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Coach O Makes the Right Decisions, Confuses Media Narrative

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game on October 17, 2017 at 3:23 PM

Setting of the Game and Media Commentary

This season the Tigers lost at home to a non-conference opponent for the first time since 2000, Nick Saban’s first season, and lost at Mississippi St. for the first time since 1999. I was bracing for another such loss being that 1999 was the last time they lost at home to Auburn, but somehow they escaped.

That was known as the Cigar Game, by the way. Tommy Tuberville and company smoked cigars after the game even though LSU was pathetic that year. Tuberville beat basically the same LSU team when he was at Ole Miss the year before (and his predecessor Terry Bowden had won in Baton Rouge in 1997), but he wanted to act like he accomplished something special. Maybe we can call it the Cigar Curse if this keeps up. Maybe Auburn can hire Tubs back and he can defeat his own curse. Gene Chizik, Gus Malzahn, and Terry Bowden can be his assistants.

Auburn players celebrate after the Cigar Game in 1999. LSU has had its longest home winning streak against Auburn in the years since.

Back to the present, I’m annoyed that no matter what LSU does they’re going to be insulted the rest of the year. They could win out, and people like Paul Feinbaum will still say, “same old LSU, win the games they’re not supposed to and lose the games they should have won.”

There were a lot of ups and downs in terms of talent and whatnot between 2005 and 2016, when Les Miles was the head coach. Whatever happens this season, you can’t say this is some kind of permanent condition going forward. Miles had especially difficult years in 2008 and 2014. Whether it was Miles or Orgeron, this would be another year like those two in terms of experience (although there is a bit more experience at the QB position), but we may not end up with five or even four losses. (Technically, finishing with two losses is possible; but that would require not only winning the rest of the games on the schedule but also winning at least the SEC Championship and a bowl game.)

I’m not worried though, keep up the low expectations. I don’t think the 2003 team was nearly as good as the 2007 and 2011 teams, but no one saw the 2003 performance coming. I think that was preferable.

Auburn and Florida Rivalries

I didn’t realize this going in, but this was actually the first competitive LSU-Auburn game in Tiger Stadium since 2007. That was when LSU only needed a field goal to win, but Matt Flynn threw a touchdown to Demetrius Byrd that was caught with about 3 seconds left (although the ensuing kickoff was with 1 second left). Appropriately enough, the 2007 team was in attendance on Saturday. The 2007 game came two years after an overtime win by LSU which resulted from multiple missed field goals by Auburn.

It was nice to get another close win against Auburn in light of the 4-point loss in 1994 (the disaster on the plains), the 1-point loss in 2004 (the extra point game), the 4-point loss in 2006 (Refgate), the 7-point loss in 2010 (I don’t think it had a nickname; it was just a good close game on the way to Auburn’s national championship), and the 5-point loss last season (I guess we can call it the end of an era since it was Les Miles’ last game). The other games mentioned in this paragraph were all at Auburn, where LSU has only won twice since 1998.

This was the first year since 1980 in which LSU beat Auburn and Florida with at least one of those wins coming on the road. Just like this year, there were also wins at Florida and at home against Auburn that season. That year was the last of four consecutive LSU wins against Florida, which has not been repeated since then. LSU has won 6 of 8 against the Gators and 3 of the last 4 in Gainesville though. All three of those wins in Gainesville were decided in the final moments, and this was the ninth LSU-Florida game since (and including) 2004 that was decided by one possession.

Before the loss to LSU, Florida had won 14 of 15 home games and 10 of the last 11 decided by 8 points or fewer (with the previous close loss coming to LSU in 2015). Now both LSU and Texas A&M have won close games in the Swamp (by 1 and 2 points respectively) in consecutive weeks. The Gators’ remaining home games this season are against UAB and Florida St.

For more on these series, see the Auburn and Florida rivalry blogs.

LSU-Auburn Game Recap and Analysis

So I’ve talked about pundits and I’ve talked about historical significance. I’d like to talk a little more about Saturday’s game and what I think brought about the result.

I’ve mentioned this is still a young inexperienced team, but let’s recap a couple of things they have seen in recent weeks. As we have been reminded dozens of times now, yes, they lost to Troy, but let’s look at that.. Troy was up 17-0 in the second half. Had it been 17-0 at halftime, maybe LSU wins. Had the coaching staff not panicked a bit by calling an onsides kick only halfway through the fourth quarter, the Tigers may have completed the comeback. Also, after the Tigers’ initial touchdown, Troy scored again and still led by 17 well into the fourth quarter.

There was another home game where it was the opposite situation. It was LSU who seemed to have the game in control and what was an 18-point LSU lead with 20 minutes left in the game became a 28-26 lead with 5 minutes left in the game. So if Syracuse can reduce a lead by 16 points in 15 minutes on the road and LSU can reduce a lead by 14 points in 6 minutes in a nearly-empty stadium, 42 ½ minutes (especially with a nearly-full stadium) should have seemed like plenty of time to close a 20-point gap. Nine points in 30 minutes? Easy.

Florida isn’t exactly analogous, but there were two things to take from that as well. The first is LSU had the lead and despite an anemic offense, the defense realized (according to Orgeron anyway) that if Florida didn’t score over the last 17 minutes they couldn’t win. The other point was that it only took 6 minutes to close the gap from 17-3 to 17-16.

I think having Syracuse, Troy, and Florida in consecutive weeks was more than enough for this team to know there was no reason to give up hope.

I don’t agree with many commentators that the turning point was the punt return. That is what made it a 2-point game. What about the plays that made it only a 9-point lead before that?

The first important thing was the LSU defense drawing the line at the 20-yardline so Auburn didn’t go ahead 24-0.

