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Archive for November, 2012|Monthly archive page

Pre-championship notes and Week 13 Top 25

In College Football, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 30, 2012 at 3:35 AM

I’m going to switch it up and put my top 25 last, since that’s old news at this point. But you can always look up my new ratings early Sunday morning and all week long via that link.

Saban vs. Muschamp and SEC notes

Also, I don’t think we really learned anything new last week. I’m not saying I predicted every game to happen as it did, but there was nothing earth-shattering. I do think the SEC should have quieted a bit of the talk about it being some kind of fraud illusion. I’ll get back to that after mentioning the Muschamp/Saban dispute, both of whom I remember well as LSU coaches of course.

Florida is a solid #3 now in my top 25. If Alabama beats Georgia, I would honestly rather see the Gators in the title game to Notre Dame. At least the Tide would have a greater chance of losing. But a certain head coach doesn’t even think Florida deserves the Sugar.

“You play your way into the (SEC) championship game, which means you’re the best team in your division. …”

Does it always mean that? Really? We wouldn’t to give a one-loss team that didn’t win its division the benefit of the doubt in some cases, right?

And Florida actually tied for its division, kind of like Alabama would have done with Texas A&M (which would have been followed by Alabama watching from home and hoping for a Sugar invite) had Florida not beaten Texas A&M. I hardly think it a coincidence that the two of the top-6 SEC teams who are playing for the championship had the weakest interdivisional competition (Alabama played Tennessee and Missouri, while Georgia played Auburn and Ole Miss).

So let’s look at top wins and losses by either potential loser against Florida. I list all the wins over teams .500 or better in BCS-conference competition. And don’t forget that you’re adding a second loss to either Georgia or Alabama.

Florida wins Alabama wins Georgia wins
LSU LSU Florida
Texas A&M Miss. St. Vanderbilt
S. Carolina    
Vanderbilt    
Florida St. Michigan Georgia Tech
Florida loss Alabama loss Georgia loss
Georgia Texas A&M South Carolina

How do you NOT pick Florida?

Muschamp offered to play in the game in lieu of Alabama, and implicitly would have let the Tide have the Sugar Bowl. I’d probably rather see that game, actually.

Of course, I indicated above two of the SEC’s wins over the ACC over the weekend. Also, South Carolina beat Clemson and Vandy beat Wake Forest. The fact that Vandy not only won but was expected to win and won easily shows how far they’ve come. Being in the middle of this league (#7 based on wins and losses in conference) is hard to do. Vandy did lose to Northwestern earlier in the year though. No other such losses by the SEC top 8 though.

Even some of the lower teams got good wins earlier in the year. Kentucky, winless in the SEC, beat Kent St., who’s playing for the MAC Championship tonight. Missouri beat Arizona St., which tied for second in the Pac-12 South. Missouri only won two conference games. Tennessee, which only won a single conference game (over Kentucky), beat North Carolina St., which went .500 in the ACC.

It would have been nice had Washington (which LSU beat) held on against Washington St., which is a reminder of how those rivalry games can be, and if Michigan had beaten Ohio St., but the SEC held its own up and down the standings.

Strength of schedule

The argument of “the SEC didn’t play anyone” rings hollow. The SEC played 13 games against AQ conferences. The Pac-12, albeit with two fewer teams, played 11 games against AQ conferences and Notre Dame. Both finished one game above .500 in such games.

Speaking of the Pac-12, I enjoyed this list of underwhelming preseason #1 teams in the AP before USC this season (they would rate about 4th if included on the list).

Anyway, the Big XII was the only conference with a clear advantage against other AQ teams (5-1, with the loss by Oklahoma to Notre Dame), but it had no impressive wins: Texas over Ole Miss, Iowa St. over Iowa, Kansas St. over Miami, West Virginia over Maryland, and TCU over Virginia. This is how 9 of the 10 teams in the Big XII are bowl-eligible.

I do understand the general complaint that we don’t have quality inter-conference games, but the rise of 9-game conference schedules with a possible championship game has something to do with this. People have forgotten that there used to only be 5 or 6 conference games, which allowed more scheduling flexibility for the other games. The 13 teams of the MAC did manage to play 25 games against AQ conferences, but how much of that was because the MAC loves competition and how much of it was the fact that a team like Florida would rather play Bowling Green than a 10th AQ-level opponent? Teams never used to do that before. As late as the early 1960s, some prominent teams were still playing 9 games total and calling it a season.

I’ll give just a few notes about the top 25.

I would expect Alabama to jump Oregon with a win over Georgia, but I’m not sure about Florida, and they wouldn’t pass up Ohio St. without winning a bowl at least. I think even with a win, Georgia will be stuck behind Florida no matter what. Maybe they’d have a chance if Georgia Tech beats Florida St. though.

Kansas St. slipped some more. I think some probably thought they didn’t fall enough spots after the Baylor loss, but now that they’ve had a bye week, I think it gives a more accurate picture. Texas would still be a decent win though. I’m not sure what happened to the Horns against the Horned Frogs, however.

LSU got passed up by South Carolina due to the Cocks’ win over Clemson. That Washington loss didn’t help matters either. LSU did stay ahead of Nebraska. The two are very close, so Nebraska will pass up LSU with a win for sure. Oklahoma will be trying to pass up idle SEC teams LSU and Texas A&M as well.

Florida St. may pass up some idle teams as well by beating Georgia Tech, and the winner of the MAC will be poised to move up as well. Also, Texas can reclaim a lot of lost ground (if not do even better) if they can beat Kansas St.

Louisville secured the Big East title last night, but it’s not like the champion of the Big East has a whole lot of bearing on this, and a lot of these teams aren’t playing before the bowls, so this is still basically the current top 25. I guess you can take out Rutgers and assume Louisville is 24th, and that’s about what it is right now. Louisville beat Kentucky head-to-head, and Rutgers lost to Kent St., who lost to Kentucky, so I guess the right team has won the Big East. That’s also why I say 24th instead of 25th. The Cardinals may go higher than that anyway. By the way, Kent St. is in my rankings for the first time, making the Golden Flashes the 98th team I have ranked.

An aside about the Big East before the rankings… I enjoyed this exchange about the Big East (see video), by the way… apparently it will soon simply be the Conference USA by a different name, having recently announced that it will be adding Tulane and East Carolina. Conference USA would be a better title anyway since it already goes from Tampa to New Jersey to San Diego to Idaho. So I guess one more year of the Big East being an automatic entry. Good riddance. By the way, Louisville seems to be headed to the ACC, Cincinnati probably will too, West Virginia and Pittsburgh are of course already gone. Rutgers should have a lot of championship opportunities to come.

