Who's Really No. 2?
In the spirit of full disclosure, my ballot is based on what has taken place on the field as opposed to some inner, speculative “feeling” that tells me who ought to be ranked where. The preseason is for guesswork and prognostication. After eight weeks of football, we’ve seen enough to evaluate the body of work, meaning film, stats and strength of schedule. Oh, and margin of victory and road wins do hold more weight in my rudimentary model.
6. Notre Dame – I love what the Irish have accomplished by starting 7-0, but the offense is feeble, and the team seems to be on the brink every other week. The nation’s 74th-ranked attack and close calls with Purdue and BYU keep Notre Dame out of the top 5.
5. LSU – No one asked, but that doesn’t mean the Tigers don’t belong here. Yup, they’re a very similar program to ND at No. 5—no offense, great D—but handling South Carolina and Texas A&M in consecutive weeks offsets a close loss to unbeaten Florida.
4. Oregon – Maybe the Ducks rise to No. 2 after all. They probably will, but I still want to see this team play tougher competition before handing it an all-expenses paid trip to Miami. Oregon looked fantastic in Tempe on Thursday, but too often we anoint a program before it’s actually delivered against elite opponents. I want the Ducks to earn the No. 2 spot on the field versus someone other than middling Pac-12 teams.
3. Kansas State – There’s not a program in the country that has two better road wins than the Wildcats, who’ve beaten Oklahoma in Norman and West Virginia in Morgantown. Kansas State is winning with offense and defense, and the return game is one of the nation’s best. They may not have much national cache, but the Cats could be college football’s most complete team this side of Tuscaloosa.
2. Florida – You could argue that the Gators are Gainesville’s version of Notre Dame, with the defense propping up a sporadic offensive attack. The big difference, though, is that no one, not even Alabama, has amassed a better body of work than Florida has through seven games. Without the luxury of a protracted, cushy non-conference slate, the Gators are 6-0 in the SEC, with notable wins over Texas A&M, Tennessee, LSU and South Carolina.
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Let the debating begin. There’s plenty of time to still separate the men from the boys, but right now, right here, here’s a look at what the pecking order should be behind everyone’s No. 1, Alabama. This is not a comparison of resumes per se, but rather how good each team really is. Hint: Balance in combination with talent is the key.
No. 5 - Notre Dame
The Irish have somehow been able to find a way to eek out every game. But despite what many supporters would have you believe, the schedule has not been all that great. You simply cannot make an argument for Notre Dame blasting their way through a tough schedule and then rail on the Big Ten in the same breath. The Irish barely got by a bad Purdue team and beat up on the Spartans and Wolverines who have also shown warts of their own throughout the year. The defense is great, and will keep the Irish in a lot of games, but razor burn is likely coming in one of these close shaves with its 74th ranked total offense being dragged around.
No. 4 - Florida
Speaking of winning ugly, look no further than Gainesville. There are some great wins against quality competition in there, but if you believe that Florida is a complete team, you have been gulping down the SEC sweet tea--er--Kool-Aid too quickly. Look, the Gators are solid--especially on defense, but the offense has been too inconsistent (a cool 100th ranking in total yards) to think they’ll be able to hang in there against the really big boys. The culprit? There's no passing game to go along with the yards on the ground to balance things out against a great defense. A day of reckoning is likely coming.
No. 3 - Kansas State
The Wildcats keep looking more and more impressive. At first glance, the win over Oklahoma on the road looked like a victory over an inflated Sooner team--but that’s looking better and better as the calendar turns. Kansas State might be one of only two teams (Alabama being the other) with the holy trinity that involves solid coaching, a balanced defense, and a Heisman caliber talent moving the chains offensively. Big things are happening in little Manhattan.
No. 2 - Oregon
Pundits will point out that the Ducks quirky spread will run into its Waterloo at some point like years past under Chip Kelly. What’s being missed is that this version of the quack-attack has a defense to stop that from happening. Though the defense is not Tide worthy and sits just around the top fifty in total yards given up, you have to remember that the Ducks have played some teams with a lot of offensive weaponry. To boot, the defensive stats have been inflated because the starters have pulled early and often because of the one-sided affairs Oregon has been a part of. There hasn’t been a single team that has been able to slow down Oregon on offense, and there’s a fair chance that will continue right into Miami.
By Russ Mitchell
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At the risk of sounding like a “big picture” man, you really have to approach this thinking about the big picture. Do you prefer a college football world where coaches are forced to run up scores to artificially impress voters with largely no clue about the games...other than perhaps the final scores they see in 15 seconds of an ESPN highlight reel? Or would you rather promote a vision of the sport based on substance vs. marketing?
