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Week 13 Rankings & SEC Bowl Outlook

In Bowls, College Football, General LSU, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 30, 2015 at 8:04 PM

Top 25

Rank Team Previous

1 Alabama 1
2 Clemson 2
3 Mich. St. 3
4 Iowa 4
5 Oklahoma 7
6 Ohio St. 8
7 Stanford 11
8 Notre Dame 5
9 Florida 6
10 Northwestern 12
11 Houston 21
12 Okie St. 9
13 Ole Miss 17
14 TCU 24
15 N. Carolina 16
16 LSU 22
17 Michigan 10
18 Oregon 19
19 Navy 13
20 Temple 23
21 Utah 18
22 Baylor 14
23 W. Kentucky —
image
24 Florida St. —
25 Toledo 15

Full list of 128 teams

Out of rankings: (20) Mississippi St., (25) UCLA

Seems pretty simple to me if UNC and Florida don’t pull upsets. Oklahoma isn’t currently in the top 4, but they will pass up the loser of the Big Ten championship game. If Michigan St. wins, we could have two teams trying to emulate 2014 Ohio St. with ugly losses but wins over all the good teams on the schedule.

Speaking of Ohio St., they would be next in line right now; but the way my rankings work, it doesn’t help you not to play, so Standford could move ahead. Likewise, the committee is supposed to favor a conference champion over a team that didn’t win its division. They also seem to pay less attention to record than the polls have in recent years.

Houston against Temple for the AAC championship should be a good game. I’m glad that the G5 representative will really have to earn it this season.

As for bowl games, I’ve seen LSU everywhere from the citrus bowl to the TaxSlayer (Gator) Bowl.

I’m guessing an Alabama win in the SEC championship will put Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl over Florida even though the Gators beat the Rebels. Each would finish with three losses; but Ole Miss has looked a lot better, and it’s usually not good to lose two in a row. The Rebels were a 4th-and-25 stop against Arkansas away from making the SEC title game.

Arkansas has three conference losses and they beat LSU, but the Hogs lost two games out of conference.

Tennessee and Georgia also have three conference losses apiece. The Vols have the benefit of five straight wins and the non-conference loss to Oklahoma is looking pretty understandable right now.

It will be very interesting to see how this mess is sorted out. It’s basically the two respective divisional champions, Ole Miss, and a big cluster afterward. Auburn will apparently get the worst SEC bowl, which seems to be the Birmingham Bowl. Edit: The NCAA is considering allowing 5-7 teams to play bowl games. Missouri has already announced it will not pursue such an invitation. Kentucky may.

Mississippi St. and Texas A&M have four conference losses; but unlike others, they do not have non-conference losses.

Here are the previous rankings 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

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LSU’s Regular Season Ends; Miles’ Tenure Doesn’t

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game on November 29, 2015 at 6:19 PM

I nearly forgot about this completely, but I’ve just updated my LSU/Texas A&M Rivalry blog. The win marks LSU’s fifth straight over the Aggies.

Also, here are my new computer ratings of all the teams.

As I told everyone, the threat to Les Miles job was exaggerated since before the Ole Miss game.

Les Miles receives the crowd's blessing after the game.

Les Miles receives the crowd’s blessing after the game.

One coach who wasn’t so fortunate was Mark Richt, fired less than three years after the Bulldogs lost a close battle against Alabama in the default national championship game in 2012. Georgia had a tough stretch this year as well, going 1-3 (the 1 being a 3-point win over Missouri) in the month of October.

After making 3 SEC Championship games (2-1) and 3 BCS bowls between 2002 and 2007 (also 2-1), Georgia has only returned to an SEC Championship game twice, winning neither. Contrast this with Miles, who won the SEC and made the actual national championship game (which Richt had never made) only four years ago. I wonder if Les would have been a candidate for that job or perhaps a bit up the road in South Carolina.

Mark Richt's firing/resignation leaves Miles as the most tenured active SEC coach with one program.

Mark Richt’s firing/resignation leaves Miles as the most tenured active SEC coach with one program.

One of the criticisms of Les is that he is 0 for 5 against Alabama (though I keep reminding people we did beat them just over 4 years ago and the year before that as well), 6-5 against Arkansas, and 7-4 against Ole Miss.

On the other hand, Les is 5-0 against Texas A&M, has beaten Florida 5 times in 6 attempts, and has beaten Auburn 7 times in 9 attempts.

Compare that with Nick Saban at Alabama: 3-1 against Texas A&M, 4-1 against Florida, and 6-3 against Auburn. Saban has not lost to Arkansas though and was undefeated against Ole Miss until dropping the last two.

In the early part of Miles’ tenure, Florida and Auburn were LSU’s big rivals. Arkansas, Alabama, and Ole Miss were not. I always cared about the Alabama game, but it hadn’t been considered a must-see game annually for several years before the Saban hire. I think a lot of coaches would have lost more of those Florida games especially given the dramatic conclusions to many of them.

Anyway, turning back to the recent drama, it didn’t help Les’s cause that the offense was often ineffectual when it mattered, but despite what the chattering classes told us, there was a serious attempt at running the offense differently in the Ole Miss game. Sometimes completing only 50% of your passes (Harris completed 51% against Ole Miss) isn’t good enough, especially when an interception gives the opposition the ball at the 11 when they’re already up 17-0.

Of course the passing percentage was even worse yesterday. Texas A&M (and former LSU) Defensive Coordinator John Chavis seemed more worried about guarding against the big play than the other recent opposing defensive coordinators were. My guess is he knew the Aggie offense wouldn’t have an easy time making up for a quick LSU touchdown, so he couldn’t take the chance of a long touchdown strike like Alabama could. Even though the Tigers did call passing plays on first down multiple times, none resulted in a completion. The Aggies allowed 244 rushing yards.

People have been assuming that AD Joe Alleva was mistreating Miles by not letting him know he was being fired, but that would have only been true if Miles were actually being fired.

This has put a bit of a cloud over what was recently a #1 recruiting class. I’m sure some coaches would mention there is no guarantee Miles will be staying beyond next year, but almost anyone’s job is in jeopardy every year. Who thought Spurrier, Pinkel, and Richt would all be gone now at the beginning of the year?

