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Week 14 Top 25

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 26, 2017 at 3:23 PM

I’ve updated the Texas A&M edition of the LSU Rivalry Series.

Pour one out for Bret Bielema at Arkansas. Despite the opinion of some folks in Madison, he seems like a good man. He’s handled everything with class, which is more than you can say for a couple (or maybe a few) of his predecessors.

I don’t have a problem with the way they let him go though. They made the decision, nothing leaked, they met with him and told him the situation, and then he got to meet with the players and say his peace to the beat writers and so forth. A lot of coaches don’t get those opportunities. I also understand not just letting an 8-loss season go when they hoped to make progress.

Bret Bielema speaks to the media following the loss to Missouri and his subsequent firing. After improving from 0-8 in conference in 2013 to 5-3 in 2015, Arkansas has gone only 4-12 since then.

In other news, I read reports that Dan Mullen will take the job at Florida, so all that would do is keep the SEC openings the same.

It’s more borderline at Texas A&M than it is at Arkansas, but apparently Sumlin thought they could still have a Big XII offense and defense. Of course they CAN if they want to keep winning 7 or 8 games, but that’s not the kind of success they want. I don’t know what they’re getting out of DC John Chavis for $1.6 million, but I can see the administration thinking the money paid toward coaches can be better allotted. Of course as a fan of a team who plays them in late November every year, the status quo is fine with me.

Top 25 comments

Speaking of Texas A&M, beating a 7-win team did help out LSU as I thought it would. The Tigers only go up to 19th, but that’s much better than this time last year. It’s also better than the computer composite. I do think it makes sense for them to be slightly higher in the polls given how well the last 7 games went as compared to the previous 5. My ratings aren’t weighted toward the end of the year, but subjective rankings usually are. This is the first season since 2012 in which LSU has won 6 games in conference.

I do have Auburn in the top 5 now, but what’s annoying is they keep getting credit for winning games before they play them. I don’t know what the CFP rankings will tell us, but I suspect Auburn will be treated like a 2-loss SEC champions instead of a 2-loss team who has to beat Georgia for the second time in a month (this time in Atlanta) to get there. I know they just beat Alabama, but the Tide had shown some vulnerability against LSU and Mississippi St. and played worse against Auburn than in those games. Two losses are still worse than one loss with similar schedules last I checked.

Some might question Georgia being #3, but they played 2 of the top 4 teams from the SEC West and also played Notre Dame and Georgia Tech out of conference.

Best two teams Alabama played out of conference: 5-6 Florida St. and Fresno St. The latter FSU has a good record, but so does Troy and do we ever hear the end of that? No. Anyway, right between Auburn and Georgia is exactly where Alabama belongs. I expect they won’t be far behind the SEC champions regardless. Also, Alabama played two SEC East with 15 losses between them, so playing in the West wasn’t enough of a help in light of that. If the favorites all win, Alabama will be left out since they won’t be adding any points next week (except possibly for improved ratings of prior opponents).

Although Alabama has not lost to LSU since 2011, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn is 2-2 against Alabama and only 1-3 against LSU.

Clemson deserves to be #2 for beating Auburn and going 11-1 overall. Like Georgia, they also played the SEC West champions. They also played the second-best team in the SEC East.

Wisconsin hadn’t played arguably the two best teams on their schedule a few weeks ago when I had them ranked low, but going undefeated even when you play in the Big Ten West deserves the #1 spot. They also beat what turned out to be a pretty decent Florida Atlantic team. Not that the committee assigns much value to such teams, but that’s another conversation.

I think it’s common sense that Central Florida would be below several teams with losses, and for similar reasons it makes sense that Oklahoma is below Auburn.

Both Auburn losses were to currently top-20 teams; I have the team that beat Oklahoma 40th. The two losses by Auburn are worse than the one loss by Oklahoma until you look at the wins. Auburn beat two teams in my top 5, and Oklahoma didn’t beat any in my top 10 (the second-best win, TCU, is only 17th). That was enough to overcome the difference, but just barely. Since each team has a rematch though, Auburn has more points to gain next week.

I guess one other thing worth explaining is Notre Dame being ahead of U. Miami. The Hurricanes are short a playing week due to an actual hurricane, which they’ll make up in a way next week since Notre Dame’s season is done. U. Miami would be three spots ahead of Notre Dame if they had beaten an average opponent during their extra bye week. The point is they’d be comfortably ahead by winning the ACC. If they lose, Notre Dame will be ahead by virtue of having the same number of FBS wins and a better strength of schedule.

rank/team/prev.
1 Wisconsin 2
2 Clemson 5
3 Georgia 3
4 Alabama 1
5 Auburn 11
6 Oklahoma 8
7 C. Florida 9
8 Notre Dame 4
9 U. Miami 6
10 Penn St. 10
11 Ohio St. 12
12 USC 7
13 Stanford 18
14 Washington 19
15 Mich. St. 13
16 Memphis 15
17 TCU 16
18 Wash. St. 14
19 LSU –
20 Boise St. 17
21 Northwestern 21
22 San Diego St. –
23 Toledo –
24 Virginia Tech –
25 Fla. Atlantic 23

Out of top 25: (20) Miss. St., (22) S. Carolina, (24) Michigan, (25) Okla. St.

