"Christ, you know it ain't easy
You know how hard it can be
The way things are going
They're gonna crucify me."
-- John Lennon, The Ballad of John and Yoko
Two weeks ago, Southern Cal had reloaded again behind center, BYU was a potential national championship contender, and Washington just couldn't get over the hump. Since then, all three statements have been proven false. The immediate effects of the big upsets of the first three weeks are obvious. The bigger effects, however, are generally ignored by everyone but the resume rankers.
|Last week's ballot|
Tackle Eligible: Kentucky, South Florida, Texas Tech, TCU, Arizona, Southern Cal
Watched: Miami-Georgia Tech, Iowa-Arizona, Auburn-West Virginia, parts of Minnesota-Cal and Texas-Texas Tech, Point Break x 4.
Southern Cal's upset loss at Washington over the weekend effectively ended its run for a national championship and vaulted the Huskies into the top 25, but it also gives us a better idea of just how good Ohio State might be. Both OSU and Washington played USC under similar circumstances: at home, in September, with hyped quarterbacks returning under center. But where Pryor stumbled against the Southern Cal defense, Locker shone. There were other factors, to be sure: USC was playing its backup quarterback (though, contrary to the MSM's convenient storyline, Barkley did not play any better against Ohio State than Corp played against UW), and the SC-UW postgame statistics were ready-made for Life on the Margins. But the Washington upset showed how it could be done, and only reinforces the position that Ohio State in general, and Pryor in particular, aren't yet ready to finish that job.
Florida State's thumping of BYU ended the Cougars' nascent insurgent run for a national championship in the crib, but it should also kill Oklahoma and boost Miami. Relying on the transient transitive property to guide the way in college football is always dangerous, even if The U > FSU > BYU > OU has a certain simplicity to it (we'll get to Oklahoma's place in the poll later); one need look no further than the 10/3 OU/Miami game to see where the logic could break down. There is one obvious upshoot from the Florida State win: If Southern Cal's three-point road loss to a 2-1 team that played LSU to a near-draw and slaughtered Idaho disqualifies it from a national championship, OU's one-point neutral-site loss to a team which subsequently got curbstomped by Florida State should do the same. Of course, Oklahoma's loss came to a preseason top 25 team earlier in the year, while Southern Cal's was at the hands of a team that went winless through last year. As said before in this space, preseason rankings count. It doesn't matter whether those preseason perceptions were wrong. If OU makes it to November with only that loss, all its sins will be forgotten.
The poll remains a mess, as data continues to compile and strength of schedule slowly overtakes victory margin in importance. Cincinnati and California retain the top two spots by a healthy margin; both teams have three double-digit victories over a plus-.500 schedule, something no other team can claim. We took one of last week's criticisms to heart and factored in the number of games played, giving Ole Miss' two games slightly more weight than their three-game counterparts. That took them from outside the poll to #3, even though Texas, Auburn, and Oklahoma have more poll points.
About the Sooners: One-loss teams are only now under consideration, and Oklahoma's numbers vaulted them into the top 6. Yeah, I don't like it either. It can't even be explained away by the Sam Bradford Injury Effect; the BHGPoll is blind to such factors. But OU's schedule is a somewhat respectable 4-5 (at least somewhat respectable when compared to other contenders like Florida, Boise State, and Kansas). Teams pay dearly for losses in the equation, but Boomer Sooner's one-point loss to BYU isn't enough to overcome its +108 margin against that schedule; only Florida, South Florida, and Cincinnati have higher margins through three weeks, and only the Bearcats have anything approaching Oklahoma's schedule to date. It's true that Oklahoma is ranked higher than Florida State, who crushed BYU over the weekend. I don't necessarily agree with it, but it's the downside of this early-season insanity.
Speaking of strength of schedule, our admittedly crude SOS figure (which will get far more sophisticated as we hit October and get some numbers to play with) props up Virginia Tech and Washington, both of which have played early-season juggernauts and picked up a loss along the way. It also punishes USF, which has racked up a gaudy 3-0 mark and +114 margin, but against two DI-AA opponents and 0-3 Western Kentucky. Both Tech and Washington are 2-1 against opponents that are a combined 7-2; in other words, their opponents are undefeated in all games not involving them. Only one 3-0 squad can claim the same feat...
I am unflinchingly strict in my application of the rules -- this poll has taken enough heat that its intellectual foundation must be preserved -- but I had to make one exception this week, because the one 3-0 team whose opponents are otherwise undefeated is the Iowa Hawkeyes. Their 6-3 strength of schedule, even with the discount for a lower-division opponent, was enough to vault Iowa to #11. Had they not given up the last-minute garbage score to Arizona (and before you even say it: I know this shows some of the absurdity of using margin of victory), Iowa had enough points to leapfrog Oklahoma into the #6 spot.
I moved them down to #19, for no reason other than it's Penn State week and I'm not risking the Coulter-Krugman Award jinx. Reason and logic only go so far in the face of karma.