College football fans spend more time arguing about the rankings than on any other single activity, maybe even including watching the actual games. While the College Football Playoff era has introduced whole new sets of gripes, the conversation has barely changed for nearly a century now.
Eight of us have listed our favorite old rankings complaints, but this barely scratches the surface, so we invite you to add yours in the comment section.
Fifteen years before the inaugural Playoff rankings ignored Marshall all year, the AP and Coaches polls did the same.
Marshall joined I-A in 1997, going 10-3, including a close Motor City Bowl loss to Ole Miss, as Randy Moss finished fourth in the Heisman vote. In 1998, the Herd didn’t have Moss but went 11-1 and returned to the Motor City Bowl, where they put up 613 yards on Louisville, only punted once, and won by 19.
You might think that would have some lingering positive effect entering 1999.
Wrong! Neither the AP nor Coaches polls ranked them in the preseason top 25. Marshall cracked the Coaches Poll in Week 3 and the AP a week later. At the end — despite being a perfect 13-0, beating Clemson and BYU, and holding every opponent except one under 18 points — Marshall was ... 10th in both polls.
Three two-loss teams were ahead of them. Even worse? The voters put Marshall behind two teams that had three losses: Alabama and Tennessee.
The power brokers of college football have never and will never care about the Marshalls of the world. — Ryan Nanni
Auburn’s list of grievances
The fact that Miami got the 1983 national title is dumb. They got a home bowl against Nebraska minus Mike Rozier and squeaked by when Tom Osborne didn’t go for the PAT and a guaranteed title. Auburn won the Sugar Bowl, played eight other bowl opponents (in an age when there were only 16 bowl games), finished 11-1, and beat Florida, the only team that beat Miami. Auburn had the much more complete body of work and didn’t deserve to get jumped in the end.
In 1993, we were on probation, and discounting how much fun it would’ve been to see an OG Bowden Bowl for the title, I have no problem with Auburn finishing No. 4.
2004. When you’re discounted by the media at the start of the season, it’s impossible to get out of that characterization. Auburn DOMINATED the schedule (only LSU had a chance) and still got zero respect.
Everyone remembers the thrashing that USC gave the Sooners in the BCS and throws that out as proof that USC was the best. Never mind that 31-28 squeaker against a 4-7 Stanford (you don’t just blow out a Buddy Teevens team), the one-score win against 7-5 Oregon State, or the 29-24 victory over 6-6 UCLA (Karl Dorrell knew how to coach ‘em, huh?).
You may remember a couple of years ago that ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi accidentally dubbed Auburn the 2004 national champions during a segment on GameDay. That’s nice, but we’d liked to have gotten respect 14 years ago. — Jack Condon, College and Magnolia
1990 Colorado: final AP No. 1
Colorado lost 2.5 games. You saw it. God saw it. It happened in every plane of reality except the one created by college sports’ alternative-facts record books.
That is too many losses for a national champion, based on almost 150 years of precedent. CU slogged through a hard schedule, was good — S&P+ ranks the Buffs No. 4 that year, SRS No. 3 — and might’ve beaten a lightly tested Georgia Tech in a title game, but would’ve never even earned a bid in a just version of the hypothetical.
In the lunatic’s canon, Colorado’s record was 11-1-1. That counts the loss to 8-4 Illinois and the tie with 9-2-2 Tennessee, but ignores the loss to 5-6 Missouri, erroneously counted as a CU win.
Not only did the Fifth Down happen, gifting the Buffs another chance to cross the goal line, they still didn’t cross the goal line. That’s 2.5 losses before we even get into the borderline-at-best Rocket Ismail clip (41-second mark). — Jason Kirk
Every time we’ve let the NCAA make us pretend a team doesn’t exist
In 2011, USC finished 10-2, sixth in the AP Poll. But throughout the season, we all had to act like this wasn’t happening. As far as any of the rankings that mattered went, USC didn’t exist. Because Reggie Bush got a “trash Impala” five years prior.
USC’s also benefitted from rankings ambiguity, claiming a split title in 1974. Undefeated Oklahoma was bowl-banned because of academics stuff, but the Coaches Poll didn’t include teams on probation. Likewise in 1957, Ohio State got to split a title because Auburn was in trouble.
