AP poll process gets weird as idle Notre Dame climbs to No. 5

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame’s slight rise in the Associated Press college football poll this week after sitting out the weekend with COVID-19-related issues, is noteworthy.

What occurred around the now-No. 5 Irish (2-0, 1-0 ACC) in the new Top 25, released Sunday, is every bit as relevant and far more intriguing — flabbergastingly so. The finished product and the process behind it sort of look like beer was involved in the decision-making.

Actually, as pragmatic as that seemed at the moment Saturday night/Sunday morning, as the final seconds ticked off the clock in BYU’s 48-7 thumping of Troy, I reached for the coffee instead as I was filling out my AP ballot after the weekend’s last game was complete.

For the record Notre Dame moved up two spots in the Associated Press poll from last week, making an identical climb to No. 5 in the USA Today/coaches poll.

The twist in the AP poll was that for the first time since the preseason poll in August, the 62 voters were allowed to include the 51 schools that recently recommitted to some form of fall football.

So that made all but three of the 130 FBS schools eligible — independents UConn and New Mexico State, and Conference USA’s Old Dominion.


None of the recommitted schools will play a game before Oct. 24. Some won’t open their seasons until Nov. 7. Even with Notre Dame having to reshuffle Saturday’s postponed game at Wake Forest to Dec. 12, the Irish likely will be playing game No. 7 of their season on that seventh day of November.

Against No. 1 Clemson, no less.

Because of the staggered starts, the AP powers-that-be left it up to the voters whether to include teams that weren’t among the 76 originally committed to fall football. There wasn’t unanimity among the nationwide voting panel in how to deal with those teams.

Enough voters did include the late-comers that four Big Ten teams and one Pac-12 team, No. 14 Oregon, re-entered the Top 25.

Ohio State, with four first-place votes, is No. 6. The other Big Ten teams garnering enough support to be ranked are No. 10 Penn State, No. 19 Wisconsin and No. 23 Michigan.

Had COVID-19 concerns not coaxed reconstructed schedules across college football, Notre Dame would have been on track to play Wisconsin Saturday at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.

ND’s revised schedule reads “bye” instead, with the hope to resume play Oct. 10 at home against Florida State (0-2, 0-2) in prime time.

The Seminoles are a mess on the field, as evidenced time and again in the 52-10 dismantling at Miami Saturday night.

Among the stat categories in which FSU currently ranks in the bottom 10 nationally are scoring offense, turnovers lost, sacks by and sacks allowed, team passing efficiency, passing yards per completion and third-down defense.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, is trying to clean up its off-the-field mess. Last Monday, the school reported 13 players in isolation and another 10 in quarantine due to COVID-19, two days after an Irish 52-0 conquest of South Florida.

The football program has been reporting its COVID-19 numbers for public consumption on a weekly basis since the season started. Monday would be a logical day for the next update. On Sunday, the university’s dashboard reported one new case among students and employees and 40 active cases campuswide.

Assuming ND moves past its outbreak, two future Irish opponents beyond No. 1 Clemson made this week’s AP Top 25 — No. 12 North Carolina (1-0, 1-0) and No. 24 Pitt (3-0, 2-0).

As far as my own voting methodology, besides being caffeinated, I elected to rank recommitted schools that I felt were truly top 25 teams. And that admittedly includes a lot of educated guessing. In the case of Oregon, I had the Ducks much lower in this poll than in the preseason because of significant players who had opted out.

My thinking in including the teams that won’t play for a while is that the players and coaches didn’t have control over their start date. And we’ve been ranking SEC teams all along even though they didn’t open up their seasons until Saturday.

I chose not to include an Oklahoma team that was ranked No. 3 last week, but blew a three-touchdown, third-quarter lead and lost to Kansas State at home on Saturday, 38-35. That K-State team had dropped its only other game played so far to an Arkansas State team that played that game severely shorthanded due to COVID-19 absences.

The extremely staggered start dates, the wide variance in regular-season games scheduled (six to 11) and the dearth of non-conference games — let alone telling ones — make the process of determining the top 25 even more challenging.

But you know what, after reading so many stories this summer about how it would be impossible to even get to a starting line for a college football season, it’s a wonderful problem to have.

Notre Dame can celebrate a rise in the polls Sunday, despite sitting out Saturday’s college football action with COVID-19 concerns.

1. Clemson

2. Alabama

3. Ohio State

4. Auburn

5. Notre Dame

6. Miami (Fla.)

7. Georgia

8. Florida

9. North Carolina

10. Texas

11. Cincinnati

12. Penn State

13. Mississippi State

14. Tennessee

15. UCF

16. Memphis

17. BYU

18. Wisconsin

19. Virginia Tech

20. Oregon

21. Michigan

22. Oklahoma State

23. Texas A&M

24. LSU

25. Pittsburgh