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Realignment Revisited (Again)

In College Basketball, College Football, Realignment on August 31, 2013 at 4:44 PM

I’ve written about this a few times, but as the college football landscape keeps changing, that will change what realignment solutions make sense. Some of the conference additions and subtractions do make a bit of sense, and there is no reason to cause new problems unnecessarily.

One of the more noticeable things about the alignment going into next season is the number of new independents. Before BYU left the Mountain West to become independent, there were only three independent programs: Army, Navy, and Notre Dame.

The independents swell to 7 programs this season. Idaho and New Mexico St. were left without conferences when the WAC folded and no one picked them up, and Old Dominion joined the FBS as a transitional team. (Fewer than half of its games this season will take place against other FBS teams.)

Old Dominion is scheduled to join Conference USA (and I believe this is the move that makes the most sense anyway), but the CUSA will have an uneven number of teams next season as it awaits the development of UNC-Charlotte’s football team.

I mentioned last year that the absence of the WAC left a bit of a vacuum out West, and I believe this is still true despite SMU and Houston joining the former Big East (now AAC) and despite Mountain West expansion.

The only change I would make to the Mountain West is I would replace New Mexico with Idaho. New Mexico is admittedly a more traditional team to be playing Air Force and Colorado St., but I don’t think that’s the natural place for them. Idaho is a better fit with the rest of the Mountain division: Boise St., Utah St., and Wyoming. New Mexico also fits a lot better into my proposed Big West/Sunbelt/WAC conference:
Rice (currently CUSA)
Texas El Paso (currently CUSA)
Texas San Antonio (currently CUSA)
Texas St.
New Mexico
New Mexico St.
Louisiana Lafayette
Louisiana Monroe
Louisiana Tech (currently CUSA)

So that’s 4 Texas schools, 2 New Mexico schools (one of which is about 20 minutes’ drive from Texas), and 3 Louisiana schools. That’s why it’s so much more fitting for New Mexico than it is for Idaho. Also, it would be much more conceivable for New Mexico to finish with a winning record.

This is what Conference USA would look like in 2015:

Eastern Division Western Division
Florida Atlantic Alabama Birmingham
Florida International South Alabama*
Georgia St.* Troy*
Marshall Southern Mississippi
Middle Tennessee Arkansas St.*
NC-Charlotte North Texas
Old Dominion Western Kentucky**

*currently Sun Belt
**Western Kentucky is playing in its last season in the Sun Belt and will already join CUSA next season.

If you think I missed a few Sun Belt teams, North Texas, Middle Tennessee, Florida Atlantic, and Florida International are all playing their first respective seasons in the CUSA right now. UT-San Antonio and Louisiana Tech are also playing their first respective seasons in the CUSA, but I think the give and take might work out if it’s something like what I presented. I know the conference big wigs aren’t going to read this and change everything tomorrow, but moving toward something like this would be a viable long-term plan for the respective schools and conferences. I’m not sure how all the legalities work, but whatever the new conference is called could conceivably be a successor to the Sun Belt.

The major conferences may be fairly set for right now, as moves have been made to secure programs’ television rights even if they join new conferences in the future, but I think there may be some changes where two conferences can simply work it out and the TV requirements could be waived for the right price. Maybe there will be some trades like what I’m suggesting above for the more minor conferences.

Apart from SEC scheduling, the main thing that doesn’t make sense to me in the major conferences right now is we still have a 10-team Big XII and not too far from Morgantown, West Virginia, (which is not anywhere near other Big XII campuses) there are two schools you may have heard of called Cincinnati and Louisville. Cincinnati may be relatively easy to recruit since it’s in the AAC (the former Big East) rather than in the process of joining the ACC like Louisville is. But it would seem to me that Connecticut (another AAC school) would be a better fit in the ACC anyway. They’re a natural rival with Boston College and Syracuse and at least a historical rival with Pittsburgh (if you’re out of the loop, Syracuse and Pitt are also joining the ACC). I would also hope the ACC would consider a more logical approach to their divisional alignment.

