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Final 2009 College Football BlogPoll Ballot Explained

In the immediate aftermath of the national championship game, I posted a preliminary draft of my BlogPoll ballot and responded to constructive criticisms of it. While I remain open to (and, in fact, openly solicit) alternative viewpoints, I am (for the moment) sticking with my original top 25, which is as follows:

Rank Team Delta
1 Alabama
2 Boise State 2
3 Florida 3
4 TCU 1
5 Cincinnati 3
6 Texas 3
7 Ohio State 1
8 Iowa 2
9 Brigham Young 13
10 Georgia Tech 1
11 Virginia Tech 5
12 Oregon 5
13 Miami (Florida) 5
14 Southern Cal 1
15 Pittsburgh 4
16 West Virginia 5
17 Penn State 7
18 Utah
19 Wisconsin 6
20 Nebraska 3
21 Mississippi
22 Houston
23 Oklahoma State 2
24 LSU 12
25 Texas Tech
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: Arizona (#13), Oregon State (#14), Stanford (#17), California (#20).

Alabama is No. 1 and there is no serious argument for the proposition that Alabama is not No. 1. I am more open to arguments for deserving mid-majors than most, but the Crimson Tide went undefeated against a fourteen-game slate that included ten Division I-A opponents that ended the season with winning records, including No. 3 Florida, No. 6 Texas, No. 21 Ole Miss, and No. 24 Louisiana State. No other team’s resume comes close to matching that. Any voter who doesn’t place ‘Bama atop his ballot is being deliberately contrary or intellectually dishonest.

Even though the Gators beat nine Division I-A teams with winning records, as compared to the Broncos’ six, Boise State edged Florida for the runner-up spot due to the WAC champions’ unblemished record and the fact that BSU’s two best wins (over No. 4 Texas Christian and No. 12 Oregon) trumped the Sunshine State Saurians’ most noteworthy conquests (over No. 5 Cincinnati and No. 24 LSU). Yes, Florida won the Sugar Bowl more handily than Boise State won the Fiesta Bowl, but who thinks the Bearcats are as good as the Horned Frogs, and what other teams did the Gators really beat in a down year for the SEC?

While both TCU and Cincy finished with 12-1 records after BCS bowl losses, the Frogs got the nod for a couple of reasons. First of all, the Mountain West champs’ postseason setback was significantly more competitive than the Big East winners’ was. Secondly, Texas Christian’s pelts included No. 9 BYU, No. 18 Utah, and ACC Atlantic Coastal Atlanticoastal Coastalantic whichever division Georgia Tech isn’t in champion Clemson. That record of achievement outshone the record compiled by the Bearcats against No. 15 Pitt, No. 16 West Virginia, and "other receiving consideration" Rutgers.

The Longhorns slipped all the way to sixth because, at the end of the day, there wasn’t a lot of "there" there. After fifteen minutes of making it close to start the second half, Texas lost by a comfortable margin a national championship game in which it appeared the Big 12 conference champions would be routed. While I feel badly for Colt McCoy, Brodie Parker McElroy was wounded, too, and Mark Ingram was off the field for long stretches, as well. Injuries are a part of the game, as is overcoming adversity in the face of personnel losses. The bottom line is that the Longhorns’ best win was a lucky escape at a neutral site over the team I have ranked 20th. The Texas record for 2009 contains neither a quality loss nor a signature win.

Ohio State overcame an embarrassing loss to a Purdue team that finished 5-7 by carding wins over Iowa, Oregon, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Navy. The Hawkeyes, whom the Buckeyes beat narrowly in Columbus, finished a notch behind the Big Ten champions after adding Georgia Tech to a list of victims that already included the Nittany Lions and the Badgers. BYU rode a convincing bowl win over Oregon State into the top ten after ending the regular season with a triumph over Utah. The Cougars, like the Longhorns, claimed a close victory at a neutral site in the Lone Star State against a middling Oklahoma team.

I hated to rank Brigham Young so high after the Cougs’ embarrassing losses to Florida State and TCU, but the next best team in the countdown was the Golden Tornado. The Ramblin’ Wreck claimed five of the Engineers’ ten victories over Division I-A opponents by margins of a touchdown or less and lost by double-digit margins to Miami and Iowa outside of Atlanta. Nevertheless, the Yellow Jackets beat Virginia Tech and Clemson (twice), so I couldn’t very well park Georgia Tech behind the Hokies.

Frank Beamer’s Gobblers sustained a trio of respectable losses---two were close; only one was at home; two came against teams that finished with double-digit win totals---and beat both Miami and Nebraska. Oregon suffered a similar set of losses, although none of the Ducks’ defeats was by a single-score margin, and wins over the Trojans and the Utes counterbalanced setbacks at the hands of a pair of top seven teams in venues outside Eugene.

