Do Two-Loss College Football Teams Deserve to be Ranked in the AP Top 25?

By Amy Daughters -

Before this week’s AP poll, only one two-loss team had made it into the rankings this season, Stanford, who at 3-2 earned enough votes last week to be No. 25.

This week, Stanford is joined in the AP by fellow two-loss teams Texas A&M, USC and Clemson. Take a look at how each got to the midway point of the season:

No. 24 Clemson (4-2)
Wins: FCS South Carolina State, North Carolina, NC State, Louisville
Losses: No. 12 Georgia, No. 1 Florida State

W/L teams beaten: 15-12
W/L teams lost to: 11-1

No. 23 Stanford (4-2)
Wins: FCS UC Davis, Army, Washington, Washington State
Losses: No. 14 USC, No. 9 Notre Dame

W/L teams beaten: 10-15
W/L teams lost to: 10-2

No. 22 USC (4-2)
Wins: Fresno State, No. 13 Stanford, Oregon State, No. 10 Arizona
Losses: Boston College, Arizona State

W/L teams beaten: 16-8
W/L teams lost to: 8-3

No. 21 Texas A&M (5-2)
Wins: No. 9 South Carolina, FCS Lamar, Rice, SMU
Losses: No. 12 Mississippi State, No. 3 Ole Miss

W/L teams beaten: 10-14
W/L teams lost to: 12-0

What sets Stanford and Texas A&M apart is that their collective wins have come against teams that haven’t combined for a winning record in 2014.

In fact, each has only a single victory over a team with a winning record: Stanford bested 5-1 Washington and Texas A&M beat 4-3 FCS Lamar.

So, while all of these programs can claim “quality” losses, half can’t declare more than one win against a team that is over the .500 mark.

To compare, take a look at the 10 teams with fewer than two losses that aren’t in the rankings:

Duke (5-1) (45 points in current AP, technically No. 28)
Wins: FCS Elon, Troy, Kansas, Tulane, No. 22 Georgia Tech
Loss: Miami (Fla.)

W/L teams beaten: 11-19
W/L team lost to: 4-3

Minnesota (5-1) (36 points in current AP, technically No. 29)
Wins: FCS Eastern Illinois, Middle Tennessee, San Jose State, Michigan, Northwestern
Loss: TCU

W/L teams beaten: 13-18
W/L team lost to: 4-1

Kentucky (5-1)(36 points in current AP, technically No. 30)
Wins: FCS UT Martin, Ohio, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, ULM
Loss: Florida

W/L teams beaten: 13-20
W/L team lost to: 3-2

Washington (5-1)(22 points in current AP, technically No. 32)
Wins: Hawaii, FCS Eastern Washington, Illinois, Georgia State, Cal
Loss: No. 16 Stanford

W/L teams beaten: 16-16
W/L team lost to: 4-2

Georgia Tech (5-1)(11 points in current AP, technically No. 33)
Wins: FCS Wofford, Tulane, Georgia Southern, Virginia Tech, Miami (Fla.)
Loss: Duke

W/L teams beaten: 18-14
W/L team lost to: 5-1

Rutgers (5-1)(Seven points in current AP, technically No. 36)
Wins: Washington State, FCS Howard, Navy, Tulane, Michigan
Loss: Penn State

W/L teams beaten: 11-23
W/L team lost to: 4-2

Iowa (5-1) (Six points in current AP, technically No. 37)
Wins: FCS Northern Iowa, Ball State, Pitt, Purdue, Indiana
Loss: Iowa State

W/L teams beaten: 13-18
W/L team lost to: 2-4

Colorado State (5-1)(Three points in current AP, technically No. 39)
Wins: Colorado, FCS UC Davis, Boston College, Tulsa, Nevada
Loss: Boise State

W/L teams beaten: 11-19
W/L teams lost to: 4-2

Temple (4-1) (Zero points in current AP)
Wins: Vanderbilt, FCS Delaware State, UConn, Tulsa
Loss: Navy

W/L teams beaten: 6-20
W/L teams lost to: 3-4

Oregon State (4-1) (Zero points in current AP)
Wins: FCS Portland State, Hawaii, San Diego State, Colorado
Loss: No. 18 USC

W/L teams beaten: 9-15
W/L teams lost to: 4-2

The two unranked, one-loss programs with the best argument for replacing Texas A&M and Stanford in the polls are Georgia Tech and Washington.

