For the process of finding out
Is a fact one can hardly doubt,
But I would rejoice in it more
If I knew more clearly what
We wanted the knowledge for,
Felt certain still that the mind
Is free to know or not.
Last week, not for the first time, nor even for the first time this year, my BlogPoll ballot drew a stern rebuke, necessitating that I defend my position in an enterprise I consider fundamentally American but, ultimately, not worth getting worked up over to that great an extent. It is in that spirit, with much appreciation to those who defended me in my independence of thought and judgment, that I prefaced this week's BlogPoll ballot with the foregoing lines from the poem After Reading a Child's Guide to Modern Physics by W.H. Auden, who would, four years after penning it, author a foreword to a collection of his verse in which he wrote:
A dishonest poem is one which expresses, no matter how well, feelings or beliefs which its author never felt or entertained. For example, I once expressed a desire for "New styles of architecture"; but I have never liked modern architecture. I prefer old styles, and one must be honest even about one's prejudices.
Find such fault as you will with my weekly ballot, but know this: I am honest even about my prejudices and, when assembling my top 25, I may be "way off base," or "thrillingly wrong," or "[d]eranged," but I am not and will not be dishonest, or boring, or (I hope) bad-mannered. This, then, is the ballot which I cast after beginning once again with a clean white sheet of paper and paying no heed to anyone else's top 25 or my own ballot of one week ago:
The No. 1 ranking remains the property of Louisiana State (10-1), despite the diminished luster of the Bayou Bengals' road loss in triple overtime to a team that now stands at 7-4. The Fighting Tigers have not faced a Division I-AA opponent and they possess six wins over teams with winning records, including victories over Florida and Virginia Tech.
This gave L.S.U. the edge over second-ranked Ohio State (11-1), as the Buckeyes have faced a Division I-AA opponent (Youngstown State) and have claimed half of their ten wins over Division I-A teams against squads at .500 or below. Although O.S.U.'s lone loss (to Illinois) represents a more respectable blemish than the Bayou Bengals' loss to Kentucky, Jim Tressel's squad has just one quality victory (over Wisconsin), so Louisiana State got the nod over Ohio State.
Despite having defeated only four squads with winning records, West Virginia (9-1) took advantage of the carnage and chaos around it and laid claim to the No. 3 spot by virtue of a resume unsullied by the presence of a Division I-AA team and improved by a quality win at Cincinnati. The Mountaineers' sole setback came on the road against a quality opponent.
It is tough to lay claim to a top five ranking after losing to a 6-5 team at home and to a 5-6 team on the road, but Oregon (8-2) bolstered its case by beating five teams with winning records, including Arizona State and U.S.C. The Ducks' victims include just three teams with losing records and no Division I-AA opponents.
Quality road wins over Clemson and Virginia Tech gave Jacksonville-bound Boston College (9-2) the boost that earned the Eagles the No. 5 ranking. Five victories over teams with winning records, including the aforementioned comebacks against the Tigers and the Hokies, helped B.C. overcome an embarrassing loss at Maryland.
Could the Eagles finally be about to put this moment behind them? I mean, it was a great instance of blind dumb luck and all, but, seriously, people!
Since both of the Sooners' losses came in close contests on the road, Oklahoma (9-2) was able to overcome victories over five teams with losing records on the strength of a resume that included victories over four teams with winning ledgers, including Missouri and Texas.
I could not conscientiously rank Georgia (9-2) ahead of O.U. because the Bulldogs played a Division I-AA team (Western Carolina), which the Sooners did not, and because the Red and Black's six victories over teams with winning records were offset partially by a blowout road loss against Tennessee and a narrow home loss to a 6-5 squad. Convincing wins over Auburn and Florida helped the Classic City Canines' case, however.
Despite its stellar won-lost record, Missouri (10-1) fell behind four twice-beaten teams because the Tigers' victories have come against questionable competition. Seven of Mizzou's ten wins came against either Division I-AA teams or Division I-A squads with losing records. Even though the Tigers have beaten only three Division I-A opponents with winning records, though, Missouri has a quality victory (over Illinois at a neutral site) and acquitted itself well in a loss to Oklahoma in Norman.
A similar explanation accompanies the placement of Arizona State (9-1) at No. 9. Seven of the Sun Devils' nine victories have been over teams at .500 or below and the better of A.S.U.'s two victims with winning records is Oregon State, a 7-4 squad. Nevertheless, Dennis Erickson's team has not played a Division I-AA opponent and lost only once against a top-tier team on the road.
