I have begun employing the "resume ranking" system, so Thursday's and Saturday's games contributed significant new data, but, since previously existing information determined the arrangement of last week's top 25, the variations based upon the addition of one more gridiron outcome to each team's reputation were not jarring, even where they were important. Hence, four teams (including three of the top five) did not move at all, six others moved only one poll position, and three more moved just two spaces, so half of my ballot budged only slightly or not at all.
A resume is crucial to determining a team's poll ranking . . . and a person's ability to make sandwiches professionally. (Photograph from Greta Brinkman.)
Each team's record is given in parentheses following each team's name. Here, in my estimation, are the top 25 teams in Division I-A college football:
1. Ohio State (11-0)---When the clear-cut No. 1 team in the nation goes on the road and hangs a 54-10 whipping on a conference opponent, that's grounds for keeping that team at the top of the standings. At this point, I honestly don't see an argument for ranking the Buckeyes anywhere other than first.
2. Michigan (11-0)---The Wolverines also traveled to take on a team from the lower reaches of the Big Ten and, while the result was less impressive than Ohio State's win, the Maize and Blue demonstrated that they continue to be deserving of a spot in the top two.
3. Rutgers (9-0)---I believe I explained my rationale for this ranking pretty thoroughly the other day, but the Scarlet Knights' undefeated record in a B.C.S. conference, coupled with their high-quality win over Louisville, vaults them into the No. 3 spot previously occupied by prior Big East frontrunners. The losses by several other once-beaten contenders deprived this decision of much of its potential controversy.
Rutgers alumna Kristin Davis was pleased to learn that her alma mater's football team had been ranked third on the Dawg Sports BlogPoll ballot.
4. Arkansas (9-1)---I had the Razorbacks ranked eighth on last week's ballot. Subsequent losses by four of the seven teams ranked above Arkansas eased the Hogs' ascension, but the real reason Houston Nutt's squad advanced was the convincing nature of the team's victory over Tennessee in a game that was not as close as the final score indicated.
5. Southern California (8-1)---The Trojans stayed put on my ballot, as their 35-10 win against Oregon verified my view of U.S.C. from a week ago but did not allow the Men of Troy to surpass the Razorbacks' high-quality win over Auburn and its quality win over Tennessee. (Ironically, Arkansas gets more credit for its quality loss to Southern California than Pete Carroll's squad gets for its loss to lower-tier conference competition.)
6. Notre Dame (9-1)---Since I promised to show the Fighting Irish a little love, here it is: Notre Dame is back in the top 10 after beating Air Force convincingly. Yes, it was just the Falcons and, yes, the Golden Domers appear to be facing the service academies in descending order of difficulty, but the Irish profited from losses and lackluster performances by those ranked ahead of them. Honestly, at this point, I can't come up with more than five teams that have outperformed Charlie Weis's crew over the course of the campaign, so Notre Dame deserves the No. 6 ranking.
After Georgia beats Auburn, even Notre Dame gets a free pass here at Dawg Sports.
7. Florida (9-1)---The Gators kept on winning, but more deserving contenders leapt over them because the Orange and Blue simply have not looked impressive since their win over L.S.U. Aside from that home date with the Bayou Bengals, Florida has been lackluster in unconvincing victories over Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, Vanderbilt, and, now, South Carolina. When their loss at Auburn is tossed into the mix, the Gators look like a team that is scraping by, not a contender for national (or, honestly, even conference) honors.
8. Louisville (8-1)---Although the Cardinals lost to the State University of New Jersey, U. of L.'s lone setback came on the road to an undefeated conference opponent in a tight ballgame and Bobby Petrino's squad still can claim custody of a quality win over West Virginia and a semi-quality road win over Kansas State that suddenly looks much better than it did a week ago.
Rutgers alumna Kristin Davis still can't believe the Scarlet Knights beat Louisville!
9. Auburn (9-2)---All the one-loss teams that now are two-loss teams had to land somewhere. On the strength of their respective resumes heading into the weekend, I kept the Plainsmen, the Longhorns, and the Golden Bears in the same sequence relative to one another, but I dropped the War Eagle farther because Texas and Cal lost close games on the road, while Auburn was ridden hard and put up wet by the Bulldogs at home. I hate Auburn.
