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Sunday Morning Quarterback

Sunday Morning Quarterback

Saturday, January 07, 2006

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All season long, SMQ has been faithfully submitting his ballot, sometimes with much thought, sometimes without, but never with much haggling over arbitrarily moving a team up or down a spot.

Not so with this season-ending poll; this poll counts. In every previous ballot, slighted teams still had the opportunity to advance, SMQ's season-long assumption being that it was the final poll, when every bit of information anyone will ever have on the 2005 season is at last available, that the poll would shake itself out and reflect as accurately as possible the actual - and not presumed, predicted or over-hyped - achievements of each team.

Instead, there's this mess. No poll SMQ has issued throughout the season contains such hypocritical logic, so many compromises, such idiosyncratic reasoning.

For example, what to do with slots 9 through 15? Georgia lost to both Auburn and Florida - therefore the 'Dogs, having now dropped to the identical record of thos eopponents, should slip below both, right? Yet the SEC Champion Bulldogs were 2 1/2 games better than Florida in the league and barely lost to the Gators without their offensive MVP, and outscored its opponents by eight touchdowns more than UF outscored its foes. Wisconsin, similarly, now holds a head-to-head advantage over Auburn (not to mention a strong endorsement from Poll Master Brian), and the two teams share the same record. Advantage Wisconsin? Well...Auburn closed its regular season with two straight wins over top ten teams, far surpassing any Wisconsin win (except Auburn itself), and one of its other defeats was an extremely narrow, should-have-won affair against one of the top five or six teams in the country; the Badgers dropped games to Northwestern and, more convincingly, Iowa. UW: 5-3 in the Big Ten, Auburn: 7-1 in the SEC. So: reward head-to-head, or season-long consistency?

Questions go on: how much should ACC champion Florida State be punished for its tough, respctable loss against No. 3 Penn State? Does Nebraska's shaky win over Michigan automatically vault the Huskers, which were creamed by Kansas at one point in the season, over the consistently solid and feisty (if unlucky) Wolverines?

Hell if SMQ knows. These questions are the reason he's pushed himself so hard at various points this season, without success, to come up with a decent statistical formula that eliminates such arbitrary idiosyncracies. He hopes to operate more consistently under such a system next season after a (hopefully) more stable off-season than the one he went through in 2005.

Until then, this is his best shot at the final, official, save-for-posterity ballot to culminate this fine season:

