|'I don't think we're the best team in college football today,' Les Miles says. (US Presswire)|
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Officially, the nation's No. 1 team resides in Norman, Okla., and has ever since the preseason Associated Press and coaches polls debuted last month.
That needs to change. Because the best team can be found in Baton Rouge, La. Actually, so far this season, LSU has rarely been in Baton Rouge -- at least on game day. The Tigers have played four games this season -- three away from home and all three against ranked opponents. All three were double-digit victories.
The latest was Saturday night's 47-21 dismantling of No. 16 West Virginia before a capacity crowd of 62,056 at Milan Puskar Stadium.
Still, LSU coach Les Miles said he doesn't believe his team in the best in the land right now. You can choose whether to believe him or not. Personally, I don't.
"I am not in any way saying we're the nation's best team," Miles said. "I certainly like the position that we're in. I want to be close enough to the top so that if we can continue to earn our way -- if we do what we're capable -- or anybody in our conference comes out of this conference there's a strong likelihood they could be in the [national title] game.
"I like the position we're in. I don't think we're the best team in college football today. I think there is that hope and want and desire for this team."
All the Tigers (4-0) have done so far is play three ranked teams away from home. No other current top 25 team has played more than one ranked team on the road. LSU defeated No. 3 Oregon 40-27 in the season opener, stifled No. 25 Mississippi State 19-6 and almost hung half-a-hundred at West Virginia.
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"We think we're the best," LSU junior cornerback Morris Claiborne said. "We think we should have been the best in the beginning of the season. But that's just us. We can't control [the polls] no matter what we think. We have no control."
From the outset, the Tigers took control against the Mountaineers. Relying on an opportunistic, turnover-producing defense, the Tigers raced out to a 27-7 halftime lead.
West Virginia opened the second half with 14 consecutive points, pulling within 27-21 with 1:16 remaining in the third quarter. The crowd was back in the game. Momentum had shifted. The Tigers were teetering.
Yet 16 seconds and 99 yards later, the Tigers seized control. Ball game. That's how long it took and how far Claiborne returned the ensuing kickoff. His 99-yard return put LSU up 34-21 and the Tigers tacked on two fourth quarter scores for the final margin.
"By this time, we understand what it means to go on the road," Miles said. "We understand the routine, how we play, it's going to be close, a hostile environment. We get enthused on the fact because the opponent makes noise.
"I'm going to tell you something: When the crowd got jacked when we came onto the field, I knew we could play. They were having a football party and invited us. I knew our guys would show up."
Claiborne had his share of first-half struggles. Miles said Claiborne "self-characterized his first half as 'terrible.' But," Miles said, "he said, 'I knew that I'd come back.' That's the mark of our team. The style of our team."
Even though Miles' team was badly outgained, they won handedly. The defense allowed more than 500 yards, yet LSU won going away.
In the third quarter alone West Virginia racked up 231 yards -- by comparison, LSU allowed only 193 the entire game at Mississippi State) -- but LSU was too resilient.
West Virginia finished with 533 yards to LSU's 366. That was of little consolation to West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen.
"You can talk about 500 yards if you want to, but the only thing I'm going to talk about [Sunday] is four turnovers," Holgorsen said.
The Mountaineers entered the contest having won 18 consecutive home non-conference games, but ended up surrendering their most points at home since 2002. LSU, meanwhile, extended the nation's longest current non-conference winning streak (regular season only) to 36 games.
"I wouldn't consider us the best team," LSU sophomore defensive end Sam Montgomery said. "We just have a point to prove to a lot of people. That we can play football, that we are dominating, that we do take our defense, offense and special teams very seriously.
"Ballers play ball wherever. It doesn't matter if you're at home, if you're away, you have to suck it up and play football."
And, sorry Les, nobody is playing better than the Tigers right now -- no matter what you say.