Something to Prove? 3-0 teams that must do so

Javier Morales

September 20, 2012 at 5:03 pm.

Kenny Hilliard will be the man on the spot when LSU travels takes on Auburn. (Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE)

There are 23 college football teams that stand at 3-0, and 17 of them are ranked in the AP Top 25.

The unlucky — or supposed undeserving — six 3-0 teams that are not ranked are Northwestern, Ohio, Rutgers, Iowa State, Texas Tech and Minnesota.

All except Texas Tech and Minnesota have decent road victories — Northwestern at Syracuse, Ohio at Penn State, Iowa State at Iowa, and Rutgers at South Florida.

These programs can cry foul that some 3-0 teams that are ranked higher have either not traveled or faced a quality opponent. Some of those teams — such as No. 2 LSU and No. 3 Oregon — are ranked because of their name and loads of talent.

Over the course of the season, those who are deserving of the highest ranking will emerge. For now, the college football enthusiasts want some answers from the 3-0 teams that are ranked high.

Allow me to rank those teams in order of who must prove themselves the most.

1. LSU — The second-ranked Tigers have pummeled lesser competition (North Texas, Washington and Idaho) in Baton Rouge, La., by a combined score of 145-31. They finally hit the road this week to play at Auburn, which is off to a 1-2 start after almost losing to visiting Louisiana-Monroe in overtime. If this was college basketball, LSU’s RPI rating would be in the 100s.

After hosting Towson next week, LSU must travel to No. 14 Florida (3-0 with impressive road victories against Texas A&M and Tennessee). We may finally get a look at what makes LSU great at that time. The Tigers’ most significant objectives are the development of junior quarterback Zach Mettenberger and sophomore running back Kenny Hilliard. Regular starter Alfred Blue is out indefinitely with a knee injury, creating the opportunity for Hilliard to show what he’s got.

2. Oregon — The third-ranked Ducks also have three wins at home against beatable teams, although second-week victim Fresno State (2-1) could turn heads in the Mountain West. Oregon has defeated Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech by a combined 162-73. The 24.3 points a game allowed has to be a concern for Oregon coach Chip Kelly, especially with Arizona’s potent spread offense coming to town Saturday.

Oregon has also failed to put two great halves together, mostly because the Ducks have taken significant leads early. Against Fresno State’s spread offense, Oregon was outscored 22-7 in the second half after taking a 35-0 lead before halftime. The Ducks’ defense is allowing 4.7 yards per play. Compare that to one of the teams on the outside looking in — Iowa State — which is allowing only 4.0.

3. Florida State — The fourth-ranked Seminoles rank first nationally in total defense and 12th in total offense, so what do they have to prove? Plenty. Florida State has achieved these statistical rankings after playing Murray State, Savannah State and Wake Forest in its first three games, all at home.

Tenth-ranked Clemson, another mostly unproven 3-0 team that has beaten disappointing Auburn, Ball State and Furman, should give the Seminoles the challenge that they need this Saturday.

After this game, the Seminoles will not play a highly-ranked opponent until, potentially, Virginia Tech on Nov. 8. That’s iffy at best because of the Hokies’ 35-17 loss at Pitt last weekend. Thank goodness for Florida State that college football does not have a postseason selection committee – yet.

4. South Carolina — The seventh-ranked Gamecocks were fortunate to win 17-13 at Vanderbilt in the season-opener. South Carolina can try to spin that win as meaningful because the Commodores are improving under coach James Franklin. But the result was more on the unimpressive side. Vandy lost the following weekend at Northwestern 23-13. There are the Wildcats again. Why aren’t they ranked again?

South Carolina has two run-of-the-mill wins at home against East Carolina and Alabama-Birmingham, with Missouri coming to town this weekend. Steve Spurrier must be concerned about the Gamecocks’ pass defense, which ranks No. 88 nationally, allowing 262.3 passing yards a game. South Carolina’s offensive line has also been porous when it comes to preventing sacks, allowing three a game, which ranks them No. 104 nationally in that category.

5. Texas — The 12th-ranked Longhorns silenced some critics after soundly beating Ole Miss 66-31 on the road last weekend, but what is there to shout about that game? Texas beat second-tier Mountain West programs Wyoming and New Mexico at home in methodical fashion in the first two weeks. Texas’ win at Mississippi was impressive, but how good are the Rebels? They rank No. 95 nationally in total defense, including No. 112 in pass-efficiency defense.

We will find out starting next week how good Texas really is as the Longhorns must travel to Oklahoma State, which is still bent on proving itself after a 59-38 loss at Arizona in the second week of the season. After that, Texas hosts No. 8 West Virginia and then plays No. 6 Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry game.

West Virginia and Oklahoma are only 2-0; otherwise they would certainly make this list with who they have played this season.