“This is Death Valley: A place where dreams come to die.” — LSU coach Les Miles in the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s victory against South Carolina.
This utterance is one of the pure joys of sports — a slightly arrogant rejoinder save for it is the truth. Playing in Baton Rouge really is hell on teams with any real aspirations of a national championship because even in those rare seasons where the Tigers are just kind of good they are dangerous in Louisiana, maybe moreso.
And that is where then-No. 3 (in AP poll) South Carolina went last Saturday.
The Gamecocks lost, just barely, by two points in a hostile environment. For this, they dropped below Florida, Kansas State, Notre Dame, LSU, Ohio State and Oregon State in the polls.
This is absolute bull spit, and exactly what is wrong with college football.
South Carolina is the third best team in the country behind only Alabama and LSU, and anybody who does not recognize this does not actually watch college football.
I guarantee if Alabama coach Nick Saban were being waterboarded and forced to be completely honest, he’d admit that he’d rather play Notre Dame and No. 2 (in BCS Standings) Oregon, giddily play Kansas State and Oregon State and would plan a victory parade in advance if Ohio State was the opponent. This is not an SEC superiority thing, although that is at play. This is all about the eyeball test, which somehow has fallen out of favor as a talent indicator.
It is folly to simply look at who won and who lost in Death Valley and adjust the polls accordingly. Because while LSU deserved to move up and South Carolina down, I am not sure how Notre Dame beating Stanford on a couple of questionable calls undoubtedly makes it better than South Carolina. I do not think it does. The Gamecocks were better in a loss than Oregon, Ohio State and Notre Dame were in victory. Until the 23-21 loss, South Carolina had been undefeated.
Do we really think losing to what is obviously a good LSU team, in an absolutely brutal place, in a game where the Tigers battled and endured and mostly survived proves anything definitive about South Carolina? This is so much like a year ago when Alabama lost an overtime crusher to LSU and ended up beating the Tigers in the national championship game. It is almost comical how quickly we have forgotten what should have been the lesson of a year ago. The lesson is, with the way college football is set up nowadays, the best teams are going to have losses. A loss is an indicator of nothing. It is a fraudulent system that pretends beating Iowa State is more impressive than losing to LSU.
LSU might just be the best team in the country despite the loss to Florida. The Tigers certainly put themselves back in the national championship picture by beating South Carolina, and undoubtedly have Saban’s attention.
That Nov. 3 showdown in Baton Rouge is the single biggest game in the college football season. And unlike when ‘Bama rolled Michigan in Week 1, the Tide know this will be an absolute throwdown. As good as they are and the Tide are crazy good, they have yet to be really challenged. Of course, the first real swing will come from LSU. It usually does. And this is why losing to LSU is hardly reason to find oneself staring at the ass and elbows of Kansas State or Ohio State for that matter.
This is likely to get the masses in Manhattan and Columbus angry. They are good teams. I think, as evidenced by what we have seen already, Urban Meyer is going to turn the Buckeyes into a yearly beast in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes will be a big-time national player with regularity. This does not make them better than South Carolina right now.
That game Saturday was hanging in the balance until the final minutes. Obviously, the way to figure out the best team is to play. Until college football gets a real deal, eight-team playoff, though, we have only instinct to go on.
Instincts, and eyeballs.
And both indicate the Gamecocks are the third-best team in the country. The fact they are not rated as such is what is wrong with college football.