Poll Position

DaeSean Hamilton starred for Penn State during one of the most successful runs in program history, as the Nittany Lions were ranked in the AP Poll for 58 straight weeks from 2016-20. Photo credit: Steve Manuel.

I can’t recall how I first learned about the site or when I started visiting. Like a roadside diner you don’t always notice or a popular night spot with no visible entrance, it’s just always been there. Part of the scenery, meshing into the background.

The site name is simple enough, collegepollarchive.com, with complete breakdowns of the history of the college football AP Poll. A quick look at the site tells you it’s most likely overseen by a fan or group of fans, though it must get traffic, based on the number of ads. The “Contact” page provides an email address for someone named Keith (no last name, which fits the vibe).

Though in all my extensive experience doing college football research, I’ve never come across a collection of info, at least not compiled by an athletic department, so comprehensive on a subject. Nothing else is even close.

Keith’s last name is Meador (I recently swapped emails with him). He was born and raised in Norman, Oklahoma, and became a Sooners fan when Barry Switzer arrived. He’s a web developer by trade, has compiled extensive notes, and his numbers have been cited by school officials and national media.

Keith’s story goes way beyond these introductory details. He deserves his own feature, though that’s a separate article. I mention these details here to let Penn Staters know the stats shared in this article are as legit as can be expected.

First things first: You can visit Penn State’s team page for a complete breakdown of the Nittany Lions’ various poll stats. The Nittany Lions rank in the Top 10 of many categories, not surprising for a program with a rich tradition stretching back more than a century. As impressive as many of the stats are, it’s easy to think Penn State should rank higher in some categories.

For example, Penn State has 909 wins, eighth-most in the history of college football. Alabama and Ohio State, meanwhile, are tied for second with 942. Not a sizable gap. But both the Buckeyes (950) and Crimson Tide (841) rank far ahead of the Nittany Lions in all-time appearance in the AP Poll, as Penn State’s appeared 664 times, good for ninth historically. FYI that Florida is 10th with 641.

It’s an indication of how the pollsters often overlooked Penn State in the days of Rip Engle and Joe Paterno. Beyond the geographic bias, the AP Poll previously listed only 20 teams, and for a while only 10.

Evan Royster, Penn State’s all-time leading rusher (3,932) starred for the Nittany Lions as they were ranked in the AP Poll for 38 straight weeks from 2008-10. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

One example of the emotional human factor in the polls: Penn State finished the 1942 season at a respectable 6-1-1. The Nittany Lions ended that season ranked 19th, in a tie with Holy Cross and Minnesota. Holy Cross, with a record of 5-4-1, was ranked No. 1 by one voter in the final poll. Yes, the Crusaders thumped top-ranked Boston College 55-14 to end the season. However, listing a team with a final 5-4-1 mark as the best in the country tells you a lot about the objectivity, or lack of it, in the early decades of the poll.

Still, the polls are a good barometer when judging the all-time greats of the game, and Penn State is certainly on that list. Here are a few noteworthy numbers for the Nittany Lions and the AP Poll:

  • Penn State was ranked for 58 straight weeks from 2016-20, the third-best mark in program history. There have been nine stretches when the Nittany Lions have been ranked for at least 33 consecutive weeks, with the program record being 121 weeks from 1993-2000.
  • During the last 30 years, Penn State’s been ranked in the poll every week for nearly half the seasons (13). It’s worth noting no Big Ten teams were listed in the AP Poll when the 2020 season began, as the conference started late. Technically, that broke any consecutive streaks, as Big Ten teams weren’t eligible to be ranked.
  • In addition to all-time appearances, Penn State’s also ranked all-time in the Top 10 in preseason rankings (eighth, 48) and final rankings (tenth, 43).
  • All-time, Penn State’s average ranking in the poll is 10.1, with more than half their appearances in the Top 10 (394). The Nittany Lions have been ranked in Top 5 quite a bit, too, with 172 appearances. For the record, Penn State’s occupied the top spot in the poll 21 times and the No. 2 spot on 24 occasions.
  • One of my favorite stats is total points in the AP Poll, where Penn State ranks 11th (482,305), narrowly ahead of Georgia (481,994). In recent years, Penn State surpassed Miami (Fla.).

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One thought on “Poll Position

  1. Thanks, good to know. I’ll enjoy the results.

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