Since my most recent BlogPoll ballot likely will get me branded as "the problem weblogger," it's only right that I should take the time to explain my rankings, in which three teams (including two of the previous week's top 12) dropped out of the poll and only four teams retained their previous position.
Please note that phrases like "at the moment," "right now," and "for the time being" appear frequently as I justify my ballot, which reflects what I have seen so far this season . . . which might change next weekend. As before, my ballot was fluid because I am attempting to allow on-field performance to overcome preconceived notions and last week's ranking is listed in parentheses for the sake of clarity:
1. Ohio State (1)---The Buckeyes have faced two top 20 teams on the road and beaten them both by convincing margins. Their offense is as good as advertised and their defense is substantially better than expected. I simply don't see any other team as a legitimate contender for the top spot at this point in time.
If you don't rank the Buckeyes No. 1, James Laurinaitis will find you and eat you.
2. Oregon (5)---This one raised some eyebrows, as perhaps it should have, but I would ask you to consider the Ducks' record of achievement, which includes a road win over perennial giant-killer Fresno State, a revenge game against a Sooner squad that appeared resurgent, and a pair of conference victories by scores of 48-10 and 48-13. Over at Bruins Nation, Nestor made a good case for Dennis Dixon as the best quarterback in the Pac-10. If U.S.C. had that resume, there's no doubt that the Trojans would be No. 2. I'm trying to look past the Day-Glo uniforms and examine the team itself and, right now, they look like the class of the West Coast.
3. Michigan (4)---The Wolverines went on the road, beat the Golden Gophers comfortably, and outrushed Minnesota 234-108. The Maize and Blue are playing fundamentally sound football both offensively and defensively, all of which earned them a slight bump in the standings this week.
4. Texas (7)---We'll find out more in Dallas this Saturday, but I'm not yet ready to rule out a rematch between the Longhorns and the Buckeyes in Glendale. Yes, their wins have come against suspect competition, but the 'Horns have performed and, the more dominant Ohio State appears, the more forgivable U.T.'s loss to the Buckeyes becomes.
5. Auburn (2)---I kept waiting for the Plainsmen to put the Gamecocks away . . . and I waited in vain. Auburn led 7-0 at the end of the first quarter, 14-10 at the end of the second quarter, 17-10 at the end of the third quarter, and 24-17 at the end of the fourth quarter. The Palmetto State Poultry outdueled the Tigers on the stat sheet, tallying 24 first downs and 349 total yards to the visitors' 16 first downs and 307 total yards. It was the first time all season that Auburn failed to impress me.
I hate Auburn.
6. Louisville (6)---The Cardinals didn't play. The Cardinals didn't move.
7. Louisiana State (8)---Since I will be offering a constructive criticism of the analysis provided by one of the intercollegiate athletics blogosphere's leading lights, Every Day Should Be Saturday's Orson Swindle, five spots hence, I should give credit where credit is due and note that Orson makes a good point about the Bayou Bengals' strength of schedule. Nevertheless, L.S.U. has done what it was supposed to do, looking sharp even when facing sub-par competition against whom a letdown might have been understandable. Obviously, we'll find out for sure this weekend, but, for now, the Fighting Tigers look like the second-best of the once-beaten teams.
8. Clemson (9)---Is there any doubt that this is the best team in the A.C.C. right now?
9. Southern California (3)---It's one thing for the Trojans to let Cal play them close . . . but Wazoo? That'll cost you.
10. Tennessee (15)---L.D. asked me whether I was inflating the Volunteers' ranking artificially because they are the Bulldogs' next opponent. I suppose it is a fair question, although I hope I have earned enough credibility in the blogosphere for my colleagues to know that I would never diminish the integrity of the BlogPoll by doing such a thing. The Big Orange lost a one-point game to a quality opponent, but, otherwise, Tennessee has looked like a more complete team than the Gators, whose performances have been far from dominant and who have yet to record an eye-opening victory on the order of U.T.'s pasting of Cal. Judging by the way everyone is playing right now, I'd consider the Vols the team most likely to represent the Eastern Division in the S.E.C. championship game.
11. West Virginia (14)---The Mountaineers' open date gave me time to forgive them for their lackluster performance against East Carolina.
