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Dissecting the Week 7 AP Poll

Clemson clung to the #1 spot despite Alabama’s win over Georgia.

Syndication: The Greenville News KEN RUINARD / Greenville News via Imagn Content Services, LLC

While the AP Poll only matters for the record books - the real rankings come from the College Football Playoff Committee - I’d like to delve into their rankings and address how I’d sort it out.

As long as there are rankings before the regular season is completed, they will be based, at least partially, on conjecture about how good a team is or will be. There may be objective quantitative measurement like past five-year on-field or recruiting trends and returning production, but in the end, it is conjecture. On the other hand, as the season progresses you have “resumes” by which to assess each team and ask “what have they accomplished so far this year?”

There’s is strange balance between “best team” and “resume” that goes on with each set of rankings. Earlier in the year, they are by necessity based on who they imagine will be the best team. By the end of the year, they’re (hopefully) based mostly on resume. After all, the college football playoff should be based entirely on resume, at least among the top four teams.

Below are the top 15 teams in the AP. Then in the columns to the right I’ve re-ranked them based purely on resume and then again purely based on how good I believe them to be. I didn’t spend hours pouring over minor debates like Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech, but I think the general feel of these two listings will seem about right to most. Feel free to disagree and let me hear it in the comment section below the article.

Top 15

# Current AP Poll Resume Rankings Best Team Estimate
# Current AP Poll Resume Rankings Best Team Estimate
1 Clemson (5-0) Alabama (4-0) Clemson (5-0)
2 Alabama (4-0) Clemson (5-0) Ohio State (0-0)
3 Notre Dame (4-0) Notre Dame (4-0) Alabama (4-0)
4 Georgia (3-1) Texas A&M (3-1) Georgia (3-1)
5 Ohio State (0-0) BYU (5-0) Notre Dame (4-0)
6 Oklahoma State (3-0) Georgia (3-1) Texas A&M (3-1)
7 Texas A&M (3-1) Miami (4-1) Florida (2-1)
8 Penn State (0-0) Oklahoma State (3-0) Miami (4-1)
9 Cincinnati (3-0) Cincinnati (3-0) Wisconsin (0-0)
10 Florida (2-1) North Carolina (3-1) BYU (5-0)
11 Miami (4-1) Florida (2-1) Oklahoma State (3-0)
12 BYU (5-0) SMU (5-0) Cincinnati (3-0)
13 Oregon (0-0) Iowa State (3-1) North Carolina (3-1)
14 Wisconsin (0-0) Virginia Tech (3-1) Iowa State (3-1)
15 North Carolina (3-1) NC State (4-1) Virginia Tech (3-1)

Bringing together resume rankings and best team estimates is is always the hard part, but it is especially so in 2020. BYU and Clemson already have five wins, while Ohio State has none. Nonetheless, let’s give it a shot.

My Rankings

  1. Clemson (5-0): Alabama’s win over Georgia makes their 4-0 record about as impressive as Clemson’s 5-0 record. The Tide’s win over Georgia is the best win either team has, but after watching that game I was more down on Georgia than high on Alabama. Clemson blew out Miami, who may be on the same tier as Georgia. The Tigers also posted the largest margin of victory in ACC history on the road at Georgia Tech last week (66).
  2. Alabama (4-0): The Tide hold the best win of any team this season after pulling away from the Dawgs in the second half the game. One still has to wonder if this defense is much better than the past two seasons though. On offense, questions about Mac Jones are quickly disappearing. The offense is elite even after losing Tua Tagovailoa, Jerry Jeudy, and Henry Ruggs III.
  3. Notre Dame (4-0): An undefeated ACC deserves the next spot, but do I really believe they’re one of the three best teams? No, I think Ohio State is the second best team. Notre Dame likely would have lost to Alabama if they had played them like Georgia and Texas A&M did. Of course, they didn’t play Alabama and instead have ACC wins over Duke, FSU, and Louisville and a perfect record.
  4. Georgia (3-1): To make the playoff, Georgia needs to go undefeated in their remaining six regular season games and then beat Alabama. Winning at Kentucky and beating Florida will be tough enough, but even tougher will be beating an Alabama team that, as of now, they can’t keep up with. Jamie Newman leaving the team limits their upside. Now that we know his departure isn’t because JT Daniels beat him out, I could certainly understand Georgia fans feeling like he left them high and dry.
  5. Texas A&M (3-1): The Aggies got wrecked by Alabama, but they have wins over Florida and Mississippi State.
  6. Ohio State (0-0): The Buckeyes finally start play with Nebraska this weekend. They have no resume at all, but based on the talent they have returning and what I saw from them last season, I think they’re the biggest threat to Clemson’s National Title hopes. How big that threat is depends on what their defense looks like after losing DE Chase Young, CB Jeff Okudah, and DC Jeff Hafley.
  7. Oklahoma State (3-0): Wins over Tulsa, West Virginia, and Kansas don’t make an impressive resume, but this is a quality team year in and year out. The teams below them have a loss, play group of five opponents, or haven’t played a game yet.
  8. Miami (4-1): Miami got crushed by Clemson, sure, but why should that be treated any differently than Texas A&M getting womped by Alabama? Miami lost to the #1 team in the country, but have won by 12+ in all their other games.
  9. Florida (2-1): The Gators have only beat Ole Miss and U of SC, while losing to Texas A&M, but ranking them below the remaining teams feels silly. This is where “best team estimate” helps Florida despite a lesser resume.
  10. BYU (5-0): The Cougars got everyone’s attention when they started their season on September 7 with a 55-3 win over Navy. They’ve won four more times since then including a 43-26 win over Houston.
  11. SMU (5-0): The AAC may never have a chance to make the playoff as good as they do in 2020 - especially if they don’t capitalize this time. They squeaked by Memphis and Tulane with three point wins in their last two games. They host Cincinnati on October 24th to determine which AAC team will make a run at the College Football Playoff.
  12. Cincinnati (3-0): With the last two weeks off, the Bearcats have only played three games, and thus slot behind BYU and SMU, but I am betting on them to win the AAC. Their next three games are tough - SMU, Memphis, and Houston in consecutive weekends.
  13. North Carolina (3-1): The Tar Heels took a surprising loss in Tallahassee last weekend. Time will tell if that is a bad loss or the start of an FSU rebound. Either way, nobody really believed they were the 5th best team in the country.
  14. Virginia Tech (3-1): Virginia Tech has playing with a short roster due to COVID-19, but crushed Boston College last week and has a chance to be 8-1 coming out of an open date for their December 5th game against Clemson if they can get past Miami (and Liberty, winks at Syracuse).
  15. Penn State (0-0): Like Ohio State, Penn State gets bumped down for not having any resume to date. I also question how some of these Big Ten teams will look this season. Remember how so many other teams looked sloppy early in the season? On top of that, LB Micah Parsons did not opt back in for the Nittany Lions. They play Ohio State on Halloween. I’m perfectly fine with the winner of that game leaping into the top 3 despite playing only two games.

Top 15 from AP Poll Dropped Out:

Oregon (0-0): There was little outcry and fight for Pac-12 football to come back like we saw for Big Ten football. They followed the Big Ten and are returning, but two weeks after the Big Ten. Oregon will need absolute chaos to receive a playoff spot. There’s very little Oregon can do against seven mediocre Pac-12 opponents that will make them truly deserving.

Wisconsin (0-0): Wisconsin is one of the nation’s more consistent programs, but it is hard to justify them in the top 15 right now.