Final Pre-Bowl Ratings and Reaction to Major Bowl Selections

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, High School, History, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on December 4, 2022 at 5:29 PM

I don’t have that much to say about the LSU game itself.  I thought they would lose by single digits if they had a good day, and they basically would have lost by three if you take out two disastrous plays (and leave everything else the same): a blocked field goal from fairly close range that was returned for a touchdown, at least partly because all but a couple of players on the field forgot the rules (a 10-point swing), and an interception deep in LSU territory that resulted from a ball that was falling to the ground that hit an LSU helmet instead (this set up a fairly easy touchdown drive).

I’m not surprised that Alabama and Tennessee went ahead of LSU in bowl consideration given that they each only have two losses. I would argue if LSU had beaten Texas A&M, but my guess is that didn’t matter either. Rightly or wrongly (obviously wrongly in my view), Alabama was seen as the best SEC team after Georgia; and Tennessee’s win over LSU would have been a tie-breaker for a New Year’s Six bowl even if one didn’t punish LSU for the extra loss.

LSU is a superior team to Purdue, but sometimes it can be hard to be enthusiastic about playing such a game. I think the Boilermakers will be relatively excited to play in the game and probably would be to play in any bowl.

I do think Tennessee should have gone to the Sugar Bowl, but I guess we didn’t need another game between Alabama and Clemson to take place in the Orange Bowl. All the other New Year’s Six Bowls were fairly obvious match-ups according to the guidelines. USC vs. Tulane in the Cotton especially made sense as the two westernmost teams not bound to the Rose Bowl. They will play one another in a bowl for the first time since the Trojans won the Rose Bowl after the 1931 season. That game might have helped inspire the creation of the Sugar Bowl a few years later. USC and Tulane also split a home-and-home in the 1940s.

I had said Friday that Ohio St. should move up if another team fell out of the top four.  I didn’t realize that TCU and USC were far enough ahead of Tennessee and Alabama that they could afford a loss and stay in the top five.  Actually, my first draft of the ratings had USC ahead of Ohio St.; but then I realized that somehow Utah was being counted as a better opponent than they were. Not to bore the reader with the details, but I try not to penalize teams as much for losing a close game on the road, but that wasn’t meant to treat the winner as one of the top teams in the country as the weighted ratings do if not corrected.

The Trojans did beat one more top-25 team than Tennessee did.  It hurt the Vols that LSU lost in a way because now the Tigers are not in the highest classification of the weighted ratings.  Had LSU won, Georgia would not have fallen out of that classification (which right now is the top 8 teams).  In the bigger picture, USC beat 8 Pac-12 teams and Notre Dame whereas Tennessee only beat 6 SEC teams and Pitt. You can think the former is more impressive while still having the SEC as the best conference.

I’ve written about Clemson playing a deceptive number of quality opponents, so that’s why they’re ahead of Alabama.  The Tigers only beat one top 25 team (the same number Alabama has beaten), but they’ve beaten five other teams in the top 42 to Alabama’s one.  Illinois is #39 and was a missed field goal from beating Michigan, and #37 Pitt took Tennessee to overtime, so I’m not talking about opponents that anyone can take for granted.  (For an even better example, Florida is #51 and beat Utah.).  Alabama does have better losses, but that doesn’t make up for that volume of decent wins.

Florida LB Amari Burney intercepts a pass to win the game against Utah in Gainesville on September 3. In hindsight, it’s another reminder that there are a lot of teams (including those who fall well outside of the top 25) who are threats to some of the best teams, even eventual Power-5 conference champions. On Friday, the Utes beat USC to claim the Pac-12 title and eliminate the Trojans from Playoff consideration.

