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Pre-Bowl Top 25 and Playoffs

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on December 8, 2019 at 7:20 PM

Top Teams and Conferences

If you look at my ratings site, the ratings look a bit different.  I noticed that the unweighted ratings were included multiple times in the weighted ratings, so previously it wasn’t really an average of the two systems.  Without counting the unweighted system four extra times, it wasn’t as necessary to produce such large numbers to create an average.

Before I get to the resumes and arguments, I did update the LSU-Georgia series blog.  It’s funny how the series is almost a perfectly even split in both Athens and Baton Rouge, but LSU has a 4-1 lead in Atlanta now. 

I thought it was appropriate that LSU came out first given where the Tigers’ best wins are ranked.  LSU beat #7 Georgia, #14 Florida, #15 Auburn, and #17 Alabama. Ohio St. beat #12 Penn St., #18 Cincinnati, #21 Wisconsin twice, #23 Michigan, and #25 Florida Atlantic.  So only one win was better than Alabama, LSU’s fourth-best win in hindsight. 

LSU struggled with a conventional rushing game at times against the Georgia defense in Atlanta on Saturday, but Joe Burrow was able to maintain the ground threat himself. He ran for 53 yards and also caught a deflected pass for 16 yards.

Utah St., Texas A&M, and Texas make seven top-50 wins for LSU; and Indiana makes seven top-50 wins for Ohio St., so it makes sense that the two teams ended up so close.  Georgia Southern, another LSU win, is just outside of the top 50 at #52.  

This doesn’t factor into my ratings directly; but for the sake of argument, I think it’s also noteworthy that Florida, Auburn, and Alabama only look worse because of subsequent losses to other teams LSU beat or would beat (Florida to Georgia, Auburn to Georgia, and Alabama to Auburn). 

For Playoff purposes, I think it’s also important that LSU was the first team to beat Texas (which they did on the road), the first team to beat Florida, and the first team to beat Alabama (which they also did on the road).  I know Texas isn’t a great team now, but entering the season with a quarterback who knows what he’s doing and with most of the team that had just won the Sugar Bowl made Texas a very good team relative to others in September.  They didn’t do much with that from that point forward, whereas someone like Florida Atlantic is probably a much better team now than they were.

I know Ohio St. has a couple more top-25 wins, but as the teams get lower in the top 25 they don’t count as much.  The cumulative victories are still enough for the Buckeyes to be a clear #1 in the unweighted system.  The weighted system is triggered by certain targets that aren’t necessarily the same as the final top 10 or top 25, and LSU won that.

It so happened that LSU got to play the other five best teams in the SEC (the teams I mentioned and Texas A&M, who only lost to the higher-ranked SEC teams, all of whom LSU beat, and Clemson). Ohio St. did not get to play Iowa or Minnesota, who were two of the three best teams in the other division.  If they had, there would have been no way for LSU to be ahead in my ratings, especially given that Cincinnati and Florida Atlantic turned out to be better on paper than LSU’s non-conference opponents.  I don’t think either would have beaten Texas, but they have better resumes. 

These wins explain LSU and Ohio St. being so far ahead of anyone else.  Clemson didn’t beat anyone in the top 30, and Oklahoma only beat a single top 30 team (which they did narrowly twice). 

Justin Fields runs for a long gain in the Buckeyes’ best win, 28-17, against Penn St. in Columbus on November 24. Fields had over 250 all-purpose yards in the game.

Speaking of Oklahoma, they were not able to pass up Memphis.  I thought Cincinnati had to win for the Sooners to be #4.  That doesn’t bother me though.  Let’s look at the best wins.  For Oklahoma: #11 Baylor twice, #33 Oklahoma St., #42 Iowa St. (by one point), and #43 Texas.  For Memphis: #18 Cincinnati twice, #19 Navy, and #22 SMU. 

Similar to Ohio St./LSU, Oklahoma has more quantity; but the quality isn’t as good.  Two wins against the top 30 versus four.  You have to go into the 60s for Memphis’s next win (Tulane), but I think there needs to be more focus on success versus the top teams.  I didn’t even mention how Memphis got screwed out of a chance to beat #34 Temple.  Even if it were a fair result, the Owls weren’t much worse than Oklahoma’s loss (#30 Kansas St.).

Clemson’s average win was worse than Oklahoma’s or Memphis’s average win, but Clemson got more credit for their wins because they had one more than Oklahoma or Memphis had.  So they would have been #3 even if Memphis and Oklahoma had taken extra bye weeks instead of losing.  If a team like Auburn or Florida had finished with one loss, they probably would have been #3 instead; but the schedules of the one-loss teams just weren’t strong enough to challenge for that third spot.

I’ll talk more about non-Power 5 teams at the end. 

There were a few odd side effects of recalculating the averages such as the improvements in Minnesota’s and Appalachian St.’s rankings.  I had Minnesota right ahead of Alabama going into rivalry week, which went poorly for both, so there wasn’t a great reason to put Alabama ahead in the first place.  I’ll also discuss Appalachian St. in the section at the end.

Michigan and Wisconsin went down a good bit, even more than Wisconsin’s loss would have normally dictated.  On the other hand, the Badgers went up the rankings dramatically fast after beating Minnesota.  I think the most important aspect of the shuffling of the Big Ten teams is Penn St., who counts as a really quality win for the Gophers.  Michigan couldn’t beat the Nittany Lions, and Wisconsin didn’t play them.  There is sort of a preliminary rating I give each team, and Penn St. basically shows up as a top-ten team there.  That’s important to the weighted ratings, which now have a bigger impact on the overall average.  Also, in Wisconsin’s case, it’s easier to fall below teams when you lose and they either won or didn’t have to play anyone.  The middle of the top 25 is always more crowded as well.

Auburn ended up passing Florida, but I’m OK with that.  A team from their division won the SEC, and a team they beat out of conference won the Pac-12.  Combine that with the fact that they had to play Alabama and Texas A&M (both of whom they beat) when Florida played easier opponents (such as Tennessee and Kentucky), I think it overcomes the fact that the Gators finished the game better at home against Auburn. 

That said, Auburn and Florida were close enough that I can understand making a judgment call based on head to head. But if you’re going to do that to resolve Auburn vs. Florida, you need to follow the same logic when it comes to Auburn vs. Alabama. The Citrus Bowl is supposed to go to the best available SEC team, which was Auburn. Auburn should not be penalized for having to play Florida and Georgia. Auburn and Alabama both lost to LSU, they both beat the other mutual opponents, Auburn beat Alabama, and Auburn also beat Oregon. Also, if it were Alabama, they would be rewarding the team who finished stronger.

Antonio Gibson of Memphis fights for extra yards yesterday against Cincinnati in the Liberty Bowl. The Tigers beat the Bearcats twice in one week to win the AAC.

Degrading Teams from Outside the Major Conferences

It really bothers me how 12 years ago fans blindly accepted a #10 rank for a team like Hawaii, who played absolutely no one of consequence.  Their main claim to fame was a last-minute win over a Pac-10 team with a losing record.  Previous teams like Tulane (21 years ago) had been even higher when they were undefeated.    1984 was before my time (I was alive but not watching football), but BYU’s big bowl win was over a 5-loss Big Ten team, and they finished #1 in both polls. 

I wasn’t in favor of any of those being so highly regarded, but you can go to the opposite extreme as well.  Now we have this fancy committee, who I think exists for the purpose of excluding non-Power-5 teams, and fans (and even voters) just accept that no other team is even in the top 15 no matter what they do because the committee tells them so.  The first year of the committee was 2014.  Marshall was unranked that year by the committee despite reaching #18 in the polls after starting 10-0 (and playing a much worse schedule than Group-of-5 teams who are ranked in the middle of the top-25 at best now).  It seems that since then the polls have learned to be more cautious about “outsider” teams.  The TV usually uses the committee rankings, so I think the pollsters generally just know what the number next to the team on the digital scoreboard was.

I know the BCS never put a non-Power-5 team like that in the top 2, but they put them in the top 4 multiple times.  (Given their schedule and history, Notre Dame is basically Power 5 although they don’t technically play in a conference.) Ten years ago, for instance, the BCS had three teams from outside of the Power 5 in the top six of the standings (Cincinnati, TCU, and Boise St.).  TCU even returned to the top 4 the next season.  Hold your breath for the Playoff committee to ever do that.

Boise St. even came close to Oklahoma this year.  The Broncos had five wins over the top 41 to Oklahoma’s three.  If they had played one additional good team from the other division (they avoided San Diego St.), they would have been ahead as well.  Maybe the Mountain West should just kick out New Mexico and UNLV (which would have given them almost the same average as the Big XII) and play a schedule like the Big XII does.  If they had, Boise St. would have gotten to play Air Force again. 

That’s not to say Oklahoma isn’t capable of winning the championship, but there should be consequences for not scheduling decent opponents and even most of the good teams you beat not scheduling decent opponents out of conference.  The Sooners’ best non-conference opponent was Houston, which finished with a losing record playing in Memphis’s division.  Baylor’s best non-conference opponent was Texas-San Antonio, #114 of 130 teams.  Oklahoma St. also didn’t play anyone out of conference who finished with a winning record.  Tulsa also played in Memphis’s division unsuccessfully Oregon St. had a better season than expected, but I only have the Beavers #85.  Houston and Tulsa were in the 90s, between UTSA and Oregon St.  Some other Big XII teams scheduled all right, but I’m not sure it helps to say “At least the team we lost to beat 6-6 Mississippi St.!”  It’s not worth bragging about at all to beat a team who lost to Iowa or who lost to LSU.

Appalachian St. only had one loss, and six wins against the top 70 isn’t bad given their conference.  They’re a much more credible member of the top 10 than that Hawaii team I mentioned , for instance.  I did think it was right for them to be behind Notre Dame, who only played a few teams who weren’t in the top 70.  Boston College was actually the Irish’s eighth-best win at #71, but you get the idea.   The Mountaineers scheduled well out of conference, but they still didn’t get as high-quality of a win as Navy.  Their loss (to Georgia Southern) was not as forgivable as Michigan or Georgia.  Given Baylor’s struggles against non-bowl teams, losses to the only top-30 team they played, and lack of any serious attempt to schedule anyone out of conference, I don’t mind Appalachian St. being ahead of the Bears.