I know Louisville won the national championship in basketball, but I can’t imagine that Connecticut wouldn’t be just as good of a long-term possibility in that sport (with multiple championships in recent years). Connecticut only recently started having a major football team, but that program could be just as good as Louisville’s also. There is also the matter of Connecticut possibly driving TV revenue in the New York area. I can’t imagine that the ACC would require too much money in order to go along with something of this nature.

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Preseason Full Top 25

In College Football, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on August 29, 2013 at 1:29 PM

For top 10 reasoning, go here.

Rank/Team/Previous/Reasoning
1 Alabama 1
2 Ohio St. 3
3 Georgia 8
4 Stanford 5
5 Oregon 4
6 LSU 14
7 Clemson 11
8 Louisville 17
9 S Carolina 7
10 TX A&M 9

11 Boise St. 19 – Chris Petersen is 51-2 with a returning quarterback. The Broncos don’t have an impressive schedule at all. I don’t factor that in though, or I would be ranking them even higher. They return 10 other starters as well, mostly on offense, so the defense should have some openings for the likes of Washington to exploit. That is why BSU is not in the top 10.

12 Texas — – Even with 19 returning starters, it was hard to put the Longhorns any higher based on the last couple of seasons. On defense, some of the returning starters apparently aren’t even good enough to start again. Defensive backs should be strong though, and there are no glaring weaknesses on offense.

13 Florida 6 – The Gators have 10 returning starters from a team that at least for most of last season greatly exceeded expectations. The running game will be a major question mark, but another solid defense can be expected. They could be something like LSU was in 2010 when there wasn’t much of a passing game either (at least not reliably), but other areas were strong enough that the team still finished #8. With the right combination of wins, Florida could end up representing the East after all. The downside possibility is that the Gators could finish around .500 in conference and maybe even lose to Florida St.

14 Oklahoma 15 – The Sooners need to replace a quarterback, but the 7 offensive returning starters should help out. There will also be considerable depth at receiver that is not reflected in that number. Run defense and pass rush can be very suspect being that the team had trouble in this area last season and does not return anyone on the defensive line.

15 Oregon St. 24 – The Beavers return 15 starters from a 9-4 team last year. They always seem to be a team that can knock off a top team in conference even though this OSU rarely has the talent to win the conference, which should be tilted toward the North once again. They should be able to do better with running the ball, but throwing it may be more suspect. The defense should be solid overall, but there will be some holes to fill on the line.

16 USC — – Staying with the Pac-12 (and this is a team that will have to travel to Corvallis), I don’t quite understand why so many are overlooking the Trojans. They were a top-3 (if not top 1) pick going into last year. While calling last year a disappointment is an understatement, much of the team has another chance at it, and they’re certainly not worse than a year ago. Although there is some chatter about Arizona St. potentially winning the South, there are five pretty win-able divisional games for USC, which also does not face Oregon. They will have a new QB, but I was never impressed by Barkley anyway. I don’t expect anything like 12-1, but the 2003 team did pretty well with a first-year quarterback, as did the 2008 team in Mark Sanchez’s only full season.

17 Notre Dame 2 – All of the easily-recognizable names from last year are gone, but 13 returning starters were enough to put the Irish a good number of spots into the top 25. The pressure will be on Brian Kelly to show that he can keep the team together despite some significant challenges and that last year wasn’t just a combination of lucky breaks. Like last season, the defense should be good enough to keep the Irish in games even if the offense doesn’t perform.

18 TCU — – Lest anyone think that I’m looking past LSU’s first opponent coming up in a few days… The Horned Frogs return almost the entire defense from last year and 6 returning starters on offense. There could be a quarterback controversy and the running game will be an unknown element, but the rest of the offense seems to be solid.

19 Nebraska 18 – Taylor Martinez is one of 12 returning starters on what momentarily looked like a sure Rose Bowl team last season. He will have a running back and a couple returning receivers to accompany him. Sometimes the defense just hasn’t shown up, so it may not be entirely bad that only 5 starters return.

