theknightswhosay

Archive for 2018|Yearly archive page

How the NHL Should Handle Divisions and Scheduling

In History, NHL, Realignment on December 8, 2018 at 7:07 PM

I do have various thoughts about the college football bowl games and also about a certain coach I’ve loved to hate for about the last 15 years.  However, since there is a full week before even the uninteresting bowl games start, my mind has wandered to other topics, like hockey.  (By the way, I updated my college football ratings site after the Army/Navy game.)

If you’re not familiar with my work here, college football is what I normally write about.  I watch a variety of sports at least on occasional, but sports like hockey don’t leave enough time between games to ruminate like I like to do, so I usually only write about the big-picture items for those sports.

I’m hoping people who actually somewhat follow hockey will read this, but I’ll try to make sure I cover all the bases (or the five hole or whatever the hockey analogy would be) for those who don’t.

If you haven’t heard, the NHL has recently decided to join the NFL at 32 teams (by expanding to Seattle). I hope the league takes this opportunity to enact some realignment like the NFL did when it went to 32 teams (except without adding divisions).

The logo and color pattern of the Seattle Metropolitans, who won the Stanley Cup in 1917. The logo of the new team has not been determined.

Historical Context

I did previously write about this topic in 2014; but as that was before the expansions to Las Vegas and Seattle, I no longer think that the Red Wings should be put back in the Western Conference.  I have a section below about what I would do if the geographic balance were to change in the future.

I also wrote about the topic in 2011, but (in addition to being before the expansion teams were awarded) that was before the most-recent realignment and the reduction to two divisions (which took place after the 2012 season).  At that time, it would have been necessary to have American teams from outside of the Pacific time zone play in the most-western division if they did go down to four divisions.  Part of that blog also had in mind expansion teams in the Midwest and Eastern Canada, which the NHL obviously chose not to do. 

I still think there may be some merit in splitting North America into four geographic quarters in the future (obviously with the Western ones being much wider); but with exactly half of the teams (once Seattle joins) being in the Eastern time zone, the border between the Eastern and Central time zones makes the most sense as a boundary between the Eastern and Western Conferences.  It also makes sense for continuity because that’s the current boundary.

I also think it’s a good thing that under my current suggestion three of the four divisions will have an “original six” (I’ll talk about what that means later) member.  The exception would be the West Coast/Pacific Division, but there were four teams from the West Coast who won or tied for the Stanley Cup (the 1919 Finals were cut short by the flu epidemic) between 1915 and 1925 (two represented Seattle, one represented Victoria, and one represented Vancouver). 

During that time, the NHL champion played the WCHL or WHL (for West Coast or Western Hockey League), which went out of business in 1926.  Thereafter, the NHL has had exclusive possession of the Stanley Cup.  For obvious logistical reasons, it did not make sense to add West Coast teams to the NHL at that time.  The NHL would not expand to the West Coast (with the Los Angeles Kings and Oakland Seals) until over 40 years later, and Vancouver did not have a team again until 1970.  The new team will be the first NHL team in Seattle, and there has not been one in Victoria.

Current Playoff Format and Western Conference

I’ll start with what makes sense right now.

The first thing I wouldn’t change is the playoff format.  I like that the top three teams in the each division make it onto each side of the playoff bracket, and I think it’s reasonable to have the two wild cards to address any imbalances between the divisions.  The early-round games are more fun when there are natural rivalries involved.

The current alignment in the west is fine except adding Seattle would give the pacific division too many teams, so Arizona makes the most sense to move over. This seems to be the NHL’s intention, but I’ll explain why.

Arizona is admittedly only partially in the Mountain Time Zone (for about 4 months a year since most of the year is now daylight savings, which Arizona does not have; so during daylight savings, Arizona is the same time as Pacific Daylight Time).  

Calgary and Edmonton (both in the province of Alberta) do have daylight savings, but it just makes too much sense to have the three western Canada teams together (with Seattle going forward), in my opinion. The Alberta teams are closer to Vancouver (in British Columbia) and Seattle than they are to Minnesota and Winnipeg (in Manitoba).

Arizona isn’t really driving distance to other teams either way.  Dallas and Colorado are short flights away, so it’s not a huge change in travel, although they will have more.  Playing more eastern teams may be better for Phoenix residents who moved from the Midwest, Texas, or Colorado.  I don’t know how long they’ll stay there since they’ve consistently been one of the worst-performing teams for attendance anyway.  For now, the NHL seems to want to keep them there so these are still things worth considering.

This is the current format. Except for Phoenix (black dot on purple), the NHL teams are represented by purple dots on the map. If you need labels, those are on the map of my suggested alignment below. Arizona is purple because it’s expected that Phoenix will be moving from the westernmost division to the more eastern division of the Western Conference.

Conference Alignment and Possible Changes

I already covered why I would want to keep the teams in their current conferences barring a new round of expansions or a team moving.

I did want to address the possibility of the Coyotes moving east.  If it were not to the East Coast or eastern Canada, they’d be fine where they are. If they (or another Western Conference team) were to move to the East Coast or to eastern Canada, I’d suggest moving Columbus to the Western Conference given relative proximity to Chicago, St. Louis, and Nashville.  Another possibility would be moving Detroit to the Western Conference, where they played until 2012; but I now think separating them from the New York (including Buffalo) and eastern Canada teams makes less sense.

It seems unlikely, but if a team were to move from east to west, the best team to change conferences would be Nashville given relative proximity to Columbus, Carolina,and the Florida teams (Florida [Miami area] and Tampa Bay).

Problems with Current Eastern Conference Alignment

Anyway, the only criticism I have of the current alignment is in the East. The extreme northeastern teams (the three Canadian teams [Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto], Buffalo, and Boston) were added to Detroit and the two Florida teams.  I would prefer that these changes be made before the expansion since expansion won’t affect the Eastern Conference.

Columbus and Detroit

Detroit had previously been in a Western Conference division with Chicago, St. Louis, Columbus, and Nashville.

No one should worry about whether people will attend games in Detroit; it’s more about the interests of the players as far as travel and time.  As mentioned, it’s probably best for them not to be the only Eastern Time Zone team in the Western Conference.

I also think it’s a good idea for the Red Wings to be a representative of the “original six”in the more Southern division in the East. So one shouldn’t be worried about attendance for their home games like I said, but their presence on the schedules may help with attendance of their road games.

I would also note that none of the other major leagues have Detroit in the Eastern seaboard/Northeast division. They’re with Midwestern teams.  In the NFL, Detroit plays Chicago, Green Bay, and Minnesota in the same division.  In the NBA, they play Milwaukee, Indiana, Cleveland, and Chicago.  In the AL, they play Chicago, Cleveland, Kansas City, and Minnesota.

Columbus is kind of a stand-in for Cleveland, and obviously there are rivalries along the Michigan-Ohio border, so I like the idea of Detroit and Columbus being in the same division again.  I don’t think anyone currently in the same division places much priority on Columbus as a rival.  The Pennsylvania teams make some sense geographically, but I would keep them in the same division as Columbus anyway.

I’ll admit it made some sense to put Detroit with Buffalo and Toronto, but I still think on balance this is better.  Detroit also moved from the East (where they played Toronto and New York) to the Central at one point in baseball.

Proposed NHL divisional format. The two-letter combinations in black without punctuation are postal codes. The NHL teams are given three-letter abbreviations or initials mostly in white. Since it was hard to see white on yellow, those franchises are given black letters. There wasn’t room to mark New Jersey or the District of Columbia within the geographical boundaries, so I just put black boxes around those postal codes..

Florida and Tampa Bay

The Florida teams had previously been in a division with Carolina, Washington, and Winnipeg (who moved from Atlanta; about 20 years ago the previous Winnipeg team moved to Phoenix to become the Coyotes)

I think people should worry about Florida and Tampa Bay.  If you’re going to have teams in such places, an effort needs to be made to attract fans (like me) who have not grown up playing or following hockey.  Florida was a bad team for a long time; but the five years before divisional realignment they were no worse than 25th in attendance, and the last three years before realignment they were no worse than 22nd in attendance.  They did have a relatively high number of points (wins x2 + OT/shootout losses) in 2011 (94), but they had two of their worst teams (of the last 10 seasons anyway) in 2010 and 2012.

The year after realignment wasn’t really fair to judge on its own because it was the worst full season of the last 10 years (2012 was only 48 games, but they would have been projected to do worse over a full season), but the troubling thing is attendance has never gone back to 21st and 22nd.  The Panthers were last in the league in attendance in 2014 despite 91 points.  They recovered to 24th in 2015 when they would earn 103 points; but when they did almost as well in 2017 (96 points), they were only 28th in attendance. 

103 is the average number of points Tampa Bay has had since 2012, and their attendance has been in the top 10 consistently.  This is a significant improvement from the average of 80 points (by projecting the shortened season) in the five seasons before, but I think the increase is due to the better performance of the team.  It also helps that there isn’t an NBA team in the immediate area. 

I thought it would be interesting to divide attendance by number of points for the two Florida teams.  This isn’t a perfect measure because attendance will look good during really low number of appoints even if it’s one of the worst attendances in the league and bad during right high number of points even if it’s one of the best attendances in the league.  It’s a good measure for the more medium seasons, and I think five years on each side is a good sample.

Florida is represented by a thick yellow line with lighter blue dots over a field of red.  Tampa Bay is represented by a darker blue line.  In the two years in which Florida had a noticeably better ratio, I added black dots and a thin blue line to connect with the rest of Tampa Bay’s numbers. 

See the text above for the explanation.

You can see that they both peaked the year before realignment.  

Since it wasn’t a good year in points for either team, I’m not focusing on that one year though.  Two of the four other years on the left side of the graph for Tampa Bay are better than all five full seasons since realignment. 

Despite being a lot better the last four years, Florida’s worst three results on this graph are all in the last four years.

2016 was a little bit better for the Panthers’ ratio, but that’s probably because of the previous season.  They likely sold more season tickets (and early single-game tickets) in the wake of the 103-point season, so despite dropping 22 points there was not a corresponding decrease in attendance that large.

