One of the reasons my postgame write-up was posted so late yesterday is that I spent much of the afternoon Sunday mulling over my BlogPoll ballot. This was one of those weeks when I not only started with a clean white sheet of paper, I also gave serious consideration to the opinions of others. (I also elected to do my part to ease the burden of your Christmas shopping for the special Bulldog fans in your life, but we'll be getting to that shortly.)
Accordingly, you should ignore completely the arrows in the following ballot, which are of no consequence whatsoever. I started from scratch, I evaluated each team anew, and I let the chips fall where they may. To anyone who accuses me of being an S.E.C. homer, well, I have never pretended otherwise and, even if I am one, that doesn't make me wrong about the following:
Although the gap is narrowing, Louisiana State (9-1) retains its edge over Oregon (8-1). In many significant respects, the Bayou Bengals and the Ducks boast similar resumes, as neither has faced a Division I-AA opponent and each has recorded only three of its victories over teams at or below .500, but, although L.S.U. has claimed three close victories (against Alabama, Auburn, and Florida) and Oregon has captured only one of its wins (over U.S.C.) by a margin of seven or fewer points, the Fighting Tigers have beaten six teams with winning records to the Ducks' five.
On balance, L.S.U.'s three best wins (over Auburn, Florida, and Virginia Tech) are better than Oregon's (over Arizona State, Michigan, and Southern California) and, while neither team's lone loss looks as good in retrospect, the Ducks' single setback was the worse of the two. Although both California and Kentucky have gone into the tank since their respective narrow wins over the top teams in the land, L.S.U. lost on the road in triple overtime to a Wildcat squad that now stands at 7-3, whereas Oregon fell at home in a game the Ducks narrowly missed tying against a Golden Bear unit that has dropped to 6-4.
The rationale for separating Ohio State (10-1) from Oklahoma (9-1) followed a similar logic. The Buckeyes and the Sooners each have posted four victories over Division I-A teams with losing records and five wins over squads presently sitting at .500 or better. Jim Tressel's team, though, has five victories over bowl-eligible opposition, one more than Bob Stoops's troops can claim.
Both O.U. and O.S.U. have survived one close shave, with the former's coming at a neutral site against a 9-2 team and the latter's occurring in Columbus against a 6-5 squad, but Ohio State possesses much the better of the two losses. The Buckeyes went down against the Fighting Illini, who have eight wins (including victories over Penn State and Wisconsin) to their credit, whereas the Sooners' setback was suffered at the hands of the Buffaloes, who languish at 5-6.
Oklahoma's problem is that it has little to boast beyond its admittedly impressive win over Missouri. After the Tigers, the drop-off among the Sooners' victims is steep: Texas has little to show for its nine wins, but such vanquished opponents as Miami (Florida), Texas A&M, and Tulsa add no meat to O.U.'s resume. Ohio State, by contrast, has a Division I-AA win operating against it, but the Buckeyes boast respectable wins over Penn State and Wisconsin, giving them two victories of reasonable quality to the Sooners' one.
While I believe West Virginia (8-1) to be a solid squad, the Mountaineers' mettle has been tested against weak opposition. Five of W.V.U.'s eight wins were over teams now sitting at 5-5 or worse and none of the victims of Rich Rodriguez's team have won more than six games.
The 'Eers still get partial credit for a subsequently tarnished quality loss (to South Florida at Tampa), but the only thing that kept West Virginia in front of Missouri (9-1) was the weakness of the Tigers' slate. Although Mizzou owns a season-opening win over Illinois in a close game at a neutral site, the ensuing weeks have produced six wins over a Division I-AA team and five Division I-A squads with losing records. Any team whose second-best win is over Texas Tech is undeserving of a spot in the top five.
Perhaps it is the fact that my alma mater just defeated its two biggest conference rivals in the same season for the first time since I was 14 years old, but I felt compelled to rank Georgia (8-2) seventh. The Bulldogs are dragged down somewhat by a game against Division I-AA Western Carolina and two losses which were made bad either by the margin of defeat (at Tennessee) or the weakness of the opponent (at home against a South Carolina squad that has fallen to 6-5).
Nevertheless, just one of the Red and Black's seven Division I-A victims sports a losing ledger and the 'Dawgs have defeated four bowl-eligible teams, including beating by 12 and 25 points, respectively, Florida and Auburn teams whose only other losses were narrow ones. When your team hangs 42 on the Gators and 45 on the Plainsmen, you can come talk to me about your team being ranked higher than mine.
I surprised myself somewhat by ranking Cincinnati (8-2) as high as eighth, but the Bearcats have beaten only two truly bad teams (Marshall and San Diego State) while getting the better of four bowl-eligible teams, including Connecticut and South Florida, each of which previously had appeared to be experiencing a Cinderella season. While Louisville and Pitt are two teams to which you would not want to admit that you lost, both Cincy setbacks were by small margins.
