Archive for August, 2012|Monthly archive page

Conferences and LSU Update

In College Football, General LSU, Realignment on August 25, 2012 at 9:28 PM

I had a lot of thoughts about what the conferences should do moving forward, but there were a couple of LSU issues I wanted to cover first, this being the last non-game week.

Mettenberger seems to be dong extremely well. In the final scrimmage, he completed 26 passes on 36 attempts for 336 yards. There was an indeterminate number of TD passes, but I’m not sure how relevant that is anyway. According to the stats given, he didn’t fare nearly as well in the first two scrimmages, with only 15 completions each time.

Kenny Hilliard seems to be at or near the top of the RB depth chart, so I’m excited to see him this year.

There are a couple of linemen who are “a little nicked,” according to Les, but I’m still feeling fairly positive about the offense.

Defense is a little more up in the air. There is only one real returning starter in the secondary, and there has already been an injury. FS Eric Reid is the only returning starter from that unit. The defense as a whole returns 4, although Tharold Simon had a lot of impact in more limited playing time last year. There is a lot of talent, but talent alone doesn’t stop tackles from being broken/evaded and passes from being completed by the other team.

In recruiting news, LSU has two good incoming quarterbacks, Rivals’ #4 pro-style QB and another product of the state of Georgia (as was Mettenberger), Anthony Jennings, whom Rivals ranks as the #12 dual-threat QB. It will be interesting to see how much LSU goes for the dual-threat options in the future. LSU is now ranked #5 in overall recruiting class by Rivals.

Moving from the future to the distant past, I thought this was a nice tribute to a former LSU player turned NFL Hall of Famer:

Onto the conferences, I know I like to talk about this topic a lot, but the regional rivalries and series histories are important to me.

First off, I’m hoping the ACC and SEC stay at 14. The only way I would support a 16-team conference would be if 7 or maybe 8 games counted toward the conference title. With 9 games, you could have one team with two extreme lightweights from the other division as well as an extra home game, and that team could end up ahead (either by a single game or due to a head-to-head tiebreaker) a team who had an extra road game and played two of the best teams in the other division. I can countenance 8 games because there may be a natural rival in the other division anyway, and it could be used to even out the home/away situation mentioned. One game is less likely to be determinative than two. Such an arrangement might work in the ACC if it continues to poach the Big East but I don’t think it would work well in the SEC.

I did have one specific thought about the SEC. I think it would make more sense if West Virginia were in the SEC and Missouri went back to the Big XII. They’re losing a lot of good Big 8 rivalries, and except for Arkansas, I don’t know if anyone is very excited about Missouri joining, particularly not in their division, the East.

I calculated the travel times for the SEC. The benefits for the Big XII are too blatantly obvious to elaborate upon. I think most people aren’t going to drive in a car for 800 miles, so the 300-mile difference in the trip to Baton Rouge, for instance, might not be that significant, but if there are 5 divisional teams less than 600 miles apart, that’s better than the 2 divisional teams (Kentucky and Vanderbilt) that close to Missouri. If you draw the line at 550, it’s 4-2; at 500, it’s still 3-2. (Georgia is between 550 and 600 from WVU, while Vanderbilt is between 500 and 550 from WVU.)

As referenced, Missouri does provide something good in that it’s closer to Arkansas than any other team and as Arkansas had no logical interdivisional rival before (it had been South Carolina), that was a marriage made in heaven. WVU, however, does not have a logical interdivisional rival. Since the two Alabama teams are seemingly off-limits (can’t break up Alabama-Tennessee or Auburn-Georgia), the one that made the most sense was Mississippi St., whose currently “rival” is Kentucky, which in turn could be paired with Arkansas as two of the more Northern teams. This still would add significant travel times to the interdivisional rivalries for the other teams.