I’ve been a critic, including in this blog, of some of Orgeron’s decisions, but like when Les Miles called 5 fourth-down attempts against Florida in the 2007 season, he made (in hindsight anyway) the right call time after time.

Russell Gage’s 70-yard run helped set up the Tigers’ first score.

When LSU got the ball back, some would have said to just take the field goal “to get some points on the board” facing a fourth and goal down 20-0, but he went for it. I doubt he called the play, but he certainly didn’t object when the jet sweep was called even though Auburn had been covering that particular play.

It’s hard to narrow it down to one decision before the half, but the Tigers played for the touchdown (not for a field goal as some recent offensive coordinators would have done), but they did it in such a way that the touchdown (or perhaps short field goal had it been necessary) was scored with less than a minute left. I’m not going to pretend I knew we had a win at that point, but I had resigned myself to being down 13 or 14 at the half (after the first touchdown; I was of course more pessimistic before that). I was honestly excited that we only ended up down 9.

After LSU punted in its first three possessions of the second half and the previous punt couldn’t even be downed before rolling into the end zone, another punt had to be hard to call at the Auburn 36. This was the possession after Malzahn lost his nerve before a 4th and 1 at midfield. LSU didn’t really have a good chance of converting, but some coaches might have tried the long field goal even though it was a likely miss just to say they tried to take the lead. Had LSU lost, that would have been a criticism. Then the special teams came through and downed the ball at the 3.

LSU did have to take the points on the next possession. Despite the field goal woes, 42 yards was close enough that they had to try for the lead even though it was 4th and 1.

Another right decision. Malzahn had to be the one to answer questions about his fourth-down decisions after the game. Why go on 4th and 10 but not on 4th and 1? Did you not believe your defense could stop LSU all the same without giving them the ball in field goal position?

On the final drive though, LSU finally did play for a field goal. It’s like a sacrifice in baseball. They give you an out at first base, throw it to first base. Don’t do anything crazy. Orgeron could have tried for a touchdown Mad-Hatter-style; but even though LSU had been down most of the day, when you have the lead you act like you can keep the lead.

Of course it make it easier to come back without penalties and turnovers that continued to haunt the Tigers in the second half against Troy, but those coaching decisions were key in this game.

The Future

A new pet peeve after the game is that Gus Malzahn said multiple times that Auburn controls its own destiny, and this was accepted without question by the media. Actually, someone at Auburn might have heard it during the game broadcast. If LSU and Auburn each finish with one loss, what happens? Spoiler alert: Auburn doesn’t represent the West. I don’t know how that many people who get paid to do so don’t bother to think for themselves.

I’m not saying LSU is going to beat Alabama, but it would be less strange than losing to Troy or beating Auburn after being down 20 points. It would be less strange than Syracuse beating Clemson.

LSU is given a 65% chance or greater (in ESPN’s FPI formula anyway) to win each of their remaining games except against Alabama. Auburn is given a 52% chance to beat Georgia and a 75% chance to beat A&M, but I’m not buying either one. If I put $100 on A&M to beat Auburn at home, you’re really going to give me $300 back if they do so? I also don’t think Auburn is 5 times as likely to beat Alabama as LSU is.

Anyway, another big rivalry game next week. After these last few games, I’m looking forward to the bye week though.

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Week 8 Top 25

In College Football, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on October 15, 2017 at 7:31 PM

I was going to try to write a blog about LSU-Auburn and update my Rivalry Series blogs, but I was too tired and it’s already getting late, so I’m just going to put up my top 25 and explanation for now.

I thought about just copying the top 25 exactly as my formula spits out, but I think that’s unfair to the undefeated teams at this point. So what I did was make the top 5 all undefeated teams and keep them in the order my formula has them, and then make the other 20 teams the best remaining teams in the order my formula has them. So there are no team-by-team personal judgments here.

Since 2011, I believe, I’ve waited until after the games of the first week of November before I strictly follow the formula in my blog top 25. The top 25 here is essentially how I would vote if I were a voter in the AP or coaches’ poll, so while I generally have switched to following the formula, there are still some exceptions to account for continuity (such as a reluctance to remove a team from the #1 spot with no defect in their play) and scheduling quirks (such as a team who just had a bye week is about to play a very high-quality opponent and I’d rather that game decide whether they go down in the rankings if they lose instead of the bye week deciding).

The LSU-Alabama game hasn’t been as competitive as it once was (although there have been close games, the same team has come out on top the last several meetings), but it gives Alabama a chance to recover from the bye week, which has consistently been before the LSU game (and Alabama has consistently been one of the top teams). This year Clemson plays North Carolina St. that week, and Georgia plays South Carolina. One may not have expected it earlier in the year, but both North Carolina St. and South Carolina are serious competitors at this point for their respective divisions.

Despite the last couple of weeks, 2011 seems like a very long time ago for LSU fans.

I prefer not to switch teams at the top back and forth, and what tends to happen is among the top few undefeated teams one or two of them will have losses against the better opponents rather than it simply being a contest of who played the best team last week. Even if the teams remain undefeated, I’d rather make a change after November 4 when we have more chance of stability (since each week is a smaller percentage of the season) than possibly change back and forth between now and then.

rank/team/prev.
1 Alabama 1
2 Georgia 3
3 Penn St. 4
4 TCU 7
5 Wisconsin 13
6 Clemson 2
7 USC 9
8 Mich. St. 11
9 Central Florida 6
10 U. Miami 14
11 Stanford –
12 Wash. St. 5
13 San Diego St. 8
14 Ohio St. 12
15 N. Carolina St. 19
16 Michigan 20
17 Notre Dame 10
18 Memphis –
19 Washington 18
20 South Carolina –
21 Oklahoma 24
22 Iowa 16
23 Texas A&M –
24 Navy 17
25 LSU –

Out of rankings: (15) Houston, (21) Florida, (22) Kentucky, (23) Oregon, (25) Okla St.

