We’re supposed to be at the point at which matters are starting to shake themselves out, so why is it becoming so much more challenging to figure out which teams belong in the top 25? Why am I starting to think an Outback Bowl meeting between Louisiana State and Ohio State would be a much better game than last year’s national title tilt? What are we to make of the Big 12 now that the top teams in that league are starting to pick each other off like snipers in the Texas Tower?
After much wailing, gnashing of teeth, and sitting around waiting for Tulsa to finish its Sunday night game, I cast the following BlogPoll ballot:
Even after their narrow escape at home against Oklahoma State (7-1), the ‘Horns continue to hold down the top spot in the rankings. Texas (8-0) has beaten five teams with records at or above .500 in the last six games and none of the Burnt Orange’s victims was either a Division I-AA opponent or a club with worse than a 3-5 ledger. The Longhorns’ four victories over squads with winning records include three straight quality or semi-quality wins over Oklahoma (7-1), Missouri (6-2), and the Cowboys, only one of which wound up being close.
Although the resume compiled by Alabama (8-0) is weakened by such suspect competition as Clemson (3-4), Arkansas (3-5), and Tennessee (3-5), the Crimson Tide are undefeated, have not faced a Division I-AA opponent, earned only one of their victories over a club with more than five losses, and possess an increasingly impressive quality win at Georgia (7-1).
Speaking of increasingly impressive quality wins, Southern California (6-1) certainly has a couple, as the Trojans’ convincing triumphs over Ohio State (7-2) and Virginia (5-3) appear meaningful, as does U.S.C.’s win over Oregon (6-2). The only loss sustained by the Men of Troy came on the road in a close contest against a team that is better than its 4-3 record, given the quality of the competition that dealt Oregon State two of the Beavers’ three losses.
I’m not entirely convinced that O.U. deserves the No. 4 spot more than the next three teams in the poll, but the Sooners placed this highly because their loss to the Longhorns was competitive, their seven wins generally were not, and their victory over Texas Christian (8-1) has heft. Oklahoma is a shaky top five team, though, because Bob Stoops’s troops also claim wins of sinking value over Cincinnati (5-2) and Kansas (5-3). If the Sooners hadn’t pulled away like they did at Kansas State (4-4) on Saturday, they wouldn’t be in this spot right now.
The Bulldogs narrowly edged out Florida (6-1) for the No. 5 spot because the Red and Black’s two best victories are superior to the Saurians’ top two. Georgia hung 52 points on L.S.U. (5-2) in Baton Rouge while the Gators hung 51 points on the Bayou Bengals at home, and the ‘Dawgs went on the road and defeated South Carolina (5-3). The Gamecocks went on the road and defeated Kentucky (5-3), a team Florida beat at home. Most important of all, Georgia lost to undefeated Alabama and the Orange and Blue fell to Ole Miss (4-4). Obviously, we’ll know a week from now where these two teams stand relative to one another.
I can’t help feeling that I’ve overrated Texas Tech (8-0) by ranking the Red Raiders seventh, but Mike Leach’s squad went on the road and put a serious whipping on the Jayhawks. My gut instinct is that this ought to work more to K.U.’s detriment than to Texas Tech’s benefit, but, for now, the Red Raiders earn points for adding victories over four teams at or above .500 to a resume previously composed of triumphs over a pair of Division I-AA clubs and one-win Southern Methodist.
This next one, I know, requires some explanation: Penn State (9-0) claimed its biggest win of the season last Saturday night, yet the Nittany Lions dropped to No. 8 on my ballot. This is an oddity, I admit, but it comes as a result of a recent reassessment of P.S.U.’s resume.
This is what Penn State has done this season:
- Beaten a Division I-AA opponent.
- Beaten three Division I-A teams with six or more losses, including a conference opponent sporting a 2-6 record and a non-conference rival with only one victory to its credit in two of its four road outings.
- Beaten two Division I-A teams with winning records in Oregon State and a twice-beaten conference opponent whom they defeated in a close game on the road.
- Beaten a conference opponent with a 4-4 record and another foe with a 3-5 ledger.
Overall, that doesn’t sound too bad, so why isn’t Penn State ranked higher? The answer is simple . . . the accomplishments I just described have been matched by Utah (8-0).
Admittedly, there are differences of consequence between the two. There are, of course, valid distinctions to be drawn between beating Purdue (2-6) in West Lafayette and beating Wyoming (2-6) in Laramie, between winning over Colorado State (4-4) and winning over Illinois (4-4), between beating Ohio State by seven points in Columbus and beating Air Force (6-2) by seven points in Colorado Springs, between defeating the Beavers by 31 points and beating them by three points, between beating Michigan (2-6) by 29 points in State College and beating Michigan by two points in Ann Arbor, and even between beating Syracuse (1-6) in the Carrier Dome and beating Utah State (1-7) in Logan or, arguably, beating Temple (3-5) and beating U.N.L.V. (3-5).
Those, though, are differences of degree, not differences in kind, which is why I felt compelled to rank Penn State and Utah near one another, even though the Nittany Lions clearly deserve the higher placement. However, Joe Paterno’s crew has beaten only one conference opponent with a record better than .500 and that lone standout was Ohio State, a team that has not acquitted itself well in big games in recent seasons.
