Is It Fair for Mississippi State to Leap Florida State for the No. 1 Spot?

Ben Kercheval@@BenKerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterOctober 12, 2014

Spruce Derden/USA Today

In a season of surprises, the biggest one of all has been the rise of both Mississippi State and Ole Miss to the top of the polls. 

Anyone who predicted the Bulldogs and Rebels would be No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, in the latest Associated Press and Amway Coaches polls might also have next week's winning lotto numbers. 

As David Brandt of the AP tweets, the Bulldogs' rise to the top of the polls has been the quickest in history. 

That leads to a point of debate: Is it fair that the Bulldogs have leapfrogged fellow undefeated team Florida State to claim the No. 1 spot? The Seminoles were the preseason No. 1 team in both polls and remained there through the first five weeks of the season. 

The results between the two are close, with Mississippi State leading Florida State by just one point in the coaches poll. In fact, the Seminoles still have more first-place votes—31 to 26—in that poll. The AP poll results tilt more heavily in favor of Mississippi State in both points (1,480 to 1,415) and first-place votes (45 to 12). 

The first thing that should be noted is that what happened last year doesn't matter. Yes, given that undefeated teams go down every week, it's nothing short of impressive that Florida State has won 22 straight games dating back to 2012. There wasn't any question that the Seminoles were the most dominant team in 2013 (more on that later). 

That being said, the only thing voters can go off of (and likely are) is what the Noles do this season. For the first time since USC in 2012, AP voters felt a win—in this case, Florida State's 38-20 victory over Syracuse—wasn't good enough for a No. 1 team to keep its spot. 

Florida State's resume looks solid, though, which is a flip of the script from a year ago when they were steamrolling opponents regularly. FSU already has two wins against Top 25 teams: Oklahoma State and Clemson. The win over the Cowboys, now ranked at 5-1, to open the season looks more impressive now than it did at the time. The victory over Clemson came without quarterback Jameis Winston, who was serving a suspension, and defensive end Mario Edwards Jr., who had a concussion.

There's a case to be made that Clemson should have won that game in Tallahassee, but it didn't and Florida State rolled on. 

Now, compare those wins to Mississippi State's resume. The Bulldogs have won three straight games against opponents who were ranked in the Top 10 at the time they met: LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn.

LSU is no longer ranked, and there's an argument that the same thing should be said for the Aggies. Put another way, the Bulldogs' best win to date, by a landslide, came Saturday against Auburn. 

Resumes and the so-called "eye tests" are two factors playing a role in deciding which team should be No. 1. Through seven weeks, Mississippi State looks like one of the most dominant teams in the sport, if not the most dominant. 

The Bulldogs have done a great job of controlling the line of scrimmage on offense and defense. With a balanced offense and a top-tier defense, Mississippi State has done pretty much whatever it wanted against every team it's played. 

Florida State has been statistically strong too, though the running game is only recently coming along and the defense isn't as stout as it was a year ago. 

Which brings up a theory: Is Florida State being punished, if you will, for not replicating last year's team?

Again, what happened a year ago isn't supposed to matter, but is it possible voters are (unknowingly?) comparing Florida State in 2014 to Florida State in 2013?

Another unspoken item that's likely being taken into account is perceived strength of not only a conference but of a division. 

The SEC West is generally considered the best division in college football. It wouldn't be surprising if Mississippi State got an edge, at least in part, because it plays in that division. The West, for example, is getting publicity as a division that could field two playoff teams. 

"I think there's going to be good chance there will be two teams from the [SEC] West, or at least two teams from the SEC, to make the Final Four," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said Thursday on ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike.

Mike Groll/Associated Press

The odds of that happening seem low. A lot of teams around the country would have to lose multiple times for it to be a legitimate discussion point. Still, which other division is being discussed in the same light? 

Furthermore, all the attention that the SEC West has garnered can make it easy to ignore the fact that the SEC East has been mediocre.  

Eventually, SEC West teams will separate as well. Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Auburn, Alabama—they all have plenty of games against one another. It'll all get sorted out in time. Hopefully. 

Is it fair that Mississippi State leapfrogged Florida State? Fair doesn't play into anything; voters simply decide which team is better. After Week 7, the Bulldogs have proven themselves worthy of a No. 1 ranking. They'll have more opportunities to validate that ranking at Alabama (Nov. 15) and at Ole Miss (Nov. 29). In Week 8, Florida State hosts undefeated Notre Dame. 

So, is it a runaway vote? 

It doesn't feel that way, but if we're lucky, we'll find out on the field in January. 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. 

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