Don't like the polls? Try voting in 'em

Editor's note: In a new feature this season, ESPN.com columnist Mechelle Voepel shares her take on recent hot topics. If you've got a question you'd like Voepel to answer, shoot her an e-mail at mvoepel@kcstar.com.

Let's start off with the topic of the polls. Got a few angry e-mails recently about them, as some people disagree with what we in the media come up with. Which is understandable. But I always want to say, "Really, do you think we're TRYING to screw it up?"

On Sunday, Jan. 9, I watched all or parts of Villanova-Notre Dame, Auburn-Florida, Minnesota-New Mexico, Stanford-Arizona, Oregon-Oregon State, Memphis-Charlotte and Maryland-North Carolina.

After the Terps' upset over the Heels, I had no choice. Time to turn off the TV, turn on the computer and start the poll process. This went on for a considerable period, which included lots of looking up scores on the Web, comparing and contrasting ... and prolonged sighing.

Voting has been hard at different times in years past, but I think this year has been the hardest week in and week out. Or it just seems that way because we're in the middle of this nutso season.

Anyway, I was not making tangible progress on putting names next to all 25 spots, so I went to the grocery store to briefly get my mind off it. (You can see I really have diverse interests, providing a wide range of entertainment options.)

Yet I was still gripped by indecision. What are there now, about 178 types of toothpaste?

Then the cell phone rang. It was a frustrated colleague saying, "Hey, I'm trying to figure out my top 25 ballot ..."

And away we go in league play

Now that we're into conference season, I'm reminded of a "Get Smart" episode called, "The Girls from KAOS." Max was guarding Miss USA at a beauty pageant, where a KAOS operative, Miss Formosa -- mocking the feud back then between China and the Soviet Union about who had the "purest" communism -- delivered the perfect deadpan line, "Only in my country is there complete KAOS."

Complete chaos might be a way to describe this season, especially now that we get into conference action. "Upsets" in league play are different than in nonconference play, because league teams have so much history with each other. So some teams that had up-and-down or even not-good nonconference seasons are able to knock off a top team or two in their league.

These results, if not always "predictable," are at least explainable. Yet they still cause trouble when it comes to poll voting. Case in point: Villanova over Notre Dame.

What do we make of ...

A team like Penn State? Good question. Here's a group that lost its top scorer from last year, had a promising post player transfer, had its coach out for a while with illness, has the third-most difficult schedule (according College RPI.com), has lost six games ... but seems poised to be a factor once again in the Big Ten. Last week, Penn State gave Iowa its first loss. Maybe all the difficulty Penn State has gone through served the purpose of making the team stronger for league play.

Mechelle Voepel is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage.