The time has come to cast my final regular-season BlogPoll ballot---or, at least, I think it has; I’m assuming we’re not submitting new top 25s after next weekend’s Army-Navy game---and here is what I came up with after starting with a blank piece of paper:
|Last week's ballot|
The Alabama Crimson Tide (13-0) are No. 1. Duh! Of the dozen Division I-A opponents beaten by Nick Saban’s squad, nine finished with winning records, including the sixth-ranked Florida Gators, the twelfth-ranked LSU Tigers, and the 16th-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies. The Tide’s only close calls came in rivalry games against teams who will be playing on New Year’s Eve or later.
In spite of their close call against the Pittsburgh Panthers in a game played in the snow featuring two botched extra point attempts, the Cincinnati Bearcats (12-0) captured the No. 2 spot on my ballot by virtue of seven regular-season wins over teams that finished above .500, among them the 11th-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers, the 14th-ranked Oregon St. Beavers, and 19th-ranked Pitt. Also, Cincy gets credit for having a logo reminiscent of Chick-fil-A's.
While I understand and respect C&F’s argument, I awarded the No. 3 ranking to the Texas Longhorns (13-0) because Mack Brown’s outfit went undefeated against a slate that included no Division I-AA schedule fodder and only four teams that posted losing ledgers. Wins over the No. 21 Oklahoma St. Cowboys and the No. 23 Nebraska Cornhuskers provided heft to the Big 12 standard-bearer’s resume.
I ranked the Boise St. Broncos (13-0) ahead of the TCU Horned Frogs (12-0) for a variety of reasons. Both took advantage of a Division I-AA victim and each faced five Division I-A teams with winning records, but Boise State has an additional win and Texas Christian has two close shaves (at Air Force and at Clemson) as opposed to the Broncos’ one (at Tulsa). Boise State’s second- and third-best wins (over Nevada and Fresno State) are comparable to the Frogs’ (over Utah and Clemson), but the Broncos’ marquee victory over the seven-ranked Oregon Ducks far outshines TCU’s best pelt, that of the 22nd-ranked BYU Cougars.
The Sunshine State Saurians (12-1) slipped to sixth after their less than competitive neutral site outing against ‘Bama, as befits the nation’s lone once-beaten team, and Oregon (10-2) led the parade of two-loss teams because the Ducks fell to two quality teams on the road and made up for those setbacks with wins over three teams ranked in my top 20 (Arizona, Oregon State, and Cal).
The Ohio St. Buckeyes (10-2) earned a No. 8 ranking on the strength of wins over the tenth-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes, the 24th-ranked Penn St. Nittany Lions, and the 25th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers. The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (11-2) rode their
fourth-place finish in the SEC East ACC championship to the No. 9 ranking, although the Ramblin’ Wreck’s loss to the Georgia Bulldogs at home serves as a drag on a resume that includes five close calls in the Golden Tornado’s ten Division I-A wins. Only two of the Engineers’ victims finished with fewer than five losses, but one of those triumphs came over No. 16 VPI.
Iowa (10-2) carded quality victories over a trio of top 25 teams (Arizona, Penn State, and Wisconsin, all by double-digit margins) to overcome respectable losses to Ohio State and Northwestern, both of whom will be playing on New Year’s Day. (For whatever it might be worth, I would point out that the five BCS bowls pit No. 9 v. No. 10, No. 7 v. No. 8, No. 4 v. No. 5, No. 2 v. No. 6, and No. 1 v. No. 3 on my ballot. This ought to be a pretty good bowl season.)
West Virginia narrowly edged out Louisiana State in my estimation. Both teams boasted similar resumes: both finished 9-3; both won three games by a touchdown or less; both lost one game by a touchdown or less. However, as ashamed as I am to admit it, the Mountain Men’s win over Pitt counts for more this season than the Bayou Bengals’ win over Georgia. I know, it hurts me to admit that, too; visions of Tony Dorsett and Dan Marino will haunt my dreams tonight.
A glut of 8-4 clubs out of the Pac-10 proved difficult to untangle, but I declared the Arizona Wildcats first among equals by awarding Mike Stoops’s troops the No. 13 ranking. Three of Arizona’s four losses came on the road, two of them were nailbiters, and only one of them was the handiwork of a team with fewer than eight wins. The Wildcats carded victories over No. 14 Oregon State, the 15th-ranked USC Trojans, and the 17th-ranked Stanford Cardinal, with Central Michigan thrown in for good measure.
