This may be my week of numb existence, but such is the circle of the BlogPoll: my games-played-only philosophy hasn’t changed at all, but at this point, there’s enough evidence available that everyone is effectively taking a "resumé" approach to some degree. Although, given the continued presence of Hawaii in the rankings, we’re obviously still drawing very different conclusions from that application. I’m not going to harangue anymore on the Warriors, but there is more on rewarding merely not losing below.
|6.||Ohio State (10-1)|
|7.||Arizona State (9-1)|
|8.||West Virginia (8-1)|
|10.||Virginia Tech (8-2)|
|14.||Southern Cal (8-2)|
|15.||Boston College (8-2)|
|22.||South Florida (7-3)|
|24.||Penn State (8-3)|
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|Middle Tenn. State|
If there is a theme for the rest of the poll this week, it is to reward big wins and ruthlessly punish mediocrity/the exploitation thereof, and operational target mas grande on that front is Kansas. In retrospect, I was way too kind in my breakdown of the Jayhawks’ place at the table Tuesday. When KU beat Kansas State a week after the Wildcats pounded Texas at Texas, that looked like a good, affirming win. When KU won at Colorado when the Buffaloes were 4-3 and only a couple games removed from beating Oklahoma, that looked like a decent win. Texas A&M and Nebraska are usually good, right, or at least talented, and look at that score over Nebraska! And wasn’t Oklahoma State making some kind of noise since it switched quarterbacks? Time travel to three weeks ago, a month ago, all of those wins look like justifiable steps to the elite.
Those who would rank the Jayhawks one or two on those merits have left their minds in mid-October. Since losing to Kansas, Kansas State is 2-3 with back-to-back losses to last place Iowa State and hopeless Nebraska, by which the Wildcats were thoroughly shamed by a six-touchdown margin. Colorado has been humiliated by Missouri and, again, last place Iowa State. Since the start of October, lame ducks A&M and Nebraska are a combined 3-9, one of those wins coming against the other. Altogether, even disregarding Kansas’ truly atrocious non-conference slate, the six Big 12 teams the Jayhawks have vanquished to date are 14-27 in conference play, and not one of them has a winning record against the rest of the league; only Oklahoma State, at 3-3, so much as breaks even. The only KU opponent above .500 for the season is Texas A&M, which is 6-5, has lost four of its last five by an average of almost three touchdowns and itself has all of one victory over a winning team (6-4 Fresno State, in double overtime).
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So missing Texas and Oklahoma in the same season means something, and that something is that you don’t get to be in the top two or three until you face one of them in the conference championship game. Kansas still remains at fifth for now because Ohio State, Arizona State and West Virginia also have no wins over another team with fewer than three losses – nor does the team directly in front of the Jayhawks, Missouri. But come next week, if Ohio State beats Michigan, West Virginia beats Cincinnati and Arizona State beats its meat during a bye week before its game with USC, it will probably be enough for all of them to move ahead of KU no matter what happens against Iowa State (who, two-game winning streak notwithstanding, is still in last place). Kansas will get its chance against Missouri, but I’m with Brian on that one: based on what we know right now, the Tigers are going to run away with the North spoon.
Regular readers know I try to approach every pick as systematically as possible by comparing wins and losses (I don’t do formulas or algortihms), but biased, loose, arbitray, misinformed common sense prevails over the systematic insistence of Virginia in the top ten. Again, given enough chances against not-bad teams, any team that can demonstrate some degree of consistency will find itself in some high cotton eventually, but Virginia’s best win to date – even over its demolition of foundering Miami Saturday – is a one-point trip across the finish line against UConn; if it’s not that one, it’s the Cavs’ one-point win over Wake Forest, or their one-point win over Maryland, or their five-point win over Georgia Tech. Consistency counts for something at some point, but all of those dramatic victories were gathering mold the second the gun went off. More damning, UVA has two terrible losses: one to N.C. State, which, the Wolfpack’s late winning streak aside, is still bad, and one to Wyoming, which looks worse and worse not only because Virginia delivered one of the three or four single worst performances by any respectable team all season, but did it against a mid-major team that’s now lost four of its last five, most recently getting trounced 50-0 by Utah.
Circumstances change quickly. Evolve! Evolve!
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I’m just as skeptical of Southern Cal at fourteenth, mainly because the Trojans have faced (based on opponents’ winning percentage) the weakest schedule of any team in any of the BCS conferences. USC’s first nine opponents are collectively 36-51, only two of them (the last two, Oregon State and Cal, both 6-4) winners overall. SC is in the same boat as Kansas and Virginia: respect will come when the big fish at the end of the schedule (Missouri, Arizona State, Virginia Tech) is in the boat, and not before.
The decision to move Kentucky and South Florida ahead of the pack of Big Ten teams at the bottom of the poll was also a case of rewarding big wins: the Wildcats and Bulls each remain the only defeat on the resumés of LSU and West Virginia, respectively, and earn more significant points every successive week that’s the case, even as their wins over South Carolina and Auburn progressively lose their shine. As for the indistinguishable Big Ten trio bringing up the rear: Michigan is third because it had the weakest of the head-to-head wins in the group, and because it lost to Appalachian State (mainly because it lost to Appalachian State); it didn’t seem right, then, to push Penn State ahead of Wisconsin simply because PSU beat the Badgers, since I ignored head-to-head in putting the Lions ahead of Michigan (and there is no way to position these three without putting at least one of them below another it defeated). Outside of Penn State’s win over the Badgers last month, the conference wins are in effect identical; Wisconsin goes in front because its opening win over Washington State gave it the slightest possible margin over Penn State in non-conference schedule strength. There is no foolproof way of sorting out that tangle.
Everything will be different next week.