I finally caved. Much like its running game has done to every opposing defense this season, Alabama wore me down and left me no choice but to leap the Crimson Tide over the Gators and into the No. 1 spot.
After Boise State narrowly escaped Tulsa last week, mid-major fans warned me on Twitter not to apply the transitive property to college football games. Frankly, I considered this an excuse because Boise State had beaten Tulsa by a touchdown while soon-to-be 3-3 Oklahoma had beaten the Golden Hurricane by 45, but I understood the sentiment. Things change from week to week in college football. Still, that doesn't mean we can't find some truths when comparing two teams' common opponents.
In the case of Alabama and Florida, Arkansas is that common opponent. (Yes, the Tide and Gators also both played Kentucky, but while the Gators were more dominant early, each squad beat the Wildcats soundly.) Since each team ranks among the nation's elite in defense, we'll concentrate on that side of the ball. On Sept. 25 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama's defense dominated the Razorbacks despite losing a dynamic linebacker (Dont'a Hightower) to injury. The Crimson Tide held Hogs quarterback Ryan Mallett to 180 passing yards, sacked him three times and harassed him to the tune of 25 incomplete passes. Arkansas' longest play from scrimmage was a 25-yard pass from Mallett to Joe Adams, a receiver who didn't play against Florida because he suffered a mild stroke a few weeks ago. Also, the Crimson Tide had to face Arkansas starting tailback Michael Smith, who didn't play against the Gators.
On Oct. 17 in Gainesville, Florida's defense also lost a dynamic linebacker (Brandon Spikes) to injury -- though not for the season, as was the case with Hightower. Against the Gators, Mallett still completed less than 50 percent of his passes (12-of-27) and threw for 224 yards. He was sacked four times. The difference was the big plays. Florida allowed a 75-yard touchdown pass to Greg Childs, a 42-yard run by Dennis Johnson and a 26-yard completion from Mallett to London Crawford.
This all may sound nitpicky, but when you're dealing with the nation's two best teams, you have to pick a few small things to assess which one is better at a given moment. Fortunately for us, if Alabama and Florida keep winning, they'll get to settle the argument on the field.
As we move down the rankings, we come to our first iron triangle of the season. What's an iron triangle? Think Oklahoma-Texas-Texas Tech in 2008. In this case Georgia Tech, Miami and Virginia Tech are the points of the triangle. Miami beat Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech beat Miami and Georgia Tech beat Virginia Tech. So what's a sportswriter to do? I decided to keep the three together with Miami ahead of Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. Under any other circumstances, the two-loss Hokies would have fallen more, but since that other loss came against Alabama, they get a pass. I may change the order based on performance, but until one of the three loses, I'll do my best to keep the ACC Coastal Division foes together.
After No. 19, the rankings get messy. I bumped up two teams (Wisconsin and Notre Dame) that played impressive opponents tough but lost. I brought in a WAC team (Idaho) that is having a great season but may or may not be good enough to beat some of the middling SEC and Big 12 teams ranked below it. With so few teams really distinguishing themselves, it's tough to choose those final five or six teams.
So don't be surprised if I make wholesale changes next week at the bottom of the poll. And depending on how the Gators and Crimson Tide perform in the coming weeks, don't be shocked if you see another change at the top.
NCAA Football Power Rankings
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