Two points bear making before I present the draft of my BlogPoll ballot, which once again was the product of resume ranking using a clean white sheet of paper without reference to any other top 25, including my own of a week ago. First of all, there is no argument to be made with a straight face that there are 25 Division I-A college football teams deserving of a spot in the top 25. Secondly, the process of sorting through the various two-loss teams underscored just how unsatisfied I am with this ballot. Accordingly, I would be most appreciative if you would offer your constructive criticisms with respect to the following:
While I will be happy to explain any oddities in greater detail in response to specific questions in the comments, here, in a nutshell, is my rationale:
- I had a tough time deciding between Auburn and Oklahoma for the top spot. Both teams have struggled: four of the Sooners’ first five victories, and four of the Tigers’ first six triumphs, were by margins of eight or fewer points. Each team has three solid scalps on its wall: Oklahoma throttled No. 19 Florida State, bested No. 21 Texas, and defeated 5-2 Air Force, while Auburn overcame No. 18 South Carolina, blasted No. 22 Arkansas, and won at 5-2 Mississippi State. The Plainsmen edged the Oklahomans narrowly because Auburn’s road win over Kentucky gives 7-0 Auburn a fourth win over a team above .500, which the 6-0 Sooners cannot claim.
- The Bayou Bengals also have carded four single-score victories in six games against Division I-A competition, but a quartet of those conquests came against teams with winning records from automatically-qualifying conferences. Wins over No. 20 West Virginia, 5-2 Mississippi State, and 4-2 North Carolina pushed Louisiana State ahead of Michigan State, who has no third win of note after No. 13 Wisconsin and 5-2 Michigan. However, the Spartans have won comfortably against all but one of their foes.
- I don’t doubt that the Ducks are a very good team, but I couldn’t conscientiously rank them higher than fifth because their schedule consists of so many empty calories. Once you get past Oregon’s impressive win over No. 12 Stanford, there’s not a lot of "there" there. Half of the Ducks’ six wins were over 1-6 Washington State, 0-6 New Mexico, and Division I-AA Portland State. Two of the other three were against teams at or below .500. Oregon has played one marquee game, but otherwise has beaten up on bad teams. We punish Boise State for that, don’t we?
- I can’t stand having to rank Missouri in the top ten, since the Tigers’ best victory was over a .500 Texas A&M outfit, but fair comparisons to other top teams obligated me to place the only undefeated team remaining in the Big 12 North in such a lofty poll position. If Oregon can blow out bad teams and be ranked No. 5 by virtue of beating Stanford, and if Boise State can blow out bad teams and be ranked No. 6 by virtue of beating Virginia Tech, and if TCU can blow out bad teams and be ranked No. 7 by virtue of beating Baylor, Missouri has to be ranked No. 8 after beating by 44 points at home a McNeese State squad that No. 3 LSU led 16-10 at halftime at home, beating by ten points at a neutral site an Illinois team No. 4 Michigan State trailed 6-3 at halftime at home, and beating by 21 points on the road a Texas A&M outfit that No. 11 Oklahoma State trailed 21-7 at halftime at home.
- While we’re on the subject of the Cowboys, I should mention that I gave the Pokes credit for their wins over the Aggies and at Texas Tech, but those victories did not add enough heft to Oklahoma State’s unblemished resume to vault the Stillwater squad ahead of a pair of 6-1 teams in No. 9 Alabama and No. 10 Ohio State. Both the Crimson Tide and the Buckeyes lost tough games to top 20 opponents on the road, and both made up for those missteps by carding victories over respectable squads (Arkansas, Florida, and Penn State for ‘Bama; Miami, Indiana, and Illinois for Ohio State).
