Am I looking at a third straight top-two finish in the running for Mr. Manic-Depressive? Perhaps . . . because, as promised, I completely ignored last week's BlogPoll ballot when compiling this week's rankings, focusing on resumes rather than on preconceptions in my effort to compile as accurate a list as possible of the top 25 teams in the land.
Each team's record, rather than last week's ranking, is given in parentheses following each squad's name. Here is the Dawg Sports top 25 and the reasons therefor:
1. Ohio State (10-0)---The undefeated Buckeyes remain the clear No. 1 team, despite their struggles on the road against Illinois this weekend. Ohio State has one high-quality road win (24-7 at Texas) and one semi-quality road win (38-17 at Iowa). While O.S.U. had a letdown against the Illini, Ron Zook's squad has been playing folks tough in recent weeks, beating Michigan State 23-20 in East Lansing and losing tight games against Penn State in Happy Valley and against Wisconsin in Madison. Besides, Illinois is the first team this season to have gotten within 17 points of the Buckeyes and O.S.U. held a 17-3 lead with two minutes remaining in the contest, so it isn't as though the Illini played toe-to-toe with Ohio State over the course of 60 minutes. On balance, the Buckeyes remain deserving of the No. 1 ranking.
Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel was relieved to learn that his team's narrow win over Illinois did not dislodge the Buckeyes from their first-place position atop the Dawg Sports BlogPoll ballot. (Photograph from Sports Illustrated.)
2. Michigan (10-0)---The Wolverines' hold on the No. 2 spot was much shakier after Ball State put a scare into the Maize and Blue at home. In addition to Saturday's close shave with the Cardinals, Michigan won by seven at Penn State and by 14 over Northwestern at home. However, the Wolverines have one high-quality road win (47-21 at Notre Dame) and one fairly high-quality home win (27-13 over Wisconsin) to offset their lackluster victories, which is sufficient to keep an undefeated Michigan team ranked second in the land.
3. Louisville (8-0)---The Cardinals' claim to the third spot on my ballot was good enough after Thursday night's win over West Virginia, but Mike's impassioned argument was underscored by Ohio State's and Michigan's difficulties with lesser competition on Saturday. I can't very well downgrade U. of L. for close calls against Cincinnati and Syracuse after forgiving the Buckeyes and the Wolverines for their similar struggles . . . particularly since the Cards defeated out-of-conference opponents from the A.C.C. (Miami), Big 12 (Kansas State), and S.E.C. (in-state rival Kentucky) by a combined margin of 114-41. Louisville has a high-quality win over the Mountaineers and, although I have some concerns due to the fact that all of the Cardinals' big wins have come at home, they deserve the No. 3 ranking after last week's impressive victory.
Bobby Petrino has molded the Cardinals into a legitimate national championship contender . . . and I've got 20 bucks that says he takes another job for more money someplace else within the next 13 months. (Photograph from Sports Illustrated.)
4. Auburn (9-1)---The Tigers' 27-10 home loss to Arkansas appears to be more of a quality loss than it seemed to be at the time, so I do not deduct quite as many points from Auburn's score as I did when the shocking upset occurred. Although the Gamecocks managed to put a 24-17 scare into the War Eagle, South Carolina has a knack for playing everyone tough in Columbia, especially at night, so I have a difficult time downgrading Auburn for that one, either. What the Plainsmen get credit for, though, is claiming wins of 40-14 over Washington State, 7-3 over Louisiana State, and 27-17 over Florida. Auburn, like Louisville, has yet to post a compelling victory over a good team on the road, but the Tigers' resume entitles them to the No. 4 spot. I hate Auburn.
5. Southern California (7-1)---I haven't been impressed with the Trojans for a while now. U.S.C. turned in a string of lackluster performances, beating Washington State by six, Washington by six, and Arizona State by seven before losing to Oregon State by two in a game that was not as close as the score indicated. Nevertheless, despite their embarrassing road loss in Corvallis, the Men of Troy own a high-quality road win (50-14 at Arkansas) and a semi-quality home win (28-10 over Nebraska). The number and nature of those quality victories allowed Southern California to edge out Texas for the fifth spot on my ballot.
