Not surprisingly, the three Associated Press voters who put Ole Miss on top of their ballots this week relied heavily on defense in making the No. 1 call.
The Rebels received three No. 1 votes, one each from Chad Cripe of the Idaho Statesmen, the Boise State beat writer, Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune and John Shinn of the Norman (Okla.) Transcript.
Hansen focused on yards per game and where Ole Miss and Mississippi State rank in the total defense statistics of the NCAA.
He called Ole Miss a “complete” defense. Both teams are producing turnovers and big plays, he said, but that may not be enough long term.
Hansen said he looked at the common denominator for BCS championship teams and 15 out of 16 had a total defense ranking of 25 or better.
Ole Miss is at No. 13 right now, MSU at No. 87.
“That could come back to bit them at some point,” Hansen said.
He also looked at strength of schedule. The Bulldogs have generated a lot of attention with wins against three teams who were ranked in the top 10 at the time they played MSU.
Ole Miss has now beaten Alabama – ranked No. 3 by AP and No. 1 by the coaches when the game was played – and Texas A&M which was No. 14 last week.
Hansen, though, focused on Memphis.
“I know Memphis not a killer team, but they’ve scored a lot of points on everybody they’ve played except Ole Miss.”
Cripe cover the Rebels on opening night against Boise State.
“What they have done to beat Alabama and Texas A&M. I had been sticking with Florida State, but I felt like it was time. Those two (Ole Miss and MSU) have done enough, and it was time to recognize them over Florida State. I went Ole Miss 1, MSU 2 and Florida State 3. I looked at Ole Miss and Mississippi State really hard and could have gone either way. In the end I went off defense. Defense is what wins for the most part, and Ole Miss has been awesome. Mississippi State has been OK.”
Having seen the Rebels live did not necessarily influence Cripe’s vote.
“That was a weird game and hard to evaluate because the first two quarters and the last two quarters were so different,” he said. “The only way it influenced me was to watch Ole Miss a little more closely because they had played Boise.”
Shinn likes the Rebels’ defense, but the determining factor for him was road play. What the Rebels got done at Texas A&M carried more weight than what MSU accomplished at LSU.
“I’ve voted in the poll for five or six years. I made the decision a couple of years ago that above all else I was going to reward teams for big road wins. When in doubt, reward the big road win. I know what Mississippi State did at LSU. I thought about 110,000 at College Station, and Ole Miss just went in there and beat the hell out of them from the opening snap,” he said.
While Cripe had Florida State third, Hansen and Shinn both had Baylor third and Florida State fourth.
Shinn pointed out that there’s a lot of football to be played.
“Obviously Ole Miss has a really good defensive team. I went with them at No. 1, and I’ve got Mississippi State at No. 2. I don’t think there’s any doubt that those two have been the most impressive by far. Something could change next week.”