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The College Football Report

By Mike Luce

I'm not clear on why the AP College Football Poll exists. My guess is that the Poll sprung out of our national obsession with ranking things. And to give guys in bars something to talk about.

Ofman:
  • Are The Bears Who We Think They Are?

  • The first poll appeared on November 15, 1934. Football as we know it had not been around for too long at that point. The game originated in 1869, but innovations such as numbered jerseys and the forward pass didn't appear for decades. Players crashed into the goalposts on the goal line until someone thought to push them back 10 yards in 1927. This was not an elegant game. But records were kept and no one had a good answer to the sport's most vexing questions. Who was the best team? Princeton or Pittsburgh? Syracuse or Santa Clara? Columbia or Colgate?

    By 1934, I imagine drunken arguments amongst sportswriters were at an all-time high. A system was needed. A poll sounded lovely, I'm sure, until someone realized the horribly manual process involved. I'm guessing cocktail napkins came into play.

    The Poll got underway in earnest by 1936, and has run continuously since with a number of changes over time. Today, the Associated Press polls 65 sportswriters and commentators across the country. Each voter ranks 25 teams, with the first-place team receiving 25 votes, the second receiving 24, and so on. The AP Poll participants (and their votes) are publicly available, and the results are tallied and published every week during the season.

    When the Week 5 Poll appeared on Sunday, three teams had been dropped, three more added, and the remaining teams moved more than 3.5 spots (up or down) on average. By comparison, at this point last week only four teams had moved in or out of the Top 25 and movement in the remainder averaged less than three positions. This is a complicated way of saying that all hell broke loose last weekend.

    As we move through the recap, let's keep an eye on some polling history for several teams. Once again, the following is for entertainment purposes only.

    *

    Game: #4 Mississippi 10 (-4.5) @ South Carolina 16

    What was supposed to happen? Entering the weekend in the fourth spot, the Rebels looked to cement a position near the top. With a win, Mississippi could hope for a free pass if they were to lose later in the season against the likes of 'Bama or LSU. South Carolina stood on the outside looking in, with a decent record (2-1) but little love from the voters. Last Thursday, we speculated that Ole Miss was ripe for an upset. And remember that little issue of the pre-season Sports Illustrated jinx . . . ?

    What actually happened? Ole Miss looked terrible. The Gamecocks tried to give the game away, but Mississippi couldn't take it. The Rebels plummeted to #21 this week, as the SC defense snuffed out opposing QB Jevan Snead. For the fourth week in a row, a top five team crashed and burned. (Up next: LSU.) This season, it is Florida, Alabama, Texas, and then everybody else.

    *

    Game: #1 Florida 41 (-20.5) @ Kentucky 7

    What was supposed to happen? Florida enjoys crushing Kentucky. No one seems to know why. The Wildcats haven't won a game in this series since 1986.

    What actually happened? For a fleeting moment, the world of college football held its breath. (No, not when UK's Taylor Wyndham dropped the hammer on Florida QB Tim Tebow.) Late in the second quarter, Kentucky scored to pull within 24 points. A back-door cover was well within reach. Sadly, the Wildcats seemed content to play out the string and call it a day.

    *

    Game: UTEP 7 @ #2 Texas 64 (-36)

    What was supposed to happen? Texas needed to win big to prove it belongs with the big boys.

    What actually happened? Nothing much. Tune back in on October 17 for the AT&T Red River Rivalry with Oklahoma. (Formerly the SBC Red River Rivalry.) Brought to you by AT&T on ABC. With generous support from AT&T.

    *

    Game: Arkansas 7 @ #3 Alabama 35 (-18)

    What was supposed to happen? Arkansas QB Ryan Mallet entered the game ranked first in the NCAA in passing efficiency.

    What actually happened? Ryan Mallet now ranks 30th in the NCAA in passing efficiency. When I asked if we cared about Ryan Mallet last Thursday, this was what I had in mind.

    *

    Game: Iowa 21 @ #5 Penn State 10 (-9.5)

    What was supposed to happen? Commentators threw the word "revenge" around leading up to this game. In 2008, Iowa derailed Penn State's title hopes with a 24-23 win in Iowa City. Last Saturday, the teams met again in a rain-drenched Happy Valley. Few mentioned that the Nittany Lions had yet to cover the spread this season.

    What actually happened? Penn State had reached a 3-0 mark by beating up on a series of hapless teams with a combined record of 2-6. After stumbling out of the gate against Northern Iowa, the Hawkeyes traveled to Iowa State and hosted Arizona before the trip to Pennsylvania. The near-upset in Week 1 had cost Iowa a spot in the rankings (#22), while Penn State had held a place in the top ten since the pre-season. Although Iowa beat PSU convincingly, I wonder if their original ranking isn't a bit closer to reality compared to their current spot (#13).