The Yellow Jackets played winning opponents each of the last three weeks: Virginia Tech (5-2), Miami, Fla. (4-2) and Duke (5-1). They were ranked No. 22 in last week’s poll—when they were 5-0—but dropped out this week after losing 31-25 to Duke, a program that voters refuse to take seriously no matter how many games it wins.

Washington’s case is less compelling, with victories over FCS Eastern Washington (6-1) and Cal (4-2). We’ll find out soon if the Huskies really are for real, and they’ll be rewarded handsomely if they can knock off No. 9 Oregon this Saturday.

The next tier consists of a trio of teams who have each beaten one winning team this season: Duke knocked off 5-1 Georgia Tech last Saturday, Minnesota beat 4-3 Middle Tennessee in Week 2 and Colorado State bested 4-2 Boston College in Week 5.

A rung below that are Kentucky, Rutgers, Iowa, Temple and Oregon State, all who have only played one winning team this season and all who lost that game.

What’s interesting about Kentucky is that—like Texas A&M—it’s best win this season came over South Carolina. The only difference is timing, the Aggies played the Gamecocks the first game of the season, when they were ranked No. 9, while the Wildcats beat them in Week 6, when they were officially out of the rankings.

Other than that, the balance of the victories for both teams are underwhelming: A&M beat FCS Lamar, Rice, SMU and Arkansas, while Kentucky bested FCS UT Martin, Ohio and Vandy.

Both also share “quality” losses — the Aggies to top-ranked Ole Miss and Mississippi State and Kentucky to Florida in Gainesville, where the Cats haven’t won since 1979.

The comparison illustrates the polls’ over-reliance on the preseason Top 25, a mentality that rewards the early favorites and costs those who must scrap their way into the rankings.

That’s especially true for programs like Kentucky, Minnesota and Duke, all counted as perennial strugglers in power conferences.

Do you think the AP is getting it right?

Though a valid argument could be made either way, 6-0 Marshall climbing into the rankings this week at No. 25—the Herd’s first appearance in the polls since 2002— reminds us that eventually every program will be rewarded if they can accumulate enough wins.

  1. james
    October 15, 2014 at 11:21 am

    yes just look at the final ranking from last year lost of teams had 2 or more loses

    • Kevin Kelley
      October 15, 2014 at 12:01 pm

      Article is about right now, not the end of the season. Of course there are going to be 2-3 loss teams ranked by then.

    • Matthew
      October 15, 2014 at 12:16 pm

      @james The final rankings from last year included twice as many games played. The question being asked is *at this point*. A comparable question at end-of season would be “Do Four-Loss College Football Teams Deserve to be Ranked in the AP Top 25”. Do you understand now?

  2. Patrick Ryan
    October 15, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    I know you guys need stuff to talk about but I hope this is not a real question. Of course some of those teams are deserving of being ranked in the top 25. Some of the two loss teams should possibly be ranked even higher. And some should have been in top 25 last week. As far as I am concerned your teams overall record is not the most important aspect of the ranking at this point in the season. Especially if you are going to take preseason rankings into affect. Clemson has lost to two top ten teams. And barely lost both of those games. They could have easily won both of those games; they definitely did not play up to their already proven ability. For those of you who didn’t watch the Georgia game and are only looking at the final score, it was a 3 point game with ten mins left in the 4th qtr. And by the way they did have all four of their running backs. I don’t believe just because you have one loss to a “no body” doesn’t mean they should be ranked. People need to take their time and actually watch the games. You can see it all if you actually watch the games. Go tigers baby. And for those of you who don’t know who Deshaun Watson is, you have a lot of catching up to do.

  3. G of F
    October 15, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    I have become dissillusioned by the rankings because they are based on what we think a team will do, in the context of what they have done. As apposed to simply ranking them for what they have done. For example based simply on what had been done it is difficult to argue that Baylor should have been ranked any higher than Marshell until last week.

