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Arguing The True No. 1

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In Stewart Mandel's mailbag this week, Chris Baker from Tucson raised a good question. Do LSU fans, who still point to the Tigers BCS national championship and USC's AP mythical title in 2003, now believe LSU is not No. 1 because they're not No. 1 in the Coaches Poll.

Good question. I'll find out for myself this weekend when I visit Baton Rouge. Whenever I travel, I'm always sensitive about not doing anything that might offend the locals. So, even though LSU has been No. 1 on my ballot the past two weeks, and even though I'll be referring to "No. 1 LSU" in everything I write this weekend (because SI.com, like most publications, uses the AP poll as its default ranking), I will be extra careful to acknowledge USC's true status as the nation's No. 1 team if the topic happens to come up in conversation. Because if I don't, I'm certain any LSU fan in his right mind will be quick to remind me that the Trojans are currently ranked as such by the two polls (coaches and Harris) used by the BCS -- the only system agreed upon by all participants beforehand.

Well, my response would be as follows. Rankings don't matter after the season in any sport. The college basketball champion is automatically voted No. 1 in the final polls, as in baseball and football and any other sport that has polls. What matters is who wins in the system set up to determine a champion. It might only be a two-team playoff, and one setup poorly to choose the two teams, but that's the college football championship tournament right now. LSU won that tournament in 2003, USC didn't.

As for the current rankings, both LSU and USC are No. 1, because they each hold that distinction in a major poll. It's similar to a situation from the most recent college basketball season when there were two No. 1 teams.

Maybe Mandel should start listing teams as LSU (No. 1 AP/No. 2 USA Today) and USC (No. 2 AP/No. 1 USA Today) as a lot of people do, particularly in college basketball. Then he can claim plausible deniability.