DEVILLE: LSU survives Saturday, now No. 1

At halftime on Saturday, there was many an LSU fan worried about holding off Tulane. Come Sunday afternoon, the Tigers are No. 1?

Saturday's game in New Orleans was the ugliest of the Les Miles era – the first half, anyway. It is hard to find words to describe the first 30 minutes of football against the Green Wave … words that are decent enough to be printed here.

 

It doesn't matter now. As of 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon, the Tigers are ranked No. 1 in the land.

 

Despite a penalty-riddled first half and a one-point, 10-9 halftime advantage over lowly Tulane, LSU gathered itself in the second half, scoring 24second-half points and rolling to a 34-9 win over a surprisingly pesky Green Wave team in the Louisiana Superdome.

 

While there were more than a few concerns voiced in the wake of Saturday afternoon's sleepwalk in the Big Easy, it could have been much, much worse.

 

Just ask anyone around the country, most notably in Gainesville, Norman, Morgantown and Austin, and they'll let you know what misery truly is this sunny Sunday afternoon in Baton Rouge.

 

Saturday was one of those wild, wacky days that make college football the greatest game on Earth. Three top-five teams, seven of the top 13, and nine ranked opponents all went down in flames over the weekend.

 

Third-ranked Oklahoma was stunned in Boulder when unranked Colorado, who trailed 24-7 at one point, rallied to win 27-24. No. 4 Florida lost to unranked Auburn 20-17 in Gainesville on a last-second field goal. No. 5 West Virginia got the upset-fest going on Friday night with a 21-13 loss to surging South Florida.

 

Seventh-ranked Texas had been living on borrowed time for weeks, and the clock finally struck midnight when unranked Kansas State laid the wood to the Horns in Austin, 41-21. No. 10 Rutgers fell from grace with a 34-24 loss to Maryland, while No. 11 Oregon nearly pulled off an upset of sixth-ranked Cal.  No. 13 Clemson fell flat in a loss to Georgia Tech, while Penn State and Alabama both lost to fall out of the poll.

 

How does all of this affect LSU?

 

Five top-10 teams lost for the first time since 2003. Ironically that year, those five losses helped propel LSU from No. 8 to third in the poll and inevitably thrust the Tigers into the serious side of the national championship debate.

 

LSU has been a fixture in that debate this season with several other teams, but Saturday's free-for-all served as a clearinghouse for the "who's really the best team" debate. The Tigers' ugly win over Tulane, coupled with USC's mistake-ridden 27-24 win at Washington, allowed LSU to nudge out the Trojans for the top spot in the AP poll.

 

LSU earned 1,593 points compared to 1,591 by USC. The Tigers picked up 33 first-place votes, offset by the Trojans' 32. It is the first time since 1959 that an LSU team finds itself at the top of the AP poll and the first time the Tigers have been ranked in the nation's top spot during the regular season since that year as well.

 

It seems strange that the Tigers ascend to No. 1 this week – especially after they played so poorly against the Green Wave. LSU owns two previous victories this season over top-12 teams and neither were enough to boost the Tigers to the top spot.

 

Yet a 25-point win over a team LSU should have pummeled proved to be enough to get the job done. One e-mail I received on Sunday stated "No. 1 after that? The voters must really watch ‘SportsCenter.'"

 

I tend to agree.

 

Yes, LSU trailed at one point in the game. Things got a bit tense as hundreds of Tulane fans waved their green pom-poms in the air. Do not misinterpret this, however; never was the game truly in doubt. The Tigers continued shooting themselves in the foot time and again with penalties, turnovers, and one mental lapse after another.

 

They did recover, though, and in the second half looked much more like the team that dominated throughout the first four games and dismissed the Green Wave.

 

Prior to Saturday's game, the Ole Miss game a year ago was by far the worst performance of the Miles era. But that at least came against an SEC team and not a cellar-dweller from Conference USA that beat Southeastern Louisiana by seven points a week earlier.

 

Another piece of irony from this game is that an 11 a.m. kickoff probably saved LSU from national humiliation and allowed the Tigers to leapfrog the Trojans. While LSU fans hate the morning kickoff, if the Tigers had laid that first-half egg and trailed Tulane during prime time, it is likely LSU would have fallen in the polls … well, if the rest of the top five didn't lose.

 

The voters were still sipping their coffee, reading Saturday's paper and marveling over West Virginia's Friday night loss while LSU was doing its first-half scramble on the floor of the Superdome. Sure, word got out during the day that the No. 2 Tigers actually trailed the lowly Green Wave in the first half. But with the events of a wild Saturday and USC's nationally televised struggles with Washington, by the time Kirk Herbstreit announced LSU as his No. 1 team at roughly 12 a.m. EDT, the Tigers were a lock for the top spot.

 

Welcome back, No. 1 LSU. It's been a while.

 

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Matt Deville is the editor of Tiger Rag. Reach him at matt@tigerrag.com.


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