October 6, 2011

Mailbag: Can a team rise in polls after a loss?

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Regardless of where a team is ranked to start the season, it can move up in the polls as long as it wins games.

Auburn started the 2010 season ranked No. 23, but steadily climbed upward with each victory.

Four wins into the season, the Tigers reached the top 10. Three wins later, they were in the top five. Another victory the next week and they were No. 1 to stay.

It's no secret - win and advance.

But can a team move up when it loses?

Actually, that isn't uncommon, which we learn in this week's mailbag.

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Gaining after loss

In talking with friends about Oregon's and Florida State's rankings following their losses, an interesting question came up: Has there ever been an instance, in either the AP or coaches' poll, when a team maintained their rank or even moved up in the rankings after a loss?
New Orleans

Losing and leaping
Here's a list of teams since the 2000 season that have climbed in The Associated Press poll after losses.
YearTeamLoss toNext ranking
200023. Notre DameNebraska, 27-24 OT21st
200023. Texas A&M1. Oklahoma, 35-3121st
200114. Purdue4. Wash. 34-2413th
200120. Auburn17. Michigan, 31-2818th
200121. Washington9. Texas, 47-4319th
200321. Florida3. Miami, 38-3319th
200418. Louisville3. Miami, 41-3815th
200420. Okla. St.2. Oklahoma, 38-3519th
200910. Ohio St.3. Texas, 24-219th
200921. Nebraska3. Texas, 13-1220th
And here's a list of previously unranked teams that entered the AP poll after losses.
YearTeamLoss toNext ranking
1989Michigan St.2. Miami, 26-2024th
1991Virginia Tech10. Tennessee, 23-2223rd
1993Michigan St.9. Michigan, 17-725th
1995Georgia8. Tennessee, 30-2723rd
1997Missouri1. Nebraska 45-38 OT25th
I put the question to Associated Press college football writer Ralph Russo, who was good enough to research the data (or at least have someone on his staff do so).

Just since the 2000 season, he came up with 11 instances when teams moved up in the poll after losing games.

He also found five instances in poll history in which teams entered the top 25 after losing.

When checking his list, some of the examples are so obvious you're compelled to slap your forehead and wonder why it wasn't obvious.

A case in point: the 2009 Big 12 championship game, when No. 21 Nebraska lost to No. 3 Texas 13-12 on a last-play field goal.

The Huskers moved up to No. 20 the next week and, frankly, should have risen higher.

The most a team has climbed in that span is three spots, which has happened once. In 2004, Louisville moved from 18th to 15th after a 41-38 loss to third-ranked Miami. Louisville led 31-14 midway through the third quarter, but the Hurricanes charged back. Devin Hester had a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter and Frank Gore scored the game-winning TD with 48 seconds remaining.

That turned out to be Louisville's only loss. The Cardinals finished 11-1, were Conference USA champions, defeated Boise State in the Liberty Bowl and were ranked sixth in the final AP poll.

Two teams have entered the poll after a loss. Unranked Virginia moved up to No. 23 in the final poll for the 1991 season after a 23-22 loss to No. 10 Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl. And Georgia went from unranked to No. 23 in September 1995 after a 30-27 loss to No. 8 Tennessee. Georgia eventually climbed to No. 20, then lost to Ole Miss 18-10 and fell out of the rankings. The Bulldogs didn't return to the top 25 until the fourth week of the 1997 season.

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Payment plan

It seems to me that Tennessee is going to be paying for Lane Kiffin's one year for a long time. I'm wondering how long you think it's going to take for Derek Dooley to turn this around? Is he truly the right guy to lead this program where it needs to go? I want your thoughts on his recruiting and if you think our Kiffin nightmare will ever end.
Knoxville, Tenn

The Kiffin experience is like a fever blister on Tennessee's lip: The discomfort just keeps coming back.

A recent Yahoo! Sports report revealed that a former assistant under Kiffin apparently broke NCAA rules during the recruitment of Lache Seastrunk. And remember that Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd originally committed was to Tennessee. When Kiffin took over, Tennessee no longer was interested.

Kiffin also ran off running back Lennon Creer, who is having a solid career at Louisiana Tech. Think Tennessee could use another running back?

But look at it this way: Alabama eventually moved on and prospered after the Mike DuBose nightmare. So, too, did Oklahoma after John Blake, Georgia after Ray Goff, LSU after Curley Hallman, Texas after John Mackovic and USC after Paul Hackett, among others.

Dooley has put together two solid recruiting classes and appears to be assembling another good one. But those new guys have to develop. Tennessee is starting 11 freshmen and sophomores now.

I don't know if Dooley is indeed the coach that can restore Tennessee to national prominence, but the Volunteers do appear to be making progress.

Tennessee fans should hope for eight victories this season, then be optimistic that the Volunteers truly can be a factor in the SEC race in 2012.

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Never satisfied

Why can't Notre Dame's administration pay the money and get a coach with big-game experience? BCS games will more than cover the cost. The team has the talent; it just needs a guy like Jon Gruden.
Las Vegas

Notre Dame has plenty of money to offer any coach it wants. Money is not the issue.

It's funny. I've heard Jon Gruden's name come up as a possible candidate for several college coaching jobs in recent years. Yet he remains a pro football analyst. Ever think he doesn't want to coach in college? And who's to say he would be successful at that level, anyway? Charlie Weis had tremendous success in the NFL, but not so much at Notre Dame.

Frankly, I think Notre Dame has the guy it needs in Brian Kelly. He has won at every level at which he has coached, including two Division II national titles. Kelly has the Irish playing good defense, though the secondary must get better.

Disappearing act

We've lived in Montana for 15 years, so we cheer for Montana and Montana State. We want to know whether ex-Montana coach Bobby Hauck still coaches for UNLV.
Nan and Bill
Missoula, Mont

Yes, Hauck is in his second season in Vegas. The Rebels were 2-11 last season. They're currently 1-3. The Rebels upset Hawaii 40-20 on Sept. 17, then lost 41-16 to Southern Utah.

That will be forgiven if they can defeat Nevada in Reno on Saturday.

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Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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