There are a lot of ways to go about ranking teams in a top-25 ballot.
There are standings, in which teams are ordered solely on win-loss record and other pre-determined statistics. This is used within conferences and in almost every other sport.
But FBS football is a different animal, since great disparity in schedule strength can leave a 12-0 team to be walloped by a 10-2 team (see Georgia - Hawaii, 1/1/2008).
Some people like to think of their ranking as a power poll, where teams are ranked based on who the author thinks would beat whom. Such a poll, by definition, disregards records in favor of a vague idea of one team being "better" by some immeasurable quality known only to the ranker. Websites like ESPN tend to do these for every sport.
Others try to predict the final poll positions of teams once the season is over. This type necessarily uses unknown future results, schedule strength, and author opinion, making it even less useful than a power poll. This is really more relevant for those trying to make predictions, especially during the preseason.
Finally, there is résumé ranking, wherein the ballotter places teams based on whom they have beaten and to whom they have lost, plus the relative strength of those wins. Résumé ranking is an attempt at using human interpretive skills to decifer the actual on-field results of teams.
Résumé rankers try to form their polls with as little bias as possible, often leading to absurd-looking polls in the early season. Notable résumé rankers include Blogpoll voters Dr. Saturday, Rakes of Mallow, and Saurian Sagacity. These pollers might get ridiculed during the first few weeks, but their ranking method is the best way to avoid common biases.
Most top 25 polls are some sort of amalgamation of the previous rankings. Unfortunately, as college football fans have seen yearly, voters in the two main polls tend to build each list based on the previous week's. This may be easier, but it puts teams that start the season lower at a disadvantage (see Auburn, 2004).
With all that said, the whole point of this article is to publish my own ballot for the Bleacher Report Top 25. As you probably figured, this ballot uses the résumé method. I'm starting the ranking only after a month of games have been played. We're finally starting to see what teams are really made of, but the first BCS poll is yet to be released.
Still, there are still plenty of question-marks across the country. This ballot is ripe for criticism, but at least every ranking has some tangible justification (which is more than I can say about most polls).
Each team has a one-sentence explanation for their position:
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
Their Clemson and Georgia games are easily the best combo of wins so far.
2. Oklahoma Sooners
Haven't been tested yet, but also haven't played anyone expected to test them.
3. LSU Tigers
LSU has the second-best win (after Bama-UGA) of the undefeated teams by beating Auburn.
4. Penn State Nittany Lions
Their domination of Oregon State is what puts the Lions ahead of Missouri, though each team bested Illinois in similar fashion.
5. Missouri Tigers
We'll know more about them after they finally start conference play; the Illinois win doesn't tell much yet.
6. Boise State Broncos
The win at Autzen is better than anything that the undefeated teams below them have.
7. South Florida Bulls
They beat Kansas and blew out NC State, but looked like a different team against in-state puffballs UCF and FIU.
8. BYU Cougars
Stellar so far, but that domination of UCLA is losing its luster by the week.
9. Texas Longhorns
Sure the Horns have looked good, but they need a real win to do any climbing.
10. Utah Utes
Undefeated with a win over Michigan keeps them in the top ten for now, but the big-name one-loss teams are breathing down their neck.
11. USC Trojans
They have the best win of any one-loss team, but not many chances to prove themselves over the rest of the season.
12. Vanderbilt Commodores
Undefeated, with wins over Ole Miss and South Carolina is better than the rest of the SEC East.
13. Georgia Bulldogs
The aura is gone, but they could easily shoot back up the polls by winning out in their miserably hard schedule.
14. Florida Gators
The Gators have a week to recover against Arkansas before a make-or-break home game against LSU.
15. Ohio State Buckeyes
The jury is out until the Wells-and-Pryor version of the Buckeyes gets to play against a real opponent.
16. Auburn Tigers
Their win against Tennessee Saturday was more damning than their earlier loss to LSU was.
17. Ball State Cardinals
Wins over Indiana and Navy put them in front of the second tier of undefeated teams (but still behind the elite mid-majors).
18. UConn Huskies
They definitely aren't sexy, but until they lose a game they've got enough cred to be ranked.
19. Oklahoma State Cowboys
It's hard to believe that wins over Washington State and Troy look better than anything TTU's got.
20. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Against a completely empty schedule, the Red Raiders have done everything asked of them; unfortunately, that still gives them roughly zero credibility.
21. Tulsa Golden Hurricane
Their schedule thus far packs even less punch than TTU's, and even if they stay undefeated they won't have any meaningful victories.
22. Oregon Ducks
I think these guys could score with a crash-test dummy behind center (and they may have to, with the QB injuries they've endured).
23. Wisconsin Badgers
Still seem like a strong team, but that Michigan loss is definitely cause for concern with Ohio State looming next.
24. Virginia Tech Hokies
The nonconference win over Nebraska is the only thing pushing the Hokies above the rest of their conference.
25. UNC Tar Heels
This could easily have been Maryland, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, or Florida State; the ACC is way too tough to call right now.
Let the second-guessing commence, and remember that you can submit your own B/R Top 25 ballot by adding "College Football" to your Lineup.
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