6. Texas (9-1)---The Longhorns' ledger thus far is blemished by the presence of Sam Houston State and narrow victories over Nebraska and Texas Tech, but both of those wins came on the road in conference games and Texas's lone loss was to the top team in the land, albeit at home and by a good-sized margin. Convincing wins of 28-10 over Oklahoma and 36-10 over Oklahoma State help the Longhorns' case.
When he is born two centuries from now, Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy will be proud to be a descendant of Texas quarterback Colt McCoy. (Photograph from Star Trek.com.)
7. California (8-1)---The Golden Bears' season-opening loss in Knoxville appeared more excusable a week ago than it now does, but Jeff Tedford's bunch has put together a ledger of convincing victories, despite a seven-point win over Washington and a date with Portland State. It is open to debate what significance should be attached to final scores of 42-17 over Minnesota, 21-3 at Washington State, and 38-24 over U.C.L.A., but a 21-point win over Oregon and a 28-point win at Oregon State count for something.
8. Arkansas (8-1)---The Hogs have reeled off eight straight victories since their season-opening setback to Southern California at home and, although some of them have been less than convincing (21-19 at Vanderbilt, 24-23 against Alabama, 26-20 at South Carolina) and one was against Southeast Missouri State, the Razorbacks' high-quality win (27-10 at Auburn) was a statement game that earned Houston Nutt's squad the nod at No. 8.
9. Florida (8-1)---Urban Meyer's spread option offense was supposed to take the S.E.C. by storm, but the Gators' saving grace has been their defense. Florida is helped by the fact that the Big Lizards' lone loss came on the road against a high-quality opponent in a game that probably was closer than the final score indicated. What hurts the Gators' case is the fact that none of their meaningful wins have been particularly convincing. That 21-20 victory at Tennessee now looks less impressive than it did and, while U.F.'s home win over L.S.U. appears somewhat solid, it is counterbalanced by successively weaker performances against Alabama, Georgia, and Vanderbilt. While I get the sense that the Gators are better than their achievement on the field indicates, their achievement on the field is what we are ranking here.
10. Rutgers (8-0)---One of the Scarlet Knights' wins came against Howard, but both of Rutgers's close calls (21-16 at North Carolina and 22-20 at South Florida) came on the road against B.C.S. conference competition. The State University of New Jersey put a 33-0 hurting on Illinois, which is beginning to look better and better as the Illini continue to hang tough against other good teams. Two semi-quality road wins (34-0 at Navy and 20-10 at Pitt) operate in the Knights' favor, as well.
Rutgers alumna Kristin Davis was pleased to learn that her alma mater had made it into the top 10. (Photograph from Star Pulse.)
11. Notre Dame (8-1)---The Golden Domers have had to scrape and claw every step of the way, claiming lackluster victories over mediocre teams (14-10 at Georgia Tech, 40-37 at Michigan State, 20-17 against U.C.L.A.) and being dealt a convincing setback by the Wolverines at home. Notre Dame's decisive victories haven't counted for much, as the best of these have come against Penn State, Navy, and North Carolina. The Fighting Irish remain a quality win away from earning inclusion in the top 10.
Due to a negotiated resolution, Shania Twain now officially represents Notre Dame here at Dawg Sports.
12. Wake Forest (8-1)---I hate having to rank the Demon Deacons this high, because the A.C.C. easily is the most suspect of the major conferences this season, but, after Wake Forest's quality win over Boston College, I can't in good conscience rank the Deacs behind the Badgers. Overall, Wake's resume amounts to little, as evidenced by the team's one-point win over Duke, two-point win at N.C. State, and seven-point win at North Carolina. The presence of Liberty on the Deacons' schedule and their meltdown home loss to Clemson don't help, either, but their victory over the Eagles gave Wake Forest one more meaningful win than Wisconsin has, so the Deacs are ranked one spot ahead of the Badgers.
