If you're reading this and you don't happen to have a vote in the Associated Press poll, the coaches' poll, or the BlogPoll, I challenge you to try ranking the top 25 teams in the country in order.
It's darned difficult to do, particularly in a season as wacky as this one, in which the chaos and carnage are on a level not seen since at least 1990, when the defending national champion Miami Hurricanes' season-opening loss at Brigham Young set into motion a line of toppling dominoes ultimately resulting in a set of circumstances so absurd that the Virginia Cavaliers, who would end up 8-4 and ranked 23rd by the sportswriters, actually spent three preposterous weeks at No. 1.
Given the situation, it should not surprise you that this was the best that I could do:
No. 1 Louisiana State's and No. 2 California's notable but not unprecedented losses on the same day paved the way for South Florida to bull its way into the top spot on my ballot. U.S.F.'s 64-12 win over Central Florida wasn't particularly more or less impressive than Ohio State's 48-3 win over Kent State, but I gave the Bulls more credit for a 6-0 ledger that included wins over Auburn and West Virginia than I gave the Buckeyes for a 7-0 record highlighted by victories over Purdue and Washington.
The Eagles likewise leapfrogged the Sun Devils because Boston College got to 7-0 by beating Georgia Tech and Wake Forest, whereas Arizona State became the last unbeaten team in the Pac-10 by registering wins over the likes of Colorado and Oregon State. Because A.S.U. has not yet gotten to the meat of its schedule---the Sun Devils' next four games are against Cal, Oregon, U.C.L.A., and Southern California in succession---Dennis Erickson's squad stayed put on my ballot, behind the Bayou Bengals, who only dropped three spots after a quality loss (on the road in triple overtime against a once-beaten conference opponent, not that anyone would ever in a million years have predicted that!) because L.S.U.'s resume already included wins over Florida, South Carolina, and Virginia Tech.
The Sooners inched up a notch after adding Missouri's scalp to a collection that already included those of Texas and Miami (Florida). I considered ranking Oklahoma ahead of Arizona State, but I didn't feel right about dropping the undefeated Sun Devils after they beat Washington by 24 points. Dennis Erickson's team will prove its worthiness, vel non, within the next few weeks, so that possible discrepancy will sort itself out shortly.
Following a loss at home on a boneheaded play by a backup quarterback, the Golden Bears slid only as far as seventh. California's skid was slowed by impressive wins over Oregon and Tennessee, which warranted keeping Jeff Tedford's team in the top ten. The Gamecocks stayed put at No. 8 after a less than convincing win over North Carolina, having done nothing to deserve upward mobility but being able to point to wins over Georgia and Kentucky as valid justification for retaining their previous placement.
The Ducks inched up a notch after handing Washington State a 53-7 hammering that eclipsed the beatings administered to the Cougars by such other notable squads as Arizona State, Wisconsin, and U.S.C. As always, Oregon's manhandling of Michigan in Ann Arbor continues to acquire additional luster with each passing week and the Ducks still are credited with a quality loss to Cal. The Wildcats of the Bluegrass State vaulted themselves back into the top ten by upsetting top-ranked Louisiana State in the Commonwealth on Saturday.
Despite the big win over L.S.U., though, Kentucky coach Rich Brooks still considered it a bad weekend because his son Eric drove Donna, Fez, Hyde, Jackie, and Kelso to a Todd Rundgren concert in the Vista Cruiser without his permission.
The Mountaineers ascended slightly during a bye week, despite having little more to show for their efforts than a win at Maryland, because their narrow loss to South Florida in Tampa increasingly takes on the tincture of a quality loss and because there was no way to justify keeping the Men of Troy, now ranked 12th on my ballot, in or on the immediate cusp of the top ten.
It's not that I don't believe in Southern California, although I tend to think we are witnessing the Trojans' inevitable decline from the exceptional to the merely good; I just don't think U.S.C. has given me much upon which to base a belief in the continued supremacy of Pete Carroll's team. In the last three weeks, the Men of Troy have beaten Washington by three points, lost to Stanford, and beaten Arizona by seven points. Prior to that, Southern California beat Idaho by the same 28-point margin by which Hawaii defeated the Vandals, beat Washington State less badly than Oregon beat the Cougars, and defeated a Nebraska squad whose subsequent performances against Ball State, Missouri, and Oklahoma State have rendered the Trojans' win over the Cornhuskers essentially worthless. Honestly, were it not for the weakness of the field, I wouldn't have U.S.C. ranked even this high.
