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Dr. Saturday

Top 25: Navigating the great Tiger-Tide divide

Matt Hinton
Dr. Saturday

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Now in its seventh year, the College Football BlogPoll is a weekly effort of dozens of college football-centric Web sites representing a wide array of schools under the oversight of SB Nation. As always, this is an ever-evolving snapshot meant to judge teams exclusively on their existing resumés. It's subjective, but ideally, it's not a guess: It's a judgment on the evidence that actually exists. It is not a power poll.

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Honestly, I tried to weasel out of this. I wrote the powers that be and asked if it was possible to split my No. 1 vote between Alabama and LSU. In fact, I asked if it was possible to split the top slot three ways, with the idea of lumping Oklahoma State in there, too. It is not possible.

It's also not possible to completely reconcile Alabama's one-sided, 21-0 smothering of LSU in Monday night's BCS Championship Game with LSU's 9-6 win in Tuscaloosa in November, or with the plain fact that LSU's body of work over the entire season is stronger than Alabama's body of work. Presented with both sides of the coin, my instinct is to split that coin down the middle and give each side a half. That's what we used to do, and I think it reflects the reality of the season.

In lieu of that option, I reluctantly picked LSU. For three reasons:

LSU has a more complete resumé. The Tigers beat five opponents ranked in my final top 20, three opponents ranked in the top five and three opponents that won BCS bowl games. Besides taking out Alabama on the road, they blew out the eventual champions of the Pac-12 and Big East (both outside of Baton Rouge) in September and obliterated Arkansas and Georgia to close the season. Like Alabama, they were never seriously challenged by anyone else on the schedule.

On the other hand, including Monday night, Alabama had just two wins over ranked teams. (Again, that's according to the final polls. If you'd rather count according to teams that were ranked at the time the games were played, LSU has eight wins to Alabama's four.) I said it before the game, and I'm sticking by it: Lopsided as it was, there was nothing Alabama could have done in the rematch to make its season better than LSU's season in terms of strength of schedule.

Every game counts. That is, one result cannot invalidate another result. (That's what it means here, anyway. Apparently the BCS has its own definition.) Alabama was clearly better than LSU in the championship game, but that doesn't change the fact that LSU had the advantage in November. Both results are equally valid: The Tigers were better on one night; Alabama was better on another night. Neither result can "prove" anything because it's directly contradicted by the other. When it comes to assessing a season's worth of work, they're both just bricks in the wall.

I understand why Alabama fans want to pretend the first game doesn't count — who doesn't love taking advantage of a do-over? — but I'm not sure why any independent observer would play along with that fantasy. Because there was a bunch of confetti after the second one?

LSU won the SEC championship. When in doubt, go with the most basic unit of measurement. In college football, that's still the conference, and the SEC title still belongs to LSU.

I know that's not going to convince very many people who think Alabama "proved" its claim on the top spot Monday night, and it shouldn't: Again, given the thoroughness of Alabama's superiority in the title game, it's a 50/50 proposition — 'Bama's dominance vs. LSU's body of work. Here, I've always favored body of work. And even though I'm pretty sure the Crimson Tide are going to take the top spot in the Blog Poll as they have in every other poll, someone, somewhere, has to stand up for the other side of the coin.

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Notorious B1G. There was never a clear frontrunner in the Big Ten, and there still isn't: Michigan has the best record (11-2), Wisconsin has the conference championship, Michigan State has the best overall set of wins (including victories over Michigan and Wisconsin). My ballot goes Michigan • Michigan State • Wisconsin, but you could justifiably rearrange them in any order.

Always Ceding Credibility. I never make grand, sweeping pronouncements about an entire conference based on bowl results, but man, the December/January only emphasized what a terrible season this was for the ACC. As a conference, it was 2-6 in the postseason, 0-2 in BCS games and failed beat a single ranked team from another league (again, based on the final polls) all year. The best non-conference win was either a) Clemson's September upset over Auburn, b) Florida State's comeback against Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl, or c) Virginia Tech's season-opening win over Arkansas State. (You think I'm kidding about that last one, but I'm not.) There was no way I was putting Clemson in the top 20 after its 70-33 incineration at the West Virginia in the Orange Bowl, and no way I was ranking Virginia Tech ahead of Clemson after blowout wins by the Tigers in the regular season (in Blacksburg, no less) and the ACC Championship Game.

The ACC has consistently suffered from the lack of a serious national contender since Florida State's fall from the mountain a decade ago, but 2011 approached Big East levels of mediocrity. Adding the likes of Syracuse and Pittsburgh isn't going to do much for the league's profile until Florida State and Miami come back around. Maybe next year…

Rising up. Where Clemson and Virginia Tech took the biggest tumble compared to my final regular season ballot, the biggest risers were Houston and West Virginia, which notched their most impressive wins of the season over Penn State and Clemson, respectively, in the TicketCity and Orange bowls. I've been a persistent critic of Houston, especially, based on the Cougars' exceedingly lame schedule and their front-and-center flop against Southern Miss with a BCS bid on the line in the Conference USA Championship Game. But Case Keenum and Co. ripped up a real defense on Jan. 1 — Penn State came in ranked among the top 10 nationally in almost every relevant defensive category — lifting the Cougars to their highest standing in my ballot all year.

Proof. This week's resumé grid for public consumption:

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L: Losses
PPG: Average margin of victory (points per game)
YPP: Average margin per play (yards per play)
Sked: Strength of schedule (as calculated by Jeff Sagarin)

As always, everything will be completely different next week year.

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Matt Hinton is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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