Oregon ascends to top spot, while Alabama sinks after upset loss
This week's Disgrace to the University came not from my e-mail, but from the Associated Press poll. Some of my fellow voters have shamed their alma maters with their inability to follow instructions and their general disregard for common sense.
The AP doesn't offer a ton of voting guidelines, but this is a big one: Pay attention to head-to-head results. I might be able to forgive the voting colleagues who forgot that Arizona beat Iowa a few weeks ago, but there was no avoiding South Carolina's 35-21 win against then No. 1 Alabama on Saturday. It was broadcast on national television. It led SportsCenter. It probably made the front page of the sports section of the newspapers where most of these voters work. I could also forgive this -- and might have done the same thing myself -- if South Carolina had more losses than Alabama. But when the losses are equal, the head-to-head should break the tie. Instead, Alabama is ranked two spots ahead of a fellow one-loss team that just beat the Crimson Tide by two touchdowns.
Nineteen voters ranked Alabama ahead of South Carolina less than 24 hours after the Gamecocks thumped the Crimson Tide. You can see all their identities here, but the biggest forehead-slappers came from Desmond Conner of The Hartford Courant and John Werner of the Waco Herald-Tribune. Conner must have slept through Saturday after covering Connecticut-Rutgers on Friday, because he ranked Alabama third and South Carolina 13th. Werner attempted to close the gap, but he did something equally dumbfounding. In addition to ranking Alabama above South Carolina, he also ranked South Carolina above Auburn, the currently undefeated team that handed the Gamecocks their only loss.
The poll forces us into a lot of silly hypotheticals. Would Boise State beat Ohio State on a neutral field? Who really knows? Sometimes, though, we have actual on-field results to inform our voting. We don't have to wonder what would happen if Alabama and South Carolina played. We know.
In the coming weeks, it will get much more difficult to honor the results of head-to-head matchups. (I dare you not to go cross-eyed when you read later in this column what will happen relative to head-to-heads if Arkansas beats Auburn.) But this particular case was easy. South Carolina won convincingly, the teams had an equal number of losses and the Gamecocks' loss didn't come from a team Alabama had beaten.
I hope that if I were to make such an egregious goof on my ballot, my colleagues would subject me to similar shame. I'd certainly name myself Disgrace to the University for the following week. Voting like this kills our credibility.
Last Week: 2
Oregon Ducks (6-0)A reader noticed my concern last week about Oregon's total yards allowed and sent me an interesting stat. The Ducks actually gave up fewer yards per play than Alabama. (Because Oregon runs plays so quickly, the other team also has an opportunity to run more plays -- hence more yards.) Since Alabama is out of the picture for the moment, let's compare the Oregon defense to fellow top fivers TCU, Boise State and Ohio State, which rank 1-2-3 in the nation in total defense. TCU allows 4.2 yards per play, Boise State allows 4.0 yards per play and Ohio State allows 4.1 yards per play. Oregon allows 4.6 yards per play. So while it isn't quite as stout as the other elite defenses, Oregon's defense is not the liability its total yardage stat makes it out to be. With the Ducks running the nation's most explosive offense, the defense is plenty good enough to keep Oregon ahead of anyone else on the scoreboard.
Last game: Beat Washington State, 43-23
Next game: Oct. 21 vs. UCLA
Last Week: 3
Ohio St. Buckeyes (6-0)Miami's shellacking at the hands of Florida State -- at home, no less -- seriously harmed the credibility of the Buckeyes' signature win to this point. Fortunately, Ohio State has a chance to earn back that credibility by dominating in Madison this week. But if Ohio State struggles, it may be time to drop the Buckeyes back below Boise State.
Last game: Beat Indiana, 38-10
Next game: Saturday at Wisconsin
Last Week: 4
Boise St. Broncos (5-0)Nothing Boise State does from this point will impress certain voters. Those people believe the Broncos are a curiosity. Still, if Boise State can keep scoring 50 while holding opponents below 20, the sheer dominance could help overcome the strength of schedule argument for more open-minded pollsters. The Broncos might also get some help from Virginia Tech and Oregon State, the two AQ-conference teams on their schedule. Virginia Tech's loss to James Madison harmed the Hokies' and the Broncos' credibility, but the Hokies haven't lost since. The Beavers, meanwhile, went on the road and beat previously undefeated Arizona last week. If Oregon State challenges for the Pac-10 title, it will only help Boise State.
