Sometimes, in sports and in life, we overthink things. In baseball, all the advanced hitting metrics can reduce to one skill: not making outs. If you go up to bat and don’t make an out, that’s a success. College football reduces to a similar skill: not losing. To win a national title, you have to be perfect -- or nearly so. In the True Top Ten, survival on a bad day counts as much, if not more, than dominance on a good one.
Oregon passed LSU in both the USA TODAY coaches’ poll and the AP media poll this week. That’s because Oregon video-gamed Arizona 49-0, while LSU struggled to beat Auburn 12-10. I’ve thought all season that LSU was overrated -- I pegged it as a three-loss team in the preseason. But I’m not sure Oregon’s win was that much more impressive. Oregon was at home; LSU was on the road. Big-play offenses tend to win by steamroller scores; tough defenses tend to win tighter games. I think Arizona is better than Auburn -- the Wildcats are a former TTT No. 1 -- but Arizona at Auburn is probably a close call.
Several teams (hey there, Seminoles) posted impressive wins this week. But what really impresses the TTT is multiple wins over good teams, especially on the road. Here’s this week’s True Top Ten:
1. Kansas State (4-0)
LAST WEEK: Def. Oklahoma 24-19.
This might’ve been the best win any team has had this season. K-State beat an Oklahoma team that I think will turn out to be strong, and did it in front of a huge pro-Sooner crowd. Nothing about Kansas State looks intimidating, down to the uniforms. But the Wildcats pounded a Miami team that looked mighty frisky against Georgia Tech, and now they’ve taken down their main conference rival.
It was fascinating to flip between this game and Michigan-Notre Dame to see the value of a great coach. K-State quarterback Collin Klein is a poor man’s Tim Tebow -- a wobbly passer and bruising runner. Michigan’s Denard Robinson is quicker on the run, and his passes look better, but his arm is just as shaky. Here’s the difference: If Klein’s not running, he’s throwing short passes that don’t require a laser arm. But Michigan has Robinson throwing deep again and again, with predictable results (four INTs in the first half Saturday). Bill Snyder is a smart coach. Brady Hoke should be watching Bill Snyder. Next up: Kansas (Oct. 6).
2. Notre Dame (4-0)
LAST WEEK: Def. Michigan 13-6.
This will be the first and only time I compare Notre Dame to LSU, so take note: This year Notre Dame is playing a very LSU-y type of football. The Irish run a lot and are indecisive at quarterback, but it doesn’t matter because the defense strangles every opponent. If Brian Kelly starts eating sideline grass, watch out.
Linebacker Manti Te’o won’t win the Heisman, because linebackers don’t win Heismans, but he’s the best player in college football so far this year. (Maybe we should have a True Top Ten version of the Heisman. The Truesman?) Next up: Miami (Oct. 6 in Chicago).
3. Florida (4-0)
LAST WEEK: Def. Kentucky 38-0.
4. Alabama (4-0)
LAST WEEK: Def. Florida Atlantic 40-7.
Both teams slide down a bit because they feasted on cream puffs Saturday. Florida still has a slight edge because of the teams it’s beaten. Down in the comments of last week’s TTT, astute reader Henry T. asked if I really believed Florida would beat Alabama on a neutral field. It’s a good question (the answer is no), but it’s not the question the TTT is trying to answer. Our question is this: Which team is having the best season? And I think Florida’s season is (slightly) more impressive than Alabama’s so far. Astute reader Scott R. jumped in and said he’d take the Gators anyway. I don’t think Alabama is an automatic call. Next up for Florida: LSU (Oct. 6). Next up for Alabama: Ole Miss.
5. Florida State (4-0)
LAST WEEK: Def. Clemson 49-37.
It’s not just that FSU won; it’s how it won. The Seminoles had given up just three points all year, but Clemson flew down the field like the mechanical rabbit at the dog track, and early in the third, when the Tigers broke out a double pass for a touchdown, I thought FSU might be done.
But the Seminoles didn’t panic. They kept running the ball with Chris Thompson and James Wilder Jr., E.J. Manuel made a bunch of big throws, and Clemson’s offense finally wilted. FSU outscored Clemson 35-9 the rest of the way. I came away wondering if the Seminoles could’ve made that run on the road. But now that they’ve finally played a decent opponent, it’s clear they have all the tools. Next up: at South Florida.
6. LSU (4-0)
LAST WEEK: Def. Auburn 12-10.
The Tigers are here for the reasons stated in the intro, and because they also whomped a Washington team that might turn out to be good (the Huskies play Stanford next, so we’ll know shortly). Four good running backs can go a long way in any league. Next up: Towson.
7. Oregon State (2-0)
LAST WEEK: Def. UCLA 27-20.
8. Oregon (4-0)
LAST WEEK: Def. Arizona 49-0.
I’m not trolling you, Oregon fans, I swear. Oregon State has beaten Wisconsin at home, and UCLA on the road. Oregon looked like supermodels against Arizona, but that was its first real test, and the Ducks haven’t left Eugene yet. The Beavers have had a better season. I suspect that’ll change after this week … but let’s play the games first, OK? Next up for Oregon State: at Arizona. Next up for Oregon: at Washington State (in Seattle).
9. Rutgers (4-0)
LAST WEEK: Def. Arkansas 35-26.
If we’re going to give Alabama credit for beating Arkansas when Razorbacks QB Tyler Wilson didn’t play, Rutgers should get at least as much credit for winning when Wilson did play. The deeper question, of course: Should anyone get credit for beating Arkansas at this point? The latest Razorback I feel sorry for: wideout Cobi Hamilton, who had an SEC-record 303 (!) receiving yards in the loss. Next up: Connecticut (Oct. 6).
10. Louisiana Tech (3-0)
LAST WEEK: Def. Illinois 52-24.
This was one of those “guarantee games” for Illinois -- the Illini actually paid Louisiana Tech $775,000 to come to Champaign and take a whipping. But La. Tech has scored 50-plus in every game this season, and you should set aside DVR time for its Oct. 13 game against Texas A&M in Shreveport. Because you never know what might happen in Shreveport. Next up: at Virginia.