The 2007 college football season has flown by and the duty has devolved upon me to cast my final BlogPoll ballot of the year. As I did last year, I will endeavor to explain my rankings thoroughly, and, as usual, I did not look at my previous ballot or anyone else's rankings (be they bloggers, sportswriters, or sports information directors) when compiling my final standings.
These, from my perspective, are the top 25 teams in the land:
- Louisiana State
- West Virginia
- Southern California
- Ohio State
- Virginia Tech
- Boston College
- South Florida
- Arizona State
- Brigham Young
- Penn State
- Oregon State
Although I did not determine to award automatically the No. 1 ranking to the winner of the designated B.C.S. championship game, Sunday Morning Quarterback was right to recognize that the winner was bound to be deserving of the national title by virtue of having beaten the other. Consequently, it was with no misgivings that I awarded Louisiana State (12-2) the top spot on my ballot.
Yes, the Bayou Bengals have two losses, but so does every other B.C.S. conference champion and I have a tough time accepting the legitimacy of any national championship contender that isn't a B.C.S. conference champion. Only two of L.S.U.'s twelve victims had records worse than 5-7 and the Fighting Tigers were victorious over a murderer's row of a slate that included a highly motivated Independence Bowl champion Alabama (7-6), Chick-fil-A Bowl champion Auburn (9-4), defending national champion Florida (9-4), Liberty Bowl champion Mississippi State (8-5), Big Ten champion Ohio State (11-2), Outback Bowl champion Tennessee (10-4), and A.C.C. champion Virginia Tech (11-3). As I noted recently, Louisiana State's two losses came in triple overtime against eight-win conference opponents. No other team's achievement over the course of the campaign equaled that of the Bayou Bengals, the champions of a league that went 7-2 in postseason play.
Even more impressive is the fact that Louisiana State won despite being coached by Forrest Gump.
The next three spots went to a trio of teams with identical records: Georgia (11-2), West Virginia (11-2), and Southern California (11-2). I ranked them in that sequence for the following reasons:
- Each of these teams had one respectable loss and one shameful setback. The Red and Black clearly had the least embarrassing "bad" loss, falling to the South Carolina Gamecocks (who were bowl eligible and finished at .500) before Jasper Brinkley's season-ending (and season-altering) injury. The Mountaineers' loss to five-win Pittsburgh in a rivalry game was worse than the defeat dealt the 'Dawgs by the Palmetto State Poultry, and the worst of the three by far was U.S.C.'s collapse against four-win Stanford.
- Likewise, Georgia had the best "good" loss of the bunch, falling on the road in Knoxville to a Tennessee team that represented its division in the S.E.C. championship game, won a New Year's Day bowl game, and finished with ten wins. The Men of Troy sustained a marginally lesser loss in Eugene at the hands of nine-win Sun Bowl champion Oregon. The Ducks defeated in El Paso the selfsame nine-win South Florida squad that defeated W.V.U. in Tampa.
- All three eleven-win squads had two virtually meaningless victories: Georgia beat Division I-AA Western Carolina and Ole Miss (3-9), Southern California beat Idaho (1-11) and Notre Dame (3-9), and West Virginia beat Marshall (3-9) and Syracuse (2-10). (Only the degree of difficulty encountered by Washington in posting a 4-9 season against a rugged schedule kept the Huskies from being counted among the Trojans' worthless wins.)
- In the Classic City Canines' nine meaningful victories, though, the Bulldogs played eight teams with winning records: Independence Bowl champion Alabama (7-6), Chick-fil-A Bowl champion Auburn (9-4), Florida (9-4), Georgia Tech (7-6), W.A.C. champion Hawaii (12-1), Music City Bowl champion Kentucky (8-5), Insight Bowl champion Oklahoma State (7-6), and Sun Belt co-champion Troy (8-4). By contrast, West Virginia beat six teams with winning records: PapaJohns.com Bowl champion Cincinnati (10-3), Connecticut (a very dubious 9-4), Hawaii Bowl champion East Carolina (8-5), Liberty Bowl champion Mississippi State (8-5), Big 12 champion Oklahoma (11-3), and International Bowl champion Rutgers (8-5). The Trojans brought up the rear by getting the better of only four teams with winning records: Arizona State (10-3), Armed Forces Bowl champion Cal (7-6), Illinois (9-4), and Emerald Bowl champion Oregon State (9-4).
