We’re clear on the ground rules. We’ve identified the also-rans. We’ve counted down from No. 25 to No. 16, and from No. 15 to No. 6. All that now remains, therefore, is for me to unveil the whole poll and explain the top five. Here now, I give you my final 2011 BlogPoll ballot, which has been set down to stand against history:
Let’s start with No. 5 Arkansas (11-2). It’s pretty obvious why the Hogs are ranked behind the four once-beaten teams at the top of my ballot, particularly since two of those four thumped the Razorbacks. Why, though, is Arkansas ranked ahead of Oregon?
Arkansas and Oregon each had two losses, one of which was to Louisiana State, but the Hogs had the better pair of setbacks, to Alabama and LSU on the road. The Ducks and the Razorbacks both beat five teams that finished with winning records, but Arkansas had the better set of victories. The Hogs’ best victory (over No. 7 South Carolina) was better than the Ducks’ (over No. 10 Stanford), and, although Oregon holds a slight edge in the two teams’ respective second-best wins (No. 14 Wisconsin, as opposed to No. 16 Kansas State), the tiebreaker for the Razorbacks was their victory over Auburn, which trumps whichever one of Oregon’s three wins over 7-6 squads counts as the Ducks’ third-best triumph.
Next up are No. 3 Alabama (12-1) and No. 4 Boise State (12-1), who are much more comparable squads than most Yellowhammer State partisans would have you believe. In addition to sporting identical ledgers, the Broncos and the Crimson Tide each lost to a top ten team by a single-score margin at home and finished behind the eventual conference champion in the standings as a result.
Likewise, ‘Bama and Boise boasted similar resumes in the win column, as well. The Tide defeated six Division I-A teams that finished with winning records, two of whom went 7-6, and five Division I-A teams that finished with losing records. The Broncos defeated seven Division I-A teams that finished with winning records, two of whom went 7-6, and five Division I-A teams that finished with losing records.
Upon closer inspection, though, Alabama earned the edge over Boise State in the race for the No. 3 spot. Of the five sub-.500 Division I-A outfits the Tide bested, four finished with exactly seven losses, whereas the Broncos’ five victims with more setbacks than successes included four clubs with nine or more losses each. Likewise, Alabama has a better set of top-tier victims (No. 1 LSU, No. 5 Arkansas, No. 23 Penn State, and Auburn) than Boise State (No. 22 Georgia, de facto No. 33 Toledo, and a trio of 8-5 teams). Accordingly, the Crimson Tide clearly are the best team in the land not to have captured its conference crown.
This brings us to No. 1 Louisiana State (13-1) and No. 2 Oklahoma State (12-1). Despite Alabama’s impressive victory in Monday night’s game, the designated BCS National Championship Game was but one game out of thirteen or fourteen, and it should not be forgotten, that, while the Tide tamed six teams that finished above .500---the fewest quality victims of any of the one-loss teams ranked in my top four---LSU and OSU each whipped nine opponents who ended the season with winning records. No other team in college football can match that feat by the Big 12 and SEC champions, and Alabama notched only two-thirds as many victories over teams with more wins than losses. That marked contrast in the most important attribute of a champion---namely, victories over legitimate competition---warrants ranking the Tigers and the Cowboys ahead of the Crimson Tide, in spite of the fact that, of the three, Alabama has the least embarrassing lone loss.
The Tide, of course, have the season’s most impressive single victory, a convincing win over the Bayou Bengals which is fresh in all of our minds because it occurred so recently. However, over the course of the entire campaign---which is what I understood us to be considering when crowning a national champion for the 2011 college football season, rather than for a single discrete evening at the end of that season---the Cowboys outdueled a better class of competition overall, besting No. 10 Stanford, No. 15 Oklahoma, No. 16 Kansas State, No. 17 Baylor, de facto No. 32 Louisiana-Lafayette, and a trio of 8-5 squads. All told, the Pokes defeated eight teams with records better than 7-6, making Oklahoma State a more accomplished squad than an Alabama outfit that beat only half as many such squads.
As impressive as the Cowboys’ resume undoubtedly is, however, the Pokes are disadvantaged by the fact that the Tigers’ season, irrespective of its ending, represents rather a remarkable record of achievement. In the course of the autumn, the Bayou Bengals beat No. 3 Alabama, No. 5 Arkansas, No. 6 Oregon, No. 18 West Virginia, and No. 22 Georgia. LSU’s five victims with double-digit win totals included the winners of the Cotton Bowl, Orange Bowl, Rose Bowl, and BCS National Championship Game; overall, teams tamed by the Tigers went a combined 7-1 in bowl games, with the lone postseason setback by a Louisiana State victim coming in triple overtime; LSU’s sixth-best win (over Auburn) came against the team that gave Alabama its fourth-best victory; the Bayou Bengals beat half the teams ranked in my top six.
I take nothing away from what the Crimson Tide accomplished on Monday night, which was notable enough to earn Nick Saban’s club a top three ranking on my ballot. As a single data point in an entire season, though, it was not enough to elevate the Tide past two teams who clearly have accomplished more since Labor Day weekend. Any Alabama fan who quarrels with my decision to award the No. 1 ranking to a team that lost a supposedly national championship-settling bowl game needs to quit claiming the 1973 UPI title or just hush in the face of his own overwhelming hypocrisy.