One of the tightest votes in 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
No. 25 San Diego State (7-1)
Next: vs. Nevada, Nov. 9.
Reality check: Coach Rocky Long, 69, keeps the Aztecs grinding along.
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