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Archive for September, 2013|Monthly archive page

College Football Top 25 Week 5

In College Football, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 30, 2013 at 10:00 AM

It’s almost October, and that’s when my full computer ratings go online. There are still several teams that have strengths of schedules that are too bad to be rated the normal way, so it’s usually good to wait that additional week.

However, I did run the numbers to give me a rating. The top 25 overlapped a lot more than it usually does. I noticed that with the major polls as well. I guess there just isn’t that much competition among teams that might be vying for a top 25 spot this year. The teams that are playing serious competition and doing well are fairly easy to recognize without delving too deeply.

I decided the best approach would be to make this a transitional week between subjective rankings and strictly going on the computer formula. Sometimes I move one or two teams around on this blog even after I go to the computers, but that’s only to keep the top 5 (and sometimes just the top 1) from being too chaotic. Alabama came out first, so maybe next week will be 100% based on the computers. To be clear, I do not ever alter the order on my computer ratings site.

Washington is one of the best teams in the formula right now. Often, teams like that peak too soon, but they might be awfully close to Alabama if not ahead if the Huskies beat Stanford next week. Likewise, Stanford may have the top rating if they win.

Anyway, my basic approach for this week was to rank the teams the way I’ve been doing and then add that ranking to the (preliminary, unpublished) computer ranking. Lower number = better team. I did make a few adjustments from there. I included one team (Florida) that didn’t make the top 25 after that procedure and excluded one (Missouri) that did; but like I was saying, there really isn’t that much to choose from when rounding out the top 25 anyway.

Florida came out #26 when I added the two numbers together, and Missouri came out #21. I will put Missouri in if they win next week and are in the computer top 25, but I don’t think it’s out of place to be a little bit hesitant there. Vanderbilt probably isn’t too great this season, but at least beating them would show Missouri may be moving up in the SEC East. I’m not convinced of that yet.

You’ll notice Texas A&M is a bit down, but apart from the loss to Alabama (all losses are negative in my system), they haven’t really played anyone. “Johnny Football” dancing around the field just doesn’t impress the mathematics of what that team has done so far. Even if you look at ease of victory (which does not affect them in my ratings), the final scores are really not that great: for instance, the point totals given up to Rice and Sam Houston St. and the fact that Arkansas was in Saturday’s game well into the fourth quarter. Anyway, I put the Aggies higher than they would be if I had just added the two rankings together. The computer formula did not even put them in the top 25. Of course, if they start beating teams like Auburn and Ole Miss (their next two opponents), I would expect them to get a little bit closer to their poll ranking.

There were a few other minor examples, but I don’t think I moved any other teams more than a couple of spots from where the numbers mentioned put them. Ohio St. might be 3 positions higher. I still want to give them some credit for the winning streak, and they will be playing an apparently decent team again next week. I didn’t want to move them down drastically to possibly move them back up anyway.

I expect a similarly reasonable transition between this week and next week. At least I think this one is reasonable. I know we have to wait another year for the top-4 system to be implemented, but I couldn’t help but notice how well what I have so far would fit that. SEC champion + Pac-12 champion + Clemson + Ohio St. It never quite happens the way you think it might two months from the end of the regular season though.

Top 25

rank / team / prior

1 Alabama 1
2 Stanford 4
3 Clemson 6
4 Georgia 7
5 Washington 12
6 Ohio St. 2
7 Oregon 3
8 Oklahoma 11
9 LSU 5
10 Florida St. 13
11 Louisville 8
12 S Carolina 9
13 Texas Tech 21
14 Miami 14
15 Fresno St. 25
16 TX A&M 10
17 UCLA 19
18 Va. Tech —
19 Michigan 16
20 Ole Miss 15
21 Auburn 20
22 Baylor 22
23 N’western 17
24 Florida 23
25 N. Illinois —

Out of rankings: (18) Okie St., (24) Notre Dame

Prior rankings:
Preseason
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4

I also wanted to mention this is the first month in a good while, at least during the football season, in which I’ve gotten more views than the same month in the prior year. Thanks for visiting.

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Rivalry Series: LSU vs. Georgia

In College Football, General LSU, Rivalry on September 27, 2013 at 10:54 PM

Series Facts
(All records now updated)

LSU leads the series, 16-13-1
In Baton Rouge, the series is tied, 5-5-1
In Athens, the series is tied, 7-7
In other locations (Atlanta 4 times, the first in 1944; and Columbus, Ga., once), LSU leads, 4-1

Other facts:
• Six games in the series have been decided by 3 points or fewer.
• LSU won the first 7 meetings (including the last 3 in a row in Georgia [5 total], which has not been duplicated), before Georgia won the next 3.
• Georgia has only won back-to-back games in Baton Rouge once, 1952 and 1978. The Bulldogs did go 3-0-1 in Baton Rouge from 1948-1978. LSU won two in a row at home twice, 1936&1943 and 1986&1990.
• LSU last won consecutive games in Athens in 1951 and 1953.
• The 90 points scored between the two teams in 2008 were easily the most in series history. Then in 2013, Georgia won, 44-41. There is a tie for third at 61 points between the 2004 game (45-16, Georgia) and the 1944 game (34-27, LSU).
• The lowest-scoring games were a 7-0 Georgia win in 1949 and a 7-0 LSU win in 1951. There has not been a shutout since, although there were three before 1949.
• The 27 total points scored in 2003 are the lowest point total in the series since LSU won 14-6 in 1953.