Week 7 Top 25 and Recent LSU Thoughts

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game on October 13, 2017 at 4:19 PM

I had a long trip out of the country, so I haven’t had much time for blogging and so forth. I only included one picture, so I’m sure this will look like a wall of text in spots.

Troy-LSU

Not that more than a handful of people read what I have to say anyway (I never recovered from losing the free advertising TSN used to provide), but if you’re a regular reader and resorted to listening to mainstream media instead, my condolences.

Why are the most ignorant people who don’t even lift a finger to give themselves the level of knowledge that can be gained by five minutes with a search engine the ones with the biggest voices in national media? A perfect example from the NFL was Skip Bayless pretending Tim Tebow was going to the Hall of Fame, but there are people you can take seriously. I think Skip Bayless is what you get in college if you’re lucky.

Paul Feinbaum never seems to know basic facts. Maybe he’s just feigning ignorance, but if he’s that good of an actor, he should be in Hollywood.

For instance, before last year’s Florida game (the offense had looked good between Les Miles’ last game and Florida), he had no idea who Steve Ensminger was or how he came to be interim OC. He can have good commentary when he does read up on something, but he phones it in when it comes to details and it’s not a big game. Feinbaum also said the chance of Orgeron becoming head coach was infinitesimal. Why is he considered some kind of SEC guru?

Anyway, to get to the point, after Troy, he had on some guy who admitted being preoccupied with college BASKETBALL. Anyone in their right mind would have hung up instead of asking for anything about football. There are probably a million SEC fans who haven’t been distracted one iota by basketball he could have spoken to instead.

So this guy says that Orgeron is responsible for any lack of depth because he was a recruiter (for defensive linemen… for a year and a half) under Les Miles and then proceeds to bash the program in general. Who does that, who says, “I haven’t been paying attention to this sport, but here is my condemnation based on one final score”? A drunk at a bar maybe, and a relatively dumb one at that. I couldn’t keep listening.

We have had good recruiting classes the last couple of years, but that doesn’t magically give you a quality team when the field is loaded with freshmen. Go back to covering basketball, where leaving college early means not playing in college.

So then I listened to Damon Amendolara. At least that’s material I can work with, even though he’s obnoxious. I’ll respond to his points.

>LSU was embarrassed at Mississippi St.

Again, we are talking about a team playing a ton of freshmen, they should have been up 14-7 in the second quarter (but for a bullshit penalty), halftime score ends up 17-7, then the game gets away as offense starts desperation mode during a third quarter that didn’t go well. That’s not being embarrassed. Embarrassing final score maybe, but the performance was not as bad as the score.

>for the first time since 2000, a non-conference team walked into Death Valley…

Gee, who was the head coach then? That guy is probably selling life insurance now if not dead from chronic stupidity. Oh no, that’s one of the best college football coaches in history? Same difference.

You know what else that guy did? Lost his conference opener against a sub-top-20 team. He lost by 17, but it could have been worse had the other team elected to keep up the pressure.

By the way, I made these points to my family after the Troy game. I’m not just saying this because of Florida. By the way, after losing to UAB in 2000, LSU beat a ranked team the next week as well. The Tigers would finish 8-4 on the year, which I would take this year as well. The next season, they won the SEC Championship.

>Troy was up 17-0

They were up more and LSU didn’t quit and nearly came all the way back? That makes it worse if you’re a mainstream media sports guy?

>LSU frankly is a pathetic football team.

They didn’t even lose to a pathetic football team, and it was by 3 points. That’s not rushing to judgment at all. But at least if you say it like you know what you’re talking about…

>[Ed Ogeron] can’t fix the problem.

He clearly improved something being that LSU scored 21 of the last 31 points. I understand if he was arguing that LSU did the same exact things they did against Mississippi St., but this guy’s main gripe was Troy and seemed to be aware of no details of Mississippi St. You don’t see if the problems are fixed until the next game is played.

>Troy is trolling them on twitter (by saying they enjoyed the trip).

What is Orgeron supposed to do? Beat up on whoever controls their twitter? What a nonsensical point to even bring up.

These buffoons count on people to forget their mistakes. Don’t let them get away with it. Be as unforgiving as they are.

LSU struggled against the run, but the Tigers got just enough stops when they needed them.

LSU-Florida

I’m not going to pretend I knew it would work beforehand, but the important thing is players stepped up after the game to have a players meeting, and LSU maintained its normal routine before the Florida win.

You can say they got lucky with the extra point, but I would say they got unlucky with the officiating. There is no way blocking a guy with your hands around his shoulder pads is what any rules committee has ever meant by targeting even though the penalty was upheld. If that’s so dangerous you need to remove someone from the game, they need to ban blocking and tackling altogether.

There was also an LSU first down that was reversed on a spot judgment call, and yet Florida was given a first down when the guy stepped out a full two yards short of the line to gain. There was a personal foul called for bumping into a player while getting up. There was a roughing the punter that was only called running into. There were other examples, such as clear holdings that were not called, but I’m just saying what stood out. All in all, typical SEC officiating for the home team that had better prospects going into the game.

Both Florida touchdowns were set up by 15-yard LSU penalties. The other one was a correct call by the referee, but it was bad luck in a split-second decision. The defender could have gone in front of the receiver on a crossing route and broken up the pass (if not intercepted it) for a third-down stop. Instead, I think he misjudged the timing of the ball and wrapped up the receiver. Only problem was the ball hadn’t gotten there yet. To be fair, he had a perfectly-timed jump to tip a ball way over his head on the play before.

