My weekly BlogPoll ballot has been cast, but this week's rankings were a bear to compile . . . so, if you're not completely happy with my top 25, don't feel too badly; neither am I.
Since I more or less ignored last week's ballot when compiling this week's rankings, I have eschewed providing you with each team's previous poll position and opted instead to give you the more salient datum of the particular squad's won-lost ledger.
It's all about the W.
Here now, without further ado, are the top 25 teams in the land, as seen from the point of view of Dawg Sports:
1. Ohio State (12-0)---They're the only undefeated team from a major conference and they have quality wins over Michigan and Texas. The Buckeyes clearly are the top team in the land. After that, frankly, it's a bit of a muddle.
2. Southern California (10-1)---Although I always knew the Fighting Irish were overrated and I refused to believe the hype, I nevertheless was impressed with the Trojans' dominance of Notre Dame, in spite of the fact that I predicted it. U.S.C.'s lone loss appears increasingly forgivable, as the Men of Troy fell by two points on the road against an Oregon State team that wound up winning eight games. Southern California was suspect after a trio of close scrapes at midseason, but Pete Carroll's squad has proven itself by playing 11 teams from B.C.S. conferences and defeating six teams with winning records (and two more that are bowl-eligible), including Arkansas, Cal, Nebraska, and Notre Dame. The addition of the Golden Domers' scalp to the Trojans' collection improved their resume just enough to get U.S.C. into the second spot on my ballot.
3. Michigan (11-1)---The Wolverines continue to get credit from me for their quality loss by three points to the No. 1 team on the road, although the Lawgiver was there and he didn't think it was that close. The Maize and Blue won most of their 11 victories handily, beating six bowl-eligible teams and handling Notre Dame and Wisconsin without undue exertion. Michigan remains a top three team, but, at this juncture, I would deny the Wolverines the rematch in Glendale because of the Trojans' better overall resume.
4. Florida (11-1)---Urban Meyer may grouse about style points, but, while the top trio of teams on my ballot all have been dominant for most of the season, the Gators look like a team that is just getting by . . . and whose luck can only hold out for so long. Five of Florida's 10 wins over Division I-A opponents have been by margins of seven or fewer points, including the Big Lizards' victories against 7-5 South Carolina, 6-6 Florida State, and 4-8 Vanderbilt. While the Orange and Blue have beaten six teams with winning records, they lost by 10 points on the road to a team that is good but not great and their only convincing win over a legitimate opponent came at home against L.S.U. A win over Arkansas next weekend might enable the Gators to move past Michigan on my ballot, but, for right now, Florida looks like a team that is living on borrowed time.
Gripe all you want; you're still No. 4.
5. Louisiana State (10-2)---Differentiating between the first- through fourth-ranked teams on my ballot, while challenging, became easier the more deeply I delved into the details. By the time I got to No. 5, it all became a massive jumble. The Bayou Bengals delivered one of Thanksgiving weekend's most impressive performances. Three of the Fighting Tigers' victories have been close ones, but two of those tight contests have been road wins over Tennessee and Arkansas. Louisiana State's six wins over bowl-eligible teams help to offset their losses on the road against Auburn and Florida, thereby allowing L.S.U. to climb into the top five.
6. Oklahoma (10-2)---The Sooners' resume is comparable to the Bayou Bengals'. Both teams have two losses, neither of which came at home and one of which was a close loss on a controversial call. Both teams have survived three narrow escapes. Both teams have beaten four opponents with winning records. However, L.S.U.'s losses were to 10-2 Auburn and 11-1 Florida, whereas O.U.'s setbacks came against 7-5 Oregon and 9-3 Texas. Likewise, Louisiana State's victories over 10-2 Arkansas and 9-3 Tennessee are higher-quality wins than Oklahoma's successful outings against 9-3 Texas A&M and 7-4 Missouri. Accordingly, the Fighting Tigers got the nod over the Sooners after the latter's close call in Stillwater.
7. Louisville (10-1)---After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, I allowed the Cardinals to slip past the Scarlet Knights following Louisville's win over Pitt, despite the fact that the two Big East frontrunners have identical records and the State University of New Jersey beat U. of L. head-to-head. The Cards' lone loss came on the road on a late field goal against a 10-win team. Only one of Louisville's wins was a close call and Bobby Petrino's squad has beaten six teams with winning records and two more that are bowl-eligible. While the Cardinals' best win (over West Virginia) lost some of its luster this weekend, U. of L. also has convincing victories over South Florida, Kansas State, Kentucky, and Miami to its credit.
8. Rutgers (10-1)---Although the Scarlet Knights' position on my ballot did not change following Rutgers's shellacking of Syracuse, the State University of New Jersey did not rise because its somewhat dubious record of achievement held Greg Schiano's squad down. The Scarlet Knights' loss to Cincinnati, while it occurred on the road, was not close and it came against a seven-win team. Rutgers has had three close calls, including one against an awful North Carolina squad, and one of the Knights' victims was Division I-AA Howard. The State University of New Jersey has beaten just four teams with winning records and the Scarlet Knights' only victories of any real quality were over Louisville and Navy.