Top 25

rank / team / prior

1 Notre Dame 1
2 Ohio St. 2
3 Florida 3
4 Oregon 6
5 Alabama 4
6 Stanford 7
7 Georgia 8
8 Kansas St. 5
9 S Carolina 12
10 LSU 9
11 Nebraska 10
12 TX A&M 13
13 Oklahoma 16
14 Clemson 11
15 SJSU 19
16 Oregon St. 15
17 Florida St. 14
18 Utah St. 22
19 N. Illinois 23
20 N’western 25
21 Texas 18
22 Rutgers 17
23 Michigan 21
24 Boise St. —
25 Kent St. —

Out of rankings: (20) Louisville, (24) UCLA

Full 124 permalink

Prior rankings:
Preseason
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Week 9
Week 10
Week 11
Week 12

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Week 12 Top 25 and Commentary

In College Football, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 21, 2012 at 9:56 PM

Top 25

rank / team / prior

1 Notre Dame 1
2 Ohio St. 6
3 Florida 4
4 Alabama 3
5 Kansas St. 2
6 Oregon 5
7 Stanford
8 Georgia 7
9 LSU 9
10 Nebraska 10
11 Clemson 13
12 S Carolina 8
13 TX A&M 12
14 Florida St. 14
15 Oregon St. 15
16 Oklahoma 17
17 Rutgers 20
18 Texas 16
19 SJSU 23
20 Louisville 19
21 Michigan 22
22 Utah St. 25
23 N. Illinois —
24 UCLA 24
25 N’western —

Out of rankings: (18) La. Tech, (21) Toledo

Full 124 permalink

Prior rankings:
Preseason
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Week 9
Week 10
Week 11

Commentary

I’ve already covered the BCS title contestants here, so I’ll start with the better 2-loss teams.

Stanford benefited from its win over Oregon and passed up Georgia, LSU, and Nebraska. Ole Miss isn’t a bad win this year, but it wasn’t quite enough to put LSU ahead of Georgia, which defeated Georgia Southern. Minnesota isn’t a bad win either, so Nebraska (which will likely play Wisconsin for the Big Ten championship) is still close to LSU.

The winner of Clemson/South Carolina may be a threat to one or more of these teams. Texas A&M isn’t likely to gain much by beating Missouri. Florida St. is still on the periphery of national-title conversation, and the Seminoles have a chance to leap some teams by beating Florida.

Oregon St. has a chance to be the spoilers against Oregon, which would put Stanford in the Pac-12 title game and a rematch with UCLA, which is also Stanford’s opponent this weekend. The Beavers could move up a few spots as well.

The winner of Bedlam should pass up some teams. Oklahoma St. is #26. As expected, Oklahoma passed up Texas in the Longhorns’ bye week.

Rutgers, which beat Cincinnati to move up a few spots, should stay ahead of Texas by winning and may pass up losers of other games.

Most of the bottom was fairly steady. San Jose St. got some credit for beating BYU. Utah St. won the big WAC game of the year, while Northern Illinois won a major conference game over Toledo in the MAC.

It’s sad that beating USC doesn’t do UCLA more good. I almost feel sorry for the Trojans. That loss to Cal is still a big negative for UCLA to contend with. Northwestern recovered from losing to Michigan in the previous week by beating Michigan St. Not a great win, but there was enough movement by other teams to give the Wildcats an opening. Michigan still theoretically has a chance to win the Big Ten.

BCS Title Update & LSU Notes

In College Football, General LSU, History, Post-game, Rankings Commentary on November 19, 2012 at 3:50 PM

Normally I wait until I publish my top 25 to go into detail about the previous week, but I think an exception is in order here.

If you want to see my rankings of all 124 teams, go here.

Before I go into that, a few things about LSU. I wanted to mention that I’ve updated and revised my LSU/Ole Miss “Go to Hell” rivalry entry. I will paste the final section onto the end of this blog. You can follow the link I just gave if you want see the whole thing.

This link compares Beckham’s punt return to Cannon’s and also shows part of the Les Miles press conference. Unfortunately, the beginning of Danielson’s comments was cut off. But he pointed out the end (I believe Jalen Collins) routed the outside members of the kicking team toward the middle and then directed Beckham to go around his left side and back toward the middle of the field.

If you haven’t seen it yet, Les Miles was on a particularly hilarious emotional rollercoaster after the game. A two-minute clip is included in the link above, but here is the whole thing.

BCS Title Race

Some might be shocked by Oregon’s and Kansas St.’s losses, but I’m not really. I told people they didn’t need to cheer for Alabama against LSU in order to keep an SEC team in the mix, and they just wouldn’t listen.

Oregon seems to run into a wall on offense at least once or twice a season. In 2009, they struggled against Boise St., UCLA (whose offense was so bad they couldn’t capitalize), and Ohio St., scoring 8, 24, and 17, respectively. In 2010, they struggled against Cal and Auburn, scoring 15 (in a win) and 19, respectively. Then last year, they only really struggled against LSU, scoring a respectable 27 points; but 14 of those points were scored in the final 10 minutes of the game.

Although they’re not completely out of it, it would require a few strange results to get them into the BCS championship game. First of all, I don’t see any way they make it without being conference champion, so this would mean that in addition to beating the Beavers, Oregon would need Stanford to lose to UCLA. UCLA has had its ups and downs and I would anticipate it won’t have the same intensity this coming week as it had Saturday in winning a sloppy game over USC.

Also, they would need the eventual SEC champion or Notre Dame to lose. That might be possible in some years, but I don’t see any way Alabama loses to Auburn or Georgia loses to Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech has some chance (but then Georgia would have to beat Alabama afterward), but Auburn is just too consistently bad lately to pull that one out. I give USC a fair chance to beat Notre Dame. Barkley may be out, but I’m sure USC has a QB or two to take his place. And it’s not as if you have to be a good team to test Notre Dame. USC is clearly better than BYU, Pitt, or Purdue, all of whom were within a field goal of the Irish. And those three teams were on the road.

Even if one of those two lose, it’s still not guaranteed. Voters could pick Florida instead. I mentioned the Gators’ qualifications already. Florida St. is #5 in the AP poll, so that may be more impressive than even a combination of Oregon St. and UCLA (who has clinched the Pac-12 South). Maybe if Oregon beat UCLA impressively enough, they would pass up the idle Gators, but don’t forget that Florida is #2 in the computers right now, so even if voting is close, Florida would probably still prevail.

I think it’s over for Kansas St. barring some 2007-like scenario. It’s one thing to lose by a lot or to lose to a team that isn’t very good, but to do both in the same game in mid-November is too much.

The only other team I can see making a case is Florida St., which can beat Florida and win the ACC to finish with only a single one-point loss (to N.C. St. on October 6). Some SEC fans and tough-schedule enthusiasts may say that a two-loss SEC team (of which there will almost certainly be at least one) or maybe Kansas St. should go ahead in that instance, but LSU, Texas A&M, and South Carolina all lost to Florida while Oklahoma, Kansas St’s best win, has lost in its only games against top teams. We don’t know if Georgia Tech is in the ACC title game, but either way if the Wreck beat Georgia, that’s going to make the ACC champion look better. Alabama can’t have two losses in the last few weeks of the season. But you have to scratch out so many teams to even get to this point, it’s far-fetched to even talk about.

I’ll talk about teams lower on the list and out of BCS-championship contention later in the week. Here is that section of the LSU/Ole Miss blog as promised.

2002 to present: Mostly nail-biters, mostly LSU wins

The Rebels played LSU during another late-season collapse of theirs in 2002 but still only lost at Tiger Stadium by 1. They went on to win their final game in the Egg Bowl then beat Nebraska in the Independence Bowl. LSU, with a chance to return to the SEC Championship, lost by 1 in Little Rock, sending it to the Cotton Bowl and a loss to Texas.

