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LSU’s “Scrimmage” Game in Preparation for Auburn

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game, Preview on September 30, 2014 at 1:12 PM

Before I get to the main topic, I’ll mention a couple other things. Once again, please check out my LSU-Auburn Rivalry blog. I’m apprehensive another streak will come to an end. It’s much shorter than Mississippi St. was though: LSU has won three in a row and six of seven. Also, I had an observation about the computer ratings that I didn’t notice at first. Even though Nebraska is #3 right now, if you average it by playing week, the Huskers fall to 8th. So when Nebraska has a bye week on the 11th, they’ll have a more accurate rating after that point. Not that I expect they’ll have an easy time of things this weekend.

I’ll start with the good news from the LSU-NMSU game.

Brandon Harris didn't have a lot of rushing yards, but he took advantage of his opportunities.

Brandon Harris didn’t have a lot of rushing yards, but he took advantage of his opportunities.

Brandon Harris obviously came in and did very well for the second week in a row. 11/14 for 178 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions. He also had five rushes for 36 yards and two touchdowns. His yards per carry probably would have been better without the touchdown runs, but I like how he showed he can run into a guy bigger than him and keep going. I think Les Miles admires that ability more than anything, so hopefully Harris made a persuasive enough case to start the next game.

Other freshmen of note were RB Leonard Fournette, WR Malachi Dupre, and WR/PR Trey Quinn.

Not much to say about special teams, but just about all the kickoffs went through the endzone (and no miscues on extra points), and our punter had 147 yards in three kicks. We only allowed 7 yards in punt returns.

The defense was put under a lot of pressure with four turnovers and a three-and-out in the first quarter. Kendall Beckwith’s interception return for a TD (while a good thing) also added to pressure on the defense. They didn’t allow any points during that stretch (until the final minutes of the second quarter, which I’ll get to).

New Mexico St. did miss a 40-yard field-goal attempt in the first quarter, but that was when the Aggies had good field position after a turnover (and then a 15-yard penalty). They only obtained one first down in that drive.

I liked some of the different looks on offense. LSU HAS to be able to get the ball outside for short-yardage situations. When it’s a run and everyone knows it’s a run and they go up the middle, it’s not happening. It didn’t even happen against New Mexico St., which isn’t a good team in general and is especially bad against the run.

So even though the diamond formation resulted in a fumble, it wasn’t the fault of the formation, it was a good hit/bad holding onto the ball after the line of scrimmage. There was nothing wrong with the play itself. I would not be surprised if they at least tested it on Auburn once or twice.

There were also a couple of good (more conventional) option and pitchout plays that LSU understandably got away from with Mettenberger in the last couple of years, but why they weren’t there against Mississippi St. I have no idea. I think if LSU had just one of those plays and executed it (either for a touchdown or for the purpose of spreading out the field) during that goal-line stand, they would have won the game against the Bulldogs.

Three-and-outs are nice, but something else I like to see is a stop after giving up a first down or two. Against Wisconsin and Mississippi St. at times, it seemed like if they got that first first down, it was all over. I mentioned the missed field goal, but there were too additional stops at the LSU 47 in the first half while it was still only 14-0. The LSU offense had a three-and-out of its own between those two drives.

So there were a couple of situations that you don’t like to happen, but I like how they responded anyway.

Say what you will about the defense (although I noted they can catch the ball when you throw it to them and can also pick it up when it’s on the ground), New Mexico St. does have an offense that can produce points and yardage, so to keep them from even having scoring opportunities on all but two plays the whole game is good work.

There were some bad things, especially in the early going. It was another slow start on offense. Seven offensive points in the first quarter… no wonder they had zero for the first 20 minutes against Mississippi St. and only 7 for the first 2 ½ quarters against Wisconsin.

Of course, a big contributing factor to that was turnovers. You just can’t do that. In this case, you can’t give hope to the other team when they’re in a hostile environment with the odds stacked against them. Next week, when LSU is in that situation, it’s just asking to lose by 30 points or more if you start turning it over early. I’m not just talking about field position and points off of turnovers. Even if you don’t give the other team good field position, that means you had good field position yourself and squandered the field position and the momentum you were lucky to have.

I mentioned how LSU should try to spread out the field when they have the ball. If Cam Cameron would watch the LSU defense, maybe that would register in his mind a little more clearly. They gave up a play of almost 80 yards for a touchdown because they had too many people spread from sideline to sideline and no one had an angle after the runner went through the line of scrimmage. There were at least three similar plays between the Wisconsin and Mississippi St. games. A couple of them might have been short passes, but it was a similar issue with no one having any kind of angle on the ball-carrier. I know, one scoring play, but I think the Auburn offensive line might just be able to create more openings for plays of that nature.

New Mexico St. still had 274 yards (although it would have been fewer than 200 without the touchdown play), still completed more than almost half of its 33 passes, and still gained 4.6 yards per rush. That’s not as good as I was hoping for. The final score was great, but it does matter somewhat how you got there.

Also, third-down defense in the first half was not satisfactory. In two of the Aggies’ first three drives, they converted from 3rd and 6. There was another third-down conversion in the second quarter (from 1 yard) and nearly a fourth for the half before a fumble on that same down.

There is no excuse for LSU to have had five penalties in this game. They were only for 35 yards, but it creates similar types of issues to the turnovers I mentioned. I didn’t see the hands to the face. I saw the hand to the LSU player’s face on the same play, but there was some unnecessary sloppiness. Giving them a first and 5 toward midfield (for example) was not good.

I touched on this with the turnovers, but Jennings was bad. He ran himself (first drive only) and set up a couple of good running plays, but that was it. He only completed two passes for 11 yards, and none of the incompletions looked like good passes that I remember. One of the passes was for 7 yards and a first down, so it was really just one good passing play. Jennings threw two interceptions, was sacked once, and lost a fumble (on a separate play from the sack).

Conclusion

The hesitation with Harris was that he was liable to commit turnovers. Well, I think this should settle that (since I originally wrote this, Harris was named the starter). I know they want to give Jennings respect for his hard work as a backup and for practicing better and so forth, but next game will be game 6 of the season and most importantly game 2 of the SEC season.

I wish Jennings all the best and I hope he’s able to contribute to the team, but we’re past the time to be nice. He doesn’t need to start the next game, and I don’t think you even take Harris out unless he’s proven to be overall ineffective or mistake-prone in multiple possessions (or, God forbid, hurt). If Jennings can’t handle the pressure at home against New Mexico St., I don’t want to see him in the early going at Auburn. He’s a capable athlete, but I’m not comfortable with him at this point.

I want to say something about the boos. Someone said this about the NFL once: “We boo because we care.” If I’m in a stadium, especially paying an arm and a leg to be there, I’m going to voice my displeasure with certain coaching decisions. Everyone understands that when you want the coach to go for it and he sends out the punter, no one is booing the punter as a person. But somehow where quarterbacks are involved, people don’t seem to get it. There probably were some people who wanted to express displeasure to Jennings for the turnovers, but I believe the majority of the people were making clear that they didn’t like seeing the same guy come out and throw the same type of pass with the same result. The message wasn’t, “We don’t support you.”

