College football’s coaches poll has a long and proud history of being off track. But the coaches have a ready-made force that keep them in line. Sort of like those rubber bumpers when little kids are bowling.
The AP poll.
Traditionally, if the coaches have someone way out of line in their poll, they correct it to some degree the next week and usually iron out all the wrinkles the next week.
But something strange is going on in this week’s polls. The AP and coaches polls have more disparity than any I’ve ever seen. Five teams are at least four slots apart in the two polls, and two other teams are three slots apart.
And two of the biggest discrepancies center on two squads that perhaps you’ve heard from. OSU and OU.
Let’s look at each major dispute between the polls and try to figure out which is closer to the proper slotting:
* Auburn: the Tigers are 11th in AP, 17th in the coaches. AP clearly has Auburn in the proper neighborhood. Auburn’s only loss was 35-21 at LSU. But Auburn won at Texas A&M on Saturday. That’s one of the best wins anywhere this season. The 6-1 Tigers deserve to be in the top 12 or so. But here’s how the coaches think. Auburn was 24th last week; you can’t move them up too much, because college football is a class system. So they go into the high teens, but no higher.
* Oklahoma State: The Cowboys are 19th in AP, 13th in the coaches. Again, AP has it right. OSU has a couple of decent wins, Mississippi State in Houston and TCU in Stillwater, but it also has a bad loss, at West Virginia. The Cowboys’ best win isn’t anywhere near as good as Auburn’s best win, and the Cowboys’ loss isn’t anywhere near as acceptable as Auburn’s loss. Yet the coaches have OSU four slots ahead of Auburn. That’s madness. By the way, the computer rankings barely recognize OSU. The Cowboys are 25th in Anderson-Hester’s rankings and are unranked in the other five computers.
* Oklahoma: The Sooners are 17th in AP, 12th in the coaches. Again, the AP has it right. The Sooners have better wins than, say, OSU, with the victory at Notre Dame. But the loss to Texas is a black eye on the resume’. Judging OU against Auburn, it’s kooky that anyone could rank Auburn behind OU, much less a panel of 62 coaches collectively could rank Auburn five slots below OU.
* Nebraska: The Cornhuskers are 25th in AP, 21st in the coaches. When you’re getting into the 20s, this becomes a little dicier. The truth is, we don’t need top 25 polls. Top 20 was plenty. But it’s easy to figure out what Nebraska deserves. Just compare the Huskers with their fellow Big Ten teams. The AP has Wisconsin (22nd) and Michigan (24th) ahead of Nebraska. The coaches have Nebraska ahead of Michigan (23rd) and Wisconsin (24th). And again, the AP absolutely has it right. Nebraska has no good wins. The Huskers beat Wyoming (barely), Southern Miss and South Dakota State out of conference, then Purdue and Illinois in the Big Ten. Meanwhile, Wisconsin at least has routed Northwestern, which isn’t half bad. And Michigan beat Notre Dame. Losses? Nebraska lost big to UCLA, Wisconsin lost tough to Ohio State and scandalously to Arizona State, and Michigan lost in four overtimes to Penn State. Now, Michigan has been squeaking by some bad teams. But it seems that any critical thinking of the resumes would leave you with an order of Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska. Just like the AP has.
* Central Florida: The Golden Knights are 21st in AP, 25th in the coaches. So they are the inverse of Nebraska. Historically, the coaches have downgraded mid-majors. This week, for example, Fresno State is 15th in AP, 18th in the coaches. However, Northern Illinois is 22nd in the AP, 23rd in the coaches. And naturally, the AP has it right again. UCF has a better resume’ so far than many ranked majors. Central Florida won at Penn State and won at Louisville, which was then ranked eighth by the coaches. UCF’s only loss was at South Carolina. Both polls should be rapped on the knuckles, for having Louisville still ranked ahead of UCF. Louisville’s schedule is atrocious. The Cardinals have no business being ranked at all, much less ahead of Central Florida.
* Fresno State: The Bulldogs are 15th in AP, 18th in the coaches. Fresno State is a difficult team to rank. The Bulldogs have not played a dog schedule — they’ve beaten Rutgers and Boise State — but there is no competition that makes it easy to gauge. Fresno State is one of those teams that is a safety valve. When you get to a spot down in the rankings where you don’t know who to list, you can always fall back on a Fresno State and no one can kick up too much of a fuss. I have no idea which poll has Fresno State right.
* Virginia Tech: The Hokies are 16th in AP, 19th in the coaches. I have no idea how good Virginia Tech is, and nobody else does, either. But I’ll give the coaches some slack on this one. The Hokies don’t seem to be deserving of much of anything. Virginia Tech lost to Alabama to open the season, and the Hokies’ wins since then are Western Carolina (45-3), East Carolina (15-10), Marshall (29-21 in three overtimes), Georgia Tech (17-10), North Carolina (27-17) and Pittsburgh (19-9). If Virginia Tech played TCU on a neutral field, I’d take the Frogs by double digits.