After Mathieu, LSU slips to No. 3

The Associated Press Top 25 preseason poll came out 16 days after the USA Today coaches' poll.

That means the media members who voted for the poll that came out Saturday morning had one piece of information the USA Today voters did not: Tyrann Mathieu, Heisman Trophy finalist and Bednarik Award winner, is off LSU's team.

With that fact in mind, AP voters voted LSU No. 3 in their preseason poll. The coaches voted the Tigers No. 1 on Aug. 2, before Mathieu was dismissed from the team Aug. 10.

USC received 25 first-place votes in the AP poll and was the No. 1-ranked team; Alabama, with 17 votes, was second, and LSU, with 16 votes, was third. The point totals were close: USC had 1,445 points, Alabama 1,411 and LSU 1,402.

As it turns out, it was simply a slight re-shuffling of an equally close vote in the coaches' poll. LSU was No. 1 among the coaches despite having fewer first-place votes (18) than No. 2 Alabama (20) or USC (19).

One could see why the loss of the Honey Badger, dismissed from the Tigers for violating the university's substance-abuse policy, would make a difference. Mathieu was a cornerback, but so much more. He was also a nickel back who blitzes and gets sacks and creates fumbles. He was a return specialist who took punts back for touchdowns in consecutive crucial games against Arkansas and Georgia (for the SEC championship).

Without him, LSU now has fewer starters returning (five) on its vaunted defense than starters lost (six), and must hope to find not only a competent cornerback to replace him out of a group of freshmen, but also a nickelback and special teams aces in various roles.

It's unclear just how big of a loss all that will be to LSU. Some have suggested the Tigers might be just fine without him.

The media, as suggested by this morning's poll, seem to disagree.