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Week 5 Rankings and Comments

In College Football, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 29, 2019 at 3:16 PM

This is the first week that I have published my computer rantings; but as I mentioned I did some trial runs before.  I won’t be following the order too closely for now, but that will partly explain some teams that may be in surprising places.

Part of the transition from subjective to objective rankings (for this year anyway) is a strict rule that the ranking of a given team can only vary 6 spots from the computer formula.  For instance, Georgia and Washington were 9 and 10, but they ended up 3 and 16. Likewise, teams that started 13 spots apart could be one spot.  If 6 seems like an arbitrary number, it is. I wanted the flexibility to put a team like Oklahoma with no losses ahead of a team like Oklahoma St. with a loss to Texas, whom I was barely able to include in the top 25. I had to leave Berkeley ahead of the Sooners though.

For now I’m keeping the top 5 the same as I had it last week, but I probably won’t next week even if none of them lose. I will give myself less leeway to deviate from the computer, and I expect at least Alabama to have a lower computer rating due to missing out on points entirely during the bye week.

North Carolina had no chance of getting what would have been the go-ahead two-point conversion try in Chapel Hill on Saturday.

Partly because margin of victory for the most-part doesn’t factor into my philosophy (except to fill in the gaps early on and except for certain narrow home victories), I am keeping Clemson #1.  I need some pretty strong evidence a team is the best to make a change at #1; it’s not purely about who had the best 5 weeks and picking a team in a vacuum.  The other candidates don’t have the quality wins necessary yet.  Georgia, with the win over Notre Dame, had the best argument on paper; but their second-best win is Arkansas St., so that doesn’t do it for me.  Alabama hasn’t beaten anyone in the computer top 50, and that may not even change if they beat Texas A&M.in two weeks.  Alabama and Clemson are a much closer 1 and 2 to other teams than earlier in the season, but I’m giving it another week.

Outside of the top 3, Auburn still has too many question marks despite being the computer #1.  Ohio St. is also up there, but the Buckeyes need a better win than Cincinnati (I never bought into the Nebraska hype, and neither does the computer). 

I decided to leave Boise St. ahead of Notre Dame.  While the Irish have the better win against an ACC team (since Virginia beat Florida St.), the Broncos beat Air Force. Notre Dame’s second-best win is over Louisville.  The Irish also have a loss, but I think Boise St. would have also lost, so that wasn’t a major factor.

Arizona St. (which beat Cal Friday in Berkeley) might not have an impressive offense, but the Sun Devils have had two impressive road wins with ball control and defense.

There are some unexpected teams after that.  Arizona St.’s being 2-1 against the top 20 with a third OK FBS win (over Kent St., whose only other loss is to Auburn) is pretty good right now.  Wake Forest is undefeated and didn’t come as close to losing to UNC as Clemson did.  SMU is also undefeated with a win over TCU.  Colorado beat Arizona St. but lost to Air Force.  More on the Falcons below.  Michigan St. lost to Arizona St. but has three fairly decent wins.  Appalachian St. is undefeated and also beat UNC more easily than Clemson did.  Berkeley is 1-1 against the computer top 10 with no other losses, so that was as low as I could put them.

I could have ranked Air Force and Virginia, but I preferred to keep undefeated Iowa and one-loss Texas.  Although LSU hasn’t had depth in its schedule yet, I think the Tigers look like a better team than Boise St. or Notre Dame.  Also, the Longhorns beat a better team (Oklahoma St.) than anyone Virginia beat. Air Force did beat Colorado, but I want to see if they can follow that up with anything before I kick Texas or someone who hasn’t lost out of the top 25. In the next five weeks, the Falcons play Navy, Hawaii, Utah St., and Army.

Not only did Kansas St. lose to Oklahoma St., but the Wildcats’ win over Mississippi St. lost its luster when the Bulldogs got blown out by Auburn.  So Virginia and Kansas St. are the only two teams to fall out from last week.

Hawaii’s Cedric Byrd II celebrates one of two touchdown catches in Reno on Saturday.

I had to rank Hawaii due to the six-spot rule, but I think the Warriors deserve it.  In addition to blowing out Nevada on the road Saturday, they’ve played three Pac-12 teams and only lost to Washington.  Oregon St., as usual, isn’t good; but the Beavers gave Stanford a game.  Arizona hasn’t lost to anyone else yet, although UCLA gave them a scare.

Speaking of the Pac-12, that conference has the highest computer rating per team.  There aren’t any undefeated teams, so the Pac-12 is outnumbered in the top 10 by the SEC.  However, the Pac-12 has more teams in the top 25 and doesn’t have as many teams below 100.  The SEC leads 3-1 in the latter category (Vanderbilt, Arkansas, and Tennessee against just UCLA). 

Top 25

rankteamlast
1Clemson1
2Alabama2
3Georgia3
4Auburn4
5Ohio St.5
6Boise St.7
7Notre Dame25
8Wake Forest9
9Wisconsin13
10Arizona St.22
11SMU11
12Colorado20
13Michigan St.23
14LSU10
15Florida6
16Washington21
17Penn St.14
18Oregon24
19Appalachian16
20UC-Berkeley8
21Oklahoma19
22Oklahoma St.
23Iowa18
24Hawaii
25Texas15

Out of rankings: (12) Virginia, (17) Kansas St.

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Week 4 Final Thoughts & Why I Don’t Like Notre Dame

In College Football, History, Me, Post-game, Rankings Commentary on September 27, 2019 at 4:17 PM
  1. I found it interesting that the Sun Belt was 2-0 against the MAC this weekend.  ULL beat Ohio U., and Troy beat Akron. This is in addition to Georgia St.’s win at Tennessee and Coastal Carolina’s win at Kansas (more about Kansas below). I’ll also mention another big win below (App St. over UNC). Maybe the SBC isn’t the doormat of conferences anymore. 
LB Dylan Tonkery sacks Carter Stanley as CB Keith Washington closes in. Washington would catch the key interception in the Mountaineers’ win in Lawrence, Kansas, on Saturday.

2. Another victim of a Sun Belt team (in Week 2) was Les Miles’ Kansas. Jayhawk QB Carter Stanley had a good game (11 ypa, 3 TD) except for having some trouble with the pass rush and throwing a pick in the fourth quarter that led to a WVU touchdown.  That probably made the difference as the Mountaineers won 29-24.  Next up for the Jayhawks is TCU, who lost to SMU at home Saturday.  Maybe KU can win their first conference road game since 2008 in that contest.  If not then, it may be a while.  Their other road games are Texas, Oklahoma St., and Iowa St., who each have one loss apiece but to good teams.  Les going back to Stillwater will be interesting.  Speaking of Les in Stillwater, his first Oklahoma St. team only went 4-7, so I think there is still reason to be hopeful things will turn around in Lawrence even if the Jayhawks don’t have more than a couple more wins coming this season.

3. I did want to comment about the targeting calls late in the LSU game.  I don’t understand how blocking a guy (who could otherwise make a tackle) face to face is a foul at all not to mention targeting.  It wasn’t “blindside” like the ref said, and it wasn’t a defenseless player unless everyone on the field is defenseless now and I didn’t get the memo.  Like when you’re on offense and you block the defense so they don’t tackle someone trying to go downfield, why aren’t they defenseless?  I guess we should only play third string players in the fourth quarter going forward, even the third string special teams.  At least the guy flagged was like the 5th receiver we have and the next game is Utah St.  Not to insult Utah St., but I’m more afraid of the SEC teams left (with the exception of Arkansas; we don’t play Tennessee).

Then the LSU backup QB Myles Brennan was hit helmet to helmet, not with the crown of the head; but the defender launched (in my understanding of the word) and his head was moving in an upward motion toward Brennan’s head.  How was that not targeting when what was called against LSU is targeting?  Even if Brennan had been attempting to tackle the defender who caught the interception, that would be targeting if you want to be consistent.  And how does an illegal hit (even if it wasn’t targeting, the referee called it roughing) during the play not invalidate the defensive touchdown?  I hope there is some clarity on the rules so players and coaches can know all the normal football plays that are not allowed now and all the things that used to be personal fouls that somehow became legal at the same time.

Anyway, there needs to be an NCAA office that issues suspensions and ensures some type of uniformity.  One awful officiating team should not be able to affect a future game.  If it’s a borderline judgment call, even if it’s not clearly wrong, they should be able to say there will be no further suspension, especially if it happened at the beginning of the third quarter, for instance..  If there is a targeting that is found later or was incorrectly waived off, maybe they can get a full game suspension.  Maybe that way some players can just admit to targeting and it doesn’t have to be reviewed.  Vanderbilt probably wouldn’t have done this because a touchdown was on the line, but if it were a roughing after an incompletion with borderline targeting, the player would have preferred to give up the rest of the meaningless half rather than an entire future game.

Eastern Michigan’s Matthew Sexton blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown after Central Connecticut St. faced a 4th down with 10 seconds left and a 1-point lead.

4. The escape of the week goes to Eastern Michigan, who blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown with 10 seconds left.  It would have been a big upset by FCS Central Connecticut State had the Blue Devils managed to run out the clock.

5. Florida St. blew another big lead (21 points to Louisville), but the difference this time was the Seminoles regrouped, took the lead back, and ended up winning by 11.  FSU may finally be heading in the right direction to vindicate my preaseason ranking of the Noles.

6. I don’t have anything good to say about my preseason #25 South Carolina.  They just lost to Missouri by 20 Saturday.  The Gamecocks (who also lost to UNC) may end up losing to Appalachian St. as well.  South Carolina almost certainly will be unranked when they play Clemson as well.  Will Muschamp said this was his best team since he’s been there.  Maybe his next job should be defensive coordinator.  At least I picked Appalachian St. higher in my preseason top 25.