For those of you who already are in a festive holiday mood after last weekend's beatdown of the Plainsmen, Nos. 9 through 16 are brought to you by LD's cogent thoughts on offsetting penalties and the blackout commemorative score T-shirt.
Technically, Boston College (8-2) held fast at No. 9, but, remember, I started from square one this week, so no team's poll position on this week's ballot bears any necessary relation to its previous standing. Half of the Eagles' victories have been tallied against Army (3-7), N.C. State (5-5), Notre Dame (1-9), and Division I-AA Massachusetts, but a quality road win over Virginia Tech bolsters B.C.'s resume, in spite of the Eagles' losses to a six-win Florida State squad and a five-win Maryland team.
Seldom do you find a thrice-beaten team in the top ten, but an exception had to be made for defending national champion Florida (7-3). The Gators have beaten four bowl-eligible squads, including Kentucky on the road and Tennessee by a convincing margin, and the Saurians' trio of setbacks was handed to them by teams with seven, eight, and nine wins, respectively. The Auburn and L.S.U. games were as close as close can be, as well.
Although a road victory over Clemson is the closest thing Virginia Tech (8-2) can claim to a marquee win, half of the Hokies' successful outcomes have come against teams with winning records and V.P.I. may be forgiven for losing to a pair of top ten teams. Illinois (8-3) earned the No. 12 ranking in spite of narrow losses to Iowa and Missouri outside of the Prairie State because the Fighting Illini boast a trio of quality wins over Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin.
While we're on the subject of Penn State (8-3), the Nittany Lions appear at No. 13 by virtue of wins over four bowl-eligible opponents, including Wisconsin and Purdue. Two of P.S.U.'s three losses were close contests on the road against 8-3 conference squads, with the third coming at the hands of the Buckeyes. While weighed down by three road losses which were not competitive, Tennessee (7-3) attained a spot in the top 15 by earning its seven wins against opponents which included no squads from Division I-AA and only two teams with losing records. A marquee win over Georgia greatly aided the Volunteers' cause, much to my chagrin.
That the pickings are getting mighty slim is attested to by the fact that Clemson (8-2) received the No. 15 ranking on the strength of a ledger that includes just three victories over teams with winning records, each of which now stands at 6-4. Even this, though, was better than the resume boasted by Wisconsin (8-3), which has three road losses against good Big Ten teams but only a win over Michigan to offset narrow escapes over Iowa (6-5), Michigan State (6-5), and U.N.L.V. (2-8).
Don't panic just because Christmas Eve is a scant six weeks away! Fear not; Nos. 17 through 22 are brought to you by Paul Westerdawg's compilation of Jim Hipple photographs from the Auburn game and the black fleece hooded sweatshirt.
While Kentucky (7-3) has beaten only two bowl-eligible opponents, one of them was L.S.U., which still counts for quite a lot. Virginia (9-2) has three victories over teams with winning records, highlighted by a conquest of Connecticut, but the Wahoos' rise was hampered by the presence of half a dozen close calls in the Cavaliers' nine wins.
By rights, Michigan (8-3) should be out of the top 20 altogether after narrowly escaping against the six-win Spartans, losing by good-sized margins against Oregon and Wisconsin, and infamously falling to a Division I-AA squad in the season opener, but the Wolverines continue to assert a plausible claim to a spot in the rankings on the strength of wins over Illinois, Penn State, and three other bowl-eligible teams.
I left Arizona State (9-1) stranded at No. 20 because the Sun Devils' record simply does not withstand scrutiny. A.S.U. was not competitive with Oregon in its lone loss and Dennis Erickson's squad has posted seven of its nine victories against teams with records at or below .500. The Sun Devils' two best wins were over Cal and Oregon State, each of which boasts a 6-4 ledger. There simply isn't much "there" there in Arizona State's resume.
Despite last weekend's result in the Classic City, Auburn (7-4) remains a daunting opponent with a quality win over the Gators in Gainesville. All of the Plainsmen's losses were to bowl-eligible opponents and three of those four setbacks were sustained by margins of a touchdown or less, so I ranked the Plainsmen in spite of the facts that (a) I can't stand those stalwarts in orange and blue ("S.O.B.s" for short) and (b) their reaction to Georgia's win on Saturday (as noted by Dave the Dawg and The Unknown Stuntman) has been to malign the Bulldog faithful en masse and hurl animadversions at personal friends of mine in spite of the best efforts of Georgia fans to be conciliatory. I hate Auburn.
