When compiling this week’s BlogPoll ballot, I paid no attention to last week’s top 25 (ergo, you should ignore the arrows) and I did not consult any other person’s or organization’s rankings, so the fault for what follows is mine and mine alone. I began by cobbling together a list of all BCS conference teams with records of 9-3 or better and all mid-major teams with records of 10-2 or better. This list came to twenty teams, so I went back and added in the six BCS conference clubs with 8-3 records. In so doing, I overlooked nine BCS conference teams and independents with 8-4 records, as well as five mid-majors with 9-3 records. I remain open to arguments in favor of any of these teams, but the first draft of my ballot reads as follows:
|Last week's ballot|
The Alabama Crimson Tide (12-0) have beaten eight Division I-A teams with winning records, including the 11th-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies (9-3), the 13th-ranked LSU Tigers (9-3), and the Mississippi Rebels (8-4), yet the Tide’s only close calls have come in heated rivalry showdowns with the Tennessee Volunteers and the Auburn Tigers, both of which are 7-5.
The Florida Gators (12-0) have beaten seven Division I-A teams with winning records, but the Sunshine State Saurians’ best victory was over Louisiana State, which is the second-best victim ‘Bama has bested. The Texas Longhorns (12-0) have taken down only five opponents who are above .500 and their best win was over the 19th-ranked Oklahoma St. Cowboys (9-3). As we shall see, the Pokes’ credentials are somewhat suspect, so the ‘Horns are a decidedly shaky No. 3 in my view.
I awarded the No. 4 spot on my ballot to the Cincinnati Bearcats (11-0) due to the fact that Brian Kelly’s club has bested the 16th-ranked Oregon St. Beavers (8-3), the 20th-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers (8-3), and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (8-3). All told, six of Cincy’s Division I-A triumphs have come against teams with winning ledgers.
The Boise St. Broncos narrowly edged out the TCU Horned Frogs for the No. 5 ranking, but it was a close call because the two teams’ resumes are so similar. The two mid-major mammoths arrived at 12-0 by virtually identical routes, as both clubs have beaten one Division I-AA opponent at home (UC-Davis for Boise State and Texas State for Texas Christian), one 6-6 squad on the road (Hawaii for the Broncos and Wyoming for the Frogs), five teams with winning records, and five teams with losing records. Each has beaten a 1-11 team at home (BSU defeated Miami (Ohio) and TCU defeated New Mexico) and each has taken advantage of four opponents with four or fewer wins.
The Horned Frogs’ second- and third-best wins (over the Utah Utes and the Clemson Tigers) were superior to the Broncos’ second- and third-best wins (over the Nevada Wolf Pack and the Fresno St. Bulldogs), but Boise State’s triumph over the seventh-ranked Oregon Ducks (9-2) carries considerably more weight than Texas Christian’s victory over the 23rd-ranked BYU Cougars (10-2), so the Broncos sneaked by the Frogs . . . barely.
(I would add at this point that Texas and Texas Christian have beaten the same number of Division I-A teams with records above .500 and that the Longhorns’ triumvirate of wins over Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, and Missouri clubs with a combined 25-11 record is comparable in quality to the Horned Frogs’ trio of triumphs over BYU, Utah, and Clemson outfits with a cumulative 27-9 ledger. Texas and TCU share only one opponent in common; the ‘Horns traveled to Laramie and beat the Wyoming Cowboys 41-10, whereas the Frogs traveled to Laramie and beat the Wyoming Cowboys 45-10. Texas allowed 13 points in a narrow win over the Oklahoma Sooners at a neutral site game played in Dallas, while Texas Christian went on the road and throttled a Brigham Young team that allowed 13 points in a narrow win over the Oklahoma Sooners at a neutral site game played in Arlington. There is a compelling case to be made for the proposition that the Longhorns are not the top team in the Lone Star State, or, at least, are not noticeably distinguishable from the other contender for that title.)
Oregon laid claim to the No. 7 ranking ahead of the Ohio St. Buckeyes (10-2) in spite of the fact that the Big Ten champions have the better collection of victories over winning teams: Ohio State beat Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Navy, while the Ducks defeated Southern California, California, Utah, and Arizona. The Buckeyes were dragged down by the fact that they lost to two teams, including the Purdue Boilermakers (5-7), that both were beaten by Oregon.
The Iowa Hawkeyes (10-2) landed one notch behind an Ohio State team to which they lost a close contest on the road. Iowa ended up ahead of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (10-2) not on the basis of wins, but of losses. In the victory column, the Hawkeyes and the Engineers are comparable. Both have ten wins; both claimed four of those victories by a touchdown or less; both beat one Division I-AA team and three Division I-A teams with winning records. On the whole, the Ramblin’ Wreck’s top three triumphs (over Virginia Tech, Clemson, and North Carolina) arguably are better than Iowa’s (over Penn State, Wisconsin, and Arizona), but the Hawkeyes lost a couple of close ones to an 8-4 team at home and a 10-2 team on the road. The Golden Tornado lost a close one to a 7-5 team at home and a thumping to a 9-3 team on the road.
