Were Cincinnati and Nebraska Really Better Than BYU?

The Brigham Young Cougars (10-3) were the first team left out of the final AP Top 25 poll. The two teams that finished ahead of them at numbers 24 and 25 were Nebraska (9-4) and Cincinnati (10-3), respectively. BYU had just as good of a win-loss record, or better, than these two teams. Were Cincinnati and Nebraska really better than BYU, or did the AP voters get it wrong?

There are several ways to compare teams, besides the win-loss record. (Please note, during the comparisons, teams will be listed in the order that they finished in the AP poll.)

Total Offense
Nebraska: 379.9 yards per game (162.7 pass, 217.2 rush)
Cincinnati: 385.7 yards per game (207.2 pass, 178.5 rush)
BYU: 405.7 yards per game (245.4 pass, 160.3 rush)

Points Scored
Nebraska: 29.2 points per game
Cincinnati: 33.3 points per game
BYU: 30.1 points per game

Total Defense
Nebraska: 350.8 yards per game
Cincinnati: 356.4 yards per game
BYU: 312.9 yards per game

Points Allowed
Nebraska: 23.4 points per game
Cincinnati: 20.3 points per game
BYU: 20.4 points per game

Win Percentage of Teams Beat
Nebraska: 0.55
Cincinnati: 0.41
BYU: 0.38

Win Percentage of Teams Lost to
Nebraska: 0.72
Cincinnati: 0.60
BYU: 0.67

Schedule Notes
  • Nebraska is the only team with a “quality” win by beating Michigan State, 24-3.
  • Nebraska and Cincinnati have tainted wins. Nebraska barely beat Penn State, 17-14, the Saturday after the Jerry Sandusky news broke. Cincinnati barely beat Vanderbilt (6-7) in the Liberty Bowl, 31-24, with Vanderbilt playing most of the second half with their backup quarterback.
  • Cincinnati and BYU both had one blowout loss. Cincinnati lost to Tennessee (5-7 overall, 1-7 SEC) by 22 points, 45-23. BYU lost to Utah (8-5) by a score of 54-10.
  • Nebraska had two blowout losses. A 48-17 loss to Wisconsin, and a 45-17 loss to Michigan.
  • BYU is the only team not to lose to a team with a losing record. Nebraska lost to Northwestern (6-7). Cincinnati lost to Tennessee (5-7). The records of the opponents that BYU lost to are 8-5, 8-5, and 11-2.
Taking all of this data into consideration, the final AP Top 25 poll probably should have finished in this order:

24. BYU
25. Nebraska
Others receiving votes: Cincinnati

Cincinnati had a very similar season to BYU. The Bearcats lost the games that were “toss ups,” and beat all of the teams they should have beaten—except one: Tennessee. Tennessee finished at the bottom of its division in the SEC. BYU played Ole Miss and won. The Rebels finished at the bottom of the other division in the SEC.

Deciding between BYU and Nebraska was a little more difficult. Nebraska had the advantage on BYU with its more difficult schedule and win over Michigan State. Nebraska lost this edge by having worse averages in the four major statistical categories, and by having four bad losses. Yes, Michigan and Wisconsin played in BCS bowls, but that doesn’t excuse 28 and 31 point losses. As previously stated, Northwestern finished the year with a losing record.

What tips the scale in favor of BYU is Nebraska’s tainted win over Penn State. Penn State was dealing with a lot of off-the-field distractions the entire week leading up to this game. The Jerry Sandusky news broke early in the week. Penn State head coach Joe Paterno was fired two days before the game against Nebraska. The Cornhuskers won the game by three points, which makes me believe that under normal circumstances, the Nittany Lions would have prevailed. That would make Nebraska 8-5, and clearly not worthy of a national ranking.

I respect what Nebraska did this year against tough competition, which is why I would keep them in the top 25 over a 10-3 Cincinnati team. The negatives, however, are too much to ignore and put Nebraska ahead of a BYU team with a better record.

Complete season schedules for Nebraska, Cincinnati, and BYU are included below.

Nebraska (9-4)
W 40-7 Chattanooga (5-6)
W 42-29 Fresno State (4-9)
W 51-38 Washington (7-6)
W 38-14 Wyoming (8-5)
L  48-17 Wisconsin (11-3)
W 34-27 Ohio State (6-7)
W 41-14 Minnesota (3-9)
W 24-3 Michigan State (11-3)
L  28-25 Northwestern (6-7)
W 17-14 Penn State (9-4)
L  45-17 Michigan (11-2)
W 20-7 Iowa (7-6)
L  30-13 South Carolina (11-2)

BYU (10-3)
W 14-13 Mississippi (2-10)
L  17-16 Texas (8-5)
L  54-10 Utah (8-5)
W 24-17 UCF (5-7)
W 27-24 Utah State (7-6)
W 29-16 San Jose State (5-7)
W 38-28 Oregon State (3-9)
W 56-3 Idaho State (2-9)
L  38-28 TCU (11-2)
W 42-7 Idaho (2-10
W 42-7 New Mexico State (4-9)
W 41-20 Hawaii (6-7)
W 24-21 Tulsa (8-5)

Cincinnati (10-3)
W 72-10 Austin Peay (3-8)
L  45-23 Tennessee (5-7)
W 59-14 Akron (1-11)
W 44-14 North Carolina State (8-5)
W 27-0 Miami (OH) (4-8)
W 25-16 Louisville (7-6)
W 37-34 South Florida (5-7)
W 26-23 Pittsburgh (6-7)
L  24-21 West Virginia (10-3)
L  20-3 Rutgers (9-4)
W 30-13 Syracuse (5-7)
W 35-27 Connecticut (5-7)
W 31-24 Vanderbilt (6-7)

The Editor appreciates all feedback. He can be reached via email at bluecougarfootball@gmail.com


  1. If there was a 16-team nonBCS playoff we would have the chance to pick up more quality wins and play more quality opponents. Even if we lost to Boise in the semifinals, it would put us over the top in the minds of the voters.

  2. There are 2 different questions. 1) is Nebraska better than BYU? and 2) is Nebraska more deserving of their ranking than BYU.

    I don't know the answer to #1, but the answer #2 is a resounding YES. Nebraska has wins against Iowa, Ohio St., Washington, and Penn St, all of which are as good or better than BYU's win over Tulsa. Then they beat a top 10 team (Michigan St) 24-3.

    1. Well, it depends on what you think constitutes "deserving." Obviously the AP voters agree with your points, but this article is providing new points that, allegedly, would have over ridden your points if they'd been . Just restating the old argument without addressing the new ones is not a counter argument, its just redundancy.


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