Tampa Bay is selling out its games, and I’m sure that would continue regardless of alignment if they keep winning at this rate (absent some drastic economic decline).  I still think it’s doubtful that if they return to the 80-point-per-year average that things would look like the left side of the graph again with the current alignment.

The Lightening’s 113 points last year is the only reason the Panthers’ dismal showing last season doesn’t look worse on here.  There wasn’t room for Tampa to add more fans to compensate for the increase in points.

So you can compare oranges to oranges (because Florida), I would note that 2008 and 2011 were about the same number of points for the Panthers as 2014 and 2017.  You can see the difference.

2010 was the only good year for the Lightening on the left side of the graph (and there are no bad years on the right side), so it’s harder to make a good comparison.  2014 and 2010 were similar in points, but I would say the reason 2014 was a slightly higher ratio was because it followed a four-year average of 89 points with 101 points the prior year while 2010 followed a four-year average of 78 points with 80 points the prior year.  I certainly don’t think it’s because fans were more excited to see Buffalo and Ottawa than they had been to see Carolina and Washington.  The 2010 season was kind of a turning point for Lightening fandom.  Even though the team wasn’t good the next couple of seasons, the successful 2013 season was just in time to keep fans from losing interest.

Anyway, I think it’s fairly clear that if you want to keep both Florida fan groups interested even in the relatively lean years, it would be better to have more games against teams that are closer geographically.

Other Teams

I already mentioned the Pennsylvania teams.  I think it’s important that they continue to play each other in the same division even though I don’t think the Flyers would be necessarily thrilled about the move since for obvious reasons Philadelphia teams generally play with teams like New York in other leagues.  In other leagues they don’t try to have a Pittsburgh team play a Philadelphia team (since Pittsburgh is more of a Midwestern city) divisionally, but I think it’s good that the NHL does.  Philadelphia is in the same division as the Washington teams in other leagues though, so that makes sense here.

Philadelphia/New Jersey was a particularly good series, but I think getting northern New Jersey interested is more important than southern New Jersey.  So the Devils would be in a division with the three teams from the state of New York instead.

Having a New York team play Boston is a no-brainer in other leagues, so why not hockey? 

The other two North Carolina teams (the Carolina Panthers and the Charlotte Hornets) play opponents in Florida in their division, so again, why not in hockey?  New Orleans and Atlanta don’t have NHL teams,so the North Carolina-Tampa Bay connection is the only thing that can transfer over from the NFL.

Scheduling Format

Whether it realigns or not, the additional team will mean a tweak to the scheduling format.

Even though I’m only more than a casual hockey fan, I’m a longstanding fan of enough sports to have some strong opinions about matters such as rivalry and scheduling. 

I also like to look at maps and numbers.  I’m more of a nerdy sports fan than one who drinks a lot during games and pounds on tables if you didn’t know or couldn’t guess…not that I’m above showing emotion.

One thing I agree with about the way the NFL schedules is every team has the same number of divisional games (6).  Even before expansion, every team played its divisional rivals exactly twice each.

I also agree with the NFL’s uniform rules about how many inter-conference games are played (4), and every team within a division plays the same opponents.  

With 82 games,the NHL has the luxury of having at least one home and home with every other team. It’s just a matter of how many (if any) more than that you have with teams in your conference and/or division.

Some prefer to have a divisional super rival, one you might play 5 or 6 times instead of 4, but I think there is more concern with playing other teams too few times than with not playing a divisional rival enough. It also should be a reasonably level playing field within the division since most playoff seedings are based on where you finish in your division.

For that reason, I think the easiest and best solution is to add two games. 82 games started in the 1995 season, when there were only 26 teams. I don’t think with six extra teams added in the 24 years since (by the start of next season) that adding two games is unreasonable.

If it stays at 82, that’s 32 games against the other division (each with the minimum of 2 games).

If they follow my suggestion and also have the uniform 4 games against each divisional rival,that would mean two of the eight teams in the other intra-conference division could only be played twice instead of 3 times.

They could just have a rotation regardless of proximity, success, or any other measure.  That’s basically what they do now, but that’s boring.

Another option is (also following the NFL principles) to punish success, but it would be relatively very minor: eliminating 2 games out of what would be 84 versus 6 games of 16 that change completely based on the prior year in the NFL (at least that’s how many games change if you finish in the top two versus the bottom two in your division).

If you don’t follow, the NFL has 6 intra-conference cross-divisional games. Those 6 are dependent on where you place the season before.  If you’re in the top 2 of your division, you’d play the top 2 of the other three divisions in your conference.  If you’re in the bottom 2, you’d play the bottom 2 of the other three divisions in your conference.

So applying this to the NHL would mean 1 and 2 wouldn’t play 7 and 8 an extra time, and 3 and 4 wouldn’t play 5 and 6 an extra time.

I think an even better solution would be proximity.  So even though Arizona still goes to another division, they can still play everyone in the pacific division 3 times except for Edmonton and Calgary.  Put Nashville in that boat too.  Dallas and Colorado can skip playing Vancouver and Seattle the extra time.  Anaheim and L.A. can skip Minnesota and Winnipeg.  San José and Las Vegas can skip Chicago and St. Louis.

In the East, Florida and Tampa can skip Ottawa and Montreal.  Carolina and Washington can skip Boston and the Islanders.  The Pennsylvanias (meaning Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) can skip Buffalo and Toronto.  The Rangers and Devils can skip Detroit and Columbus. It’s bad enough that Rutgers plays Michigan and Ohio St.every year now. (Had to get in my college football reference.)

Original Six

Evolution of logos of the “original six” NHL teams. Except for Toronto, I prefer the old ones.

I tried to pair up non-original-six with original-six so as not to take too many original-six opponents away from any one team.  

If you’re not an NHL fan, “original six” is a misnomer, but it’s the six oldest teams in continuous operation and who were the only NHL franchises between 1942 and 1967: Toronto, Montreal, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, and the New York Rangers.  I won’t go over the various permutations before that, but it’s interesting reading if early-20th-century professional athletics is your cup of tea.

Anyway, fans like to see these teams.  A lot of people have been multi-generational fans of one of them.  Others move around and may have become a fan by living in one of those cities even briefly.

It’s like how if you’re an MLB or NBA fan, it’s just different if you go to a game against the Yankees, Red Sox, Lakers, or Celtics, for instance.  Even teams around since the 1960s (there are a couple exceptions in the NFL at least) have trouble replicating that kind of impact and support when they go on the road.

Advertisements

CFP got top 4 right; Pre-Bowl Top 25

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on December 2, 2018 at 11:13 AM

As far as #1, I had mixed results between the weighted system and the unweighted system. The top 4 is the same in both, but Clemson is ahead of Alabama in the unweighted system.  I’ve mentioned how Alabama didn’t have a particularly good schedule despite playing in the SEC.  Their best non-conference opponent finished with a losing record, as did one of their two regular-season SEC East opponents.  However, Georgia by itself deserves more consideration than just one game out of 13 (as does LSU), so that’s why I didn’t use the unweighted system by itself below. 

Even though I generally support the SEC, I want to make clear I don’t like Alabama; and I feel like they’re given unfair treatment by the officials in just about every game (though they rarely need it). Nonetheless, it’s important for me to figure out who on paper has accomplished more while taking into account losses (which only applies to one of the top 4 teams). 

A questionable review on this alleged touchdown by Josh Jacobs kept the Tide in the game. As usual, they took full advantage to eliminate the Bulldogs.

I think I would do teams like Alabama a disservice by failing to acknowledge their strength of resume; and both ratings had their strengths and weaknesses, so what I did was combine the two ratings.Since the two systems create very different numbers, I multiplied the unweighted ratings by 15 and then averaged the two. The top 50 teams on average got a number about 15 times higher in the weighted system than in the unweighted system, so I thought this was fair.

These averaged ratings were directly incorporated into my top 25 below without any subjective input.  This isn’t covering new ground, but it’s worth reiterating that this is purely about how good the numbers made the teams look in that formula.  It doesn’t matter how anyone was projected in preseason or how good the public perception of an opponent was at the time they were played.  It doesn’t matter which teams, coaches, and players I like, or which ones I thought got a raw deal in officiating or could beat better teams if only they’d played them, or anything like that. 

Margin of victory only has a slight impact where a home team won by 3 or less in regulation (meaning if they won by 8 in overtime it’s still considered a win with the home advantage) since that’s the average advantage by playing at home, and it also happens to be the smallest number of points typically scored in one play (I don’t know of any two-minute drills to get that key safety to win the game if you’re down by 1 late).

I let the numbers guide me the same way in my rankings below, but another thing I hesitated to do was to put Ohio St. (even though I have strongly disliked the Buckeyes for some time) below Oklahoma.  It’s no question whose best wins came against the better two teams.  Michigan has lost to two teams, and those two teams have a total of one loss between them, and Penn St. isn’t far behind.  The key problem for the Buckeyes is their loss to Purdue. The Boilermakers had to win their final game just to finish 6-6.  I know Texas isn’t spectacular; but if they played Purdue in a bowl game, the Longhorns would probably be favored by double digits.  Texas also lost to a mediocre Big Ten team to be fair; but had Maryland been their only loss, I’d be explaining why Ohio St. deserved to go ahead of them right now.  But I’m not comparing a team with a loss to Maryland to a team with a loss to Purdue: I’m comparing a team with a loss to Texas to a team with a loss to Purdue. 

To give credit where it’s due again and to explain how close it is, the second win for the Buckeyes is also strong.  To get to the next best win for Ohio St.though (Northwestern), I have to go outside of the top 25 and even outside of the top 35.  To get there, I pass up four teams that Oklahoma has beaten: Army, West Virginia, Texas, and Iowa St.  I really don’t know if it’s harder to beat four teams who are better than Northwestern but in the top 15 or to beat two teams who are in the top 15 and none others who are better.  I suspect the former is more difficult; but that loss breaks the tie if it’s just as difficult, so I will defend the outcome here.

