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2019 College Football Conference Report

In College Football, Conference Reports on March 21, 2020 at 4:05 PM

I never thought LSU would win all the major men’s sports for an entire academic year, but I guess there are a lot of things going on I thought I’d never see.

I wasn’t going to write this since it’s based on a season that ended two months ago, but I have the time now, and I thought someone might want to read about the last full season we had.  I am writing this on Friday, a day I originally took off in order to enjoy the first round of the basketball tournament.  My last day of work for a while was Tuesday, so I may write something else in the coming days.

Anyway, I used to do conference reports more often.  I would do them weekly after each of the first four weeks and then again at the end of the regular season with a final one at the end of bowl season.  I thought I had done more than one, but the only one I could find was after Week 2.  One reason I haven’t done them as much is I’ve been rating the conferences statistically on my ratings site. Another reason is time of course.

SEC Regular Season

The SEC did not start particularly strong.  In the first two weeks, Tennessee lost twice (to Georgia St. and to BYU), Missouri lost to Wyoming, Ole Miss lost to Memphis (which turned out to be not so bad), and South Carolina lost to North Carolina.  So after two weeks, I had the Big Ten higher in the conference standings. 

Week 3 didn’t really change anything.  Mississippi St.’s loss to Kansas St. on the road wasn’t really a shock.  Arkansas beating anyone in FBS was a good thing (they beat Colorado St.).  The other wins that week would have been complete surprises had they not been blowouts.

Week 4 was a little bit more encouraging with Georgia’s win over Notre Dame.  Ole Miss and Arkansas lost, but those were not unexpected; both games could have gone either way.

Georgia WR George Pickens jumps for a reception against Notre Dame in Week 4 in Athens.

There was nothing else of note out-of-conference until Week 11, when Appalachian St. beat South Carolina.  In the mean time, Vanderbilt went 1-1 against two weak teams and Arkansas lost out of conference yet again, a blowout at the hands of Western Kentucky.  At that point things were looking even worse for the SEC than at the time of my conference report.

Apart from South Carolina’s expected big loss to Clemson (the actual margin of 35 would have been a modest estimate), the SEC won the other major rivalry-week games (Florida-Florida St., Kentucky-Louisville, and Georgia-Georgia Tech) to at least put itself back in contention for best conference.

SEC Bowls

Almost every year, I talk about how the SEC is often held to unfair standards in bowl games.  For instance, in 2018, LSU was in a four-way tie for third and had to play a team on a 25-game winning streak in the Fiesta Bowl.  The major bowls’ going deep into the SEC leaves relatively mediocre teams in big games like the Citrus and Outback Bowls.  Also, the best SEC team not in the Playoff (Georgia in 2018, almost every Alabama team that hasn’t been competing for a national championship) often has a lackluster performance based on disappointment from elimination from championship contention.

None of those seemed to be problems in this bowl season though.  There were two losses that were both understandable.  Auburn was in a tie for fifth and lost to a team who tied for second in a good conference in a competitive game.  The only other loss was by Mississippi St., who only barely made a bowl game and had some intra-squad drama (to put it mildly) in bowl prep.

Obviously, LSU beat two conference champions.  Florida, which was the runner-up in the East, beat Virginia, which was the runner-up in the entire ACC.  Georgia beat Baylor in a matchup of conference runners-up.  Alabama capitalized on a rare favorable matchup for the SEC when the Tide played fifth-place Michigan of the Big Ten. 

Lamical Perine breaks through the Virginia defense in the 2019 Orange Bowl in Miami Gardens, Fla. Perine averaged over 10 yards per carry in the game.

In another SEC-Big Ten matchup, Tennessee beat seventh-place Indiana. In record, the Volunteers were tied for fifth in the SEC, but I think when you consider that the Vols played in the (weaker) SEC East while the Hoosiers played in the (stronger) Big Ten East, it was a fair fight. 

Texas A&M beat Oklahoma St. to complete the sweep of the Big XII, and Kentucky beat Virginia Tech to make the SEC 3-1 against the ACC in bowl games.

