Pollsters Bat Eyes At Pete Carroll, Blush

Four highly-ranked college football teams with spotless records emerged from the weekend thoroughly dirtied with the stain of loss: Florida, Georgia, USC, and Wisconsin. The circumstances of the losses all varied greatly, though only one involved a ranked team playing a ranked team: Georgia's 41-30 loss to Alabama at home. (Remember the at-home bit for later.) ↵

↵Florida lost by a point at home to an unranked Ole Miss team; Wisconsin lost in a 4th quarter collapse to Michigan on the road; and USC lost on the road to Oregon State, failing in a comeback effort in the second half. ↵

↵

↵So which team opened up highest of these in this week's polls? If you said the team that lost to a ranked opponent, you would be logical, reasoned, and thoroughly justified in your pick. You'd also be wrong. ↵

↵

↵USC sits at nine in both polls, ahead of Georgia by one spot in the USA Today poll and by two in the AP poll, a baffling decision given USC's loss to a 1-2 Oregon State team that had lost to Stanford in the opener and had put on a mad stank awful performance against Penn State. Georgia, meanwhile, mounted a fair fight after stumbling through a 31-0 first half, eventually making it semi-respectable against a Tide team clearly in cruise control for the second half. ↵

↵

↵Now, we're only talking about two spots ... but does it matter? It very well might in certain scenarios: teams lose less ground for late season losses than expected, meaning that the order as it stands now might not change to a huge degree even if every team in the top 10 winds up with one loss. A single spot or two in the polls could mean the difference between a spot in a BCS bowl and a lower-tier bowl game, which means millions of dollars in terms of bowl revenue and important preseason poll buzz for the upcoming year. ↵

↵

↵The curious buoyancy of USC in the polls after a loss -- a bandwagon driven by the drunk driver of ESPN, Inc. -- isn't just the figment of LSU fans' imagination. It's a real ghost in the machine of the BCS, and the mechanism translating effervescent sportswriting hype into cold hard cash for the Trojans program. To paraphrase Houston Nutt's pregame comments about Florida: "They're good enough on their own. We don't need to help 'em out by making mistakes." Mistakes like, say, ranking them higher than a team that took a hammering from a possible national title contender on Saturday as opposed to flopping against the third or fourth best team in the Pac-10 ... a conference currently under lease to the Mountain West for the duration of 2008. ↵

↵

This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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