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Why Kansas <em>is</em> No. 2

Lately, among those of us in the blogosphere -- a word, it should be noted, I hate but use for lack of a better one -- there has been a debate about whether Kansas is really deserving of a high ranking.

Many agreed with LD of Corporate Headquarters ... when he said (last week, before the latest Oregon and Oklahoma meltdowns):

In sum, if you are ranking Kansas highly, you must be placing a lot of emphasis on not losing, without regard to how bad or mediocre the opposition is. And if you are placing a lot of emphasis on not losing to bad or mediocre opposition, there are about two dozen other teams who also haven't lost to bad or mediocre opposition (but several of them have played and beaten good or great opposition). ...

But based on the knowledge we have right now of that team, there are reasonable arguments to place the Jayhawks in a poll in the high teens or worse. And if you use resume ranking, there aren't reasonable arguments to place the Jayhawks in the top 3.

Or SMQ when he said (again, last week):

How far can a team's claim as "the best" go when said team hasn't played anything approximating the best opponents? It should be pointed out that Kansas' schedule is not Hawaii's, which is unambiguously the weakest in Division I-A -- unlike the Warriors, Kansas has won its way into the discussion with respectable wins over Big 12 middle-dwellers Colorado, Kansas State, Nebraska, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, all of them (with the exception of A&M) winners of at least one game of consequence their own selves. And the Jayhawks will have their day, against Missouri in two weeks, and if they pass that test, the Big 12 Championship the week after that. Once it gets that kind of value on its wall, KU has itself an argument.

But, certainty of a few proud neighbors notwithstanding, not yet. I don't know where Kansas will fall on my BlogPoll ballot Wednesday –- part of this exercise is to parse the merits of all of these teams –- but it will not be one or two.

Some of these critics decided to rank Kansas highly despite their reservations. SMQ bestowed his fifth spot upon the Jayhawks. Brian, who had joined LD’s criticism to a degree, as the Mayor pointed out, also smiled upon KU.

The Mayor on the other hand, did not, dropping Kansas to No. 22 while saying, essentially, "pay no attention to the arrows." (A bit of a cop-out, if you ask me, but that's a matter for another day.) This brought a sharp rebuke from Brian:

Dawg Sports submits an truly awful ballot: Arizona State plummets to #20. Kansas is #22. Cincinnati is #8. Attempted justifications are here and they are rife with contradictions; suffice it to say when you're the only one ranking either ASU or KU outside of the top ten and you put them in the 20s, you are way off base.

Which, in turn, drew a response from the Mayor:

I can understand and respect Saurian Sagacity's position that the lone remaining undefeated B.C.S. conference team should be ranked No. 1 and LD's wholly outcome-based Lebowski rankings, but, as LD cogently argues, if we're going to rank teams using informed subjectivity, why shouldn't we go all the way? If there are more than 20 teams that are undefeated against teams as good as the best team Kansas has faced, why shouldn't we rank all 20 or more of them higher than unaccomplished Kansas?

So the time has come, I believe, for all of us to make our stance clear, as I will do now.

Kansas, by starting off the season 11-0, has earned the No. 2 ranking. And if they run the table -- something I do not rule out -- they should play in the BCS title game.

(Coincidentally, the winner of that game should be recognized as the national champion, and not because I buy into the mass media hype surrounding the event, nor because I am "a shameless huckster, shill or boob." But that, alas, is also a topic for another post, one I should finish soon enough.)

Many of the critics of KU note the lack of a high-quality win by the Jayhawks, and there they have a point. But they also ignore the fact that, unlike all the other contenders, Kansas lacks one or (in more recent days) two losses against mid- or lower-tier teams that drag down some of the other teams.

For example, even before Oklahoma fell to Texas Tech on Saturday, they  lost to Colorado -- a team Kansas defeated. (Full disclosure: Until this week, I had the Sooners ahead of the Jayhawks.)

Before losing to Arizona, Oregon fell to Cal in Eugene -- a loss that looks worse and worse as time passes.

Ohio State fell to Illinois, a solid loss, but one that weighs on their resume nonetheless. Missouri also fell to a tough team, Oklahoma, but did so in a convincing game by 10 points.

Kansas' being undefeated should count for something, if for no other reason than the fact that they have no loss pulling on their resume. Granted, this has come against "bad or mediocre opposition," but that's a pretty slender reed to grasp in a year when everyone else has lost to someone, often to someone who would otherwise be considered "bad or mediocre opposition."

This is even more of a logic problem, in my view, for a voter who has said that a team with a win is "objectively better" than a team with a loss.  If that is true, then how is a team without a loss not "objectively better" than a team with one?

Remember, this is not Hawaii we're talking about. Kansas has played several teams from a BCS conference. And, comparing apples to apples, its performances in those games have compared favorably to a team that many previously ranked ahead of Kansas, and a team that some still do: Oklahoma.

Oklahoma defeated Baylor 52-21. Kansas also crushed the Bears, 58-10. KU defeated Texas A&M by an 19-11 margin, far closer than Oklahoma’s 42-14 margin. But Kansas won its game against Colorado, 19-14, while the Sooners lost, 27-24. We will see soon enough how the Jayhawks' 43-28 victory over Oklahoma State compares to Oklahoma's margin, and whether Kansas can do better than Oklahoma's 41-31 margin over Missouri.

Even without all that, though, there is something to be said for being undefeated, for never having an off day -- or being better, even on that day, than your competition. For getting good performances every week from your key players -- or having someone else pick them up when that doesn't happen.  For overcoming the unlucky bounces, bad calls and injuries that plague every team, every year.

Complaints about the BCS aside -- and I have almost as many as anyone else -- it has shown an incredible knack for sorting itself out in the end. Anyone out there sill think Michigan should have gotten a second shot at Ohio State last year?

So all of this could be a moot point in a couple of weeks, or even a few days.

I do give LSU a slight edge for the enormous caliber of their wins and the extenuating circumstances of their loss -- a narrow defeat in triple overtime on the road.

But, aside from the Bayou Bengals, Kansas has done more than anybody else in the country, and it’s about time we all recognized that fact.