I see this week SI's Stewart Mandel is taking some of the same rounds of questioning about his rankings that I've faced doing my rankings.
Mandel's replies are pretty interesting and instructive. Be sure and read the entire thing.
Some of the best back-and-forths:
Help me understand something. Notre Dame continues to be ranked ahead of such one-loss teams as Alabama, Virginia Tech and Oregon. Why?
--Jonathan, Baton Rouge, La.
Probably because they're playing better than those teams. The Tide's offense has gone in the toilet, the Ducks have barely survived their two games since losing starting quarterback Kellen Clemens and the last time we saw the Hokies, they were on the wrong end of a 27-7 score. If you'd prefer, I could start ranking teams in strict order of their records, in which case I'll start letting our interns fill out my ballot each week.
Classic. Who... Is... Best...? You go first. Who... Is... Next...? You go after them.
Notre Dame lost to Michigan State (5-5, 2-5 in the Big Ten). How on earth can the Irish be ranked as high as they are, and why doesn't anyone ever bring that up? It's like people forgot that game.
You know what's interesting? Despite Miami moving up to No. 3 in the BCS standings this week -- a development that has far more potential ramifications than whether Notre Dame is sixth or ninth -- I haven't heard a single person say, "Hey, have you people forgotten that the 'Canes lost to a Florida State team that got blown out by Clemson?" I'd imagine that's because most people generally accept the notion that Miami has gotten significantly better since that game, while the 'Noles have regressed. That's pretty much how a season works -- some teams evolve from the first game to the last game, others devolve.
But apparently, judging by my e-mail, that's not the case with Notre Dame and Michigan State. Apparently the Irish are exactly the same team today that they were two months ago, and apparently the Spartans were just as bad when they started 4-0 and were scoring 49 points per game on people than they are now that they've lost five of six and couldn't crack 20 on Minnesota. I suppose it's not remotely possible that, say, the Irish defense is substantially more comfortable after nine games under a new coaching staff than it was after two, or that the more games the Spartans played, the more scouting opportunities opposing defensive coordinators had to figure out their spread offense. I'm not trying to make excuses for what was clearly a bad loss; I just feel that a game played on Sept. 17 has little-to-no-bearing on how a team is playing on Nov. 17.
Thank you! Remember the whole twisty Michigan/Michigan State/Notre Dame pretzel earlier this year? Things have resolved themselves nicely, now haven't they?
So much confusion is created because fans have this idea that teams should be ranked by order of loss and schedule strength and conference strength. Problem is, those inputs don't give much weight to determining just how good a team is, and what its real world value is. We're obsessed with trying as hard as possible to keep human factors out of our determinations, when the greatest tool available in ranking teams is not in their numbers or records, but in what our eyes see and what our brains process. Let people rank teams, let them get it right, even if mistakes are made. The current agnostic approach is causing such ridiculous confusion that when someone like Mandel comes along with half a mind to put some observation and thought into his rankings, people flip out.
You know, he may end up being wrong, but at least he made better use of the available tools in making his rankings.