With an 8-game schedule, the average travel time is almost exactly the same, around 740 miles (the interdivisional games make almost a negligible difference since only one would be played per year). If a 9-game schedule were adopted, WVU would involve an average travel distance of 877 miles to Missouri’s average travel distance of 851 miles. This was calculated by only counting the non-annual distances for 1/3 since only two of the 6 leftovers would be played every year. But restricting it to permanent rivalries (including divisional rivalries), WVU is only an average of 590 miles to Missouri’s 632. And strictly looking at divisional rivalries, it’s 525 for WVU to 685 for Missouri. There is a thought out there that maybe with 14 teams, not every team should have the permanent interdivisional rival, although you would at least want to keep a few of them. The two involving Alabama teams especially, but Ole Miss-Vandy is a good tradition too, even though it’s not usually two of the better teams of course. LSU has played Florida for 40 years in a row, but this has only really meant a whole lot for the last 15 years. No one (except Lou Holtz) is going to miss Arkansas-South Carolina, and few would miss Miss. St.-Kentucky.

Boise St. should forget about the Big East and instead join the Big XII. TCU came to its senses and gave up the Big East for the Big XII before playing a down in the Big East. A coast-to-coast, Canada-to-Mexico-to-Cuba (Tampa isn’t Miami but still isn’t far) league is completely ridiculous. Of course BYU would seemingly want to join the Big XII, and this would actually make sense to give Boise a more natural rival. San Diego St. would be another possibility, but let them and the Big East be stupid together, basically the same sentiment I have regarding WVU and the Big XII.

I know that still isn’t as regional as I typically argue for, but Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas make up 8 teams. So it would still mostly be regional except with teams to the Northwest (2), North, and Northeast–enough to be a presence in those other regions without destroying the natural rivalries. And the schools in question don’t have better offers anyway.

I don’t know how Tulsa doesn’t get involved in all the changes being made, but maybe that’s because it’s not a big school (fewer than 3000 undergrads). Plus, it’s going to be a team within some reasonable distance of Louisiana Tech, which has been a misplaced member of the WAC for years. In 2005, several Texas teams bolted for the CUSA when it expanded, but Louisiana Tech (in Northeastern Louisiana) was left out, with its closest opponent all the way in southern New Mexico. Now this will finally be remedied. Tech will have Tulsa to the Northwest, North Texas to the due West (only requiring one interstate highway really), UTSA and Rice to the Southwest, and Tulane and Southern Mississippi to the Southeast. It would have had Memphis to the Northeast, but that’s another seemingly misplaced future Big East member.

The Big East still has the two NYC-area teams, and it still has the two Ohio Valley teams, but it’s not extending into the rust/coal belt in what used to be the west of the conference, and it’s not going North of the NYC area to Boston or Syracuse. Why not build on that and become a regional conference again as it should be, only this time more Southern? There are a few CUSA teams that could rejoin Cincinnati and Louisville. East Carolina and Central Florida might be good, for instance. Maybe Villanova could be convinced to make the leap to FBS. Temple is already moving back to the Big East.

But instead it’s on a ridiculous quest to become some hybrid of the original Sun Belt conference (which went from Moscow, Idaho, to Las Cruces, New Mexico, to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to Miami) and the 16-team WAC (Hawaii to Wyoming to Fort Worth, Texas). Hopefully, it will be a similarly temporary arrangement. Maybe the Big West can become more of an FBS conference again and they can draw the line of separation at the Mississippi River at least. Or perhaps several members can be the football WAC and perhaps in other conferences in other sports. It does not seem the current WAC will have enough teams for football in 2013.

I wonder if the BCS could have avoided some of this by kicking the Big East sooner and replacing it with the Mountain West. At least the MWC would have stayed together longer.

I’m unclear on why the MAC decided it needed 13 teams and replaced Temple with UMass. I fail to see how 13 is convenient, fair, or logical. Perhaps Youngstown St. can become an FBS team and they can make it an even 14. That’s another thing I wonder. We have 4 new FBS teams this season; will the new and upcoming conference shifts result in increased pressure from FBS conferences to tempt the FCS members?

