College football polls don't offer much to see behind the curtain: not only are there no official guidelines for voters to use when submitting their ballots, but there are no explanations given for their ballots, just a list of their rankings. While every week I publish the NCAA SRS ratings, they're clearly designed to be a predictive measure of what will happen in the week(s) to come. In no way could you justify ranking Oklahoma ahead of Iowa in a real poll, even if you (and Vegas) think OU would beat the Hawkeyes if they met head to head.
Now that we're ten full weeks into the season, I'm ready to release my first set of real rankings based on what each team has accomplished. Strength of schedule and margin of victory still play a role in these rankings, but for the most part, "a win is a win." If there is one guiding principle behind why each team is slotted where it is, it is this: each team has accomplished slightly more this season than the team behind them, and has accomplished slightly less than the team behind them.
Generally, my formula was this. Sort the teams by losses, from fewest to most. Within each loss-group, sort the teams by SRS rating, but recognize that that SOS matters more than MOV (so a team with an SRS of 20 points above average based on a +15.0 MOV score and a +5.0 SOS score might be behind a team with the same number of losses and has a +9.0 in both the SOS and MOV categories). This is because beating good teams by a little bit is more of an accomplishment for a team than blowing out a bad team, even if barely beating a good team does not make you a better team than devouring a cupcake. Further, in cases where teams with X number of losses have a tough SOS, move them past a team with X-1 losses if they have an easy SOS. Finally, give a bump to the strong defensive teams, as defensive teams are generally underrated in the SRS because a 30-17 win is treated the same as a 13-0 win.
1. Texas - looks to be the most complete team in the nation. Elite on both sides of the ball. Had the least frightening "toughest scare" of the big three (Alabama barely beat Tennessee, Florida barely beat Arkansas, while Texas hasn't trailed in the 4th quarter all year and were never seriously threatened in their toughest game against the Sooners).
2. Alabama - the hardest SOS of the undefeated teams, so you could easily put them at #1. Slightly more impressed with Texas' much better MOV and lack of close games.
3. Florida - top notch D, great special teams, and the offense is rounding into form. If not for the Arkansas game, the biggest blemish on the faces of any of the big three, they'd likely be #1 on my ballot.
4. TCU - what's not to like? Elite D, blowing out the bad teams, and that win @Clemson is looking better and better. Showing that they're not one trick horned frogs, TCU won by 31 in Provo.
5. Cincinnati - great on both sides of the ball. Only behind the front four because of their SOS, but their MOV tells me they're elite. How good is Brian Kelly's defense? After losing 10 starters on defense, the Bearcats sport the #1 scoring defense in the Big East. How good is Brian Kelley's offense? Heisman hopeful Tony Pike ranked in the top 10 in the country with a 155 QB rating before going down with injury; his backup Zach Collaros has posted a 210 QB rating on an even 100 attempts. For those not familiar with the college system, Colt Brennan (Hawaii, 2006) holds the single-season record with a 186.0 rating.
6. Boise State - a very ugly (and getting uglier) SOS, but good enough MOV to make me think they're legit. They're blowing out most of their opponents. Haven't accomplished as much as the big five, but that's not exactly the Broncos fault.
7. Georgia Tech - streaking at the right time, at least before having to go to overtime with Wake Forest. Could make the argument for them over Boise State, in my opinion, if they had just handled their business more convincingly against the weaker opponents. Beat the two best three-loss teams in the country.
8. Oregon - the offense certainly didn't let them down against Stanford, and Chip Kelly's unstoppable attack makes the Ducks an elite team. Oregon has played one of the hardest SOSs in the country, and I doubt many teams would have had only one loss against this schedule. Losing on the smurf turf is not a bad loss, and Oregon is both the best and the most accomplished two-loss team in the nation.
9. LSU - hard to knock a team for losing to Alabama and Florida. They're a rich man's Penn State, with two losses to the only good teams they played and with no signature wins against good competition (best win is against Auburn or Georgia). Still, I tend to give teams a pass when they lose to undefeated teams.
10. Pittsburgh - two Big East teams in the top 10? Pitt hasn't loss a conference game, and 9-1 is 9-1. Beating nobodies, but winning is winning. They've similarly dominated four of their five common opponents with Cincinnati, and both teams struggled with Connecticut. Cincy comes to Heinz Field the last Saturday of the regular season in what should be one of the marquee games of the year; the same does not go for the Steelers matchup against the Raiders the next day.