Not so much this year, Pete.
On balance, the Bulldogs had the best resume of these three 11-2 teams. Georgia faced a daunting slate including only one Division I-A team that finished more than one game below .500, yet the Red and Black went 7-1 against bowl-bound opponents despite having to negotiate a regular-season schedule featuring squads that collectively went 5-2 in postseason play.
Aside from the Mountaineers' Fiesta Bowl victory over the Sooners, the quality wins posted by Georgia, Southern California, and West Virginia were comparable, as the differences between Arizona State, Auburn, Cincinnati, Florida, and Illinois are slight. The improvement in poll position W.V.U. earned by beating O.U. was hampered by the weakness of the Mountain Men's best loss (to South Florida, as compared to Oregon and Tennessee for the Trojans and the 'Dawgs).
Georgia posted a solid 5-1 ledger against teams that finished with eight or more victories, and West Virginia was a sparkling 6-1 versus competition of that caliber, whereas the Trojans went 3-1 against such opposition. The fact that U.S.C. faced nearly as many Division I-A teams with losing records (eight in a thirteen-game season) as Georgia faced Division I-A teams with winning records (nine in a thirteen-game campaign) also helped cause the Men of Troy to lag slightly behind the Bulldogs and the Mountaineers.
Finally, the degree of dominance demonstrated by the respective contenders was a significant factor, as well. West Virginia saved its best for last, hanging 48 points on Oklahoma in Glendale, but the Mountaineers ran hot and cold down the stretch, beating Mississippi State by 25, Rutgers by 28, and Connecticut by 45, but also struggling with Louisville, Cincinnati, and Pitt, in the final six outings of the regular season. Although U.S.C. appeared to peak after falling at Oregon in late October, the Trojans still only eked out a seven-point win over fading California and Pete Carroll's squad scored more than 24 points only once in Southern California's last five regular-season contests.
Georgia, on the other hand, showed the most significant improvement in the season's second half. Although the Bulldogs, the Mountaineers, and the Trojans all demolished their opponents in B.C.S. bowl games, no team in the country ended its predetermined slate on more of a tear than the Red and Black. Following their close shave in Nashville, the Classic City Canines averaged over 37 points per game in their last five regular-season matchups and beat their three biggest rivals by margins of 12, 25, and 14 points, respectively.
These three wins came, in sequence, against Florida at a neutral site at which the 'Dawgs had lost 13 of their previous 15 meetings with the Gators, against Auburn in a venue in which the Plainsmen held an all-time 17-8 advantage heading into the game, and against Georgia Tech on the Yellow Jackets' home field. Furthermore, the Bulldogs beat by a dozen points a Florida squad whose other three losses came by a combined 13 points and the Red and Black likewise outscored by a 45-20 margin an Auburn team whose other three losses were by a cumulative 14 points. Georgia badly beat a pair of nine-win teams that everyone else barely beat.
We play hard, we win big, and we smooch on good-looking women after the game. Any of you stodgy Big Ten types got a problem with that?
Finishing fifth overall, in spite of the Sooners' latest B.C.S. bowl meltdown, was Oklahoma (11-3). The Big 12 champion ended the season on a down note, but O.U.'s loss to West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl marked the only setback suffered by Bob Stoops's troops in which the margin of defeat was more than a touchdown. All three of Oklahoma's losses were to bowl-bound teams and, although the Sooners' loss to a 6-7 Colorado squad was something of an embarrassment, there is no shame in losing to two teams who won January bowl games.
