So what does it mean for LSU to be ranked No. 1 in this week’s Associated Press poll?
It means achievement, though not victory.
It means respect, though not substance.
It means being a bigger target, shedding the underdog’s role for the mantle of pressure that comes with being the favorite.
It is what you want. Everyone who plays the game wants to be on top.
For the first time since 2011, the LSU Tigers football team is the No. 1 team in the country, according to the AP Top 25 poll released Sunday …
But I have a strong suspicion that another one of LSU coach Ed Orgeron’s “hill of beans” comments is warming in the bullpen for when he’s asked this week about being No. 1 for the first time since 2011.
The No. 1 team in the final AP poll in January will get a trophy, like the one the wire service has been handing out since 1936. But the 62 AP voters are almost certain to go all in for the team that wins the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Jan. 13 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. And being No. 1 in the AP poll has not one bit to do with who gets there.
Once upon a time the AP poll was part of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) formula. But the CFP selection committee is bound by no mathematics. The committee makes its own top 25 each week, and the AP and USA Today coaches’ rankings have zip to do with that.
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Rightly so. You can debate from now until LSU tees it up Nov. 9 at Alabama and beyond about the merits of the four-team CFP over an expanded format, but ultimately in that regard this is a better method of selecting a national champion.
That said, the AP and coaches’ polls are good indicators of what is to come.
With LSU, No. 2 and recently deposed Alabama and No. 3 Ohio State all having this Saturday off, and No. 4 Clemson stepping out of the outclassed Atlantic Coast Conference on Saturday to host even more outclassed Wofford, you figure when the first CFP rankings come out Nov. 5 that LSU has a great chance to be No. 1.
But there is a long row to hoe for the Tigers before they get to Selection Sunday, Dec. 8.
Everyone on the LSU football team knew the question was coming.
The key now is not just winning every game, going 1-0 every week as the cliché goes, but staying in the top four until the end.
Win every game and you’re a lock to get in. Lose one along the way and you want to have the respect of the selection committee to still be in the top four on Dec. 8. Starting at No. 1 in the season’s initial CFP rankings would be a great way to do that.
Even though LSU is No. 1 right now, you could easily throw a blanket over the top handful of teams. The weeding-out process has begun in earnest with top six-ranked unbeatens Georgia, Wisconsin and Oklahoma falling as huge double-digit favorites each of the past three weeks. You’re left with LSU, Alabama, Ohio State and preseason No. 1 Clemson, plus new No. 5 Penn State (which still must play Ohio State and surprising 8-0 Minnesota) charging up on the outside.
Ed Orgeron demurred the question, Should you be No. 1?, and leaned instead on LSU's 23-20 victory over Auburn, its third top 10 win of the season.
The AP voters tell us how wide open this process still is. Alabama still has more No. 1 votes (21) than LSU or Ohio State (17 each) while Clemson has the other seven. And just eight points separate the Tigers, Crimson Tide and Buckeyes, as close a margin as you’re ever likely to see.
But LSU got the top spot because of its body of work: Three wins over three (at the time) AP top-10 teams, a résumé no one can touch. Yes, LSU’s 45-38 win at Texas is tarnished by the fact the defense-less Longhorns have slipped out of the AP poll (they’re still No. 24 in the coaches’). But Florida is No. 6, a spot higher than before it lost 42-28 to LSU. And Auburn only fell to No. 11, making it the highest-ranked two-loss team.
This is by all indications an experienced, well-focused LSU squad, one that should be able to handle all the attention and adulation.
But if those players don’t already know, Orgeron or Joe Burrow or someone will remind them that the ultimate goal isn’t being No. 1 in October, but in January.