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Rivalry Series: LSU vs. Notre Dame

In Bowls, College Football, Rivalry on December 29, 2014 at 6:10 PM
LSU graphic for the 1984 game.

LSU graphic for the 1984 game.

This doesn’t exactly fit the “rivalry” theme, but that’s what I decided to call blogs of this type.

There is a fair number of Notre Dame fans in Louisiana because of the Catholic population, so there always seems to be a fair amount of excitement over these games since the winner may have bragging rights for a while. I apologize in advance if this blog isn’t up to my usual standards. It was mostly written on an airplane, and I’m using an unfamiliar computer.

Tuesday’s game will be only the second meeting since 1998. In just over a year’s time, the Tigers had faced the Irish three times, winning only one. Apart from 2006 and 1981, all the other games were in groups of at least two, so I’ll do those together.

The series is tied, 5-5. LSU has won the only two “neutral” site games, but both were in Louisiana. LSU’s only win at Notre Dame was in 1985.

2006 (Sugar Bowl) – LSU 41, Notre Dame 14

The 2006 game (in the Sugar Bowl) was interesting, at least it was an interesting match-up going into the game. LSU didn’t win the SEC, but what had kept them from the title game was the loss to eventual national champions florida (whose berth in the championship opened up the Sugar) in the regular season. They also lost to auburn in a bizarre 7-3 game marred with officiating disputes.

Notre Dame entered that year with one of its strongest teams since the early ’90s. Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija led a very productive offense. Though neither Quinn nor LSU quarterback Jamarcus Russell amounted to much, they generated a lot of buzz for the NFL draft. Russell would be the #1 draft pick a few months later.

The game was competitive for a half, but LSU looked to be the stronger team all along. They just didn’t translate that into points as well in the first half. LSU won going away, 41-14.

When LSU won the national championship in 2007, it was remarkable not only for the two losses that season but also for the fact that so much talent had gone to the NFL after the previous season.

1997 – Notre Dame 24, @LSU 6
1997 (Independence Bowl) – LSU 27, Notre Dame 9
1998 – @Notre Dame 39, LSU 36

LSU had a fairly good year in 1997, going 9-3, but they had a miserable time with the Irish on a rainy November day (not night) at Tiger Stadium. They got revenge when the Irish came back to Louisiana, this time to Shreveport for the independence bowl. Neither game was close.

The bottom fell out for LSU in the next two years. Gerry DiNardo’s tenure, which had started with a 29-9-1 record, ended with a thud. The Tigers only won 3 of the last 18 games he coached.

There were a number of close losses to good teams in there though, and the Irish were one of them in 1998. LSU took a 34-20 lead with 8 minutes to go in the third quarter. The Irish responded by scoring late in the third, and then LSU had a chance to go back up by 14 in the fourth. On second down from the Notre dame 17, LSU’s Herb Tyler threw to the wrong team, and the Irish ran it all the way back. There was some hope when LSU blocked the extra point, but this didn’t matter when Notre Dame scored the go-ahead touchdown with just under 90 seconds to go in the game. When the Irish won by three points (after intentionally taking a safety), it was the fifth loss that season alone to a bowl-eligible team by less than a touchdown.

1984 – Notre Dame 30, @LSU 22
1985 – LSU 10, @Notre Dame 7
1986 – @LSU 21, Notre Dame 19

There were three competitive games in the mid-1980s. That may not have been the case in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the Tigers began their worst stretch in recent memory and the Irish were competing for national championships.

Following a three-game losing streak in 1984 (Bill arnsparger’s first year at LSU), Notre Dame went on the road to upset a 7th-ranked LSU team that would eventually go to the Sugar Bowl. The Irish would not lose again until the Aloha Bowl.

After a disastrous loss at home in the third game in 1985, LSU went undefeated the rest of the regular season. The week after Alabama, the Tigers had a close call against Mississippi St., but they still entered the game against the Irish at 6-1-1 and ranked #17 in the country. After starting a respectable 5-3, Notre Dame lost to Penn State (who would finish 11-1) the week before hosting LSU.

Notre Dame took the lead just over 5 minutes into the game but would not score again the rest of the way. Still, the Irish held onto a 7-3 lead until late in the fourth quarter. With about 7 minutes left, an LSU drive stalled just a few yards into Notre Dame territory. After a 38-yard punt, the Irish took over at the 6 and went nowhere. This defensive stand allowed LSU to pick up roughly where they had left off on offense.

On a third and one (after a 9-yard run by LSU QB Jeff Wickersham), LSU took a gamble with a throw to running back Dalton Hilliard (uncle of current LSU running back Kenny Hilliard), who went down the sidelines for an 18-yard gain. Wickersham made another throw of 21 yards to get LSU into scoring position. After two runs, LSU took the lead 10-7 with about 3:30 to play.

After Notre Dame drove 25 yards to their own 48, Irish quarterback Steve Beuerlein’s pass was tipped. The Tigers came up with it and were able to run out the clock.

LSU made the Liberty Bowl after that season, where they lost to Baylor.

The Tigers would have a similar record going into the 1986 game against Notre Dame, this time playing the Irish at home. LSU was ranked #8, and Notre Dame was again unranked and headed toward a 5-6 finish.