All 130 teams

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SEC Bowl Scenarios

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU on November 22, 2017 at 5:00 PM

Unfortunately, it looks like there may only be 9 SEC bowl teams this year. It’s important to remember that’s not really a gauge of conference strength when all you have to do is rearrange outcomes of games to make all the SEC teams eligible. Or at least this conceivably could have happened before Ole Miss voluntarily banned itself.

If Mississippi St. and LSU were weaker, they may have lost last week and given Arkansas and Tennessee chances to make bowls this weekend. Florida and Vanderbilt haven’t been strong lately, but if they had dropped one fewer game earlier in the year (Florida lost consecutive games by a total of 3 points to LSU and Texas A&M, for instance), they would each be playing for their sixth win as well.

Speaking of LSU and Texas A&M, I wonder if teams entering the game with 15 wins between them have ever played on the SEC Network. Not that I’m complaining. LSU deserved a night game even if it were one of the old tape-delayed Jefferson Pilot broadcasts.

Christian Kirk and Texas A&M look to beat LSU for the first time since 1995 and end the Tigers’ 6-game winning streak in the series.

Anyway, I wanted to go over a couple of LSU bowl scenarios. I’ve seen both of the Michigan schools mentioned in either the Outback or Citrus Bowls. The Citrus may avoid picking the Tigers for a second consecutive year though. LSU hasn’t played Michigan St. since Nick Saban… was the Spartans’ head coach. The Tigers have never played Michigan. If they do, I hope Michigan grad Les Miles gets a good seat. I wonder if they’d rather be paying his salary than Harbaugh’s.

Les Miles (r) with Dick Enberg (l) and Dan Dierdorf during a trip to Michigan last year.

The Tigers have an outside chance at one of the big six bowls. If Mississippi St. and Auburn lose, it could put LSU third in the conference by head-to-head logic (Both would be ahead of the Bulldogs by record). There is almost definitely room for three SEC teams in the big six bowls (including one in the semifinal). If there is a fourth (maybe if Georgia wins the SEC and there isn’t a good alternative to Alabama), it could definitely be LSU with a win.

It’s too hot where I live, but maybe LSU fans can toast with some hot toddies after Thanksgiving dinner just in case. We don’t have to cheer for Alabama on Saturday; we can just cheer for Auburn to lose.

Hot toddy – lemon, honey, whiskey, and hot water. Cinnamon optional.

If LSU loses, not even the Outback may want them. The Outback doesn’t have an official special status after the Citrus Bowl, but it seems like the one taken most seriously since it’s typically on New Year’s Day.

The other candidates would be the Texas Bowl, the Belk Bowl, the Music City Bowl, the Tax Slayer (Gator) Bowl, and the Liberty Bowl. Strictly geographically, it would seem A&M to the Texas Bowl, Missouri to the Liberty, Kentucky to the Music City, and South Carolina to the Belk. That would leave the Gator.

LSU went to the Citrus last year, the Texas Bowl in 2015, the Music City Bowl in 2014, and the Outback in 2013. The Tigers last went to the Gator Bowl in 1987 and the Liberty Bowl in 1985. LSU has never been to the Belk Bowl (formerly the Continental Tire and the Meineke Car Care Bowl, respectively), which has only existed since 2002 and has only had an SEC team since 2014. It seems too far North and East (in Charlotte) to be a good match in any year though.

Anthony Jennings ultimately did not work out at LSU, but he stepped up at the end of the 2013 season to beat Arkansas in relief and then lead the Tigers to a win over Iowa in the Outback Bowl.

Texas A&M went to the Texas Bowl last year, but that bowl probably won’t have a desirable alternative unless LSU or Mississippi St. loses. Kentucky, Missouri, and South Carolina haven’t been anywhere recently that would conflict with the geographical logic above. Kentucky hasn’t been to many bowls of late (they went to the Gator last year though), and Missouri and South Carolina went from good bowls to no bowls or third-tier bowls (meaning below Belk, Gator, Liberty, Music City, and Texas).
If there are three or more teams in the big six bowls, at least one of the second-tier bowls won’t have a team unless Florida gets in at 5-6.

Week 13 Top 25

In College Football, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 19, 2017 at 6:00 PM

I’ve updated the LSU-Tennessee Rivalry Blog. It’s interesting how LSU has dominated the series recently after it went the other way for 75 years.

LSU Tennessee

Weather helped the Tigers stop the Vols on the opening drive of the second half in LSU’s third consecutive win in Knoxville.

The Tigers have historically had a more spirited rivalry with Texas A&M, but the Aggies are looking for their first win over the Tigers since winning five in a row from 1991 to 1995.

By way of transition, LSU fans should keep in mind as the season winds down that next year the Tigers face both U. Miami and Georgia. Mark Richt’s footprints will be all over the place.

Speaking of Georgia, a couple of weeks ago I decided to wait another week before making Georgia #1, and that turned out to be the right move.

I’m going to do the same with Wisconsin this week but mostly because Wisconsin has a relatively weak opponent (Minnesota) next week and Alabama has a relatively strong one in Auburn.

Wisconsin’s A.J. Taylor catches what would be the winning touchdown pass against Michigan. The win should put the Badgers in serious contention for a playoff spot pending their date with the Buckeyes.

If Wisconsin had a clearer lead, I might feel differently, but when you look at points per playing week, the Badgers aren’t atop that list.

