Risk outweighs reward of tough nonconference slate; more mailbag
LSU's Sept. schedule helped it reach No. 1, but did it really impact its title chances?
Alabama and LSU's level of NFL-caliber players is what sets them apart
Plus, a question of fanhood, the problem with Washington's defense and more
|The Mandel Initiative|
|The Big Ten Network's Dave Revsine previews this week's Nebraska-Wisconsin showdown. Stewart and Mallory answer your questions.|
Apparently "four" is the magic number when it comes to how many games are played before people start getting worked up about the polls. In what I've come to expect will be a yearlong recurrence, I received a bunch of e-mails this week about various' teams current position.
This one was the most interesting.
Stewart -- just last week, you commented on FSU's sharp drop in the polls after its loss to Oklahoma and used it to support the position that "there's so little incentive for teams to schedule tough opponents." Do you still stand by that comment after LSU's jump in the rankings due to its impressive September? Don't you think scheduling some tough nonconference opponents would really help a team like Wisconsin? Wisconsin looked dominant on all sides of the ball but has played cupcakes. If Wisconsin had just completed the September that LSU completed I suspect that they would be in your projection for the national championship game.
-- CJ Davis, Kansas City, Mo.
It was nice to see AP voters reward LSU for its ambitious schedule (I can only assume the coaches went to bed early), but it really didn't help the Tigers in any meaningful way. They started the year No. 4, and even if they had scheduled two directional schools instead of Oregon and West Virginia, they would almost assuredly move into the top two if they won out (especially since one of those wins would come over preseason No. 2 Alabama), and would even stay in fairly good position if they and everyone else lost at some point. As for Wisconsin, agreed, the Badgers would be getting a lot more buzz right now if they'd played anyone of substance the first month, but that can change in a hurry with an impressive win over No. 8 Nebraska this week.
My point is, the way the polls work, the risk far outweighs the reward when scheduling tough out-of-conference games, and that's unfortunate. It's been shown time and again that ultimately, all that matters is going undefeated. In 2007, Kansas got to 11-0 and No. 2 by beating Central Michigan, Southeast Louisiana, Toledo, Florida International and no Big 12 team that finished better than 7-5. Similarly, Texas Tech rose to 10-0 and No. 2 following its big win over No. 1 Texas, while playing a September slate of Eastern Washington, Nevada, SMU and UMass. In other words, if you play in a BCS conference and win all your games, the voters will eventually reward you, no matter the schedule.
Mind you, most teams do not schedule based on their national championship hopes. Games are scheduled well before you know what kind of team you'll have in a given year. In the case of Wisconsin, Bret Bielema's goal at the beginning of any year is to get to the Rose Bowl, and the UNLV game holds no bearing on that. What would be interesting to see is what happens if, say, Oklahoma and Wisconsin finished the season as the only undefeated teams. Say LSU loses to Florida, and falls behind the Badgers but rebounds to win the rest of its games. Do the voters look at their respective schedules and move the Tigers back ahead of the Badgers for No. 2 at the end of the season? Or does going undefeated -- no matter who it's against -- trump all? Because until the day a team's nonconference schedule directly affects its title hopes one way or the other, schools will continue to load up on patsies, consequence-free.
Alabama and LSU may be the two best teams, as you say, but not by a "considerable" margin.
-- Bill, Tulsa, Okla.
Ah, but I didn't say they were the two "best" teams. I said they're the most talented --- and they are. Not that this is a revelation, considering Nick Saban and Les Miles have been stockpiling five-star recruits for few years (with, of course, the help of some deft oversigning), but these are easily two of the most loaded defenses I've seen in person -- right up there with some of Miami's great teams in the early 2000s and Pete Carroll's best defenses at USC.
If the NFL draft were held today, Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw, tackle Josh Champan and safeties Mark Barron and Robert Lester would all be among the first players selected at their positions. (And running back Trent Richardson will probably go higher than all of them.) LSU's defense is younger and therefore harder to project, but that in itself is telling. Sophomore cornerback Tyrann Mathieu has already accomplished more in 17 games (90 tackles, seven forced fumbles, five sacks and three interceptions) than many corners do in their careers. Fellow sophomore Michael Brockers is already one of the most dominant D-linemen in the country, and there's little to no drop-off from him to six or seven other Tigers linemen. Certainly Oklahoma has its share of stars, too, (quarterback Landry Jones, receiver Ryan Broyles, defensive end Ronnell Lewis and linebackers Travis Lewis and Tony Jefferson among them), but not the same overall level of elite NFL-caliber athletes.
Having said that, "most talented" doesn't always equate to "best." So many other factors -- chemistry, experience, coaching, luck with injuries -- go into a championship season. Auburn and Oregon weren't the two most talented teams in the country last season. Arguably Alabama was, and it lost three games due in large part to inexperience and poor play on the road. I don't expect the same issues with this team, but you never know. And while LSU has already passed enough road tests to know it has no such concerns, consistency and injuries are always potential concerns. We're still more than three months from learning the nation's "best" team, but as I wrote Sunday, Nov. 5 will most likely determine the SEC's best team -- and it's up to Oklahoma and the rest of the field to prove that the SEC's best isn't the nation's best this year.
Help! My fanhood has been questioned. My friends and I are LSU fans. They have been talking about LSU being No. 1. I pointed out that LSU was No. 1 in the AP and tied for No. 2 in the coaches poll. If my friends were going to claim that LSU was No. 1, then they had to acknowledge that USC was co-champions in 2003 because the Trojans were No. 1 in the AP in 2003. As LSU fans we don't acknowledge a split championship. They then mocked my loyalty to LSU. Can I say that LSU is No. 2 (tied) and still claim to be an LSU fan?
-- Chris Anderson, Shreveport, La.
Absolutely not. You're putting logic ahead of fanhood. But you do raise an interesting point. In acknowledging that LSU is No. 1 this week, LSU fans are unwittingly validating that USC was also No. 1 after the final games were played that 2003 season. It's the same poll. Either both were true or neither.
Can Maryland please fire Randy Edsall now? We gave him a shot and he lost to Temple. The only thing he brings to the table is discipline, and if discipline was everything Navy and Army would win every year. How long are we going to have to endure this failed experiment? WE WANT MIKE LEACH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
-- Menzo Lowery, Landover, Md.
You see, Chris: That's fanhood.
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