We're halfway through the season, and if teams got performance reviews at the halfway mark, most of the top teams would be getting "Not applying themselves, could do better" on their evaluation. This past week, Texas did everything it could to keep a fading Oklahoma squad in the game; Florida did the same with Arkansas, in the Swamp, no less; and USC let Notre Dame play them closer then they have at any point since 2005. Only Alabama, who had some problems on offense but were successful in simply pulling Mark Ingram's string and letting him go, looked the part of a true national-title contender on Saturday -- thus they remain #1.
Games watched: Boise State-Tulsa, parts of Cincinnati-South Florida, Texas-Oklahoma, the second halves of USC-Notre Dame and Florida-Arkansas, Navy-Southern Methodist.
The next five: Pittsburgh, Arizona, Michigan, Oklahoma, Notre Dame.
Dropped out: Oklahoma (10), Auburn (25).
· Texas and Florida flip-flop at the 2/3 spots, while Cincinnati moves up into the top five thanks to a closer-than-it-should-have-been performance by Southern Cal and an Atlanta face-plant by Virginia Tech. Are the Bearcats really better than those two name-brand teams? Maybe, maybe not, but they did a much better job last week of looking like they wanted it, at least.
· Two big risers this week: Georgia Tech, who won, and Arkansas, who didn't. Here's my rationale for moving the Hogs into the top 15: One, the refs did an even worse job in the Florida-Arkansas game than they did with Georgia and LSU. Two, the Razorback defense does indeed look legit after impressive performances against progressively better teams over the last three weeks. Third, even though it looks like Arkansas's powerful offense got solidly corralled by the Gators, that was the most points the Gator defense has given up all season (actually, the most they'd given up since last October). It still feels weird jumping them that much after a loss, but I've got confidence that Arkansas has figured it out, and at the very least I think we'll see them in a bowl game this year.
· I debated dropping Ohio State right out of the poll after their horrendous performance against Purdue, and will gladly accept nominations for teams that should be occupying the #25 spot in the Buckeyes' place. Ohio State has gone through offensive slumps before -- you could make the case that they've been in one since the 2006 national-title game -- but they could always depend on the running game and defense to power them to a win. Well, now that the running game has disappeared as well, even the Buckeye defense can no longer win games on its own.
· Oklahoma does finally drop out of the poll after a few weeks of cajoling from various commenters. Even now, there's a part of me that still wants to believe the Sooners are better than the product they've put on the field the last few weeks, but the results on the field just don't bear that out: Their record is worse than Georgia's right now, and their wins (Idaho State, Tulsa, and Baylor) are much less impressive as well. The Sooner defense is outstanding, but if what we saw from Landry Jones in Dallas over the weekend is any indication, there's just not enough juice on this offense to get OU any higher than 7-5.
· Auburn joins the Sooners in offensively challenged, just-outside-the-top-25 purgatory; they are replaced by Brigham Young (I was still dinging them for their awful performance against Florida State last month, but it's looking more and more like that was just an ugly fluke) and Oregon State, because somebody had to be #23.
SEC Power Poll ballot follows:
1. Alabama -- With Tebow and McCoy underwhelming and Bradford injured yet again, you think maybe, just maybe, it's time for Mark Ingram to start getting some Heisman buzz?
2. Florida -- Surely they can't skate like this through the rest of the regular season, and yet . . . looking at the rest of their schedule, maybe they can.
3. Arkansas -- Egad. They have figured out how to play defense. Unfortunately, they haven't figured out the fine art of paying off refs.
4. LSU -- Is it a sign of LSU's lingering irrelevance to the national-title race that I had to go back and check just now to see whether they actually played last weekend?
5. South Carolina -- Never really out of it against Alabama, but they were never really in it, either.
6. Auburn -- An entire conference breathes a sigh of relief as it appears that, at long last, the Tigers' offense has been figured out.
7. Tennessee -- Alabama's defense will determine whether Crompton's breakout game was the start of a trend or just a mirage, and I honestly can't figure out which one I should root for.
8. Georgia -- OK, sure, they were playing the undisputed worst team in the conference, but they put away the 'Dores a lot more soundly than anyone else has so far. JUST LET US HAVE THIS. PLEASE.
9. Kentucky -- The Wildcats have exactly nobody who can throw the ball but ran it all over Auburn. Maybe Rich Brooks should contact Paul Johnson for pointers on running the triple-option?
10. Ole Miss -- I hope nobody in Oxford is getting the idea that thrashing UAB's defense means Jevan Snead is back.
11. Mississippi State -- Nice job of avoiding the trap at MTSU as Mullen prepares to go up against his old team. Is it safe to say that everyone in America outside the UF fan base will be rooting for MSU this weekend?
12. Vanderbilt -- If it looks like a 2-10 team and smells like a 2-10 team . . . Vandy can defend the pass pretty well, and that's about it.