Another close game ensued. This time LSU was first on the board with a touchdown after about 5 minutes of play, but Notre Dame’s Tim Brown took the kickoff back 96 yards to tie the game. LSU took the lead back after an 82-yard drive of 8:47. There was no scoring again until Notre Dame closed to 14-10 with about 6 minutes left in the third quarter. That score took place after Notre Dame converted a 3rd and 14. LSU would have had a stop on that down when it was first tried, but an LSU facemask offset a Notre Dame clipping penalty.

On LSU’s next play from scrimmage, Tommy Hodson threw an interception, which was returned to the LSU 2. The Irish gained a yard on first down but went no further, and the ball went over on downs when Brown was tackled for a loss on fourth down. The following LSU drive was a three and out, and Notre Dame then drove to the LSU 13 with six running plays and only one pass. The Irish then went backwards but they converted a 44-yard field goal attempt to get within 1.

LSU used a mix of running and passing to drive 79 yards in 11 plays. The Tigers only faced one third down on the drive, a 3rd and 3 from the Notre Dame 28.

Notre Dame’s next drive ended in a turnover, but LSU did nothing with it. The LSU defense could do little to stop the Irish from driving down the field in just seven plays for a touchdown. They stopped the two-point conversion though, and the Irish did not get the ball again.

1981 – @Notre Dame 27, LSU 9

Two awful teams played in 1981. LSU would only win three games that season, which is probably best remembered for ending with a humiliating 48-7 defeat at the hands of Tulane. Notre dame would finish 5-6 but they probably looked good momentarily in a 27-9 win at home.

1970 – @Notre Dame 3, LSU 0
1971 – @LSU 28, Notre Dame 8

What first inspired the Irish and Tigers to square off was the end of the 1969 season. LSU had only one loss, by two points to Archie manning’s ole miss rebels, and was hoping for a Cotton Bowl invite to play undefeated Texas and had declined other howl opportunities. Notre Dame, which had declined all bowl invitations since 1924, decided at the last minute they wanted to play Texas instead. They lost 21-17.

Notre Dame would only lose to two schools in the next two seasons, USC and LSU. The Irish did beat LSU at home, 3-0, in 1970. After a scoreless struggle, LSU had a chance to take the lead in the fourth quarter, but their field goal attempt from the 17 was blocked. The Tigers kept Notre Dame from scoring on the next drive but were pinned at their own 1 afterward. Notre Dame then took over at the LSU 36. Interference was called on LSU on the first play from scrimmage, and Notre Dame drove 10 more yards before the winning field goal with only 2:54 to play.

LSU went 9-3 in both 1970 and 1971. In the 1970 bowl season, LSU lost to Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, and Notre Dame got revenge over Texas in the Cotton.

In the 1971 game, LSU had lost to both Ole Miss and Alabama in the previous few weeks, so they took the opportunity to work out their frustrations in a 28-8 win. LSU was #14 AP and #18 in the coaches’ poll going into the game. Notre Dame, which had been #7 in both polls before the game, did not go to a bowl that year, while LSU beat Iowa St. in the Sun Bowl.

Prior entries:

Team List:
Alabama (Pregames: 2011, 2013)
Arkansas
Auburn (2010 post-game)
Florida
Georgia
Kentucky
Mississippi St.
Ole Miss
(Steve Spurrier and) South Carolina
Tennessee
Texas A&M

Special editions:
Pac-12

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Correcting the NHL Divisional Alignment

In NHL, Realignment on December 26, 2014 at 4:56 PM

I’ll start out with a disclaimer that I’m not exactly an avid hockey fan, although I do enjoy the playoffs and I start following more intently around April. It’s just not a sport I grew up around or have attended much.

I was inspired to write this just because I happened to grab a sports page yesterday and look at the standings. I just never saw the point of getting excited about a sport 6 months before it crowned a champion. I mostly write the most about college football, and you might have noticed I don’t have all that much to say about even that in July.

I talked about some different possibilities before the realignment in 2011.

In the first two of these possibilities, I was considering the current format of two divisions per conference. What I’m about to suggest is very similar to the second of those. The only difference is I was anticipating the Eastern and Western Conferences would have equal numbers of teams, and that is not what happened. I’m just going to assume the conferences will keep the same respective numbers of teams they have now. It’s not really fair to those seeking wild cards, but on the other hand, it’s good that teams are on a somewhat level playing field (playing surface?) as the other division in a given conference.

When I discussed realignment possibilities for the NFL, a lot of people didn’t like the idea of the Dallas Cowboys being anywhere but the NFC East, even though Washington, Philadelphia, and New York are of course nowhere near Dallas. I find it really strange that so many people are perfectly fine with moving the Detroit Red Wings to the Eastern Conference even though they were always in the West and have a much longer tradition than the Cowboys, who are about 50 years old as a franchise. Also, Detroit is in the middle of two logical groups of teams geographically, so the more traditional alignment does not completely fly in the face of any geographic logic.

So one thing I would do is move them back. This would be my Central Division (or Midwest could be another name):
Chicago
Colorado
Dallas
Detroit
Minnesota
St. Louis
Winnipeg

I’ll talk more about this below, but I think it’s good for Chicago to have another top franchise in their division. This isn’t the 1990s anymore, when Dallas and Colorado were among the top franchises. I understand Detroit would probably rather play more games in the Eastern Time Zone, but I’m not sure it’s necessary to play that many more games against other divisions within the conference as other divisions outside of the conference.

