NCAA College Football Polls

College Football Polls

Associated Press (AP) Poll

The AP college football poll is one of the oldest still in existence and has a long history. Some of the problems with the poll is that the first ranking is before the season and teams not rank high in the opening poll have a very difficult time moving ahead of higher ranked teams and that the sports life in the larger cities and may be bias to teams there. Because of the long-standing historical ties between high revenue generating bowl games like the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl and the major college football conferences the NCAA has never held a tournament or championship game to determine the champion of the highest division in college football. The Football Bowl Subdivision, (formerly, NCAA Division I-A) does not have a championship but the lower divisions do hold championship tournaments. As a result of there being no Division One championship game, playoff or tournament, The AP and other news organizations began having their own polls of sports writers to determine who was, in the opinion of the writers, the best football team in the country. These polls were at the end of the season, some counting the bowl game and some not counting the bowl game. The Associated Press College Football Poll was one of the earliest such polls. The AP Poll, first run in 1934 and then continuously from 1936 on. The public and the media began to take the leading vote-getter in the final AP Poll as the national champion for that season.

Bowl Games Counted

The final AP poll, (and most other polls,) of the season was released following the end of the regular season, not counting the bowl game, until the 1965 season. In 1965 The Associated Press poll  consisted of the votes of 55 sportswriters. Each writer give their opinion of the ten best teams based on a point system. Under the system of 10 points for first place, 9 for second, and so, the ranking was determined. The 1964 Alabama Crimson Tide, coached by legendary coach Paul Bear Bryant, completed the regular season 10-0-0, winning the Southeastern Conference championship. Alabama was then invited to play the Texas Longhorns in the January 1, 1965 Orange Bowl. Coach Bryant's team lost to the #5 ranked Texas Longhorns 21-17 to finish the season 10-1-0, leaving Arkansas as the only undefeated, untied team after the Razorbacks defeated 7th ranked Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl. Since the AP Poll was before the bowl game, once-beaten Alabama's was awarded AP's national championship, despite the fact that Arkansas had beaten Texas during the season. Because of the Alabama controversy, the AP Poll decided to wait until after the bowl games to select their champion in the 1965 season.

In 1965, the AP's decision to wait to crown its champion paid handsomely, as top-ranked Michigan State lost to UCLA in the Rose Bowl, number two Arkansas lost to LSU in the Cotton Bowl, and fourth-ranked Alabama defeated third-ranked Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, vaulting the Crimson Tide to the top of the AP's final poll (Michigan State was named national champion in the final United Press International poll of coaches, which did not conduct a post-bowl poll).

The AP Voters' "Make Up"

It must be said that although the University of Alabama did get a national championship that they really didn't deserve in 1965, (for the 1964 season,) the AP voters' made up for it by robbing Bama of a national championship in in 1967, (for the 1966 season.) In the final AP poll, 9-0-1 Notre Dame was the overwhelming choice of the writers for the AP Trophy, with 41 of the 56 first place votes, and Michigan State was second. Alabama, which had gone unbeaten and and untied, and had won the Sugar Bowl against Nebraska, still finished third. Georgia, whose only blemish had been a one-point loss to the Miami Hurricanes, was fourth and UCLA was fifth.

At the end of the 1947 season when the AP released an unofficial post-bowl poll which differed from the regular season final poll. The AP national championship was awarded before bowl games were played.

Beginning in the 1968 season, a post bowl game poll was released and the AP championship reflected the bowl game results. The UPI did not follow suit with the coaches' poll until the 1974 season.

AP Poll inclusion in the BCS

In1997, the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) was developed to try to unify the poll results by picking two teams for a "real" national championship game. For the first several years the AP Poll factored in the determination of the BCS rankings, along with other factors including the Coaches Poll and computer-based polls. Because of a series of controversies surrounding the BCS, the AP demanded in December, 2004, that its poll no longer be used in the BCS rankings, and so the 2004-2005 season was the last season that the AP Poll was used for this purpose.

Starting with the 1998 season, the AP Poll factored in the determination of the BCS rankings, along with other factors including the Coaches Poll and computer-based polls. The BCS system did not get permission from the Associated Press, but the AP did not initially voice serious concern. However two major problems in the 2003 and 2004 seasons resulted in the AP asking to be removed after the 2004 season

In the 2003 season the BCS system broke down when the next-to-final BCS poll ranked the University of Southern California (USC) at #3 while the two human polls in the system had ranked USC at #1. As a result, USC did not play in the BCS' designated national championship game. After defeating another highly ranked team in its final game, the AP Poll kept USC at #1 while the Coaches Poll was contractually obligated to select the winner of the BCS game, Louisiana State University (LSU), as the #1 team. The resulting split national title was the very problem that the BCS was created to solve, and has been widely considered an embarrassment.

In 2004, a new controversy erupted at the end of the season when, Auburn University, who finished the regular season 12-0 after winning the Southeastern Conference Championship game, was left out of the BCS title game in favor of Oklahoma who also was 12-0 and had won decisively over Colorado in the Big 12 Championship game. USC went on to a win over Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl and Auburn won their bowl game, leaving two undefeated teams at the end of the season. Also, in that same year, Texas made up late ground on California (Cal) in the BCS standings and as a result grabbed a high-payout, at-large spot in the Rose Bowl. Previous to that poll, Cal had been ranked ahead of Texas in both human polls and the BCS poll. Both teams won their game that week, but the Texas Coach, Mack Brown, had made a public effort to lobby for his team to be moved higher in the ranking. When the human polls were released, Texas remained behind Cal, but it had closed the gap enough so that the BCS Poll (which determines placement) placed Texas above Cal, angering both Cal and its conference, the Pac-10. The AP Poll voters were caught in the middle because their vote changes were automatically made public, while the votes of the Coaches poll were kept confidential. Although there had been a more substantial shift in the votes of the Coaches Poll, the only clear targets for the ire of fanatical fans were the voters in the AP Poll. While officials from both Cal and the Pac-10 called for the coaches' votes to be made public, the overtures were turned down and did little to solve the problem of AP voters.

Many members of the press who voted in the AP Poll were upset by the fiasco and, at the behest of its members, the AP asked that its poll no longer be used in the BCS rankings. The 2004 season was the last season that the AP Poll was used in the BCS rankings, it was replaced in the BCS equation by the newly created Harris Interactive College Football Poll.