badgers in turn have a 1.5 PPB lead over Ohio State. In between, though, we've got Arizona State and Stanford in a pretty tight battle over 15th and 16th. In terms of deep analysis, though, there's simply nothing exciting in this group. This is where Michigan State and Stanford fell, and where Virginia Tech landed after being launched; everyone else just moved up about as much as you'd expect them to in order to fill vacuum.

That said, we have to talk about Virginia Tech now, don't we? The 17th spot on any voter's ballot is worth 9 points. Virginia Tech is almost two PPB shy of that. Stanford, at 9.651, is just a tiny bit separated from the 10 PPB you'd expect for the #16 team. Blame the coaches for this, as they committed one of the unpardonable sins of balloting: somehow, someway, Virginia Tech sits exactly one spot behind Ohio State in the coaches' poll one week after beating the Buckeyes. That never looks right, because if you're going to basically claim they belong right next to one another, the team that won should be the team in front. There is, literally, no excuse for this; there is no logical construct one can devise in week two after Ohio State has lost to Virginia Tech which says "Yeah, I was ranking these teams, and you know, I just think Ohio State's a tiny little bit better than Virginia Tech." It's hard enough to swallow that logic in week 14, when the voter's trying to offer some mealy-mouthed commentary on resume; it's absolutely impossible when both teams have played two games and neither of them did anything notable in week one. Shame on you, coaches.

Having noted that, we should also point out that from here on out, any team which lost less than a full 1.0 PPB is actually being rewarded; obviously, Virginia Tech's leap into the #17 spot would necessitate the teams behind them losing points to accomodate their arrival. This is another of the little secrets of the poll. Sometimes, you can look like a perfectly respectable businessman and still have to stop for a full customs inspection.

The rest of the Top 25

Ohio State and Kansas State are in basically a dead heat for 19th here; only six total points separated them across the 121 ballots. K-State lost .632 PPB over last week, but again, a lot of that was attrition due to Virginia Tech leaping past them. The Wildcats were not penalized by the voters for the close call in Ames. Missouri is a good 2/3 of a slot back of the Wildcats, and Nebraska paid for their close shave with a tumble to 22nd (largely because the coaches didn't really ding them even though the AP booted them out of the top 25 entirely). Nebraska, South Carolina, and Clemson form the last great cluster within the teams that are actually ranked; #24 Clemson sits only a third of a PPB back of #22 Nebraska. Our combined Top 25 ends with Louisville, who still haven't cracked the coaches' poll but have inched up to 21st in the AP. They're a half-point clear of #26 BYU.

Also receiving serious consideration

Six teams received over .500 PPB, signifying that the majority of voters at least believe they deserve to be ranked. Two of those six teams are ranked: our #26 BYU is 25th in the AP poll, while the coaches have our #27, North Carolina, in the final spot. Florida and Oklahoma State are both well clear of the 1.000 PPB mark, so despite not being ranked in either poll we should really consider them to be "Top 25" caliber teams at this juncture; a similar, though less convincing, argument can be made for Mississippi State and Duke. After that, though, it's a hell of a dropoff.

Everyone else

TCU is hovering all by themselves in 32nd, separated both above and below by a space which would be largely irrelevant in the top 20 but is vast and impenetrable down here. Penn State is next, which forces us to address the gorilla in the room. Ineligible for the coaches poll, Penn State received 35 points in the AP... which would move them up exactly one spot, ahead of TCU, if they'd also received 35 in the coaches' poll. Y'all can stop bellyaching now. That said, with the immediate lifting of NCAA sanctions, they should also be eligible in the coaches' poll going forward. Should, but god only knows. I haven't been able to confirm yet.

There wasn't really a great deal of change down-ballot. Pittsburgh did move up seven places, but that's because they got three points compared to one last week in the AP, and five vs two in the coaches' poll. I hardly think that's anything to get worked up over. No, the big news the rest of the way down is Memphis getting four points in the coaches' poll, Utah making their first ballot appearance of the season with two points in the AP, and Michigan tumbling from 31st place last week to 50th this week, shedding a combined 97 points from both polls. The Wolverines somehow got two points in the coaches' poll to remain part of the conversation for another week.

And then there's Boise State, bringing up the rear for the second week in a row as they retain the single 25th-place coaches' poll ballot they had last week. Oh, and North Dakota State improved from two points in last week's AP to three this time out. At this rate, they may be ranked by Thanksgiving.

We had fun, come back soon

Michigan's fall was not the worst of the week. Texas has departed both polls entirely after being mauled by wild Cougars for the second year in a row; the Longhorns were actually ranked 25th in the combined figures last week, but BYU absconded with all 276 points Texas had in their wallet when they walked into that alley, tossing a few to their friends in the process. Louisiana-Lafayette also departed from view, though they weren't entirely relevant last week anyway. Colorado State and Temple, each of whom received a vote or two last week, did not this week and we wish them a safe journey home as well.