On the successful side of the team's ledger, Oklahoma had six victories over teams with winning records, beating ten-win Holiday Bowl champion Texas, ten-win GMAC Bowl champion Tulsa, and twelve-win Cotton Bowl champion Missouri twice, with three of those four conquests occurring outside of Norman. The Sooners' slate was not diluted by the inclusion of any Division I-AA opponents and, although O.U. defeated four teams who finished the season with three or fewer wins, Oklahoma won six contests over teams who went a collective 4-1 in bowl games.
Yes, I know Ohio State (11-2) played in the national championship game, but I questioned the Buckeyes' fitness for that bowl berth and O.S.U.'s was not a resume worthy of a top five ranking. Jim Tressel's squad claimed five of its eleven victories against Akron (4-8), Kent State (3-9), Minnesota (1-11), Washington (4-9), and Division I-AA Youngstown State. Solid wins over Alamo Bowl champion Penn State, Capital One Bowl champion Michigan, and nine-win Wisconsin earned the Buckeyes a spot at the table, but wins over six Division I-A teams with six or more losses, coupled with a home loss to an Illinois team that got blown out in Pasadena and a B.C.S. championship game outcome that effectively was decided well in advance of the contest's conclusion, caused Ohio State to slip to No. 6.
The seventh spot belonged to Missouri (12-2). The Tigers' only losses were to Oklahoma, although Mizzou's reputation was not helped by the fact that the Sooners defeated them by a larger margin at a neutral site than they had earlier in the season in Norman. Nevertheless, the Big 12 North champions recorded quality victories over eight-win Arkansas, nine-win Illinois, Orange Bowl champion Kansas, and Gator Bowl champion Texas Tech. Only two of Missouri's eleven victories over Division I-A opposition were recorded against teams who won fewer than five games.
Trailing the Tigers was Virginia Tech (11-3). The Hokies lost ground after falling to the Jayhawks in the Orange Bowl, although all of V.P.I.'s setbacks were respectable: two of them were close contests, one of them was a road game against the eventual national champion, and all of them were to teams who won eleven or more games.
It didn't help that the Hokies also awarded athletic scholarships to those Vick thugs, though.
Virginia Tech's victories over one-win Duke, four-win North Carolina, and Division I-AA William & Mary counted for next to nothing, but the Hokies otherwise tackled a respectable slate, beating eight Division I-A opponents that finished no worse than 5-7. Among V.P.I.'s valuable victories were wins over Champs Sports Bowl champion Boston College, nine-win Clemson, Hawaii Bowl champion East Carolina, and nine-win Virginia.
A New Year's Day bowl win propelled Tennessee (10-4) to a No. 9 ranking. The Volunteers were dragged down by lopsided road losses to Armed Forces Bowl champion Cal, Florida, and Independence Bowl champion Alabama, but the Big Orange had a quality loss to L.S.U. and registered wins against six teams with winning records, including eight-win Arkansas, Sugar Bowl champion Georgia, Music City Bowl champion Kentucky, Liberty Bowl champion Mississippi State, and nine-win Wisconsin.
On the strength of the Ducks' season-long record of achievement, the final spot in the top ten went to Oregon (9-4). Only two of the victims of the team from Eugene finished worse than 5-7 and the Ducks put up worthwhile wins over ten-win Arizona State, Humanitarian Bowl champion Fresno State, eight-win Houston, Capital One Bowl champion Michigan, Rose Bowl champion Southern California, and nine-win South Florida. On account of those impressive victories, Oregon would have finished higher, were it not for the fact that only one of the squad's losses (to Emerald Bowl champion Oregon State) really qualified as respectable. In retrospect, there was nothing but shame in falling to a six-loss Cal team and to Arizona and U.C.L.A. squads that ended up with losing records, although Oregon's strong finish and valid excuse (Dennis Dixon's injury) earned the Ducks the No. 10 ranking.
Lurking just outside the top ten is Boston College (11-3), an A.C.C. divisional champion that notched victories over eight-win Bowling Green, nine-win Clemson, eleven-win Virginia Tech, and nine-win Wake Forest. Wins over six Division I-A squads that finished above .500 offset wins over a pair of 3-9 teams in Army and Notre Dame, but, even after the Eagles extended their postseason winning streak in the Champs Sports Bowl, their rise was hampered by losses to six-loss Florida State and seven-loss Maryland. The case for B.C. was not helped by the fact that the student-athletes of Chestnut Hill faced eight bowl teams who went a combined 1-7 in the postseason.