I mentioned Mississippi St. above and how pivotal the go-ahead touchdown would have been. I also think not going down 7-0 to Troy would have made a huge difference.

Of course that wasn’t the whole story. LSU did very well on third down after going 0-8 (I think a conversion or two was called back) the week before. The Tigers committed four turnovers against Troy and none against Florida. There were times they could have just hanged their heads like when Danny Etling missed wide-open receivers, when three offensive linemen had to leave the game, or when the targeting I mentioned was called and another quality offensive player was ejected. These seemed ominous as a fan, but I think the team has really worked on controlling what’s in their power and shrugging off everything else.

This was Ed Orgeron’s first-ever SEC road win as a permanent head coach. It was the third counting Texas A&M and Arkansas last season though, so he’s 3-1 in such games with the Tigers after going 0-12 at Ole Miss.

I didn’t have time before, but this weekend I will update both the Florida and Auburn rivalry blogs. Jim McElwain had previously done pretty well both in close games and in the Swamp, but LSU has won a fair number of games in both categories in recent years as well.

Top 25

I did calculate the official computer ratings for the first time this season. My top 25 for this blog is a little bit different. Summary of differences: Alabama moved from #3 to #1, Michigan put ahead of Florida (they beat Florida after all), Notre Dame ahead of Michigan St. (same reasoning), and Oklahoma St. #25 instead of South Carolina. I don’t like to remove teams from the top 25 just because they had a bye week, and it’s not like South Carolina has done anything special since Week 1. No team was moved more than two spots, and for the vast majority of teams I just let the chips fall where they may.

rank/team/prev.
1 Alabama 1
2 Clemson 2
3 Georgia 3
4 Penn St. 4
5 Wash. St. 9
6 Central Florida 7
7 TCU 6
8 San Diego St. 8
9 USC 11
10 Notre Dame 15
11 Mich. St. 20
12 Ohio St. 16
13 Wisconsin 14
14 U. Miami 18
15 Houston –
16 Iowa –
17 Navy 10
18 Washington 21
19 North Carolina St. –
20 Michigan 5
21 Florida 12
22 Kentucky 22
23 Oregon 19
24 Oklahoma 13
25 Okla St. 17

Out of rankings: (23) UCLA, (24) South Florida, (25) Maryland

Week 6 Top 25

In College Football, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on October 1, 2017 at 1:09 PM

As I mentioned last week, I’m on a trip, so this will be pretty minimal for the next week or so.

The next top 25 will be almost exclusively computer-based. In preparation, I made a rule that all teams had to be within 5 spots of their computer ranking to hopefully ease the transition. This early in the season though, the rankings are still volatile, so there still may be future 15-point swings.

Last week’s ranking listed after team name.

1 Alabama 1
2 Clemson 2
3 Georgia 3
4 Penn St. 5
5 Michigan 7
6 TCU 8
7 Central Florida 17
8 San Diego St. 15
9 Washington St. 24
10 Navy –
11 USC 4
12 Florida 9
13 Oklahoma 6
14 Wisconsin 18
15 Notre Dame –
16 Ohio St. 10
17 Oklahoma St. 25
18 U. Miami –
19 Oregon –
20 Michigan St. –
21 Washington 19
22 Kentucky 13
23 UCLA –
24 South Florida 14
25 Maryland –

Out of rankings: (11) Virginia Tech, (12) Texas Tech, (16) Wake Forest, (20) Louisville, (21) Memphis, (22) Mississippi St., (23) Vanderbilt

SYR @ LSU & Week 5 Top 25

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 24, 2017 at 6:29 PM

Sorry for the lack of a midweek blog last week, but I’m planning a trip and have a lot of work responsibilities lately. Everything will be back to normal after Columbus Day.

Syracuse @ LSU

I don’t want to write a separate blog about LSU. It took a little while to get the offense going, and then we seemed to be fine; but I think the quarterback substitution was way too premature. Ed Orgeron said he wanted to give Miles Brennan some experience when the game was on the line, but the decision to put Brennan in PUT the game on the line late. When the game was really on the line in the last drive, Danny Etling was put back into the game.

Etling was originally pulled after completing 5 of his last 6 attempts for 159 yards and two touchdowns. Since it was only 21-10 when Brennan entered (and he returned to the field the last time up only 28-19), I thought LSU needed at least a couple more scores before taking the chance.

It briefly looked like the gamble paid off when Brennan’s first drive resulted in a touchdown, but Brennan only completed two short passes. He ended up getting credit for a bunch of passing yards, but that was because Darrel Williams (the main RB for the game) broke into the secondary after a short pass, not because Brennan showed any proficiency throwing the ball down the field. Brennan also threw a pass that could have been intercepted and returned for a touchdown, but it was thankfully dropped.

After Syracuse was forced to punt, the Tigers were then pinned back on their own 1. I’m not sure if Etling would have avoided the safety (possibly with some kind of audible), but I didn’t feel good when I saw Brennan take the field. So that drive resulted in the safety and the next ended in an interception before Brennan was taken out. Meanwhile, Syracuse scored touchdowns on the two intervening possessions to get within 2. I also do not understand why Brennan was in the game the drive after the safety.

LSU wide receiver D.J. Chark scores the deciding touchdown.

On the last touchdown drive, Etling didn’t even attempt a pass, but he did have a crucial 8-yard run on second down, which allowed Nick Brossette to just barely pass the line to gain on the third down. One of OC Matt Canada’s tricky plays finally worked immediately after that when the ball was handed off to Chark in the backfield instead of to the running back, and D.J. Chark went around the left end for the 20-yard touchdown run.

