A short while back, in response to a comment left by Peter Bean of Burnt Orange Nation, I began making a concerted effort to rank teams on my BlogPoll ballot using a coherent, consistent methodology, employing the approach known as "resume ranking."
The utility of this method was made readily apparent this week, as the water became substantially more muddied. Although there were two or three games of considerable consequence this weekend, there also were a ton of games of utter insignificance, as teams took on patsy opponents and taught us little or nothing about themselves in the process.
Georgia Tech, I'm looking at you. . . . (Photograph from Football Fanatics.)
Having blown the call on yesterday's big game, I felt inclined to start over from square one, so the attention I paid to last week's ballot was minimal at best. If one team moved in front of another team, that probably had less to do with those two teams' most recent results than with the respective squads' record of achievement over the course of the campaign as a whole.
Here are the rankings on and the rationale behind my latest BlogPoll ballot, with each team's record provided parenthetically:
1. Ohio State (12-0)---The Buckeyes are the last remaining unbeaten team from a major conference. Jim Tressel's squad has won comfortably against most of the teams on its schedule, including Texas in Austin, and Ohio State just beat the No. 2 team in the country head-to-head. That the Buckeyes are No. 1 is as clear as the crystal football . . . but, after that, matters get murky in a great big hurry.
If the national championship game pits Ohio State versus Southern California and the devil ascends through the 50 yard line at halftime, will he be coming to lay claim to this man's soul or to Pete Carroll's?
2. Michigan (11-1)---I wrestled quite a bit with the rankings of the once-beaten teams and, although I do not favor a rematch in Glendale, I cannot conscientiously claim that the Wolverines are not the second-best team in the country, despite the fact that their defense sometimes looked like the Keystone Kops in Columbus. Michigan's lone setback is the very definition of a quality loss: on the road in a close contest against the No. 1 team in the country. The Maize and Blue did not dilute their strength of schedule by playing a Division I-AA team and all but one of their 11 wins came by a margin of more than seven points. The Wolverines have beaten four teams with winning records and two others that are bowl-eligible. Most notably, Lloyd Carr's team owns quality wins over Notre Dame and Wisconsin. The Fighting Irish and the Badgers are unbeaten other than by the Wolverines and both squads are ranked in my top 15. While the Notre Dame-Southern California and Arkansas-Florida games may change the math somewhat, Michigan has earned the right to retain the No. 2 spot on the strength of the Wolverines' resume.
3. Southern California (9-1)---I considered keeping the Trojans out of the top three, since Pete Carroll's bunch skated by in close wins over Arizona State, Washington, and Washington State before falling to an Oregon State squad that has lost four games. However, U.S.C.'s only loss was by two points on the road against a bowl-bound conference opponent and the Trojans played a legitimate schedule. Southern California did not face any Division I-AA opponents, the Trojans have beaten six teams with winning records and a seventh (Washington State) that finished the season at .500, and U.S.C. can claim quality victories over Arkansas, Cal, and Nebraska.
4. Florida (10-1)---The Gators, like the Trojans, raised suspicions in my mind by winning only narrowly against Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt. Nevertheless, Florida's only loss came on the road against a 10-win team and, despite facing a Division I-AA opponent, the Big Lizards beat six teams with winning records, as well as a 6-6 Alabama squad. Of particular note is Florida's win over L.S.U., which gave the Gators the final boost into the No. 4 spot.
No, Urban, you're not No. 1, you're No. 4.
5. Arkansas (10-1)---I hated dropping the Razorbacks a notch, even after their lackluster win over 3-8 Mississippi State, but, on balance, I had to give the Gators the nod for their overall resume. Although the Hogs' only loss was to the Pac-10 champion, that defeat came at home by a sizable margin and the remainder of Arkansas's schedule is weakened by the inclusion of a Division I-AA opponent. Houston Nutt's team survived scares from Alabama, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt, three teams with a combined 16-19 record which the Hogs beat by a combined nine points. Only three of the Division I-A teams the Razorbacks defeated have winning records, but two of that trio are Auburn and Tennessee, each of which Arkansas beat convincingly to retain a place in the top five.