Top 25

rankteamlast
1Ohio St.1
2LSU2
3Clemson3
4Memphis5
5Oklahoma8
6Boise St.7
7Georgia4
8Oregon16
9Notre Dame10
10Appalachian17
11Baylor11
12Utah9
13Penn St.12
14Auburn18
15Florida13
16Minnesota21
17Alabama19
18Cincinnati14
19Navy23
20Air Force22
21Wisconsin6
22SMU20
23Michigan15
24Iowa24
25Florida Atlantic

Out of top 25: (25) UL-Lafayette

Rivalry Week Top 25 and SEC Bowl Update

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, History, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on December 1, 2019 at 4:09 PM

Rivalry Week and Bowl Ramifications

I thought Mississippi St. would win.  People will say they didn’t deserve it because of the stupid celebration penalty, but Ole Miss didn’t deserve to get a first and goal from a phantom pass interference call. 

Mississippi St. is going to a bowl game for a 10th consecutive year for the first time, but they don’t mention that they made it one year without a winning record because there weren’t enough bowl-eligible teams by virtue of six wins (but you can’t have 7 losses, and at least five of the wins have to be over FBS opponents).

Mississippi St. RB Kylin Hill led the offense with 132 yards, which not only led all rushers but was more yards than any of the game’s three quarterbacks had passing. The Bulldogs won the Egg Bowl in Starkville on Thursday, their first home win in the series since 2013.

Congrats to Virginia for finally beating Virginia Tech. In the short term, that probably means a loss to Clemson, but that could also come with an Orange Bowl berth. 

I’m somewhat shocked that TCU lost its chance at bowl eligibility in a home game against West Virginia.  I guess they get up for the good teams and not so much for some of the others.    

The combination of the TCU loss and the Missouri bowl ban being upheld apparently gives more room for G5 conferences.  An Ole Miss win would have made yet another spot available.  I don’t believe it will be necessary to make other teams eligible this year. 

SEC Bowl Projections

If Missouri had been eligible, there would have been 10 SEC bowl teams.  As it stands, the Independence, Birmingham, and one other bowl (possibly the Belk) will have to do without SEC teams.

It’s expected Georgia and Alabama will be in NY6 bowls.  It’s possible Georgia could be in the Playoff along with LSU.  The mostly likely candidate for the Citrus will be Florida.  Cue the clips of Steve Spurrier mocking Tennessee for being in that game.  Auburn would probably be good for the Outback.  The Outback is officially even with the other bowls (apart from Independence and Birmingham), but it seems like in most years it gets the team that just barely misses the Citrus.  Auburn has better wins but one more loss, including a loss to Florida.

Texas A&M would make the most sense for the Texas Bowl, and Tennessee would make the most sense for the Music City Bowl since they can make pretty easy respective bus rides.  The Liberty Bowl (in Memphis) also might make a play for Tennessee.  Kentucky will probably get whichever Tennessee bowl is left over.  That would leave Mississippi St. for the Gator Bowl.  I don’t see any cause for upset or massive controversy with any of those. 

One more of those bowls mentioned in the last paragraph would be without an SEC team if a third SEC team ends up in a non-playoff  NY6 bowl.

LSU-Texas A&M Game and Series

Speaking of the SEC, I’ve updated the blog for the LSU-Texas A&M Series. That series of blogs is written as neutrally as I can, but I’m going to have to break objectivity for the moment.  I watched the game until the end hoping for more points by LSU’s second-team offense, but I don’t know if LSU will ever break the series margin of victory record that the Aggies set in 1914 (54 points).  On the show Off the Bench, someone asked what final score it would take to get the bad taste out of ones mouth from last year.  I said 75-0, but 50-7 will have to do. 

Ja’Marr Chase runs for a 78-yard TD catch. Chase averaged over 28 yards per catch and had a total of 197 receiving yards against the Aggies yesterday in Baton Rouge.

I go into more detail in the blog of course, but I also wanted to mention it was LSU’s largest margin of victory in series history, which had been 37 (in 1971, Gene Stallings’ last season).  That win had also followed a two-point upset loss in the previous year that ended a significant LSU unbeaten streak in the series (10 in that case; it had been 7 going into last year’s game).

Playoff Competition

In the top 25, Memphis and Cincinnati essentially switched places.  The Tigers will have to beat Cincinnati again to win the American Conference.

I said that Oklahoma, Baylor, and Utah (the three possible one-loss major-conference teams) would move up relative to other teams, and two of the three (Oklahoma and Utah) passed up Notre Dame on the strength of their wins Saturday.  None of them passed up Boise St., but those same two are a fraction of a point away from doing so.  Oregon, Baylor, and Oklahoma would all count for more than Hawaii, whom Boise will be playing in the Mountain West championship game. 

It would be tough to pass up Memphis if the Tigers win their championship game, but I honestly don’t see why Memphis shouldn’t be in the conversation other than the fact that the committee doesn’t like G5 teams. 

The American right now isn’t really inferior to how the Big East used to be.  In 2007, West Virginia would have played for a national championship had they not lost to a losing Pittsburgh team for the second loss on the final week.  Virginia Tech did play Florida St. for the national title in 1999.  In 2009, the top four of the final BCS standings included Cincinnati of the Big East and TCU of the Mountain West.

In those years, you had to be in the top two.  So it’s not far-fetched that a team like Memphis could be in the top four when you’re going to have a winner of a conference with only a couple of ranked teams and a weak non-conference schedule as competition.  I know the programs are mostly different now, but I think Memphis, SMU, Cincinnati, and Navy are better than West Virginia, Rutgers, and Louisville right now. 

I also think it’s harder to go undefeated against Cincinnati, SMU, and Navy than it is to go undefeated against Baylor and whatever teams tied for third in the Big XII you want to pick to compare.  The most direct point of comparison is that SMU beat TCU, who took Baylor to overtime and gave Oklahoma a scare before the referees bailed out the Sooners. 

As for Utah, if they beat Oregon, that will be the only top-25 win.  Second- and third-best wins would be BYU and Washington, who have 5 losses apiece.  There is no reason to think the better American teams wouldn’t have a good chance against those two either.  So even if I grant that Cincinnati is a lesser opponent than Baylor or Oregon (and I’m not convinced they are), I think we need to look past the best team you beat.  South Carolina has the best win in college football this season (whether you ask me or the committee), but they didn’t even have a mildly successful season.

As for overall strength of schedule, I have Memphis 63rd, Utah 76th, Oklahoma 89th, and Baylor 105th.  That is only an average of the FBS opponents, but I don’t think it’s very important to talk about who had the best FCS opponent (it was probably Memphis anyway since Southern beat Grambling to qualify for the SWAC championship game, and none of the others had successful conference campaigns). 

Anyway, the point of all this is if Memphis comes out ahead of one of these conference champions, I don’t think that’s an indictment of my system.  Just like it wasn’t an indictment of (what I now call) my unweighted system in 2009 when I agreed with the BCS about Cincinnati being #3.  We just have a committee now that uses “the eye test” (which I think is mostly a prestige test in reality) instead.  The point of computer ratings (at least for me) is to take out that kind of bias.

The loser of either (or both) the Big Ten or SEC championship could be ahead of the winners of the Big XII, Pac-12, and American conferences for that fourth spot here (and possibly with the committee) anyway.

Conference Comparisons

As far as conference strength, the SEC almost caught up with the Big Ten in best average team.  I thought they would improve by going at least 3-1 against the ACC on the final weekend, but I wasn’t sure if they could overtake the Big Ten.   The Big Ten also has a slight edge in top 25 teams on my list, 6 to 5. 

One area where the SEC is better is against other Power 5 opponents.  The SEC is 9-6 in such games, and the Big Ten is 5-5.  So playing 50% more opponents in that category with the same number of teams says something for the SEC. On the other hand, the SEC has played a lot more FCS opponents, so I guess it balances out somewhat.  The SEC has also played four games against potential champions of the six best conferences (A&M and South Carolina lost to Clemson, Ole Miss lost to Memphis, and Auburn beat Oregon), while the Big Ten has only played one (Ohio St. beat Cincinnati).

Top 25

rankteamlast
1Ohio St.1
2LSU2
3Clemson3
4Georgia4
5Memphis13
6Wisconsin14
7Boise St.8
8Oklahoma12
9Utah10
10Notre Dame6
11Baylor11
12Penn St.7
13Florida18
14Cincinnati5
15Michigan9
16Oregon17
17Appalachian19
18Auburn22
19Alabama16
20SMU21
21Minnesota15
22Air Force24
23Navy23
24Iowa20
25UL-Lafayette

Out of top 25: (25) USC

Week 13 Top 25 and Playoff Race

In College Football, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 24, 2019 at 4:33 PM

As I expected, Ohio St.’s win over Penn St. put them over the top.  LSU is still ahead in the weighted ratings, which gives increased points for beating the best teams.  However, Ohio St.’s average FBS opponent is better, and the Buckeyes didn’t play any FCS teams.  This gives Ohio St. too much of an advantage in the unweighted system for LSU to stay #1 overall.

Justin Fields runs for a first down against Penn St. in Columbus on Saturday. Fields accounted for 256 yards against the Nittany Lions.

With Oregon out of the running, I wanted to update the resumes of the playoff contenders.  For now I’m not going to discuss a potential upset in the Big Ten or SEC Championship.  We’ve never had a loser of a championship game in the Playoff, but I would struggle to argue against a one-loss Ohio St. or a one-loss LSU for the fourth spot.

This would be assuming the teams win out of course. I think losses by Baylor, Oklahoma, Utah, or Alabama would take those teams out of the running unless they all lose and the Big Ten and SEC Championship favorites win.  I’m just sticking to the current top 50 for the list of wins.

