Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 8/4/12
The LSU Tigers have managed to clinch the No. 1 spot in the just released USA Today top 25 Coaches poll despite having fewer first place votes (18) than both the Alabama Crimson Tide (20) and the USC Trojans (19). 

LSU's rank may have been a surprise to some considering the pummeling the Tigers suffered at the hands of Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game last year where they were shut out 21-0.

What fans with short memories may fail to recall is that LSU was undefeated entering the National Championship, including a win against then No. 2 Alabama in a 9-6 overtime squeaker. 

Fans may also have forgotten that the Tigers bulldozed plenty of other top-notch teams en route to to the BCS title game; No. 3 Oregon, No. 25 Mississippi State, No. 16 West Virginia, No. 17 Florida, No. 20 Auburn, No. 3 Arkansas and No. 16 Georgia. 

In fact, LSU actually outscored their opponents 500-137 while playing in college football's toughest conference, the SEC. That's a pretty impressive resume.

Comparatively speaking, Alabama played only five ranked teams with one of those the loss to LSU, then ranked No. 1. USC played only two ranked teams in 2011, No. 4 Oregon, a win; and No. 6 Stanford who handed the Trojans an overtime loss. 

LSU will return 14 starters this year, which is one more than the Crimson Tide and one less than the Trojans, but LSU will not return a quarterback unlike the other two schools.

LSU's 2012 regular schedule as it stands now features just four games against ranked opponents, the toughest being No. 2 Alabama early in the season. Only one other game against a top 10 opponent, No. 10 Arkansas looks like a serious impediment to their National Championship aspirations.

Alabama faces two top 10 opponents in the first three weeks of the season in Michigan and Arkansas and follows up with games against LSU and Auburn later in the season. Alabama fans who look at  their team's schedule and still think they've been slighted should remember that the Crimson Tide will have to replace both their leading rusher, Trent Richardson, and leading receiver, Marquis Maze, from last year. If that's not difficult enough, the team will also have to find seven new starters on defense including three in the secondary. 
     
USC faces just two ranked opponents in Oregon and Stanford, but USC supporters need to bear in mind that despite the fact the Trojans are returning senior quarterback Matt Barkely and the acquisition of former Penn State running back Silas Redd, USC is still operating under NCAA sanctions which limit their scholarship numbers. 

Essentially, this means the Trojans have a lack of depth and one key injury could spell disaster.  LSU on the other hand, is operating at full strength.

Lots of football pundits like to tell us that the polls mean nothing. That's not exactly true. In the current BCS system, the higher a team's initial ranking, the easier it becomes for them to make the championship game, assuming all win-loss records are equal. 

In any case, only one team, USC in 2004, ever started and finished the season with a No. 1 ranking in the polls, which they parlayed into a (now vacated) National Championship Game victory. 

As past BCS competition has demonstrated, any team can hand out a loss to a preseason favorite despite their ranking, or lack of one. The only way to prove the critics wrong is to win. Without seeing any games yet, it appears that's just what LSU is poised to do. Whether they can do so without stumbling remains to be seen.

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