The Buckeyes finished 2012 12-0 and No. 3 in the AP Poll, but look for the Buckeyes in the BCS’ component polls, the Harris (lol) and Coaches, and you’ll come up empty. Because of some tattoos and gold pants.
This can go on and on, because of shoes, small amounts of cash, fake jobs, or any other scheme you can think of to funnel money to players and funnel players to schools. The games happened, whether the rankings show it or not. — Brian Floyd
“Hooooo boy, yes. Let’s talk about TCU in the 2010 BCS rankings. Please.”
The Horned Frogs went 12-0, thoroughly destroying most everyone they faced. They beat Oregon State in Jerry World. They beat Baylor and RGIII 45-10, leading Griffin to call the game a “fluke” (it wasn’t). They didn’t give up a touchdown in conference play until October 23, and they won each conference game — including a ranked Utah on the road — by an average of 33.4 points.
And yet, they never even sniffed the BCS Championship. They didn’t even reach third in the BCS rankings until Week 13.
And after watching that dumpster of a title game between Auburn and Oregon, I’m still convinced TCU would have beaten either of those teams. — Jamie Plunkett, Frogs O’ War
1937 Santa Clara: final AP No. 9
Everything about rankings that drives you crazy, from the East Coast bias to overlooking mid-majors to pumping up bluebloods? That wasn’t invented in 1998 or 2014. It’s been true for the entire history of this stupid sport.
In one of the AP Poll’s first years, the Santa Clara Broncos kicked everyone’s ass. They opened by beating PCC runner-up Stanford, shut out their next four opponents, gave up only a safety against San Jose State, then shut out every other team they played, including LSU in the Sugar Bowl.
Sure, they didn’t play many big-name teams. But they outscored their opponents 163-9!
And their final AP ranking was NINTH. Sure, the AP wasn’t allowed to consider that Sugar Bowl victory (the final AP Poll came out before bowl season back then, which is just more proof of how stupid all of this is). Ninth meant they were tied with a Notre Dame team that lost twice, including to 2-5-1 Carnegie Mellon, and below two-loss Minnesota and twice-tied Dartmouth.
And it’s not like this team was some historical aberration. They beat LSU in the Sugar Bowl the year before, too! They finished sixth in the previous AP Poll. They weren’t a secret!
Look, if you want to give the title to 9-0-1 Pitt, fine. But the Broncos deserved better than 9th.
Santa Clara dropped football in 1992. They’ll never get a chance to avenge this horrible slight. — Matt Brown
Notre Dame No. 1 in the BCS at the end of the 2012 regular season
Ryan and I played a game one time: how many 2012 teams would have beaten Notre Dame at a neutral site? The list ended up being Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon, Florida, Georgia, and Kansas State. I also believe in Texas A&M.
The polls traditionally rank teams by number of losses, but Notre Dame’s 12-0 mark heading into the title game was built on sinking sand. A three-point, last-second win over Purdue; overtime against Stanford; triple overtime against Pitt; and a turnover to save the game against BYU. It was a ruse, a mirage, and an obfuscation.
I understand why Notre Dame was No. 1 at the time. They won all their games, and that’s all you can ask for, but I for damn sure don’t have to be happy about it. Luckily, Alabama made all that moot. — Richard Johnson
Ranking Florida in the top 10 in any preseason poll ever
Please don’t start Florida in the top 10. Might want to bump them out of the top 15. I’m going to make that request, right now, for the rest of recorded history.
Only four other teams between 1997 and 2016 underperformed more than Florida. Three were held aloft by decades of momentum and assumed greatness: Florida State, Penn State, and Notre Dame. Historically, this makes sense, and in the case of Notre Dame, is deeply funny. Everyone should put Notre Dame in the top five every year.
Texas is in there because ... I don’t know? Probably because they are very rich, have an easily recognizable logo, and Matthew McConaughey. I don’t assume a lot about voters, that they know what teams are good, that they watch games, or even that they don’t just vote teams in because McConaughey hangs out on a sideline.
Florida only really has one excellent stretch in history. The rest is a muddle between NCAA violations, outright squalor, and that one year when Will Muschamp won 11 games while almost losing to the Ragin’ Cajuns.
Florida has done little historically to get a high ranking and little recently to merit ranking at all. Treat us like a marked-down steak at the grocery store. A smell test is the bare minimum, please.
Seventeen is a fine spot, and Virginia Tech has been hogging it for years. Spread it around. — Spencer Hall