Alabama wins: (23) Auburn (except lower), (39) Texas A&M (likely lower if they lose to LSU), (49) Tennessee (slightly higher if they beat Vandy, several spots lower if not)

Alabama loss: (2) LSU

Baylor wins: (12) Oklahoma (slightly lower if they beat Oklahoma St., several spots lower if not), (27) Oklahoma St. (higher if they beat Oklahoma, slightly lower if not), (36) Kansas St. (would be higher with a win over Iowa St., slightly lower with a loss), (40) Texas (higher if they beat Texas Tech, lower if they don’t)

Baylor loss: (12) Oklahoma (see above)

Oklahoma wins: (11) Baylor twice (would be lower even if they beat KU), (27) Oklahoma St. (would be lower), (40) Texas (higher if they beat Texas Tech, lower if they don’t)

Oklahoma loss: (36) Kansas St. (would be higher with a win over Iowa St., slightly lower with a loss)

Utah wins: (17) Oregon (would be lower even if they beat Oregon St., much lower if they don’t), (35) Brigham Young (higher if they beat San Diego St., lower if they don’t), (50) Washington (higher if they beat WSU, lower if they don’t)

Utah loss: (25) Southern California (season complete)

Despite this fumble and a 28-3 Baylor lead at one point, Jalen Hurts (#1) led Oklahoma to over 500 yards of offense in a win at Baylor on November 16. The Bears will likely get a rematch though.

As I said before, I would put a one-loss Big XII champion over Alabama and Utah, and I would put Alabama over Utah.  That might not be how Alabama and Utah come out in my ratings, but my ratings are supposed to measure everything you’ve done this season.  I think in this kind of analysis we should look at the best teams you’re played even if one team has really strong fifth, sixth, and seventh wins and the other doesn’t. 

On the other hand, that might be the kind of ambiguity the committee will reason should exclude a non-champion.  Given the treatment (and success) of Alabama over the years, I doubt it though.

Obviously, I don’t have the competitive teams four teams four, five, six, and seven.  There is no predictive function.  For instance, Oklahoma has a big chunk of points coming its way with wins over Oklahoma St. and Baylor, but the system doesn’t account for that.  Auburn would be Alabama’s biggest win (especially if LSU beats Texas A&M).

I personally think Cincinnati should be considered if the Bearcats don’t lose again, but I just don’t think the committee will ever put a one-loss Group of Five team in even if the one loss is possibly to the Number 1 team.  The Bearcats would have wins over (13) Memphis, (21) SMU, (23) Navy, (31) Central Florida, and (38) Temple. Memphis and Navy would be later, so their ratings would go down. 

Do I think Cincinnati would win a rematch with Ohio St. or beat LSU?  No of course not, but in the other sports you don’t pick wildcard or at-large teams based on who’s more likely to beat the #1 or #2 seed.  I didn’t think Notre Dame had a chance when they were included, but their resume justified it.

Moving on to more general discussion of the top-25, Oregon, Penn St., and SMU were the only teams in the top 25 going into the week who lost; so there are no new teams and no one has exited the top 25.  The top 30 also stayed the same.  Only two teams ranked #31 to #40 won, so there weren’t as many candidates for entry into the top 25 as usual.

Notre Dame is 6th, but don’t worry about them getting in the way of Playoff candidates.  The Irish only have a game against seven-loss Stanford left and as usual will be idle for championship week.  Maybe they should see if the ACC will give a special waiver to play Clemson.

Boise St. plays an even worse team, Colorado St., next week.  The Broncos will play Hawaii for the MWC championship the following week, but the Rainbow Warriors aren’t worth many points even compared to the likely American runners-up Navy.

A Michigan upset of Ohio St. could make the Wolverines the best two-loss team, but I don’t see any way for a two-loss non-champion to make it in.  Then we get to three of the four major playoff contenders. Although they’re only 15th, Minnesota would have an argument with wins over Wisconsin and Ohio St.

Also, I updated the LSU-Arkansas Rivalry Series.  That was actually the first one I wrote.  This was only the third time LSU beat Arkansas by more than four touchdowns.  The other two (1908 and 2003) were arguably national-championship teams.  LSU won the BCS in 2003.  Things were a lot murkier in 1908, but going 10-0 and allowing 11 points all season is pretty good regardless.

rankteamlast
1Ohio St.2
2LSU1
3Clemson3
4Georgia5
5Cincinnati9
6Notre Dame10
7Penn St.4
8Boise St.12
9Michigan15
10Utah8
11Baylor16
12Oklahoma13
13Memphis14
14Wisconsin19
15Minnesota7
16Alabama11
17Oregon6
18Florida18
19Appalachian21
20Iowa22
21SMU17
22Auburn20
23Navy24
24Air Force23
25USC25

Ratings of All Teams

Week 12 LSU and Top 25

In College Football, General LSU, History, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 22, 2019 at 6:52 PM

Sorry for my absence. This was my first full week after a vacation, and I have a lingering cough that I’m still trying to get rid of. Also, I just wasn’t all that motivated. I guess it was hard for me to get that into the Ole Miss game after Alabama.

I am a little annoyed that people act like LSU can’t play defense. I’ll admit LSU has struggled to play solid defense for a whole game, although I’d argue we did so against Auburn. I’m still annoyed with the questionable points off of the questionable turnover in that game. Otherwise Auburn gets held to 13.

Anyway, as to the Ole Miss game, if you go up 28-0, your defense had a role in that. The rest of the game we basically went score for score except obviously at the end we ran out the clock. I would have liked a couple more stops in the second half to give younger guys more playing time, but that doesn’t say much of anything about the ability to win big games that in all likelihood are coming up.

When Alabama had a great defense in 2011 (holding LSU to 6 points in 120 minutes of regulation play), Georgia Southern scored 21 points in 20 minutes of play to make it a 10-point game with 7 minutes left in the third quarter (LSU’s lead was reduced to 11 at the same time of the game). The Eagles, who were still in I-AA at the time, finished with over 300 rushing yards against the Tide.

Ole Miss finished with more against the Tigers, but they’re an SEC team with SEC talent. I know they haven’t been the best in the conference or anything close lately, but many of their players were recruited shortly after the Rebels won the Sugar Bowl. That’s a far cry from the talent that Georgia Southern team had. And with the offense LSU has had, they don’t need to be nearly as good on defense as that Alabama team was.


That was more than I had intended to say about Ole Miss, but there will hopefully be less to say about Arkansas. Feel free to check out the rivalry blogs on those two series:
Ole Miss
Arkansas

I’ll talk a bit about the top 25 now.

LSU strengthened its hold on #1 somewhat, but I think that will change if Ohio St. wins (and I think they will).

Georgia improved.three spots to fifth and I suspect will pass up the loser of the Penn St.-Ohio St. game (assuming the Bulldogs beat the Aggies). Of course only one team can win the SEC.

The Pac-12 champion is still well-positioned to move into my top 4 with Oregon at #6 and Utah at #8.

As for the Big XII, both Baylor and Oklahoma are back behind Alabama. The Sooners can gain a decent number of points the next three weeks though (TCU, Oklahoma St., and most likely a rematch with Baylor). Without an upset of one of the top three, I still think I’m going to be for the Pac-12 champions to make the top four.

There isn’t really anything else remarkable except that Iowa made it back in by beating Minnesota. The Gophers fell only three spots, so I think I’ll still have them in the top four if somehow they win the conference.

Auburn finally had a loss that really showed in the standings. It’s not because Georgia isn’t good, but the teams are clustered a lot closer together once you get out of the top 10. So a modest relative decrease in points shows up a lot more.

De’Andre Swift rushed for 106 yards in the Bulldogs win on Saturday in Auburn.
rankteamlast
1LSU1
2Ohio St.2
3Clemson3
4Penn St.5
5Georgia8
6Oregon7
7Minnesota4
8Utah15
9Cincinnati11
10Notre Dame17
11Alabama14
12Boise St.10
13Oklahoma16
14Memphis12
15Michigan19
16Baylor6
17SMU9
18Florida18
19Wisconsin20
20Auburn13
21Appalachian21
22Iowa
23Air Force23
24Navy22
25USC25

Out of Top 25: (24) Wake Forest

Full ratings

Alabama Is Not a Playoff Team

In College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, Rankings Commentary on November 15, 2019 at 6:16 PM

I’m not here to argue that it’s unreasonable to believe Alabama is one of the four most-talented teams or to argue that there is no circumstance in which Alabama should be in the Playoff. What I am going to argue is that Alabama should only be considered if a conference champion hardly did anything important on the national level other than win that championship game.

I’m OK with Alabama being #5 as long as it doesn’t mean that if Georgia loses to Auburn or LSU, Alabama gets a playoff spot. Until the championship games are played, all one-loss teams are one-loss non-champions, so it doesn’t really bother me that much if you think Alabama is the best one-loss non-champion.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban reacts to the LSU touchdown with 6 seconds left in the first half in Tuscaloosa on Saturday. The Tigers led 33-13 at that point.

It should be a completely different conversation when comparing a one-loss non-champion to a one-loss champion. Rather than giving Alabama the benefit of the doubt, as it seems college football voters (the committee still votes; it’s just a more complicated process than the polls) always do, any one-loss champion should get the benefit of the doubt instead.

For instance, if LSU had one loss, the Tigers could point to the win over Florida and the win over Texas. Alabama can point to Tennessee and Duke. That doesn’t overcome champion versus non-champion. Unless Clemson loses, the only team I can think of that might give me pause is Utah. If Utah beats Oregon, they’ll be 1-1 against the top 30 (I consider USC top 30 even though the polls don’t, and maybe the latter will change after USC wins over Cal and UCLA), just like Alabama will be if they beat Auburn.

Maybe you could argue that the only reason Texas A&M won’t be in the top 30 is the fact that the Aggies have four currently top-5 teams on their schedule (they already played Clemson and Alabama and have Georgia and LSU left), not to mention #12 Auburn (who also beat them). So maybe it would then be fairer to say even without a championship game Alabama is 2-1 against teams that have reasonable capability of beating a top team whereas Utah will be only 1-1 even with the benefit of the championship.

