Ness Notes: Wednesday Nov 3

by Larry Ness

This column will be available Monday through Friday (posted no later than 1:00 ET), EXCLUSIVELY at I like to call it my daily 'random thoughts' on the sports betting world, although I'll pass along that my therapist refers to it as "thoughtful commentary." 

The Mid-American Conference became the first FBS conference to postpone the fall season because of concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic back on Aug 8 but 'reversed field' on Sep 25 by announcing that a season would be played, one which would feature a six-game, conference-only schedule. All 12 MAC schools will open the season Wednesday, Nov 4 and then play their next two games on Tuesdays or Wednesdays before transitioning to Saturdays for the final three weeks. Each team will play five division opponents and one crossover opponent in Week 1. The two most noteworthy games are defending league champion Miami (Ohio) opening at home against Ball State and Central Michigan (defending West Division champs) at home against Ohio U. 

CFB-Part 1: Thursday's Notes will feature my usual CFB preview but this special Wednesday edition takes a look at just how much the pollsters know or DON'T know. Here's a brief history of the AP poll. The news media began running their own polls of sports writers to determine who was, by popular opinion, the best football team in the country at the end of the season. One of the earliest such polls was the AP College Football Poll, first run in 1934. In 1935, AP sports editor Alan J. Gould declared a three-way tie for national champion in football between Minnesota, Princeton, and Southern Methodist. Minnesota fans protested, and a number of Gould's colleagues led by Charles "Cy" Sherman suggested he create a poll of sports editors instead of only using his own list, and the next year the poll was born and it has run continuously since 1936. The AP Poll currently lists the top-25 teams in the nation but from 1936 to 1961 the wire service only ranked 20 teams. Surprisingly, from 1962 to 1967 only 10 teams were recognized. From 1968 to 1988 the AP again resumed its top-20 before expanding to the current 25 teams in 1989.

The AP began conducting a preseason poll starting in 1950 and I'll take a quick peek back to see where those predictions stand as the season moves into the month of November. Clemson was ranked No. 1 (38 first-place votes), Ohio St No. 2 (21), Alabama No. 3 (2), Georgia No. 4 and Oklahoma No. 5. Not bad, as the current AP poll (as of Nov 1) has Clemson No. 1 (33), Alabama No. 2 (29), Ohio St No. 3, Notre Dame No. 4 and Georgia No. 5. That's four of the top-5 still in the top-5 with Notre Dame, which opened No. 10 in the preseason poll, replacing Oklahoma. The Sooners are a modest 4-2 and are currently ranked No. 19 and just re-entered the poll on Oct 25, after missing THREE straight polls after losing back-to back games following a win in their season opener.

Let's look and some big "swings and misses!" Defending champion LSU was ranked No. 6 in the preseason poll and actually received one first-place (that voter should at least be fined, or maybe placed in 'time out.'). The Tigers opened their season at home vs Miss St and lost 44-34. How bad does that loss look now? The Bulldogs haven't won since beating LSU, going 0-4 while totaling just 30 points! Unranked LSU has added a 45-41 loss at Missouri (Missouri came into that game averaging 15.5 PPG) and just last Saturday, lost 48-11 at Auburn, which was also ranked as one of the nation's biggest underachievers prior to that result. Penn St opened No. 7 and after the Big Ten's late start, is 0-2. The Nittany Lions opened with a 36-35 (OT) loss at Indiana, giving the Hoosiers their first win over a top-10 team since 1987! Penn St lost this past Saturday 38-25 at home to Ohio St and dropped out of the poll after being ranked for 64 straight polls (when eligible). Indiana began unranked in the preseason and is currently 2-0 and ranked No. 17, the school's highest ranking since being No. 11 back in 1987.

More misses: North Carolina opened at No. 18 and after a 3-0 Start, was ranked No. 5, the school's highest ranking since 1997. However, the Tar Heels are now unranked, after losing 31-28 at Florida State (Seminoles entered that game 1-3 with their lone win coming over Jacksonville St) and 44-41 at Virginia, which entered that contest on a four-game slide. Is it basketball season yet, ask Tar Heels fans? Minnesota went 11-2 last season and beat Auburn 31-24 in the Outback Bowl as a seven-point dog. It marked Minnesota's first 11-win season since 1904 and the Golden Gophers opened No. 19. However, Michigan beat them 49-24 at home and then the not-so Golden Gophers lost 45-44 at Maryland, which lost 43-3 in its season opener at Northwestern plus was coming off a 3-9 season in 2019 (1-8 in the Big Ten). Iowa opened No. 24 but has opened 0-2 for the first time since 2000 and Tennessee opened No. 25 but is 2-3.

Underappreciated was Cincinnati, which opened at No. 20 but has started 5-0 while outscoring its opponents 198-60. The Bearcats have won 17 straight at home and this past Sunday earned a No. 6 ranking, the school's highest since ending the 2009 season ranked No. 4. Nowhere to be found in the preseason poll were now-No. 9 BYU, now-No. 15 Coastal Carolina, now-No. 16 Marshall and now-No. 25 Liberty. BYU was coming off a 7-6 season and saw its schedule completely undone by the pandemic. NINE of the 12 schools on BYU's original schedule announced that they were NOT going to play in 2020. BYU plays football as an Independent and had to scramble to patch together a 2020 schedule. BYU has opened 7-0 and have just THREE games left, a road game Friday at No. 21 Boise St, then home games against North Alabama (an FCS school) and SD State. If the Cougars win on the "blue turf," they'll likely finish 10-0. They are currently ranked No. 9, the first time the school has been in the top-10 since Nov 7, 2009. As for Coastal Carolina, Marshall and Liberty, that trio is a combined 17-0. Who could have predicted that? Surely not the experts voting in the AP poll, which is EXACTLY the point I was trying to make.

Good luck...Larry

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