We’ve advocated holding off college football polling until after Week 4. Some argue polls create preconditions that exert an undue influence over the season. Others argue that influence peters out. The effect by season’s end is nil. What one can’t claim is we have enough of a sample for a Top 25 ranking to offer useful information.
Teams have sidled into their ranking based on reputation and opponent quality. Teams have been thrust to the forefront in hasty overreactions. A substantial portion of the Top 15-20 may not belong there.
This weekend should sort things out, a bit. Four conference matchups feature Top 20 teams. We also get to see preseason darlings Washington play a real live football opponent.
They S’Posed To Be Top 15
Wisconsin at Michigan State
Two teams in the Top 11. That is a noon game on Big Ten Network? Wisconsin beat LSU, narrowly, at Lambeau. The Badgers rocketed up the polls, on the premise that meant something. Wisconsin hung around despite not looking so great against Georgia State and changing quarterbacks.
Same old Spartans, solid as ever, right? Well, Michigan State began the season ranked on accrued credit. They opened with a meh performance against Furman. They then beat Notre Dame on the road as a healthy underdog. That means something. But, what it could equally mean is that Notre Dame’s defense, still without a sack, is a steaming pile of shamrocks.
These teams have not played since 2012. But, six of the seven games in the Dantonio era have been decided by one score, four by a field goal or less.
Georgia at Ole Miss
Georgia is Georgia. The Bulldogs beat North Carolina who may not be the North Carolina they were last year (psst. they weren’t that good last year). Then Georgia beat Nicholls and Missouri, by three points combined. Similar offensive line questions to Clemson, but not as competent as the Tigers everywhere else.
Ole Miss has played somebody, twice. They have lost, in spectacular fashion, to both Alabama and Florida State. The Rebels were formidable enough to run up three-touchdown leads on those teams. They were faulty enough to blow them. We now get a better gauge for them, against a reasonable team they should beat at home, unless this is a huge letdown game.
Florida at Tennessee
Florida has an 11-game win-streak. Florida is heading on the road starting its backup quarterback, a transfer from Purdue who could not beat out Luke Del Rio. That punishing Gator defense has allowed just 14 points over three games. Of course, those three games were against UMass, Kentucky, and North Texas.
Tennessee is 3-0, though in a fashion that has taken Butch Jones from SEC title talk to the hot seat. They managed a couple decent quarters against Virginia Tech. Most of the season has been Mike DeBord partying like it’s his second stint at Michigan, underwhelming with an impressive array of talent.
Feels like this one may come down to key fourth quarter decision-making.
Arkansas vs. Texas A&M
A ranked matchup fit for Jerry World’s largesse. Arkansas tied TCU on the road, with help from a not so trill penalty. The Razorbacks’ ranking is based on that and S-E-C reputation. While the Horned Frogs may be good, Arkansas also needed a late touchdown for an asexual 21-20 win at home against Louisiana Tech.
Texas A&M blew a lead for a tie against UCLA at home, before winning in overtime. They won comfortably over Auburn at Jordan Hare. The Aggies are in the top 10. Kevin Sumlin has gassed up the swag copter. It looks like…every other September in College Station under Sumlin.
Coach Who Most Needs a Win
Mark Stoops and Gus Malzahn are careening. Butch Jones and Jim Mora square off against tenure-defining losing streaks. But, the coach who most needs a Week 4 win is Les Miles, with LSU heading to Auburn.
LSU’s offensive play has been insipid. Perusing the depth chart, there’s no excuse for it. It was about to get Les Miles fired last season. It could get Miles fired this season, if the Tigers can’t finish 9-3. Maybe 8-4 with a Bama win?
Without beating Auburn, it’s hard to spot a path for LSU to get there. Losing would leave the Tigers at 2-2. They still have home games to play against Ole Miss and Alabama. They travel to Florida, to Arkansas, and to Texas A&M. Penning in wins against Missouri and Southern Miss, the way this team has played, may be presumptuous.
The line, LSU -3.5, suggests this won’t be an easy one. So does history. The Tigers have lost three of their last five games at Auburn under Miles and six of their last eight overall. Both wins were by five points or fewer. That includes a 12-10 stinker against Auburn’s 2012 0-fer SEC team that got Gene Chizik fired.