LSU has best resume in the country, so why are Tigers only No. 5? Blame it on false, preseason prejudice
LSU is ranked No. 5 and has climbed farther than any other team since the preseason poll.
But the Tigers (5-0 and 2-0 in the SEC), who were ranked No. 25 before the season, still seem to he held back by modest preseason expectations.
After all, they are the only team in the country that has two victories against teams that were ranked in the Top 10 at the time of the meeting. They began the season with an eye-popping 33-17 victory against preseason No. 8 Miami in a game in which they rolled to a 33-3 lead before coasting.
Just 13 days later they went on the road and beat then No. 7 Auburn 22-21 in their SEC opener. Miami, currently ranked No. 17, and Auburn, currently ranked No. 8, are undefeated against the rest of their schedules.
A reasonable argument can be made that LSU’s Top 10 success distinguishes it from other undefeated teams and should qualify the Tigers to be No. 1 – or at least higher than No. 5.
But four teams – four really impressive teams for sure, but also teams without a pair of victories against Top 10 opponents – remain ahead of LSU.
One difficulty facing pollsters is that they often are required to distinguish between teams whose resumes essentially are equal.
In those cases the pollsters have to find some justification for choosing one team over another or others. LSU’s justification for being placed ahead of its undefeated colleagues is strength of schedule: It plays in what is generally regarded as the toughest division in the toughest conference and it ventured out of conference for one of its victories against Top 10 opponents.
By the way, the Tigers’ other three wins are similar to many wins on other teams’ September resumes – two pretty decisive though not gaudy wins against lower-level opponents (31-0 vs. Southeastern Louisiana and 38-21 vs. Louisiana Tech) and an imperfect yet solid one against a competent but outmanned conference opponent (45-16 vs. Ole Miss).
Overall opponent record:
Notre Dame 16-9
Penn State 13-10
Ohio St 10-14
West Virginia 8-11
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) October 1, 2018
What distinguishes the teams ahead of LSU from other undefeated teams?
No. 1 Alabama: Defending national champion, sure, but that has nothing to do with this year’s team. Margin of victory? Sure the Crimson Tide have steamrolled their opponents by an average margin of 41 points, which would have been higher if Nick Saban wanted to max out the margin, but is beating up on a lesser team worthy of a greater reward than beating a Top 10 team by whatever margin?
By the way Alabama’s highest ranked opponent so far is then-No. 22 Texas A&M.
No. 2 Georgia: The Bulldogs have an impressive win against then-No. 24 South Carolina (41-17), which has since lost to No. 13 Kentucky, by the way.
No. 3 Ohio State: The Buckeyes just moved up one spot from No. 4 because of a nice, gutsy win at then-No. 9 Penn State last Saturday, but it wasn’t a special performance. Now, the Buckeyes also have a 40-28 win at then-No. 15 TCU, which later lost to then-unranked Texas. As resumes go, Ohio State’s is probably closest to LSU’s. But not equal to it.
No. 4 Clemson: Beat then-unranked Texas A&M on the road by two points. Rallied late last week to get past unranked Syracuse by four.
If you want to argue about which set of Tigers has the “real Death Valley” have at it, but if you want to talk about which one should be ranked higher, it’s the No. 5 Tigers, paws down. But, they’re not.
In other words, if you’re ranking teams solely on their performance in games since the start of the season, which seems pretty consistent with the ostensible mission of college football polls, then LSU’s placement at No. 5 is inexplicable.
Now for those who wish to diminish LSU’s resume by saying, “well, Miami and Auburn were overrated to start with” there are two really good responses.
The primary reason for anyone to think Miami and Auburn were overrated is that they each have a loss – to LSU. Secondly, if they were overrated, that merely reinforces the notion that preseason polls are counter-productive to properly ranking teams. (By the way, Auburn did back up its preseason ranking by opening the season with a 21-16 victory against preseason No. 6 Washington, which hasn’t lost since and remains No. 10.)
The bottom line isn’t so much that LSU is being hurt by not being ranked as highly as it should be. With Georgia, Alabama and a potential game against the East division champion in the SEC title game, the Tigers will have no trouble getting their just due come Playoff time if they take care of business.
The bottom line is that preseason polls remain what they have always been – an impediment to fairly ranking teams that also taints every subsequent poll.