I think fans on the West Coast, for instance, are more excited to see teams like New York and Boston than Colorado and Dallas even though obviously Colorado and Dallas are a lot closer, so there really isn’t a good reason (other than reducing travel of course) to play non-divisional in-conference opponents more than non-conference opponents. I don’t think playing teams in the Central Time Zone is a big deal for Detroit (like it’s not a big deal for the Cowboys of the NFL to play against the Eastern Time Zone), but I am definitely sympathetic to the idea of avoiding a high number of games against the Mountain and Pacific Time Zones. So if the scheduling followed this logic, it shouldn’t bother Detroit as much not to be in the Eastern Conference.

So moving Detroit back to the West creates an opening in the Atlantic Division. What strikes me is that along with the likes of Buffalo and Montreal, we have two teams from Florida. Let’s move those out as well. So now we have three spots. What collection of three teams makes the most sense together? How about the Rangers, the Islanders, and the Devils? The New York area also shares a state with Buffalo, and I get the impression from other sports you can establish some good rivalries between New York and Boston-area teams.

What’s left is essentially a revival of the Southeast Division except it’s going to go a little farther North and West. Philadelphia is fairly close to DC, and Pittsburgh makes a lot of sense as an in-state rival. Columbus is not too far from Pennsylvania either. It’s also not all that far from Nashville, which would have a natural rivalry with Carolina (another team that had been in the Southeast Division).

I wouldn’t do anything to alter the Pacific Division as currently constituted, so here are the two divisions of the Eastern Conference under my proposal:

Northeast
Boston
Buffalo
Montreal
New York Is.
New York Ran.
New Jersey
Ottawa
Toronto
(I would also note that if a team were to move to Eastern Canada, you could then move New Jersey, so keep that in mind with the teams below as well. Also see the map below.)

Southeast
Carolina
Columbus
Florida
Nashville
Philadelphia
Pittsburgh
Tampa Bay
Washington

I’m putting this all on the map below. The Southeast Division is in Yellow, mostly corresponding to the current Metropolitan Division. The Northeast, which mostly corresponds to the current Atlantic Division, is in blue. The Central/Midwest is in green, and the Pacific is in red.

Each proposed division is a different color.  Uninhabited states/provinces are gray.  No state or province has teams of multiple divisions.

Each proposed division is a different color. Uninhabited states/provinces are gray. No state or province has teams of multiple divisions.

This is the map of the current divisions. New York State is sort of a teal color since it has teams in both the Atlantic and Metropolitan Divisions.

Map of the current divisions

Map of the current divisions

I looked up the Stanley Cup Finalists since the lockout season, and I think I’ve done a reasonable job with competitive balance even though that wasn’t my primary objective. The four divisions have all either had 4 or 5 finalists in that time. The only division clearly more successful than the rest by this measure is the Pacific, which has won three Stanley Cups in that time and also had two runners-up.

My proposed Northeast Division also has had 5 finalists, but it has the fewest Stanley Cup Champions. Boston won in 2011, but the last team in that group to win before that was New Jersey in 2003.

The Southeast had 2 champions (Carolina and Pittsburgh) and 2 runners-up (Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) in that time and also won the last Stanley Cup (Tampa Bay) before the lockout season.

The Central/Midwest had three champions in that time (Chicago twice and Detroit) and one runner-up (Detroit).

I’m open to additional information I might be overlooking, but this seems a lot more sensible than having Florida teams in the same division as Canadian teams and having another division that goes from Nashville to Denver.

Back To the Future: High-School Championship

In High School, History, Me on December 12, 2014 at 3:30 PM
This isn't the classification in question, but it was the best picture I could find of the trophy.

This isn’t the classification in question, but it was the best picture I could find of the trophy.

I haven’t written about high school sports since high school, but I had to comment about the high school I went to winning its first state championship since 1960. Hopefully it’s an interesting story. Some may know or be able to figure out the school, but I’ll avoid mentioning names.

What made it even stranger is that in watching the clips posted online (I subscribed to nola.com’s YouTube channel mostly for LSU content a while back), I saw a familiar face. It was the coach who had left my school in 1996. I honestly thought I was imagining things until I heard his name. He didn’t look much older either.

I’ll just call him Coach M. Since he left for a rival school, he wasn’t exactly my favorite person at the time. He did not do particularly well at that other school and had gone into other lines of work, although he had returned briefly to my school as an assistant at some point between the two stints. I would find out this was his first season back as head coach.

The administrators who were there while I was a student were all gone, so I guess that helped lessen any misgivings as well. Still, I’m sure some were skeptical he could just pick up where he had left off as a head coach. An NFL situation I thought of was Art Shell’s ill-fated return to the Raiders. Unlike Shell, however, it seems that Coach M had really kept up with the game.

I also compared it to Jim Mora (Sr.), who also left the Saints rather suddenly when I was in high school, coming back to the Saints and at least going to the Super Bowl in his first season.

Mora presided over a lot of improvement in New Orleans but was not able to win a playoff game with the Saints (although the Saints did have a first-round bye one season).

Coach M had won playoff games but had come up short on at least a couple of occasions in the semifinals. I mentioned the prior state championship had been in 1960. That was before the Saints even came into existence.

One difference is in recent years, the Saints did better than had ever done before. They won a few playoff games, won the Super Bowl one season, and made the conference championship in yet another season. But I’m pretty sure my junior year (two seasons after Coach M left) was the last time my high school had made the state semifinals. So I guess that all helps you imagine why it was so surreal.

