Sidelines with John Clay

Why I voted Alabama No. 4 in the AP college football poll

Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts (2) hands off to running back Damien Harris (34) during the Crimson Tide’s win over Mississippi State on Nov. 11, 2017 in Starkville, Miss. Alabama will play Clemson in the Sugar Bowl as part of the College Football Playoff.
Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts (2) hands off to running back Damien Harris (34) during the Crimson Tide’s win over Mississippi State on Nov. 11, 2017 in Starkville, Miss. Alabama will play Clemson in the Sugar Bowl as part of the College Football Playoff. TNS

I am a voter for the Associated Press college football poll. As such, over the weekend, I had to pull on my thinking cap and sweat out the all-important decision about which team to put not at No. 1, or No. 2 or No. 3, but No. 4 on my ballot.

Should I go with Ohio State, the team that won the Big 10 championship with Saturday night’s 27-21 win over Wisconsin? Or should I go with Alabama, the one-loss team that didn’t even win its division much less the SEC title?

I went with Alabama.

First of all, I know the AP poll has no bearing on the four teams selected for the College Football Playoff semifinals. And the CFP committee went with Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia and Alabama as its top four. I did the same with my AP vote, which had to be submitted before the CFP selection show at noon.

Here’s why I went with Alabama at No. 4:

I just think the Tide is the better team. I had voted Nick Saban’s club No. 1 all season right up to the 26-14 loss at Auburn in the Iron Bowl on Nov. 25.

For all that was made of Alabama’s lack of quality wins, I couldn’t get past Ohio State’s two losses: the 31-16 loss to Oklahoma at home on Sept. 9 and especially the Buckeyes’ 55-24 blowout loss at Iowa on Nov. 4.

At least Auburn was the SEC West winner, a 10-3 team that will play unbeaten UCF in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Iowa finished 7-5 and will play Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Jeff Sagarin’s computer rankings agree with me. In fact, Sagarin’s numbers have Alabama in the No. 1 spot, followed by Clemson, Georgia, Ohio State and then Oklahoma.

Bill Bender of the Sporting News wrote that the CFP committee got it right in picking Alabama:

“The Buckeyes had a slightly better resume and a conference championship, but they proved the first playoff rule right one more time: Don’t lose two games, and certainly don’t lose the second one to Iowa 55-24. LSU is the only two-loss team since the BCS era to get the chance to play for a conference championship, and the Tigers won the title as part of one of the wildest seasons in college football history.”

Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated asks whether the outrage over the Alabama pick will spur changes to the four-team format:

“Would some of them push to expand the playoff to six or eight teams? A six-teamer could feature the Power 5 conference champs and a wild card (Alabama this year or Ohio State last year, for example). An eight-teamer could feature the Power 5 conference champs, the highest ranked Group of Five conference champ and two wild cards. But there would be fights over when the games are played. There also would be arguments about lengthening the season for athletes whose compensation doesn’t change regardless of how long they play. Also, having two wild card slots could have sucked the drama from some of those championship games, which are moneymakers for the leagues.”

Metrics showed that the Tide was stronger, writes Seth Walder of ESPN:

“How did Alabama accomplish more than Ohio State if it didn’t even make (let alone win) its conference championship game? Put most simply: because it had only one loss. Though the Buckeyes (32nd) had a tougher strength of schedule than Alabama (53rd), strength of record tells us that winning 11 of 13 games with Ohio State’s slate was less difficult than winning 11 of 12 with the Crimson Tide’s. Specifically, an average top-25 team would accomplish Alabama’s 11-1 record 9.4 percent of the time, while that same team would have a 14.4 percent chance at Ohio State’s 11-2.”

Here was my AP Top 25 ballot with parenthesis showing where the team ended up in the poll:

▪ 1. Clemson (1)

▪ 2. Oklahoma (2)

▪ 3. Georgia (3)

▪ 4. Alabama (4)

▪ 5. Ohio State (5)

▪ 6. Wisconsin (6)

▪ 7. Auburn (7)

▪ 8. Penn State (9)

▪ 9. Washington (12)

▪ 10. USC (8)

▪ 11. UCF (10)

▪ 12. Miami (11)

▪ 13. TCU (13)

▪ 14. Stanford (15)

▪ 15. Virginia Tech (22)

▪ 16. Oklahoma State (17)

▪ 17. Notre Dame (14)

▪ 18. LSU (16)

▪ 19. Memphis (19)

▪ 20. Michigan State (18)

▪ 21. Northwestern (20)

▪ 22. Mississippi State (24)

▪ 23. South Florida (23)

▪ 24. Washington State (21)

▪ 25. North Carolina State (NR)

The actual AP poll had Boise State at No. 25.

College football bowl matchups

Saturday, Dec. 16

Celebration Bowl in Atlanta

NC A&T (11-0) vs. Grambling State (11-1), 12 p.m. (ABC)

New Orleans Bowl in New Orleans

North Texas (9-4) vs. Troy (10-2), 1 p.m. (ESPN)

Cure Bowl in Orlando, Fla.

