Last week, I was a little lazy about filling out my BlogPoll ballot, but, this week, I was much more conscientious about compiling my top 25. I started from scratch and paid no heed to anyone else’s current or former rankings, including my own, so all credit or blame belongs to me, and to me alone, for this:
I threw up in my mouth a little when I cast my vote for Notre Dame (11-0) to be the No. 1 team in the country, but the Fighting Irish are undefeated, and more than half of their victories have come against Division I-A teams with winning records, including No. 8 Stanford and No. 14 Oklahoma.
As disgusted as I was to have to rank the Golden Domers first, I was even more sick at my stomach to have to vote Florida (10-1) No. 2. Frankly, the Gators haven’t played a good game of football in a month, but their record of achievement is what it is, and the Sunshine State Saurians’ six wins over Division I-A opponents above .500 feature triumphs over No. 9 LSU, No. 10 Texas A&M, and No. 16 South Carolina.
The nod went to Alabama (10-1) over Georgia (10-1) for the No. 3 spot because, even though the Bulldogs had the better marquee victory (over No. 2 Florida, as opposed to No. 9 LSU), the Crimson Tide had the superior set of second-tier wins (over Michigan and Mississippi State, both 8-3, instead of against Vanderbilt), as well as the more forgivable loss (to No. 10 Texas A&M by five, rather than to No. 16 South Carolina by 28).
There was only so far I could drop an undefeated team from a major conference, but Ohio State (11-0) deserved no better than a No. 5 ranking because the Buckeyes’ only noteworthy victory came against No. 13 Nebraska. Otherwise, Urban Meyer’s squad has been skating by against a suspect slate, eking out narrow wins over Cal (3-9) by seven, UAB (3-8) by 14, Michigan State (5-6) by one, Indiana (4-7) by three, and Purdue (5-6) by seven.
Though Oregon (10-1) is without a signature victory, the Ducks’ lack of a triumph against a team with a record better than 8-3 is offset partly by their dominance against a schedule featuring six wins over Division I-A squads with winning ledgers, and by their quality loss by a field goal against No. 8 Stanford. Kansas State (10-1) also claimed six victims with records above .500, including No. 14 Oklahoma, but the Wildcats suffered greatly for losing a lopsided outing against a Baylor outfit that now stands at 5-5.
The Cardinal’s win over Oregon vaulted Stanford (9-2) into the No. 8 spot, ahead of Louisiana State (9-2), which had no similarly high-profile victory. However, the Bayou Bengals had two very good wins (over No. 10 Texas A&M and No. 16 South Carolina, both 9-2) and two very excusable setbacks (by single-digit margins against No. 2 Florida and No. 3 Alabama). The Tigers’ head-to-head win over the Aggies enabled them to remain ahead of Texas A&M (9-2), despite the SEC West newcomer’s triumph in Tuscaloosa, because the Aggies’ win over Alabama was one of only three secured by Texas A&M against winning Division I-A clubs.
I could not conscientiously rank Florida State (10-1) in the top ten because the Seminoles’ victory over No. 15 Clemson represents their only win over a team with a record better than 6-5. Naturally, the Tribe’s loss to another 6-5 team, N.C. State, continues to serve as a lead weight around FSU’s neck. Oregon State (8-2) lacks a single win even as impressive as Florida State’s over the Country Gentlemen---No. 17 UCLA is the Beavers’ best victim---but the Pacific Northwesterners’ overall body of work was impressive: Oregon State secured five of its eight wins against Division I-A opponents presently above .500. Nebraska (9-2) was in much the same boat, with three triumphs over teams currently possessing 8-3 records, but the Cornhuskers fell to the Bruins in Los Angeles by six, while the Beavers beat UCLA in the City of Angels by seven.
A similar rationale held true for Oklahoma (8-2), which dismantled No. 18 Texas yet beat only one other team with a record better than 6-5. The Sooners got credit for the fact that their two losses came against teams with a combined 21-1 record, both in hard-fought contests. A quality loss to No. 11 Florida State was about the best Clemson (10-1) could claim, as the only scalp taken by the Tigers from a team with a ledger better than 6-5 came from Ball State. South Carolina (9-2) continues to benefit from the Gamecocks’ convincing win over No. 4 Georgia, but the Garnet and Black have no other wins over Division I-A teams who are better than 7-4, and the Palmetto State Poultry’s dismantling at the hands of No. 2 Florida drags them down, as well.
I would rank UCLA (9-2) higher than 17th on the strength of the Bruins’ win over No. 13 Nebraska, but their loss to a Cal club now languishing at 3-9 severely impairs their rise. Texas (8-2) similarly suffers from its three-point loss to .500 West Virginia, its lopsided loss to No. 14 Oklahoma, and its lack of a win against a team with more than seven victories to its credit.
The fact that there are not 25 teams deserving of a top 25 ranking is attested to by the presence of Northern Illinois (10-1) and Kent State (10-1) at Nos. 19 and 20, respectively. The Huskies defeated a pair of 8-3 outfits (Ball State and Toledo) but fell to Iowa, which sits at 4-7. That, though, puts NIU in a better position than the Golden Flashes, who endured an embarrassing loss to a Kentucky club now suffering through a 2-9 season. What allowed KSU to overcome that defeat? A convincing win over Rutgers (9-1), whose seven-point victory over seven-win Cincinnati allowed the Scarlet Knights to edge Big East rival Louisville (9-1), who fell to six-win Syracuse.
All Boise State (9-2) has to show for its season is a ten-point win over Fresno State (8-3), which is not enough to overcome single-digit setbacks suffered at the hands of Michigan State (5-6) and San Diego State (8-3). That left room for WAC frontrunner Utah State (9-2), which rebounded from a two-point road loss to Wisconsin to claim a seven-point road victory over Louisiana Tech, and Washington (7-4), which overcame its four losses by claiming the valuable scalps of No. 8 Stanford and No. 12 Oregon State.
As always, I am open to constructive criticisms and persuasive cases stated in favor of teams I excluded but ought to have included or of teams I included but ought to have excluded. Your thoughts and questions are welcome in the comments below.