Before I start, I wanted to remind people of my LSU/Florida rivalry blog. I update these (the records anyway) after each game. The two teams have played one another for about 40 years in a row, and they were the first two teams to win two BCS titles apiece, so it’s been an interesting last 10 years especially.
This is the week (the week before the first computer ratings) every year where people try to destroy me and everything I stand for sports-wise because I try to be objective, which is bound to ruffle feathers in small doses, so it’s really big when the whole football world is shaken up if one goes by my rankings. Also, people don’t like that this is a change from going more with the flow in prior weeks. We’ve played nearly half a season, time to take the training wheels off, and if there are scraped knees, spray some antiseptic on it and move on. After all, we’re not talking about shuffleboard, we’re talking about football.
I’m going to start with my rankings since I don’t want to confuse people into thinking I’m giving primary importance to what the voters do, but being unhappy with the voters goes all the way back to 1994 for me—and LSU wasn’t even a team at much risk of having a winning record that year—and that’s what got me started with my own rankings system, which started as purely subjective until it got too difficult to be consistent.
I still use subjective measures early in this season, but as is typical, I try to phase out things like preseason projections, historical strength of programs, and margin of victory before I turn it over to my arithmetical rankings system. This happens every year, it has nothing to do with LSU having less-than-impressive score lines the past two weeks.
So how I did it this year was to basically use a blind resume. I looked at which teams have been beaten and when relevant, I looked at losses. I went ahead and put a couple teams in there with more than one loss, because I couldn’t say any of the unranked undefeated or 1-loss teams fall into the category of having beating someone who at this point seems worth much of anything. I’m going to list the rankings now (after three more sentences). I’m going to go on to give some basic responses to things I’m expecting people to say, and then I’m going to talk about how silly it is to keep moving LSU down. I understand this is mostly just preliminary quibbling with so many teams still undefeated, but if LSU is fortunate enough to win this week and someone complains it was too close, they should be laughed at. If LSU loses, I will just have to be grateful that unless it’s like a Spurrier-era score, we will still look better than USC.
rank / team / prior
1 Alabama 1
2 LSU 2
3 Kansas St. 5
4 Oregon St. 16
5 Florida St. 6
6 Notre Dame 15
7 W Virginia 8
8 Washington —
9 Stanford 10
10 Georgia 3
11 S Carolina 7
12 Cincinnati 17
13 Oregon 4
14 Florida 14
15 Ohio St. 22
16 UCLA 24
17 Nebraska —
18 Texas 13
19 Miss. St. 19
20 Clemson 20
21 Mich St. —
22 Arizona —
23 Missouri —
24 Wisconsin 18
25 Baylor 21
Out of rankings: (9) USC, (11) Oklahoma, (12) TCU. (23) Michigan, (25) Tennessee
People are going to have objections based on things I don’t care about, because they’re things the voters care about. Just know that it will be 100% objective next week.
But I will mention a couple particulars. You could tell me you know for a fact USC is going to beat UCLA (or any other currently-ranked team they’re playing) 70-0 this year, and even if I believed you are the one person who is known to have traveled time, I would still say I don’t care because at this point it seems that beating Nebraska and losing to Oregon St. is better than beating Hawaii/Syracuse/Cal and losing to Stanford. None of this is forward-looking at all.
Someone may mention that I didn’t rank Arizona when they were undefeated but I am ranking them now and at the same time I moved Oregon down. I still don’t think Arizona is very good (and I doubt Oregon has played another top-60 team), but those teams who happen not to be above Arizona haven’t beaten anyone better in my estimation. A number of teams that I don’t rank ahead of Arizona I still think are better than Arizona. I think Oklahoma or USC would beat Arizona easily. But neither has beaten anyone that you HAVE to be remotely good to beat. Arizona (until there is something to indicate otherwise) had to prove they were at least remotely good to beat Oklahoma St. And the fact that Oklahoma St. lost to Texas doesn’t prove this idea wrong. Oklahoma St. themselves haven’t beaten anyone (unless 3-1 ULL counts), but I was getting pretty desperate there at the end when I added Arizona.
I think I made clear why Oregon is going down, but to summarize. I’m taking out margin of victory (which is what impressed people with the Arizona game moreso than the opponent, be honest), and I’m not factoring in either what my projections (or anyone else’s) were for the Ducks preseason or what they are now. That doesn’t leave the Ducks with much.
I’ll cover LSU in what is becoming my weekly rant, but Washington looks like a heck of a team based on other games, and other than losing to Mississippi St. somewhat convincingly, Auburn doesn’t seem so bad despite its record. “They don’t have a QB”… yes, I’ve heard it. LSU had probably the best 13-0 start of any team ever last year, and they didn’t have much of one either. No risk of me ranking Auburn #1 or #2 though, so don’t worry about that. Anyway, Washington + Auburn seems a lot better than Arizona (a somewhat nobody) + some serious nobodies. I don’t care if LSU beat both teams by 2 and Oregon won by 149 over Arizona instead of 49.