Rutgers alumna Kristin Davis pulls out all the stops to get her alma mater back into the top five.
9. Arkansas (10-2)---Houston Nutt's decision to call four straight pass plays in the waning moments of the Razorbacks' loss in Little Rock may have been the most questionable play-calling in the Southeastern Conference this season, but the Hogs did not drop out of the top 10 altogether because their two losses came against top five teams. While Arkansas has beaten only four bowl-eligible teams, two of the Razorbacks' wins came against Auburn and Tennessee, so the S.E.C. West champions check in at No. 9.
10. Boise State (12-0)---The Broncos are undefeated and only one of their last eight games has been a nailbiter. While one of their dozen wins came against Division I-AA Sacramento State, six of the remaining 11 have come against five teams with winning records and another that is bowl-eligible. Because Boise State's victims have included such legitimate opposition as Hawaii, Nevada, and Oregon State, the unbeaten W.A.C. champions found their way into my top 10.
11. Auburn (10-2)---I don't really think Boise State is better than Auburn, but I didn't want to draw another rebuke from Brian by actually ranking four S.E.C. teams in the top 10. Truthfully, a closer inspection of the Plainsmen's record caused me to reassess the quality of Tommy Tuberville's team. The Tigers claimed quality wins over Florida and L.S.U., but the Gators and the Bayou Bengals are two of just three teams with winning records to have been beaten by the War Eagle. Auburn survived scares from 7-5 South Carolina, 6-6 Alabama, and 4-8 Ole Miss. While both of the Plainsmen's losses were against teams presently ranked in my top 25, both setbacks came in Jordan-Hare Stadium and neither contest was competitive.
12. Notre Dame (10-2)---Although five of the Golden Domers' 10 victims have posted winning records, Charlie Weis's squad does not have a quality loss to bolster its resume the way last year's Fighting Irish unit did. Notre Dame has been blown out by the two best teams it has faced, making it abundantly clear that the Irish are not an elite team. The Golden Domers' best win (over Georgia Tech) doesn't look as good as it did a week ago, so Notre Dame (unlike the 11 teams ranked ahead of the Pugnacious Papists) is without a genuine quality victory.
Shania Twain's attempt to improve Notre Dame's poll ranking by elevating her elbows proved no more availing than Kristin Davis's identical efforts on behalf of Rutgers.
13. Texas (9-3)---The Longhorns' recent struggles, both in narrow wins over the Cornhuskers and the Red Raiders and in narrow losses to the Wildcats and the Aggies, have cost them a spot in the top 10, yet the defending national champion is the best of the thrice-beaten teams. Four of Texas's eight Division I-A victims have been teams with winning records and the 'Horns beat both Big 12 divisional champions.
14. Nebraska (9-3)---The Big Red, like the Burnt Orange, have three losses and nine wins, including victories over a Division I-AA opponent and four teams with winning records. The 'Huskers, like the 'Horns, have two narrow escapes among their nine victories. However, whereas Texas has two close losses, Nebraska has only one close loss, and, while Bill Callahan's team lost to opponents with records of 10-1, 9-3, and 6-6, Mack Brown's squad fell to foes sporting ledgers of 12-0, 9-3, and 7-5. Moreover, the Longhorns' two best wins (over Nebraska and Oklahoma) are of higher quality than the Cornhuskers' two most impressive successes (against Missouri and Texas A&M). Also, the Longhorns won the head-to-head meeting in Lincoln. Consequently, Texas got the nod over Nebraska.
15. Tennessee (9-3)---It wasn't so much Nebraska's win over Colorado that enabled the Big Red to leapfrog the Big Orange, although the Volunteers' narrow escape against Kentucky certainly didn't help Tennessee's case. The 'Huskers and the Vols each have beaten four teams with winning records and U.T.'s three losses include a pair of home heartbreakers and a whipping on the road, all of which came at the hands of opponents with double-digit win totals. Tennessee's two best wins (over Cal and Georgia) are good, but not great, and I was given cause for concern by the Volunteers' propensity for narrow escapes, as the Big Orange barely has survived against the likes of 4-7 Air Force, 6-6 Alabama, 7-5 South Carolina, and 7-5 Kentucky.
16. Texas A&M (9-3)---The Aggies get credit for losses of varying degrees of quality, as all three of their setbacks were close and two of them were against the Big 12's division champions. However, all three losses came in College Station and five of Texas A&M's eight wins against Division I-A competition came by slim margins, including the Aggies' victories over 3-8 Army, 6-6 Kansas, and 6-6 Oklahoma State. Only three of the wins compiled by Dennis Franchione's squad were earned against teams with records above .500 but one of those was a road win at Texas, which earned Texas A&M the No. 16 spot, even though a weaker overall resume kept the Aggies from overtaking the team they just beat.
Also, Texas A&M wasn't helped by having this yutz for a head coach.
17. Wisconsin (11-1)---The longer I look at the Badgers' resume, the less impressed I get. U.W.'s loss in Ann Arbor was not close and Wisconsin's only two victories over teams with winning records came against Penn State and Purdue, neither of whom has beaten anyone of consequence. The Badgers continue to force me to confront the question, "How low can I conscientiously rank an 11-1 team from a B.C.S. conference?" So far, the answer is 17th.