All year long, my criticism of Kansas (12-1) has remained the same: as soon as the Jayhawks beat someone, I'll rank them higher . . . but not until then. K.U. laid an egg against Missouri, thereby depriving Mark Mangino's club of the opportunity to prove itself against Oklahoma. The Jayhawks' win in the Orange Bowl earned them a ton of credibility in my book, boosting them all the way to 12th.
Out of respect for Kansas's B.C.S. bowl win, I am even going to forego the opportunity to turn the phrase "a ton of credibility" into a joke about Mark Mangino's weight. He does, however, appear to be wearing a skirt in this picture. I'm just saying.
I couldn't, in good conscience, rank Kansas any higher than that, though, because, once you get past the Hokies, the Jayhawks' marquee win was over Central Michigan. V.P.I. is the only Division I-A team K.U. beat that finished the season with fewer than six losses. Kansas defeated three 5-7 teams (Kansas State, Nebraska, and Toledo), two 3-9 teams (Baylor and Iowa State), a 1-11 team (Florida International), and a Division I-AA team (Southeastern Louisiana). The Jayhawks' victims went a combined 1-4 in bowl games. The Orange Bowl win legitimized K.U.'s season, but there's only so much legitimacy a schedule like this can earn a team.
Something similar may be said for Michigan (9-4) in the aftermath of the Wolverines' Capital One Bowl win over the Gators. The Maize and Blue beat three nine-win teams (Florida, Illinois, and Penn State) but Michigan failed to be competitive in losses to Ohio State, Oregon, and Wisconsin, two of which were played in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines' narrow victory over the defending national champions counts for quite a lot, but there's only so much even the most impressive season-ending bowl win can do to overcome the season-opening embarrassment of a close loss to a Division I-AA school.
I wasn't sold on Texas (10-3) until the Longhorns' blowout win in the Holiday Bowl cemented the Burnt Orange's status as a top 15 team. Mack Brown's club claimed half of its ten wins against squads with winning records, including ten-win Arizona State, Conference USA champion Central Florida, Insight Bowl champion Oklahoma State, Texas Bowl champion Texas Christian, and Gator Bowl champion Texas Tech. Those victories bolstered the Longhorns' resume, but they were not enough to get Texas within striking distance of the top ten, as the 'Horns also beat a trio of 3-9 teams (Baylor, Iowa State, and Rice) and lost to five-win Kansas State, blunting the benefit of the Burnt Orange's quality loss to Big 12 champion Oklahoma.
Although I hate Auburn (9-4), I could not deny the Tigers the No. 15 ranking after Tommy Tuberville's team took care of business in tight ballgames against Independence Bowl champion Alabama, eight-win Arkansas, nine-win Clemson, and nine-win Florida, with three of those four victories being earned outside of the so-called Loveliest Village. All of the Plainsmen's losses were to bowl teams with eight or more wins to their credit and three of those losses were by a touchdown or less, including the Tigers' tussle with L.S.U. in Baton Rouge.
When you look at Illinois (9-4), it's easy to focus on the losses. Of the four setbacks suffered by the Fighting Illini, only the early-season close contest against Cotton Bowl champion Missouri was not an embarrassment: being beaten handily by Michigan and Southern California, and falling to a .500 Iowa team, did little for the reputation of Ron Zook's charges. However, six of Illinois's Division I-A victories were over teams at or above .500, including eleven-win Ohio State, nine-win Penn State, and nine-win Wisconsin. That fact improved the Illini's standing, but their ascension was hampered somewhat by the fact that, while the teams that beat Ron Zook's squad went 3-0 in bowl games, the teams that lost to Illinois went 1-4 in postseason play.