20 Florida St. 12  – It’s not just THAT the Noles only have 10 returning starters, it’s where they are. Only two will be throwing targets, none in the backfield. On defense, the only returning starter outside of the secondary is a single middle linebacker. FSU has five games to get off its feet before traveling to Clemson, so despite the problems, I would not expect a loss before then.

21 Michigan St. — – Despite 6 total losses last season, the only team that beat the Spartans by more than 4 points went to the BCS Championship game. A little bit of maturity might be the only missing ingredient. Eight starters return on offense, where MSU needs to focus on finding running backs. A couple of players on the defensive line will need to be replaced, but the defense may challenge for best in the Big Ten.  They may well turn out to be a bit better than this, but I believe in making a team like this prove it.

22 Ole Miss — – This is the other extreme from Florida St.: 20 starters return to a team that finished barely above .500 last season (although playing in the SEC West was a good reason it didn’t have a better record). The defense wasn’t up to par last season, but that is the side with more returning starters. Other than two kickers, the Rebels only need to replace a tight end, an offensive guard, and a middle linebacker as starters.

23 N’western 20 – Both lines will have significant new starters, but 15 starters return from a 10-win team last year. Like Ole Miss, the defense wasn’t always reliable, especially not in the secondary, but we’re not talking about BCS-bowl teams at this point, so there can be such weaknesses.

24 Wisconsin — – The Badgers finished strong and won the Big Ten, but not before a lot of losses that would have normally made that impossible. So I’m not picking them particularly high despite returning 14 starters from that team. The offense should be pretty similar, if it can find a good running back; but beyond the line, there could be trouble on defense, where only 6 starters return.

25 Oklahoma St. — – The weakness with the Cowboys seems to be the running game, although a quarterback rotation can also be problematic. Three starters on the offensive line need to be replaced, and there is no returning starter at running back. Both sides of the ball return 7 starters, but on defense, the players lost from last year seem a lot more balanced.

Out of Rankings: (10) Kansas St., (13) SJSU, (16) Utah St., (21) Ark. St., (22) N. Illinois, (23) Michigan, (25) Cincinnati

2013 College Football Preseason Top 10

In College Football, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on August 26, 2013 at 2:00 PM

I knew the top 5 I wanted fairly quickly, but when I looked for more information to distinguish closer-together teams, I found more that was worth sharing, so some of the descriptions go on a bit longer as you scroll down. Most preseason lists do the opposite, but so be it. I will release 11-25 before the first game on Thursday.

1. Alabama – Two-time defending champion with a lot of people coming back: this was easy.

2. Ohio St. – When you play in a major conference and don’t lose, I think you need to be near the top until you do.

3. Georgia – One play away from taking Alabama’s spot in the BCS Championship, and I don’t see the gap getting a lot wider.

4. Stanford – Got the edge over Oregon because it won’t have the question marks that come with a first-year head coach and there is more demonstrated ability with the key players coming back.

5. Oregon – Explained by higher and lower teams.

6. LSU – I summarized my general feelings last week. The Tigers return 8 starters on offense, and I think that’s key. I’d rather have a lower number (4) of returning starters on defense because of the way the defense has been run in recent years and the stockpile of talent that is at least somewhat experienced and always seems to be waiting for its turn. A more experienced quarterback, combined with more experienced people around him (a real OC doesn’t hurt either), is what is needed to turn things around on that side of the ball. I am ranking LSU below Stanford and Oregon, because they both have a few more returning starters. I think LSU will have to have more pieces that aren’t there yet come together more quickly. LSU does play my #1 and #3 (possibly could play the latter twice before the bowls), so even if they are the sixth-best team, they might not get the ranking at the end of the year. On the other hand, I don’t see how this isn’t a team with an more legitimate chance to win than it had in 2003 and something similar (hopefully without the 2 losses) to what happened in 2007. I am simply not seeing Florida, Texas A&M, or South Carolina being as legitimate contenders for the SEC title as LSU seems to be.

7. Clemson – Another tough team named the Tigers who will play two of the expected top three teams of the SEC East (Georgia and South Carolina, in this case). They have one more returning starter than the purple and gold species of Tigers; but despite winning that game in Atlanta, I don’t think the orange Tigers were quite as good to start with. Florida St. also may not be an easy win, even if Clemson is as good as I expect.

