September 14, 2007

LSU playing its way into discussion for No. 1

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. This week he heads to the Heartland for the big Miami-Oklahoma game.
Previous mailbags
Sept. 6: Reason for hope
August 31: Bull market
August 24: Fight at the top
August 17: Dreams of youth

Who's No. 1? Who should be No. 1?

Does it really matter?

The polls say USC. That's hard to argue, with the Trojans returning 10 defensive starters, quarterback John David Booty and a deep pool of talented skill-position players from last year's 11-victory team.

Who should be No. 1?

Well, the eye test would seem to indicate it's LSU after seeing the Tigers dismantle Virginia Tech. If nothing else, the Hokies were expected to have a strong defense, yet LSU rolled up almost 600 yards against them.

So what does USC have that LSU doesn't?

Nothing. Like USC, the Tigers are overflowing with skill-position talent. Jacob Hester and Keiland Williams have rushed for more than 140 yards, and wide receiver Early Doucet has 15 catches for 153 yards and two touchdowns.

As good as USC's defense is expected to be, LSU's looks to be at least its equal. The Tigers have allowed seven points and forced eight turnovers (seven interceptions, one fumble) in two games.

USC has the more experienced quarterback in Booty, coincidentally a Louisiana native who passed for more than 3,000 yards last season.

But LSU's Matt Flynn, JaMarcus Russell's understudy the past two seasons, has completed 63 percent of his passes for 345 yards and two touchdowns.

So who is No. 1? That might depend on where you live.

Actually, it doesn't matter, not until the BCS standings come out next month. Even then, being No. 2 is just as good as being No. 1 because each will play in the championship game.

The more compelling question: Who's No. 3?

OLIN'S MAILBAG
Swap at the top?

Do you think that after LSU's thrashing of Virginia Tech, they should be ranked No. 1?

Edward in Lafayette, La.
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That's a very tough question, and my answer will make many Louisianans hotter than Avery Island peppers.

I would not put LSU No. 1 solely based on that impressive victory over Virginia Tech.

The reason has nothing to do with LSU, though. It's my philosophy that a team shouldn't drop in the polls if it did not play, and USC was idle last week.

Had USC played last week and lost or played poorly, than I would agree that LSU should be considered the top team. The Tigers were absolutely terrific and may indeed prove to be the most dominant team in the country.

But I felt USC should be ranked No. 1 entering the season. Should the Trojans lose or even struggle on Saturday against Nebraska, then LSU should be No. 1 - provided it doesn't lose or play poorly this weekend. The Tigers are playing host to Middle Tennessee State on Saturday, so that won't happen.

Carr questions

Michigan is 0-2 and could fall to 0-3 this weekend if it loses to Notre Dame. If that happened, would Lloyd Carr seriously consider stepping down after the season?

Chris in Michigan
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Only Lloyd Carr knows for sure, and he isn't saying. Any comments on that subject are pure speculation.

So, I'll speculate.

I'm guessing Carr will retire at the end of this season, especially if the Wolverines continue to struggle.

Despite his success in Ann Arbor (five Big Ten championships and a national title), he hasn't been embraced the way coaches with similar success are at other places. The Wolverines' recent losing streaks to Ohio State and in bowl games have increased the criticism and scrutiny Carr has received.

The competitive spirit that leads coaches into the profession may drive him to stay on the job and get the team back on track. But that would require quickly and successfully replacing quarterback Chad Henne, tailback Mike Hart, tackle Jake Long and perhaps receiver Mario Manningham

Carr, who is 62, may decide he doesn't need the aggravation. He has made references to his job security, and LSU coach Les Miles a Michigan alumnus already is deflecting questions about his interest in returning to Ann Arbor. Carr may decide he doesn't need more criticism from a fan base that isn't satisfied with his 113 victories.

Of course, there are those who contend Carr might not have a choice if the Wolverines don't bounce back and start winning quickly. A victory over Notre Dame on Saturday may quell the questions about Carr, at least for one week.