All references to East Carolina University must be accompanied by a photograph of E.C.U. alumna Emily Procter.
12. Florida (10)---While moving the Gators up one spot to No. 5 and dropping the 'Dawgs four spots to No. 21, Orson Swindle observed: "Placing Georgia anywhere near some of these teams becomes more difficult each week. Tennessee will likely finish their plummet from the top 25 this week, since we think most people are just waiting from them to rack up a loss as an excuse to drop them." Of course, the only possible rationale for booting the Bulldogs from the top 25 entirely is the team's first-half offense, which seems an odd criticism to be offered by a Florida fan; as noted by And the Valley Shook, the mighty Gators have posted some impressive halftime scores, such as their 14-7 lead over Southern Miss, 10-7 deficit to Tennessee, 12-7 advantage over Kentucky, and 10-7 deficiency to Alabama. While the Orange and Blue unquestionably are better than the Red and Black right now, they have problems of their own, which deprived the Gators of a spot in my top 10 after a home win over the Crimson Tide that was closer than the final score indicated.
13. California (20)---The Golden Bears' loss in Knoxville increasingly looks like it ought to reflect favorably on Tennessee rather than cast Cal in a bad light. Jeff Tedford's squad has dominated consistently since a disappointing setback in the season opener.
14. Notre Dame (18)---The Fighting Irish played a solid game against a decent Purdue team, carrying a 35-14 lead into the fourth quarter before giving up a garbage touchdown that made the final margin look closer than it really was. For that reason, I don't really hold it against the Golden Domers that they gave up 490 yards of total offense to the Boilermakers, since 160 of Purdue's 398 passing yards came in the final 15 minutes, after the outcome was no longer in doubt. This was a solid outing by Notre Dame and they ascended accordingly.
15. Georgia (16)---I felt worse after the Ole Miss game than I did after the Colorado game, but, a little over a week ago, it was suggested to me that I should give adequate consideration to the difficulty of winning a night game on the road. Well, the 'Dawgs have won two such contests, both of which were conference outings against longstanding rivals looking to make names for themselves by knocking off the defending S.E.C. champions in a rebuilding year. Are the Red and Black a top 10 team? At this point, no, they aren't. Do the Bulldogs deserve anything like the degree of bashing they have received lately? No, they don't . . . and a first-rate defense deserves enough respect to get an undefeated S.E.C. team into the top 15.
Is the S.E.C. ready for the triumphant return of Joe T.? (Photograph from E.S.P.N.)
16. Georgia Tech (N.R.)---Could it be that the Ramblin' Wreck is headed toward its best season of the 21st century? We shall see, but, for my part, I'm glad the Yellow Jackets went ahead and got their annual obligatory road win over a highly-ranked opponent out of their systems prior to their arrival in Athens. Attentive football fans already knew that the Golden Tornado's defensive coordinator, Jon Tenuta, runs a smothering scheme that most likely will get him an A.C.C. head coaching job at season's end, but the offense finally looks like it's starting to perform as well as it should . . . now let's see if Georgia Tech can avoid its usual stunning loss to a conference bottom-feeder.
17. Wisconsin (N.R.)---I haven't yet figured out quite what to make of the Badgers, but No. 17 seems about right for what looks like another fundamentally sound Wisconsin squad.
18. Nebraska (17)---The Cornhuskers needed overtime to get by Kansas? Honestly, I'm not sure a top 20 ranking is warranted here.
19. Boise State (N.R.)---I dropped the Broncos a week ago and they responded by pummeling Utah. That was enough to get B.S.U. back into my good graces.
20. Iowa (13)---The Hawkeyes are a good solid team, but they simply are not among the elite.
21. Rutgers (21)---The Scarlet Knights are this close to cracking the top 20, but they're still another win away.
All references to the State University of New Jersey must be accompanied by a photograph of Rutgers alumna Kristin Davis. (Photograph from T.V. Spielfilm.)
22. Florida State (19)---The Seminoles' bye week gave me time to think about F.S.U. a little more and my opinion of the squad from Tallahassee was not improved by further reflection.
