Full disclosure: My AP Top 25 ballot
The big conundrum for me this week was the shoelace knot that is the three-team logjam atop the Big Ten standings -- nearly impossible to untie, even after a half-hour of close inspection. Michigan State has beaten Wisconsin, which beat Ohio State, so you'd think that direct-result hierarchy would work, except Michigan State lost by 31 to an Iowa team that's now unranked, so they have the worst loss of the three.
Wisconsin is the only one to play the other two in the top three, but the Badgers didn't have to face Penn State or Illinois, as Michigan State and Ohio State did. Wisconsin's nonconference is weak, with a 5-6 Arizona State as the only remotely relevant win. Ohio State beat Miami, which was No. 12 then but now has five losses; Michigan State's win against Notre Dame looks better now.
When I looked at "wins against I-A teams with less than five losses" -- which seems a reasonable criteria -- it's surprising: Wisconsin and Michigan State have exactly one of those, and Ohio State has zero. That makes me want to move up Stanford, but then I see they have exactly one of those as well.
So that makes me wonder about two-loss teams like Arkansas and LSU -- the Razorbacks' only losses were to a team that was No. 1 and a team that is my current No. 1, and they have four wins against teams with four or fewer losses, including a strong nonconf win against Texas A&M. LSU's only losses are to Auburn and Arkansas, and they have three wins against four-or-less teams. Should I move Arkansas above the Big Ten logjam, just because those three have so few games against elite competition?
We've debated a lot about undefeated lesser-tested teams vs. one-loss major conference teams, but what about the same debate about a two-loss tough-tested team vs. a lesser-tested one-loss team? Let's look at records against teams with fewer than five losses: Auburn is 5-0, Oregon 2-0, TCU 3-0. Next best is Boise at 4-1, Arkansas 4-2, LSU 3-2. Wisconsin is 1-1, Ohio State 0-1 and Michigan State is 1-0, but they have a loss to a five-loss Iowa. I'm struck by how little the Big Ten teams have been tested by elite teams -- the bottom eight of the Big Ten has a mediocre parity that's just unimpressive -- take away Iowa's win against Michigan State, and I don't see much at all. Iowa lost to Arizona, Illinois to Missouri, Penn State was drubbed by Alabama. I guess you can point to Michigan beating Connecticut or Notre Dame, but ... blah.
So I'm moving Arkansas up to No. 4 -- four wins against current top 25 teams, as opposed to one for Wisconsin or Stanford. Those three wins offset the second loss in my opinion.
7. Boise State
8. Michigan State
9. Ohio State
11. Virginia Tech
16. South Carolina
18. Texas A&M
19. Oklahoma State
20. Florida State
23. West Virginia
24. Mississippi State
25. Northern Illinois