After a bit of an upset in the quarterfinals (#6 over #3 on the road), it looked like it might be another year where they made it to the semifinals and fell short, which happened three times while I was there.

The last two games were remarkable too. In the last few seasons, my high school played really well against a rival school from the same district but ultimately came up short in both the regular season and the playoffs. That school was seeded #2 and had won the previous two state championships, as well as the district championships, and was undefeated. Somehow my school had them on the defensive all right, and my school prevailed,

In the finals, my school played a school that had 26 state titles. That school also did not exist in 1960. To be fair, it is a smaller school, so it wasn’t in the same classification in most of those years.

It was a low-scoring game with a lot of turnovers, but it seemed that the school that was used to state championships would pull it out when that school took a 14-7 lead into halftime (after a long drive to end that half) and still led 14-10 after the third quarter.

A number of second-half drives by both teams had stalled (or ended in turnovers) right outside of field-goal range, and obviously one ended in field-goal range. The other team got as close as the 25-yard line, but apparently that wasn’t quite a comfortable enough distance.

The player of the game was a running back, so the success my school had was mostly on the ground. But somehow with about 9 minutes to play, they drew up and completed a long touchdown pass of 45 yards. The team only had 112 yards of passing the entire game, including that play, against 217 rushing yards.

A combination of running down the clock and good defense took care of the rest of the game.

Normally you get more used to things like this after you find out, but due to the result, it’s only gotten more surreal since seeing that video. What adds to it is I ran (without much success) on the cross-country team in high school, and when I graduated we had never won a state championship in that sport. This was not the cross-country team’s first state title since I graduated; but it still adds to my feeling of disbelief to know my school holds what I consider the two biggest state titles of the fall, both of which seemed so elusive 10-20 years ago.

Pre-Bowl Rankings and Why the SEC Is Still #1

In College Football, Conference Reports, Rankings on December 8, 2014 at 6:35 PM

My Top 25
My Rank/BCS/team/prev
1 ( 2 ) Florida St. 1
2 ( 1 ) Alabama 2
3 ( 4 ) Ohio St. 3
4 ( 3 ) Oregon 4
5 ( 5 ) TCU 5
6 ( 20 ) Boise St. 6
7 ( 6 ) Baylor 14
8 ( 9 ) Ole Miss 8
9 ( 7 ) Miss. St. 9
10 ( 10 ) Arizona 7
11 ( 13 ) UCLA 11
12 ( 27 ) Marshall 16
13 ( 8 ) Mich. St. 12
14 ( 12 ) Ga. Tech 10
15 ( 18 ) Wisconsin 13
16 ( 15 ) Missouri 15
17 ( 14 ) Georgia 18
18 ( 17 ) Auburn 19
19 ( 11 ) Kansas St. 17
20 ( 33 ) Colo. St. 20
21 ( 19 ) Clemson 21
22 ( 23 ) Nebraska 22
23 ( 16 ) Arizona St. 23
24 ( 32 ) N. Illinois —
25 ( 21 ) Louisville 25

(LSU, Utah, and USC are the three Mock BCS top 25 teams who are not in my top 25.)

Full Rankings 1-128

Out of top 25: (24) Oklahoma

There are a total of 39* teams that got some level of points in the Mock BCS standings linked to above. (I list 40 teams since Texas A&M was in the top 25 of one of the computer rankings, but they got no points since the highest rating is dropped)

Earlier top-25 blogs:
Preseason
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Week 9
Week 10
Week 11
Week 12
Week 13
Week 14

Comments
I covered all the commentary I intended to cover Sunday morning, but I just wanted to note that I’m not making a new rankings blog after the Army-Navy game. I don’t expect any changes to the top 25. I will update my ratings site because obviously this would affect some lower teams, including Army and Navy themselves, and strengths of schedule.

This is my favorite SEC map so far.

This is my favorite SEC map so far.

Why the SEC Is Still #1 (despite going 5-6 against Power 5 conferences)

I will do a “conference report” for the season at some point (there may or may not be one before the bowls). This is the full one for last year to give you an idea, but I didn’t want to wait until then to make the basic argument that when looking at inter-conference play, the SEC is still the best conference overall; and it’s not even that close.

I mentioned this last week, but since then I’ve seen an increasing number of people say or suggest that the SEC must not be the best conference since it is 5-6 against other Power 5 opponents out of conference.

One thing that’s telling is they’re saying different conferences are #1, but many of them don’t really defend that, they just act really confident that whoever it is, it’s just for sure not the SEC.

It’s kind of like saying Alabama shouldn’t be #1—because they lost to Ole Miss, should have lost to LSU, and gave up over 600 yards against Auburn and (had those Tigers not settled for field goals so often) probably should have lost that one too—and then simply ignoring that any other team you would suggest is just as flawed if not more flawed.

To be fair, I’m not sure if they’re all talking about top to bottom. Maybe some think the combination of TCU, Baylor, and Kansas St. is better than the combination of Alabama, Mississippi St., and Ole Miss, for instance. As an aside, I would also argue with that assertion. The top three SEC teams are 2-1 against Auburn and the three Big XII teams are 0-1 against Auburn. I would also value beating WVU (which Baylor failed to do, by the way) and Boise St. above the one good out-of-conference win of TCU over Minnesota.

Five of the six Power 5 losses by the SEC were to teams that are currently ranked in a major poll. The only loss to a team from outside of the Power 5 conferences was by Vanderbilt, which went 0-8 in conference.