I’m sure Auburn worked on improving some areas this week as well, so I’m still expecting it to be very difficult for LSU to win the game next week. I’ve been surprised by enough Les Miles teams in the past not to despair too much until the game is over and we have fewer points though. Or at least until we’re more than 20 points behind midway through the fourth quarter.

Also, no matter what happens, I don’t envy Auburn fans too much. Their next five games after LSU are Mississippi St., South Carolina, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, and Georgia. Every other one of those is on the road. I didn’t even mention the game in Tuscaloosa the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

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Week 5 College Football Rankings 2014

In College Football, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 28, 2014 at 3:24 PM

LSU plays Auburn this week, so if you’re interested, here is my LSU/Auburn Rivalry blog.

Rank/team/previous
1 Auburn 1
2 Florida St. 3
3 Alabama 5
4 Oregon 4
5 Oklahoma 2
6 Miss. St. 10
7 BYU 7
8 TX A&M 6
9 UCLA 16
10 Nebraska 23
11 Ole Miss 8
12 Notre Dame 12
13 Ga. Tech 17
14 LSU 13
15 Arizona 22
16 E. Carolina 14
17 Baylor —
18 Georgia 15
19 S. Carolina 9
20 Louisville —
21 Okie St. 20
22 NC State 24
TCU
23 TCU —
lgo_ncaa_marshall_thundering_herd
24 Marshall —
25 Missouri —

Full computer rankings 1-128 (as I will explain, these are not in agreement with the top 25 given above)

Out of rankings: (11) Penn St., (18) Rutgers, (19) Arkansas. (21) Washington, (25) Virginia

Explanation and future rankings

As I mentioned last week, this is my transition week into adopting all or most of my computer rankings.

I would have liked to have kept Arkansas, after its very good game against Texas A&M, and Virginia, which lost to two top-10 teams above and beat a top-20 team. I didn’t keep them because they were not in the top 35, and I didn’t want to deviate more than 10 spots.

The team where I deviated the most was East Carolina. I couldn’t justify putting them behind a Baylor team whose best win is Iowa St. Georgia has one win over an ACC team, but East Carolina has two.

South Carolina is the only two-loss team that made it, but the Gamecocks did so on the strength of their wins. Virginia’s just weren’t strong enough to merit consideration.

I don’t like ranking Missouri, but they have three wins over FBS teams. Obviously one of them is a very good win. I consider Indiana a bad loss, but it will take some time for them to show up that way even if the Hoosiers are in fact bad. Indiana is 2-2, including an FCS win; but the FCS team they beat is Indiana St., who is otherwise undefeated and has a win over an FBS team. So for right now it’s just sort of a mediocre loss. I do have Missouri a few spots below where the computer put them though.

I certainly didn’t want to put USC (the loss to Boston College isn’t looking so good) or Minnesota (who was destroyed by TCU) in the top 25 even though the computer had them there.

The only other team I was really reluctant to rank was Marshall, but they’re undefeated, and I couldn’t justify putting anyone else ahead of them.

I tried with Michigan St. and Ohio St., because I certainly think either would beat Marshall; but there just isn’t a good argument being that I’m trying to transition into the objective system. Michigan St. was the best available team; but they were 10 spots lower than Marshall, so there was really no way to justify bridging that gap. Ohio St. was even lower.

Michigan St.’s only wins are Jacksonville St., Eastern Michigan, and Wyoming, so I don’t think that’s good enough. At least Marshall beat Akron (who beat Pittsburgh). I know that isn’t much to go on, but it’s more than Michigan St. has; and again, the formula is something to go on as well.

It’s also more than Ohio St. has to go on. Navy and Cincinnati are just not looking like good wins right now. Cincinnati only beat Miami U. and Toledo, and Navy now has three losses after losing to Western Kentucky. Even if the Buckeyes do have better wins than Marshall does, that still doesn’t address the loss to Virginia Tech, whose only other wins are William and Mary and Western Michigan.

Cincinnati travels to U. Miami (the one in Florida) in a couple of weeks and also plays East Carolina in November, so if they win a string of games, that will help Ohio St. of course. Two byes and two wins over MAC teams (with two FBS wins between them) doesn’t help much right now though.

Ohio St. and Michigan St. both have decent opportunities to join the top 25 next week.

I moved the top 25 teams an average of four spots each. There are only four teams that I moved 7 or more spots up or down. I moved Arizona down 8, North Carolina St. down 7, East Carolina up 10, and Louisville up 7. I am trying to avoid any larger jumps next week.

Note that I still moved East Carolina down two spots compared to last week, I still moved Arizona up 7 spots as compared to last week, and I moved North Carolina St. up two spots as compared to last week despite a loss.

I want to go back to the teams I skipped over for a second, I’ll have no problem ranking USC if they beat Arizona St. next week and are still in the computer top 25. I just think they need that additional quality win in light of Boston College losing to Colorado St.

Minnesota has a bye week, so they’ll probably fall slightly on their own. If their past opponents are still good enough for them to stay in the top 25, I will probably still put them there. TCU plays Oklahoma, and Michigan travels to Rutgers, so we shall see. The Gophers are 22nd in the computer formula right now, so if they stay 22nd, that won’t bother me anyway.

I’m not 100% sure that next week won’t be another transition week, but I’m leaning toward going to the computers exclusively or almost exclusively (sometimes I slightly rearrange the very top teams in early October) next week. I take serious issue with a relatively small number of the results for this point in the season.

I predict I will stick to the computer rankings in full after the games of October 18. Alabama plays Texas A&M that day. Auburn is idle, but in the two weekends before their bye (i.e., this coming weekend and the following weekend) they play LSU and Mississippi St. Mississippi St. is idle the week of the 18th as well, but not before playing Texas A&M and Auburn. Florida St. plays Notre Dame on the 18th. Oregon plays UCLA on the 11th (which could also make or keep UCLA #1), followed by Washington on the 18th.

Nebraska plays Michigan St. this Saturday, but I doubt they can get enough points in the next three weeks under any combination of wins and losses by the other teams I mentioned. The Huskers are idle on the 11th and play Northwestern on the 18th.

Oklahoma is back at #10, but they have a decent combination of games in the next three weeks: TCU, Texas, and Kansas St.

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

Mid-Season Conference Report

In College Football, Conference Reports on September 26, 2014 at 1:18 PM

I know it’s not right in the middle of the season, but we’ve had most of the inter-conference games that are scheduled, so I won’t do this again until before the bowls maybe.

