Intervening events prevented me from casting a BlogPoll ballot last week, but I am back with gusto following a weekend of college football during which the national championship contenders all were challenged to some degree before prevailing, often in thrilling fashion. After sorting it all out, I have concluded that these are the top 25 teams in the land, respectively:
Though we all have been impressed with the consistency and dominance of Alabama (9-0), the Tide only recently have compiled the resume to earn them the No. 1 ranking. The Red Elephants’ nine victims include no Division I-AA opponents, three teams who would be at .500 were it not for their losses to ‘Bama (all of whom the Crimson Tide tamed on the road by convincing margins), and a quartet of teams with either 6-3 or 7-2 ledgers (including No. 13 LSU and No. 24 Mississippi State).
I was torn between Kansas State (9-0) and Notre Dame (9-0), two teams who compiled identical ledgers against six teams with winning records and two with losing marks. The Irish had certain advantages---their ninth win came on the road against Michigan State (5-5), rather than at home against Division I-AA Missouri State, and the Golden Domers defeated No. 12 Oklahoma much more handily in Norman than did the Wildcats---but I went with Kansas State because the ‘Cats have thumped a trio of three-loss teams (Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, and West Virginia) while Notre Dame has struggled to claim victory by a touchdown or less against five of its nine opponents, beating a pair of sub-.500 squads by field goals.
Though a similar resume of six wins over winning teams and two over losing clubs can be claimed by Oregon (9-0), the Ducks have yet to card a marquee victory. Oregon has bested three 5-4 outfits and a trio of thrice-beaten teams (Arkansas State, Fresno State, and Southern California). Though I’d take the Ducks against either Kansas State or Notre Dame on a neutral field, they simply have not played the same caliber of opposition that the top three teams have faced.
As much as I hate to admit it, Florida (8-1) has the best resume among college football’s one-loss squads. The Gators notched wins against No. 13 LSU, No. 14 Texas A&M, and No. 15 South Carolina while falling to No. 7 Georgia by eight points at a neutral site. On balance, the Sunshine State Saurians have done more than Urban Meyer’s present squad, Ohio State (10-0), which remains undefeated but has only one noteworthy victory, over No. 16 Nebraska.
It is somewhat difficult to gauge the Bulldogs’ resume; two of the Red and Black’s three wins over teams above .500 came against opponents with 5-4 records, and two of their five wins over teams below .500 were at the expense of clubs sporting 4-5 ledgers. However, the Classic City Canines’ win over No. 5 Florida earned Georgia (8-1) a spot in the top ten ahead of Oregon State (7-1), as the Beavers’ victory over No. 19 UCLA was offset by Oregon State’s loss to 5-4 Washington on the road.
The Beavers’ situation was similar to the Seminoles’, since Florida State (8-1) also sustained its lone loss to a 5-4 conference foe in a close contest on the road, but Oregon State’s second-best win (over Wisconsin) trumped any triumph on the Tribe’s resume after their win against Clemson (8-1), a team that has trounced middling competition. Five of the Tigers’ victims have records between 4-5 and 6-3.
Ordinarily, Louisville (9-0) could have ridden an undefeated record (with a win over No. 21 Cincinnati) to a top ten ranking, but the Cardinals have notched six victories by ten or fewer points against a slate that thus far has included Division I-AA Missouri State, three teams with two or fewer wins, and a couple of three-win squads. Thanks to a lopsided win over No. 18 Texas and losses to two top three teams, Oklahoma (6-2) is college football’s top twice-beaten team, though Louisiana State (7-2) might have claimed that distinction on the basis of two quality wins (by a combined seven points over No. 14 Texas A&M and No. 15 South Carolina) and two quality losses (by a combined twelve points against No. 1 Alabama and No. 5 Florida), were it not for the fact that the Bayou Bengals made their bones against Division I-AA Towson, one-win Idaho, and two-win Auburn (by two points).
The Aggies, like LSU, have two good losses and a couple of quality victories, but, unfortunately for Texas A&M (7-2), one of those setbacks came at the hands of the Pelican State Panthers in College Station. South Carolina (7-2) also lost a close one to the Tigers, but the Gamecocks have only one noteworthy victory (over No. 7 Georgia) to set alongside triumphs over one-win Kentucky, two-win UAB, four-win Tennessee (by three points), and five-win Vanderbilt (by four points).
Nebraska (7-2) edged out Stanford (7-2) because the Cornhuskers had a better “best win” (over No. 23 Northwestern) and the Cardinal had a weaker “worse loss” (to 5-4 Washington). Single-digit wins over three-loss Oklahoma State and Texas Tech were not enough to get Texas (7-2) past either Nebraska or Stanford after the Longhorns were blasted by the Sooners and beaten by the 5-3 Mountaineers. Though the Bruins defeated the Cornhuskers head-to-head, UCLA (7-2) was dragged down substantially by its loss to 3-7 Cal.
Unfortunately, I am not allowed to rank only a top 19, so Louisiana Tech (8-1) rounded out the top 20 on the strength of a two-point loss to the Aggies. However, the Bulldogs have beaten seven teams below .500, four of whom have won two or fewer games, and La Tech’s only victim with a winning record was UTSA, who has gone 5-4 against what amounts to a Division I-AA schedule. That, though, was more than Cincinnati (6-2) had to offer, as the Bearcats lost by a combined nine points to two teams who together have gone 17-1 but beat two Division I-AA outfits and four Division I-A opponents with 4-5 records. One of Cincy’s setbacks was to Toledo (8-1), but the Rockets ended up ranked 22nd because of a soft schedule (four of Toledo’s eight wins are against Division I-AA teams or Division I-A teams with two or fewer victories) and a loss to 5-4 Arizona.
Northwestern (7-2) has skated to four wins by ten or fewer points against a schedule featuring no Division I-A opponents with records better than 5-4, but that gave the Wildcats a better resume than that possessed by Mississippi State (7-2). The Bulldogs’ only Division I-A victim with a winning record is 6-3 Middle Tennessee, and State was blasted by both Alabama and Texas A&M. Nevertheless, someone had to be No. 24, and my only other option was Boise State (7-2), whose losses (by four to 5-5 Michigan State and by two to 7-3 San Diego State) are only marginally offset by wins against 5-4 BYU by one and 7-3 Fresno State by ten.
The Broncos, though, spared me from having to rank Northern Illinois (9-1) (whose only winning victim was Ball State, and who fell to 4-5 Iowa), Ohio (8-1) (whose win over Penn State was offset by a loss to 4-5 Miami (Ohio)), Kent State (8-1) (who lost to one-win Kentucky, for crying out loud), or Rutgers (7-1) (who lost to Kent State, for crying out loud). Naturally, though, if I am overlooking some worthy contender, or if I have misplaced egregiously one of the teams in my top 25, I invite your constructive criticisms in the comments below.