Analyzing the Polls (Week Five)

Bert HancockCorrespondent ISeptember 29, 2008

Wow, what a difference a week makes! With three of the top four going down in flames starting Thursday with USC, we expected a major shakeup, and we sure got it.

Now, with Oklahoma on top in both the AP and the USA Today/Coaches poll, we can start by asking: Do the Sooners deserve this billing?

For one, it would take some significant verbal maneuvering to discredit what Bob Stoops has done with the program this season.

The Sooners have put away every opponent they’ve faced—mercilessly and rapidly. A solid TCU Horned Frogs unit was the last foe to fall, 35-10. The game was over by the first quarter.

Even so, if we don’t allow the pre-season polls to influence us too much, a case for the Alabama Crimson Tide can easily be made. Just because the pollsters missed badly by placing Alabama so low to start the year doesn’t mean it should cloud their ranking now five weeks in.

‘Bama has not only triumphed against two Top Ten teams away from home, but it’s done so with a stunning dominance reserved normally for the weaker opponents. The Tide have played their best against the stout. Isn’t that what being No. 1 is about?

OU, meanwhile, claims TCU—ranked No. 24 prior to their contest—as its signature victory. What about the Sooners' rout earlier of Cincinnati, which is otherwise unbeaten? Sorry, but consider this gridiron nut skeptical, as the Bearcats claim wins over FCS-level Eastern Kentucky, Miami of Ohio, and Akron.

Oklahoma gets its opportunity to make a statement—as does Texas—when it meets the Longhorns in Dallas the second weekend of October.

Some were suggesting Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide hadn’t earned a lot prior to this last Saturday, as its first victim, Clemson, is proving to be a pretender once again.

But that changed in Athens when Alabama "blacked out" the third-ranked and unbeaten Georgia Bulldogs, rolling to a 31-0 bulge heading into the half. Combining that with its other wins, and you have a more impressive resume than anyone else at this stage.

What about the Coaches Poll, which puts defending national champion LSU and Missouri both ahead of Alabama?

Les Miles’ LSU Tigers can make a pretty strong case after coming from behind to defeat Auburn on the road. Kudos to his program yet again.

But it seems the jury is still out on Auburn, as it’s struggled mightily with less than stellar squads in recent weeks and has yet to beat a big-time opponent (no offense to Tennessee, but the Volunteers are no longer in that category at this point).

Missouri, on the strength of an offense at least as explosive as Oklahoma’s, heads to Lincoln next Saturday against an improving Nebraska program.

Thus far, no one’s been able to even slow Chase Daniel and the attack unit, but it also has yet to face a "real" defense. The Tigers haven’t been truly tested by a worthy opponent.

Texas, at No. 5, has also steamrolled through its schedule, running up three 52-10 victories among its four. Like Mizzou, the ‘Horns have yet to take on anyone stout enough to determine their championship mettle. One thing appears certain: it’s a significantly stronger Texas team than the 2007 version.

Joe Paterno’s Penn State program has resurged and deserves strong Top Five consideration, too, though Illinois did cause the Nittany Lions some anxious moments last week. Considering the litany of upsets, Joe Pa and company are happy to have pulled away with a 38-24 triumph.

In the end, I think a better case—as noted above—is made for Alabama over either LSU or Oklahoma. The question likely should be whether the Tigers or Sooners deserve the runner-up nod. For now, I’m giving the pollsters the benefit of the doubt and placing Stoops’ squad ahead of LSU, but by a mere Tiger whisker.