Full disclosure: My AP Top 25 ballot
Whole new conversation at the top of the polls after Alabama's loss to Texas A&M -- when's the last time a national championship debate didn't include an SEC team?
It's not an easy call among Kansas State, Oregon and Notre Dame. The best argument for Oregon is its dominance, winning by an average of 32 points per game (as opposed to 15 for ND and 24 for K-State). Still, I feel like Oregon has the weakest schedule of those three -- Notre Dame has beaten three teams in my top 25, while K-State has two and Oregon just its win against USC. (Oregon can help itself with two big remaining games against Stanford and Oregon State.)
I had Kansas State ahead of Oregon last week, and the Wildcats showed me more, up 23-0 in the fourth quarter at TCU, when Oregon did, leading by a touchdown midway through the third at a Cal team that now has eight losses. Oregon pulled away late, K-State gave up 10 late points, but I don't see enough to flip the top of my ballot.
(You can make the argument that Notre Dame has the toughest schedule of the three -- its I-A opponents are 54-45, while K-State's are 46-41 and Oregon's 45-47. The Irish have five wins by seven points or less -- does that show a vulnerable team, or one able to win close games? For now, I go K-State, Oregon, Notre Dame, but I can understand other readings on these three.)
More tough decisions -- how much do you weigh head-to-head results? Texas A&M has the best win of the season, but do you rank a two-loss Aggies team ahead of the two one-loss teams they've lost to, in Florida and LSU? I'm yielding to stronger overall resumes for Florida (wins against three of the best two-loss teams) and LSU (wins against two of them), with that overriding the power of winning at Alabama. Yes, the Tide are four spots ahead of the team that just beat them at home, but at the top, I still consider one close elite-level loss better than two.
Took a lot of grief for having FSU down at 12 last week -- I'm tied for the Noles' lowest position of the 60 balloters -- and after needing a last-minute escape against Virginia Tech, I'm sliding them one more spot, with Stanford getting a solid win against Oregon State.
Weird deal with Oregon State has them only dropping only one spot after a loss -- it's a four-point road loss to a ranked team, and they beat UCLA, which beat Nebraska, so I can't drop them below those other two-loss teams, or Texas for that matter.
I haven't ranked Louisiana Tech to this point, but their 2-point loss to Texas A&M continues to look better, and their best win -- it's just Virginia -- looks better after the Cavaliers' wins against N.C. State and Miami. Ranking a team that hasn't beaten a top-50 team all year is tough, but again, the bottom of the poll isn't a real compelling group of teams.
Battle for the last spot came down to Rutgers or Northern Illinois. Neither team has really beaten anyone impressive -- NIU's best win is Ball State, while Rutgers is probably at Arkansas. Rutgers' only loss is to a Kent State team that's ranked ahead, while NIU's is by a single point to Iowa. It's very close, but I go with Rutgers here -- if UCF had a better win than ECU, I'd look hard at them. Lots of two-loss riffraff -- Tulsa, Ohio, Toledo, Boise all have two losses to teams not on my top 25 radar, and no wins to override those.
Here's the ballot -- I look forward to your feedback ...
1. Kansas State
3. Notre Dame
4. Ohio State
9. Texas A&M
11. South Carolina
13. Florida State
15. Oregon State
19. Louisiana Tech
21. Texas Tech
24. Kent State