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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

October 31, 2011 at 4:16 PM

Stanford and some head-scratching over the polls

College football is not a perfect world, or we wouldn’t have the Bowl Championship Series. But because we do, the system is about a beauty contest for votes, not all of which seem to be cast with the greatest consideration in mind.

This week, Stanford took a hit — not a big one, but still a nudge — in the USA Today, AP and Harris polls. This, after it went on the road against the nation’s 20th-ranked team, faced and overcame a 10-point, third-quarter deficit and won in triple overtime, 56-48.

Now USC isn’t the USC of Pete Carroll days, but by a count I did last week, was starting seven five-star recruits. One of them is quarterback Matt Barkley, who probably will go in the top half-dozen in the next NFL draft. He’s protected by left tackle Matt Kalil, who will probably be top 10.

Somebody e-mailed me to say USC, not an elite defense, “held” Stanford down. Held the Cardinal to 34 points in regulation, in other words. Meanwhile, Stanford at times struggled to keep the Trojans’ offense in check. True, I suppose, although allowing 27 offensive points in regulation isn’t exactly embarrassing.

Here’s my bottom line: If I’m voting — and I don’t, but I have before, and I concede, it’s a thankless task — I can’t possibly dock Stanford for having a close call in front of 93,000 fans screaming for USC. Maybe I can upgrade Oklahoma State, the No. 3 team, which destroyed a decent Baylor team, but I can’t dock Stanford.

But the Cardinal indeed suffered a bit. In USA Today, one of the two poll components of the BCS standings, Stanford’s lead on Oklahoma State for the No. 3 spot shrank from 26 to nine points. In the Harris poll, the other BCS poll metric which has the Cowboys in third, the gap between the teams expanded slightly, from 36 to 42 points. In AP, last week’s eight-point deficit separating OSU and Stanford for Nos. 3 and 4 is now 27 points.

Let me be clear: I’m not contending Stanford should be ahead of Oklahoma State. Maybe it should, but the Cardinal schedule wasn’t daunting early. I’m only saying it seems a bit loopy to downgrade Stanford for its long, ultimately rewarding, night’s work in the Coliseum.

This is somewhat in the vein of hair-splitting; you’d hope what happens starting Saturday will lend clarity to the picture. But there are some voters who flopped OSU and Stanford, and it’s possible they’re inclined to keep those positions unless one of them loses.

Maybe it’s the puzzling undervaluing of USC. Remember, the Trojans, at 5-1, weren’t ranked, the first time in their history such a record didn’t rate a poll spot. And if I’m not mistaken, they’re the only program out there to play nothing but BCS-conference teams.

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