The three records are overall, FBS, and power conferences. Just as a reminder, intra-conference games are excluded.

sec-pinwheel-logo

1. SEC
31-3, 26-3, 5-2
2. Pac-12
29-4, 21-4, 6-2
3. ACC
32-10, 18-10, 4-5
4. Big XII
19-8, 12-7, 4-6
5. Big Ten
35-14, 24-14, 5-11
(Independents {including Notre Dame}
10-4, 10-4, 4-4)
6. AAC
15-18, 7-18, 3-11
7. MWC
18-20, 8-20, 3-16
8. CUSA
20-21, 13-19, 0-17
9. MAC
16-29, 6-27, 3-18
10. Sun Belt
10-23, 3-22, 1-12

I’m glad I waited an extra week. The Big Ten turned things around. Not enough to surpass any of the other power 5 conferences, but at least they look like a power 5 conference (P5).

The SEC now has three losses out of conference, but that’s still fewer than any other conference. The SEC has three more overall wins (and six more FBS wins) than the Pac-12, which has four losses.

I also think the SEC’s quality wins are clearly best: Clemson, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Texas Tech, Kansas St., East Carolina, Central Florida, Boise St.

The Pac-12’s P5 wins are Virginia, Northwestern, Michigan St., Michigan, Illinois, and Texas. There are no particularly impressive wins against lower teams. UTSA may be the best one, and they nearly beat Arizona. Fresno St. would have been a good win last year, but they don’t seem very good this year.

The Pac-12 is clearly ahead of any other conference apart from the SEC though. It actually has the best record against P5 teams with one more win than the SEC has. The other three P5 conferences all have losing records in those games.

Overall, the ACC, Big XII, and Big Ten are all between 70% and 75% success. The Pac-12 is at 87%, and the SEC is at 91%.

The Big Ten is clearly the lowest P5 conference still because is clearly worst (31.25%) against P5 teams (which include Notre Dame), and it’s also last of the group in overall winning percentage and FBS winning percentage. The Big Ten also has the second-highest number of FCS opponents so far, after the ACC.

It’s not easy to determine the better conference between the ACC and Big XII, but I give the nod to the ACC, who has wins over two P5 runners-up last season, Oklahoma St. and Ohio St., as well as over USC. The Big XII only has wins over Maryland, Iowa, Minnesota, and Tennessee. The Big XII has won a higher percentage (65-62%) over the FBS, but unlike the ACC, the Big XII has a loss to an FCS team.

The three independents apart from Notre Dame have done well, but it’s hard to compare three teams to 12 or 14 teams. But they combine for a winning record despite not having played any FCS opponents, so I think they would be right after the P5 conferences.

The first three second-tier conferences (I could call them group of 5, but that confuses people) that emerge are the AAC (some call it the American, it’s what is left of the football Big East), the CUSA, and the Mountain West. The Mountain West (MWC) is now basically the WAC, so it has a lot more weak teams than it used to.

I decided the worst of those three conferences, despite some similar percentages against DI as a whole and FBS was the CUSA. The CUSA has two losses to FCS teams and no wins against P5 teams in 17 games.

The AAC quality wins are East Carolina’s two wins over ACC teams and Temple’s win over Vanderbilt. I don’t think Vandy will be a bowl team this year, but they were last year, and while it wouldn’t be considered a good win for a P5, it is at this level. These are much better wins than the MWC over P5: Wake Forest, Colorado, and Washington St.

The only arguably good win for the MWC against other second-tiers is ULL, who has made (and won) minor bowl games a few years in a row, but the win was by Boise St., who may win the conference this year.

So that just leaves two more conferences to settle: the MAC and the Sun Belt. Apart from FCS teams, the MAC has better records in all the other categories. This is partly from having played 20 games already against the Big Ten, but as last week showed, that shouldn’t be completely dismissed. The only good win for the Sun Belt was ULM’s win over Wake, but Wake also lost to Utah St.

So I don’t think that one win is enough to overcome the other deficiencies. The MAC is also 2-1 against the Sun Belt.

LSU Football: The Big Picture

In College Football, General LSU, History on September 24, 2014 at 1:47 PM

I had a couple more LSU thoughts. I never fully process everything the first night. As you may know, LSU has not had an undefeated season since 1958. Now that I’ve seen two national championships, really my long-term hope as a fan is to see another, so the first loss will always be somewhat frustrating.

There has been a game or two every season going back as long as I remember where I get intensely frustrated with the coaches and so forth. I was going to detail several of them, but I decided it would be pointless griping to do so. Hopefully it won’t happen again this season even if there are losses. I think I gave an adequate explanation of why I felt that way in the post-game blog.

I do have some hope that this season can turn out well. Some of the prognosticators have already written LSU off as a contender, but how many one-loss teams have been written off for the two-team playoff (aka BCS) only to come back into the picture or even to play in the title game? There was a one-loss team just about every year.

Of course, in 2007 we had a one-loss team many did write off at #1 (Ohio St.) and a two-loss team at #2 (LSU) going into the championship. If they have to finish with one loss to make the playoff, that means they have to win nine in a row to do so. I certainly wouldn’t put money on that, but I would be less surprised by that than I was by everything that happened in the 2011 calendar year.

Les Miles and LSU after the Tigers won the SEC Championship in 2011.

Les Miles and LSU after the Tigers won the SEC Championship in 2011.

To paraphrase the Mark Twain quote, the reports of LSU’s long-term demise are greatly exaggerated.

I’m not worried about it yet. The last time I was worried about it was 2009 when LSU lost to Houston Nutt’s unranked Ole Miss Rebels. Disastrous time management and Les Miles’ instructing quarterback Jordan Jefferson to spike the ball had caused time to run out on LSU’s final possession at the Ole Miss 6-yard line (Final score: Ole Miss 25, LSU 23), not that they really deserved to win anyway. That was LSU’s 8th loss in 20 games. Rather than spiraling downward from there, LSU has gone 47-10 since the 2009 season ended. If you’re winning over 80% playing the type of competition LSU typically plays, you’re doing something right.

However, a long-term decline is inevitable. I don’t think a single early-season loss to a veteran dual-threat quarterback is a sign it’s all going to hell in a hand-basket, but at some point LSU is not going to be a serious title threat for a while. It will even happen to Alabama. Saban may have to retire, but it will happen. It wasn’t that long ago that Alabama had no serious national-title-contending teams for a decade or so. When they did win in 1992, it was their first national championship since 1979.

Anyway, if LSU has peaked, it has still been a period of success to be extremely proud of. Compare the Tigers to other top programs from around 2003 (the year of LSU’s first national championship since that 1958 undefeated team I mentioned).

Seasons with losses of four games or more since 2003 (inclusive):
LSU 2, with two BCS championships, one runner-up in the same period.
Ohio St. 2, with two BCS runners-up
Oklahoma 2, with two BCS runners-up (I initially forgot to count 2003)
Oregon 4, with one BCS runner-up
USC 4, with one BCS championship, one runner-up (and one AP title)
Texas 4, with one BCS championship, one runner-up
Florida 5, with two BCS championships
Auburn 6, with one BCS championship, one runner-up
Florida St. 7, with one BCS championship
Michigan 7
Miami 8
Nebraska 9

LSU has won two national championships since the last time either Oklahoma or Ohio St. won one, so I wouldn’t switch places with them either.