In the stoutest challenge the Tigers received in their national championship season (other than that from Ron Zook’s Gators, who beat LSU), the Rebels gave the Tigers all they could handle in a 17-14 loss at Oxford. It was Manning and the Rebels’ only loss in his last 9 games.

In 2004 at Tiger Stadium, the Tigers finally evened out Cutcliffe’s record at 2-2. Although LSU would win 9 games in Saban’s final season and Ole Miss would only win 4 in Cutcliffe’s final season, it was another 3-point game, 27-24. I mark the decision to fire Cutcliffe (which I disagreed with at the time) as the beginning of Ole Miss’s recent troubles.

2005, Les Miles’ first season, is the first of only three exceptions to the close-win pattern in this group as LSU won 40-9, their 8th win in a row.

In 2006, despite another lackluster season for Ole Miss and another 11-win season for LSU, the Rebels took the Tigers to overtime at Tiger Stadium. They accomplished this with a blocked extra point after what looked to be the winning drive by LSU. The Tigers avenged the 1998 loss, the only other in overtime, which was played at Ole Miss. Colt David, who had attempted the extra point, redeemed himself with a 26-yard field goal.

That had been the fourth of five contests decided by 3 points or less, but LSU did not lose one of them.

Ole Miss got a measure of vengeance with a big win in 2008 and the 2009 game which they barely survived.

Then of course, LSU got another close win in 2010. The Tigers trailed with just 44 seconds left, as Stevan Ridley scored to give LSU its third distinct lead of the fourth quarter and fourth lead of the second half. For the Tigers, this ended a three-game losing streak against Houston Nutt, dating back to the 50-48 triple-overtime win by Arkansas over the Tigers in 2007.

LSU then gave Houston a hell of a send-off with a 52-3 win in Oxford in 2011. It was both the most points either has scored in the state of Mississippi in the series (probably the most points LSU scored in a single game played in the state of Mississippi ever) and the largest margin of victory in series history by either team. The score was actually deceptively close as LSU did all it could to avoid scoring in the final possession. After a first-and-goal at the 1, the Tigers kneeled four consecutive times.

Ole Miss was 5-5 entering the 2012 game, and LSU was 8-2, but the Rebels were motivated. Ole Miss gave the Tigers a scare before LSU scored the winning touchdown with 15 seconds to go. The Rebels had led 28-20 after three quarters and 35-28 with 10 minutes to go in the game. The play of the game in my opinion was a Billy Cannon-esque 89-yard punt return down the right side of the field by Odell Beckham to tie the game at 35. Jalen Collins, who Beckham went around when he first went left and then went right, was also instrumental in the return. A couple of possessions later, the Rebels had a chance to take the lead after getting a first and 10 at the LSU 18 but after sacks ended up with a 4th and 30 and only a missed 53-yard field goal attempt to show for it. LSU would parlay the resulting field position into the winning touchdown drive. Although Ole Miss out-gained LSU 463-427 (this did not factor in the punt return), the LSU defense was good when it mattered, allowing Ole Miss to gain only one first down (not counting another by penalty) in its last four possessions.

It was the seventh time in the last 11 games in the series that the game was decided by 7 points or fewer. LSU also has 9 wins in those 11 games.

Week 11 Top 25 and Commentary

In Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 16, 2012 at 8:06 PM

I apologize for this being so late. I’ve been without home internet most of the week. Please check out my blogs about Vanderbilt‘s accomplishments in general and Georgia‘s lack thereof relative to Florida. The Georgia one was just published today, but I thought all of this should be published before games start tomorrow morning.

Top 25

rank / team / prior

1 Notre Dame 1
2 Kansas St. 4
3 Alabama 2
4 Florida 6
5 Oregon 5
6 Ohio St. 3
7 Georgia 7
8 S Carolina 10
9 LSU 14
10 Nebraska 12
11 Stanford 16
12 TX A&M 15
13 Clemson 11
14 Florida St. 13
15 Oregon St. 8
16 Texas 18
17 Oklahoma 19
18 La. Tech 20
19 Louisville 9
20 Rutgers 22
21 Toledo 17
22 Michigan —
23 SJSU 23
24 UCLA 24
25 Utah St. —

Out of rankings: (21) Northwestern, (25) Mississippi St.

Full 124 permalink

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

Commentary

I’m not going to do a separate SEC entry this time since talking about the top 10 is for the most-part a discussion of SEC teams.
If only Alabama had choked with a chance to win last week.

But as it stands, the SEC’s best chance is still the Crimson Tide. I have them behind only Kansas St. and Notre Dame, although Oregon may close the gap and even surpass them in the next couple of weeks.

I have 5 SEC teams in the top 9 and 6 in the top 12 but shut out of the top 2, and as mentioned, the SEC may not even continue to have a team in the top 3.
Florida, who was #2 in the BCS before losing to Georgia, would have been a really good one-loss possibility, but due to the wonders of head-to-head (which disregards strength of schedule and benefits the team that loses to the lesser opponent), Georgia has clinched the SEC East (follow link for my thoughts on this).

It is in the realm of possibility for Georgia to end up in the top two, but that would require two teams among the BCS top 3 (Kansas St., Notre Dame, and Oregon) losing. I’m only slightly less sure that’s necessary with Alabama, but the best chances for a one-loss SEC champion would have been Florida or LSU. I would have enjoyed seeing that happen, by the way, but we’ll never know if this kind of strength at the top of the SEC would have been enough for either team.

Apart from Florida’s pending contest against Florida St., none of the four have any really high-quality out-of-conference games, but the key is the interdivisional games. Alabama played Missouri and Tennessee, Georgia played Ole Miss and Auburn, LSU played South Carolina and Florida, and Florida played Texas A&M and LSU. So Florida is 3-1 against the SEC top 6. I think that should merit being considered the best team in the SEC right now, and going into the SEC Championship game, there is a good chance my rankings will support that.

By the way, I think it’s outlandish that people are acting like Texas A&M is a better team than LSU when they lost to the Tigers at home. So much for head-to-head. Of course, if that were the only reason, that wouldn’t be good enough, but LSU also beat South Carolina. Texas A&M doesn’t have a strong interdivisional win (no, Missouri doesn’t qualify). As to the Alabama game, the Tide made the play it needed against LSU but not against A&M. I don’t see that as over-riding the A&M/LSU result just because LSU has lost more recently as a result of these events. Not to mention that LSU has been a more serious top team lately with a total of 3 losses in the last two seasons combined and 6 losses in the last three seasons combined. Also, LSU finally found a well-rounded offense against Alabama.

I read somewhere that if Oregon is in the BCS title game and the Rose Bowl opts not to pick another Pac-12 team (which seems like something they’d do, given that they picked Illinois of all teams a few years ago), they would pick Texas A&M to play Nebraska (for instance). Why would a potential Big XII title game a couple of years ago be more compelling than Florida/Nebraska or LSU/Nebraska? I don’t see it.

