I published my BlogPoll ballot on Sunday evening, so I suppose it is only fair for me to attempt to explain my rankings before I am called to account for them.
These are my thoughts, for whatever they might be worth:
1. Ohio State (1)---The Buckeyes appear to be on cruise control, fielding arguably Division I-A's best offensive player (Troy Smith) and best defensive player (James Laurinaitis) while making mincemeat of the opposition. O.S.U. went on the road and claimed convincing victories over two teams in my top 15, which solidifies the Buckeyes' claim to having college football's best resume.
2. Florida (12)---Granted, the game was at the Swamp, but home field advantage seldom has seemed to matter in the series between the Gators and the Bayou Bengals; U.F. has won in Baton Rouge seven times since 1989 and L.S.U. arrived in Gainesville having won two straight games at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, so Florida's victory over Louisiana State was an impressive statement, which, when coupled with the Gators' increasingly impressive road win over the Volunteers, establishes the Orange and Blue as the clear No. 2. (Try diagramming the preceding sentence, by the way.)
. . . And we all know what to do with No. 2, don't we? (Photograph from Kohler.)
3. Michigan (3)---Over the course of the last month, the Maize and Blue have posted solid victories over Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan State, thereby earning a No. 3 ranking. (The preceding sentence lets you know that all's right with the world, doesn't it?)
4. Texas (4)---The defending national champions' double-digit victory in Dallas cemented U.T.'s claim to being the best of the once-beaten teams in the land. I might have moved the 'Horns up another notch, but, frankly, I haven't been sold on Oklahoma all year long, so there's only so much credit a team gets for beating the Sooners in 2006. Nevertheless, Texas remains a top five team.
5. West Virginia (11)---Yes, I know Mississippi State is bad . . . maybe even bad enough to lose to Jacksonville State, notwithstanding my prediction to the contrary. Nevertheless, the Mountaineers walked into Starkville and, despite allowing the home team to gain 306 yards and 25 first downs while holding the ball for nearly 34 minutes of playing time, averaged over seven yards per carry on the way to 314 rushing yards and a 42-14 victory. W.V.U. may not have the best schedule, but the Mountain Men are proving how dominant they are.
Obligatory picture of Steve Slaton from the Sugar Bowl. (Sigh.)
6. Tennessee (10)---Frankly, I don't like leaving the Volunteers out of the top five. Since the Gators are number two and the Big Orange lost to Florida by one point, there's a pretty compelling argument for ranking Tennessee third. However, I couldn't conscientiously drop the Wolverines or the Longhorns after big wins in rivalry games and the Mountaineers earned the upgrade, so the Vols will have to lurk at the outer margins of the top five . . . for now.
7. Louisville (6)---Don't let the final score fool you; the Cardinals didn't beat Middle Tennessee State nearly as handily as the margin indicated. U. of L. is good, but Bobby Petrino's team is not invincible. I'm not entirely convinced that I shouldn't swap the order of my No. 7 and No. 8 teams.
8. California (13)---The Golden Bears went out and soundly whipped an Oregon team that had impressed me, so the student-athletes from the People's Republic of Berkeley got a big jump in the standings. I wrestled with whether to rank Cal ahead of U.S.C., since the former has a loss and the latter remains unbeaten, but, inasmuch as the Bears have manhandled every opponent since their season-opening loss to what we now know to be a very good Tennessee team, I decided to give Jeff Tedford's squad the benefit of the doubt after back-to-back shaky performances by the Trojans.
The Golden Bears have figured out the secret to success against the Ducks: dress even uglier than they do. (Photograph from Addicted to Quack.)
9. Notre Dame (14)---Yes, Stanford is woeful, but the Fighting Irish were methodical, if somewhat short of spectacular, as the Roman Catholics made short work of the Cardinal . . . which may or may not be the plot of an Umberto Eco novel. In any case, the Golden Domers were appropriately dominant, gaining more than double the number of first downs achieved by Stanford (29-14) and nearly twice as many total yards (436-226) while converting over half of their third downs. Brady Quinn had a typical day at the office, completing 27 of 37 pass attempts for 232 yards and a trio of touchdowns. The Irish slowly are starting to resemble the kind of team we were warned they might be.
10. Southern California (9)---Washington probably is better than Washington State, but the Trojans were playing at home and, for the second consecutive week, U.S.C. never truly put its opponent away. Southern California looks rather distinctly like a team that's living on borrowed time and skating by on reputation, but they'll remain in the top 10 for at least another week. We'll find out what the Men of Troy are made of in a season-ending stretch run against Oregon, Cal, Notre Dame, and U.C.L.A.
11. Clemson (8)---Thanks to the comeback, I didn't drop the Tigers far, but, when Tommy Bowden's team went sleepwalking into Winston-Salem after struggling with the Demon Deacons in recent seasons, I had to bump them down a bit just to get their attention.
12. Oregon (2)---You disappoint me, Ducks.
13. Wisconsin (17)---More so than any other team on my ballot (with the possible exception of Nebraska), the Badgers are a bafflement to me. They keep winning and they keep doing so by definitive margins, so they enjoy an increasing entitlement to the benefit of the doubt, but danged if I know just how good Wisconsin really is.
14. Arkansas (N.R.)---If you're an unranked team who's trying to get my attention, there is no better way to do it than by traveling to the Plains and whipping the Auburn Tigers. (I hate Auburn.) That calls for a re-evaluation of a team I didn't think was all that good just last week. The Razorbacks weren't completely embarrassed by the Trojans the way they were last year and they had to survive a scare from Vanderbilt . . . but then the Hogs registered back-to-back victories over both Yellowhammer State schools in the Western Division. Houston Nutt's team has served formal notice of being a contender.
