The Sunday after a top-5 team gets upset is always weird. There’s an expectation that said top-5 team will suffer some sort of precipitous drop in that week’s AP Poll, because they lost, so they don’t deserve to be ranked in the top-5.
That happened on Sunday when Ohio State fell from No. 2 to No. 6 in the poll after losing to Penn State. I would like to suggest something: when you put games into context, teams don’t necessarily deserve to fall after a loss.
Let’s take the Buckeyes, for example. They’re a young team that had to go on the road against two solid squads with notoriously tough places to play in back-to-back weeks. Both Wisconsin (two weeks ago) and Penn State (last week) were coming off of byes, giving them an extra week to prepare and gameplan for Urban Meyer’s squad. Both the Badgers and the Nittany Lions went out and executed said gameplans – it didn’t quite work out for Wisconsin, which lost 30-23 in overtime, but it did work out for Penn State, which won 24-21.
After losing to the Nittany Lions, Ohio State fell, because that’s how this is supposed to work. But really, when you look at that game, Penn State won despite getting out-gained by 137 yards and having only 13 first downs. It took a flukey (but, and this is my inner Penn State fan coming out, TOTALLY AWESOME IT RULED SO HARD) blocked field goal that got returned for a touchdown to win.
The Nittany Lions deserve credit for finding a way to win, absolutely, but after this game, the Buckeyes dropped four-spots in the poll and tumbled out of the top-5. That’s kind of nuts, because outside of Alabama, no team is more talented than the roster Meyer has managed to assemble. There were some people who had Ohio State out of the top-10 all together for this one, which is crazy.
Based on resume and talent, I think the Buckeyes are one of the five-best teams in America (it’s some combination of them, Michigan, Alabama, Washington, and Clemson). If you disagree, that’s fine, but after taking a step back and putting that game in perspective, I think you can absolutely make the case that Ohio State should be ranked no lower than fourth on that list.
This also brings up a pretty serious question, something I imagine some people struggle with: does an undefeated team deserved to be ranked above teams with losses because they’re undefeated? And to me, the answer is a resounding no. Football needs to be put in context, and when you look at the context of the one loss that a team like Ohio State, Louisville, or Texas A&M suffered this year, and when you look at their entire resumes, I think they are absolutely better than undefeated teams like Nebraska, Baylor, and West Virginia. We’ll throw Boise State into that mix, too, although this is more about Power 5 undefeated teams.
Losses happen. This isn’t the Premier League where every team plays every other team twice and we can declare a champion once we see everyone play everyone else (although every team playing 254 games would be amazing and horrible), so it’s important to see that, say, Louisville’s only loss was to Clemson in Death Valley, whereas the toughest team Baylor has played was Oklahoma State at home. Or Nebraska, which is a good team but its best win was beating Indiana by five in Bloomington.
Being undefeated is an accomplishment and teams should hang their hats on doing that, but it’s possible that a team that has lost at least once is better than a team with no losses. So please, AP voters, if you have, say, Nebraska over Louisville because the Huskers are undefeated and the Cardinals are not, do reconsider how both teams have gotten to that point.
Anyway, let’s talk about this week’s games.