FINAL 2005 TOP 25
1. Texas: Obviously.
2. Southern Cal: The best one-loss team ever? Hardly. But certainly the best this year.
3. Penn State: SMQ disputes Joe Paterno's Coach of the Year award, Michael Robinson's fifth-place Heisman finish and Paul Posluszny's Butkus Award, but he doesn't dispute that PSU, as a team that far surpasses the sum of its less-than-spectacular parts, would have a legit beef - again - if not for Chad Henne and Mario Manningham.
4. Ohio State: Had a great chance to beat two of the top three teams in everyone's poll and din't have too much trouble with anyone else; in a playoff, the way the Buckeyes finished over the last six games and the Fiesta Bowl, they may have had as good a shot of winning as anyone. And that's it for the hypotheticals.
5. LSU: Damn! Does the Peach Bowl outing make Matt Flynn the '06 starter? It was easily the best performance of the Tigers' season, and that's for a team that beat three other top 25 foes.
6. Virginia Tech: Quarterbacking thuggishness aside, delivered one steamroller win (51-7 over Georgia Tech) and three very solid ones (34-17 over West Virginia, 30-10 over Boston College and 35-24 over Louisville). Overall, the best team in the ACC.
7. West Virginia: Answered a lot of questions by beating a team most of us can agree is actually good, and with gusto. Why, though, is WVU still ranked below V-Tech here when almost every other ballot ranks the Mountaineers higher? 34-17, my friend.
8. Alabama: If only this team could score, it would have won at least the SEC. Consolation: best total defense in the country, top ten finish. After losing the Music City Bowl in '04, that should sound good enough.
9. Auburn: Gets the nod over UGA for head-to-head and over Wisconsin for number of legitimate big-time wins in the regular season (2 to 1, or 2 to none, depending on how you feel about Michigan), and for having better losses than the Badgers. Forsook a chance at the top five in the Outback Bowl, though.
10. Georgia: The SEC Champion must be Top 10...right? Only West Virginia loss hurts more than either of the more excusable near-misses against Florida and Auburn.
11. Miami: There's no excuse for getting clocked 40-3 by a team starting its backup quarterback. What was all that Devin Hester nonsense? Bad as that awful show was, the 'Canes are elevated almost exclusively by the wipeout of Virginia Tech, all-in-all as impressive a win as anyone recorded all year.
12. Florida: The nice finish glosses over a year that included a couple embarassing losses and was on the verge of coming totally unhinged if Florida State hadn't turned its car first. At least Urban Meyer can't be considered by any right-thinking person a disappointment in Year One.
13. Wisconsin: Tough team to peg. How impressive are the Michigan and Minnesota wins? How much does getting jobbed by Penn State and Iowa hurt? Could legitimately be ranked as high as ninth. Or 16th, whatver.
14. Notre Dame: SMQ was much higher on this team than most following the USC game, when he actually moved the Irish up after a loss, but his affection had faded. The biggest win of the season was Michigan; against SC and Ohio State, ND fell short. Maybe the 'return to the elite' line will fly better next year.
15. Oregon: SMQ guesses the Ducks are pretty good, that's the rumor, but he only saw them in a Holiday Bowl game in which Mike Belloti was justifiably terrified to let Ryan Leaf's cousin brother throw anything further than two yards downfield. As SMQ said last month: never a legitimate BCS contender.
16. TCU: Beat Oklahoma and...and...? What was with that loss to SMU? A loss like that, plus schooling the Mountain West on a sub-2004 Utah level only gets you to the mid-teens.
17. UCLA: Final numbers are impressive, and yet that loss to Arizona lingers. Had that one just been close, the Bruins may be on the edge of the top ten. Instead, they got ripped and come across as imposters. Good-looking imposters, though.
18. Boston College: Nice way to start your run in a new conference: regarded by nearly all as the best team in the ACC Coastal. Next step is beating Miami, Tech or FSU.
19. Texas Tech: Actually moved up by playing a good team competitively, and because so many teams directly in front of the Raiders hit the skids in bolw games.
20. Oklahoma: Turned itself into a pretty solid winner by year's end despite employing a quarterback with no discernable arm and a full-time staff equipped with painkillers for Adrian Peterson's ankle. Probably more dangerous again next year, when A.P. should be back at full, mind-blowing strength.
21. Louisville: Put up awesome numbers again, but didn't beat anyone worthwhile. Desperately seeking that 'next-level' win to avoid mid-teen poll purgatory for the next decade.
22. Clemson: Ahead of Florida State because it beat the ACC champs, for the second straight year, by two touchdowns. A significant enough all-around improvement, against a vicious, two-by-four-wielding schedule, to earn Tommy Bowden another year or two.
23. Florida State: Still in the mix because of two great wins (Miami and Virginia Tech) and an extremely tough loss to Penn State in the bowl game. But mainly because there aren't many other viable options at this spot.
24. Nebraska: Ugh. The first top 25 finisher to get waxed by Kansas in decades. Final two wins were impressive, and good games in losses to Texas Tech and Oklahoma are reasons for some optimism compared to the hell that was 2004/early-to-mid 2005.
25. Michigan: Five tough, tough losses. Again, there aren't a whole lot of ways to go here and the Wolverines beat their closest competition (Iowa and Northwestern). Unless someone thinks Tulsa or Toledo could handle these guys...

So that's it - the final, official SMQ Top 25 of 2005. Later, he'll get to every team, 1-119.
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6:22 PM

Not to quibble (particularly since you ranked Georgia higher than I did, for which I thank you), but the Bulldogs didn't finish with the same record as Auburn and Florida.

The Plainsmen and the Gators each finished 9-3, whereas Georgia (thanks to the win in the S.E.C. championship game) finished 10-3.

It's not a big deal, but I just thought I'd point it out, for whatever it was worth.
Note also that Clemson beat FSU 2 out of the last 3 years. FSU won at home in 2004.
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