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November 25, 2011

Mailbag: How should we rank the one-loss teams?

Alabama and Arkansas are the top-ranked one-loss college football teams in the country.

But are they really the two best one-loss teams?

Arkansas had to rally from an 18-point deficit to beat Texas A&M, which is 6-5. But Oklahoma State had to rally from 17 points down to beat the Aggies.

True, Stanford, Virginia Tech and Boise State lost at home to conference rivals. So did Alabama.

Alabama's loss was to top-ranked LSU. Does that necessarily guarantee the Crimson Tide is better than Stanford or Virginia Tech?

Some would say yes. But can we know for sure?

That's a question for this week's mailbag.

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One-loss questions

On what basis are Alabama and Arkansas clearly the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the country? Can someone explain that? Arkansas has only three wins over teams with winning records (only one those is ranked). Plus, the SEC's also-rans are about as competitive as the Mountain West's also-rans. Alabama also has three wins over FBS teams with winning records, but at least two of those are over ranked teams. Even before the close loss to LSU, everyone was robotically saying Alabama was clearly so much better than everyone else. So, the new standard for a "championship-caliber" team is three wins over teams with winning records? Really?
David in Conroe, Texas

First, let me say I do think Alabama has a great team and is deserving of its lofty ranking.

Yes, Alabama only scored six points in its loss to LSU, but the Crimson Tide only fell by three points in overtime. So what? No other opponent has played LSU closer than 13 points - and that includes the possible champions of the Pac-12 (Oregon) and Big East (West Virginia).

Arkansas, which has one of the most explosive offenses in college football, also is in the group of six teams with only one loss. Arkansas has beaten only three teams that currently have winning records and that doesn't necessarily compare well with other one-loss teams.

But not all schedules are created alike. Despite your comparisons of "also-rans," a 5-6 record in the SEC is better than a 5-6 record in the Mountain West.

For the sake of argument let's take a look at the one-loss teams outside the SEC and the FBS teams they've defeated with winning records:

Boise State (6): Georgia (9-2), Tulsa (8-3), Toledo (7-4), Nevada (6-4), San Diego State (6-4) and Air Force (6-5).

Oklahoma State (6): Kansas State (9-2), Louisiana-Lafayette (8-3), Tulsa (8-3), Baylor (7-3), Texas (6-4), Missouri (6-5), Texas A&M (6-5).

Stanford (4): USC (9-2), California (6-5), UCLA (6-5), Washington (6-5).

Virginia Tech (5): Arkansas State (9-2), Georgia Tech (8-3), Miami (6-5), North Carolina (6-5), Wake Forest (6-5).

These teams have combined for 12 victories over six-win teams. But are those wins really that much more impressive than those Arkansas has posted?

Arkansas beat Tennessee, which is 5-6. But Tennessee has a 45-23 victory over Cincinnati (7-3), which appeared headed for the Big East championship before QB Zach Collaros was hurt.

I'd also take all of the one-loss teams over unbeaten Houston. I think more than a dozen teams could go unbeaten against the Cougars' schedule, which so far includes just three winning teams.

The most successful team Houston has faced is 7-4 Louisiana Tech. By the way, Louisiana Tech lost to Mississippi State - one of the teams Arkansas and Alabama have beaten.

It's easier to walk on the sidewalk than on a tight rope.

All that said: You're right in that no one knows for sure whether Alabama or Arkansas are indeed better than any or all of the other one-loss teams. In fact, two-loss Wisconsin is one of the best teams in the country, but was victimized on twice on last-minute passes. The Badgers quite literally are 20 seconds away from being undefeated.

For all the analysis and opinions, nobody knows for certain which team is better unless they actually play.

That's why I'm against rematches in the national championship game. We've already seen the outcome of that game once. Let's see how a team does against another strong opponent.

[ Video: Which is the nation's best one-loss team? ]

Cowboys up?

The prevailing contention seems to be that Oklahoma State is all but eliminated from national title contention. But it's my gut feeling that, given all the rematch taboo and the BCS computers' love for the Big 12, the Cowboys could jump Alabama for the national championship berth. What are your thoughts on the likelihood on that scenario? As a Tide fan, should I be concerned about Alabama's ability to control its own destiny?
Adam in New Orleans

My position always has been that if a team doesn't win its conference championship, it should not play for the national title. There may be some coaches and Harris Poll voters who agree.

There also may be a number who are philosophically against conference rematches for the national title. Some may be willing to forgive Oklahoma State's loss to Iowa State because the Cowboys had learned earlier that day that Oklahoma State women's basketball coaches Kurt Budke and Miranda Serna had died in a plane crash.

Even though the Cowboys led 24-7 at one point over the Cyclones, they still didn't appear sharp and focused.

And if Oklahoma State defeats Oklahoma on Dec. 3 to win the Big 12 championship, some voters will look at the quality of teams the Cowboys will have defeated - OU, Baylor, Kansas State, Texas, Texas A&M - and decide that carries more weight than one off day in Ames.

Ultimately, though, the guess here is that the majority of voters will feel they have to vote Alabama ahead of the Cowboys. That is, assuming Alabama beats Auburn in the Iron Bowl. I anticipate that Alabama will play for the national title against LSU (assuming LSU defeats Arkansas, of course).

Alabama fans shouldn't be overly concerned that the Crimson Tide will fall out of the top two of the BCS standings. But they shouldn't be too smug, either.

Nothing can be taken for granted in the BCS system.

[ Video: Video: Is this the most intriguing Heisman race ever? ]

Counting on FCS

It's well-known that FBS teams who schedule FCS opponents are required to win at least seven games before being bowl-eligible. I think it would also be fair to declare that no FBS team with an FCS opponent should be eligible for a shot at that national championship unless it finishes undefeated. A two-loss team with only FBS adversaries should sit atop of a one-loss team with one or more FCS teams on their schedule. I would like to know your opinion.
Tomas in Richland, Wash.

Actually, you're mistaken. A victory over an FCS opponent does indeed count toward bowl eligibility; only if you have two FCS wins do you need to win seven games. Last season, there were 11 bowl-eligible teams who were 6-6 and had one win over an FCS opponent.

With that out of the way, I'd have to say I disagree that no wins over FCS teams should count for two reasons:

The first is that some FCS opponents are better than FBS teams. For example, North Dakota State defeated Minnesota 37-24 this season. A victory over Minnesota counts toward bowl eligibility. So, why wouldn't a victory over North Dakota State?

Second, many FCS schools fund their programs by facing FBS opponents. If penalized, FBS teams likely would stop scheduling FCS opponents, which in turn would be a huge blow to those FCS programs.

I favor the rule the way it is now.

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Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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