Who’s No. 1?
by Ralph Russo

The Associated Press has been ranking college football teams since 1936. After 1,103 polls, the questions remain the same: What? Why? Are you kidding?

Before the AP started asking its member sports writers and editors to vote, then-sports editor Alan J. Gould in 1935 ranked them himself. In the final poll, he named Minnesota, Princeton and TCU co-No. 1s, and Gophers fans, as the story goes, hanged Gould in effigy. He quickly realized it was best to spread the blame, er, responsibility for the rankings around.

It has been that way ever since, with various tweaks and turns. The Top 20. The Top 10. And since 1989, the Top 25. The Bowl Championship Series led to the College Football Playoff and college football’s champion is now sort of settled on the field. The AP still crowns a champion. But it’s not just about who’s No. 1. That’s easy to figure out these days. It’s about who’s better. This team or that team. My team or your team. My conference or your conference. Top 25 voters are charged with figuring out who’s No. 2. And No. 6. And No. 12 and 14 and 21 and so on and so forth.

The one constant in college football over the last 80 years has been the AP poll. It has helped link the past with the present and provided perspective. With that in mind, the AP is using 80 years of poll data and a simple formula to bring you the first top 100 college football programs of the poll era. The AP counted poll appearances (one point) to mark consistency, No. 1 rankings (one point) to acknowledge elite programs and gave a bonus for AP championships (10 points).

Surely that will settle all the arguing. Right?

The Decades

Taking a trip through 80 years of Associated Press polls is like walking through the history of college football.

From the days when Notre Dame-Army was the biggest game of the year to Oklahoma dynasty of the 1950s. Bear Bryant’s rise at Alabama and then later to return of the Crimson Tide under Nick Saban. From the days when the Midwest was the epicenter of college football to the Sunshine State surge, when the Florida schools began to dominate.

The AP poll has reflected and tracked the trends in college football and sometimes it has influenced change, helping a regional sport become a national obsession.

The AP takes a look at the evolution of college football in a series of stories about each decade since the poll started in 1936.