1928-1999

I believe Georgia and Alabama are the only two SEC series where LSU has a better record on the road than at home (LSU won two true road games outside of Athens, so this is still true despite the 2013 result). LSU plays both on the road this season in what may be the two biggest games.

After playing with some frequency in the 1940s and earlly 1950s, the two teams went 25 years between games, finally meeting again in 1978. From that point forward, Georgia leads 8-7.

The series has proceed in streaks. Georgia won in 1978 and 1979. The next three games—1986, 1987, and 1990—were all won by LSU.

The Tigers would have some success in the mid-1990s, but they did not meet the Bulldogs in those years. Georgia would win in 1991, 1998, and 1999. The one-point win in 1998 was one of the games that started a downward spiral for LSU, eventually leading to Gerry DiNardo’s departure after 10 games (including another one-point loss to the Bulldogs) in 1999.

2003

The teams did not meet again until 2003, but although both teams ended up being markedly better than in the late 1990s, they were still evenly matched. LSU was ranked #11 and Georgia was ranked #7 going into the game.

After LSU led 7-3 at halftime and 10-3 after three quarters, Georgia scored a touchdown on a 93-yard screen pass with 4:25 left on the clock. LSU responded in just over 3 minutes with a touchdown of its own, a 34-yard pass from Matt Mauck to Skyler Green.

I’m still not sure how exactly LSU won that game after being out-gained 411-285. The Tigers did allow one fewer turnover, and it didn’t hurt that they had Devery Henderson retuning kickoffs. Georgia used more running backs, but LSU had two (Shyrone Carey and Joseph Addai) with 15 carries or more and both gained over 4 yards per carry. Georgia also had 23 first downs to 16 for LSU, which was only 5 of 18 on third downs. The Bulldogs had more yards per rush, had more yards per pass, and were penalized for fewer yards.

After LSU had a 19-7 loss at the hands of Florida a few weeks later, it appeared the season was headed downhill after the big win over the Bulldogs, but the Tiger offense really got going in Columbia the week after the Florida game and except for a couple of speed-bumps (Ole Miss and the second half against Oklahoma), it would carry the Tigers to their second SEC Championship in 3 years and first major-poll national championship in 45 years.

But on the way there, they had to get past that same Georgia team (whose only other loss was also to Florida). It was much easier the second time even though it was just about in the Bulldogs’ back yard in Atlanta. The game was a contest between the last two SEC champions, who had each won for the first time after the Florida-Tennessee-Alabama stranglehold had begun to loosen.

The game wasn’t very interesting, as LSU won 34-13, but the story outside the game was interesting. Somehow Oklahoma, #1 going into the day, got blown out but stayed #1 in the BCS, while LSU moved up to #2. There was a bonus for beating quality opponents, but there was some controversy since LSU could not get the bonus twice for beating Georgia. But ultimately, it didn’t matter because Georgia fell out of the top 10 after LSU beat them anyway.

The BCS had so many different wrinkles at that time that it was hard to predict. LSU even arguably got an assist when Boise St. finished off Hawaii early the next morning Eastern time. It improved LSU’s stength of schedule since the Tigers had beaten Louisiana Tech, which played Boise St., and weakened USC’s strength of schedule since the Trojans had beaten Hawaii. That was just the last of a number of games that in some way had a bearing on the final numbers.

2004-present and John Chavis

That was the first of three times that LSU has played Georgia in the SEC Championship so far, with the Bulldogs winning in 2005 (Les Miles first year) and LSU winning in 2011. These later contests were not competitive either.

True to form, the 2005 win was part of a three-game Georgia winning streak that started in 2004, when the Bulldogs beat the Tigers 45-10 in Athens.

Georgia had to wait until 2008, the season known by Tiger fans for Jarrett Lee pick-6 specials, to pick up the third win, 52-38. That was the most points scored by an opposing team in Tiger Stadium since Steve Spurrier’s Florida team won 58-3 15 years before.

LSU has beaten Georgia twice since then. We already covered 2011, but the Tigers also won their previous game in 2009, when Georgia’s old nemesis DC John Chavis, formerly of Tennessee, came to Athens. LSU struggled offensively over a few years there, but they only needed to score over 13 in that game; and they got 20.

