Here’s What You Should Know About the Coaches Poll and AP Poll

As college football season draws closer, it’s helpful to understand two of the sport’s major ranking systems, the Associated Press (AP) Top 25 Poll and the American Football Coaches Association (ACFA) Coaches Poll. Before you use these polls to inform your college football fandom, you should know the following facts about both the Coaches Poll and AP Poll.

How old are these polls? 

Both polls date back quite far. The AP Poll began in 1936 and added a preseason poll in 1950. The ACFA has conducted the Coaches Poll since 1950

Who votes on these polls? 

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The Coaches Poll is determined by FBS coaches. To be eligible to vote, the coaches must tell the American Football Coaches Association they want to participate. 

Sportswriters determine the AP Poll. Both geography and the number of teams in the writer’s given area help determine which sportswriters are selected. The Associated Press sports editor for Tennessee, Teresa Walker, told, “It’s got to be someone who spends time covering Division I football … Each state gets a number of voters based on the number of teams in the state.” gives one example: “In Walker’s state there are four FBS teams: Memphis, Middle Tennessee State, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. Roughly breaking down into a one-voter-for-every-two-FBS-teams-in-a-state rule, two Associated Press members from Tennessee will vote in the poll, but only one from Missouri will. Three national, at-large voters are also selected to vote in the poll.”

How do these polls work? 

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The Coaches Poll is conducted weekly. The participating coaches are chosen at random from both conference-affiliated and independent schools. According to USA Today, “Each coach submits a Top 25 with a first-place vote worth 25 points, second place 24, and so on down to one point for 25th.” AP voters are not given any guidance on how to rank teams. They also vote weekly. 

When are the polls released? 

The Coaches Poll is typically released first, in early August. The AP Poll comes out a week or two after the Coaches Poll. During the season, both polls come out every Sunday. 

What effect do they have on the season?

Currently, the College Football Playoff rankings primarily determine who ends up in four-team playoff at the end of the season. This playoff decides the champion of the sport. The AP and Coaches’ Poll don’t factor into this ranking. CFP pollsters use a team’s strength of schedule, win-loss record, championship history, and common opponents to evaluate whether it’s worthy. While there’s no direct tie-in with either the AP or Coaches’ Poll, the teams at the top of both polles are usually near the top of the CFP rankings.

This wasn’t always the case, however. Back when the Bowl Championship Series determined the national champion, the Coaches Poll was one of the factors in the BCS rankings. The AP Poll began as a component of those rankings, though the NCAA removed it by 2004. 

Have the polls ever disagreed on the No. 1 team at the season’s end?

Yes. The two polls have seen many discrepancies through every college football season. At season’s end, they’ve disagreed nine times. Back when most considered the No. 1 teams of these polls as the national champions, there were several disputes, listed below

  • 1954 – AP: Ohio State, Coaches: UCLA
  • 1957 – AP: Auburn, Coaches: Ohio State
  • 1965 – AP: Alabama, Coaches: Michigan State
  • 1970 – AP: Nebraska, Coaches: Texas
  • 1973 – AP: Notre Dame, Coaches: Alabama
  • 1974 – AP: Oklahoma, Coaches: USC
  • 1978 – AP: Alabama, Coaches: USC
  • 1997 – AP: Michigan, Coaches: Nebraska
  • 2003 – AP: USC, Coaches: LSU

Who is No. 1 this year? 

The Coaches Poll ranks Clemson at No. 1, while the AP will release its findings on August 19, 2019.