The True Top Ten is based on a simple idea: College football teams should be ranked based on performance, instead of guesswork, tradition, TV contracts, stylish helmets or hope.
The two major football polls -- the USA TODAY coaches’ poll and the Associated Press media poll -- have the same fatal flaw: They start in the preseason. Voters tend to stick with the same old powers in the preseason polls. Florida went 7-6 last year, and it started the season doing some sort of condo time-share at quarterback … but Florida must be good, right? It’s Florida! Stick it in the top 25.
That means teams can load up on pastry early in the season without a penalty. Florida State was ranked No. 7 in both preseason polls. On Saturday, it beat Murray State 69-3. This week it plays Savannah State, which just lost to Oklahoma State 84-0. What does FSU deserve for this? A citation for bullying, maybe. But not a national ranking. Not until it beats somebody.
So every week in this space, we’ll elevate the teams that have actually done something this season. Teams make it into the True Top Ten by beating other good teams -- or, as the season goes on, by the occasional loss to a really good team. Other polls rank teams by hypothetical matchups -- No. 5 should be a slight favorite over No. 6. We don’t deal in hypotheticals here. We deal in what’s real. The True Top Ten measures one thing: which teams have had the best seasons so far.
Here’s the True Top Ten for Week 1:
LAST WEEK: Def. Michigan 41-14.
I wrote at length about Alabama’s dump-trucking of Michigan on Saturday, so let me just add this: Alabama had five of the first 35 players taken in this year’s NFL draft, and four of the first 28 taken in the 2010 draft. The Tide roster is the Terra Cotta Army of college football. There is an inexhaustible supply. Next up: Western Kentucky.
2. Michigan State
LAST WEEK: Def. Boise State 17-13.
Le’Veon Bell ran 44 times for 210 yards, caught six passes, took the silver in the 110 hurdles and surely slept well in the ice tub afterward. Yes, it’s possible Boise State is down this year … but Boise beat Georgia, Virginia Tech and Oregon in its last three openers. It knows how to win early. But Michigan State held it to a defensive TD and two field goals. Next up: Central Michigan.
LAST WEEK: Def. Auburn 26-19.
Clemson won without receiver Sammy Watkins, who’s suspended for the first two games after an offseason drug arrest. Watkins is supposed to be Clemson’s best player, but DeAndre Hopkins caught 13 passes for 119 yards, and Andre “Tripod” Ellington ran for 231 yards. For now let’s call Watkins the third-best Tiger, and for now let’s call Clemson really good. Next up: Ball State.
4. Texas State
LAST WEEK: Def. Houston 30-13.
The Bobcats, playing their first game in the Football Bowl Subdivision (or as normal humans call it, Division I-A), were 34 1/2-point underdogs to Houston on Houston’s home field. But Texas State won so convincingly that Houston’s offensive coordinator resigned after the game. By the way: Houston went 13-1 last year. Is Texas State going to win the national title? No. Did it have a True Top Ten performance this week? You bet it did. And everybody, welcome back coach Dennis Franchione, formerly of TCU, Alabama and Texas A&M. Pay no attention to those burned bridges behind him. Next up: Texas Tech.
5. Virginia Tech
LAST WEEK: Def. Georgia Tech 20-17 in OT.
Virginia Tech is that ugly dog at the pound that, if you take it home, will be loyal and lovable and also block kicks. Georgia Tech’s awesome new uniforms won the fashion show, but the Hokies kicked a field goal at the end to tie, and then one in overtime to win. Touchdowns are too much work. Throw that bone a little closer. Next up: Austin Peay.
6. South Carolina
LAST WEEK: Def. Vanderbilt 17-13.
South Carolina tends to step on its own shoelaces in one big game a year – and almost did it this time – but Vandy at Vandy is going to turn out to be a tough game in the SEC this year. It didn’t help the Gamecocks that quarterback Connor Shaw kept banging into things (the turf, opposing players) with his right shoulder, which is not the smartest thing for a right-handed quarterback to do. Then again, he’s still smarter than Stephen Garcia. Next up: East Carolina.
LAST WEEK: Def. Penn State 24-14.
This was almost the most MACtastic week in history, as three other Mid-American Conference teams nearly pulled off big upsets: Bowling Green at Florida, Northern Illinois vs. Iowa and Toledo at Arizona. (If they had all won, we would’ve made this the True Top Thirteen and put every MAC team in.) Penn State has lost a lot, for obvious reasons, but there are still a lot of prime recruits on that roster and its home crowd was amazing. Ohio is legit good, and it’s the defending champions of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Next up: New Mexico State.
(We now have two sets of Bobcats in the True Top Ten!)
(The Charlotte Bobcats will not be making the True Top Ten.)
LAST WEEK: Def. N.C. State 35-21.
All I know is this: The Vols lost the SEC’s leading receiver to a suspension/transfer, their best player was a JUCO transfer named Cordarrelle, coach Derek Dooley dressed like he moonlights at a dental clinic, and they still beat a decent team on a neutral field. Adversity overcome. Next up: Georgia State.
LAST WEEK: Beat Southern Miss 49-20.
Nebraska was one of the few big-name teams that scheduled a worthy home opener; Southern Miss went 12-2 last year, won Conference USA and beat Nebraska in 2004. But this time, quarterback Taylor Martinez, known for his running, threw for 354 yards and five TDs. If he’s that good the rest of the year, Nebraska will be politely insufferable in Lincoln again. (OK, it’s been politely insufferable the whole time -- you just haven’t paid attention in a while.) Next up: UCLA.
LAST WEEK: Def. Florida International 46-26.
It’s true! Duke is good! Or at least they were for one week! FIU went 8-5 and beat Louisville last year. Then again, it lost to Duke last year and Duke hadn’t won a game since. (We aim for fairness and balance in the True Top Ten.) Still, Duke scored 30 points in the second quarter, ran back a blocked FG for a touchdown, and sent the crowd at Wallace Wade Stadium home happy. These are all rare events and should be celebrated. Next up: Stanford.
Bubbling under: Nevada, Oklahoma, BYU, Northwestern, Youngstown State*.
(Yes, Youngstown State is I-AA, but it beat Pitt, and so this is a good opportunity to say HAHAHA PITT.)