These were the winners and final scores between Tennessee under Chavis and Georgia:
1995 – Tennessee, 30-27
1996 – Tennessee, 29-17
1997 – Tennessee, 38-13
1998 – Tennessee, 22-3
1999 – Tennessee, 37-20
2000 – Georgia, 21-10
—Mark Richt hired at UGA—
2001 – Georgia, 26-24
2002 – Georgia, 18-13
2003 – Georgia, 41-14
2004 – Tennessee, 19-14
2005 – Georgia, 27-14
2006 – Tennessee, 51-33
2007 – Tennessee, 35-14
2008 – Georgia, 26-14

So Georgia only scored over 27 twice in all those games, and they were held in the teens (or lower) six times. As mentioned, Georgia was pretty good in 2003 (and it didn’t help that Tennessee’s offense did a poor job in keeping the ball). A similar scenario ensued with Chavis coaching LSU in 2013. LSU scored a lot more often than that 2003 Tennessee team did but struggled in running the ball to take up time for the entire first half. As to 2006, Georgia scored two touchdowns on kick returns but was otherwise held to a field goal in the second half.

The series are much shorter with the head coaches. Miles is 2-3 against Georgia at LSU (he did not face the Bulldogs at Oklahoma St.) but started 0-2. Georgia is the only SEC team with a winning record against Les Miles’s LSU teams (as of 9/28/2013). Mark Richt is 4-4 against the Tigers.

Team List:
Alabama (2011 pre-game)
Arkansas
Auburn (2010 post-game)
Florida
Mississippi St.
Ole Miss
(Steve Spurrier and) South Carolina
Tennessee
Texas A&M

Special editions:
Pac-12

College Football Top 25 Week 4 (+ LSU post-game comments)

In College Football, General LSU, History, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 23, 2013 at 5:05 PM

LSU post-game
In one of the least-exciting college football weeks I remember, thankfully the LSU-Auburn game was no exception. The Fighting Tigers went out to a 21-0 lead, and the lead was never fewer than 14 points after that.

I realized there were some errors in my LSU-Auburn rivalry blog, so check that out if you’re interested. This game shows up in the series record books in a couple of places. LSU has now won 6 of 7 against Auburn for the third time ever and for the first time since it became an annual series in 1992. (For its part, Auburn had a 5-1 run that ended in 1994.) The rivalry has definitely lost its luster in recent years, but from 1980 to 2011, the two programs were 12-12 against one another, so it’s still a competitive rivalry in the big picture.

The contest on Saturday would have been the largest point total of any LSU-Auburn game in history (they have traditionally been low-scoring) had LSU successfully kicked a field goal in the third quarter rather than faking unsuccessfully (and all other scoring proceeded in the same way). I thought the fake was stupid. That’s something that you draw up but keep for a more important moment in a later game. Also, Les never seems to factor in how many yards are needed. If it were 4th and 6 instead of 4th and 10 (and the other qualification were met), that would have been an outstanding play.

Zach Mettenberger suffered an interception, his first of the season, although it did hit the LSU receiver in the hands (he just didn’t wrestle the ball away and the defender did). But 14 for 22 isn’t a bad percentage. The defense did well, although there seemed to be an overall lack of enthusiasm in the second half. I liked to see the improvement relative to the TCU game in third down defense. Not only did LSU hold Auburn to 6/17 on third downs, they also held them to 1/5 on fourth downs. So 11 times they stopped Auburn on third down and 4 times they stopped them again. There was some sloppiness–two turnovers, a bunch of procedural penalties, for instance–but hopefully we can blame at least some of it on the rain. I also liked that LSU only allowed 19 total return yards for the game, in contrast with the 169 return yards given up to TCU.

Next up is the first SEC road game, this time against Georgia, Zach’s former school. I’m hopeful, but things can definitely go wrong in a hurry in that stadium. It’s games like this were I almost miss the days were I was just happy to see LSU win a game; and if they played a big game like this, I was just happy for the opportunity for a big win rather than dreading the possibility of a loss. The way things are now, no matter how much success comes after a loss, “but we lost” is still in the back of my mind. If we lose a second game, then the season is pretty much over (barring a repeat of 2007 anyway). If I get time, I may write about the LSU-Georgia series, although it has been played relatively seldom.

Les Miles has only lost twice in the month of September with LSU, the first time in his first game as head coach in Tiger Stadium in 2005. The second time was @Auburn in that 7-3 game in 2006. LSU won its most-recent trip to Georgia in 2009. LSU entered the game with a 4-0 record and Georgia entered the game at 3-1. (The respective records this year are 4-0 and 2-1.)

