In this nutty season, it is hard to know which end is up, so I will acknowledge from the outset that this week's BlogPoll ballot is a mishmash, a hodgepodge, and a madly mixed jumble of quirks, curiosities, eccentricities, and (very possibly) outright contradictions. It's not you, it's me, but that's just the kind of season it's been.
This was the best I could do:
Even in repose, Louisiana State (7-1) retained possession of the No. 1 ranking by virtue of a resume that included wins over Auburn, Florida, South Carolina, and Virginia Tech. However, the Bayou Bengals' victory over the Plainsmen was the only one of those four not to have lost just a little bit of luster over the weekend. That fact, coupled with a third loss by the Kentucky squad that beat L.S.U. in triple overtime in Lexington, loosened the Fighting Tigers' grip on the top spot somewhat, so style points certainly will count when Les Miles and company tangle with Alabama next weekend.
Last week's second-ranked squad, Oklahoma (7-1), did not fare as well while idle, as the Sooners slipped a spot, weighed down by their loss to Colorado and the diminution of their narrow win over Texas by the Longhorns' poor performance against hapless Nebraska. These factors, when compared alongside the convincing victory in Happy Valley posted by Ohio State (9-0), allowed the unbeaten Buckeyes to overtake O.U. on the strength of a resume that now includes road wins over Penn State and Purdue.
I hated to leave Oregon (7-1) languishing at No. 4, because I believe the Ducks deserve better, but the Golden Bears' recent collapse has tarnished Oregon's narrow loss to California. Nevertheless, wins over Fresno State, Michigan, and Southern California earned the Ducks a one-spot bump and a win over Arizona State next weekend would improve Oregon's poll position, perhaps dramatically.
Thursday night's heroics in Blacksburg allowed Boston College (8-0) to make it into the top five. Wins over Virginia Tech and Wake Forest bolster the Eagles' resume, but the logjam at the top prevented B.C. from ascending any higher.
Arizona State (8-0) and Kansas (8-0) each advanced two spots on the strength of strikingly similar resumes. The three most impressive of the Sun Devils' eight victories were over California, Colorado, and Oregon State. The three most impressive of the Jayhawks' eight victories were over Colorado, Kansas State, and Texas A&M. What gave A.S.U. the edge was the fact that K.U.'s wins over legitimate competition all have come by margins of eight points or fewer.
Dennis Erickson has gotten the Sun Devils into the top six on my ballot. Arizona State University, put Daniel Webster on retainer now!
The rise of undefeated Arizona State and Kansas squads caused Missouri (7-1) to drop a spot. Although the Tigers' win over Illinois looks much better than it did at the time, their victories over Nebraska and Texas Tech have been diminished in value and the Sooners' slippage caused Mizzou, the team that lost by ten points in Norman, to slide down a rung, as well. In resume ranking, you're only as good as the teams you've faced, so those are the breaks.
A convincing (though not unexpected) win over Rutgers in the Garden State vaulted West Virginia (7-1) into the top ten. Although attrition accounted for this rise as much as anything else---honestly, who else was there?---but the Mountaineers' victory over Mississippi State suddenly has acquired new meaning.
The wackiness of this entire season and the dearth of truly elite teams in college football at the moment are attested to by the fact that Michigan (7-2)---yes, Michigan---returned to the top ten following a mostly sloppy win over woeful Minnesota. Wins over Illinois, Penn State, and Purdue give heft to the Wolverines' resume, though, and a loss to what we now know to be a top-tier Oregon squad, however lopsided, now appears significantly more forgivable.
I had no choice but to admit Connecticut (7-1) to the top 25 after the Huskies added a win over U.S.F. to a resume that already included a victory (however ill-gotten) over Louisville and a one-point loss at Virginia. U.Conn. checks in just ahead of South Florida (6-2). The Bulls fell only eight spots because they are given credit for a quality loss this weekend and they still have wins over Auburn and West Virginia to balance out their recent setbacks.