I think it’s appropriate that the respective Big XII and Pac-12 champions round out the top 10.  I don’t think Tulane, Troy, and UTSA would beat many of the 5 to 10 teams immediately below them, but I don’t mind that in my system teams like that are in the top 20 as long as they’re not in position for the Playoff.  I’m glad not to be in New Orleans to hear from the Tulane fans who don’t know anything about national college football listing all the SEC teams they’d beat with their one good team in a generation though. I have mixed feelings about Troy playing UTSA in the Cure Bowl. On the one hand, it’s good that they’re both playing a ranked team; but on the other hand, I wonder how they would do against one of the lower Power-5 bowl teams.

I know the Playoff is going to expand to 12 teams, but one or two of those teams being non-Power-5 champions is fine with me.  I will want most Power 5 teams to be eliminated with three or four losses.  This isn’t the NFL; I’m not willing to take a team seriously as the potential national champion if they lost 1/3 or more of their regular-season games.

I don’t like Oregon being ahead of Oregon St. even though I do think the Ducks have been the better team overall this year.  USC didn’t beat Oregon (both “civil war” teams played Utah), so it doesn’t hurt Oregon for the Trojans to lose.  USC did beat Oregon St.  It also helps that Oregon’s best non-conference opponent solidified its claim as the best team in the country.  Oregon St. played Boise and Fresno, and neither is as good as LSU anyway, so there wasn’t as much of a gain there (there was a slight improvement to strength of schedule though).

My formula did put the Egg Bowl rivalry in the “correct” order (according to head-to-head results) though, with Mississippi St. at #25 and Ole Miss at #26.  Of course, it helps that Mississippi St. played Georgia instead of Vanderbilt (all the other conference opponents were the same, and the two teams have the same record).

Some teams moved up or down more than they normally would given how many teams didn’t play.  I hadn’t worked on the weighted formula in a few years and it was still new before COVID, so there were still some kinks to iron out.  Given that most of the changes still made sense given the results and there was no turnover in the top 25, I don’t think I changed anything too abruptly.

I’ve updated the ratings after the Army-Navy game before, but this year I’ll just treat is as a bowl game since neither will play an actual bowl game.

3Texas Christian3
4Ohio St.5
9Kansas St.15
11Penn St.8
17Oregon St.11
18TX-San Antonio25
19Florida St.18
22Boise St.19
23S Carolina23
24Notre Dame21
25Mississippi St.24

For the ratings of all 131 teams and all FBS conferences (and independents), see here or click “Knights’ Ratings” above at any time while browsing this site.

Rivalry Week Top 25 and CFP Reaction

In College Football, College Football Playoff, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on December 2, 2022 at 2:51 PM

CFP Reaction

I ended up agreeing with the committee regarding the top 5.  I’ll be really surprised if two of the current top 4 lose this weekend.  I had said before last week that I thought Ohio St. would be one of the stronger non-champions were they to lose to Michigan.

Neither Tennessee nor Alabama, who each have two losses, had a non-conference game that was worth very much to compensate for the extra loss.  The SEC is better, but it’s not so much better that you don’t need either a very good non-conference game or a ninth conference game. 

I did think that LSU would have deserved consideration if they had finished with 2 losses, but the Tigers did get the ninth conference game when they qualified for the SEC Championship Game.  This would have given LSU a second win over a team who finished with a winning record in conference.

Anyway, as to who #6 should be, I disagree with those who have Tennessee behind Alabama.  Tennessee not only played the #1 team in the country by virtue of playing in the SEC East, but they also beat both of the top teams in the SEC West.  Alabama didn’t beat anyone in the top 6 (there are 7 teams per division) of the SEC East, and they also didn’t beat the only team with a winning conference record (LSU) in the SEC West.  The Tide did lose two games in the last second, but I think beating more good teams should count for more than how close the losses were.  Alabama didn’t have to beat a team like either team who beat Tennessee.  Texas was a better non-conference opponent than Pitt, but that doesn’t make up for Alabama playing Vanderbilt as the extra cross-divisional opponent while Tennessee drew LSU, not to mention Georgia and South Carolina.

