Early this morning, before boarding my flight back to Atlanta (where I'm finally comfortably resting) from Kansas City, I sat down to send in the latest installment of my picks for the Associated Press Top 25 Poll. (The full results of this week's poll can be found here) When I passed that list on to the good folks at The Telegraph's sports desk for insertion in Monday's paper, I wrote the following: "Boy, I feel like I need a bath. Filling out this week's poll made me feel dirty."
Indeed it did. And simply for the very fact that there was an absolute massacre to my picks 12-25. And, as I suspect, my voting colleagues endured the same kind of madness in their polls, too. But alas, that's what happens when a conference like the ACC -- one that entered the year with all kinds of promise and optimism -- experiences the type of blood-letting that ransacked its big powers this weekend.
Well, without further ado, I explain my selections to you here:
1. Alabama: Do I really need to say more? Again, the defending national champs, without defending Heisman winner Mark Ingram, rolled to another big win Saturday. Until a team proves otherwise, the Crimson Tide will live atop my poll.
2. Ohio State: If you've been keeping track of my picks, you'll notice this is the first major change I've had this high on my lists this season. I'm definitely in the pro-Boise State camp as far as giving the Broncos a ranking deserving of placing them in the national title discussion (if they go undefeated). But Virginia Tech, the team the Broncos squeaked by last Monday, lost to FCS foe James Madison on Saturday, calling in to question the Hokies' legitimacy. In turn, it called into question Boise State's legitimacy as a national title contneder, since the two-loss Hokies team appeared to be the Broncos' toughest test before the season. OK, quickly, about Ohio State. Well, simply, the Buckeyes won over a talented Miami team. Terrelle Pryor actually has this team going in the right direction, and if it can breeze through its Big Ten schedule, there is no reason to believe that Ohio State won't be in the national title discussion by year's end.
3. Boise State: I explained most of my Boise decision in that Ohio State ramble. As an addendum, the Broncos were off this week, so it is kind of unfair to drop them. But hey, the voters overall ranked them third last week anyway, and I couldn't have imagined that would change too drastically anyway. Next week should be the final legitimacy test for Boise State for a while, as it takes on Oregon State.
4. TCU: The Horned Frogs pummeled Tennessee Tech on Saturday 62-7. Tennessee Tech was the same program that got destroyed by Arkansas last week 44-3. The home-opening beatdown helped TCU confirm its status as a team that knows how to win and can win big. So of course, at 2-0, I have no problem keeping the Horned Frogs in their fourth-place spot this week.
5. Texas: The early-season blowouts ensued in Austin, where the Longhorns blasted Wyoming 34-7. Since the teams around them did well this week, I have no problem keeping Texas in the top 5. Before this year is said and done, its young offense will prove it belongs in the BCS discussion once again.
6. Nebraska: Like most other teams 1-10, the Cornhuskers had relative ease against their less-touted opponent Idaho. I had them here at 6 last week, and this is where they shall remain. Like I said last week, I believe Bo Pellini has the program headed in a strong direction, although the real test will come when Nebraska's Big 12 schedule opens.
7. Oregon: The Ducks struggled early to Tennessee during the weather-interrupted marathon affair, but they turned it around quickly. Capping a 48-13 win, Oregon showed it was for real. I feel pretty bad for keeping them out of the top 10 on my preseason ballot. These guys are on the verge of something special in Eugene. The thing is, though, a return trip to the Rose Bowl must go better if the Ducks are to become a national power.
8. Iowa: Another no-change selection here for me. The Hawkeyes were No. 9, however, in last week's actual overall poll. In mine, I put them ahead of Oklahoma and Florida after those teams struggled to close out their smaller Week 1 foes. The Hawkeyes have been consistent these first two weeks.
9. Oklahoma: I'm actually rethinking this one. I thought the Soones' win over Florida State was great and all, but I wasn't immediately convinced that they belonged at least in the top 8. In retrospect, I may have switched them and the Hawkeyes after further considering just how wide a margin they beat a good Florida State team. It is water under the bridge at this point, however, because this team was purely a top 10 team no matter how you sliced it. Now that Landry Jones has them going, I expect to raise the Sooners the deeper we get into the year.
10. Florida: Well, after an early scare, the Gators did finally turn things around to beat South Florida on Saturday. But the fact they were initially staring down another 60-minute battle with a program they should have beaten easily, gave me pause. I really had to think about whether this team deserved a top 10 billing, and decided, at the end of the day, it did. It will be interesting to see how the SEC East race goes now that South Carolina has emerged as a definite contender. If the Gators can't stave off the Gamecocks, then surely, they don't deserve this billing at all.
11. Wisconsin: The Badgers came in at 12 in my poll last week, but they become the first major beneficiaries of the freefall that was "Massacre Saturday" for the ACC. I had Virginia Tech in this spot last week, but after the loss to James Madison, of course the Hokies had to go. Although the win over San Jose State was probably more of a struggle than it should have been, there was no other team Saturday that deserved to be higher than the Badgers ... in my humble opinion.
12. Arkansas: I can't believe that I'm typing in Arkansas as the 12th-best team in the country. Very shocking to read those words on my screen right now. I mean, hey, I'm all for Ryan Mallet and the Razorback receiving corps, but it feels strange to have them this high. But, again, thanks in part to a slew of big losses and tight finishes elsewhere last week, this selection actually makes some sense. Arkansas was 14th in last week's poll -- 22nd in mine last week -- and rolled Louisiana-Monroe, a team it should have had no trouble with. Can the 'Hogs keep climbing? We'll see...