It’s not a secret that if you lose five games one year and three (or four) the next at a program like LSU, you may not survive another mediocre (by LSu standards) year. I’m sure the three-game losing streak put a damper on some of the enthusiasm too; but if you have fickle recruits who want to give up easily, that’s not who you really want anyway. That said, I have no problem with player de-committing in order to look around and make sure. I think that shows they want to take the decision seriously.

Alleva said that an evaluation about Miles continuing would take place after the season, but local media people like Scott Rabalais and Jim Kleinpeter thought they could just make more and more dramatic statements, and if it wasn’t specifically contested by Alleva, it must be true.

Nola.com's Jim Kleinpeter responds to a comment about whether LSU should fire Miles.

Nola.com’s Jim Kleinpeter responds to a comment about whether LSU should fire Miles.

I’m not discounting the idea that a conversation was had with Jimbo Fisher and his representatives. If it were even a possibility at some point that Miles were going to be fired after the A&M game, it would not have made sense to do that without at least a good possibility of a replacement that would have met our standards.

Of course, some people’s standards are completely ridiculous. In the last six seasons, we had three years with conference records of 6-2 or better. That’s the same as Urban Meyer’s six seasons at Florida. In the past five seasons, LSU has a better overall record than Nick Saban’s five seasons in Baton Rouge.

It’s not enough that Miles has been coaching at a level no one coached at LSU before. Fans want a coach to do better than Saban is doing at Alabama now. I mentioned a couple other points of comparison here.

Another coach who seemed feasible was Chip Kelly, who went 46-7 at Oregon and isn’t exactly doing great in the NFL.

However, moving to the spread would be major overhaul and would not be easily done in one season. Also, the kind of quick-strike offense he ran at Oregon probably would not complement LSU’s current defense, which thrives when it is able to spend a lot of time off the field.

I’m not a big fan of those offenses, partly because it seems like there are a couple of games every year where they just don’t work and you have to struggle through. For instance, in 2009, Oregon lost to Boise St. 19-8. In 2010, they beat Cal 15-13 and lost to Auburn 22-19. LSU was the only team to keep the Ducks below 34 in 2011, but Stanford beat them 17-14 in overtime in 2012. I think it would be more than one or two such games a year against SEC defenses though. It could work though provided we could have better defenses than those Oregon teams. As I’ve said, we will need a new approach without some improvement next year, so I wouldn’t rule it out.

A lot of people are also saying we can revamp an offense similarly to the way Oklahoma has in recent years. This could be done next year obviously without a new head coach. Again, it’s not a perfect analogy to LSU, but it is the same basic idea.

les want

Both sides of the Miles argument seemed to rush to judgment last night. Miles keeping his job is not a big victory for the program, nor is it a permanent enshrinement of mediocrity. It’s simply another chance for the person who’s done the best job as head coach in the history of the program to reach the levels of success he has reached before. There is a lot of hard work over the next 60 weeks to see if that will happen. I’m sure Miles has a want do that work. I’m not certain it’s his last chance, but I don’t think anyone who wants Miles to stay is inclined to risk it.

Misconceptions about Miles and LSU/Ole Miss

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game on November 27, 2015 at 11:52 AM

I’ll preface this by saying that all of my recent arguments (including those below) in defense of Miles would, I believe, be overcome by another loss, which would mean a four-game losing streak (worse than 7-4 on its own). That’s a situation that a head coach of a team like this no longer has a grasp of. It may be a done deal anyway, which I will discuss below, but I also wanted to talk about where we have challenges for whatever coach going forward and where I think we’re in good shape.

By the way, these are the two relevant rivalry blogs for the last week:
Ole Miss
Texas A&M

I first wanted to respond to some LSU fans who have been telling me Ole Miss was just a repetition of the two previous games, and that the result means Miles needs to go. I disagree on the first part, and I’ll talk more about the second.

I’ll be the first to criticize the Tigers’ game plan against Alabama and Arkansas. Against Alabama, the only two choices we seemed to have on our offensive menu were “throw downfield” and “run up the middle”. Arkansas wasn’t a whole lot better.

Against Ole Miss, however, we did some different things on offense. The problem was plays such as Fournette’s long run to open the game were called back, and other plays were made more difficult with pre-snap penalties. A number of short- and mid-range passes (including pitches in the backfield) were completely off-target, such as the one that would have been a touchdown before the drive that eventually ended in a missed field goal.

Finally, a number of drives just stalled after some nice plays. The Tigers had 13 failed third downs, three turnovers, and three failed fourth-down attempts. Granted, some of those were after no progress at all, such as the three three-and-outs in the first half. Also, the Tigers were penalized 13 times for 95 yards.

The Rebels responded to the first two three-and-outs with touchdowns. The LSU defense stopped them on the next possession, but ultimately a third touchdown was allowed after a Brandon Harris interception deep in LSU territory.

Yet one reporter wrote that the 24-0 deficit was “forced upon” Brandon Harris, as if he had nothing to do with the interception he threw (although the tip helped the defense) and nothing to do with any of the offensive failures that repeatedly put the LSU defense back on the field.

QB Brandon Harris was allowed to throw the ball, but it didn't usually go as Tiger fans hoped.

QB Brandon Harris was allowed to throw the ball, but it didn’t usually go as Tiger fans hoped.

There is also the stock response that LSU’s offense is caught in the 1950s and doesn’t respond to a game situation. Is that what you call 51 passing attempts for 324 yards? Of course, it would have been for a lot more yards if the balls had been more accurately thrown and without some of the other problems mentioned.

When I criticize the lack of ball control leading to the 24-0 deficit, people have misused facts by pointing to the overall statistics of LSU having the ball for longer and having more first downs.

Sure, Ole Miss was happy for LSU to run out the clock on itself in the second half, but that doesn’t undo this exchange in the first half (starting at 1:30 to go in the first quarter):
LSU – 3 plays, 7 yards, 1:45, punt
Ole Miss – 8 plays, 80 yards, 2:23, touchdown
LSU – 3 plays, 4 yards, 2:41, punt
Ole Miss – 10 plays, 70 yards, 2:36, touchdown

The Rebels’ strength is not ball control because they’re comfortable with 2-3-minute TD drives, but LSU’s lack of ball control still played right into their hands. Also note that Ole Miss only has an advantage by a few seconds in its two drives above versus LSU’s two drives above.