Top 25

rank / team / prior

1 Alabama 1
2 Ohio St. 2
3 Oregon 3
4 Stanford 4
5 LSU 5
6 Clemson 6
7 Georgia 7
8 Louisville 8
9 S Carolina 9
10 TX A&M 10
11 Oklahoma 11
12 Washington 12
13 Florida St. 13
14 Miami 14
15 Ole Miss 15
16 Michigan 16
17 N’western 17
18 Okie St. 18
19 UCLA 19
20 Auburn 20
21 Texas Tech 21
22 Baylor 22
23 Florida 25
24 Notre Dame —
25 Fresno St. —

Out of rankings: (23) Mich. St., (24) Wisconsin

Prior rankings:
Preseason
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3

SEC Team Records (Last Eight Full Seasons)

In College Football, General LSU, History on September 21, 2013 at 12:09 PM

SEC Records 2005-2012
* – In one season apiece, the major polls disagreed. The total given is the higher number.

NOTES: Missouri and Texas A&M are not included since they did not play SEC games until last season. Teams are sorted by overall winning percentage, which only really conflicts with SEC winning percentage in the case of Ole Miss/Vandy, but the Rebels have had one more bowl win and one more top-25 finish in the time period. SEC #2 just means winning the division but not the SEC Championship. No games this season are included.

Before I start, I wanted remind people about my LSU/Auburn Rivalry Blog. LSU has won 5 out of 6, but they’ve been pretty close, and there were a lot of great games not too long ago.

Getting back to the chart I made, I got the inspiration for this from the LSU media guide. These are records of all of the SEC teams (with the exception of Missouri and Texas A&M) since Les Miles took over at LSU before the 2005 season.

You don’t have to tell me that the vast majority of Alabama’s losses took place toward the beginning of that period, but this is interesting nonetheless. I don’t know how long Alabama can continue winning games at the current rate, but the fact that the last 8 seasons have gone as well as they have for LSU is cause to be grateful even if it’s a constant source of frustration to think about how close LSU came to beating Alabama last year and how they beat Alabama a second year in a row as one of 13 victories in 2011, and somehow it wasn’t enough.

Things can and do change for a lot of teams that have been at the top recently. USC was a major power from 2002 to 2008, but the Trojans have only had a double-digit-win season once since then. I don’t know how Florida will do this year, but if they fail to reach double digits in wins or even fail to finish above .500 in the SEC, it will be third time in four years since the Gators went 13-1 in 2009, in what had been their third one-loss season in four years.

Texas is a similar example. The Longhorns have gone only 23-19 since January 2010 after losing only 8 games total in the prior 6 years.

Point being, it’s very hard to keep that kind of run going, even if Alabama does so.

It is interesting how close LSU and Alabama are on this graph, despite the Tide having three BCS championships to one. LSU has one more overall win, one fewer loss. Alabama has one more bowl win in the same number of appearances. LSU has one more top 25 finish. Alabama arguably has one more top-10 finish. The SEC wins are exactly the same. If you were wondering, Les Miles is 5-4 against Alabama with the Tigers, 5-3 in official conference play.

Florida is a close third but is a bit behind in top-10 finishes. Georgia is right there in many of the statistics, although they’d won 9 fewer games than LSU had going into this season. There is a relatively large drop between Georgia and the next group.

It’s also interesting to consider the permanent inter-divisional games. #1 LSU vs. #3 Florida, #2 Alabama vs. #8 Tennessee, #4 Georgia vs. #5 Auburn, #6 South Carolina vs. #7 Arkansas (Arkansas is supposedly going to switch to being Missouri’s permanent rival, but the bridge schedules haven’t done this), #9 Miss. St. vs. #10 Kentucky, and #11 Ole Miss vs. #12 Vandy.

You would think the best SEC East team on a list like this would have played the best SEC West team in an SEC championship game, but they have not. It can be hard to recover from a loss to the other division.

It’s a bit of a tangent, but I’ll go over some examples. Had both LSU and A&M either beaten or failed to play Florida, that would have resulted in a three-way tie atop the division last year. Unless Florida had beaten Alabama instead, in which case LSU would have proceeded to the championship game based on beating A&M head-to-head. Many thought LSU should have won the West in 2006 after beating Arkansas, but the loss to Florida (combined with Arkansas’s lack of inter-divisional competition) prevented that. In 2007, the loss to LSU kept Florida from tying for the SEC East title, although Georgia would have advanced in a three-way tiebreaker. In 2005, Florida’s loss to LSU definitely kept them out of the title game. Auburn beat Georgia that year and only lost to LSU in conference, so if Florida had beaten LSU, that would have changed both of the division winners and still prevented a rematch. So even if LSU and Florida are the best teams, chances are one of them won’t make it into the championship game. When LSU did make it despite losing to the Gators (in 2001 and 2003), Florida had fairly mediocre years, but that was when the East tended to beat up on the West anyway.