The defense isn’t completely blameless for allowing Syracuse to get close of course, but they kept being put back on the field too quickly. It was also frustrating that there seemed to be a stop on 3rd and 19 when a personal foul was called for roughing the passer. It was just an unnecessary bump. The only good thing to say about that is it was the only LSU penalty that cost more than 5 yards the whole game. The automatic first down was a bigger problem than the yards.

In all, Syracuse was able to keep drives going 10 times after facing a third down (of which they had 19). The Orange had to get two of those on fourth down though. Also, the Orange ended up with 24 first downs to LSU’s 18. This is why Syracuse had a similar time of possession to LSU even though the Tigers won the rushing battle 151-76.

Also, it’s worth noting that LSU has played probably dozens of freshmen, and Syracuse had the most returning starters of any team going into the season. I think that’s one thing that kept them in the game, particularly when LSU intentionally put in less experienced players like Brennan.

Top 25

This week’s top 25 was easier to draft than last week’s. Some of the teams that seem good (like Alabama) are actually starting to prove it. It would have been difficult to keep Florida St. in if they’d won; but since they lost, I didn’t have to worry about it.

My procedure was to calculate the objective computer rating and to give the teams my own ranking. I averaged the two different rankings to arrive at the final top 25; and with only a couple of exceptions, I only gave myself the latitude to move teams more than two spots.

Alabama only ended up fifth in following this process, but I obviously was not going to remove the Tide from the top spot after they went on the road to beat a previously undefeated team 59-0.

Alabama literally ran away with the game at Vanderbilt.

Washington St. only ended up 29th in this calculation, but they’re playing USC next week. It just makes more sense to let that result determine whether they stay in or fall out. Their average was 25.5, so this wasn’t that big of a departure. Oklahoma St. was even lower, but it was similar logic there as the Pokes play Texas Tech next week.

If you’re curious, the excluded teams who scored higher than WSU are Navy, UC-Berkeley, Iowa, and Notre Dame. Cal and Iowa are both coming off losses even though Iowa looked like the better team for much of the night. Any of these teams could easily find themselves in the to 25 in the near future. Notre Dame’s only loss is to Georgia, and you can see how high they are. Navy has no losses, but their points will be limited until they play Memphis on October 14.

rank/team/prev.

1 Alabama 1
2 Clemson 3
3 Georgia 9
4 USC 8
5 Penn St. 4
6 Oklahoma 2
7 Michigan 7
8 TCU 22
9 Florida 16
10 Ohio St. 10
11 Virginia Tech –
12 Texas Tech –
13 Kentucky 11
14 South Florida 18
15 San Diego St. 15
16 Wake Forest –
17 Central Florida –
18 Wisconsin 5
19 Washington 17
20 Louisville 20
21 Memphis 19
22 Mississippi St. 13
23 Vanderbilt 14
24 Wash. St. 21
25 Okla St. 6

Out of top 25: (12) UC-Berkeley, (23) Oregon, (24) Florida St., (25) Auburn

Week 4 Top 25

In College Football, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 17, 2017 at 2:36 PM

If you’re looking for my comments about the LSU game, go here.

This week starts the transition to my objective computer system. A couple of disclaimers for those who may not remember. No one is being penalized for a win (if they move down after one), only for not accomplishing good wins. Ranking team A ahead of team B does not necessarily mean I think team A would beat team B.

Once the transition is complete, teams will be in order of their accomplishments (with points subtracted for losses of course). For the moment though, I’m still giving some deference to my subjective rankings.

Auburn and Florida St., for instance, aren’t even in the top 60 of the objective ratings. They’re basically placeholders for right now. I rate them highly enough subjectively to stay in; but as I give less importance to that, they will likely fall out until they can compensate for the respective losses with quality wins.

Apart from those two exceptions, I required all the other teams to at least be better than U. Miami, which hasn’t played a game against an FBS opponent yet and only has a win over Bethune-Cookman. I guess another disclaimer is I don’t BLAME the team for not having played anyone due to weather events, but it’s not a moral judgment. The whole point of my ratings system is to boil it down to what has been shown on the field.

Anyway, a couple of other teams I considered were Iowa and Colorado; but they both have big games next week where they can play their way in (Penn St. @ Iowa and Washington @ Colorado). In addition to those two, some other match-ups of unbeatens will be significant: Alabama @ Vanderbilt, TCU @ Oklahoma St., Mississippi St. @ Georgia, USC @ UC-Berkeley, Toledo @ U. Miami, Texas Tech @ Houston, and UCF @ Maryland.

Something useful to look at if there are questions about some of these teams is wins by opponents. Kentucky’s opponents have a total of four wins (three of those against FBS teams). UC-Berkeley’s opponents have four wins (two of those over FBS teams). Mississippi St.’s are the same as Cal’s (just not quite as good), and so forth.

rank/team/prev.
1 Alabama 1
2 Oklahoma 2
3 Clemson 4
4 Penn St. 3
5 Wisconsin 5
6 Okla St. 6
7 Michigan 7
8 USC 8
9 Georgia 12
10 Ohio St. 9
11 Kentucky –
12 UC-Berkeley –
13 Mississippi St. –
14 Vanderbilt –

San Diego St….


… and Vanderbilt scored major wins over ranked teams late on Saturday night.

15 San Diego St. –
16 Florida 17
17 Washington 11
18 South Florida 18
19 Memphis –
20 Louisville 20
21 Wash. St. 21
22 TCU 22
23 Oregon 24
24 Florida St. 10
25 Auburn 15

Out of top 25: (13) LSU, (14) Kansas St., (16) Stanford, (19) U. Miami, (23) Tennessee, (25) S. Carolina

What Happened: LSU @ Mississippi St.