Ratings and Other Thoughts

I don’t think this technicality matters as far as Playoff arguments but something else that annoys me is if you lose a tiebreaker for the conference championship game, you’re still considered a divisional co-champion.  Even though LSU lost after clinching the spot in the championship game, Alabama can now claim they’ve won the SEC West 10 of 11 years (the exception being 2019).  I prefer the NFL approach.  If you lose the tiebreaker to the team that advances as the winner of the division, you’re not called a champion or co-champion.  The previous time the Tide lost it outright was also to LSU, in 2011.  Since divisions will cease to exist in about two years, I hope we can get at least one more outright win in the next two years.

Back to my rankings/ratings, you may have noticed the “weighted rank” doesn’t penalize as much for losses anymore.  I’ve compensated for that by making it a smaller component of the overall total, but it still does take record into consideration to some extent.  For instance, Vanderbilt had to play four of the five best teams by conference record in the SEC and is only #39 in the weighted rankings because the Commodores also have 7 losses.  Alabama only played two of those teams and is #15 in the weighted rankings largely because there were no other losses.

So, although when I first introduced the weighted rankings they were meant to stand alone, in no universe did I think LSU was #1 last week or that Oregon St. is #2 this week (after Georgia); but those are the teams (other than Georgia) most deserving of bonus points if you will given a combination of a good record and quality opponents.  I also think it’s right that Clemson lost an extra spot (from what they are in the original unweighted formula) because their weighted rank fell to #24.  Clemson just barely edged out LSU and Oregon St. 

Sometimes you have to hold onto your hat in the last 20 minutes of a Rivalry Week game.

One might come to the conclusion that I don’t give conferences other than the SEC enough of a chance with the weighted component, but there are five Pac-12 teams in the weighted top 10 and only three SEC teams.  All things being equal, LSU and Tennessee having such tough conference slates would have caused them to finish lower than Alabama in the standings, but they both beat the Tide and ended up with the same number of conference losses as the Tide. 

USC was the only one of those five Pac-12 teams to have a better weighted rank than unweighted rank.  This was because the other four all finished with three overall losses.  It also helped that the Trojans played Notre Dame.  This compensated somewhat for USC not having played Washington and Oregon.

The other teams in the top 10 of the weighted rankings are Texas and Michigan.  Michigan is doing well being that they only played two teams in the top 40 in my overall ratings, but of course being undefeated helps.    Texas has the opposite situation: a number of top-40 opponents (4) but also a number of losses (4).  Texas has also played 5 teams that finished between numbers 41 and 65 with only one opponent (ULM) below #85.

There are only a couple of the lower teams I thought needed a little bit of explanation beyond the results of last week.

It really hurt Florida St. that Clemson and LSU lost because those games were largely responsible for the Seminoles’ having an unweighted ranking of 14 and a weighted ranking of 16 last week.  Notre Dame’s loss to USC also had some collateral effect upon the ACC as a whole as well given that the Irish beat both of the ACC title contestants and another team (Syracuse) who went .500 in conference and finished 7-5 going into the bowl game.

The only other team who seems somewhat out of place is Boise St.  The win over Utah St. wasn’t the most impressive (although to be fair, the Aggies had won 5 of 6 going into the game), but the three teams who had beaten the Broncos all had “good” weeks.  The Broncos’ worst loss, UTEP, is still not a good team; but the Miners improved their strength of schedule considerably by playing UTSA.  You probably know what happened with Oregon St. (who beat Boise St. in Week 1) and why their stock improved.  Also, BYU improved its strength of schedule with the win over Stanford (who played in a good conference and somehow beat Notre Dame…. Best wishes to departing head coach David Shaw, by the way. How he made it so long is beyond me).

Boise St. LB Ezekiel Noa sacks Fresno St. QB Logan Fife in the third quarter of what was at the time a close game in Boise on October 8. The Broncos outscored the Bulldogs 20-0 in the last 20 minutes of the game to win 40-20. A rematch will be played for the Mountain West title tomorrow, also in Boise.