After the drives outlined above, the two teams exchanged three-and-outs, followed by this:
LSU – 3 plays, 11 yards, 1:11, interception
Ole Miss – 1 play, 11 yards, 0:06, touchdown

LSU gained a minute over Ole Miss in time of possession! Yay! Yet somehow factmongers like me have to go and ruin it by pointing out LSU was the one with the lack of ball-control there.

So that’s why LSU being allowed long possessions in the second half has a relatively large impact upon the final time of possession statistic.

This issue is brought up in the larger context of the LSU offense being the dysfunctional unit as compared to the LSU defense. Despite barely getting a breather for the last quarter and a half of the first half, the LSU defense still forced the Rebels to punt twice. But for the interception, the halftime score would have likely been a manageable 17-7.

The 57-yard completion on the Rebels’ first set of downs was a result of a huge LSU defensive mistake, but the defense responded well enough to hold Ole Miss to three points there. Furthermore, it forced Rebels to punt in their second and third possessions. It just needed some help from the offense that didn’t come.

So it’s not a both sides of the ball issue. If there is better quarterback play (the detractors are correct that either Jennings or Harris must have some talent isn’t being brought out) and therefore a more balanced attack, I believe LSU wins this game despite a couple of defensive mistakes against a very good quarterback and offense.

A misread or blown coverage happens to any defense, including Alabama’s, so I don’t think there is anything unusual there.

The lack of a consistent credible passing game, however, does not happen to most offenses and most offensive coaches. Also, there is enough talent on the offensive line that the penalties and mental errors should not be happening so often at this point in the year. So I’m not saying that a shakeup on the offense isn’t needed, whether this involves removing the head coach or not, but I don’t think we need to scrap everything on both sides of the ball and start over.

Also, save it with the argument that this is a trend.
8-0 in conference in 2011
6-2 in 2012
5-3 in 2013 (even though we won a bowl game that year and didn’t in 2012)
4-4 in 2014
4-3 now

Let’s backtrack though.
7-1 in 2005
6-2 in 2006
6-2 in 2007
3-5 in 2008

Should Les have been fired then? What about when LSU fell to 4-3 in conference after a loss at Ole Miss in 2009?

Never mind the fact that LSU went 24-3 (14-2) over the next two seasons. I’m sure just about any decent coach could have waltzed into Baton Rouge and done that, right?

I guess some did want him fired then in 2009 and never stopped wanting him fired. Good for them for being consistent, but that’s ridiculous.

Les Miles after LSU wins its 14th game in a row and 24th of 26 in 2011.

Les Miles after LSU wins its 14th game in a row and 24th of 26 in 2011.

Others compare Miles to Charles McClendon, who went six consecutive seasons with at least four losses (each regular season was 11 games then, no chance of a championship game, bowls were much rarer) before he was forced to retire. So firing a guy who merely lost three (usually of 13) for four seasons in a row isn’t quite the same thing. Also, let’s not forget that LSU did worse over the four seasons after McClendon left than it had over his last four seasons even though the bar wasn’t as high as the one Les has set.

There are people such as Jim Kleinpeter, who covers the Tigers for Nola.com/The Times-Picayune, who say it’s all over but the official announcement (he said there was 0% chance Miles will remain coach); but if you agree with that decision (if in fact it has been made), make your arguments based on an accurate portrayal of reality.

As I’ve already said, if LSU loses to A&M, then we should go to someone else anyway. Maybe that’s why an announcement hasn’t been made. They don’t want a backlash now that would be largely avoided with another loss. Maybe, just maybe, they haven’t told Miles what’s going on because they don’t know for sure yet. One can hope.

SEC Wednesday #9

In College Football, Preview, SEC Wednesdays on November 25, 2015 at 8:54 PM

I’m rather proud of my Florida Atlantic + 31, but it only counts as one win. So I was happy at that point…

I was wrong about everything else against the spread though (I exclude the FCS games, which don’t usually have a spread on ESPN anyway). Missouri and Arkansas were only a few points away. Of course South Carolina was a bogus call away from winning, but that was one of the no-spread games.

In addition to Florida and Alabama, I got the winners right with Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Auburn, and Texas A&M.

I’m 47-21 in picking winners and now only 24-38 against the spread. Hopefully both myself and LSU can finish on a good note next week.

SEC WED

LSU and A&M (follow link to rivalry blog) hoped to be playing for more than 3rd in the SEC West for most of the season. Texas A&M impressed me enough against Vandy to take them against the spread. So this time if LSU plays terribly, I’ll at least be partly correct. I will pick LSU to win. The Tigers were not in very high spirits last year and pulled out a victory as well. This season hasn’t been a walk in the park for the Aggies either. They did well in Nashville, but even a disappointed Tiger Stadium is a bit more intense than Nashville. Note that I’m not claiming LSU has played a whole lot better than Vandy has. LSU does have that nighttime advantage.

Missouri just lost to Tennessee by 11, and I don’t think Arkansas is that much better than Tennessee. On the other hand, Arkansas has had so much more offensive production lately, I don’t think Mizzoui can stay close. The Tennessee-Missouri game wasn’t even as close as the margin indicates since it was 19-8 and the Tigers didn’t score at all until the fourth quarter.

I actually think Georgia Southern is better than Georgia Tech, so I will once again take the Bulldogs minus the points (5).

Kentucky was so close to bearing Louisville last year. I think the Wildcats can at least do the same this year after demolishing Charlotte. Louisville only beat Wake Forest by 1 and Boston College by 3. So I’ll take Kentucky +4 but the Cardinals to win. Louisville’s only losses since game 3 against Clemson have come to Florida St. and Pitt. I don’t think Kentucky is on that level. They are on the BC/Wake Forest level, however.

Speaking of Wake Forest, Clemson beat them at Death Valley East by 20. I’m not buying the 17-point line at South Carolina despite the Citadel game. South Carolina has only lost by more twice, both in games outside of the state over six weeks ago.