  4. Hokie Mark
    October 15, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    Great analysis. I’ve never bought the “good loss” argument. Tell me you’ve beaten and we can talk. I agree that Ga Tech and Washington are more deserving of the Top 25 than Texas AM and Stanford. I have a feeling we won’t have to worry about Texas AM much longer…

    • CardinalRed
      October 15, 2014 at 4:39 pm

      Mark, Stanford beat Washington head to head with Washington’s offense not even able to sniff the endzone all game. Why would they be more deserving of top 25 than Stanford when the difference between their respective records = the difference between the # of top 25 teams played?

      Records need to be taken into account along with strength of schedule and the eye test.

  5. Ricky W
    October 15, 2014 at 6:56 pm

    Hey let’s have some fun with the new playoff format. Who do you project will be in the CFB playoff and “New Year’s Six” Bowls.

    Alabama could win out and still not end up playing in the SEC championship game. Would the Tide then not likely be selected for the 4-team playoffs?

    Would the committee select one-loss P12, B1G and B12 champs (Oregon, Mich St, Oklahoma) over a one-loss Alabama?

    Here’s my current projected final rankings after the conference championship games:

    1 Florida St* (0) – Sugar#
    2 Georgia* (1) – Rose#
    3 Alabama (1) – Chick
    4 Oregon* (1) – Rose#
    5 Michigan St* (1) – Cotton
    6 Oklahoma (1) – Sugar#
    7 Baylor (1) – Fiesta
    8 Missi% (2) – Cotton
    9 TCU (1) – Chick
    10 Miss St (2) – Orange
    11 Arizona (2) – {Alamo}
    12 Ohio St (2) – {Citrus}
    13 ECU* (1) – Fiesta

    17 Clemson (4) – Orange

    # CFB Playoff
    * wins conference championship
    % loses conference championship

    Explanation:

    ^ Florida St wins out and wins ACC champ (GT)
    ^ Georgia wins out and wins ACC champ (Missi)
    ^ Oregon wins out and wins P12 champ (USC)
    ^ Mich St wins out and wins B1G champ (Wisc)

    ^ Alabama wins out
    ^ Missi loses to Auburn & loses in SEC champ (Geo)
    ^ Missi St loses to Alabama and Missi
    ^ Auburn loses to Georgia and Alabama

    ^ ND loses to Florida St, USC and Arizona St
    ^ GT loses to Georgia and loses in ACC champ (Fla St)

    ^ Baylor loses to Oklahoma
    ^ Okla St loses to TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma

    ^ Ohio St loses to Michigan St
    ^ Wisconsin wins out and loses in B1G champ (Mich St)
    ^ Nebraska loses to Wisconsin

    ^ USC wins out and loses in P12 champ (Oregon)
    ^ Arizona loses to UCLA
    ^ Arizona St loses to Arizona

  6. Schoup
    October 15, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    It’s a case by case basis. Ie..If you watched Stanford both of their losses were via absolute blown calls. Stanford had a TD called back on absolute bogus call in USC game. ND game a pass that was clearly incomplete was called complete that would have been 4th down on a drive that ND would have punted on as it was deep in their own end in the late part of 3rd quarter. Even the paid to be bias for ND commentators said was a bad call, That bogus call led to a FG. Without that bogus call at worst Stanford was in OT even giving up the late TD which was aided by questionable call.

  7. Ricky W
    October 15, 2014 at 7:11 pm

    Edit:
    17 Clemson (3) – Orange

    Add:
    ^ Clemson loses to GT

  8. Ricky W
    October 15, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    @Schoup

    I hear ya. But at the same time blown calls happen throughout games. When they occur near the end of a competitive game fans tend to embellish the significance of those blown calls versus blown calls made earlier in the game.

    Coming up for Stanford are some tough road games at Arizona St, Oregon, and UCLA. Right now I give the home team the advantage.

  9. Bill
    October 15, 2014 at 10:51 pm

    Yes, however with this caveat. Lose the PRESEASON top 25!!! Start any polls AFTER week one or two.

  10. SniffMeTaint
    October 16, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    Other than 2007, no 2 loss team from a Power Conference should be in the 4 team playoff. I also think that no team from a Power Conference will go undefeated.

  11. Damo
    October 20, 2014 at 8:26 am

    Clemson would be ranked higher if Deshaun Watson didn’t break his finger. Wish he would’ve been starting against FSU.

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