As an LSU fan, I know a lot about playing top-15 teams and playing teams somewhere between #16 and #40.  I’d rather have two tough games to focus on against teams in the top 15 than the week-after-week onslaught of #16 to #40 teams.  LSU beat 3 top-10 teams, although I acknowledge two of them didn’t belong anywhere near the top 10 in hindsight.  Although Alabama beats us every year, we had a mediocre team take them to overtime a few years ago.  Georgia definitely belongs in the top 10;they were a play or two away from making the playoff.  We lost to Florida, but I think that’s a better team than Penn St.  If that were the only other game we had needed to get up for and we didn’t play Alabama, I think we would have won. Ohio St. beat Penn St. by 1, and we trailed Florida by 1 before a late “pick six” made the final score a loss by 8. 

The loss to Texas A&M (questionable though it was) and similar losses over the years (such as losing to Kentucky and Arkansas in our 2007 championship year and losing to a mediocre Florida team in our 2003 championship year) would result in increased nerves over Oklahoma’s schedule than Ohio St.’s.  If we had a 45%chance to beat Michigan and a 55% chance to beat Penn St., for instance, that gives us a 25% chance to win both.  (These numbers are just off the top of my head.) If we had a 70% chance to beat Army, a 60% chance to beat West Virginia,a 60% chance to beat Texas, and an 80% chance to beat Iowa St., we’d only have a 20% chance to win all four (assuming independence of the numbers).  Again, it’s very close, but if I have to pick one to be better, I pick Oklahoma.

I’m not persuaded by the arguments for Georgia.  I disagreed with the decision in 2011 (by voters and some computers) to pick Alabama ahead of Oklahoma St.  The Tide had their chance to beat LSU (at home) and shouldn’t have gotten another.  The fact that they got it and took advantage of it didn’t make it the right decision. But I can respect a difference of opinion on that more than I respect the opinion of Georgia being in the top 4 this season.  At least that was a choice between two one-loss teams.  Georgia supporters want them to advance as a two-loss team despite two decent one-loss options. 

Obviously I’m an advocate for LSU and what they’ve done this season—and their record does not fairly represent that in my opinion—but losing to LSU by 20 is not like losing to a title-contender by 3 in overtime,which is what Alabama did in 2011.  I do have the Bulldogs extremely close to Ohio St., mostly because losing to LSU hurts a lot less than losing to Purdue. If Oklahoma had lost to Texas a second time, it would be harder to make the case for the Buckeyes (but I’d still probably do so).  As it stands, I think the Sooners redeemed themselves against Texas (although I don’t think the Big XII championship should be allowed in the first place), their three-point loss in the first game against the Longhorns was probably a fluke, and it’s best that someone else gets a shot at Alabama. I have a feeling the Tide would do better in a rematch with Georgia than they did yesterday. Oklahoma-Alabama is an unknown. For all we know, it could be like the Ohio St.-Alabama game a few years ago.  Let’s find out.

I already made the argument about how LSU should be picked for a major bowl above Florida (which I don’t think will happen) and Washington St. (which I think probably will happen), so I think other than #1 and #4 there isn’t much more to discuss.  ***UPDATE*** LSU has been confirmed for the Fiesta Bowl against Central Florida.  Apparently it was decided not to send the Knights to Atlanta two years in a row.

I would like to say that I would have liked to have seen that North Carolina St./West Virginia game that was canceled. I would have preferred the winner to be in the top 25 over Utah, but that’s the breaks.  The Mountaineers and Wolfpack are #26 and #27, respectively, followed by Stanford and then Texas.

I plan to make the average used here a regular feature on my “weighted average” page on my ratings site.  I may continue to wait until after the first CFP rankings are released to publish that list though.

RankTeamPrev.
1Alabama1
2Clemson3
3Notre Dame2
4Oklahoma6
5Ohio St.5
6Georgia4
7C. Florida9
8Michigan7
9LSU8
10Washington14
11Florida11
12Kentucky10
13Wash St.13
14Penn St.12
15Fresno St.
16App. St.23
17Army18
18Texas A&M15
19Syracuse19
20Missouri16
21Utah St.22
22Boise St.17
23Cincinnati
24Miss. St.20
25Utah21

Out of Top 25: (24) N Carolina St., (25) West Virginia

Championship Saturday Viewing Guide & Bowl Speculation

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, Preview, Rankings Commentary on November 30, 2018 at 4:24 PM

I was trying to get something out timely earlier in the week without being too convoluted, but I may have lost some people in the discussion of some of the various outcomes, so that’s what I want to focus on here.  Except for a few comments toward the end, I’m not talking about how things should be or who’s going to win, but I want to let people know teams to support depending on cheering interest.

BASICS

The top 4 teams will play in the Cotton and Orange Bowls.  The semifinal bowls and the other bowls that are part of the rotation and affiliated with the CFP committee are called the NY6 for New Year’s Six. Don’t get fixated on that name either though.  There are New Years Day bowls that are not those bowls, and all of those bowls won’t be on New Years Day.  The name just refers to the six bowls that are part of the CFP process and therefore part of the semifinal rotation. 

Champions of the SEC, ACC, Big XII, Pac-12, and Big Ten MUST be in NY6 bowls as must the best team from some other conference(most likely Central Florida).

The Sugar Bowl will be Big XII vs. SEC, and the Rose will be Pac-12 vs. Big Ten.  It appears that the Pac-12 representative will be the champion in the Rose Bowl and not anyone else in the other bowls, although there may be a route for Washington St. as discussed in the last blog.

Why does this matter?  The most likely visible result would be that even if they lose and even if they’re ranked well below other candidates for at-large spots, Texas is most likely going to the Sugar Bowl (I think the only way this won’t happen is if Georgia, Clemson, and Oklahoma all win).  Champions take precedence though.  So even if Michigan and Ohio St. are both higher-ranked Big Ten teams, Northwestern would be in the Rose Bowl by winning.  Likewise, even if Oklahoma is ranked higher than Texas, the Longhorns will be in the Sugar Bowl if they win the championship over the Sooners.  The SEC champion will be in the top 4 no matter what though and therefore not in the Sugar Bowl.

When it comes to following the games, the first thing to note is the games on Friday don’t really matter to anyone but fans of those playing.  Whether it’s Utah or Washington, the winner of the Pac-12 championship will go to the Rose Bowl and the loser will go to a non-NY6 bowl. Whether it’s Buffalo or Northern Illinois, both the winner and the loser of the MAC championship will be in non-NY6 bowls.

One other thing to note: since I wrote this,Central Florida has emerged as the popular pick to play in the Fiesta.  I don’t know if the media is responding to some inside tip with that, but basically the Fiesta and Peach Bowl teams are interchangeable anyway.

WHAT TO HOPE FOR BY CHEERING INTEREST

Most fans who will be affected at all by this weekend want their school to win and their conference to make the top 4 if that’s relevant, but there are a couple of fan bases worth elaborating upon. 

SEC/LSU fans

I touched on this in the last blog, but basically if you’re in the SEC and not an Alabama fan or don’t have some weird regional interest (such as you’re a Florida fan who lives in Atlanta and don’t want to travel), you want Georgia to upset Alabama and you DON’T want Clemson or Ohio St. to be upset (possibly wanting Urban Meyer to lose notwithstanding).  This would free up the Sugar Bowl for a third SEC team and allow other SEC teams to compete for other open slots. If Alabama wins, the Bulldogs will most likely take the SEC Sugar Bowl spot, but without another upset, there could still be third and fourth SEC teams in NY6 bowls.

The Oklahoma/Texas outcome probably (I’ll explain the situations below) won’t affect the SEC teams, so feel free to cheer for whichever you dislike less, although the outcome may influence for whom to cheer later.

No matter what happens, teams that are 9th and 10th with 3 losses (LSU and Florida) aren’t going to end up in the top 4, so even a series of upsets like in 2007 won’t put a team other than Alabama and Georgia in the top 4.

Georgia is currently in the top 4, but there is a strong likelihood that Oklahoma and/or Ohio St. winning this weekend would displace them after a Bulldog loss to Alabama.

I’ll explain why the upsets would hurt SEC teams.  The teams other than Alabama and Georgia are hoping to be in the “New Years 6 (NY6) but not top 4”category.  The SEC wants as few other teams to be in this category as possible. An upset by Pittsburgh, for instance, would put Pittsburgh in this category.  Same thing for Northwestern.  As I already explained, a potential Texas upset by itself is not going to change anything for the SEC (though it would take the Sooners out of consideration for the top 4).

So let’s say Alabama beats Georgia, Oklahoma beats Texas, Clemson beats Pitt, and Northwestern beats Ohio St. 

The following teams would all be in NY6 bowls:Central Florida, Clemson, Ohio St., Northwestern, Washington, Texas, Georgia and Michigan.  There would only be room for one other SEC team (probably Florida) in the Sugar, Fiesta, Rose, and Peach Bowls. 

Don’t quote me on these bowl picks (the Fiesta Bowl teams are interchangeable under the rules with the Peach Bowl teams, but the Sugar and Rose have fixed conference match-ups), but just to show why there would be no room for a second team…

Cotton: Alabama vs. Oklahoma

Orange: Notre Dame vs. Clemson

Sugar: Georgia vs. Texas

Peach: Florida vs. Ohio St.

Rose: Washington vs. Northwestern

Fiesta: Michigan vs. Central Florida

If the one upset is Texas over Oklahoma, it wouldn’t hurt the SEC since Texas would stay in place and no additional teams would be added to the mix:

Cotton: Alabama vs. Ohio St.

Orange: Notre Dame vs. Clemson

Sugar: Georgia vs. Texas

Peach: Florida vs. Central Florida

Rose: Washington vs. Michigan

Fiesta: LSU vs. Oklahoma

If Northwestern beats Ohio St. and other favorites win, something like this would happen, removing LSU’s chance:

Cotton: Alabama vs. Georgia

Orange: Notre Dame vs. Clemson

Sugar: Florida vs. Texas

Rose: Washington vs. Northwestern

Fiesta: Michigan vs. Oklahoma

Peach: Ohio St. vs. Central Florida

If Pittsburgh beats Clemson and other favorites win, something like this would happen, removing LSU’s chance:

Cotton: Alabama vs. Ohio St.