I had the chance to see Oregon in person Thursday for the first time this season, and it is the best Ducks team I’ve seen. Ever. Oregon fumbled on the game's second play, which was followed by an ASU touchdown. After that, Oregon’s drives for the rest of the first half went: touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, punt, punt.
43-7. And it could have been worse.
However, as we’ve been discussing since July, it’s the Oregon defense that’s the difference this year. Even balancing some key losses, this is the most aggressive, disciplined and complete defense Chip Kelly has had to date. Oregon’s defenders are doing an excellent job of reading assignments, they have seven good linemen that they rotate, and the Ducks are hitting with an authority heretofore unseen in Eugene.
Oregon is a more complete team – offense, defense and special teams – than any of the other second place pretenders. Oregon might even be a more complete team than Alabama.
Against ASU in Tempe, the Ducks replaced several starters (including their QB) at halftime. In the fourth quarter Oregon was playing its fourth string. Had they stayed with their starters, the Oregon Ducks might have scored more than 100 and held a decent Pac-12 opponent to single digits…in their own stadium.
Hopefully, once we have a Committee of college football experts entrusted with actually watching the games and accountable each week for their assessments in eventually selecting the four best teams, it won’t matter by how many points a team wins. Or even better, we’ll have four superconferences of 16 teams, and then it really won’t matter – win and advance, so to speak.
Until then, coaches that keep their starters in during blowout games and run up scores will likely be rewarded for that behavior. But that doesn’t make for better football, nor does it make them the better team.
Kansas State has been very impressive and might have the nation’s best quarterback, and Florida has the best wins. But Oregon is the second best team in America…and no, it’s not even as close as some might have you think.
Oregon will play the SEC winner in Miami.
By Terry Johnson
Follow me @TPJCollFootball
Since all four teams have identical 7-0 records, the only way to properly rank them is to examine each team's entire body of work. We need to look at who they beat, and where they beat them.
Based on these criteria, the pecking order is: Gators, Wildcats, Ducks, and Fighting Irish.
Make no mistake about it: Florida has the most impressive resume of any team in college football. The Gators have three wins over teams in the BCS Top 25, including victories over LSU and South Carolina, who have spent most of the season in the Top 10. In addition, Will Muschamp's team has taken care of business on the road, recording three wins in hostile environments this season, highlighted by solid victories over Texas A&M and Tennessee.
Adding these factors together, it's obvious why Florida should be No. 2. After all, the Gators have more quality wins than any of the other squads, and have fared well away from the Swamp. None of the other top contenders can match this type of excellence across the board.
If not for Florida's outstanding play this season, Kansas State would occupy the all-important second spot in the BCS standings this week. The Wildcats are clearly the best road team in the country, defeating both Oklahoma and West Virginia away from home. While these victories are impressive, K-State hasn't played a schedule as tough as Florida's and only has two wins against teams in the current BCS standings. That's close, but no cigar.
The gap widens considerably after that. Despite all of the outrage over Oregon's drop to No. 4, that's where the Ducks belong at this point in the season. Sure, Chip Kelly's team has decimated everyone on its schedule so badly that the team is almost always playing reserves for the entire second half. However, Oregon has yet to play a team in the BCS standings and hasn't really faced a stiff test on the road other than Thursday night's glorified scrimmage against Arizona State.
Even though it's having a very special season, Notre Dame belongs at the bottom of this list. Yes, the Irish's win against Stanford was huge, but the victories over Michigan and Michigan State have lost their luster thanks to the collective struggles of the Big Ten. In addition, it's tough to know how good Notre Dame truly is because it's only played one game in a hostile environment (plus two neutral site games).
Based on the merits of each of these four fine football teams, it's clear that Florida is second, Kansas State is third, Oregon is fourth, and Notre Dame is fifth.
However, with three of these teams facing ranked opponents this weekend, this order could change completely when the next BCS standings come out.
By Bart Doan
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When picking who is number two right now, you get a glimpse into the idiocy of having a subjective system choose a champion. Is it the “eye-ball test?” A term, by the way, that needs to go the way of “Man Cave” and be retired. I want to kick myself in the shins just for typing it. Is it resume strictly? Strength of schedule? Whatever it is, it’s an inexact science.
