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Penn State Football: Nittany Lions Eligible for AP Poll Despite NCAA Sanctions

by on July 30, 2012 6:30 PM

Add The Associated Press media poll to master motivator Bill O’Brien’s list of incentives for his 2012 football team.

With the Nittany Lions ineligible to appear in a postseason game due to NCAA sanctions, the Penn State coach has promised other methods to inspire his squad.

Like the AP poll, for one.

A spokesman for the AP Monday confirmed that Penn State is eligible for the wire service’s preseason, weekly and postseason college football polls.

“As long as Penn State is eligible to play and take the field and does play, the team is eligible for inclusion in AP’s preseason and regular season polls,” as well as the final post-bowl poll, said Paul Colford, AP's director of media relations.

“The only thing that would change that is if Penn State did not play or was prevented from playing.”

As part of sanctions imposed last week, Penn State is not eligible to play in a bowl game for the next four years.

That the Nittany Lions can be included in the AP poll could help motivate O’Brien’s team during that time period, as well as generate sustained interest in the team among high school prospects, fans, students and alumni.

Over that four-year period, however, because of the bowl ban Penn State cannot be included in the USA Today Coaches Poll, the Harris Interactive Football Poll and the BCS standings.

But, there is the AP Top 25 College Poll. It is the oldest college football poll, having been established in 1934 and run continuously since 1936. The AP’s rankings are compiled from votes by 65 sportswriters and broadcasters from across the country. According the AP’s website, there is only one Pennsylvania voter – Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. (The AP poll does not factor into the determination of the BCS national championship.)

There is precedent as recent as the 2011 season where a team that was banned from postseason play but still performed well in the AP poll.

NCAA sanctions prevented USC from playing in a bowl game last season, yet the Trojans were a fixture in the weekly AP rankings. USC started No. 25 in the 2011 preseason rankings, and advanced all the way to No. 6 in the final postseason poll after a 10-2 regular-season record built on a 6-1 start.

Not appearing in a bowl game didn’t seem to hurt USC very much in the final rankings; it only dropped from fifth to sixth after all the postseason games were played.

The final 2011 AP poll was rife with multiple-loss teams. Eight teams with three losses were in the final Top 25, including Big Ten Conference members Michigan State and Wisconsin. And four teams in the Top 25, including Nebraska of the Big Ten, had four losses. Penn State, with a 9-4 record after losing three of its final four games, was ranked No. 32.

Penn State’s 2012 schedule is a strong one, as 10 of its 12 opponents played in a bowl game in 2011, so if the Lions perform well a poll spot is a strong possibility. And Navy, one of the two opponents that did not go bowling in 2011, beat Army in its regular-season-ending game, which typically has all the build-up, atmosphere and ramifications of a postseason contest.

Penn State’s 2012 opponents had a combined 86-70 record in 2011 – but were 85-59 (.590) if Indiana’s 1-11 slate is not included.

If the Nittany Lions are to crack the AP poll in 2012, it most certainly will be on the strength of their first six games before there is a mid-season bye week. Penn State opens with Ohio University (10-4 in 2011), followed by Virginia (8-5), Navy (5-7), Temple (9-4), Illinois (7-6) and Northwestern (6-7).

The second half of Penn State’s 2012 12-game slate includes contests against Big Ten upper-echelon members Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin.



Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979. He is a senior lecturer in Penn State's College of Communications and teaches a pair of classes in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism: “Sports Writing” and “Introduction to the Sports Industry.” He created and taught for several years the Center’s course on “Joe Paterno, Communications and The Media.” Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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