For 80 years, AP has organized the longest-running college football poll of its kind. Every week through each season, AP’s marquee listing tells who’s up, who’s down and most significantly, who’s No. 1. The 2016 preseason poll will start the buzz again when it comes out this Sunday.
But in this anniversary year, AP Sports wanted to do something extra: Produce a composite poll showing which 100 teams ranked highest over the full eight decades and 1,103 polls. The result – anchored by Ralph Russo, Paul Montella and Howie Rumberg – was an exclusive package that dramatically moved the needle on digital, social media and in print, while further boosting the profile of the AP Top 25 poll. It earns the Beat of the Week.
"The brilliance behind this group’s work is that they were able to take something that was solely AP’s – and in part, defines AP Sports – and extend that brand."
"Many people know AP only because of the poll," said deputy sports editor Noreen Gillespie, who noted it drives traffic to AP’s college football Digital News Experience, or DNE, a website that customers can integrate into their own digital products. "The brilliance behind this group’s work is that they were able to take something that was solely AP’s – and in part, defines AP Sports – and extend that brand."
But how do you track so many polls, going back so far? The foundation of the project was an archive compiled by Montella, agate desk newsman in New York Sports. He has been the tabulator of the weekly poll from 1989 to the present. For the years before his tenure, Montella used a book by Lowell R. Greunke titled, "Football Rankings: College Teams in the Associated Press Poll, 1936-1984." To fill in the '84-'89 gap, Montella went to newspaper archives. And as time allowed, he added, "I worked backward to double-check the work of Greunke. Every poll has been double-checked."
Data in hand, Russo went to work on analysis, and not simply to pinpoint the all-time No. 1. Russo, AP's college football beat reporter, crafted a package that includes a series of decade-by-decade pieces rolling out over the weeks leading up to this year’s season opener on Aug. 25. Assistant sports editor Howie Rumberg shepherded the project from start to finish.
When the all-time Top 100 poll came out, response was immediate, huge and predictably partisan.
There was plenty of praise from fans of No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 3 Notre Dame but harsh criticism from fans of No. 4 Alabama, who believe their team should have been ranked higher given that it has more national championships (10) than any other program. No. 7 Michigan fans also were critical as they complain anytime rival Ohio State is No. 1 on any list.
"I did about 10-12 sports talk interviews in the couple days following its release, most in Alabama"
"I did about 10-12 sports talk interviews in the couple days following its release, most in Alabama," said Russo, who noted that some down-ballot fans also had fun with the rankings, "like Arizona State coming in ahead of Arizona."
One website perhaps summed it up best with this headline: "The AP Ranked The Top 100 All-Time College Football Programs And You’re Going To Be PISSED Your Team’s Not Higher."
Robust debate continued for days among commenters on websites, sports columnists in newspapers, and across talk radio and Twitter. "It’s what makes the poll so perfect for social engagement," said Barry Bedlan, AP’s deputy director of sports products.
The first AP tweet about the composite poll has driven more than 36,000 clicks, making it the most clicked-on from any AP Twitter account of 2016. It has been retweeted 5,416 times.
For creatively showcasing and updating a historic AP brand, the college football poll, Russo, Montella and Rumberg share this week’s Beat of the Week award.