Anyway, speaking of the BCS top 3, I can definitely see Oregon moving into the top 2. USC, Wake Forest and a bye doesn’t stack up to Stanford, Oregon St., and a Pac-12 South champion (probably USC). Kansas St. may be stuck behind Notre Dame—both teams’ best win is over Oklahoma, Kansas St. also has a bye and a mediocre opponent (Baylor). Texas is better than USC, but not by much (especially since USC would improve somewhat by beating UCLA). USC can improve by upsetting Oregon or Notre Dame of course (and would improve at least somewhat by beating UCLA), but that would make this all a moot point. If I were Kansas St., I would be cheering for UCLA this weekend for sure. It might be counter-intuitive, but I also suspect it would be better for Oklahoma to lose Bedlam since Kansas St. beat Oklahoma St. and Notre Dame did not.

Too bad Texas isn’t playing Texas A&M this year. That could have been a contentious event for all involved in this discussion.

I can already see people asking me why Texas A&M is so low, and with the Aggies playing Sam Houston St. this weekend, I expect even more such questions next week. First of all, it doesn’t help much to play two FCS teams and SMU out of conference. Louisiana Tech is nice, but the Bulldogs have a very weak strength of schedule, so they count less as an opponent than they do in their own right. Also, the Aggies are going to play Missouri Thanksgiving weekend. This won’t help much either. Of course, my ratings don’t differentiate winning a big game last week from winning a big game (in hindsight) in Week 1. So how high would Texas A&M realistically be in that situation?

I think it’s pretty clear why Texas A&M is 6th in the SEC here if you think about it that way. And also, they followed the same script, go out to a big lead, then run into a wall. Alabama just wasn’t as competent against the A&M defense as they have been against defenses all year.

But it’s not as clear why Nebraska and Stanford are ahead. It’s having that good second or third win, I think. #2 and #3 for A&M are probably Louisiana Tech and Mississippi St. That’s not a top-10 resume. Granted no one outside of the top 9 really has one anyway, but Nebraska has good enough depth of wins: Wisconsin, Michigan St., Michigan, Northwestern, Penn St. The Big Ten has had better seasons, but Nebraska played all the desirable games against the other division, even though of course Ohio St. didn’t have a desirable result for the Huskers. The other loss was to UCLA, which of course is a much worse loss than any Texas A&M has suffered, but I think when you get toward the middle of the top 25, it’s fair to rank teams higher that have good (but not great competition) on a regular basis given that there may only be one win or no wins against the top 10 and perhaps only a couple against the top 25.

Stanford’s schedule lags behind Nebraska’s for the moment, but with the potential to steal the Pac-12 North from Oregon by beating the Ducks and Bruins, that’s going to change. Of course if they lose and Nebraska doesn’t, the Huskers will probably stay ahead though.

What can you say about the top of the ACC? Ball St., Auburn, and Furman don’t knock your socks off as non-conference opponents, but that just tells you how poor the Noles’ non-conference schedule is thus far that a team who played that slate and lost to the Seminoles is still ahead. But don’t forget that losing to Florida St. doesn’t hurt as much as losing to North Carolina St. does.
Oregon St. has fairly similar results as Stanford, but the Beavers didn’t play USC and Notre Dame. Wisconsin might make up for USC, but it doesn’t make up for both.

Texas also has two losses, but the ’Horns are being more and more weighed down by West Virginia. I mentioned Bedlam. A Cowboys win would also hurt Texas. Also, their best non-conference win is Ole Miss, which has a fair chance of losing to LSU and Mississippi St., although I wouldn’t bet the farm on the latter.

Oklahoma doesn’t even have a non-conference win as good as the one Texas has, but they should pass up the ’Horns due to playing West Virginia this week while Texas is idle. The tables might turn once again if Texas upsets Kansas St.

I don’t think Nos. 18-20 are likely to beat any of these teams (although La. Tech sure put a scare into A&M), but the important part is despite their respective records, they’re nowhere near national-championship consideration. I would much rather have the top 5 be in a satisfactory order than ensure the most deserving teams are in the top 20. But a three-loss team like Michigan being even farther away doesn’t bother me too much anyway. If Michigan shocks me and wins the Big Ten, they’ll be rewarded though.

Toledo is ahead of Michigan, but the MAC is strong enough this year to put a team with one conference loss in the top 25 when that team played a strong non-conference schedule, even though that schedule included a loss.

And then the WAC is strong enough to put a second and third team in the top 25. Utah St. is undefeated in conference with respectable losses to Wisconsin and BYU. San Jose St.’s only conference loss is to Utah St. and their non-conference loss is to Stanford.

I mentioned that UCLA has to play USC, the Bruins will also play Stanford, so two wins there would allow them to pass up several of these second-tier-conference schools. UCLA also has a shot at playing for the Pac-12 title. But (in Veruca Salt voice) why aren’t they higher now? For one thing, they could have picked a better team to lose to than Cal. Bad losses hurt, that’s done on purpose. If there are two teams in the top 5 with comparable wins, I want to knock out the one with a bad loss. Again, I’d rather make sure the teams 1-5 are the way I want them instead of teams 16-20 or 21-25. They also lost to Oregon St. and chose to play both sides of the Houston Derby. Nebraska was a really good win for them, but it’s not a cure-all.

#27 USC has the best chance of making it back into the top 25 with a win, but that would likely open up a spot for someone else. #26 Boise St. is idle and #28 Northwestern plays Illinois. #29 Texas Tech may jump both if it can get past Oklahoma St. The MAC had a big game this week between #30 Northern Illinois and Toledo, so they may essentially switch spots, although the Huskies may not get quite as high.

The next 5 out are Arizona, Washington, Cincinnati, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma St. This gives a little more context to the parts where I talk about these teams in respectful terms. I kind of left it assumed the people know LSU beat Washington and Washington beat Stanford, but I guess it’s worth mentioning more explicitly.

Georgia should not represent the SEC East

In College Football on November 16, 2012 at 2:10 PM

I was reading a blog by one of the few people who has bothered to comment on a wordpress blog of mine. He wrote a blog illogically denouncing the SEC and he has Georgia as the SEC’s best team. In reflecting upon how wrong this is, it occurred to me that Georgia should not even be considered the best team in the East, particularly if both Florida and Georgia finish with one loss apiece. I’ve now left two comments on his blog to discuss this.

Just to avoid any idea of bias against them, I actually like Georgia. After Kentucky and Vanderbilt, who I mostly favor as regular underdogs, Georgia has been my favorite team in the East. I can’t think of a recent instance where I didn’t cheer for them against Florida, Tennessee, or South Carolina. I guess I’m more neutral with Tennessee now, but I remember being very annoyed on the Bulldogs’ behalf that Tennessee won the SEC East in 2007, and I was definitely for Georgia before that. So I’m being consistent now that the team I like less deserves to play in the game and will not be able to.

As an aside, I also like newcomer Missouri—I remember cheering for them many times as underdogs against teams like Nebraska and Oklahoma—but I knew no matter how many losses there had been by A&M and Missouri, the first time one of the two got a breakthrough win, people were going to say, “Aha! The SEC defenses aren’t so good after all. Look at that Big XII team go!” And that’s exactly what happened when Texas A&M, despite falling flat offensively against LSU and Florida after going out to early leads, finally managed to win such a game against Alabama. So I’m not quite in solidarity with the new Tigers and the Aggies just yet.