The Beavers landed right behind Arizona, partly because of wins over Cal and Stanford but mostly because of a quartet of quality losses. Oregon State’s four setbacks all came against opponents sporting eight or more wins, and, of the four, only the one against the No. 2 team in the country wasn’t a close call.
I will grant that it appears somewhat strange that I placed Stanford at No. 17, two spots behind Southern California (a club the Cardinal beat handily in Los Angeles) and three spots ahead of the California Golden Bears (a squad that defeated Jim Harbaugh’s outfit at the Farm), but Stanford had no legitimate third-best victory after the Cardinal’s wins over Oregon and USC to overcome the trio of triumphs notched by the Men of Troy over Ohio State, Oregon State, and Cal. Likewise, the Bears of Berkeley had trouble overcoming the fact that all four of their losses came by margins of 17 points or more. Oddly enough, Southern California, Stanford, and California each lost to a 5-7 team on the road, but the Trojans’ loss to the Washington Huskies and the Cardinal’s loss to the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at least had the virtue of being close.
Sandwiched amid those West Coast outfits were No. 16 Virginia Tech (9-3), which beat top 25 teams Miami and Nebraska while sustaining three respectable defeats (including two to top ten squads); the 18th-ranked Miami Hurricanes (9-3), who are able to boast of a marquee win over Georgia Tech; and 19th-ranked Pittsburgh (9-3), which sneaked ahead of California by virtue of a more forgivable set of losses. The Panthers’ three setbacks all came by close margins, with two of those coming in down-to-the-wire clashes with top eleven opponents Cincinnati and West Virginia. Pitt’s loss to N.C. State was comparable to Cal’s loss to Washington---both came on the road against 5-7 squads---but the Wolfpack won by seven and the Huskies won by 32.
The inclusion of Oklahoma State (9-3) attested to the fact that next year’s BlogPoll should rank only 20 teams instead of 25---which the Associated Press poll did prior to 1989, by the way---but somebody had to be No. 21, so the Pokes were as qualified as anyone. Why was Les Miles’s old team ranked nine spots behind Les Miles’s current team when both have identical records and both count a win over the ‘Dawgs among their most impressive conquests? Simple: LSU lost to three teams with a combined 33-5 record by a combined 62-41 margin, while OSU lost to three teams with a combined 30-8 record by a combined 113-49 margin.
BYU (10-2) had absolutely no business being ranked after getting positively smoked by TCU and the hapless Florida St. Seminoles, but Brigham Young beat the Oklahoma Sooners and the Utah Utes, which counts for something. Nebraska (9-4) did little to impress me in the win column---the ‘Huskers beat only two teams with winning records---but, since all of the Big Red Machine’s losses were to teams that finished .500 or better and three of those were by razor-thin margins, I gave Bo Pelini’s team the benefit of the doubt.
The fact that Penn State (10-2) and Wisconsin (9-3) made the grade proves that I was scraping the bottom of the barrel; both the Nittany Lions and the Badgers lost convincingly to the Big Ten’s two top ten teams and neither beat more than two Division I-A teams that finished above .500, but the dearth of quality squads at the bottom of my ballot allowed a PSU team whose best win was against Temple and a Wiscy unit whose best win was against Fresno State to sneak undeservedly into the top 25.
Consideration was also given to the Boston College Eagles and the Mississippi Rebels. I’d like to tell you that I took a look at the Central Michigan Chippewas, East Carolina Pirates, Houston Cougars, Missouri Tigers, Navy Midshipmen, North Carolina Tar Heels, Northwestern Wildcats, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, and Texas Tech Red Raiders, but, if I said so, I’d be lying.
I watched the Oregon-Oregon State game on Thursday, the Central Michigan-Ohio (Ohio) game on Friday, and a Saturday slate consisting primarily of the Cincinnati-Pittsburgh, Alabama-Florida, and Clemson-Georgia Tech games, with bits of the Nebraska-Texas and Hawaii-Wisconsin tilts sprinkled in for variety.
As always, I actively solicit your input with respect to what is, after all, a draft ballot. Feel free to register your disagreement or lobby for or against particular teams in the comments below.