Georgia State (6-5) vs. Western Kentucky (6-6), 2:30 p.m. (CBSSN)

Las Vegas Bowl in Las Vegas

Boise State (10-3) vs. Oregon (7-5), 3:30 p.m. (ABC)

New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque

Colorado State (7-5) vs. Marshall (7-5), 4:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Ala.

Arkansas State (7-3) vs. Middle Tennessee (6-6), 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Tuesday, Dec. 19

Boca Raton Bowl in Boca Raton, Fla.

Akron (7-6) vs. Florida Atlantic (10-3), 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Wednesday, Dec. 20

Frisco Bowl in Frisco, Texas

Louisiana Tech (6-6) vs. SMU (7-5), 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Thursday, Dec. 21

Gasparilla Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Temple (6-6) vs. FIU (8-4), 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Friday, Dec. 22

Bahamas Bowl in Nassau

Ohio (8-4) vs. UAB (8-4), 12:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise

Central Michigan (7-5) vs. Wyoming (7-5), 4 p.m. (ESPN)

Saturday, Dec. 23

Birmingham Bowl in Birmingham, Ala.

South Florida (9-2) vs. Texas Tech (6-6), 12 p.m. (ESPN)

Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas

San Diego State (10-2) vs. Army (8-3), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Dollar General Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

Appalachian State (8-4) vs. Toledo (11-2), 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Sunday, Dec. 24

Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu

Fresno State (9-4) vs. Houston (7-4), 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Tuesday, Dec. 26

Heart of Dallas Bowl in Dallas

West Virginia (7-5) vs. Utah (6-6), 1:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit

Northern Illinois (8-4) vs. Duke (6-6), 5:15 p.m. (ESPN)

Cactus Bowl in Phoenix

Kansas State (7-5) vs. UCLA (6-6), 9 p.m. (ESPN)

Wednesday, Dec. 27

Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La.

Southern Mississippi (8-4) vs. Florida State (6-6), 1:30 .m. (ESPN)

Pinstripe Bowl in New York

Boston College (7-5) vs. Iowa (7-5), 5:15 p.m. (ESPN)

Foster Farms Bowl in Santa Clara

Arizona (7-5) vs. Purdue (6-6), 8:30 p.m. (FOX)

Texas Bowl in Houston

Texas (6-6) vs. Missouri (7-5), 9 p.m. (ESPN)

Thursday, Dec. 28

Military Bowl in Annapolis, Md.

Virginia (6-6) vs. Navy (6-5), 1:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Camping World Bowl in Orlando, Fla.

Oklahoma State (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (9-3), 5:15 p.m. (ESPN)

Alamo Bowl in San Antonio

Stanford (9-4) vs. TCU (10-3), 9 p.m. (ESPN)

Holiday Bowl in San Diego

Washington State (9-3) vs. Michigan State (9-3), 9 p.m. (FOX)

Friday, Dec. 29

Belk Bowl in Charlotte

Wake Forest (7-5) vs. Texas A&M (7-5), 1 p.m. (ESPN)

Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas

NC State (8-4) vs. Arizona State (7-5), 3 p.m. (CBS)

Music City Bowl in Nashville

Kentucky (7-5) vs. Northwestern (9-3), 4:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Arizona Bowl in Tucson

New Mexico State (5-6) vs. Utah State (6-6), 5:30 p.m. (CBSSN)

Cotton Bowl Classic in Arlington, Texas

USC (11-2) vs. Ohio State (11-2), 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Saturday, Dec. 30

TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville

Louisville (8-4) vs. Mississippi State (8-4), 12 p.m. (ESPN)

Liberty Bowl in Memphis

Iowa State (7-5) vs. Memphis (10-2), 12:30 p.m. (ABC)

Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz.

Washington (10-2) vs. Penn State (10-2), 4 p.m. (ESPN)

Orange Bowl in Miami Gardens, Fla.

Wisconsin (12-1) vs. Miami (10-2), 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Monday, Jan. 1

Outback Bowl in Tampa

Michigan (8-4) vs. South Carolina (8-4), 12 p.m. (ESPN2)

Peach Bowl in Atlanta

UCF (12-0) vs. Auburn (10-3), 12:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Citrus Bowl in Orlando

Notre Dame (9-3) vs. LSU (9-3), 1 p.m. (ABC)

Rose Bowl in Pasadena (CFP semifinal)

Oklahoma (12-1) vs. Georgia (12-1), 5:10 p.m. (ESPN)

Sugar Bowl in New Orleans (CFP Semifinal)

Clemson (12-1) vs. Alabama (11-1), 8:45 p.m. (ESPN)

Monday, Jan. 8

College Football Playoff Championship in Atlanta

Rose Bowl winner vs. Sugar Bowl winner, 8 p.m. (ESPN)

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