By contrast, Kansas (10-0) was relegated to No. 22 because the Jayhawks have beaten no one to get to where they are. Eight of the ten teams Mark Mangino's squad has beaten are at .500, have losing records, or play in Division I-AA. Kansas has yet to face a team with more than six victories to its credit and wins over Central Michigan (6-4) and Texas A&M (6-5) count for little when the Jayhawks must point to those as their best wins.
The remainder of the top 25 and the first few unranked teams receiving consideration come your way thanks to Senator Blutarsky's defense of dancing on the sidelines and the black sideline coaches' shirt, only one of which lends itself toward being wrapped and put under the tree.
Despite the fact that only two of the victories claimed by Connecticut (8-2) have come against Division I-A teams with winning records, the Huskies clung to a narrow win over South Florida as justification for their placement in the top 25 because both of UConn's losses came on the road against good teams. Besides, who else is deserving of a space in the poll at this point?
Left with nowhere else to turn, I awarded the No. 24 spot in the standings to Brigham Young (7-2), which boasts a win over an eight-win Air Force squad, and judged Boise State (9-1) worthy of the No. 25 ranking because the Broncos have beaten four teams with .500 or better records, including bowl-eligible Fresno State.
Consideration also was given to Air Force (8-3), Southern California (8-2), South Florida (7-3), Texas (9-2), Utah (7-3), and, yes, Hawaii (9-0) for a spot in the rankings. The Falcons fell short because they have beaten only one team with a winning record and only one of their three losses was close. The Trojans have two losses, including one at home against a 3-7 team, and six of their eight wins have come against teams with losing records. U.S.C. has not beaten a team with a record better than 6-4 and three of the victories registered by the Men of Troy have been decided by a touchdown or less, despite Southern California's athletic superiority.
I regretted having to leave the Bulls out of the top 25, but, for U.S.F., the pertinent number was three. Jim Leavitt's squad has three wins against bowl-eligible teams, but one of those opponents was Central Florida; South Florida has three wins over Division I-A teams with losing records or Division I-AA squads; and the Bulls have three losses, one of which came against a 6-4 squad. U.S.F.'s quality wins over Auburn and West Virginia only kept the team afloat for so long.
The Longhorns' resume simply has nothing of substance to it to make the team's 9-2 ledger meaningful. Texas has beaten seven teams with a record of .500 or worse and only two bowl-eligible squads (Central Florida and Texas Tech) have fallen to the Burnt Orange. The 'Horns struggled mightily to pull out wins against the Golden Knights, the Cornhuskers, and the Cowboys, none of whom are daunting, and Texas lost badly to a Kansas State team that now stands at 5-5.
The following criticisms of Utah and Hawaii, as well as the account of Kyle's college football viewing over the course of the past week, were presented with special thanks to Jay Coulter's credible critique of his team's performance and this smooth-looking black suede jacket. Be sure to thank your Dawg Sports BlogPoll ballot sponsors!
Although four of Utah's wins have come against teams with .500 ledgers (Louisville, Texas Christian, U.C.L.A., and Wyoming), the Utes have yet to beat an opponent with a winning record. This brings us to the Warriors, who finally received consideration because June Jones's team at long last beat a team with a winning record in the form of Fresno State.
A seven-point win at home over a 6-4 squad, however, does not come close to atoning for a 9-0 start that includes two wins over Division I-AA opponents and six victories over Division I-A teams with losing records. Among Hawaii's victims are Idaho (1-9) and Utah State (0-10). To top it all off, despite their powderpuff schedule, the Warriors required overtime to get by a pair of 4-6 squads (Louisiana Tech and San Jose State). Hawaii still falls far short of deserving a spot in the top 25.
On Tuesday evening, I arrived home late after spending the early evening working with the Luella High School mock trial team, which I am helping to coach, so I caught only the fourth quarter of the Central Michigan-Western Michigan contest. I watched the Akron-Ohio (Ohio), Louisville-West Virginia, and Army-Rutgers games on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights, respectively.
On Saturday, after participating in the mock trial run-through in which the squads from several Henry County high schools practiced against one another in a preseason scrimmage and going to my son's soccer game, I made the trek to the Classic City and attended every glorious moment of the Georgia-Auburn game. I got home in time to catch the last five minutes of the Florida-South Carolina game and was too wound up to go to bed, so I checked out the first three quarters of the Fresno State-Hawaii game.
That, at any rate, is how the college football universe appears to me to be ordered, at least for the moment. (As for my inclusion of the foregoing product shots, I hope you don't mind; I was looking for an excuse to link to some of the numerous postings by other bloggers referenced above, and, what with the holidays approaching and the desire to commemorate the turn this season has taken running understandably high, I thought I'd take the opportunity to do us both a favor.) In any case, your thoughts and constructive criticisms are, as always, welcome in the comments below.