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Unboxing the College Football Polls: Week One

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Jon does some weird and entirely useless mathemagical chicanery and takes a look at the polls -- and combines them into one, too.

Not only still number one, but a full two laps ahead of the field. Beating Oklahoma State must be worth something.
Not only still number one, but a full two laps ahead of the field. Beating Oklahoma State must be worth something.
Tom Pennington

The first AP and coaches' polls of the season are out, and our wonderful Wildcats are ranked 20th in both flavors. But there are some differences between the two, as is usually the case, and we figured we'd do the intelligent thing: split the difference.

In the following table, which I tried really hard to make sortable but apparently there's something not working right -- probably the tie notations, the negative number format, the null cell notations, and the notes for Penn State and North Dakota State. By the time I realized this, I had basically decided it wasn't worth trying to fix; I'll see if it works better next week. But I digress.

There's the AP poll to the left, the coaches in the center, and the combined poll to the right. What I did, however, was not to simply add the points together. There are a few fewer voters in the AP poll, so I broke things down by points-per-ballot (the PPB column under the combined heading) for each poll separately, then added those figures and divided by two. I did this rather than simply doing raw points per ballot in order to very, very slightly devalue the effect of single points in the coaches' poll to reflect their slightly larger ballot count. (You'll see an example of this toward the end of the article.) PPB also has the benefit of clearly illustrating the gaps between teams; if one team has 15 PPB and another has 13, you know that the voters actually have them separated by two places in the poll even if they're next-door neighbors. I've also extended the poll all the way to the end, rather than just stopping at 25; the reasons for this should be obvious when you consider that Texas is ranked in one and Louisville isn't, and vice versa.

Penn State and North Dakota State are special cases. Neither is eligible for the coaches' poll, for two entirely different reasons, but received votes in the AP. I could have taken the points-per-ballot from the AP poll and just used that without factoring in the zero points-per-ballot from the coaches. That seemed to be as nonsensical as the other option, so I went with the one that reflects reality. If you care, had I chosen the other method, Penn State would move up to 31st from 37th in the combined poll, and North Dakota State would move up one spot from 49th to 48th, so it's not like it matters much.