So I’ve laid out what kind of argument might work for me. I just don’t see any potential one-loss major-conference champion apart from Utah or Clemson (whose best win might be Texas A&M) failing that test. I could also see a one-loss non-champion such as Ohio St. or Minnesota belonging ahead of Alabama.

Just thought this was funny. If you don’t get it, it’s a reference to the 2015 Sugar Bowl loss to Cardale Jones and Ohio St. in conjunction with the loss to former Ohio St. backup Joe Burrow on Saturday.

I’ve mentioned resumes, so let’s break down the resumes. I start with the various teams’ current ranking, then I discuss what could happen to that ranking down the line. This is relevant because I don’t accept the argument that a team was tough to beat just because they were ranked highly when you played them. Polls can be wrong, especially early in the season. Remember how Nebraska (4-5 and has only played one of the top three teams on its schedule) was ranked in both polls after Week 1?

Alabama:

Top-50 Wins –  #13 Auburn (who would be a few spots lower if they beat Georgia before losing to Alabama and several spots lower if not)

#43 Texas A&M (who might be higher if they beat LSU and will be lower if they don’t)

Loss – #1 LSU (will be clear favorites in remaining games)

If Oklahoma wins out:

Top 50 wins:

#6 Baylor, probably twice (obviously would fall in that scenario)

#28 Texas (losing to Baylor and winning the other two probably won’t hurt the Horns and may even result in a higher ranking)

#32 Oklahoma St. (will probably be about the same if they beat Baylor and lose to the Sooners, will probably be lower if they lose to both)

Loss: #30 Kansas St.

If Baylor wins out:

Top-50 wins – #16 Oklahoma, probably twice (would fall slightly in that scenario; the Sooners would benefit from wins over Oklahoma St. and TCU)

#28 Texas (might be about the same if that is the only loss, will be lower if they also lose to Iowa St.)

#30 Kansas St. (could be a bit higher since they already lost to the Bears and will probably be favored in remaining games)

#32 Oklahoma St. (will probably be a bit lower if they lose to the Bears and the Sooners)

Most likely losses – Texas or Oklahoma

If Minnesota wins out:

Top-50 wins – #2 Ohio St. (if the Buckeyes make the Big Ten
championship, but of course they would lose a few spots by losing to Minnesota)

#5 Penn St. (may lose a few spots by losing to Ohio St. and several spots by losing to Indiana), possibly twice if the Nittany Lions beat the Buckeyes.

#20 Wisconsin (may lose a few spots by losing to Minnesota but should win the rest)

#27 Iowa (may lose a few spots by losing to Minnesota but should win the rest)

#48 Illinois (probably won’t lose ground by losing to Iowa and beating Northwestern)

Most likely losses – See list of top-50 wins

If Penn St. wins out:

Top-50 wins – #2 Ohio St. (would lose a few spots of course)

#4 Minnesota (likely Big Ten championship opponent; would
lose a few spots of course)

#19 Michigan (will be higher if they beat Ohio St., probably about the same if not)

#27 Iowa (may lose a few spots by losing to Minnesota but should win the rest)

#36 Indiana (probably would finish about the same if they beat Michigan, lower if two or more losses in the last three games)

#39 Pittsburgh (would improve by beating Va. Tech and Boston College, probably even an improvement if they also lose to Clemson).

Loss – #4 Minnesota (would be hurt by any loss; see above)

If Oregon wins out:

Top-50 wins – #15 Utah (in Pac-12 championship; probably would not
change much if they win the other remaining games)

#25 USC (may be slightly higher, will be favored to
win remaining games)

#35 Washington

Loss:

#13 Auburn  (who would be a few spots lower if they beat Georgia before losing to Alabama and several spots lower if they lose to both)

If Utah wins out:

Top-50 wins – #7 Oregon (would drop by losing to Utah)

#34 BYU (will probably lose ground if they lose to San Diego St. regardless of other wins; will gain slightly if they beat the Aztecs)

#35 Washington (will improve with wins over Colorado and Washington St., will drop if they lose either or both)

Loss – #25 USC (may be slightly higher, will be favored to win remaining games)

I already talked about Utah.  Oregon in this scenario would have played 11 major-conference opponents, including all of the good teams in the Pac-12 and Auburn. I don’t want the Ducks penalized for playing a good non-conference opponent in August and not losing again even if Alabama beats the team they lost to in late November.  The wins are still more important.

Even if Baylor loses to either Texas or Oklahoma and then wins the Big XII championship, I’m still more impressed by that. 

Resumes aside, I’m against a team like Alabama being able to game the system like this.

I’m in favor of the 8-game SEC schedule because I want teams like Florida and South Carolina that have tough annual rivalries to be able to play other competitive games out of conference and still have a couple of games to catch their breaths.  But it shouldn’t be used by teams like Alabama to play 10 games against mediocre (or worse) opponents and only have to win one of two games against really good opponents.     

The Gamecocks overdid it this year by scheduling North Carolina and Appalachian St., but maybe they thought both would be worse than they have been.  Alabama didn’t do any of that.  Maybe when Alabama scheduled Duke, they didn’t sign on to play any weaker of a team than Florida did when they scheduled Miami; but Alabama doesn’t have an annual series either cross-division or out-of-conference that’s worth anything.  Florida already knew they had LSU and Florida St. in addition to the SEC East.  South Carolina already knew they had Texas A&M and Clemson annually in addition to the SEC East (I’m not sure how recently they realized they were also playing Alabama this year). 

A team should never have an easier road to the Playoff by losing a game, and that’s what Alabama thinks they deserve just like they thought they deserved it in 2011.  They don’t.  If they have a clearly better resume, I understand just taking the four teams with the best resumes; but if there is any doubt at all, the committee should lean toward conference champions and against potential rematches.  Also, just like in 2011, I think losing at home should doubly mean you don’t deserve a second shot.

It’s not only resumes, it’s not only fairness for this year’s teams, the idea should also be to discourage bad scheduling.  Duke has had some good seasons in the past, but they never had beat-Alabama (or other serious title contender) levels of talent. When the Tide played USC or Virginia Tech in earlier seasons, there was at least a chance they’d be facing a challenge.  They knew all along Duke wasn’t going to be a challenge.  The other three would have been bigger upsets than have ever happened to my knowledge. 

I also don’t believe for a second that New Mexico St. was the best team they could get that week when Saban went on his little rant.  There are a ton of better programs who would have loved the exposure of a nationally televised game in Tuscaloosa.  Troy or UAB would have been better opponents.  They certainly wouldn’t have required large travel budgets or had trouble selling their ticket allotments.

It’s also not right that the only two teams who can challenge Alabama (Auburn and LSU) play Georgia and Florida respectively every year while Alabama plays Tennessee.  If Alabama doesn’t win despite the uneven playing field and despite playing the eventual champion at home, they don’t deserve sympathy or special consideration.  I don’t care if the entire offense already has NFL contracts waiting.

LSU/Bama Recap and Week 11 Top 25

In College Football, General LSU, History, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 11, 2019 at 5:39 PM

I know there were a couple of other big games, but I only have time to write about LSU right now.

The Bama game was about what I expected apart from a few details. Tua had almost exactly how many yards per pass that I thought (8.32) until the long bomb to get the Tide within 5 with 81 seconds left put him over the 10 ypa mark. I expect College Football Nerds to celebrate how they lucked into that one even though they’d be the first to cite such a circumstance to show they weren’t really so wrong in some other game. I haven’t listened to their whole video, but they’re still saying Alabama has a better offense than LSU.

Joe Burrow, Ed Orgeron, and his wife Kelly are front and center celebrating the LSU win in Tuscaloosa Saturday.

I think more important than total yards was the fact that Tua threw 19 incompletions to Burrow’s 8. That’s usually what ends up hurting you in ypa average when you don’t get 85 on one play (and over 60 on another). Burrow also got 64 yards on the ground to Tua’s -5. LSU still got better QB play and still got more yards on the ground. Everything I brought up was in the context of LSU at least playing it close, and I did pick LSU to win.

As I commented on The Late Kick, another channel I follow (that also picked Alabama to beat the spread), I thought the winner would score in the high 30s instead of the mid-40s, but that’s a minor issue. The pass at the end (or not getting the punt return TD) and one more stop by Bama (or one fewer turnover, such as at the end of the first half) would have caused that to happen. I didn’t think Burrow would get out of quite as many jams as he did since I’ve been assured so many times how much better this defense was than the likes of Texas. So it was a little surprising that he didn’t seem any more affected by the pass rush than he did against Texas.

Harris of Alabama ran a little better than I expected, but my point in discussing Alabama running the ball was it wasn’t going to be anything close to the passing yards, and when you count the negative plays it was almost 300 yards fewer.

Early on, to Alabama’s credit, LSU struggled to get a traditional running game going; but the Tigers still made good use of the backs as blockers and receivers. Edwards-Helaire was ultimately responsible for 180 yards, 10 fewer than Harris. More than 70 of those yards were after contact on the rushing plays, probably another 50 were after contact on the receiving plays.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire catches a touchdown pass with 6 seconds left in the first half to put the Tigers up 33-13 in Tuscaloosa Saturday.

Sometimes a team in a hostile environment has to feel things out for a little while before they get comfortable. Obviously that wasn’t the case here. LSU early on seemed much more comfortable in a big-game environment, and I was right to question how capable Alabama would be in such a scenario. The Tide settled in of course, but the lack of experience of THIS Bama team probably decided the game.

Speaking of the road environment, I’m going to add this to my LSU/Alabama series blog. LSU has done better on the road against Alabama than at home not only for the last 12+ years (three of the four LSU wins in that span have been in Tuscaloosa) but for the last 50 years. All seven LSU wins from 1970 to 1999 (inclusive) were in Alabama. LSU won 7 of the next 8 (and 9 of 12) games overall starting in 2000 (Saban’s first year with the Tigers), so where the game was played didn’t matter quite as much in that span. Still, from 1970 to today, LSU has gone 13-12 against the Tide in Alabama (including 4-4 in Birmingham) and only 4-21-1 in Louisiana (including 0-1 in New Orleans).