Orange: Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma

Sugar: Georgia vs. Texas

Rose: Washington vs. Michigan

Fiesta: Michigan vs. Pittsburgh

Peach: Clemson vs. Central Florida

If both Pitt upsets Clemson and Northwestern upsets Ohio St.:

Cotton: Alabama vs. Georgia

Orange: Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma

Sugar: Florida vs. Texas

Rose: Washington vs. Northwestern

Fiesta: Pitt vs. Ohio St.

Peach: Clemson vs. Central Florida

The takeaway is that any of these would eliminate the second SEC team (most likely LSU) outside of the top 4.

Big Ten/Michigan

It’s more nuanced what Michigan fans should before. As shown above, on the one hand, the right combination of upsets could put the Wolverines in the Rose Bowl. On the other hand, the wrong combination of upsets could see the Wolverines in the Citrus Bowl or similar.

Michigan fans could also be cheering for the long-shot chance of making the top 4, which would involve Ohio St., Clemson, and Oklahoma all getting upset.  Clemson with one loss could be ahead of the Wolverines with two losses, but one loss to an unranked team is arguably worse than two losses to top 10 teams (Notre Dame and Ohio St.).  Since Oklahoma plays first inthat group, those who support Michigan should consult the scenarios above for beneficial upsets.

Michigan in the top 4 would look like this:

Cotton: Alabama vs. Michigan

Orange: Notre Dame vs. Georgia

Sugar: Florida vs. Texas

Rose: Washington vs. Northwestern

Fiesta: Pitt vs. Oklahoma

Peach: Clemson vs. Central Florida

For generic Big Ten fans, it’s a lot simpler.  If Oklahoma beats Texas in the early game on Saturday, the best thing for the Big Ten is for Northwestern to win.  I believe Ohio St. will be in an NY6 bowl regardless, so if I’m right there will likely be three Big Ten teams in the NY6 bowls this way. 

If Texas wins, it may be more important to cheer for Ohio St. in the hopes the Buckeyes make the semifinal than it is to hope for three Big Ten teams to be in NY6 bowls, but that would be personal preference.

LSU ADVOCACY AND OTHER NOTES

Some fans of other schools seem upset that if LSUis apparently in line for an NY6 bowl, the Tigers aren’t really being punished for the loss. LSU was going to be in the Sugar Bowl provided Georgia made the top 4, but that doesn’t seem to be the case now.  The next in line for the Sugar seems to be Florida.  I’ve covered a few scenarios above where LSU doesn’t get any NY6 bowl. 

In a much less dramatic and controversial Rivalry Week contest, Washington RM Myles Gaskin scores a first-half touchdown in the snow in Pullman.

A number of bowl projections have LSU being left out of the NY6 bowls even if nothing weird happens, and some even have the Tigers falling all the way to the Outback Bowl (since I imagine the Citrus doesn’t want LSU for the third year in a row).

I don’t know how other than geography you would justify Washington St. going ahead of LSU, but maybe the rankings will be ignored.  Other than the questionable A&M loss (the Aggies are now #19 in the CFP rankings), the Tigers’ other two losses have come to top-10 teams. LSU also has a win over Georgia, better than any team the Cougars have played much less beaten.  Washington St.has beaten three of the four other teams in the Pac-12 North with winning records (none with a better record than 8-4), but Wazzu has a loss to 5-7 USC.  Washington St. has 4 wins against teams with winning records, while LSU has 5.  The Cougars also lost to in-state rival Washington. Although the Huskies may be the Pac-12 champions, it’s important to remember they lost to Auburn, who’s in the middle of the SEC on a good day (and who lost at home to LSU).

If Boise St. wins the Mountain West and Central Florida loses the American championship, it’s possible Boise St. could make it ahead of Central Florida.  In that case,the Broncos would probably play in the Fiesta Bowl; but as I explained earlier,Central Florida might be slotted for the Fiesta Bowl anyway, so in that case no other team would be affected.

I already talked about the potential impact of Georgia beating Alabama, so I didn’t include that here.  I think it would create a Big XII-champions. Florida Sugar Bowl, a Big Ten champion vs. Pac-12 champion Rose Bowl, and the other teams would depend upon who else wins. 

CONCLUSION

The simplest way to sum all of this up that I can think of is as follows.  The following teams are in NY6 bowls almost no matter what: Alabama, Notre Dame,Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma, Ohio St., Michigan, and Florida.  Washington, Utah, Pittsburgh, Northwestern,Texas, and Central Florida are in with wins. LSU and possibly Washington St. or Penn St. could get in (Penn St. being the least likely of the three); but since none are playing, they’re dependent on the right combination of other teams to win.

CFP Response and Bowl Projections

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, History, Rankings Commentary on November 27, 2018 at 6:57 PM

As for my top 25 commentary, I was slightly off in my prediction (here) that Clemson would overtake Notre Dame.  I forgot to account for the ACC losses to the SEC.  It makes it worse that Louisville and Florida St. are both in the ACC Atlantic. Clemson will move ahead next week in the unweighted ratings for sure;but I think in the lead up to the Playoff, the weighted ratings are more useful. I’m less confident there. 

Before I start talking about bowl possibilities, I did want to comment briefly about the bottom of my top 25.Texas and Fresno St. are subjectively good enough at the moment to be included as ranked teams. They’re just two weird teams that look good in one system but not in the other.  But if as expected they both lose in championship games, I won’t feel bad about leaving them out of the final top 25 before the bowl games. If they win, I think they’ll be rewarded fairly.  I just thought the fairest solution was to publish a top 25 this week that was completely objective. 

LSU did fall a spot in the unweighted ratings,but they were actually sixth in the weighted ratings before the supposed loss to Texas A&M (see the link at the beginning for more about that).  Even if that were a legitimate loss, LSU should still be considered the #3 team in the SEC.  I’ll explain why, but given the CFP rankings it may not matter who is ranked higher.  Florida and Kentucky didn’t play Alabama, and Texas A&M didn’t play Georgia.  I think being the only team of the four to play both divisional champions makes your conference record better if it’s a tie.  I think the following chart demonstrates my point better than my explanation.  I’ll explain below the charts why Kentucky shouldn’t merit consideration (unless you’re fixated on head-to-head and like to ignore the other 92% of the season). 

This chart shows who played whom and the relevant records. LSU beat an opponent above this group and has no losses below, unlike the other two teams.

Not to mention that Texas A&M has a non-conference loss.  I know it’s to a good team, but decisive wins over Georgia and U. Miami are better than a win over Kentucky in overtime and a loss to Clemson.  A questionable loss, but the Aggies don’t want to go down that road. Non-conference losses count in bowl game consideration. You’re just lying to yourself if you don’t think Florida would have gotten better bowl games (including at least one Sugar Bowl appearance) had they not lost to Florida St. the past few seasons, for instance. See the following for a chart of games that weren’t against the top 5 of the SEC.

As for this season, Florida did beat LSU on October 6 but since then the Gators struggled at Vanderbilt before losing to Missouri and Georgia.  They haven’t really redeemed themselves from those performances in which they lost by a combined 40 points.   The Gators only have a 4-point win over South Carolina (who is now 6-5) and wins over FCS Idaho (their second FCS opponent of the year) and a frankly sorry Florida St.team.  Good thing for Jimbo that he bailed, but that’s another story. Also, if want to say Florida goes ahead of LSU because of head to head despite the schedule, you’d better give a better bowl game to Kentucky than you give to Florida. I know they don’t have the chomp thing, the annoying song after the game,and that stupid jingle when they make a first down; and their fans don’t travel as well (especially not in the midst of basketball season), but be consistent if you’re going to go with that argument.

Obviously, I’m not making that argument about Kentucky though.  I’m surprised the Wildcats are so far ahead of Texas A&M in the CFP rankings, but I guess they are a lot more interested in body of work than who the hot teams are.  Suffice it to say Kentucky’s only win in the last month over a bowl-eligible team is the win over Middle Tennessee by 11.  The Wildcats have also lost to a bowl –ineligible team (Tennessee) in that time.

You could say LSU hasn’t redeemed themselves from the Alabama loss, but I don’t think they need to in the same way.  The Sugar, Peach, or Fiesta won’t involve playing Alabama, at least not unless Alabama loses in embarrassing fashion on Saturday (but for that a much different team from the one that showed up in Baton Rouge will have to be playing in Atlanta).  Those bowls might involve playing a team as good as Missouri or Texas A&M.  I know the loss-is-a-loss theory, it’s what my computer is mostly based on; but I think any bowl would love to have a 7-overtime 146-point game between good teams like the one in College Station on Saturday.  They don’t need the SEC team to win.  Think of the commercial revenue and the many highlights and references to that bowl over the years.  No bowl wants to see a team that plays 21 points poorer than Missouri though.  If it’s against a team even better than these three SEC teams, only one team of the three has beaten a team in the CFP top 8 (top 8 is significant because it’s higher than the three teams I’m focusing on).  

I think even if Georgia beats Alabama the Sugar doesn’t want LSU because LSU fans don’t buy as many hotel rooms and go to expensive restaurants over a few days like Florida fans might.  If you’re a conspiracy theorist ,this alone was a reason to fix the game in favor of the Aggies.  

I suspect the Peach will prefer Florida for geographical reasons whether the Gators were 9th or 10th.  The Fiesta is an even longer way away from Baton Rouge than the Peach.  I know only two states separate Arizona and Louisiana, but I promise you that trip is no leisurely stroll.  I do think more fans would travel from Baton Rouge than from Pullman, for instance; but the Fiesta doesn’t seem to like to have two teams from east of the Mississippi unless one of them is Notre Dame.  Except for the 2016 Clemson-Ohio St. national semifinal and the Notre Dame-Ohio St. games (2005 and 2015 seasons), you have to go back to the 1991 season to find a Fiesta Bowl that did not involve a team from West of the Mississippi (and six Fiesta Bowls since 2001 involved two from West of the Mississippi). 

Maybe the fact that the LSU campus is right next to the Mississippi is good enough, but I don’t know.  It is a good sign that LSU is several spots ahead of Washington St. and is also ahead of some other possibilities (such as Penn St. and Texas A&M).  It will be interesting to see what happens if LSU is not in a CFP Bowl.  Although LSU has been to the Citrus the past two seasons, I guess it’s possible they could go there again.  It’s also possible the Citrus would pick Kentucky, who is far ahead of the Aggies in the CFP rankings.