Was it homerism that caused me to tap Georgia (6-2) as the 13th-best team in the land? Maybe, but I don't think so. The Bulldogs boast victories over a 23rd-ranked Alabama squad and an Oklahoma State squad that has beaten Kansas State and Texas Tech. Most impressively, though, the Red and Black are the only team to have defeated defending national champion Florida by more than four points.
I'll tell you what . . . you go hang 42 points on the Gators and I'll rank you No. 13, O.K.?
Defeating defending national champion Florida by three points on the road helped earn Auburn (6-3) the No. 14 ranking. The Plainsmen's three setbacks all came by margins of six points or fewer, with two of the Tigers' losses coming against teams ranked in my top twelve. Auburn's wins over Arkansas, Florida, and Kansas State gave Tommy Tuberville's team the boost they needed after the teams I had ranked 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 16th, 18th, 19th, 20th, and 23rd on last week's ballot all lost. I hate Auburn.
A 30-point victory over Indiana allowed Wisconsin (7-2) to ride its wins over Iowa, Michigan State, and Washington State back into the top 25 in spite of the Badgers' road losses to Illinois and Penn State. The addition of Fresno State's scalp to the pelts of Southern Mississippi and Wyoming enabled Boise State (7-1) to crack the top 20, as well.
Following the Bears' third straight setback, California (5-3) skidded to a stop at No. 17, where wins over Oregon and Tennessee broke Cal's fall. The sad state of affairs in college football was underscored by the fact that Wake Forest (6-2), the owner of wins over Florida State and Maryland, leapt from 25th to 18th following a 37-10 victory over North Carolina.
Illinois (6-3) claimed three fair-to-middling wins (over Indiana, Penn State, and Wisconsin) to offset three competitive losses (to Iowa by four, to Michigan by ten, and to Missouri by six) and earn---well, receive---a No. 19 ranking. Florida (5-3) claimed two fair-to-middling wins (over Kentucky and Tennessee) to offset three competitive losses (to Auburn by three, to Georgia by 12, and to L.S.U. by four) and earn a No. 20 ranking. Insert your Ron Zook joke here.
Believe it or not, a 35-17 win against Northwestern improved the resume posted by Purdue (7-2), a squad with meager wins over Iowa and Notre Dame but losses to two top ten teams (Michigan and Ohio State). The glistening jewel of the Wildcats' win over the Bayou Bengals halted the plummet by Kentucky (6-3) after a 17-point home loss to Mississippi State soiled a record of achievement that was not helped when the other two teams to have beaten U.K. (Florida and South Carolina) lost later in the day.
However, if I had let Kentucky slide all the way out of the top 25, Rich Brooks's blood pressure would have gone through the roof!
The Crimson Tide were idle on Saturday, but the Red Elephants, like Oklahoma, dropped a notch during their bye week. With a convincing win over Tennessee and an overtime loss to Georgia that both acquired new luster on Saturday, Alabama (6-2) essentially retained the same position as before, despite having added nothing new to Nick Saban's resume.
Narrowly escaping disaster at home against a horrendous Nebraska squad did not markedly improve what I already considered a dubious resume for Texas (7-2), but the Longhorns were what we were left with after another wild weekend. Finally, a 20-point loss to the nation's No. 2 team did not cause Penn State (6-3) to slide entirely out of the top 25 because the Nittany Lions have a quality win (over Wisconsin) and two quality losses (at Illinois by seven and at Michigan by five) to their credit.
I gave consideration to ranking Clemson, New Mexico, Oregon State, Rutgers, South Carolina, Southern California, Virginia, and Virginia Tech, but each of these squads was harmed by weak wins, bad losses, or both. For instance, Clemson (like Wake Forest) claims as its two best wins victories over Florida State and Maryland, but the Tigers were wounded by losses to Georgia Tech and to the Virginia Tech squad that just lost at home to the best team to have beaten the Demon Deacons, Boston College.
