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Unboxing the College Football Polls: Week Three

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It's time for the completely meaningless gesture that is "trying to decipher the voters".

Big day for the Carolinas, as East and South share our biggest gainer awards and NC State appears for the first time.
Big day for the Carolinas, as East and South share our biggest gainer awards and NC State appears for the first time.
Michael Shroyer

The week three polls are in, and it's time for our weekly nerdgasm as we try to sort out exactly what they really mean. For information on our methodology, refer to our week one post.

Interestingly, that methodology comes into direct play this week, as the coaches' poll was minus one ballot. I assume that ballot belonged to June Jones, who resigned as head coach at SMU, and therefore can't very well vote in the coaches' poll. Therefore, tracking the differences between last week and this week basically requires using points-per-ballot as the measure, and we'll explain the primary example after we take a look at this week's table:

TEAM AP COACHES RK 1st PPB LW +/- PPBLW +/-
Florida State 1 1 1 87 24.528 1 0 24.724 -0.196
Oregon 2 3 2 23 23.334 2 0 23.324 0.009
Alabama 3 2 3 2 22.758 3 0 22.879 -0.121
Oklahoma 4 4 4 6 22.435 4 0 22.399 0.036
Auburn 5 5 5 21.064 5 0 21.054 0.010
Texas A&M 6 7 6 3 19.458 7 1 18.109 1.349
Baylor 7 6 7 19.114 8 1 17.995 1.119
Louisiana State 8 8 8 18.357 9 1 17.050 1.307
Notre Dame 9 9 9 15.560 11 2 13.824 1.735
UCLA 12 10 10 13.782 12 2 13.147 0.635
Mississippi 10 12 11 13.303 14 3 10.850 2.453
Michigan State 11 11 12 13.294 13 1 12.127 1.167
Georgia 13 14 13 11.755 6 -7 19.918 -8.163
Arizona State 15 13 14 11.667 15 1 10.045 1.622
South Carolina 14 16 15 10.319 23 8 3.560 6.759
Stanford 16 15 16 9.265 16 0 9.728 -0.463
Wisconsin 19 17 17 7.024 18 1 6.611 0.413
Missouri 18 19 18 6.848 21 3 4.278 2.570
Southern California 17 21 19 6.595 10 -9 16.847 -10.251
Kansas State 20 20 20 5.840 20 0 5.105 0.735
Ohio State 23 18 21 4.995 19 -2 5.145 -0.150
Nebraska 24 22 22 4.097 22 0 3.816 0.281
Brigham Young 21 23 23 3.870 26 3 2.508 1.362
Clemson 22 24 24 3.438 24 0 3.454 -0.016
North Carolina 26 25 25 1.733 27 2 2.041 -0.308
Oklahoma State 25 28 26 1.730 29 3 1.431 0.300
Duke 27 26 27 1.278 31 4 0.809 0.469
Mississippi State 27 27 28 1.212 30 2 0.930 0.282
Florida 34 29 29 0.848 28 -1 1.460 -0.612
Virginia Tech 29 31 30 0.835 17 -13 7.294 -6.459
Texas Christian 32 30 31 0.760 32 1 0.414 0.346
East Carolina 31 33 32 0.654 52 20 0.000 0.654
Penn State 30 34 33 0.638 33 0 0.292 0.346
Washington 37 32 34 0.477 35 1 0.214 0.264
Marshall 35 35 35 0.438 34 -1 0.265 0.173
Pittsburgh 33 43 36 0.374 41 5 0.066 0.308
West Virginia 37 36 37 0.272 40 3 0.099 0.173
Boston College 36 44 38 0.216 52 14 0.000 0.216
Cincinnati 39 38 39 0.206 39 0 0.116 0.091
Arizona 41 37 40 0.173 42 2 0.066 0.107
Arkansas 41 42 41 0.082 52 11 0.000 0.082
Louisville 44 40 42 0.082 25 -17 2.999 -2.917
Northern Illinois 45 39 43 0.082 44 1 0.041 0.041
Oregon State 45 40 44 0.066 43 -1 0.049 0.016
Virginia 40 47 45 0.058 52 7 0.000 0.058
North Carolina State 45 44 46 0.033 52 6 0.000 0.033
North Dakota State 41 49 47 0.025 48 1 0.025 0.000
Memphis 45 46 48 0.016 46 -2 0.033 -0.016
Boise State 45 47 49 0.008 51 2 0.008 0.000
Iowa 45 49 50 0.000 36 -14 0.157 -0.157
Minnesota 45 49 50 0.000 37 -13 0.139 -0.139
Tennessee 45 49 50 0.000 38 -12 0.117 -0.117
Texas Tech 45 49 50 0.000 45 -5 0.033 -0.033
Rutgers 45 49 50 0.000 46 -4 0.033 -0.033
Utah 45 49 50 0.000 49 -1 0.017 -0.017

Stability reigns at the summit

For the second week in a row, Florida State lost a first-place vote in the AP, but gained points overall. On the coaches' side, the Seminoles lost 27 points -- but as many as 25 of those points are the result of the missing ballot. As a result of that ballot, the raw point totals for virtually every team which remained in the same spot in the coaches' poll decreased by some amount, although the lower in the poll you get the less relevant the missing ballot is. (For example, North Carolina remained in 25th this week and lost exactly one point. If everyone kept North Carolina where they were last week, and they were 25th on the missing ballot, that accounts for the lost point.)

