AP Top 25 Reality Check: 3 ways of deciding No. 1

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By RALPH D. RUSSO AP College Football Writer

One of the tightest votes in AP Top 25 history seems to come down to three philosophies:

Like the team with the best resume, based on the number of victories against high-level competition? LSU is for you.

Like the team that has been the most dominant? Ohio State is probably your team.

Like to take the approach that No. 1 should stay No. 1 until it loses? You’re probably voting for Clemson or Alabama.

This is an oversimplification, of course. Voters tend to use a combination of factors to fill out their ballots, but this is a solid way to explain how LSU became No. 1 in The Associated Press Top 25 presented by Regions Bank by a two-point margin over No. 2 Alabama and eight points ahead of No. 3 Ohio State. Since the weighting system in the poll changed in 1978 so the difference between a first-place vote and a second-place was only one point instead of two, the margin between 1 and 3 has never been smaller.

The Crimson Tide got the most first-place votes with 21. LSU and Ohio State each got 17. That’s the fewest first-place votes for a No. 1 since 1994. Clemson got seven first-place votes and is 70 points behind first, which is the smallest gap of the season between 1 and 4.

Most of the top teams are off this week. There won’t be much reason for voters to change their minds about them until Week 11, when No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama face off in Tuscaloosa.

That should loosen things up. For now, Reality Check approves of the variety of opinions about who is No. 1.

No. 1 LSU (8-0)

Next: at No. 2 Alabama, Nov. 9.

Reality check: The Tigers have two victories against teams in the top 11, plus a win at Texas, and an average winning margin of 23.3 points (fifth best in FBS).

Ranked: Should be No. 2.

No. 2 Alabama (8-0)

Next: vs. No. 1 LSU, Nov. 9

Reality check: The Tide has the dominance (average margin 33.4 points, second best in FBS) but not much of a resume: Only two victories against teams that currently have a winning record.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 3 Ohio State (8-0)

Next: vs. Maryland, Nov. 9.

Reality check: Winning by 40.4 points per game, best in the nation, and doing it against a schedule ranked 16th toughest in the nation by the Sagarin Ratings, best among the undefeated teams.

Ranked: Should be No. 1.

No. 4 Clemson (8-0)

Next: vs. Wofford.

Reality check: Did you know? Clemson’s strength of schedule ranking, according to Sagarin: 54. Alabama is 61. With an average scoring margin of 31 points, the only difference between Alabama and Clemson is the Tigers’ one-point win against North Carolina.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 5 Penn State (8-0)

Next at No. 13 Minnesota, Nov. 9.

Reality check: The Nittany Lions completed what was supposed to be the most difficult three-week stretch of its season (at Iowa, Michigan, at Michigan State) only to find it might not be their toughest stretch after all. After the open date is a visit to unbeaten Minnesota, home for Indiana (6-2) and a road trip to face the Buckeyes.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 6 Florida (7-1)

Next: vs. No. 8 Georgia at Jacksonville, Florida.

Reality check: Throw out the two FCS opponents and the Gators’ average scoring margin is 8.5 points, 29th in the country. Among top 20 teams, only Cincinnati (8.1) is worse.

Ranked: Little high.

No. 7 Oregon (7-1)

Next: at Southern California.

Reality check: It is easy to nitpick game management when things go wrong, but coach Mario Cristobal’s decision to punt from the Washington State 33 late in Saturday’s game was malpractice.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 8 Georgia (6-1)

Next: vs. No. 6 Florida at Jacksonville, Florida.

Reality check: Losing to South Carolina looks bad and beating Notre Dame doesn’t seem that impressive, but this might be the last week to buy low on the Bulldogs.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 9 Utah (7-1)

Next: at Washington.

Reality check: That flimsy nonconference schedule is hard to get past, but the Utes are ninth in the country in scoring margin at 21.7 points per game.

Ranked: About right.

No. 10 Oklahoma (7-1)

Next: vs. Iowa State, Nov. 9

Reality check: Was the Kansas State game a permanent regression or just a blip for what had been a new and improved Sooners’ defense?

Ranked: About right.

No. 11 Auburn (6-2)

Next: vs. Mississippi.

Reality check: The Tigers have played the second-toughest schedule in the country, per Sagarin. That and beating Oregon on a neutral field should keep the Tigers in the top 10 for a little while longer.

Ranked: Too low.

No. 12 Baylor (7-0)

Next: vs. West Virginia, Thursday.

Reality check: The nonconference schedule was built for making a bowl, not the playoff, and it might put a ceiling on the Bears.

Ranked: About right.

No. 13 Minnesota (8-0)

Next: vs. No. 5 Penn State, Nov. 9.

Reality check: This might be as good as it gets for the Gophers.

Ranked: About right.

No. 14 Michigan (6-2)

Next: at Maryland.

Reality check: Reality Check was not as high on Notre Dame as the voters, but what the Wolverines dropped on the Irish was impressive.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 15 SMU (8-0)

Next: at No. 24 Memphis.

Reality check: Leading receiver Reggie Roberson was carted off with an ankle injury against Houston. The Mustangs could really use all their weapons at full strength in Memphis.

Ranked: About right.

No. 16 Notre Dame (5-2)

Next: vs. Virginia Tech.

Reality check: Run defense, a problem all season, got exposed in a big way by Michigan.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 17 Cincinnati (6-1)

Next: at East Carolina.

Reality check: The Bearcats’ average margin of victory is 16.5 points. And they lost 42-0 to Ohio State.

Ranked: Little high.

No. 18 Wisconsin (6-2)

Next: vs. No. 19 Iowa, Nov. 9.

Reality check: RB Jonathan Taylor has been a great college player and might have an excellent NFL career, but that Heisman campaign is over.

Ranked: Too low.

No. 19 Iowa (6-2)

Next: at No. 18 Wisconsin, Nov. 9.

Reality check: The 87th-ranked offense in yards per play (5.48) and the 12th-best defense (4.46) makes the Hawkeyes the most imbalanced team in the Top 25.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 20 Appalachian State (7-0)

Next: vs. Georgia Southern, Thursday.

Reality check: Mountaineers have the top scoring margin among Group of Five teams at 19.8 points per game, 11th overall in FBS.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 22 Boise State (6-1)

Next: at San Jose State.

Reality check: Broncos are hoping a week off and now a trip to San Jose gives QB Hank Bachmeier time to heal for tough stretch run in the Mountain West.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 22 Kansas State (5-2)

Next: at Kansas.

Reality check: Does it feel like Kansas State might have hired a younger version of Bill Snyder in Chris Klieman?

Ranked: Just right.

No. 23 Wake Forest (6-1)

Next: vs. North Carolina State.

Reality check: Barring a stumble from Clemson, here is the most likely team to represent the ACC in the Orange Bowl.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 24 Memphis (7-1)

Next: vs. No. 15 SMU.

Reality check: Maybe that missed kick by Tulsa was the football gods paying back the Tigers for what looked like a blown call that went against them in a loss to Temple.

Ranked: Too low.

No. 25 San Diego State (7-1)

Next: vs. Nevada, Nov. 9.

Reality check: Coach Rocky Long, 69, keeps the Aztecs grinding along.

Ranked: Just right.