October 23, 2006

Polls taking on life of their own

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It's getting to be the time of year when the polls matter almost as much as the games themselves.

Who is moving up? Who is heading down? Whose strength of schedule is being helped by past opponents?

For the remainder of the season we'll take a closer look at The Associated Press poll, the USA Today coaches' poll and the Bowl Championship Series rankings. We'll look at which poll looks the best and which poll isn't quite up to snuff.

We'll lead off with the poll making the most news this week, the BCS rankings. There have been some major shakeups there, and one near the top that is well-deserved.

BCS rankings

The big news: The BCS featured several moves within the top 10, including Michigan's ascension to the No. 2 spot, dropping USC to No. 3. West Virginia and Auburn also traded the fourth and fifth spots, curious considering all the Mountaineers did was beat a weak Connecticut team to supplant the Tigers. The biggest move was made by Texas, which jumped two spots to seventh. The Longhorns' ride up the elevator sent both Louisville and Notre Dame down a spot.

The risers: Missouri moved from 24th to No. 20 with a 41-21 rout of Kansas State. Three teams jumped up three spots: Boston College (to No. 18), Wisconsin (19) and Oklahoma (20). Texas A&M (21st) jumped into the rankings after being out last week, as did Washington State (No. 25).

The fallers: Oregon had the most precipitous drop, from 14th all the way to 23rd. Given the Ducks were handled easily by previously unranked Washington State, it's hard to argue with a nine-spot plummet. Nebraska and Georgia Tech each dipped five notches. The Huskers lost a tense battle with Texas; the Yellow Jackets got drilled by Clemson.

What the BCS got right: USC hasn't played like the second-best team in the country. The Trojans had the week off, and the Wolverines didn't. Michigan beat Iowa 20-6. It deserves to head into its showdown with Ohio State as No. 2. Wisconsin deserved its move up, too, and should continue to climb. It has an underrated defense. You hold Purdue to three points in West Lafayette, Ind., and people should take more notice. Notre Dame also deserved to drop a spot, if not more, after a sorry showing against a mediocre UCLA team in South Bend.

What the BCS got wrong: How does Clemson beat a highly ranked Georgia Tech team and stay at No. 12, while Tennessee struggles at home with a marginal Alabama team and hangs in at No. 11? The Tigers may be the best one-loss team in the country. Missouri's climb is questionable given its victory came at home over Kansas (4-4). No doubt Missouri is playing well and deserves to be in the top 25, but shooting up four spots for beating a .500 club doesn't wash.

Associated Press

The risers: Wisconsin and Boston College led the ride up in the AP poll, each moving up four spots. Boise State and Rutgers flexed their way to 15th and 16th, respectively.

The fallers: No one actually fell out of the AP poll. Oregon took the big hit, slipping to 25th from No. 16. The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets also felt the sting of a lopsided loss and tumbled from No. 13 to No. 21.

What the AP got right: A subtle move within the top 10 saw SEC heavyweights Auburn and Tennessee swap places, with the Tigers up to No. 7 and the Vols back to No. 8. Auburn has bounced back from its shocking loss to Arkansas with a pair of impressive victories. Tennessee should have vanquished a struggling Alabama team, but instead struggled itself. Clemson also made a statement and pushed its way ahead of Notre Dame and Cal. Right now, Clemson does look like the strongest of the three. The Irish could have dropped even further with their disappointing play.

What the AP got wrong: There isn't much to bicker with, though it's hard to be sold on Texas A&M at No. 22. It had to go overtime to beat Oklahoma State, a team that handed Kansas State its only Big 12 victory.

USA Today coaches' poll

The risers: Arkansas, Boston College and Wisconsin each moved up four rungs on the ladder. Missouri jumped into the poll at No. 23.

The fallers: Stop me if you've heard this, but Oregon (down nine) and Georgia Tech (down eight) took the biggest hits.

What the coaches got right: The coaches weren't as sold on Arkansas as the other polls after the Razorbacks' stunner at Auburn. But after watching them demolish a I-AA opponent then manhandle Ole Miss, well, they've decided every Hog has his day. Arkansas moved up to No. 14, and it earned the spot.

What the coaches got wrong: Florida moved up two spots without playing. The Gators went to No. 8, swapping with Notre Dame. Now granted the Irish looked sloppy against the Bruins, but how did that work for a team with the week off? Florida stayed in the same slot in both the AP poll (ninth) and BCS rankings (sixth). Eighth sounds like a nice compromise because sixth is a little too high, but there should be a rule that says you can't move up or down unless you play.


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