They’re only slightly behind U. Miami and only slightly ahead of Alabama. Wisconsin also has only the #70 best schedule right now (U. Miami is #33 [but with one fewer win to take credit for], and Alabama is #62), so I feel like this week’s ratings may be a statistical fluke. I would either like the numbers or the results on the field to clarify things a little better. It’s not only reluctance to make a change; I want to make sure I change to the more deserving team if and when I do.

As with my decision regarding Georgia, this is just a one-week deferment of a possible change at #1. The rest of the top 25 is in the computer order.

Clemson took a bit of a hit by playing the Citadel, but like Alabama, they can expect to recover a lot of the lost ground with another win on Saturday.

Central Florida has slipped four spots in the last two weeks, but they will be looking to recover some of the ground by beating South Florida.
USC may seem too high right now, but with the bye next week, others will be able to pass them up.

That basically covers the top 10. Auburn and Ohio St. are both outside of the top 10, but with two wins by either, they could put themselves right back into the playoff conversation.

Northwestern earned their way back in, and Florida Atlantic joins the top 25 for the first time. Lane Kiffin has worked fast. Perhaps coaching a smaller school suits him better than coaching a major-college or NFL team, but I doubt he’ll give up those goals. At any rate, the Owls are the 89th team I’ve ranked since I started this listing over 20 years ago now. It was originally completely subjective, but I’ve introduced subjective standards to varying degrees since 2004.

Kalib Woods of Florida Atlantic catches a fourth-quarter touchdown against FIU. This has become an important CUSA rivalry after the two programs were largely irrelevant in their first several I-A/FBS years.

I said LSU might make it into the top 25 with some losses, but those didn’t happen. Florida Atlantic passed up LSU, but only two teams ahead of LSU (Iowa and North Carolina St.) had bad enough losses to fall behind the Tigers. Michigan’s loss to Wisconsin didn’t hurt them enough, and Oklahoma St. was too far ahead for Kansas St. to drop them below LSU. The Tigers should easily pass up the Cowboys if both win this weekend though. If as expected Michigan loses to Ohio St., LSU would pass up the Wolverines with a win as well.

rank/team/prev.
1 Alabama 1
2 Wisconsin 3
3 Georgia 6
4 Notre Dame 5
5 Clemson 2
6 U. Miami 4
7 USC 9
8 Oklahoma 7
9 C. Florida 8
10 Penn St. 10
11 Auburn 12
12 Ohio St. 11
13 Mich. St. 14
14 Wash. St. 13
15 Memphis 18
16 TCU 16
17 Boise St. 15
18 Stanford 22
19 Washington 21
20 Miss. St. 24
21 Northwestern –
22 S. Carolina 23
23 Fla. Atlantic –
24 Michigan 19
25 Okla. St. 17

Out of top 25: (20) Iowa, (25) San Diego St.

See Full 128-team List.

Comprehensive SEC Update

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, Post-game, Preview, SEC Wednesdays on November 15, 2017 at 7:28 PM

This is going to be long, because parts of this I meant to post midweek last week, and I forgot. I’ll make subheadings so it’s not a long ramble.

CFP Top 25

I think it’s ridiculous that a two-loss team without an especially great schedule is in the top 6 right now, but I think the committee sent a clear message that Auburn isn’t going to spoil the SEC’s chances by winning. I don’t have a problem with that. I just won’t think Auburn deserves to be in the top 6 unless they beat Alabama (if then). Then, if they beat Georgia again, I probably won’t mind them being in the top 4.

I want to explain why I think this is silly now. If Auburn goes ahead of Georgia despite having one more loss, why doesn’t LSU go ahead of Auburn despite having one more loss? I don’t know why Auburn always gets special rules. You could say LSU lost to Troy; but Troy is 8-2, so to remedy that objection, it should be Troy, LSU, Auburn, Georgia, Notre Dame, right? We don’t pay attention to other games, just how you did in your best game. Tell me that’s not the logic.

Going Bowling

Eight SEC teams are bowl-eligible: Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi St., LSU, and Texas A&M.

Christian Kirk and Texas A&M had no problem with New Mexico and in beating the Lobos became the 8th bowl-eligible SEC team.

Other than Ole Miss, which declared itself ineligible before the season, all other SEC teams have possible routes to bowl games.

Florida will finish with a losing record, which would make them ineligible for a bowl game in most cases. However, it’s possible that a 5-6 Florida team (given the canceled game due to the hurricane) would be allowed to play in a bowl over 5-7 teams if not enough teams are available to fill the bowl slots though. Mississippi St. made a bowl last year despite finishing with a losing record, for instance.

Of the teams which have not guaranteed eligibility, Missouri seems the best-situated, needing only one win. The Tigers play two of the worst teams, Vanderbilt and Arkansas, albeit on the road.

Arkansas would need to beat both Mississippi St. and Missouri, but the upside is both games will be at home. Despite being blown out by Missouri on Saturday, Tennessee is still alive and like Arkansas has its final two contests at home (LSU and Vanderbilt), needing wins in both.

Vanderbilt would also need two wins, one at home and one on the road.

The worst-case scenario for the SEC is as follows: Florida loses one of its two remaining games, Missouri loses both of its remaining games, Mississippi St. beats Arkansas, LSU beats Tennessee, and Tennessee beats Vanderbilt. The best case is: Florida wins twice, Arkansas wins twice, Tennessee wins twice, and Missouri beats Vanderbilt. The first scenario would mean only 8 bowl teams; the second scenario would mean at least 11 and possibly 12 bowl teams.