I’m going to give my major-bowl projections as of right now as well as how I would expect the CFP to decide the bowls.  I think one mistake people make in bowl projections is they act like the season literally ends right now.  So for instance, undefeated Alabama and one-loss Georgia are bowl teams.  If there were no SEC championship game, it’s no question that both teams should be in the top 4, but the only logical way to put Georgia in the top 4 is if you think they’re going to beat Alabama.  So I am going to factor in the expected results of the games on Saturday.   

I think I’ll be in agreement with what I expect the CFP will do. I have Ohio St. ahead of Oklahoma right now because beating Michigan and Penn St. are both better than anything Oklahoma has done, but I think Oklahoma redeeming their only loss would do a lot more for their argument than Ohio St. beating Northwestern would. Oklahoma will certainly be higher in my unweighted system. We’ll have to see what happens in the weighted one.  We do have a different committee now, so maybe they look at things slightly differently from the one last year.

Cotton: Alabama vs. Oklahoma

Orange: Clemson vs. Notre Dame

Sugar: Georgia vs. Texas

Rose: Washington vs. Ohio St.

Peach: Florida vs. UCF

Fiesta: LSU vs. Michigan

It’s unknown which hat Les Miles will wear if LSU plays Michigan. He may play it safe and stick with his Kansas hat.

It’s fairly straightforward to figure out what happens if one of Clemson, Oklahoma, and Ohio St. are upset. Instead of a choice between 5 teams for 4 spots, all 4 competitive teams make it. If Clemson were the one to lose, I would expect them against UCF in the Peach Bowl.  Georgia would be in the Sugar Bowl, so only one SEC team (I guess Florida) would be left for the Fiesta Bowl.  I wouldn’t like it, but TCU had the better resume a few years ago; and they lost out to Baylor due to head-to-head even though it was a close game. If Oklahoma is the team to lose, they would bump LSU from the Fiesta Bowl.  If Ohio St. is the team to lose, my guess is they bump Florida from the Peach and Florida bumps LSU from the Fiesta.

If two of them lose, it would then be easy for LSU to find a spot again because I think Georgia would make the semifinal even with two losses, and the Sugar Bowl would be available to the top SEC team(apparently Florida).

If Washington were to lose, you just replace them with Utah.  If UCF were to lose, replace them with Boise St.  If Boise St. also loses, my guess would be UCF keeps its spot.

If Georgia beats Alabama, I think both Georgia and Alabama would be in the top 4 again, so I’ll make full projections for that scenario since it would be a lot of changes.

Orange: Clemson vs. Alabama

Cotton: Notre Dame vs. Georgia

Sugar: Florida (though I would switch LSU andFlorida as explained) vs. Oklahoma

Rose: Washington vs. Ohio St. 

Fiesta: Washington St. vs. Michigan

Peach: LSU vs. UCF

This time if Ohio St., Clemson or Oklahoma were to lose, I think Washington St. would get bumped and LSU would stay.  Unless it’s Oklahoma, I would guess LSU would go to the Fiesta.  If it were Oklahoma, I think the Sooners go out West and LSU stays in the Peach. The same thing as before applies to Washington’s spot in the Rose.  If Boise St. were to replace UCF, I would guess the Broncos would play Washington St. (or Oklahoma) while Michigan/LSU would be moved to Atlanta. Take the over in that Fiesta Bowl if it happens. 

LSU “Gigged” by Aggies; Top 25 after Week 13

In College Football, General LSU, Rankings on November 25, 2018 at 5:25 PM

I’m going to delay rankings commentary until the CFP standings come out (I used the weighted rankings), and I think it’s important to set the record straight about the game right away.

I would like to congratulate A&M for ending the 7-game losing streak to LSU (see updated Rivalry post; but they didn’t end it, the referees did. If the rules had been applied correctly, LSU won the game at least twice. I’m going to address three officiating mistakes, but there were others.

Before I go into detail, I wanted to clarify something. When I said earlier this year that I felt LSU lost the game in Gainesville more than Florida won it, that was in no way an indication that the correct team didn’t go down as the winner. That was more about criticizing LSU for how it played in a game that I think they would have won had they not gotten discouraged too easily. There is plenty of criticism for how LSU performed at various stages of the game on Saturday as well; but in that case, the correct team did not get the win.

So I don’t often go around saying my team won games it didn’t officially win. I don’t even say it about the game Alabama won in 2014 after a nonsense personal foul call (at least nonsense that it was only against one team) that deprived the Tigers of a touchdown opportunity and a chance to take more time off of the clock. Maybe had the call not been made, LSU would have done something else stupid to stop the clock. Maybe they would have ended up with only a field goal anyway. Maybe if Alabama knew they had less time, they would have gone downfield for their own field goal even more quickly. I understand there are a lot of variables. The only other recent game I would say LSU won but didn’t get the credit is the bowl game against Notre Dame where the Tigers not only had a touchdown unjustifiably taken away, but there was a clear uncalled penalty on the Irish on the very play in which they took the lead (with under 90 seconds to play). It usually takes a combination of plays for me to make that assertion, and it’s the same thing here.

I don’t always agree with Tim Brando’s opinions about good teams, but I think he understands the rules.

So back to Saturday’s game, the first time LSU won in my view was in the final minute of regulation when Kellen Mond, the Texas A&M quarterback, threw an interception, which only left LSU to run out the clock (the Aggies were out of timeouts). After the play and resulting celebration, it was determined that the play ended when Mond went down to one knee to recover the dropped snap. No replay clearly showed that he had established possession while his knee was touching, so the call of the field should have stood.

One announcer apparently agreed with the call on the theory that Mond did not have to have control of the ball to be down, but I think he misremembered the rule. Rule 4, Article 3: “A live ball becomes dead and an official shall sound his whistle or declare it dead (b) When any part of the ball carrier’s body, except his hand or foot, touches the ground or when the ball carrier is tackled or otherwise falls and loses possession of the ball as he contacts the ground with any part of his body, except his hand or foot.” If you need to read the standard of review again, it’s from Rule 12, Article 2: “The replay official may reverse a ruling if and only if the video evidence (Rule 12-6-1-c) convinces him beyond all doubt that the ruling was incorrect. Without such indisputable video evidence, the replay official must allow the ruling to stand.”

So if Mond had possession of the ball initially and began to drop it at the same time or after his knee touched, the play should have been whistled dead (the rule is often summarized as, “the ground can’t cause a fumble”). I think the announcer wrongly applied that rule. However, the rule does NOT say that the play should be whistled dead when a player who is already down touches the ball but does not yet gain possession. I don’t think it was clear that he had possession until he was able to pick the ball up (which he did with one hand after his knee started to go up). When there is a scramble for the ball during a live ball, the play is never whistled dead merely because a player whose knee is touching the ground grabs the ball with one hand without picking it up. It’s always left to determine who establishes control by bringing the ball next to or under their body (or who picks it up and runs). Recovery of a live ball isn’t a different concept because there aren’t other players nearby or because it was a fumbled snap rather than another type of fumble.

Another time LSU won was when the Tigers recovered a fumble in the first overtime. After LSU kicked a field goal, Mond completed a pass to TE Jace Sternberger who had both hands on the ball, brought it in, and began to run toward the end zone. After the fumble (see here for the play), the referees inexplicably blew the whistle and pretended it was an incompletion. Although Orgeron apparently argued the call, there was no apparently official review (Orgeron said after the game he was told that it was already reviewed). Either way, the call on the field was wrong and deprived LSU of the victory. I know it’s not how it works, but it’s absurd that they ruled Sternberger didn’t have possession of the ball before the fumble but Mond did with his knee down before the interception.

Furthermore, even if you don’t believe any of that, the streak was still ended by the referees because Texas A&M was only allowed to score the winning points after a phantom pass interference call on DB Greedy Williams after the first attempt at the two-point conversion fell incomplete. There was very brief mutual contact as the receiver entered the backfield before continuing on his route, but if anything it was pass interference on the receiver because his back was to the ball. But since the receiver’s route was not obstructed in any way, there should have been no call at all. Rule 12, Article 8(c) provides: “Defensive pass interference is contact beyond the neutral zone by a Team B player whose intent to impede an eligible opponent is obvious and could prevent the opponent the opportunity of receiving a catchable forward pass.” Of course on this occasion, LSU didn’t win the game, they merely earned an eighth overtime period (if you ignore the two occasions during which they earned a victory prior to the second overtime).

This is an illegal formation before the snap where Texas A&M scored the tying touchdown. Also no call.

In sum, there are three different ways that A&M didn’t earn a win on Saturday, and I didn’t even include all the controversies. I’ve had enough of SEC referees. Maybe we should join the Big XII.

On the bright side, maybe we’ll be more motivated next year when it might count for more. “This is the team that stole a 7-overtime game from you last year,” might get players more excited than, “This is the team you’ve beaten 8 times in a row.”

Anyway, other than the fact that LSU won by a somewhat normal SEC score (31-24 or 34-31) rather than A&M winning 770 to 768 or whatever, it was a good game.

Top 25

Rank Team Prev.
1 Alabama 3
2 Notre Dame 2
3 Clemson 1
4 Georgia 4
5 Ohio St. 7
6 Oklahoma 6
7 Michigan 5
8 LSU 9
9 C. Florida 10
10 Kentucky 11
11 Florida 15
12 Penn St. 14
13 Wash St. 8
14 Washington 19
15 Texas A&M 22
16 Missouri 23
17 Boise St. 12
18 Army 20
19 Syracuse
20 Miss. St. 25
21 Utah 16
22 Utah St. 21
23 App. St.
24 NC State
25 W. Virginia 17

Out of Top 25: (13) Texas, (18) Fresno St., (24) S Carolina

NOTE: In the unweighted ratings, Texas fell only to #15, and Fresno St. stayed #18.  Utah St. and NC State are out of the top 25 in the unweighted ratings. 

Rivalries and Coaching Carousels

In College Football, General LSU, History, Rivalry on November 22, 2018 at 5:06 PM

I planned to write something Wednesday, my first day off work for Thanksgiving,but I woke up sick and ended up sleeping most of the day.

