Poll gazing

A HOLIDAY BOWL victory by Washington State over No. 5 Texas should catch the eye of voters when both final polls are released. How will the Bowl win influence the Cougs' final ranking? AP polls of years past provide some answers.

First off, anyone watching the Holiday Bowl saw the Cougars physically manhandle the No. 5 team in the nation -- more so than the 28-20 score indicates. But set that aside for a moment.

If the recent history of bowl games and their effect on the final poll is any indication, it would appear Washington State will climb, (at least), five rungs in the final AP poll.

Factor in the teams ranked above WSU who lost their bowl game, and its virtually a lock.

(No. 6,7) Tennessee fell to unranked Clemson in the Cotton. (No. 8,10) Kansas State lost to Ohio State in the Fiesta. (No. 8,9) Florida State again went down in defeat at the hands of Miami. (No. 12,13) Purdue took Georgia to OT before coming up short.

And, of course, No. 5 Texas lost to Washington State. But the final poll often treat wins and losses differently than they do midseason. And how high Wazzu climbs depends in part on how far those teams fall. To find some answers, we went looking in the past.

The closest matches to a No. 15 (or No. 14) team, defeating a No. 5 in their respective bowl game over the last five years:

In 2002; two examples. Then No. 17 NC State upended then No. 11 Notre Dame with a 28-6 win. The Wolfpack climbed five spots to No. 12 in the final poll.

No. 19 Auburn edged No. 10 Penn State by a score of 13-9. The Tigers rose five slots to finish at No. 14 in the final AP.

In 2001, 12th ranked LSU topped No. 7 Illinois by a touchdown. The two teams swapped rankings; LSU moving up five spots, Illinois falling by five. Still, LSU didn't accomplish what the Cougs did; defeating the No. 5 team in the nation and one ranked ten (or nine) spots ahead of them.

The largest gains by a team in the final poll, such as 8-10 spots, tend to occur from a team in the bottom half of the rankings. In 1999, there isn't much of a match as far as a No. 15 versus a No. 5. Nor was there the usual movement in the polls after the Bowl games as most favorites emerged victorious. There was, however, an instance where No. 23 Miami defeated No. 17 Georgia Tech.

On the strength of the 28-13 bowl victory over a 17th ranked team, Miami jumped 8 spots to finish at No. 15.

And nary a comparable bowl from the year 2000. But it is noteworthy No. 17 Michigan met 20th ranked Auburn that year, besting the Tigers in a nail biter 31-28. Surprisingly, Michigan rocketed 6 spots to 11th -- and in defeat, Auburn inexplicably rose two spots to No. 18.

Oh those wacky AP voters. Must have been a Y2K glitch. See? It all comes back to the computers versus the humans.

In 1998, No. 19 Georgia beat No. 13 Virginia in their bowl game by a 37-14 margin. The Dawgs moved up five slots to end the year at No. 14 in the AP.

Further research, beyond the last five years, also does not yield an exact match -- A No. 5 just doesn't play a No. 15 very often in a bowl game, let alone lose.

But a few slices of recent bowl history do exist when a similar rankings match-up occurred. One such example from 1995 even involved a Pac-10 team. And (in part) it doesn't necessarily bode well for the Cougs.

No. 17 Southern Cal dispatched No. 3 Northwestern 41-32 in the Rose Bowl in '95. Those Trojans expecting an unusually big boost in the final poll were disappointed.

USC, finishing the year at 9-2-1, rose a mere five spots to No. 12. And Northwestern fell only five spots, finishing at No. 8 -- ahead of ‘SC. But a confluence of factors may explain why the Trojans ‘only' reached No. 12 - factors not in play for Washington State to overcome in this years poll.

First, a bevy of 10-2 teams ahead of ‘SC won their bowl game. Secondly, it was probably too much to expect the voters to bump them seven spots to reach the Top Ten.

Third, a fourteen spot differential was just too wide a gap to breach given the number of teams ahead of SC that had won their bowls.

In contrast to ‘95, consider the year of 1993. In the '93 Citrus Bowl, No. 13 Penn State defeated No. 6 Tennessee. The Nittany Lions moved up five spots to No. 8.

In the '93 Fiesta Bowl, No. 16 Arizona knocked off No. 10 Miami. The Wildcats jumped six spots to finish at No. 10 in the final AP.

Ultimately, all indications point to a bump of (at least) 5 spots for Washington State, which would place them at No. 9 in the Coaches, and No. 10 in the AP.

(The Cougs currently reside at No. 14 in the Coaches poll, No. 15 in the AP -- the difference between the polls being Miami-OH. The Redhawks currently reside in front of the Cougs at No. 14 in the AP.)

After studying all the data, the guess here is that Washington State climbs six and five spots, respectively, to No. 9 -- in both polls.

(In the AP, it's certainly a tougher road to hoe. There's a decent chance the Cougs will ascend but five spots in the AP, to No. 10.)

If the Cougars do indeed reach No. 9, they will match their 1997 counterparts, who also finished the season ranked at No. 9 in both polls. Could the Cougs climb even higher?

Possible, but its quite a stretch. If the voters place heavy emphasis on the Cougs win over the No. 5 team in the nation, and how WSU dominated Texas in all three areas of the game, that could manifest itself in an additional rung on the ladder; a No. 8 ranking. But from this chair, No. 8 is decidedly unlikely.

But a No. 10 ranking is also pessimistic; certainly so in the Coaches poll. And a No. 11 ranking in either poll would simply be punitive.

(In case you were wondering about Texas, it appears the Longhorns will fall 6 slots to No. 11 in both polls.)

Now all we have to do is wait. The AP poll will be released this evening, the Coaches poll is scheduled to come out Monday but may be released later tonight as well.

Unless the cyborgs and their damn computers can somehow thwart the humans intent, (again), the Cougs will garner their third Top 10 finish in as many years.

And they earned it.

Then again, the humans might have a few tricks up their sleeves as well. We're not citing missteps such as when so many writers, (some of whom vote in the AP), insisted Texas had more talent than WSU -- prognosticating little to no chance the Cougs could best the Longhorns in the Holiday Bowl.

Nay, we're referring to the AP polls from earlier this year. This is the entity that actually had voters casting ballots for Arizona two consecutive weeks this season. Recall back in Week 2 when Arizona got waxed 59-13 by LSU?

On the heels of that ignominious blowout, the Wildcats actually picked up ground; receiving 9 votes, up from 7 the week before.


Clearly, those votes in Weeks 2 and 3 were meant to be cast for Arizona State; still a contender at that point in the season. But given such incompetence, some will be looking closely at the ‘Others Receiving Votes' category in the AP come Monday morning.

Because if those particular Mensa members still own their voting privileges in the AP.. if some votes are mistakenly cast for Washington instead of for Washington State..


Even those who mistook ‘Zona for ASU couldn't make such a glaring error.. Confusing the U-dub's program for Washington State's at this point?

Nobody could be that addled.

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