Questioning the AP Rankings

Questioning the AP Rankings
Credit: NCAA

The realm of college football can be hard to navigate. First, there are the major players of college football and their respective conferences to which they belong to. Then, the conferences are broken down into two different groups based on their supposed powerhouse ability. So, the centralization that the AP college football rankings provide is a comfortable center to the maelstrom of NCAA football. However, the rankings have fans systematically shaking their heads on a weekly basis.

Ranking the Conferences

The NCAA divides schools into conferences. Traditionally, it started by regions, that way teams didn’t have to make cross-country treks just to get trampled. So, there are two sides in the realm of college football: the Power Five and the Group-of-Five. The Power Five conferences are the: SEC, Big 10, Big 12, PAC-12, and ACC. The Group-of-Five consists of Mountain West, Sun Belt, Conference-USA, AAC, and the Mid-American Conference(s). Historically speaking, a bone might get thrown to a Group-of-Five school every once in a while, but the Power Five schools consistently dominate the AP rankings, as well as the College Football Playoffs. Fans and critics alike will regularly call out the bias, especially near playoff times and bowl game slates. As I have set the stage to explain the conferences, there are some more layers to this onion.

As previously explained, the conferences are seemingly split into two clear sides. But, even the traditionally black-and-white outlook has a hint of grey lurking in between. As in, there is trouble within the conferences. For example, the PAC-12, a traditional Power Five member, is having schools leave their conference to join the Big 10. Additionally, the Big 12 is also having a major shakeup. In summation, while the Power Five schools dominate the rankings, playoffs, and bowl games, the fact that their teams are joining each other will only further this gap from the Group of Five.

Ranking the Ranks

Now that the conference settings have been placed, let us divulge the rankings themselves. If one is interested in seeing about this weekend’s slate of college football, then check out this article. In the meantime, let us dissect the rankings. Of note, Balester’s ratings are his own but reflect the Associated Press poll. Moving on, as the season rolls along, eventually there will be teams within the top 25 who have losses on their record. These losses are referred to as “quality losses”. Each addition in the loss column for Power Five teams seems to only slightly bump their ratings. However, for teams in the Group-of-Five conferences, the losses appear to be exponentially higher in weight.

Confusingly, Power Five teams will shoot up the rankings for crushing teams that they should seemingly “always beat”. For example, Alabama dominating an FCS school will keep Alabama’s ranking quite high. Lastly, teams who play close games against teams “on their level” will also slip in ratings. For example, NC State won recently over Florida State. Both teams are in the ACC, or in other words, bigger schools within the Power Five conferences. Yet, North Carolina State fell a spot in the rankings for what could be chalked up to the fact that they didn’t dominate their opponent. It seems that the AP rankings punish those schools that win. As in, if they did not dominate their opponent, then it was not a quality win in their eyes.

Conclusion of AP Rankings

In summation, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Or rather, you can’t punish teams for winning, while also praising them handily for winning games they seemingly “always” win. A victory is a treasure and measure of success, whether it was in dominating fashion or simply a draining of the clock. Simply put, they are hard to come by. So, it does not seem fair to me that the AP rankings are so confusingly disorganized in their structure and nomination criteria. Not only do they heavily favor the larger schools, but they also make it incredibly hard for smaller programs to compete on their stage.

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