There are a lot of great rivalries this week (see my blog about the battle of the A&Ms [Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College and Texas A&M] ,and see last week’s blog for mention of some rivalries I’ve enjoyed over the years), but there are plenty of stories about them and previews of the big games by other outlets, so I wanted to write something a little different (although also in the theme of this week’s games as many coaches will be coaching their last games at their current schools). If you ever play six degrees of Will Muschamp (or whatever you would call a game that involves who coached with whom), this could be useful. 

For more about a somewhat unappreciated rivalry though, former LSU beat writer Ross Dellenger wrote good article for the Sports Illustrated about the Egg Bowl and especially some of the coaches.  The only thing I disagreed with was his characterization of Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke as mild-mannered just because he’s respectful of other teams and coaches.  He’s extremely animated during games though. 

I’ve given more attention to the Mississippi schools than most people do, even people who write extensively about the SEC, but I haven’t talked that much about Ole Miss playing Mississippi St.  I did write about former Mississippi St. head coaches Sylvester Croom and Jackie Sherill (first sub-section under the heading A&M coaches), both of whom are mentioned in the article (and both of whom played for and coached with Bear Bryant, another former Texas A&M coach, at Alabama).  Of course I wrote about Ole Miss’s series with their second and third rivals, LSU and Vanderbilt (third section), and Mississippi St.’s series with their second rival LSU (there isn’t much worth writing about the series with their #3 Alabama).

Anyway, that article about the Egg Bowl got me thinking about a lot of coaches from the 1990s and early 2000s, partly because of stories like that and partly from things that have come up during Ed Orgeron press conferences in the last few weeks. 

Ed Orgeron walks off the field for the last time as Ole Miss head coach after losing in the Egg Bowl on November 23, 2007.

Orgeron coached Ole Miss for a few Egg Bowls (winning only one), but before that he was the strength coach at Arkansas under Ken Hatfield, who also happened to be the coach of Rice the last time LSU played them before this season (1995).

Orgeron was asked about the Saints on Monday, and he seemed very excited about their performance this year.  I had forgotten that he was a Saints assistant for a season before joining Lane Kiffin’s staff at Tennessee.  Not that he wasn’t a fan long before that having grown up in Cajun country and having been a close personal friend to (and high school and college teammate of) former Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert. 

Orgeron also mentioned his affinity for Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, who was the secondary coach the year Orgeron spent in New Orleans.  After returning to the Saints in 2015, Allen became defensive coordinator when Rob Ryan was fired.

Rob Ryan as Oklahoma St. offensive coordinator in the 1990s.

Orgeron also said he was very happy for Les Miles after his hiring by Kansas.  I found out that in 1997 Miles was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma St. at the same time that Ryan was the defensive coordinator for Oklahoma St. (I usually would say the Cowboys; but that could be confusing since both Miles and Ryan also coached for the Dallas Cowboys, though at different times). Those two characters on the same coaching staff must have been interesting.  The combination worked though: that was the one year between 1988 and Miles’s tenure as head coach in Stillwater (2001-04, during which the team made three bowl games) that Oklahoma St. reached a bowl game.  When Miles went to Dallas, Ryan stayed; but the college Cowboys’ fortunes declined (not that the NFL Cowboys improved either).

When Miles returned to Oklahoma St. as head coach, his offensive coordinator was Mike Gundy, who would take Les’s place as head coach and remains in that position today.  Les’s next offensive coordinator(when he got to LSU) was a guy named Jimbo Fisher, whom Miles inherited from Saban. 

When Miles won the Houston Bowl in 2002, he became the fourth head coach in 40 year sto coach Oklahoma St. to a bowl win.  The second of those coaches was Jimmy Johnson, who played at Arkansas with Hatfield and who hired Orgeron at the University of Miami.  Johnson also coached some other Cowboys to “Bowl”wins. 

Jimmy Johnson as head coach of Oklahoma St. in 1983. After the year he lost out to Ken Hatfield when Arkansas needed a replacement for Lou Holtz as head coach.

To go back to Fisher, of course it so happens that he’ll be the head coach of LSU’s opponent this weekend.  He also happens to be the head coach of fullback Ben Miles, Les’s son. 

I remember Fisher’s last season at LSU very well. LSU’s 7-3 loss to Auburn still stands out in my mind.  Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled with all of his calls in that game; but some credit goes to Auburn’s defensive coordinator Muschamp ( later head coach at Florida and now head coach at South Carolina).  Auburn’s head coach for that game was Tommy Tuberville, who came up in that Egg Bowl story because he was head coach at Ole Miss before going to Auburn, so that takes us full circle in this story. 

I wanted to mention a couple other items of interest from the 2006 season.  That season marked current Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn’s first foray into college football, as offensive coordinator for later-Ole-Miss-head-coach Houston Nutt at Arkansas.  Arkansas won the SEC West that year but lostin the regular-season finale to LSU before losing to Florida (the eventual national champions who helped prevent LSU from winning the West). 

Future Kansas head coaches Charlie Weis and Les Miles converse after the (January) 2007 Sugar Bowl.

Since the Tigers’ only losses all year were Florida and that Auburn game I mentioned,this allowed LSU to represent the SEC in the Sugar Bowl.  LSU’s opponent was Notre Dame, then coached by Charlie Weis.  Weis has something elsein common with Miles: both were later hired as head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks. I hope, unlike Weis, Miles can win 22% or more of his games as head coach with the Jayhawks though.

This is the first game between LSU and Texas A&M in four years where there will not be some major drama about either respective coaching staff. Last year, the game was the last of Kevin Sumlin’s tenure in College Station.  News of his firing had been leaked earlier in the week.  In the previous year, Ed Orgeron was just an interim coach; the interim tag was only removed after deals could not be reached with Tom Herman or (coincidentally enough) Fisher.    

The year prior, news had leaked of Miles being fired, but as with many Miles stories, that turned out not to be the case. In slight defense of the media, there had not been a decision to keep Miles before the game either.  But again after a lack of desirable candidates at suitable terms emerged, a decision was made to keep him (though his reprieve turned out to only be until the following September).  Fisher was also mentioned at that time. 

Despite all the drama and mixed emotions of those three games, LSU’s physicality was able to overcome Texas A&M’s finesse on each occasion LSU has played Texas A&M since and including the 2010 Cotton Bowl, which was the first meeting between the two schools this century and which pre-dated by about 20 months the Aggies’ participation as an SEC program (and Kevin Sumlin’s first game).  The character of Texas A&M has changed since Fisher replaced Sumlin.  The Aggies have become a team that runs really well (on conventional running plays, not just option pitches and quarterback runs) and also stops the run really well, so this will be a different challenge for the Tigers. If LSU wins, it will set the record for longest winning streak in the series.

In another tie to the Kansas hiring of Miles, the man Miles is replacing in Lawrence, David Beaty, was an assistant of Sumlin at Texas A&M from 2012 to 2014.  So he was an assistant during the last game in which there was not major drama around either coaching staff (although there was some disquiet since each team entered the game with four losses). 

An artist’s rendition of Kevin Sumlin (left) and John Chavis as Texas A&M coaches.

There was some drama involving the assistant coaches after the 2014 game, but not until later.  About five weeks after the Tigers held the Aggies to just 17 points in that contest, LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis was hired by the Aggies to the same position (he was fired along with Sumlin after the LSU game last year).  Chavis now occupies that position at Arkansas. 

Will Muschamp, Nick Saban, and Jimbo Fisher pose for the picture of the 2004 LSU coaching staff.  Later Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley was on staff, as was current Georgia head coach Kirby Smart.

There are no hard feelings if you ask me though. LSU is better off with Dave Aranda, who has been in the position since a year after Chavis left.  LSU’s defensive coordinator for the intervening year (hired along with Orgeron) was Kevin Steele, who, as DC for Auburn, will face Alabama (another former employer of his) during the Iron Bowl.  He replaced the aforementioned Will Muschamp, who was on LSU’s staff at the same time as Jimbo Fisher.

Top 25 after Week 12

In College Football, General LSU, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 18, 2018 at 12:52 PM

After relying on my original computer formula for 100% of the list below last week, I just couldn’t do it this week.  I am switching #1 and#2.  Notre Dame has the better schedule for the moment by just a whisker (mostly because the Irish played Michigan),but Southern California (Notre Dame’s next opponent) will have a worse rating than South Carolina (Clemson’s next opponent) next week.  In addition, the Gamecocks (who are already bowl-eligible) will be able to pad their record with a win over Akron on December 1.  The Trojans, assuming they lose, will be done for the season (and ineligible for a bowl).

The Irish looked good, both in uniforms and in playing ability, against Syracuse and became my computer #1. Irish safety Alohi Gilman is pictured intercepting a pass
in Yankee Stadium on Saturday .

One other difference is the last four teams in the list below are the four teams(in order) that appear in the top 20 of my weighted ratings (which better mimic the CFP committee considerations by giving priority to how many of the best teams you play over your average opponent… to the extent the CFP committee is based on wins and losses and an objective evaluation of strength of schedule anyway), but did not appear in the top 20 of my older formulation.  Utah St. was #21 in both, so I thought it made sense to put those teams after the Aggies. If you were curious, the teams omitted as a result of this decision are Cincinnati, Buffalo, and Troy.  It’s three omitted teams instead of four because Missouri would be ranked either way.  The Tigers are just two spots higher this way. 

Syracuse, Auburn, and Northwestern are the three teams in the top 25 of the weighted ratings but not listed below.  Had I followed the weighted ratings exclusively, they would have replaced Texas, Fresno St., and Washington.

A perfectly average SEC team would be ranked #30, so that makes it much easier for the SEC teams to get the extra points awarded in the weighted ratings.  The Big Ten has the second-best average rating, but a perfectly average Big Ten team would only be ranked #48.

Auburn (Alabama’s next opponent) has a very similar rating to South Carolina, so I don’t think the Tide will be able to narrow the gap much if at all.  Alabama may pass up Notre Dame though, another reason not to make the Irish #1 right now.