The best team in the best non-B.C.S. conference deserved some consideration, so, since I couldn’t conscientiously rank Penn State second or third without also ranking Utah fourth or fifth, I put them both where they seemed to belong; namely, in the top ten, but not the top five.
F.Y.I., according to the GBE strength of schedule ratings through October 18, Utah had played the 107th toughest schedule and Penn State had played the 113th toughest schedule, so maybe I’m not so crazy, after all!
The Pokes round out the top ten after a textbook quality loss---by a narrow margin on the road against an undefeated top-ranked team---on the strength of their win at Mizzou, although, once again, I get the troubling feeling that Saurian Sagacity was right: early-season tussles with tomato cans have bolstered the non-conference records of every team in the upper echelon of the Big 12 and led to the overrating of many of the teams in the league.
If I went through that much angst over the top ten, just imagine how much I have thrown my hands up over the next several squads. Boise State (7-0) is undefeated and possesses a quasi-quality win over the Ducks in Eugene, North Carolina (6-2) has wins over four Division I-A teams with winning records (including two who are legitimate out-of-conference competitors) and a pair of close losses to a couple of 5-3 teams, the Buckeyes had decent wins over Minnesota (7-1) and Michigan State (7-2) to slow their descent after a pair of losses to teams with a combined record of 15-1, Connecticut (6-2) partially overcame a loss to Rutgers (3-5) with solid victories over Virginia and Cincinnati, and Maryland (6-2) benefited from the attrition by riding a valuable win over California (5-2) to a spot in the top 15 in spite of a loss at Middle Tennessee State (2-6).
The Horned Frogs were harmed by the fact that half of their eight wins came against Division I-AA competition or Division I-A teams with six or more losses, but a convincing win over Brigham Young (7-1) helped T.C.U. in the rankings. Florida State (6-1) has proven something in wins over Miami (Florida) and Virginia Tech, both of whom are 5-3, and the Golden Gophers managed to get as much mileage as a team can get out of a 7-1 ledger highlighted by close wins over Illinois and Northern Illinois.
Why was Minnesota able to make it all the way up to No. 18? Well, what other options were there? Ball State held onto a spot in the top 20 with an 8-0 record showcasing a win over Navy (5-3) and overinflated by the presence of wins over Division I-AA Northeastern and four teams with six or more setbacks on the right-hand side of their respective records. What can I say? It’s a down year across the board, really.
Nevertheless, the good people of Minneapolis continue to celebrate the Golden Gophers’ remarkable turnaround.
The Golden Bears continue to get traction from their season-opening win over the Spartans, plus the fact that Cal’s road losses to the Terrapins and the Wildcats are looking better. Accordingly, Jeff Tedford’s club swiped the last spot in the top 20 from L.S.U., as the Bayou Bengals have only a pair of close road wins over mediocre conference opponents to balance out their embarrassing losses to Florida and Georgia.
After that, you practically could pull teams out of a hat. West Virginia (5-2) has yet to beat a team with a winning record, but three of the Mountaineers’ Division I-A triumphs came against teams with five or fewer losses, which gave W.V.U. the edge over a B.Y.U. club that was hammered by T.C.U. and has claimed half of its six wins over Division I-A competition against teams with six or more setbacks.
The Falcons actually earned some respect by winning four road games and suffering both of A.F.A.’s losses in close games against teams with winning records. Finally, I held off on designating a No. 25 team for a while there on Sunday night, but, somewhere in the second quarter, I realized that there really was nothing the Golden Hurricane could do to U.C.F. to impress me enough to rank Tulsa ahead of Oregon, which may not have beaten a team with a winning record and may even have claimed four of its six victories over teams with six or more losses, but which has only been beaten by two teams with a combined record of 13-1. Beating no one in a B.C.S. conference counts for more than beating no one in the worst conference not named the Sun Belt.
Clearly, any ascription of "style points" to the teams ranked in my top 25 was metaphorical rather than literal.
I also gave consideration to ranking Michigan State and Missouri, but I will need to see more from the Spartans and the Tigers before I am willing to return them to the top 25. Will it make you feel better if I say I considered ranking Tulsa? Fine; I considered ranking Tulsa. I considered a slate of road games consisting of U.A.B. (2-6), S.M.U. (1-8), and North Texas (0-8) and there is where the consideration stopped well before I knew whether the Golden Hurricane would beat the Golden Knights in the game King Midas forgot.
I watched the Ohio (Ohio)-Temple game on Tuesday, the Auburn-West Virginia game on Thursday, and the Boise State-San Jose State game on Friday. On Saturday, I watched most of the Kansas-Texas Tech game, the entirety of the Georgia-Louisiana State game, most of the Alabama-Tennessee game, and the last five minutes of the Ohio State-Penn State game. On Sunday night, purely out of a sense of obligation, I watched the Central Florida-Tulsa game. The BlogPoll voter’s lot in life is one of loneliness and duty, my friends. We’re like the dorky version of the Marines.
In all seriousness, though, that ballot made perfect sense to me when I compiled it, but, the longer I look at it, the more convinced I become that every team ranked below No. 1 is incorrectly placed. I have until Wednesday morning to change my ballot, so your influence could be meaningful and your feedback, while always welcome, is earnestly sought in this instance. I’m pretty sure there’s some wacky stuff going on right there, so your input is solicited and appreciated.