ASSOCIATED PRESS COACHES COMBINED
TEAM RK 1st PTS LW +/- RK 1st PTS LW +/- RK 1st PPB LW +/-
Florida State 1 46 1456 1 0 1 57 1541 1 0 1 103 24.766 1 0
Alabama 2 1 1317 2 0 2 1432 2 0 2 1 22.709 2 0
Oklahoma 4 2 1283 4 0 3 2 1407 3 0 3 4 22.220 3 0
Oregon 3 5 1314 3 0 4 2 1358 4 0 4 7 22.087 4 0
Auburn 5 1186 6 1 5 1289 5 0 5 20.446 6 1
Michigan State 7 1093 8 1 6 1141 8 2 6 18.464 8 2
Georgia 6 2 1114 12 6 8 1 1108 12 4 7 3 18.376 12 5
Ohio State 8 982 5 (3) 7 1114 6 (1) 8 17.306 5 (3)
Baylor 10 962 10 0 9 1018 10 1 9 16.362 10 1
UCLA 11 944 7 (4) 11 964 7 (4) 10 15.774 7 (3)
Stanford 13 886 11 (2) 10 999 11 1 11 15.565 11 0
Texas A&M 9 2 978 21 12 13 895 20 7 12 2 15.506 20 8
Louisiana State 12 1 926 13 1 12 912 13 1 13 1 15.202 13 0
Southern California 14 729 15 1 14 713 15 1 14 11.928 15 1
Notre Dame 16 519 17 1 15 605 17 2 15 9.277 17 2
Mississippi 15 525 18 3 17 438 19 2 16 7.981 18 2
Arizona State 17 431 19 2 16 502 18 2 17 7.701 19 2
Wisconsin 18 364 14 (4) 19 373 14 (5) 18 6.093 14 (4)
Nebraska 19 352 22 3 18 384 22 4 19 6.080 22 3
Kansas State 20 325 20 0 20 370 21 1 20 5.738 21 1
South Carolina 21t 196 9 (12) 21 272 9 (12) 21 3.855 9 (12)
North Carolina 21t 196 23 2 23 168 23 0 22 3.016 23 1
Missouri 24 147 24 0 22 189 26 4 23 2.770 25 2
Clemson 23 164 16 (7) 24 155 16 (8) 24 2.640 16 (8)
Texas 26 126 28 2 25 150 24 (1) 25 2.277 26 1
Louisville 25 141 31 6 28 73 36 8 26 1.784 33 7
Oklahoma State 27 94 33 6 26 106 30 4 27 1.651 32 5
Florida 29t 49 27 (2) 27 84 27 0 28 1.093 27 (1)
Mississippi State 29t 49 36 7 29 72 29 0 29 0.996 31 2
Duke 28 60 29 1 32 47 35 3 30 0.888 30 0
Michigan 32 38 37t 5 30 59 32 2 31 0.798 35 4
Washington 34 27 25 (9) 31 51 25 (6) 32 0.640 24 (8)
Brigham Young 35 21 43t 8 33 56 38 5 33 0.630 40 7
Texas Christian 33 29 35 2 34t 23 31 (3) 34 0.431 34 0
Penn State 29t 49 45 16 (*) 0 (*) (*) 35 0.415 47 12
Iowa 36t 18 30 (6) 34t 23 33 (1) 36 0.338 29 (7)
Marshall 36t 18 32 (4) 38t 11 37 (1) 37 0.241 36 (1)
Virginia Tech 38 17 34 (4) 38t 11 40t 2 38 0.233 38 0
Minnesota -- 0 -- 0 36 16 43t 7 39 0.129 46 7
Cincinnati 40 8 40 0 40t 7 43t 3 40 0.124 42 2
Tennessee 39 14 -- 12 -- 0 -- 1 41 0.119 57t 16
West Virginia 41t 7 -- 10 40t 7 -- 13 42 0.116 57t 15
Louisiana-Lafayette 46t 1 48t 2 37 13 40t 3 43 0.113 45 2
Arizona 44 4 -- 7 42 6 50t 8 44 0.082 55t 11
Texas Tech 41t 7 37t (4) 44t 2 42 (2) 45 0.075 39 (6)
Rutgers 43 6 -- 8 44t 2 -- 9 46 0.067 57t 11
Oregon State -- 0 41t (7) 43 5 46t 3 47 0.040 43 (4)
Pittsburgh 46t 1 -- 5 44t 2 -- 9 48 0.025 57t 9
North Dakota State 45 2 -- 6 (*) 0 (*) (*) 49 0.017 57t 8
Colorado State -- 0 -- 0 44t 2 -- 9 50t 0.016 57t 7
Northern Illinois -- 0 -- 0 44t 2 50t 6 50t 0.016 55t 5
Boise State -- 0 41t (7) 49t 1 39 (10) 52t 0.008 41 (11)
Temple -- 0 -- 0 49t 1 -- 4 52t 0.008 57t 5
Memphis -- 0 -- 0 49t 1 -- 4 52t 0.008 57t 5
Miami (FL) -- 0 39 (9) -- 0 34 (19) -- 0.000 37 (18)
Northwestern -- 0 43t (5) -- 0 45 (8) -- 0.000 44 (11)
Vanderbilt -- 0 46t (2) -- 0 -- 0 -- 0.000 49t (6)
Navy -- 0 46t (2) -- 0 -- 0 -- 0.000 49t (6)
Nevada -- 0 48t 0 -- 0 -- 0 -- 0.000 53t (2)
Utah State -- 0 48t 0 -- 0 -- 0 -- 0.000 53t (2)
Central Florida -- 0 26 (22) -- 0 28 (25) -- 0.000 28 (27)
Fresno State -- 0 -- 0 -- 0 46t (7) -- 0.000 48 (7)
Georgia Tech -- 0 -- 0 -- 0 48t (5) -- 0.000 51t (4)
Houston -- 0 -- 0 -- 0 48t (5) -- 0.000 51t (4)
Arkansas -- 0 -- 0 -- 0 50t (3) -- 0.000 55t 0

Chaos in the chase lap

There is a huge gap between #1 Florida State and #2 Alabama. The Seminoles are receiving over two more points per ballot than the Tide, which you might think sort of means the voters as a whole think Alabama should be third. Of course, what it really means is that Alabama, Oklahoma, and Oregon are a big jumble. In the AP poll, Alabama only leads #4 Oklahoma by 34 points, which is barely half a spot; in the coaches' poll, Alabama's lead over #4 Oregon is more pronounced but still only 74 points, barely more than a full spot. When you combine them, just on raw vote totals the Tide only lead #4 Oregon by 77 points -- across 121 ballots, so yeah.

