AP Top 25 Heat Check: Should LSU be No. 1 in rankings?


By RALPH D. RUSSO - AP College Football Writer



LSU wide receiver Derrick Dillon (19) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Auburn, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

LSU wide receiver Derrick Dillon (19) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Auburn, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)


Oklahoma State running back Justice Hill (5) runs past Boise State defensive end Durrant Miles, center, and teammate Marcus Keyes (75) and into the endzone with a touchdown in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)


Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald (7) celebrates his first touchdown of the day as teammates Austin Williams, left, and Greg Eiland, center, come in to congratulate him during the first half of their NCAA college football game against Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in Starkville, Miss. (AP Photo/Jim Lytle)


LSU should be No. 1 in The Associated Press college football poll.

Yes, that is a thing you could argue after three weeks of the season. None of the 61 members of the AP Top 25 media panel held that opinion Sunday, but the Tigers did make a big leap from No. 12 to No. 6. After starting the season No. 25, and barely squeaking into the rankings at that, LSU has put together the best small-sample size resume in the country — if we are just looking at what could be considered quality victories. It is so early, even that is a guessing game.

The Tigers have beaten No. 21 Miami, which started the season No. 8, and No. 9 Auburn. Neither game was played in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Very few teams have even played two Power Five opponents, never the less beaten two ranked teams away from home.

Critics will point to preseason rankings as the culprit here. If the rankings started Sunday, wouldn’t the Tigers be No. 1? Well, would everyone simply forget how good Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma are? Then again if the ranking started Sunday, wouldn’t that also suggest we would not know how good Miami and Auburn are?

There is also the matter of judging performance relative to opponent. Ranking LSU No. 1 is a who-they-played-not-how-they-played choice. Can you really watch Alabama and not see a brilliantly talented team? Taken to the absurd extreme, if the Patriots played in the Sun Belt would their quality be unrecognizable?

Heat check tends to lean toward rewarding teams for accomplishments early in the season, rather than projecting performance. It’s always a blend. How did the voters blend it this week.

No. 1 Alabama (3-0)

Next: vs. No. 22 Texas A&M.

The strength-of-schedule zealots are railing against the Crimson Tide, but are you really saying that after almost a decade of pillaging college football and scooping up No. 1 recruiting classes we just can’t be sure about this Alabama team after it outscored its opposition 170-28?

Heat check: Just right

No. 2 Georgia (3-0)

Next: at Missouri

Took about a week too long, but voters have caught up on the Bulldogs at No. 2.

Heat check: Just right.

No. 3 Clemson (3-0)

Next: at Georgia Tech

Among the highest-ranked preseason teams, the Tigers have been the least dominate and we’re still gathering information on that gut-check win at A&M.

Heat check: Too hot. Six seems about right.

No. 4 Ohio State (3-0)

Next: vs. Tulane

The Buckeyes activated five-star mode and swallowed up a good TCU team. DE Nick Bosa’s injury is the long-term concern. Long-term defined as Sept. 29 when they go to No. 10 Penn State.

Heat check: Little too cold.

No. 5 Oklahoma (3-0)

Next: vs. Army

ESPN’s David Hale pointed out : Kyler Murray has 1,032 total yards and has accounted for 10 touchdowns through three games; Baker Mayfield had 1,033 yards and accounted for 10 touchdowns through three games last season.

Heat check: Just right.

No. 6 LSU (3-0)

Next: vs. Louisiana Tech.

There’s no arguing with the resume. But would you pick LSU to beat any of the five teams ranked ahead of it on a neutral field?

Heat check: Too cold, but hedging. Tigers would fit nicely at No. 4.

No. 7 Stanford (3-0)

Next: at No. 20 Oregon.

Stock up on beating San Diego State; Stock down on beating Southern California.

Heat check: Too hot.

No. 8 Notre Dame (3-0)

Next: at Wake Forest.

Close calls at home tend to turn into actual losses on the road.

Heat check: Too hot.

No. 9 Auburn (2-1)

Next: vs. Arkansas

At home with the better quarterback and a touchdown lead entering the fourth quarter is a game you need to win. The Tigers did not, but it’s hard to penalize them too much.

Heat check Too cold.

No. 10 (tie) Washington (2-1)

Next: vs. Arizona State

Put the Huskies right behind Auburn until further notice.

Heat check: Too cold.

No. 10 (tie) Penn State (3-0)

Next: at Illinois, Friday

Short-week road games can be tricky, but it’s Illinois.

