Week Eight BlogPoll Ballot Explained

Because I am determined to delay writing my postgame wrap-up of Saturday's contest between the hedges, I am devoting my attention instead to the task of offering the much-anticipated explanation for my latest BlogPoll ballot.

This week, I prepared an initial draft of my ballot without looking at last week's rankings, then I revised my top 25 while reviewing my ballot from a week ago. Generally, I am more pleased with the outcome than usual, although I will confess to finding some of the results mildly unnerving . . . perhaps because of the presence of conflicting voting styles within my own rankings.

As always, I punished poor play, even for teams that won, and, where all else was equal, head-to-head competition operated as a tiebreaker. Hence, Southern California was ranked ahead of Arkansas, Arkansas was ranked ahead of Auburn, Auburn was ranked ahead of Florida, Florida was ranked over Tennessee, Tennessee was ranked over California, Oregon was ranked over Oklahoma, and Texas A&M was ranked over Missouri.

In such instances as those cited above, the closeness of the contest is reflected in the proximity of the teams to one another in the standings. Thus, the Gators are one notch above the Volunteers, the Ducks are one spot ahead of the Sooners, and the Aggies are one space in front of the Tigers, but larger gaps separate the Trojans from the Razorbacks and the Big Orange from the Golden Bears. However, overall resume also came into play, which is why Clemson is ranked ahead of Boston College.

Fortunately for the Tigers, I did not deduct points for poor fashion decisions. (Photograph from Sports Illustrated.)

Nevertheless, I have some concerns. I did not notice until afterwards that the Big Ten has three teams in the top six . . . but none in the next 26 (counting teams either ranked or considered). Does this mean the Big Ten is so completely topheavy that the achievements of the Buckeyes, the Wolverines, and the Badgers are cast into doubt because they came against suspect competition?

Likewise, although I ranked the teams one by one based upon their respective merits, I wound up crafting a top 25 including 11 representatives from either the Big 12 or the S.E.C. The A.C.C., the Big East, the Big Ten, and the Pac-10 each had three teams in the poll. This was due not to purposeful homerism, but rather possible ignorance.

Which, I am led to wonder, is the fourth-best team in the A.C.C.? in the Big East? in the Big Ten? in the Pac-10? By the same token, which is the second-best independent or non-B.C.S. conference squad? Do those teams deserve inclusion?

With those questions borne in mind, I present a balanced ballot in which all six major conferences are represented in the top eight . . . and in which the third- through eighth-ranked teams all hail from different B.C.S. leagues, largely by coincidence. As always, last week's ranking is included in parentheses after each team:

1. Ohio State (1)---Does anyone seriously doubt that this is the best team in college football?

The Buckeyes feature fully automated quarterback Troy Smith.

2. Michigan (3)---Once again, I struggled over whether to keep West Virginia at No. 2 or move the Maize and Blue up into the second spot. It wound up being a close call, but I gave the nod to the Wolverines based mostly on resume. I am not at all certain that Michigan would beat the Mountaineers on a neutral field, however, so I consider my No. 2 and No. 3 rankings somewhat more akin to co-No. 2s.

3. West Virginia (2)---I take nothing away from Rich Rodriguez's squad, which has been dominant and extremely impressive, but, on balance, the Wolverines have the better record of achievement. The good news for the Mountaineers is that they have games upcoming against Louisville, Pitt, and Rutgers in which to demonstrate their legitimacy.

4. Clemson (7)---The Tigers' offensive numbers were overrated because of weak competition, right? Well, Tommy Bowden's team went up against a pretty good defense last Saturday night and Clemson smoked the Yellow Jackets. This is the best team to come out of Fort Hill in many years and the Tigers' uncharacteristic dominance over Georgia Tech proved that they belong in the top five.

To find a Clemson team this good, you'd have to go back to a time when this guy was busy landing the Tigers on probation.

5. Southern California (10)---On the first draft of my ballot, this spot belonged to Arkansas and the Trojans continued to languish at No. 9. Upon further review, I realized I couldn't justify ranking a once-beaten team over an undefeated team when the latter beat the former 50-14 on the former's home field. U.S.C. didn't play last Saturday, which means Pete Carroll's squad looked better this weekend than it has in the last month, and the win over the Hogs is starting to look better and better. Accordingly, Southern California rose a bit higher than I would have liked because I felt obliged to keep the Trojans ahead of the surging Razorbacks.

6. Wisconsin (11)---Since losing to a top-notch Michigan team in the Big House, the Badgers have gone on a tear . . . well, as much as Badgers are capable of going on a tear, anyway. In its last four outings, U.W. has outscored the opposition 165-41. The gang from Madison has turned in enough consistently solid performances, especially defensively, to convince me that these Badgers are for real and deserving of a spot in the top 10.

7. Arkansas (15)---The Razorbacks are 6-1 with a bullet after mauling Ole Miss over the weekend. The Hogs have proven that their win over Auburn was no fluke and the S.E.C. West frontrunner may be underrated at No. 7.

Houston Nutt also gets credit for the hat. (Photograph from Scout.com.)

8. Texas (5)---The Longhorns are the first in a lengthy series of teams that lost ground because they were taken to the wire by opponents they ought to have handled more easily. I didn't think U.T.'s game against the 'Huskers would be much of a contest, but it was and Texas dropped accordingly.