- While the Badgers’ best win (over the Buckeyes) was superior to the Cardinal’s best win (over the Trojans), and while both clubs lost on the road to top five teams, Wisconsin trails Stanford in the rankings because four of the former’s six victories came against opponents who play in Division I-AA (Austin Peay) or sport 1-6 records (UNLV, San Jose State, and Minnesota). The Wildcats are ranked behind both because Arizona’s lone loss (at home to .500 Oregon State) is less respectable than the Cardinal’s and the Badgers’ respective setbacks, but the Pac-10 contender’s win over No. 15 Iowa held its value after the Hawkeyes won at Michigan.
- The Cornhuskers were found unworthy of a spot in my top 15 after their loss to Texas because Nebraska’s only meaningful win (at Kansas State) has only minimal value. The rest of the Big Red Machine’s resume, featuring wins over Division I-AA South Dakota State, winless Western Kentucky, and a pair of .500 outfits in Idaho and Washington, essentially is worthless.
- Much the same criticism could be levied at the Utes, whose 6-0 record could not get them any higher than No. 17 because Utah hasn’t played anyone. I was willing to cut Oregon, Boise State, Texas Christian, and Missouri some slack on account of wins over Stanford, Virginia Tech, Baylor, and Texas A&M, respectively, but Kyle Whittingham’s crew has no such victory of note. An overtime win at home over a .500 Big East team does not qualify as a signature triumph, and the rest of the Utes’ resume was compiled against teams with losing records, including two with 1-6 ledgers (UNLV and San Jose State) and one sitting at 0-6 (New Mexico). Yes, Utah beat Iowa State 68-27, New Mexico 56-14, and Wyoming 30-6, but Oklahoma beat the Cyclones 52-0, Oregon beat the Lobos 72-0, and Boise State beat the Cowboys 51-6, so the Utes aren’t even hanging with the big boys in style points.
- An embarrassing (though not unforeseen) road loss to 4-3 Kentucky cost the Gamecocks in the rankings, but the Palmetto State Poultry’s win over Alabama retains its value, as (to a lesser extent) does the Seminoles’ big win at Miami. After FSU’s blowout loss in Norman and narrow escape against 2-4 Boston College, though, Florida State appears suspect. Of the six victories carded by Jimbo Fisher’s outfit, five came at the expense of Division I-AA opponents or Division I-A opponents with records of 2-4 or worse. South Carolina may have two losses, but the Gamecocks’ second-best win (over Southern Miss) is better than all but one of the Seminoles’ victories.
- The Mountaineers beat one team with a winning record (Maryland) and benefited from a quality loss (to undefeated LSU by a single-score margin on the road). The Longhorns have two losses, one of which was a bad one, and only one win over a team with a winning record, but that one team was Nebraska in Lincoln, so Texas snagged a spot in the top 25. More than anything else, the Razorbacks profited from attrition and the fact that the Hogs played the Tide close. Arkansas’s two losses came against Yellowhammer State squads with a combined record of 13-1.
- After losing a close one to Hawaii on the road, Nevada clings to a spot in the top 25 solely by virtue of its win over Cal. The Wolf Pack otherwise beat one Division I-AA team (Eastern Washington), two 1-6 teams (UNLV and San Jose State), and two 2-5 teams (Colorado State and BYU).
- The Hurricanes’ resume is threadbare, but not entirely lacking in merit: Miami beat two 3-3 teams (Pitt and Clemson), but did so on the road by more than a touchdown; the U lost to a pair of 6-1 squads (Ohio State and Florida State), but neither outing was competitive. At least that’s more than Northwestern can claim, however; the Wildcats stand at 5-1, but three of their five wins were by a combined eight points, and they have yet to beat a Division I-A team with a record better than 2-4.
I saw parts of Central Florida-Marshall on Wednesday, South Florida-West Virginia on Thursday, and Cincinnati-Louisville on Friday, attended Georgia-Vanderbilt on Saturday, and returned home to catch portions of Alabama-Ole Miss, Arkansas-Auburn, Kentucky-South Carolina, and Ohio State-Wisconsin. Your feedback on the foregoing is not merely welcome, but is openly solicited.