I think Auburn will find a way to stay within about 10 of Alabama. It could be a blowout, but the Tide beat Tennessee by 5 and they’re overdue for a closer game in my opinion. Tide fans can rejoice because as I said earlier, I’ve been wrong about Auburn just about every week.

Clemson and Alabama to win though. Rivalry games can be nuts, but I don’t know if I see a WVU-Pitt in either one. This isn’t 2013 in the case of the Iron Bowl. If either were 8-3, something like that, I might feel differently.

Another Iron Bowl upset on the Plains? I doubt it.

Another Iron Bowl upset on the Plains? I doubt it.

I’ll take Vandy and the 17.5 points. They’ve come up short in trying to stay close against Houston and Texas A&M in recent weeks, but Tennessee is not that kind of team. As I mentioned, they beat Missouri by 11. Vanderbilt is better than Missouri. Tennessee hasn’t beaten Vandy beyond the current point spread since 2006. Tennessee to win.

Ole Miss/Miss St. is an even line, so no splitting the difference there. One lost to Arkansas by a point, the other beat Arkansas by a point. That’s basically a tie to me, but looking outside of that Ole Miss is playing better, so I’ll go with the Rebels. Dak is great, but I don’t think he has enough support in a shootout. I think the Ole Miss offense will tire out the Bulldog defense before the reverse occurs. If State makes it a methodical ball-control game, that might be a better strategy, but easier said than done.

Has Florida played down to its competition or are the Gators just terrible now? Florida St. has lost its last two road games though with a total of 29 points scored between the two, so I understand why they’re only picked to win by 2.5. Florida was within five last year, and they were painful to watch most of the season then. Florida St. obviously isn’t as good. I’ll be an SEC homer and pick the Gators based on that

Previous entries

Week 4 Preview (predictions only)

SEC Wednesday #1

SEC Wednesday #2

SEC Wednesday #3

SEC Wednesday #4

SEC Wednesday #5

SEC Wednesday #6

SEC Wednesday #7

SEC Wednesday #8

Week 12 Rankings and Les Miles

In Bowls, College Football, General LSU, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 24, 2015 at 3:47 PM

I’m going to warn you now this will be longer than usual. I’ll keep the Les discussion to about 500 words though.

So it seems that with the additional loss since I last wrote on the topic, the rumblings about Les Miles being pushed out are more serious now.

There is supposedly consensus in the Tiger Athletic Foundation that we need a new coach, regardless of how expensive the buyout of the contracts for both Les and his assistants would be. (Although I would note that Cam Cameron’s contract is up at the end of the year anyway.)

The media has been wrong about Les's departure before.  "Have a great day!"

The media has been wrong about Les’s departure before. “Have a great day!”

The assumption seems to be that LSU will suffer at least one more loss. Few seem to be suggesting that Les would not be allowed to coach the bowl game at this point, and of course preparations for Texas A&M, which has not beaten LSU since 1995, are in full swing. The source I read about (I’m not linking the article out of principle) said that it would become a more complicated issue if Miles were to win both remaining games.

I will say that if we lose this one, especially if it’s not competitive, there would no longer be a good argument for keeping Miles. Even though I don’t think Cam Cameron has done all that much for LSU and I understand there are young players making mistakes, I think it would show that Miles no longer has the ability to properly intervene in problem areas. LSU has only had back-to-back losses a couple of times before this in Miles’ tenure. One of them was when LSU struggled to settle on a QB the entire season in 2008. Another was last year’s loss to Arkansas, which came after the Tigers got beaten up against Ole Miss and Alabama.

Losing four in a row, regardless of the reasons, I think would show more clearly that Miles is losing his touch and may not be able to make mid-season corrections in the future even if he were to improve his coaching staff for next season.

I think discussing alternative coaches in depth is premature, but I mentioned last time that the only coaches I would feel comfortable with from a win-loss perspective (even though I don’t really care for any of them personally) aren’t available. Jimbo Fisher has been mentioned, but I’m only lukewarm about him given the kind of season the Seminoles have had and his struggles with offense production at times when he was at LSU (under both Saban and Miles).

Jimbo Fisher (right) with Nick Saban.  Fisher also coached under Les Miles for two seasons as the offensive coordinator.

Jimbo Fisher (right) with Nick Saban. Fisher also coached under Les Miles for two seasons as the offensive coordinator.

That’s all I want to say about that. I hope we get some resolution before the bowl game (such as it’s Les’ last game, Les is coming back but Cam isn’t, whatever) even though Miles and AD Joe Alleva have stressed that evaluation time is after the whole year is over. As I think most fans know, a lot of personnel changes are decided in that time even though sometimes they’re not announced until later.

LSU is still a top 25 team according to many computers and voters, by the way. So I’ll move on to those.

Top 25

Rank Team Previous

1 Alabama 1
2 Clemson 2
3 Mich. St. 8
4 Iowa 3
5 Notre Dame 5
6 Florida 6
7 Oklahoma 10
8 Ohio St. 4
9 Okie St. 7
10 Michigan 19
11 Stanford 15
12 N’western 13
13 Navy 12
14 Baylor 21
15 Toledo 20
16 N. Carolina 18
17 Ole Miss 22
18 Utah 11
19 Oregon —
20 Miss. St. —
21 Houston 9
22 LSU 14
23 Temple —
24 TCU 16
25 UCLA —

Full list of 128 teams

Out of rankings: (17) Memphis, (23) Bowl Green, (24) USC, (25) Wisconsin

So at least according to my rankings, IF things go according to plan, it would be Alabama vs. Notre Dame in a rematch of the 2012 title game and Clemson vs. Michigan St.

Notre Dame does have to beat Stanford, however. Also, Michigan St. lost to Nebraska, so of course they could just as easily lose to Penn St. or Iowa.

Although they’ve looked terrible (Notre Dame didn’t look great either), I guess Florida could still make an argument by winning out.

That loss to Texas is dragging down Oklahoma right now, but if Iowa, Notre Dame, and Florida lose, it seems like they would be a good pick… assuming they can win Bedlam. Oklahoma St. would also have an argument if the above scenario plays out except for them winning Bedlam instead.

Bedlam, the annual game between Oklahoma and OK St., may be even more intense than usual.

