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Oklahoma's the real all-time AP Poll No. 1, says a better system than the AP's own

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The Associated Press Top 25, the long-time gold standard of college football rankings, has been the data source for a lot of good ideas.

The latest: the Top 100, an all-time ranking by the AP itself, uses total weekly poll appearances (one point each), weekly No. 1 appearances (two points each), and final No. 1 rankings (10 points each) to rank the best programs since the poll began in 1936.

It's pretty good and one way to look at a large part of the sport's history.

There's a much better all-time AP Poll ranking system out there, though.

The AP's ranking gives equal points for ranking No. 25 in week two and ranking No. 2 at the end of a season.

That's flawed and somewhat self-promotional, since it implies (1.) appearing in the AP Poll at any point in the season is exactly as valuable as appearing in a season's final ranking and (2.) all rankings other than No. 1 are equally valuable.

I was looking around to see if anybody had already done a version based only on final AP Top 25s. It should also give fuller credit for ranking No. 2 or No. 3 than ranking No. 24 or No. 25.

College Football News has done just such a thing, which is good, because it meant I didn't have to. Their system awards 25 points for a team finishing No. 1 in a final AP Poll, 24 points for No. 2, and so on. Those points for all seasons are then added together. Take a look here at the CFN 135-team ranking; it also includes breakouts by decade*.

Compare the top 25s in the two systems (bolded teams ranked higher in CFN's):

AP Top 100 scoring system CFN's all-time AP Poll scoring system
Ranking Program Ranking Program
1 Ohio State 1 Oklahoma
2 Oklahoma 2 Alabama
3 Notre Dame 3 Ohio State
4 Alabama 4 Michigan
5 USC 5 Notre Dame
6 Nebraska 6 USC
7 Michigan 7 Nebraska
8 Texas 8 Texas
9 Florida State 9 Tennessee
10 Florida 10 Penn State
11 LSU 11 LSU
12 Penn State 12 Auburn
13 Miami 13 Georgia
14 Tennessee 14 Florida State
15 Georgia 15 Miami
16 Auburn 16 UCLA
17 UCLA 17 Florida
18 Texas A&M 18 Michigan State
19 Michigan State 19 Arkansas
20 Washington 20 Texas A&M
21 Arkansas 21 Clemson
22 Clemson 22 Ole Miss
23 Pitt 23 Georgia Tech
24 Wisconsin 24 Washington
25 Iowa 25 Wisconsin

Obviously, the one that is best is the one that ranks your team the highest.

The other big flaw that can't be overcome by polling data alone is that this only goes back to 1936. That's a long time, but it barely covers half the sport's history. Most of the sport's national era, at least.

But CFN's methodology is a much better use of the AP's data than the AP itself came up with, since it isn't swayed by overrated preseason teams, midseason overcorrections, or teams that gorged on weak September schedules. And it recognizes that finishing in the top five is a much bigger deal than finishing No. 22.

And hey, guess what?

The No. 1 teams in the two systems are meeting in Norman, Oklahoma on September 17 and in Columbus, Ohio one year after that.

Fans of whichever team wins will count that as evidence in favor of the system that makes their team look better, all because it might help impress a few high school football players, and that's how college football is meant to work.

* Our Bill Connelly has also used advanced stats to figure out the 10 best programs for each decade.


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