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New BlogPoll Released: Georgia Unranked; My Sanity Questioned

The new BlogPoll has been released and the Bulldogs are nowhere to be found . . . unless, of course, you hunt among those "Also Receiving Votes," where Georgia checks in as the de facto No. 28. I guess Terry Bowden is right that you're better off scheduling total patsies than opening up with two straight legitimate opponents at the start of the season.

Despite receiving 13 of 61 first-place votes, Southern California has dropped to No. 3 and been replaced in the top spot by Louisiana State, which was ranked No. 1 on 42 ballots. Second-ranked Oklahoma and fourth-ranked Florida received three and two first-place votes, respectively, with No. 9 Wisconsin inexplicably taking the last such top ranking.

Of interest to the Red and Black faithful will be the fact that Georgia Tech is ranked 15th, South Carolina is ranked 17th, Tennessee is ranked 23rd, and Alabama finished just ahead of the 'Dawgs in the balloting.

I had the dubious distinction of being named Mr. Manic-Depressive and Mr. Bold, which means that my ballot varied the most, both from my previous ballot and from the poll as a whole. These deviations were due to my use of the increasingly popular resume ranking method, which quite properly creates what Rece Davis would call "a fluid situation" in the early going, as incremental additions of evidence alter preseason perceptions to conform to reality.

The Lawgiver, however, sees it a bit differently, twice characterizing my ballot as "insane" and expounding upon this point further:

One glance at this ballot confirms: UCLA #3, Washington #4, Missouri #5, BC #6, etc. etc. etc. Because beating one of the worst schools in a BCS conference (Stanford and Syracuse for UCLA and Washington) and a respectable mid-major (BYU and Boise, respectively) is much more impressive than beating Auburn on the road (#9 USF)? And beating Tennessee thoroughly means nothing if a couple quick scores in a road game against Colorado State narrows that game and causes you to rank Cal #21? Pure resume ranking often produces incoherent results in the first few weeks, but this ballot doesn't even make internal sense and comes dangerously close to the level at which I would spike a ballot.

Look: it's good that bloggers have paid attention to the first couple weeks enough to elevate LSU and ding VT and do all the things that made this week's poll an interesting item, but there is a happy medium between rote AP "they win they stay" and this stuff. At this point, polls should still have some element of projection if only because many teams haven't actually shown their wares on the field. When we get into week five and week six, resume rank all you want (and by the end of the year, you should have completely discarded your preseason projections for Actual Events), but at the moment is leads to incoherent, silly-ass ballots. All things in moderation.

Prior to proceeding, I should reiterate a point I made before when responding to a criticism of my ballot: Brian does not bestow such titles as "Mr. Bold" and "Mr. Manic-Depressive" based upon subjective value judgments; they are the results of mathematical calculations, not biased interpretations. It is an undeniable fact that my ballot changed the most from last week to this, and that my ballot deviated the most from the poll in toto.

I do not take that nonconformity lightly. I respect the views of my readers and fellow BlogPollsters, which is why I have changed my votes based upon compelling arguments from other bloggers and thoughtful commenters. I always endeavor to explain my ballot thoroughly and make corrections when my errors are brought to my attention.

If Brian views a ballot as so irrational that it does not deserve to be treated seriously, lest its inclusion skew the poll as a whole, I respect that decision and his right to make it. For the record, though, I would like to answer some of his particular criticisms and thereby illuminate the larger internal logic of my ballot in its entirety.

Pointing out that I ranked U.C.L.A. third, Washington fourth, South Florida ninth, and California 21st, Brian wonders, "Because beating one of the worst schools in a BCS conference (Stanford and Syracuse for UCLA and Washington) and a respectable mid-major (BYU and Boise, respectively) is much more impressive than beating Auburn on the road (#9 USF)? And beating Tennessee thoroughly means nothing if a couple quick scores in a road game against Colorado State narrows that game and causes you to rank Cal #21?"

(Please note that Brian properly places great store by the fact that the Bulls' win over the Plainsmen and the Bears' win over the Rams both took place on the road. However, the Bruins' win over the Cardinal and the Huskies' win over the Orange also took place on the respective losing teams' home fields and California's victory over the Vols occurred in Strawberry Canyon. Those facts ought not to be ignored, in spite of the fact that Brian neglected to mention these pertinent details.)

As I explained in response to a comment from Jeff, the challenge of resume ranking is that each weekend adds new information not just about particular teams, but also about those teams' previous opponents, which affects the value properly to be assigned to earlier victories or defeats.

Georgia Tech's opening win over Notre Dame, for instance, was impressive; that win looks less so, however, in light of Penn State's subsequent victory over the Fighting Irish. The Golden Domers seem less good this week than they seemed last week, so the Ramblin' Wreck deserves reduced credit for having beaten them.

Likewise, California's victory over Tennessee counted for quite a lot, which is why I ranked the Golden Bears third on my ensuing ballot. However, Cal's defense appeared suspect even in that opening game and concerns about that glaring weakness were not assuaged when the Bears defeated Colorado State only narrowly the following Saturday. In addition, the Volunteers' struggles with Southern Mississippi devalued the opening victory by the boys from Berkeley. As set forth by Brian in his BlogPoll voting philosophy, "Winning counts... but style counts, too."

