Week 11 Top 25 and National-Championship Commentary

In College Football, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 15, 2011 at 9:09 AM

Blog note: I plan to post my next two blogs on Thursday morning and Friday evening.

Race for #1

LSU is still #1, but I can almost guarantee they will not be on my ratings site after next week. However, in two weeks and from then on, it should not be a problem for the Tigers if they stay undefeated, as Oklahoma St. will have a bye week on the same weekend that LSU will play Arkansas. A win should give LSU a decent lead that would probably withstand a Cowboys victory in Bedlam.

LSU’s strength of schedule (which does not penalize for FCS/I-AA opponents, which are compensated for elsewhere in my formula) fell to 7th this week, and will probably fall out of the top 10 after they face Ole Miss, which has only one FBS/I-A win this season, over Memphis, and which just lost to Louisiana Tech. Okie St. plays a mediocre Iowa St. team next week, but the Cyclones rate as a much better opponent than the Rebels do.

As far as Oklahoma, if the Sooners were to win Bedlam, I believe they would pass up Alabama (and Oklahoma St.) for #2. A lot of commentators have already been dismissing the Sooners, but I don’t think this is fair.

Now, I’m the last person who wants to give anyone a “pass” for a loss. They lost the game to Texas Tech, that’s why they’re #4 and not #1 or #2 (and they would be lower if everyone else in front of them in recent weeks hadn’t lost), but what about the other 90% of the season thus far? They’ve dominated two teams that, when they played Oklahoma St., came down to the last play. Those teams were Kansas St. and Texas A&M, and Kansas St. played Oklahoma at home and Oklahoma St. on the road. Oklahoma also has had one of the best schedules. The Sooners did not play an FCS/I-AA opponent and did play Florida St. and Tulsa. So I think wins over those two teams plus 8 wins over Big XII teams should be enough to put Oklahoma in the title game.

I’ve heard talk about not wanting to punish teams for having already played LSU (IF LSU is the #1 at the end of this), but what about punishing LSU? Why should the Tigers have to beat a team they already beat on the road (albeit in an extremely close game) at a neutral site? Why should they have to beat a team they already beat easily at a neutral site at yet another neutral site (probably a less-neutral one at that)? If you’re undefeated, you shouldn’t have to worry about a team you’ve already beaten, especially if you didn’t play that team at home.

I’m not saying this because I want LSU to have an easier opponent. As I’ve said, OU will have had a formidable list of accomplishments. They will present their own unique challenges–they have a different kind of offense from Oregon or Alabama, for starters. Plus, along with LSU, Oklahoma would probably be the only relevant team with a win over a top-5 team when we get to the end of the year. I don’t think Stanford will be in the top 5 unless Oregon loses, and I don’t think Arkansas (a loser to Alabama in September) will be in the top 5 unless they beat LSU. I can’t imagine that Oklahoma St. would fall out of the top 5 because of a loss to Oklahoma, unless it’s a complete blowout, which certainly shouldn’t hurt Oklahoma’s argument.

And like LSU’s win over Alabama, Bedlam would be a huge game that everyone knows is a huge game. Also, Oklahoma would be at least mildly disadvantaged by having to play the week before and having to travel to Stillwater, so that would impress me possibly more than what LSU did. I think Bedlam will be the type of game where it’s going to inform us of how good of a game we would get in the BCS national championship game. I don’t think the Texas Tech game would say very much about how Oklahoma would perform in the BCS national championship game.

All things being equal, losing to Texas Tech is worse than losing to LSU (and worse than losing to probably 50 other teams) of course, but all things are not equal. The remainder of Oregon’s schedule would not compare at all. The strongest team in the Pac-12 South is probably USC, who’s not even playing for a championship and who struggled against teams like Minnesota, Arizona, and Utah (and lost to Arizona St.) before coming on more strongly (but if you want to consider that, we should consider that Texas Tech was playing better when they played Oklahoma), and the only real competition in the North was Stanford. That’s not week-in, week-out like the SEC (at least the West and half of the East) and the Big XII.

Alabama of course does play in the SEC West, but hanging their hat on a win in September, regardless of the margin, is more suspect. Obviously if LSU wins out, Alabama would not have had a championship game. Also, the Tide did have an easy non-conference schedule overall. Penn St. was good, perhaps better than Florida St., but there is no respectable #2 out-of-conference opponent, and since Alabama would not be in the championship game, they would have 8 SEC games to Oklahoma’s 9 Big XII games.

The top 10 SEC teams are better than the Big XII, but Alabama played the worst SEC team (Ole Miss) and will have played neither South Carolina nor Georgia, both in the top 5 of the SEC. (I had my doubts about Georgia being that high up there until Saturday.) So the Tide would be a total of 1-1 against the 5 best SEC teams, having played neither of those games on the road. By winning out, Oklahoma would be 4-0 against the 5 best Big XII teams, having played two on the road. LSU, by winning out, would be 3-0 against the top SEC teams (one home, one road, one neutral-site), with a (neutral-site) win over the likely Pac-12 champions and with a (road) win over the possible Big East champions.

As a neutral observer, I would want to see LSU play Oklahoma. As a biased fan, give us Oregon again. Alabama would be the worst of both worlds. I don’t think it’s a compelling game to see a second time. Why do I want to see the same match-ups? I think re-matches just lead to a bunch of over-analyzing and second-guessing rather than either team just playing their game. Those who didn’t like the first game would probably like this even less.

As a fan, I don’t like it because LSU had a little bit of an element of surprise. Many analysts said LSU’s defenders were too small and would allow Alabama room to run. I think Alabama found out otherwise. McCarron threw more than was probably in the game plan, and even though the interceptions were not really McCarron’s fault, with those play-makers on the LSU D, they were playing with fire. Also, I don’t think Alabama suspected LSU would so easily put Jordan Jefferson in there to run the option if Lee struggled.

