Full disclosure: My AP Top 25 ballot
Nine weeks into the college football season, the hardest part of filling out a ballot may be deciding how much to value or ignore a single game: Is that impressive win against a top-10 opponent indicative of a team, or just a good week? Is that embarrassing loss something that exposed a team, or just showed its worst possible effort?
And how do you value a team that truly hasn't been tested at a national level? Houston is now one of six unbeatens, but they've yet to beat a team with more than four wins, and the only four-win BCS team they've beaten is UCLA. Let's use that as a measuring stick then: Houston beat UCLA 38-34 at home. UCLA's other three losses? By 29 to Texas, by 26 to Stanford, by 36 to Arizona. So in the only game where Houston was tested close to its top-25 peers, it underperformed. So even though five of the 10 teams immediately ahead of Houston lost, I only moved the Cougars up three spots, and they're as untested a No. 15 team as you'll find in November.
The Big Ten makes for some tricky rankings -- you have a three-team knot in that Nebraska lost by 31 to Wisconsin, which lost to Michigan State, which lost to Nebraska by 21. Michigan State also lost by 18 to Notre Dame, which lost to Michigan, which lost by 14 to Michigan State. Good luck unraveling those. I put Nebraska at the top, despite the huge loss to Wisconsin; I put Michigan State with two losses ahead of Michigan, simply because the Wolverines have lost in their only challenging Big Ten game. They could easily go 2-2 or worse in their next four. Penn State, too, is 8-1 but has three remaining games tougher than any of its wins -- vs. Nebraska, at Ohio State, at Wisconsin. They'll show a lot in those three.
I continue to have Virginia Tech much lower than my fellow voters. The Hokies are much like Penn State -- great defense and close, unimpressive wins. If they win at Georgia Tech, they'll have the division title, but their best wins are against Wake (5-3), Miami (4-4) and ... Arkansas State?
Last three spots came down to nine teams: Auburn's three losses, while to strong opponents, are too lopsided and offset the South Carolina win. Notre Dame would probably be in my top 30 much of the year, but the Michigan State win still isn't enough. Texas Tech's 34-point home loss to Iowa State makes me forget the Oklahoma win. Washington has a 44-point loss and zero quality wins. West Virginia still doesn't have a win to hang its hat on, and that 26-point loss to Syracuse looks even worse this week. USC is tempting after taking Stanford to triple overtime, but they're the last team cut.
So my last three are Ohio State, impressive in back-to-back wins against ranked teams and acceptable losses; Cincinnati, which gets the last one-loss nod ahead of Southern Miss, even though USF may be the Bearcats' best win; and Texas, whose two losses are to top-10 teams, and the Longhorns' 23-point win against Iowa State carries a little more weight after the Cyclones' mauling of Texas Tech.
Here's the ballot, ready for your feedback ...
3. Oklahoma State
5. Boise State
11. South Carolina
12. Michigan State
16. Arizona State
17. Penn State
18. Texas A&M
19. Georgia Tech
20. Kansas State
22. Virginia Tech
23. Ohio State