I'll admit, after Texas fell to Texas Tech last Saturday, I had a hard time filling out the top of my ballot this week. The easy thing to do would be to just move Alabama up, but you could certainly make an argument for undefeated Texas Tech, who had just knocked off the previous #1. And what about Penn State? And the other 3 undefeated teams in major college football? Don't they deserve some consideration?
As we get later into the year, rankings become more solidifed as we have more data to work with. As such, it's worth it to go back an examine the records of the top teams to see if our previous assumptions still hold. This week, we'll be looking at the résumés of the last 6 undefeated teams in Division I-A.
Without any losses between them, we have to try a little harder to differentiate these teams. Criteria such as 'best win' or 'closest call' become more important. 'Style points' have a role to play here. Some teams have had more of an opportunity to prove themselves than others; how much do we reward teams for playing tough schedules? How much to we penalize teams for playing a bunch of softies? How do we justify leaving teams out of the consideration for the top spot when they've won all of their games?
Honestly? I don't know the answers to all of these questions. If you have some ideas, leave them in the comments. On to the résumés (in alphabetical order):
Best win: 41-30 @ Georgia (7-2)
Close calls: 17-14 vs. Kentucky (6-3), 24-20 vs. Mississippi (5-4)
'Bama is living off of their epic first half at Georgia, in which the Tide rolled to a 31-0 halftime lead. However, in light of Florida's similar dismantling of the 'Dawgs (and, to a lesser extent, Arizona State's 6-game losing streak), beating up Georgia has lost a little bit of its luster. Nothing else on their résumé is particularly impressive; normally, wins over Clemson and Tennessee would be worth something, but both of those teams have already fired their head coaches. Close calls against Kentucky and Mississippi are forgivable, especially considering that Alabama had decent halftime leads in both game before letting their opponents back in the game, but still worrisome with LSU up this week and probably Florida in the SEC Championship game.
Ball State (8-0)
Best win: 35-23 vs. Navy (6-3)
Close calls: None
Why is Ball State still under the radar, ranked in the mid-teens? Blame the terribly soft schedule (and related lack of TV exposure) that they've played. Navy is a decent win, but their next best opponent? 3-6 Indiana? 4-4 Akron? I have no idea. To their credit, none of these softies have come within two touchdowns of the Cardinals, but let's face it: there are probably two dozen teams in the country that could have gone undefeated vs. this sorry schedule. You'd love to see Ball State get a shot at one of the Big Boys of college football, but in no way do they deserve to be ranked in the Top 10.
Boise State (8-0)
Best win: 37-32 @ Oregon (6-3)
Close calls: None
Boise has been there, done that with regards to BCS busting, so pollsters are more inclined to give their soft schedule some slack. And make no mistake: other than the win at Oregon, it's not terribly impressive. The Oregon win was fairly impressive, though, and not as close as the final score indicated. Plus, I think teams like Michigan and Oklahoma could tell you how difficult it is to win in Autzen. Still, Boise isn't winning a national championship with this schedule, and the Oregon win is really the only thing separating the Bronco's résumé from that of Ball State.
Penn State (9-0)
Best wins: 13-6 @ Ohio State (7-2), 45-14 vs. Oregon State (5-3)
Close calls: None
Penn State is clearly the class of the Big 10, but that may not be saying that much. The absolute destruction of Oregon State looked a lot better after the Beavers took down USC, moreso now that the Trojans have kept winning (which also keeps Ohio State's other loss from looking too bad). Though Penn State beat Illinois by two touchdowns, it was a tight game until late, and other than the Ohio State game, it was the only time the Nittany Lions have been tested this year.
Texas Tech (9-0)
Best wins: 39-33 vs. Texas (8-1), 63-21 @ Kansas (6-3)
Close calls: 37-31 (OT) vs. Nebraska (5-4)
The Red Raiders had another typically cupcake non-conference schedule this year, but a win over Texas and a blowout of a decent Kansas team are still two mighty impressive feathers in their cap. If Texas Tech can run through the Big XII South unscathed, I can't see any reason for them not to be in the BCS Title Game, but a near-upset at home vs. middling Nebraska suggests that that's unlikely to happen.
Best wins: 31-28 vs. Oregon State (5-3), 30-23 @ Air Force (7-2)
Close calls: 25-23 @ Michigan (2-7), 13-10 @ New Mexico (4-6)
The Utes' win in the Big House is not nearly so impressive as it was a few months ago, with the Wolverines already guaranteed a losing season, and especially after Toledo repeated the feat a month later, then fired their coach last week. The Oregon State win is a nice notch on the belt, but when compared to the Beavers lopsided loss to Penn State, it's not nearly so valuable. Meanwhile, top teams should never have trouble winning at teams like New Mexico (that means you, Arizona). The Utes get a couple of nice chances to prove themselves vs. TCU and BYU later this month, but I doubt Utah can win both games, and they might not win either.
Next week, we'll look at the major one-loss teams still remaining. For now, here's our Top 25 ballot for the week:
Dropped Out: Tulsa (#16), Florida State (#17), Minnesota (#19), Oregon (#21).