Auburn is on an island in fifth, more than 1.5 points per ballot back of Oregon but just a hair under two PPB ahead of Michigan State. Georgia's hot on Michigan State's tail, with only 12 raw votes across both polls separating them -- even though Ohio State is between them in the coaches' poll. Why the dropoff to Ohio State in the combined listing? Because they're way, way behind Sparty in the AP, that's why. As a result, they're a full spot behind Georgia in the combined.

When polls don't agree

Next, after a perfectly normal gap to Baylor, we have a huge jumble from 10-13. The problem with those teams below Baylor is that they're scattered all over the place. Texas A&M is ninth in the AP, but 13th in the coaches' poll. Poor LSU is 13th in the combined poll despite being 12th in both actual polls, and that's because they're barely ahead of A&M with the coaches while being three whole spots back of the Aggies in the AP. UCLA and Stanford are the other components of the traffic jam, and all four of them are separated by barely more than half of one poll position. Only 70 points separate #10 UCLA from #13 LSU... again, across 121 total ballots. That's close, baby.

Where there is a traffic jam, there is a huge gap in back, and that's what we've got to #14 USC. They're three whole positions behind LSU here, so the perception line between the Trojans and the top 13 is, to put it mildly, massive. Less massive, but still pronounced, is the gap between USC and #15 Notre Dame, also nearly three positions back. Does that mean there's another pileup on the way? You'd think, but no; Ole Miss and Arizona State are tightly together a slot back of the Irish, but it's another decent jump down to get to Wisconsin and Nebraska, paired up at 18-19. Those two are separated by one single point across both polls, with K-State trailing fairly close behind in 20th, right where they're supposed to be.

The rest of the relevants

South Carolina sits basically two spots back of K-State. Because the coaches aren't as excited about North Carolina as the writers, we've got a small bunching behind the Gamecocks. The Tar Heels have half a length on Missouri and Clemson, who are fairly close together. Texas finishes the traditional top 25, with Louisville right behind; with one ranked in the AP and the other in the coaches' poll, that makes perfect sense. Of the "also receiving votes" group, only Louisville, Oklahoma State, and Florida received over one point per ballot, though Mississippi State is just shy of that mark. Technically, Mississippi State did receive 121 points off 121 ballots, but the slight adjustment due to the different number of voters makes a difference here; Clanga was more highly valued by the coaches, who have more points to distribute than the writers. Switch a couple of 25th place votes from the coaches to the AP, and they're over 1.000.

The rest... of the rest

There's a group of teams who at least a third of the voters thought deserved to be ranked: Duke, Michigan, Washington, BYU, TCU, Penn State, and Iowa. Penn State is, of course, a special case; in the AP poll, they're tied with Mississippi State at 29th, but they don't exist at USA Today. Minnesota could be a few spots higher, except they got no votes in the AP poll to go with their 16 points in the coaches' ranking; Tennessee, right behind them, has the opposite problem. And then there's Arkansas, which looks a little weird in the table. They're included because they finished dead last in the combined ranking of the preseason polls, with one solitary 25th-place vote in the coaches' poll, and that's why it looks like they have no delta despite losing that vote; they were tied for 55th last week, and this week 54 teams received votes in one poll or the other. So they're still 55th. Woo Pig Sooie!

Rockets and lead zeppelins

The big winners on the week were Penn State, Tennessee, West Virginia, Arizona, and Rutgers. All four improved their positions by 10 spots or more from last week, which is doubly impressive for the Nittany Lions and Vols as they got no help from the coaches. South Carolina, Boise State, Northwestern, and Miami all took severe falls, but the movement championship this week goes to Central Florida. The Knights went from being the first team out of the AP preseason poll and 28th in the coaches'... to not getting a single vote from anyone this week. As a result, they fell 22 spots in the AP, 25 in the USA Today, and a mind-boggling 27 in our combined ranking. Woof.

Thoughts? Not just about the polls, but the methodology we're using to talk about them? Hey, the comments are right down there. Have at it!