There is a fan interest that has made me passionate about this issue, and that’s being a fan of LSU. As you may have noticed, Florida has been pretty good for about the last 25 years, and they’ve played LSU in all of those years. Every single one of them. Does LSU get any consideration if they tie for something as a result of this? Win or lose, the answer is no. So when I see that a team like Florida, who played LSU and Texas A&M, is being passed over by Georgia, who instead played Ole Miss and Auburn, I sympathize with Florida even though I like Georgia much better.

Georgia earned a win over Florida, don’t get me wrong, but don’t forget South Carolina beat Georgia handily. The only reason we’re not looking at a 3-way tie right now is that unlike Florida, South Carolina didn’t win its game against LSU.

Well, how did Georgia do against those top teams in the West, you may ask. 0-0! Florida was 2-0, having played both LSU and Texas A&M.

There are 6 divisional games now, two non-divisional games, but I don’t like that we treat those two non-divisional games as equal. I think they should be used as tie-breakers. That would give us that 3-way tie. Now if a team in the three-way tie had beaten both other teams, a 3-way tie is easily to resolve. Give the win to that team.

But instead, we have a circular outcome: South Carolina beat Georgia, who beat Florida, who beat South Carolina, who beat Georgia, etc.

If the SEC considered this a three-way tie, it would be resolved by looking at the BCS, where Georgia is ranked ahead, but it’s close. I would also note that Florida is ahead in the computers. The only reason Georgia is ahead is because it’s been longer since they’ve lost a game, but I think that’s an improper consideration. When head-to-head is used, no one cares when the game was (example, Georgia/Tennessee 2007).

I think one should look at who these inter-divisional these opponents were and how they fared in the West. LSU is currently 3-1, and Texas A&M is currently 5-1 against other teams in the SEC West. (I don’t think a team in the West should be looked down upon for losing to multiple teams in the tiebreaker; if LSU had lost to Florida and South Carolina, this shouldn’t be used to Georgia’s benefit). Georgia has played Ole Miss and Auburn, who have won a combined 2 conference games (both against the West, and one of which was when they played one another).

I do think you eliminate South Carolina at one point, but I don’t know if it’s merely for the loss to another SEC team or if any non-divisional losses should be considered: for instance, when Tennessee had an out-of-conference loss in 2007. Another way could be if you dropped the team with the worst inter-divisional schedule and started over. In this case, you’d drop Georgia and Florida would prevail over South Carolina by virtue of being 2-0 instead of 1-1. Or if South Carolina had beaten LSU, you could then go to head-to-head.

Although I can see how it’s the accepted norm in a two-way tie, I don’t like head-to-head anyway. Why should Georgia be rewarded tor losing to a worse team? It’s especially wrong in this situation. Florida has better wins and a better loss with the same record, but they’re shut out of the SEC title game. I haven’t even mentioned that the argument for Florida being the better team becomes even stronger if they can get past Florida St., a much better team than Georgia has played out of conference and, except for Florida, better than any team Georgia has beaten.

I also note that if you only look at divisional games, LSU, Texas A&M, and Alabama are also all tied. Certainly Alabama should prevail here, so whatever scenario one comes up with, that’s something to keep in mind, you wouldn’t want a 1-loss team falling behind two two-loss teams. But I do think that when it’s this close of a call between two teams like Georgia and Florida, especially if a third team has the same divisional record, there should be a way to look beyond head-to-head.

Vanderbilt, All Hail!

In College Football, History on November 11, 2012 at 7:20 PM

I’ll post my top 25 blog later in the week, but I have updated the LSU/Mississippi St. rivalry post and released my weekly computer ratings.

After the impressive first six teams of the SEC, a lot of commentators look down the standing and seem to focus on programs in decline. People are wondering what is going on at Arkansas, Auburn, Tennessee, even Kentucky (which was on the verge of bowl-eligibility last season). But I think it’s been overlooked that Vanderbilt has become bowl-eligible for the third time in five years. Their 2008 appearance against Boston College had been their first bowl game since 1982.

Things were looking so bad at one point that in 1995, LSU actually hired Gerry DiNardo, who had been the Vanderbilt coach, because he had accomplished the feat of winning 5 games in a season there not once but twice. I guess that was harder to do when it was an 11-game season though, to be fair. Only once in the following 10 years would Vanderbilt win 4 games or more (going 5-6 in 1999).

Something is different this year though. When Vandy went 6-6 in 2008, they had lost 6 of 7 going into the bowl game, only becoming bowl eligible in a close game against Kentucky after having lost three similarly close games (to Mississippi St., Georgia, and Duke) in consecutive weeks at the beginning of a 4-game losing streak.

In 2009 and 2010, Vandy started 2-2 and 2-3, respectively, before finishing with 2-10 marks in both seasons.

Then last season, the Commodores started 3-0 only to finish 6-7.

This is also the fifth time in eight seasons Vandy has won 5 games or more. In 2005, Vanderbilt won the first 4 games before losing 7 in a row then beat Tennessee in the finale. In 2007, the ’Dores started 5-3 then lost 2 games by a touchdown or less (either of which would have made them bowl-eligible) as they ended the year with a 4-game losing streak.

Granted, this was partly because the end of the season has a lot more conference games than the beginning does, but I think it was more than that. I think that confidence and killer instinct goes away, and it’s more a sense of “not again” and playing not to lose game after game.

This is the first time I’ve seen Vanderbilt as the team that’s making things happen rather than having things happen to it.

The Commodores started this season 1-3. They gave South Carolina a good game then lost to Northwestern. When (after beating FCS Presbyterian) they were dismantled by Georgia, 48-3, I thought they were giving up already and they would be back to the usual. Then they beat Missouri on the road the next week, and their only loss since that point has been to then-#4 Florida by a somewhat respectable score of 31-17.

I also wanted to talk about their series with Ole Miss. Ole Miss and Vandy are one of the lesser-known permanent rivalries in the SEC. This means that despite being in different divisions, they play each other every year. In fact, they have played every year since 1970 and in all but two years since 1945.

Vanderbilt dominated the series early in the rivalry, only allowing Ole Miss a total of 16 points in their first 16 games against the Commodores, but every game in the series until 1948 was played in Tennessee (though many were at Memphis, fairly regarded as a neutral site).

But then Vanderbilt went winless in the series from 1952 to 1973 and had only one win from 1952 to 1980. In total, the Commodores only won three times at Ole Miss from the beginning of the series until 2007. Since then, Vanderbilt has won three times at Ole Miss (that’s three in a row).

Vandy has also beaten Ole Miss 5 times in 6 seasons. This is despite the fact that Ole Miss went 9-4 twice in that time period and still has a shot at becoming bowl-eligible this season. In all, the ’Dores have beaten Ole Miss a total of 6 times from 2005 to present after only defeating the Rebels 7 times from 1952 to 2004.

I’ve always respected Vanderbilt as an academic institution and I have a soft spot for underdogs, so they’re the #1 team I cheer for out of the East. I don’t see them making the SEC championship game anytime too soon, but I’m hoping they will be regularly competitive for some time. If only we can convince Kentucky to care half as much about football as they do about basketball, there might not be any long-term doormats in the SEC.