One other bit of trivia: The 87 points scored on Saturday by both teams were the most in an LSU-Alabama game by 12 points, beating the 41-34 LSU win in 2007, the last season the Tigers won the national championship (and before Saban recruited his own defense). The third-highest point total was only 58, a tie between the 1989 Alabama win and the 2000 LSU win (which had been the first Tiger win at home since 1969).

Top 25

rankteamlast
1LSU2
2Ohio St.1
3Clemson4
4Minnesota7
5Penn St.3
6Baylor8
7Oregon5
8Georgia15
9SMU13
10Boise St.16
11Cincinnati12
12Memphis11
13Auburn10
14Alabama9
15Utah6
16Oklahoma18
17Notre Dame20
18Florida19
19Michigan14
20Wisconsin23
21Appalachian24
22Navy21
23Air Force22
24Wake Forest17
25USC

Out of Top 25: (25) Central Florida

Week 10 Top 25

In College Football, General LSU, History, Post-game, Preview, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 4, 2019 at 2:43 PM

I’ve written so much about LSU/Alabama over the years, I have a whole page of links just for that. Yes, LSU hasn’t won since the 9-6 win in Tuscaloosa in 2011, although people forget the game came down to one possession in both 2012 and 2014. I also haven’t seen much mention that over about the last 50 years LSU does better on the road in this series. You’d think from the coverage that Albama hasn’t lost at home since they hired Bear Bryant and that every game was 20+ to 0.

I haven’t done a meaningful breakdown of what’s going on in my top 25 apart from the top 10 in a good while, so I thought now would be a good time to catch up with no LSU recap. I also don’t think we need to introduce Alabama and what they do well. I covered some of it here.

American Conference

The best Big Ten and SEC teams were idle, and the only ACC team that has much to offer played Wofford; so now seems like a good time to highlight the American conference.

SMU finally lost, so my whole top 10 is now Power Five teams. The American still has five teams in the top 25 though, which is tied with the SEC and the Big Ten for the best.

QB Brady White threw for over 10 yards per pass and three touchdowns in the 54-48 win over SMU.

The controversial loss to Temple is the only reason Memphis isn’t undefeated (although to be fair they barely escaped against Tulsa). Cincinnati’s only loss is to #1 Ohio St. I don’t factor in margin of victory unless the home team wins a game decided by less than a field goal in regulation, so 42 is the same as 4 in my formula. The average home advantage is about 3 points, and obviously that happens to be a field goal. Whether you need a field goal or a touchdown at the end of the game is often a big difference, so it seems like a perfect place to draw the line. SMU’s first loss was the one the Mustangs just suffered against Memphis, so I don’t see anything wrong with their rank either.

Staying in the same conference but skipping down a few spots, Navy and Central Florida have recovered well from early losses. Navy suffered its only loss to Memphis, so that gives even more context to that ranking. Navy beat Tulane, which as I mentioned is in the top 40, and Air Force, which rose to #21 after beating Army. Central Florida had a relatively ugly loss to Pitt, so that’s why the Knights are last in the top 25. The loss to Cincinnati wasn’t bad obviously. I doubt the American will have 5 ranked teams here at the end of the season, but they’ve seemed pretty legitimate so far.

Top 10

I don’t have a specific reason Clemson fell below Penn St., but a number of the purple/orange Tigers’ opponents have been stagnant or losing value. I’m sure Florida St.’s loss to U. Miami, which Clemson does not play and will not play, didn’t help. It will generally hurt a team if a team in their own division loses to a team in the other division. It would hurt Ohio St. slightly if Minnesota beat Penn St., although the Buckeyes haven’t even played the Nittany Lions yet.

Alabama barely stayed in the computer top 10 since their schedule is bad. I’d still put the SEC top 5 up against anyone else’s, but Alabama hasn’t played anyone else in the top 5 of the conference (or any other conference except arguably CUSA). In previous years the worst team or two was around #90 and sometimes the rest were all in the top 75. The SEC does have 11 teams in the top 75, which is still very respectable; but Arkansas and Vanderbilt are among the dozen worst teams in FBS football (with losses to San Jose St. and UNLV, respectively), so they bring down the average significantly. Ole Miss isn’t too much better at #104; the Rebels’ only FBS wins have come over Arkansas and Vanderbilt.

Bama only fell one spot in the computer formula, which isn’t unusual after a bye week, especially one in which one of your best opponents lost and another played a team outside of the top 100. They only fall three spots here because I had moved them up extra spots last week.

Unlike LSU and Auburn, the Tide does not have an annual cross-divisional game against one of the top teams of the East. This year they drew South Carolina and Tennessee, two of the worst teams in the East. The Tide’s best non-conference opponents on the schedule are #67 Duke and #78 Southern Miss. By contrast, LSU has beaten three teams in out-of-conference play alone that rate at least 14 spots higher than Duke. Auburn has the best non-conference win in the nation (over #5 Oregon), and their win over #40 Tulane helps too. In conference play, the one advantage Alabama has over LSU (but not Auburn) is having played Texas A&M already; but the Aggies only rate 9 spots higher than Mississippi St., who has played LSU (and Auburn) but not Alabama. LSU also has not yet taken the hit to the strength of schedule that playing Ole Miss and Arkansas will entail.

Hopefully that explains how a two-loss team is ahead of an undefeated team in their own division (I couldn’t let that stand in the list below though) and how the AP #1 and #2 are nothing close in my formula.

Other than switching Alabama and Auburn (who only has about 1/10 of 1% more points than their rivals), I decided not to make any other changes. Whether Alabama beats LSU or not, it would cause a bigger disruption if I put all the top-10 undefeateds in the top 7. Someone will also lose between Minnesota and Penn St., and whoever wins it will look like the loser is being unduly punished. If it’s the lower team, they’ll have lost a few spots before the game even started. If it’s the higher team, it will look like they’re being dropped too far for losing to a top-7 team, who in turn isn’t being rewarded enough for the big win.

The Rest

Like a couple of the other teams I mentioned, Michigan seems to be clawing back from relatively early losses.

Likewise, Georgia’s win over Florida went some way in repairing the Bulldogs’ resume. Auburn would be another huge help.

Boise St. can only go so far with the loss to BYU and the best non-conference win being Florida St.. Another team that barely beat Florida St. was Wake Forest, who has a habit of barely beating opponents; but the Demon Deacons still have only one loss (to unranked Louisville).

Oklahoma’s one meaningful win (over Texas, which has understandable losses but a lack of wins to be excited about) only goes so far. Notre Dame, Florida, and Wisconsin are two-loss teams capable of top-10 wins, but there are weak spots on the schedule that put them significantly behind a team like Auburn.

The only top-25 team I haven’t mentioned is Appalachian St., who barely stayed in the top 25 after losing to Georgia Southern. That’s been a fairly big rivalry going back to the schools’ I-AA days, so these things happen. I’m still going to be very interested in how the Mountaineers do against South Carolina.

Outside of the top 25, things are looking good for other Louisiana schools. I mentioned LSU and Tulane, but I didn’t mention there are two other Louisiana teams between the two, Louisiana Tech and UL-Lafayette. Louisiana Tech looks like the best team in its conference right now. I wish LSU had played one of them instead of Northwestern St. The Tigers’ non-conference schedule would look even better.

Top 25 (List)

rankteamlast
1Ohio St.1
2LSU2
3Penn St.4
4Clemson3
5Oregon8
6Utah12
7Minnesota7
8Baylor9
9Alabama6
10Auburn10
11Memphis17
12Cincinnati11
13SMU5
14Michigan16
15Georgia24
16Boise St.13
17Wake Forest19
18Oklahoma15
19Florida14
20Notre Dame25
21Navy20
22Air Force23
23Wisconsin22
24Appalachian18
25Central Florida

Out of top 25: (21) Iowa

Early Discussion about LSU/Alabama

In College Football, General LSU, Preview on October 29, 2019 at 4:26 PM

I didn’t think I’d get into it this early, but I’ve already listened to a few people previewing the LSU-Alabama game.

I don’t know what their problem is, but I made a very thorough comment in response to College Football Nerds (CFN). I said right up front that I think either team could win by multiple scores (and therefore picking Alabama to win by 6-10 points, which they did, could well be correct). 

The “College Football Nerds” computer model, which predicts Alabama to have almost one yard per play more than Texas gained against LSU, not to mention more yards per play than the Tide got against Texas A&M (their best opponent so far). For comparison, the Aggies allowed 58 points between Auburn and Mississippi St., while LSU allowed 34 points between the two common opponents.

I’ll quote the exchange in full below; but to summarize, I pointed out that it’s hard to know just how good Alabama’s passing attack is given the schedule.  I also mentioned that the game plans against both Florida and Auburn were more centered around the idea that the quarterback can’t beat you (and therefore there was more cause for concern with the opponent running the ball) rather than that the quarterback is the biggest threat on the field, which is the case with Alabama. 

Had LSU not changed its defense in the second half, Trask might have beaten them; but that doesn’t mean that if on average the Alabama offense scores 50% more than the Florida offense against a given opponent that we can expect 42 points here.  If LSU plays Alabama the way they played Florida in the second half, you could only expect 21 for the game (Florida only scored 7 in the second half).

Maybe they’re just salty because their model doesn’t account for changes in strategy or for the fact that your point total can be cut in half (as LSU’s was by Auburn) if you all of a sudden play a much better defense than you have been playing.  Alabama’s average right now is about 48.6. LSU’s average before Auburn was 50.3, so Auburn actually held LSU to 45.7% of is average. 