I also noticed there were some games that weren’t included the last time or two I had updated the weighted rankings, so that may have played some role in why Florida St. fell after a loss and why Boise St. rose so far after a win over a now-6-loss opponent.  I think that’s also the main reason UCLA fell so much last week and rose so much this week. Without correctly factoring in how good USC was, it made the loss to the Trojans look worse than it should have; and this is now corrected.

Regardless, I like the process I’ve followed this year because it’s been a lot more stable.  I don’t like to say a given team is top 10 one week and not in the top 25 the next or that six or seven teams are in this week’s top 25 but weren’t in last week’s.  We don’t really find out that much about a team in one game, especially not when it’s 1 of 12 games, so I don’t like to see much volatility later in the year even if there are some adjustments in the methodology.

Top 25

3Texas Christian3
5Ohio St.2
6Tennessee 8
8Penn St.10
11Oregon St.16
15Kansas St.21
18Florida St.13
19Boise St.
21Notre Dame15
23S Carolina
24Mississippi St.
25TX San Antonio22
N Carolina17
Ole Miss19
Coastal Caroliina25

For the detailed ratings of all 131 teams, see here or follow the link in the heading for “Knights Ratings” at any time while browsing the site.

LSU @ Texas A&M Post Mortem

In College Football, College Football Playoff, History, Post-game, Rivalry on November 27, 2022 at 4:36 PM

As I’ve done the last couple of weeks (including on Thursday), I’m going to wait until the College Football Playoff standings come out for detailed analysis of the remaining competitive teams (which of course no longer include Clemson or LSU), but you can see my ratings here.  I will comment briefly that I think it’s appropriate for a couple of different reasons for USC to be ahead of Ohio St. at the moment, so I commend the polls for coming to that conclusion as well and doing so decisively.

I’ve also updated the LSU-Texas A&M Rivalry Blog, which was first written before the 2010 Cotton Bowl.  Jimbo Fisher may have a worse record as Aggie head coach than Kevin Sumlin did overall, but he’s 3-2 against LSU compared to Sumlin’s 0-6 record.  It’s also the third time in those five games that the team with the better record lost on the road. 

Jimbo Fisher walks the sidelines as the LSU offensive coordinator before the BCS championship/Sugar Bowl in New Orleans in January 2004. He now has a winning record against his former employers.

I started writing this before the game ended, but I think there will be a few reactions to the LSU-Texas A&M game that aren’t accurate. (ESPN confirmed this this morning, saying “Jimbo Fisher EXPOSES LSU” in the headline of their YouTube video about the game. If the title is something that low-IQ, I don’t even click on it.  So I’m not making a point-by-point rebuttal, but I will elaborate more below.)

I don’t think it was trap game or that LSU was looking ahead.  It was the next major-conference opponent for two weeks.  Yes, there was a big game coming up against Georgia; but the players knew they had some things to clean up after the Arkansas game.  Texas A&M had beaten Arkansas earlier in the year after all.  The Aggies had suffered some injuries since then, but so had Arkansas.  Everyone knew it was a talented, dangerous team.  This isn’t a coaching staff that would have distracted the team with an early preview of Georgia (Kelly confirmed this with the media), and winning the game yesterday would have actually taken a weight off of them.  Maybe you shock the world, but even if you don’t you have a great bowl game no one expected you to be in to fall back on.  Now that’s in doubt.

My impression is that it was the opposite of looking past the opponent.  I think some of the LSU players were too nervous and playing not to lose.  It’s easy to feel unease in a hostile environment.  If there were some consideration of A&M’s record, I definitely think the thought was more, “How much would it suck if we lost to a team with that record?” than “Forget all the great athletes they have, we’ll beat A&M easily because their record isn’t good.”  

Playing not to lose was cited by multiple people as why Alabama lost to Tennessee, and I got a similar vibe here.  I think that is a more frequent problem with the top teams than “looking ahead”.  The Tigers also seemed like they were playing tight against Arkansas, and they weren’t looking ahead three weeks.  Arkansas just didn’t have the athletes (or they weren’t playing well enough that day) to capitalize.