Boston College kicker David Gordon follows through on the winning field goal in the November 20, 1993, game against #1 Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

7. In addition to what I said about Georgia in the rankings comments, I’ve never liked Notre Dame even though I’m from a Catholic area and upbringing.  I preferred Boston College among the Catholic sports programs and sort of resented the favoritism in the media that Notre Dame got.  There was a time when the SEC programs were seen as second rate, and you would hear 10x as much about Notre Dame as any SEC team.  Alabama (which was never disregarded as much as other southern teams going back to their Rose Bowl invites) won in 1992, but that was the first SEC national champion since 1980 (which was before my time), and then it was right back to hearing about how great Notre Dame was in 1993.

I thought when the Irish lost to Boston College, who was not a major national team, that was the end of that, but someone forgot to tell the Irish fans.  Auburn went undefeated that year, but no one even talked about them being the best team.  Maybe Florida St. and Nebraska (who played each other in the Bowl Alliance championship) were better, but it still bothered me.  I nonetheless accepted that since Auburn couldn’t play in a bowl game (due to probation), the winner of the Florida St./Nebraska gams was the rightful champion.  The Notre Dame fans wouldn’t. 

I also liked Florida St. back then, partly because of the fact that they played Florida (that was the LSU rival I disliked the most in the 1990s), partly because I didn’t like Miami either (though I preferred Miami to Notre Dame), partly because they were the closest major team to the Florida panhandle where my family used to vacation, partly because I at least indirectly knew people affiliated with the program, and partly because I liked Bobby Bowden.

I still remember my response to the “but Notre Dame beat Florida St.” argument: “Florida St. beat Miami, who beat Boston College, who beat Notre Dame.  Florida St. also beat Florida, who beat West Virginia, who beat Boston College, who beat Notre Dame.”  I especially liked the second one (even though it was more complicated) since it was a reminder that the best SEC team wasn’t even in the Sugar Bowl and the SEC team still beat an undefeated Big East team easily.

I’ve mentioned in other blogs there were some close games against LSU that I wasn’t very happy with since then (LSU and Notre Dame are 2-2 against one another in bowl games since 1997 with a couple of regular-season games in the late 1990s as well), but I already didn’t like Notre Dame before all of that.

Remaining opponents against ranked teams going into Week 4

8. I wanted to post this graphic, but I didn’t want to detract from the good pictures I got for the main blog.  You can cross out TCU for the reason mentioned in Section 2, although I suspect another Big XII team will end up ranked.  Michigan is still ranked for the moment. 

To be fair, A&M could fall out by losing to Alabama; but they won’t deserve it nearly as much as Michigan would with a loss in the upcoming weeks. I have a feeling the CFP committee will treat the Aggies more leniently than the polls have.  If Auburn really is the 7th-best team, A&M could conceivably be one of the top eight teams even with five losses (since they also play LSU and Georgia).  The 7 wins they would have in that scenario wouldn’t justify a high ranking, but I’m just saying they could in reality be better than all but the teams they lost to and just two or three others.

If Maryland plays anything like how they played against Syracuse, Penn St. could have trouble staying in the top 25 after tonight as well. The Terrapins also lost to Temple though.

Saban in Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Reactions

In College Football, General LSU, History on September 25, 2019 at 4:15 PM

This started out as an afterthought, but I can get on a roll when it comes to media people not doing their jobs well and narratives getting out of control. I was going to write something else for my midweek blog, but I changed my mind.

If you didn’t hear, Nick Saban will be inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. You can follow the link for his quotes; he seems genuinely grateful.

Nick Saban holds the BCS Championship “crystal ball” after the Sugar Bowl in January 2004. Saban would leave LSU for the Dolphins 368 days later.

I’m OK with it, although he was barely even eligible since he only lived and worked in Louisiana about 5 years total. 

The reason for the rant is the local sports media sounds really dumb when they write and talk about it.  I’m reminded of all the journalists who were so sure Miles was going to Michigan (more than once in some cases), then they were so sure Jimbo was replacing Miles (even if they weren’t sure about Jimbo, there were sure that A&M game was Miles’ last), then they were so sure Jimbo was replacing Orgeron, and then they were so sure Herman was replacing Orgeron (or at least there was an agreement in principle).

I wanted to dissect this column from Glenn Guilbeau. You can see that link for more quotes; but it was quotes from Guilbeau, not Saban, that bothered me.

What I don’t like is the idea that LSU was some kind of toxic wasteland that he arrived in and that everything that happened for the five years after he left was inevitable.

Saban won as many games in his last two seasons (which were half a game from being his best two seasons and which included the national championship) as Miles won in his first two seasons (which did not include the national championship, and neither of which was in the top two of Miles’ seasons). Guilbeau says Saban “set LSU up” for the 2007 national championship, which was three years after he left. That’s three years of practices, three recruiting cycles, three seasons of games coached that Saban had nothing to do with.

But everything was just “set up” for Miles to just a national championship in 2007. I understand making that argument about Larry Coker, who won 24 consecutive games to start his career, but his third season was a modest 9-3 and he went downhill from there. I’ll write more below about how you don’t really get an idea of what kind of coach someone is in two seasons.

Gerry DiNardo (left) chats with Les Miles. This was probably in the lead-up to the 2011 BCS Championship game that the Tigers lost to Saban’s Tide.

This is the part that started to get under my skin: ” after what he inherited – a program that had losing seasons in eight of the previous 11 years and lost 10 straight SEC games in 1998 and ’99 under Coach Gerry DiNardo,…”

None of that is false, but it is misleading. That makes you think there were only a few random winning seasons sprinkled in and there wasn’t a dramatic change in the middle of those 11 seasons.  That doesn’t make you think all three of those winning seasons were within the five years before Saban arrived. 

It wasn’t just Guilbeau. I’ve also heard others, most recently T-Bob Hebert echo similar sentiments. He wrongly said there had been 7 losing seasons in 8 years. He remembered the number 8 I guess; but it shows that the impression is there were only a few lonely winning seasons, not some recent group of winning seasons.

I take more issue with Gulbeau’s conclusion of the last quote: “whose (DiNardo’s) roster was depleting of talent and numbers.”

Yes, there was a conference losing streak under DiNardo, and it seemed the team lost confidence; but LSU easily beat a ranked Arkansas team in the season finale (under and interim coach) in 1999 to end that losing streak. Also, if you look at the streak, the Tigers were in a lot of close games against good teams. Five of those 10 losses were to winning teams AND by less than a touchdown (including 10-win Mississippi St. and Alabama teams in 1999). The following were not part of the streak, but in 1998 there was also a 1-point loss to Georgia and a 3-point loss to Notre Dame. Both the Irish and the Bulldogs would finish 9-3.

The Bulldogs celebrate after a controversial touchdown gave #11 Mississippi St. a one-point win at home in October 1999. State would win the SEC West, and DiNardo would lose his remaining games.

So Saban did great with what he got (as did Miles), don’t get me wrong; but he didn’t take over a team full of chumps who didn’t have the talent to keep up with many of the best teams in the SEC.  It wasn’t hard for a guy like Saban to look at LSU and see 3 or 4 wins a season in those last two years that DiNardo had left on the field. If you want to give him credit for what came after him, then you need to give Gerry DiNardo credit for giving Saban something to work with.  If Saban had taken over for someone like Hallman (DiNardo’s predecessor) or the transfer rules were as they are now, Saban might not have ever won an SEC championship not to mention a national championship at LSU.  He might not have even come to LSU.  Michigan St. might have been a better opportunity to do something nationally.  Maybe he goes to Miami or Alabama directly from there.

Even factoring in those disappointing 1998 and 1999 seasons, DiNardo’s teams still had an average of 6.6 wins and 4.8 losses.  That’s in contrast to the previous six seasons where there was an average of 4.17 wins and 6.17 losses.  It wasn’t night and day when Saban showed up either.  His first season wasn’t as good as the 1996 or 1997 seasons. Neither was his third season.  Even his SEC championship 2001 season (his second) wasn’t as good as DiNardo’s best season (which was his third).  Saban averaged 8.67 wins and exactly 4 losses in his first three years; so it was another step up, but it wasn’t a giant leap from the basement to the ceiling.  It was only the fourth and fifth years where you got a big contrast between the two coaches. 

This part infuriated me: “Miles failed in his first two seasons to get the most out of the tremendous amount of talent he inherited.”

Not in 2001, but certainly by 2004 Saban was responsible for the level of talent that was on the team. He won 9 games. The great Saban 9 games in the 2004 season. Miles comes in and wins 11. Failed? Are you joking? Then he does it again the next year, winning the Sugar Bowl. Another failure! Then he goes 12-2 with a national championship in his third season. Ah, that was all due to Saban!

Let’s compare Florida, which had to replace a couple of really successful coaches lately. Urban Meyer took over about 3 years after Spurrier left, but there was still a good amount of residual talent. He improved as many games in his first season as Miles did, and surely it’s harder to improve from 9 wins to 11 than 7 wins to 9. What a failure!

Urban Meyer (with Chris Leake) in 2005.

That’s sarcasm, but I can agree it’s a failure when Florida went from just under 10 wins a season (in Spurrier’s last 5 years) to just under 8 (in Zook’s 3 seasons. Another example of a failure is when Florida fell from 43 wins in 4 seasons (almost 11 wins per year) under Meyer to only 28 wins (7 per year) under Muschamp. Then it’s fair to say you weren’t getting the most out of your talent because talent doesn’t evaporate that quickly.

Any team could theoretically have done better, certainly including all of Saban’s teams. I mentioned Ron Zook. Why did Saban lose to Ron Zook at home with his best team? I guess he failed to get the most of his talent that season and every other, right? That’s just a ridiculously condescending statement.