Preseason Top 25

In College Football, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on August 20, 2012 at 2:24 PM

Top 25:
rank / team / prior
1 Alabama 3
2 Oklahoma 11
3 LSU 1
4 USC 13
5 Georgia 20
6 S Carolina 7
7 Oregon 8
8 Michigan 6
9 Arkansas 9
10 W. Virginia 22
11 Florida St. —
12 Mich St. 17
13 TCU 12
14 Kansas St. 15
15 Nebraska 23
16 Clemson 21
17 Texas —
18 Okie St. 2
19 Va. Tech 16
20 Stanford 10
21 Ohio St. —
22 Florida —
23 Wisconsin 18
24 Notre Dame —
25 Cincinnati 25

Out of rankings: (4) Boise St., (5) Houston, (14) Baylor, (19) So. Miss., (24) Penn St.

1. Alabama – I don’t put the defending champions #1 as a general rule, but I couldn’t really see any strong arguments against. I’ll get to Oklahoma in a moment, but LSU, who was (rightly I think) #1 in some of the computers based on beating a more impressive list of teams last year, has some more obvious adjustments that need to be made. The Tide will have to travel to Baton Rouge, but this is a series where the road team has traditionally done better, so that’s not really instructive. The fact that a lot of the same players showed up for a championship game the way they did makes a difference.

2. Oklahoma – I don’t think we’re going to see two teams from the same conference playing for the national championship again, and I don’t think Oklahoma has what it takes to pull off winning such a game, but looking at last year’s talent combined with returning starters, and Oklahoma is a natural pick for #2. I considered the Sooners for #1, but I’ve done that a few times since their 2000 national championship team, and we have yet to see a team like that, with the possible exceptions of 2004 and 2008. Notice the 4-year increments? The Sooners return 8 starters on offense, 7 on defense, and both kickers. This was a team that looked like it had a good road to the national-championship game last year at one point, so the experience could make the difference.

3. LSU – I was already inclined not to make LSU #1 before the Honey Badger news came out. That’s going to hurt on a defense that nominally returns 4 starters, although with the depth, that’s misleading. We haven’t even gotten a meaningful preview of new QB Zach Mettenberger. At least we had gotten one of Matt Flynn before the 2007 season, and don’t forget that team lost two games, so I don’ t put this team in the same category as either last year or 2007, both years I ranked LSU in the top 2 to start out. That said, I am cautiously optimistic. It’s hard to rate your own team, but I think you can tell by my description of the other nearby teams why LSU is here.

4. USC – I continue to find it ridiculous how people acted like USC had won a conference championship and bowl game just because it was idle for both “playing weeks”. Since I use a measure that only gives you points if you play, the Trojans finished 13th in my rankings. It also didn’t help that they lost to Arizona St. I punish bad losses more than some other rankings do. Anyway, there was definitely some talent and it did gel more as the season went on, so I’m fine with including this team in the top 4. Even with a much lower starting point, that wouldn’t rule out success. In 2003, LSU was coming off of an (unranked) 8-5 season and won the BCS championship. Neither the (undefeated) 2004 nor the (BCS champion) 2010 Auburn teams were very highly-rated going in either. Auburn finished in the “others receiving votes” category in both prior years. I’m sure there were some others in the recent past who performed similarly.

5. Georgia – Three SEC teams finished in the top 5 last season, so I’m putting three in the top 5 right now. I didn’t say, “Where’s another SEC team,” but I’m skeptical of Oregon, #5 in both major polls, and I think we just got a bit of a preview of this year during the Dawgs’ 10-game winning streak last season. Whoever wins the West can expect the SEC Championship game to be very interesting. I have been a Murray believer for a while, we’ll see if he has the great year that he has the potential for this season.

6. South Carolina – It was hard for me to decide between South Carolina and Georgia. It was a close call as to who the better team was last year, and I didn’t see much new to separate them. Last year, the Gamecocks had a very strong defense, which returns 6 starters. People don’t talk enough about defense in pre-season. On the other side of the ball, QB Connor Shaw should settle down a little more, not that he struggled last year (passing ratings of over 200 against Clemson and in the bowl game against Nebraska), and Marcus Lattimore returns. Top receiver Alshon Jeffery is gone, but the #2 receiver, Ace Sanders, is back. One reason you don’t see the Cocks higher in other places is schedule, but I don’t think that’s a valid consideration. I’m trying to make a list of best teams in order going in, not most likely to finish undefeated.