Oregon outlook

I know (Oregon quarterback) Dennis Dixon has had consistency problems in the past, but if he can sustain his current play throughout the season how do you see the Ducks faring?

Zach in Central Point, Ore.
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The fake Statue of Liberty play that Dixon executed for a touchdown against Michigan last week was the slickest play I've seen since well, since Boise State's hook-and-ladder in last season's Fiesta Bowl.

Maybe it hasn't been that long.

But that's not the point. The point is Dixon has been brilliant for the Ducks through the first two games of the season. He already has rushed for 217 yards and passed for 426 yards, which are Vince Young-like statistics.

Can Dixon do for Oregon what Young did for Texas two years ago? I seriously doubt a national title or even a victory over USC is in the Ducks' future. But that opinion isn't based on any perceived shortcomings or past inconsistencies Dixon might have had. Rather, the question about Oregon is whether its defense - which allowed 27 points to Houston - is effective enough to make a championship run.

The Ducks' defense only allowed seven points to Michigan, which has three or four potential high round NFL draft choices, but it's obvious Michigan is working through some major issues.

Oregon's defense has to continue to play at a high level, especially with Pac-10 foes California, USC, Arizona State and UCLA playing well, too.

The good news for the Ducks is they get three of those opponents Cal, USC and Arizona State in Eugene. Whether that's a big enough advantage to boost Oregon to a Pac-10 title remains to be seen.

I doubt it. But with Dixon playing so well I do expect the Ducks to have a strong season. Oregon could make a run at eight-to-10 victories and play in a bowl for the third consecutive season.

Cushing concerns

Do you expect (linebacker) Brian Cushing of USC to be at full strength after his ankle injury last week?

Jack in Billings
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Jack, I put your question to Ryan Abraham, one of our Los Angeles contacts at USCfootball.com. Cushing told him the lower ankle sprain suffered against Idaho is hurting, but that nothing would keep him from playing. Cushing will be in the lineup at Nebraska on Saturday.

Tigers' offense too tame?

Is it just me, or has Al Borges' play-calling been absolutely horrible since his 2004 debut at Auburn?

Adam in Auburn, Ala.
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Sorry, Adam. I think you're alone on this one. At the least, I'm not jumping on that bandwagon.

Borges joined Auburn in 2004, and since then the Tigers have gone 34-6 and have exceeded 30 points 19 times. All that adds up to a successful offensive coordinator to me.

It's no secret Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville is somewhat conservative and prefers to run and play defense.

That style may limit the offense, and perhaps that contributes to your frustration. But that approach has also proven successful. It just wasn't successful last week.

Hoosier hysteria

Indiana doesn't have to play Michigan or Ohio State this year. Is it realistic for the Hoosiers to beat Wisconsin and win the Big Ten?

Jonah in Bloomington, Ind.
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Whoa slow down there a little bit. I know the motto at Indiana is "Play 13," but I'm betting that was never to imply the 13th game would be the Rose Bowl.

Or maybe it was. Appalachian State beat Michigan, so I guess anything is possible.

Indiana has several top-tier players, such as receiver James Hardy, running back Marcus Thigpen and cornerback Tracy Porter. I also like quarterback Kellen Lewis. The Hoosiers won't be the pushovers they've often been in past seasons.

The first two wins came over Indiana State and Western Michigan, and those teams aren't on par with Big Ten title contenders. Still, it's not unreasonable to think Indiana could win its first four games.

Heck, the Hoosiers might even win their first five. After all, they beat Iowa last season. Of course, this year Indiana has to go to Iowa City. Overall, though, I think the Hoosiers will meet the goal that the late coach Terry Hoeppner set and will play 13 games this season.

Winning the Big Ten seems a bit ambitious. Aim for winning the Old Oaken Bucket, first. It has been a while.

Olin Buchanan is the senior national college football writer for Rivals.com. To send him a question or comment for his Friday Mailbag, click here.



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