#25 was Baylor, whose best win is over ULM. But none of the other undefeated or one-loss teams have beaten a team that I think has looked as good the first few weeks as ULM has in playing 3 BCS opponents, two on the road. I’m not counting margin of victory for those teams in the top 25, but since ULM is instead being considered as an opponent, I think it is telling that not only did ULM beat Arkansas, but they played Auburn very close in a loss; after all, Auburn didn’t lose convincingly to either Clemson or LSU.
I also don’t care about the “eye test”. If it hasn’t translated into doing well on the beat-somebody test, I don’t care. Wins and losses, maybe an opponent’s final score in other games here and there, but that’s it. Next week, no final scores matter even slightly unless it was within a field goal and the home team won (in which case, I think it’s fair in my system to reduce the value of the win 10% and to reduce the value subtracted by the loss 10%).
Although I did try, I’m sure I wasn’t completely consistent. I’ve been up for 20 hours straight, and when it got toward the end of the year, I used to spend hours trying to be perfectly fair and take every game into account, but I just can’t anymore. Not until someone pays me. So this is as much work as I’m going to do on this all year, except for next week, but it’s much less intellectually taxing to input numbers than it is to rank teams this way.
I usually leave #1 alone, so I didn’t subject Alabama to the same scrutiny, but the win over Michigan plus being 2-0 in the SEC was good enough not to try to find someone else. Another opponent, Western Kentucky, is undefeated apart from the Alabama game .
As to last week, I’m not even going to take seriously ranking Florida St. ahead of LSU. This isn’t the 1990s. And Florida St. has done what exactly? Beat Clemson? Even if Clemson is as good as they were last year, Clemson went into the ACC title game after having won one game (by 3 over Wake Forest) out of four. So they beat Va. Tech, which gave them the right to get drubbed in the Orange Bowl, 70-33.
Forget that a lot of people were ranking USC ahead of LSU a few weeks ago. What happened? USC lost a conference game on the road (to Stanford, which lost to Washington), and LSU won a conference game on the road. LSU also beat that Washington team.
Florida St. easily beat two FCS opponents? That’s a great predictor of being able to beat good teams consistently. This must be why the Seminoles haven’t won the ACC since 2005, a year in which they lost to 5 teams overall. This was despite beating Charleston Southern 62-10 in 2011, beating Samford 59-6 in 2010, and beating Western Carolina 69-0 AND Tennessee-Chattanooga 46-7 in 2008. And in that 5-loss 2005 season, they beat the Citadel, 62-10.
Compare that to LSU’s recent experiences. 2010 was a pretty strong team (11-2 after the Cotton Bowl win over Texas A&M), and they only led McNeese St. by 6 after three quarters that year. Prior to that game, the Tigers had already won 4 SEC games.
Western Kentucky is an emerging FBS team now, so maybe they’re a cut above McNeese St. , but LSU only led them 14-7 in the third quarter last year. We can also go back to LSU’s 2007 national-championship season when LSU only led Tulane 10-9 at halftime. 2009 wasn’t a great year (9-4 after losing the CapitalOne Bowl to Penn St.), but the Tigers only beat a BAD Louisiana Tech team by 8 after leading by only 4 going into the fourth quarter.
LSU has won 41 consecutive non-conference regular-season games (all but a handful since Les came to town), so they know what works. A slow, grinding game gives LSU a sufficient advantage. If you start airing it out and being cute, you might win by a lot or you might help out a team that can’t win on talent alone.
As I’ve made clear, I still disagree with the Oregon #2 ranking. Somehow it doesn’t matter that Arizona has lost another game and Washington beat Stanford, because things only matter if they happen before you play the team in question, not after. It probably also won’t matter if we find out Auburn wasn’t so bad after all.
LSU allowed 22 points to Towson on Saturday. But of course we can’t go beneath the surface to consider that 13 of those points were scored in the last 10 minutes. LSU probably could have followed the Oregon/Arizona blueprint and scored a few meaningless touchdowns after that point, rather than just one after a 9-play drive. After all, the score that put the Fighting Tigers up by 22 was on a 53-yard pass on the first play of the 4th quarter.
And maybe LSU could have done more to put a stop to Towson’s 6-minute touchdown drive, but why? Why not just let a team run out the clock on itself? Slow and steady wins the race for LSU’s offense in such games, but it loses the race for a competitor who takes possession of the ball down 22 in the 4th quarter.
I for one am glad the LSU coaching staff didn’t fall into that trap. They worked on things the team needed to work on and finished the game in a respectable manner instead of trying to impress the pollsters. If LSU wins the SEC, it probably won’t matter too much if the voters remember that LSU played that Washington team anyway. Nor will it matter if they were dropped a spot for in the AP poll after declining to run up the score in September. For instance, Mettenberger didn’t need to throw the ball that much. LSU probably could have done just fine making it primarily a rushing attack. LSU may well have done even better considering Mettenberger was sacked 5 times. But the LSU defense succeeded well enough (until the offense came up with the TD to go up 31-9 anyway) that the game wasn’t really threatened by this. (Towson is the Tigers too, so that’s why I’m not being very creative with my subjects.) But he’s a first-year QB; and against Auburn, it showed. He needed to be taken out of his comfort zone against a team that LSU wasn’t too worried about figuring out how to beat.