Monday's Poll Watch returns with a glimpse into the peculiarities of the AP Top 25 ballots and ballot voter data. We scan these ballots to look for interesting patterns and what they may say about the college football landscape as the season progresses.
Louisville "Lost" More than Ohio State
Ohio State fans bemoaned a missed opportunity on Saturday to return to the good graces of college football's selectors on Saturday. Ohio State was a huge favorite; most expected—and certainly Ohio State fans hoped for—a mutilation of Northwestern after a disappointing mid-season loss for a national championship aspirant.
That didn't happen. Ohio State eked out a four-point win. Ohio State looked to take another hit in the polls.
That also didn't happen. Ohio State actually gained 64 points from last week. Louisville was the bigger "loser" of the two teams on the outside looking into the playoff. Louisville lost 14 points after its escape in Charlottesville. The gap between No. 5 Louisville and No. 6 Ohio State is now 55 points. This, incidentally, happens after a moment in which Lamar Jackson seemed to secure his Heisman this season.
I should offer a caveat to this interpretation. Louisville's relative slide could reflect a loss of faith by AP voters in how good Louisville actually is this year. It also struggled against Duke at home in its first game after the Clemson loss.
It could also be that AP voters are subconsciously down-voting Louisville right now. Clemson's win at Florida State means Louisville needs Clemson to lose an improbable two of its final three ACC games in order to make the ACC Championship Game and, one assumes, the playoff after that.
Clemson hosts Syracuse and Pittsburgh next and finishes its ACC slate at Wake Forest. All three look like sure things for Clemson. A loss could happen, but losing two of three seems an impossible event at the moment.
#MACtion Comes to the Cotton Bowl?
Last week's Poll Watch suggested the Cotton Bowl committee was, well, "non-plussed" at the thought of falling on the Group of Five grenade this year. Houston's two losses took the shine off the Group of Five this year. Several options looked fine; none looked great. The Cotton Bowl seemed bound for a disappointing matchup.
The Cotton Bowl's dilemma may have gotten worse after this weekend. South Florida upset Navy, who could've sold some tickets and generated some buzz if it were the highest-ranked Group of Five conference champion. Boise State made the situation even more dire for the Cotton Bowl by losing at Wyoming. Boise State may not be that good this year, but it at least has name recognition as far as Group of Five teams go.
Left standing: No. 17 Western Michigan, the last unbeaten from the Group of Five. If the season ended today, the Cotton Bowl would be compelled to take Western Michigan. Western Michigan's opponent could be any other at-large the Cotton Bowl committee wants, but Nebraska and Wisconsin keep appearing on these lists of potential at-large selections.
So, the Cotton Bowl—one of the South's two premier bowl games—could be a Big Ten non-conference game you'd see in September. Feel the excitement.
What is Josh Kendall's Rationale Here?
A long-time reader messaged me after last week's feature curious if there was such a ballot cast where a voter was so ready to sell Ohio State after its loss to Penn State that s/he ranked Wisconsin above Ohio State.
Indeed, there is one. It's from Josh Kendall, the same guy who curiously rocketed Penn State into his top 10 to circumvent the cognitive dissonance that follows ranking Ohio State above Penn State. No other voter has two-loss Penn State ahead of Ohio State because of Penn State's other loss to Pittsburgh. Kendall seems concerned that would be an intransitive ranking, where the ordinal claim "Ohio State > Penn State" in a ballot doesn't square with the outcome of last Saturday's game (i.e. "Penn State > Ohio State").
That, however, does not extend to the ordinal ranking of Ohio State and Wisconsin. Two-loss Wisconsin is his No. 5. One-loss Ohio State is his No. 10, one spot below two-loss Penn State. We can infer "Ohio State > Wisconsin" both from the overtime win in Madison between the two and the win/loss record of each.
Why Kendall chose to pay careful attention to issues of cognitive dissonance and transitivity elsewhere but not with respect to Ohio State and its opponents is curious. For example, he kept No. 12 Auburn one spot above No. 13 LSU on his ballot. He also made sure to put No. 17 Virginia Tech above No. 18 UNC on his ballot too.
I'm sure Kendall has his reasons, though.
Other Peculiar Observations
- AP voters and college football fans everywhere are thanking Texas for taking down Baylor. AP voters and playoff committee selectors would've found every reason to keep Baylor out the playoff if it were undefeated by season's end but that won't be necessary now. Incidentally, Baylor is the highest-ranked team to not appear on all ballots. Baylor does not appear on ballots cast by Patrick Brown, Eric Hansen, and Josh Kendall.
- Remember Oklahoma? It's No. 12 in the AP Poll. Andy Greder even has the Sooners at No. 8.
- Washington State breaks the top 25 for the first time this year. Rob Long even has the Cougars at No. 14.