13. Wisconsin (9-1)---Given their conference affiliation, the Badgers' won-lost record looks pretty good . . . until you start to examine that "9" and that "1" more closely. Wiscy lost at Michigan and that setback has been offset by, well, not much. The Badgers' wins have come against Bowling Green, Western Illinois, San Diego State, Indiana, Northwestern, Minnesota, Purdue, Illinois, and Penn State, with six of those nine games being played in Madison. Wisconsin's best win came at home against the Nittany Lions, who have beaten no one of consequence, and the Badgers needed a comeback to get by the Fighting Illini. Wisconsin has little to show for its impressive record.
14. West Virginia (7-1)---Yes, the Mountaineers have been dominant, but against whom? Thrashing Marshall in Morgantown and Mississippi State in Starkville don't count for much, particularly when you consider that W.V.U.'s resume also includes a win over Eastern Washington and a lackluster 27-10 effort at East Carolina. The Mountain Men made last Thursday's loss at Louisville look closer than it really was. To West Virginia's credit, though, the team has a 45-24 semi-quality win over Maryland in Morgantown, which kept the Mountaineers from falling below 14th on my ballot.
15. Boise State (9-0)---One of the Broncos' wins came against Sacramento State and B.S.U. has had trouble putting teams away, particularly on the road, where Boise State has posted wins of 17-10 at Wyoming, 40-28 at New Mexico State, and 42-26 at Idaho. The Broncos' narrow win over Hawaii no longer looks so bad, though, and their 42-14 shellacking of Oregon State on the Smurf Turf has begun to acquire some luster. While Boise State has the weakest resume of the five Division I-A unbeatens, the Broncos have put together some decent wins and earned their placement at No. 15.
I am so afraid that Georgia is going to wind up spending the postseason playing on that abominable blue field in the dead of winter. . . . (Photograph from Sink Combs Dethlefs.)
16. Louisiana State (7-2)---Quite frankly, there are not 25 teams deserving of being ranked in the top 25 and I'm not entirely certain there are 20 teams deserving of being ranked in the top 20. Evidence of this is to be found in the fact that the Bayou Bengals are the best of the twice-beaten teams, yet they did not register a quality win before Saturday night. Aside from this weekend's thrilling win in Knoxville, the most noteworthy features of the Fighting Tigers' resume are their losses at Auburn and Florida, as none of L.S.U.'s home wins amount to much.
17. Oklahoma (7-2)---The Sooners' two losses were in games played outside of Norman. One was against Texas in Dallas, where O.U. lost to a high-quality opponent, and the other was against Oregon in Eugene, where Oklahoma dropped a one-point decision on a highly questionable call. Although Bob Stoops's troops had to survive a scare against U.A.B., the Sooners put together a solid road win at Missouri and hung on to defeat a good Texas A&M team in College Station. Had Oklahoma's first-quarter dominance of the Aggies continued throughout the contest, O.U. likely would have overtaken the Bayou Bengals.
18. Tennessee (7-2)---The Volunteers' losses both were narrow setbacks suffered at the hands of good teams. Tennessee has survived some close shaves (31-30 against Air Force, 16-13 against Alabama, 31-24 at South Carolina), but the Big Orange handed the Bulldogs their worst throttling of the season and the Vols have a quality win over California.
19. Texas A&M (8-2)---The Aggies don't really have what I would call a quality win, but, when they haven't played lower-tier teams like the Citadel, they've played everyone close, winning narrow ones against Army, at Kansas, against Missouri, at Oklahoma State, and at Baylor while falling to Texas Tech by four and to Oklahoma by one. Texas A&M gets credit for playing the Sooners tight and for beating the Tigers.
The Aggies also got credit for playing their home games at the exquisitely well-named Kyle Field. (Photograph from University of Texas.)