18. California (8-3)---All three of the Golden Bears' losses came on the road; two of them were against teams with nine or more wins and the third one was close. Only one of Cal's victories has been a narrow escape and four of the wins by the squad from Berkeley were over teams with winning records, including victories over Oregon State and Oregon.
19. Hawaii (10-2)---The Warriors proved their worthiness for a spot in the top 20 by beating the bowl-bound Boilermakers. June Jones's offensive juggernaut may not have played the country's toughest schedule, but Hawaii gave Alabama and Boise State good games on the mainland and beat three teams with winning records, including Nevada and Purdue.
20. Brigham Young (10-2)---The Cougars' close shave at rival Utah marked B.Y.U.'s first narrow escape of the season. The Cougs' two losses were close contests on the road against bowl-eligible B.C.S. conference teams and Brigham Young's resume includes victories over five bowl-eligible squads, including T.C.U. and Tulsa.
No matter what his conference affiliation is, anybody who wins 10 football games in spite of the fact that he's just one guy and he's been dead since 1877 deserves to be ranked in the top 20. (Photograph from Amazon.)
21. Virginia Tech (10-2)---Someone had to benefit from the carnage of the A.C.C.'s 0-3 showing against the S.E.C. in Clemson's, Florida State's, and Georgia Tech's in-state rivalry games, so it might as well be the Hokies. True, V.P.I.'s 17-0 shutout of the hapless Cavaliers was less than inspired, but Frank Beamer's squad has the best record of any team in the league and the Hokies defeated both Clemson and Wake Forest. That's not a great resume, but it's the best any A.C.C. team can claim.
22. West Virginia (9-2)---Was it really fair for me to drop the Mountaineers behind Hawaii and B.Y.U. after their loss to South Florida? I believe so, because Rich Rodriguez's team has beaten just three Division I-A opponents with winning records and the win over Maryland in Morgantown is the closest W.V.U. can claim to having a quality victory under its belt. When Cincinnati and East Carolina are two of the three best teams you've beaten, you're not a top 20 team, even if you are 9-2.
23. Georgia (8-4)---Is there an 8-4 team in America you'd less rather see your team face right now than Georgia? I didn't think so. Back-to-back wins over ranked rivals, the emergence of Matthew Stafford, and the defensive resurgence of the Junkyard 'Dawgs all combine to make the Red and Black a legitimate top 25 team. Two of the Bulldogs' four setbacks came outside the boundaries of Clarke County in close losses to highly-ranked Florida and bowl-bound Kentucky, with three of their victories coming against an improved South Carolina squad, a 10-win Auburn team, and A.C.C. championship game-bound Georgia Tech.
24. Wake Forest (10-2)---The Demon Deacons are more noteworthy for their ugly losses to Clemson and Virginia Tech than for their 10 victories, as the closest Wake Forest can claim to a quality win is its edging of Boston College. Other than that, waxing mediocre Maryland is the nearest thing Jim Grobe's team has to a legitimate claim to fame. If Wake gets the win in the Gateway City, that might get my attention, but, until then, the Deacs will languish in the spot previously occupied by their opponent in Jacksonville, Georgia Tech.
With a game against Wake Forest and a subsequent bowl game upcoming, Chan Gailey has every confidence in his team's ability to get to five losses before the end of the year.
25. Texas Christian (9-2)---I like the Horned Frogs, but I couldn't keep them ahead of the two good teams in the A.C.C. any longer. T.C.U.'s losses to B.Y.U. and at Utah were not close contests and, despite the Frogs' impressive showing against Colorado State, the fact remains that Texas Christian's only win over a Division I-A opponent with a record above .500 was its victory over 7-5 Texas Tech.
Teams dropping from the rankings: No. 22 Navy, No. 24 Georgia Tech, and No. 25 Boston College. The Yellow Jackets and the Eagles squandered golden opportunities to go on the road and defeat longstanding rivals having down years, yet Georgia's and Miami's ownership of the respective series was manifested in three-point wins over what were, on paper, better teams. The Midshipmen did not play, as a result of which the U.S. Naval Academy was overtaken by other teams, but the Mids will have their chance to reclaim a spot in the top 25 against Army and in their bowl game.
Other teams receiving varying degrees of consideration: Missouri, Ohio (Ohio), Oregon State, South Florida, Southern Mississippi, and Tulsa.
Games I followed, in whole or in part, on television, in person, or on the radio: I watched Bowling Green-Toledo, Boston College-Miami, Texas-Texas A&M, Arkansas-L.S.U., Colorado-Nebraska, and Fresno State-Louisiana Tech. I attended the Georgia-Georgia Tech game, and, on the way home from the Classic City, I listened to East Carolina-N.C. State, which was on 680 The Fan for reasons passing understanding. When I got home, I watched the last of Notre Dame-Southern California and Maryland-Wake Forest.
Several trees were harmed in the casting of this BlogPoll ballot, as I went through numerous pieces of paper in the process of compiling my rankings, so, please, by all means, offer your constructive criticisms in the comments below.