Georgia has also never had a rematch with Auburn in the SEC championship game despite Georgia’s 5 appearances and Auburn’s 4 appearances since 1997. Tennessee isn’t too relevant in the title picture anymore, but the Vols never had a rematch with Alabama either. Nos. 9-12 have combined for only one appearance in the SEC championship game despite what should be a natural advantage in the good years.

Anyway, like most LSU fans, I do have mixed feelings about Les Miles. Standing by and watching the JJ implosion in 2011 was so frustrating to me. Winning a rematch is an unfair demand in the first place, and it may not have helped, but he needed to do something. That was a two-possession game until very late too. If LSU had made a better show of it, there would have been a chance at an AP championship even with a loss. The great escape against Tennessee (2010) is still baffling. And no matter how many times we beat Ole Miss, I don’t feel much solace about the one that got away in 2009.

But despite all these caveats, I still look at this graph and feel pretty good about the program over the last 8+ seasons. Many thought we would take a significant step back relative to Saban, but (apart from the whole national-title thing) we’ve really taken a step forward. Although his combined record in his last two seasons with the Tigers was 22-4, only one Miles season (2008) ended with fewer wins than Saban’s last season with LSU in 2004. 11-2 has been about a typical year for LSU since Miles took over. The Tigers won exactly that number in 2005, 2006, and 2010, and won more in 2007 and 2011. Fewer wins in 2008, 2009, and 2012, but two of those years (2009 and 2012) were for the most-part as good as the 11-win teams, except I think losing the chance at playing for an SEC title (and maybe even an eventual national title) really took the wind out of their sails.

College Football Top 25 Week 3

In College Football, Rankings on September 15, 2013 at 11:59 AM

Top 25

rank / team / prior

1 Alabama 1
2 Ohio St. 2
3 Oregon 4
4 Stanford 3
5 LSU 5
6 Clemson 6
7 Georgia 7
8 Louisville 8
9 S Carolina 9
10 TX A&M 10
11 Oklahoma 11
12 Washington 12
13 Florida St. 14
14 Miami 15
15 Ole Miss 17
16 Michigan 16
17 N’western 18
18 Okie St. 20
19 UCLA —
20 Auburn 23
21 Texas Tech —
22 Baylor 24
23 Mich. St. 21
24 Wisconsin 19
25 Florida 25

Out of rankings: (13) TCU, (22) Nebraska

Prior rankings:
Preseason
Week 1
Week 2

Alabama/Texas A&M Pre-Game; W(h)ither Texas and USC?

In College Football, Rankings Commentary on September 13, 2013 at 8:24 PM

Before I start, I wanted to share a couple of things.

Even non-LSU and non-ESPN fans seem to be highly amused by this video. Apparently, this was released at least two weeks ago, but I happened to catch it while watching SportsCenter yesterday while my car was in the shop and found it hilarious.

This isn’t really relevant to anything, but it was a game in Texas on Thursday (TCU @ Texas Tech). I wasn’t interested enough to turn the game on, but this was different.
foxtech_medium

large_white_box_grayborder

Alabama/Texas A&M Pre-Game

Getting to more serious matters, the first thing on everyone’s mind at the moment is Alabama/A&M, and I’m glad LSU doesn’t have to play either this early in the season. Not that this makes up for the uneven scheduling as far as inter-divisional games.

This will come as no surprise to anyone, but I’m picking Alabama. In short, I’ll take competent offense + really good defense over really good offense + seemingly non-existent defense.

Restricting my comments to his abilities on the field, the main problem I see with Manziel is he’s not a two-way player. The offensive prowess of Rice and Sam Houston St. notwithstanding, you can’t justify giving up a combined 59 points and 899 yards of total offense in those two games.

As an aside, I’m not sure what’s going on with SEC defenses. Georgia and South Carolina don’t seem to have any defenses to speak of either. That’s half of the top 6 SEC teams from last year.

McCarron is over-rated (there are several quarterbacks that I believe could have the same or better record based on Nick and the teams he’s had recently), but I would venture to say Florida’s offense might even look competent against the Aggie defense.

Speaking of Saban, I saw his grumpy press conference. Sorry to ask about how the preparation is going, your highness. That’s the kind of question that can even be asked as a head coach is walking onto the field. “We’re going to put the distractions behind us and be ready to play.” I don’t understand what’s so difficult about that.

The game will be in College Station, but no one other than Les Miles has beaten Alabama two games in a row over the past few seasons; and he needed overtime to do it in 2011. Don’t remind me about anything that happened after that.

Also, I think Texas A&M is particularly vulnerable to the adjustments I would expect Saban to make. No one could quite prepare for the Aggies by game time last year, but there shouldn’t be the same adjustment period this year, at least not for the players who played defense last year. After the first half, the Aggies lost to Florida 10-0. After the respective first quarters, they lost to LSU 24-10 and to Alabama 24-9.

