TO BORROW from Irish novelist Margaret Wolfe Hungerford, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.And to bend that idiom absolutely sideways, so too is the ranking of West Virginia University's football team.On Tuesday, both the Associated Press and USA Today coaches polls were released and the Mountaineers emerged tied for ninth in the former and eighth in the latter.But here's where the beauty-and-beholder part enters the story. I voted WVU No. 5. Ray Ratto of Comcast Sports Bay Area (San Francisco) voted the Mountaineers No. 24.You read correctly. No. 24.Now, if you're a Mountaineer fan, please don't go all Lindsay Lohan on Ratto. It's the first week of the regular season. And, truth be told, I received grief for ranking WVU higher than any other voter except Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News, who also slotted the Mountaineers No. 5.Among my Twitter birds, one said he was "proud" of me, but another said I was drinking Kool-Aid and yet another said I was just "bat-[expletive] crazy."Maybe, but I watched a ton of college football this past weekend. Even saw some of that goofy Oklahoma at Texas El-Paso game. And there were only a few teams that impressed me more than WVU.One was Alabama. In the preseason poll, I voted for "Brother" Nick Saban's Tide No. 2. But after Alabama steamrolled Michigan 41-14, voting the Tide No. 1 was a no-brainer. (Eleven voters, however, did vote Southern Cal No. 1 after a 49-10 win over Hawaii and four more voted for LSU, which defeated North Texas 41-14.)
Here's the deal, though. One votes for teams in the preseason poll based on returning talent. In the regular season, one votes for teams that show talent. Teams earn spots.Alabama certainly earned its No. 1 spot. USC, LSU and Oregon were impressive enough to earn my votes for 2-3-4.Next, though, is where a discerning voter has to get out the magnifying glass.The only two teams that seemed viable candidates for the No. 5 spot were Florida State and West Virginia. FSU defeated Murray State of the FCS Ohio Valley Conference by 69-3. WVU waxed in-state rival and Conference USA member Marshall by 69-34.
To me, West Virginia's rout was more impressive. MU coach Doc Holliday seemingly has the Thundering Herd on an uptick playing in a respectable FBS conference. But the team was no match for the Mountaineers. Murray State, meanwhile, was picked to finish behind Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State in the preseason OVC poll. You make the call.Oklahoma, you should know, was actually fifth in both the AP and coaches polls. Although the Sooners have plenty of talent, it didn't exactly twinkle in that UTEP game. OU won but 24-7. (Those pesky Miners.)
To me, WVU showed more than No. 5 Oklahoma, No. 6 Florida State, No. 7 Georgia (a 45-23 win over Buffalo), more than No. 8 Arkansas (a 49-24 win over Jacksonville State) and more than the other AP No. 9, South Carolina, which nudged Vanderbilt by 17-13.By the end of the season, all of the above will mostly be irrelevant. Again, it's just Week 1. But I did have to reach out to Ratto. He voted Texas State (which, playing in its first FBS game, defeated Houston) No. 15, which is a topic for another columnist.I simply had one question for Ratto: Um, bro ... WVU at No. 24?He was kind enough to respond to my email."I wasn't really convinced that West Virginia was going to be a Top 10 team before the season started, which is one of the reasons so many early-season polls are so volatile," Ratto wrote. "I voted [it] 23rd in my preseason poll, and, oddly enough, heard not a peep from anyone in your neighborhood, so I'm a bit surprised at the anger now after a win over a fairly ordinary Marshall team. That said, I could be completely wrong in my assessment, which is why we vote every week."Ratto also said he had a "brain spasm" on Twitter when he wrote the Mountaineers defeated Elon, rather than Marshall. (North Carolina played Elon.) He quickly corrected the mistake though.
"So it goes," Ratto wrote. "The early season is all about adjustment, not lasting judgments, so if West Virginia ends up being a very good team, my vote and all others will reflect that. For the moment, if I am unpopular, we'll all get over it in time."A la Lohan.Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.