In College Football, General LSU, History, Post-game on September 16, 2017 at 7:53 PM

Before I begin, I’ve updated my rivalry blog for the LSU-Mississippi St. series. The Bulldogs ended LSU’s run of 8 straight wins in Starkville (the longest such streak by either team if you don’t count LSU’s run at home that ended a few years ago) and also beat the Tigers by the largest margin of victory ever.

Although LSU had not lost in Starkville since 1999, Ed Orgeron is now 0-3 there as a head coach. Ole Miss did beat the Bulldogs the one time he faced them at home.

I wanted to write to explain what happened in the game this evening. I’m not offering excuses (it was a deserved loss) and not trying to take anything away from Mississippi St. for playing well and having a good game plan; but there are reasons this game got away from LSU, and one of those reasons was not that Mississippi St. had more talent.

One thing is the early touchdown that was taken away from LSU for no good reason. The game starting out 14-7 in LSU’s favor is a completely different scenario from Mississippi St. starting the second half with the ball up 17-7.

Of course, LSU’s second touchdown never came.

There were a couple of other Mississippi St. drives in the first half that were either extended by penalties (at least one of which should not have been called) or by an LSU player accidentally knocking down a potential tackler. I don’t remember which one of those led to touchdowns or field goals, but all but a couple of drives ended in one or the other.

LSU had stops when the whistle was blown on other occasions, but they had no one to blame but themselves. A defensive lineman had already been injured in the first half, and when LSU momentarily had a three-and-out to start the second half (which could have been a turning point for the Tigers), a defensive lineman was ejected for a completely stupid targeting penalty.

Within a few minutes of that ejection, LSU got a second ejection for a similar penalty. I don’t think that was an intentional head-to-head hit, but you don’t take the chance of being called for a late hit when it can’t benefit the play. It was a targeting in my opinion because right as the defender approached, the quarterback turned his head toward the defender (after he released the ball), causing a collision between the defender’s helmet and the quarterback’s facemask.

In all, LSU was penalized for 112 yards, but that doesn’t count the 66-yard (If I heard correctly; I didn’t see it) touchdown pass that was taken off of the board. The Tigers also had to score twice on the actual touchdown drive that took place because of a deserved penalty.

After the ejections, LSU had almost no chance to win whatsoever. The linebackers and secondary tried to support the defensive line, but you can’t do that without opening up passes over the top of the defense. This was demonstrated by the second-to-last touchdown where the receiver could have walked into the end zone if he wanted to.

DJ Chark scores an apparent touchdown that was called back due to a phantom penalty.

It also didn’t help that multiple LSU passes that could have given them some offensive rhythm (not to mention helping out the run and giving the defense a chance to catch its breath) were dropped.

Both sides of the ball got more and more desperate as the score got worse. The defense over-pursued in the backfield (or got flagged for interference), and the offense had overly ambitious downfield throws.

I ranked LSU #14 in preseason because I thought that’s where they would finish, not because I thought LSU would play that way consistently in September. I still think the talent is there to finish in that area or higher, but when you have 5 returning defensive starters in their first road game and you lose 3 players, it’s awfully tough to defend an offense like Mississippi St.’s.

To give some credit where it’s due, MSU’s Nick Fitzgerald showed good poise in the pocket even before the ejections and injuries.

The ejections come with disqualifications from the first half of the next game against Syracuse (in Baton Rouge). If LSU loses to Syracuse, then I’ll admit I overestimated this team significantly, but I have a feeling the Tigers both upper- and lowerclassmen will play with more consistency and confidence in that game.

There are two very winnable games coming up (also a home game against Troy), and despite the win over Tennessee today, Florida is vulnerable. If LSU gets behind the 8-ball again, that could be another long and miserable road game, but if not it could be pretty competitive. I did pick Florida ahead of LSU in preseason, but we’ll see.

Week 3 Top 25

In College Football, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 10, 2017 at 1:28 PM

rank/team/prev.
1 Alabama 1
2 Oklahoma 3
3 Penn St. 4
4 Clemson 5
5 Wisconsin 6
6 Okla St. 8
7 Michigan 9
8 USC 15
9 Ohio St. 2
10 Florida St. 10
11 Washington 11
12 Georgia 12
13 LSU 13
14 Kansas St. 16
15 Auburn 14
16 Stanford 7
17 Florida 17
18 South Florida 18
19 U. Miami 19
20 Louisville 20
21 Wash. St. 22
22 TCU 23
23 Tennessee 24
24 Oregon 25
25 S. Carolina –

Out of top 25: (21) Northwestern

I thought about ranking Virginia Tech instead of South Carolina, but the Gamecocks have a neutral win in a competitive game in Week 1 AND a convincing road win, both against Power 5 teams. Missouri probably will not be a good team at the end of the year, but they have good athletes and have sneaked up on people in recent years with apparently worse teams.

South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst runs for a touchdown in the third quarter in Columbia, Mo.

Ohio St. did something pretty positive in the Indiana game despite the slow start, so even though they looked about as bad as Florida St. did in their loss, I still think Ohio St. deserves to be higher.

It so happens that after #10 I’m a lot more skeptical of the teams so at this point, I’m not moving the teams with losses out, but I anticipate that will happen when I can run preliminary computer numbers. We still have four teams without an FBS result (Air Force, Connecticut, Texas Tech, and U. Miami), so I can’t even do that at this point.

Georgia did about as well as I thought they would, and the only team Notre Dame beat is Temple, so I’m not inclined to move the Bulldogs at this point.