I would cite a combination of rivalry, revenge (for last season when LSU won with the lesser team), and wanting to take out an overachieving team that was possibly in position to make the playoff without a loss.  Also, they knew it was the last chance to play a game for several months (or ever in some cases).  It doesn’t make up for how badly A&M underachieved of course, but there is only so much you can do in one game.

Yes, A&M was up three touchdowns midway through the fourth quarter (I’ll get to the circumstances below), and I think some will say LSU didn’t “show up,” but a game getting away from you doesn’t mean you never showed up.  I told Tennessee fans the same thing when some of them said that after the South Carolina loss.

LSU RB John Emery, Jr., scores the tying touchdown early in the third quarter in College Station yesterday. Emery would only finish with 55 yards from scrimmage but scored all three of LSU’s touchdowns (at least the ones that counted).

In the second half, LSU started with two three-and-outs on defense and a touchdown on offense to tie the game.  I wouldn’t say everything had gone according to plan, but that was a more comfortable position than LSU had had at a similar point in most of the previous games against major-conference opponents.  After three drives of the third quarter against Florida St., LSU was down 17-3.  At the same point against Mississippi St., LSU was down 16-10.  At the same point at Auburn, LSU was down 17-14.  At the same point against Ole Miss, LSU had just scored to get to make it 24-20 Rebels. LSU was also way down against Tennessee, but that was the only one LSU didn’t either lose as a result of a blocked extra point or win. I guess one problem was only one of those situations had taken place on the road, so this was more difficult.  LSU had some luck against Auburn that they didn’t have here.

Going back to this game in the third quarter, LSU had withstood the A&M rally and was in position to take the lead (and to take the crowd out of it) with another good drive.  With the ball and a 17-17 score, LSU gained six yards on first down.  That was more than they had gained on any first down in the previous drive (which ended in a touchdown), and the Tigers had only had to convert one third down.  But in two plays all of that momentum was reversed.  The Tigers were forced into a third down.  It was a third and one, which seemed like no big deal given what I said about some prior plays that half, but Daniels made what appeared to be a bad decision not to hand the ball off and tried to roll out.  He fumbled as he was hit trying to get around the end, and A&M returned the fumble for a touchdown.

LSU QB Jayden Daniels picks himself up from the turf as DB Demani Richardson is about to return Daniels’s fumble for a touchdown to give the Aggies back the lead, which they would not relinquish again.

It also didn’t help that LSU’s attempted comeback was thwarted by what I think was a completely incorrect call on the field in the last three minutes, but it still would have been unlikely for the Tigers to come up with another touchdown, a two-point conversion, and at least one other point after.  If that’s called a touchdown and there is no fumble, that’s nearly the entire difference in the game though. 

This isn’t sour grapes or blaming the refs for the loss, but this is something that has annoyed me for a long time even if it’s not against my team.  I think if you have the ball secured against your chest and your feet land in the end zone, that should be a catch, the play should be over, and nothing else should enter the equation.  In this situation, WR Jaray Jenkins also took two steps out of bounds with the ball secure.  It’s bad enough if the player then goes to the ground in the end zone, but it’s absurd to even talk about what happens on the edge of the turf as he’s avoiding people on the sidelines, but he did eventually go to the ground and drop the ball.  I’ve seen players toss the ball up in the air or spike it after demonstrating far less control over the ball.  This whole “surviving the ground” thing is nonsense in that situation. 

It’s the equivalent of a baseball catcher tagging someone out and then falling and dropping the ball on the way to the dugout.  Or an even better analogy would be a basketball player calls timeout as he’s going out of bounds and then drops the ball when he lands on someone’s lap, so the timeout doesn’t count because he retroactively didn’t have possession.

Rant over.  My point is it really was a close game, not that playing a 7-loss team close is something to brag about; but it wasn’t in reality all that different from the previous conference game.  I don’t think LSU was exposed or embarrassed or anything of the sort, just not the better team that day and certainly not the team that got more breaks. 