Bedlam, the annual game between Oklahoma and OK St., may be even more intense than usual.

More remote opportunities exist for Stanford or the winner of Ohio St./Michigan.

Utah was finally taken out for sure by UCLA, which has a chance to win the Pac-12 South and derail Stanford the next two weeks. USC could also try to do the same. Stanford has beaten both teams already.

Navy, whose only loss was against Notre Dame, looks like the best G5 candidate for a CFP bowl.

Oregon, Mississippi St., and Temple all won games against teams at the periphery of the top 25.

Here are the previous rankings blogs:

Preseason

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6

Week 7

Week 8

Week 9

Week 10

Week 11

Rumors of Miles’ Demise Greatly Exaggerated

In College Football, General LSU on November 20, 2015 at 9:38 PM

I know it’s late, but I had to get this out there. Before I forget, here is the LSU-Ole Miss Rivalry blog again. I also recently uncovered a blog I wrote about former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt before his last game against LSU. I’ll talk about him a bit below.

Les Miles is the most successful coach in LSU history.

Charles McClendon won more games, but let’s look at what it took to push him out. LSU lost four games or more in McClendon’s final six seasons. In 1973, his last year in which the Tigers only lost three games, LSU got out to a 9-0 start before dropping the final three. Tulane was one of the three teams to bear the Tigers that season.

So all of a sudden Miles is coaching for his job after a 7-game winning streak (should have been 9 games considering the Norte Dame debacle) turns into 7-2 record? I’m sorry, I don’t buy it.

Miles taking responsibility after the Arkansas loss.

Miles taking responsibility after the Arkansas loss.

Yes, the 1970s were a different era, but we aren’t suddenly in an age where a coach who wins 78% of his games over 10 years is on the hot seat because of two games, one of which was played against the #4 team in the country.

Let’s look at what had to happen to other coaches to get fired.

I’ll just stay in the SEC because some fans will claim anything else is apples to oranges.

Will Muschamp was only 18-8 in his first two seasons, yet he survived a 4-8 year before finally being fired after a 5-5 start the following year. Florida is pretty similar to LSU being that they won BCS titles in 2006 and 2008 under urban Meyer. 2008 of course was just one year after LSU last won. We’re not talking about a patient group of fans and boosters since the Spurrier years.

Spurrier’s successor Ron Zook was only allowed two 5-loss seasons, the most LSU can possibly lose this year, but that was out of only three.

Auburn-LSU was THE GAME in the SEC West before Saban first won the division with the Tide in 2008.

Tommy Tuberville was nearly fired after an 8-5 season in 2003, but Tuberville’s best mark up to that point was only 9-4, a record he had reached twice in five seasons. Of course, he redeemed himself with an undefeated year. I’ll go into why that might be relevant for Miles below. What actually got Tuberville fired was a 14-11 mark over two years in 2007 and 2008. The worst Miles will do is 15-10 over two seasons, but Tuberville only had two seasons with double-digit wins in 10 seasons. Miles has had six.

Staying with Auburn, Gene Chizik was of course fired a couple of years ago despite having won the national championship in 2010. Chizik only went 11-14 over his final two seasons. The team had apparently given up on him in the final season during a five game losing streak and finished only 3-9.

At Alabama, Mike Shula was fired after going exactly .500 over two consecutive regular seasons.

That takes care of the other relevant national-championship-level programs in the SEC being that of course Urban Meyer left voluntarily.

Georgia came close to the national title game in 2012, so maybe you could argue that’s a similar program, but of course Richt has been at Georgia for years longer than Miles has been at LSU and still has his job. Richt survived a 14-12 stretch in 2009 and 2010, by the way.

Is Miles the new Houston Nutt?

So nothing like firing Les Miles has happened.

There is some precedent for firing a generally successful coach after a 5-loss season, and that was when Houston Nutt was fired at Arkansas. Nutt of course was never a national-championship-level coach, although the Hogs were briefly in the conversation in 2006. However, his tenure in Fayetteville was a significant step forward from the years prior to his arrival.

Arkansas went from one winning season between 1990 and 1997 to seven in Nutt’s 10 seasons there.

There are two good reasons for this though. 2007 was the last year of Felix Jones and Darren McFadden, so not only was that season disappointing, but Arkansas was not looking at a good 2008. Bobby Petrino is not without his personal issues, but I don’t think many coaches including Nutt would have done better than his 5-7 mark in 2008.

The other good reason was the fact that Nutt had already survived a bad stretch and was given the benefit of the doubt. Arkansas had gone a total of 9-13 in 2004 and 2005 before surprising everyone with a 10-game winning streak in 2006.

What does 78% as a coach mean?

I also wanted to take a moment to consider how good 78% is as compared to others.

At LSU, Nick Saban only won 75%. Joe Paterno’s overall winning percentage at Penn St. was almost identical depending on how you count ties.

Lou Holtz won 76.5% at Notre Dame and 78.6% at Arkansas.

Woody Hayes only won just over 76% at Ohio St.

Miles does fall a bit short of Hayes’ rival (and Miles’ mentor) Bo Schembechler though. Schembechler won 79.6%.

At Ole Miss, John Vaught only won 74.6%.

At Texas, Darrel Royal won 77.4%.

At USC, John McKay won 74.9%.

At Florida St., Bobby Bowden won 75.6%

At Army, Red Blaik won 76.8%.

There are coaches with better records, such as Pete Carroll and Urban Meyer. Of course, factoring in Alabama puts Saban higher. Are any of them coming (back in Saban’s case) to LSU? I wouldn’t bet on it. Maybe if LSU offers $10 million a year or something ridiculous like that.

I was thinking about photoshopping Carroll in purple and gold, but then I found this.

I was thinking about photoshopping Carroll in purple and gold, but then I found this.

Here are some others that Miles doesn’t quite live up to: Spurrier, Parseghian, Byrant, Osborne, Devaney, Wilkinson, Switzer, Neyland.

So if you’re not of those, you don’t get a job at LSU? Those are absurd standards to live up to.

Young players represent an opportunity, not an “excuse”

There was one other thing I wanted to mention. I made some reference to it above. This is not Leonard Fournette’s last season with next season being some abyss we’re staring into. Brandon Harris is also a sophomore.

