College Football’s final AP poll came out. USC jumped up to No. 3, ahead of Pac 12 winner Washington. The Trojans won a thrilling 52-49 shootout. Washington lost, but hung in there in a 24-7 defeat distanced by a pick six. USC lost to the same team on a neutral site by 46 points.
The best argument for ranking USC ahead of the Huskies, with no conference title and more losses, is the Trojans won the head-to-head meeting. That would be swell, except voters basically ignored head-to-head throughout the rest of the Top 25.
Penn State, which played USC almost dead evenly (someone had to win the game), did not get that head-to-head luxury. They finished behind Ohio State with one more loss, despite beating them both head-to-head and for the Big Ten title.
Ohio State fell behind Oklahoma, both ending up 11-2. It’s not clear how Ohio State would have done against Auburn or Oklahoma would have done against Clemson. But, Ohio State blew out Oklahoma by 24 points in Norman.
AP voters also placed Michigan at No. 10, who lost by one to Florida State. The Wolverines, with the same number of losses, were behind Wisconsin who they beat head-to-head and Penn State who they beat head-to-head by 39 points. Penn State had a similar narrow loss in bowl play. Wisconsin won by a slim margin, over a MAC team.
Stanford ranked five places ahead of Colorado. Colorado, of course, beat Stanford head-to-head on the Farm. The reason their records ended up similar was Colorado had to play at Michigan non-conference and Washington, who also crushed Stanford, in the Pac 12 title game.
Voters were so impressed by Stanford’s 25-23 win over an unranked North Carolina they vaulted ahead of No. 14 Florida, who beat a similar Iowa team by 27. The Gators also fell one place behind No. 13 LSU. Florida beat LSU at LSU. Florida had the fourth defeat because they had to play Alabama in the SEC title game.
Head-to-head is not the only factor. But, it should be a factor, and perhaps more of one than one-off bowl results from a month after the season finished and hypothetical football.