I noted the live stats as of the end of the third quarter, so it’s not the official three-quarter stats, but it’s close enough.  At that point, LSU had about 50 more yards in the air (but more incompletions) and about 50 fewer yards on the ground.  This included most of the Texas A&M drive that resulted in the Aggies going up two scores, so LSU was generally the better team before the fumble.  The one weakness in the stats was the third-down performance on both sides of the ball.  Four of 9 wasn’t bad for LSU’s offense, but giving up 7 of 10 to the other team is terrible, especially if they got a touchdown on one of your OFFENSIVE third downs. 

Speaking of third downs, another key play I wanted to highlight took place after the start of the fourth quarter.  LSU still had a decent chance of coming back as they were only down 14 with 11:30 to play and had forced a third and six from the A&M 27.  The Aggie quarterback Conner Wiegman threw deep downfield to WR Moose Muhammad III, who could not have been covered better, and even threw a little bit behind him.  But partly due to Muhammad’s timing in reacting to the ball, it came down right between him and LSU safety Sage Ryan even though both players were touching one another as the ball arrived (it was correct not to call interference either way).  The ball even touched Ryan’s fingertips as Muhammed was hauling it in. 

I couldn’t find a picture of the play I was talking about, but this was just a couple of plays later: another great catch by A&M WR Moose Muhammad, III, who finished with 94 receiving yards. His right arm may be extending a little bit too much, but it’s still a great catch; you also can’t fault Sage Ryan on this play either.

I knew the fumble-touchdown had been a dangerous turn in momentum (Brian Kelly said after the game, “That momentum swing, I don’t know that we ever recovered from it”), but that’s in hindsight.  It didn’t seem insurmountable in the moment.

That catch, though, gave me a strong conviction that it was not going to be our night.  I’m rarely that discouraged in a two-possession game with over 11 minutes left, but I think it was warranted.  If we couldn’t stop them despite covering a receiver that well, we weren’t going to be able to stop them.  At least not enough to outscore them by two touchdowns the rest of the way.

I do want to elaborate on why I think saying LSU was exposed was a low-IQ take.  A good example was 2018, when Ohio St. had beaten unranked opponents by an average score of 51.4 to 16, and the only team that had stayed within single digits of the Buckeyes was a top-ten Penn St. team in Happy Valley.  Then Ohio St. loses to unranked Purdue 49-20.  That’s exposed. 

“Exposed” is not when a two-loss team shows problems it had shown all year (slow start on offense, giving up a large number of rushing yards on defense) but unable to make up for it in other areas on that particular night. LSU gave up 222 rushing yards to Florida, and the Gators were playing from behind (and therefore less inclined to run than they normally would be) the entire second half.  Texas A&M never trailed, so it’s not surprising that they did even better.  The Aggies did end up on the wrong side of a couple more games, largely due to injuries of key players; but they’re not a dramatically different team than Florida is.  Exposing an opponent isn’t confirming a weakness that other similar teams have exploited in the past.

Also, if any exposing was done, it wasn’t Jimbo Fisher doing it.  Two of the plays I highlighted were defensive plays, and the offensive play (or plays if you include the touchdown in the picture) was a great individual effort by Muhammad. It wasn’t a brilliant call or a great pass.  Without that catch, the Aggie offense would have had only two touchdown drives against three three-and-outs in the final 50 minutes of game play.  You’d like them to have zero touchdowns over that span of course, but that’s not being exposed by the other team’s play-caller.

Anyway, I think most reasonable people predicted 8 wins or fewer for LSU, maybe 10 on the high end after a bowl game, so having 9 going into the game is still something to be very proud of.  Most people predicted more wins for Texas A&M. I actually wish we didn’t have to play Georgia, but there is a chance something crazy could happen.  I thought LSU was going to get blown out by Tennessee in 2001 (the last time LSU made the SEC championship game with three losses), but they weren’t.  Regardless, for a team that was so out of it 11 months ago that they barely had enough players to play an embarrassing Texas Bowl to get to #5 in late November was impressive.