Before Clemson tripped on an Orange peel at Syracuse, we warned the poll voters to sell their stock short. For weeks we advised the pollsters to dump their USC stock but even after Notre Dame exposed the Trojan flaws, both polls still have them ranked in the Top 25 and ahead of better teams like Michigan and LSU.  Because of USC’s consistently mediocre play (they have a middle C grade for the season), we’ve dropped them from our rankings and we’re on the lookout for fresh pretenders to the throne. NC State and Virginia Tech deserve watching.

The Wolfpack could pull the next big upset next weekend in South Bend while the Irish are still basking in the glow of their victory over USC. It’s hard to get psyched two weeks in a row and NC State is likely a tougher opponent than USC (though a win over the Wolfpack wouldn’t excite the Irish faithful nearly as much as the thumping of USC). We’ve added Notre Dame to our rankings this week, not because they beat USC, but because they have played better all season than the teams the polls were ranking. They’d have been in our top eleven all season and No. 8 last week before beating USC. Now they are No. 7 with a bullet.

As conference play progresses it becomes easier to separate the wheat from the chaff. This week Penn State, TCU and Alabama received A+ grades, in that order, against conference foes. Only Alabama carries an A+ grade for the season but eleven more teams, from No. 2 Penn State to No. 12 Auburn, have A grades for the season. Rounding out our Top 16 and are four pretenders who have mid-to-low B grades. They are: Washington State, Miami, Michigan and LSU, in that order. The biggest surprise in this group is undefeated Miami which is ranked No. 8 in the popular polls while they are clinging to a spot in our polls by their South Beach fingernails. Why? Because the polls rank records and not playing performance. This week Miami made it into the dictionary as the definition of winning ugly, posting the lowest winning grade, at a dismal 65.06. In case I’m being too subtle: Sell your Hurricanes stock.

And then, there are the Wisconsin Badgers who are floating along on a bubble of goodwill helium produced by their unbeaten record against second tier competition. The Badgers are still the only ranked team that has played less than an average schedule. The average team in this case is ranked No. 65 or 66 out of the 130 teams in the FBS Division. Wisconsin’s average weekly foe ranked lower than that. In the popular polls, whose voters claim to take strength of schedule into consideration, the Badgers are No. 5. In our rankings, we discount those wins over cupcakes and rank them at No. 10. Not bad; but far more realistic.

Next week we’ll get the first rankings from the College Football Playoff committee and we’ll stop paying attention to, and criticizing, the popular polls. If we had to make a prediction today, we’d guess Alabama, the Ohio State vs. Penn State winner, and Clemson as locks for the playoff.  Clemson gets in because they won’t face as difficult a road as the other ranked teams going forward. The wild cards, jockeying for the fourth position, are: underrated Washington, Georgia and TCU.  Alabama must still play Auburn and Georgia, and Georgia must still play Auburn and Alabama. So, Auburn is the potential spoiler. For the Ohio State – Penn State winner the path is fairly clear. TCU must simply hope the Committee remembers the mistake it made two years ago in leaving the Horned Frogs out.

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