On a relatively unexciting weekend of college football that ended up having few good, close games, margin of victory proved to be the most telling result. The more a team won or lost by, as well as who that loss was to, had a noticeable impact on how much it moved in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll and Amway Coaches Poll.
But not in a uniform way. Some teams rose and fell much more than others, resulting in new rankings that are far different from a week ago despite still having the same six teams in the top spots (though even they saw some minor movement).
Follow along as we break down the latest polls and point out where the voters got it right and where they missed the mark.
Penn State began the season unranked and didn’t receive its first vote in the AP poll until after Week 6. But since knocking off Ohio State at home on Oct. 22, the Nittany Lions have been on a rapid rise that now sees them at their highest point in five years.
The Lions rose eight spots in the AP poll to 12th and jumped nine places to 14th in the Amway rankings after their 41-14 home win over Iowa. They’ve won five straight by an average of 19 points since a 2-2 start that included a 49-10 loss at Michigan, which also led to a 10-spot jump in Bleacher Report’s Top 25.
Penn State was 12th in the initial College Football Playoff rankings, its first-ever placement on that list, and though its remaining opponents are 9-18, that win over OSU keeps it in the running for the Big Ten’s East Division title. It looks like voters did their best to get in line with how the selection committee felt about the Lions.
When compared to how other ranked one-loss teams fared over the weekend, Texas A&M’s 35-28 loss at Mississippi State doesn’t look that bad. But considering the Aggies were fourth in the CFP rankings—a source of much discussion during the week—the fact that they lost to a 3-5 team was far more significant than the setbacks incurred by the likes of other SEC schools that fell to much better opponents.
Yet A&M only fell three spots in the Associated Press rankings to 10th, and it dropped four places to 11th in the Amway poll. What gives, voters?
LSU lost 10-0 at home to top-ranked Alabama, a grudge match that was scoreless going into the fourth quarter, and ended up falling to 19th in both polls (from 14th in the Amway rankings and 15th in the AP). Florida lost by 21 at an inspired 5-3 Arkansas team and dipped seven spots in the Amway poll (to 16th) and plummeted to 22nd (down 10 notches) in the AP rankings.
And that’s nothing compared to the drops by non-SEC teams that lost. Nebraska, a 62-3 loser at Ohio State, fell nine spots to 21st in the AP poll and 10 spots to 22nd in the Amway. Baylor’s 62-22 home loss to TCU saw it fall 13 and 12 spots, respectively, to 25th in each poll.
Texas A&M’s loss to Mississippi State likely knocks it out of the playoff race since there’s little chance a two-loss team that doesn’t even win its division has a shot at sneaking in. But the Aggies’ departure has opened the door for Auburn to climb into the playoff race, and that move started with getting ranked ahead of that A&M team it lost to at home in mid-September.
The Tigers, 23-16 winners at home against Vanderbilt, rose to eighth in both polls. They were 11th in the Associated Press rankings and 12th in the Amway poll a week ago but benefited not only from A&M’s loss, but also those by Florida and Nebraska.
Auburn and A&M have the same record (7-2), and the Aggies have the head-to-head edge. But that shouldn’t be a major factor in voting because the result happened nearly two months ago, when Auburn was a far different (read: worse) team, and voters in both polls smartly recognized this.
Maybe it was the Tuesday night kickoff, which came right after the first set of playoff rankings were released. Maybe the coaches who vote in the Amway poll were more concerned about that information than tracking a Mid-American team playing in the middle of the week. Whatever the reason, Western Michigan somehow fell three spots to 21st in the Amway poll despite a 52-20 win at Ball State.
Associated Press voters didn’t make the same mistake, boosting the unbeaten Broncos from 17th to 14th.
Nearly half of the 64 coaches who vote in the Amway poll are from non-Power Five conferences, so one would think they’d be more inclined to support the little guys. Five voters are from the MAC, making Western Michigan’s drop even more odd.
We’ll see what the selection committee has to say about it, but after nearly every expert declared the Big 12’s shot at a playoff spot nearly nonexistent, it turns out the league is only mostly dead. Oklahoma’s and West Virginia’s rises in the polls keep hope alive—at least for now.
The Sooners, who outlasted a pesky Iowa State team on the road on Thursday, moved up to ninth in both rankings, and West Virginia’s blowout home win over Kansas helped it jump to 10th in the Amway poll and 11th in the AP rankings.
Neither team had a particularly impressive result, given that each victory came against a 1-8 team, but the wins came at the right time, as many teams above them in the polls lost. How that will be reflected in the playoff rankings remains to be seen, as the Sooners were 14th and West Virginia was 20th on Tuesday.
Despite 20 percent of ranked teams losing in Week 10, the same 25 schools are listed in each poll. Apparently, most voters didn’t feel the need to drop teams like Baylor or Nebraska out despite losing by a combined 99 points on Saturday.
Meanwhile, rising teams that have spent most or all of the season outside of the rankings are waiting in the wings to get some minor recognition, but they have to hope they’ll get some love next week.
USC, a team that began 1-3 with high-profile losses to Alabama, Stanford and Utah in September, has won five straight by an average of 21 points and is a game behind Colorado and Utah for the Pac-12’s South Division lead. The Trojans are the Associated Press and Amway “bubble boy” of sorts, sitting at 26th in each poll in terms of votes received.
Since ranking three-loss teams at this point in the season (and earlier) is a thing, as indicated by the presence of Florida State and LSU in both polls, wouldn’t it make more sense to include a three-loss team like USC that’s been trending upward?
Or voters could have thrown a bone to either of the one-loss teams that sit outside the rankings. San Diego State (8-1) and Troy (7-1) combined to get 102 votes in the AP poll and 64 in the Amway.
Follow Brian Pedersen on Twitter @realBJP.