2. Oregon: My poll vote had the Ducks at two because visually, they look like they can put up 100 a week and call off the dogs early. Avery Patterson on D has been a revelation. But with the weakest resume of the four, why? Well, one thing I try to do is read up on the criticisms of that team’s fans, and neutral parties that know the game. And I found out that Bill Belichick, he on the assumed Mount Rushmore of football coaches, went up to Oregon this past summer to learn Chip Kelly’s offense. That means people who know football respect what’s going on there, and think there’s a revolutionary element to it that they don’t know but want to learn.
3. Kansas State: The ‘Cats have the best win of any college team this year, at Oklahoma. My lone question is can Collin Klein stand up to a season’s beating? He’s their heart beat. I hope so, because the story is a fantastic one. Klein is the new Tebow, though I admit I have no idea if he goes to church on Sundays.
4. Florida: As has been documented, I’m not as impressed with their schedule as others are, but this is a very well coached, solid team. Jeff Driskel gets plenty of the “game manager” narrative, but so did AJ McCarron last year. He’ll get better. They’re 4 though because the three teams above them I see being able to score on the UF D enough to not be outscored by the UF O. No, that’s not an alien joke.
5. Oregon State: Have I gone mad? Not yet. Think realistically about what your team or the teams above them might look like if they lost their stud starting QB. I find it hard to believe they’d all still be unbeaten. That tells you that OSU is in the truest sense of the word, a great TEAM. They’re also fifth in the nation in rushing D and have two playmakers in the defensive backfield. This team isn’t getting enough credit.
6. Notre Dame: They’d probably be higher considering that their defense is Alabama style elite, but the offense has looked like it will cost them a game down the road. They were lucky to beat Stanford, and the D will need to play almost perfect as they did against Michigan to beat USC and Oklahoma. That’s a lot to ask. Too much, if you ask me, which you’re not, but since I’m part of this column, you get it anyway.
By Matt Zemek
E-mail Matt Zemek
I don't believe in discussing poll-related questions until the second week of November, but if I had to rank the top five teams in the country right now, I would put Florida first and Kansas State second, well ahead of the other three teams. Alabama and Notre Dame would be third and fourth, while Oregon would be a distant fifth.
The source of these rankings is the only reason that should EVER be given for ranking one team above another: the resumes of the respective teams. Rankings should come down to achievements alone, and measuring achievements must measure the quality of opponents in the present tense… not the future or the past.
Florida and Kansas State own bodies of work that are manifestly superior to their foremost competitors… in the present moment. Conversely, Oregon's resume is noticeably inferior when stacked against the other four teams in this conversation.
Florida has beaten LSU and South Carolina, by far the best pair of wins to be found in college football this season. Sure, LSU and South Carolina aren't nearly as good as many people made them out to be in September and early October, but the point remains: You will not find a better pair of wins on one team's resume TODAY, October 23, 2012. Kansas State's pair of wins at Oklahoma and West Virginia is a close second. Alabama, Notre Dame, and Oregon have nothing similar to offer on their resumes right now.
Let's keep this point in mind, though: The whole point of ranking teams honestly in college football – something this sport refuses to do – should be rigorously based on the present moment and not projection-based logic that prematurely jumps into the future. If the present moment is the present moment, several teams should be re-ordered in the rankings all the time, even (or perhaps, PRECISELY) when they all win. Why? Their strength-of-schedule profiles change.
Alabama should be ranked THIRD right now? Naturally, plenty of Crimson Tide fans would meet that statement with outrage or – from a different psychological perspective – hearty laughter, as if to say, "That's a clown ranking, bro!"
Oregon fans – who, as of four years ago, did not know what it was like for their team to get respect from national pundits – would likely react to a No. 5 ranking with a considerable amount of anger. If we're ranking teams based on reputation or on projections, such anger would be justified. Moreover, since college football's rankings – as a practical political matter – DO IN FACT OPERATE based on considerations other than resumes and resumes alone, it's all the more understandable why fans get angry each week. This is why the BCS is – to use the cute nouveaux term – a "travishamockery," shorthand for "a travesty of a mockery of a sham."
However, that's precisely the point college football fans have to learn to live with: If you focus squarely on the present moment and squarely on present-day achievements, the exercise of comparing teams becomes clearer and fairer. In late October, I think Florida and Kansas State deserve the top two rankings, but this hardly means that Alabama, Notre Dame, and Oregon are "in trouble" in any meaningful sense. If the Crimson Tide beat LSU and then Florida in the SEC Championship Game, they're golden. If Notre Dame wins at Oklahoma and USC, the Irish will make the BCS title game, period. If Oregon goes 13-0, beating USC twice, its resume will cease to own a cream-puff-laden quality.