As I mentioned, Ole Miss will not be in a bowl game; but the Rebels could still finish at least 6-6 (which would have meant bowl-eligibility) by beating either Texas A&M or Mississippi St. At least the Rebels have no ability to stop another SEC team from becoming eligible.

Betting Tips

I went 3-1-1 with my betting recommendations over the previous weekend. So for the year my record is 7-2-1. When I try to give picks every week, I don’t do as well though. Iowa actually beat the spread by 48 1/2. You should get paid double for that. I don’t have any strong opinions this week, but I may for the rivalry week.

LSU-Alabama aftermath

I wanted to mention that I was touched by this tweet and the responses after the Alabama game. I feel bad for any of those young men who feel like they failed because the result wasn’t what they wanted. They failed to win, but the final score doesn’t always reflect the way you play. Any fan of this team should be proud of how we played Alabama or they’re not really a fan.

I don’t mean to dwell on Alabama, but like I said I thought this was worth saying last week and never got around to posting it. I think I would be remiss to omit it just because I was forgetful.

To quote Coach O, “We comin’, and we ain’t backing down.”

LSU-Arkansas Recap

I’ve updated the LSU-Arkansas Rivalry Blog

LSU did not play well in the first half against Arkansas, but I felt like we got on track fairly early in the second half. I found out afterward that Danny Etling was not at full strength and had some trouble warming up fully. This may have contributed to errant throws. I’m hoping this was just due to the fall chill setting in and the game being early. Don’t be surprised if the fans who want Myles Brennan to take over quarterback duties get their wish at some point in the regular season though.

After being absent since the Troy game, Myles Brennan saw some meaningful action toward the end of the Alabama game.

I’m very relieved that we have a coaching staff that makes necessary halftime adjustments and I believe does so better than the vast majority of coaching staffs in the country.

The problems weren’t all due to Etling of course. I know some players tried to get used to getting up early, but there is a difference between getting up early and having your usual energy when you’re accustomed to getting up.

The defense started pretty well, although it seemed like it got a bit lethargic on the Arkansas touchdown drive at the end of the half. If the offense had done its job during the half, that drive would not have happened though. Arkansas has not been shut out this season, so the fact that the Hogs would have been held to 3 points with some more first-half offensive efficiency bodes well for the remaining games. The only other teams to keep Arkansas below 20 points were Alabama (9) and TCU (7).

LSU-Tennessee Game Preview

The only way I can envision Tennessee winning is if the LSU offense is as bad as it was in the first half against Arkansas for the entire game. I struggle to imagine LSU scoring in the 30s again and losing. If LSU has incompletions and turnovers all game without any deep balls or long runs to compensate, they can lose to any SEC team under those circumstances.

I was not impressed with interim head coach Brady Hoke’s tenure at Michigan, but I can’t imagine that the team will not be improved from last week’s 50-17 loss to Missouri.

Tennessee went down hard at Missouri on Saturday, leaving the administration no choice but to move on from Butch Jones.

After scoring 42 points apiece in their first two games (Georgia Tech, which went to overtime, and Indiana St.), the Volunteers have scored 20 points or fewer six times this season, including in their home win over Massachusetts (the only win among them). The Vols scored 24 in their home win over Southern Mississippi and 26 in their loss at Kentucky.

As of right now, Tennessee has lost its most-recent game against every other member of the SEC. I’m pretty sure outgoing head coach Butch Jones is the first head coach to ever have lost his most-recent game against all 14 SEC teams at the same time (he also lost to the Vols as head coach of Cincinnati).

LSU-Tennessee Series

Nick Saban went 2-1 against Tennessee as LSU head coach, although in 2001 he lost his only contest in Knoxville as coach of the Tigers. Before Saban, the Tigers had only beaten the Vols 3 times in all locations.

Before Les Miles came to LSU, the Tigers had only won a single time in Knoxville in their history (1988). Miles won his two games there in 2006 and 2011, respectively. After losing his first SEC game at LSU to Tennessee in Baton Rouge, Miles beat the Vols in the four contests since including in the “Have a Great Day” SEC Championship game in 2007 and in the 16-14 win on the untimed down in Baton Rouge in 2010.

So although Tennessee leads the all-time series 20-9-3, LSU is 6-2 since 2000.

See more in the LSU-Tennessee Rivalry Blog

Coaching Hot Seats

Scott Rabalais of the Advocate did a run-down of all the SEC head coaching positions, so I thought I’d chime in.
I wanted to mention that Kentucky’s Mark Stoops is now the most-tenured coach in the SEC East. When he was told this information, he responded, “That’s scary.” In all seriousness though, Stoops could probably coach there for as long as he wants if he can maintain the Wildcats’ winning percentage of late. As hot seats go, his isn’t much warmer than Saban’s.

Obviously two coaches in the East have been fired in the last couple of weeks now. I don’t think either interim coach will stay. Derrick Mason may survive just because he’s at Vanderbilt, but I don’t know if his job is secure.

I certainly think Muschamp and Smart are safe, as both have had more success than expected this season. After a rough start (5-13 overall, 2-10 in conference), Barry Odom has won four in a row at Missouri; and none have been decided by fewer than four touchdowns. I’m almost certain he’ll survive to see season three.

In the West, Ole Miss will probably be looking for a new coach, although interim coach Matt Luke has done an admirable job under the circumstances. I know he wants that Arkansas game back though.

