As I promised last week, I scrapped all previous ballots of mine altogether, abandoned as many preconceptions as it is possible to cast aside, and went with straight resume ranking on this ballot. That is to say, I’m going not with how I think the teams will finish or which teams I think would beat other teams on a neutral field next Saturday, but with what particular teams have accomplished on the field.
Naturally, there is some subjectivity even to this, but it represents a good faith attempt to throw off unfounded prejudgments in favor of actual results. Any constructive criticisms should address the ways in which I have done this poorly. In other words, if I have Vanderbilt ranked ahead of Louisiana State (and I do), it is no retort to tell me that the Bayou Bengals would obliterate the Commodores. I know they would and you know they would, but, since we all "knew" Southern California would beat Oregon State (and, last year, Stanford), I’m trying to steer clear of prospective knowledge that may be wrong and rely on prior events that are matters of historical fact.
Here is my top 25 for this week:
In my mind, there were three frontrunners for the No. 1 ranking: Alabama (5-0), Oklahoma (4-0), and Penn State (5-0). I ranked them in that order not because it had the virtue of being alphabetical, but instead for the following reasons:
- The Crimson Tide, unlike the Sooners and the Nittany Lions, did not sully their schedule with a Division I-AA opponent. Yes, Western Kentucky is a lower-tier Division I-A independent, but that merely places the Hilltoppers somewhere between Navy and Army in terms of quality. That counts for little, but it counts for more than wins over U.T.-Chattanooga and Coastal Carolina.
- Penn State has not beaten a Division I-A opponent with a winning record and two of the Lions’ wins have been over Syracuse and Temple (both 1-4). Home wins over the Beavers and the Illini---both of whom are sitting at .500---are not comparable to victories over Cincinnati (3-1) and Texas Christian (4-1), which Oklahoma can claim.
- Only one of Alabama’s wins came against a team with a losing record and, of the major-conference unbeatens, the Tide clearly have the best pair of quality wins, over Clemson (3-2) and Georgia (4-1).
The fourth spot went to Utah (5-0) on the strength of the Utes’ close road victories over Michigan (2-2) and Air Force (3-1). These wins boosted Utah’s unblemished ledger above that of South Florida (5-0), which has only a close home win over Kansas (3-1) to its credit. The Bulls’ other victories over Division I-AA Tennessee-Martin, Florida International (1-3), and N.C. State (2-3) carry little weight, particularly in light of the fact that U.S.F. needed overtime to beat Central Florida (1-3).
While I am a big believer in Missouri (4-0), I cannot conscientiously rank the Tigers higher until they play someone of substance. Wins over a pair of .500 teams (Illinois and Nevada), plus demolitions of schedule fodder like Division I-AA Southeast Missouri State and Buffalo (2-3), have shown us little, even though Mizzou dominated its weak slate in the expected manner.
No. 7 Virginia Tech (4-1) was not helped by the further devaluation of its loss to East Carolina (3-2), but the Hokies were upended by the Pirates in a close game on the road, and V.P.I. has since beaten Georgia Tech, North Carolina, and Nebraska, all of whom are 3-1 and two of whom Frank Beamer’s club beat (albeit by close margins) on the road.
The Trojans’ loss in Corvallis caused them to drop, but U.S.C.’s quality win over Ohio State (4-1) kept Pete Carroll’s crew in the top ten. Among the Pac-10 contenders, Southern California has the worst of the losses but the best of the wins. The Demon Deacons check in at No. 9 even in the wake (sorry) of a narrow loss to Navy (3-2) because the Deacs have wins over three B.C.S. conference teams who are at or above .500, two of which came on the road. Wake Forest’s victories over Ole Miss (3-2) and Florida State (3-1) acquired added value following the Rebels’ victory over Florida in Gainesville and the Seminoles’ victory over Colorado in Jacksonville.
The Gateway City . . . always a haven for quality Atlantic Coast Conference football!
Although the Badgers were beaten by the Wolverines in a close contest, their lone loss was on the road, as was their best win (over Fresno State), and only one of Wisconsin’s wins came against a team with a losing record. For those reasons, Wiscy finished in front of the Buckeyes for the second spot among Big Ten teams.
Like it or not, the Commies are my No. 11 team after beating a trio of 3-2 squads, including South Carolina and Ole Miss. That gives Vandy a better record of achievement at this point in the season than L.S.U. can claim, inasmuch as the Fighting Tigers have beaten Division I-AA Appalachian State, North Texas (0-4), and Mississippi State (1-4). Louisiana State’s biggest win (at Auburn) is tarnished by the fact that the Bayou Bengals gave up 21 points to the Plainsmen, who notched 14 against Tennessee and three against Mississippi State.