Now maybe LSU runs the option the whole time (maybe putting in some reverse plays, halfback passes, student bodies, etc.) and wears out the Alabama linebackers and by the fourth quarter, they’re finding the edge routinely (as LSU did on the near-TD in OT), and this possibility would make me feel a little better as a fan, but if that happens, it will be intensely boring as an observer, at least when LSU has the ball. It might be fun for a few moments if you don’t know where the ball is, but mostly it would be like a throwback to Nebraska in the late 1990s. No thanks. I also think Alabama might throw even less, which isn’t fun to imagine either. If they throw more (which they could conceivably try in the hopes that LSU defenders try too hard for big plays and let receivers get behind them), it might be entertaining when Alabama has the ball, but that would still only be half the game…actually less, because then LSU would likely win the time of possession easily. And in that case, I don’t think Alabama would be highlighting their better players.

I’m not telling the voters to pick Oklahoma over Alabama in that scenario because you don’t want to see a re-match, but pick Oklahoma because of the teams they’ve beaten since September and because if they beat Oklahoma St., they deserve a chance to beat another great team for the championship. This is from someone who would be voting Alabama #2 right now, but barring an upset in the next two weeks, I would probably change that vote after Bedlam.

Except for Arkansas (who could possibly beat LSU, propel itself over Alabama in the BCS standings, and then win the SEC championship), I doubt anyone below #5 right now matters. There would have to be a series of upsets that made the last two weeks of 2007 look pedestrian. It’s highly unlikely that the Big XII champion would be anything other than one-loss Oklahoma or undefeated Oklahoma St. It’s doubtful that Oregon would lose again (they play home games against USC and Oregon St., probably followed by another home game for the Pac-12 championship). Auburn (or Georgia Southern) over Alabama would be an incredible upset. All of those need to happen for the ACC champion, Boise St., or Houston to even merit discussion. The Big Ten and Big East can forget it too. I could see Stanford getting an argument from some if Oregon loses again, but they just got smacked around at home. This is mid-November, I don’t think you recover from that by beating Notre Dame, Cal, and UCLA or ASU.

New Top-25 Teams

I’ll just skip the 10-team carousel from #12 to #21. It was nice to see a few teams fall off and give two new teams a chance. Tulsa, still with losses only to Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., and Boise St., makes its first Top 25 appearance of the year. The fact that it took this long means they haven’t beaten anyone, but they have Houston in two weeks, and if they get past the Coogs, they would likely face Southern Miss in the CUSA championship. So those are a couple chances for decent wins. Arkansas St. makes its first appearance ever. The Red Wolves have losses to only Illinois (in the season opener) and Virginia Tech. Since losing to the Hokies, they have won 7 straight, also over no one special, but on Saturday, they became only the third team (one of them Oklahoma St.) to beat ULL.

So back to the fact that Arkansas St. is in my top 25. I have now ranked at one time or another 93 of the 120 current FBS teams in the 17 seasons I’ve been doing rankings. Of course, the number is considerably lower in my mathematical ratings, which I’ve only done in their current format since 2008. I did a top-40 mathematical rating of sorts from 2004 to 2007, but it was a much different formula. Anyway, I’m counting any team that I ever listed as top 25, even if it was early in the season, before I begin using any mathematical formula.

Notre Dame and Wisconsin have climbed back on, and they deserve it, but they were both over-rated for much of this season. The Domers have won 7 of 8, beating competitive BCS teams Michigan St. and Wake Forest in the process (maybe you can include Pitt, but it would depend on which team showed up).

I can still hear Craig James whining about Wisconsin not getting computer love. (If his son sounds anything like that, I would put him in a closet too.) Wisky is there because other teams lost mostly, but before this week, their LONE quality win over Nebraska didn’t look as good as it does now. I’m not being a jerk; these are their other wins—(2-7) UNLV, (2-8) Oregon St., (6-3) Northern Illinois, (3-4) South Dakota, (0-9) Indiana, (4-5) Purdue, (2-8) Minnesota. I didn’t count wins against lower-division teams. That eliminates one win each from Northern Illinois, Indiana, and Purdue; and it eliminates three wins from South Dakota (an FCS team with three non-DI wins). I did count losses to lower-division teams, of which there were three (one each by UNLV, Oregon St., and Minnesota). Northern Illinois’s opponents have won only 34% of their games, by the way, so even that isn’t as good of a record as it might first appear. I do realize the Badgers played a top-25-caliber game against Michigan St., but computers are banned from considering margin of victory, so don’t blame the computers for just treating that like any other loss. They’re playing the role they’re designed to play, and that role is not to factor in margin of victory (which would also give Wisconsin more credit for beating Nebraska {along with their other large margins of victory}).

Top 25:

rank / team / prior
1 LSU 1
2 Oklahoma St. 2
3 Alabama 5
4 Oklahoma 3
5 Oregon 9
6 Boise St. 4
7 Clemson 8
8 Houston 7
9 Virginia Tech 10
10 Arkansas 12
11 Stanford 6
12 Michigan 15
13 South Carolina 13
14 Nebraska 21
15 Kansas St. 16
16 Southern Mississippi 14
17 Penn St. 11
18 USC 18
19 TCU 25
20 Georgia 19
21 Michigan St. 20
22 Notre Dame —
23 Wisconsin —
24 Arkansas St. —
25 Tulsa —

Out of rankings: (17) Texas, (22) Cincinnati, (23) Ga. Tech, (24) Auburn

Top 120 Permalink

Prior rankings:
Week 10
Week 9
Week 8
Week 7
Week 6
Week 5
Week 4
Week 3
Week 2
Week 1

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