Week 10 Top 25 and other notes

In General LSU, History, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 8, 2012 at 2:23 PM

Top 25

rank / team / prior

1 Notre Dame 1
2 Alabama 2
3 Ohio St. 3
4 Kansas St. 4
5 Oregon 5
6 Florida 6
7 Georgia 10
8 Oregon St. 9
9 Louisville 7
10 S Carolina 11
11 Clemson 16
12 Nebraska 18
13 Florida St. 12
14 LSU 8
15 TX A&M 23
16 Stanford 13
17 Toledo 14
18 Texas 22
19 Oklahoma 24
20 La. Tech —
21 N’western 19
22 Rutgers 21
23 SJSU —
24 UCLA —
25 Miss. St. 20

Out of rankings: (15) TX Tech, (17) Boise St., (25) Tulsa

Full 124 permalink

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

Before my usual top 25 run-down and other notes, I wanted to express my condolences to the University of Texas and its fans for the passing away of Darrell Royal yesterday. I had mentioned him less than two weeks ago in my blog about records and winning percentages of Les Miles and other prominent coaches. Many of the coaches on my list of historic greats are long gone, but some of the ones still alive (most of whom, unlike Royal, made their names in the 1980s and 1990s) are Lou Holtz, Dennis Erickson, Jimmie Johnson, Tom Osborne, and Barry Switzer. At least a couple of the honorable mentions are still around too. For example, Vince Dooley turned 80 a couple of months ago, and Frank Broyles (about 6 months younger than Royal) is expected to turn 88 next month. Broyles and Royal were close friends despite the rivalry at that time, and Royal’s career also overlapped with Switzer’s.

I was also interested to note that Royal attended the University of Oklahoma, where he played for Bud Wilkinson, another coach on my list. Royal intercepted 18 passes in his career with the Sooners, still a school record, particularly impressive given the reluctance of many to employ the forward pass at that time. Perhaps not coincidentally, he is famous for the statement, “Three things can happen when you pass, and two of ’em are bad.” He also was a successful part-time quarterback.

Before becoming the head coach of Texas, where he was known for installing the wishbone offense, Royal briefly coached at Mississippi St. (whose series against LSU I profiled here) and Washington. In his 23 seasons as a college head coach (1954-76), none of his teams ever had a losing record.

Top 25 comments
It may not look like the top teams have changed, and that’s true in ordinal ranking. However, going into last week, Alabama trailed Notre Dame by .23. Now Alabama trails Notre Dame by .04. So the Tide should have no problem passing up the Irish, assuming they can get past Texas A&M. Not a guarantee given that the Aggies had a similarly close game against LSU and just last week dismantled Mississippi St. similarly to the way the Tide did the week before.

Notre Dame will lose standing compared to other undefeated teams as the Irish still have Boston College, Wake Forest, and a bye week. They also have USC of course, but a 3-loss USC is probably not what many people expected they’d face and the three other major undefeateds all have multiple opponents left who rate higher than the Trojans do right now.

Ohio St. is still #3 here, but keep in mind they haven’t had a bye week either (they have one this week and of course will be idle during championship week). If the score is averaged by playing weeks, Ohio St. is 5th instead. I think 5th is more in line with where they should be, but I’m confident it will work itself out.

It doesn’t look like Florida can make the SEC championship game (absent what would be an almost miraculous win by Auburn over Georgia), so in light of LSU’s loss, I don’t think a one-loss SEC champion would be in the mix, unless of course a couple of these other teams lose (in which case maybe a one-loss non-champion could be involved). Georgia had a much worse loss (35-7 to South Carolina) and a significantly weaker schedule than Florida has had (Ole Miss, Auburn, and Georgia Tech in lieu of Texas A&M, LSU, and Florida St.), so they’re a tough sell as a one-loss team. I don’t think Alabama would be able to pull off what Oklahoma did in 2003 and make the BCS championship despite the loss in the conference championship game. Of course the formula has changed quite a bit since then. It would make for interesting conversation if Florida, Georgia, and Alabama all finished with one loss apiece, but practically, I’m afraid that would just dilute the SEC-sympathetic vote.

Anyway, as far as my ratings, Florida is significantly ahead (.11) of Georgia even though the Bulldogs are just the next spot down, so absent Georgia beating Alabama (who has all but clinched the SEC West), they should stay ahead.

I was happy to see Louisville and Toledo each moved down a couple spots as promised. Rutgers only fell one spot during its bye week, but this was partly due to losses by teams in their vicinity.

Georgia and Oregon St. moved up with a couple of respective good-but-not-great wins. Oregon St. could potentially be the top 1-loss team as it can play itself into the Pac-12 championship game against Stanford and Oregon. Of course, Georgia would gain significant ground by winning the SEC, but the Bulldogs don’t have much remaining competition otherwise.

South Carolina, Clemson, Nebraska, and Florida St. benefited from LSU’s loss and all moved up. The Gamecocks only moved up one spot though, because of course they had lost to LSU. Florida St. only moved up one spot because of its bye week and because that Duke win doesn’t count as much as it did last week.

Nebraska still gets credit for beating Michigan St., although the losses are adding up for the Spartans too. Also, the Huskers got a boost from UCLA (which beat Nebraska in September) beating Arizona.

Northwestern also felt the effects of the bye week, as they were passed up by Texas A&M, Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana Tech. Texas A&M got the big win over Mississippi St., which in turn helped out Louisiana Tech. Texas and Oklahoma got decent wins in their own right, and also helped each other out.

San Jose St. is just gradually moving up as other teams lose, but we’ll see if they belong when they play BYU and Louisiana Tech. One of the Spartans’ two losses is to Stanford, so that’s why there aren’t a lot of negative points there. It also helped SJSU out that San Diego St. (whom they beat in September) beat Boise St. The Spartans are the 96th team I have ranked out of 124 in the nearly two decades I have ranked teams (I’m getting old). Obviously, the four new teams haven’t had much of a chance yet.

Three consecutive wins since the humiliation in Berkeley have put UCLA back in the top 25, and Mississippi St. is still barely hanging on at #25.

23 of my top 25 teams are also in the BCS top 25. The only exceptions are Ohio St., which is on probation and excluded from the BCS ratings, and San Jose St. Texas Tech and USC are the two teams in the BCS top 25 but not in my top 25.

SEC and LSU Notes

9 of the top 22 schedules in my formula belong to the SEC. That number might be a little skewed because I don’t factor in FCS games, but as of right now, the SEC has played fewer such games per team than any other major conference apart from the Big Ten. The SEC has seven teams in my top 25. The SEC is easily first in my conference rankings, but due to tiebreakers, the Pac-12 North is now the top division, although keep in mind that this only looks at where the good teams are ranked and does not consider how bad teams like Washington St. and Arkansas are.

Kentucky has announced that head coach Joker Philips will not be retained next season. I rank Kentucky’s schedule third, but I rank the team 98th. The Cats beat a Kent St. team that has beaten Rutgers and has done very well in the MAC. They also gave Georgia a very close game, but there were no wins apart from Kent St., and if you’re even occasionally bad enough to lose to Vanderbilt 40-0 at home, I can see the administration wanting to make a change. Kentucky made a bowl game in 2010 and barely missed one in 2011, so it may be time to try to right the ship before any further damage is done.

The Captain Obvious (or should that be spelled “Oblivious”?) award for the week goes to Les Miles, who admitted the fake field goal (a pass from the punter to the kicker at that) on 4th and 12 was not the right play.