The same goes for the Gators, who leapt from 21st to 13th while idle primarily because the teams I had ranked 11th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, and 19th all lost. Florida's win over Tennessee and the Saurians' loss to Auburn each looks better than before, and, now that ranking twice-beaten teams is a necessary component of compiling a top 25, moving the Gators to a higher poll position was inevitable.
The Hokies were the next squad to ascend through attrition, as a 43-14 win over Duke did not warrant a four-spot jump on my ballot. V.P.I.'s seven-point win over the Tar Heels has grown somewhat more respectable, in light of the resiliency U.N.C. has shown since their September 29 showdown, and back-to-back conference road wins by a combined margin of 84-37 count for something, even in A.C.C. play. Frankly, there aren't 25 teams worthy of being ranked in the top 25 and Virginia Tech's ascent into the top 15 attests to this unfortunate fact.
Mizzou didn't drop terribly far because the Tigers hung with Oklahoma fairly well in Norman, although that's really about the best that can be said for a squad whose wins over Illinois, Mississippi, and Nebraska all appear less meaningful than they did at the time. What else was I going to do, though . . . allow the Jayhawks to move up any higher than 16th on the strength of a 6-0 record compiled against the likes of Central Michigan, Southeastern Louisiana, Toledo, Florida International, and Baylor? Only Kansas's in-state rivalry victory over Kansas State got Mark Mangino's team this far.
Kansas coach Mark Mangino thought my placement of the Jayhawks at No. 16 was a pretty good pick.
The Red Raiders' resume consists solely of wins over the worst teams in Texas and their victory over the Aggies on Saturday was no exception, but, since I had Texas A&M ranked and Texas Tech beat Dennis Franchione's squad by four touchdowns, I guess a jump from No. 22 to No. 17 was to be expected, especially after Oklahoma State's shellacking of Nebraska in Lincoln caused Mike Leach's team to look slightly less bad for having lost narrowly to the Pokes in Stillwater.
The cavalcade of two-loss teams begins at No. 18 with Auburn, a team that earned its spot in the top 20 by posting wins over Arkansas, Florida, and Kansas State. The Tigers' overtime loss to South Florida now looks markedly better than it did a month ago, as well.
Michigan, my preseason No. 1 team, finally made it back into the standings by adding a 27-point win over Purdue to a resume that already included a victory over Penn State. The Fighting Illini retained a spot in my top 20 even after their loss to the Hawkeyes because Ron Zook's squad is able to claim victories over Penn State and Wisconsin.
The Nittany Lions, in turn, check in at No. 21 following a 38-7 thrashing of the Badgers, which was augmented by Penn State's prior win over Iowa. Scraping the bottom of the barrel, I came up with Tennessee at No. 22, a spot the Vols earned (or, at least, obtained) by virtue of wins over Georgia and Mississippi State.
While I do not put a lot of stock in the Bulldogs' 20-17 win over Vanderbilt in Nashville, I awarded the Red and Black my No. 23 ranking because the 'Dawgs possess the pelts of Alabama and Oklahoma State, two teams whose records (unlike Quincy Carter's) improved incrementally over the weekend, and lost to respectable opponents in South Carolina and Tennessee. This caused custody of the No. 24 spot to devolve upon the Wildcats of the Sunflower State, whose 4-2 record includes K-State victories over Colorado and Texas, both by significant margins, as well as semi-quality losses to Auburn and Kansas.
Former Kansas State coach Bill Snyder wonders wistfully how high the Wildcats might have been ranked had the team only had the foresight to schedule Charleston Southern instead of Auburn.