I have acknowledged that the loss by Missouri to Indiana (obviously the Power 5 team not in any major polls) was a bad one, but that was the #4 team in the SEC. I don’t see it as worse than the #1 team in the Big Ten losing to Virginia Tech, for instance.

As for the wins, three of the five came against ranked teams (and they came against teams in the top three of other conferences). These are SEC #7 LSU beating Big Ten #3 Wisconsin, SEC #5 Georgia beating ACC #3 Clemson, and SEC #6 Auburn beating Big XII #3 Kansas St.

You really have to use some tortured logic to say that any of those conferences belong ahead of the SEC. I know the ACC just beat four SEC teams (also, the ACC has almost as many bowl teams), but let’s consider what that looks like if the roles were reversed. Rather than it being the top 4 of the ACC versus numbers 5, 8, 10, and 13 of the SEC, let’s make it top 4 of the SEC versus numbers 5, 8, 10, and 13 of the ACC.

Pittsburgh @ Alabama
Mississippi St. @ Boston College
U. Miami @ Ole Miss
Wake Forest @ Missouri

Does anyone seriously think the SEC is likely to lose one of those? Mississippi St./Boston College (the equivalent of Georgia/Georgia Tech) might be a good game, but people would make fun of Alabama and Missouri for playing these games. Ole Miss wouldn’t exactly be drowning in praises with a win either. They get almost no respect for having beaten Boise St. as it is.

As I mentioned, the SEC did beat the ACC in a game earlier this year (the equivalent match-up would be Boston College @ Ole Miss), so at best they would also have gone 1-4 but more likely 0-5.
I mentioned the SEC only lost one game outside of the Power 5 conferences. The ACC lost seven such games, including to such luminaries as Akron (by a bowl-eligible team) and ULM. The ACC also lost two games to unranked Power 5 conferences when it lost to Iowa and Maryland.

So since I’ve eliminated the others, the only conference you can even pretend might be as good as the SEC is the Pac-12.

I mentioned the SEC only lost to one Power 5 team that is not in the top 25 of either poll. Counting Notre Dame as Power 5, the Pac-12 lost three such games: Notre Dame, Boston College, and Rutgers. I also mentioned the SEC only lost to one team that was not in the Power 5. Again, the Pac-12 lost three such games: Colorado St., Nevada, and BYU. Meanwhile, the SEC has won 17 more games against other conferences than the Pac-12 has won.

I mentioned the SEC (and three teams toward the middle of the SEC at that) beating three teams that are currently ranked. The Pac-12 has only beaten one such team, and it was Oregon, the Pac-12 champions, over Michigan St., the Big Ten East runners-up.

The only strong win against teams not in the Power 5 for the Pac-12 is UCLA’s win over Memphis. An SEC team also beat Memphis. That was Ole Miss, who as mentioned also beat Boise St. Another SEC team beat East Carolina, and yet another beat Central Florida.

You can’t honestly tell me the list of wins versus the list of losses favors the Pac-12.

My argument is also backed up by computer ratings. Kenneth Massey has a survey that includes 105 objective computer formulas. The SEC is #1 in 104 of them. (The SEC is also #1 in the three major Top 25 listings, so that’s why it says 108 when you click on the link.)

The Pac-12 is consistently in the top 2, but #2 is more questionable than #1. Just from skimming, it looks like the Pac-12 is #3 or lower in about one out of five.

Judge for yourself, but just so you know, the one exception put Georgia Tech #3. How well would that have gone over if the Yellowjackets were going to the Rose Bowl to play Oregon and Florida St. were going to the Sugar Bowl? It had TCU and Baylor #8 and #9. They’re both behind Georgia.

I don’t mean to make fun. Running an objective ratings system is hard work, and they look for and measure different things. I mention this because I didn’t want to just say they were wrong because they’re overwhelmingly outnumbered. I think people can recognize that this is not a system that agrees with what just about anyone (outside of Georgia anyway) thinks of as how the rankings should be configured.

Final Thoughts on CFP Bowls

In Bowls, College Football, Rankings Commentary on December 7, 2014 at 2:11 AM

I know this is early in the day for most of you, but I’m not the one who decided to make the selection show so early for west coasters like me. I’ll just have to find out the final verdict after I get up and have breakfast.

I’ll just do my regular top 25 blog later in the week, but for reference here are my ratings results. I use the numbers there below.

Final Resumes
(Teams in my Top 7 apart from Boise St.; wins are limited to those over the top 60.)

FSU
Florida St. (3-0 vs. top 25, 5-0 vs. top 50):
Beat numbers 14, 21, 25, 41, 46, 55, 60
Undefeated

bama
Alabama (3-1 vs. top 25, 8-1 vs. top 50):
Beat numbers 9, 16, 18, 26, 33, 40, 45, 47, 52
Lost to #8

oregon
Oregon (3-1 vs. top 25, 6-1 vs. top 50):
Beat numbers 10, 11, 13, 36, 39, 48
Lost to #10

ohio st
Ohio St. (2-0 vs. top 25, 5-0 vs. top 50):
Beat numbers 13, 15, 28, 30, 43, 54
Lost to #74

TCU
TCU (1-1 vs. top 25, 4-1 vs. top 50):
Beat numbers 19, 29, 30, 45, 57, 60
Lost to #7

baylor
Baylor (2-0 vs. top 25, 3-1 vs. top 50):
Beat numbers 5, 19, 29, 57, 60
Lost to #45

There should be no serious doubt about Florida St., Alabama, and Oregon, so I’ll skip to talking about the fourth semifinal team.