Tennessee had won a national championship in 1998, just 5 years before LSU won in 2003, but the Vols haven’t had a season with fewer than four losses since 2004. They had a decent run in 2007, but the loss to LSU in the SEC championship game (after Les Miles told everyone to have a great day) was Tennessee’s fourth. That’s certainly an example of a program I hope LSU is not similar to in the foreseeable future.

Alabama wasn’t really a relevant team in the early 2000s, but they’ve had 4 seasons with four losses or more in case you wanted to know, all from 2003 to 2007. Of course, since then the Tide has had three BCS championships and two Sugar Bowl berths.

Tennessee and Alabama were the only programs that won a major national title from 1992 forward that I did not include on the list above. I included Oregon, which hasn’t won any, but they arguably should have made the BCS championship game in 2001 and have been a consistently strong program since, so I thought they deserved inclusion.

Week 4 College Football Rankings 2014

In College Football, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 22, 2014 at 2:03 PM

(Logos are posted for teams that are new to the rankings for the year.)

Rank/team/previous
1 Auburn 1
2 Oklahoma 3
3 Florida St. 4
4 Oregon 2
5 Alabama 5
6 TX A&M 6
7 BYU 10
8 Ole Miss 9
9 S Carolina 11
miss st
10 Miss. St. —
11 Penn St. 12
12 Notre Dame 8
13 LSU 7
14 E. Carolina 15
15 Georgia 13
16 UCLA 17
Ga Tech
17 Ga. Tech —
rutgers
18 Rutgers —
ark_logo
19 Arkansas —
20 Okie St. 25
21 Washington —
22 Arizona 23
Nebraska Logo 1972
23 Nebraska —
NCSUFootball
24 NC State —
25 Virginia 19

Out of rankings: (14) Pittsburgh, (16) Boston Coll., (18) Va. Tech, (20) USC, (21) Louisville, (22) Ohio St., (24) Missouri

Explanation and future rankings

I’m putting this at the bottom because it’s probably too boring and technical for many of you, but I do get questions about these things often.

Just to get to the point, what I’m going to do is make next week (and possibly the following week) a transitional period. I will compute and publish my computer rankings, but I won’t use those for my official top 25 right away. I’ll try to ease into that. For instance, if I don’t have a team ranked this week, but they’re #10 in the computer ratings after next week, I will put them between #15 and #20, then maybe if they’re still #10 the following week, it won’t be as dramatic to actually rank them #10. Or maybe they’ll lose, and it won’t be a seesaw from unranked to #10 to #20-something.

I’ve already made some changes in anticipation of what may happen in moving toward that system. I gave very little weight to any preseason preconceptions about given teams or their opponents.

I did my best to do the ratings above fairly, but it has gotten difficult, and that’s why I can no longer use a fully subjective system going forward. I continue to second-guess myself and remain unsatisfied.

There are a lot of conflicting motivations at this point. I’m still moving from “Are you going to be a good team?” to “What have you proven?” At the same time, I don’t want to put a team in the top 25 based on an early-season scheduling quirk and have that team get blown out. It will take some time before the teams that look good in games and teams that look good based on objective measures line up.

There is a team like this every year. In 2011, Stanford didn’t really play anyone until October 22, then they played three of the next four against ranked teams and the fourth game was against Oregon St. on the road (which is rarely an easy win). Then the Cardinal still had to play Notre Dame (who was also ranked at the time) later on in November. This was the year they played in the Fiesta Bowl despite losing big to Oregon.

Anyway, getting back to this year, Florida St. is a good example of some of the difficulties. The Seminoles are not even in the top 10 based on wins and losses that have happened so far this season (a loose description of what my computer rankings consider). They beat Clemson, who I really believe is a good team, and Oklahoma St., who might be a good team also, but that doesn’t do it at this point. Clemson doesn’t look any better than Northwestern because the Tigers are winless against FBS competition (but both Clemson and Northwestern have an FCS win). Florida St. doesn’t get credit for beating an unsuccessful (so far against Division I anyway) FCS team, nor do they get credit for a bye week. So that leaves Oklahoma St. The Cowboys have a somewhat respectable win over UTSA, but beating the team who beat UTSA is hardly something to hang your hat on.

Oddly enough, Florida St. has a good chance to improve its rating by beating North Carolina St., who I do not believe is a good team, but three FBS wins at this point over teams with four combined FBS wins makes them look good for the moment. All three of those teams are probably well below average, but that won’t be clear until later.

There is a preliminary step in the process where I get initial ratings of teams between 0 and about 7. So if right now, North Carolina St. is 6 and Clemson is 1, maybe in a couple weeks, they’ll both be 3.5, and at the end of the season Clemson might be about 5 and North Carolina St. about 2. So Florida St. might get similar credit for the two wins combined for the rest of the season even if neither team ends up anything like what has shown up so far.

It helps Florida St. that Clemson will likely get a wins of some quality by playing North Carolina and North Carolina St. in the next two weeks. Oklahoma St. isn’t playing a great team in Texas Tech, but that will be an opportunity for them to add some substance to their resume.

The other major contenders already rate highly. Alabama, Oklahoma, Auburn, and Oregon all rate in the top 7 of the current computer ratings. Florida St. is still in the top 20 though.

So what I’m going to do is release my first computer ratings next week (a week earlier than originally planned), but I’m still going to do subjective ratings for next week and possibly the week after that. They just won’t be purely subjective. Let’s say the winner of Miss. St. and Texas A&M comes out #1. I might move Miss. St. up to #5 or A&M up to #3 or #4, but I wouldn’t rank either #1, at least not for a couple more weeks.

It’s also possible I’ll do another transition week after October 4. In other words, the subjective ratings may overlap with the computer ratings for a couple of weeks, but what I feature here will be the subjective ratings.

Also, sometimes for the first few weeks of the computer rankings, I change the top 5 of what I post here. I always make clear what those changes are, and I never make any subjective changes on my ratings site. I try to keep any subjective preferences off of that site.

Although that Missouri had a good chance to win the SEC for a while in the championship game last year, I’m still glad I didn’t take the leap and make them #1. They should never have been regarded as the top team to beat in the country last year. I also wouldn’t want to take that step early on for A&M, Miss. St., Arizona, N.C. St., or UCLA. On the other hand, if one of those teams is undefeated and rises to the top a month from now or more, I’m not going to alter anything.

Earlier rankings:
Preseason
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3

LSU/Miss. St. Post-Game Reaction

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game on September 20, 2014 at 7:17 PM

I did pick LSU #10 going into the season and #7 most recently, and I had not ranked Mississippi St.; but I can’t say I’m shocked by this outcome. I especially wasn’t surprised it came down to the last play, but I was surprised by the margin in the visitors’ favor after three quarters.

You can only beat a rival like that so many years in a row. I know they’ve had some bad teams in that stretch, but they’ve also had good teams and LSU has at least had mediocre teams who could have easily lost.

