More of the Same
September 18, 2007

I'm beginning to think that the college football pollsters are spending their Saturdays watching "Friends" marathons and reading each other's columns on Sundays for their opinions rather than watching the games and/or looking at the statistics.  How else can one explain their indifference to reality?

USC got a big boost in the polls last week because of their "convincing" win at Nebraska.  But what really happened there?  Nebraska clearly had a legacy ranking.  They were once a great football power and so they get a courtesy top 20 ranking to start each season.  However, the week before the USC match-up winless Wake Forest exposed them as a pretender, rushing for 236 yards in narrowly losing to the Huskers.  Nebraska also showed in that game they not only couldn't stop the run but couldn't run themselves, barely topping 100 yards rushing for the game.  Army ran for nearly as many yards against Wake as Nebraska.  This was not a team that would offer a real challenge to a team with a long tradition of a solid running game so USC's undressing was not at all a surprise.  That game was more of a testament that Nebraska is not very good than it was USC deserving of their ranking.  I've asked the question before but it merits repeating: when was the last time Nebraska was top ranked at anything?  They haven't beaten a top 10 team since 2001 and Husker coach Bill Callahan has never done it. 

What that game did show me was that USC is very soft over the middle on passing defense.  And they showed some defensive vulnerability to speed.  This should be particularly concerning to USC fans since Nebraska is not exactly famous for their passing attack.  And say what you will about garbage time, but Nebraska finished the game with 31 points and over 400 yards offense against USC supposedly great defense.  On offense there really wasn't much to glean from the game because Nebraska's personnel were so slow afoot.  Judging from the speed I've seen from Oregon and Cal, I would say that both teams have a very good chance of beating USC.  

I'm not going to turn around and sugggest that LSU's opponent last weekend, Middle Tennessee State, was a powerhouse.  But they have shown they have some weapons on offense, enough to roll up 555 yards of total offense including 265 yards rushing at then #9 Louisville.  As an aside, Louisville's ranking was clearly inflated but they still have much of the same personnel that last year's squad had, so their problems are not the result of a talent gap.  It just goes to show how much impact superior coaching has in football.  But I digress.... the team that ran wild against Louisville, didn't have positive yards rushing until 4 minutes left in the game.  They finished with 37 rushes for 7 yards, which figures about to about 0.2 yards per carry.  On the other side of the ball, LSU posted 44 points despite playing without their starting quarterback or their #1 reciever and had their third stringers in for the fourth quarter.  LSU has faced better teams than USC yet has allowed just one touchdown and has not allowed any team more than 150 yards total offense and has only once allowed one team more than 10 yards rushing. 

I would not only put LSU ahead of USC, but after their impressive wins also Oklahoma and Florida.  I might even put West Virginia in there.  Oh, and LSU's schedule just got tougher with Kentucky beating #9 Louisville 40-34 while USC's schedule got easier with UCLA getting totally thrashed by Utah 44-6.  Given the pollsters' history of prefential treatment to Pac 10 and Big Ten teams, I was surprised that they knocked UCLA out of the top 25.  I was even more surprised they put Kentucky in it. 

As it stands now, LSU will face at least 5 more top 20 teams, USC only two.  And judging from the way the pollsters seem to interpret the data, LSU will not only have to win but win big against each of those teams to get some respect.