The Fog Poll: September 24th, 2009

I’m calling this the Fog Poll because it’s a Faux Blog Poll, and in no way affiliated with the genuine article. Considering how wrong it will no doubt be, I could also call it the Flog Poll. It will probably not run on Thursdays going forward. Please, feel free to leave arguments and opinions in the comments.

First, the methodology.

The object of my rankings is to determine which teams are currently the best, in order, in college football. It will be volatile, will combine both current season performance and roster strength/potential, may rank teams with better records below teams with losses, and will probably be proven horrifically wrong, time and again. That said, it will also use a means of covering my asinine analysis as a core mechanic: Tiers.

I’m doing guesswork, obviously, with all of this, but if I think one team (or more) is of obviously higher quality than another, I’ll put that team in a higher tier. If I think that one team is probably more or less a match for another, they will probably share a tier, though I’ll still put the “better” team on a higher rung. You (if there is a you) will see what I mean.

Without further ado:

The Favorites

1. Alabama
2. Florida
3. Texas

These teams share talent, schemes, and experienced cores that set them well apart from the rest of the landscape. A loss by any of these three would be a shock. Of the three, Alabama has the best resume, with a win at a neutral site over a game Virginia Tech team, and the best running game. ‘Bama also has the most uncertainty at quarterback: Greg McElroy has yet to throw 90 passes in his collegiate career, and completed just 50 percent of his throws against the Hokies, the only BCS team he’s started against. Florida and Texas have ceilings much higher than their play so far has indicated, and their stellar 2008 campaigns, with large portions of their 2009 rosters, plays into their lofty perches here.

The Vultures

4. Miami
5. California

Each team is the class of their conference, explosive offensively, with a singular star and possible Heisman candidate, and sound defensively: Cal allowed under 300 yards to Minnesota on the road, and Miami just throttled Georgia Tech’s option offense. There’s probably a little bit of wishful thinking in placing both of these largely unproven squads in this stratum, but each has the right mixture of young, fast, and fearless (or, in Cal’s case, Jahvid Best) to be probably the class of their BCS conference, and therefore a threat to earn passage to Pasadena.

The Miniature Elephant

6. Cincinnati

Cincinnati, which has, on the road, blasted Rutgers and beaten an Oregon State team that will be within a game of the Pac-10 title at year’s end, is a legitimate contender for the BCS title. The problem, here, is that there are more questions than the numbers suggest: Rutgers may be quite bad (a 23-15 win over, Florida International does not bode well, unfortunately for Dan Levy), that Oregon State is starting something named Sean Canfield at quarterback and that the Bearcats’ entirely restructured defense, which may be this top ten’s most dramatically turned over unit since 2008, has been good for just two games. You may ask: “Why is Cincinnati here and not in the above category?” I will answer: “Well, do you see Jacory Harris or Jahvid Best on Cincinnati’s roster? No?” And I will move on.

I am excited about the Cincy/Fresno game this week, though. If the Bearcats get past the Bulldogs, and an offense that put all sorts of points and yards on Boise State, I’ll feel much better about them—and their chances to find themselves in Pasadena.

Speaking of Boise State

7. Boise State

They’re beneath the ‘Nati because they beat their team from Oregon at home instead of on the road, and because, dear God, how hard is it to tackle Ryan Mathews?

The rock-ribbed defense against Oregon and the jaw-dropping offense against Fresno State means that Boise’s had both halves of a really good football team this year, just in different games.

The Shadows in the South

8. LSU
9. Mississippi

I think both of these teams are talented, but I have no idea how good that makes them. Washington arguably played better against LSU than they did in upsetting USC, doing a lot of driving and gaining for relatively few points, and the Tigers’ offense was more effective than the Trojans’ by virtue of avoiding turnovers and scoring points. But unimpressive wins over a probably rancid Vanderbilt team and Louisiana-Lafayette tell us nothing about the Bayou Bengals.

That situation is much like the Rebels’: They needed 28 fourth-quarter points against Memphis, including 21 in the last 6:14, to make their date with one of the dregs of Conference USA look like the mismatch it should have been, and pushing around Southeastern Louisiana, which I had not heard of until last weekend, earns them no points.

So the formula here: Deceptively close road win plus victories over cupcakes equals a bunch of question marks. LSU gets the nod based on slightly better top-to-bottom talent despite being outshined by the brightest lights in red and blue.

The Stodgy Lions of the North

10. Penn State

Penn State has averaged a 30.00-6.33 win over three weeks at home against Akron, Syracuse, and Temple. Last year’s team, the one good enough to earn a BCS berth, beat Oregon State by a 31-point margin that matches this squad’s highest output. The defense has yet to allow more than 251 total yards, which is good, but considering that the best offense it has faced this fall is quarterbacked by a guy who hadn’t played competitive football in four years, I feel safe in saying that the tests are yet to come.

Mid-Major Mysteries

11. Houston
12. TCU

Each has a road win over a BCS conference team: Houston over Oklahoma State, TCU over Virginia. Each has a definite imbalance towards one of the two major units: Houston’s offense, TCU’s defense. And each has a weekend date with a similarly oriented team that will have to be better than their better unit to win: For Houston, Texas Tech; for TCU, Clemson. I put less stock in Oklahoma State’s win over Georgia after what a healthy Joe Cox has done to South Carolina and Arkansas the last two weeks, so I devalue Houston’s win over Okie State in a similar vein, but their resume is still better than TCU’s: A victory against Virginia is hardly a victory at all, right?

The Blemished Bunch

13. Florida State
14. Virginia Tech
15. Brigham Young
16. Oklahoma
17. Washington
18. USC
19. Ohio State

Reasonings: FSU was better in their loss to a highly-ranked team and better in their victory against the other ranked team than Virginia Tech, and if other teams (Mississippi, Penn State) don’t get a ton of points for lambasting clearly inferior competition, FSU doesn’t get dinged for a narrow win over a team in a letdown game played in a lagoon. The FSU-BYU-OU and U-Dub-USC-tOSU troikas are observed for purposes of giving teams that beat other teams the justice of a higher ranking, though there is such little distance between any of these teams except FSU and BYU that it hardly matters. Washington’s high ranking is bullish overcorrection for a preseason underestimation.

The Back of the Pack

20. Michigan
21. North Carolina
22. Oklahoma State
23. Georgia
24. Kansas
25. Nebraska

Much as with Washington, Oklahoma State gets dropped to account for preseason overrating; Michigan should have lost the Notre Dame game and has only wins over directional Michigan schools besides that scraper of a game against another marginal Top 25 team; North Carolina has seriously underperformed for what it seems to have in talent; Georgia has a porous defense and apparently potent offense, except for that head-scratcher against Oklahoma State; Kansas had some trouble putting away Duke. If any one of these teams gets to ten wins this year, it will be a surprise.

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