Poll Watch: The best one-loss team
USC may be taking it one game at a time, but it also needs national assistance to jump back into the title hunt. Some of that help came on Saturday, when four teams ranked ahead of the Trojans fell to their opponents.
Florida State (3), LSU (4), Georgia (5) , and Texas (9) triggered a reshuffling of team icons in the AP and Coaches’ Polls. Each would fall from the ranks of the unbeaten, and 3 of the 4 fell beneath USC.
The Trojans took baby steps in the AP poll, despite the major hit taken by teams above them. The Men of Troy check in this week at No. 11, after a previous rank of 13. The slight elevation is a result of two factors, with one being Oregon State’s leap-frog of USC, and the other in LSU maintaining its position in front. The Beavers (No. 10) beat Washington State to remain unbeaten, and the Bayou Tigers are the consensus best one-loss team.
USC moved to No. 9 in the Coaches’ Poll, with those voters still lacking confidence in Oregon State (14). LSU again sits in front (8), as it also does in the first Harris Poll. Harris voters also preferred Florida State over USC (10), with the one-loss Seminoles opening at No. 9.
The Trojans sit in a position where they can clear two obstacles, while others in the upper echelon bulldoze the remainder of the path. USC still has Notre Dame (7) and Oregon (2) on the schedule, and the four SEC programs (Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, LSU) will meet at some point. The Tigers will host the Gamecocks on Saturday, and has a pending date with Alabama next month. Florida meets South Carolina in two weeks, as members engage in conference cannibalism that works in favor of USC.
The Big 12 is the greater concern, showing two schools in the coaches’ top 5, with another sitting dangerously close behind USC. West Virginia (4) and Kansas State (5) collide on October 20th, with Oklahoma (10) headed to Morgantown in November. BCS computers have historically favored the Big 12, so USC will have to win impressively to continue its forward advance and also defend its rear.
The first BCS standings will be released on Sunday, and though the Trojans are well recognized in the human vote, I anticipate a poor computer score. USC and LSU are the only teams in the coaches’ top-10 that have no recorded victories over ranked opponents. The Tigers can change that on Saturday, with a win against South Carolina. The Trojans draw unranked Washington, which means the first computer score will be void of a quality win.
To make matters worse, USC season opponents currently stand at 11-15 combined. The bulk of those victories come by way of Stanford (4), with no other program having more than two. The Trojans lost to the only ranked opponent they faced, and have not defeated a school above .500 this year. Teams beaten by USC combine for a record of 3-14 versus FBS opponents, which does not make for high computer marks.
USC has no control over the weekly performance of opponents, and can only take them as-is. Washington currently sits at 3-2 on the season, and Arizona at 3-3. Each will draw USC as its next game, with the Wildcats idle this weekend. What it means is that the Trojans could score victories in the next two weeks and still not register a win over an above .500 program. That opportunity won’t arrive until the Ducks come to town on November 3.
The Trojans will be stronger than others in the top-10 in travel. The computer gives points for games on the road, and come Saturday, USC will have 4 of its first 6 games away from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. In comparison, one-loss LSU has played just twice on the road, with a fifth home game scheduled for Baton Rouge this Saturday. One-loss Florida State is the same, playing its fifth home game this weekend.
The BCS tweaked the system in 2004 to apply more emphasis on the human vote. That decision works in USC’s favor today, as it is likely to be frowned upon by the electronic element.