Dude, you got obliterated in the Rose Bowl. You'll take your No. 16 ranking and like it. (You want to know why you got obliterated? Southern speed, my man. O.K., Southern California speed, but still. . . .)
Florida (9-4) fell to No. 17 after taking it on the chin in Orlando, but the defending national champions put together a body of work that earned them a spot just outside the top 15. Only one of the Gators' full-fledged Division I-A victims finished with a record worse than 5-7 and U.F.'s wins came against the likes of ten-win Tennessee, eight-win Kentucky, and Sun Belt co-champions Florida Atlantic and Troy. Three of Florida's four losses were close contests, three of them were played elsewhere other than Gainesville, and all of the Saurians' setbacks were suffered at the hands of teams that won nine or more games and posted a cumulative 4-0 record in bowls. The Gators faced eight bowl teams and, between them, those squads went a combined 7-1 in postseason play.
I struggled over where to place Cincinnati (10-3). On the one hand, half of the Bearcats' wins were over teams that finished with winning records, including nine-win Connecticut, Emerald Bowl champion Oregon State, International Bowl champion Rutgers, and nine-win South Florida. On the other hand, Cincy's other five wins came against the likes of Marshall (3-9), San Diego State (4-8), Syracuse (2-10), and Division I-AA Southeast Missouri State. All of Cincinnati's losses were by narrow margins, but two of those setbacks came against a .500 Louisville club and a five-win Pittsburgh squad. In the end, a quality loss to Fiesta Bowl champion West Virginia and a handful of victories over solid teams earned the 'Cats the No. 18 ranking.
Despite the Bulls' embarrassing loss to Oregon in El Paso, South Florida (9-4) remained in the top 20 on the strength of a resume that included wins over Chick-fil-A Bowl champion Auburn, Conference USA champion Central Florida, Sun Belt Conference co-champion and New Orleans Bowl champion Florida Atlantic, and Fiesta Bowl champion West Virginia. Aside from the Sun Bowl drubbing U.S.F. absorbed, all of the Bulls' losses were close contests and the four teams that defeated South Florida all finished with eight or more wins.
I didn't want to drop Arizona State (10-3) all the way to No. 20, but the Sun Devils' pretty record did not withstand much in the way of scrutiny. Eight of A.S.U.'s ten wins came against teams that finished the season with four (San Diego State, Stanford, and Washington), five (Arizona, San Jose State, and Washington State), or six (Colorado and U.C.L.A.) wins.
Of the Sun Devils' two victories over teams with winning records, one came against Armed Forces Bowl champion Cal, which went 7-6. That leaves Arizona State with just one quality victory (over Emerald Bowl champion Oregon State) to offset losses to Oregon, Southern California, and Texas, none of which were competitive. A B.C.S. conference team simply cannot have less to show for a ten-win season than that.
I gave the Devils their due.
I felt badly for not finding a spot in the top 20 for Brigham Young (11-2), but I had trouble finding what I would call a "marquee victory" for the Cougars. When a team's most prominent victories are over the winners of the New Mexico Bowl and the Poinsettia Bowl and over the loser of the Armed Forces Bowl, it's hard to make a case for that team to be ranked any higher, particularly when its record is padded with wins over Colorado State (3-9), San Diego State (4-8), U.N.L.V. (2-10), and Division I-AA Eastern Washington. Eleven wins and victories over a pair of Pac-10 teams (albeit ones with losing records) got B.Y.U. into the rankings, but lopsided losses to Tulsa and U.C.L.A. kept the Cougars from rising any higher.
Having seen four 9-4 teams settle into all but one of the five spots from No. 15 through No. 19, we now begin another run of 9-4 squads from No. 22 to No. 24, starting with Penn State (9-4). (Another nine 9-4 teams find themselves among the others receiving consideration.)