Baylor’s win wasn’t really in doubt for the much of the second half, but I don’t think it was anything like the kind of exclamation point Ohio St. had. I had Ohio St. in the top 4 to begin with, so I am still convinced Baylor does not belong. Virginia Tech is a worse team to lose to than WVU, but my feeling is the two additional wins over the top 50 make up for this.

I respect the opinion that TCU belongs ahead of Ohio St., although obviously I don’t agree with the conclusion. I think Ohio St. just showed emphatically they can play like a top 4 team. Admittedly, they showed all those weeks ago they can also lose to a mediocre team at home by two touchdowns, but at some point, the other 12 games taken as a whole should be more important. One top-25 win vs. 2 and 5 top-50 wins vs. 4 make up for that. TCU played the best of any of these teams in their loss, but actually that might have been their best game. I just haven’t seen them look like a top team often enough, particularly in light of their difficulties against West Virginia and Kansas in the month of November.

Transitioning out of the semifinal discussion, I don’t think Marshall and Boise St. are getting the respect that previous “group of five” teams with similar records have gotten in the past. Hawaii in 2007, for instance, was #11 after starting 11-0. Marshall, which has actually had a better schedule this season, was #19 after starting 11-0. I do think Marshall and Boise St. may each be a couple of spots too high in my ratings though.

I mentioned briefly last week why I had Boise St. ahead of Arizona, and now it’s similarly problematic to have Boise St. ahead of Baylor. There is a higher depth to Boise St.’s wins, but ultimately beating top-20 teams should be valued more highly. I want to try to find a way where beating #5 and #19 counts for more points than beating #20, #49, and #69. Those aren’t Boise St.’s three best wins (they beat two others in the top 60), but they just happened to combine for slightly more points than Baylor’s two best wins.

One way I thought of was adding some kind of additional credit for beating teams that end up with positive ratings (which is usually approximately the top 40). I won’t alter the formula at this point this season though. I will tinker with it after the final results of this year to see how it turns out. I will also look to see how it would alter previous ratings.

Something else I want to note is Boise St. actually has more FBS wins than Baylor because they played an extra game and did not play an FCS opponent. So where usually a team with two losses has fewer wins than one with a single loss, the two-loss team in question has more wins.

In an average playing week, Baylor did accumulate more points than Boise St. did in an average week.

One reason I say Marshall may be a spot or two too high is that I think Michigan St. should be in a major bowl. Their only losses are to teams I believe should be in the top 4. Wisconsin was technically the Big Ten runner-up, but they lost an additional game, and they lost to LSU and Northwestern. LSU isn’t a bad loss, but Northwestern is pretty bad. They don’t even qualify for a bowl game. I mention those together because they’re in the same conference.

I also think UCLA should be included in the top 6 bowls, while Georgia Tech should be excluded. The two teams finished with the same number of losses, and there were understandable losses by both and fairly weak losses by both. UCLA’s non-conference slate of Virginia, Memphis, and Texas, combined with the strength of the Pac-12 South relative to the ACC Coastal, should put them ahead.

Florida St. was actually two possessions ahead of Georgia Tech going into the last couple of minutes, which is a gigantic lead for the Seminoles, so the final score being two points doesn’t sway me. Also, I give them credit for the one strong out-of-conference win (albeit an extremely lucky one) against Georgia, but the others were Wofford, Tulane, and Georgia Southern.

I haven’t exactly made the case why UCLA should go ahead of Wisconsin or Michigan St. should go ahead of Georgia Tech, but hopefully you can fill in the blanks there.
The only other thing in the top 25 worth commenting on is a team that hadn’t been there since my (subjective) preseason ranking….

We can also add Northern Illinois to the list of “group of five” teams that may be a spot or two too high. After Arkansas’s games against LSU and Ole Miss made that blowout loss more understandable, that only leaves one other loss for the Huskies against 11 wins. Like Boise St., Northern Illinois goes up an extra spot for playing an extra game. If I averaged by playing week, they would have stayed behind Louisville.

SEC Strength and Potential Bowls

In Bowls, College Football, General LSU on December 5, 2014 at 4:31 PM
SEC teams on the map and the 12 likely SEC bowl locations. The gold stars are CFP bowls. An SEC team in such a bowl could also go to Miami (off the map).

SEC teams on the map and the 12 likely SEC bowl locations. The gold stars are CFP bowls. An SEC team in such a bowl could also go to Miami (off the map).

I don’t like to post something on the same day as a major game, but the Pac-12 championship doesn’t really affect what I’m talking about here. I do think the Pac-12 is pretty strongly the second-best conference, and I believe a 2-loss champion (if Arizona wins) is probably good enough to be in the top four, as I mentioned in my rankings blog. Anyway, my feeling on the conference does not change based on the outcome of that game.

I don’t think last week’s SEC losses (all by the East) indicated the SEC West wasn’t dominant. As mentioned, Georgia should have won anyway and Georgia Tech will be playing for the ACC title, so that’s not so bad of a result. Florida, Kentucky, and South Carolina registered a combined 0 wins over the SEC West and were playing the other top 4 teams of the ACC. Given their relative position in the SEC, Georgia’s loss was the only one that I felt damaged the SEC overall.