I know Stanford is bad; I acknowledged as much when explaining my ballot. However, a team earns points for going on the road and winning a conference game convincingly, which the Bruins did. I also admitted that Syracuse was a poor team, but the Huskies traveled across the country to defeat the Orange by 30 points.

I give Boise State and Brigham Young credit for being more than merely "respectable mid-major" teams. The Broncos arrived in Seattle sporting the longest winning streak in Division I-A, which included a Fiesta Bowl conquest of Big 12 champion Oklahoma and a 42-14 beatdown of an Oregon State team that won 10 games and beat U.S.C. When the Cougars touched down in California, they had won 11 straight outings, a stretch during which B.Y.U. defeated T.C.U. on the road, Oregon at a neutral site, and Arizona at home, all by double-digit margins.

I take nothing away from the Bulls for their overtime win at Auburn, which earned U.S.F. a spot in my top 10. However, South Florida's season-opening victory was over Elon. A home victory over a lower-division school counts for significantly less in my eyes than a road win over a B.C.S. conference opponent, even a bad one.

I recognize and respect that reasonable people may see it differently from me. I freely acknowledge that I do not believe many of the teams ranked on my ballot will end up anywhere near where they are now. Nevertheless, this is where they are now, based upon the only even vaguely quantifiable criterion by which they might be judged: what they have achieved on the field.

Is Southern California one of the top two or three teams in the country? Yeah, probably so. What have the Trojans done so far this season? They have beaten Idaho at home and taken a week off. If, as I expect will happen, U.S.C. beats Nebraska badly in Lincoln on Saturday, the Men of Troy will rocket up towards the top of the standings. Until they do so, though, giving Pete Carroll's crew a top 10 ranking is nothing more than idle speculation, however informed by previous experience from past seasons. Despite his team affiliation, DC Trojan had no problem with dropping Southern California.

Likewise, the defending national champion Gators probably are better than No. 23 (where I have them ranked), but upon what evidentiary basis more reliable than recruiting rankings (which, as Brian has noted, often are inflated for S.E.C. teams, anyway) could anyone assert that this is so? Don't most of the preseason criticisms directed at Georgia (sophomore quarterback, numerous new defensive starters) apply equally as well to Florida?

Have the Gators played anyone? Shouldn't it tell us something that Saurian Sagacity conscientiously has his own team ranked 17th? Wasn't ranking the Orange and Blue higher than the wins in their ledger warranted a cardinal sin for which the powers that be were excoriated last fall? (Then, as now and as always, I tried to respond reasonably without calling into question the education or loyalty of whole peoples and regions.)

Perhaps I engage in the practice of resume ranking too freely and too early in the season. I would respectfully suggest, however, that Brian errs too much in the opposite direction. He did not submit a ballot last week (following Georgia's 35-14 win over Oklahoma State), nor did he think highly of the Red and Black in the preseason, nor did he rank my alma mater on his current ballot. In the latter instance, he explained:

Of note: the exclusion of the SEC trio I was pessimistic about preseason: UT got clunked good by Cal, Auburn blew it against South Florida, and Georgia's offense squeezed out four field goals in a loss to South Carolina.

That statement is, of course, quite true; the Bulldog O did only manage four field goals in a loss to South Carolina. It also is the case that Georgia lost by four points to a team now ranked 17th in the BlogPoll, beat an up-and-coming B.C.S. conference opponent, and held high-powered Oklahoma State to 14 points and Steve Spurrier's offense to 16 points.

At this point in the season, broadly speaking, the Bulldogs' resume consists of four pieces of information: Georgia's offensive performance against Oklahoma State, Georgia's defensive performance against Oklahoma State, Georgia's offensive performance against South Carolina, and Georgia's defensive performance against South Carolina. Three of those four bits of data operated in the Classic City Canines' favor. Brian cited the lone datum that supported his preseason preconception and ignored those truths which were inconvenient to the conclusion at which he appears to have decided in advance to arrive.

I earned the monikers "Mr. Bold" and "Mr. Manic-Depressive" by being willing and able to admit when I am wrong. When my preseason No. 1 team lost its opening game, I dropped that team from my rankings altogether. I hope and expect that the team I picked to win it all will rebound and put together a successful season, so that I will be able conscientiously to rank that squad later in the year. Until that happens, however, I will openly admit my biases, encourage others to do likewise, think seriously about my ballot, and take solace from the fact that Sunday Morning Quarterback cast his ballot along lines similar to mine (which always is an encouraging sign).

Brian counsels all things in moderation. Fair enough. PSU Mudder said it best:

I think you need to use both methods and switch the emphasis as the season wears on. For instance, before the season startes you can only use the theoretical head to head matchup. Then, as games are played and more info becomes available, slowly shift to resume. By week 7 or 8, you can use resume exclusively. But above all, use the rule of reason. Step back, take a look, and ask "Does this make sense?"

As a native Georgian, I am familiar with the motto of the Empire State of the South, which includes moderation among its tenets. There are, however, two other qualities we in the Peach State are encouraged to exemplify:

I will endeavor to be moderate in all things, including the casting of my BlogPoll ballot, but I insist upon being wise and just, as well, when calling 'em as I see 'em and offering explanations for your critical analysis, piercing inquiry, and civil rebuttal. Fiat justicia, ruat coelum.

Go 'Dawgs!