I did think the streak would end in Starkville, so the idea of it being at home and at night gave me some hope. On the other hand, I heard one of the announcers today pick Mississippi St., and I didn’t really have an argument with the points he made.

Even though the Bulldogs had not played anyone (which is why I hadn’t ranked them, along with the fact that they had just barely qualified for a bowl game last season), I was concerned by the apparent strength and versatility of their offense. The Mississippi St. offense had given LSU problems in the past, although before they had similar plays with a two-quarterback system.

It’s nice to have location and recent history in your favor, but you have to make plays. Too many times, LSU just didn’t make them even though opportunities were there. I was disappointed that the players seemed to allow themselves to get discouraged similar to the way they did against Wisconsin. But on the other hand, I have to give some credit for responding late even though, unlike against Wisconsin, it was not enough.

That said, if the coaches want the players to make the right plays, they need to make the right calls are made. You might look at the game summary or whatever and conclude LSU was just never in it until it was too late, but that’s not the case. I would admit they didn’t get the offense going the way it should have been until too late though.

There were good calls that gave LSU a first and goal at the 2 (after the opening touchdown by the Dawgs), but I don’t consider four runs up the middle good play-calling after that point. You have to do something to spread out the field (pitch, bootleg, play action, something) at some point. You know, kind of like how Mississippi St. gained yards against LSU and how Wisconsin gained yards against LSU despite an almost complete lack of a passing game in Week 1.

This failure would keep the Tigers scoreless until the waning minutes of the first half. Seven points rather than 0 right there would have been huge.

The comeback from 17-0 and 17-3 at the half did not materialize, but it could have. After the LSU defensive touchdown to open the first half, the Tigers had a great chance at a stop on 3rd and 11. So without making it a full blitz, LSU rushed into the backfield (and then just stood there), and the second Mississippi St. got the ball out of the backfield, they just needed one halfway-decent block to get a first down. Then, they drove to the end zone.

That first stop is just huge against this kind of team. LSU would have had so much momentum having the ball (and probably at least satisfactory field position) down by only 7, not counting the missed opportunity for points in the first half.

Then the Bulldogs scored again and would lead by as much as 24, but who knows what would have happened if LSU had gotten the ball back right away before the first State touchdown of the second half? Think about how much of a break the Mississippi St. defense got. LSU had the ball to end the first half, but deep in their own territory, the Tigers decided to let the half expire, so that didn’t tax the State defense. Then they had halftime, then Mississippi St. had the ball, then LSU scored on a turnover and gave the Bulldogs the ball back, then a long drive followed that. Even if LSU doesn’t score on that possession, that still could have tired the defense somewhat and led to more success (and sooner) later on in the game.

Dak Prescott rolls out on third and 7 before putting the Bulldogs up 31-10.

Dak Prescott rolls out on third and 7 before putting the Bulldogs up 31-10.

(Apologies for the picture. No matter what I did, I couldn’t make it larger.)

This was not only Mississippi St.’s first win against LSU since 1999, it was only the second since 1991 (and LSU was terrible all but three years of the 1990s). 1991 was also the last time the Bulldogs won at Tiger Stadium. I believe I was there, actually. I wonder how much the ticket prices have increased since then.

This was also only LSU’s second home loss since October 2009 (the other was by four points to Alabama in 2012).

Anyway, hopefully this is a learning experience for the players, but John Chavis and Cam Cameron shouldn’t need learning experiences at this point. I hope they learned something anyway. Maybe LSU should just pretend they’re already down three scores when the game starts from now on. I’m not just talking about the offense. Mississippi St. was held to three points in the final 24 ½ minutes

This might not be LSU’s year being that the new quarterbacks and mixture of old and new running backs are not coming along as LSU fans hoped, but it’s also not over. Auburn lost to a team that finished with three conferences losses early last year and then went all the way to the national championship game. That team was LSU.

On another positive note, this is by far the most traffic my site has ever gotten in a single day. There are three hours left in the day here on the West Coast, and I’ve almost tripled my previous record.

Related:
LSU/Mississippi St. Rivalry blog (now updated)
LSU/Mississippi St. Notes and Week 3 Top 25
LSU Adds to Winning Streaks in Opener (Wisconsin post-game)

Week 3 Top 25 + LSU/MSU Notes

In College Football, General LSU, History, Post-game, Preview, Rankings, Rankings Commentary, Rivalry on September 16, 2014 at 3:06 PM

I’ll get my few comments about the LSU/Mississippi St. series out of the way. If you haven’t yet, please check out my Rivalry post about the series, which despite being played annually (in fact, it is LSU’s most-played series) has not resulted in a win for the Bulldogs since 1999. Even in the bad LSU years that preceded that game (such as the 2-9 team in 1992), the Tigers won, usually in convincing fashion. That is my most popular post over the last year. Judging by search teams such as “has mississippi state ever won against lsu” (now that would be a streak if the answer were no), “mississippi state losing streak against lsu”, etc., it’s at least in part due to interest in how well the Tigers have done over the last 20-25 years in the series.

Les Miles isn’t exactly on the hot seat right now, but Glenn Guilbeau had an interesting take on what losing to Mississippi St. has meant for coaching careers at LSU.

Speaking of Les, he mentioned a couple fun facts during his press conference. When the Tigers held ULM scoreless with less than 100 yards of offense, that was the first time since 1941 that the Tigers recorded consecutive shutouts at Tiger Stadium. In 1985, the Tigers had consecutive shut-outs during conference play; but the two games were separated by a bye week, and the second game was on the road. LSU finished in second place in the SEC the latter year (among teams eligible for the title), just a half-game behind Tennessee.

Gerry DiNardo (left) could no longer figure out how to beat anyone in 1999 but nearly upset one of Jackie Sherrill's best teams anyway. LSU has not lost to the Bulldogs since.

Gerry DiNardo (left) could no longer figure out how to beat anyone in 1999 but nearly upset Jackie Sherrill’s Bulldogs anyway. LSU has not lost to Miss. St. since.

Week 3 College Football Rankings 2014

(Teams new to the rankings have logos posted below. I was in more of a retro mood today, especially given some of the teams below.)

Rank/team/previous
1 Auburn 1
2 Oregon 2
3 Oklahoma 3
4 Florida St. 4
5 Alabama 6
6 TX A&M 8
7 LSU 7
8 Notre Dame 10
9 Ole Miss 12
10 BYU 11
11 S Carolina 18
12 Penn St. 24
13 Georgia 5
pitt
14 Pittsburgh —
ECU
15 E. Carolina —
BC
16 Boston Coll. —
UCLA
17 UCLA —
18 Va. Tech 9
UVA
19 Virginia —
20 USC 14
21 Louisville 15
22 Ohio St. 19
arizona-logo
23 Arizona —
Missouri_Tigers_Helmet
24 Missouri —
9159_oklahoma_state_cowboys-mascot-2001
25 Okie St. —

Out of rankings: (13) Clemson, (16) Mich. St., (17) Stanford, (20) Arizona St., (21) Baylor, (22) Florida, (23) Duke, (25) N. Illinois

I haven’t become too much of a purist this week (although you can check out my completely objective top 10 here), but I decided you actually have to have beaten somebody of substance to be on this list. I was a little bit liberal with that, especially in the case of Oklahoma St., but UTSA nearly beat Arizona and had a 6-game winning streak going into the Arizona game. This policy will help ease the transition into the computer system.