9. Auburn (4)---Something about the Tigers' 38-13 win over Tulane came across as a bit underwhelming. Not long ago, the Plainsmen appeared fearsome; now, Auburn seems workmanlike and talented, but not dominant and intimidating. The War Eagle warrants a top 10 ranking, certainly, but the top five seems like something of a stretch at this point.

10. Boston College (20)---The Seminoles aren't what they used to be, but a win in Tallahassee still counts for something . . . especially one that was closer on the scoreboard than on the field. As usual, the Eagles are a solid football team whose discipline and fundamental soundness earned them the No. 10 spot.

11. Florida (13)---The Gators had the week off before the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Oh, swell.

Michael Adams expects Bulldog Nation to sit through next Saturday's game sober?

12. Tennessee (6)---As I noted last week, the Volunteers had every advantage going for them on the third Saturday in October, yet Tennessee needed a late comeback on its own field to get by an offensively anemic Alabama squad. I had to drop the Big Orange after such a lackluster effort and, since the Vols lost a one-point decision to the Gators, it made sense to rank them one spot below Florida.

13. Louisville (14)---I really didn't want to bump the Cardinals back up after their latest uninspired victory against an overmatched opponent, but the chips had to fall somewhere and I couldn't honestly claim that U. of L. was the third-best team in the Big East, so up went Louisville in order to make room for . . .

14. Rutgers (16)---Anyone who doubted whether the Scarlet Knights were for real may consider his misgivings put to rest. The State University of New Jersey went on the road and beat the other contender for the third-place spot in a conference that's better than it is given credit for being. That deserves a place in the top 15.

Rutgers alumna Kristin Davis is pleased by her alma mater's 7-0 start. (Photograph from Star Pulse.)

15. Notre Dame (9)---If Charlie Weis is such a coaching genius, why is it that, over the course of this season, he has barely survived tussles with such mediocre lightweights as Chan Gailey, John L. Smith, and Karl Dorrell? If Georgia Tech, Michigan State, and U.C.L.A. had head football coaches who exhibited mere competence, Notre Dame would have four losses right now. The 2006 Fighting Irish are the most overrated squad to come out of South Bend since the 2005 Golden Domers.

16. Louisiana State (17)---Feisty Fresno State kept things close with the Bayou Bengals for a bit before falling to L.S.U. Due more to the movement around them than to any particular inclination on my part to reward or punish the Fighting Tigers, Les Miles's squad inched up a notch.

17. California (8)---Don't get me wrong; the Golden Bears are good and all . . . but, if you need overtime to get by Washington at home in this day and age, you're not a top 10 team.

18. Boise State (19)---The Broncos are a fine team, but, because of the weakness of the schedule they face, they need to beat teams convincingly. Instead, B.S.U. clung to a 21-17 lead in the third quarter, which limited the team's upward mobility in the poll.

19. Oregon (12)---At one time, I believed in the Ducks. Boy, did that turn out to be a bad call!

Oregon is No. 19 and the Ducks' mothers dress them funny.

20. Oklahoma (23)---I don't know how much credit a team deserves for beating Colorado, but somebody had to be No. 20 and the Sooners put together a solid win in Norman to get O.U. to 5-2, so here they are.

21. Wake Forest (24)---Clearly, the best way for a team to improve its poll position on my ballot was to take the weekend off and let other teams' stumbles allow it to rise through attrition.

22. Nebraska (18)---The Cornhuskers lost, so they dropped, but they kept it closer than expected, so the Big Red Machine remained ranked.

23. South Carolina (N.R.)---I'm a Georgia fan, so, obviously, I am impressed by an S.E.C. team that can beat Vanderbilt. The Gamecocks have quietly compiled a 5-2 ledger and, while the Palmetto State Poultry will have a tough time getting to seven regular-season wins against the slate that lies ahead, South Carolina has earned a spot in the top 25 . . . for now.

Enjoy it while you can, you smug has-been.

24. Texas A&M (25)---I won't even attempt to justify this one. The Aggies needed overtime to beat Oklahoma State, which ought to disqualify them automatically from ever making it into the top 25 as long as Dennis Franchione has a College Station mailing address, but, since Texas A&M is a 7-1 team that beat the 7-1 team that I ranked No. 25, I couldn't quite see my way clear to ranking the Aggies lower than No. 24.

25. Missouri (N.R.)---I didn't buy into that whole Kansas State thing when the Wildcats were good and I certainly don't buy into it now that they're bad, but hanging 41 points on a conference opponent is a valid achievement that deserves recognition.

Dropping out of the rankings: No. 21 Pittsburgh and No. 22 Georgia Tech. I won't lie to you; I wasn't sad to see either of them go, but neither of them did much to justify being retained in the top 25.

Others receiving consideration: Brigham Young, Maryland, Tulsa, Virginia Tech, and Washington State.

Games I watched: North Carolina-Virginia, Connecticut-West Virginia, and Georgia-Mississippi State. The rest of the time, I was traveling from Athens or to South Georgia.

For whatever it might be worth, that's how it appears to me from my vantage point here at Dawg Sports, but, as always, you are invited to share your opinions upon the subject in the comments below.

Go 'Dawgs!

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