6. Auburn (10-2)---Some eyebrows may be raised by my inclusion of a twice-beaten Tiger team ahead of several once-beaten squads, particularly after the Plainsmen's less than impressive 22-15 win at Alabama. Nevertheless, the War Eagle has winged its way to the sixth spot on my ballot by beating Florida, L.S.U., South Carolina, and Washington State. One of Auburn's two losses came against a current top five team and two of the Tigers' 10 victories were over opponents presently in my top 25.
7. Texas (9-2)---The Longhorns were off (not idle!) this week, but Mack Brown's crew rose in the rankings because their open date gave me time for a reflective pause. Truthfully, Auburn and Texas bring virtually the same resumes to the table, so their positions quite easily could have been reversed; perhaps my S.E.C. homerism kept me from ranking the 'Horns ahead of the Plainsmen, but, then again, I hate Auburn. In any case, Texas, like the Tigers, lost to one highly-ranked opponent at home by a large margin and beat two teams currently ranked on my ballot. Although the Longhorns' second loss (by three against Kansas State on the road) was more forgivable than Auburn's (37-15 to Georgia at home), the War Eagle's two best wins (Florida and L.S.U.) were better than Texas's two best conquests (Nebraska and Oklahoma), which is why the 'Horns landed at No. 7 instead of at No. 6.
8. Rutgers (9-1)---Is there a Big East team that can handle success? The Scarlet Knights' 30-11 loss at Cincinnati was detrimental not only to the resume of the State University of New Jersey, but to those of its fellow conference frontrunners, as well. Rutgers fell behind two twice-beaten teams because it lost to a six-win team, claimed close wins over a bad North Carolina team and an average South Florida team, and diluted its schedule strength by playing Howard. (I'm not sure whether that's a Division I-AA team or just some random guy named Howard, nor am I sure which victory would be less impressive.) The Knights remained in the top 10, however, because they have beaten five Division I-A teams with winning records and their two best wins (over Louisville and Navy) are better than Notre Dame's two best wins (over Georgia Tech and Navy).
Frankly, Rutgers alumna Kristin Davis doesn't want to talk about it.
9. Louisville (9-1)---I didn't want to drop the Cardinals after their 31-8 dismantling of U.S.F., but U. of L.'s quality loss (by three at Rutgers) lost a bit of its luster this weekend. The Cards only fell one spot, though, because Louisville beat six teams with winning records, played no Division I-AA opponents, beat all but one of its nine victims by more than a touchdown, claimed a quality win over West Virginia, and possesses semi-quality wins over a quartet of seven-win squads.
10. Notre Dame (10-1)---Army is 3-8, so the Golden Domers' 41-9 thrashing of the Black Knights counts for little. The Fighting Irish were blown out at home by the best team they faced and they escaped with three-point victories against imploding Michigan State and U.C.L.A. teams. Nevertheless, Notre Dame has beaten five teams with winning records and has not faced a Division I-AA opponent, so, despite their lack of a quality win over a team presently ranked in my top 20, the Irish will stay in my top 10. I'll be honest with you, though . . . I thought about dropping the Domers like a rock after I saw that they broke out the green jerseys for Army. That was just plain lame.
Designated Notre Dame poster gal Shania Twain extends an invitation to the service academies to visit South Bend.
11. West Virginia (9-1)---The Mountaineers are a solid football team, yet W.V.U. has the second-weakest resume among the once-beaten teams. Rich Rodriguez's squad lost by 10 against the best team on its schedule and, although none of the Mountain Men's nine wins have been close calls, one came against a Division I-AA opponent and only four were over teams with winning records . . . three of which are 6-5. While battering a rival on the road counts for something (which is why W.V.U. rose two spots), West Virginia's second-best win was against a middling Pitt squad and the Mountaineers' signature victory over Maryland isn't looking as good as it did a week ago.
