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Utterly Unbiased Top 25: Course Correction!

WE HAVE REACHED roughly the 10-game plateau throughout college football which allows us to say some things definitively.

To arrive at our rankings this week, we ranked the best wins of the 30 teams under consideration from best to worst. Then the second-best wins by each team. Then the best loss, second-best loss and third-best loss, if the record goes that far.

If you have four losses, then no matter the quality of those wins or those losses, you have lost nearly half of your games. You cannot be considered among the top teams in this week’s Utterly Unbiased Top 25.

Farewell, Texas A&M and TCU.

If you have a head-to-head win against a team ranked higher than you, remember it is but one game out of 10. It’s only good for 10 percent of your resume. If the other 90 percent of your resume weighs in worse, then … yeah, you’re ranked behind the team you beat.

Baylor, say hello to TCU. Ohio State, you’ve met Michigan State.

At the 10-game mark, the bell curve begins to flatten. Being unbeaten is a bigger deal, yet the difference between unbeatens and one-loss teams shrinks considerably. Same, too for the difference between two-loss and three-loss squads.

Marshall, welcome to the Dirty Dozen after weeks and weeks in the hinterlands. You trail three-loss Auburn by two spots.

So here we are. Home stretch begins now. If the playoffs began today, UU Top 25 says it’s Mississippi State vs. Oregon and Alabama vs. FSU. Wheeeee!

On to the numbers

1. MISSISSIPPI STATE (9-1) … Lost to Alabama 25-20/No change

2. ALABAMA (9-1) … defeated Mississippi State 25-20/Up 6 spots

3. FLORIDA STATE (10-0) … Won at Miami 30-26/Down 1 spot

4. OREGON (9-1) … Did not play/Down 1 spot

5. TCU (9-1) … Won at Kansas 34-30/Up 5 spots

How is Mississippi State still No. 1 ahead of Alabama? It goes back to what we said about head-to-head being only a small part of the overall resume. Also, remember (and maybe this could be a flaw in our system) it doesn’t matter if the game happened in Week 1 or Week 10 for our purposes. Alabama’s win over Mississippi State is considered the second-best win of the season by any team. Victims of their success, the best overall win now belongs to Ole Miss for beating Alabama. Mississippi State’s best win (Auburn) rated No. 12. Mississippi State and Alabama share the sixth-best “second-best win” as well, each for winning at LSU. The big difference comes with that lone defeat. Mississippi State’s only loss is Alabama while Alabama’s loss to two-loss Ole Miss is significantly worse, due to the cluster of teams jammed together in that one- and two-loss area. TCU is to blame for a big part of that gap because three teams have road losses at TCU, which put three worse teams than Alabama between the Tide and the Bulldogs in that loss category. Then there’s Florida State, whose resume continues to crumble week after week. Clemson and Notre Dame, last week’s two best wins on the Seminole schedule, lost. That lifted the win at Louisville to the top of Florida State’s resume, giving it the 20th-best top win in the nation.

6. BAYLOR (8-1) … Did not play/Down 1 spot

7. UCLA (8-2) … Did not play/Down 3 spots

8. MICHIGAN STATE (8-2) … Won at Maryland 37-15/Up 9 spots

9. OHIO STATE (9-1) … Won at Minnesota 31-24/Up 3 spots

10. AUBURN (7-3) … Lost at Georgia 34-7/Down 4 spots

Auburn at No. 10? Do we detect a SEC bias here? Not so much. More of a bias toward reward for big non-conference wins, such as Auburn’s win at Kansas State earlier this season. Auburn’s top two wins were at Ole Miss (No. 5 among best wins) and that KSU game (No. 3 among second-best wins) and the first two losses are pretty stout – Mississippi State, Georgia – enough to overcome a meh loss to Texas A&M. Baylor’s loss to a four-loss West Virginia is holding it back. As for what’s happening between the two Big Ten schools here, look no further than Ohio State’s loss to Virginia Tech, which hangs like an anchor around the Buckeyes’ throats. Ohio State’s top two wins measure slightly better than Michigan State’s, but not enough to distance itself in the losses department from Michigan State’s two very quality setbacks. Ohio State is getting hit from both sides as a victim of its success … and failure. We firmly expect this to be settled once Ohio State plays for the Big Ten title next month while Michigan State sits at home.

11. OLE MISS (8-2) … Did not play/Down 4 spots

12. MARSHALL (10-0) … Defeated Rice 41-14/Up 12 spots

13. KANSAS STATE (7-2) … Did not play/Up 2 spots

14. ARIZONA (8-2) … Defeated Washington 27-26/No change

15. ARIZONA STATE (8-2) … Lost at Oregon State/Down 6 spots

Of this group, Marshall and Kansas State are a fascinating study. In our points system, they tied. Marshall gets the tiebreaker due to the better record, but the Herd’s two best wins (Rice and Middle Tennessee State) were the two worst among all teams considered this week. Kansas State, actually, isn’t all that much better in the wins department. The Wildcats’ best win is at three-loss Oklahoma and its second-best was against 5-5 Texas. Losses at TCU and against Auburn gave it a better overall resume than the two Arizona Schools, both of whom have uglier second defeats than KSU.

16. GEORGIA (8-2) … Defeated Auburn 34-7/Up 3 spots

17. UTAH (7-3) … Won at Stanford 20-17/Down 6 spots

18. COLORADO STATE (9-1) … Did not play/Not ranked

19. CLEMSON (7-3) … Lost at Georgia Tech 28-6/Up 1 spot

20. NEBRASKA (8-2) … Lost at Wisconsin 59-24/Down 2 spots

It’s getting really weird about now, seeing Clemson and Nebraska ahead of Wisconsin and Georgia Tech, right? Well, again, it comes down to not delineating between when a win occurs and looking at the overall resume. Clemson’s wins profile is better than that of Kansas State, Marshall, Colorado State and Nebraska while virtually identical to Georgia Tech and Wisconsin’s. On balance, Clemson’s three losses are better than Wisconsin and Georgia Tech’s two defeats by a statistically relevant margin. Thanks, Florida State and Georgia! There is just enough of a margin between the two-loss profiles of Nebraska and Wisconsin to make the difference, but it should be known the difference between Nos. 19-24 is miniscule. It’s virtually a five-way tie.

21. WISCONSIN (8-2) … Defeated Nebraska 59-24/Not ranked

22. OKLAHOMA (7-3) … Did not play/Up 3 spots

23. GEORGIA TECH (9-2) … Defeated Clemson 28-6/Not ranked

24. MISSOURI (8-2) … Won at Texas A&M 34-27/Not ranked

25. DUKE (8-2) … Lost to Virginia Tech 17-16/Up 3 spots

The shock for us here are the teams left just off the radar. USC, for example, just missed the top 25 after being ranked 21 last week and defeated Cal. The reason for the fall is the result of the cumulative effect of wins like Wisconsin’s over Nebraska, Georgia Tech’s over Clemson and a couple of others that juggled the resumes of those teams and forced USC’s best wins down the hill. What makes this group truly fascinating is four are either leading their division or are in contention for their respective league championship game, which means all four of them could drastically shoot up these rankings by the end of December’s first week.

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