8. Louisville – I was reluctant to jump on the bandwagon here, but none of the #4-6 SEC teams stand out ahead of the Cardinals, who return 16 starters. The offensive line will have to recover from a couple of losses, but if that’s the one weak area (they also have to replace one of their best players at RB), this team could be dangerous. Other than a bafflingly poor performance at Syracuse, Louisville was a triple-OT loss to Connecticut away from going undefeated last season. Beating Florida (which neither LSU nor Texas A&M was able to accomplish last year) was a nice touch too.

9. South Carolina – This team has always been an enigma under Darth Visor. I thought the Gamecocks were finally the elite team of the East after 2011, and they solidified that opinion with the 35-7 dismantling of Georgia early on. Then, after a close loss at LSU, they were destroyed by Florida, 44-11. But those turned out to be the only two losses, and of course South Carolina also got past Clemson. The Gamecocks return 11 starters, but they have a seasoned quarterback (and some backups that can see action at a moment’s notice of course). I’m thinking the defense (only 5 RS) may work itself out in a similar manner to LSU’s.

10. Texas A&M – Manziel and about half of the rest of the team return to a squad that finished strong after early losses to LSU and Florida. The offense should be good again, but without 4 of the top 6 receivers from last year, I wonder if there will be enough room to run. There will be blockers and runners though, so I would still expect a very good offense, although points were elusive at times (often in the second half) last season. On the other side of the ball, it’s unclear if there will be sufficient pressure on the opposing quarterback. The defensive backfield wasn’t great last year and probably won’t be this year. There is some talent in the middle, but there has been a string of injuries, so I’m not sure if we can expect a high-quality defense from the Aggies at all.

Preliminary LSU Thoughts and Dodger Blue Skies

In Bowls, College Football, General LSU, MLB, Rankings Commentary on August 21, 2013 at 5:21 PM

Preliminary LSU Thoughts

I’m fine with my team not being highly rated to start, but I still question the reasoning.

I guess people are forgetting that despite the #14 ranking to finish last year, LSU was one of the handful of top teams in the country for the third year in a row. The loss to Clemson in the bowl game was a matter of a highly motivated team playing a highly disappointed team. I’m not saying that it wasn’t right for LSU to fall in the polls afterward, but that didn’t mean that they weren’t one of the best teams in the country. If Alabama had been slotted into the Peach Bowl (Chick-fil-A doesn’t send me money, so I’m calling it what I want) against Clemson, that probably would have been a really close game too. When you are the national runner-up one year and you go down to the wire against a team like Alabama for what in all likelihood would have been a chance to repeat as SEC Champions, the Peach Bowl isn’t something you get excited about.

I’m not saying LSU would have necessarily won the SEC (Georgia showed itself to be pretty much equal to LSU and Alabama despite having played none of the top three teams in the West before the SEC Championship game [SECCG]), but only very good SEC teams control their own destiny going into the SECCG. LSU was in that position in neither of its championship years; and of course in 2011, Alabama wasn’t even in the SECCG.

An unfortunate aspect of preseason rankings is many voters (or random people who do preseason rankings) want to envision a team going undefeated. That’s hard to do when you have to play the best four other SEC teams from last year (Alabama, Texas A&M, Georgia, and Florida) and TCU.

How many does Alabama have to play? Two. So it’s possible LSU beats Alabama and still doesn’t make the SECCG as a result of the rest of the schedule.

You might vaguely recall the fact that Alabama had an easier slate against the East last year too. The Tide played Missouri and Tennessee while the Tigers played Florida and South Carolina. It seems like the least that could have been done would have been to let LSU play Missouri this year.

LSU also had quite a gauntlet in 2011 and went 13-0 going into the BCS title game. And that was without a reliable quarterback, which LSU finally seems to have going into next year. Zach Mettenberger had some shaky starts early last year, but compared to Jarrett Lee’s growing pains, his first season was a walk in the park. Had LSU not played Florida, the Tigers could have very well gone into the Alabama game (in which Mettenberger would have likely finished leading the team to victory had he been allowed) undefeated.

