As I took on the challenge of ranking the top 25 teams every week, I tried to consider the key rule of the Associated Press: The poll is based on performance. After the preseason poll — which, by its nature, has to be somewhat predictive — the subsequent polls should be more reflective of what’s happened. As such, there are some fluctuations in my top 25. Enjoy, bicker, whatever:
For reference, here’s the preseason poll.
1. LSU: The Tigers bullied Oregon all over the field, intimidating them with speed and power. The Ducks’ fumbles weren’t turnovers, folks — they were takeaways. LSU remains a work in progress — but it had the best win of last week amidst a ton of adversity and controversy surrounding quarterback Jordan Jefferson.
2. Alabama: Knocked around Kent State but struggled with turnovers.
3. Boise State: Erased an ugly loss to Georgia several years ago with a thorough beating of the Bulldogs in the Georgia Dome. Kellen Moore has season, while the Broncos’ front seven has salt.
4. Oklahoma: Pounded Tulsa at home. No stunner. That’s what OU does at home. Landry Jones threw the ball 47 times.
5. Stanford: Did 57-3 man dance all over San Jose State.
6. Arkansas: Quarterback Tyler Wilson looked sharp in beating Missouri State.
7. Virginia Tech: The Hokies looked tough all around in beating a pretty good FCS team (Appalachian State.)
8. Florida State: Stifling defense in 34-0 blanking of Louisiana-Monroe.
9. Texas A&M: Shaky start on defense turned into a dominant second-half performance vs. SMU. Good win.
10. Oregon: The Ducks got a big punch in the nose in Dallas. All that speed looked mighty weak vs. LSU in the second half.
11. Wisconsin: The defense was a bit slow, but the offense behind quarterback Russell Wilson looked pretty deadly on Thursday night. The Badgers could have scored 70; they settled for 51.
12. Nebraska: The offensive line needs work.
13. Oklahoma State: The Pokes posted a 64-31 win. Get used to those scores until Big 12 season.
14. Ohio State: Just looked better than several teams ranked ahead of it, including USC and Michigan State.
15. Florida: The Gators are young, but they thumped Florida Atlantic, outgaining the Owls by more 300 yards in a 41-3 win.
16. Michigan State: The Spartans were too conservative on offense and too-slow-to-react on defense. There’s some pieces missing on MSU’s defense.
17. South Carolina: Shook off a poor start against East Carolina thanks to a relief appearance by quarterback Stephen Garcia, who would have been a kind of Southern legend 40 years ago.
18. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs nearly made my Top 25 last week. They’re in now with a big jump thanks to a 59-14 blowout of a pretty bad Memphis team on the road. Still 645 total yards is 645 total yards.
19. Houston: The Cougars won the best way they knew how: by simply outscoring the opponent, in this case UCLA 38-34.
20. USC: Let Minnesota hang around much too long in the second half, and it nearly cost the Trojans a victory. Teams are not as afraid of the Men of Troy as they used to be.
21. Penn State: The quarterback debate in Happy Valley continues. An upset chance vs. Alabama awaits.
22. South Florida: Probably wouldn’t beat Notre Dame three times out of ten. But, see, the Bulls did, and that’s what counts. With the aid of several Irish turnovers and a couple lightning delays, USF belongs in the top 25.
23. Notre Dame: The Irish lost 23-20 to South Florida, but could return to the top 20 with a road victory at Michigan. Right now, ND 2011 looks like ND of, oh, 1997-2010. Inconsistent.
24. Baylor: If it’s about performance, then the Bears belong in the top 25 right now. That offense — led by quarterback Robert Griffin III — will be tough for any defense outside of Norman, Okla., to stop.
25. TCU: Head coach Gary Patterson’s apparent insistence on playing man-to-man coverage cost his Horned Frogs a win. But TCU’s still a top 25 team based on that dogged fourth-quarter comeback.
Georgia: The Bulldogs hit a handful of big plays vs. Boise, but were otherwise outclassed despite having a home crowd at The Georgia Dome.
Southern Mississippi: Narrowly beat Louisiana Tech 19-17 at home.
Miami (Fla): Hung in tough in a 32-24 loss at Maryland, but the Hurricanes’ defense could be in for a bruising this year.
Teams I’m watching:
Northwestern: Very impressive road win at Boston College with backup quarterback Kain Colter.
Michigan: Scored two defensive touchdowns in 34-10 win over Western Michigan.
Auburn: I was right not to put this team in my preseason top 25, but the Tigers will get their chance to bust into it with a game vs. Mississippi State.
Missouri: We’ll know much more about these Tigers after their game at Arizona State.
Arizona State: Ditto for the Sun Devils.
BYU: Heads to Texas for a road game.
West Virginia: Dana Holgersen’s bunch draws Norfolk State this week.