Speaking of which, Bret Bielema seems to have been given a long leash at Arkansas, but at a certain point you have to make progress. Even if the Hogs win out, the best they can do is tie last year’s final record of 7-6. To be fair, Arkansas is improved from his first season in 2013 in which they went 3-9 and failed to win an SEC game. Kevin Sumlin is in a similar situation at Texas A&M. They’re not bad, but they’re not really making progress either.

Saban and Mullen are fine of course, and can probably stay as long as they’d like. Mullen, incidentally was mentioned as a candidate at Tennessee, but I’m not sure why he’d take that job. Both Orgeron and Malzahn took some heat after their respective second losses this season (LSU to Troy and Auburn to LSU), but both sets of Tiger fans seem to have settled down for now.

Week 12 Top 25

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary, Rivalry on November 12, 2017 at 3:30 PM

First of all, I wanted to mention I’ve updated the LSU-Arkansas rivalry blog. The Tigers brought the Golden Boot home from Fayetteville last year after leaving it there in 2014, so I was pleased that it will be staying in Louisiana until it makes the trip (round trip, I hope) North next season. It is also good to have two decisive wins in a row over the Hogs since either losing or playing a one-possession game against them every year but one (2011) in the Les Miles era.

LSU players with the Golden Boot after the game on Saturday

Moving onto the rankings, the point of posting this blog…

I made the right call to make Georgia prove themselves one more week before becoming #1, and my meddling will stop now. From now on this season, this list will be the exact order my computer formula gives me. Alabama has shown some vulnerabilities in the last couple of weeks though, so I wouldn’t count Georgia out yet. Contrast Saturday with Bulldogs’ win against Mississippi St.

I know some people are going to be confused that two-loss Notre Dame is ahead of a one-loss Georgia team they beat. Losing to undefeated Miami doesn’t hurt as much as losing to two-loss Auburn, for one thing.

Keep in mind that if Georgia runs the table, they’ll have three wins including one over Alabama, so there is no way they wouldn’t be ahead of Notre Dame (who only has two remaining opponents) after that. If Georgia loses again, then this is a moot point.

But Georgia plays in the SEC! This is true, and this is why they have a top-20 schedule so far. They play in the SEC East though, and they haven’t played one of the best SEC East teams (Kentucky) yet. Also, they avoided LSU and of course Alabama in the regular season by playing in the East. Other than Notre Dame, the Bulldogs’ non-conference wins are over Samford and Appalachian St. The value of their win over Mississippi St. went down slightly after the maroon Bulldogs lost to Alabama.

Alabama players wrap up Mississippi St. quarterback Nick Fitzgerald in Starkville on Saturday.

Notre Dame happened to piece together one of the best schedules this season. They’ve played two of the best ACC teams (U. Miami and North Carolina St.), they’ve played possibly the best Pac-12 team (USC), and they’ve played one of the Big Ten leaders going into the week (Michigan St.). The Irish have had much better schedules since contracting with the ACC for four games per year (the other two were Boston College and Wake Forest). The SEC East just doesn’t quite stack up to that even with two good cross-division opponents. The Irish have a few weaker opponents like Temple and North Carolina, but that doesn’t cancel out all the quality wins.

It’s also worth noting that Miami, Notre Dame, Georgia, and Oklahoma are extremely close to one another. If Oklahoma were playing a good team instead of Kansas, they could easily move up to #4 next week even if there were no upsets. The other three teams could be in any order depending on results in other games.

As I anticipated, Central Florida fell a few spots after a relatively weak win over Connecticut. The Knights won’t get many points if they beat Temple next week either.

LSU went up a few spots as other teams fell but obviously did not make the top 25. If the same number of teams in the 20-30 range lose next week and LSU takes care of Tennessee, the Tigers can expect to move into the top 25 then. A win over Texas A&M would be a good bit better than Tennessee or Arkansas, possibly counting for about as much as those two wins combined.

There was not a lot of movement toward the bottom of the top 25, which frustrated LSU and some other teams right below the top 25. Mississippi St. lost, but losing to Alabama didn’t hurt enough to knock them out of the top 25. San Diego St. remained in the top 25 despite a bye week. Washington and Iowa were high enough going into the week that they didn’t fall out.

rank/team/prev.

1 Alabama 1
2 Clemson 3
3 Wisconsin 6
4 U. Miami 7
5 Notre Dame 4
6 Georgia 2
7 Oklahoma 11
8 C. Florida 5
9 USC 8
10 Penn St. 9
11 Ohio St. 13
12 Auburn 22
13 Wash. St. 14
14 Mich. St. 10
15 Boise St. 18
16 TCU 12
17 Okla. St. 25
18 Memphis 17
19 Michigan 21
20 Iowa 16
21 Washington 15
22 Stanford –
23 S. Carolina 24
24 Miss. St. 20
25 San Diego St. 19

Out of top 25: (23) Toledo

Week 11 Top 25

In College Football, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 5, 2017 at 2:25 PM

This is usually the week where I go completely hands-off with my rankings list including #1 here. Since it’s close and Georgia and Alabama are #1 and #2 in my formula and by consensus, I’m going to give Alabama one more week at #1. It has nothing to do with the SEC West vs. the SEC East; and it certainly has nothing to do with South Carolina, whom I consider underrated.

Georgia’s freshman quarterback Jake Fromm after the Bulldogs clinched their third SEC East title in 10 seasons.

