Ranking The "Earned Elite Eight" After Week One

Bert HancockCorrespondent ISeptember 8, 2010

Boise State--the little kid has become a bully of the big boys
Boise State--the little kid has become a bully of the big boysGeoff Burke/Getty Images

As many of us long for a playoff of some kind, four teams would be just fine, but eight is, well, great. Sixteen is simply too many and renders the regular season a lot less meaningful. This isn’t basketball or baseball, where the teams and players that comprise them can bounce back from the comparatively limited strains of competition. Football’s a fully different animal, and a big reason it’s the best sport far and away.

The ‘earned’ part of this set of rankings is probably more controversial, but that makes it all the more fun. I never thought the Heisman (“hypeman”) should be primarily about publicity, expectations, or past exploits, but rather what happened this very year, as should be the case for team rankings. Ideally, the power ratings that comprise the BCS convoluted system take the “subjectivity” out of the equation. Based on the results some years, I doubt it.

At any rate, this is one guy’s opinion and, therefore, not worth a tad more than anyone else’s. But while it may be met with jeers in some quarters, it will be a blast regardless as I take a stab at objectivity.

Last point before beginning: the rankings here don’t necessarily (often don’t) reflect which teams I think are the best or where they end up. That, in fact, is a problem with the pre-season polls, where an Auburn (a few years back) will start so far behind that even a perfect season won’t allow it to enter the national title game. Instead, as noted above, my rankings are going to be based on merit up to that point. On that note, I consider a triumph over a tough opponent to be more valuable than your pinball-points blowout of a lightweight.

Based on its victory, I’m putting Boise State No. 1 in this initial “Earned Elite Eight” following the first week. While the Broncos appeared to benefit from some “suspect” officiating, it’s noteworthy to remember the whole scope of the contest.

Boise State entered a largely hostile domain very far from home and acted like it owned the place, bucking to a 17-0 first quarter lead over a strong Virginia Tech squad. The Hokies ended last year at No. 10 in the AP poll (No. 7 in Jeff Sagarin’s final rankings) and began this year in the same place.

Tip your hat to veteran Frank Beamer’s squad for coming back from that big deficit, but also credit Boise State for twice coming back itself, including near the end with all the pressure on it. There’s zero room for error when a non-BCS conference team is attempting to get to the national title tilt.

As to the officiating, also note the Broncos were penalized for 105 yards (vs. just 55 for the Hokies), making assumptions of “fixes” highly questionable. For the game, Boise outgained Virginia Tech 383-314 and overcame a slight turnover deficit in the process.

For the same reason I place Boise State ahead of the likes of Alabama and Ohio State (winners over the weak) right now, I also put TCU ahead, at No. 2 this week. The Horned Frogs took a couple of early punches in the mouth from a talented Oregon State program (ranked pre-season No. 24, but perhaps worthy of better) but roared back to a victory while outgaining the Beavers by a vast 453-255 margin. In the final thirty minutes, TCU held an astounding 244-87 edge in yardage and an even more eye-popping time of possession bulge, tripling that of Oregon State (22:45-7:15).

Here, the pressure to bring Nick Saban's Crimson Tide and Jim Tressel's Buckeyes (the AP’s 1 and 2) into the mix is great, but “not so fast my friends!” I know the writers barely rank this squad at all, but I am placing Utah (No. 20, AP) at No. 3 after its triumph over a fairly highly rated Pitt Panthers program.

Pitt last year ended at No. 15 and, under Dave Wannstedt, fielded enough of a nucleus to garner that same spot prior to Saturday. But the travel to Utah proved too much, as the Utes withstood a Panther rally that sent the game into overtime, putting it away on the first post-regulation series with a field goal. In the 27-24 victory, Utah outgained Pitt by a robust 405-266 figure and shut down last year’s freshman sensation Dion Lewis (1,799 rushing yards) to just 75 yards on 25 carries (3.0 avg.).

To continue this “charade,” I’m ranking yet another team ahead of defending national champion Alabama, one that didn’t even make either the AP or USA Today Top 25. Michigan, under the direction of blossoming superstar quarterback Denard Robinson (a Vince Young-like 383 combined yards, including 197 rushing), whipped a solid Connecticut squad, 30-10, to make my “not-so-final four.”

The recently struggling Wolverines surprisingly controlled the game from the outset in taking a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter against the visiting Huskies. Connecticut, with three straight seasons of eight-plus wins, lost its five games last year by a razor-thin 15 points (including giving unbeaten Cincinnati fits) and carried a four-game winning streak into Ann Arbor. But the all-time winningest program in college football history dominated in a manner that replaced—at least temporarily—the fresh agony of defeat with the many memories of victory.  

The “Earned Elite Eight” listing (AP rank in parenthesis after the team name):

1. Boise State (3)—Chris Peterson’s squad now has a real shot at playing for it all
2. TCU (4)—another non-BCS program deserving of national notice
3. Utah (20)—incredibly, yet a third non-BCS conference member defeating a BCS counterpart to earn early cred
4. Michigan (NR)—are Wolves’ actually back near the elite, or just teasing the faithful?
5. Ohio State (2)—turning point was the opening kickoff in its rout of Marshall
6. South Carolina (24)—Spurrier has had some highs and lows leading the ‘Cocks. Saturday was all highs in a 41-13 laugher over a normally competitive Southern Miss program
7. Oregon (7)—while blowouts of the invisible mean little, 59-0 at the half and 72-0 (720 yards) shout attention, even against New Mexico
8. Alabama (1)—Crimson Tide may be the best program of ‘em all and gets chance to show that this Saturday against Penn State after vanquishing pedestrian San Jose State

In addition to expecting some above to drop and others to rise, many assume Texas (5 in the AP), Florida (8), and Oklahoma (10)—all suffering from first-game frustrations—will live in the realm of the elite this season, and time will bear that out one way or the other. Who, after all, really expects No. 8 to be favored over No. 1 when it's true playoff time?

It’s early in the season with a ton of football left (thank you, “gridiron gods”). The polls should reflect the results, not what’s expected to happen. Under this thought process, how would you rank them?