More Explanations on the Uncle Popov College Football Poll

I have actually received a few questions about the structure of the Uncle Popov Top 23 College Football Poll.  One was related to the issue of why 23 teams.  That has been covered before, but it is related to the arbitrary nature of numbers; why 25?  Why not 23?  I mean, it used to be the Top 20.  Certainly fives and tens divide nicely, but so do twos.  So, 23 is just for the hell of it.

But, I have received more recently questions concerning the poll itself, namely how a team like Florida can still be ranked #2 in the poll.  That explanation is simple — this is a long-term poll that takes into account three-plus years of data and not just one season.  While more-recent data is weighed heavier than that from 2008, the latter still plays a role.  Thus, Florida’s 2008 season continues to give them a noticeable boost.  Next season, that will come off the “books” and they will not be buoyed by that season.

Yet, in a recent off-line discussion about that, it was raised why don’t we do a poll for just this season based off of the same formula used for the U.P. Top 23.  While a good idea, the formula as is does not lend itself to small data sets like one season.  It would take an incredible amount of tweaking in order to fit within one season.  Recruiting for the current season would have to be removed because it is incomplete (some teams do not have recruiting data yet).  Conference data could not be entered until October (once all teams have played at least one conference game).  So, it would not work as well.

HOWEVER, I decided to run it anyway, just to see how it would look.    I also did a retroactive formula to see how 2008, 2009, and 2010 would have turned out had I applied the formula to just those seasons.  First, the season-by-season Top 10.

RANK

2008

2009

2010

2011

1

Alabama Texas Auburn Alabama

2

Oklahoma Alabama Oregon Wisconsin

3

Florida Florida Texas Christian Louisiana State

4

Utah Texas Christian Stanford Oklahoma

5

Boise State Boise State Ohio State Boise State

6

Ohio State Cincinnati Oklahoma Stanford

7

Texas Penn State Louisiana State Oklahoma State

8

Southern California Oregon Alabama Kansas State

9

Texas Tech Ohio State Wisconsin Michigan State

10

Georgia Georgia Tech Arkansas Clemson

As you can see, there is not necessarily a match-up between the top team here and the BCS national champion.  Of the three completed seasons, only Auburn topped the altered U.P. poll and the BCS poll.  Remember that bowl games are weighed evenly regardless of the “prestige” of a given bowl game.  And, even though Alabama lost to Utah in 2008, Alabama still topped the poll that season with the Utes finishing fourth.  Similarly, Texas ranked ahead of Alabama in 2009 even though the Tide defeated Texas.  Again, the timing of a loss is not a factor, but competition and performance against particular teams weighs more that simply “perception.”

As for 2011, nine of the ten undefeated teams are in the altered U.P. Top 10.  Only Houston is not in the Top 10 (coming in at #13).  Michigan State is the only team with a loss in the Top 10.  The formula seems to like Wisconsin over both LSU and Oklahoma.

Here is a look at the Basement (Bottom 5) for these four seasons:

RANK

2008

2009

2010

2011

116

SMU New Mexico Eastern Michigan Kent State

117

Army Miami (OH) Memphis UAB

118

Western Kentucky Washington State New Mexico Memphis

119

Washington Western Kentucky San Jose State Florida Atlantic

120

North Texas Eastern Michigan Akron New Mexico

New Mexico likes the Basement, appearing in three of the four seasons (in 2008 the Lobos were 99th).  SMU, ranked 116th in 2008, is now 21st this season.  Boston College has fallen the farthest, going from 31st in 2008 to 113th this season.

Next, I worked a formula to combine the point scores for each of the four seasons in order to juxtapose the individual seasons as components with the four seasons as a continuous process (the current U.P. poll).  Here is how those two compared:

RANK

Year-by-Year

U.P. Formula

Difference

1

Alabama Alabama

0

2

Texas Christian Florida

1

3

Oregon Texas Christian

4

4

Boise State Louisiana State

2

5

Oklahoma Oklahoma

0

6

Louisiana State Boise State

-2

7

Ohio State Oregon

4

8

Oklahoma State Utah

1

9

Wisconsin Oklahoma State

11

10

Stanford Auburn

19

11

Auburn Ohio State

-1

12

Florida Penn State

-10

13

Virginia Tech Texas

4

14

Nebraska West Virginia

4

15

Texas Brigham Young

-2

16

Michigan State Georgia

12

17

Penn State Virginia Tech

-5

18

Utah Nebraska

-10

19

Southern California Arkansas

2

20

Arkansas Wisconsin

-1

21

West Virginia Southern California

-7

22

Missouri South Carolina

4

23

South Carolina Texas Tech

-1

Alabama is still at the top, but TCU actually moves up one spot.  LSU slides down a few spots as Oregon and Boise State move up.  For LSU, they are still being hurt by 7-5 (2008) and 9-3 (2009) seasons.  Oregon is a bit better with their “worst” season being 9-3 in 2008, while Boise State is helped by losing only one regular season game over the past three-plus seasons.  By taking the each of the seasons individually, there seems to be a bit more fluidity.  For example, Florida and Utah drop ten slots while Stanford explodes up the poll (19 slots).  However, the fluidity comes at a cost as LSU is punished even more for its relatively poor showing in 2008.

Finally, I wanted to see how the official U.P. Top 23 compared to just looking at the 2011 altered poll:

RANK

2011

U.P. Formula

 Difference

1

Alabama Alabama

0

2

Wisconsin Florida

18

3

Louisiana State Texas Christian

1

4

Oklahoma Louisiana State

1

5

Boise State Oklahoma

1

6

Stanford Boise State

23

7

Oklahoma State Oregon

2

8

Kansas State Utah

47

9

Michigan State Oklahoma State

19

10

Clemson Auburn

23

11

Oregon Ohio State

-4

12

Penn State Penn State

0

13

Houston Texas

30

14

South Carolina West Virginia

8

15

Virginia Tech Brigham Young

2

16

Nebraska Georgia

2

17

West Virginia Virginia Tech

-3

18

Michigan Nebraska

46

19

Arkansas Arkansas

0

20

Illinois Wisconsin

47

21

Southern Methodist Southern California

54

22

Georgia Tech South Carolina

5

23

Washington Texas Tech

57

Obviously, looking at one season versus a combination of four seasons is going to give a big difference.  Alabama still holds the top spot, but Wisconsin makes an 18-slot jump to take the number two spot.  Stanford moves up 23 spots to number six, while Washington makes the largest jump of all — 57 spots — to round out the Top 23.  The biggest loser from the U.P. Top 23 is Florida, which drops 50 spots from #2 to #52.  But, in terms of the entire poll, the biggest drop is Boston College and Arizona as both teams lose 63 spots!

So, would it be better to look at the seasons individually?  No.  Why?  Because the purpose of the Uncle Popov Top 23 College Football Poll is (A) to maintain consistency from season-to-season, (B) avoid perception as a means for ranking teams, and (C) eliminate the unbalanced weighing of the timing of a loss.  Looking at one season would not avoid those things and would lead to too much fluidity.

But, the question arises: is the U.P. poll too static?  Maybe.  Why should a three-loss Florida team and a two-loss TCU team be ranked ahead of an undefeated LSU team?  Well, again, remember that it is not a three-loss Florida team, but a ten-loss Florida team (35-10), as well as a four-loss TCU team (38-4), ahead of a ten-loss LSU team (33-10).  And, the poll is not just records, but conference performance, statistical weights, and recruiting.

Perhaps there can be some reconciliation between the four-year formula that takes each season into account individually and the current formula that examines the four seasons as one continuous process.  But, for now, we will stick with the latter.

Questions?

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