15. Iowa (20)---After the midpoint of the second quarter against Purdue, the Hawkeyes never led by fewer than three scores. That earned a 5-1 Big Ten team additional respect and made the sin of losing to the No. 1 team in the nation appear a bit more forgivable.
16. Auburn (5)---I couldn't conscientiously rank the Plainsmen ahead of the Razorbacks, but there was only so high I could rank the Hogs after leaving them out of the poll for so long, so the Tigers wound up here after a poor performance at home.
17. Boise State (19)---A little over two minutes into last weekend's game with the Broncos, Louisiana Tech took a 7-0 lead, which proved more than a little tenuous as B.S.U. proceeded to roll over the Bulldogs. The home team held a 55-7 advantage before the visitors from the Pelican State tacked on a meaningless score with 34 seconds remaining in the game, but the victory remained decisive. Boise State will need to play better on the road and beat tougher competition in order to continue moving up on my ballot, but a 6-0 ledger with blowout wins over Oregon State and Utah earned the Broncos a slight improvement.
18. Georgia (15)---I reported earlier that I actually felt better after the Bulldogs' loss to Tennessee than I did after their win over Ole Miss. The 'Dawgs lost and, had the game gone on any longer, the Red and Black would have lost by more, so, naturally, the Classic City Canines had to tumble, but, thanks to the revival (though not yet renaissance) of the Bulldog offense, there probably is more evidence that this is a good team than the previous two outings provided. We knew beforehand that this wasn't a top 10 team, but still Georgia is a top 20 team.
We're working on a new verse to the fight song. It still needs some polish, but it'll be something along the lines of "fight on for the motherland and give the ball to Southerland." (Photograph from Greater Atlanta Christian School.)
19. Georgia Tech (16)---As always, I place a premium on consistency of quality performance and I punish poor play against inferior opponents. The Terrapins, who are as slow as their namesake, allowed the Yellow Jackets to claim the lead for all of 20 seconds before a 100-yard kickoff return tied the score with a little over 10 and a half minutes remaining in the first quarter . . . and Maryland would not thereafter relinquish the lead until a little under 10 and a half minutes remained in the game. In college football, every game counts and, when you need a fourth-quarter rally to beat an overmatched team, you lose ground. I did it to my team after the Colorado game and I'm doing the same (albeit to a lesser extent) to the Ramblin' Wreck, as well.
20. Missouri (25)---The Tigers are 6-0, with wins over three B.C.S. conference teams by a combined margin of 100-41. That sounds like a team that's worthy of inclusion in the top 20, even if it is Missouri.
21. Rutgers (21)---Last week, I said the Scarlet Knights were "still another win away" from making it into the top 20, but the squad was idle in the interim. The State University of New Jersey will get its chance to move up in the standings when it takes on the U.S. Naval Academy on Saturday.
Rutgers alumna Kristin Davis distracts attention from her incessant fretting over this weekend's showdown with Navy by donning a festive hat for the occasion. (Photograph from Entertainment Weekly.)
22. Nebraska (18)---I agree with the Rakes of Mallow, who chastised slow learner Bill Callahan for his refusal "to open up the playbook and try to win." The Cornhuskers' victory over a mediocre Iowa State squad hardly constituted a signature win, as the Big Red Machine held a 14-7 lead with less than a minute remaining in the second quarter. Nebraska is winning games, but nothing about this team is impressing me at the moment.
23. Louisiana State (7)---I hated having to drop the Bayou Bengals this far, but the Gators' margin of victory left me no choice. L.S.U. is the country's best two-loss team . . . yet still the Fighting Tigers are a two-loss team.
24. Navy (N.R.)---Despite a furious Falcon rally in the fourth quarter, the Midshipmen held off Air Force with a bruising running game, gaining 317 of their 325 yards on the ground. In so doing, the U.S. Naval Academy improved its record to 5-1 and earned its way back into the top 25. The Middies' date with the State University of New Jersey looms large; will the red of the Scarlet Knights give these sailors delights or, in Annapolis on Saturday morning, should Navy take warning?
It's been a while since Navy had a run this good. (Photograph from Sports Artifacts.)
25. Wake Forest (24)---I wrestled over whether to drop the Demon Deacons from the poll, but they gave the best team in the A.C.C. a good fight and I thought expelling them altogether was excessive in light of Wake Forest's performance. If I am wrong in my estimation of the Deacs, we will find out soon enough, as the second half of their slate includes games at N.C. State and Florida State, as well as home dates with Boston College and Virginia Tech.
Dropping out of the top 25: No. 22 Florida State and No. 23 Washington. I regretted the latter demotion and I hope the Huskies will earn their way back into the poll.
Others receiving consideration: Boston College, Colorado State, N.C. State, Pitt, South Carolina, Tulsa, U.C.L.A., and Washington State. I would particularly like to be given a reason to rank the Wolfpack, if only because it would provide a welcome opportunity to make Chuck Amato references.
For instance, have you ever noticed how, in postgame interviews, the only answer Coach Amato can give to a question is to say a random noun and repeat it three times? It's like he's playing a game of "Mad Libs" with someone who has attention deficit disorder. (Photograph from Scout.com.)
What I watched: On Tuesday, I watched Southern Miss-Tulsa; on Wednesday, Central Florida-Marshall; on Thursday, Florida State-N.C. State; and, on Friday, Louisville-Middle Tennessee. On Saturday, I watched Clemson-Wake Forest, saw part of Arkansas-Auburn and listened to the rest of it on the radio while in the car, and attended the Georgia-Tennessee game. On Sunday, I rested.
Now you know how I called 'em and why I called 'em like I did. Of course, that's just my opinion, so please feel free to leave me a comment offering your views on my rankings.