I just want to see more from Georgia before giving them that designation. I want to see how they respond to playing a second tough opponent in a row (I don’t think the way Florida played against them qualified), and I want to see how they respond to their second road game against a ranked opponent (the first since a one-point win over Notre Dame in Week 2).

For more about LSU-Alabama, see here.

I can hear the gripes already about Wisconsin, but Central Florida’s wins over Memphis and SMU are better than most of the Badgers’ wins right now. The best teams of the AAC are better than the Big Ten West minus Wisconsin (you don’t get any credit for scrimmaging yourself) and Iowa. I didn’t specify AAC East because unlike Wisconsin, Central Florida has played three of the four best teams from the other division in their conference. Wisconsin has played NONE of the top five teams in the Big Ten East standings. The two teams have played comparable non-conference games as well.

Wisconsin will of course play Iowa, not to mention Michigan, one of the competitors in the Big Ten East; but you don’t get credit for future games. The Badgers also play Minnesota, a potentially bowl-eligible team in their division. Central Florida has two middling divisional opponents (Connecticut and Temple) before the finale against South Florida, which is expected to decide the AAC East. Also, I would anticipate that Wisconsin would gain more points in championship week, probably a lot more.

The winner of Notre Dame and U. Miami will probably be a big player after this week as well.

I don’t normally look at how far teams go up and down in terms of spots since it’s really about points; but if you notice more movement, there were 12 losses and a bye week between numbers 17 and 37, so this allowed some teams go up significantly. Auburn gained 12 spots, for instance. If they beat Georgia and Alabama and win the SEC Championship, they can make a few more leaps. I don’t think they will, but the opportunities are there.

Auburn Wide Receiver Eli Stove stretches for a touchdown in College Station on Saturday.

In related moves, Michigan went 6 spots by beating Minnesota, Iowa went up 8 spots by beating Ohio St., and Toledo went up 8 spots by beating Northern Illinois.
LSU only fell 3 spots after losing to Alabama, and that’s despite that Florida win dropping in value every week. I still think LSU should have been ranked ahead of Auburn going into the week; but for now, Auburn goes ahead obviously. The only other teams to pass up LSU were Boston College, Toledo, and Northwestern. LSU passed up Arizona by having the “better loss”. LSU doesn’t have huge potential for points in any one game left on the schedule; but with wins, the Tigers can gain moderate credit each week and make it back into the top 25 that way. Unlike most other SEC teams, LSU does not have a non-conference opponent left on the schedule.

Mississippi St. doesn’t seem like they should be ahead of Auburn, but losses to Georgia and Auburn are better than losses to Clemson and LSU right now. Also, the Bulldogs’ wins over Louisiana Tech and Kentucky count for more than Auburn’s wins over Georgia Southern and Missouri. The gap between the two is only 0.015, which for reference is about 1/2 of the gap between Alabama and Georgia. Next week will be interesting as Auburn plays Georgia and Alabama plays Mississippi St.
I don’t see anything else that really needs explanation, but I’m always interested in any objections in the comments.

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

Out of top 25: (20) Iowa St., (23) Virginia Tech, (25) Stanford

LSU-Alabama Recap and Reaction 2017

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game on November 4, 2017 at 8:35 PM

(Pictures from this game will be added tomorrow, I just wanted to get this out quickly since it’s so late. I also updated the LSU-Alabama rivalry blog)

Although LSU played much better this year, they ultimately weren’t able to stop Jalen Hurts again.

I didn’t pick LSU to win, but I’m still annoyed that it wasn’t closer. The offense and defense were working well enough that LSU could have been up a score or two instead of down 14-0 in the beginning.

LSU should have stopped Alabama twice on the first touchdown drive. Alabama got away with a hold/tackle on a third-and-long play, and then LSU should have had a sack on second and 6 to force another third-and-long. In the latter play, two defenders routed Jalen Hurts from the backfield; but they both went to his right, so he rolled left for the first down instead of a big loss.

The interception, which set up the second touchdown, was a 50/50 ball. Usually the first guy to get to the ground gets awarded possession, but not with an SEC crew in Tuscaloosa I guess. The Alabama player did get there first and win the tug-of-war, to be fair.

Regardless of whether that should have been an interception, Danny Etling’s judgment was not very good. He threw the ball downfield a few times (and not particularly well) when there were other receivers who could have made first downs. These long incompletions stalled drives when LSU was otherwise gaining yards.

DJ Chark tries to catch a pass that was thrown behind him in the first quarter. Notice the defender’s left hand though.

Etling should have thrown it to Guice for a touchdown on third down in the next possession; but instead the ball fell incomplete toward the corner of the end zone, so the Tigers settled for a field goal.

Then after a punt, LSU was pinned back by what I thought was a bogus block-in-the-back call. The block was in the right shoulder pad as the Alabama player turned toward DJ Chark, who fielded the punt and ran to about midfield. Even if it was a bad call though, it was stupid to even touch the guy since he didn’t have a good shot at Chark. Similar blocks by Alabama later in the game were not called.

I would say the referees did better than they usually do in these games, and I don’t think they ultimately affected the outcome. I just think it helps explain the game to mention possible bad breaks from the officiating as well as other bad breaks.

Late in the third quarter on third and 9, Hurts threw a pass that was worse than the one Etling threw; but the difference is it was somehow complete. A couple of LSU players were between Hurts and the ball, and a couple more were in coverage. As Brad Nessler said, the ball “found eyes” to get there anyway. Devin White was a few milliseconds late on either breaking up or intercepting the pass.

