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Good News and Bad News for SEC Sports

In College Baseball, College Basketball, College Football, Other NCAA Sports, Track on June 28, 2015 at 3:06 PM

No championships, but some good performances in major men’s sports

If you missed it, this was my blog about LSU sports in particular over the 2014-15 academic year.

This section will discuss the SEC’s performance in the four traditional major men’s sports, which are football, basketball, outdoor track, and baseball in 2014-15. I made a chart dating back to the 2006-07 academic year when I wrote this blog on the same topic last year. Below is just a small version of the chart containing only this (academic) year’s results.

SPORT Title Runner-Up Semi #1* Semi #2
FOOTBALL Ohio St. Oregon Alabama Florida St.
BASKETBALL Duke Wisconsin Kentucky Mich. St.
TRACK Oregon Florida Arkansas LSU
BASEBALL Virginia Vanderbilt Florida TCU

*- For track, this is simply the #3 team. For baseball, it is the last team eliminated before the championship series. For basketball and football, it is the higher-seeded of the two semifinal losers.

I’ll start with the bad news for SEC fans and the good news for people who don’t like the SEC. This is the first academic year since 1987-88 in which the SEC did not win a championship (just assume when I say this in this section I’m talking about the major men’s sports).

Virginia baseball got revenge over Vandy and ended the 26-year streak of at least one major men's title per academic year for the SEC.

Virginia baseball got revenge over Vandy and ended the 26-year streak of at least one major men’s title per academic year for the SEC.

When LSU won the 1989 men’s outdoor track championship to begin the streak, that was actually the first major championship for the SEC since Georgia had won in football after the 1980 season.

That had been the SEC’s first men’s outdoor title since 1974 (Tennessee). The SEC did not win in baseball for the first time until 1990 (Georgia) but has been the clear leader among conferences since then. This also overlapped with droughts in basketball from 1978 (Kentucky) to 1994 (Arkansas) and in football from 1980 to 1992 (Alabama).

Arkansas and South Carolina football did not join the SEC until the 1992-93 year, but the winter and spring sports began SEC competition in the previous academic year. This was just in time for Arkansas to win its first of 8 consecutive track championships, and it saved the SEC from going 0/4 in the 1991-92 academic year.

There was also a two-week period in June of 2000 where the SEC was not the reigning champion of any of the four sports, but then LSU won the baseball title (by a run over Stanford) that year.

LSU won the CWS with a walk-off single in 2000 to keep the streak going.

LSU won the CWS with a walk-off single in 2000 to keep the streak going.

This year, the SEC had what was expected to be the superior team that went into both the College World Series and the Final Four but just couldn’t get it done. Of course, Kentucky had its only basketball loss the season in that semifinal game. In baseball, LSU only won a single game in the CWS, but both Vanderbilt and Florida made the semifinals.

Baseball was a bit of bad luck as well. I’m not saying Virginia didn’t deserve it, but in the formats of past years, Virginia would have been out with its second loss (which took place in the first game of the championship series). Until 2003, it was impossible to lose twice in the CWS without being eliminated. The Cavaliers had lost to Florida before the championship series began. So although the SEC didn’t win the CWS, they did get two wins against the champion. Also, had the Gators won their second game against the ’Hoos (which they lost by one run), there would have been an all-SEC final.

Still, having one of the top four football teams, one of the top four basketball teams, two of the top four baseball teams, and three of the top four track teams isn’t a bad year even without a championship. That would most probably be the best if there were three major conferences, and there are five.

Also, there were two other top-8 baseball teams (LSU and Arkansas), and two other top-8 track teams (Texas A&M and Mississippi St.). Football had two additional teams (Georgia and Missouri) finish in the top 14 of the final AP poll. Basketball didn’t have any other teams of note with only two wins (one of them a “first four” game) in the whole tournament not by Kentucky.

Successful year in other sports

The SEC did have some success worth commenting on in other sports.

The LSU baseball team had a disappointing CWS, but the golf championship was some consolation.

LSU baseball had a disappointing CWS this year, but the golf championship was some consolation.

The LSU men won in golf for their first championship in the sport since 1955, but Alabama had won the previous two titles. In total, the SEC has won four titles since the “stroke and match play” format was introduced in 2009.

In women’s basketball, South Carolina lost in the Final Four, and Tennessee reached the Elite Eight. South Carolina was the first SEC team to make the Final Four since 2008, which was the last time Tennessee won. At least one SEC team had made it every year from 2002 to 2008, when both LSU and Tennessee were regular participants.

Florida celebrates its second consecutive NCAA softball championship.

Florida celebrates its second consecutive NCAA softball championship.

In softball, the SEC did extremely well. Eleven teams made the tournament, eight made the super regionals, and five made the Women’s CWS. Florida won in the championship over Michigan, but the SEC had two other semifinalists (Auburn and LSU). Three of the last four softball championships have been won by SEC teams (Florida also won last year, and Alabama won in 2012).

As in men’s outdoor track, Oregon beat out several SEC schools for #1 in women’s outdoor track. SEC teams finished second (Kentucky), third (Texas A&M), fourth (Arkansas), fifth (Georgia), and eighth (Florida). SEC teams had won in 2012 and 2014 (Texas A&M), although LSU’s 2012 title was revoked.

