By the time LSU coach Les Miles stepped to the podium to address the media Saturday night following a 34-24 triumph over Mississippi State, the final upset of a topsy-turvy weekend was complete.
The victims were a Who’s Who of college football royalty — Southern California (ranked No. 1 last week), Georgia (No. 3), Florida (No. 4) and Wisconsin (No. 9).
Once Alabama put the finishing touches on a stunning 41-30 triumph against Georgia between the hedges in Athens, Ga., fans and media had the green light to start calculating where and how much the national rankings would shift after four top-10 teams stumbled this week.
The Tigers weren’t one of those teams, of course. And where they would be ranked today was a hot-button topic of discussion in the postgame of a gritty victory that required a full night’s work.
Not that Miles wasn’t about to take the bait.
“I really don’t care about ranking at this point,” he said after LSU upped its record to 4-0, 2-0 in the SEC. “If we can just win ’em one at a time from this point forward, we’ll take care of our own ranking. There’s so much more in front of us to play.”
Echoed Tigers tailback Charles Scott, who continued to build All-American credentials with 141 rushing yards and two touchdowns against State, “I don’t really look at our ranking. The only thing that matters to me is where we’re ranked at the end of the year.”
After the dust settled on Saturday and votes were cast Sunday, there aren’t many teams left in front of LSU and the top of the polls.
When Sunday’s updated rankings were released, the Tigers had climbed to No. 3 in the Associated Press poll and No. 2 in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll.
Boosted by the huge win at Georgia, Alabama (5-0, 2-0) vaulted to No. 2 in AP and No. 3 in the coaches poll. The Crimson Tide got 21 first-place votes in the media rankings, but only two from the coaches.
In the initial Harris poll released Sunday, LSU was No. 2 with three first-place votes, behind Oklahoma with 102 first-place votes. Alabama was third with seven firsts.
Oklahoma (4-0) climbed from second into the top spot in both polls, earning 43 first-place votes in the AP and 57 from the coaches.
None of that may matter much right now to the Tigers, who have a bye week before heading to now 12th-ranked Florida for an Oct. 11 showdown of the previous two BCS national champions.
But as much as there is always a professed focus on the opponent in the field of vision, knowing USC had tumbled at Oregon State on Thursday and that Ole Miss had knocked off Florida earlier in the day Saturday was hard to completely ignore.
Even Miles said the subject of the earlier upsets came up before Saturday night’s evening kickoff. “We went through the SC (game) very specifically, and I’m certain that, without mention, that the Florida-Ole Miss (game), the guys understood that,” he said.
Understood, yes. But knowing what had happened earlier might have developed into a distraction.
“Of course we were all thinking about it,” Scott said. “We saw USC go down big Thursday night and saw Florida go down against Ole Miss. Actually we were all watching the Ole Miss-Florida game. I think that might have kind of thrown our focus off. We were more focused on everybody else than we were on Mississippi State.”
There shouldn’t be any danger of losing focus now.
LSU has 12 days to rest up, heal and prepare for the next road test in a brutally tough stretch of the SEC schedule. Florida plays at Arkansas this week, but should still have plenty of mad left over when the Tigers walk into The Swamp.
That’s OK with Scott, as was the notion that Alabama and second-year coach Nick Saban are poised in prime position to challenge the Tigers in the West Division.
“We like it,” Scott said. “It looks like it will be us and Alabama. It will be a showdown here against them. When we go to Florida that will be a huge game and then Georgia comes to play here. You can’t look at it like you are in control because crazy things happen, as you can see. We just have to take it one game at a time.”
LSU’s victory Saturday was flawed and uncovered more deficiencies for a defense not accustomed to giving up much yardage.
The Bulldogs (1-4, 0-2) never allowed the Tigers to completely run away and hide with a steady, albeit not flashy, offense.
MSU had scored only one touchdown in a 10-quarter span until notching one right before halftime Saturday and then two in the fourth quarter.
State did not turn the ball over Saturday despite entering the weekend with 12 giveaways in four games, which matched South Carolina for worst in the SEC.
The Bulldogs spent over 16 minutes on the field in the second half — anchored by an 18-play, 74-yard series that ate up 9:11 and seemed to put the LSU defense on its heels at times.
The Tigers had trouble defending short passes to running backs coming out of the backfield, as nine of State quarterback Tyson Lee’s 17 completions went to backs for 83 yards and a touchdown.
“Defensively, we made some mistakes,” Miles said. “These things are things we can fix. We’ll have some time to do that.”
What an exciting weekend in college football!!! I'm just thankful that the Tigers weren't bitten by the upset bug!