Heat check: Too cold.

No. 12 West Virginia (2-0)

Next: vs. Kansas State

Football is not that important, but the Mountaineers did lose a good road test at North Carolina State due to Hurricane Florence. Who knows whether it will even matter?

Heat check: Too hot.

No. 13 Virginia Tech (2-0)

Next: at Old Dominion.

That Florida State victory is aging like milk left on the kitchen counter.

Heat check: Too hot.

No. 14 Mississippi State (3-0)

Next: at Kentucky.

The Bulldogs have been pushing opponents around on both lines.

Heat check: Too cold.

No. 15 Oklahoma State (3-0)

Next: vs. Texas Tech.

The voters doubted Mike Gundy’s Cowboys. So did Heat Check. Score one of the mullet.

Heat check: Too cold.

No. 16 UCF (2-0)

Next: vs. FAU

The Knights have won 15-straight but have no answer for Mother Nature. For the third straight season a hurricane has interrupted UCF’s schedule.

Heat check: Just right.

No. 17 TCU (2-1)

Next: at Texas.

The Horned Frogs won over Heat Check in a loss.

Heat check: Too cold.

No. 18 Wisconsin (2-1)

Next: at Iowa.

Maybe BYU rips off a bunch of victories and the Badgers do the same, but for now Wisconsin must reprove itself.

Heat check: Too hot.

No. 19 Michigan (2-1)

Next: vs. Nebraska

The Wolverines still seem to be reluctant to move away the smash-mouth offensive mentality Jim Harbaugh wants and the more wide-open style that could unleash the best of QB Shea Patterson.

Heat check: Too cold.

No. 20 Oregon (3-0)

Next: vs. No. 7 Stanford.

Welcome to the college football season, Ducks. Heat check believes you’re pretty good. We’ll find out Saturday if it’s true.

Heat check: A touch too hot.

No. 21 Miami (2-1)

Next: vs. FIU.

Strange road trips can produce strange results. Kudos to the ‘Canes for taking care of business in Toledo.

Heat check: Just right.

No. 22 Texas A&M (2-1)

Next: at No. 1 Alabama.

Voters were a week late on including the Aggies. Considering who’s up next, this stay could be brief.

Heat check: Too cold.

No. 23 Boston College (3-0)

Next: at Purdue

Welcome to a world where Boston College is 11th in the nation in yards per play (7.60) and second in touchdown passes (13). It’s weird, but don’t be afraid.

Heat check: Too cold.

No. 24 Michigan State (1-1)

Next: at Indiana.

Really don’t know what to make of the Spartans after Arizona State’s clunker.

Heat check: Too hot.

No. 25 BYU (2-1)

Next: vs. McNeese State.

It was a great victory for a once-proud program coming off a miserable season, but the Cougars are averaging 5.05 yards per play, 107th in the nation. This might be as a good as it gets.

Heat check: Too cold, but only because they need to be one spot ahead of No. 25 Wisconsin.

Should be in: Iowa or Duke, flip a coin. Should be out: Michigan State

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at https://www.podcastone.com/AP-Top-25-College-Football-Podcast

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More AP college football: https://apnews.com/tag/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

LSU wide receiver Derrick Dillon (19) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Auburn, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2018/09/web1_121374007-a88413426ff3443a8f0e00303f07b4b6.jpgLSU wide receiver Derrick Dillon (19) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Auburn, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Oklahoma State running back Justice Hill (5) runs past Boise State defensive end Durrant Miles, center, and teammate Marcus Keyes (75) and into the endzone with a touchdown in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2018/09/web1_121374007-09ead75d8c5945e4832dc0673b3bb71d.jpgOklahoma State running back Justice Hill (5) runs past Boise State defensive end Durrant Miles, center, and teammate Marcus Keyes (75) and into the endzone with a touchdown in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald (7) celebrates his first touchdown of the day as teammates Austin Williams, left, and Greg Eiland, center, come in to congratulate him during the first half of their NCAA college football game against Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in Starkville, Miss. (AP Photo/Jim Lytle)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2018/09/web1_121374007-c2f1192bb1c94761961ab647aa8b5ce4.jpgMississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald (7) celebrates his first touchdown of the day as teammates Austin Williams, left, and Greg Eiland, center, come in to congratulate him during the first half of their NCAA college football game against Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in Starkville, Miss. (AP Photo/Jim Lytle)

By RALPH D. RUSSO

AP College Football Writer