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LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu. (Associated Press)<br>

LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu. (Associated Press)

Gazzolo: Tigers again under microscope, right where they want to be

Last Modified: Monday, August 06, 2012 11:13 PM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

There is but one problem with being the top-ranked team in the nation before a game is ever played.

There’s no place to go but down.

With the biggest of targets on their backs, the LSU Tigers find themselves voted the best in all the land by college coaches.

Despite getting more first-place votes, Alabama is second. Southern California, which also got more first-place votes than LSU, is third.

Maybe those coaches missed the national title game last January, or maybe the legend of Zach Mettenberger has already found its way onto their campuses.

Perhaps the reason is as simple as this; LSU is easier to spell for the nation’s coaches.

Doesn’t really matter, the Tigers have more than enough talent to deserve the honor. It doesn’t really mean anything anyway.

I think last year’s preseason national champs were the Sooners, who by season’s end weren’t even close to being the best team in the state of Oklahoma.

Good news for Louisiana-Lafayette and Tulane maybe.

Having never liked preseason polls to begin with, taking one seriously now doesn’t really fit either. For the record, my No. 1 pick would be USC, I mean Southern California. LSU would be second with Florida State third and Alabama fourth.

Maybe I, like the LSU offense, slept through that title game as well.

Like I said, this doesn’t really matter much in the long run. The only thing that counts is which team gets the greatest number of points when the voters and computers hand out the national crown.

“It’s a huge honor that the coaches have us No. 1,” Mettenberger told the Associated Press. “We were No. 1 11 weeks last year. We don’t really talk about who’s No. 1. It’s more important to finish No. 1.”

So while the Tiger fans may not be able to keep all this ranking stuff in perspective, at least the players and coaches have it about right.

And if any team in the land should know the feeling of being chased, it is the Tigers, who last year showed during the regular season why they deserved to be ranked first, and in one bowl game showed why they didn’t deserve to win the national title.

But this is a new start, one once again fresh with hope.

Truth is, there are far greater expectations on this year’s club at this point in the season than last.

A year ago, fans looked at the Tigers’ schedule and wondered if a semi-major bowl game was possible, and if head coach Les Miles would maybe even survive.

Miles always seems to be sitting on the hot seat, but last year’s schedule may have made his butt sizzling a little more than usual.

But the Tigers not only survived the gauntlet, they thrived. A bunch of suspensions could not even slow them down.

This year, hope is high mainly because there is no such brutal schedule awaiting. The non-SEC group of cannon fodder heading into Baton Rouge wouldn’t put heat on anybody’s seat. The Tiger J.V. would be favored in all four home games.

That is both good and bad. With expectations like that, it is important for LSU to earn style points, not just victories. That’s pressure.

They could easily be undefeated and not have earned enough BCS points to be ranked No. 1 when that first poll comes out in October.

This means unlike last year, the Tigers might be one slip away from being out of the national title picture.

All this means one thing: The Tigers are once again under the microscope.

You get the feeling they wouldn’t have it any other way.

• • •

Jim Gazzolo is American Press managing sports editor. Email him at jgazzolo@americanpress.com

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