Les admittedly hit a lull in his fourth and fifth years (dropping from an average of 11.33 wins to an average of 8.50 wins); but then in the next three seasons, he got the average (in those seasons, not his average at the school) back up to 11.33.  So Miles followed his own 9-win season with just as much success over the following three seasons as he had in the three seasons following Saban’s 9-win season in 2004.  Saban definitely helped for 2005 to 2007, but how do you give Saban credit for 2010 to 2012? 

Actually if he weren’t a couple of states away, we win two more games in that span for an average of 12 wins even (not to mention a win each in 2008 and 2009… we almost beat Alabama in those years even with Saban).  When Saban was at LSU, he didn’t have someone like Saban at Alabama he had to coach against every year.    He did get his butt kicked twice in his first 16 LSU games by Spurrier, but that was years after Spurrier had won a national championship and he would not win another.  Those two Florida teams went a combined 20-5, so that falls short of recent Alabama quality anyway.

That leads me to another point about how much more competitive the SEC became between when Saban started at LSU and when Miles was still early in his tenure. Saban was the only SEC coach in his 5 years at LSU to even play for a national championship. Miles had had to deal with three national-championship Alabama teams (one of whom he coached against twice), a playoff-qualifying Alabama team, a fifth Alabama team that was undefeated through 12 games, two Florida national championship teams, a third Florida team that went 13-1, a national-championship Auburn team, and a national runner-up Auburn team. I know this is over more seasons for Miles, but it’s no comparison

Week 4 Top 25 and Summary

In College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 22, 2019 at 4:47 PM

I had too many tangents in addition to my rankings blog, so I’ll publish those separately along with my normal blog during the week.  LSU doesn’t play next week, so I have something special planned.

LSU

To get the main LSU coverage out of the way, the Vandy game wasn’t interesting enough to go into elaborate detail.  I did update the series blog. / (I also just remembered to update the Texas one too.)  The LSU defense wasn’t good but wasn’t nearly as bad as the score made it look.  The offense actually gave up two touchdowns (both after LSU had a big lead), so that reduces the 38 points to 24.  When there were 1 to 5 plays for some of the early LSU drives, it’s hot and humid on an artificial surface, and a number of good players weren’t playing, I don’t think 24 is embarrassing.  As Coach O pointed out though, there being too many quick offensive drives doesn’t make you miss your assignment, which happened multiple times and which Vandy exploited.  They aren’t as talented as LSU for sure; but at least their first team could generally have some role had they gone to LSU, and they have coaches who can get a lot out of their generally intelligent players.  So when you mess up, you aren’t getting away with it easily.

As I expected, LSU didn’t come close to the passing yards record; but Burrow did set the team passing touchdown record with 6.   This was the most points in regulation for LSU since 1977. One other note for Burrow: if you’re going to throw the ball away, make sure it goes clearly out of bounds (luckily the Vandy player he threw it to was ineligible for having stepped out).  I’ll have a slight rant about the inconsistent targeting rulings. 

LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase caught 4 touchdown passes to set the team receiving record. His 229 receiving yards are fourth all-time and most in an SEC game in LSU history.

It wasn’t related to the injuries, defense, or turnovers; but I had to lower LSU in the rankings.  The main reason was that apart from Texas there is almost no basis for the computer to give any points, and I’m beginning to remove subjectivity.  The three other teams LSU beat are a combined 0-6 against FBS, 1-3 against FCS, and 0-1 against Division II. Georgia Southern nearly beat Minnesota, but that doesn’t help much.  It may be a rare bye week that actually helps a team in my computer since both Vandy and GSoU play winnable games (Northern Illinois and ULL). 

Rankings and Playoff Race

LSU is still better on paper than Oklahoma at least.  The Sooners are the only undefeated team I ranked with fewer points than the Tigers, but they’ve already had a bye week.  I don’t think any of the teams I moved up would beat Oklahoma or LSU (or that any outside of the top 6 would beat Notre Dame), but that’s just a reminder that this is about accomplishments to date.  Even if you look good and put up good numbers, you don’t really accomplish much by beating a team with no FBS wins, at least not until they prove they can get those wins.

That should answer any questions about why the rankings look so different compared to a couple of weeks ago.  Moving on, there are finally some interesting games between ranked teams to discuss this week; and that’s not to mention the upsets.

Michigan is back to Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke levels of disappointment.   I’ll rank them in the future if they recover, but I think it would be an insult to dozens of other teams to leave them in right now.  I really don’t understand how you make so much talent look so mediocre, and people used to think Jim Harbaugh was a great coach.  Maybe something in the water.  I still think there is reason to be skeptical of Wisconsin, because I don’t think beating a team as close to Middle Tennessee and Army as Michigan was means the Badgers are back.  They won solidly enough and are undefeated though.

Wisconsin QB Jack Coan runs for a 25-yard touchdown against Michigan Saturday. Coan went 13 of 16 passing, but the big story was the 359 rushing yards by the Badgers.

I watched the last quarter or so of Utah and USC on Friday.  Utah looked like the better team, but they just couldn’t score reliably in the red zone.  USC couldn’t run at all; but somehow the same receiver kept getting open, and Utah didn’t seem to change their defense accordingly.  That provided all the points and first downs the Trojans needed.  They scored the touchdown that put the game away based on a phantom pass interference, but they probably would have won anyway. 

I am beginning to doubt the ability of a Pac-12 team to make the playoff (the only undefeated Pac-12 team left is Cal), and this isn’t a bad time to start discussing such things; but I think it’s too soon to count out a team like Oregon.  If Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Ohio St. all go undefeated, then probably not; but people forget how extremely rare it’s been to go 13-0 in a major conference.  Even the Washington team who made the playoff a few years ago had a loss.  Oregon has a loss, but a 12-game winning streak and possibly several ranked opponents would be hard to pass up, especially if Auburn can beat a couple of the tough teams they play (let’s just say it’s a gauntlet) to make the Ducks’ one loss look better. 

One problem that may come in is Oregon won’t have beaten enough ranked teams, but it’s possible Clemson may have zero wins over ranked teams at the end of the year.  I would actually prefer a one-loss Pac-12 team (unless it’s Washington St., who just lost to UCLA and whose only non-conference win is over 3-loss Houston) to one-loss Clemson though. 

I think A&M will finish in the middle of the SEC West (they just lost to Auburn, who most consider third right now), but that’s the only currently ranked team Clemson has played or will play.  If the Aggies lose to LSU and to Georgia in the last two playing weeks to fall to 5 losses (in addition to the two they already have and Alabama), they may not be ranked at that point.  Clemson could play a ranked team in the ACC championship, but even that is questionable given that the top two teams in the other division are Virginia (who struggled against Old Dominion) and North Carolina (who now has two “non-conference” losses, although one is to an ACC team Wake Forest).  Duke is third in the ACC Coastal, but they haven’t played an ACC team yet.  The team Clemson beats could fall out of the rankings even if that team is ranked.

JaTarvious Whitlow, Auburn’s leading rusher, dives for a touchdown against Texas A&M in a key SEC West contest on Saturday. It was the Aggies’ second loss overall, first in SEC play.

It’s kind of unfortunate that Clemson doesn’t play Notre Dame every year, because that would possibly help either team overcome a loss (and finally do away with the other).  Notre Dame now has a loss if you didn’t notice.  Georgia almost gave me a heart attack by allowing the Irish a chance to take the lead in the final minute, but thankfully they succeeded in knocking the ball down on 4th and 9. 

To backtrack, it was 10 to 7 Notre Dame at the half, and Georgia dominated the third quarter defensively but had to settle for two field goals.  The Bulldogs broke through with a 15-yard TD pass early in the fourth quarter (to go up 20-10) and looked likely to score another TD about 7 minutes later, but Jake Fromm was rightly called down short of a firs after a third-and-long scramble, so that ended up giving the Irish the ball down 23-17, which ended up being the final score.

I wasn’t just for Georgia because of SEC favoritism.  The Bulldogs are my favorite SEC East team among those who have ever won the SEC East (I’ll cheer for Vandy and Kentucky against UGA since I like underdogs, but neither has ever won the division).  It also increases the chance that an SEC team apart from the champion could make it into the top 4.  Not only could it help remove Notre Dame as an impediment, but it makes it more likely that Georgia or Florida (who most likely would have to beat Georgia to stop the Bulldogs from winning the East) could register as really good wins.  As an LSU fan, I would like there to be another avenue besides winning the SEC championship.  The SEC now has several losses to other conferences, but Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Georgia, and Florida do not.  It’s difficult to conceive of another SEC team having any kind of chance even though I know it’s early.  I’ll talk about my general dislike for Notre Dame later in the week. 

Top 25

Rank TeamLast
1Clemson1
2Alabama2
3Georgia3
4Auburn7
5Ohio St.5
6Florida8
7Boise St.22
8UC-Berkeley24
9Wake Forest20
10LSU4
11SMU
12Virginia
13Wisconsin
14Penn St.16
15Texas14
16Appalachian17
17Kansas St.25
18Iowa19
19Oklahoma10
20Colorado
21Washington
22Arizona St.18
23Michigan St.
24Oregon23
25Notre Dame6

Out of top 25: (9) Wash. St., (11) Michigan, (12) Texas A&M, (13) Utah, (15) C. Florida, (21) Cincinnati

LSU/Vanderbilt Series and Final Week 3 Notes

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game, Preview, Rivalry on September 18, 2019 at 9:22 AM

Neither LSU’s nor Kansas’s games last week had an effect upon the top 25, but as a fan of both LSU and Les Miles, obviously I have some interest there. When LSU has a big national game like the one against Texas, I’m probably going to cover it along with my rankings (unless I can’t wait until the next day, which happens sometimes); but when the only reason I’m writing about something is because I’m a fan, I prefer to do that in a separate blog. I will cover the LSU/Vanderbilt series in depth below.

