Full disclosure: My AP Top 25 ballot
Tricky week to fill out an AP top 25 ballot. Three impressive wins by teams I had 22-23-24 last week -- Notre Dame, Stanford and Florida -- that mandate big jumps ahead of a lot of teams without such validating wins.
So you have the classic poll conundrum: How do you value a lopsided win vs. a lesser team, compared to a close win over a tougher team? The two things don't lend themselves to direct comparison this early in the season. It's all different currrencies with no exchange rates.
I saw Florida State in person this weekend, and the Seminoles' 52-0 win against Wake Forest wasn't that close, holding the Deacons to 126 yards and seven first downs. I bumped them up to No. 3 -- and nearly No. 2 -- but kept LSU at No. 2.
How high does Stanford move after beating USC, once the No. 1 team in the country? I initially put them 10th, but looking closer, saw that Oregon, Oklahoma, Georgia, Clemson, South Carolina and West Virginia have combined for zero wins against teams in my last top 25. So I put Stanford clear up at No. 4, with Notre Dame not far behind at No. 6. Ballots will have a lot of outliers right now, because each voter has his own measure of accomplishment so far.
Take Florida. Didn't rank them until last week, which was a poor read. But they're hot because they won at Texas A&M and Tennessee, neither of which has shown up on my ballots this season. We don't know whether those SEC road wins will mean any more than Clemson at Auburn, or Texas at Ole Miss, or Georgia at Missouri.
Toughest challenge this week? Finding three teams for the bottom of the poll. I kept Oregon State in, but they have such a small sample: beating Wisconsin 10-7 in their only game. Is Fresno, with a 17-point loss at Oregon, any different from Michigan with its 27-point loss to Alabama? I was torn between Fresno and Oklahoma State. Fresno's loss is not as bad as Oklahoma State's 21-point loss to Arizona, and it's shown more in putting up 69 on Colorado than the Cowboys did in scoring 65 on Louisiana Tech (or 88 on I-AA Savannah State).
I had five different teams at No. 25 -- do you like Texas Tech, which has outscored teams 151-30 but played nobody? Texas Tech has a hellacious next six games and I don't seem them winning more than two, so I pre-emptively took them out. Mississippi State is 3-0, but that Auburn win means less every week. Northwestern has beaten three BCS nonconference opponents, but only by a combined 20 points, against Syracuse, Vanderbilt and Boston College, who are each 1-2. Boise and Nebraska? Who have they beaten to weigh against their losses?
So I went with two one-loss teams to (currently) ranked teams: Fresno and Oklahoma State, banking on their prolific offenses being able to offset suspect defenses. It's the last two spots in a September poll, so you can only get so outraged ...
Here you go: Thanks in advance for your comments and criticism, which I certainly take into account as I build the next poll.
3. Florida State
6. Notre Dame
9. South Carolina
12. West Virginia
14. Ohio State
15. Kansas State
21. Michigan State
23. Oregon State
24. Fresno State
25. Oklahoma State