At the core of the True Top Ten is the concept of a Good Win. You get no credit in the TTT for a 55-0 win over a team you paid to take the beating. That's an open-book test. We value essay questions, preferably taken on the road, with sweaty 275-pound proctors, and 80,000 people screaming at you to change your answer. We also might have stretched the analogy a bit too far there. But you get the idea.
The teams that rise to the top of the TTT have scored multiple Good Wins already; if you've beaten two good teams by Week 3, you're ahead of the game. The hard part right now is parsing which wins are better than others. But it's still a more worthy task than propping up undeserving teams. Wisconsin is still in the coaches' top 25 despite losing to Oregon State and barely scraping by Utah State at home. Wisconsin might not be in the top 25 of Wisconsin.
On to Week 3 of the Wisconsin-less True Top Ten:
1. Florida (3-0)
LAST WEEK: Def. Tennessee 37-20.
2. Alabama (3-0)
LAST WEEK: Def. Arkansas 52-0.
Alabama is No. 1 in both traditional polls after blasting Arkansas halfway across the Ozarks and leading Arkansas Karaoke Woman back to the microphone. (I picture her in Week 12 with a bottle of gin and the Tom Waits songbook.) But I think Florida has had a more impressive season. Let's rank both teams' wins so far:
1. Florida over Tennessee on the road
2. Alabama over Michigan, neutral field
3. Florida over Texas A&M on the road
4. Alabama over Arkansas on the road
5. Alabama over Western Kentucky at home
6. Florida over Bowling Green at home
No doubt Alabama has been more dominant. But those A&M and Tennessee crowds were jacked (A&M because it was its first SEC game, Tennessee because its fans sense that the Vols might be good again). Florida beat them both, and came back in the second half to do it. The best stretch of football I saw all weekend was after Tennessee stuffed Florida on a fake punt and took the ball up 20-13 at 5:00 in the third quarter. The Vols had all the momentum. But Florida forced a three-and-out, Trey Burton went 80 yards for a TD on the next play, and even though it was tied, it was over. The score over the last 20 minutes: Gators, 24-0.
Look, I went to Georgia. I'd be thrilled if Florida went 0-12 every year. But it's had the best season of any team in the country so far. (I had to twist my own arm halfway out of the socket to say that.) Next up for Florida: Kentucky. Next up for Alabama: Florida Atlantic.
3. Notre Dame (3-0)
LAST WEEK: Def. Michigan State 20-3.
I'm never sure if sports -- playing them or watching them -- is an escape from the rest of the world, a reflection of what the world is like or some mysterious blend of all that and some other things. Sometimes all I'm sure of is a few facts. Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o lost his girlfriend to leukemia last week, the day after his grandmother died. Against Michigan State on Saturday, he had 12 tackles and picked off a fourth-quarter lateral to seal the win. After the game he said, "At the end of the day, families are forever."
Love is complicated. Sports are complicated. I love sports. Next up: Michigan.
LAST WEEK: Def. USC 21-14.
You probably could've found a lot of people willing to bet that no one would hold USC to 14 points this year. This was one of the best clash-of-styles games I can remember -- USC wanted to fling and dance, Stanford wanted to grind and punch. By USC's last drive, it was all danced out, and Stanford kept punching. So does this mean that David Shaw is a great coach? After all, he's not just the Stanford head coach -- he's the Bradford M. Freeman director of football, too. I suspect Bradford M. Freeman was proud on Saturday night. Next up: Washington (Sept. 27).
5. Northwestern (3-0)
LAST WEEK: Def. Boston College 22-13.
I heard somebody say over the weekend that Northwestern is the only school to beat three BCS conference teams this year. OK, BC might be terrible. But Syracuse is at least decent, and I'm riding the Vandy bandwagon for another week or two. Plus, in a week that showed how many teams have a fatal flaw at kicker, Northwestern's Jeff Budzien went 5 for 5 on field goals. He's 8 for 8 this season. Cal fans are weeping now. Next up: South Dakota.
6. Oregon State (1-0)
LAST WEEK: Idle.
A weird schedule so far for the Beavs: Their first game against Nicholls State got postponed because of Hurricane Isaac (Nicholls is in Louisiana and couldn't make the trip to Oregon). And after beating Wisconsin in Week 2, they got a pre-arranged week off. They drop a spot in the TTT because that Wisconsin win doesn't look so hot now. Next up: at UCLA.
7. Florida State (3-0)
LAST WEEK: Def. Wake Forest 52-0.
Gritting my teeth putting them in here, because I hate rewarding marshmallow schedules, and FSU went the full Stay-Puft by opening with Murray State and Savannah State. But it's hard to ignore the pounding that the Seminoles put on Wake, which beat North Carolina the week before. And in a weird way, this might have been a revenge game. ACC football fans (all six of you!) remember one of the most jaw-dropping results in conference history: Wake 30, FSU 0 at Tallahassee in 2006. Pretty sure Jimbo Fisher hadn't forgotten. Next up: Clemson.
8. Rutgers (3-0)
LAST WEEK: Def. South Florida 23-13.
Because conference wins on the road mean something, especially against a team whose quarterback (B.J. Daniels) is in what I believe is his 15th year of eligibility. If Rutgers beats Arkansas this week, everything north and east of Little Rock might just implode. Next up: at Arkansas.
9. Louisville (3-0)
LAST WEEK: Def. North Carolina 39-34.
Some credit for a three-quarter beatdown of UNC before the Tar Heels made a run at the end. Full credit for QB Teddy Bridgewater, who can really play and has the coolest name in football. No credit for the rest of their schedule -- go take a look, The Cardinals could go 12-0 and we still might not know for sure if they're any good. This is probably their one and only week in the TTT. Next up: at Florida International.
10. UCLA (3-0)
LAST WEEK: Def. Houston 37-6.
Edges out Arizona on strength of schedule; Arizona beat South Carolina State last week. Although, to be honest, I'm not sure Houston is a lot better than South Carolina State at this point. I believe this means that Kevin Sumlin is a good coach, and you should beat Texas A&M while you still can. Next up: Oregon State.
Dropping out of the TTT: Arizona, Louisiana-Monroe (but you'll always be in our hearts, Warhawks), Georgia, Michigan State, Kansas State.