Kansas @ BOSTON COLLEGE

The Jayhawks only scored three offensive touchdowns in their first two games and had gone scoreless in the last 57 minutes of Game 2 against Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers did win five games against an FBS schedule last season, so it wasn’t the most ridiculous upset; but KU still should have won.

It wasn’t something that was drastically out of character for the Kansas football program in the last few years.

When you’re trying to turn a program around, there may be some bumps in the road like that in the first year at any given school.  Even Nick Saban lost to UAB in his first year at LSU and to ULM in his first year at Alabama.

Anyway, given the offensive struggles, it was remarkable that the Jayhawks managed more offensive touchdowns in one half than they had scored in two full games.

It was out of character to win a road game against a Power 5 opponent, which the Jayhawks had not done since 2008 (and that was against a bad Iowa St. team).  It also wasn’t a very normal Kansas thing to beat the spread by over 40 points.

Until his last couple of seasons at LSU when the Tigers struggled after losing to Alabama, you never wanted to play a Les Miles team after a loss. I’m glad he seems to have brought that attitude to Kansas so quickly.

Kansas RB Khalil Herbert ran for 187 yards on 11 carries in Chestnut Hill, MA, Friday.

NORTHWESTERN ST. @ LSU

Before getting to the LSU-Vanderbilt series, I wanted to comment about the last LSU game.  This is the only preview of sorts I’m going to write.  I’m not saying the win is guaranteed, but I’m not going to give in-depth information about every opponent.

LSU’s first half last Saturday was ugly, I’m not going to lie, but there were positives in the game.  First of all, Joe Burrow and Myles Brennan combined set the LSU home record for most passing yards in a game with 488. Rohan Davey, who contributed in the previous home record, still holds the overall record (that one is by himself) with 528 at Alabama in 2001.  That Tommy Hodson individual home record (which I mentioned last week) also still stands, but Burrow did set a new single-game record for completion percentage with at least 20 attempts (87.5).

Brennan looked better than he did against Georgia Southern, with a QB rating almost as good as Burrow’s, and he was given more of the playbook to work with.  If  the one incompletion of his had been completed, he would be in the LSU record book individually for being one of only two quarterbacks (Fred Haynes in 1968) to go 9/9 in a game. 

I don’t think that 528-yard record will be broken in Nashville Saturday; but if there isn’t any kind of record in that game, the home game against Utah St. in three weeks might be a good opportunity to update some records.

The defense – no matter what was going on – should not have allowed 14 points in a half and should not have needed a drop to avoid giving up 21, but it is important to note that at least six important defenders, including three starting linemen, did not play.  This obviously contributed to Northwestern St.’s ability to sustain drives.  The defense made good adjustments in the second half though, so it’s at least encouraging that they can respond well to the proper guidance.  The Demons only gained about 80 yards in the second half.

Burrow did throw a silly interception, but I think he just got a little too confident in the ability to complete a sideline throw regardless of coverage for a moment there.  I don’t think he would have tried the same throw against Alabama, for instance.  I can’t think of another bad decision all night though. 

LSU still needs to work on the run game, but Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Tyrion Davis-Price, and Lanard Fournette (not to mention the quarterbacks) did find some running lanes on key plays, especially after the passing game got to be more consistent. Burrow said after the game that he doesn’t want to run the ball at all; but we didn’t hire Mike Leach, and even he runs it sometimes.

RIVALRY SERIES: LSU vs. VANDERBILT

I wasn’t going to write too much about the LSU-Vanderbilt series, but there were more close games than I realized even though LSU has dominated the series in the last 60+ years (winning 11 of 12).

This will be the second game in a row in the series to be held in Nashville.  The last time Vandy had consecutive home games in the series (1985 and 1990), they won the second contest, so this is very scary information. None of the historical problem areas stopped LSU from beating Texas though, so hopefully it will be the same here.

[Updated after game] LSU leads the all-time series, 23-7-1, and leads in Nashville, 12-5. In this 2019 game, LSU won 66-38. Even Vanderbilt’s total points were fourth in the series history and the second-most for the Commodores. LSU broke its single-game record (49-7 in 1985) by 17 points. The only other teams to score more than VANDY did was LSU in 1945 (39-7) and Vandy in 1948 (48-7).

See here for previous installments of my rivalry series. If you’re a Vanderbilt fan who stumbled across this blog, I did write about the Vanderbilt series with Ole Miss last year.

EARLY GAMES

Senator Huey Long, who was still the de facto governor, stands in front of the Vandy Express in 1934. Long would not live to see another football season.

Sorry for the older people reading, but I consider anything before 1988 an early game since it’s before I remember football. I only felt the need to elaborate slightly about one of the games that took place between 1957 and 1990 anyway.

The Commodores won at least 70% of their games, playing at least 7 games per season, between 1902 and 1912.  LSU had started playing football earlier, in 1893, but sometimes played three games or fewer in a year and often posted losing records or records at or around 50%.  With this in mind, it’s not surprising that Vandy won two games during this period by a combined score of 49 to 5. 

LSU would continue to have strong years occasionally surrounded by mediocre seasons. 1931 would be the first time in several years that the two teams would even finish with the same record. Vanderbilt’s four losses came to teams with a combined 4 losses while LSU’s four losses came to teams with a combined 8 losses, but the gap was narrowing. Vanderbilt would be the superior team again in 1932; but with the creation of the SEC the next year, LSU would get to see how they stacked up on the field for the first time since 1910.

LSU would play 10 games in the 1933 season and not lose a single one; whereas it was more of a rebuilding year for Vandy, who would suffer three losses after losing only one game (at Alabama) the year before.  And yet the game in Baton Rouge ended in a somewhat demoralizing 7-7 draw. 

The U.S. Senator (and still de facto governor) of Louisiana, Huey Long, was very insistent that since LSU would not play the Commodores in front of a home crowd the following year, they would bring the home crowd with them.  To facilitate this, he though the students should be given a 70% discount.  When the railroad was not so fond of that idea, he threatened to reassess the taxes that the railroad might owe.  According to one report I read, the railroad was only being taxed at about 2.5% of its actual worth.  He also gave “loans” to students who claimed to still be unable to afford the trip.  I imagine similar “loans” were given to players back then, but that’s another topic.

The Tigers had already been tied twice in four contests to begin the 1934 season, but the Commodores were undefeated. LSU may have gotten the upset anyway, but the enthusiastic fan supported probably contributed to the impressive 29-0 score in favor of the Tigers.  This was a clear turning point in the series.  The Tigers would remain undefeated until a one-point loss to Tulane denied LSU a berth in the inaugural Sugar Bowl, but LSU did finish with a better record than Vanderbilt for only the second time since 1914.  The Tigers would make the Sugar Bowl the next three years, so it was clear they were now part of the hierarchy of the new SEC.

Due to Long’s interference, head coach Biff Jones would resign following the season. The good news was his replacement Bernie Moore was one of LSU’s longest-tenured and most successful LSU head coaches. In this way, Long may have contributed to many LSU victories after his death.

Although Vanderbilt would host the next three contests in the series as well, the Commodores would only win one of them (by 1 point in 1937).  By 1947, the Tigers had built a 9-3-1 lead in the series. 

LSU head coach Bernie Moore (pictured in 1939) went 8-1 against Vanderbilt over 13 seasons. Les Miles, 3-0, is the only other LSU coach to have coached at least three games against the Commodores.

Moore, after whom the track stadium is still named, retired after the 1947 season.  The Tigers suffered only two losing seasons in his 13 years. He was replaced by Gus Tinsley, whom he coached to a claim of the national championship in 1936.  (Minnesota won a split decision in the AP poll, but LSU is recognized as the best team that year by Jeff Sagarin.)  Tinsley, who still went to LSU games until shortly before his death in 2002, proved to be a better player than coach though.  He posted only three wins in his first season and would never lead consecutive teams to winning records. 

Vanderbilt won two of the four contests against LSU with Tinsley as the head coach.

Although the series has been sporadic since the 1940s, only one of the last 12 full-time LSU head coaches who coached a game (Jerry Stovall) avoided a game against Vanderbilt.

For the LSU program overall, things eventually turned around under Paul Dietzel, Tinsley’s successor, but Dietzel’s first three years was the worst three-year stretch for the Tigers since the early 1920s.  LSU would lose 7-0 in Nashville in 1957 for the third loss in five games in the series.  The series would not resume until 1976.

LSU won the next four games easily… apart from the 1984 contest.  LSU led the whole game in that one but let the Commodores back into the game with three fourth-quarter turnovers that reduced the lead from 28 with about 12 minutes left to 7 with just over 2 minutes left.  All LSU had to do after that (in hindsight) was recover the onsides kick and hand the ball to future Saints star Dalton Hilliard, but I imagine there were some nervous moments in the final minutes.

1990: Vanderbilt Ends Four-Game LSU Winning Streak for First Win in Series Since 1957

Even when Vanderbilt won in 1990 (the first game in the series I remember), the Tigers were quickly going downhill as a program.  They had gone from 10-1-1 in 1987 to 8-4 in 1988 to 4-7 in 1989.  LSU would score a huge upset over Texas A&M in the following week, but once again the Tigers would finish with a losing record.  After  Vandy was a running team the whole game in 1990 (2 completions on 13 attempts to that point), LSU took the lead with 4:06 remaining, 21-17. 

Apparently forcing the ’Dores to throw was the worst thing to do.  Five completions and two quarterback runs (along with two incompletions and a third-down handoff) would give Vanderbilt the lead with 1:09 left and soon thereafter the win, 24-21.  That would be Vanderbilt’s only win of the season.

Neither LSU HC Mike Archer nor Vanderbilt HC Watson Brown would make it until the next season.

1991: LSU Begins a New Winning Streak

The Tigers did get revenge by winning a close game in 1991.  Vanderbilt out-gained LSU and got more first downs, but the Tigers won with a combination of forced turnovers and special teams.  LSU had 117 turnover-return yards to Vanderbilt’s 0 as the Tigers won the turnover battle 4 to 1. 