7. Oregon – Bleacher Report: “You would think losing LaMichael James and Darron Thomas would put Oregon in a rut on offense. Think again.”

I think that’s at best misleading. While I definitely don’t expect a “rut”, I don’t care how talented the new people might be, you can’t just put them on the field and expect them to be just as good. The new QB had impressive stats last year when he played, but there aren’t 10 returning starters on offense, there are 5. You can’t tell me they have blockers just as good as the ones last year, at least not right away. No mention was made of the defense that returns 6 starters, but it wasn’t that great last year. Oregon was 57th in points against last year, so I wouldn’t put a whole lot of stock in success there.

8. Michigan – I had to take a leap of faith with someone in this spot, and based on recent history, it wasn’t going to be Florida St. The Wolverines return 7 starters on both offense and defense, so a similar performance to last year would not be a surprise though. Of course, run/pass threat Denard Robinson returns. Michigan was 6th in points against last year, so the defense should be decent as well. They’ll be tested early, against Alabama in Jerry World on September 1.

9. Arkansas – Arkansas possibly has top-5 talent, but I don’t know how much Petrino’s departure will hurt. The Hogs return 7 starters on offense and 6 on defense. The defense has to improve though. I don’t know if it will beat LSU, Alabama, or South Carolina otherwise. Like Michigan, the Razorbacks face Alabama early but should have some time to make adjustments before the next really big game even if that goes poorly. South Carolina and LSU aren’t until November.

10. West Virginia – This team came on strong late, which I think is a good sign. I don’t know how good the Big XII is, so the change of conference isn’t a big deal. Again, not that I think you should factor in schedule. The ’eers had quite a scoring attack last year and return 8 starters on offense. I wouldn’t expect the greatest defense, but it may not need a great defense. They also return 6 starters there.

11. Florida State – I couldn’t
justify putting the ’Noles in the top 10 after last season, but I couldn’t find any compelling alternatives at #11. QB E.J. Manuel is back on offense. FSU didn’t have a running game last season, so that will be something to watch. If they find one, it should reduce pressure on an already stout defense (4th in points against last season, 7 returning starters).

12. Michigan State – There aren’t any teams that will appear really exciting from this point on, but as mentioned earlier, you don’t have to look that good going in to be a very competitive team at the end of the year. The Spartans will have some big adjustments to make on an offense that returns only 4 starters. The QB is gone, but RB LeVon Bell is back after rushing almost 1000 yards last season. The defense was strong (18th in points against) and returns 8 starters.

13. TCU – I don’t expect the Horned Frogs to go undefeated in conference again this year, as they also move to the Big XII. But I had them 12th last year, and 6 starters back on offense, 7 on defense, so I don’t see a big reason to move them down. On offense, the Frogs return a QB who threw for almost 3000 yards and a RB who rushed for 875 last year. The defense wasn’t as good as some prior incarnations, but the combination of 9th in points for last season and 28th in points against was pretty respectable.

14. Kansas State – This was an under-rated team last year that had a very good opportunity to knock off Oklahoma St. I don’t know how a team finishes 14th and 15th, in the major polls and doesn’t get more respect than I’ve seen elsewhere considering it returns a QB among 9 offensive starters as well as 6 defensive starters. It this team were named Notre Dame or Ohio St. or something like that, it would be in many people’s top 10.