Zach Mettenberger (looking classy for once) will likely be a key part of LSU's success if they have it.

Zach Mettenberger (looking classy for once) will likely be a key part of LSU’s success if they have it.

I honestly don’t know all the nuances of players LSU has lost and is replacing this year, but I have learned that you can’t judge teams like Alabama and LSU based on how good the players they lost were. Often, there was a player with even more ability who will simply get more playing time. I expect at a minimum a very good defenses and a steady, consistent offense. I do like being less worried about the position of QB, but that’s always just a play away from radically changing.

As for 2010, let me just say that LSU finished #8 in the AP poll, behind Auburn (who beat LSU on the Plains by a touchdown for one of the Bayou Bengals’ two losses) and Ohio St. (who would later vacate the wins that season), so even if that’s not one of the 5 best teams, that’s pretty close.

Contrast that with Florida St., who is ahead of LSU in the AP preseason rankings after finishing in the top 15 last year for the first time since 2004. That was way back when you could finish undefeated in the SEC and not even make the BCS Championship.

This will probably be my most lackluster pre-season ranking in a decade, so don’t put too much stock into it. I will try to get it done this weekend, but I might not finish until closer to the start of the season a week from tomorrow.

Dodger Blue Skies

Something that has always annoyed me around here (Southern California) is the fair-weather fans. I first noticed it a while back when the flags people put on their cars would appear or disappear with the Lakers’ fortunes. I first noticed it in regard to baseball a few years ago when the Yankees won. So many Yankees hats appeared on people’s heads. For some reason, basketball fans use flags. I guess because basketball players don’t wear hats when they play. But both flags and hats are removable.

Anyway, the Dodgers won 41 of 50 games recently. Before that happened, I rarely saw a Dodgers hat. This is usually more Angels territory. If there is low traffic (and going to a typical week-night game, there is), it’s perfectly possible to get to Anaheim in around 30 minutes. I have a cousin who lives in Southern Los Angeles County (the general region closest to Anaheim), and even though I live in a completely different area much farther away, it often takes him longer to get to games than it takes me since I come from the opposite direction.

It takes over twice as long to get from where I live to Chavez Ravine. I haven’t actually gone there on a week night, but I have to travel in that direction at times. Anyway, before this, I would see a Dodgers hat or jersey maybe once a week or less. Now, I see what looks like a new Dodgers hat once a day, sometimes many of them in a day. I’ve only seen a couple Angels hats in the last month, and I don’t recall seeing a Yankees hat since the last baseball game I went to in early July (it wasn’t a Yankees game, but there is usually at least one person in a Yankees hat there).

There was even a female DJ on the radio talking about it. She put on her “Dodger blue” because they were finally in first place (this was at the beginning of the streak). She had never mentioned the Dodgers before. I believe it was a station that typically promotes the Angels too. I guess it’s just part of instant-gratification culture out here.

I just don’t see how there is satisfaction in that if you only really identify with a team when it’s doing well. Louisiana is full of LSU and Saints fans even if the Saints only win 3 games or LSU only wins 2 games (yes, I remember such a season). That’s what made it so meaningful when LSU won the national championship and the Saints won the Super Bowl. If I had just decided to be a Florida St. or Nebraska fan in the 1990s and only later decided I liked LSU, I don’t think that would have been very fulfilling. I did cheer for Florida St. at times in the 1990s, but only after I suffered through an LSU loss to Vanderbilt or Colorado St. or a loss to Florida by 8 touchdowns. (My special love for Florida back then is one of the things that led me to cheer for Florida St.)

There are split allegiances with the NBA in Louisiana, but that’s partly because New Orleans has only had a team for just over 10 years (and part of that time, they were primarily in Oklahoma City). People didn’t just stop liking the team they liked in the first place. I’m not saying you have to pick a team at birth and stick with it, but the mid-season conversions are a bit transparent. At least act like they’re your team when the season starts and when they’re .500 or below a few months in.