    Incidentally, revenge only makes sense if most of the original team remains. The '08 Nittany Lions this ain't.

    *

    Game: #6 California 3 (-6) @ Oregon 42

    What was supposed to happen? How did I overlook this game . . . ? Cal could have fit into my upset equation nicely, but I gave them credit for a tough loss to Boise and a road win at Minnesota.

    What actually happened? The voters punished California, dropping the Bears to #24 and promoting Oregon back into the #16 spot. Combined with the PSU loss, I think we are seeing a realignment of the Top 25. Beyond the top three teams I mentioned, I think the next ten spots are up for grabs.

    Congrats to Oregon for bucking the trend of the SI jinx last weekend. The SI Four are now 4-9 against the spread, with five outright losses. Then again, the Ducks weren't ranked, so maybe the jinx wasn't in effect.

    *

    Game: #7 LSU 30 (-12.5) @ Mississippi State 26

    What was supposed to happen? Mississippi State was supposed to play a wide-open game but come up short against LSU. Not many gave the Bulldogs a chance to win the game. I predicted a "spirited" showing, but didn't expect MSU to have a shot late in the fourth quarter.

    What actually happened? Here is a great example of my point. Is LSU (now #4) dramatically better than #11 TCU? What about #12 Houston? The Tigers bumped up a few spots, but for what . . . ? Going on the road to eke out a win against a double-digit underdog?

    I wonder if the trick this season is to start in the middle, lose early, and then get hot and chase down the leaders. Only a few teams sit in this position at the moment: Virginia Tech (now #6), Ohio State (now #9), Oklahoma State (now #14), and Miami (now #17, see below).

    *

    Game: #8 Boise State 49 (-17) @ Bowling Green 14

    What was supposed to happen? This game did not meet my upset criteria, and for good reason. Bowling Green sucks.

    What actually happened? We need a corollary to the Directional School Creampuff Equation. Any school named after a "state" that doesn't exist deserves its own formula. Bowling Green State? Not a real place.

    *

    Game: #9 Miami 7 (-2.5) @ #11 Virginia Tech 31

    What was supposed to happen? Another big match-up for both teams that could springboard either into legitimate national title hopes . . . provided the stadium didn't wash away. It was cats and dogs out there.

    What actually happened? This may have been the only game affected by the weather. Storms drenched much of the eastern U.S. on Saturday, but most Top 25 teams didn't seem drastically impacted. Except the Hurricanes. The wet track, combined with physical play, seemed to suck all the joy out of Miami.

    If Virginia Tech runs the table in the ACC, we could be looking at Beamer Ball in the BCS title game. The Hokies' loss to Alabama in Week 1 is looking better and better.

    *

    Game: Washington State 6 @ #12 USC 27 (-45)

    What was supposed to happen? Washington State is a terrible team. I hate to be so blunt. The Cougars have never done anything to me.

    What actually happened? What is wrong in Southern California? I would lump them into my "lose early" theory, but something seems amiss in La-La Land. On Monday, the news broke of an accident to USC RB Stafon Johnson. In what was originally reported as a "mishap,"Johnson's grip on a 275lb bench-press weight slipped, dropping the bar down onto his neck. He required emergency surgery and is out indefinitely. I don't think it will be Pete Carroll's year.

    *

    Game: Illinois 0 @ #13 Ohio State 30 (-13.5)

    What was supposed to happen? Ohio State has a long stretch of mediocre opponents ahead. Illinois would like to qualify for a bowl bid to send off senior QB Juice Williams in style. I'm not sure it will happen.

    What actually happened? You can see for yourself.

    AP pop quiz, hot shot: Ohio State is tied for fourth in all-time AP National Championships with Nebraska and one other team. Who is it? Winner scores a date with the Beachwood Sports Seal. BYO fish heads.

    *

    Game: Fresno State 20 @ #14 Cincinnati 28 (-17)

    What was supposed to happen? Playing the role of 2009 Yardstick - the Fresno State Bulldogs!

    What actually happened? Fresno has now lost to #10 Boise (51-34), Wisconsin (34-31 in OT), and Cincinnati. Based on votes, the Badgers would register at #32 below Utah and above Notre Dame. Let's keep this in mind as we size up games involving any of these teams in the future.

    *

    Game: #15 TCU 14 @ Clemson 10 (-2)

    What was supposed to happen? Vegas granted Clemson a mild home edge, mostly due to the home-field advantage and the presence of C.J. Spiller. RB Spiller plays all over the field for Clemson, returning kicks, punts, lining up in the backfield and splitting out wide for passes. On the other sideline, everyone was looking at TCU as a "BCS buster," but is there another better suited to the task . . . ?

    What actually happened? While not the most compelling game of the afternoon, TCU managed to score another win against a BCS-conference opponent. Spiller joined former USC RB Reggie Bush as the second player with 2,500 yards rushing, 1,500 yards in kickoff returns, 1,000 yards receiving, and 500 yards in punt returns. That's right, Spiller has racked up 3.125 miles while at Clemson.

