Have you ever compared Top 25 voters with junior high school girls?
Though the two are about as similar as the weather in Florida versus that in Minnesota, they do share one common bond: They both value popularity at the polls.
Yes, where one group tends to vote the popular kids into student council roles and head cheerleader positions, the other ranks big-name programs ahead of smaller schools which are actually playing at a higher level.
While in either case it doesn’t happen all the time, it happens frequently enough to warrant at least a pause for reflection.
To illustrate, take a look at this week’s AP rankings, where Ohio State received enough points—204 to be precise—to be declared the No. 23 team in the nation. Compare this to East Carolina, not ranked in the Top 25, but earning 44 votes, or enough to make it technically the No. 31 team in the nation.
Is this really a big deal?
Well, let’s compare the two teams straight up: Ohio State is 2-1—it survived Navy 34-17 in the opener, fell to unranked Virginia Tech 35-21 in Week 2 and then destroyed Kent State 66-0 in Week 3.
East Carolina is also 2-1: It walloped FCS North Carolina Central 52-7 in the opener, narrowly lost to No. 21 South Carolina 33-23 in Week 2 and upset No. 17 Virginia Tech in Week 3.
So, the Buckeyes beat two unranked teams—one an independent and one from the MAC—and lost at home to an unranked team from the ACC. Overall, the wins came against two teams that have combined for a 2-4 start in 2014 and the loss to a 2-1 team that, after losing in Week 3, is again unranked.
The Pirates, on the other hand, beat an FCS squad and an ACC team on the road and lost to a contender in the SEC East (again on the road), which went on to knock off the No. 6 team in the nation last Saturday. Overall, they’ve won against teams that are 3-3 and lost to a team that is 2-1 and ranked No. 14 in the latest AP poll.
The question isn’t so much, “Should East Carolina be ranked?” but instead, “Should Ohio State be ranked?”
In other words, just because a team was supposed to be a legitimate contender for the first-ever College Football Playoff AND they’ve won all those championships before, should they be ranked when they’ve not performed as well as other squads against stiffer opposition?
To compare, take a look at the other 10 teams which are 2-1 and received at least one vote in this week’s AP Top 25.
South Carolina (2-1): The Gamecocks got destroyed 52-28 by No. 21 Texas A&M in the opener, beat unranked East Carolina 33-23 in Week 2 and edged No. 6 Georgia 38-35 last Saturday. They received 718 points in this week’s AP and are ranked at No. 14.
Stanford (2-1): Stanford dominated FCS UC-Davis 45-0 in its opener, fell 13-10 to No. 14 USC in Week 2 and then blanked Army 35-0 last Saturday. The Cardinal had 560 points in this week’s AP and are ranked at No. 16.
USC (2-1): The Trojans handled Fresno State 52-13 in the opener, edged No. 13 Stanford 13-10 in Week 2 and then were run over by Boston College 37-31 this past Saturday. USC received 459 points in the most recent AP, coming in at No. 17.
Oklahoma State (2-1): The Cowboys showed up big in their opener against No. 1 Florida State, losing 37-31 to the defending national champs. They went on to beat FCS Missouri State 40-23 in Week 2 and downed UTSA 43-13 on Saturday. Oklahoma State received 126 points in the AP this week, earning it the No. 25 spot in the rankings.
Virginia Tech (2-1): The Hokies’ topsy-turvy, early-season ride started with a 34-9 win over FCS William & Mary and soared with the 35-21 upset win over No. 8 Ohio State. Things fell apart Saturday with a 28-21 loss to East Carolina. Virginia Tech received 54 votes in the latest AP, dropping it to what’s technically the No. 29 slot.
Boston College (2-1): BC opened 2014 with a 30-7 win over UMass and then fell 30-20 in Week 2 to Pitt. This setup the Week 3 shocker, a 37-31 upset triumph over No. 9 USC. The Eagles received a mere 22 votes in the AP poll this week, earning it a No. 36 rank.
West Virginia (2-1): Another team that showed up big in an overmatched opener, West Virginia played hard against No. 2 Alabama in Week 1, losing 33-23. The Mountaineers blanked FCS Towson 54-0 in Week 2 and edged Maryland 40-37 last Saturday. West Virginia was rewarded with 14 AP votes this week, making them technically the No. 37 team in America.
Virginia (2-1): The team that ended No. 21’s Louisville’s brief run in the Top 25 last Saturday in a 23-21 decision, is also the team that nearly knocked off No. 7 UCLA in the opener, falling 28-20. Virginia also destroyed FCS Richmond in Week 2, 45-13. The Cavaliers garnered six votes in the most recent AP, securing the No. 40 slot.
Arkansas (2-1): Arkansas’ only sin this season came via a 45-21 loss to No. 6 Auburn in the opener. Other than that misstep, the Razorbacks annihilated FCS Nicholls State 73-7 in Week 2 and then embarrassed Texas Tech 49-28 in Lubbock last Saturday. All this adds up to three AP votes, tying Arkansas with Arizona and FCS North Dakota State at No. 41.
Louisville (2-1): Louisville’s 31-13 opening win over Miami (Fla.) earned it a No. 25 AP ranking, a mark that improved to No. 21 after the Cardinals beat FCS Murray State 66-21 in Week 2. All was totally forgotten after Week 3’s 23-21 loss to Virginia, dropping Louisville to two votes and technically the No. 44 slot.
It’s difficult to justify how the Ohio State’s, USC’s and Stanford’s of college football are ranked above the East Carolina’s, Boston College’s and Virginia’s.
All share the same record, but not the same caliber of wins and losses.