SEC vs. Big Ten and Pac-12

The fact that the SEC had as many wins over the Big Ten as they had total losses in bowl games was a good start.  The Big Ten lost four of its last five bowl games including both “New Years Six” bowls against major-conference opponents.

The Pac-12, who won one of those NY6 games against the Big Ten, had a good bowl showing, but they have a really weak collection of bowl games and did not have a strong enough showing against other conferences during the season.

So the SEC, despite all the bumps in the road early on, ended up the clear winner.  By my count, the SEC went 17-8 against games against the major conferences (and Notre Dame).  No one else finished more than one game over .500 in such games (and that was the Pac-12, which went 8-7).

Other than the Rose Bowl game I mentioned, the Pac-12 didn’t really beat anyone to write home about.  These are the seven other wins: Florida St., Northwestern, Nebraska, Michigan St., Illinois, Texas Tech, and Ole Miss.

The Big Ten beat USC, Auburn, and Notre Dame and has such excusable losses as Alabama, Oregon, and Clemson.  So despite the bowl record, I’m still going with the Big Ten as #2 over #3 Pac-12.

Other Major Conferences and the American Conference

The Big XII had a similar record to the Pac-12 but with an even less impressive list of wins, so that was an easy choice for #4.

The American conference is next.  The AAC only suffered two losses that were not against a top conference or Notre Dame.  Only two of the losses that were to teams in major conferences (Georgia Tech and North Carolina St.) were to teams that did not make bowl games.  There wasn’t a list of great wins, but American teams did beat two major-conference bowl teams despite not having much chance at such wins in the bowl games themselves.

The ACC had a bad record (6-19) against other major conferences and only went .500 against the FBS.  Other than Clemson’s major wins, the only others are the ones I mentioned by North Carolina and Louisville. 

Remaining Conferences and Independents

That’s still more than #7 Mountain West has to brag about.  The Mountain West had a better record against major conferences but only beat two major-conference teams who made bowl games (Washington St. and Florida St.).  The MWC also lost ten games against other conferences to the ACC’s six.

The Sun Belt, which went 4-9 against the major conferences, is next.  Those wins include North Carolina and Tennessee, which both made bowl games.  Only two of the losses to the major conferences were to non-bowl teams.  The Sun Belt also lost to ten teams in other conferences, but two of those were to Memphis, which made a NY6 bowl.

Obviously, independents aren’t officially a conference, but I’d count them next.  Notre Dame got a lot more decent wins than all the other teams combined, but there were BYU’s wins over Tennessee and USC.  Those were the only wins not by Notre Dame over major-conference teams though.  It also didn’t really help the Irish that five of its wins were against the ACC.  Other wins were over Stanford, Bowling Green, and New Mexico.  Virginia and USC were good wins though.

The bottom of the barrel are the CUSA and MAC.  I have to go with the MAC last given its single win against a major-conference team (albeit a bowl team, Illinois). Ten games   There were nine wins against others, including a couple of bowl teams, so it wasn’t all bad.  The CUSA had three wins against the major teams, two against U. Miami, which made a bowl game. It had 12 wins against other teams, including multiple additional bowl teams.

More on CFP Championship; Pelini back at LSU

In College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, History, Post-game on February 9, 2020 at 1:57 PM
Mike VII became the third Mike in a row to celebrate a national championship. If LSU manages another in the next few years, he would be the first tiger to preside over a second.

Although I haven’t written since the night of the championship, I have been reading, listening, and thinking about the season that has just ended. 

I wanted to start with some stats I found interesting and didn’t know until after that night. 

Clemson had won 50 games in a row when scoring first and 89 in a row after leading by at least 10 points. 

This isn’t to be disrespectful, I just thought it was funny. Clemson’s loss was also Lawrence’s first as a starting quarterback.

Of course they had also won 29 games in a row overall, meaning that for the second season in a row LSU ended a winning streak of 25 or more (Central Florida had won exactly 25).  This was the first time a program ended such streaks two years in a row.  Only one program has ended such streaks more than twice in its history.  That was Notre Dame in 1946 (Army, which was a winning streak ended by a tie), 1957 (Oklahoma), and 1970 (Texas), so none were even within a decade of the other.  Princeton is the only other program to end such a streak twice, in 1889 and 1893 (both over Yale).  (The Ivy League was considered top-division college football at the time.)

