This week, I started with a clean white piece of paper and came up with the following preliminary BlogPoll ballot for your review and comment:
I’ll be happy to explain any particular placements you deem peculiar, but here is a brief summary of how my top 25 came together:
Alabama is ranked No. 1 because the Crimson Tide very clearly is the best team in the country. Anyone who argues otherwise is smoking something.
Speaking of smoking something, Oregon staked a claim to the No. 2 spot by coming back to beat a solid Stanford team. While the Cardinal represent the Ducks’ only victory over a Division I-A team with a winning record, Oregon won on the road against Arizona State and Tennessee squads that came within whiskers of bumping off Wisconsin and LSU, respectively, on the road.
I hated to rank the Sooners this high, because four of Oklahoma’s five wins have come by margins of eight or fewer points, but Bob Stoops’s troops closed the deal against Florida State, Air Force, and Texas to post a trio of victories over teams with winning records.
While both wins were close, Arizona carded victories over Iowa and Cal, and all of the Wildcats’ Division I-A wins were over teams with records of .500 or better. That earned Arizona a spot in front of the Buckeyes, whose 5-0 ledger includes an increasingly impressive win over Miami but is weighed down by victories over Ohio (2-3), Marshall (1-4), and Eastern Michigan (0-5). (Insert your "Ohio State has the toughest schedule in the country this year! It’s a fact!" joke here.)
That win over the Hurricanes kept the Buckeyes in front of Boise State, whose best win was a neutral-site nailbiter over Virginia Tech. I had a tough time deciding between the Broncos and the Horned Frogs, both of whom beat Oregon State. Texas Christian’s best win theoretically was against a Baylor club with an improbable 4-1 record, but I’m leaving Boise State ahead of TCU for the time being. I could be convinced to flip-flop the two mid-major powers, however.
Although Auburn’s wins over Sun Belt schedule fodder are nothing of note, the Plainsmen eked out a trio of victories by eight or fewer points against Mississippi State, Clemson, and South Carolina outfits at .500 or above. That gave the Tigers a marginally more impressive resume than the Spartans, whose solid win over Wisconsin is offset by victories over Division I-AA Northern Colorado and a pair of 1-3 teams (Western Michigan and Florida Atlantic), as well as a narrow escape over a Notre Dame club that now sits at 2-3.
I know Oklahoma State is overrated. You know Oklahoma State is overrated. Heck, the Cowboys barely got by Troy, but the Pokes’ comeback win over Texas A&M counted for something, and Oklahoma State’s 4-0 record warranted a spot above the Gators, who got spanked by the Tide and had little meat in a resume that includes home wins over Miami (Ohio), South Florida, and Kentucky.
Stanford is a solid squad, but the Cardinal couldn’t close the deal in Eugene, and, while the win at UCLA has improved with age, the victories over Wake Forest and Notre Dame haven’t. The Hawkeyes were buoyed by a quality loss by a close margin on the road against undefeated Arizona, plus a win over a decent Penn State team. That enabled Iowa to stay ahead of Louisiana State, which has a deceptive 5-0 ledger marred by three close calls against overmatched opposition.
A win over a pretty decent Southern Miss club, coupled with a quality loss by eight points on the road against undefeated Auburn, kept South Carolina stable as the only SEC East squad not to lose this weekend. The Wolverines are skating on thin ice, just like the Bayou Bengals, but the Maize and Blue’s close calls came against Indiana, Notre Dame, and Division I-AA Massachusetts.
At this point, the pickings get pretty slim, as only two of the last nine teams in the top 25 have defeated a Division I-A opponent with a winning record. Arkansas, for instance, has beaten no one of note; the Hogs’ No. 17 ranking reflects only their quality loss against Alabama. The Seminoles, by contrast, thumped a weak slate and were blown out by Oklahoma. Nevada has a good win over Cal, which puts the Wolf Pack ahead of a Utah unit whose best win was at home in overtime against Pitt. Thumping a 2-2 Pac-10 team counts for more than sneaking by a 2-2 Big East team, particularly since the Utes’ other victims have a combined 2-13 record.
Nebraska gets credit for thrashing Washington on the road, but the Cornhuskers’ remaining slate has consisted of Idaho, winless Western Kentucky, and Division I-AA South Dakota State. The ‘Canes appear much improved, but it will take more than wins over Division I-AA Florida A&M and a pair of middling 2-2 clubs in Pitt and Clemson to erase the memory of what happened to Miami in the Horseshoe.
I hate ranking Missouri at all, given the Tigers’ meager resume of Illinois, McNeese State, San Diego State, and Miami (Ohio), but Mizzou is 4-0 and none of the team’s Division I-A victims are below .500, so the Tigers will receive an undeserved ranking. Northwestern has the weakest record of achievement of any 5-0 team in the land; the Wildcats’ only convincing victories came against Division I-AA Illinois State and one-win Rice, and Northwestern won single-score victories over one-win Vanderbilt, one-win Minnesota, and two-win Central Michigan. If I had anyone else to put here, I would.
Wisconsin was exposed against Michigan State, dropping the Badgers to 4-1 and forcing them to rely upon a resume consisting of wins over a Division I-AA team (Austin Peay) and a pair of 1-4 teams (UNLV and San Jose State), with a signature victory at home by one point over an Arizona State squad with a losing record. Wisconsin doesn’t have much upon which to hang its hat, but it had more than Fresno State, which got to 3-1 by beating Cincinnati (1-3), Utah State (2-3), and Division I-AA Cal Poly while getting rocked by Ole Miss.
While the Fresno St. Bulldogs received consideration for inclusion, the USC Trojans and the members of the Big East did not. Anyone who believes I have slighted any of those teams is encouraged to look at their respective schedules before attempting to persuade me that I have overlooked worthy candidates. I looked at their schedules; I haven’t, and they aren’t. With respect to Southern California, yes, I get to say, "I told you so."
I watched the Oklahoma State-Texas A&M game on Thursday night, portions of the BYU-Utah State game on Friday night, and a fair amount of the Clemson-Miami game, the end of the LSU-Tennessee game, and the entirety of the Georgia-Colorado game on Saturday.
Your questions and constructive criticisms are welcome in the comments below.