The Hurricanes’ narrow victories over Florida State and Oklahoma have more name recognition than actual quality, but Miami’s resume is bolstered by a big win over Georgia Tech. The ‘Canes sustained four losses in mostly respectable fashion, as two of their setbacks were by seven or fewer points, three of them were in stadiums other than their own, and three of them were to teams that finished with nine or more wins.

Had the Trojans gone 10-3, Southern California would have been ranked much higher. Even without a Pac-10 championship and a Rose Bowl berth, wins over Boston College, Cal, Ohio State, and Oregon State would have more than made up for losses to eight-win Arizona and Stanford and ten-win Oregon. The loss to Washington that dropped USC to 9-4, though, cost the Men of Troy more than a few poll positions.

Pitt did go 10-3, but one of the Panthers’ three close losses was to N.C. State, so, like the Trojans, Pittsburgh had an early road loss to a 5-7 conference opponent. Nevertheless, wins over Connecticut, Navy, North Carolina, and Rutgers combined to boost Pitt over a West Virginia squad that beat the Panthers head-to-head in Morgantown but lost ground due to less than competitive outings on unfamiliar fields against Auburn, Florida State, and South Florida.

The Nittany Lions only made it as high as No. 17 because their last win was the only one that amounted to anything. Penn State was not competitive in home losses to fellow 11-2 finishers Iowa and Ohio State. Joe Paterno’s squad claimed eight of its eleven victories over teams that play in Division I-AA or finished with a losing record, including non-conference pushovers Akron (3-9), Illinois (3-9), and Syracuse (4-8). The only three teams PSU defeated that finished with records better than 6-7 were LSU, Northwestern, and Temple.

The Utes were in a situation similar to Penn State’s: Utah beat three teams with winning records, one of which was a Wyoming club that ended up at 7-6 after an overtime bowl win. However, due to quality road losses to BYU and Oregon, as well as a convincing bowl victory over Cal, Utah made it into the top 20.

At the risk of being redundant and repetitive (and redundant), Wisconsin beat four teams that finished above .500 and failed to take the field against Iowa and Ohio State. The bowl win over Miami got the Badgers into the top 25, but their second-best win was an overtime affair against Fresno State at home.

Nebraska likewise benefited from an exceptional postseason performance and a pair of quality losses against Texas and Virginia Tech. However, the Cornhuskers were unable to climb any higher than 20th because they lost at home to an Iowa State team that finished 7-6 and none of Nebraska’s victims ended up better than 8-5. Late-season wins over LSU and Oklahoma State served Ole Miss well, but a resume including two triumphs over Division I-AA opponents and road losses to Mississippi State and South Carolina left a nine-win SEC team languishing at No. 21. I told you it was a down year for the conference.

Houston rode wins over the Cowboys and the Red Raiders to a No. 22 finish, one spot ahead of the Pokes. Oklahoma State lost to better teams than the Cougars did, but none of the Waddies’ four setbacks was by a single-digit margin, and, before anyone criticizes me for ranking a Houston outfit that fell to four-win UTEP, please note that the Cougs beat four opponents that finished above .500 . . . which is more than may be said of Louisiana State, Nebraska, Penn State, Texas Tech, Utah, or Wisconsin.

The Bayou Bengals dropped close decisions to the Rebels in the Magnolia State and to the Nittany Lions in the Sunshine State, but Les Miles’s crew lost by slightly wider margins against the SEC’s top two teams. At the end of the day, LSU’s best win was a narrow escape over Georgia following a questionable penalty call. That wasn’t much, but it got the Fighting Tigers in ahead of Texas Tech, which lost to an Aggie unit that ended up 6-7 and defeated only two Division I-A opponents with winning records. One of those was a road win over Nebraska, though, so the Red Raiders got credit for being the only team to beat the Cornhuskers by more than a field goal.

Central Michigan might have made it into my final rankings if either of the Chippewas’ road games against 8-5 BCS conference teams had been close, but, ultimately, CMU’s best win was over Troy, and that only barely. Navy was impressive against Missouri, but a loss to a Hawaii team that went 6-7 and no wins over teams that went better than 8-5 torpedoed the Midshipmen. Rutgers got to 9-4 by beating two Division I-AA teams, three 8-5 Division I-A teams, and four Division I-A teams with losing records. The Scarlet Knights’ victory over South Florida couldn’t overcome a lopsided loss to Cincinnati and an embarrassing setback suffered at the hands of lowly Syracuse.

As a resume ranker, I afford equal weight to every Division I-A game on a team’s slate, so bowl results are no more important than season-opening outcomes. I remain open to suggestions and persuasive arguments, and, if anyone wants to make a case for a five-loss team to be included, I am skeptical, but I am listening.

Go ‘Dawgs!