The top five remained unchanged from last week, and although Florida State did lose some first-place votes to Oregon, everyone's point totals remained fairly close to last week. The worst hit anyone took in the top echelon was Oklahoma, who lost 22 points in the AP, which is about a third of a slot -- but they clearly gained a small number of actual points in the coaches' poll despite losing 18 points, as they'd be expected to lose somewhere in the neighborhood of 21 from the missing ballot.

Oregon now sits 1.2 PPB behind the Seminoles, which is close enough to no longer consider it a gap. Indeed, there are no wide gulfs separating any of the top five; likewise, there are no truly tight races there this week. Oklahoma is slightly less than a full PPB behind Oregon, but Alabama sits fairly comfortably between the two (a little close to the Sooners than the Ducks), so we can adjudge the rankings as a fair representation of most voters' opinion.

The first vacuum

Georgia lost, so someone had to replace them. That someone: Texas A&M, who suddenly picked up three first-place votes in the AP but still stand a full 1.5 PPB back of Auburn. (Georgia had only been 1.2 PPB back last week.) Baylor and LSU tagged along, maintaining their pursuit of the Aggies without losing any ground. All three teams gained about one-and-a-half spots in the AP, and one spot in the coaches' poll.

Splat

There's a big gap between LSU and Notre Dame, almost three whole PPB. That's partially because the teams behind USC did not cleanly fill the vacuum caused by the Trojan's loss in Chestnut Hill Saturday night; UCLA remained right where they had been last week in the AP while moving up two spots in the coaches' poll; Ole Miss and Sparty leapfrogged the Bruins in the AP while climbing up with them in the coaches' ranking. Notre Dame is cleanly ahead of UCLA here, and are out on an island: as we noted, three PPB back of LSU, but also two ahead of the Bruins. Put another way, UCLA is almost five PPB behind LSU despite only being two spots back in our combined figures. That's one of the widest gaps you might ever see, I think.

Again, the voters are sort of flummoxed over what to do behind Notre Dame. In raw point counts, Ole Miss, Sparty, and UCLA are all within 33 points of one another in the AP, and while UCLA is a full place ahead of the others in the coaches' poll, only seven points separate the Rebs and Michigan State.

The middle four

Georgia and Arizona State are in a close heat for 13th, separated by only ten total points across both polls. The drops to South Carolina -- the week's big winner -- and Stanford are normal, but then there's another shift...

They're top 25, but nobody has any idea

It's a 2.2 PPB gap from Stanford to Wisconsin, and then everything turns into a giant traffic jam. #17 Wisconsin is only 3.6 PPB ahead of #24 Clemson; that's eight teams occupying 3.6 spots worth of votes. Basically, you may as well throw those eight teams in a hat and select them randomly for all the help the voters are really offering here. Southern California, the week's biggest loser in terms of points dropped (over 10 points per ballot) is mired in this sludge pit.

We'll take a quick aside here now to note some teams which fell in one poll or the other despite actually gaining significant point totals. Wisconsin picked up 23 votes in the AP and fell a spot thanks to Missouri reaping the rewards of a decent win and Virginia Tech's loss. K-State gained 41 points in the AP and fell a spot as well. Nebraska gained 15 points in the coaches' poll and dropped one place, and that gain doesn't count whatever they lost from the missing ballot. Every other team within the top 25 who fell actually did lose votes, save for Oklahoma, as we discussed above.

The pretenders, which include #25

There's a decent slide from #24 Clemson to #25 North Carolina, and that seems fitting insofar as the Tar Heels aren't ranked in the AP. The team in their place as far as the writers are concerned is Oklahoma State, and they are in a dead heat as far as PPB is concerned; the Cowboys are only .003 PPB adrift, and it's because the vote totals for the two teams are... well, basically identical, only switched. North Carolina got 82 points in the AP and 128 in the coaches'; Oklahoma State got 126 in the AP and 83 from the coaches. A half-step behind that pair sit Duke and Mississippi State, in a fairly close race; another third of a PPB back you'll find Florida and Virginia Tech, and then TCU, East Carolina, and Penn State check in with over a half a point per ballot, meaning the average voter considers them to be a top 25 team; just not enough to actually make any of them one. Penn State, by the way, no longer suffers a penalty in our calculations; they're now eligible for the coaches' poll, and immediately received all of 26 points there.

The rest of the gang

We've already addressed one team making its first appearance in the polls (East Carolina, this week's biggest gainer by rank), and here's where we'll find the other three new entries. Boston College got far more support from the writers than the coaches, and made the second-highest debut this week. Virginia and North Carolina State also received votes for the first time, and one must wonder what this means for the ACC. (Nothing.) Also, Arkansas returned to the rankings after a couple of weeks off following their defeat by Auburn. Falling out entirely: Iowa, Minnesota, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Rutgers, Utah, and Michigan. Last week we had 50 teams receiving at least one vote from someone; this week, we have 52.

Neither Virginia Tech, nor USC, nor any of the teams which exited entirely claimed the dubious honor of largest drop by ranking this week. That taint belongs to the Louisville Cardinals, who only received 10 points total across both polls after being our #25 team last week, and tumbled 17 spots to #42.