Debating Ohio State's claim to top spot in polls; more Mailbag
Ohio State is the nation's new No. 1, but is Oklahoma more deserving?
Utah's drop was a byproduct of South Carolina's upset over Alabama
Pistol is the most significant offensive innovation since shotgun-spread
If it's mid-October, and if the consensus preseason No. 1 team just lost, that can only mean one thing: That all other topics go out the window, and the Mailbag dost overfloweth with e-mails complaining about the polls.
So, why is Ohio State a consensus No. 1? You picked on Nebraska's résumé a couple weeks ago, but Ohio State doesn't have a win against a team currently ranked in the Top 25 either. If it's fair to be skeptical of Nebraska, why not Ohio State?
-- Scott, New York
Shouldn't we be taking Oklahoma more seriously? A lot of attention is being paid to a lot of other teams, but Oklahoma seems to have the most quality wins at this point (Florida State, Air Force and Texas). With the Big 12 seemingly a bit down, will Oklahoma have a chance to jump some of the teams ahead of it?
-- Drew, Boston
First of all, there's a very simple reason why Ohio State is No. 1: The Buckeyes had been No. 2 since the preseason, they've won all their games and the team ahead of them lost. End of story. But I'd hardly call them "consensus." They received barely half (34 of 60) of the first-place votes in this week's AP poll, with four other teams (Oregon, Boise State, TCU and Oklahoma) garnering nods as well. The Buckeyes haven't done anything to merit dropping them, but I won't argue that there are more deserving teams at the present time. In fact, according to Jeff Sagarin, Ohio State has played the 117th-toughest schedule in the country so far (including FCS teams).
Mind you, I didn't hear a single gripe about Ohio State's schedule before Sunday. That may be because no one was focused on the then No. 2 team, or it may be because of what happened to several of its previous and future opponents. Miami, the source of the Buckeyes' signature win to date, got crushed by Florida State. Michigan not only lost its first game, but lost to now 6-0 Michigan State, bringing to light the fact that the Spartans and Buckeyes don't play this year. And Penn State, normally one of the marquee opponents on OSU's schedule, clearly stinks. In August, Ohio State was looking at a schedule that included four preseason Top 25 teams (Iowa, Wisconsin, Miami and Penn State). Now that number's down to two (Wisconsin and Iowa).
If one were to vote for a new No. 1 team based purely on résumé-to-date, it'd be hard to argue against Oklahoma. The Sooners scheduled ambitiously out-of-conference, and are undefeated against Sagarin's No. 15 schedule. That SOS is higher than for any of the other undefeated teams. And OU's 47-17 rout of Florida State looks that much more impressive now that FSU crushed Miami last weekend. But the Sooners' defense has been shaky and they had trouble closing out teams like Cincinnati and Utah State. Because these are humans voting and not computers, they've shown more confidence so far in No. 4/5 Nebraska -- which hasn't played anyone of note, but is blowing people out behind Taylor Martinez's heroics -- than No. 6 Oklahoma, which has looked more mortal while playing a much tougher schedule.
That's why we hear so much talk about "style points." Note that in Sagarin's "politically correct" power rankings -- the version used by the BCS, which leaves out victory margin -- Oklahoma ranks third, Nebraska 10th. In his regular rankings, which do take into account the scores, it's almost the opposite: Nebraska sixth, Oklahoma 12th. As for Ohio State: 15th straight-up, 23rd modified. Clearly, Sagarin's computer hasn't properly taken into account Terrelle Pryor's improvement.
I can only imagine how many e-mails you have received from rabid Utah fans about the lack of love for the Utes. That said, is there any way you can truly justify Utah WINNING 68-27 over Iowa State and DROPPING in the AP poll? Are the other teams truly that good, or was Utah truly overrated leading into this weekend?
-- Scott W., Sandy, Utah
This was a pretty popular topic in the ol' inbox. And no, I can't "justify" the Utes falling from No. 10 to No. 11 following a 68-27 win. But this brings up a common misconception with the polls: Just because your team moves down a spot in a given week doesn't mean 60 voters consciously decided to "drop" it. I highly doubt a single voter looked at his ballot and said, "68-27? Nah, not good enough." Utah was an unintentional victim of the voters' attempt to address the South Carolina-Alabama victory. Obviously, they felt the Gamecocks deserved to move into the top 10, but they didn't feel the Tide deserved to drop out of the top 10, either. (Why they didn't jump South Carolina above Alabama is a mystery unto itself.)
They also moved No. 12 LSU up three spots for winning at Florida, which seems a bit unnecessary, but together, the two SEC teams' moves upward caused the Utes to lose a spot. And while that may seem dumb, it's nothing compared to the reasons why Utah didn't drop in the coaches' poll. Evidently, those voters felt the Gamecocks' proper reward for ending the No. 1 team in the country's 19-game winning streak was to move them all the way up to ... 12th, four spots behind the team it just beat. Meanwhile, LSU was somehow already ninth after the Tennessee game.
Just think: A year from now, when Utah becomes a Pac-10 team, beating a Big 12 team 68-27 -- even with the exact same players -- will probably cause it to move up five spots.
I've been noticing that more teams are using the Nevada Pistol offense either partially or full-time. I was wondering if you thought the Pistol offense was becoming the new "in" offense that everyone will go to (versus say the spread offense), or that teams would use it more like the Wildcat formation as a change-up?
-- Brett, Pittsburg, Calif.
As the New York Times wrote this week, the Pistol is arguably the most significant offensive innovation since Rich Rodriguez, Urban Meyer and Co. spearheaded the first wave of shotgun-spread running offenses in the early-to-mid 2000s. That an old-school pro-style coach like Norm Chow would install it at UCLA is a pretty strong testimonial. An even stronger one, I'd argue, is the fact that Alabama is using it on occasion with Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. It shows that a coach like Nick Saban believes he can achieve a power running game out of the shotgun, whereas the Oregon/Michigan-style zone-read schemes are suited more toward getting runners free in space.
Like with the spread-option, I think you'll see more and more teams go to the Pistol over the next couple of years, but my guess is it will more often be as part of a wider package than a full-time offense. That's not an indictment against the Pistol, it's just where the sport is headed in general. As I wrote about this summer, we're going to see more and more hybrid offenses that incorporate both pro-style and spread/Pistol elements. With defensive coaches and players now having spent several years playing against spread offenses, it's becoming harder for teams to rely on it entirely. Coaches have to come up with new wrinkles to stay ahead. One is to push the tempo even faster, like Oregon does. Another is to give the defense as many different looks as possible, as Boise State's been doing for years and Alabama does by mixing in the Pistol and the Wildcat.