It's Week Three, and we finally have just the smallest amount of relevant data to use. This means massive swings again, yes, but it also means we get (what I gather to be) the consensus #1 team in the country on top of our ballot.
Florida State was the most impressive two-win team in the country last week, and they remain the most impressive two-win team in the country this week. Oklahoma's road win over them is the best of the year by a pretty healthy margin, and their peripherals in their other game-to-date (a 47-14 win over Tulsa) are enough to catapult them to the top. The concerns over Oregon's defense keep them a notch (actually, four notches) below FSU, and LSU sits below Oklahoma as a result. Texas A&M hasn't really played anyone yet, but at least the teams they have played are a combined 3-3 (in contrast, Alabama's opponents are 2-7, Wisconsin's are 2-6, and Stanford's are 2-7), and they've obliterated them by a +62 margin of victory.
Which brings us to Michigan, beneficiaries of Western Michigan's hot start, Notre Dame's win over MSU and ensuing jump in the rankings, and Eastern Michigan's early buffet of cupcakes (EMU played TWO FCS schools in the first two weeks). On their face, it's hard to not rank Michigan this high; their opponents are 5-4 (5-1 in games not played against Michigan), and the Wolverines pummeled two of them within an inch of their lives. Notre Dame also looks better, courtesy of their win over Sparty and the continued dominance of both Michigan and USF. It almost certainly won't last, at least not based on these results, but for now their resume is at the top of the heap.
We still like Illinois (Arkansas State has a blowout win over Memphis and gave VT half a game, and Arizona State has a win over Mizzou), and South Florida has a road win over ND and the only win against Ball State to date. The rest of the top 10 is a lot of the same stuff everyone else is picking.
So let's talk Florida International, ranked #11 and with the brakes on to not put them higher. FIU has a 25-point win over North Texas (currently ranked #114 out of #121, if you're morbid that way), followed by two of the most impressive wins of the season so far: A seven-point victory at Louisville, which we like, and another seven-point win over UCF, which we love. Central Florida was a bull in the cupcake shop for the first two weeks, pounding an FCS opponent and the worst BCS-conference team so far this season, Boston College, before being dispatched by the Golden Panthers. On balance, FIU probably has the best resume; their one-score wins are all that's keeping them from the top 5.
I would guess the omissions and demotions are probably more glaring in this poll than the teams at the top, so let's tackle them. Arkansas tumbled to #24 despite beating Troy, but this has more to do with the fact that they've played an FCS and two of the worst 20 teams in the country so far (Troy and
Kent State New Mexico) and didn't handle Troy particularly well. None of Arkansas' opponents has even won a game against FBS competition yet this season, if that's any indication of how bad their schedule has been. This is the same story for the omitted Kansas State Wildcats, who have beaten their two opponents by a combined score of 47-7; those opponents are an FCS school and Kent State.
When we say there's not a formula, that doesn't mean there isn't a spreadsheet. It exists, and it's spectacular, and it gives us the first guiding ranking from which we adjust. Last year, we noticed the spreadsheet formula was overvaluing high-powered offenses and discounting the stronger defenses; after all, is a 24-0 win where the opposing offense never sniffed the end zone any less dominant than a 59-21 win where the winning offense never left? There were offseason adjustments to compensate for this, and the resulting formula really doesn't like two darlings of the Blogpoll: Nebraska and South Carolina. Frankly, there's little reason to like Nebraska based on results-to-date: They are +59 in margin of victory, but more than half that difference came in an FCS opener. They have given up a surprising 67 points in closer-than-expected wins against Fresno State and Washington, neither of which is in the top 75 nationally. A bad schedule full of average results doesn't make the cut, at least not yet. South Carolina is another story altogether. There are 33 remaining undefeated teams in FBS play. Exactly one of them has given up 100 points: South Carolina (only three have given up more than 80: South Carolina, Houston, and Oklahoma State). Only two have a net margin of victory of 25 or less: Iowa State and South Carolina. These are not the performances of a top team, at least not yet. There is light at the end of the tunnel for the 'Cocks, though; Navy again looks like an eight-win team, and Georgia might turn it around (the poll actually likes Georgia quite a bit; no two-loss team is ranked higher). A win over Vanderbilt this weekend and their time in the darkness will come to an end.
Iowa is #54 this week, for those of you scoring at home. Iowa State's continued inexplicable run among the undefeateds helps, as does actually winning a game, but a loss is debilitating at this point.
Blogpoll Games of the Week:
#2 LSU vs. #23 West Virginia -- Oklahoma plays Mizzou, who has been meh-tastic to date, so the game of the week is probably the Bayou Bengals' trip to Morgantown. West Virginia fell back in the poll this week, mostly because their one FBS-level past opponent, Marshall, sucks, and we don't really know anything about Maryland just yet. They have been relatively effective, with a +70 MOV, but that's a much less impressive +37 against FBS opposition, and their FCS game was too close late.
#3 Texas A&M vs. #18 Oklahoma State -- Both teams get their first real test of the young season. A&M, as discussed before, has throttled SMU and Idaho. For their part, the Cowboys have three 20+ point wins that look better on paper than they might actually be: Louisiana-Lafayette, Arizona, and Tulsa. Lafayette is the highest-ranked of any of those teams at the moment, and none are in the top 80 overall. Nevertheless, Okie State has crushed them all. Two juggernauts so far, and I get the sneaking suspicion it won't be the higher-ranked team winning at the end.
#4 Michigan vs. San Diego State -- HOKEBOWL, as Big Blue faces their coach's former charges. SDSU is also undefeated and on the immediate outside of the poll (#36); even with a comfortable win, Michigan might drop, as former opponents WMU and EMU are fed to the lambs at Illinois and Penn State, respectively.
#7 Alabama vs. #24 Arkansas -- And so the SEC West begins. Bama might have only played one team with a pulse (PSU) but they've done what they are supposed to do against Kent State and North Texas (those two poor teams have to be half-dead by now), winning by a combined score of 89-7. If the Crimson Tide win, they move onto the next stage of the gauntlet, Florida, with the resurgent Vanderbilt Commodores waiting on October 8.
#13 North Carolina vs. #17 Georgia Tech -- The fact that this game is fifth on the list shows that football might really truly be back. UNC gets the benefit of its win over Rutgers, who in turn decimated its only other opponent (FCS); the bubble will burst eventually, probably when the Scarlet Knights get rolled by Frank Solich's Ohio juggernaut this weekend. Georgia Tech is back to being the highest-scoring team on the planet, with 178 points in three wins and a MOV of +112. That those wins came against FCS, Middle Tennessee State, and Kansas actually don't hurt; GT's FBS opponents are 2-3 so far (or 2-1 in games not involving Tech).