I’m not just selectively picking two examples. Look at this depth chart.

Three of the top four receivers are underclassmen. There is only one guard who is older than a sophomore. There is one junior and one senior tackle on the depth chart, the rest are underclassmen. Actually, that’s true on both offense and defense. The #2 tight end right now is a true freshman. Two junior defensive ends, the rest underclassmen. Both strong safeties are sophomores.

I think anyone looking at this team and saying it’s a failure and we need to give up and start over next year with a new head coach is just insane.

Few people expected this to be the year for LSU until they surpassed expectations by starting 7-0. Of course, it almost certainly would have been 8-0 had the first game not been cancelled. Why are the problems that have emerged since then insurmountable because we have some younger players in key positions and it looks like the national semifinals are off the table? That could very well jeopoardize a great year like the one Auburn had in 2004.

Even if some other coach comes in and wins a national championship next year, maybe that same coach leads us to a 3-9 season a few years later like Chizik did. `There is no guarantee of being able to replace and develop talent as well as Miles has even though we can probably find a coach better at calling plays (which I don’t think Miles actually does that often). You might remember a coach named Larry Coker. He went undefeated at U. Miami in 2001 and nearly went undefeated in 2002 before a controversial overtime loss to Ohio St. The ‘Canes have been mediocre for 10 years now.

That said, if we go 8-5 next year with a healthy Fournette in what would almost certainly be his last season, I might see their point.

Edit: Given the third loss in a row which came after this was written, I might see their point with a fourth loss in a row.

SEC Wednesday #8

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game, Preview, SEC Wednesdays on November 18, 2015 at 3:41 PM

SEC WED

Last Week

I rethought the FCS game. It’s too hard to try to translate FCS results to an FBS game. It wouldn’t make sense to start using the spread now on those; so for A&M, I won’t count that either way against the spread.

I picked Arkansas and the points, but I didn’t envision the LSU offense starting so miserably that the Tigers would finish with only 14 points and lose.

I can’t get Auburn right no matter what I do, so no surprise there.

Florida won by two points more than I wanted them to. Every time I’m on the fence, you should probably just pick the opposite.

I was right about North Texas playing Tennessee respectably. They can’t beat anyone but they can stay within a few touchdowns.

Mississippi St. was a complete failure, but there was a goal line stand and a couple other decent drives that didn’t lead to points early on. I did think Alabama would win though.

Vanderbilt came through. It was nice to win a close one against the spread. I thought Vandy would win by at least a touchdown though.

I don’t know where it came from, but Missouri managed to beat BYU late, so I was wrong both ways about that one.

Once again, my overall record got slightly worse while my “against the spread” record got slightly better. The records are now 40-18, 23-31.

Next Week

LSU is now picked to lose against an Ole Miss team on the road (click here for Rivalry Series), which is understandable after the Rebels had a bye; but I’m going to pick LSU both with the points (4.5) and to win. Arkansas is the only team in the Miles era to beat LSU after a Tiger loss. LSU has not lost three in a row since an 8-game losing streak in 1999.

I made the wrong picks to win in the Alabama and Arkansas games when I should have listened to my first inclination that both teams have favorable philosophical match-ups against LSU. LSU seemed to be able to do to Ole Miss last year what Alabama and Arkansas were able to do to LSU both years as far as shutting down the opposing offenses (although it was partly self-inflicted in all cases). Also, I still think LSU is better than last year. Ole Miss is at best about the same as last year. Also, Ole Miss’s last game after a bye week was a 30-0 loss to Arkansas last year.

TE Logan Stokes scored 6 of LSU's 10 points against Ole Miss last year, but the Rebels only scored 7.

TE Logan Stokes scored 6 of LSU’s 10 points against Ole Miss last year, but the Rebels only scored 7.

I’m going to take Florida Atlantic and the 31 points. Florida to win of course. I made the right call with North Texas last week. Like the Mean Green, the Owls aren’t going to beat many teams, as their record shows. But in this case, there is an even more consistent record of staying close. FAU only has two losses by more than 14, and the biggest loss was 24. Florida has only beaten its last two fairly weak SEC opponents (Vanderbilt and South Carolina) by a combined 12 points.

No line for the South Carolina/Citadel or Alabama/Charleston Southern games. I guess if the Gamecocks can beat the Commodores, they can beat the Bulldogs. I think Alabama will manage as well.

Auburn -33 against Idaho. Unlike FAU, Idaho has been blown out. USC beat them by 50 earlier in the year, and the Vandals lost to Appalachian St. by 27 in their last game. Auburn has been showing some improvement in recent weeks despite the setback against Georgia.

Since starting 1-3, the Razorbacks’ only loss has been to Alabama, which Arkansas still handled pretty well, losing by only 13. The Bulldogs just got manhandled by the Tide. I don’t think a trip to Fayetteville is the cure for what ails them. Arkansas -3.5.

Normally I would take Georgia Southern against Georgia, but the secret seems to be out that the Bulldogs are at least slightly vulnerable in this game. The line is only 14.5. I was surprised by the Bulldogs’ level of play at Auburn last week, so hopefully they can maintain that enough to beat the spread in this one.

I’m making a similar call with Missouri. Those Tigers are coming of a game in which I was pleasantly surprised with their performance against BYU. This game will also be at home, so Mizzou may be able to maintain a bit of momentum. I don’t really like road favorites by over a touchdown (8.5 to be exact) anyway. Also, Tennessee was not impressive in either of its last two games (a win by 24 at home against North Texas and a win by 3 at home against South Carolina).

Normally I would laugh at A&M being just a 7-point favorite against Vanderbilt, but not right now. A&M hasn’t had even a relatively impressive showing in six weeks. I guess Alabama didn’t rough them up too badly, but the next week they lost to Ole Miss by 20, then they beat South Carolina by just 7 at home, then they lost to Auburn by 16 at home. I can see why they’re not expected to go to Nashville and win by more than 7. (A 24-point win over Western Carolina isn’t exactly impressive either. Chattanooga beat the Catamounts by more just three weeks ago.) I mentioned how close Vandy kept the Florida game (at Florida). I can see something similar here, but A&M to win. Just a little bit too much talent.

