Damn Strong Football Team: Arkansas and Beyond

In College Football, Preview on November 14, 2014 at 1:55 PM

Whether it’s our fault, Alabama’s fault, or the referees’ fault we got there, I know we have to pick ourselves up off the mat and get ready for the next game.

The "Golden Boot" is prepared for its (hopefully brief) trip to Arkansas.

The “Golden Boot” is prepared for its (hopefully brief) trip to Arkansas.

Arkansas nearly caught us looking ahead to the time off last year (bowl game rather than bye week, but still). There have been many instances in this series where the team who wasn’t supposed to win has won. It should also be interesting because of the expected cold weather.

This is something I enjoyed from an LSU fan who goes by Scoob (I was going to be nice and link to the site, but the administrators of that site can join Ole Miss):

Tigers played a good game tonight, it wasn’t meant to be at the end.

Despite all the bitching (because, yes, this one hurt), people played well. Yes, even our young QB, who made some more plays than he did earlier in the year against potentially lesser opponents than tonight’s foe. The biggest thing to remember is this- we played the most physically talented team on our schedule and possibly the best coached one, and our players held their own.

We are returning just about every key player next season, so the future looks very bright. Remember- Alabama, Auburn, Miss St and Ole Miss are all about the same level this year; and we went from being crushed early on to being on the same level as them. And that’s, honestly, top-10 level on the field. Next year, even if we make minimal progression, we’ll be that way to start with. I expect we’ll see a pretty big improvement, so I think next season will be gold

My only objection to that is Jennings absolutely did not have a good game however you want to spin it. The receivers didn’t help him, but I honestly think we didn’t run the ball enough. I saw little evidence Alabama had a better run defense than Ole Miss did, but for some reason people were under the impression we needed to throw it extensively.
To give credit where credit is due, Jennings was improving in each of the last five games going into this one:

9/27 NMSU W 63-7; 2/5 11
10/4 @Auburn L 41-7 5/10 84
10/11 @Florida W 30-27; 10/21 110
10/18 Kentucky W 41-3; 7/14 120
10/25 Ole Miss W 10-7; 8/16 142

I’ll take four steps forward and one step back from a first-year quarterback with young receivers. I just wish the latter weren’t against Alabama. I would have preferred to win this one and lose the next two.

Also, it wasn’t all bad. He did establish himself as a runner, and as he describes it, the game has slowed down for him. I could tell he was looking in more than one place and was flexible about what to do with the ball. There were a couple of instances where he should have run and didn’t, but I think his decision-making has improved. It also hasn’t been as easy for defenders to tell what he’s trying to do.

I do hope Brandon Harris gets another chance though (Les indicated he would, but sometimes that really means that only if the score allows). They both seem intelligent and physically capable, but it’s taking them time to read defenses and learn the system. Unlike Mettenberger (and to a lesser extent Jefferson), they don’t have veteran receivers to make them look good at times. I don’t know why there were at least three huge drops, but up until now, the receivers generally caught the ball on the occasions when it was thrown well and a respectable amount of the time when it wasn’t.

Even ignoring the officiating discrepancies, the closeness of the game, etc., you can make a real argument that LSU is among the top 10 teams.

Two BCS computer rankings put the Tigers in the top 10, and only one of the six had LSU below #12.

Even looking at the polls, LSU’s ranking isn’t very good, but they only lost to teams ranked #9 or better and beat every team ranked 10 or lower. The philosophy of my formula is similar. LSU deserves some recognition, but if you have three losses—however and to whomever they come—you don’t belong in the national-championship conversation.

That’s usually good enough to put a team in the top 10 because most teams only have one top-10 opponent at this point if any. If LSU is 9-1 right now against a slightly more average schedule (TCU’s, for example), they might even be in the top 5.

I have LSU’s schedule as the 7th-hardest in my listing, but I admit my strength-of-schedule listing isn’t ideal. For one, it punishes successful teams somewhat because beating the teams you play lowers their rating. For another shortcoming, it only gives an average. So you could play one terrible team and it might not fully account for playing several good teams.

Let’s say all teams are evenly spaced apart. Numbers 64 and 65 are easier to go 2-0 against than numbers 1 and 128.

But both of those are actually arguments in LSU’s favor. LSU played New Mexico St., which has one of the worst ratings (they just moved up to 127). Also, LSU doesn’t have a record that the fans expect, but 7-3 is still a good percentage more wins than losses. Point being, it’s possible LSU’s schedule is one of the top 5 hardest.

I have TCU’s schedule as the 30th hardest. To be fair, the same caveats apply to them. They have a good record and they played a really bad team (in their case, SMU). So their schedule may be even better than that. I’m just not about to try to make up a system that applies extra weight to the better team or subtracts out wins by the team with the schedule in question.

TCU has beaten everyone #13 and below. They’re just 0-1 against teams #9 or higher (if you look at the polls), compared to LSU’s 0-3.

I think Baylor is over-rated though. The way I see it, TCU beat everyone #19 or lower and lost to everyone #14 or higher. So looking at things that way, they would actually go behind LSU.

I’m not saying LSU beats TCU or Baylor, but I do think it’s a logical problem with the way polls work. Theoretically, if there were some way to know for sure what the best teams are in order, the 4th best team would be expected to go 0-3 if it were to play numbers 1 through 3. I think most of the voters generally see the rankings as a list of which teams would beat whom, but they often don’t really vote that way if you think about it.

Anyway, however you look at it, I think this Scoob person hit the nail on the head with how good this very young team is right now and how even marginal improvement will put them in a very good situation to start next year.

We were also without a couple of key players for all or most of the game. For instance, Rashard Robinson is suspended indefinitely, Kendell Beckwith missed some early plays, and Kenny Hilliard was hurt in the last game (he is expected to be out the remainder of the regular season). These are additional reasons not to hang our heads and just say Alabama has our number, because I don’t think that’s true. Maybe it’s just easier for people to say to themselves the loss (such that it was) was inevitable no matter what.

Alabama is a fairly young team too, but LSU would be a much different team if it had a junior wide receiver like Amari Cooper to go along with its young offense. Also, I know Blake Sims hardly played before this season, but that doesn’t make him young in the same way LSU’s quarterbacks are.

Last year at this time, Brandon Harris was in high school and Anthony Jennings was a true freshman who had only completed two passes (against Furman and UAB) in his career. Some would argue they haven’t come very far since then, but just being on the field running the offense, not to mention development in practice, improves future ability to perform.

Also, odd years typically go better for us. I know we’re going to have to travel to Alabama, but we have a better record against them on the road anyway. Also, if we get them into overtime again, the road team is undefeated in overtime games in the Alabama series.

Since SEC expansion in 1992 (and probably significantly further back), LSU has not beaten both Auburn and Florida in the same season on the road; but in four of the last five opportunities, LSU went 2-0 against the pair of them at home. The exception was 2009 when Florida beat LSU on the way to finishing 13-1. LSU has won the SEC West in five of the last seven odd years and has never won it in an even year.

  1. […] Going into this game, I wrote about LSU’s potential for next season. I still believe we will have one of the most talented and capable (to use a Les-ism) teams out there. […]

  2. […] Going into this game, I wrote about LSU’s potential for next season. I still believe we will have one of the most talented and capable (to use a Les-ism) teams out there. […]

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