The USA Today Coaches Poll came out yesterday, and predictably, USC was ranked No. 1. Some say preseason polls don't matter, but it's definitely an advantage to start the season No. 1 in case there are more than two undefeated teams. Such was the case in 2004, when USC, Oklahoma, and Auburn were all undefeated, and USC stayed No. 1 throughout the entire season.
Interestingly, the coaches gave LSU the No. 2 ranking, adding fuel to a rivalry that only seems to exist in Louisiana. Tigers fans, who are still upset that they had to share their 2003 National Title with USC, had their flames fanned even before the rankings came out by Head Coach Les Miles.
"I would like nothing better than to play USC for the [national] title," Miles reportedly said in a speech to a heavily pro-LSU gathering in New Orleans. "I can tell you this, that they have a much easier road to travel. They're going to play real knockdown drag-outs with UCLA and Washington, Cal-Berkeley, Stanford -- some real juggernauts -- and they're going to end up, it would be my guess, in some position so if they win a game or two, that they'll end up in the title [game].
"I would like that path for us. I think the SEC provides much stiffer competition."
Last week in the LA Times, Chris Dufresne helped break down the myth that the SEC is the only conference that matters. Also, the dirty little secret in the SEC has always been its teams' soft nonconference schedules. While USC scheduled road games at Nebraska and Notre Dame, LSU gets to play Middle Tennessee, Louisiana Tech, and Tulane. LSU does have a rare tough nonconference home game against Virginia Tech, but the Tigers' road schedule features just one somewhat difficult opponent in Alabama. Meanwhile, the Trojans have a stretch with four of five road games, at Notre Dame, at Oregon, at Cal, and at Arizona State (now coached by Dennis Erickson).
LSU has a great team, and they undeniably have some difficult games this year. But if I were Les Miles, I'd be careful what I wished for. USC's "road to travel" to the BCS title game in New Orleans is not appreciably easier. I'm not sure if that's a path Les Miles would really want.