Kentucky is still theoretically alive for a bowl game. They were embarrassed in their last home game against Tennessee though. Eastern Kentucky took the Wildcats to overtime in the same stadium. I’m just not giving 24.5. I know Charlotte isn’t very good, but they’re not completely terrible. They were within 24 of Marshall, which is probably better than Kentucky. UT-San Antonio is not better than Kentucky, but that was the 49ers’ last game and was only a loss by 3. Kentucky by a couple of touchdowns MAYBE.

Previous entries

Week 4 Preview (predictions only)

SEC Wednesday #1

SEC Wednesday #2

SEC Wednesday #3

SEC Wednesday #4

SEC Wednesday #5

SEC Wednesday #6

SEC Wednesday #7

Week 11 Rankings and Comments

In General LSU, History, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 15, 2015 at 3:05 PM

I don’t have very extensive top 25 comments. Here is the full 1-128 list.

I updated the LSU-Arkansas blog. This was the Razorbacks’ third win in Baton Rouge ever. I don’t have much to say about it, but I’ll comment briefly in my SEC Wednesday entry.

Alabama allowed some yards by the Bulldogs but held them to just six points.

Alabama allowed some yards by the Bulldogs but held them to just six points.

Alabama switched places with Clemson, and Notre Dame switched places with Ohio St. These were just due to quality of opponents for the week.

Ohio St. will stay ahead with wins since the Irish play Boston College next. Alabama and Clemson will probably stay really close to one another since they have similar opposition in the next two weeks.

Oklahoma St. could also leapfrog some teams with wins over Baylor and Oklahoma. Michigan St. could move up with wins over Ohio St., Penn St., and the Big Ten West champions (most likely Iowa).

Even though Utah is ahead, Stanford is the best-positioned Pac-12 team; but it doesn’t look like anyone in the conference will reach the top four regardless.

It still appears that the top G5 team will be the winner of the AAC (American), although the winner of the Toledo-Bowling Green game may have an argument if that team wins the MAC.

Rank Team Previous

1 Alabama 2
2 Clemson 1
3 Iowa 3
4 Ohio St. 5
5 Notre Dame 4
6 Florida 8
7 Okie St. 6
8 Mich. St. 10
9 Houston 16
10 Oklahoma 15
11 Utah 7
12 Navy 18
13 N’western 13
14 LSU 9
15 Stanford 11
16 TCU 14
17 Memphis 12
18 N. Carolina 22
19 Michigan 19
20 Toledo —
21 Baylor 17
22 Ole Miss —
23 Bowl Green —
bowlgrn
24 USC —
25 Wisconsin 24

Out of rankings: (20) Temple, (21) Miss. St., (23) BYU, (25) UCLA

Here are the previous rankings blogs:

Preseason

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6

Week 7

Week 8

Week 9

Week 10

SEC Wednesday #7

In College Football, SEC Wednesdays on November 11, 2015 at 1:04 PM

Last Week

A little earlier than usual today thanks to Veterans Day.

I was right about Missouri thankfully. Maybe they were distracted with their pending protest over nothing; but along with Kentucky, they don’t seem very focused on football at this point.

Dak Prescott had a successful game despite the rain in Columbia but will have a different challenge when the Bulldogs host the Tide.

Dak Prescott had a successful game despite the rain in Columbia but will have a different challenge when the Bulldogs host the Tide.

I was also right about Kentucky going downhill worse than Georgia.

Florida was a miserable failure in the point spread department, but at least the Gators won. I don’t know how you beat Ole Miss by 14 times the amount you beat Vandy, but that’s college football.

Speaking of Ole Miss, I was wrong about the winner (so close); but at least in this overtime game, I was right about the point spread. Ole Miss would have struggled to win by more than 10 in overtime anyway.

South Carolina lost but obliterated the point spread again. LSU and Georgia were the only two teams all season to beat them by more than two touchdowns, but other teams keep being favored by between 15 and 20. Of course, the former point might change with Florida and Clemson coming up.

I was still wrong both ways with LSU-Alabama of course.

Finally, Auburn still haunts me. It’s like they read this to decide whether they’re going to try this week or not.

I was over .500 in both categories for the week, but 4-3 in picking winners isn’t very good.

My overall record falls to 36-14, but my record against the spread improves to 20-27.

SEC WED

Next Week

I’ll take Arkansas and the points, but I think LSU will redeem itself slightly at home and manage to win.

Georgia fans should be happy to know I will be picking Auburn to win and -1.5.

I’ll take South Carolina and 8 at home but Florida to win. The Georgia and LSU games I mentioned were not played in South Carolina (theoretically LSU was a home game). I think Florida may be having some problems that will carry over. This is the Gators’ SEC finale, and Florida has already clinched the East, so the motivation may be lower than usual.

I’ll pick North Texas +41.5. The Vols did beat Western Carolina by more, but the Mean Green does have an offense even though I realize they’re REALLY not a good team. I think it may go something along the lines of the LSU/Eastern Michigan game. Western Kentucky, probably the most similar team that has faced North Texas, won 55-28. Tennessee may hold them to 17 or 20 or something like that but probably won’t score more than the Hilltoppers did. Of course I don’t think it’s much of a question of the winner.

I’ll take Mississippi St. +8. The last game the Tide played that wasn’t after a bye resulted in a close final score against that Volunteer team I mentioned. Mississippi St. hasn’t faced stellar competition, but the Bulldogs seem to be firing on all cylinders. I think they’ll get up for the game better. Starkville can be a weirdly difficult place to play if you don’t take control early.

Kentucky has played so badly Vanderbilt is actually favored and deservedly so. I’ll even give the Wildcats the three points.

Usually there isn’t a line for FCS games, but I’ll play along. A&M is favored by 35.5, probably due to scant point-scoring recently. I think they’ll wake up at least for this game though, so I’ll take them minus the points.

I shy away from road favorites and from picking other teams to win in SEC stadiums, but I’ll make an exception for BYU at Missouri. The Cougars do have a common opponent with the Tigers, and that was Connecticut. BYU played terribly in that game and still won by 17, whereas Missouri only beat the Huskies by 3. Those games were very early in the season admittedly, but I also mentioned that the Tigers haven’t come across as very competitive in their last few games.