Yes, Alabama had more trouble initially than LSU or Florida did last year (hence the loss), but Texas A&M will probably be more reliant on the run than last year, and that’s good news for the Tide as well.

Compare the Sam Houston St. game this year with the one last year. Manziel had 13.4 yards per pass last season and only 10.1 yards per pass this season. The only reason I thought to look for that number was the fact that 4 of the Aggies’ top 6 receivers from last season are no longer on the team. Maybe the new receivers will be just as good at some point this season, but September 14 is a little early to expect that.

However, I’d be perfectly happy to see Alabama lose as usual. I don’t think they have anyone to realistically lose to apart from A&M and LSU. I hope I’m wrong.

W(h)ither Texas and USC?

Just to mention a couple of other teams, I’m not sure how to explain Texas and USC in recent years. They sure have fallen a long way from the 2005 BCS title game.

Mack Brown was always a better recruiter than coach, in my opinion, but I don’t know how the original McCoy/Shipley team didn’t lead to the recruits necessary to succeed since then. Maybe it’s not having Muschamp around on the other side of the ball. Something has gone terribly wrong if you give up 40 points to a team Virginia held to 16, especially when you’re loaded with returning starters. The Cavaliers gave up 59 to Oregon, by the way.

USC was the opposite problem. They only managed 7 points against Washington St. at home. Auburn (which didn’t even receive a vote in either major poll to start the year) scored 31 points against the Cougars. The Trojans’ average in this series the last 7 meetings had been 45.4 points. It seems there is something going on there that can’t just be chalked up to probation.

Now it’s easy to say Kiffin just isn’t a good head coach (living in Southern California, I might have heard that once or twice), but they went 10-2 in 2011 and finished even better than they started: after the bye week, they looked great for the remaining seven games, winning all but the one against Oregon by at least 2 touchdowns and only losing to Stanford after three overtimes. That doesn’t happen if you can’t coach.

Kiffin’s performances at Tennessee and the Raiders were actually underrated in my opinion. He won two more games than the Vols had won in Fullmer’s last year, and Dooley wasn’t able to match that win total in any of his three seasons.

Kiffin didn’t do very well with the Raiders, winning only ¼ of the games while head coach there (5-15), but in the shape that team was in after trying to bring back the early 1990s with Art Shell, I thought there was more improvement than the record indicated. Seven of Kiffin’s losses with the Raiders were by a touchdown or less. When Shell went 2-14 in 2006, only four of his losses were by a touchdown or less.

All I can think is that Kiffin has difficulty planning for the long-term as head coach. I think this is more vital in college than in the NFL. There is no guarantee you’re going to have a large number of known quantities from one season to the next in the NFL. I never see this printed anywhere, but I’d like to see the number of returning starters that NFL teams have from year to year. Anyway, even though offensive coordinators are often more involved than a defensive head coach, maybe Pete Carroll kept tabs on long-term recruiting goals at USC.

College Football Top 25 Week 2

In College Football, Rankings on September 9, 2013 at 1:22 PM

Top 25

rank / team / prior

1 Alabama 1
2 Ohio St. 2
3 Stanford 3
4 Oregon 4
5 LSU 5
6 Clemson 6
7 Georgia 7
8 Louisville 8
9 S Carolina 9
10 TX A&M 10
11 Oklahoma 13
12 Washington 16
13 TCU 17
14 Florida St. 18
15 Miami —
16 Michigan 24
17 Ole Miss 20
18 N’western 21
19 Wisconsin 22
20 Okie St. 23
21 Mich. St. 19
22 Nebraska 25
23 Auburn —
24 Baylor —
25 Florida 12

Out of rankings: (11) Texas, (14) USC,
(15) Notre Dame

Prior rankings:
Preseason
Week 1

Most Unlikely FCS vs. FBS Win Yet

In College Football, Post-game on September 8, 2013 at 12:28 PM

Nicholls St. beat Western Michigan yesterday, 27-24. If you don’t know anything about Nicholls St., you’re probably thinking, “So what? FCS teams have won several games like this in the last few years, who cares if a mediocre MAC team lost a game like this?” Hopefully I can explain.

Going into today, most people probably regarded the biggest upset of a I-A/FBS team by a I-AA/FCS team as the upset by Appalachian St. against Michigan, which caused the AP to revise its rules to allow for voters to rank I-AA teams for the first time. So I’m going to talk about that first.

Michigan was ranked #5 nationally when it lost to Appalachian St. in the opener in 2007, but that was mostly because it was widely regarded as the second-best team in the nation for most of the year in 2006.

Most people had not heard of Appalachian St. before then, but they probably should have. The Mountaineers were on a 14-game winning streak since losing to North Carolina St. in the 2006 opener. They were on a 23-game winning streak against I-AA opponents dating back to October 2005.

