Who deserves to be No. 1: Alabama or Ohio State?

Source: MSN Sports (SI, FoxSports)

Since Week 4, no team has come closer to dethroning Alabama from its spot atop the AP poll than Ohio State. However, despite a marquee nonconference win at Oklahoma and four other victories that have been decided by no fewer than 21 points, the Buckeyes have been unable to surpass the Crimson Tide. In fact, Alabama still dominates in the polls, collecting 56 first-place votes in the latest AP poll to Ohio State’s two.

The Buckeyes lead the Tide in scoring average (53.2 points per game to 44.8) and scoring defense (10.8 points allowed per game to 15.8) as well as in yards allowed per play (3.69 to 4.52). But Alabama reclaimed the top spot from Ohio State in Football Outsiders’ S&P+ ratings after Week 6.

So who’s done more to deserve the No. 1 ranking at this point in the season? SI.com and FOXSports.com college football writers make their picks.

Pete Thamel, SI: Alabama

There’s always a strong brand carryover in the AP poll. And since Alabama won the national title last year and has shown few hints of vulnerability, it’ll be the top ranked team until it loses. By opening with USC, the Crimson Tide challenged themselves—on paper at least—out of conference. They’ve earned the top spot until they relinquish it.

Bruce Feldman, FOX Sports: Alabama

I don’t think the Tide are invincible. Alabama is relying on a true freshman QB and is still sorting out life after losing All-America center Ryan Kelly, the leader of the offense. But I love the Tide’s defense, especially their front seven. They already have two wins over top 20 opponents—Ole Miss and Arkansas—and both occurred on the road. And, even with those question marks on offense, Alabama is still averaging 48.5 points in those two road games. It also crushed a USC team that does have plenty of athleticism. I give the Buckeyes plenty of credit for thumping Oklahoma in Norman, but I’m not sure the next-best opponent the Buckeyes have faced thus far—probably 3–2 Indiana in Columbus—is very scary.

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Andy Staples, SI: ¯\_(?)_/¯

I’m going to go with pork ribs at No. 1 for two reasons. First, pork ribs are delicious. Second, I can look past the fact that pork ribs have neither a university nor a football team because rankings don’t matter until Dec. 4. Alabama and Ohio State will play some more games, and we’ll adjust how we feel about them. Who knows? We may think Washington or Clemson is better in a month. None of it matters now, and arguing about it is silly. So I choose the more delicious team.

Stewart Mandel, FOX Sports: Alabama

I addressed this very topic in my Monday column. It’s a tough call. I think there’s a decent chance Ohio State passes Alabama at some point, but as of today I’m sticking with the Tide. I’m a big believer in the committee approach of assessing résumés. The Buckeyes have the best individual win between the two by blowing out Oklahoma on the road, but the Tide have played a considerably tougher schedule. They have a trio of wins—vs. USC, at Ole Miss and at Arkansas—better than any three on Ohio State’s schedule.

Brian Hamilton, SI: Alabama

Very little separates these teams from the objective, statistical standpoint. Last week, Ohio State was No. 1 in Football Outsiders’ S&P+ rankings. This week, Alabama is. The Crimson Tide are fractionally better than the Buckeyes on offense (No. 5 vs. No. 7, respectively) and defense (No. 8 vs. No. 11), according to those advanced statistics, while the Buckeyes are far better on special teams (No. 3 vs. No. 47). Still, this boils down to a highly subjective question: Who’d you beat? Ohio State has one very good win at Oklahoma and four smackdowns of overmatched teams. Alabama throttled a decent USC squad on neutral turf and then beat two more ranked teams on the road in Ole Miss and Arkansas. It’s close. But given the body of work, the Crimson Tide deserves the first-place votes they’re getting.

Joan Niesen, SI: Alabama

I’m still sticking with Alabama, although I find the fact that Ohio State got just two first-place votes puzzling. The Buckeyes have certainly done enough to make more of a dent into Alabama’s vote total than that. I think this weekend’s marquee games will perhaps lend some good insight into who the better of these two teams actually is.

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