Although it doesn’t help in the overall record, I thought it was an encouraging sign that Kentucky, one of only two SEC teams who failed to make a bowl game, got close to beating a very good Louisville team on the road. Had the Wildcats won, they would have qualified for a bowl game as well.

The top three SEC West teams (Alabama, Mississippi St., and Ole Miss) did not lose any games to the SEC East this season. LSU finished tied for fourth (with Auburn) and also did not lose any. The only SEC West teams that lost games outside of the SEC West were the other three teams, and Georgia and Missouri were the only teams in college football to beat any of them.

There were a few really strong out-of-conference wins too. LSU beat Wisconsin, the top team of the Big Ten West (and it wouldn’t shock me if the Badgers beat Ohio St.). Auburn, the other team who tied for fourth, beat Kansas St., which could tie for the Big XII by beating Baylor this weekend. Otherwise, they could be used as an argument to put Baylor in the top 4. West Virginia, losers to Alabama, beat Baylor and lost to TCU (another top-4 possibility) by one point. I also don’t dismiss Ole Miss’s win over Boise St.

I still can’t explain Missouri’s loss to Indiana except that apparently when they play badly they really play badly. They also lost to Georgia 34-0. That’s a very unusual result for two teams that compete with one another for a division title all year, especially being that the loser of that game won the division and lost no other conference games.

Georgia and Missouri will probably occupy the top two non-CFP Bowls for the SEC, which are the Outback and CapitalOne Bowls.

Most predictions I’ve seen place LSU against an ACC opponent in the Belk Bowl (in Charlotte), the TaxSlayer Bowl (known as the Gator Bowl), or the Music City Bowl. We could have a nice reunion with former SEC West head coaches Bobby Petrino or David Cutcliffe, for instance. Not sure if “nice” and “Petrino” belong in the same sentence, except in the sense that competitive teams are nice to watch.

The Big XII or Big Ten could also provide an opponent for LSU.

Mark Schlabach of ESPN changed his prediction of the Texas Bowl from Texas vs. Texas A&M (which has been widely predicted) to Texas vs. LSU. I wouldn’t have a problem with that as an LSU fan; but as a general fan of the sport, I want to see that Texas/Texas A&M game. I’d rather have a chance to beat a slightly better team than the Longhorns though. A Longhorn site is saying the SEC won’t allow such a game, but I’ve also heard from many neutral sources over the last couple of years it was Texas putting a stop to any game against the Aggies, so I’m skeptical.

It’s also possible the Gator Bowl could have a Big Ten team. I’ve seen Maryland and Minnesota suggested as possibilities within the last couple of weeks. Notre Dame was listed for that game at one point, but that was before they dropped the last two games.

I’m thinking what makes the most sense geographically would be Arkansas for the Independence Bowl, Tennessee for the Liberty Bowl, and South Carolina for the Music City Bowl. The Birmingham Bowl or Music City Bowl would also make sense for Tennessee, but then the Liberty Bowl or Independence Bowl could have less geographically favorable teams. LSU (I hope and most expect) will be a more highly-regarded team, as will the other top four teams on the SEC West, so it makes more sense for SEC East teams to travel slightly to the West.

I also mentioned in the previous blog that there may be three SEC West teams in the six major bowls (not counting the national-championship game).

If LSU does not go to the Belk Bowl, that would also be a good one for South Carolina, and maybe one of the others could grab Florida.

Speaking of LSU, I also wanted to mention I’m excited about the basketball team, but I might go into that more when there is a lag with the football games.

Week 14 College Football Rankings 2014

In Bowls, College Football, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on December 2, 2014 at 9:00 AM
My current top 4

My current top 4

My Top 25
My Rank/BCS/team/prev
1 ( 2 ) Florida St. 1
2 ( 1 ) Alabama 2
3 ( 5 ) Ohio St. 3
4 ( 3 ) Oregon 4
5 ( 4 ) TCU 8
6 ( 22 ) Boise St. 12
7 ( 7 ) Arizona 10
8 ( 11 ) Ole Miss 14
9 ( 8 ) Miss. St. 5
10 ( 12 ) Ga. Tech 15
11 ( 15 ) UCLA 6
12 ( 9 ) Mich. St. 17
13 ( 13 ) Wisconsin 18
14 ( 6 ) Baylor 13
15 ( 14 ) Missouri 20
16 ( 30 ) Marshall 7
17 ( 10 ) Kansas St. 19
18 ( 16 ) Georgia 9
19 ( 19 ) Auburn 11
20 ( 31 ) Colo. St. 16
21 ( 20 ) Clemson 23
22 ( 24 ) Nebraska 24
23 ( 18 ) Arizona St. 21
24 ( 17 ) Oklahoma 22
25 ( 21 ) Louisville —

(USC and LSU are the two Mock BCS top 25 teams who are not in my top 25.)

Full Rankings 1-128

Out of top 25: (25) Minnesota

There are a total of 39* teams that got some level of points in the Mock BCS standings linked to above. (I list 40 teams since Texas A&M was in the top 25 of one of the computer rankings, but they got no points since the highest rating is dropped)

Earlier top-25 blogs:
Preseason
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Week 9
Week 10
Week 11
Week 12
Week 13

Comments
I didn’t do a post-game blog about LSU/A&M, but I updated the Rivalry Series entry, and I will write a bit about the Tigers in my second blog this week. I also plan to write about relative conference strength and lower bowl possibilities. I think the new committee rankings will be relevant to that discussion.