12. Louisiana State (9-2)---An overtime victory against a 3-8 team seldom serves as sufficient justification for promoting a team, but this week's rankings were made largely without reference to last week's ballot and I was going on the Bayou Bengals' overall resume. L.S.U.'s two losses came on the road against teams now ranked in my top six and the Tigers beat a top 20 opponent on the road.
13. Oklahoma (9-2)---In spite of the fact that the Sooners' 36-10 win over Baylor counts for little, a case could be made for ranking O.U. ahead of L.S.U. The Fighting Tigers got the nod because they lost to the No. 4 and No. 6 teams but beat the No. 17 team, whereas Oklahoma lost to the No. 7 team and an unranked team but beat the No. 19 team.
14. Boise State (11-0)---The Broncos' 49-10 victory over hapless Utah State proves nothing, but further reflection has convinced me that I have been too hard on B.S.U. After all, Boise State has wins over Oregon State and Hawaii, so there is some meat on the Broncos' schedule. Consequently, they moved past the last of the once-beaten squads.
Honestly, I'm still having trouble getting past those uniforms and that field. (Photograph from Scout.com.)
15. Wisconsin (11-1)---A 35-3 bludgeoning of Buffalo does not impress me, nor does much else that the Badgers have accomplished this season. U.W. hasn't had to win any close ones, but that could just be because Wisconsin has faced a Division I-AA opponent and has beaten just two teams with winning records. On the road against Michigan, the Badgers failed their only real test of the season, so the "1" on the right-hand side of their ledger looms significantly larger than the "11" on the left-hand side. Wisconsin drops a spot to No. 15 because the Badgers are the least accomplished one-loss team.
16. Brigham Young (9-2)---As noted by L.D., the Cougars aren't bad. Their two setbacks were close losses on the road against B.C.S. conference opponents, one of whom is in my top 25. Two of their wins came against Texas Christian and Tulsa. Even B.Y.U.'s 42-17 defeat of New Mexico counts for something, since the Lobos are one win away from bowl-eligibility.
17. Tennessee (8-3)---Yes, it was just Vanderbilt, but not a lot of folks have been waltzing into Nashville and hanging a 39-10 whipping on the Commodores lately. That was enough to move the Volunteers past Nebraska and into the role of the nation's top thrice-defeated team.
18. Nebraska (8-3)---The Cornhuskers had a bye week, which allowed the Big Orange to leapfrog the Big Red. While there may be a certain "you snooze, you lose" element to this, Nebraska still moved up two spots, so let's not hear a lot of complaining, all right?
Yes, Nebraska is a top 20 team again, but let's not go thinking this guy is lining up under center or anything. (Photograph from E.S.P.N.)
19. Texas A&M (8-3)---The Aggies didn't play, either, but the attrition above them allowed the student-athletes from College Station to inch up, landing just behind a conference opponent with an identical record to which Texas A&M lost by one point at home. That seems fair, doesn't it?
20. California (8-3)---The Golden Bears have looked good in their eight wins, but two of their three losses have not been close, including Cal's collapse against U.S.C. last night. The Bears' signature win at Oregon State is offset by their loss at Arizona.
21. Hawaii (9-2)---The Warriors did win, right? It was a late game, so I couldn't find the score in the morning paper and I didn't know where else to look it up, so I just assumed they got the W. There isn't anything wrong with that, is there? I'm just kidding . . . I know Hawaii destroyed San Jose State last night, marking the eighth straight game in which the Warriors have scored at least 41 points. (They've played a little defense, too, holding six of their last 10 opponents to 17 or fewer points.) Hawaii's only losses were by eight points at Alabama and by seven points at Boise State in the first three weeks of the season. Since then, June Jones's squad has reeled off eight straight wins to get within striking distance of the top 20.
22. Navy (8-3)---While I don't give the Midshipmen too much credit for beating Temple, the U.S. Naval Academy has posted a 5-0 road record and the Mids' three setbacks have been a close call against Tulsa and blowouts against a pair of top 10 teams.