The Tigers took their first lead on an interception-touchdown early in the third quarter, but the Commodores responded with a 15-play, 80-yard drive to go back up, 14-10.  LSU had a long drive of its own to complete the third quarter, but it resulted only in a field goal.  Vandy still led 14-13 at the start of the fourth.  The ’Dores were forced to punt after going backwards on their next drive, and LSU QB Jesse Daigle was able to engineer another FG drive.  He passed for 44 yards and ran for another 5 on the drive, which put LSU ahead, 16-14.

In the nest drive, it looked as if Vanderbilt would both take the lead and nearly run out the clock.  After 7 plays, the Commodores already had the ball at the LSU 16.  Three straight running plays gave Vandy a first and goal from the LSU 5 with 2:13 to go in the game.  After two more runs, the Tigers took their last timeout with 1:18 to go and Vandy facing a third and goal from the 2.  As LSU had not managed a touchdown drive the whole game, a Vanderbilt score on the next play might have essentially ended the game.  Even if LSU forced the fourth down, the ’Dores could have run down the clock to well under a minute before kicking the go-ahead field goal.  Neither of those happened though, as LB Ricardo Washingon would force a fumble, returned 76 yards by DB Wayne Williams. 

It was LSU who would run out the clock and hold onto the two-point win. Both teams would finish 5-6, which was thought to be solid beginning for the two new coaches Gerry DiNardo and Curley Hallman.  DiNardo turned out all right for a Vanderbilt head coach, but Hallman turned out to be the worst modern head coach of LSU.

1996 and 1997: The Gerry DiNardo Bowls

LSU would not post another winning record until 1995, the year after Hallman was fired, but one coach was the same in 1996, the next time the Tigers faced the ’Dores.  That was Gerry DiNardo, who was in his second year with the Tigers after winning a whopping 18 games in four years at Vandy.  The LSU fans were so excited to see him face his former team, it was one of the largest crowds in Tiger Stadium history at the time. 

The Tigers wore gold jerseys (which were especially popular in light of the baseball team’s success in the 1990s) in protest of the Commodores’ refusal to allow LSU to wear white, the traditional home color.  For some reason, white was allowed at home but only with the visitor’s permission at that time.  I’m not sure how premeditated this was, but it was sort of like promoting a boxing match by engineering a big feud between the boxers.

In the following June, the baseball team would win its fourth College World Series in 7 years.

Vanderbilt QB Damian Allen throws to the flat to avoid a sack in Baton Rouge on October 5, 1996.

The ’Dores almost got some amount of revenge in 1997.  Both teams had chances to score in the first quarter, but LSU would miss a 44-yard field goal attempt, and Vanderbilt would fumble at the LSU at the LSU 24.  Vanderbilt dominated the second quarter, but the Commodores could not score.  This time Vandy would miss a 38-yard field goal.  On the following offensive drive, the ’Dores fumbled again at the LSU 11.  LSU finally recorded the game’s first score late in the third quarter to go up 7-0.  Before that 53-yard touchdown drive, the Tigers only had 96 net yards for the game.  Vanderbilt had gained more yards than that in the second quarter alone.   

After both offenses struggled for most of the fourth quarter, Vanderbilt was forced to punt to LSU with just under 6 minutes left.  The Tigers seemed intent to either score or run out the clock.  This strategy was bolstered by a 23-yard run on first down to the Commodore 38.  After being penalized for a hold, the Tigers would to advance to the 32 on a third and long.  Since it was too far to feel comfortable with a field goal, the Tigers went for it on 4th and 4.  LSU QB Herb Tyler dropped back to pass but was sacked, giving Vandy the ball at their own 41.  After an incompletion and a run for no gain, the ’Dores were forced into a third and long with just over 2 minutes left, but then the passing game came alive.  Fourteen-, 31-, and 11-yard passes were completed (with a negative rushing play mixed in) to give Vandy the ball at the LSU 12 with 21 seconds left and no timeouts.  The first-down pass fell incomplete, but the Commodores scored on the ensuing second down.  They elected to go for the tie, but lineman Arnold Miller blocked the extra point to give the Tigers the 7-6 win. 

The Tigers would finish 9-3 on the season following the 10-2 campaign the year before, but DiNardo would win only two more SEC games after the 1997 season. The silver lining in his struggles was the hiring of Nick Saban of Michigan St. (whom DiNardo had ironincally beaten in the 1995 Independence Bowl) after the 1999 season.

Vandy finished the 1997 season only 3-8, so even a tie would have been an upset of sorts.  LSU has won the four subsequent meetings by at least 14 points apiece (and the ’Dores didn’t score double digits in any of them).

DiNardo’s replacement at Vanderbilt, Woody Widenhofer, was also fired before getting to coach in this series again. 

2004 and 2005: Jay Culter and More Vandy Defense

I mentioned how DiNardo’s tenure went downhill after the 1997 season, but LSU did not play Vanderbilt again until 2004, the year after Saban won the BCS championship at LSU, the Tigers’ first recognized by a major poll since 1958.  It also happened to be Saban’s last season.  Vandy had only gone 2-10 the year before, but the Commodores drew some attention by having a quarterback throw for over 2300 yards in that season.  That QB, Jay Cutler, also was the third-leading rusher on the team, so there was a glimmer of hope in the early years of Bobby Johnson, but 2004 would be another 2-win season. 

LSU had more problems at the QB position that year, alternating between a talented but rough-around-the-edges JaMarcus Russell and the more experienced but often lackluster Marcus Randall.  So the Tigers weren’t known for their offense that season to put it nicely.  It was only 10-7 at the half, but the Tigers pulled away in the third quarter, and the ’Dores didn’t have an answer.  LSU would only manage 102 passing yards (in just 11 attempts) for the game.  Cutler was not very good either with 111 yards in 20 attempts, but he did run for 39 yards not counting yards lost on a sack.

LSU Safety Jessie Daniels sacks Vandy QB Jay Cutler in Nashville on October 8, 2005.

In 2005, Les Miles’ first year, it was another defensive stalemate until late in the third quarter.  The Tigers offense scored a touchdown early in the first quarter but would go scoreless for the next 2 ½ quarters.  The LSU defense helped out with a safety later in the first quarter, but Vanderbilt would respond with a field goal late in the first quarter and another early in the third.  In a reverse of the 1997 game, it was actually LSU who had multiple long drives and no points to show for it for most of the game.  At halftime, the Tigers held a 303 to 41 advantage in net yardage but only led 9-3.  The Tigers turned the ball over 4 times over the course of the game and missed two field goals. 

After the third-quarter field goal to get within 3, things were starting to look good for the Commodores.  LSU was forced to punt on their ensuing offensive drive, giving Vandy QB Jay Cutler a chance to give his team the lead. It looked like that might happen when he completed a 15-yard pass on first down.  An incompletion and a 6-yard run set up a 3rd and 4, but Cutler would throw his second interception of the game.  The other one had led to a missed field goal, but the Tigers took advantage of this one to extend the lead to 6 points.  Although it was close on the scoreboard for a few more minutes, the momentum shift would prove to be irreversible.  From that point until the final play of the game, Vanderbilt would only get one more first down that was not due to a penalty, and LSU would score touchdowns on its next three offensive drives.

Russell, who was the full-time quarterback in 2005, managed 285 total yards, many of them in the fourth quarter, when he threw his only touchdown pass.  Cutler barely threw for more yards than he had in the 2004 game but with 10 more attempts, so you can see why the Commodores could not get a scoring drive going unless they took over in field goal range.

LSU would finish 11-2, and Vandy would barely miss a bowl game at 5-6, which was a good record at Vanderbilt since the ’Dores at that time had not had a winning record since 1982.  They would not finally end the bowl drought until 2008 (while Johnson was still there).

2009 and 2010: LSU Maintains Dominance

LSU got lucky and did not face Vandy again until the twin rebuilding years of 2009 and 2010 (both 2-10 seasons).  2009 was the closer of the two at the final whistle, with the Tigers only winning by 14; but LSU led from late in the first quarter until the end of the game, and Vanderbilt never led.

In 2010, due in part to a lackluster passing attack, LSU didn’t pull away until the fourth quarter; but the Commodores never looked likely to win since they only managed 2 yards per carry to LSU’s 5.6. LSU won, 24-3.

LSU RB Stevan Ridley ran for 159 yards on 17 carries the last time LSU played Vandy (in Nashville on Sept. 11, 2010).

Week 3 Top 25

In College Football, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 15, 2019 at 3:38 PM

I’ll include my thoughts about the most-recent LSU game when I go into detail about Vanderbilt later in the week.  I’ve been waiting to write about the LSU-Vanderbilt series for a while, but there is only so much to say about it since Vandy has not won since 1990.

There is a bit more to say about the top 25 games that weren’t against FCS opponents and the new members of the top 25.  This is still primarily subjective, but I did try out my ratings system for the first time.  It’s pointless to even look at it before everyone plays an FBS opponent, so that’s why I hadn’t looked before.  Now that that’s happened, the system has given me a little bit of guidance; but it’s still somewhat limited.

For the new teams last week, I just added teams who beat opponents I previously thought were good.  That didn’t work out particularly well.  USC promptly lost to BYU, and Maryland promptly lost to Temple.  I don’t believe BYU or Temple belong in the top 25.  BYU should have lost to Tennessee, who I wouldn’t even put in my top 75.  Temple is closer, but I put that win down to Maryland being inconsistent (as usual) more than I put it down to Temple being very good.  Cal, the third team I added after last week, did win; but the Bears didn’t do very much to separate themselves from their opponent North Texas, whose only win is over a basically winless FCS team (I don’t count wins over Division II or lower).