15. Nebraska – Now on to a formerly-Big XII team, this is another team with a strong mix of positives and negatives. The Huskers were disappointing last year, but they seem to have a strong upside. If QB Taylor Martinez can improve, that would make the team dangerous as 6 other starters return on offense. RB Rex Burkhead ran for over 1300 yards last season. Then on defense, there are also 7 starters. If you don’t recall, they weren’t exactly the blackshirts of the Bob Devaney/Tom Osborne years last season, but maybe the experience will be a benefit there as well.
16. Clemson – Another questionable defense with 7 returning starters here. I don’t know how you explain giving up 70 points in a bowl game, but Clemson did win the ACC last season. There are a lot of positives on offense though. QB Tajh Boyd, who threw for almost 4000 yards, returns. The top running back and top receiver also return among the 6 returning starters on offense. Clemson will start the season in Atlanta against the Auburn squad it defeated at home last year.

17. Texas – Going back to the Big XII, Texas wasn’t good last year, but if there is a team on here ready to make a big jump, this is it. The Longhorns return two capable QB’s and 9 other returning starters on offense as well as 7 on defense.

18. Oklahoma St. – Staying in the former Big XII South, I don’t understand the predictions for such a large drop-off here. The Cowboys were more than two players last season. Six starters return from a very good offense, and there should be a strong running game. The defense wasn’t exactly something to write home about, but it was #1 in forcing turnovers and it returns 8 starters. I’m listing OSU sixth in its conference for a reason, but I fully expect them to be a top-20 team at the end of the year.

19. Virginia Tech – This is another program that has been pretty good the last decade or so and has the potential to move up throughout the season. Only three starters return on offense (although this includes last year’s QB Logan Thomas, who threw for over 3000 yards and rushed for over 400 more), so it might not be pretty, but you can always expect stellar special-teams play from the Hokies, and 9 starters return from an already great defense, which was 7th in points against last year.

20. Stanford – There will be a glaring absence, like with Oklahoma St., but I’m not knocking the Cardinal down as far as others seem to. I think knowing how to win comes into play, and there is a high number of returning starters (6 offense, 7 defense). The defense wasn’t great last year, but it was respectable. RB Stephan Taylor is back, so if those 6 offensive starters include some good blockers, and I believe they do, he should do well and take a little of the pressure off.

21. Ohio State – The only reason I don’t have the Buckeyes higher is I think there will be a necessary period of transition for Urban Meyer, but this could be a very good team by the end of the year. It returns 7 starters on offense, 9 on defense, and 2 kickers. QB Braxton Miller returns and should be a good fit for the spread since he had more than half as many rushing yards as he had passing yards last season.

22 Florida – On to Urban Meyer’s former team, the Gators return 7 starters on offense and 10 on defense. The defense should be very good as it was 20th in points against last season despite having played both LSU and Alabama. The offense will still be searching for identity, but it’s hard to miss the QB too much from a team that was only 89th in passing yards last year. Andre DeBose, the Gators’ top receiver from last year, returns, so the learning curve shouldn’t be too steep.

23. Wisconsin – There is less to be excited about with the Badgers, but this is another team that seems to have some know-how in winning big games, so I wouldn’t write it off even though it only returns 4 starters on offense and 6 on defense. Montee Ball is back, but his off-season training was diminished by his being the victim of an attack on campus. I’m also not starting from as positive a feeling about last year’s team, so in my rankings they haven’t even fallen far, but even if they did, that usually happens to at least one BCS-bowl team.

24. Notre Dame – The Irish have some QB issues to start out with, as Tommy Rees will be suspended for three games, but that’s not fatal to being ranked at this spot. The Domers return a tight end with over 800 receiving yards, Tyler Eifert, who is one of 8 retuning starters on offense. Six starters return from a defense that was 24th in points against last season.

25. Cincinnati – Just so happens I’m going immediately to another coach’s former team. The Bearcats nearly represented the Big East in place of West Virginia last season, so they deserved a look, and I couldn’t find a better #25 (which indicentally is where I had them at the end of last season). The Bearcats were respectable (low to mid-20s) in both points for and points against last season. I expect them to be more tilted toward the defense since they will be without the QB or top two rushers (one of whom was the QB) from last year and only return 4 starters on offense. Seven starters return on defense, however, and the Bearcats return both kickers. Cincinnati was also 9th in the country in turnover margin last year.