The Nittany Lions' case was not helped by victories over Buffalo (5-7), Florida International (1-11), Notre Dame (3-9), or Temple (4-8), and Joe Paterno's club derived only incremental benefit from P.S.U.'s wins against Indiana (7-6), Iowa (6-6), and Texas A&M (7-6), two of which were narrow escapes. Aside from a close loss to seven-win Michigan State, all of Penn State's setbacks came against quality competition. That fact, when coupled with the Lions' impressive 38-7 pasting of nine-win Wisconsin, gave P.S.U.'s resume adequate heft to get the Alamo Bowl champions into the top 25.
Only one of the eight Division I-A victories claimed by Clemson (9-4) came against a team with fewer than six losses, but only one of the Tigers' Division I-A wins was over an opponent with more than seven losses. Other than Duke (1-11), Wake Forest (9-4), and Division I-AA Furman, every team Tommy Bowden's squad defeated had a record between 5-7 and 8-6. Three of Clemson's losses were to teams that won nine or more games, and two of those were close, but the Tigers fell to seven-win Georgia Tech and their second- and third-best wins were over Florida State and Central Michigan, two teams who finished with six losses apiece after coming up short in bowls with the word "city" in their nomenclature.
I wanted to rank Oregon State (9-4) higher than 24th, but, although I believe the Beavers to be a good team, there is a limit to the level of achievement represented by O.S.U.'s---excuse me, O.S.'s---resume. The Beavers deserve credit for quality wins over nine-win bowl champions Oregon and Utah, but Oregon State was dragged down by the rest of its schedule.
The rest of its schedule . . . and the uniforms, of course.
Seven of the Beavers' nine victims were Arizona (5-7), Cal (7-6), Maryland (6-7), Stanford (4-8), Washington (4-9), Washington State (5-7), and Division I-AA Idaho State, who ranged from mediocre to awful. Even though the squad from Corvallis faced a slate that was less than daunting, four of O.S.'s eight Division I-A victories came by margins of a touchdown or less and none of the Beavers' four losses was competitive. Road losses to such bowl-bound teams with ten or more victories as Arizona State, Cincinnati, and Southern California by margins of 12, 31, and 21 points, respectively, may have been forgivable, but a home loss by 26 points to a U.C.L.A. team that finished with a losing record is inexcusable.
Finally, I awarded the No. 25 ranking to Hawaii (12-1). A twelve-win season has to count for something, but the Warriors no more deserve a higher ranking than they deserved their Sugar Bowl berth. June Jones's former charges claimed ten of their twelve victories in singularly unimpressive fashion, beating Idaho (1-11), New Mexico State (4-9), U.N.L.V. (2-10), Utah State (2-10), and Division I-AA Charleston Southern and Northern Colorado while having to escape narrowly upset bids by Louisiana Tech (5-7), Nevada (6-7), San Jose State (5-7), and Washington (4-9). Wins against Humanitarian Bowl champion Fresno State and ten-win Boise State were inadequate to overcome the utter annihilation the Aloha State Adventurers endured in New Orleans.
Varying degrees of consideration were given to Air Force (9-4), Boise State (10-3), Central Florida (10-4), Connecticut (9-4), Fresno State (9-4), New Mexico (9-4), Texas Tech (9-4), Tulsa (10-4), Utah (9-4), Virginia (9-4), Wake Forest (9-4), and Wisconsin (9-4). Because this posting has gone on long enough already, I will not go through the reasons those teams were not included, but, if anyone is interested in learning why a particular squad did not make the grade, you may leave me a comment below and I will do my best to offer an explanation. No teams with five or more losses were considered for inclusion in my top 25.
If it was a bowl game, I wasn't either driving a car or practicing law while it was being played, and it wasn't broadcast on the NFL Network, I watched it. Heck, I even watched Appalachian State beat Delaware in the Division I-AA national championship game because that outcome was relevant to my evaluation of the Wolverines' resume.
As always, I welcome your constructive criticisms in the comments below. The final BlogPoll will be released on Thursday afternoon. In the meantime, while you're in a ballot-oriented mood, be sure to go vote for Sunday Morning Quarterback for best sports blog. Also, be on the lookout for the next CFB Weekly radio show, for which I was interviewed again in the aftermath of Georgia's Sugar Bowl victory.