Last night, I cast my BlogPoll ballot, so the time has come to explain the reasoning underlying my rankings. As always, each team's ranking on last week's ballot is included in parentheses to give my votes some context.
Here are the top 25 teams in Division I-A, at least from the vantage point of Dawg Sports:
1. Ohio State (1)---Does anyone dispute that the Buckeyes are the best team in the land at this point?
2. West Virginia (5)---I struggled with this one quite a bit. The gap between first and second seems rather large and no team seemed truly worthy of the runner-up spot, but I ultimately settled on the Mountaineers because, even though their schedule thus far has been suspect, Rich Rodriguez's squad has been winning convincingly on a weekly basis. Despite absorbing some early punches from an improved Syracuse squad, W.V.U. persevered and won it going away. Upcoming games against Louisville, Pittsburgh, South Florida, and Rutgers will let us know whether the Mountain Men are genuine, but, right now, they look like as real a deal as there is outside of Columbus.
3. Michigan (3)---You can tell me all you like how the Wolverines' game against the Nittany Lions wasn't as close as the score indicated; the fact is that the Maize and Blue had the game in hand and they let it slip back into doubt. That cost Lloyd Carr's crew the chance to ascend in the poll, but Michigan remains a quality squad worthy of a top five ranking.
4. Auburn (16)---The Plainsmen's impressive win over Florida allowed them to reclaim their role as the most fearsome team in the Southeastern Conference. When they're on their game, the Tigers are good enough to beat any team in the land.
I hate Auburn.
5. Texas (4)---I am apt to incur the wrath of the Lone Star State by dropping the Longhorns a notch after they hung 63 points on a conference opponent, but Mack Brown's boys also allowed lowly Baylor to put 31 ticks of their own up on the scoreboard, enabling the team that held the Gators to 17 points to earn the nod as the country's best once-beaten team. By the way, Texas, how would you like to play in Sanford Stadium next September 1?
6. Tennessee (6)---The Volunteers didn't play, so the Big Orange remained stationary this week.
7. Clemson (11)---Yes, it was Temple, but the Tigers are hitting on all cylinders and Tommy Bowden's team very clearly is the one genuinely intimidating squad in a weak A.C.C. field.
8. California (8)---A more convincing thrashing of Washington State might have enabled the Golden Bears to move up a notch or two, but Cal's 21-3 victory over the Cougars helped to cement my conviction that the best squad in a highly competitive Pac-10 calls Berkeley home.
9. Notre Dame (9)---The Fighting Irish didn't play, so the Golden Domers didn't move.
10. Southern California (10)---Last week, I caught a little bit of flak over my decision to drop the Trojans to No. 10, but U.S.C. has been sleepwalking through several successive games and it's only a matter of time before a series of consecutive lackluster performances catches up to a team. This week, Pete Carroll's crew found itself in a 60-minute struggle with Arizona State, escaping with a 28-21 victory. Southern California simply hasn't impressed me lately and the Trojans look like a team whose luck is about to run out on them.
Not this year.
11. Wisconsin (13)---I've been wondering for a while what to make of the Badgers and, on Saturday, I learned the answer to that question. A 48-12 thrashing of the Golden Gophers in a rivalry game sent a message, which I heard loud and clear. As long as the Wiscy river don't run dry, U.W. is on the cusp of being a top 10 team.
12. Oregon (12)---I haven't yet completely given up on the Ducks, who defeated U.C.L.A. on Saturday to retain their No. 12 ranking.
13. Florida (2)---Ere anyone accuses me of treating an old rival unfairly, I should point out that it is in my interests to rank the Gators as high as I can, since their next opponent is my alma mater. Florida will have its chances to rise back up in the standings, but, after Saturday evening's drubbing, a plummet (however temporary it may turn out to be) seemed justified.
14. Louisville (7)---What I said about U.S.C. goes double for U. of L. An uninspired 23-17 win over Cincinnati raised serious questions about the Cardinals' ability to overcome early injuries and increased expectations. Those growing doubts cost Louisville seven spots on my ballot because I no longer believe Bobby Petrino's team would beat any of the 13 squads ranked ahead of it.
15. Arkansas (14)---I don't feel quite right about dropping the Hogs a notch after a 63-7 win over Southeast Missouri State, but, then again, it was Southeast Missouri State.