The final spot in the top ten went to Virginia Tech (9-2), which has beaten as many Division I-A teams with winning records as with losing records; namely, four, including Clemson. Both of the Hokies' losses were to top five teams, with one coming on the road to L.S.U. and the other being a close contest at home against Boston College.
We now enter the "teams currently and formerly coached by Ron Zook" portion of the poll, which tells you just exactly what kind of year it has been in college football.
Five wins over opponents with winning records, including quality victories over Ohio State and Wisconsin, earned Illinois (9-3) the No. 11 ranking ahead of Florida (8-3). All of the Gators' losses came against quality opponents (Auburn, Georgia, and L.S.U.), but half of the Saurians' wins were over a de facto Division I-AA team (provisional Division I-A member Western Kentucky) and three Division I-A teams at or below .500.
Each of the losses sustained by Cincinnati (8-3) was a close contest, although two of them were to teams with losing records (Louisville and Pittsburgh). Nevertheless, the Bearcats have beaten five teams with winning records, including Connecticut and South Florida. This gave Cincy the edge over Clemson (8-3), which lost to two 9-2 teams but cannot claim a victory over a team with a better ledger than 7-4, despite having created conflicting emotions in Georgia fans.
The final spot in the top 15 fell to Tennessee (8-3), which was weighed down by three road losses that were not competitive, two of which came at the hands of 6-5 teams. However, the Volunteers have not played a Division I-AA opponent and their five victories over teams with winning records include a lopsided win over Georgia.
Like the Big Orange, Wisconsin (9-3) suffered all three of its setbacks on the road, but one of the Badgers' losses came by a narrow margin and none was suffered at the hands of a team with fewer than eight wins in its ledger. Wiscy still was unable to pass Tennessee, though, because the Badgers have beaten three teams with winning records, one team with a 6-6 ledger (Iowa), four teams with losing records, and one Division I-AA team (The Citadel). Wisconsin's best win was over a Michigan squad that finished 8-4 and the Badgers were unable to beat four of the nine opponents over whom they were victorious by more than a touchdown, including such sad sacks as Minnesota (1-11) and U.N.L.V. (2-9).
Next up was Virginia (9-2), a team poised to win its division championship and claim a berth in the A.C.C. title game. The Cavaliers have not cheapened their slate by including any Division I-AA opponents and they have a quality win over Connecticut, but the Wahoos' ascension was impeded by the fact that, even though six of the teams they have beaten possess losing records, they have survived by a touchdown or less in half a dozen outings. Add to that the fact that both of Virginia's losses came on the road against 5-6 teams, and the Hoos' resume is inadequate to enable them rise higher than No. 17.
Also, having the most hopelessly lame mascot in the A.C.C. not named Buzz didn't help, either.
Virginia's best victim, Connecticut (9-2), fell in line right behind the Cavaliers, which was appropriate, given the closeness of their contest. The Huskies have beaten only two teams with winning records, but they have a quality win (over South Florida) and both of their losses came on the road against teams with at least eight wins.
Like UConn, Southern California (8-2) has beaten six teams with losing records, defeated two teams with winning records, and claimed a trio of victories by seven or fewer points. However, the Trojans' closest approximation of a quality win was a home victory over a 7-4 Oregon State squad and one of U.S.C.'s losses came at home against a 3-7 Stanford team. A narrow victory over 6-5 Cal added some meager degree of heft to the Men of Troy's scant resume, but not enough to elevate them above No. 19.
The last team to make it into the top 20 was South Florida (8-3). The Bulls' losses all came in close contests against teams with seven or more wins, whereas U.S.F.'s three victories over teams with winning records include quality wins over Auburn and West Virginia.
One of the imperatives of the BlogPoll is as follows: "If someone provides a convincing argument about a team, please be open minded enough to admit wrongness and change your ballot." Following my ballot last week, one of the most respected figures in the intercollegiate athletics blogosphere told me forthrightly: "Auburn ahead of Kansas after its fourth loss doesn't make sense." O.K., fine; I ranked Kansas (11-0) 21st and Auburn (7-4) 22nd.
LD has already made the case against Kansas, with which everyone appears to agree. The weakness of the Jayhawks' slate, however, bears emphasizing as long as K.U. is being given even the slightest consideration for a B.C.S. bowl berth:
- Eight of the Jayhawks' eleven wins have come against either Division I-AA opposition or Division I-A squads with losing records, including teams with records of 3-9 (Baylor and Iowa State) and 0-10 (Florida International).
