Who's No. 3?

The tremors set off by last night's upset in Piscataway (which I correctly predicted, by the way) continue to reverberate throughout the blogosphere, as the conversation has shifted from questions concerning the Big East's quality and legitimacy as a B.C.S. conference to wondering whether Rutgers is for real.

Does this guy seem the least bit fake to you?

Let's get one issue out of the way from the outset, though. If you are hoping that chaos will hurt the B.C.S. and pave the way to a playoff in Division I-A college football, you are hoping in vain. Far from being harmed by controversy over the national championship game and who should be in it, the B.C.S. is helped by discord, because controversy generates interest, interest generates viewership, and viewership generates revenue.

While Sunday Morning Quarterback undoubtedly is correct that Rutgers (due chiefly to the long history of losing at major college football's oldest program) won't be in the national championship game even if the Scarlet Knights run the table, the more important question is whether the State University of New Jersey should be playing for the national title if the Knights go undefeated.

I have asked you to let me know your answer to that question, but, from my perspective, I believe Rutgers has put itself forcefully and legitimately into contention for the No. 1 ranking at season's end.

First of all, the Knights are good. They aren't flashy, but they play fundamentally sound football in the old school mold, combining rock-ribbed defense with a punishing running game, led by a quarterback with limited physical skills who seems to do nothing well except win consistently and guided by a defensive coach whose fiery intensity gets the most out of his players.

Has that combination ever produced a legitimate national champion? Well, there was that one time. . . .

(Photograph from The Tennessean.)

All right, the 1980 Georgia team is one example, but what about strength of schedule? You may recall that, heading into the 1981 Sugar Bowl, some pundits wondered whether the 'Dawgs had played anyone of note. The Bulldog faithful, recalling the Yellow Jackets' tie with then-No. 1 Notre Dame, retorted: "We beat Georgia Tech, for one."

If the Buckeyes (who won a national championship in 2002 with a team not altogether unlike the 2006 Scarlet Knights) run the table and ask that question of the Rutgers faithful in Glendale, the partisans of the State University of New Jersey will be able to point to their 33-0 win over Illinois, a team that put serious scares into Wisconsin and, yes, even Ohio State. The Fighting Illini also went on the road and beat Michigan State by three points in East Lansing . . . a feat identical to that accomplished by media darling Notre Dame.

We all understand that the transitive property is not universally applicable in college football; if Team A beat Team B and Team B beat Team C, that does not necessarily mean that Team C won't beat Team A later in the year. However, the opponents appearing on particular teams' slates provide some basis for comparison. While these comparisons are of dubious predictive value, they are the essence of resume ranking.

That being the case, shouldn't an undefeated Rutgers squad get considerable credit for Thursday evening's win? West Virginia, the undefeated Big East frontrunner, was ranked No. 3. Upon beating the previously unbeaten Mountaineers at home, Louisville, the undefeated Big East frontrunner, replaced W.V.U. at No. 3. Upon beating the previously unbeaten Cardinals at home, shouldn't Rutgers, as the new undefeated Big East frontrunner, replace U. of L. at No. 3?

An affirmative answer would avoid cognitive dissonance, to be sure, but a reasonable negative response might sound something like this: "Not if the next teams down on the list had better resumes." Fair enough, then; let us look at the next teams down on the list.

If you wouldn't mind, this gentleman would like to stand behind you and look over your shoulder while you're counting the votes for the top 25, please.

The current BlogPoll has Texas ranked fourth, Florida ranked fifth, Auburn ranked sixth, California ranked seventh, Southern California ranked eighth, Arkansas ranked ninth, and Notre Dame ranked tenth. The Longhorns, the Gators, the Tigers, the Golden Bears, the Trojans, the Razorbacks, and the Fighting Irish each have one loss. (11th-ranked L.S.U. has two losses, which is why I have used the outer edge of the top 10 as the cutoff point.)

The aforementioned contenders' best wins were against Oklahoma, Louisiana State, Florida, Oregon, Arkansas, Auburn, and (arguably) Georgia Tech, respectively. The highest ranking for the Sooners was No. 15; for the Bayou Bengals, No. 5 (for two weeks); for the Gators, No. 2; for the Ducks, No. 10; for the Razorbacks, No. 9; for the Plainsmen, No. 2 (for three weeks); and, for the Yellow Jackets, No. 13.

The Scarlet Knights beat third-ranked Louisville, which gives undefeated Rutgers a higher-quality "best win" than that possessed by once-beaten Cal, Florida, Notre Dame, Texas, or U.S.C. Provided that one or more of them runs the table, the Bears, the Gators, the Irish, the 'Horns, and the Trojans shouldn't even be in the conversation with the State University of New Jersey, as they cannot match Rutgers, either in wins and losses or in signature victories.

Another factor in the Scarlet Knights' favor is that no alumnae of the Universities of California, Florida, Notre Dame, Texas, or Southern California have ever been voted the best-looking woman on the face of the planet.

That leaves Arkansas and Auburn as the only once-beaten teams with a serious argument for getting the nod over an undefeated Rutgers. If everyone wins out, the Tigers might have the best claim to being the nation's top one-loss team, but the War Eagle will not have won its own conference championship or even represented its division in the league title tilt. After the obvious injustice of including Nebraska in 2001 and Oklahoma in 2003 (which was confirmed on the field in the designated national championship game in each of those years), it is hard to believe anyone could justify promoting Auburn over an undefeated B.C.S. conference champion.

The Hogs, therefore, are the only team with a legitimate claim to oust the Scarlet Knights from the national championship game and Arkansas's argument would have some substance to it, as the team would have to win out over L.S.U. in the regular season and over Florida in the S.E.C. championship game. Even so, though, could you really rationalize giving a spot in the national championship game to a team that lost 50-14 at home?

There is still a lot of football yet to be played and an undefeated Rutgers squad is by no means a foregone conclusion. If it comes to pass, though, the State University of New Jersey should receive its second consecutive invitation to play in a bowl in Arizona.

Go 'Dawgs!

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