I wanted to give the final spot in my top 25 to Boise State, I really did, but, as exciting as the Broncos' 69-67 victory over Nevada in quadruple overtime may have been, the Wolf Pack never should have been able to move the ball like that on the Smurf turf. B.S.U.'s poor performance defensively, coupled with the weekend's Washington and Wyoming setbacks to tarnish the Broncos' lone loss and best victory, respectively, compelled me to keep the Bearcats in the top 25, despite their loss to Louisville, because Cincinnati did beat Oregon State and Rutgers.
Florida State, Purdue, Texas A&M, Wisconsin, and Wyoming all dropped from the rankings following their respective second losses because the best wins posted by each of them---Alabama, Minnesota, Oklahoma State, Michigan State, and Virginia, in turn---were not, by themselves, enough to slow their simultaneous plummets. A similar dearth of quality victories kept the likes of Alabama, B.Y.U., Fresno State, Michigan State, Navy, Rutgers, Texas, Virginia, and Wake Forest from cracking the top 25 after winning this weekend. No three-loss teams were considered.
You will note, of course, the Hawaii Warriors' continued absence from my ballot. It is not that I am not impressed with their stirring come-from-behind overtime win over a 3-4 team; well, O.K., it is that, but, really, it is that Hawaii's strength of schedule is so laughably bad that the Warriors' stirring come-from-behind overtime win over a 3-4 team actually improved the quality of their competition (well, their opposition, at any rate).
For the record, June Jones's squad has beaten the following teams: Division I-AA Northern Colorado, Louisiana Tech (2-4), U.N.L.V. (2-5), Division I-AA Charleston Southern, Idaho (1-6), Utah State (0-6), and San Jose State (3-4). Hawaii's five wins over Division I-A opposition came against teams with a collective record of 8-25. Those eight wins by the Warriors' opponents came against Utah (4-3), New Mexico State (3-4), Idaho (1-6), Utah State (0-6), and three Division I-AA teams (Cal Poly, Central Arkansas, and U.C.-Davis).
Quite frankly, there's not a team in my top 25 that wouldn't be 7-0 against that lousy slate, except that, if Boston College or Georgia or Oregon or South Florida played schedules that weak, no one would even argue that they deserved to be ranked. Hawaii has done absolutely nothing to demonstrate that the Warriors are a top 25 team and, until they do, they won't be ranked on my ballot, period.
Hawaii might have been ranked had the Warriors played even one Division I-A opponent with a winning record. Hawaii also might have been ranked had the Warriors' head coach not been named "June."
Given that one of the natural and healthy tendencies of the blogosphere is to offer constructive criticisms of the shapers of public opinion, it was only proper for Mergz to wonder whether the BlogPoll is superior to the A.P. poll. Some of the comments Mergz received in response offered cogent points, but one brave anonymous observer opined that "[i]t would be interesting if each Blogganista were required to list the games they actually watched at the time the poll was turned in."
It has always been my understanding that I am required to provide such a list at the time I cast my ballot, but, irrespective of whether that responsibility is incumbent upon me, I accept that obligation and report that I watched the Navy-Pittsburgh game on Wednesday, the Florida State-Wake Forest game on Thursday, the Hawaii-San Jose State game on Friday, and the Boise State-Nevada game on Sunday.
On Saturday, I started out with Georgia Tech-Miami (Florida) as my primary game and Illinois-Iowa as my flipback game, but, beginning at 12:30, Alabama-Mississippi became my principal focus and the A.C.C. outing in Coral Gables was relegated to second-class status. Obviously, the Kentucky-Louisiana State game had my full attention until the Georgia-Vanderbilt game took over as my sole point of interest, after which I concentrated on the Arkansas-Auburn game. Once the latter contest was over, the middle portion of the Colorado-Kansas State game filled the time until the start of "College Football Final."
One last point bears making, in light of some of the more unfair aspersions cast in response to Mergz's completely reasonable critique: I quite consciously do not look at the A.P. and coaches' polls before casting my BlogPoll ballot. I use the news media for information concerning won-lost records, box scores, and the like, but no one else's judgment is substituted for my own when I compile my top 25. Although I try to be attentive to well-reasoned observations from Dawg Sports commenters and fellow BlogPoll voters, the credit and the blame for my ballot rest solely with me.
That being the case, you may feel free to offer your thoughts on my top 25 in the comments below.