BYU’s Dax Milne catches a 30-yard touchdown pass from Zach Wilson to put the Cougars ahead of USC in the second quarter in Provo on Saturday.

There are very basic observations this early that my computer system is not capable of.  For instance, it doesn’t realize Texas is harder to beat than USC.  They both faced three FBS opponents, and they’re both 2-1.  The opponents of both Texas and USC have a total of 3 wins against FBS opponents (LSU and Louisiana Tech combine for three as do BYU and Stanford).  I don’t add any inputs for how teams did last season or in any recent seasons, so it takes time to differentiate quality wins better.

Number 1 on the computer list is Auburn.  Only 7 teams are 3-0 against FBS teams at this point.  Only one of the Tigers’ three opponents has a loss to another team, and two of those opponents have wins over an FBS team.  All three have wins over FCS teams. Eighty-five of 130 teams have FCS wins, so it’s hard to have a better schedule so far among the unbeaten teams.  You could argue Ohio St. has a better schedule because their opponents had four wins over FBS team.  However, one of the four FBS wins by the Buckeyes’ opponents (Cincinnati over UCLA) was over a completely winless team, and the three other wins by Buckeyes’ opponents were over teams who are winless against the FBS. 

It only goes downhill from there.  In the computer, the worst 3-0 (vs. FBS) team is Alabama, who beat South Carolina (which counts for zero points since they’ve only beaten a winless FCS team) and New Mexico St. (who is completely winless).  Alabama did beat Duke, who beat Middle Tennessee; but as you might guess Middle Tennessee is also winless against FBS opponents. Anyway, this is why I said this early you have to look at more than wins and losses even though later in the year I move away from that.  I think we’ve seen more evidence of the ability to win championships by Alabama than Auburn even though Auburn has had more accomplishments so far.

Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa has been able to wear down the defenses he’s faced so far, but his coach expressed frustration that the Tide hasn’t been tested against better opponents.

Anyway, I’m not relying on the computer rankings to tell me if one team is better than another, but I did use it to find suggestions for teams to add to the top 25.  Three were teams I was already strongly considering: Arizona St. (which beat Michigan St.), Iowa (which beat Iowa St.), and Wake Forest (which beat North Carolina).  I’m not about to put them in the top 10 like the computer has them, but I think they’ve had a good enough 3 weeks to belong where I put them. 

Kansas St. was not one I was thinking of, but the Wildcats are 3-0 and have a win over Mississippi St.  Otherwise they beat a bad FBS team and a good FCS team.  Another candidate was Virginia, who has a very similar profile; but I think it’s harder to beat Mississippi St than Florida St. right now, especially since the Wildcats went on the road to beat the Bulldogs while the Cavaliers beat the Seminoles at home.

Despite what I said about the North Texas game, I still think Cal’s win over Washington will turn out to be a very good one. So I’m not inclined to take the Bears out of the top 25 unless there is a loss. They go on the road to face Ole Miss before two fairly tough in-conference opponents (Arizona St. and Oregon), so we will soon see how much of a fluke the Washington win was.

Top 25

rankteamlast
1Clemson1
2Alabama2
3Georgia3
4LSU4
5Ohio St.5
6Notre Dame6
7Auburn7
8Florida8
9Wash. St.9
10Oklahoma10
11Michigan11
12Texas A&M12
13Utah13
14Texas14
15C. Florida15
16Penn St.17
17Appalachian18
18Arizona St.
19Iowa
20Wake Forest
21Cincinnati21
22Boise St.22
23Oregon23
24UC-Berkeley25
25Kansas St.

Out of top 25: (16) Michigan St., (19) USC, (20) Maryland, (24) Iowa St.

The Patriots’ Run in Perspective

In MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL on September 13, 2019 at 6:18 PM

I’ve been planning to write this since shortly after the Super Bowl, but I was busy immediately afterward and got a cold, and then it wasn’t really football season anymore. 

I wanted to start by saying I’m not a Patriots fan and apart from their first Super Bowl win (over the St. Louis Rams).  I wasn’t really in favor of them winning any others.  I didn’t mind when they beat the Falcons, and I wouldn’t have minded had they beaten the Giants though.

Adam Vinatieri, then only 29 years old, kicks the winning points as the Patriots upset the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI in the Superdome in 2002.

If you wanted to know why I wanted the Rams to lose, first of all they were divisional rivals with the Saints at the time.   I usually will cheer for franchises who hadn’t won before (which is why I was more neutral toward the Falcons than most Saints fans), and I usually cheer against teams who are favored by 14.  That was the biggest line since the previous time the Patriots had made the Super Bowl, and one has not been that large since.  The only time it came close was the 12-point line in favor of the Patriots over the Giants in 2008.

The point of writing this is just to remark on the significance of a franchise rising so quickly in stature in a league.  If you’re old enough to read this, you probably won’t see something similar take place in your life.  Before the 2001 season, the Patriots had won zero Super Bowls.  Although they had been to 2, in my mind (and I think in the mind of the vast majority of fans) that put them behind such franchises as the New York Jets and the Baltimore Ravens (who at that time were both 1-0 in Super Bowls).

Now, if you use conference championships as a tiebreaker, the Patriots are at the very top of franchises with Super Bowl Championships. 

It took until the 20th Super Bowl for the Patriots to make their first appearance, and at that time they were tied for 14th at 0-1.  But arguably they belonged 17th on that list because before that season the franchise had never won a playoff game.  They would not win another playoff game for 11 years, in the season in which they would lose another Super Bowl, this time to Brett Favre and the Packers.  In the interim, two other teams (the Giants and the Bills) had passed up the Patriots and one other team (the Chargers) had tied them at 0-1.  So when the Patriots lost to the Packers, that only put them in a tie for 16th, which fell to 17th after the aforementioned Ravens won.

Bill Parcells, left, was at one time the only coach to have taken the Giants to the Super Bowl and one of only two coaches to have taken the Patriots to one. The guy on the right is Bill Belichick, who became the third to do the latter.

So in the last 17 years they went from 17th to 1st on the list. 

To put that in the context of a couple of other sports, the MLB Giants would have to win 20 World Series without the Yankees winning any just to move from #2 to #1 on the World Series list.  The Mets, who are 17th, would have to win 26. 

In hockey (I say hockey because the Stanley Cup precedes the NHL), the Red Wings would have to win 13 Stanley Cups without the Canadiens winning any just to move from #2 to #1.  It would take 24 Stanley Cups to move from #17 to #1 (several franchises are tied at 1-1).  So even by winning every year, it would take longer than 17 years in both MLB and hockey to move up so far. 

In the NBA, the Lakers (the current #2) would pass up the Celtics with just one win, but they’ve been in second place since 1963, the year the Celtics passed up the Lakers to become #1.  So the total time to move up just that one spot would still be over 50 years.  Like in hockey, #17 is only 1-1, so one of those teams (the Bucks or the Mavericks) would have to win titles every year for 17 years to move up to #1 as quickly.

Bob Cousy prepares to pass in the Los Angeles Sports Arena in the NBA Finals in 1963. The Celtics would win the series and have been at the top of the list of NBA Finalists since.

To be fair, Super Bowls have only existed since the 1966 season, but the NBA had less than a 20-year head start.  No one else is realistically going to be competing with the Celtics and the Lakers in 17 years or probably even 40 years.  The team that has moved up the most since the mid-90s has been the Spurs, but it took them 16 years to win 5.  They would need 13 more wins to pass up the Celtics.    

The Patriots have managed to have an extended dynasty in an era where that is supposed to be impossible.  No other league does as much to punish success as the NFL.  It’s not only draft picks, it’s the schedule and salary caps.  Most leagues don’t factor in past season’s success in scheduling.  Six of the 16 NFL games in a season are determined by success in the previous season.

There are some measures taken in other leagues to keep salaries under control, but the haves and have-nots are still pretty easy to determine based on salary most of the time.  In the NFL, even if you look at room under the salary cap, it doesn’t tell you very much.  So it’s not all about who’s spending money and who isn’t.  When I checked after last season, the Colts had the most room under the salary cap, and they made the divisional round of the playoffs, for instance.  The Jaguars were one of only two teams over the cap, and they finished 5-11.  You have to consistently bargain for and make good draft picks, and you have to consistently make your salary dollars count to have these results.  I don’t want to get into the scandals, which are overblown in my opinion; but there is no question that making great decisions has been the key to success.

I’m sure there are people who know a lot more about the NFL than I do who can speculate if the Patriots will win again and if so how many before Brady and Belichick retire, but even if they’re done, the last 17 years have still been an amazing achievement.

Week 2 Conference Report and Rankings Comments

In College Football, Conference Reports, Rankings Commentary on September 10, 2019 at 2:17 PM

I mostly wanted to post an update about inter-conference games so far, but I came across an interesting argument on “College Football Nerds” that basically said Texas should have stayed at the same spot or better in the major polls.

“We have two weeks of actual data, and we reshuffle based on the preseason poll…  We don’t vote with our eyes, we vote with who won and who lost.”

What are we supposed to reshuffle if not the preseason poll?  Last year’s final rankings?  Do the records from last year carry over?  If so, I’m not sure 11-5 Texas with two losses in the last four games should be in the top 10 either. 

Assuming that’s not what he wants to do, two games isn’t a lot of “data” that he wants us to rely on.  Looking a certain way in those two games doesn’t necessarily say how the rest of the season will go. The important factor is having a loss right now is significantly worse than not having a loss.

The second guy says you have to be insane to think Auburn would beat Texas.

I honestly don’t know who would win.  Making Joe Burrow look like a runaway Heisman winner makes me think Texas might make Bo Nix look at least above average, and he did look good at the end of the Oregon game.  There is a pretty decent possibility based on what I’ve seen that Auburn has a better defense than LSU does, so maybe with some ball control (which LSU didn’t have) they can hold Texas to two fewer touchdowns (24 points) and score 27 like they scored against Oregon. 