As if there wasn’t enough bad about the LSU/Bama game, one thing that made it even worse was that LSU used the game as a major recruiting event. Kain Daub, a LB who may be one of the top recruits in the nation in 2014, announced a few days later that he has opened up his options since committing to LSU in the offseason. Alabama is one of several schools he is now considering, but he hasn’t completely eliminated LSU. Kendall Beckwith, a 4-star “ATH” (I so hate that designation) from Louisiana, is still leaning toward LSU, but is also considering Alabama. I wonder if the outcome of this game might come into play when he decides. Beckwith plans to attend the A&M/Alabama game as well.

Speaking of which, unless there is a three-way tie with Alabama and Texas A&M (which would require losses by the Tide to A&M and Auburn), LSU will not make the SEC championship game this season. The Tigers have made the SEC championship game 5 times, but all were in odd-numbered years. LSU has played @Auburn and @Florida in every even-numbered year since the SEC championship game began. The Tigers have also hosted Alabama in even-numbered years that whole time and have generally fared worse against the Tide at home than on the road.

For the eighth presidential election in a row, the LSU/Alabama game has corresponded with the outcome of the presidential election. It’s simple: LSU beats Alabama in an election year, the Republican wins; Alabama beats LSU, the Democrat wins. So if you don’t like Obama, blame Les Miles for getting him re-elected. The Alabama/LSU game often takes place after the election though.

It has sometimes been the second Saturday in November instead of the first. (And of course even the first Saturday sometimes falls after Election Day… which by law is the first Tuesday that is not November 1.) The game was actually played on the third Saturday in 2002 and 2003 and on the fourth Saturday in 1973, but obviously those weren’t election years and the streak didn’t start until 1984 anyway. Otherwise, it’s been on one of those two days since this started being an annual rivalry in 1964.

The “Redskins Rule” (which has to do with the Redskins defending the incumbent’s party by winning at home), on the other hand, has been wrong in two of the last three elections.

LSU-Alabama Post-game

In College Football, General LSU on November 3, 2012 at 10:06 PM

I think my only other blog this week will be for the top 25. Feel free to check out my updated Alabama rivalry post or the Mississippi St. one. I personally like the Mississippi St. one better.

As a Tiger fan, I’ve never been more sickened by two games in a 10-month period in my life than LSU’s two losses to Alabama this year. I’ve been sickened by, for example, losing 9 games in the 1992 season, but I can’t think of two specific games as frustrating in that short a period of time. That period of time (that was one of 6 consecutive seasons without a winning record or bowl game for LSU) seemed to last a lot longer since it lasted from ages 7 to 13, by the way.

The cumulative losses to teams like Alabama and Florida still get at me, so something like this just re-opens old wounds. I’d be better able to blow it off if we had finished 14-0 last year of course. As I mention in the rivalry blog, there is a difference of opinion as to LSU’s main rival, but for me there is no question it’s Alabama. I’m not as crazy about it as the average Auburn fan probably is; but still, if they could win only one game, I’d pick that one.

Also, for some strange reason, I’m cursed with knowing a bunch of Alabama fans. I lived in Louisiana my whole life until moving to California in 2004, but I guess because someone thought alleged football championships would translate into a good education, a few people from my high school went there, and then some home-grown Bama fans (at least they have an excuse) went to my undergraduate school.

Of course the offense in the bowl game was just useless, and the coaching staff did nothing about it. It’s a miracle that LSU was within two scores until late in the fourth quarter in that one…. But at least I didn’t have much hope for a win as the game went into the second half. What made that really bad was the effect it had upon 13 games that otherwise would have comprised the best season in generations if not the best season in LSU history. And it also gave Alabama (and Nick Saban) another national championship to claim in a year in which LSU went to Tuscaloosa and beat the Tide no less.

Today’s game unfortunately forced me to have hope even though I had written it off as a loss before kickoff. LSU was moving the ball, getting first down after first down with the lead, and for some godforsaken reason, apparently it was decided to settle down and kick a field goal (which was missed… the reason LSU won the regular-season game last year was Alabama’s repeated settling for field goals they had a good chance of missing) with a minute and a half left. But if you can move the ball with pass plays when the defense knows you’re going to have a pass play, why not keep doing it when the defense is unsure and perhaps even expecting runs? You don’t have three boring runs in the middle of the field. And then on defense, how could they not be prepared for a screen pass? Alabama is like the Bill Cowher Steelers with that play. It’s mind-boggling. I was too frustrated to notice, but if the approach to defense changed for the winning Alabama drive, that was foolhardy too.

I just think the execution was there, and the coaching was not. Mettenberger was twice as good as he was in any previous game. A lot of people (myself included) said if he had a good game, LSU would have a good chance to win. So he had a game beyond my wildest expectations and we still come away with yet another loss to this team of all teams. There is no excuse not to capitalize on such an opportunity. Once again, something different needs to be done on offense. I think Les has the offensive experience to help make the team tough, but he just doesn’t have the knack for calling plays.

It’s sad that Kragthorpe hasn’t been able to be that person due to health problems, but we are lacking a quality offensive coordinator. The committee approach, if that’s still how LSU is approaching it, doesn’t work. Let Greg Studrawa sink or swim. If Miles has already done that, then we need to look elsewhere. I know (unlike Saban) he wants to show loyalty to people, but either this guy has the ability to do the job or he doesn’t. There shouldn’t be any hard feelings, he lucked into the job in the first place. I’m sure a lot of good candidates would be interested.

I’m also concerned that Miles listened to commentators about how he needed to be “the Mad Hatter” again. Maybe once, but not three times. If LSU kicks field goals instead of faking them (although they could have unsuccessfully faked the 54-yarder and I wouldn’t have complained), and kicks field goals instead of going for it, maybe they would have had 6 more points. LSU may have also had better opportunities on offense without the on-sides kick. If Alleman had missed them all the field goal attempts after the one in the first quarter, then they would have known not to play for the field goal on the second-to-last drive (which, as mentioned, they shouldn’t have done anyway).

I wanted to give a list of the LSU drives that didn’t result in a punt, points, or the end of a half.

2nd Quarter – 5 plays, 58 yards, ball went over on downs after fake field goal pass for negative yardage on 4th and 12.
2nd Quarter – 7 plays, 54 yards, missed FG from 54 yards.
4th Quarter – 6 plays, 39 yards, ball went over on downs after LSU went for it despite being in FG range (would have been about a 40-yard attempt).
4th Quarter – 11 plays, 54 yards, missed FG from 45 yards.

This is how you out-gain a team by 100 yards, have four more first downs than the opposition, convert 10 third downs to 1 (50% to 11%), force the game’s only two turnovers, and lose.

And just to make it worse, Notre Dame had to win a game in triple overtime after all Pitt needed to do to win the game was make a 33-yard field goal in the second OT. Pitt! Which lost to the Penguins of Youngstown St., a mediocre FCS team.

But I’m not cheering for Alabama even if that turns out to be the SEC’s only hope for the BCS title game. Gig’em Aggies and War Eagle and Go Fighting Catamounts! I’ll even sing the Georgia Bulldog song or do the Gator chomp during the SEC title game. At least it won’t be Tennessee, I don’t know the words to that song, and I don’t want to.

