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Blog Pollin': Week Twelve Ballot

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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.

BlogPoll Ballot, Week 12
This is not a power poll.
1. Oregon (8-1)
2. LSU (9-1)
3. Oklahoma (9-1)
4. Missouri (9-1)
5. Kansas (10-0)
6. Ohio State (10-1)
7. Arizona State (9-1)
8. West Virginia (8-1)
9. Georgia (8-2)
10. Virginia Tech (8-2)
11. Texas (8-2)
12. Illinois (8-3)
13. Virginia (9-2)
14. Southern Cal (8-2)
15. Boston College (8-2)
16. Florida (7-3)
17. Clemson (8-2)
18. Tennessee (7-3)
19. Cincinnati (8-2)
20. Connecticut (8-2)
21. Kentucky (7-3)
22. South Florida (7-3)
23. Wisconsin (8-3)
24. Penn State (8-3)
25. Michigan (8-3)
Waiting: Auburn, Florida State, Alabama, Boise State, California, Purdue, Hawaii, Wake Forest, BYU, Mississippi State.
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First: LSU relinquishes its two-month hold on my number one spot. I kept the Tigers on top even after they lost to Kentucky, so impressed was I by their run of Virginia Tech-South Carolina-Florida while so many other teams were still just warming up to the conference schedule, and kept them there as they went on to beat Auburn and Alabama. But that’s living in the past, friends, and here we adapt: Carolina is most definitely not who we thought it was back in September, or even early October, and Auburn and Bama were tremendously devalued by bad losses last week. In the end, Oregon’s bye Saturday might have been worth more than the burden of adding Louisiana Tech:
LSU Oregon
Arizona State
Virginia Tech
Florida Southern Cal
Michigan
Auburn
Miss. State
Alabama
South Carolina
Wash. State
Houston
Fresno State
Stanford
Washington
Middle Tenn. State
Tulane
Louisiana Tech
Kentucky California
Oregon’s schedule is really impressive in its lack of fluff: in addition to the marquee, wipeout wins over Arizona State and Michigan, all of the Ducks’ non-conference games are against teams with winning records, and the three losing teams the Ducks have taken on are all conference opponents that between them have defeated USC, Boise State and UCLA and played Arizona State to the last snap. Collectively, the nine foes Oregon has played so far have the third-highest winning percentage of any other schedule in the country.

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).

Per the very persuasive wisdom of Gunslingers, via poll master MGoBlog:

In sum, if you are ranking Kansas highly, you must be placing a lot of emphasis on not losing, without regard to how bad or mediocre the opposition is. And if you are placing a lot of emphasis on not losing to bad or mediocre opposition, there are about two dozen other teams who also haven't lost to bad or mediocre opposition (but several of them have played and beaten good or great opposition).
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I.e., Kansas has conclusively demonstrated, at best, it’s capable of beating a 5-5 team with a 3-3 record in the Big 12, which also lost to Troy, and that it can beat similarly bleh outfits on a consistent basis. We know nothing at all about the Jayhawks against actually good teams. Note: when LD says "two dozen other teams" there, it’s not hyperbole – check out that link.

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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As opposed to Illinois, for example, which has one more loss than UVA, but has now also beaten an impressive triumverate of Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State and lost close games against Missouri and Michigan. The Illini’s close loss at Iowa is the only game keeping it from the top ten. In other words, Illinois has done a lot of good, and Virginia has done a lot of kinda good, as well as, all things considered, probably more bad. So system be damned, I’m dropping the Cavaliers.

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.