Auburn did a little bit worse than I thought they would against Clemson. They did as well as I thought in the first half, but the offense went away after that. I guess Brent Venables might earn his money in part with halftime adjustments. I didn’t see a need to move the plains Tigers more than one spot down, especially not below teams that didn’t play.

Washington St. and TCU played respectable opponents, but I wasn’t so impressed that I wanted to move them ahead of either Louisville (which has two Power 5 wins) or the teams who didn’t play.

Cancellations and (later) Game Previews

In College Football, History, NFL, Preview on September 9, 2017 at 11:09 AM

I will not make a habit of posting game previews on Saturday, but it just worked out that way this week. I didn’t look for pictures but may do so later.

Cancellations

First of all, I want to make clear that South Florida (and possibly parts of North Florida, West Florida, South Georgia, etc.) are under very serious threat and nothing about Hurricane Irma should be taken lightly.

But being that hurricanes are storm systems that move methodically and don’t shoot out death rays from hundreds of miles away, I do have some criticism over games that were canceled.

hurricane 0909

I understand South Florida and Miami deciding not to play even though they had road games. There would have been too many distractions on Saturday, and there would have been legitimate concerns about the ability to go back after game activities without getting stuck. Preparing to make a couple of days’ trip for a football game and preparing to evacuate indefinitely are two very different things. Maybe the two games could have been moved up to Friday if the decision had been made earlier in the week, but it’s hard to coordinate that with road games against opponents who aren’t used to hurricanes.

I don’t think Florida and Florida St. needed to cancel their games though. I think they should have done what LSU did with the Appalachian St. game in 2008 and played the games in the early morning on Saturday (10:00 Central was early for me anyway, especially as a West Coast resident). The storm would have still been in Cuba at that time, and it would have allowed plenty of storm preparation to help out evacuees from other places.

Along the same lines, I don’t know why it was necessary to cancel the Friday game in Orlando (Memphis @ Central Florida). Attendance might have been low with people having difficulty traveling or for whatever reason having more important matters to attend to, but make-up games often have low attendance anyway.

Anyway, if there are hurricane-force winds in Gainesville, it would probably not be until Monday morning, even later in Tallahassee (if at all). I know some of the players would have had family evacuating from South Florida, but South Floridians play at a large number of schools. I think the primary concern should be for the teams whose campuses were under immediate threat.

Also, for the NFL game, there is of course no question that the game should have been moved. It could have been played at a neutral site elsewhere in Florida, but obviously Florida and Florida St. didn’t want to host games this weekend for NFL or college. Maybe Jacksonville could have been a possibility, but I guess that would have been too close to the anticipated path of the storm. There was also the fact that the Dolphins would have only had six home games. (They already gave up one to play the Saints in London.)

Florida International, which is in the Miami area, managed to host a game on Friday, which makes it even more baffling to me that Central Florida canceled their game. FIU beat Alcorn St. 17-10 if you were curious. Maybe FIU has more sense because they have an international hurricane research center on campus. Also, Florida Atlantic, which is in Boca Raton (North of Miami), is playing @Wisconsin now (Wisconsin will win, but it was surprisingly competitive).

Another possibility is that the road teams who were traveling to Florida got nervous, but I hope that wasn’t the case. I would think someone could have explained that although circular winds in this one have been 160 mph or more within the last day a hurricane isn’t going to suddenly start moving across the map at such a speed. I’m pretty sure people in Monroe understood that, but I’m less sure about whatever city Northern Colorado is in.

Another LSU memory I have is of 2005 when LSU didn’t play Tennessee until Monday night because Hurricane Rita was too close for Tennessee and its fans even though that Saturday in Baton Rouge was just a normal fall evening. Rita was a very destructive storm, just not for Baton Rouge and not on Saturday. That game was also notable because it was Les Miles’ first SEC game at LSU. I’d rather not recall the game itself.

One good thing is that other than Central Florida, none of the games were conference games. Those can cause all kinds of issues later in the year. As you might recall, the SEC had to threaten Florida’s possible berth in the SEC championship (which they eventually earned) before the Gators finally decided to play LSU last year.

Today’s Big Games

Anyway, I did want to talk a little bit about the games that will be played. As I mentioned above, the conference games are the most important, and there is an SEC game between residents of the two “Columbias” (South Carolina and Missouri). I decided that instead of picking all games involving SEC teams, I would just do the conference games and maybe a few extras in weeks with few conference games. So in this game, I’m picking South Carolina +3. I just don’t think Missouri is very good despite all the points they scored last week. They scored 61 against Eastern Michigan last year but lost to South Carolina by 10. I don’t see why the same sort of scenario is less realistic this year.

Offensive lineman Mason Zandi hoists the “Columbia Cup” after last year’s game.

Clemson isn’t in the SEC obviously, but they’re playing Auburn. Clemson won by 6 last year with the best team they’ve had in over 30 years and Auburn was relatively mediocre. So I’m taking Auburn and 5. Auburn might even win, but if they don’t, I can easily see them losing by 3 or 4 and not more.

Somehow Notre Dame is favored by 5 over Georgia. I think if anything Georgia will outperform expectations. Notre Dame’s expectations seem to be unjustifiably positive as usual, so I’m taking Georgia and the points there.

I guess I’ll go against the SEC in the early game of interest, which is TCU (-3) @ Arkansas. Arkansas has started slow a few times in recent years. I think TCU has more of the pieces in place even though I think Kenny Hill probably has a lower ceiling than some of the other quarterbacks in the Big XII alone, but he had a pretty good game in the early going in 2014 against an SEC team (Texas A&M @ South Carolina). Not saying he’ll pass for over 500 yards, just enough to win by 3 or more.

