Full disclosure: My AP Top 25 ballot
A few tough questions to sort out with this week's poll, and it starts with the battle between Alabama and Florida for No. 3 on my ballot.
I had Florida two spots ahead last week, citing the Gators' much tougher schedule, but recognized that Alabama would move up with a top-five win in the SEC title game. Their schedules cancel each other out --Alabama beat the Georgia team that handed the Gators their only loss, and Florida beat the Texas A&M team that handed the Tide their only loss. Florida has four wins against current top-15 teams (nobody else can say that) and Alabama just two. In the end, I'm recognizing the magnitude of winning an SEC title in moving Alabama ahead.
That also answers a question you might have based on my ballot: Is there a scenario where I would give Ohio State my final No. 1? The simple answer is no -- Notre Dame would obviously stay No. 1 with a win, and Alabama, with two top-five wins to finish the season, would vault ahead of a Buckeyes team that hasn't faced a current top-15 opponent. I understand the case to have Alabama No. 2 right now; I think to this point, Ohio State has a strong enough schedule to stay ahead with five top-40 wins, against three for Alabama. Again, a win in the national title would override that.
What else? I moved two-loss Stanford ahead of one-loss Oregon, seeing the head-to-head win and tougher schedule as enough to override the additional loss. One Stanford loss is in overtime to the consensus No. 1 team in the country, and the Cardinal has five wins against current ranked teams; Oregon has one. The Ducks' only top-30 win is against Oregon State, so if anything, I'm tempted to drop them lower. LSU and South Carolina each have two wins better than Oregon's best.
I have Northern Illinois at No. 16, right at the cusp of a BCS at-large berth -- almost had them 15th, but put a three-loss Oregon State team ahead of them because NIU doesn't have a win against a team in my current top 25, and just three wins against teams I'd put in the top 80 nationally. It's just not a deep body of work. Oregon State gets points for scheduling and beating the Big Ten's (default) champion.
Bottom of the poll continues to be a challenge. Last two spots were a toss-up -- went with Boise because its two losses are close (combined six points) and they have decent wins against Fresno and BYU. (That's strong, relatively speaking). Went with Wisconsin for the last spot -- a 39-point win against a top-15 team is impressive, and its three best losses (Ohio State, Oregon State, Nebraska) are all by a field goal or in overtime. They get the nod over a Penn State team that beat them and has one fewer loss, just because Penn State has worse losses with Ohio and Virginia. Nearly had Kent State in there, but that Kentucky loss is terrible and the best win (Rutgers) took a hit in last two weeks.
As always, I look forward to your comments and feedback, both here and on Twitter. ...
1. Notre Dame
2. Ohio State
8. Texas A&M
9. South Carolina
10. Kansas State
13. Florida State
15. Oregon State
16. Northern Illinois
20. Utah State
21. San Jose State
24. Boise State