LSU-Alabama Pregame & Other Thoughts

In College Football, General LSU, History, Rivalry on November 2, 2012 at 2:20 PM

I’ll start off by mentioning a couple other writings of mine that might provide some interesting backstory. I wrote the first last week about Les Miles’ record at LSU, but it also compares his record to that of other coaches, including Saban’s at LSU and Alabama. Then of course there is my blog about the LSU/Alabama rivalry, dominated for decades by Alabama but controlled by LSU for much of the first decade of the 21st century before becoming competitive again of late.

This is unrelated, but I also wanted to share a couple of links about Marcus Lattimore. Spurrier got a bit of criticism for his sort of backhanded acknowledgement of Dabo Swinney’s kind words about Lattimore. Dabo didn’t go quite as far as “Hog Lady” though. The SEC isn’t just great defenses and running backs, you have to love the fans and personalities as well.

Back to the important goings on, we do have two of the most successful active head coaches with their current programs facing one another, and of course LSU was fortunate to have had them both.

If you’ll look at the stats I gave in the Les Miles blog, I think it’s an even bigger coaching match-up with Urban Meyer at a new school and with Pete Carroll in the NFL. It’s harder to argue there are other guys doing as well or better.

There was a time where the Red River Rivalry had two coaches that were at about the same level Miles and Saban are now, but I think both Texas and Oklahoma have gone a little downhill in recent years. And there was never a point where that game featured two programs with a combined 3 national championship and one runner-up in 5 seasons, with of course one runner-up in that time (LSU last year) as well. (It took 10 seasons for Oklahoma and Texas to accumulate two national championships and three runners-up between them; two national championships and one runner-up took place in the six seasons between 2000 and 2005.)

Of course, when Urban Meyer was still at Florida, his game against the Tigers in 2009 represented 4 combined championships since 2003. So that was bigger at the time, especially being that Saban hadn’t won one at Alabama yet.

Saban and Miles followed similar trajectories on their way to LSU. A little bit of NFL experiences, but they were hired from being the head coaches at second-fiddle state universities. I don’t mean to take anything away from them, but the great programs in Michigan and Oklahoma are not the ones that end in “State”, although Sparty has a little more of a substantial history.

I wanted to talk about Miles vs. Saban head-to-head and mention a few notes about the series overall before assessing this season’s game.

Saban vs. Miles

The first match-up between Miles and Saban took place only 5 years ago.

Until the bowl game, I was impressed by LSU’s performances in these games. I’ll mention each one.

The 2007 result in hindsight wasn’t that great, but LSU was traveling to face a team that was at that point 6-2. You come away with a win by a TD, you’re happy with that. Especially given that LSU didn’t have the same luck against similar Arkansas and Kentucky teams that season despite eventually winning the BCS and AP championships.

2008 was easily the worst season that Miles has had at LSU with the Tigers finishing 8-5, and Alabama was undefeated at the time of the game (finishing 12-2). In fact, the Tide wouldn’t lose that season until the SEC Championship game against Florida. This was the year of the Jarrett Lee Pick-6 Pandemic, and that was eventually LSU’s undoing in this game as well but not before taking that Alabama team to overtime.

Alabama also won the next year to bring Saban’s record against Miles to 2-1, but this was the Alabama team that actually finished undefeated and LSU wasn’t given a chance to win by many prognosticators. The game was much closer than the final score of 24-15, and the outcome was in doubt until the final minutes. You also might remember the arguable interception by Patrick Peterson.

This was followed by the 3-point LSU wins in 2010 and 2011. I don’t need to recap last year’s game in Tuscaloosa, but before the 2010 game, a lot of people had written LSU off after they were “exposed” by Auburn in a 7-point game on the Plains. Actually, it was lingering skepticism over LSU’s 7-0 start that included games that went down to the wire against mediocre North Carolina, Tennessee, and Florida teams.

Alabama had lost to South Carolina (more on Spurrier vs. Saban) in a moment but had a chance to win out and win the SEC, potentially returning to the national-championship game. Had Alabama beaten LSU, that 28-27 Auburn game (a major comeback win for the blue Tigers on the way to their national championship) would have been winner-take-all for the SEC West.

Anyway, about Mr. Spurrier, he had been the last coach to beat Saban two years in a row before Miles pulled that off last year. This was in Saban’s first two seasons at LSU (2000 and 2001). Florida dominated both times, even though in that second season LSU would wrangle an SEC title despite three conference losses.

Chris Low pointed that out in this edition of his SEC blog. That’s worth a read. It would indeed be interesting if LSU won this one to give Miles wins over Saban three times in four games.

As it stands, they are knotted at 3-3 overall. Miles has the most wins against Alabama of any head coach in LSU history. Saban is 1-1 with the Tide at Tiger Stadium in two very close games

Game Notes and Preview

LSU is defending a 22-game home winning streak dating back to October 10, 2009, when it lost to Florida. That Florida team went 13-1, losing only to Nick Saban’s Tide.
When Saban began at LSU, the Tigers hadn’t beaten Alabama in Tiger Stadium since 1969. Since then, LSU is 4-2 at home against Alabama (losses in 2002 and 2008; these were LSU’s only seasons with fewer than 9 wins since Saban’s first season in 2000).

The visiting team overall has won 3 out of 5 regular-season games in the series overall, and in the last few decades, the visiting team has a decisive edge in the series. Despite failing to win so many home games against the Tide in a row, the Tigers have been fairly competitive at Alabama since the early 1980s, actually winning four in a row at Alabama on two separate occasions (1982-88 and 2001-07), but I’m sure I’ll have more to say about that next year.

I’m honestly not expecting an LSU win here, but as I’ve mentioned previously, I wasn’t expecting one against South Carolina, and frankly, the Gamecocks’ win over Georgia was more impressive than anything I’ve seen out of Alabama this season. However, no one has given Alabama much of a game so far, and if LSU continues to have a barely-existent passing game, it would be very difficult for the Tigers to win this one.

Based on its play against South Carolina and Texas A&M, I think the LSU defense can have the necessary success though.
On the other side of the ball, they’ll be more tested than usual and I’m concerned about a repeat of Florida as far as running the ball, but I still like what I’ve been seeing from the O-line and the running backs, so I’m cautiously optimistic there.

So basically, Mettenberger has to show something he hasn’t shown yet. It’s not out of the question, but it’s not a given until it actually happens. He is getting better at the quick slants and the important third-down situations, but he needs to hit the open receivers downfield… and by the way, he needs to realize that it’s better if they have to stop or slow down than if the ball is out of reach. Also, he’s been too hesitant to run. I know he’s not Jordan Jefferson, Matt Flynn, or Matt Mauck, but if you need 5 yards and you have 10 in front of you and great blocking, sometimes you need to run. Even an awkward scamper from a pocket passer every now and then gives the defense something else to think about.

Also, I don’t always think the LSU receivers have given him enough room for error. There have been too many drops (I don’t even want to mention the fumbles) and again, they can also realize that it’s more important to catch the ball than it is to make a perfect catch in stride. It’s also important to make a good play on the ball to at least help make sure the defense doesn’t catch it.

LSU should have an emotional edge playing at home and no doubt being frustrated by how the last game against the Tide turned out, but it doesn’t matter if they don’t execute.