Ed Orgeron said during one of his press conferences that the opportunities will be there; but if you miss them, Alabama will take advantage. This is exactly what happened consistently to give the Tide a 21-3 advantage, and Alabama didn’t have to do anything spectacular after that.

With about 12 minutes left, Etling made a good decision in throwing it downfield, but he missed again. This time he underthrew the ball (after earlier overthrowing him on a similar play), and Chark dropped it. Chark was open enough that he should have had it regardless though. Nonetheless, the incompletion helped put LSU into a third and long and another unsuccessful possession. Etling missed another open receiver with about 7 minutes left, causing another third and long and ultimately a fourth down.

Devin White and the LSU defense contained many of the Alabama offensive weapons including Bo Scarborough.

Just like last year though, the defense kept LSU in it. It wasn’t over until the final few minutes. The Tigers forced 6 three-and-outs, and I mentioned another that they should have had. LSU also had 3 other third-down stops. I told my brother we had a good chance if we kept them under 20, and one reason we didn’t was a turnover. When you have more yards on offense than the other team, your offense is good enough; but we needed better quarterback play to win. The blocking was good enough, the routes were good enough, and the game plan was good enough.

Last year Alabama outgained LSU 323-125, Alabama had 16 first downs to 6, and Alabama converted 7 third downs to LSU’s 4 (and one fourth down to none). This year those numbers were 299-306, 14-16, and 5-9. Time of possession doesn’t matter sometimes, but it does when it’s part of your game plan like it is for LSU against Alabama. Last year we had the ball for 26:05, and this year we had it for 34:07. I honestly think this is indicative of superior preparation and coaching.

Saban and Orgeron chat before the game.

It’s of course extremely frustrating that in so many games of this series it could have gone either way. Alabama just got the better of plays, and LSU didn’t. It’s not an annual domination by any stretch of the imagination, although Alabama fans tell me that the only reason it’s ever close is because Nick Saban is a nice guy who wants to keep the LSU coaches from getting fired.

Myles Brennan isn’t there yet; but (assuming he’s the QB) if he makes EITHER the right decisions or the right throws next year all things being equal, we will have an excellent chance to win the game. If he does both, we should win easily. I really like Danny Etling as a person, and I think he worked extremely hard just to become the starter; but I am hoping Brennan gets more playing time going forward than he has gotten so far.

This loss does sting in terms of recruiting, but this is what I would say: (1) you can play in games like this in your first year or two and do a good job (as many of our young players did today), and (2) we’re a player or two from ending this streak and winning our own championships, and you can be that player.

Also this:

Despite last year’s respectable final score, LSU was starting to look like a second-tier football team in these games. That ended today.

Quick Hits & LSU-Bama Series

In College Football, General LSU, History, MLB, Preview, Rivalry on November 2, 2017 at 4:37 PM

Quick Hits

I want to talk about LSU-Alabama of course, but I also wanted to talk about a couple of other things first.

Really briefly, I’ve made previous reference to my dislike for politics seeping into sports. Accordingly, I won’t go into details about any one issue. I feel that since a certain point of view is being pushed by much of the sports media, I should at least recommend someone who says mostly correct things about such topics (this is an interview he gave): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4lqeseEV5_w.

I didn’t get that into this baseball season; but as I mentioned in the last blog, I have enjoyed the World Series. While of course I’m happy for former LSU player Alex Bregman, I’m especially happy for the players I’ve been watching for 10 years or more like Carlos Beltran, Justin Verlander, and Francisco Liriano. As a long-term fan of the Cardinals and Mets, I’m especially happy for Beltran, who may have had his last chance at the age of 40. I thought the Dodgers had a strong advantage going into Game 7, but they make you play the game for a reason.

Carlos Beltran with his teammates after they held a memorial service for his fielding glove. Beltran spent most of his career as an outfielder, but the Astros rarely needed him to take the field defensively this season.

Along those lines, I think there are some college football teams who are not being given as much of a chance as they have in reality. I haven’t been picking lines much this season, although I did go 4-1 in my recommendations in Week 1 or 2. The following underdogs are all ones I’d be tempted to put a little bit of money on: Texas A&M +15 (vs. Auburn), South Carolina +23.5 (@Georgia), Iowa +17.5 (vs. Ohio St.), LSU +21.5 (@Alabama), and Oregon +17.5 (@Washington).

Before I go into details about the LSU-Alabama game, I wanted to wish Nick Saban a happy 66th birthday. I have no reason to believe he won’t be around for a while, but I think such milestones are a cause for reflection. Although I’ll be glad to see him go for some reasons, I think part of me will miss him. I honestly enjoy listening to a lot of his press conferences. He has important perspectives to share when he’s not berating reporters for asking dumb questions, and you can’t complain about a guy raising the bar for his opponents.

Alabama DB Daniel Wright sings “Happy Birthday” to Nick Saban

So I had the occasion to check out Saban’s Wikipedia page and remind myself of a couple of things. I had forgotten that Jim McElwain was his offensive coordinator from 2008 to 2011, which included two national championships. Of course the offensive coordinator for his first national championship (the one at LSU) was another coach now on a bit of a hot seat by the name of Jimbo Fisher.