23. Texas Christian (8-2)---Once again, the Horned Frogs earned little credibility by throttling San Diego State, but T.C.U. earns points for beating Texas Tech, as well as for the fact that one of the Frogs' two losses was to B.Y.U.
How 'bout them Frogs!
24. Georgia Tech (9-2)---This is a familiar refrain, but the Yellow Jackets proved nothing by hanging 49 points on winless Duke at home. When Wake Forest lost at home to Virginia Tech, it created a logjam of four 9-2 teams atop the A.C.C. and enabled me to start clearing out all the mediocre teams with inflated won-lost records from the weakest B.C.S. conference. The Ramblin' Wreck held tight to the No. 24 spot because, even though the Golden Tornado beat four unimpressive conference opponents by eight or fewer points and got blown out by Clemson, Georgia Tech has a quality loss to Notre Dame and is the only A.C.C. team that is 7-1 in league play and has clinched a berth in the conference championship game.
25. Boston College (9-2)---Reasonable readers already have asked whether it is fair that the Eagles slipped six spots after manhandling Maryland. Yes, it is, because Boston College's losses to N.C. State and Wake Forest look worse today than they did before, as does the Eagles' narrow win over Florida State. If B.C. still played in the Big East, 9-2 would count for more. If the Eagles were the second-best team in the Mountain West or the W.A.C., or if Boston College was the country's second-best independent, the squad from Chestnut Hill would be ranked higher. Based on what I've seen so far this season, though, going 9-2 in the A.C.C. and being the second-best team in the nation's worst major conference simply doesn't amount to much.
Teams dropping from the rankings on my ballot: No. 12 Wake Forest (9-2) and No. 23 Oregon (7-4).
Other teams receiving actual consideration for inclusion in my top 25: Houston (9-3), Oregon State (7-4), and Virginia Tech (9-2).
As he nears the end of his final year of collegiate eligibility, Houston's Kevin Kolb not only has his Cougars on the verge of a top 25 ranking, but he threatens to break the N.C.A.A. record for what seems like the longest tenure ever by a college quarterback. The record currently is shared by Mississippi State's Wayne Madkin and Arkansas's Clint Stoerner, who, like Kolb, started for so long that it is inconceivable that they didn't somehow sneak a seventh or eighth year of eligibility by the authorities. (Photograph from Honolulu Star-Bulletin.)
Other teams receiving perfunctory consideration for inclusion in my top 25 before it quickly became apparent that none of them had done anything that even remotely entitled them to serious consideration for being ranked: Clemson (8-3), Maryland (8-3), Penn State (8-4), and Purdue (8-4).
Games I saw in whole or in significant part: Ball State-Toledo; Bowling Green-Miami (Ohio); Pitt-West Virginia; Boston College-Maryland; Tennessee-Vanderbilt; Michigan-Ohio State; Alabama-Auburn; Virginia Tech-Wake Forest; Cincinnati-Rutgers; Cal-U.S.C.
An additional observation regarding the possible consequences for my ballot of next Saturday's college football action: I am aware that some A.C.C. partisans may be offended by my derogation of their league, which I regret. I also am aware that such A.C.C. partisans may feel inclined to talk a little trash if, as is entirely possible (and perhaps even likely), Georgia Tech beats Georgia between the hedges next weekend. Should that unfortunate eventuality come to pass, all that it will prove is that the best team in the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2006 (and the best Yellow Jacket squad of the last 15 years not to have been caught in flagrant violation of N.C.A.A. regulations regarding academic eligibility requirements) is better than a mediocre S.E.C. team that lost to Vanderbilt and Kentucky. I believe it is fair to say that any A.C.C. fan who feels comfortable defending his league upon the basis of such a dubious achievement has pretty much conceded my point.
Those are my reasons for ranking the teams as I did. As always, your questions, critiques, affirmations, and rebuttals are invited in the comments below.