Filling out a Top 25 ballot is hard. I’ve been doing one each week for FanSided and learned that it’s tough to make distinctions this early in the season. The Associated Press gives some criteria to voters, such as: “Base your vote on performance, not reputation or preseason speculation” and “don’t hesitate to make significant changes in your ballot from week to week.” (I don’t understand how the AP can tell its voters to ignore preseason speculation when it releases a preseason poll, but OK.)
How voters decide to judge performance is a subjective process that should differ a fair amount among individual voters. It doesn’t. Groupthink runs rampant, like the Oregon offense. I yearn for more dissention. I have Alabama No. 1 but I could easily make the case for Oregon, Florida State, Baylor, or Missouri, and I hope others would make that argument. They don’t. Of the 60 first place votes in the AP poll, 55 went to Alabama, 3 to Oregon, and 2 to FSU. The numbers are nearly identical in the Coaches’ Poll.
There are very few common opponents among the top teams and we don’t have much data at this point in the season. There shouldn’t be so much agreement.
A problem within the problem is the SEC. It’s no coincidence that of the four two-loss teams still ranked, three of them are from the SEC. When South Carolina loses to Tennessee, A&M loses to Auburn, LSU loses to Ole Miss, and Georgia loses to Vandy, as was the case on Saturday, does it speak to the great depth of the conference or mediocrity throughout?
No matter your answer to that question, the trouble starts before the season begins. The reason six SEC teams are ranked (and a record eight were last week) is because six were ranked in the top 12 of the preseason poll. Remember the AP guideline about not hesitating to make significant ballot changes? Voters ignore that one; they are stubborn.
I’m calling for more poll chaos, but in reality it’s too early to get too worked up about the rankings. There will be plenty more upsets and things will clear up as the season progresses. But with the release of the initial BCS standings on Sunday, it’s worth discussing.
In defense of offensive teams
Baylor and Oregon rank first and third, respectively, in yards per play (against FBS competition). When you first think of those teams, you think of offense—a lot of points at a fast clip. But their defenses have allowed them to be as dominant as they’ve been this season. Baylor is ranked fifth in the country in yards per play allowed; Oregon’s defense ranks eighth.
Last year, Oregon forced the most turnovers in the country (they also had the best turnover margin). The Ducks are tied for first this season with 21 turnovers forced and are second in margin.
We’ll see if the statistics remain as impressive as the schedules get tougher: Oregon’s next two games are against UCLA and Stanford; Baylor plays Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State three straight weeks in November.
Good hires: Three of the 10 undefeated teams have first-year head coaches (and not just guys in their first year as head coach at the school, but their first season as a head coach): Northern Illinois (Rod Carey), Oregon (Mark Helfrich), and Texas Tech (Kliff Kingsbury). Auburn, at 6-1, is looking smart so far for bringing Guz Malzahn back.
Actual Poll Chaos: According to ESPN Stats & Information, this was the first weekend since September 2007 that five AP top 10 teams lost.
Tuesday Night Football: The early-week college football games have begun. Louisiana-Lafayette played at Western Kentucky last Tuesday and plays again tonight against Arkansas State (both on ESPN2). By Week 11 there will be a college game every night except Sunday and Monday. Before the season started, The New York Times ran a three-part series on ESPN’s relationship with college football. Part Two talks about schools’ willingness to play mid-week games in order to get on television.