Michigan had a decent year in 2007, but they did lose to 3 I-A opponents that year as well. Appalachian St.’s winning streak did end in 2007, but the Mountaineers won their third consecutive title despite two losses on the year. So in hindsight, you can at least understand Appalachian St. having the confidence to believe it could win that game.

As an aside, I’m not even sure that was a bigger upset than Stanford over USC, also in 2007. Stanford, which had gone 1-11 the year before, ended a 35-game home winning streak for the Trojans, who would lose only one other game in the 2007 season. USC was the #2 team in the nation going into that game after starting the season #1. Stanford would finish 4-8 in 2007. The closest comparison I can think of is if Kentucky beats Alabama this year and then Alabama goes on to win the Sugar Bowl.

Anyway, comparing that 2007 Appalachian St. team to 2013 Nicholls St. isn’t like comparing day and night. It’s like comparing the surface of the sun to the dark side of the moon.

Going into yesterday, the Nicholls St. Colonels had a 21-game LOSING streak against NCAA schools (15 of them FCS). The Colonels’ only wins in 2011 and 2012 combined were both against Evangel College, which competes in NAIA. Nicholls St. had lost its last three games against FBS opponents by a combined score of 209-22, managing only a field goal apiece against Oregon to start this year and against Oregon St. at the end of last year.

Oregon St. lost to an FCS opponent, Eastern Washington this year, but just to show how Nicholls St. compares in the context of FCS, the Beavers beat the Colonels last November by a score of 77-3. So Eastern Washington won by 3 against a team made up mostly of the players who had beaten Nicholls St. by 74.

The last time the Colonels had played Western Michigan, in 2011, the Broncos won, 38-7. That WMU team went to a bowl game, by the way. So although the Broncos finished 4-8 last year, we’re not talking about a long-term doormat or anything. There probably is a good number of players on the team with bowl experience.

To be fair, Nicholls St. only lost to South Alabama 9-3 last season, but that was the Jaguars’ first game as an FBS transitional team after going only 4-4 against Division I competition (mostly FCS) the year before. Not quite the same thing. South Alabama also suffered a loss to an FCS team already this season before beating Tulane, a winner of only two games last season.

Western Michigan, on the other hand, had not lost to a currently FCS team since 1996 despite playing one in almost every season, usually wining by a convincing margin. For instance, in 2004, by far the worst WMU season in recent history, the Broncos still beat Tennessee-Martin, 42-0.

The only team I can think of nearly as bad as Nicholls St. that has won a game like this was Central Arkansas in 2009, which was only playing its fourth season in Division I. The Bears finished 5-7, but two of those wins were not against Division I teams and one was against… Nicholls St. But since the upset game by the Central Arkansas was over Western Kentucky, a team fairly new to FBS play, that one was nothing close to the Nicholls St. upset.

So in short, if there is an argument for a bigger disparity in a win by an FCS team over an FBS team, I’d certainly like to hear it. I know a little bit about the subject matter (obviously), but that’s all I can come up with.

Week 1 Top 25

In College Football, Rankings on September 3, 2013 at 1:27 PM

Top 25

rank / team / prior

1 Alabama 1
2 Ohio St. 2
3 Stanford 4
4 Oregon 5
5 LSU 6
6 Clemson 7
7 Georgia 3
8 Louisville 8
9 S Carolina 9
10 TX A&M 10
11 Texas 12
12 Florida 13
13 Oklahoma 14
14 USC 16
15 Notre Dame 17
16 Washington —
17 TCU 18
18 Florida St. 20
19 Mich. St. 21
20 Ole Miss 22
21 N’western 23
22 Wisconsin 24
23 Okie St. 25
24 Michigan —
25 Nebraska 19

Out of rankings: (11) Boise St., (15) Oregon St.

Prior rankings:
Preseason

LSU Notes and FCS vs. FBS

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game on September 2, 2013 at 12:19 PM

Just a random observation and then I’ll have a couple of detailed topics: Arkansas plays four SEC teams in the preseason top 10 in consecutive weeks, beginning September 28. All four won over the weekend, as did the Razorbacks. Kentucky also has a similar string of opponents beginning September 14, but one of the preseason top-10 opponents is Louisville.

FCS schools make statements against the FBS

Oregon St. became the third ranked team ever and first since 2010 to lose to an FCS (formerly I-AA) opponent. The other two were Virginia Tech (to James Madison) and Michigan (to Appalachian St. in 2007).

By my count, FCS programs went 8-21 against FBS (formerly I-A) teams, a better winning percentage than the MAC, MWC, and Independents had against FBS teams in Week 1. Of those, only the MAC had a better winning percentage against Division I as a whole.