I’m not going to pick any more games against the spread, but there was another early game I’m very eager to follow, which is Pitt at Penn St. It was a great finish last year and probably kept the Nittany Lions out of the playoff in hindsight.

A few other big evening games I haven’t mentioned: Oklahoma @ Ohio St. (two of my top 4, hopefully better than Alabama/Florida St. game), Stanford @ USC (the Trojans were underwhelming last week, but maybe WMU is good), and Boise St. @ Washington St. (I’d take the over, although both struggled offensively in the last couple of games last season).

Week 2 Top 25

In College Football, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 5, 2017 at 4:54 PM

I was in a hurry for last week’s rankings, so the numbers in parentheses refer to last year’s final ranking. The numbers in the middle for the top 25 are last week’s rating. Reasoning below.

1 Alabama 1 (2)
2 Ohio St. 2 (3)
3 Oklahoma 4 (5)
4 Penn St. 5 (8)
5 Clemson 6 (1)
6 Wisconsin 7 (7)
7 Stanford 8 (14)
8 Okla St. 9 (13)
9 Michigan (11)
10 Florida St. 3 (6)
11 Washington 10 (4)
12 Georgia 11 (–)
13 LSU 14 (–)
14 Auburn 15 (–)
15 USC 13 (10)
16 Kansas St. 17 (–)
17 Florida 12 (16)
18 South Florida 16 (18)
19 U. Miami 18 (20)
20 Louisville 19 (25)
21 Northwestern 20 (–)
22 Wash. St. 21 (–)
23 TCU 22 (–)
24 Tennessee 23 (12)
25 Oregon 25 (–)

Fell out after Week 1: 24 Texas (–)

Others ranked at end of 2016: (9) W. Michigan, (15) Colorado, (17) Boise St., (19) App. St., (21) VA Tech, (22) W. Virginia, (23) W. Kentucky, (24) Georgia Tech

Alabama’s Jalen Hurts looks to pass against Florida State.

As expected, Alabama once again asserted itself as a major contender for the national title, inasmuch as that can be done in Week 1.

Ohio St. struggled in the first half, but I didn’t see any other major teams playing a conference road game. I’m not going to pretend Indiana is great, but the Hoosiers have made it to bowl games in the past two seasons. Most importantly, the Buckeyes pulled away fairly easily in the second half.

There is nothing really to add about #3 to #8; they all did what they were supposed to do.

I didn’t have Michigan ranked all that highly at the end of last year – when they lost three of the last four – and they had very few returning starters, so that’s why I opted not to rank them in the preseason. I didn’t see them as another 2016 Ohio St. because Jim Harbaugh has only been there a couple of years, but it looks like he has enough good young players to compete against some of the top teams. I’m not predicting that they will beat Ohio St., Wisconsin, or Penn St., but the chances of winning one of them are higher than I had them before the Florida game.

Florida St. had more success against Alabama than they’re being given credit for because they only managed to score 7 points, but I’m also not going to pretend that the loss of their starting quarterback for the season doesn’t lessen their likelihood for success. So that’s why I put them behind Michigan even though a few days ago I had Florida St. projected in the playoff and Michigan unranked. There are a number of teams that won’t get to prove themselves for a few weeks like Michigan has, so it may be that other teams just need to catch up.

Some of the teams that are a spot lower didn’t do anything wrong but have Michigan inserted ahead of them, but I think Washington deserved to fall out of the top 10 after not putting away Rutgers (one of the worst power 5 teams last year) very convincingly.

Georgia and LSU both played apparently decent teams and both won by more than 20. If I really wanted to punish Washington I would have put them below those two; but like with Ohio St., I can’t be too critical about playing their first game on the road like that even though Ohio St. probably played a much better team.

Auburn didn’t have a very good opponent in Georgia Southern, but the Eagles did give Ole Miss about all they could handle last year.

USC seemed overwhelmed for all but the last 5 minutes or the game.

USC struggled with Western Michigan, which makes me feel vindicated about not rating them as highly as a lot of people did. We’ll see how well the Trojans handle Stanford though. If they win, I’ll likely put them in the top 10 all the same.

Kansas St. had a rough quarter and a half, but I can’t complain too much regardless of the opponent when you’re up 22 at halftime. I think they have more pieces in place than Florida or South Florida does. I need to see South Florida or Miami do more to put them ahead of the Gators as #2 in the state.

Louisville didn’t do very well against Purdue, but it’s a win over a power 5 team. There was certainly no reason to put Northwestern ahead after the Wildcats didn’t really separate themselves from Nevada until 5 minutes left in the game.

Washington St. finally took care of business against an FCS opponent after losing to Portland St. and Eastern Washington, respectively, in the past two years. TCU and Oregon also won easily over FCS opponents.

Tennessee held on in overtime against Georgia Tech, whom I regarded as #26 entering the year, so I saw no reason to move the Vols up or down relative to the neighboring teams.


(Georgia Tech’s failed conversion)

Paul Johnson of Georgia Tech got praise for going for 2, but that’s nonsense. It’s giving the other team the advantage when you go for 2 after they go for 1. You should make decisions to give your own team the advantage. Two-point-conversions are only successful about 40% of the time, and Georgia Tech had at worst a 50% chance of winning in overtime (or arguably higher given how easily the Yellow Jackets scored the last touchdown). The only good reason to go for two there is if you believe that Tennessee was somehow in the process of gaining more than a 3:2 advantage going forward. The commentators mentioned how they would have had to go for 2 in the next overtime anyway, but so did Tennessee. So in that case, it wouldn’t have been an automatic disadvantage.