Previous entries

Week 4 Preview (predictions only)

SEC Wednesday #1

SEC Wednesday #2

SEC Wednesday #3

SEC Wednesday #4

SEC Wednesday #5

SEC Wednesday #6

Week 10 Rankings and Comments

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game on November 9, 2015 at 4:32 PM

I’m going to start with the rankings and do a bit of LSU-Alabama post mortem afterward.

This is not to join the bandwagon at all, but Clemson is my number 1 for the first time. My list here now completely matches my objective computer list, and this will continue to be the case until my pre-season rankings next August.

Obviously, they were #3 last week before the CFP rankings came out, and my #1 and #2 both lost. So even if there were a subjective element, there was no reason to pass them up. Alabama was a distant second since they lost to Ole Miss, which now has three losses. Also, Memphis, the team to which Ole Miss lost, now has a loss of its own to Navy.

You may have noticed Notre Dame moving up significantly. The Irish beat USC, who went on to knock of undefeated Utah and has not lost again. The Irish are the only team to beat either Temple or Navy. Of course, when you lose to a single highly-rated team, you don’t have much deducted from your total.

Clemson-Notre Dame still remains huge for both teams.

Clemson-Notre Dame still remains huge for both teams.

The Irish’s three FBS opponents to start the year, Texas, Virginia, and Georgia Tech, aren’t very good, but they do have tough schedules and a couple of good wins among them. Pittsburgh, the team Notre Dame just beat, is 4-1 in the ACC with a non-conference loss to undefeated Iowa, part of the reason the Hawkeyes are in the top four instead of the Buckeyes.

Ohio St. is in perfectly good position to move up by sweeping the state of Michigan of course, so even if my rankings were to decide things, there would be no need to worry.

LSU and Florida are in a similar situation. LSU is in the better division and add to that the fact that the Tigers beat the Gators. Once again, part of LSU’s problem is having an extra bye week due to the thunderstorm in week 1. It’s also worth considering that Florida will be playing South Carolina and Florida Atlantic in the next two weeks while LSU will be playing Arkansas and Ole Miss. If both stay one-loss teams, LSU will move back ahead.

Stanford is just outside the top 10, but they’re not out of the picture for my top four either with Oregon, the Pac-12 title game (potentially), and Notre Dame coming up.

It looks almost certain the G5 representative will be the winner of the American Conference after Toledo’s loss to Northern Illinois.

I mentioned Navy, but North Carolina makes its first appearance. The Tar Heels lost to South Carolina to start the year but have not lost since. BYU and Wisconsin are back in the top 25.
I guess I’ll say a bit about LSU because people will probably ask what went wrong.

1 Clemson 3
2 Alabama 10
3 Iowa 4
4 Notre Dame 6
5 Ohio St. 5
6 Okie St. 13
7 Utah 7
8 Florida 8
9 LSU 1
10 Mich. St. 2
11 Stanford 12
12 Memphis 9
13 N’western 21
14 TCU 11
15 Oklahoma 20
16 Houston 18
17 Baylor 16
18 Navy —
navy logo
19 Michigan 19
20 Temple 17
21 Miss. St. 25
22 N. Carolina —
north carolina
23 BYU —
24 Wisconsin —
25 UCLA 24

Out of rankings: (14) Toledo, (15) Ole Miss, (22) TX A&M, (23) Penn St.

Here are the previous rankings blogs:

Preseason

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6

Week 7

Week 8

Week 9

LSU

Apart from the second quarter, when the Tigers were effective in moving the ball in the air, the offensive game plan was almost nonexistent. Maybe they thought they could win with 10 points like the game four years ago (when they actually got 9, 6 in regulation), but you can’t complete only 6 passes and expect to have room to run. I don’t know why there wasn’t a short- and mid-range passing threat on more of those plays or some attempt to mask whether a given play would be a run or a throw.

Alabama was so much better strategically, LSU was lucky to only lose by 14. I don’t accept it’s a Saban/Miles thing. It’s a problem with the current coaching staff, and of course that is partly Miles’ fault, but it’s not something he’s incapable of fixing. We had decent game plans in every other regular-season game against Alabama under Miles. For instance, Miles’ two worst teams in terms of record took Alabama to overtime in 2008 and 2014, respectively. Alabama won the SEC West in 2008 and the SEC in 2014 (before losing to Urban Meyer national championship teams both times), while LSU finished with five losses in each season.

I’ve mentioned this in the rivalry blog, but even though we lost by 21 in the 2013 game, that game was tied with 19 minutes left; and Alabama didn’t go up two scores until 10 minutes left. It was a much better strategy than this game even though the final score was worse. Our defense just tired out sooner than theirs did, and they got the insignificant touchdown at the end instead of us. Also, they were supposed to win. They were undefeated and playing at home, and we had two losses going in.

Maybe that was part of the problem though. Maybe the coaching staff thought since we were the apparently better team so far this season, we didn’t have to be creative. Saban himself even said to win this game you have to do things that aren’t expected, and he mentioned the fourth-and-one reverse in 2010. I don’t remember any crazy plays like that, but Alabama did go for it on fourth down twice on Saturday. Of course, you don’t need to do things like that when you have a lead by two or three possessions.

This was the worst game since Arkansas’s 17-0 win last year (I think you can imagine how pathetic that offensive performance was). Guess who’s next?

Anthony Jennings and the LSU offense struggled all night at Arkansas a year ago.

Anthony Jennings and the LSU offense struggled all night at Arkansas a year ago.

LSU has three tough games to get through for this to even matter, but it’s possible that Alabama will lose to either Mississippi St. or Auburn. I think Alabama gave us their full attention in the preparation for this game, so maybe they’ll slack just a little bit in preparing for their trip to Starkville. I certainly think Mississippi St. can play better than Tennessee, and Tennessee gave the Tide all they could handle before Alabama’s bye week. Auburn could play them close, but (1) I don’t think the plains Tigers are quite good enough even if Alabama doesn’t play particularly well and (2) I think Alabama will be very up for that game if they are still undefeated and coming off a demolition of Charleston Southern. So I think if Alabama has only one conference loss after Saturday, the division is pretty much theirs regardless of LSU.