13. South Carolina: Here's another I-can't-believe-what-I'm-typing pick. The Gamecocks entered the year picked to finish third in the SEC East behind Florida and rival Georgia. Well, one day after beating the Bulldogs at home in an inspiring, run-heavy performance, the Gamecocks showed they deserve a place in the SEC conversation. The road only gets tougher for South Carolina, but based upon the other teams around them, there is no reason to put them any lower than 13. Certainly not any lower than 15.
14. Auburn: Last week, I had Auburn 19. And although the Tigers beat an inspired Mississippi State team on the road last Thursday, I really didn't want to raise them this high. I would have rather brought them up to about 17 or so. But, again, the Tigers were beneficiaries of the slew of mid-tier teams that fell Saturday. So 14 they go, falling right in behind their SEC bretheren. Ironically, these slots in most ballots were occupied last week by ACC teams Virginia Tech, Miami and Georgia Tech.
15. West Virginia: After struggling with Marshall on Friday, the Mountaineers probably didn't deserve being in the top 15 discussion. But, lo and behold, I moved them up (one spot on my ballot, eight spots from last week's overall ballot) like everyone else because of the failings of teams that were above them last week. Continuing to ponder the fact that it took a narrowly-missed, potentially game-tying OT Marshall field goal to win, makes it all the more unreal that West Virginia should settle in this spot. But, it's a good team, the Mountaineers staged a great comeback, and here is where they lie.
16. Utah: Utah was another beneficiary on my list, but less so than the other teams. This may just be a legit top 15 team. I was hesitant to rank Utah any higher because I'm still not fully convinced it is better than any of the SEC schools ahead of it or even West Virginia. That win over UNLV was convincing, however, as is the fact that the overall poll had it at No. 20 last week. I kept Utah off my ballot last week, so as far as I'm concerned, it's a big deal that it can be a mover and shaker.
17. LSU: I had the Tigers 23 last week, and that was only because I wasn't sure how good they were after letting UNC back in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game. The verdict is still out, but the fact that they held a hungry Vanderbilt team to three points -- the same Vanderbilt team that posted 21 in a two-point loss to my alma mater last week -- still says something. Les Miles may have something going on in Baton Rouge after all. But again, the jury is still out.
18. Miami: OK, the mess that was this past weekend eases slightly for the ACC. I do believe that despite all its big losses last weekend, the ACC can be a contending conference. I'm still not sold on the Miami hype machine, but I believe the Hurricanes still have a quality program. The fact that they went into a very hostile, unfamiliar Ohio State environment and were able to hang 24 on the Buckeyes and only lose by a possession or two doesn't mean they have a bad team at all. Besides, this is an Ohio State team I've got ranked second in the country. So, as you can see, Miami fell -- some half-dozen slots in my poll -- but its loss to me shouldn't be as big as that of Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.
19. Southern Cal: The Trojans still haven't established just what their team identity is, and it could cost them. Narrowly escaping a Virginia upset was enough to keep them in the top 20, but not enough to prevent me from dropping them one spot from last week.
20. Stanford: The Cardinal looked very impressive in their 35-0 blowout win over UCLA on Saturday night. If Mr. Luck can continue to pass the way he has and the Stanford defense can hold firm like it did this weekend, don't be surprised if this program continues to climb. This could be another fun year in Palo Alto.
21. Arizona: I keep putting the Wildcats on my ballot, and one of these days we'll all soon see why. Arizona, like most of the other Pac-10 schools has a good quarterback and just a complete group up and down the roster. True, the Wildcats' 52-6 win Saturday came against The Citadel, but still, they know how to beat a supposedly more inferior team. When the Pac-10 schedule starts, Southern Cal, Stanford and Arizona will be fun to watch.
22. Oregon State: The Beavers were not in action this weekend, but I had them on my previous ballot and was impressed with them despite losing a nailbiter to TCU in Week 1. They will face a bit of a test in Louisville next week and that will be a good indicator about whether this team belongs or not.
23. Georgia Tech: I'm sure this may ruffle some feathers, but I kept the Yellow Jackets in my poll this week. The primary reason is this: They lost by three points to a Kansas team that had everything in the world to prove in that game and was desperate for a win. That's a reason to keep them. One reason Georgia Tech deserved to fall? Well, the Yellow Jackets lost to Kansas, a team that lost to an FCS opponent at home the week before. Another reason? The Yellow Jackets beat themselves. Of course, I got a better look at this game than any other one this week, but clearly had the Jackets tweaked one or two of their miscues or not had one of the many ill-timed penalties that came their way, they would have won that game. Is this a team that should deserve a top 25 billing by season's end? I argue yes. Does it right now? Maybe not, but a big win on the road at North Carolina next week should ensure that voters start reevaluating how good this team is. The key is, however, that the Jackets have to start winning big from here out, because their schedule turns into a cake walk until late Oct. when they head to Clemson.
24. Michigan: Yes, I was impressed by the Wolverines and I am impressed that Rich Rodriguez's system is finally catching on. Of course, Michigan's wins could be considered suspect: No one really knows how good Conneticut is this year, and the Notre Dame project is still an early work in progress. But this win definitely was enough that the 2-0 Wolverines ought to at least be considered.
25. Georgia: I haven't looked yet, but I imagine I'm one of the few voters who has both Georgia teams in the polls this week. I do believe they deserve to be there. The Bulldogs, although their offense couldn't generate touchdown drives, didn't look completely terrible against South Carolina. They only lost 17-6, which proves that the defense is at least catching on to Todd Grantham's 3-4 scheme. Not to mention, this was the first of another two games that they will be missing receiver A.J. Green. It is hard to conceive of UGA being in the top 25 next week if it loses or wins a close game, but it isn't hard to believe that by season's end, it should be in the mix.
Outside looking in:
*These are the teams I debated including