AP Voters Explain Penn State Rankings in Final Poll

By Matt de Bear on January 11, 2017 at 8:00 am
Oct 22, 2016; University Park, PA, USA; A general view of Beaver Stadium during the third quarter between the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Ohio State Buckeyes. Penn State defeated Ohio State 24-21. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports


The 2016 season is in the books. The Clemson Tigers won an all-time great national title game over Alabama, and we are now ready to enter the long, cold, dark offseason. Well, almost ready. 

The Nittany Lions wrapped up the season at a solid No. 7 in the final AP Poll. Penn State ended up one spot behind Ohio State, despite a 24-21 victory over the Buckeyes in October, and a much better bowl game performance, albeit in defeat to USC in the Rose Bowl.

Four voters had the Nittany Lions ranked at No. 11 on their final ballots, and seven other writers slotted Penn State at No. 4 in the nation. Every other ballot had Penn State somewhere in between.

Roar Lions Roar reached out to a number of AP voters to get get their explanation for where they ultimately placed the Nittany Lions. As of publishing, four voters had responded to our request. As we hear back from more, we will update this post.

Update (11:15 a.m.) - Added Ross Dellenger from The Advocate

Update (12:00 p.m.) - Added Kirk Bohls from The Austin American-Statesman

Jimmy Burch, Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Penn State No. 9)

For me, post-season poll placement always comes down to the overall body of work and whether a team won its bowl game. That’s particularly true when you’re comparing teams with three or more losses, which often clouds the significance of head-to-head results when those teams are from the same league. Wisconsin, a team with three losses, won the Cotton Bowl. Penn State, another team with three losses, lost to USC in a classic Rose Bowl. Yet I still placed the Nittany Lions one spot ahead of a third B1G team with three losses (Michigan) that beat Penn State by 39 points during the regular season. I know you didn’t ask about that game. But it’s part of the ranking process, too. And that result is part of Penn State’s overall resume, along with the team’s Big Ten title. Just like beating LSU is part of Wisconsin’s resume. All four of the top teams from B1G, including Ohio State, are worthy of Top 10 spots and I’m glad all four got them. Not much difference, quite honestly, between the four. But you've got to make choices when you do a poll

This was a tougher year than most. Very unusual for five three-loss teams to finish as high as No. 3 (USC), No. 7 (PSU), No. 8 (Florida State), No. 9 (Wisconsin) and No. 10 (Michigan) in the final poll. That's five in the Top 10 and all of them, in my opinion, deserved to be placed ahead of another three-loss team from Oklahoma State that finished 11th and won its bowl game impressively over a Colorado team that played for the Pac-12 title.

Nathan Deen, Savannah Morning News (Penn State No. 11)

I felt at the time that ranking Wisconsin, Michigan, and Penn State was a near impossible task. Michigan beat both teams but didn’t win its bowl game. Wisconsin won its bowl game. Penn State won the Big Ten. If Penn State had won the Rose Bowl, it would have been a no-brainer. I was also impressed with Oklahoma State and thought it deserved a spot in the top-10, and I couldn’t rank Florida State behind Michigan when they have identical records and FSU won head-to-head. I also could not rank Michigan behind Penn State because its win over the Nittany Lions was so decisive.

So as a result, every team ranked ahead of the Lions had no more than three losses and either won a major bowl game or was a playoff team, except for Michigan, which beat them 49-10. So I believe my poll is valid.

Ed Johnson, Albuquerque Journal (Penn State No. 4)

I confess I had doubts about the Nittany Lions as they approached Pasadena. I thought Southern Cal had risen to be the power I had suspected it would be earlier in the season, particularly with its convincing win over Washington.
But as I watched Penn State (for the first time in a game from start to finish) I began to realize I had underestimated its talent. The Lions were every bit as good as the Trojans. They beat Ohio State. They beat Wisconsin. They are Big Ten champs. Be happy, Happy Valley.

Gary Horowitz, Statesman Journal (Penn State No. 4)

The top three spots I thought were pretty clear with Clemson, Alabama and USC, which dominated Pac-12 champion Washington on the road, won a great Rose Bowl, and finished the season on a nine-game winning streak.

I went with Penn State at No. 4 for several reasons. By late in the season, Penn State was a different team than the injury-riddled unit that got blown out at Michigan early in the campaign. Nine consecutive wins entering the Rose Bowl, which included comeback wins over Ohio State and Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game was impressive. So was the Nittany Lions comeback against USC, albeit it in defeat, in one of the most entertaining Rose Bowls I've ever seen, and my college football memories take me back to the Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler era at Ohio State and Michigan.

Ohio State moved down three spots in my final poll to No. 5 because of its poor offensive showing in the Fiesta Bowl against Clemson. I kept the Buckeyes ahead of Washington (weak non-conference schedule) and Oklahoma (the Buckeyes beat Oklahoma by three touchdowns on the road).

An offense led by McSorley, Barkley and Godwin was among the most dynamic in the nation. 

Ross Dellenger, The Advocate-Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Lafayette (Penn State No. 10)

Honestly, this was probably a bit of an oversight by me, but I will say that Wisconsin's losses are more "impressive" than Penn State's two regular season losses. 

Rankings aren't easy, and they're so subjective

Kirk Bohls, The Austin American-Statesman (Penn State No. 4)

I ranked Penn State fourth because the Nittany Lions deserved to be that high. Its close, close, heart-breaking loss to USC — a team I ranked third incidentally— was a classic and revealed just what a quality team James Franklin had because the Rose Bowl matched the two hottest teams in college football not named Alabama. I also think Penn State deserved to be in the CFP’s Final Four. I firmly believe if the situations had been reversed and Ohio State had won its head-to-head matchup with Penn State AND won the Big Ten, the Buckeyes and not the Nittany Lions still would have been picked for the CFP semifinals. Hats off to a spectacular year, Penn State. 

A big thank you to  Jimmy, Nathan, Ed, Gary, Ross, and Kirk for taking the time to answer the questions that were on every Nittany Lion fan's mind!

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