I normally only use this top 25 blog entry to talk about why the ratings are what they are, but I wanted to make a couple of comments about Alabama.  It’s a coincidence that this demotion comes after their worst first half of the season, but I guess it’s fitting.  I thought LSU should have used the option against Alabama, and I think the Citadel’s performance in the first half supported that idea.  LSU won the 2011 “Game of the Century” by using more option than Alabama expected as well.  Nick Saban said probably none of the Citadel players could play for Alabama (maybe one or two could be decent walk-ons), and it still made them competitive for a while.  That’s not the case with LSU obviously.  Maybe it’s something we can work on in the offseason.  I don’t mean become one of those all-option all-the-time teams that almost never throw the ball (like Georgia Tech and the service academies), but we need ways to spread out defenses like Alabama’s horizontally in order to sustain drives and limit opponents’ possessions.

LSU fell two spots after playing possibly the worst team at the FBS level (they lost to the other candidate, UTEP, but the Owls have faced a stronger schedule).  If Michigan and LSU win next week, the Tigers should move back ahead of the Buckeyes. Washington St. may be ahead for good, although of course the Cougars could lose to Washington or Utah (which clinched the Pac-12 South).  Oklahoma and Georgia could also suffer losses in the next two weeks.  In my weighted ratings, LSU is still #6 behind Michigan. 

RankTeamPrev.
1Clemson2
2Notre Dame3
3Alabama1
4Georgia4
5Michigan5
6Oklahoma6
7Ohio St.8
8Wash St.9
9LSU7
10C. Florida12
11Kentucky18
12Boise St.13
13Texas16
14Penn St.11
15Florida14
16Utah21
17W. Virginia10
18Fresno St.
19Washington20
20Army17
21Utah St.22
22Texas A&M
23Missouri
24S Carolina
25Miss. St.

Out of Top 25: (15) Cincinnati, (19) Buffalo, (23) Duke, (24) UAB, (25) Iowa St.

Week 12: Not Rivalry Week Yet

In Bowls, College Football, General LSU, History, Me, Preview, Rivalry on November 16, 2018 at 7:42 PM

Apart from some remotely possibly upsets of top teams (I mentioned Clemson and Notre Dame in the Rankings blog), I’m not wildly excited about any of the matchups this week.   I still thought of somethings I’d like to talk about. 

The Former Rivalry Week

I miss the days where this was THE main rivalry week. 

The Big Ten used to finish up for good, but now they have 3 more weeks including the championship.  Tomorrow it will be exactly 11 years since Ohio St. beat Michigan, probably with no suspicion that they were about to be involved in the craziest ending to a college football season in recent memory.  Although the Buckeyes were ranked only #7 going into that final game, they would enter the bowls as the #1 team in the BCS standings.  Despite its second loss coming in the last regularly-scheduled game, LSU would become the surprise #2 after winning the SEC championship on the same day Numbers 1 and 2 in the BCS (Missouri and West Virginia) both lost. 

LSU LB Ali Highsmith gets to the ball before Ohio St. QB Todd Boeckman can throw it in LSU’s 38-24 championship win in New Orleans on January 7, 2008.

Anyway, I bring that up because the normal time of year for Ohio St. to play Michigan going back to the 1930s was between about November 17 and November 24.  2007 just happened to be the last time the game was on the 17th.  The end of the Big Ten season got pushed closer to the end of November in 2010; and then with the start of the Big Ten Championship game in 2011, the Big Ten season now extends into December.. 

Some Big Ten teams finished conference play even earlier.  For instance, in 2005, Wisconsin played its last Big Ten game on November 12.  There were 11 teams in the Big Ten then, so I guess the Badgers were the odd men out for the rivalry week.  Other end-of-season rivalries in the Big Ten were Minnesota-Iowa, Michigan St.-Penn St., Purdue-Indiana, and Illinois-Northwestern.

Althoughit was often played later (and only became the traditional final regular-seasongame in 1977), Florida played Florida St. on November 17 as recently as 2001.  2001 was also the last time UCLA played USC onNovember 17.  Sometimes there was a latergame for one or both schools, but it was the second-to-last Saturday inNovember going back to the 1970s.

17 Nov 2001: Kevin Arbet tackles Craig Bragg as USC upsets UCLA 27-0 to qualify for a bowl game in Pete Carroll’s first year with the Trojans.

Another big rivalry that used to be the second-to-last Saturday in November was Oklahoma-Nebraska.  It was permanently moved to the last Saturday in November in the early 1990s before it stopped being an annual game in 1998.  Of course Nebraska was a much more important team in those days than they are today.  The date would sometimes vary a week or so, but the rivalry had been played around that time of year since the 1940s.

The Iron Bowl was played between November 17 and November 23 every year from 1993 through 2006.  Those were the first 14 seasons in which I had a meaningful interest in college football on the national level, though I followed LSU for about 5 years before that. 

Anyway, so I think that’s enough explanation of why I always feel like something is missing this week, especially since it became the week for the SEC to take it easy. 

How the SEC Schedule for Mid-November Deteriorated

Although it had been done occasionally a few times before (for instance, South Carolina played Middle Tennessee the week before Clemson in 2006; and LSU played Conference-USA opponents before Arkansas a few times in the 1990s), Alabama led the way with a real commitment to this trend. 

Startingin 2007, the Tide has usually had a bye before the LSU game, so since theycouldn’t have another bye before Auburn, they played UL-Monroe.  The ended up losing to LSU, Auburn, and ULMin 2007; but that didn’t deter Alabama from that strategy.  In 2008, the Tide did the opposite (byebefore Auburn, non-conference game before LSU), and it worked.  Alabama only went a combined 3-3 against LSUand Auburn between 2009 and 2011, but they’re a combined 11-2 in regularly-scheduledgames against the two rivals since.

For itspart, LSU played Tulane the week before the Alabama game in 2008 and 2009,which did not work.  Then LSU went to thebye before Alabama (which worked for two years and hasn’t worked since), but theprecedent was already set.  Sometimes it’sin late October instead of November, but the Tigers have had a late-seasonnon-conference game most of the years since. They did not have one in 2016 only because of rescheduling that resultedfrom the hurricane that hit Florida. 

Auburn has been more consistent.  Except for 2013 when the Plains-Tigers were able to use a second bye before Alabama, Auburn has had a non-conference opponent the week before Alabama every year since 2011.

Georgia originally scheduled its late-season non-conference opponent before Auburn, but in 2014 the Bulldogs changed it to the week before Georgia Tech.  I’m not sure why it wasn’t done that way last year, but Georgia is back to that pattern this year. 

A few of the less significant SEC programs are still playing regular games, but the SEC schedule leaves a lot to be desired…

Ole Miss-Vanderbilt Headlines This Week’s SEC Schedule

Anyway, so we are now at the stage where the big SEC rivalry game this week is Ole Miss-Vanderbilt.  I’ll explain why.

Arkansas has played Mississippi St. annually since 1992, but the Bulldogs have won 5 of 6 in the series, and the Hogs are only 2-8 on the season.  Arkansas could back into a single-digit game like they did against LSU last week, but I hardly expect high drama.  So that’s not a game to watch. 

Missouri and Tennessee (the CBS game of the week) have slightly better combined records than Vanderbilt and Ole Miss, but that’s only been a rivalry (of sorts) since Missouri joined the SEC in 2012.  It hasn’t been a very interesting one either.  Missouri ended both 2015 and 2016 really badly and lost to the Vols in the process.  The Tigers won the other games.  The only game of the six decided by fewer than 8 points was in 2012 (when each team would finish 5-7).

Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, however, is a competitive longstanding rivalry between fairly evenly-matched teams. Since 2005, the only SEC team against which the Commodores have a winning record is Ole Miss (7-6).  Vanderbilt won 5 of 6 in the series from 2007 to 2012, but Ole Miss responded by winning the next 3.  The two programs have exchanged home wins over the past two years.  The Commodores have won 4 of the last 6 games played against the Rebels in Vanderbilt Stadium. 

The three touchdowns by Vanderbilt RB Ralph Webb (#7) were the difference in Nashville two years ago. The Commodores had ended a 3-game series winning streak by the Rebels.

As for this year’s respective teams, both are near .500 and have identical 1-5 conference records.  Nonetheless,Vanderbilt could still guarantee a bowl game by finishing the season with home wins over the Rebels and the Volunteers, their two biggest historical rivals.  The Rebels are still on probation and ineligible for a bowl, but I’m sure there is motivation to avoid a losing record and potentially finish with a winning record (which they could do by beating Vanderbilt and winning the Egg Bowl over Mississippi St.).

LSU and Rice Renew a Rivalry Few Missed

One other rivalry I’d like to mention is LSU-Rice.  It was before my time, but this used to be an annual series.  Other than in-state (former/sporadic) rival Tulane, LSU has played Rice more than any other team that is currently outside of the SEC. LSU and Rice played each other every year between 1932 and 1952 and every year but one between 1955 and 1983.  The only meetings between 1983 and this season were in 1987 and 1995.

Rice has only beaten the Tigers once since 1966.  However, despite LSU winning a national championship in 1958, it was a competitive series between 1955 and 1966.  Rice had a 5-4-2 record against LSU during that span. 

The most notable Rice win was in 1961.  The Owls denied the Tigers a chance at second national championship in four seasons.  After losing the opener to Rice 16-3, LSU would win the next 10 games including the Orange Bowl.  Rice would finish 7-4 and lose in the Bluebonnet Bowl, the Owls’ last bowl appearance until 2006.

Rice made 5 bowl games from 2006 to 2014, winning 3 of them, their only wins in bowl games since 1953 (they also lost the 1957 Cotton Bowl and the 1960 Sugar Bowl). 

The Owls have returned to their prior form since that 2014 bowl win though.  After falling just one win short of qualifying for a bowl for the fourth consecutive year in 2015 (with a 5-7 record), Rice has only won 5 games since the start of the 2016 season.  Two of those wins were over FCS opponent Prairie View A&M, including in the opener this year, which was Rice’s only victory in its last 21 contests.  Two of the other wins since 2016 were over UTEP, which finally ended a 20-game losing streak two weeks ago against Rice. The fifth win was over UNC-Charlotte, which only began playing in the FBS in the past few years.  