23. Washington (25)---The resurgent Huskies continue to play well and, while I do not expect U.W. to get by U.S.C., the squad from Seattle is on the road to reclaiming its historic stature as a player in the Pac-10.
24. Wake Forest (24)---The Rakes of Mallow ranked the Demon Deacons 25th while omitting Georgia from their ballot altogether. The Rakes' reasoning was that Wake "took care of Ole Miss a lot easier than Georgia did." Let's examine that logic for a moment. The Rakes are claiming that, because the Demon Deacons beat the Rebels by 24 points and the Bulldogs only beat them by five, Wake Forest must be better than Georgia. That certainly follows logically . . . until you consider that the Red and Black beat South Carolina by 18, while Auburn only beat the Gamecocks by seven. Since the Bulldogs and the Plainsmen both are 5-0, shouldn't Georgia be ranked ahead of Auburn, according to the Rakes' reasoning? Let's take that rationale another step: Auburn beat Washington State by 26, yet Southern California defeated the Cougars by six. If we take the Rakes' rationale to its logical conclusion, Wake Forest should be ranked ahead of Georgia, Georgia should be ranked ahead of Auburn, and Auburn should be ranked ahead of U.S.C. Does anyone think the Demon Deacons would beat the Trojans? This illustrates one of the established principles articulated in the blogosphere: the transitive property does not apply to college football. In 1993, West Virginia beat Boston College, Boston College beat Notre Dame, Notre Dame beat Florida State, and Florida State beat Florida . . . yet the Gators defeated the Mountaineers in the postseason. Any team can beat any other team on any given day. Wake Forest is playing well, but, with all due respect to my distinguished colleagues at the Rakes of Mallow, the notion that the Demon Deacons are a top 25 team and the Bulldogs aren't simply is mistaken.
25. Missouri (23)---I believe the Tigers to be the weakest major conference unbeaten . . . but they're still a major conference unbeaten, which gets them into the top 25 by the skin of their feline teeth.
Get by this guy and we'll talk, Mizzou.
Dropping out of the poll: No. 11 Texas Christian, No. 12 Virginia Tech, and No. 22 Oklahoma.
Others receiving consideration: In addition to the trio of teams that fell from the rankings (all of whom were given a serious look to determine whether they warranted inclusion this week), I also gave thought to Boston College, Houston, Navy, Pittsburgh, Purdue, Southern Mississippi, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and U.C.L.A.
What I watched: Auburn-South Carolina; Rutgers-South Florida; Memphis-Tennessee; Louisiana State-Mississippi State; Alabama-Florida; Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech; Georgia-Mississippi; the end of Illinois-Michigan State; portions of Notre Dame-Purdue, Houston-Miami, Southern California-Washington State, Iowa-Ohio State, and Michigan-Minnesota.
Initial additional observation: The forward pass has had a good 100-year run, but isn't it time we went back to using traditional college football rules? Wasn't it Darrell Royal who said that three things can happen when you throw the ball and two of them are bad? Let's get rid of that whole toss-and-catch concept we borrowed from baseball in the first place and get back to good, old-fashioned, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust football. Is there any way we can get that rule implemented before, say, 7:45 this Saturday evening? Please?
If it was good enough for Pop Warner. . . . (Photograph from The New Georgia Encyclopedia.)
Subsequent additional observation: I am pleased to report that a regular Dawg Sports reader and commenter, RocketDawg, has launched his own weblog, I Bleed Red and Black. Be sure to check out this latest addition to the Dawgosphere!
On a conciliatory note: In defending some of the outlying aspects of my own ballot, I have found it necessary to respond to what appear to me to be equally extreme stances taken by some of my BlogPoll brethren while they have animadverted upon my alma mater, offering unwarranted slights against which I am obligated to defend. (I hope I am insulated from any charges of knee-jerk homerism by the fact that I finished fourth in the standings for the Straight Bangin' Award after Georgia's near-miss against Colorado.) I have attempted to argue my position emphatically without doing so disrespectfully and I hope no one has taken offense. If, however, that hope is in vain, I would be most appreciative if those parties who feel themselves to have been maligned unfairly would leave me a comment registering their complaint, to which I will endeavor to provide an appropriately conciliatory response.