If LSU does the same to Alabama, that’s 22 points.  I’m not saying that will happen or that 41 CAN’T happen.  There is just no inherent justification for it.  It’s not safe to assume the offense just keeps rolling as it has been minus 7-11 points.  Look at last year.  Same quarterback, but when Alabama played LSU they had a 54.1 average.  That makes the 29 allowed by LSU look pretty good.  (It helped that we couldn’t sustain drives, but that’s not our strong suit this year either.)  So if LSU is able to take 25 off of the average again, I like those chances.  Clemson took 38 off of the pre-LSU average.  I’ll be shocked if LSU does that, but only mildly surprised if they do as well as last year’s defense.  High 20s wouldn’t shock me any more than low 40s, and low 20s wouldn’t shock me any more than high 40s.

Tua Tagovailoa threw for under 8.7 yards per attempt the last time he was challenged by a defense (against Clemson in January, pictured above). The last time he played LSU he threw for just over 7 yards per attempt. CFN predicts almost 10 ypa on 11/9.

Alabama is not a particularly good team with the running backs this year, and CFN even said during their video that they expected LSU to have about 3/4 of a yard per carry more than Alabama.  And that’s given that Alabama has a decent front 7 and given that LSU isn’t particularly good at running the ball this year.

Their response was to strawman me as saying “Alabama could be terrible, they haven’t played anyone.”  I didn’t say they could be terrible, I just said they might not be as great at passing as these guys said since they haven’t faced a good defense this year.  If Alabama is going to score 41 points while not being able to run very well, they have to have a good passing game.

Anyway, the response to the strawman was that to hear this every year is “getting weird”. 

What does “every year” have to do with this year?  Alabama beat Clemson by 18 two years ago (despite losing to them the previous year).  Did that help last year when Clemson won by 28?  Trevor Lawrence outplayed Tua, who threw two interceptions (to zero), one fewer touchdown, and 2.1 fewer yards per attempt in January.  Does that mean someone shouldn’t adjust their expectations if Alabama’s next game were against Clemson instead of LSU?  I guess you can’t attack Clemson for their schedule anymore because they played two top-3 teams in January.

I attacked Finebaum for being half in this season and half in last season, but he saw the error of his ways.  He actually agrees with me now on Ohio St. #1 and LSU #2.  I changed by dropping Clemson since then, but at least I admitted I was giving Clemson the benefit of the doubt based on last year.  But he’s not these guys who construct their model and their arguments around this season and then act like I’m crazy for ignoring last season.  I don’t think he’d talk to me unless I called his show and got through, but that’s beside the point.

I finished my response to CFN by saying, “Florida is a pretty good defense [they held Auburn to 13, just FYI].  Tell me what game we can use to extrapolate that Bama would score 42 against Florida.”  I honestly would have loved an answer (and if it were a good one, I’d admit that LSU doing better than Florida would defensively might even be charitable), but the lack of an answer and the preference to mock a straw man tells me a good bit too.

The host of College Football Nerds (left) and his sidekick Josh. I’m not sure what exactly Josh looks like, so I took some artistic license.

Here is the full transcript:

Me:

Either team could win by multiple touchdowns depending on a key play here and there and who’s under pressure to be one-dimensional and throw 50/50 balls.

But I don’t think you can say Alabama has an elite passing attack based on their opponents. You’d be calling Burrow the best QB in history with Alabama’s schedule.

LSU has forced every team to throw the ball either to stay within a score or come from behind or both. In doing so, they often left a buffer behind the line of scrimmage just to prevent big plays and buckle down near the end zone. That’s how Florida was shut out for 25 minutes in a row. That’s how Miss. St. was shut out for 34 minutes. That’s how Auburn only had one legitimate scoring drive in a 50-minute period. That’s how Northwestern St. and Utah St. were completely shut out in the second halves. So the 90+% average probably won’t apply unless LSU has a good lead or is scoring so consistently Alabama is afraid to even try running the ball AND LSU struggles to get to passes and make tackles.

The other thing is part of the strategy against Florida (which didn’t work) and Auburn (which worked a lot better) was to make the quarterback beat you by leading long drives. They know Tua can do that. They know Bama isn’t as scary running the ball (with a non-QB) as Auburn and Florida. So they’re not going to focus on the run and be lax about the pass.

The Alabama offense hasn’t had to adjust to a good defense. Maybe they’ll do so flawlessly, but we don’t know. I trust LSU to do that more than Bama based on what’s been shown this year. For instance, Texas wasn’t good, but you don’t have to be good to stop a third and 19. They still couldn’t and it wasn’t their fault. Florida is a pretty good defense. Tell me what game we can use to extrapolate that Bama would score 42 against Florida.

CFN:

You think Auburn and Florida are better running teams than Alabama? Florida is 90th in total rushing, 75th in YPC. Also this “Alabama could be terrible, they haven’t played anyone” thing every year is getting weird. Alabama has a #1 overall draft pick at QB and the best WR unit in CFB history. Does that mean for certain they’ll break 40? No. But to question their passing attack is bizarre.

Me:

College Football Nerds You had to respect Perine being able to break a long run.  Even if Alabama has a player like that, he didn’t run for 88 yards in one play against a good defense. 

Pierce later ran 75 in one play against South Carolina.  That game could have been much different if it were 20-10 Carolina at the half.

To act like they have a proven passing attack THIS YEAR is bizarre

If Tua never started before this year he wouldn’t be a #1.  LSU had a #1 pick in 2006 and lost to Auburn 7-3.  That doesn’t prove Alabama is going to produce like you’re saying against a good defense.  This isn’t the NFL, there isn’t an NFL offensive line.  Not everything translates from college to the NFL.  Ask Saban.

Something else bizarre about one year transferring to another is how Alabama went from beating Clemson by 18 to losing by 28. Is Trevor Lawrence the best QB in college football today?  He was better than Tua in January

On a lighter note, this was hilarious.

Week 9 Top 25; Key Games and Race for #1

In College Football, General LSU, History, Post-game, Preview, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on October 27, 2019 at 2:02 PM

LSU/Auburn

I think my one-paragraph prediction about this game (last paragraph here) was exactly right.  There were some things that were somewhat surprising though.

I’ve updated the records here.  I had forgotten that other than Alabama, the only two teams that have beaten Auburn a majority of the time (with at least 10 games played) are from Louisiana: LSU and Tulane.

I advised taking Auburn and the points.  I said that I wouldn’t have been surprised if Auburn scored about what Florida did and actually thought Auburn might have scored more.  What I didn’t expect was that 24 would have been enough to win.  The visiting Tigers were still most of the way to Florida’s point total of 28. 

I said that Auburn would probably stop LSU from scoring a couple of times more than Florida did. LSU had four scoring drives rather than six, so that was correct.  I didn’t expect LSU would get to what would have been field-goal range last year about six times with no points to show for it though.

That’s the second game in a row in which LSU struggled to score touchdowns after driving deep in the opponent’s territory, especially early.  I don’t know if that’s a long-term issue or those were just two pretty good defenses with a relatively short field.  I know Mississippi St. has given up a lot of points over the course of the year, but some of that was the fault of their anemic offense.  The Bulldog defense at least seemed fresh with home crowd behind it for 25 minutes against LSU before the Tigers scored two touchdowns late in the first half last week.

Clyde Edwards-Hellaire, with 136 yards, was the top rusher of the game as LSU was able to control time of possession for one of the only times this season.

I was surprised that LSU committed two turnovers, one of which set up an Auburn touchdown.  There were also two officiating decisions that assisted in that score (both the turnover and the touchdown itself), but I’ll talk about officiating later.  Anyway, that actually brings up one unexpected positive for the Bayou Bengals.  I didn’t think Auburn would be incapable of a touchdown drive beyond 22 yards in the first 57 minutes of play.

The sacks and tackles for loss didn’t shock me. I knew that was an area that Auburn was good at.  I still think LSU has a good offensive line, but it’s not going to stop a really good front seven (possibly the best LSU will face) every time.

I did like how Burrow ran and threw across the backfield to avert the pass rush.  I knew that would be necessary to avoid some of the rush. Having more quick, short-yardage plays helped LSU win the time of possession.  This was more of a traditional LSU win in that way.

Another positive was the halftime adjustments.  A good offensive coach like Dan Mullen or Gus Malzahn can come up with a scoring drive to start the half, but Florida didn’t score a second time in the whole half and Auburn didn’t score a second time until about 24 minutes of play later.  Mississippi St.’s only score of the second half was in the closing minute.  Northwestern St. and Utah St. were completely shut out in the respective second halves.

I hope that LSU is at least within a couple of scores of Alabama after the Tide’s opening drive of the second half.  The Tigers could be ahead for all I know, but it really hurt their chances when Alabama scored a touchdown 75 seconds before the half last year to make it realistically a three-score game (two touchdowns and two two-point conversions isn’t necessarily realistic).  Nine points instead of 16 would have mattered there.  Nine points was the halftime deficit against Auburn two years ago, so I think that’s a good bare-minimum goal if we don’t have a good first half.  I think the defense would give the offense a chance to catch up in the third and fourth quarters in that scenario.

Tua Tagovailoa ran for more yards on this play than LSU had rushing yards in the whole game last year in Baton Rouge. Alabama also had over 100 more passing yards.

Going back to the Auburn score to open the half, I thought that even though Auburn scored, it was a moral victory of sorts for the defense to come up with a stop inside the 10.  LSU has been good at that this season.  Auburn was good too, but hopefully Alabama isn’t as good at that if the Tigers have such chances in Tuscaloosa. LSU responded by driving to the one-yard line when they were stopped at fourth and goal, but the ball pretty much stayed on the Auburn half of the field until LSU scored to take the lead for good.   

I’m not going to go into all the calls, but the officiating was terrible, so I was glad LSU was able to withstand that. 

The hit on Burrow looked bad.  I thought helmet-to-helmet hits when a guy is going out of bounds was against the rules.  The TV rules expert said Burrow wasn’t defenseless, but I’ve certainly seen other players being tackled or going out of bounds ruled as defenseless.  Those guys seem more like PR agents for the refs than unbiased arbiters anyway. 

There was also kind of a hip check by an LSU defender that was called pass interference.  I didn’t think it denied the opportunity to catch the ball, and the receiver wasn’t even looking for the ball.  Pass interference should only be called when it conceivably could have been a catch without the interference, which was the case when there was a non-call in the end zone at the end of the first half.  I’m not saying everything they called or didn’t call was in Auburn’s favor, but they definitely favored the visitors. 

