Steve Townsend, the independent football consultant whose past experience includes serving as media relations director for the Southeastern Conference and sports information director for Alabama, is one of the Harris Poll voters. This week 112 of the 114 voters got their ballots in on Sunday morning.
"I was probably the first one to vote," Townsend said.
And Alabama ranked high on the Townsend ballot. "Alabama, in my opinion, was one of the most impressive teams I saw Saturday," he said. "I voted them ahead of all other SEC teams and in the top five in the nation."
Harris Poll voters are encouraged to speak only in generalities about their votes. Townsend revealed that his top ten included nine of the teams in the Harris Poll top ten. "I voted Notre Dame in the top 10," he said. "Of course, my vote was not in the same order as the final top ten, but I had nine of the teams."
Townsend said his vote is based on the games of that week, although certainly influenced by the overall season. "Looking at it on a week-to-week basis, it was easy to put Alabama as the best team in the SEC this week," he said. "It could be different next week. I haven't seen an SEC team play as well as Alabama played against Florida. I know there are several SEC teams with outstanding personnel and those teams may not have played their peak game yet."
Alabama was ranked 15th in last week's polls and Townsend said last week he had voted Bama between 11th and 15th. Florida was fifth in last week's polls. On Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium, the Crimson Tide stunned the Gators, 31-3.
Florida fell to 13th in the AP rankings, 14th in the Harris Poll, and 15th in the USA Today ratings.
Townsend said, "When you play defense as well as Alabama plays, you can play with any team in the nation. That doesn't mean you will win against any team, but you have the potential to be competitive with everyone."
Townsend said, "The only two games I can remember Alabama playing as well against a strong team as they did against Florida Saturday was the 1999 SEC Championship Game against Florida (a 34-7 win) and the 1987 win over Tennessee (Bama, unraked, defeated eighth-ranked Tennessee, 41-22). A lot of people would put the Miami game (Alabama's 34-13 win over the Hurricanes in the Sugar Bowl), but that was a different kind of game than the physically dominating game Alabama played Saturday."
Alabama isn't the only traditionally strong team making a comeback from having been down on its luck a bit in recent years. Penn State is now 5-0 and moved up to 16th in the AP Poll, 18th in the USA Today rankings, and 19th in the Harris Poll. "I had Penn State in the top 15 and think they deserve to be there," Townsend said. "They beat a good Minnesota team badly. They have Ohio State this weekend which may show how far Penn State has come back."
Townsend continues to like third-ranked Virginia Tech. "Virginia Tech is beating good teams and beating them convincingly," he said. "West Virginia is a pretty good team. Young Vick (quarterback Marcus Vick) is not as good as his brother (Michael), but he gives them a chance every game. I think they are a team to watch."
Texas is number two in all the polls and Townsend said, "I still don't think Texas has a team on its schedule to challenge them."
As for number one USC, Townsend said, "Southern Cal is as good an offensive team as I've ever seen, but they do have lapses defensively. It's going to be hard for anyone to beat them because they can score so blooming fast. I don't think they are as good defensively as they have been last two years, but they are better offensively. I don't think I have ever seen a team with so many offensive weapons. Reggie Bush is a unique player."
Townsend said, "Your readers may not like it, but two teams that have impressed me are Auburn and Notre Dame.
"If I had to rank the SEC teams right now, I'd have Alabama number one and Auburn number two. Auburn hasn't played tough SEC teams yet, but they have been drubbing bad teams lately. I know South Carolina is depleted, but Auburn beat them impressively. It will be interesting to see Auburn at Arkansas (October 15).
"I think Charlie Weiss has done an amazing job at Notre Dame. They will be a factor. Their schedule is all winnable except possibly their game with Southern Cal. When people start looking at their BCS projections, they had better consider Notre Dame."