Because the Bulldogs had a bye week, I was able to watch more football and reflect in greater depth upon the meaning of the various results when compiling my BlogPoll ballot. In addition, I am about 90 per cent recovered---all right, 85 per cent, but still---from the cold that dogged me all week last week, so I hope the following top 25 makes a mite more sense than it may have made in previous weeks:
Though Louisiana State looked like the more dominant team on Saturday, the Crimson Tide have compiled the more impressive resume over the course of the season, convincingly beating eight Division I-A opponents, including No. 9 Penn State and No. 11 Arkansas. Those triumphs trump the Bayou Bengals’ best victories, over No. 12 Oregon and unranked West Virginia.
The Jungaleers narrowly edged out the Pokes for the No. 3 spot. It was a close call because, although Clemson’s best win (over No. 14 Virginia Tech) came against a better opponent than, and was more convincing than, Oklahoma State’s best win (over No. 19 Texas A&M), the Cowboys had a more solid second-best win (over No. 24 Texas). Moreover, the Tigers have more weak sisters on their slate (Division I-AA Wofford, one-win Boston College, and two-win Troy) than OSU (Arizona and Kansas, both 2-5). However, the combination of wins over Auburn, Florida State, and North Carolina, two of them by double-digit margins, gave the Fort Hill Felines the marginally better record of achievement.
I hated having to rank Kansas State fifth, but the Wildcats have beaten No. 20 Texas Tech, Baylor, and Miami, albeit by a combined 12 points. That’s still better than Boise State’s resume, which features a season-opening victory over Georgia and not much else; the Broncos’ second-best win was at Toledo.
Because of the flawed records compiled by some of the unbeatens, the Spartans were able to earn the No. 7 spot as the country’s highest-ranked one-loss team. Yes, Michigan State’s loss at Notre Dame stings, but MSU’s victories over No. 10 Wisconsin and No. 21 Michigan, both 6-1, carry considerable weight. This allowed Michigan State to overtake the Cardinal, whose 7-0 ledger includes wins over 5-2 Washington . . . and six teams with losing records. For all the grief Boise State gets for playing a weak schedule, Stanford has faced exactly as many legitimate opponents as the Broncos have: one.
I hated having to rank the Nittany Lions in the top ten, but four of Penn State’s Division I-A wins came against teams with winning records, one of which was 5-2 Iowa, and PSU’s lone loss was to No. 1 Alabama. Contrast that to the resume compiled by the Badgers, who defeated No. 17 Nebraska but otherwise beat absolutely no one; Wisconsin’s six victims include 2-5 Oregon State, 1-5 UNLV, 1-7 Indiana, and Division I-AA South Dakota.
The Hogs probably would’ve taken the Badgers’ place in the top ten, but the best win Arkansas can claim was a four-point comeback against No. 19 Texas A&M, and, while Wisconsin lost a nailbiter to No. 7 Michigan State, the Razorbacks nearly bit the dust against 2-5 Ole Miss. Oregon is basically Arkansas, except the Ducks’ best win was over No. 23 Arizona State. Oklahoma is basically Oregon, except the Sooners’ best win was over No. 24 Texas. Virginia Tech is basically Oklahoma, except the Hokies’ best win was over de facto No. 28 Wake Forest. Southern California is basically Virginia Tech, except the Trojans’ best win was over No. 25 Syracuse and USC’s lone loss was to a top 25 team, but not to a top ten team, which puts the Men of Troy behind Penn State, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Oregon, and Virginia Tech in the pecking order. (I freely concede, however, that Southern California’s win in South Bend over the selfsame Notre Dame team that defeated No. 7 Michigan State is a strong point in the Trojans’ favor, though the Spartans still are able to offset that loss with victories over the Wolverines and the Badgers. There also is a case to make for ranking USC ahead of Oklahoma, given the Sooners’ loss to Texas Tech, but I have the Red Raiders ranked higher than the Sun Devils, and Oklahoma’s loss was much closer than the Trojans’. This is, to put it delicately, an inexact science.)