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LSU Wraps Up 2014-2015 Well; Football Is a Question Mark

In College Baseball, College Basketball, College Football, General LSU, Other NCAA Sports, Track on June 20, 2015 at 3:37 PM

I was getting ready to write about how encouraged I was with LSU sports over the last few months, and then I read this: http://theadvocate.com/sports/lsu/12689249-123/lsu-qb-anthony-jennings-two

I’ll talk about why that’s especially upsetting when I talk about the football team later, but first I wanted to talk about sports that actually competed in intercollegiate athletics recently.

It’s only been a few months since basketball ended, so I’ll start there. It would have been nice to have had a win in the NCAA tournament, but even making it was a big step forward for the program. Without an injury, NC State may well have been an Elite Eight team, so losing to them by one point was nothing to hang our heads about.

Nothing ever went quite how it was supposed to go under Trent Johnson, but it definitely seems on track with Johnny Jones, especially given that LSU got a few big recruits to come onto the team for next season.

Ben Simmons has already shown that he looks good in purple and gold.

Ben Simmons has already shown that he looks good in purple and gold.

I’m not a big follower of women’s sports, but although track and basketball were disappointing (only because those were until recently two of LSU’s best programs of either sex), I was happy for the softball team, which made it to the semifinals at the Women’s College World Series.

LSU softball celebrates a walk-off win over Alabama

LSU softball celebrates a walk-off win over Alabama

I was very impressed by the end results of the last three major men’s programs: golf, which won the first national championship in 60 years; men’s track, which finished fourth in both the SEC and the nation; and baseball, where LSU won its first game at the college World Series since winning the whole tournament in 2009.

LSU football Head Coach Les Miles and Athletic Director Joe Alleva congratulate the LSU golf team after its first national championship since 1955 (and first SEC championship since 1987).

LSU football Head Coach Les Miles and Athletic Director Joe Alleva congratulate the LSU golf team after its first national championship since 1955 (and first SEC championship since 1987).

This was the best combined finish in a single year by the LSU baseball and softball teams. Both made their respective CWS’s in 2004, but LSU baseball did not win a game in Omaha that year.

I’ll reluctantly shift gears to football. I didn’t lose any sleep at all over John Chavis’s departure. I appreciate what he’s done at both LSU and Tennessee over the past couple of decades, but it was probably best to look toward the future anyway.

From the moment I heard about it, I wanted us to find a way to bring in Ed Orgeron, which we managed to do. Orgeron isn’t the defensive coordinator, but I have confidence Steele will do a good job. Anyone with a bigger name may not have felt comfortable being potentially overshadowed by an assistant.

Some criticize LSU for taking Alabama’s leftovers (Steele was demoted from DC at Alabama when Saban decided to call the plays himself), but I couldn’t find much fault with any of the defensive performances in Steele’s tenure. Alabama’s problem in 2007 had been offense, not defense. They did have a little bit of trouble in an early win over Arkansas (giving up 38 points), but Arkansas’s offense was pretty good that year. LSU also put up big numbers against the Tide that year (41 points), but that so happened to be the last LSU team that won a national championship. Steele was also an assistant under Saban at LSU in 2004, also coaching alongside Will Muschamp, Auburn’s new (and old) Defensive Coordinator.

Speaking of unsuccessful head coaches, Steele never won more than three games as Baylor Head Coach, and Orgeron never won more than four games as Ole Miss Head Coach, but I think they both learned a thing or two about recruiting.

DC Kevin Steele (left) and Ed Orgeron are possibly the best combination of defensive coaches in college football.

DC Kevin Steele (left) and Ed Orgeron are possibly the best combination of defensive coaches in college football.

Steele had also served as Clemson’s defensive coordinator for four seasons. After being in the top 20 in total defense in 2009 and 2010, he had some problems in his third season there and the beginning of his fourth; but Clemson only allowed 3 of its last 7 opponents in 2012 (one of them LSU) to score 21 points or more and only 1 of those 7 scored 28 or more.

So why was that article I posted at the beginning so upsetting? What LSU has been missing for many years under Les Miles has been a reliable quarterback. Ryan Perrilloux should have been one, but that didn’t happen. Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee never seemed to reach their potentials. Zach Mettenberger had some success (as a transfer) in 2012 and 2013, but then Anthony Jennings had some hiccups last season.

One of the things I was encouraged with was Anthony Jennings. One of the things I was NOT impressed with was Brandon Harris, who mostly looked about as effective during the spring game as he had during the season.

Harris ran well in the spring game, but he only looked proficient as a passer when he was with the white (primarily first-string) team. That was mostly because of good plays by receivers and openings in the secondary you could drive a tank through.

(l to r) Brandon Harris, Anthony Jennings, and Brad Kragthorpe practice in the LSU indoor facility.

(l to r) Brandon Harris, Anthony Jennings, and Brad Kragthorpe practice in the LSU indoor facility.

I did not see the whole game, so I don’t know if last year’s third-string QB Brad Kragthorpe (who scored the apparent touchdown that was denied against Notre Dame) even played. LSU successfully recruited three-star QB Justin McMillan, but I would be surprised if he’s ready to lead the offense anytime soon either.

I do think the white defense was good and even parts of the purple offense looked good, I will be worried about the defensive secondary late in games though since the depth doesn’t seem to be there.

I expect LSU can have among the best rushing games, run defenses, and pass rushes in the country, but having a quarterback you can count on (which certainly makes running the ball easier) and having depth in the secondary (which can make the line and linebackers irrelevant) are two important areas.

I’m not saying Jennings is the answer to LSU’s problems or that he would have been had he not been arrested, but he certainly looked like the best hope at the position for next season. It won’t require greatness, but it will require some accuracy and good decision-making. Obviously the latter needs to take place off the field too.