Similar problems plagued the Beavers (weakened win over Cal; bad losses to Cincinnati and U.C.L.A.), the Cavaliers (weakened win over Maryland; bad losses to N.C. State and Wyoming), the Gamecocks (weakened win over Kentucky; bad loss to Vanderbilt), the Hokies (weakened win over North Carolina; bad loss to L.S.U.), the Scarlet Knights (weakened wins over Navy and South Florida; bad losses to Cincinnati, Maryland, and West Virginia), and the Trojans (weakened win over Nebraska; bad loss to Stanford).
The most surprisingly almost-rankable of that borderline bunch may be the Lobos, who quietly have built a 6-2 record in the Mountain West by beating Arizona and Wyoming on the road before taking care of business against Air Force at home last Thursday night. Both of New Mexico's losses have been close ones (by four at U.T.E.P. and by seven against B.Y.U.). With wins at T.C.U. next Saturday and at Utah on November 17, U.N.M. could make a case for inclusion in the top 25.
The Lobos' argument could be helped, of course, if they finally decided to stop harassing B.J. McKay and his chimpanzee traveling companion.
Among those not receiving meaningful consideration were Hawaii, Tennessee, and U.C.L.A. Looking at the last of these first, I quickly concluded that the Bruins were undeserving of a spot in the top 25, inasmuch as their quality win over Cal was easily outweighed by three losses to bad teams (Notre Dame, Utah, and Washington State) in games that were not competitive.
The Volunteers suffered a similar fate, despite their noteworthy wins over Georgia and South Carolina at home. The Big Orange failed even to take the field against Alabama, California, and Florida. It didn't help matters that U.T. had to win in overtime a game the Vols had in hand at halftime on Saturday night.
Finally, there are the Warriors, whose ascent up the polls has gone from troubling to deeply disturbing. As a vocal advocate of stronger non-conference scheduling, I find Hawaii's presence in anyone's top 25 counterproductive to the point of being offensive. Here, for the record, is the tale of the tape where June Jones's squad is concerned:
Two of Hawaii's wins were over Division I-AA teams (Charleston Southern and Northern Colorado). All six of Hawaii's wins over Division I-A opposition have come against teams with losing records. Hawaii's half-dozen Division I-A victims have posted a combined record of 13-38. Of the 13 wins posted by the Warriors' Division I-A opponents, five have come against Division I-AA teams, three have come against winless Utah State, and two have come against an Idaho squad whose only win came against Division I-AA Cal Poly.
In other words, Hawaii's six Division I-A wins have come against teams with a combined three wins against Division I-A opponents with at least one win against a Division I-A team.
Face it, folks . . . if Hawaii played Appalachian State, it would give the Warriors' schedule strength a substantial boost.
The Aloha State Adventurers will have the opportunity to prove themselves against Fresno State on November 10, Nevada on November 16, Boise State on November 23, and Washington on December 1. Until then, they've done absolutely nothing to earn serious consideration for inclusion on my BlogPoll ballot . . . nothing whatsoever.
I watched the Boston College-Virginia Tech and Boise State-Fresno State games on Thursday and Friday nights, respectively, although I will own up to dozing on the couch during portions of both of them. On Saturday, I divided time between the Kentucky-Mississippi State and Rutgers-West Virginia games before enjoying every glorious, gorgeous minute of the Georgia-Florida game. My evening was devoted to the South Carolina-Tennessee game and I watched much of the second half of Arizona State-California, staying up to the very end of the late Pac-10 game. Take that, ye who would accuse me of an East Coast bias!
Seriously, this whole thing is a crazed jumble, and, if you spot inconsistencies and contradictions in my rankings, you're probably absolutely right, for which I most humbly apologize. It's been a madcap season of college football (which I consider a good thing), so my ballot is bound to look a little wacky, since it attempts to portray accurately the state of affairs in this wild, wild autumn.
Henry II put it best when addressing Philip Capet in "The Lion in Winter": "My position is-- Well, frankly, Philip, it's a tangle." Accordingly, your thoughts and constructive criticisms are, as always, welcome in the comments below.