Sunday, November 02, 2008

My Top 25 has Lost its Damned Mind

1Florida 3
2Texas Tech 4
3Alabama 1
4Texas 3
5Penn State 2
6Oklahoma 3
7Southern Cal 2
8Oklahoma State --
9Boise State 1
10Georgia 3
11Ohio State 5
12Utah --
13California 1
14TCU 1
15LSU 4
16Ball State 1
17Michigan State 4
18Missouri 3
19Oregon State 6
20South Carolina 6
21West Virginia 5
22North Carolina --
23Northwestern 3
24Georgia Tech 2
25Oregon 14

Dropped Out: Brigham Young (#18), Tulsa (#20), Minnesota (#23), Florida State (#24).
So, about that one-loss Florida at #1 over three major conference unbeatens thing. I had a revelation today. I was talking to a friend who went to Florida and at the tail end of saying how impressed I was with the Gators' performance on Saturday, I opined that Florida looks like a solid bet to run the table and play for the national title. As I talked out the prospect of an Alabama-Florida SEC Championship Game, I said that I was very interested to see how Saban would scheme against the Florida offense. However, even on the assumption that Saban does a great job and Bama holds Florida to 20-24 points, that still wouldn't be enough against the Gators because Alabama is probably going to score 10-13 points in that game. I reached an "enough with the mulligans, Alabama" point this weekend when the Tide had seven offensive points against Arkansas State at the half. With Florida's defense having shown over the weekend that its talent has matured, the prospect of the Tide scoring enough points to beat Florida just seems unlikely to me. To test my assumption, I looked at Sagarin's Predictor rankings and, sure enough, he has the Gators as a 12-point favorite over Alabama on a neutral field, which is consistent with my thought that the game would be something like 21-10.
And then it dawned on me: if I am convinced that Florida is a better team than Alabama, why would I rank the Tide ahead of the Gators? Bama does have an unblemished record, but it's not as if the Tide were so much better against Ole Miss. Alabama was outgained by the Rebels by 26 yards; Florida outgained Ole Miss by 118 yards. Meanwhile, Florida's schedule is ranked #10 by Sagarin; Alabama's is ranked #56. Thus, the Gators meet the primary precondition for ranking a one-loss team above an unbeaten team: a significant disparity in strength of schedule. Time-permitting, I'm going to devote a full post to this subject this week.
Florida meets the same test in terms of being rated ahead of Texas Tech (SOS #64) and Penn State (SOS #66). Again, if I am operating on the assumption that Texas Tech shot its bolt a little bit on Saturday night against an opponent that was at the end of a four-game murderer's row and is likely to lose one of its next two games, then why would I rate the Red Raiders ahead of Florida? And Penn State simply doesn't have the chances to prove itself against top competition. I'd take the Gators against either of these teams on a neutral field and wouldn't hesitate.
So then the question becomes: what separates Florida from USC, Texas, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State? With Oklahoma State (SOS # 85), it's strength of schedule. With Oklahoma and Texas, it's the fact that both are suspect on defense. I'm sympathetic to the cavalcade of excellent offenses that Texas has faced, but that schedule doesn't justify 80th in pass efficiency defense. I think the world of Will Muschamp, but there's only so much he can do with a secondary that green. With Oklahoma, I can't get out of my head the 820 yards of combined passing that they allowed in consecutive weeks to Josh Freeman and Todd Reesing. Florida just looks like a balanced team.
So that leaves us USC. I'm on record as saying they're the most talented team in the country. I can't hold the letdown thing against USC and not apply the same standard to Florida losing to Ole Miss. I cite Sagarin liberally and his Predictor ranking has the Trojans as a one-point favorite over Florida on a neutral field. USC's win over Ohio State is comparable to Florida's win over Georgia in terms of an emphatic statement against a top 15 opponent. At the end of the day, USC simply has fewer chances to prove its merit because the Pac Ten is so bad this year. I'm interested to see how the Trojans play against Cal, the second-best team in the conference.
At the end of the day, I voted Florida number one because they look like the best team in the country and because their resume is as good as anyone's when their record is paired with their strength of schedule and their points and yardage numbers.

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