What overwhelming evidence do we have that Texas plays defense better than Oregon?  None.  Losing a game like that at home doesn’t prove that Texas would have beaten Oregon at a neutral site as Auburn did.  Yes, Auburn only beat Tulane 24-6; but if your defense is doing that well, why take chances on offense?  That doesn’t say anything about what you can do when a team is making you score points to stay in the game like Oregon did. 

LSU won a similar game against Tulane on the way to winning the 2007 national championship, by the way.  The Tigers ended up winning by 25 (after a 10-9 first half), but Tulane would only win 4 games that year. I would suspect this year’s Green Wave is at least one touchdown more competent.

Of course, theoretically playing a close game and possibly beating Texas doesn’t count as much as actually doing so, so that’s why LSU is a good number of spots ahead of Auburn.  Theoretically losing to LSU (ESPN gives Auburn only about a 20% chance of winning that game right now) isn’t as bad as actually losing to LSU, so that’s why Auburn isn’t as far down as Texas is.  A 20% chance of winning a scheduled game is better than a 0% chance.

Also, unlike the polls, I had Auburn ahead of Texas at the beginning of the season, so my default position is Auburn is a better team anyway.   If I thought Texas was better going in, I would probably still have Texas ahead; but another difference between me and the polls is I didn’t expect Oregon to beat Auburn.  So I’m not saying the polls are completely right and these guys are completely wrong, but it’s not as hard to see the logic as they pretend it is. 

I do accept the point that Texas played a lot better than Michigan on Saturday, but that’s why Texas actually went up a spot and Michigan went down 5 spots.  That doesn’t mean the Michigan team that on paper in preseason looked like a much better team than Texas should drop below Texas as long as Michigan has a better record than Texas. 

Michigan forced the fumble above to beat Army in double overtime.

After about another month, I’m all in favor of discarding preseason and looking at resumes, but there isn’t enough information from this season to do that now.  In evaluating opponents, you would still need to guess at how good they are and not just look at the opponents’ resumes.  Tulane or Army, for instance, could win 10 games (they both won bowl games last year after all) or they could win 5 games (which would be much more typical of those two programs), we don’t know. 

I at least want to see LSU play Florida before I decide losing to LSU at home by 7 is better than being undefeated with a questionable performance against a “mid-major” type of team. 

I also agree with the point that Auburn will likely have more losses than Texas does, but right now I think there are 5 SEC teams (and Auburn plays all of the other 4) who would all go 3-0 against numbers 3 through 5 of the Big XII (assuming Texas and Oklahoma are the first two), so that could account for a few additional losses even if Auburn is the better team.  I’m not going to penalize a team for having a tougher schedule down the road.  I want to see how they do against that schedule and not just guess.

Anyway, there are only two conferences with winning records against teams of Power 5 conferences.   You could probably guess that the SEC (at 62.5%) is one of them.  The other is the Mountain West (54.5%), which is actually 1-0 against the SEC with the Wyoming win over Missouri.

It looks like the SEC will not be as deep as recent years though. There is a big gap between beating Texas and losing to Georgia St.  Missouri, which dominated West Virginia, is the only team that has both one of the Power 5 wins and one of the apparently bad losses.  Maybe Wyoming will turn out to be a good team, but I doubt it. 

After a disappointing opening against Wyoming, the Missouri defense nearly shut out West Virginia in the Tigers’ home opener.

Ole Miss is probably about #11 in the SEC, so I don’t mind too much their losing to Memphis, one of the best AAC teams in the last two seasons. It is something to take into consideration before giving the SEC too much credit for being far ahead of the other major conferences in terms of Power 5 record though.

In interconference FBS record, the SEC is more pedestrian at only 65%, which is actually fourth.  It’s a much closer fourth though.  It’s only 1.7% back of the ACC and Big XII, who are tied for second.

I would say the Big Ten is the best overall since it only has three total losses to the SEC’s seven.  The 1.7% I mentioned is more than made up by the SEC’s strength of schedule, so I’d rate the SEC second right now. 

I put the Pac-12 third.  It’s only won 60% of its FBS games, but lesser teams in the conference have lost to opponents like Cincinnati and Oklahoma St., so there is relatively little room to criticize.

I considered putting the MWC third, but the 53% record in FBS games made me reconsider.  I think fourth is fair given what I said earlier.

Fifth and sixth are the ACC and Big XII.  Pretty similar numbers, both 33% against Power 5, both 67% against FBS.  I put the ACC ahead because they’ve played twice as many games against the FBS though.  Also, one of the non-FBS teams was Boise St.

The only two left with winning records overall are the AAC and the Sun Belt.  Except for against Power 5 teams, the AAC has better records.  Also, the two have the same number of FCS opponents, but since the Sun Belt has fewer teams the Sun Belt has a weaker schedule as a result. 

The Independents aren’t a conference of course, but I would put them in between if you want to consider them as a group.  They have the same winning percentage against Power 5 as the Sun Belt.  Wins over Louisville and Tennessee are better than wins over Kansas and Tennessee (sorry Les).  The Independents have two non-Power-5 losses to the Sun Belt’s three.

The MAC and CUSA have done almost nothing positive out of conference.  The CUSA is 1-0 against the MAC, but since there are no other wins, that doesn’t help much.  The MAC’s only win is over Coastal Carolina, but since the Chanticleers have a win over a Big XII team, that’s at least some reason to be positive.  Also, the MAC doesn’t have a loss to an FCS opponent.

So if you didn’t follow or want to read all that, this is my current order:

  1. Big Ten
  2. SEC
  3. Pac-12
  4. MWC/Mountain West
  5. ACC
  6. Big XII
  7. AAC/American
  8. Independents
  9. Sun Belt
  10. MAC
  11. CUSA

Week 2 Recap and New Top 25

In College Football, General LSU, History, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 8, 2019 at 2:37 PM

Top 25

rankteamlast
1Clemson1
2Alabama2
3Georgia3
4LSU4
5Ohio St.5
6Notre Dame7
7Auburn8
8Florida9
9Wash. St.10
10Oklahoma11
11Michigan6
12Texas A&M12
13Utah13
14Texas15
15C. Florida16
16Michigan St.17
17Penn St.19
18Appalachian20
19USC
20Maryland
21Cincinnati21
22Boise St.22
23Oregon23
24Iowa St.24
25UC-Berkeley

Out of top 25: (14) Washington, (18) Syracuse, (25) Stanford

Comments

LSU/Texas Recap and Significance

I considered making LSU comments a separate blog, but since it was the only big game this weekend worth delving into, I’m doing it here. 

I wasn’t wrong about LSU winning, but I was wrong about a couple of other things.  I would have been right both about LSU not beating the spread and about LSU not getting to 45 points on offense if only the Tigers had failed in the two-point conversion attempt, so I wasn’t far off.

Anyway, I’m happy to be wrong about LSU being able to get the same number of points Oklahoma did in the Texas win in Dallas last season and happy LSU beat the spread.  I did expect one late score to make the difference though, so my reasoning for picking Texas to beat the spread was sound.  The win didn’t feel secure until LSU went up 12 (14 with the conversion) with 2:27 left in the game, and then the game wasn’t really over until the onsides kick failed with 22 seconds left.  The field was just a couple of inches too narrow for Texas to recover.

Despite some problems that will need to be fixed, it’s at least somewhat encouraging that LSU did 10 points better than Oklahoma did on defense last year in the first game against the Horns.  I thought that was the most impressive Texas game last year, so that’s why it was my point of comparison in the preview.  I wasn’t sure if Texas would be equally impressive on offense in this game, but they were in my opinion. 

I don’t think the LSU offense is quite at the level of the Oklahoma offense last season, but the relative inexperience of the Texas defense (which I thought was the main reason the Longhorns would lose) made it look like that.

Anyway, I’ll add some stats I found interesting.  LSU once again looked extremely good against a top 10 team not named Alabama.  The Tigers are 6-0 in such games under Orgeron and have won 4 of the 6 by at least 7 points.  This game was closer than average, but the offense did about 2 touchdowns better than the average number of points in the previous 5 such games. 

One reason the game was close was the fact that it was on the road.  LSU had never won a road game against a top-10 opponent out of conference; although under Les Miles alone, the Tigers did beat #16 West Virginia in Morgantown in 2011 and #15 Arizona St. in Tempe in 2005.  This was the second LSU win in Austin and first since 1938.

QB Joe Burrow throws downfield in Austin on Saturday. Burrow went 31/39 for 471 yards.

This was also the first time in LSU history that the Tigers had three receivers with over 100 yards each (Jefferson, 163; Chase, 147; and Marshall, 123).  Joe Burrow’s 471-yard performance on Saturday is second in the Tiger record books only to that of Rohan Davey, who threw for 528 yards against (unranked) Alabama in 2001.  Davey (with Josh Booty) also contributed to more total passing yards (485) in the win over Western Carolina in 2000, but neither quarterback exceeded 300 yards.  For possible future reference, the individual home record is held by Tommy Hodson, who threw for 438 yards in a loss to Tennessee in 1989.

Other games

Other people are moving LSU up to the top 4, but since I had them there already, I think the top 10 (apart from Michigan, who needed overtime to beat Army and still deserved to lose) is fine how it is.

The only other big game going into the week was Texas A&M at Clemson.  It went about what I’d expect with the #1 team playing at home against the 6th-best SEC team.  I didn’t make a specific mention of the game; but you can see my preseason top 25 if you don’t believe that was how I viewed the respective teams.

There were two Pac-12 games that were somewhat surprising, especially the endings.  Stanford looked good against USC for about a quarter and a half, but then the Trojans scored the last 35 points of the game to win 45-20.  The Cal (UC-Berkeley) Bears used a lot of ball control late in the game to give themselves a chance against Washington.  It took until about 1:30 a.m. local time (due to a 2-hour lightening delay), but the Bears scored the winning field goal with 8 seconds left after Washington had scored a go-ahead field goal from about 50 yards with just over 2 minutes left.

