I will spare you a little suspense by telling you up front that the top four teams in my college football rankings did not change between last week’s BlogPoll ballot and this week’s, but still there has been some movement in my top 25. Hence, without further fanfare, I bring you my final BlogPoll ballot before next weekend’s conference championship games and assorted other contests:
Clearly, Notre Dame (12-0) is the No. 1 team in the land. The Fighting Irish are the only bowl-eligible unbeaten team in major college football, and their unblemished record came against a respectable slate. Only three of the Golden Domers’ wins were over clubs with losing records, and two of those were Pitt (5-6) and Wake Forest (5-7). Notre Dame did not arrange a date with a Division I-AA opponent as schedule fodder, and the Irish’s seven victims with winning records include No. 11 Oklahoma and No. 12 Stanford.
Yes, Florida (11-1) is my regular-season runner-up, despite the Sunshine State Saurians’ loss to the fourth-ranked Classic City Canines, because the Gators’ resume includes just three wins over losing teams (two of whom were 5-7) and seven wins over winning outfits (four of whom are 10-2). Florida’s victories over No. 6 Louisiana State, No. 9 Texas A&M, No. 10 South Carolina, and No. 15 Florida State give the Gators the nation’s most impressive set of scalps, and the Orange and Blue’s lone setback, by eight points against a top five team at a neutral site, is entirely respectable.
The battle for third place was a heated one, but Alabama (11-1) got the nod over Georgia (11-1), even though the Bulldogs were not any luckier than the Tide when it came to the SEC division champions’ respective schedules. Georgia has the better “best win” (over No. 2 Florida, which beat No. 6 LSU head-to-head), but ‘Bama has the more respectable loss (by five to No. 9 Texas A&M, rather than by 28 to No. 10 South Carolina), and, while the ‘Dawgs beat just two Division I-A teams who finished above .500, the Crimson Tide corralled four such opponents, including a pair of 8-4 clubs (Michigan and Mississippi State). Naturally, this debate will be settled in Atlanta this weekend, with the winner almost certainly vaulting past the Gators into the No. 2 spot.
Thanks to the Ducks’ win over the 16th-ranked Beavers in the annual Battle of the Webbed Feet, Oregon (11-1) earned the No. 5 spot with seven victories over Division I-A teams with records better than .500. Though four of those wins were over 7-5 squads, all four were Pac-12 teams, so the benefit of the doubt was given due to that league’s nine-game conference schedule. Obviously, a three-point loss to the 12th-ranked Cardinal enabled the Ducks to claim credit for a quality loss.
The same held true for Louisiana State (10-2), as the Bayou Bengals’ two losses were by single-score margins against a pair of 11-1 teams ranked in the top three. Narrow victories over two 10-2 teams ranked in my top ten bolstered LSU’s resume, enabling the Tigers to end up ahead of Kansas State (10-1). The Wildcats received credit for their win over the 11th-ranked Sooners, but K-State’s other five victories over teams with winning records came against six- and seven-win clubs. Most damaging to the Wildcats’ resume was their lopsided loss to a Baylor outfit presently sitting at a middling 6-5.
I had to find a place for Ohio State (12-0), and No. 8 was it. The Buckeyes are undefeated, but against whom? Urban Meyer’s team defeated No. 13 Nebraska but otherwise skated by against a suspect schedule, notching half of OSU’s dozen victories by margins of seven or fewer points despite facing five teams with eight or more losses.
I had a tough time choosing between Texas A&M (10-2) and South Carolina (10-2). On the one hand, the Aggies faced two Division I-AA opponents and beat three losing teams, two of whom had eight or more losses, while the Gamecocks defeated more teams with eight or more wins, and two of the five losing teams the Garnet and Black bested finished with 5-7 ledgers. Ultimately, though, I gave the benefit of the doubt to Texas A&M, for two reasons. First of all, the Aggies had the better “best win,” over No. 3 Alabama on the road, rather than over No. 4 Georgia at home. Secondly, though both teams lost to Florida and LSU, both of Texas A&M’s losses were by single-score margins, whereas South Carolina was blown out by the Gators.
Though Stanford (10-2) has a better set of good wins than Oklahoma (9-2) and both beat an equal number of scrubs, the Sooners edged out the Cardinal for the No. 11 ranking by virtue of the fact that Oklahoma lost to a pair of top seven teams and Stanford sustained one of its losses to Washington (7-5). Nebraska (10-2) got credit for carding half of its wins against Division I-A teams with winning records, including 21st-ranked Northwestern, and for suffering its only setbacks in road outings against top 20 outfits.
Here, the pickings started getting slim, which explains why Kent State (11-1) was able to sneak into the top 15 despite an embarrassing loss to ten-loss Kentucky. The Golden Flashes outlasted four Division I-A opponents sporting eight or more victories, one of whom was No. 24 Rutgers. Frankly, that gave KSU a better resume than that boasted by Florida State (10-2), as the Seminoles beat only two teams with winning records, one of which was 7-5. Speaking of teams that are 7-5, the Tribe’s loss to N.C. State has not aged well.
I consider Oregon State (8-3) the nation’s best thrice-beaten team because the Beavers bested five Division I-A teams above .500, including the 19th-ranked Bruins, and OS’s three losses mostly were of the respectable variety, inasmuch as two were by four or fewer points, two came on the road, and two were to teams with double-digit win totals. Clemson (10-2) has a pretty record, but not much to show for it; the Tigers’ best win came against Ball State, and the Country Gentlemen’s losses to a couple of 10-2 teams (Florida State and South Carolina) were fairly convincing.
I hated to rank Boise State (9-2) ahead of UCLA (9-3), because the Bruins have beaten four winning teams (including No. 13 Nebraska) and the Broncos have beaten only two (the most impressive of whom is Fresno State). Moreover, half of UCLA’s four victims with losing records were 5-7, whereas Boise State’s seven wins over teams below .500 all came against opponents sporting eight or more losses. However, the Bruins’ loss to a Cal team that fired its head coach after a 3-9 season cannot be ignored.
Northern Illinois (11-1) combined the worst of Boise State’s and UCLA’s flaws; the Huskies have beaten seven squads who have suffered at least eight losses apiece and lost to a sub-.500 team, Iowa (4-8). However, NIU bested a pair of 9-3 opponents (Bail State and Toledo), which is more than might be said for Northwestern (9-3), whose best win was over bowl-bound Vanderbilt (8-4). The Wildcats, though, have a semi-respectable trio of losses, by a combined 19 points to teams that collectively have gone 26-10.
The three wins notched by Texas (8-3) against competitors with winning records all came by single-digit margins against squads with seven or fewer wins, and the Longhorns were dragged down by close losses to six-win West Virginia and seven-win Texas Christian, as well as by a lopsided loss to No. 11 Oklahoma. That, though, is still better than being a Big East frontrunner, as Louisville (9-2) and Rutgers (9-2) both beat Cincinnati by a single score and won a close contest against one other opponent with a winning record. The Cardinals and the Scarlet Knights each also fell to a 5-6 conference opponent, but U. of L. wound up in front of the State University of New Jersey because Louisville beat two eight-win teams and Rutgers’s two wins over teams above .500 came by single scores.
Someone had to bring up the rear as the country’s 25th-ranked team, and that someone was Utah State (10-2), which stands atop the WAC with wins over Utah (5-7), San Jose State (10-2), and Louisiana Tech (9-3), along with a two-point road loss to Wisconsin (7-5). Yeah, that’s all I’ve got. I trust it goes without saying that your constructive criticisms are welcome and encouraged in the comments below.