Last game: Beat Toledo, 57-14
Next game: Saturday at San Jose State
Last Week: 5
TCU Horned Frogs (6-0)The Horned Frogs aren't going to get their due credit because of the Mountain West's television contracts. Almost no one gets The mtn., and the average college football fan -- or poll voter -- doesn't think to flip to Versus to watch games. Unless the AQ-conference teams at the top of the poll all lose, TCU may not rise higher than No. 4 because of its absence from the ESPN family of networks.
Last game: Beat Wyoming, 45-0
Next game: Saturday vs. BYU
Last Week: 6
Nebraska Cornhuskers (5-0)It was on the same week last year that Ndamukong Suh entered the national football consciousness with a Thursday-night freak show highlighted by his pretzel-twisting of Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert. This past Thursday, Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez entered the national football consciousness with a 241-yard, four-touchdown rushing performance complemented by a ridiculously efficient passing night (5-of-7 for 128 yards and one touchdown). The difference? Martinez could actually win the Heisman Trophy because he plays quarterback, one of the three positions most Heisman Trophy voters recognize. A big game against Texas would put Martinez in the thick of the Heisman race.
Last game: Beat Kansas State, 48-13
Next game: Saturday vs. Texas
Last Week: 7
Oklahoma Sooners (5-0)Of the remaining undefeated AQ-conference schools, the Sooners have the easiest path to an undefeated regular season. Obviously, they'd need to beat Nebraska in the final Big 12 title game, but Oregon, Ohio State and the SEC schools have tougher roads. Bob Stoops complained at the start of the season that the Sooners should follow their counterparts' example and schedule more cupcakes, but Oklahoma's challenging out-of-conference schedule (Florida State, Air Force, at Cincinnati) could make the Sooners more attractive at the end of the season if the Big 12 is as mediocre as it appears.
Last game: Beat Texas, 28-20
Next game: Saturday vs. Iowa State
Last Week: 8
Utah Utes (5-0)The Utes just keep coming. Iowa State was supposed to offer the plucky Mountain West upstart a challenge. Utah scored 68 on the Cyclones. Remember when you read here last week that the Utes would find ways to get the ball in sophomore Reggie Dunn's hands? Saturday, Coach Kyle Whittingham let Dunn return a kickoff for the first time. Dunn took it 100 yards for a touchdown.
Last game: Beat Iowa State, 68-27
Next game: Saturday at Wyoming
Last Week: 10
Auburn Tigers (6-0)The Tigers survived a scare from Kentucky on Saturday. Now comes the grind. They'll get Arkansas on Saturday, followed by LSU the following week. The only saving grace is that both games are at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Win both, and Auburn probably cracks the top five.
Last game: Beat Kentucky, 37-34
Next game: Saturday vs. Arkansas
Last Week: 17
South Carolina Gamecocks (4-1)South Carolina fans are a lot like Chicago Cubs fans -- only more downtrodden and with a greater appetite for sweet tea vodka. They assumed when quarterback Stephen Garcia took an inexplicable safety against Alabama on Saturday that the wheels would fall off. They didn't. South Carolina recovered. Now, the faithful believe the Chicken Curse will strike in Lexington in a classic letdown game. That's possible, but if the Gamecocks realize what's at stake, they won't slip. South Carolina is good enough this year to win the SEC East -- and maybe the entire conference. If the Gamecocks believe that, they may ward off the curse.
Last game: Beat Alabama, 35-21
Next game: Saturday at Kentucky
Last Week: 1
Alabama Crimson Tide (5-1)Alabama lost more than a game Saturday. It also lost its aura of invincibility. (Not to mention receiver Julio Jones, who broke his hand, and right tackle D.J. Fluker, who injured his groin.) Teams will no longer fear the Crimson Tide, and that will make Alabama's opponents tougher to beat. Still, it would be foolish to say South Carolina provided the blueprint for beating Alabama. It's only a blueprint for teams with a dominant tailback, a pair of 6-foot-4 receivers and an athletic defense that can cover receivers for six seconds a play. LSU is the only team remaining on Alabama's schedule that fits that description. Of course, Tigers coach Les Miles likes to draw his own blueprints.
Last game: Lost to South Carolina, 35-21
Next game: Saturday vs. Ole Miss