Poll Patrol: Week 10

Here we have another weekly feature.

(All rankings used are from here. All rankings denoted with a # are from the AP Poll)

This week, I’m making and taking questions. (No, seriously, if you put one in the comments, I will answer.)

Why is USC ranked ahead of Georgia and Florida?

This is one of the mysteries that’s been part of this year: of three one-loss teams that lost on the same weekend, USC has consistently been the one at the head of the pack. Florida’s been ahead of the Trojans in the AP Poll for three weeks, but the Trojans are ahead of the Gators everywhere else and ahead of the Bulldogs in all three Top 25 rankings (AP, USA Today, and BCS).

USC lost on the road, sure, while both Florida and Georgia took their losses at home. But Florida and Georgia have both beaten LSU, and handily, and Florida’s got a road win against Tennessee and a home win against Miami, while Georgia’s dumped Arizona State on the road and beaten Vanderbilt at home. Do USC’s wins against Oregon and Ohio State really count for more in the pollsters’ eyes and the computers’ brains, or does their loss against Oregon State count less?

I’m going to guess that USC benefited from being the first to lose; after the shock of their loss came the shock of Florida’s, and then the carnage in Sanford Stadium. It was easy to forget how badly Oregon State outplayed the Trojans after watching turnovers and a blocked extra-point sink the Gators at home and seeing Alabama make like Sherman for a half in Sanford Stadium.

It’s true that USC fell about as far as the first two did that first week, plunging eight spots from #1 to #9, while #3 Georgia dropped to #10 and #4 Florida landed at #13. But, because they were higher up before the loss, USC stayed in front of both SEC schools, and that’s helped the Trojans maintain a position ahead of the Gators and Dawgs to this day. It’s also probable that the win over Ohio State, because the Buckeyes remain higher in the polls than LSU, is a bigger bonus for the Men of Troy than the diminished and split returns UF and UGA got from their respective victories over the Tigers. (And, heck, USC’s win over Virginia might be better than we know; more on that in a bit.)

Still, whichever SEC team wins their game on Saturday should leapfrog USC with another quality win added to their resume, and USC won’t have another comparable victory on its schedule to compensate.

Why is Utah ahead of Boise State?

This one appears to be more a matter of timing than anything else. An unranked Utah edged a ranked Michigan in Week 1 and entered both human polls while the Broncos languished in Also Receiving Votes. Since then, the Utes have only played two FBS teams that currently have winning records, and had to rally against both Air Force and Oregon State.

Compare that to Boise State, which entered the polls only after a 37-32 win over then- and now-ranked Oregon. That win was very impressive; it took 19 fourth-quarter points from the Ducks to close even to that margin. The Broncos haven’t played anyone of note other than that, except maybe Bowling Green, whose upset of Pitt is looking like one of the more unlikely wins of the year, but their margin of victory in those games hasn’t been slimmer than 13 points.

So, why, exactly, right now, is Utah ahead of Boise State in all three polls?

It’s because pollsters overrated what now we know is a bad Michigan that will require a miracle to be bowl-eligible, and Utah played them before that was known. If Boise State plays Oregon in Week 1 and Utah plays Michigan in Week 3, the roles are reversed.

This is a case of chronological confusion that can’t be resolved by pollsters who submit ballots by moving teams that win up and teams that lose down; Boise won’t have a chance to rise above Utah unless the Utes lose.

The good news is that Utah will get a couple of chances to validate itself, in home games against TCU and BYU, and that if both teams go undefeated, they will both be in BCS bowls, rendering their relative places moot, so there’s not much that can be negatively impacted for either school by this.

But if these were underdog teams from BCS conferences, like, say, Northwestern or Vanderbilt, with more than a mid-major’s chances to make the BCS Championship Game, we might have a titanic problem.

Just how bad are the ACC and the Big East?

The ACC seems to have a conference-wide allergy to the Top 25; six different ACC teams have been ranked in the AP Poll entering the last two weeks, and five of them have spit the bit trying to protect their position. Only Florida State, which beat Virginia Tech after basically forcing the Hokie Bird to play quarterback, survived having a number next to their name.

And in the Big East, both ranked teams, South Florida and Pittsburgh, responded to their numerals by putting up shocking numbers of their own, and ones that the AP Stylebook says should be spelled out. For USF, it was the eight yards rushing the Bulls totaled in a road loss to Louisville; Pitt apparently let a high school stock its secondary, because I can’t think of any other way Rutgers’ Mike Teel could throw for six TDs at any level of organized football.

In the debris of those woeful weekends come a handful of theoretically dead teams to claim conference crowns.

West Virginia, which is, I’m told, the same team that was stomped by East Carolina and lost a game against Colorado that seared retinas, is the only undefeated team in the Big East, and their game against Connecticut this week becomes a critical one.

Florida State, which committed approximately two bazillion turnovers in losing to a Wake Forest team that may not possess an offense, and Maryland, which lost to Middle Tennessee State and got shut out by a Virginia team the world thought was moribund, lead the Atlantic Division. And none other than that Virginia team, the one that lost its first three games against FBS teams by a combined score of 128-20, that lost to Duke by 28, is riding a four-game winning streak and by itself atop the Coastal Division.

So, to answer the question: horrifically, sensationally, inspiringly bad. If the ACC and Big East were cities, Dickens would write books about life in them; if they were movies, Uwe Boll would have produced them; if they were television shows, MTV would air them.

If the season ended today, neither putrescent conference would have a team in the BCS. Unless Florida State, currently #15 in those rankings, can go undefeated for the rest of its ACC slate and avoid a beatdown at the hands of Florida, it seems unlikely the ACC team in the BCS won’t seem like an interloper.

And in the Big East, the highest-ranked team in the BCS is South Florida. They’re #23. Dismal doesn’t even begin to describe that.

Who could make the biggest leap this week? Who could fall the furthest?

The biggest opportunity belongs to Texas Tech, which would fly up to the top three with a win over Texas, and could definitely be atop the polls if the Red Raiders beat their in-state foe convincingly. No other team in the Top 25 stands to gain as much ground with a win; neither Florida or Georgia would rise more than two spots with a win, though a blowout could vault either team to the top of the heap of one-loss teams.

The falls are all going to belong to the non-BCS conference schools, but the most likely to fall furthest is probably #19 Tulsa, which finally plays a defense that could match up with its athletes in the Gus Malzahn Revenge Special against Arkansas. The Golden Hurricane would fall out of the Top 25 with a loss, and though Utah, Boise State, and TCU would tumble with losses, none would fall out of the teens, I think.

When will I see this feature again?

Next Monday. (Er, November 9th?)


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