I also opted against ranking any team ahead of a team that beat them. I think that makes sense this early. The likes of East Carolina, Boston College, and Virginia might be flukes, but if we find that out later, so be it. When teams down the win chain start to beat the higher teams (for instance, maybe Louisville beats Boston College and USC beats UCLA) is when it gets tricky, and that’s when I resort to my objective system.

If you’re a little hazy, I’ll go through the main ones (best wins of the lowest ranked team in parentheses):
Texas A&M > S. Carolina > Georgia (> Clemson)
Pittsburgh > Boston College > USC (> Stanford)
UCLA > Virginia > Louisville (> U. Miami)
East Carolina > Virginia Tech > Ohio St. (> Navy)

Earlier rankings:
Preseason
Week 1
Week 2

Preliminary Computer Top 10 and Explanation

In College Football, Rankings Commentary on September 14, 2014 at 3:31 PM

As you probably know, I stop doing subjective rankings of the team and replace those with computer ratings starting in October each season. Usually people do not receive my first few computer ratings very well, and they can’t make sense of them until later. Of course, someone can get upset with any list of teams you come up with, but most people who give serious thought to it can at least make peace with my later computer rankings.

Disclaimer time: The teams below are NOT who I’m saying should be considered the 10 best teams yet. I did a trial run of my computer rankings this week just to make sure it’s set up properly and so forth. I used to have to do a lot of work the first week I went to the computers, but I’m trying to be as prepared as possible this year. Anyway, while normally I would keep this to myself, I wanted to share the top 10 just for the purpose of explanation. It’s easiest to explain with a small number of games.

I am well-aware that a team may be great and have great teams they’re going to play later, but maybe they’ve had a bye week and/or an FCS win and/or another win over a win-less team who’s going to be good (which may be true of Central Florida, for instance). So Missouri (who beat two FBS teams—Toledo, who has only beaten an FCS team, and Central Florida—and one FCS team) might well be one of the best teams in the country, but they’re not even in the top 20 of my computer ratings because Central Florida won’t count as a meaningful win until they beat some teams.

The best my system will consider an FCS team is average. North Dakota St., who went 14-0 and beat FBS bowl team Kansas St., was considered about equivalent to low-level bowl teams like Tulane and North Carolina. Even Kansas St. was considered better because I think 7 FBS wins should count for more than 13 FCS wins (one FBS win for each cancels out). Kansas St. was probably a much better team at the end of the year than it was at the beginning, so maybe had they played each other at the end of the season instead of at the beginning, Kansas St. would have proven my formula accurate. The only two ways the Bison could have been considered better were (1) to beat a better FBS team or (2) to beat more than one FBS team.

Of course it’s impossible to put teams in perfect order of who would (or did) beat whom anyway. There are always circular win chains at the end of the year. It seems like this happens in the SEC West every year. In 2013, LSU beat Auburn, who beat Alabama, who beat LSU. In 2012, LSU beat Texas A&M, who beat Alabama, who beat LSU. That’s actually another good reason for me to do this now. There aren’t so many dilemmas to get hung up on.

So this is my computer top 10. I will release my subjective top 10 later this week. There will be a couple of teams in common, but I will not rely on this by any means.

Oklahoma has gotten out to a fast start by beating 3 FBS teams with a combined 5 FBS wins of their own.

Oklahoma has gotten out to a fast start by beating 3 FBS teams with a combined 5 FBS wins of their own.

1. Oklahoma – What does it take to be #1 after three weeks? It wasn’t even close, by the way. Being 3-0 by itself puts you pretty close to the top (I don’t count FCS wins in my records, but I give teams credit separately), but I’ll go deeper into this. Oklahoma has beaten two teams who themselves have two wins apiece (Tennessee and Louisiana Tech). The third team, Tulsa, is 1-2. So being 3-0 and having opponents with a combined 5 (FBS) wins right now is why Oklahoma is a clear #1.

2. Ole Miss – Most importantly, the Rebels are also 3-0. Also important is the fact that Boise St. has two wins. Vanderbilt has an FBS win. Ole Miss got zero points for beating UL-Lafayette apart from the influence on its overall strength of schedule. Losing to an undefeated team and a 2-1 team (Louisiana Tech) gives ULL a decent strength of schedule.

3. UCLA – I think luck will catch up to the Bruins like it did to the cross-town rival Trojans, but hear me out. Like Ole Miss, they are 3-0 with a win over an otherwise unbeaten team (although Virginia has one FBS and one FCS win) and a second win over a team with a BCS win. The third team, Memphis, has a good strength of schedule because the only FBS team they’ve played is undefeated. I know that seems like circular logic, but when Memphis has played a few other FBS teams strength of schedule will begin to be more meaningful. This is another reason to wait for time to pass before I officially use these.

4. Notre Dame – The Irish are 3-0, and Michigan is 2-1, so that’s a good start this early. Purdue also has an FBS win. Rice has no wins, but being that they’ve only played Notre Dame and Texas A&M, that gives them a pretty good strength of schedule.

5. Mississippi St. – Two Mississippi schools in the top five. Can you tell yet why we’re still in the preliminary stages? Guess the Bulldogs’ record. The rest will also generally follow the above script. Mississippi St. is the only team to beat UAB, who has an FBS win and an FCS win. South Alabama’s other two weeks are an FBS win (albeit over a winless team) and a bye. Mississippi St. also beat Southern Mississippi, whose only FBS games have been against 3-0 teams.

6. Arizona – A real top 10 team probably would have won by more against Nevada and UTSA, but as a reminder, this does not factor in margin of victory, which I think you need to do after only three weeks. Arizona is also 3-0, that Nevada team I mentioned has an FBS win and no other losses, and Arizona also beat Texas-San Antonio (again by a small margin), who has an FBS win. UNLV, whose only win is over an FCS team, does not really help except for Arizona’s record of course.

7. Oregon – So the next three are all teams you’ll see in the top 10 of pretty much any major rankings at this point. Oregon is the first team on this list that does NOT have 3 FBS wins (one was over an FCS team). Wyoming, whom the Ducks just beat, has one win over an FBS team and one over an FCS team. Michigan St. only has an FCS win, but at least they don’t have any other losses.

8. Texas A&M – Should be no surprise here. Of course, South Carolina has won two games over otherwise-undefeated teams since losing to the Aggies. East Carolina in turn beat Virginia Tech (who had beaten Ohio St.) after losing to the Gamecocks. I mentioned Rice in reference to Notre Dame. The Aggies have also beaten North Texas, who is 1-2, and an otherwise-unbeaten FCS team.