What I’ll discuss below is the current state of my rankings and how I think that SHOULD translate into what the committee does with the major bowls at the end. I can’t speculate with any accuracy what they will do, especially being that I don’t know how the rankings for this week will look.

Because Florida St. has been accumulating a reasonable amount of points while Alabama has recently had a bye and played Western Carolina, the Seminoles are still on top, although I would agree with probably most people in the conclusion that Alabama looks like the better team at the moment.

Georgia has also thrown a wrench into things by beating Auburn, losing to Georgia Tech, and failing to win the East. If Alabama were playing a two-loss Georgia team next week and Florida St. were playing a three-loss team, Alabama would have a good chance to move back into #1, but unless the Yellowjackets beat Florida St., I don’t see that happening now.

By the way, I’ve never experienced such a disappointing day of college football in my life. I watched about 10 games that went down the final couple of minutes, and every last one of them went the way I didn’t want them to. Georgia choking was just the beginning of a long day. Also, I don’t know why on Earth Auburn thought they could win with field goals.

Alabama should have at least three losses, but then how would they torture me? One thing they did was allow LSU to move into first place in the SEC in total defense, so I guess we can say we got first place in something.

Despite the SEC East’s troubles with the ACC (although let’s not forget Georgia beat Clemson earlier this year), I think it’s justified to have three SEC WEST teams in the top 10 and all seven in the top 40. By the way, the Mock BCS agrees with the latter assessment. Texas A&M got no points, but they were ranked in one of the formerly BCS computers, so I think that makes them #40. It merely has three SEC West teams in the top 11 instead of the top 10 though.

Anyway, there are two more slots to fill out in the semifinals, so I’ll now talk about that.

I have no hesitation in supporting Oregon if they beat Arizona. They will have vindicated their one loss of the year. Even though they play in the weaker Pac-12 division, they still beat UCLA, who tied for second in the Pac-12 South. Of course, Michigan St. counts as a decent win as well. So that’s two of the top 3 teams in the Pac-12 South. (Technically, USC tied with ASU and UCLA in the South, but they’re clearly #4 in my view.)

That last spot is going to be tricky. I do have Ohio St. there right now (actually ahead of Oregon at the moment), and I can’t imagine that if the Buckeyes beat Wisconsin, that either the formula or my mind will change. However, I do understand the argument that maybe losing to Virginia Tech at home could be a disqualifying factor.

As I discussed last week, I firmly believe the best alternative to Ohio St. in that instance is TCU, whose only blemish is a 3-point loss to Baylor about 6 weeks ago.

West Virginia is better than Virginia Tech, but they don’t belong anywhere near the top 25. The Mountaineers beat Baylor by a couple of touchdowns.

Even if Oregon loses, I still don’t see Baylor being #4. The committee might pick them ahead of Arizona in that instance, but I don’t think I would.

That might not seem to make sense being that I have Boise St. ahead of Arizona right now, but the Broncos have the better schedule at the moment. I know that’s hard to believe, but Boise St.’s opponents have a winning record overall, and Arizona’s opponents have a losing record overall. The Mountain West simply is not leaps and bounds behind the power conferences, and Boise played a very competitive schedule out of conference (while Arizona didn’t).

However, Fresno St. isn’t going to help the Broncos very much. So with a win, Arizona should easily pass them up as well as TCU and Oregon (whom they would have to beat).

Using my formula’s current rankings, these are the potential resumes of relevant teams for the last spot or two (two if Oregon, Florida St., or Alabama lose):
Team 1: beat #6, 17, 24, 56; lost to #46
Team 2: beat #17, 24, 29, 46, 56; lost to #14
Team 3: beat #12, 13, 29, 32, 44, 45, 55; lost to #76
Team 4: beat #4, 4, 23, 36, 50, 53; lost to #11, 27

I’m going to assume Alabama would be out of the running with a loss despite whatever strength of resume they might have. It might be possible for a team to be #1 going into championship week and hang on with a loss at some point, but this is not the year.

I do want to acknowledge that Baylor may be much better than #14. They would close the gap considerably by beating Kansas St., but obviously Oregon would be a better win than Kansas St. Also, the Bears would not pass up TCU.

So the only teams that should be in the running from my perspective are Nos. 1 to 5 and #7 Arizona.

Arizona/Boise St. has prompted me to consider a slight modification to my system though. I have preliminary ratings of teams between 0 and about 7 (which would be if the team with the best schedule went undefeated, which is nearly impossible). Boise St. has only beaten one team (Colorado St.) with a preliminary rating higher than 4.0, while Arizona has beaten three (Oregon, Arizona St., and Utah). So my idea is to have those higher-rated opponents count for a bit more than they do already.
There are a total of 12 teams that will be in CFP bowls. I don’t see any of the 6 mentioned above falling out, so here are 6 other teams I think should be make up the rest of the spots:
Boise St. (top “group of five” team)
Ole Miss
Mississippi St.

UCLA
Michigan St.
Baylor

This would be assuming that Georgia Tech, Wisconsin, Missouri, and Kansas St. all lost. I believe a win by any of those (although Kansas St. might be debatable) should get them in. I have the teams above so they would be eliminated from the bottom right now. If Baylor beats Kansas St., I would want them to be given a safe spot though.

Boise St. should be assured the “group of five” spot with a win, but if they lose and Marshall wins, I would want them replaced with Marshall. If both lose, I guess Colorado St. would take that slot.