Tigers could be nation's top one-loss team 

October, 23, 2009

Here is this week's mailbag:

From Jake in St. Martinville, La.: This is off topic but riddle me this: USC lost to Washington, LSU defeated Washington. LSU's only loss so far this season is to No. 1-ranked Florida and they held Florida to only 13 points. How is it that USC is currently ranked No. 5 and LSU, No. 10? There is definitely a noticeable pattern over the years and it has become ridiculously obvious that the media favors teams such as USC, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, etc. It is very unfair, especially to an LSU fan such as myself, to see an extremely talented team underrated every year against undeserving teams with weak schedules.

So much of this ongoing argument is shaped by whom you root for. USC fans -- and to a large extent, Pac-10 fans -- believe they do not get the benefit of the doubt whenever it comes to USC versus SEC teams, as was the case with a one-loss Florida team making the national title game over a one-loss USC team. One team lost at Oregon State. The other lost at home to Ole Miss. The SEC argument is that the league is widely believed to be the strongest and it also has one big additional hurdle with a conference title game at the end of it. The USC argument is that it plays everyone in its league and doesn't load up on cupcakes in its nonconference schedule. (San Jose State has really struggled this season, but USC's other two games were road games at Ohio State and Notre Dame.)

I think the thing that makes it hard, as it relates to Jake's point about LSU, is that you'll usually get the benefit of the doubt if you're the top team in the SEC. After that, I think it's red herrings and hypotheticals like, "If they met on a neutral field …" -- as if that should absolve a team of a bad loss in the face of perhaps a not-so-bad loss. But this does lead to an interesting issue: Let's say LSU goes to Alabama in two weeks and beats a Crimson Tide team that is No. 1 in the polls and goes on to win the SEC West. My hunch is that LSU, at worst, would be ranked fourth and might also jump USC. Assuming Florida would still be unbeaten, UF would be No. 1. If the Tigers go on to beat the Gators in the SEC title game, I think voters would elevate them above USC in their polls because that would give them two top-5 wins, and neither would be a home game.

A question I've gotten a lot this week is which of the one-loss teams potentially could be the strongest. I think it could be LSU because of what I just set out. USC's case is strong as well, though Ohio State's loss to lowly Purdue certainly doesn't help USC's cause. Still, I think if they go 11-1, they would have four good road wins (Ohio State, Cal, ND and Oregon). Thing is, beating Bama and Florida, not to mention having won at a place where USC lost (at Washington), would seem more impressive. But that's a big "if" at this point, and I feel that there is a strong sentiment among pollsters that LSU was never going to beat Florida. Voters don't have the faith in them that I think they have in USC in a big game, but the Tigers will get their chance again to prove people wrong.