Other than LSU-Alabama, the biggest SEC game (in my opinion) is South Carolina-Georgia, which will be two former defensive assistants under Saban facing off as head coaches. Georgia’s Kirby Smart obviously was the defensive coordinator at Alabama recently. Will Muschamp was a Saban assistant at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins but has never been an assistant at Alabama.

Alabama often gets LSU’s best shot.

Despite the repeated losses, LSU has typically played better against Alabama than they should have on paper. I mention all of this in my LSU-Alabama series of blogs (this is the main one), but I thought it was worth rehashing a few things.

In 1993, LSU ended Alabama’s 31-game unbeaten streak. As most LSU wins of the past few decades have been, that was on the road. Like this game, that was a betting line of more than 20 points (it was 27 actually). The Tigers were much worse back then though. It had been 5 years since LSU even made a bowl game at that point.

Ivory Hilliard of LSU returns an interception deep into Alabama territory in Tuscaloosa in 1993. LSU would win, 17-13.

LSU would not beat Alabama again until 1997 when the Tide was having a bad year, but 5 of the Tide’s 7 losses that season were by 12 points or less, and 4 of the losses were by one possession. The only ones that were decided by more than 12 points were Tennessee’s 38-21 win (the Vols finished 11-2) and LSU’s 27-0 win (the Tigers finished 9-3). So in short, LSU should have won; but they shouldn’t have won by that much.

The respective fortunes reversed the next season, but despite finishing with a 4-7 record, LSU played the Tide close, only losing by 6. Alabama would lose 4 games to teams who would win 9 games or more apiece on the season and finished 7-5. It was the same margin the following year, in which LSU finished 3-8 and Alabama finished 10-3.

The series ceased to be a really meaningful rivalry until 2005 when Alabama entered the game undefeated and LSU entered the game on a 6-game winning streak after losing the conference opener in a weekday game that had been delayed by Hurricane Rita. The Tigers would win in overtime in another road game.

LSU’s JaMarcus Russell escapes an Alabama defender in Tuscaloosa in 2005.

The Tide kept the game close in Nick Saban’s first season in 2007, but they were ultimately overmatched by an LSU team on the way to a national championship.
Alabama would partially avenge LSU’s 5-game winning streak in the series by winning the next two, but the Tigers still played better than they should have. 2008 was probably LSU’s worst year under Les Miles, and yet they took the Tide to overtime. Alabama won the SEC West that year and probably would have won the national championship had they not lost to Florida in the SEC Championship. In the following year, Alabama beat everyone and LSU would finish 9-4, but the Tide only won by 9. That was despite a crucial LSU interception that was ruled incomplete.

Patrick Peterson grabs an apparent interception in Tuscaloosa in 2009. The pass was ruled incomplete.

Alabama’s 19-game winning streak was ended by South Carolina in 2010, but a number of people still favored the Tide in the SEC Championship race because they would have represented the West had they won out even though Auburn was undefeated at the time. But first they ran into LSU, who had just lost to Auburn the week before. LSU won in an upset, 24-21, in Baton Rouge. Although the SEC West was out of reach, Alabama would still nearly beat Auburn in the Iron Bowl before falling 28-27.

The 2011 regular-season game was as close as a #1 vs. #2 game should be, and I don’t need to recount how much of a disappointment the national championship game was, but since then, LSU has been generally competitive even when they really shouldn’t have been.

Alabama was on the way to another national championship in 2012 and LSU had already registered a 14-6 loss to Florida, but the Tide needed a last-minute touchdown to win by 4. The Tide pulled away late to win by 21 in 2013, but it was a 7-point game going into the last 11 minutes and a tie game going into the last 20 minutes. Alabama was #1, and LSU had already lost twice and was ranked #13.

I’m still angry about the way LSU lost in 2014. The Tigers recovered a late fumble near the Alabama end zone in a tie game. Under normal circumstances, LSU wins, but after some routine mutual pushing and shoving, there was a personal foul called which pushed LSU back and kept crucial seconds on the clock for the next Alabama possession. After the field goal to go up 3, the idea was for LSU to kick a low bouncing ball in the middle of the field. It was the kind of kick the coaches had in mind except for how it bounced out of bounds. Had LSU scored a touchdown, which would have been a strong possibility without the personal foul, Alabama would have nonetheless needed a Hail Mary to win. Anyway, after these turns of events, Alabama was able to kick the tying field goal at the end of regulation before winning in overtime. I was happy when Alabama lost to Ohio St. a couple of months later, but the feeling from that loss still lingers. By the way, that was one of 5 LSU losses that season.

Alabama’s T. J. Yeldon fumbles, while Kendell Beckwith (#52) prepares to recover the ball in Baton Rouge in 2014.

The result in 2015 (Alabama winning 30-16) was consistent with how good the teams were, but I thought last year was much closer than it should have been on paper. Alabama ended up winning by 10, but it was a scoreless game going into the fourth quarter. Alabama was every bit as good as Clemson even though they didn’t win the national championship game at the end, and LSU finished 8-4 last year. So despite the losing streak, more often than not LSU does better than they theoretically should do against Alabama.

I’m not picking LSU to win, but I’d be at least mildly surprised if it’s a 14-point margin or greater. LSU has a better offense than they did at this time last year. The Tigers have a much better playbook, and LSU quarterback Danny Etling is improved. Alabama’s offense is also arguably better, but I think the difference between this year and last year for LSU is larger. Even if Alabama is just as superior as last year, I still don’t think they should win by more than twice as much.