Wins over No. 14 Miami (Florida) and No. 22 Nebraska enabled the Gobblers to overcome three very respectable losses and claim the No. 11 ranking for VPI, while the Pittsburgh Panthers (9-2) staked an admittedly shaky claim to the No. 12 spot with victories over Rutgers, Navy, and South Florida. Both of Pitt’s losses came in close contests on the road, but the Panthers’ early-season setback to the N.C. State Wolfpack (5-7) gives me pause and I very well might be persuaded to drop Dave Wannstedt’s club.
The Bayou Bengals’ three best wins were over a trio of 7-5 teams (Georgia, Arkansas, and Auburn), but their losses to Alabama, Florida, and Ole Miss are forgivable, so Louisiana State sneaked ahead of the Miami Hurricanes (9-3). A convincing win over Georgia Tech, a recent triumph over the South Florida Bulls (7-4), a previous victory over Oklahoma that acquired new luster in the Bedlam Battle, and a trio of losses to teams with at least eight wins apiece vaulted the ‘Canes ahead of the USC Trojans (8-3), who are hanging onto narrow victories against Ohio State and Oregon State while otherwise relying upon name recognition to make us forget about a stumble against the Washington Huskies (4-7) and blowout losses to Oregon and Stanford.
The Beavers ended up behind the Men of Troy thanks to the head-to-head result of the two teams’ Pac-10 meeting in Los Angeles, but wins over Cal and Stanford continue to keep Oregon State in contention. Despite boasting a 10-2 record, the Penn St. Nittany Lions deserved no better than a No. 17 ranking because Joe Paterno’s club has beaten the Northwestern Wildcats, the Temple Owls, and no other Division I-A teams above .500 while being beaten soundly by both Ohio State and Iowa.
I know lots of folks don’t think the Houston Cougars deserve to be ranked, but the Cougs are a refugee from a traditional Southern power conference and a division champion who got to 10-2 by beating a Division I-AA opponent, skating by four Division I-A foes by seven or fewer points, beating the Mississippi St. Bulldogs (5-7) in Starkville, and taking advantage of five teams with losing records. Houston sounds to me a lot like Georgia Tech, but, whereas an ACC division champion would finish fourth in the SEC East, a Conference USA division champion would finish in the top half of the Big 12 South, at least judging by the Cougars’ wins over Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. Those key non-league wins allowed Houston to overcome the problem of having lost on the road to the UTEP Miners (4-8).
For obvious reasons, the Cowboys remained one spot behind the Cougars, but a better set of losses (to Texas, Houston, and Oklahoma) allowed the Pokes to stay ahead of a West Virginia unit that fell to Cincinnati, South Florida, and Auburn before boosting its resume by beating Pittsburgh in the Backyard Brawl.
The California Golden Bears (8-3) suffered their three setbacks to teams with eight or more victories each, but none of those losses came in close contests and Cal’s wins over the Stanford Cardinal (8-4) and the Arizona Wildcats (7-4) are the only bright spots in a resume weighed down by the presence of triumphs over Division I-AA Eastern Washington, the Washington St. Cougars (1-11), the Maryland Terrapins (2-10), and the Arizona St. Sun Devils (4-8), the latter of whom the Berkeley Bears barely beat.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-3) won the Big 12 North after tackling a non-conference slate straight out of the Sun Belt. The Big Red Machine beat Arkansas State, Florida Atlantic, and Louisiana-Lafayette but defeated only one team all year with a ledger better than 7-5. The ‘Huskers came up short against the Iowa St. Cyclones (6-6) in an offensively moribund contest, so Nebraska clings to a No. 22 ranking while patiently awaiting its loss to Texas.
Brigham Young does not deserve to be ranked, but I had trouble finding another team to rank 23rd, so the spot went to a Cougar club that lost lopsided affairs to Texas Christian and the Florida St. Seminoles (6-6). Narrow wins over Utah and Oklahoma are about all BYU has to its credit, but those victories are better than the Wisconsin Badgers’ triumphs over Fresno State and Northern Illinois. Those are the only two teams over .500 to have fallen to Wiscy in the course of the Badgers’ 8-3 autumn.
The Central Michigan Chippewas (10-2) slipped into the No. 25 spot ahead of Rutgers because the State University of New Jersey beat a pair of Division I-AA teams and the Chips at least sneaked by the Michigan St. Spartans (6-6) on the road. Also, unlike the Scarlet Knights, they didn’t lose to the gender-neutral Syracuse Orange (4-8).
You should by all means feel free to offer constructive criticisms, heartfelt feedback, and thoughtful arguments for the inclusion or exclusion of particular teams. For what it’s worth, I watched the Ball State-Western Michigan game on Tuesday and the first half of the Texas-Texas A&M game on Thursday before devoting my Friday to flipping back and forth among and between the Cincinnati-Illinois, Alabama-Auburn, Colorado-Nebraska, Pitt-West Virginia, and Boise State-Nevada games. My Saturday was spent bouncing around between the Clemson-South Carolina, Mississippi-Mississippi State, Florida-Florida State, and Miami-South Florida games before I settled in for the Georgia-Georgia Tech game.