Buckeyes Finish No. 6 in AP Poll – A Deep Dive

The confetti cannons fired off about 12 hours ago as Georgia was crowned the latest national champion of college football. A season of highs and lows is now complete, and fans are already clamoring for the start of spring practice and a glimpse into what their 2022 teams will look like.

One of the final acts of the season is for the AP to release its final poll of the season, taking all the bowl results into account and rankings teams from 1-25 with the CFP Champion installed at top and then movement happening below.

It should come as little surprise that the Buckeyes secured another top-10 season on the heels of beating Utah in the Rose Bowl on January 1st, 48-45. The Buckeyes moved up one spot from No. 7 to No. 6. The argument could have been made that Ohio State could have jumped Baylor as well, winners of the Sugar Bowl but it is all academic at this point.
But it got us to thinking about Ohio State in the AP Poll, at least over the past 21 seasons. Ohio State has now had eight consecutive finishes of 6 or better in the poll, only broken by a No. 12 finish in the 2013 season.

The Buckeyes have also been ranked in the final AP poll every year since the 2011 season, a 6-7 season that was a year of transition for the Buckeyes with Jim Tressel departing the team, Urban Meyer a year away and Luke Fickell put in a difficult situation as a non-interim, interim head coach.

Year-in and year-out there is always a group of teams that are considered “front runners” to win it all come the end of the year. Some teams come-and-go while others remain perennial favorites. Who was talking about Clemson pre-2009? The current national champion Bulldogs of Georgia have five divisional third place finishes since 2000 along with multiple four and five loss seasons over that run.

Other teams always seem to be there, correctly or incorrectly.

As you will see, Ohio State has been a model of consistency through the 20-plus years in question. The problem for the Buckeyes has not been getting to the championship game, rather winning it. National Championship years of 2002 and 2014 are memories burned deeply into the minds of Ohio State fans but there will always be the what-ifs of 2006 and 2007 and while 2020 was the oddest of years, the Buckeyes made it to the title before the Crimson Tide made quick work of the Bucks.

Alabama has had its success, six titles in those 22 seasons on the table but not everything has been perfect for the Crimson Tide.

Bama has its Mike Shula-era that can’t be explained away.

And finally, there are the teams that we all feel are much more successful than the numbers indicate.

Yes, Notre Dame has had a dozen seasons where it has finished ranked in the final top-25 poll of the AP. But that also means it has 10 years where it finished unranked. And we all know that Notre Dame is always preseason ranked, regardless of roster, coach or common sense.

Then there is Michigan, you did not escape the crosshairs. More on you in a moment.

If you are looking for who the most successful team has been over these past 22 seasons in terms of hardware, you can just stop reading now, we know that Bama has the six titles. But who has been most consistent? There is not a trophy for this designation, ranking lower than the Perfect Attendance Award or Miss Congeniality but it does show which programs bring it every year, or at least most years. Let’s face it, none of the teams in question have been ranked in all 22 final AP polls, but a few are close.

For the purpose of this piece, we are focusing on eight schools and eight schools only for the sake of making this piece somewhat manageable.

The teams that were studied were Ohio State, Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma, Michigan, Oregon and Notre Dame.

Times Ranked

This was very simple, look at the last 22 final AP polls, mark down who made the top-25 and who did not. The Buckeyes came in at a very impressive 19/22 in this category, only missing out in 2011, 2001 and 2000. Just to show you how easy it would be to manipulate factual numbers, we could have made this a view of the past 20 seasons versus since 2000 and 22 seasons and with the change of parameters, two of Ohio State’s three seasons outside of the final top-25 vanish.

But you know as well as I know that 2001 and 2000 happened and while neither of those seasons led to top-25 success in the short term, big things were brewing in the very near future.

Ohio State does own the top spot here though, that honor goes to Oklahoma with the Sooners making 20 of the last 22 final AP polls as a member of the top-25.

Inclusion is great but as we will explain in a minute, not all poll rankings are the same.

TeamTimes RankedPct.
Ohio State1986.4
Notre Dame1254.5

Times in the top-10

Congratulations, you are ranked, but were you No. 2 or No. 22? With more than 100 FBS teams in 2000 and closer to 130 now, finishing No. 25 doesn’t exactly mean you lit up your competition. The 2021 poll has several four-loss teams within its rankings including Utah, Arkansas, Iowa and Oregon.

