We’ve established the ground rules (albeit not without some controversy, though we have covered this ground before) and eliminated the also-rans, so now it is time to begin looking at the teams who made the grade, starting with No. 25 and working our way up to No. 1:
25. Southern Miss. Golden Eagles (12-2): Southern Mississippi won twelve games, claimed its conference championship by beating a previously undefeated opponent in a true road game, and beat five teams that finished with winning records. Granted, only one of the Golden Eagles’ victories was over a squad with a record better than 8-5, but, by the same token, four of USM’s triumphs were over clubs that ended up just under .500, at 5-7. What, then, held Southern Miss down? The Eagles’ two losses did; USM fell to Marshall (7-6) and to UAB (3-9).
24. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (9-4): The State University of New Jersey defeated two ten-win teams (Cincinnati and Ohio), and only one of the Knights’ victims was a Division I-A squad with more than seven losses. However, the Bearcats and the Bobcats were the only teams Rutgers bested that finished above .500, and the Knights’ record was dragged down by losses to a pair of 7-6 outfits (Louisville and North Carolina) and a setback suffered at the hands of Connecticut (5-7).
23. Penn St. Nittany Lions (9-4): Penn State had no bad losses---all four of the Lions’ losses were to teams that won at least nine games---but PSU had few notable wins; of the four teams with winning records the Pennsylvanians defeated, three finished 7-6, making the Nittany Lions’ marquee victory a four-point win over Temple.
22. Georgia Bulldogs (10-4): The Red and Black narrowly edged out Penn State for the No. 22 spot, though it was a close call. Both the Bulldogs and the Nittany Lions beat exactly four teams with winning records; in each instance, those four victims had a combined record of 30-22. The Classic City Canines got the nod because Georgia had better losses (to four teams that finished with eleven or more wins, two of them by three points, as opposed to PSU’s four losses to three teams that finished with eleven or more wins, one of them by three points), won its division, and had a better “second-best” win (over Georgia Tech) than Penn State could claim.
21. Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-4): The Big Red Machine notched five of its nine victories against teams who wrapped up the campaign sporting winning records, with two of those wins coming against nine-win Penn State and eleven-win Michigan State. Moreover, three of the Cornhuskers’ four losses were to eleven-win teams, all of whom Nebraska faced outside of Lincoln. What hurt the ‘Huskers’ cause, however, was a three-point home loss to a Northwestern outfit that ended the autumn with a 6-7 ledger. Dropping a decision to a squad with a losing record prevented Nebraska from finding a spot in the top 20.
20. Virginia Tech Hokies (11-3): VPI, like the Cornhuskers, beat five teams with winning records, two of whom went 7-6. Moreover, the Gobblers’ three best wins (over Arkansas State, Georgia Tech, and Virginia) were not the equal of the Cornhuskers’ (over Michigan State, Penn State, and Wyoming). However, the Hokies ended up in front of Nebraska because Virginia Tech had two more wins and a better set of losses, all of which were sustained at the hands of clubs that finished with double-digit win tallies.
19. Clemson Tigers (10-4): The Jungaleers beat the Hokies twice and captured the conference crown, which earned the Country Gentlemen a spot in front of VPI. In addition, Clemson won five games against teams that finished above .500, including Virginia Tech (twice), Florida State, and Auburn. The Tigers’ losses, while lopsided, were to teams that finished 8-5 or better.
18. West Virginia Mountaineers (10-3): One of Clemson’s aforementioned lopsided losses was to West Virginia in the bowl game, which explains why the Mountaineers deserved to be ranked ahead of the Fort Hill Felines. In addition, triumphs over nine-win Rutgers and ten-win Cincinnati bolstered WVU’s case. What kept the Mountaineers from climbing higher in the rankings were a pair of bad losses, to seven-win Louisville and to seven-loss Syracuse.
17. Baylor Bears (10-3): Baylor beat out West Virginia for the No. 17 poll position, despite the two teams’ identical records, because the Bears beat more teams with winning records (5), including eight-win Missouri and Texas, ten-win Oklahoma, and eleven-win Texas Christian. Moreover, Baylor’s three losses were a bit more forgivable than the Mountaineers’, as all three of the Baptists’ setbacks came on the road against winning teams. One of those winning teams, though, was Texas A&M, and the Aggies’ 7-6 finish limited Baylor’s ability to rise into the top 15.
16. Kansas St. Wildcats (10-3): This one’s pretty simple, really. Baylor and Kansas State each went 10-3 with road losses to Oklahoma State and wins over Missouri and Texas, but the Wildcats beat the Bears head-to-head, and KSU’s losses all were against teams that finished with double-digit win totals . . . one of whom, I would add, ended up as my No. 15 team.
Coming Soon: Counting up from No. 15 through No. 6.