11. Iowa - no, they're not a top 11 team in the country. Heck, I'm not even sure if they're a top 20 team in the country in terms of ability. And without Ricky Stanzi, they might not be top 40. But they've managed to win nearly every game against a decent enough schedule, and they've accomplished more than nearly every team in the country. As friend of P-F-R Dr. Saturday points out, Iowa is the only team to beat three of the BCS top-25 teams this year. But a loss to Northwestern is going to knock you out of the top ten.
12. USC - Behind Oregon and LSU, they're the next best two-loss team in the country. And frankly, I don't even think they're that good. But because of impressive road wins in Columbus, South Bend and Berkeley, they've got a top-twelve resume.
13. Ohio State - underrated this year; six wins of 17 points or more this year, while both of their losses came down to the final minute. More talented than people give them credit for, and capable of beating anyone (remember they took the Longhorns to the final minute in the Fiesta Bowl last season).
14. Miami - I think they've been a bit overrated this year; that exciting opener against Florida State looks a lot less impressive now, as does the win over Oklahoma. In addition to winning at the very end against FSU, the Hurricanes beat Wake Forest and Oklahoma by one point each and looked horrendous against the Hokies. The win over Georgia Tech looks terrific, though, and that keeps them ahead of the best of the rest.
15. Penn State - the Big 10's version of Nebraska; fantastic defense but little offense. Have overpowered most of their weak schedule and won every game they should, which is more than the teams below them can say. They're ranked third in the nation in scoring defense and have won seven games this year by 18 points or more.
16. Arizona - no shame in a road loss to Iowa or losing to Washington by three. That victory over Stanford is looking good. The Wildcats haven't been tested often-- they've yet to play USC, Oregon or even Cal (now without Jahvid Best). Despite that, I've slotted them ahead of the Cowboys because of their tougher SOS.
17. Oklahoma State - best win is against Georgia, and Georgia isn't very good. That said, OSU fared better against UT than the final score indicated, and the loss to Houston isn't a bad loss. Like Arizona, they've got a backloaded schedule, as they play Texas Tech this week and end with a watered down version of the Bedlam rivalry on November 28th.
18. Houston - yes, behind Oklahoma State. It's hard to argue that you're not a product of a weak schedule when you lose by 17 to UTEP. Houston's an oddity, as they beat the two best opponents -- by far -- on their schedule, but lost to one of the worst. With virtually nothing else of note on their schedule, I can't put them above the Cowboys who at least play a decent B12 schedule. Not convinced? Take a second and think about what Houston's record would be if, like Oklahoma State did, Houston had to play Texas. The Cougars don't have a defense, and Tulsa and Southern Miss lit them up. It's absurd that they're ahead of Iowa in the AP poll.
19. Utah - is there a shred of difference between Houston and Utah? Equally bad schedules, equally solid but not great MOVs, one loss each. A loss to Oregon is hardly embarrassing, but I'll take Houston's two solid wins and one awful loss over Utah's 1 very good loss and uh, wins against Air Force and Louisville?
20. Virginia Tech - losses to Alabama and Georgia Tech would put Virginia Tech in nearly the same category as LSU, if not for the loss to UNC. Still, because of their good wins (Nebraska, Miami, blowout win over BC), I'd consider putting them at #15. The problem? I have trouble throwing them over the 1-loss teams but want to put the PSU-Arizona-OSU triumvirate ahead of those teams.
21. BYU - a poor man's Oklahoma State. Their losses to Florida State and OU were more embarrassing than OSU's losses to UT and Houston, otherwise they'd be ahead of them. Win over OU is big, but the next best team on BYU's schedule is.... San Diego State? Utah State? Colorado State? Wyoming? UNLV? Ugh.
22. Clemson - like Virginia Tech, much better than their ranking, but with three losses you can't put them higher. Four point loss to TCU and a 3-point loss to GT are not knocks; losing to Maryland is. Wins over Miami and BC are nice, but I'm more impressed with them going toe to toe with two top seven teams and nearly winning both games. With their schedule, more than a couple of the teams above them would have three losses.
23. Wisconsin - like Penn State, their only losses are to OSU and Iowa. Ranked this far down because of razor thin margins against Fresno State, Minnesota, Indiana, and 8-point home wins over UM and Northern Illinois don't make me sympathetic to the Badgers.
24. Nebraska - Only the Texas Tech game was a clunker; losses to Iowa State and Virginia Tech could have easily gone the other way. #2 scoring defense in the country and the win over OU still counts for something. Perhaps the only hope left for those rooting for chaos and a non Texas-Floribama BCS championship game.
25. Stanford - win over Oregon shows that this program has arrived. The Wake Forest loss sounds bad, but really all three of the Cardinal's losses were close, road losses against decent teams. They beat up on rest of the schedule, and their game @USC this week will be a chance for Jim Harbaugh to show the world his team belongs.