Peggy: "I can't tell the difference anymore between something good and something awful."
Don: "Well, they're very close."
-- Mad Men, "The Suitcase" (9/5/10)
In one interpretation, the first Top 25 ballot after the season starts is even noisier than the preseason ballot.
The preseason ballot is entirely fluffy. The ballot after a single week of games does its best to bake in what we saw on the field -- so-called "resume ranking" (who won, who they beat, how they won, where they won) -- but the data sample is so limited that it is impossible to put that play on the field in any sort of meaningful context.
It is easy to be seduced by the routs (see Oregon) or the pinball numbers (see Auburn) or overlook shoddy opponents or punish teams for not winning impressively enough (see Florida, Oklahoma, Wisconsin -- all plunged into the 20-25 range... or USC, out of the Top 25 entirely).
But then there is that bit of Week 1 clarity -- at least the clarity that I subscribe to: When a good team beats a good team. I give the winning team a LOT of credit (and I give the losing team a lot of credit too, presuming they make a game of it).
That made it easy to rank Boise State No. 1. Now, I'm going to try really hard to avoid any (largely vapid) triumphalism from having them ranked No. 1 in the preseason. But I hope that at least gives me the credibility to question anyone who doesn't have Boise ranked No. 1 this week. It is a bandwagon I'm happy to make room on.
It also made it easy to rank TCU No. 2 -- aside from Boise State, no team beat a better opponent this week than the Horned Frogs.
(To my point above, I refuse to penalize Virginia Tech or Oregon State for losing to, this week, the Top 2 teams in the country. In fact, the fact that both played each so tough makes me think that they proved more about how good they are than "1-0" teams who blew out cupcakes.)
Do things get murky? Absolutely. Why do I credit Utah only up to a point? Would I have ranked Oregon in the Top 5 if they hadn't scored 70 points but, say, merely something in the 40s, like Miami or Ohio State? Am I accounting for defense? Obviously, I can't watch every game to understand the full context of how points were scored or allowed.
Again: Week 1 is messy. With each passing week, there is more data -- not just who you beat this week, but how your previous week's wins stand up against increased context:
Ohio State-Miami is huge. FSU-Oklahoma is huge. Alabama-Penn State and Oregon-Tennessee will tell us a lot more about the Tide and Ducks than this past Saturday's romps. Mississippi State almost surely will enter the Top 20 if they beat Auburn on Thursday night. The Georgia-South Carolina winner will be ranked. Florida can move up if they look better against South Florida than they did against Miami of Ohio. The Notre Dame-Michigan winner probably crashes into the 20s.
For now, this is the best I can do -- without your help. But now I request that you please take a look and offer your suggestions, guidance, opinions and critiques in the comments. I will submit a revised ballot by tomorrow a.m.
1. Boise State
5. Ohio State
8. Georgia Tech
12. Florida State
13. Virginia Tech
14. Oregon State
16. West Virginia
19. Penn State
22. Fresno State
(Out from last week: USC, Cincy, Pitt, Navy, Washington)