16. Rutgers (21)---The undefeated Scarlet Knights needed a signature win to cement their status as a legitimate top 25 team and they got it in convincing fashion, posting a 34-0 shutout over a solid Navy squad. That impressive victory earned a significant poll vault for the State University of New Jersey.
Rutgers alumna Kristin Davis, pleased with the performance of her alma mater's football team, appeared in public smiling and clad in scarlet as a show of support for the team. (Photograph from Star Pulse.)
17. Louisiana State (23)---In retrospect, I may have punished the Bayou Bengals a bit too harshly following their second setback of the season. L.S.U.'s 49-0 whitewashing of Kentucky allowed the Tigers to inch back up on my ballot.
18. Nebraska (22)---The Cornhuskers remain the biggest enigma in the top 25; I still don't know what to make of the Big Red Machine and a 21-3 win over Kansas State clarified virtually nothing for me. Nebraska landed here, but, honestly, this could be five spots too low or five spots too high for all I can figure.
19. Boise State (17)---While the Broncos won on Sunday night, they made it harder on themselves than it had to be, so B.S.U. slipped a notch or two.
20. Boston College (N.R.)---The Eagles administered a solid thumping to what was an obviously overrated yet still dangerous Virginia Tech squad, thereby establishing B.C. as the Atlantic Coast Conference squad with the second-best resume.
21. Pittsburgh (N.R.)---The Panthers hammered Central Florida and let's face it . . . at this point, there are more good teams in the Big East than in the A.C.C. Pitt rose through a combination of attrition, effort, and consistency.
22. Georgia Tech (19)---The Yellow Jackets didn't play this week, which allowed time for further reflection. As I noted previously, the Ramblin' Wreck have looked better in defeat (to Notre Dame) than in victory; the Golden Tornado's win over the Hokies now looks significantly less impressive than it did at the time and the V.P.I. victory is offset by G.I.T.'s need for fourth-quarter rallies to get by Troy and Maryland. When push comes to shove, Chan Gailey's team currently looks like Calvin Johnson, a fast defense, a soft schedule, and not much else . . . hence the Jackets' three-spot drop as they were displaced by more accomplished contenders.
Is Reggie Ball still playing for Georgia Tech? Then the Ramblin' Wreck ain't a top 20 team.
23. Oklahoma (N.R.)---The dearth of truly worthy teams for inclusion in the top 25 is attested to by the fact that the Sooners made the grade. Actually, this probably is only a temporary stopover in the rankings, given the fact that O.U.'s lone impressive player has been lost for the remainder of the season, but, for now, a 34-9 win over Iowa State sufficed to get Bob Stoops's troops onto my ballot.
24. Wake Forest (25)---I'm not sure how much a two-point win over the perennially quirky Wolfpack signifies, but the Demon Deacons have been playing pretty good football this season and, on the strength of their record thus far, Wake remained among the anointed.
25. Texas A&M (N.R.)---I don't feel any better about this than you do, but, since the Aggies dispatched Missouri, I couldn't deny them a place in the top 25 any longer. By the way, Texas A&M, how would you like to play in Sanford Stadium next September 1?
Teams falling from the rankings: No. 15 Iowa, No. 18 Georgia, No. 20 Missouri, and No. 24 Navy. I felt badly about having to drop the second and fourth of those teams, but not the first and third.
Others receiving consideration: Alabama, Hawaii, Kent State, South Florida, and Tulsa. Yes, Kent State; the Golden Flashes are 5-2 and they just mauled Toledo by a 40-14 final margin. However, my de facto No. 26 team probably is U.S.F. What can I say; the Big East is looking a good deal more legitimate in 2006 than the A.C.C.!
What I watched: Boston College-Virginia Tech, Central Florida-Pittsburgh, Minnesota-Wisconsin, Georgia-Vanderbilt, Auburn-Florida, the last part of Michigan-Penn State, and Boise State-New Mexico State.
Dawg Sports readers are not shy about sharing their opinions (which is a good thing), so there probably is no need for me to extend a formal invitation for comments to be submitted, but I will do so, nevertheless. Feel free to share your thoughts on what I got right, what I got wrong, and why, in the comments below.