- Kansas's three wins over opponents with winning records all came against teams that presently stand at 6-5 (Central Michigan, Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M).
- Despite having played such a poor schedule, Mark Mangino's team struggled on the road against the Aggies, the Buffaloes, and the Wildcats.
Also, not only is Kansas not particularly entertaining, it also has college football's least photogenic head coach.
Yes, the Jayhawks are undefeated. The question remains: "Which of the 20 teams ranked ahead of Kansas on my ballot wouldn't be undefeated against this schedule?" If K.U. wants a spot in my top 20, they need to beat someone, which is what Auburn has done. Granted, the Plainsmen have four losses, three of which were close contests and three of which were to teams with at least eight wins. In the meantime, the Tigers have registered something the Jayhawks have not; namely, a quality win (over Florida in Gainesville). I hate Auburn.
Although Texas (9-2) is in contention for a B.C.S. bowl berth, I have a hard time finding anything in the Longhorns' resume to impress me. Mack Brown's club has more victories against teams with losing records (5) than with winning records (4). The 'Horns escaped narrowly against three mediocre teams (Central Florida, Nebraska, and Oklahoma State) and lost badly at home to a team with a 5-6 ledger. Buoyed by a quality loss to the Sooners and a semi-validating win over Texas Tech, though, Texas received the nod for the No. 23 spot.
It is a red-letter day for the Aloha State, as Hawaii (10-0) finally has cracked the top 25, due more to late-season plummets in the Big Ten than to any real achievement by June Jones's squad. The Warriors have two wins over Division I-AA opposition and six victories over teams with losing records, including U.N.L.V. (2-9), Idaho (1-10), and Utah State (1-10). Despite playing a truly shameful slate, Hawaii has had to survive four close shaves in its eight contests against Division I-A opponents.
Nevertheless, the former Rainbows now have custody of a win over a .500 team, Nevada (5-5), and a win over a team with a winning record, Fresno State (6-4). It ain't much, but it's enough. Hey, if we're ranking undefeated teams with crappy schedules, we might as well rank 'em all.
That brings us to Boise State (10-1), a team whose resume, I must admit, is comparable to Hawaii's. The Broncos, like the Warriors, have beaten six Division I-A teams with losing records, including two (Idaho and Utah State) with double-digit losses. B.S.U. has beaten two teams with winning records (Fresno State and Southern Mississippi, both of which have six victories to their credit) and one Division I-AA opponent (Weber State). I would have the Broncos ranked ahead of the Warriors, but Boise State lost on the road by two touchdowns in a contest against a 4-7 Washington team. I really hope B.S.U. gives me a reason to regret this ranking on Friday.
I'm looking for a little of this after the Boise State-Hawaii game.
The only team I honestly considered ranking but didn't rank was Brigham Young (8-2). The Cougars have three wins over teams with winning records, including a solid victory over Air Force, but B.Y.U. was kept out of the top 25 by a pair of road losses which were not competitive, including one at U.C.L.A. (5-5), and five wins over teams possessing either losing records or Division I-AA affiliations.
I watched the Ball State-Toledo game on Tuesday, the second half of the Akron-Miami (Ohio) game on Wednesday, the Arizona-Oregon game on Thursday, and the first half of the Hawaii-Nevada game on Friday.
On Saturday, my wife, Susan, and I attended the Georgia-Kentucky game in Sanford Stadium. Our son stayed with my parents-in-law while we were in Athens, which necessitated our taking Highway 316 back to their house to retrieve him. Traffic was horrendous, so much so that it took us over three hours to travel the approximately 65 miles from the top of the parking deck to Susan's parents' home. Needless to say, it was late and we were tired when we got home, so I watched the fourth quarter of the Boston College-Clemson game and went to bed.
I feel pretty good about this ballot, both in terms of the resumes the respective teams have compiled and, generally speaking, in terms of who would beat whom on a neutral field next Saturday (although, naturally, there are exceptions upon the latter point). I am not naïve enough to believe, though, that there are not objections to be made, reasonable and otherwise, regarding my top 25. Feel free to voice your opinion in the comments below.
As MaconDawg predicted, my postgame writeup regarding the Bulldogs' victory over the Wildcats will follow shortly. Look for it sometime tomorrow.