10. Texas (9-2)---The Longhorns might have fallen farther, had they not shown the grit to come back and make it close. The fact that Mack Brown's squad refused to go quietly kept Texas in the top 10 and prevented the 'Horns from dropping behind Cal.
11. California (8-2)---Just when the Berkeley Bears had re-established their credibility as a challenger to U.S.C. in the Pac-10, they had to go and lose to Arizona. That's the kind of thing that'll get a team ousted from the top 10 for sure.
12. Wake Forest (9-1)---This poll position is liable to raise some eyebrows. The Demon Deacons claimed one of the biggest wins in school history to continue what is likely to be the best season in school history, yet Wake Forest did not rise on my ballot. Frankly, the Deacs' conference affiliation is holding them back. Yeah, they beat Florida State . . . so has every other good team the Seminoles have faced. Wake is the best team in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but the A.C.C. is the worst of the six B.C.S. leagues. I have a hard time believing that any of the 11 teams ranked ahead of the Demon Deacons wouldn't have at least as good a record as Wake Forest if they had been fortunate enough to have played an A.C.C. schedule. There just isn't enough quality in that conference to justify ranking the league's frontrunner any higher.
For the record, I'm not ragging on that A.C.C. (Photograph from Coalition on the Niagara Escarpment.)
13. West Virginia (8-1)---The Mountaineers moved incrementally after their 42-24 win over Cincinnati, which did little to affect my estimation of W.V.U. Rich Rodriguez's squad swapped spots with Wisconsin after the Badgers' narrow escape against what turned out to be a pretty mediocre Iowa squad.
14. Wisconsin (10-1)---Was that the quality win the Badgers have been lacking? If so, you wouldn't know it by me. U.W. lands at No. 14 because that's the lowest I conscientiously am able to rank a 10-1 Big Ten team. Honestly, though, I have no particular reason to believe that either Wisconsin or West Virginia wouldn't beat Wake Forest, so resume ranking is not without its drawbacks.
15. Louisiana State (8-2)---A 28-14 win over Alabama is about what we would've expected, so the Bayou Bengals' stature remained largely unchanged in my eyes. L.S.U. ascended a notch due chiefly to the Broncos' latest lackluster effort against weaker competition.
16. Oklahoma (8-2)---The Sooners, like the Fighting Tigers, won by about the margin you might've anticipated, so they don't look much different to me today from the way they appeared a week ago. B.S.U.'s slight drop paved the way for O.U.'s slight rise.
At Oklahoma, the wins come sweeping down the plains. (Photograph from Movie Poster.com.)
17. Boise State (10-0)---Given the softness of the Broncos' schedule, any upward mobility by B.S.U. was dependent upon convincing victories by the fellows from the Gem State. A 23-20 come-from-behind win over San Jose State wasn't exactly what I had in mind, so Boise State did some backsliding.
18. Brigham Young (8-2)---The Cougars are college football's second-best "mid-major" team and I'm not so sure they're second by all that much after they hung a 55-7 whipping on Wyoming, a team that lost one-score games to Air Force, Boise State, and Virginia. B.Y.U.'s two losses prevent the team from Provo from moving up any more, but the Cougars deserved to be counted only a half-step behind the Broncos.
19. Boston College (8-2)---I'm not any happier than you are about the fact that another A.C.C. squad has ascended through attrition in order to claim a spot in the top 20, particularly when the Eagles' rise followed a 28-7 win over Duke at home. We simply have reached the point at which all the teams deserving of a top 25 ranking have been given their due, leaving room for teams of questionable quality to receive credit for which they are of dubious worthiness.
20. Nebraska (8-3)---Two of the Cornhuskers' three losses came against top-flight opposition (Southern California and Texas), with one of those being a near-miss in Lincoln. In the last two weeks, the Big Red Machine has put together a semi-quality win over Missouri and a quality win over Texas A&M, which got Nebraska back into the top 20.
Let's not go overboard or anything; it's not like this guy is back running the show in Lincoln, but, just the same, Nebraska's not bad. (Photograph from A.B.C. Sports.)
