Only one ranked team lost in Week 1 — No. 11 Oregon to No. 16 Auburn on a last-minute, game-winning touchdown — but 16 teams are ranked in a different spot than last week.
Here are our reactions to the Week 2 AP Top 25 Poll.
(We hope) AP poll voters are getting smarter
There’s often a pretty simple recipe for AP Top 25 voters as a collective ranking body: if a team wins, it stays in the same spot as the previous week or its ranking improves; if a team loses, it drops in the poll.
However, that can be an overly simplistic, cut-and-dry rule that doesn’t always make a whole lot of sense, even if it’s understandable, since many of the voters are beat writers whose Saturdays are spent in press boxes around the country, primarily focused on the one game played by the team they’re covering, rather than consuming a full slate of games on multiple TVs.
For example, if No. 12 Texas A&M hypothetically loses at No. 1 Clemson on Saturday, say, by a score of 34-24, there’s a decent chance A&M would drop a place or two in the poll even though the Tigers are currently a 17.5-point favorite over the Aggies, according to the Vegas Insider Consensus.
I’d argue such a performance (depending on how the game played out in real time) would validate Texas A&M’s No. 12 ranking, if not suggest that the Aggies deserve to be ranked higher and that they shouldn’t necessarily drop in the AP Top 25 just because they lost.
So it was actually encouraging to see so much movement, albeit minor movement, in the Week 2 AP Top 25 Poll compared to the preseason poll even though only one ranked team (Oregon) has lost this season.
Preseason No. 8 Florida dropped to No. 11 despite beating Miami (FL) in Week 0, supporting my case that the Gators are arguably the most likely preseason top-10 team to finish the season unranked.
So even in a winning effort, voters decided Florida wasn’t worthy of its initial ranking.
You can win and look unimpressive, and perform well in a loss — there’s no reason the AP poll shouldn’t reflect that.
Preseason No. 21 Iowa State dropped to No. 25 in Week 2, a ranking it shares with Nebraska after both schools received exactly 86 votes in the latest poll. The Cyclones needed triple overtime to escape an upset bid from Northern Iowa at home, and against South Alabama, the Huskers didn’t look like the team the media envisioned when it picked them in the offseason to win the Big Ten West.
Notre Dame and Texas each rose one spot to No. 8 and No. 9, respectively, after Florida’s fall.
Auburn is now No. 10, while Oregon dropped to No. 16, as the two schools nearly swapped their positions in the rankings after the Tigers downed the Ducks in Arlington.
After a very un-Wisconsin-like season in 2018, the Badgers opened 2019 with a 49-0 throttling of South Florida on the road and the media responded by moving them up two spots to No. 17.
When I predicted on Sunday what the AP Top 25 would look in Week 2, I only made changes from the preseason poll based on the results of two games — Oregon-Auburn and Iowa State’s narrow victory.
That’s because I underestimated the collective (and hopefully improving) ability of the AP poll voters to judge the quality of wins and losses, rather than making the all-too-easy, binary determination that winning teams should improve or maintain their ranking, while losing teams must drop in the poll.
Utah was picked as the favorite to win the Pac-12 in the preseason media poll, yet it was Oregon who debuted with the highest AP poll ranking among teams in the conference as the Ducks started at No. 11 compared to Washington’s No. 13 ranking and the Utes at No. 14.
After Week 1, the hierarchy of those teams — at least in the eyes of the voters — has changed.
Utah and Washington flip-flopped, with the Utes now at No. 13 and the Huskies at No. 14.
The Ducks are behind both, falling five spots to No. 16.
That’s still very little separation between what the voting media believes to be the Pac-12’s three best teams, which is an encouraging, yet potentially disastrous, development for a power conference that has been left out of the College Football Playoff the last two seasons.
It’s great for the Pac-12 to have three top-15-caliber teams, but if those three programs cannibalize each other and the conference champion ends up with two or more losses, the Pac-12 can say goodbye to the 2019 playoff.
From a conference-wide perspective and a conference’s reputation nationally, it’s arguably more beneficial to have one program that’s operating at a level that’s head and shoulders above the rest of the conference, like Clemson in relation to the rest of the ACC.
The Tigers are No. 1 in the AP poll, backing up their preseason ranking in a 52-14 win over Georgia Tech, and the next highest-ranked ACC team is Syracuse at No. 21. That means the ACC is potentially one Syracuse loss away from having just one team ranked in the AP Top 25 — but that lone school would hold the top spot.
So even if the Pac-12’s second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-place teams are theoretically better than their ACC counterparts, all that ultimately matters regarding the national narrative of which conferences are the strongest is that a conference is represented in the playoff.
And that’s why three Pac-12 teams ranked in succession, along with two other Top 25 teams appearing in the Week 2 poll, could turn out to be a negative thing in December, even if it seems positive in the moment.
Let’s remember it’s only Week 2
Luckily the College Football Playoff selection committee waits until after Week 10 to debut its rankings.
Because if the committee announced its week-by-week rankings starting after Week 1, can you imagine what they would look like?
Either the rankings would reveal an immediate bias towards established programs and name-brand schools, even though the rankings are supposed to be independent of past seasons and accomplishments, or, Georgia State and Boise State might be borderline top-10 teams in Week 2 if the committee honestly ranked teams off of a one-game sample size.
But it’s only Week 2.
So if Auburn’s season goes up in flames, don’t cite the Tigers’ current No. 10 ranking in the first line of their season obituary. Sure, that is their ranking after Monday, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the 10th-best team in the country.
The reality is that it might take weeks, if not months, for us to figure out if the Tigers — and multiple Top 25 schools for that matter — are worthy of the small number that’s alongside their name on TV broadcasts and in newspaper headlines.