Being in the top-10 generally means that you had anywhere from zero to two losses, played in a major bowl game (CFP, New Year’s Six, BCS, what have you) and more often than not would beat a team outside the top-10 on a consistent basis.

The Buckeyes find themselves at the top of this list with 17 finishes in the top-10, meaning that only two of Ohio State’s top-25 finishes resulted in years outside, the No. 12 finish in 2013 and a No. 20 finish in 2004.

Ohio State edges out Oklahoma as the Sooners had just 16 finishes in the top-10. But it is still remarkable that Ohio State finished with a top-10 (by the AP) season in 77.3-percent of all years from 2000-current and the Sooners are not far off with a 72.7-percent rate.

The Crimson Tide of Alabama have 15 top-10 finishes but that comes on 16 top-25 finishes in the AP poll, meaning that Alabama is a top-10 team 93.8-percent of the time that it fields a functional team. But even the mighty Nick Saban had one team that did not make the top-25, granted it was his first team. Since then, the Tide have been a consistent performer and hoister of hardware.

TeamTimes In Top-10Pct.
Ohio State1777.3
Notre Dame522.7

Times in the Top-5

Now we cut the margin in half, going from top-10 to top-five. In the current environment, that generally means you made the College Football Playoff, and if you did not, you were that one team right on the cusp who won your bowl game for inclusion in that top-five.

But the CFP has only been with us since 2014, so the metrics were different for the vast majority of these years but the notoriety of making top-five is no different, it is the national champion and four other teams.

That’s it.

If the Buckeyes make the top-10 they generally are making the top-five with 14 of their 17 top-10 finishes resulting in top-five finishes. As we said earlier, Ohio State just missed out on getting into the top-five this year and the difference between Ohio State and Baylor was just 12 points.

RELATED: See How Voters Ranked Ohio State

Alabama’s 10 top-10 finishes should come as little surprise with six No. 1 finishes. If anything, it is more of a shock that Alabama does not have more top-10 finishes based on how strong that program has been for so many years.

Oklahoma is right there as well with nine, but the Sooners have not finished in the top-five since the 2018 season despite being on a run of seven straight seasons of top-10 finishes.

TeamTimes in Top-5Pct.
Ohio State1463.6
Notre Dame313.6
Michigan 14.5

National Championships

This one is simple enough and we are not going to over-explain it. One team is left standing, that team has been Alabama, a lot.

TeamNational Championships (Years)
Alabama6 (2020, 2017, 2015, 2012, 2011, 2009)
Ohio State2 (2014, 2002)
Clemson2 (2018, 2016)
Georgia1 (2021)
Oklahoma1 (2000)
Notre Dame0

Who doesn’t make the cut?

Well, who do we focus on here? Ohio State’s biggest rival who did win the head-to-head in 2021 or the team that Ohio State fans dislike almost as much and now has a former Ohio State player at the helm?

The Wolverines and Fighting Irish are very close in terms of number of times ranked in the final poll with Michigan taking the edge at 14 to 12 over Notre Dame. Both teams have done about the same in terms of the top-10 with each having five over the course of the 22 years.

Notre Dame has a slight edge in terms of “special” seasons with three visits to the top-five while Michigan has just the one and that one happened in 2021.

Here is the difference, at least as we see it. Over the course of those 22 seasons, Michigan always seemed to be a coach away for many of those years. Yes, Lloyd Carr did some great things in Ann Arbor (Mich.), and he was not finished with his career with Rose Bowl trips in 2003 and 2004. But then there were the Rich Rod and Brady Hoke years and even the start of the Jim Harbaugh career swirled with questions about him being the right guy or not.

Notre Dame felt as if it had more stability during those seasons. The 2000s started with the end of Bob Davie but after his departure it was Ty Willingham, Charlie Weis and Brian Kelly. People will rail against Willingham and Weis with the gift of hindsight but at the time each was lauded as being the right guy at the right time.

If you look at recent history, Notre Dame is on a five-game streak of finishing in the top-25 of the AP while Michigan is on an impressive one-game streak. And while the numbers lean slightly towards Notre Dame having a better run over those 22 years, it just feels as if the Irish have done less with more, if that makes sense.