We had a couple of players, Tyrion Davis-Price and Derrick Dillon, who reacted to what should have been penalties on other players.  That accounted for 30 of the 118 yards of penalties called on LSU.  If the ref doesn’t call something, a player doesn’t need to make it worse by having them call a penalty on LSU.  You also can’t count on offsetting penalties even when they’re deserved (which was a big part of the reason LSU lost to Alabama in 2014).  The flags themselves were justified though.

Top-10 opponents

Anyway, LSU is now 8-2 against top-10 opponents over the last three seasons. You can guess who the two exceptions were.  Alabama is 6-2 (losses to Clemson and Auburn), and Ohio St. is 6-1 (loss to Oklahoma).    Those three teams happen to be in close to a three-way tie atop the AP poll this week.

The Tide has not played a top-10 team this season, and LSU has played three top-10 teams.  How is this possible when they’re in the same division of the same conference?  Alabama has not played Auburn yet (obviously), their best out-of-conference opponent was Duke (LSU’s was Texas when the Longhorns were still undefeated), and their annual cross-divisional rival is Tennessee (LSU’s is Florida).

Before someone says I’m wrong about the top-10 opponents, I know there was an ESPN graphic posted after the Florida game about how Alabama and Ohio St. had more wins over top-10 teams; but that was going back to 2016, the year that Les Miles coached 4 games before giving way to Orgeron. LSU beat three ranked teams that year, but none were in the top 10.  This gave the other programs a head start, and I don’t think it’s really fair to expect an interim coach to beat top-10 teams anyway.

Race for #1

Most teams have played 8 games.  A couple have even played 9.  I think we’ve progressed far enough into the season to completely ignore last year from now on.  That being the case, although Clemson is still what I’d call a good undefeated team, I no longer consider them #1.  LSU’s best two opponents (Auburn and Florida) are better than Ohio St.’s best two opponents (Cincinnati and Wisconsin), but the Buckeyes have had a better schedule week to week.  Indiana rates higher than Texas (I don’t care how they were ranked at the time of the game), Michigan St. rates higher than Utah St., Florida Atlantic rates higher than Mississippi St., and Nebraska rates higher than Georgia Southern.  I don’t think anyone lower is worth mentioning. 

I don’t put much of a premium on margin of victory, and it has nothing to do with why Ohio St. is #1 in my computer formula; but the way the games have played out also indicates to me that there are fewer teams that Ohio St. would struggle against than teams that LSU would struggle against.

Ohio St. is the clear #1 in both the weighted and unweighted versions of my formula as well.  For instance, in the unweighted system, only 0.007 separates Penn St. from Clemson.  In the weighted system, 0.24 separates the two.  Ohio St’s respective leads over LSU are 0.093 (over 13 times the difference between Clemson and Penn St.) and 1.911 (about 8 times the difference between Clemson and Penn St.).

My educated guess is that if LSU and Ohio St. both win in two weeks, LSU will finally have enough points to go ahead, but it matters how prior opponents of the respective teams do and how opponents of those teams do over the next two weeks as well.  Also, there is more reason to be skeptical that LSU will beat Alabama than there is that Ohio St. will beat Maryland.

I mention two weeks instead of next week because #1 Ohio St., #2 LSU, #4 Penn St., #6 Alabama, and #7 Minnesota all have byes next week.  #3 Clemson plays Wofford, so I don’t think there is any concern of a major change among the top teams next week. If #5 SMU beats Memphis, the Mustangs may move up a spot or two; but that will probably be temporary given that SMU will not stand to gain many computer points by being East Carolina on November 9. 

Kansas and the Big XII

Baylor, an undefeated team I haven’t mentioned much and possibly the last good hope for the Big XII (at least unless a series of losses by others puts one-loss Oklahoma back in the top 4), starts a challenging three-game stretch on November 9 as well.  Unfortunately, they won’t be playing SMU since the Southwest Conference disbanded in 1995; but they travel to Forth Worth on that day before hosting Oklahoma and Texas in the subsequent two weeks.  November 23, which is the day Baylor plays the last of those teams, is also a big day for currently-undefeated teams since Ohio St. plays Penn St. on that day.

I don’t know whose idea it was for Baylor to travel to Lawrence, Kansas, on Rivalry Week unless they thought it was basketball; but Les Miles’ Jayhawks have been looking good the past couple of weeks under new offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon.  It might seem far-fetched for a team with only 3 wins right now to beat a team who’s currently undefeated, but something similar happened during Rivalry Week in 2001.  Les Miles’ first Oklahoma St. team entered the game against #4 Oklahoma with only 3 wins and yet beat the Sooners. Games like that can be tough when it’s the closest thing the opponent will get to a bowl game.

KU would need some luck, but they certainly had that last night.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a team have the potential winning field goal blocked only to simply try again from a closer distance on the next play.  Combined with the game in Austin I mentioned here, it was the second consecutive week that a field goal on the final play decided the winner in a Kansas game.  Also, although Texas and Oklahoma may have seen better years, I don’t know how many teams can beat the two in consecutive weeks and still be ready to ward off a potential upset on the road.  Maybe Baylor is just that special, but I have my doubts.

The ball peaks just a few yards downfield from where it was kicked by Kansas after being blocked on the second-to-last play by Texas Tech. The Red Raiders would fumble the ball; and Kansas would recover, allowing the Jayhawks to win on the last play.

Top 25

NOTE: I only gave myself leeway of two spots from the computer ranking. This was only done for a handful of teams though.

rankteamlast
1Ohio St.2
2LSU3
3Clemson1
4Penn St.5
5SMU8
6Alabama4
7Minnesota11
8Oregon12
9Baylor9
10Auburn7
11Cincinnati14
12Utah21
13Boise St.16
14Florida10
15Oklahoma6
16Michigan23
17Memphis17
18Appalachian15
19Wake Forest20
20Navy22
21Iowa24
22Wisconsin13
23Air Force
24Georgia18
25Notre Dame19

Out of top 25: (25) Texas

LSU/Auburn Series and Preview

In College Football, History, Preview, Rivalry on October 25, 2019 at 7:45 PM

As I’ve been doing with these series recaps, I’m only going to focus on a portion of Auburn’s rivalry with LSU.  The rivalry did pick up intensity in the 1990s as I’ll explain, but the really interesting time was 2000 to 2007.

My original entry in the Rivalry Series covers mostly the same games, but there are different emphases.  Here I won’t talk as much about the records or rankings of teams going into the game, and I won’t refer back to the significance of each game within the greater rivalry.

Deciding the SEC West and Home Field Advantage

When LSU became relevant in SEC title races starting around the time Saban showed up, the main obstacles every year were Florida and Auburn. Except for Arkansas in 2002 and 2006 (the Hogs had the benefit of not having an annual series with either Georgia or Florida), the winner of the LSU-Auburn game would represent the SEC West in the title game every year from 2000 to 2007.

By the way, for some reason, the SEC calls you a winner of the division if you don’t play in the title game; but the way I look at it is if you lose the tiebreaker for first you’re second.  You’re not still in the broken tie for first.  So when I talk about winning the SEC West, I’m going to mean winning the tiebreaker as well. 

LSU has still never won the SEC West in an even year largely because the Tigers play both Auburn and Florida on the road in even years (and historically LSU is less likely to beat Alabama at home than on the road anyway).  You’ve probably seen it mentioned that LSU hasn’t lost to Auburn at home since 1999, but for a while that was mutual.  Nick Saban went 0-3 at Auburn as LSU head coach, and Les Miles also lost his first game at Auburn.  Miles would win two of the next three before losing his last two, the last of which lost him his job. 

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

LSU would end that streak in 2008, but speaking of Nick Saban, that was when Alabama became the team to beat in the division.  LSU beat Alabama and Auburn to win the SEC West in 2011, and Auburn beat LSU and Alabama to win the SEC West in 2010.  The three teams went 1-1 against each other in 2013; but LSU lost to two other teams (Georgia and Ole Miss), so that allowed Auburn to win a two-team head-to-head tiebreaker.  I think we all know who won the other 8 SEC West titles since then. 

In addition to being less important for the division, those three games just didn’t have the drama to go into much detail.  The 2010 game was the relatively close one, decided by only 7; but the LSU defense and offense both seemed defeated once Auburn took the lead with a about 5 minutes to go. Auburn could have scored again at the end of the game but ran out the clock instead.  They took the last snap from the LSU 3.

The 2012 LSU win, which at the time was only the second win at Auburn since 1998, was close; but Auburn turned out to be a terrible team.  Gene Chizik has not been a head coach since that season and may never be one again.  There were also only 6 points scored after the first quarter – a field goal by Auburn in the second quarter and a field goal by LSU in the third quarter. I like to watch good defenses more than most fans, but there are only so many ways to describe not scoring points. 

Other than it being an important game since one or both teams has been a major force in the conference (if not nationally), it’s also been a close game – again, not unlike LSU-Florida.

The Making of a Rivalry: 1993 to 1999

Unlike Florida though, it was typically a competitive game even going back before 2000.  It wasn’t even an annual series until 1993. That first game wasn’t very close, as Auburn went undefeated that season (but since they were on probation they weren’t considered in the national-title hunt), but that changed in a hurry. 

LSU led 23-9 in 1994 before Jamie Howard threw three pick-sixes and the Bayou Bengals lost 30-26.  Auburn had a quarterback named Nix, but other than a field goal drive in the second quarter, he was unsuccessful.  The four defensive scores were enough for the Plainsmen though.

In Death Valley the next year, the home team won by only 6 points.  That would be LSU’s first winning season in 7 years.

In 1996, LSU won on “the night the barn burned”.  It wasn’t a barnburner as neither team was able to get to 20 points.  It was 17-15 with 38 seconds to go when the home-standing War Tigers decided to go for two.  That backfired (no pun intended) as LSU returned the botched conversion attempt for two points.  The game was given the nickname because an old gym caught on fire during the game.

