I’m not sure whether to call 2009 "The Year of the Mid-Major" (Boise State and Texas Christian are in the top six; Houston, Utah, Brigham Young, and Central Michigan all are ranked, as well) or "The Year of the Little Brother" (Pittsburgh is ranked higher than Penn State; Georgia Tech is ranked and Georgia isn’t; Oklahoma State is ranked and Oklahoma isn’t; Arizona is ranked and Arizona State isn’t; South Florida is ranked and Florida State isn’t), but, in any case, I sat down with a clean white piece of paper (so ignore the arrows) and, much to my chagrin, came up with this as the draft of my BlogPoll ballot:
|Last week's ballot|
I wrestled with placing the Alabama Crimson Tide (9-0) in the No. 1 spot since ‘Bama has beaten a pair of 2-7 teams (Florida International and North Texas) and since three of the Red Elephants’ seven victories over Division I-A opponents with winning records were carded against a trio of 5-4 clubs (Arkansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee). However, the Tide have not tussled with a Division I-AA team and their best wins (over No. 15 LSU, Virginia Tech, and South Carolina) are superior to those of the next two contenders.
The Texas Longhorns (9-0) edged out the Florida Gators (9-0) in a close race for the No. 2 ranking due to a variety of factors. Both have six wins over Division I-A teams with winning records and both earned four of those victories over 5-4 outfits. The Longhorns’ only narrow escape was in a neutral site fight over the Oklahoma Sooners (5-4), which is slightly better than the Gators’ narrow escape in a home win over the Arkansas Razorbacks (5-4). While Florida’s best win (over the No. 15 LSU Tigers) is slightly superior to Texas’s best win (over the No. 16 Oklahoma St. Cowboys), the Longhorns’ second- and third-best victories (over Texas Tech and Oklahoma) outpace the Gators’ second- and third-best victories (over Troy and Tennessee). This was a close call, though.
The Cincinnati Bearcats (9-0) have notched respectable victories over the No. 20 South Florida Bulls and the No. 24 Rutgers Scarlet Knights, as well as over the Oregon St. Beavers, but Cincy’s resume was dragged down by the presence of triumphs over Division I-AA Southeast Missouri State and a quartet of Division I-A teams with losing ledgers, including a pair of 3-6 conference opponents (Louisville and Syracuse) and a 1-9 Miami (Ohio) squad. A narrow win over the Connecticut Huskies (4-5) didn’t hurt the Bearcats because everyone who has beaten UConn has done so by the slimmest of margins.
I went back and forth over whether to rank the Boise St. Broncos (9-0) or the TCU Horned Frogs (9-0) fifth. Ultimately, I went with Boise State, even though six of the Broncos’ wins were over teams below .500 (including one-win Miami (Ohio) and San Jose State clubs and 3-6 Hawaii and Louisiana Tech outfits), because Boise State’s best win (over the eighth-ranked Oregon Ducks) still trumps the Horned Frogs’ best win (over the 23rd-ranked BYU Cougars).
The Iowa Hawkeyes (9-1) checked in as the nation’s highest-ranked once-beaten team on the strength of wins over No. 17 Penn State, No. 18 Arizona, and No. 19 Wisconsin, none of which came by a narrow margin. Despite having two losses, Oregon still nailed down the No. 8 ranking by virtue of victories against the 14th-ranked USC Trojans and the 22nd-ranked Utah Utes, as well as the California Golden Bears. The Ohio St. Buckeyes (8-2) lost to a Southern California team the Ducks defeated and OSU’s loss to the Purdue Boilermakers (4-6) was more embarrassing than Oregon’s loss to the Stanford Cardinal (6-3), but the Buckeyes remained high with wins over Penn State, Wisconsin, and Navy.
The Pittsburgh Panthers (8-1), like both Oregon and Ohio State, boast three wins over Division I-A teams with winning records and four wins over Division I-A teams with losing records. However, unlike the Ducks and the Bucks, Pitt also has a Division I-AA conquest in its resume, and the Panthers’ wins over the Bulls, the Scarlet Knights, and the Midshipmen were not enough to outweigh Pittsburgh’s three wins over 3-6 outfits (Buffalo, Louisville, and Syracuse) and its inexplicable loss to the N.C. State Wolfpack (4-5).
I gave the Houston Cougars (8-1) the nod over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (9-1) for several reasons. Both notched three of their wins over a Division I-AA team and a pair of 4-5 squads, and both won four of their games by a touchdown or less, but five of Georgia Tech’s triumphs came against Division I-A teams with losing records (including 2-8 Vanderbilt) and only three of Houston’s victories were over squads below .500. The Cougars’ four wins over teams with winning marks include wins over Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, while the Golden Tornado’s three wins over teams with winning ledgers were highlighted by narrow escapes over Clemson and Virginia Tech. The fact that Houston beat the only 7-2 team it has faced and Georgia Tech lost to the only 7-2 team it has faced was enough to offset the Cougs’ embarrassing setback to UTEP.
