1. Southern Cal
3. Louisiana State
5. Virginia Tech
7. Florida State
8. Ohio State
9. Miami (Florida)
11. Arizona State
14. Notre Dame
15. Georgia Tech
16. Texas A&M
21. Michigan State
22. Texas Tech
23. Boston College
24. Iowa State
No change in the top five for obvious reasons. I dropped Notre Dame down a ways for giving up a million points to Michigan State, but I kept them above the Spartans because the Irish still have two quality wins; they didn't get a two-game preseason to get ready for this game like Michigan State did. Both teams seem to have great offensive designs and will score a ton of points, but will likely finish in the 8-3 range because neither of them can stop opponents from throwing the ball at will. I'm not the first one to say this, but State has to beware against a frisky Illinois team this week. Stat of the week, by the way: I don't know if this is right, but I read somewhere that Michigan State is 9-1 against Top Ten teams since 1997...and 46-43 against the rest of college football.
Miami and Florida State both get bumps for quality road wins against ranked opponents. FSU's newfound ability to complete a forward pass should be frightening for opponents, because their defense is outstanding and they've always had good running backs. By the way, isn't is a rite of passage in the fall that the leaves change, the air gets chilly, and Florida State figures out that they have a better offense when they spread out with four-wide out of the shotgun as opposed to running out of the I-formation and compressing their talent between the hashmarks? It seems that they've been making this startling revelation every year since 1992. (Is it possible for me to say anything nice about the 'Noles?) I didn't penalize Clemson too much; an overtime loss to a Top Ten team is nothing to be upset about. That said, Clemson fans are going to be seeing that missed throw in the end zone at the end of regulation when they close their eyes every night until March.
Tennessee takes a tumble in the rankings for their inexplicable play-calling against Florida. I didn't see the game because I was at a wedding in Providence, which is about as far from the bright center of the college football universe as possible (although I did get introduced, over and over again, to something called a Dark and Stormy, which is a local drink with dark rum and ginger beer. I'm not much for sweet alcoholic beverages, but this one was an exception. Mmmmmm.) Looking at the box score late Saturday night, Tennessee's play-calling seemed inexplicable to me. How does Gerald Riggs get five yards per pop and yet you still keep calling pass plays that are not working? The stereotype during the off-season, at least among Tennessee fans who get their corn from a jar, was that they were going to teach fancy pants Urban Meyer a few things about life in the SEC by smash-mouthing their way to victory in a venue that they "own" on the basis of a whopping two-game winning streak. Instead, Meyer was the one whose team had the smash-mouth personality, winning by great defensive play and special teams. Tennessee had the ability to match them by running the ball and yet they gave their stud back only 17 carries. And this is on the road, no less, the place where Fulmer (and most coaches) tend to become more conservative, not less. Anyway, it's inexplicable, especially to me because Riggs is on my fantasy team, but Tennessee's likely response is to try to run the ball on every play at LSU. The problem is that LSU, unlike Florida, is a team that needs to be attacked through the air. If the Vols overreact to their Left Coast gameplan from last week, they will end up calling the wrong plays two weeks in a row.
Alabama shoots up the rankings this week after dominating South Carolina in Columbia, a tough venue for most teams. Bama probably benefited from seeing South Carolina's defense on tape twice, but give them their due. I got tired the past few years listening to excuses from Bama fans as to why their team wasn't winning ten games per year as they believe is their birthright, but the way the Tide look this year, they may have been right. They're combining last year's defense with a solid running game and - finally - a healthy passing game. And their rise makes life a lot easier for...Georgia. If LSU and Alabama are clearly the top two teams in the West, and Florida and Tennessee play both of them and Georgia plays neither, well, you do the math. By the way, Bama's strong performance is illustrating one of my pet theories: in major, major rivalries, when one team has a great year, it often spurs the rival to have a great year in the following season. To wit:
1992 - Alabama goes unbeaten, then the following year, Auburn does the same.
1999 - Alabama wins the SEC, then the following year, Auburn wins the SEC West.
Or from another famous rivalry:
1997 - Michigan goes unbeaten, then the next year, Ohio State goes 11-1 and finishes #2
2002 - Ohio State goes unbeaten, then the next year, Michigan wins the Big Ten and goes to the Rose Bowl.
We're also introducing UCLA and Oregon into the poll, since both teams are 3-0 and had big home wins over the weekend. UCLA might prove to be the better team because they can play defense, but Oregon, like Michigan State and Notre Dame, seems to have the ability to get opponents into shootouts and they can win their share of those. It'll be interesting to see if they can get USC into a scorefest. I suspect that the Trojans' defensive line will prevent that from happening, especially since they've been put on upset alert about this game since June.