The Beginning of the End of the Offseason for LSU

In College Football, General LSU, Rankings Commentary on August 7, 2012 at 1:13 AM

I’m at that stage (as of Sunday) for the third year in a row where I’m starting to lose hope in the idea of my baseball team (the Angels) winning their division.  Since giving up an early 6-run lead and then also giving up a 3-run 10th-inning lead in Wednesday’s loss, the Halos only won a single game of the next four. While they would have been 2 games behind immediately after that Wednesday game had they won, they are 6 games back (reduced to 5 a few hours ago). Depressing week, would have been even worse without the Olympics to distract me. The Angels would still be able to chase that ridiculous 1-game wildcard-playoff berth if the division is finally out of reach, but anyway, I’m going to be trying to turn my attention to fall/winter sports like football.

I don’t think the Saints will do much with the ridiculous penalties and I prefer college anyway, so by this I mostly mean college football and specifically LSU.  #1 in the coaches’ poll came down to LSU and Alabama.  LSU was the more solid team in general last year (for 13/14 of the season anyway), so I guess I understand them being voted #1.  Alabama did get more #1 votes though.  I think USC is probably as overrated going into this season as they were going out of last season, but whenever they plan on having some competition, I guess we’ll see.

USC is ranked so highly in part because of a returning quarterback who’s shown some capability.  LSU has a more mysterious proposition at that position, Zach Mettenberger, a former Georgia backup who saw limited action last season.

This Bleacher Report article points out, “after three non-conference games to kick off the year—one of which is against a much-improved Washington team—Mettenberger will be thrown right into the SEC gauntlet before he can blink.  The Tigers open their conference schedule with the following set of games: at Auburn, at Florida, home against South Carolina, at Texas A&M and home against Alabama.”

A little dramatic… Washington is sandwiched between two games where LSU could just fail to show up for a half and you might not even notice in the final score  Even a shaky win at Auburn (think the 2008 26-21 win) would be followed by Towson, which isn’t even a good I-AA team.

This is not the buzzsaw the Tigers had to face to start out last year when they started out against the #3 team (which went on to win the Rose Bowl) and played two other top-25 teams (one of whom went on to win the Orange Bowl) in the first four weeks of the season.  They played a total of 4 top-25 teams in the first 6 games.  This year might not include any ranked teams in the first 6 games.  In the first coaches’ poll, Auburn (the fourth opponent) is #25 and Florida (the sixth opponent) is #23.  Washington (the second opponent) is currently #26 in the coaches’ poll and will be favored to beat San Diego St. in Week 1. 

I’m not making light of Auburn or Florida, especially not on the road, I’m just pointing out there is some breathing room there and he doesn’t have to be great right away.  It will be important not to screw things up, however, because there are at least three opponents there that can give the Tigers an L if they’re given adequate opportunity to do so.  The point is LSU does not have to be team it was last year to start 6-0 for the third year in a row (or 5-0 for the fourth year in a row), but by then maybe it will at least be close to as good at that point.

After the first six games though, there isn’t a break really, apart from the pre-Alabama bye week.  Texas A&M and Ole Miss are in transition and few would pick even a weaker-than-expected LSU team to lose, but there isn’t the customary late-season cupcake.  South Carolina, Alabama, and Arkansas are all potential top-5 teams.  Mississippi St. has only beaten LSU once since 1991 (the year of the Bulldogs’ only win @LSU since 1983… I was at the 1991 game, by the way), but they have the ability to at least put together a decent top-25 team, and LSU did need a dramatic goal-line stand to escape Starkville with a win (with a more experienced quarterback) just 3 years ago.    So there’s no turning back once South Carolina comes to Baton Rouge in mid-October. 

If you were curious, LSU has beaten South Carolina in all four contests this century (16-2-1 overall).  Speaking of past results in series, I’ve been getting a lot of interest in the Texas A&M series that I posted about before and after the Cotton Bowl after the 2010 season:  This is the directory for all the series I’ve done or re-done so far: (I haven’t re-posted all the ones from TSN yet.)