20. Oregon (7-2)---Neither the Ducks' 31-24 win at Fresno State nor their victory over Portland State counts for much, but Oregon has a quality win (however controversial) over Oklahoma and one of the Ducks' losses (45-24 at Cal) came on the road against a solid opponent.
21. Boston College (7-2)---The twenties are weighted down with A.C.C. teams, which I don't like, because I don't think the conference is very good, but it's still hard to differentiate some of the teams from the league. Both of the Eagles' losses were close contests on the road (17-15 at N.C. State and 21-14 at Wake Forest) and, while B.C.'s schedule includes Maine, the Eagles' record does not feature any narrow victories over markedly lesser competition. Boston College gets credit for wins against Clemson, B.Y.U., and Virginia Tech.
22. Brigham Young (7-2)---Both of the Cougars' losses were close contests on the road against B.C.S. conference competition (16-13 at Arizona and 30-23 at Boston College) and B.Y.U. has a pair of convincing semi-quality wins (49-24 against Tulsa and 31-17 at T.C.U.).
23. Georgia Tech (7-2)---The case for the Yellow Jackets isn't as strong as many commentators appear to believe. One of the Ramblin' Wreck's wins came against Samford, one of the Golden Tornado's losses was an absolute whipping at Clemson, and Georgia Tech has needed multiple fourth-quarter scoring outbursts to get by such decidedly mediocre competition as Troy, Maryland, Miami, and N.C. State. Much like the Trojans, the Jackets haven't beaten anyone convincingly in more than a month, but Georgia Tech found its way into the top 25 due to the weakness of the field, the strength of the Ramblin' Wreck's lone quality win (38-27 at Virginia Tech), and their quality loss (14-10 against Notre Dame).
Really, all Georgia Tech has going for it are Calvin Johnson, Jon Tenuta, and proximity to the Varsity . . . and two of those three things are going to be gone after the end of the season.
24. Texas Christian (6-2)---The Horned Frogs haven't helped themselves by playing U.C.-Davis or by losing at Utah, but their other loss was a semi-quality loss (31-17 to B.Y.U.) and T.C.U. has beaten two Big 12 teams (17-7 at Baylor and 12-3 over Texas Tech).
25. Virginia Tech (7-2)---The Hokies' schedule is marred by the presence of Northeastern on the slate and V.P.I. was outscored 60-30 in losses to Georgia Tech and Boston College. However, since Frank Beamer's bunch lost both of the games on the right-hand side of its ledger to currently ranked teams and handed Clemson a 24-7 setback, Virginia Tech continues to cling to a spot in the top 25. Whether a 17-10 win at Miami qualifies as a plus or a minus is open to debate at this point.
Teams dropping from my ballot: No. 21 Clemson (7-3) and No. 24 South Carolina (5-4). It wasn't a good week for the Palmetto State.
Others receiving consideration: Hawaii (7-2), Maryland (7-2), Missouri (7-3), Nebraska (7-3), and Oregon State (6-3).
I give my word to the Beaver faithful . . . I did not leave Oregon State out of the top 25 because of their heinous uniforms. Since I ranked Cal seventh and Oregon 20th, it should be evident that atrociously ugly uniforms are simply something I accept when it comes to Pac-10 teams.
Games I watched or otherwise followed in some form or fashion: Southern Methodist-U.A.B.; Boise State-Fresno State; Louisville-West Virginia; Air Force-Army; Florida-Vanderbilt; Clemson-Maryland; Boston College-Wake Forest; Arkansas-South Carolina; and the conclusions of Illinois-Ohio State, Oregon-Washington, L.S.U.-Tennessee, Miami-Virginia Tech, and Oklahoma-Texas A&M. I also listened to Georgia-Kentucky on the radio. Listening to Larry Munson calling a game which will not result in a Bulldog victory is not for the faint of heart.
I will be submitting my ballot formally shortly, but, in the meantime, feel free to share your opinions upon my rankings in the comments below.