The only thing else that was surprising was Maryland beating Syracuse by 43 points.  I wouldn’t have been surprised by a closer Maryland win since it was a Terps home game, but the Orange was blown away on defense in both rushing and passing.  It could be a long day when Syracuse faces Clemson next week.

Anthony McFarland, Jr., (no relation to the former LSU player) runs for one of his three touchdowns against Syracuse in College Park, Md., Saturday.

Due to Stanford, Syracuse, and Iowa St. (who was idle after needing 3 OTs to beat FCS foe Northern Iowa), no games within the AP top 25 will be played next weekend.  I left the Cyclones in though, so the battle for the Cy-Hawk trophy is unusually interesting this year.

Week 1 Top 25 and LSU/Texas Series and Preview

In College Football, General LSU, History, Preview, Rankings, Rankings Commentary, Rivalry on September 3, 2019 at 6:01 PM

TOP 25

rank/team/last

1Clemson1
2Alabama2
3Georgia3
4LSU4
5Ohio St.6
6Michigan5
7Notre Dame7
8Auburn9
9Florida8
10Wash. St.10
11Oklahoma11
12Texas A&M12
13Utah13
14Washington14
15Texas15
16C. Florida17
17Michigan St.18
18Syracuse20
19Penn St.21
20Appy St.23
21Cincinnati24
22Boise St.
23Oregon16
24Iowa St.19
25Stanford

Out of top 25: (22) Florida St., (25) South Carolina

Top 25 Comments

I know it’s late for many of you, so I only used one picture. I usually try to avoid walls of text, but it couldn’t be helped.

I covered most of what I had to say about the games over the weekend on Sunday

I thought Michigan struggled too much to stay ahead of Ohio St., who dominated.

I think Auburn barely beat a much better team than Florida barely beat, so I switched the two.

I dropped Oregon close to the bottom just because they’re 0-1, but they can bounce back pretty quickly. 

Boise St. was a late cut from my list of potentials, so it was easy to put them in.

As for the other new team, I’m not in love with Stanford being that they only scored 17 points and will probably rely on the backup quarterback in the next game, but sometimes that helps teams.

Florida St. and South Carolina deserved to fall out for obvious reasons.  It may be a while before I consider South Carolina again, but Florida St. showed some good things.

If you need three overtimes to beat a FCS team like Iowa St. did (although it’s worth noting Northern Iowa has had a lot of success in recent history), that’s almost like a loss to a top-10 team.  A win is a win for the most-part (giving credit for strength of schedule of course); but with only one game to consider, you have to look at how easily the win came. 

Oklahoma and Notre Dame, who played since my last blog, took care of business.  

Notre Dame probably let Louisville hang around too long, but the Irish don’t typically have an offense that leaves the opposition in the dust right away anyway 

Oklahoma let Houston score a couple of touchdowns to get within two possessions late, but I don’t hold it against them.  I’m still skeptical about how the Sooners will do against Power 5 competition though.  It could be that the Big XII will make them look good even if they aren’t.  Texas looked all right, but nobody looked great. Speaking of the Longhorns…

LSU @ Texas

Texas QB Sam Ehlinger looks to throw against TCU last season. LSU HC Ed Orgeron said preparing for Ehlinger was similar to preparing for Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow.

All-time series: Texas leads, 9-8-1 (updated after the game)

The first game of the series was way back in 1896, LSU’s 11th official game as a program (and 10th intercollegiate game), but 10 of the 17 games in the series were clustered between 1935 and 1954, the last regular-season matchup (Texas won 20-6 in Austin).

The (January) 2003 Cotton Bowl (Texas 35, LSU 20) was the only matchup since 1963 (also the Cotton Bowl, which LSU won 13-0), so LSU fans shouldn’t despair too much about these facts.  The more-recent Cotton Bowl was the highest-scoring game of the series, beating out the 35-14 Texas win in 1952.  In the 2003 game, Texas entered at 10-2, and LSU entered at 8-4.  LSU would win the BCS national championship in the following January though.

The third-largest point total and largest margin of victory is also owned by Texas, 34-0 in 1941.  Other than the tie in 1936, the closest game was the 5-0 LSU win in San Antonio in 1902.

Texas leads the series in Austin, 7-2-1, the other LSU win coming in 1938. (updated after the game).

The Tigers lead 2-1 at “neutral” sites (two in Dallas, one in San Antonio) and 4-1 at home. 

Added after the game: Both teams scored more in 2019 (45 to 38 final in favor of LSU) than either had in this series before. LSU more than doubled its previous high of 20 (in the loss in Jan. 2003 and in wins in 1938 and 1953).

After Saturday, the next game is scheduled for Tiger Stadium on September 12 of next season with no future plans thereafter; although LSU plans to return to Big XII country (if the Big XII is still a thing) in 2027 to face Oklahoma.

Preview

Speaking of the Longhorns, there was a debate on the College Football Nerds YouTube channel (formerly known as SEC Fans) about whether Texas will beat LSU.

They absolutely can…  I’m not going to suggest for a moment it’s going to be as easy to stop Texas’s mobile quarterback as it was to stop the Georgia Southern quarterbacks.  I’m not a big fan of the Texas defense even before the loss of all but two or three starters, but I’m reasonably sure LSU will go scoreless on more than one drive with the first-team offense in the game. I also don’t discount the degree of difficulty in playing in Austin.  I don’t know if it’s the same as the best SEC stadiums, but we’ve had some of our best teams lose at home (like in the 2003 season) or lose at less-intimidating SEC places like Commonwealth Stadium (the sponsor isn’t paying me) in Lexington (like in the 2007 season).

.. But I don’t think they will.  LSU has a clear advantage in returning starters; but even if they didn’t, I think last year’s LSU team would have beaten last year’s Texas team even in Austin.  Oklahoma played terribly on defense and only lost by a field goal, and that was Texas’s best game.  The Longhorns only won the Sugar because Georgia was going to be the team that blew the lead to Alabama in the SECCG whether they beat Texas or not.  A month of relatively little motivation can make a big difference.  LSU in their worst game wouldn’t have lost to Maryland like Texas did.

Anyway, in the video, I don’t know if the guy arguing for Texas was advancing weak arguments on purpose or he was just trying hard to sell the only arguments he could come up with; but they weren’t very persuasive.  One was “we’ve heard it before that the offense is different.”  There were changes when Cameron was fired, there were changes when Canada came in, and there were changes last year; but there weren’t wholesale changes like this.  Neither Etling in 2015 and 2016 nor Burrow last year were ready for anything crazy anyway. 

Shea Dixon had some good stats on differences from last year.  In all of last season 14 players caught passes, four of them running backs.  On Saturday, 14 players caught passes, 5 of them running backs.  He also included a special teams stat: LSU had 52 yards in punt returns Saturday compared with 99 in all of last season.

Another one is “Texas doesn’t rebuilt, they reload.”  Charlie Strong (who still recruited a lot of the players) would be surprised to know that.  They’re not Alabama or Clemson all of a sudden because of one year with double-digit wins (which with 14 games isn’t what it used to be).  LSU has done a bit of reloading over the years as well.  It’s still an advantage to have more players back, especially from a successful year.  Speaking of Alabama and Clemson, they both had successful years in 2017; but Clemson had a lot more players back in 2018.  I think that helped the Tigers win the championship as easily as they did.  Even if Texas “reloads” an exact replica of last season on defense (though I’m not sure Louisiana Tech gets 340 passing yards last year), that’s probably a good sign for the LSU offense.  To be fair, the La. Tech scoring was all in the fourth quarter, but they had several earlier opportunities.  In short, I’m not convinced.

Another point I’m not buying is that Texas can handle the SEC based on the Georgia game.  If LSU played Georgia and that was LSU’s only SEC game last year, that wouldn’t mean LSU would beat every SEC team this year with.  LSU played a Georgia team that still had a potential national championship run in front of it too.  Also, bowl games are a lot different.  You don’t get the same players.  LSU had a patchwork team in the bowl game last season and looked pretty good, which is part of the reason I rank them so highly now; but I don’t know how different the Texas-Georgia game would have been if it had been a playoff game.

There was another point that might have been good had Texas had its defense back from last year, and that was that LSU’s new offense is more similar to what Big XII teams run.  Being used to scrimmaging against the Texas offense isn’t the same thing as a season of Big XII opponents.  When you’re up 42-3 at the half and take most of your starters out shortly thereafter, you’re not going to show everything anyway.  So we can’t be sure this would be so easy for an experienced Big XII defense anyway.  Also, let’s not forget even in the best team game for the Longhorns they allowed 45 points.  Do I think LSU will score 45?  No.  Do I think they’ll allow 48 like Oklahoma did?  That’s not even a serious question in my mind.

My final thoughts: I don’t want to discount the fact that Texas has a chance to win at home. It just seems less likely.  Maybe 60-40 odds in LSU’s favor.  If you point a gun to my head and make me bet, I’d take Texas and the points (5.5 according to ESPN), but it’s a close call. If someone wins the turnover battle 4-0 (as was the case when LSU beat Georgia last year), that team could win by 20+ though. I don’t think feel like I know enough about either team under pressure to even venture a guess as to over/under.

Last topic, speaking of turnovers, both teams were +2 in turnovers in the first game, but stats from last year indicate LSU might do better.  LSU was tied for 7th in turnover margin last year (with an advantage of 0.8 per game).  Georgia Southern’s turnover margin was more than twice as much though (1.7, 1st), so that makes the first game more impressive for the Tigers.  Texas was close behind LSU last year (0.6, tied for 18th), but Louisiana Tech was barely positive (0.2, tied for 43rd).