The next year, an Auburn touchdown in the last minute of the game would make the difference as LSU was only ahead by 4 before the score. 

Both programs went downhill the following two seasons with the road team winning fairly easily both times.  However, Auburn made a coaching change between 1998 and 1999, while LSU waited until after the 1999 season.  Auburn’s new coach Tommy Tuberville happened to have been the coach of Ole Miss when they beat LSU in 1997, which in retrospect would keep LSU from winning the SEC West for the first time.

After that 1999 win by Auburn, Tuberville smoked cigars with his team on the field.  He rationalized it by saying it was only Auburn’s third win there since World War II, but he didn’t mention that it was also Auburn’s third win at LSU in four tries.  Now he explains that it was also his birthday, but you don’t have to linger in an opponent’s stadium to celebrate your birthday.  Even if he just had shared a big cake on the field with his team, that would have been weird. 

2004 to 2007 Game Narratives

That wouldn’t be the end of the weirdness.  It was a big game, but none of the games were very interesting or exciting the next few years.

Then in 2004 it got interesting again.  I know a lot of people blame Les Miles for ushering in low-scoring games, but the offense wasn’t always exciting in Saban’s last year either.  LSU led 9-3 after 58 minutes of play. Auburn would score on third and 12 from the LSU 16, but the extra point was blocked. Apparently a new rule had been implemented in the offseason that if you land on another player after attempting to block or successfully blocking a field goal, it was a personal foul. Auburn got to try again and would win by that one point.

Since 2004 would become known as the extra point game, it only followed that we needed a field goal game.  This would happen 13 months later when the two teams would miss a combined 7 field goals in 10 attempts. 

LSU led 14-10 after Auburn made its one field goal in the second quarter and the teams exchanged touchdowns in the third.  The Plains Tigers would score another touchdown with just under 5 minutes to go in the game. LSU would get its first field goal a few minutes later to tie the game at 17 and eventually send it to overtime.  LSU would have the ball to begin the overtime and would settle for a field goal.  The Bayou Tigers had gotten one first down to help out the kicker Chris Jackson.  Auburn would go nowhere during their possession, and John Vaughn would miss from 39 to end the game, his fifth miss of the game.

Auburn K John Vaughn collapses to the field after missing a field goal (his fifth miss of the game) to give LSU the win in 2005.

2006 was another weird low-scoring game.  Les Miles was the coach, but he had inherited his offensive coordinator from Saban.  That was a guy you’ve probably never heard of named Jimbo Fisher.  But somehow (with the help of the referees of course), he only managed to guide the Tigers to 3 points for the whole game.  Auburn didn’t need any field goals and won 7-3 despite LSU having gained about twice as many yards.

Nonetheless, Fisher would do an impressive enough job with LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell the rest of the season to be offered a similar position with Florida St. but with more incentive and under an aging head coach being gently nudged into retirement.

LSU’s offense seemed to work just fine without him in 2007 (although you can’t really say the same for the 10 years afterward).  LSU-Auburn was another close game though.  Auburn led 17-13 going into the fourth quarter.  Matt Flynn led the home team on an 8-play 85-yard drive to put LSU up 20-17.  After a punt, the Fighting Tigers expanded that lead to 23-17.  Auburn responded with a 9-play, 83-yard drive to go up 1 with 3:21 remaining.

Unlike the last time Auburn played in Tiger Stadium, K Colt David was having a good day, having gone 3 for 3 on field goals.  It seemed like that was what LSU was playing for.  There was a number of running plays (including spontaneous runs by the QB) that took time off the clock as Flynn drove the Tigers downfield.  LSU also converted a key third and 3 from the Auburn 41 to keep the drive going (on a Richard Murphy run). Jacob Hester, the hero of the Florida game a couple of weeks before, would come in with his own 10-yard run. 

When LSU had a third and 7 from the 23 with just under 10 seconds left, Auburn probably expected another run to set up a field goal (LSU still had a timeout).  Instead Flynn threw to the end zone just to the outside of Demetrius Byrd, who turned at just the right time to catch the ball (see here if the picture doesn’t do it justice).

Along with Jacob Hester’s winning touchdown (see the final picture) two weeks earlier, Demetrius Byrd’s catch in the final moments against Auburn was one of the iconic plays in LSU’s national-championship season in 2007.

Since the extra point was taken with 1 second left, a lot of people thought the pass was an unacceptable risk.  I never bought into that since Byrd began to catch the ball with :04 showing on the clock.  It just didn’t really matter whether they stopped it at 4 seconds or 1 second at that point.  If he had dropped the ball or missed it completely, it probably would have been 3 seconds.  Maybe if he had juggled it several times and then dropped it, it would have run out the clock though.

2016

One second would make all the difference 9 years later, but I’d rather not rehash that game again.  SBNation did a good job though. You can’t tell for sure that the center wasn’t beginning the snap in the picture though.

(I already said all I needed to say about the games from 2008 to 2015.)

2017

I mentioned in the Florida summary how LSU had two ugly losses in the first five weeks of the season in 2017 but came back to beat Florida by 1.  The next week, it looked like the Tigers were going to have three ugly losses in seven weeks when #10 Auburn went out to a 20-0 lead in Tiger Stadium. 

See my 2017 blog about the game for details, but I’ll just set up how LSU reduced the lead to 9 before halftime.

The defense holding Auburn to a field goal (meaning it was 20-0 and not 24-0) wouldn’t have meant anything if the LSU offense hadn’t gotten into gear on the next drive. LSU wouldn’t even require a single pass to be thrown.  Six rushing plays got the Fighting Tigers 90 yards and touchdown (70 of the yards by on a carry Russell Gage).

Auburn looked ready to bring the lead back up to 20 a couple of drives later, but once again the defense bent but didn’t break.  After a first and goal from the 10, Auburn was only at the 8 before settling for a field goal. 

LSU took possession back with 2:16 left.  Given the passing struggles, success didn’t seem likely, but that didn’t stop Danny Etling.  On the drive, Etling completed 5 of 6 pass attempts for 67 yards and a touchdown. 

The comeback wasn’t complete yet, but a 9-point deficit at halftime looks a lot better than a 20-point deficit early in the second quarter. 

2018

I didn’t even talk about the details of the last LSU-Auburn game last year, I just debunked some of the whining after the fact by Auburn fans. 

LSU went out to an early 10-point lead midway through the second quarter, but Auburn roared back to go up 21-10 with about 25 minutes to go in the game.

Like in the previous year, it just seemed like the LSU defense drew a line in the sand at that point.  Auburn went three and out on their next drive, then after one first down Stidham threw an interception in LSU territory.  The next drive, Auburn missed a 52-yard field goal.  The only reason they got that far downfield was a targeting call, and Auburn would not get beyond their own 30 again.

LSU also had to score in the meantime of course.  After one three and out, LSU was able to vary run and pass to get into first and goal at the Auburn 8 but had to settle for a field goal.

The next drive was really quick, too quick to watch in real time.  Here is the slow-motion replay.

Derrick Dillon catches a pass over the middle before running for the end zone on a 71-yard completion to bring LSU within two at Auburn last year.

But LSU couldn’t get the two-point conversion.  As mentioned, Auburn could do nothing on offense, so LSU had to win the game with a field goal. 

LSU had a third and 11 right away, but that’s when there was one of the major pass interference calls I talked about in the blog above. After an incompletion on first down, Burrow ran a few yards on second down to make it a more reasonable third and 7, which the Fighting Tigers just barely converted. 

Burrow also ran on the next second down (which was also 2nd and 10), but he was tackled for a loss on third down.  Again, LSU was just able to get past the marker, this time to Stephen Sullivan. After yet another first-down incompletion, another pass interference was called on third down.  This put LSU into field goal position, and of course Cole Tracy made it.

This Year

Until the game last week (when LSU settled for field goals on the first three offensive possessions), I might have said how Auburn shouldn’t expect to hold this offense out of the end zone for long stretches of time.  LSU would eventually score as many points against Mississippi St. in the first half as they scored against Auburn the whole game last year though, so I’m still expecting this year’s LSU team to easily outscore last year’s in this game.

I watched parts of the Auburn games against Oregon and Florida.  Although, the LSU defense hasn’t always been great (though it is underrated by people who look at scores rather than watching games), I still think there will be stretches where Auburn can’t score.  Auburn scored only 3 points in the first four drives and 6 in the first nine drives against the Ducks   Against Florida, which let’s remember allowed 42 to LSU, Auburn couldn’t score for the last 40 minutes of the game. 

I do think Auburn’s pass rush will cause some incompletions and might get sacks (unlike Florida’s), but the defensive backfield might be even less able to keep up with LSU wide receivers.

Auburn does have a good front, hence the concerns about the pass rush, but pass rush and run defense aren’t the same thing.  If Auburn sends too much pressure, that could leave open lanes for Burrow or one of the backs.  If Auburn is trying too hard to defend the run, that often requires staying near the line of scrimmage rather than rushing the backfield. 

Auburn also has a good offensive line, so LSU could have some of the same dilemmas.  But I’m more confident in Burrow making good decisions in a game like this than Auburn fans should be in (the younger) Nix even if Nix ends up with more time.  Whitlow ran for about 4.5 yards per carry against both Oregon and Florida, but he won’t be playing.  Kam Martin (who had a few good carries against Florida but ran poorly against Oregon) ran well in his first full game as Whitlow’s replacement, but I don’t know how comparable running against Arkansas is to running against LSU.

I would lean toward taking the points.  I know I guessed wrong about Florida, but Auburn can probably score about what Florida did and maybe hold LSU out of the end zone on one or two more drives.  Maybe LSU just doesn’t have that final score to go up double digits like they did against Florida.  I would give Auburn about a 1 in 3 chance to win.  I think having a week off after Florida and not having to do anything fancy against Arkansas could be a slight advantage.  Florida did beat Auburn, but I think it was harder for the Gators to get back up for the LSU game than it will be for Auburn.  Also, despite the eventual loss by 14, Florida did still have a decent chance to win late.