9. Alabama – We’re back to another 3-0 team, but obviously they wouldn’t be behind two 2-0 teams (with FCS wins) if they had great wins. West Virginia does have an FBS win and an FCS win though. Florida Atlantic is 1-2, and Southern Mississippi (common opponent with Mississippi St.) just has an FCS win.

10. Washington – I took the Huskies out of my subjective top 25 afer struggling to beat Hawaii (who was barely able to beat Northern Iowa last night/this morning) and Eastern Washington, an FCS team. Washington does have another FBS win now, over Illinois, who itself has FBS (over Western Kentucky) and FCS wins. Also, Eastern Washington is 1-0 against the FCS.

Hopefully that’s somewhat enlightening about how the system works. The above does not use any reference whatsoever to preseason rankings or prior seasons. It’s as if the entire FBS started from scratch this year. So it’s completely about what you’ve proven, and if a team has played and won every week and their opponents are in the FBS (especially if such opponents also have a number of FBS wins), that team will have a huge advantage whoever they are.

So when you look at other ratings, like Sagarin for instance, they might be more the teams you expect to see, because they do include reference to prior seasons. That said, his top four teams are all in my top 10, and there are 10 teams in common in our respective top 15 teams. The ones in my top 15 that are not in his are all ones that you would rightly be suspicious of due to recent seasons: Mississippi St., Arizona, Pittsburgh, Washington, and Syracuse.

In fact, apart from UCLA, I think I’ll use those teams in common as my top 9 when I make my subjective rankings for this week. I like to start making it largely results-based at this point, although there will still be at least a bit of a subjective and predictive element, which will be true until I rely exclusively on the computer formula.

This was also a good week to at least look at it this way since it’s already getting difficult to try to fairly rank teams without a major overhaul. South Carolina beat East Carolina who beat Virginia Tech who beat Ohio St. They also beat Georgia, who beat Clemson. So how good must that make Texas A&M for annihilating South Carolina? Then you have Pittsburgh, who beat Boston College, who beat USC, who beat Stanford. As I mentioned, it will only get more confusing once teams lower down the chain beat teams higher up.

I note there are only four SEC teams in the top 10 list above, but there are a total of six in the top 15, seven in the top 20, and ten in the top 30. The others in the top 15 are LSU and Auburn. The West should be interesting this year, by the way. I’ve mentioned everyone but Arkansas, and the Hogs just ran wild all over Texas Tech on the road. So the sixth-best team in the division is 13th and the seventh-best is 34th! I know that will change (It’s impossible not to since they will start playing each other, and there are bye weeks and FCS opponents coming up later in the season for some SEC teams), but I’ll probably get more into out-of-conference play so far later this week.

Better Late than Never: 2013 Conference Report

In College Football, Conference Reports on September 11, 2014 at 2:13 PM

I’ll start with the records. I tabulate these myself, so they could be a game or two off for each conference (especially the “group of five” conferences, due to membership changes). If there is a reliable database somewhere, let me know though.

Best records overall
SEC 53-11
Pac-12 37-9
Big Ten 38-16
ACC 46-21
Big XII 25-11

Best records vs. FBS
SEC 40-10
Pac-12 28-8
Big XII 19-9
Big Ten 29-16
ACC 33-21

Best records vs. BCS-conference*
SEC 17-9
Pac-12 10-7
Big XII 7-7
ACC 12-14
Big Ten 11-13

Notre Dame went 9-4 against the FBS and 6-4 against the BCS conferences, although Temple really shouldn’t count.

*This includes Notre Dame since special provisions were made for them under the BCS. The American (AAC) was an automatic bid conference last season, so they still qualified. The AAC was the only conference outside of the “Big Five” (ACC, Big Ten, Big XII, Pac-12, SEC) that won more than 1/4 of its games against “Big Five” teams last year. Being that its membership continues to change and is now essentially what the CUSA was a few years ago, I did think it was fair to remove them starting this year. The new Playoff contract also treats them along with the CUSA, MAC, MWC, and Sun Belt (referred to as Group of Five).

I think it’s fair to say the major teams have consolidated themselves into the Big Five conferences. There were 10 fewer teams in the Big Five overall just 11 years ago, so what used to be a competitive Big East has been absorbed by the other conferences (Temple is an exception, but they were removed from the Big East effective in the 2005 season before being invited back to join what became the AAC) . There were a couple of teams that competed in the Big East recently there were not absorbed (such as Connecticut, South Florida, and Cincinnati), but South Florida and Connecticut are still fairly new to the FBS (with transition years in 2002 and 2003, respectively). Cincinnati was in the CUSA as recently as 2004, but I’ll admit they would probably fit in playing in a Big Five conference. There have always been a few outliers since the BCS started though.

Overall rankings and reasoning

sec-pinwheel-logo

Anyway, no surprise, but #1 goes to the SEC. It’s really no contest whatsoever based on those numbers alone. 16 more wins than the Pac-12 versus only two more losses. Even if you whittle it down to BCS-conference opponents, it’s 7 more wins versus two more losses.

It gets a little better when the AAC teams are eliminated, but one of those SEC wins was over Central Florida. That’s better than the Pac-12’s best out-of-conference wins Notre Dame and Wisconsin (which South Carolina also beat). Oklahoma St. (beaten by Missouri in the Cotton Bowl) was also better than those two teams.

Being that the they were the only other conference worth discussing for #1, the Pac-12 takes #2.

I’m actually going to award #3 to the ACC. They’re behind the Big XII in winning percentage against the Big Five, but look how many more games. There are more teams, but it’s approximately an average of one more opponent for every two teams. Ohio St., Georgia, and Auburn are a pretty good top of the list. Of course, LSU was the only team other than Florida St. to beat Auburn all year. Georgia’s only other out-of-conference loss was to Nebraska in the bowl game, and of course Ohio St.’s only other loss was in the Big Ten championship game.

Also, the ACC’s losses are pretty solid. The only bad ones were Northwestern (which beat Syracuse), Ball St. (which beat Virginia) and ULM (which beat Wake Forest).

Despite not having the best strength of schedule, I’m going with the Big XII as #4. Except for the FCS losses, every other loss was to a bowl team. North Dakota St. (one of the FCS losses; the other was Northern Iowa) probably could have been a bowl team had the Bison played in the FBS. I’m not going to pretend Maryland and Rice were very good but these are the rest of the FBS losses: Central Florida, Iowa, Oregon, LSU, Ole Miss, Missouri, and BYU. The wins were similar in strength to those of the Big Ten, who I’d put 5th.

As mentioned, the AAC was #6, due largely to Louisville and Central Florida.

#7 is a bit of a surprise. I’m going with the Sun Belt (SBC), which had a winning record in non-conference games. The only thing the Sun Belt got seriously wrong was letting in Georgia St., which lost to three FCS teams. There were a total of 12 combined losses to the SEC and Big XII, and all but a couple of those were to bowl teams. There weren’t any huge wins, but the SBC represented itself well against the other conferences: 4-2 against CUSA, 3-0 against the MAC, 1-0 against the MWC, and 5-1 against independents.