Speaking of that 7-2 team that beat the Engineers, the Miami Hurricanes rode that quality victory to the No. 13 spot in the rankings. The ‘Canes, like the No. 14 Men of Troy, are 7-2 and carded three wins by close margins, and USC’s best win (over Ohio State) is superior to Miami’s best win (over Georgia Tech), but two of the Trojans’ victories came against one-win San Jose State and Washington State squads. Moreover, the Hurricanes’ close loss was to a 6-3 team (Clemson) and Southern California’s close loss was to a 3-6 team (Washington).
The Bayou Bengals failed to keep pace with Miami and USC, despite their identical 7-2 records, because Louisiana State had no quality victory worthy of being set alongside the Hurricanes’ and the Trojans’ aforementioned "best wins." Two of the Fighting Tigers’ three triumphs over teams with winning records were against opponents with 5-4 ledgers (Louisiana-Lafayette and Georgia), but both of LSU’s losses were to 9-0 teams, and, although neither contest was especially close, the Tigers didn’t get blown out in either outing.
Oklahoma State had the same 7-2 record as the Bayou Bengals, but the Pokes trailed Louisiana State for four reasons. First of all, LSU lost to my No. 1 and No. 3 teams, whereas OSU lost to my No. 2 and No. 11 teams, and the Cowboys were less competitive overall in their losses. Secondly, the Tigers have beaten a team with a record better than 5-4 and Oklahoma State hasn’t. Thirdly, the Waddies’ strength of schedule was dragged down by Division I-AA Grambling and winless Rice. Finally, the Georgia Bulldogs were the Cowboys’ best victim but LSU’s second-best victim.
The Penn St. Nittany Lions (8-2) ended up behind Oklahoma State for similar reasons. Joe Paterno’s club lost games that were not close to the teams I have ranked No. 7 and No. 9. Half of Penn State’s eight wins came against Illinois (3-6), Syracuse (also 3-6), Akron (2-7), and Division I-AA Eastern Illinois. The Lions’ best win was over Temple.
While the Arizona Wildcats’ best win (over Central Michigan) was slightly better than Penn State’s, triumphs over one-win Washington State and Division I-AA Northern Arizona (which, by the way, is the site of many, many trees), along with a loss to three-win Washington, mar the Pac-10 squad’s 6-2 ledger. The closest thing the Wisconsin Badgers (7-2) have to a quality victory is over Fresno State and half of Wiscy’s six wins over Division I-A teams were nailbiters. Like Penn State, the Badgers were not competitive in losses to the Hawkeyes and the Buckeyes.
Five of South Florida’s six wins were over four-win Florida State, three-win Syracuse, winless Western Kentucky, Division I-AA Charleston Southern, and Division I-AA Wofford, but the Bulls beat the Mountaineers, so USF is ranked a notch ahead of a West Virginia outfit with no wins better than East Carolina and Marshall (both 5-4). WVU still has a more impressive resume than the Utes, whose 8-1 ledger features four wins over teams with seven or more losses. A close loss to Oregon is the best aspect of Utah’s season.
Nevertheless, the Utes boasted the best resume in the Beehive State by virtue of the fact that BYU’s only victory over a team with a winning ledger was a narrow escape over a 5-4 club with an injured quarterback in the season opener. The two blowout losses in the Cougars’ 7-2 record include a setback suffered at the hands of a 4-5 team.
Rutgers built its 6-2 resume on a pair of wins over Division I-AA opponents and a pair of teams sporting 2-7 records, but the Knights carded a nominal quality loss to Pitt. The Central Michigan Chippewas (7-2) edged out the Temple Owls (7-2) for the No. 25 slot in spite of triumphs over Division I-AA Alcorn State, winless Eastern Michigan, and two-win Akron because the Chippewas beat a .500 Big Ten team and Temple lost to Division I-AA Villanova.
Clearly, there is no defense for the bottom six or seven spots on that ballot, so I am openly soliciting your suggestions for three-loss teams from BCS conferences to plug into my top 25 in place of these middling mid-majors and unaccomplished Big East also-rans. For what it’s worth, I watched most of Bowling Green-Buffalo on Tuesday, East Carolina-Virginia Tech on Thursday, and Boise State-Louisiana Tech on Friday. On Saturday, I attended the Georgia-Tennessee Tech game and watched most of the Clemson-Florida State contest upon my return.
As always, your feedback is not only welcome, it is invited. I’m fully prepared to drop any team from about 19 on down in favor of a suitably accomplished thrice-beaten team. Your suggestions are appreciated.
Go ‘Dawgs! Auburna delenda est!