The East Coast USC looks a lot like the West Coast USC, but the Gamecocks trail the Trojans because South Carolina’s best win is weaker (de facto No. 27 Georgia, as opposed to No. 25 Syracuse) and the Gamecocks’ lone loss is worse (unranked, three-loss Auburn at home, as opposed to No. 23, two-loss Arizona State on the road). Yes, South Carolina’s only setback was by three measly points . . . but so was the Palmetto State Poultry’s lone quality win.
Some may be puzzled to see the Cornhuskers languishing at No. 17, but a quick glance at Nebraska’s resume reveals that the Big Red Machine carded wins over two teams in the "others receiving consideration" category (neither of whom I would rank in the top 30); otherwise beat Division I-AA Chattanooga, 1-6 Minnesota, 3-5 Fresno State, and 4-3 Ohio State (by a touchdown at home); and was waxed by the one rankable team the ‘Huskers faced. Likewise, the Cougars’ 7-0 record was not impressive enough to advance Houston past No. 18, as the Conference USA frontrunner’s only victory over a Division I-A team with a winning record came against UTEP by seven points.
The Aggies check in as the poll’s highest-ranked two-loss team, thanks to two factors: Texas A&M beat a trio of two-loss teams (No. 20 Texas Tech, Baylor, and SMU), and Texas A&M lost to No. 4 Oklahoma State and No. 11 Arkansas by a combined five points. Despite an otherwise suspect resume featuring wins over two-win Kansas, winless New Mexico, and a Division I-AA Texas State squad playing without Scott Bakula, Sinbad, or Kathy Ireland, Texas Tech sneaked into the top 25 on the strength of the Red Raiders’ road win over Oklahoma and five- and seven-point losses to No. 19 Texas A&M and No. 5 Kansas State, respectively. Also, Texas Tech earned points when the school’s fans coined the phrase "wasted away again in Tommy Tuberville."
The Wolverines, despite being 6-1, suffer from much the same problem as Nebraska, as Michigan boasts a lack of quality wins (San Diego State is the Maize and Blue’s best victim) and a lack of competitiveness in the team’s only loss (to Michigan State). The Fighting Illini boast a quality win (over No. 23 Arizona State), but Illinois is harmed by a pair of defeats at the hands of 4-3 teams. The Sun Devils, bolstered by their win over the Trojans, landed one spot in back of the team to whom they lost by a field goal.
The Longhorns, though not competitive in their two losses to top 15 teams, beat Brigham Young, which was enough to make Texas the fourth highest-ranked squad from the Lone Star State. The Orange beat a pair of 5-2 teams, allowing Syracuse to get the nod over a Baylor outfit whose only quality win was a two-point victory over Texas Christian.
As promised, I looked at every team with two or fewer losses, except a two-loss team or two in the Sun Belt because, come on, it’s the Sun Belt. However, my Nos. 26 through 40 are, in order, the Baylor Bears, Georgia Bulldogs, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, San Diego St. Aztecs, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Washington Huskies, SMU Mustangs, TCU Horned Frogs, Cincinnati Bearcats, BYU Cougars, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, West Virginia Mountaineers, Southern Miss. Golden Eagles, Iowa Hawkeyes, and Wyoming Cowboys. I will be happy to explain any of those placements, but this posting is long enough already, so, if you’re curious, just ask in the comments below.
I watched all or significant portions of the Arizona-UCLA game on Thursday night, the Syracuse-West Virginia game on Friday night, and the Clemson-North Carolina, Auburn-LSU, Alabama-Tennessee, and Michigan State-Wisconsin games on Saturday.
I’m feeling pretty good about that ballot, but I’m sure that merely means I’ve overlooked something enormous. Please feel free to offer your constructive criticisms in the comments below.