Thirteenth-ranked Texas (4-0) suffers from the same problem as Missouri: I’m quite sure the Longhorns are good, but what have they proven with wins by wide margins over Florida Atlantic (1-3), U.T.E.P. (1-3), Rice (3-2), and Arkansas (2-2)? Those meager achievements would have dropped the ‘Horns behind Maryland (4-1) on the strength of the Terrapins’ wins over California (3-1) and Clemson, were it not for the fact that the Terps struggled with Division I-AA Delaware and lost to Middle Tennessee (1-3).
Boise State (3-0) rounds out the top 15 due to the Broncos’ win at Oregon (4-1), which makes B.S.U.’s undefeated record at least somewhat meaningful. After missing out on receiving credit for a quality loss when the failure of a nearly-successful onside kick attempt kept the final margin in the double digits, the Bulldogs plummeted to 16th, as victories over Central Michigan (3-2), South Carolina, and Arizona State (2-2) did little to stop Georgia’s skid.
The Golden Bears edged out the Buckeyes for the No. 17 spot because Cal hasn’t played any Division I-AA teams and the Pac-10 team’s win over Michigan State (4-1) carries more heft than the Big Ten team’s victory over Minnesota (4-1).
The Gators dropped to 19th after losing at home to Mississippi because there was little "there" there to justify keeping them any higher. What about wins over Hawaii (1-3), Miami (2-2), or Tennessee (1-3) is supposed to impress me at this point?
The Ducks might have beaten out the Saurians for the penultimate placement in the top 20---Oregon’s close loss to unbeaten Boise State counts as something of a quality loss, while a road win over Purdue (2-2), even in overtime, probably counts for more than any of Florida’s wins so far---but the squad from the Pacific Northwest was dragged down by low-value wins over Washington (0-4), Utah State (1-3), and Washington State (1-4).
The final fifth of my BlogPoll ballot begins with Texas Tech (4-0), which suffers from a condition common to Big 12 teams at this juncture, only more so. The Red Raiders haven’t played anyone. No, seriously, they haven’t: Texas Tech has taken on two Division I-AA teams and beaten Southern Methodist (1-4), all at home.
When the closest thing you have to a quality win is a road victory over a .500 Nevada squad, you’re this year’s Hawaii.
I feel just as badly as you do about including Connecticut (5-0) at No. 22. Nevertheless, after starting out by beating Division I-AA Hofstra, Temple (in overtime), and Virginia (1-3), the Huskies have notched wins---albeit close ones---over Baylor and Louisville, each of which sits at .500.
Hey, it’s more than the Plainsmen can claim: Auburn (4-1) clung to a spot in the top 25 by virtue of a quality loss to L.S.U., because the Tigers haven’t beaten a team with a winning record and their best victory may have been over Southern Miss (2-2). Close calls against one-win Mississippi State and Tennessee teams have not helped the case for the War Eagle.
Still, there are worse things in the world than not having beaten a team better than Southern Mississippi. For instance, there’s not having beaten a team better than Wyoming (2-3), yet that is the record Brigham Young boasts. The Cougars have gotten to 4-0 on the strength of wins over hapless Washington and nearly as hapless U.C.L.A. (1-3). Even B.Y.U.’s destruction of the Bruins counts for little in light of the overall performance of Rick Neuheisel’s crew.
My final poll position was bestowed upon Oklahoma State (4-0). Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but a Big 12 team has gotten off to a fast start by playing cupcakes. The Cowboys’ best win was over Troy (2-2), but that, and an unblemished ledger, got Mike Gundy’s team into the top 25 ahead of Fresno State (3-1), which has a loss (admittedly, a quality one) and has beaten only a trio of 1-3 teams.
I watched the Oregon State-Southern California game on Thursday and the Connecticut-Louisville game on Friday. On Saturday, I followed the closing minutes of the Florida-Ole Miss game while riding through campus by listening to score updates on the radio and watching the reactions of tailgaters with satellite dishes. After viewing bits and pieces of various games (mostly the Auburn-Tennessee tilt) at Tent City, I headed into the stadium for the Georgia-Alabama debacle, for which I was present for the entirety of the contest.
As always, the views expressed in the foregoing rankings are mine and mine alone; I deliberately avoid looking at the mainstream polls or any other blogger’s ballot before compiling my own. Because I started from scratch this week, the arrows indicating movement are entirely meaningless, as they represent the differences between two completely divergent approaches to selecting a top 25.
Because this is the first ballot in which I have made a conscientious effort to rely strictly on results on the field, I feel better about this top 25 than I have about any in-season rankings I have yet compiled. Still, imperfections undoubtedly remain, so your constructive criticisms are most welcome in the comments below.