The Big Ten schools are in the process of eliminating FCS schools from their schedules. The Big Ten has not lost to any so far, but the Big XII and AAC (the successor to the Big East) lost two such games apiece. The conference should probably re-think that, especially since North Dakota St. and Northern Iowa (and much of the rest of the current Missouri Valley Conference) often fields teams that are more competitive than MAC opponents that may be chosen instead. Also, it doesn’t hurt that Northern Iowa has played interesting in-state games against Iowa and Iowa St. (including this year, when it beat the Cyclones) in recent reasons. Minnesota has struggled against Dakota teams, nearly losing to South Dakota St. in 2009 and then losing to South Dakota in 2010 and to North Dakota St. in 2011. Maybe the Big Ten should place a limit on how far away the FCS opponent can come from instead. Games of regional interest against competitive FCS programs should definitely continue.

North Dakota St.–which came from behind, 21-7, to beat Kansas St.–has beaten an FBS school for the fourth consecutive season. Three of the four were against opponents in auto-bid BCS conferences. The Bison move to 7-3 against FBS opponents in the last 10 years. Before 10 years ago, they weren’t losing to FBS schools; instead they were competing in Division II.

Don’t forget FBS schools often pay for the right to play these FCS opponents. ESPN’s Darren Rovell provided the numbers for two of the games. Kansas State paid North Dakota State $350,000 to play Friday’s game. NDSU paid for its coach’s salary and then some. Craig Bohl has a base salary of $206,000. The UConn Huskies paid Towson $275,000 to beat them Thursday night.

Two of the FCS winners over FBS teams this weekend have played LSU in recent seasons. The Tigers defeated Towson last year and McNeese St. in 2010. Towson beat UConn, 33-18, and McNeese St. beat South Florida, 53-21. Hard to believe UConn was in a BCS bowl in 2010, and in 2007, South Florida was #2 in the BCS standings.

LSU Game Notes

At first blush, it might appear that the LSU defense struggled with the loss of talent (depending on whom you ask, they had either 4 or 5 returning starters on defense), but when you look closer, not really.

The only touchdown allowed in the first half was allowed by the special teams. The only other TCU scoring drive in the first half was a field goal. The defense did technically allow two touchdown drives in the second half, but one of those started at the LSU 6 after a fumble by the LSU running back.

There were definitely some things the defense did wrong leading up to the other touchdown for the Horned Frogs, but at one point it actually seemed to have a stop before a penalty was called for roughing the passer on third down.

After a bad punt, TCU also got a second-half field goal from 39 yards out after only a 26-yard drive.

The defense also came up with an interception.

Other than the one turnover, the offense did a fairly good job overall. Mettenberger was very on-target, and it’s really an injustice to him that only 50% of his passes were caught. Some of the passes were thrown to perfection, allowing receivers to catch the ball in stride and evade even very good coverage. At least a couple such balls hit receivers in the hands and were not caught.

He did linger in the pocket at times, but I’d prefer that to risking an interception. I think there were missed blocking assignments and things of that nature that contributed to problems and will work themselves out as the season progresses. Mettenberger showed some good scrambling ability, but he’s not great at running or throwing on the run.

Like the receivers, the running backs were a bit of a mixed bag. Odell Beckham, LSU’s top receiver on the night in terms of yardage, also had one of the longer runs on an end-around for 17 yards. Alfred Blue (who committed the turnover) was solid but not spectacular, carrying the ball 19 times for 89 yards. Terrence Magee, who was only credited with one rushing attempt and one reception last season, showed the ability to accelerate on a 52-yard touchdown scamper (the blocking on that play helped make up for some backfield errors) but only gained 43 yards combined in his other 12 carries. Jeremy Hill is serving a (indeterminate) suspension for punching a man outside of a bar, but it’s nice to know there are at least two able backs. Kenny Hilliard showed flashes of brilliance in the past as well, but he only had 4 carries for 8 yards on Saturday.

Aside from struggles with TCU kickoff returns (even apart from the 100-yard touchdown, the Frogs gained 69 yards in the other four returns) and the one bad punt, the special teams did well. There were two other punts, one of 48 yards that was fair caught at midfield and another of 43 yards that went out of bounds at the 9 yard line. There were no punt returns for the Tigers or Horned Frogs.

The three LSU field goals were all of under 30 yards (which says we could use some improvement in the red zone), but all of the kicks were free from any drama from what I could tell.

Odell Beckham did some damage of his own on the LSU kick returns, returning 4 kickoffs for a total of 136 yards.

Some other odds and ends. LSU was 13/19 on third downs compared to 7/13 for TCU. The Tigers out-gained the Horned Frogs, 448-259. TCU was penalized 9 times for 55 yards, and LSU was penalized 7 times for 42 yards. The Tigers had twice as many first downs, 26-13, one fewer turnover, and almost exactly 12 more minutes in time of possession.

The Tigers have won 42 consecutive non-conference regular-season games since losing the opener of the 2002 season at Virginia Tech. I went over the highlights here. This is also the first time in LSU history that the team has won 11 consecutive season openers.