Top 25 after Week 11

In College Football, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 11, 2018 at 4:59 PM

Alabama did end up becoming #1 based on the computer data.  This is both in the formula that I’ve been using for about 10 years and in the “weighted ratings,” which I created last year to give higher ratings for playing very good opponents. 

For instance, I think Mississippi St. is one of the 25 toughest teams to beat, but they’re not in the top 25 below since that system averages every week together equally.    So when Mississippi St. lost to Alabama and beat Auburn, they got 0.27 for those two weeks.  That’s fewer points than Alabama-Birmingham got for beating Charlotte and Texas-San Antonio, for example.  I don’t think for a second Alabama-Birmingham would beat Auburn or Alabama (we’ll see how they do against Texas A&M), but since they have a lot more mediocre wins than losses they appear higher in the original rankings than Mississippi St. does.  The Bulldogs have 4 losses to the Blazers’ 1, so it’s hard for them to overcome the loss disparity AND get enough points in the 5 FBS wins to get a higher rating than UAB (with 8 FBS wins).

So why don’t I just use that system for everything?  The best example is the final rating of last year.  It exacerbated the differences between Alabama’s and Georgia’s respective schedules and gave Georgia the higher rating.  Georgia played Auburn twice, and the second time they did it, Alabama was idle because only two teams can be in the SEC Championship game.  So playing the extra quality opponent, along with the overall schedule, helped Georgia overcome having the extra loss.  I think Georgia and Alabama were close enough in my original formula, so I wouldn’t want to try some kind of average either. 

If Georgia Tech had won a couple more games, for instance, Alabama should have still been #1 after beating Georgia.  But I agreed with the top 4 it picked before the bowl games last year, so it may continue to be useful for that purpose among the top teams.  Also, the SEC is good; but I’m not sure 9 SEC teams in the top 25 (the result of the weighted formula right now) is appropriate, so I’m not using it at all for the top 25 at this time.

I think at the end of last season my weighted ratings did a better job with teams lower in the top 25, at least if your primary concern is most difficult teams to play, which is probably closer to the CFP committee’s thinking.  It’s more difficult in both my weighted ratings and in the CFP for teams in lesser conferences to rise in the rankings.    After last season, I used the original rankings for the top 10 and the weighted ratings for 11-25.  I may follow something similar at the end of this season; but since it’s new, I’m not sure if that will be the optimal solution every year.

For now, the entire top 25 is exactly as dictated by the original ratings. 

The Clemson offense celebrates a touchdown in Chestnut Hill, MA, on Saturday.  The Tigers were never threatened and won 27-7, their closest win since September.  Clemson hosts (23) Duke next week before completing the regular season against South Carolina.

I still do not expect Alabama to be first in the original ratings after next week because FCS opponents do not help ratings very much (look how far Army fell); and both Clemson and Notre Dame are playing fairly good opponents (Duke and Syracuse, respectively).  These results tell me that I made the right call last week in keeping Alabama #1 and Clemson #2 for continuity between two weeks ago and now.  Also, Clemson has clinched a berth in the ACC title game, which will help the Tigers to finish ahead of Notre Dame assuming they keep winning.

The two new Mountain West teams in the top 25 is a little strange, but this might help explain how the formula can react to obscure results.  The main reason is that both Boise St. and Utah St. were in the top 30 to begin with and both won, but that’s not the whole story.  BYU’s win over Massachusetts helped their value as an opponent not because the Minutemen are very good, but they did have good opponents themselves.  This contributed to the increase in points for both Boise St. and Utah St. as well as the Mountain West in general (BYU also played Hawaii).  Of course it also helped Boise St. a lot to beat Fresno St.  Utah St.’s win over San Jose St. didn’t count for much, but UNLV’s upset win over San Diego St. (which Utah St. does not play this year) helped the Aggies too.  Also, Boise St. and Utah St. helped one another because both are in the Mountain Division and both beat teams in the Western Division.

Utah (which has not played BYU yet) got back on track with a win over Oregon.  The Utes also have a helpful non-conference win over Northern Illinois, which is now 7-3.  It also helped that two of the three teams who beat Utah won on Saturday (and the other was idle).

Cincinnati benefited from losses by six teams between 15th and 26th (the Bearcats were 27th last week).  Three additional teams (Buffalo, Duke, amd UAB) in that range got very few points, so Cincinnati would have moved up significantly even if they’d played a worse team than then-7-2 South Florida.  Since South Florida has now lost 3 in a row and might well lose 5 in a row, the Bearcats will have to beat Central Florida to keep going up.  So I wouldn’t expect two American Conference teams to be in the top 15 for very long.

Anyway, it’s important not to just look at last week’s results and think that’s the whole story of why a team moves from Point A to Point B.

RankTeamPrev.
1Alabama1
2Clemson2
3Notre Dame3
4Georgia4
5Michigan5
6Oklahoma7
7LSU6
8Ohio St.10
9Wash St.8
10W. Virginia11
11Penn St.15
12C. Florida13
13Boise St.
14Florida17
15Cincinnati
16Texas21
17Army12
18Kentucky9
19Buffalo18
20Washington16
21Utah
22Utah St.
23Duke22
24UAB23
25Iowa St.

Out of Top 25: (14) Michigan St., (19) Fresno St., (20) NC State, (24) Iowa, (25) Boston College

LSU-Alabama Post Mortem

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game, Rivalry on November 7, 2018 at 4:24 PM

I wrote most of this toward the end of the game, but I’ve held onto this until now.  I prefer to spread my blogs out.

I did think it would be a much closer game, but my instincts about the LSU defense and Alabama offense were largely correct (if the Tide had converted the two extra points, my score guess would have been perfect). I did underestimate the Alabama defense and overestimate the LSU offense, but I wasn’t nearly as confident about what we would see when LSU had the ball.

I was upset by the picks of Alabama winning 41-17, 40-21 and so forth because if we had been scoring points, that probably would have meant we would have been around 50/50 in time of possession, probably better.  Had that been the case, there would have been no way we would have allowed 41. 

After 3 quarters, Alabama had about an 8-minute edge in time of possession.  But if you had told me that LSU would have less than 100 yards going into the final 16 minutes of the game (there was a long throw and a penalty right at the end of the third quarter), I would have predicted Alabama to have scored at least 30 by that time.

Also, had there been just a couple more minutes in time of possession for LSU (some of this was the fault of the play-calling), the first half would have ended with Alabama only up 9-0.

I think I was right to pick out the Missouri game as something analogous to what could be done in this game.  Instead of our offense committing turnovers inside our own 20, we helped out the Tide by sustaining very few drives.  Missouri completed drives in the early going and could go no further, and LSU failed to convert on drives late in game; but both teams struggled to do much of anything offensively most of the game.

LSU’s offense on average is probably a little bit behind Missouri (we outscored them against Georgia, but they almost doubled our score against Florida) and LSU’s defense is ahead (taking out the defensive score, the totals against Florida were within a couple of points; but Georgia’s offense scored almost twice as much against Missouri’s defense). Hindsight is 20/20 of course, but when I made the prediction Missouri had not yet played Florida.

I want to say a couple more things to keep the game in perspective.  These are not excuses or sour grapes, but I’m not going to say we’re just terrible and Alabama is just great without defending my team a little bit.

I’ve already seen people on Twitter saying, “We should be scoring, Tennessee scored 21 points, Arkansas scored 31.”  This was not a good performance by any stretch, but we’re not Arkansas or Tennessee.

If Alabama had scored 28 in the first quarter like they did against Tennessee, they might have let us score 21.

If they’d scored 41 by halftime like they did against Arkansas, they might have let us score 17 in the second half.  We may have also scored in the first half if their defense didn’t have time to catch its breath between LSU possessions.

When the Tide did go up in this game 29-0, we moved the ball pretty well to set up a first and goal (before a penalty and a turnover).  I don’t know the Alabama defensive personnel very well, but I’m pretty sure some of those guys jumping offsides to help us get there weren’t first-string.  Regardless, that was not nearly the same type of defense we saw earlier.  So had our defense been worse, we probably would have seen it sooner.

It just wasn’t our night in a couple of other ways.  K Cole Tracy had been perfect from 50 yards or fewer and he missed what should have been an easy 33-yarder. 

I already talked about the Devin White situation.  If you just look at the scoring, you might think nothing changed when he came in. That’s not quite true.  Alabama had to convert multiple third-and-longs to get that third touchdown.

This is what happens when you turn your back to Tua Tagovailoa.

Before the third and 16, you could tell LSU was doing a better job diagnosing some of the things the Tide was doing.  The touchdown was an improvised scramble rather than a designed run, so it’s not like Alabama did something weird before the play that the defense didn’t catch.  Someone should have been paying more attention to Tua during the play, but that’s another topic.  There was only one more score after that.  

Also, Burrow had multiple really good downfield throws in the first half, but at least a few were incomplete because of uncalled obvious pass interferences.  I’m not saying that would have made the game close, but it’s another reason 0 points isn’t really a fair representation of what we could do on offense.  We also had the ball at the Alabama 38 on another drive and punted.  One of the things I expressed concern about was a return to Burrow’s form against Florida, but this was much worse than that.

We’ve still done a lot considering how few starters returned this year (at least a couple of whom were hurt early), and Coach O didn’t inherit the kind of bench Alabama has had.  Saban built that up over a lot of years and a lot of national titles (and near-national-titles), taking a lot of players we couldn’t get or overlooked.  I’m sure they’ve done that to some other SEC teams too.  Maybe if Coach O were around years ago we would have recruited Irv Smith, Jr., or convinced Dylan Moses to keep his commitment.  

Anyway, point being, I didn’t think the game would be close because I didn’t think Alabama was really good or even possibly one of the best teams ever.  I’ve ranked Alabama #1 since last year for good reason, and I ranked LSU #24 in preseason (instead of higher) for good reason.  I also kept the Tigers ranked below Clemson and Notre Dame  (and Alabama above them) for longer than my computer did for the same reason. 

We did about 24 points better than I thought we would against Georgia, so being about 22 points worse than I thought this game kind of balances it out.  It’s hard to consistently do better than you should do on paper, and it’s been a challenge to people who make any kind of predictions to know when LSU will do that and when they won’t this year.