College Football Rankings: Will the Real No. 1 Please Stand Up?

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College Football Rankings: Will the Real No. 1 Please Stand Up?
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images
Cam Newton may be the best player in the country, but is Auburn really the best team?

For the third week in a row, the No. 1 team in the college football world has gone down in defeat.

Alabama, the first top team to lose, is arguably the best of the bunch, and because they lost first, they may actually have a chance to come back and work their way into the national championship game.

The BCS has once again created a mess of the college football world by placing teams in ranking order based one-third on computer analysis that does not form opinions based on margin of victory or how a team actually looks in its game day performances.

In looking at the top teams in the BCS this week, is there really a clear-cut No. 1? 

Does the mix of human polls littered with voters who don’t watch most of the teams play and computers who don’t watch how a team does what it does provide an accurate picture of how teams might truly stand up against one another, and therefore actually rank?

In my opinion it’s still too early to truly determine a solid ranking of who might be better than who, but since the early rankings go so far to determine final rankings, it’s something we have to consider.

Here’s my inside look at each team and what they’ve done.

 

1. Auburn (8-0)

The BCS No. 1 team is undefeated. However, they have allowed 24 points or more in five of their eight games, including allowing Kentucky to score 34 and Arkansas to roll up an obscene 43 points. That’s not a defensive unit that should be indicative of the top team in the country.

Three of the eight wins for Auburn came by a field goal, and one of those wins was an overtime squeaker at home against a Clemson team that has zero quality wins this season. Two of Auburn's three most impressive wins came against teams from the Sun Belt Conference, and in one of those victories they allowed 3-5 Arkansas State to score 26 points.

Best team in the country right now? Are you kidding me? The Tigers may have the best player in the country in Cam Newton, but that’s about as far as it goes.

 

2. Oregon (7-0)

The Ducks are ranked No. 1 in both the AP and coaches' polls, and the offense has been lighting up the scoreboards with ridiculous numbers, scoring at least 42 points in each of their games. They lead the nation in total points scored, averaging over 55 points per game.

Big offensive numbers impress humans but mean nothing to computers. Those points have not come against the most solid defenses either, as the average rank of teams faced by the Ducks in scoring defense is 90th, not counting FCS team Portland State. The Oregon defense has allowed 23 points or more in three of their games, including two games allowing 31 points.

Oregon has its own Heisman candidate in RB LaMichael James but on the whole looks a little vulnerable to becoming the fourth top team in a row to fail in a road test when they travel to L.A. this week to play an average USC team.

 

3. Boise State (7-0)

The Broncos looked to have an impressive opening day win over then 10th-ranked Virginia Tech on the road until the Hokies lost their next game to FCS team James Madison in Blacksburg the following week.

Tech has since come back to dominate in their other games and leads the ACC, but the fact remains that the Broncos have to rely on just a few quality wins in a season to make up for their traditionally weak WAC schedule.

Do wins against Tech, Oregon State, Toledo (leads the MAC) and Nevada make a team worthy of a top three ranking in and of itself? They have dominated lesser competition with mostly backups in the second half, but no one can argue that the Broncos have a season-long test like teams from the SEC or Pac-10 this year.

Kellen Moore is also somewhere near the top of the Heisman race, and the Broncos have one of the best coaching staffs in the country.

 

4. Texas Christian (8-0)

The Horned Frogs have only played one ranked team this year, when they beat No. 24 Oregon State in their opener 30-21. Another team that needs to rely on a few quality wins has also taken down a surprising Baylor team this season, but that’s about where the quality of their schedule ends.

The Frogs have played three teams that rank below 110th in scoring. They have allowed several teams to stay with them in the first half of games before putting them away late.

TCU will face eighth-ranked Utah in Salt Lake in early November, and the winner of that game will establish itself as the class of the Mountain West Conference this season and should be invited to a BCS bowl game. Will the winner of that game leapfrog Boise State based on a win over a top 10 team?

TCU doesn’t really have any legitimate Heisman Trophy contenders, but it is a solid, well-coached team that deserves to be ranked in the top 10.

 

Does it make a team better to squeak by tougher competition or to dominate the lesser competition that it plays? Some might say that it takes a tough team to continue to battle and win in close games, and others may say that if you win by a field goal in overtime against a mediocre team like Clemson, you have no business being ranked No. 1.

The problem comes in when the human polls rely on reputation, conference affiliation and perceived notions, because for most of the voters it is impossible to see all the games and vote on those teams responsibly. The computers can’t see how a team performs against the competition and therefore doesn’t differentiate a three-point overtime win from a 30-point dominating win.

The part human and part computer poll and ranking system is supposed to create a balance and accuracy in ranking, but neither one promotes a truly responsible ranking.

At this point in the season there doesn’t seem to be any single dominant team, hence the reason we continue to see the paper No. 1 go down to lower-ranked teams. We may see this happen several more times before the season is over.

Does a one-loss SEC champion deserve to be ranked ahead of an undefeated team from the non-AQ conferences? Where is the line, and what is the standard of competition that needs to be met in order to consider an undefeated non-AQ team for the national championship game? Should a BCS team that schedules an FCS still be considered for a NC appearance?

The case could be made that at this point in the season Boise State has the toughest remaining schedule of the top four teams. If they run the table, should that be enough to move them ahead of one of the two teams ranked above them from the BCS conferences?

Until we have a real playoff system, there can be no true national champion, and even if and when we do get to a college football playoff, there will still be controversy over which teams should be included.

Who do you think should be ranked No. 1?

Will the real No. 1 please stand up?

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