Monday, October 16, 2006

The WAD Rankings

I’ll admit it…I usually look forward to Monday Musings because it allows me to talk about a wide array of topics with very little effort or preparation. In other words, it’s a fun and easy column to write. Well, this week, I plan on still having some fun, but I want to put a little more effort into the Musings. In fact, this really isn’t going to be a Musings at all. Instead, I want to do one thing….I want to reveal this year’s first edition of the WAD Rankings. Really, these are just like the BCS rankings… without any real significance or meaning. So, some of you might actually consider them to be exactly like the BCS rankings, but that is neither here nor there.

Before unveiling the rankings, however, I want to give you a brief background on how I came up with the idea to put together the WAD Rankings. Saturday night, about the same time Florida began imploding against Auburn, I had a long conversation with a very depressed and distraught Fite. He, of course, was still trying to come to grips with the fact that Adrian Peterson’s career at Oklahoma is, in all likelihood, over. In the midst of this conversation, where I spent the majority of the time trying to talk Fite off the ledge, Fite said something I thought was very interesting and profound. He said, “if I was an AP Voter, the first thing I would do is remove OU from the rankings. I mean, without Peterson, there is no way they are one of the Top 25 teams in the country.” Well, my initial reaction was “man, you can’t do that…they only have two losses.” Then, after thinking about what he said, I started to see the wisdom in what he was saying. In short, what Fite was ultimately saying was that no matter where a team was ranked the week before, no matter where they started the season, no matter what you expect to happen in the weeks to come, you should evaluate and rank each team simply by using one criteria: This week, where do they stack up against the other teams in the country.

At first glance, this seems like a very simple concept, and most of you are probably saying, “No shit man. That’s what the pollsters do anyway!” But, I submit to you that this is not what the pollsters do. For example, if you applied my rationale and just evaluated each team based on how good you think they are at this very moment in time, there is no way that you could rank USC above Michigan, West Virginia, Texas, Auburn, Tennessee, Florida, or even Cal. Sure, USC is undefeated and five of those other teams have one loss, but if you’ve watched them all play, you can’t honestly tell me that you think USC is better, at this very moment in time, than any of them. And, don’t get me wrong, the point of this column is not just to pick on USC, there are plenty of other examples. But, instead of detailing them all right here, I will just go ahead and give you the WAD Rankings with a few explanations below, and you can be the judge of whether you like my logic or the present logic of the coaches and writers.

1) OHIO STATE - (#1 AP & #1 USA Today) - This one is easy. They go out every week and take care of their business. They have had two showcase games, at Texas and Iowa, and they weren’t challenged in either. And, this past weekend they looked like they could have hung 60 on Michigan State if they wanted. I don’t think anybody can argue with the Buckeyes at #1.

2) MICHIGAN – (#2 AP & #3 USA Today) – They were more than impressive against N.D., and this past weekend they went into an incredibly hostile environment against a talented Penn State team and walked away with the most dominant 7 point win I’ve seen in years. Not to mention, they were playing without their biggest playmaker at Happy Valley. Only a reeling Iowa team stands between the first Game of the 21st Century at the Horseshoe the third weekend in November.

3) WEST VIRGINIA – (#4 AP & #4 USA Today) – Sure, they haven’t faced any competition yet, but they have beat the piss out of every team they have played. And, I’m just not sure I’ve seen anybody that can match their speed in the backfield. Pat White and Steve Slaton make the Mountaineers a legitimate national championship contender.

4) FLORIDA – (#9 AP & #10 USA Today) – This is where this gets tricky. I want you to think about this for a minute: Florida went on the road to Knoxville and got a win, beat LSU handily at home, and then they went to Auburn and in the face of the loudest crowd I’ve EVER heard on television, they caught some atrocious breaks and dropped a game to a top 10 Auburn team. If that game was played in The Swamp, do you think they would have lost? How about a neutral field? I’m sorry, but losing a game the way they did at Jordan Hare is not enough for me to knock them out of the Top 5, or for me to say that Auburn is definitively better than Florida.

5) TENNESSEE – (#7 AP & #9 USA Today) - The Vols own two of the most impressive wins of the season, at home against Cal and between the hedges against UGA, and their only blemish is a one point loss to the Gators. The didn’t play this past weekend, so the last glimpse we had of the Vols was their 37 point second half outburst in Athens. Do you really think there are five other teams in America that could have done that?

6) AUBURN – (#8 AP & #7 USA Today) - They had a huge win against LSU earlier in the year, and we’ve already discussed their huge win Saturday night. But, for all the reasons I discussed above (raucous and legendary crowd advantage, not to mention a more than suspect replay ruling), I’m not ready to say they are better than Florida, and I’m certainly not ready to forgive the atrocious showing against Arkansas.

7) TEXAS – (#5 AP & #5 USA Today) – They looked great against OU two weeks ago, and the offense looked great against Baylor this past weekend. But, you can’t give up 31 points to Baylor and be ranked ahead of the teams above.

8) CAL - (#11 AP & #11 USA Today) - Nobody, and I mean NOBODY was a bigger Cal basher than me after their season opening debacle in Knoxville. Since then, however, I’ve had a chance to see them play a few times, and the Bears have been trouncing their opponents. Most significantly, they embarrassed Oregon. Believe it or not, the Bears defense is just as impressive as their offense. They tackle well (post Knoxville), and they rush the passer with reckless abandon. Depending on how they handle their business in weeks to come, this ranking could soar.

9) USC – (#3 AP & #2 USA Today) - Okay, here’s the big controversy. With the exception of their season opening pounding of Arkansas, USC has not been impressive in any of their six wins. The fact of the matter is that the Trojans seem like a ticking time bomb. Every week that goes by you keep expecting them to explode and be the dominant team they have been over the past four years, but until that happens, I simply don’t think they are better than any of the teams I have ranked above them. And, isn’t that what this is really all about?

10) LOUISVILLE – (#6 AP & #6 USA Today) – Honestly, I was shocked that Brian Brohm’s return coincided with Louisville’s worst performance of the season, but it did and there is no way around that. Against Cincinnati, the Cardinals looked more than a little vulnerable. In fact, they looked imminently beatable. And, I’m quite certain that any of the nine teams I have ranked above them would handle the Cardinals right now.

So, there you have it. One man’s opinion on who the best ten teams in America are right now. And yes, I’m confident this is the only place in America you will find five one loss teams ranked ahead of USC and Louisville. But, maybe it shouldn’t be.