21. Tennessee (7-3)---The Volunteers, the Aggies, and the Ducks were ranked 18th, 19th, and 20th, respectively, on my ballot last week. Each of their losses this weekend caused them to drop, obviously, but Tennessee's significant setback at now-No. 4 Arkansas, Texas A&M's close defeat in College Station against now-No. 20 Nebraska, and Oregon's large loss at No. 5 Southern California all reduced the teams on the short ends of those scores approximately to an equal degree, so each of the three slid three spots.
22. Texas A&M (8-3)---I considered booting the Aggies from the poll altogether, but, in order to do so, I would have had to have ranked another A.C.C. team and I simply couldn't justify that, so Texas A&M continues to hang on in the twenties.
23. Oregon (7-3)---The Ducks are hanging on by a thread, but they have a quality victory over Oklahoma. Yes, that win is somewhat tainted, but that fact only goes so far and even a dubious quality win is more than many teams can claim, so Oregon clings to a spot in the top 25 for another week.
24. Georgia Tech (8-2)---The only reason the Yellow Jackets aren't the weakest 8-2 team from a B.C.S. conference is that they rallied to beat Maryland, which is the weakest 8-2 team from a B.C.S. conference. It seems absurd to suggest that one-fourth of the A.C.C. deserves placement in the top 25 and the Ramblin' Wreck's claim to legitimacy grows more spurious with each passing Saturday. The Golden Tornado hasn't played a good game of football since September 30 and that win at Virginia Tech is looking worse and worse all the time. Since then, Georgia Tech has been blown out by what we now know to have been an overrated Clemson team, required late outbursts to get by Maryland, Miami, and N.C. State, and clawed its way to a 7-0 win over an atrocious North Carolina team. A quality loss to Notre Dame on Labor Day weekend and the clinching of the championship of the weaker division of the weakest major conference are all that keep the scrappy Jackets in the top 25.
You know you're waiting for this guy to melt down completely.
25. Hawaii (8-2)---Someone had to be No. 25 and I just couldn't stomach giving the nod to another mediocre A.C.C. squad. The Warriors have won seven straight outings, with their only two losses coming on the road against Alabama (25-17) and Boise State (41-34). Seven of Hawaii's eight wins have been convincing, including Saturday's 61-17 smashing of Louisiana Tech, and the team's other victory was a 41-34 decision against a Nevada squad that now stands at 7-3.
Teams dropping from the rankings: No. 24 Texas Christian (7-2) and No. 25 Virginia Tech (8-2). The Horned Frogs' 27-21 win at New Mexico and the Hokies' dallying about with Kent State left me underwhelmed, allowing more deserving candidates to enter the rankings in their stead.
Other teams receiving consideration: Clemson (8-3), Georgia (7-4), Houston (8-3), Kansas State (7-4), and Maryland (8-2). Strong finishes by any of those squads could cement their claim to a place in the top 25.
Games I watched: Northern Illinois-Toledo; Louisville-Rutgers; U.A.B.-U.T.E.P.; Georgia-Auburn; Florida-South Carolina; Arkansas-Tennessee; and parts of Alabama-Louisiana State, Florida State-Wake Forest, and Kansas State-Texas.
An additional consideration worth bearing in mind for those who hope to change my opinion upon a particular point: In my previously-cited defense of Rutgers's right to the No. 3 spot on my ballot, I argued that the Scarlet Knights' best win was over a better team (then-No. 3 Louisville) than the best team beaten by most of the one-loss contenders. This contention generated some disagreement and it has occurred to me since that my argument might be used to justify Georgia Tech's claim to the 1990 national championship, since the Yellow Jackets defeated a nominal No. 1 team (Virginia), even though Colorado played a significantly more difficult schedule. This is a compelling reason for looking not just at a team's best win, but at its schedule as a whole, so anyone wishing to persuade me that Rutgers should not be No. 3 will want to take an approach that emphasizes another contender's resume in toto.
Any attempt to convince me to lower an undefeated Scarlet Knight squad in the rankings will, however, be met with the stern disapproval of Rutgers alumna Kristin Davis.
Those are the 25 best teams in the land, as well as those knocking on the door, from my perspective, but, as always, I remain open to reasonable arguments in favor of a contrary position. Your thoughts are welcome in the comments below.