I am working my way through my BlogPoll ballot, having set forth the ground rules, the also-rans, and Nos. 25 through 16. I now come to the ten teams I have ranked between sixth and 15th, which I provide for your consideration, commentary, and constructive criticism; viz.:
15. Oklahoma Sooners (10-3): Here is where head-to-head competition becomes problematic: Baylor, Kansas State, and Oklahoma all went 10-3 while playing in the Big 12, with the Sooners beating the Wildcats, the Wildcats beating the Bears, and the Bears beating the Sooners. If I used the head-to-head result to differentiate between No. 16 Kansas State and No. 17 Baylor, why do I have No. 15 Oklahoma ahead of them both? Because the Sooners played the strongest schedule of the three: Oklahoma faced no Division I-AA opponents, while Baylor and Kansas State faced one each; Oklahoma and Kansas State each faced only one Division I-A team that finished with more than seven losses, while Baylor faced two; and, finally, Oklahoma beat seven Division I-A teams that finished with winning records, while Baylor and Kansas State beat five and four, respectively. The Sooners claimed wins over Kansas State, Florida State, and Missouri, with two of their three losses coming on the road against teams that finished with double-digit win totals. However, Oklahoma was unable to rise higher because a three-point home loss to Texas Tech (5-7) marred the Sooners’ otherwise solid resume.
14. Wisconsin Badgers (11-3): Wiscy was a lot like Okie, as the Badgers claimed most of their victories over teams with winning records while suffering three losses, two of which were respectable and one of which was to a team that concluded the campaign with seven setbacks in its ledger. What allowed Wisconsin to advance past the Sooners were a slightly better “worst loss” (by four points to bowl-bound Ohio State on the road, as opposed to at home against the bowl-less Red Raiders) and a superior combination of “best wins” (over No. 13 Michigan State, No. 21 Nebraska, No. 23 Penn State, and de facto No. 26 Northern Illinois).
13. Michigan St. Spartans (11-3): The head-to-head tiebreaker wouldn’t work when differentiating between Michigan State and Wisconsin, as each won a close one over the other to finish the season series at 1-1. Ultimately, Sparty came out on top in a close contest, for two reasons. First of all, assuming their wins over one another cancel each other out, Michigan State’s best and second-best wins (over No. 8 Michigan and No. 22 Georgia) were better than Wisconsin’s (over No. 21 Nebraska and No. 23 Penn State). Secondly, although the Badgers and the Spartans each beat one Division I-AA opponent and four Division I-A outfits with nine or more losses, MSU had more good wins (over a trio of teams with ten or more wins) and no losses to teams with records worse than 8-5.
12. Houston Cougars (13-1): I didn’t punish Houston too much for losing convincingly at home to a marginal top 25 team, but I couldn’t ignore the fact that the Cougars defeated only one team with a record better than 8-5 while feasting on a soft schedule featuring Division I-AA Georgia State and four Division I-A teams with eight or more losses apiece. Houston was buoyed by a solid win over Penn State, which allowed a once-beaten Cougar club with seven wins over Division I-A teams with losing records to slip past a thrice-beaten Spartan unit with six wins over Division I-A squads with losing records.
11. USC Trojans (10-2): Southern California’s resume looks a lot like Houston’s, believe it or not. Both teams beat five opponents with winning records, four of whom finished either 7-6 or 8-5; both teams beat four opponents with eight or more losses. However, although the Trojans were harmed by a road loss to Arizona State (6-7), USC faced fewer weak sisters---Southern California did not schedule a Division I-AA opponent, and the Men of Troy notched only five victories over teams with losing ledgers---and claimed a much more impressive scalp (Oregon’s, on the road) than the best Houston was able to count.
10. Stanford Cardinal (11-2): The Cardinal can claim two “good” losses---to twelve-win Oklahoma State and Oregon outfits---and Stanford edged the Trojans in the rankings because the Cardinal defeated USC on the field (in Los Angeles in overtime). However, Stanford’s rise past the No. 10 spot was hampered by the fact that six of the Cardinal’s eleven wins were over opponents who finished with eight or more losses.
9. TCU Horned Frogs (11-2): Texas Christian had no bad losses, as both the Frogs’ setbacks came in single-score games against opponents with eight or more wins. TCU also recorded six of its eleven wins over opponents who finished above .500, including Boise State and Brigham Young. However, the Horned Frogs’ remaining five wins were over Division I-AA Portland State and four teams who all lost at least eight outings, so a superior “best win” earned TCU a spot above Stanford while a weaker overall slate landed the Frogs one spot below the Maize and Blue.
8. Michigan Wolverines (11-2): Michigan, like Texas Christian, finished 11-2 with a pair of losses to clubs with a combined 18 victories between them. Though the Horned Frogs had the better “best win” (over Boise State, rather than Virginia Tech), the Wolverines had the better second-best win (over Nebraska, rather than BYU), and, while San Diego State provided TCU’s third-best scalp, the Aztecs were only the fourth-best club bested by the Maize and Blue (after Notre Dame). All told, Michigan beat seven teams with winning records (as opposed to the Horned Frogs’ six), the Wolverines did not face a Division I-AA opponent (unlike Texas Christian), and the Maize and Blue’s victims included just three opponents with losing records, only one of whom had more than seven losses.
7. South Carolina Gamecocks (11-2): The logic behind ranking the Garnet and Black ahead of Michigan is similar to the rationale underlying the ranking of the Wolverines in front of TCU. Both Michigan and South Carolina went 11-2 with a road loss to an eleven-win conference foe. However, the Gamecocks arguably had a slightly better second loss (to Auburn, rather than to Iowa), arguably had a slightly better slate overall (South Carolina’s victims did not include any Division I-A opponents with more than seven losses), and unquestionably a better trio of top scalps: Michigan’s and South Carolina’s respective second-best wins were over No. 21 Nebraska, although the Maize and Blue got the Cornhuskers in Ann Arbor, while the Garnet and Black drew the Big Red Machine at a neutral site; South Carolina’s best victim (No. 19 Clemson) twice trounced Michigan’s best victim (No. 20 Virginia Tech); and, as an extra added bonus, the ‘Cocks carded a third-best win (over No. 22 Georgia on the road) that deserves more credit than the Wolverines’ third-best win (over five-loss Notre Dame at home).
6. Oregon Ducks (12-2): Despite having the less fearsome avian mascot, Oregon ended up in front of South Carolina. The Ducks had one more win, the Ducks suffered a better pair of losses (to teams with a combined 23-3 record), and, although Oregon and South Carolina had equal numbers of wins over teams with winning records (5), the Ducks had the better marquee wins (over No. 10 Stanford and No. 14 Wisconsin, as compared to the Gamecocks’ victories over No. 19 Clemson and No. 21 Nebraska).
Coming Soon: The top five.