Speaking of Independents, I would put the independents apart from Notre Dame after the Sun Belt, but since they’re not really a conference we can call them #7.5. The main reason they’re not even higher is because Idaho, New Mexico St., and Old Dominion were included last season.

CUSA is #8. North Carolina (lost to East Carolina) and Maryland (lost to Marshall) were decent wins, but there wasn’t much else to write home about. There were a very high number of losses, include two to South Alabama, which had just fully joined the FBS. There were three other losses to Sun Belt teams, three losses to MWC teams, and four to MAC teams.

#9 is the MWC. Most of Big-Five-conference opponents were in the Pac-12, but there was only the one win over Washington St. The only other FBS win was over Rutgers. There was one other win of substance by Utah St. over Northern Illinois in the bowl game, but I think that was mostly the Huskies being let down by the loss to Bowling Green for the MAC title. There were also some bad losses to Utah, Colorado, UTSA, and Texas St.

The #10 MAC only won 11 games over the FBS. It won 10 games over the FCS but lost two. Northern Illiniois beat a decent Iowa team, but the other three wins over BCS conferences were Connecticut, Virginia, and Purdue. Ohio had three wins over the CUSA, and Bowling Green had one. Also, Toledo beat Navy. Not really an impressive group of wins there.

More on LSU’s Start and Understanding FCS Games

In College Football, General LSU, History, Post-game on September 9, 2014 at 12:42 PM

This isn’t the main thing I’m going to write about, but I heard it after I published my blog about the LSU-Wisconsin game. Since Les Miles took over at LSU, the Tigers are 22-21 when trailing in the fourth quarter, the only team in the FBS to have a winning record during that span (apparently, they don’t count the last-second loss to Clemson as “trailing in the fourth quarter”; but no one else comes close regardless). Miles is also back above the 80% mark as head coach of the Tigers. After winning 85% in his first three seasons, Miles’ winning percentage had fallen to 77.3% after the 2009 season. The Tigers are attempting to finish with double-digit wins for the fifth consecutive year since then. It would be Miles’ 8th overall in 10 seasons.

By comparison, Nick Saban won 75% of his games at LSU and had two double-digit-win seasons in five years, falling just short of a third on the last play of his stint at LSU. I understand Saban didn’t take over a program in the same shape; but he was still considered a strong success overall, so building on his tenure is still something to be proud of. Not many coaches can step into a situation like that and improve it, so Miles deserves a good deal of credit.

I don’t have too much to say about the Sam Houston St. game itself, but although LSU won extremely easily, that was not necessarily the expected result.

Ameer Abdullah's great run with 20 second left saved Nebraska from potential embarrassment.

Ameer Abdullah’s great run with 20 seconds left saved Nebraska from potential embarrassment.

After the Nebraska-McNeese St. game (if you missed it, Nebraska scored the winning touchdown with 20 seconds left with the Cowboys essentially one tackle away from forcing overtime), I want to talk a bit about FCS opponents. They really vary. A number of the scores were pretty close. Of course, you also have your 70-point wins against such opponents as well.

Sam Houston St. went to the FCS championship game in the 2012 season, so they could have been among the best teams this season. I was looking at the margins Sam Houston St. won by that season. They won seven games by 35 points or more and beat Southeast Louisiana, 70-0. I think there is as much of a gap between the top and bottom of FCS as there is of FBS. Maybe Sam Houston isn’t as high on the scale this season; but the team they lost to in that championship game, North Dakota St., seems to be about the same after the Bison’s 34-14 win over Iowa St. So I don’t think there is a real appreciation of that.

Most people dismiss the opposition right off the bat. I know a Kansas St. fan who just assumed North Dakota St. was nothing to worry about last year, for instance. There is a general lack of appreciation of the fact that if you play a playoff-level FCS team, there is a good chance that team will be clearly better than a low-level FBS team.

One of those teams that is routinely toward the bottom of the FCS is Nicholls St. (which just lost to Arkansas , 73-7), but even they have a recent win over an FBS school. They beat Western Michigan last year, but when they played would-be bowl teams, the results were more predicable: losses to Oregon, 66-3, and to ULL, 70-7.

Anyway, I’ve noticed the quality of FCS opponents on LSU’s schedule of late. The Tigers played Furman last year, and while that’s not typically one of the top FCS teams (although they are competitive in one of the top FCS conferences), they still did a decent job. LSU only led by four at halftime and didn’t lead by more than 11 until less than 17 minutes remained in the game. The Paladin defense folded after that, and LSU ended up winning by 32; but that was still a better exercise than Kent St., whom LSU led 31-7 in the second quarter, or UAB, whom LSU led 35-7 in the second quarter last season. LSU let both teams back into the game a little bit before pulling away, but I don’t think that’s the same kind of pressure.

In 2012, LSU blew out Idaho, 63-14, but then struggled to beat Towson, 38-22, two weeks later. Towson failed to make the playoffs that year despite only losing twice in FCS play, but they advanced to the FCS finals last year (they also lost to the Bison of NDSU) after again only losing two games in FCS play. They played no FBS opponents last season, however.

A similar combination of results took place in 2010 when LSU beat McNeese St., 32-10, after trailing in the second quarter and leading only 16-10 after halftime. The Tigers then went on to beat ULM, 51-0, later that season. LSU plays ULM next week, by the way.

LSU had only played an FCS opponent twice in the previous six seasons, both times being against Appalachian St. In the first meeting in 2005, the Tigers, who would win the SEC West, only led the Mountaineers 14-0 after three quarters before pulling away slightly in the fourth to win, 24-0. Appalachian St. at one point drove to the LSU 15 while it was still 14-0 (before missing a field goal), so the game was in doubt for a long time despite the lack of points. The Tigers had easier wins that season @Mississippi St., @Vanderbilt, @Ole Miss, and in the bowl game against Miami. LSU also blew out North Texas at home by more than twice that margin in that season.

So if I wanted to give LSU a test in a given year, I’d pick a top-20 FCS team over a bottom-20 FBS team every time. Just something to keep in mind.

Also, McNeese wasn’t the only team with a good result last week. Eastern Kentucky got the only win (over Miami U.), but there were some others that were in doubt fairly late. Stony Brook gave Connecticut all they could handle. Rutgers only beat Howard by 13. Eastern Washington was neck-and-neck with Washington the whole game, falling short by only 7 points. Southern Mississippi only beat Alcorn St. by 6, and UNLV only beat Northern Colorado by a single point.

Finally, I don’t think Missouri St. made Oklahoma St. too nervous, but I thought it was interesting that the Bears only lost by 17 after the Cowboys were a touchdown short of beating Florida St. in Week 1.

By the way, LSU plays McNeese St. and Eastern Michigan next season. I would not be surprised if they had more trouble with McNeese St.