Full disclosure: My AP Top 25 ballot
Last week's ballot drew a lot of criticism because of where I had USC ranked -- 16th, the second-lowest of any AP voter, and 12 spots behind an Oregon team the Trojans had just beaten. I can understand where people see a contradiction there, and in retrospect, said I had USC too low, in part because I'd had them unranked two weeks earlier, and because 11 of the 12 teams ranked ahead of them on my ballot the week before had also won.
USC has a bad, bad loss on its record -- by 21 points to an Arizona State team that's now 6-6. It's one of the worst losses for any top 25 team this season, and I saw the points the Trojans have given up, like 42 to a bad Arizona team, and 283 on the whole this season -- of the teams in my top 15 this week, only Oklahoma State has given up more. I saw the Oregon win as extremely close, coming on a last-second field-goal miss, and saw in its next-biggest game, the Trojans had lost to a Stanford team that Oregon beat by 23. Of the common opponents between Oregon and USC, the Ducks are an average of 17 points per game better in comparing the margins of victory. I felt like those things overwrote the head-to-head victory, given that Oregon's only other loss is to the unanimous No. 1 team in college football.
So I've moved USC up five spots to No. 11 -- jumping them ahead of three teams that beat ranked opponents by double-digit margins this weekend -- but stopping them just below Oklahoma. The Sooners, too, have a really bad loss to a 5-7 Texas Tech team, but they've faced a tougher schedule (teams they've beaten are a combined 59-46, as compared to 62-60 for USC) and they're outscoring their opponents by 78 more points than USC has. If Oklahoma loses to Oklahoma State, they'll obviously drop; if they win, it validates the ranking.
How far to drop Arkansas? I opted for eighth, still ahead of a Virginia Tech that hasn't beaten any teams on my current top 25 -- seeing Clemson and Georgia Tech fall to SEC rivals this weekend didn't help the Hokies' weak resume. Arkansas has a pair of 24-point losses, but I feel like LSU and Alabama are that much higher than the rest of college football that it mitigates those lopsided margins.
Bottom of the ballot was, again, a mess -- five of my bottom seven teams lost last week, and there was a big dropoff to begin with at the bottom of the ballot. I kept Clemson in at 21, despite a 21-point loss, just weighing the strength of wins against VTech, FSU and Auburn.
I put West Virginia in next -- there really isn't a quality win on the schedule, save maybe Cincinnati, but again, there's not a lot of good options for the final few spots. Really couldn't keep Penn State or Virginia in there after losses of 35 and 38 points, so that let Florida State and Notre Dame in as the first four-loss teams on my ballots this year.
The last spot was really slim pickings -- thought about Penn State or Virginia, but couldn't justify ranking them after poor play this weekend. Thought about Texas, but all they have are wins against other middle-of-the-pack Big 12 teams; even considered a five-loss Missouri team, which beat Texas and has been close in all but one of their losses. But I ended up choosing Southern Miss, which has two losses, beat Virginia and has a shot at Houston this week.
Thoughts? Comments? Your feedback is welcome and appreciated ...
3. Oklahoma State
6. Boise State
9. Virginia Tech
13. Michigan State
15. South Carolina
17. Kansas State
22. West Virginia
23. Florida State
24. Notre Dame
25. Southern Miss