Ness Notes: CFB's 'October Morn'

by Larry Ness

OK, so Neil "Sweet Caroline" Diamond sang September Morn but it's MY column and I get to claim "literary license!" The AP poll (established in 1936) released its preseason poll on August 16 (AP began its preseason rankings in 1950) and naturally, Alabama was No. 1. Who could have guessed. Nick Saban has won SIX national championships over the last 12 seasons, including in 2020 when The Tide crushed Ohio State, 54-24. Alabama's No. 1 ranking was its EIGHTH preseason No. 1 all-time, tying Ohio St. However, both schools trail Oklahoma's 10 preseason No. 1 rankings. Just 11 schools in AP history have opened No. 1 and ended No. 1, the most recent being Alabama in 2017. Only TWO schools have gone through a season as the AP's No. 1 team wire-to-wire, Florida State in 1999 (rest in peace Bobby Bowdon) and USC in 2004 (Pete "I know nothing about violations" Carroll). 

More on Alabama. Alabama has opened 4-0 and has now won 18 straight games, the longest active winning streak. With its No. 1 ranking on September 26th, the Crimson Tide have now been ranked in 218 consecutive weekly AP polls, a streak that began back in 2008. However, the Alabama streak is only the second-longest streak in history, as Nebraska was ranked in a hard-to-believe 348 consecutive weekly AP polls from 1981-2002. Yes, the pollsters got it right with Alabama so far (Ole Miss may have something to say about that this Saturday) but things have NOT gone as planned for more than just a few preseason top-25 teams. Actually, that's a HUGE understatement.

The Tide's dominance contrasts with the struggles of other ranked teams, as 25 have lost already this season, the most through four weeks in the AP poll era (since 1936). In fact, 12 teams that began the season in the top-25 are no longer ranked as October opens. Here's a list of preseason top-25 teams that were "nowhere to be found" in the most recent AP top-25 (as of Sep 26).

Read 'em and Weep.

No. 7 Iowa St, No. 10 North Carolina, No. 12 Wisconsin, 14 Miami-Fl, No. 15 USC, No. 16 LSU, No. 17 Indiana, No. 20 Washington, No. 21 Texas, No. 23 ULL, No. 24 Utah and No. 25 Arizona St. Clemson, the only team to appear in each of the last six CFP, has fallen from No. 3 (preseason ranking) to No. 25, barely extending its streak of 107 consecutive weeks as a ranked team. The Tigers own the second-longest active streak (behind Alabama), although the Ohio State Buckeyes have been ranked in 150 consecutive weekly polls, if one doesn't count the polls last season in which Ohio State wasn't eligible. Remember, the Big Ten originally said it was going to cancel its 2020 season (due to COVID) before changing its mind in late October. Let's give Ohio St a Roger Maris asterisk.

However, when Clemson fell from No. 9 to No. 25 after its loss this past Saturday at NC State, the Tigers run of 97 weeks inside the top-10 was snapped. Oklahoma opened as the AP's No. 2 team but while the Sooners are 4-0 (12 straight wins going back to 2020), Oklahoma is 0-3 ATS against its three FBS opponents, Oklahoma eked out a 40-35 win over Tulane, a 23-16 win over Nebraska (on the 50th anniversary of The Game if the Century from 1971) and just this past Saturday, beat West Va 16-13 with a game-winning FG on the game's final play, Really, Oklahoma is ranked 6th???

This weekend's schedule features four matchups between ranked opponents. No. 1 Alabama is home to No. 12 Ole Miss, No. 2 Georgia is home to No. 8 Arkansas, No. 7 Cincinnati is at No. 9 Notre Dame and No. 19 Oklahoma St is home to No. 21 Baylor. The remaining 17, top-25 teams are all in action, playing unranked opponents. I'm assuming if you are reading this, you may just be interested in some ATS numbers. 

There have been 12 matchups between ranked opponents so far, with the higher ranked team not faring well by going 5-7 SU and 4-8 ATS. Will the higher ranked teams improve on their records as the season goes on? I guess we'll have to wait and see. Here's something that may surprise some but NOT regular readers of Ness Notes. Ranked opponents are 59-13 (.819) SU when playing an unranked opponent but are a MONEY-BURNING 26-43-3 (37.7%) ATS. Quoting Matt Damon from Good Will Hunting. "Do you like apples? I got her number. How do you like them apples?" Ranked teams have a L-O-N-G way to get back to the infamous 'Mendoza Line.' 

Check back next Wednesday for my recap of the NFL's first four weeks

Good luck...Larry

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