    *

    Game: Grambling State 6 @ #16 Oklahoma State (n/a) 56

    What was supposed to happen? Imaginary Place Name alert!

    What actually happened? Pop quiz: What's the capital of Grambling?

    *

    Game: Texas Tech 28 (-1.5) @ #17 Houston 29

    What was supposed to happen? This game should have been a good test for Houston. Texas Tech is not the cream of the Big 12 conference, but can score in a hurry and challenge a mid-tier team like Houston.

    What actually happened? If my theory about losing early has any merit, and I think it does, Houston should have considered throwing this game. Everyone would have cut the Cougars some slack. Coming off an upset of Okie State, a hard-fought loss against the Red Raiders followed by an undefeated streak through the end of the season could have landed Houston in an at-large BCS bowl. Too bad they will lose Mississippi State or Southern Miss later in the season and settle for the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

    *

    Game: South Florida 17 @ #18 Florida State 7 (-14)

    What was supposed to happen? Another game, another win for Bobby Bowden's corpse. Or at least that was the plan.

    What actually happened? Who is that kid following Bowden around on the sidelines? Did Florida State assign Bowden a handler? I don't mind coaches lingering past their expiration date, but shouldn't they pretend to be involved? Hell, at least wear a headset.

    *

    Game: Colorado State 23 @ #19 BYU 42 (-19)

    What was supposed to happen? Colorado State has a decent team but the sportsbooks must see something in BYU. After the disappointing setback to Florida State, maybe the Cougars feel as though they have to blow out the remainder of the schedule.

    What actually happened? You can chalk up this game as a win, and several more besides at least until Brigham Young welcomes TCU on October 24. Three Cougars made the Report this week, by the way. Courteney Cox, eat your heart out.

    *

    Game: Southern Miss 28 @ #20 Kansas 35 (-12.5)

    What was supposed to happen? I believed that the Jayhawks could sleep walk through this one and still win by three touchdowns.

    What actually happened? I didn't do my homework. I knew Southern Miss was a decent team, but hadn't looked closely at KU's schedule. Having learned my lesson this week, I'll be more conservative in the forecast on Thursday. (Right.)

    *

    Game: Arizona State 17 @ #21 Georgia 20 (-13)

    What was supposed to happen? Well, I don't really know. But Arizona State was sure as hell not supposed to cover. I can't lose to that bastard again. He has FLIPPERS for Pete's sake.

    What actually happened? Dammit.

    *

    Game: #22 North Carolina 7 (-3) @ Georgia Tech 24

    What was supposed to happen? Earlier this season, the Report picked North Carolina as the Jekyll/Hyde team of the year. The Tarheels don't like to leave the comfort of home. Or at least, that was our theory at the time.

    What actually happened? Sure enough. The 'Heels are now 0-2 ATS on the road.

    Let's welcome The Rambling Wreck back from the abyss - thanks for making it, Georgia Tech. Please accept my apologies on behalf of the AP voters. Dropping you from the rankings, after three straight polls of #15 or better, was probably a bit hasty.

    *

    Game: Indiana 33 @ #23 Michigan 36 (-19)

    What was supposed to happen? As you can tell from the point spread, the Wolverines should not have needed to come back to win this game.

    What actually happened? By way of explanation, let's review the following text message exchange:

    11:02AM (773): Just put $100 on Michigan by 19 today over IU. Better not let me down!
    12:12PM (214): Not looking so hot right now
    12:20PM (773): Uhh yea wtf
    2:05PM (773): Michigan sucks. I should've known this was a bad idea.
    2:30PM (214): At least we won

    There you have it, the 2009 Michigan Wolverines!

    *

    Game: #24 Washington 14 @ Stanford 34 (-9)

    What was supposed to happen? Washington desperately hoped to cling to a bottom rung on the Top 25 for one more week.

    What actually happened? I had to look at the conference standings just now. Had you given me three guesses, I would not have picked Stanford as the Week 5 leader in the Pac-10 conference.

    Who is the best unranked team? Auburn, Utah, or Stanford? Discuss.

    *

    Game: Louisiana-Lafayette 0 #25 Nebraska 55 (-30)

    What was supposed to happen? This could be the last appearance in the 2009 Report for the Ragin' Cajuns. So long, Louisiana-Lafayette. The end of creampuff season is always bittersweet.

    What actually happened? Let's change the subject, shall we? The Cajuns have been ranked only twice in AP Poll history. For two weeks in 1943, Louisiana-Lafayette appeared on the Poll at #14 and #15. I hesitate to speculate about the circumstances, but I can't help but point out that most able-bodied young men were not on the football field that season.

    -

    Dr. Mike "Dude" Luce brings you The College Football Report on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He welcomes your comments.

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