Something else I noticed when re-watching the game was that on average this season Clemson had given up 264 yards per game. LSU eclipsed 500 yards in the first minute of the fourth quarter.

It was not surprising that Joe Brady was hired away.  What was slightly surprising was that after the LSU defense was underestimated through most of the year, the defensive coordinator (DC) Dave Aranda got one of the best available coaching vacancies, at least in terms of how good the team was last season.  Baylor was a close second to Oklahoma twice and lost no other games until the Sugar Bowl.  Like Oklahoma, the Bears also ran into an SEC team who finished in the same place in the Big XII (LSU and Oklahoma were both champions; Baylor and Georgia were both runners-up).  It was also an odd coincidence that the person who hired Brady for the Carolina Panthers is the one who left the vacancy in Waco.

Bo Pelini (left in gray) celebrates an interception during LSU’s 2007 BCS Championship.

It’s also interesting that after the DC for this year’s championship team was hired away, we decided to bring back Bo Pelini, the DC who was hired away directly after our last championship in 2007.  Pelini had also left to coach a Big XII team, although Nebraska is now in the Big Ten.  Also worth noting that LSU had top-three overall defenses all three years under Pelini, which corresponded with Les Miles first three years, during which the Tigers had an overall record of 34-6.  Pelini was the first DC hired by Miles, and Aranda was the last.  Pelini will make over 10 times more per year as the LSU DC than he had been making as the Youngstown St. head coach; but he did coach there while still being paid by Nebraska.

I’ll be interested to see if there is any trouble readjusting to major college football for Pelini, but Coach Orgeron has had a good record in hiring assistants so far.  So I’m not overly worried.

I don’t think LSU has a tremendously good chance to repeat as champions even if all the coaches had stayed, but I’m not greedy. I’m OK with someone else winning next year.  I just hope it’s not Alabama and preferably not Clemson or Ohio St. either.  By the way, I enjoyed a segment with former LSU coach/current Alabama coach Nick Saban and his former offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher (Fisher and Pelini overlapped as coordinators at LSU in 2005 and 2006, by the way).  That segment has been taken down from YouTube, but you can find Fisher (who was the only head coach to go against both LSU and Clemson this season) and Saban (who coached against Clemson a few months before Fisher did) comment separately.

Jimbo Fisher discusses LSU’s BCS championship on Jan. 4, 2004.

Saban and Fisher are two of only six active head coaches who have won national championships.  Orgeron and Miles are two others, so it’s interesting that four of the six have worked at LSU during one of our national championships.  The other two are Dabo Swinney and Mack Brown.  Mack Brown does have Louisiana ties though.  He was LSU’s QB coach in 1982 (shortly after Steve Ensimger graduated) and was the head coach (and athletic director) at Tulane from 1985 to 1987.

Unbeaten, Untied, Unrivaled

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, History, Me, Post-game, Rankings Commentary on January 13, 2020 at 10:29 PM

I know it’s after midnight in most of the country, so I don’t want to write too much.  I just wanted to remind anyone who might come across this where to find my ratings of all the teams. 

LSU finished a very impressive 16th in strength of schedule.  I don’t subtract out the losses inflicted on other teams, so they may very well have had the best schedule if I did make those subtractions.  Ohio St. was 42nd, Clemson 54th, and Oklahoma 61st in strength of schedule to give you an idea of how hard it is to have a top-20 strength of schedule while having one of the best records, not to mention going undefeated.

I’ve had some minor health issues and have been very tired since I last wrote.  I always have a lot of work right before and right after the holidays.

In January 1959, the LSU Fighting Tigers completed their last undefeated season, beating Clemson 7-0 in New Orleans (all four championships since the start of the Poll Era were won in New Orleans).  Clemson was only #12 and it was only LSU’s second win over a ranked opponent that season though, so it wasn’t quite the same thing.  You also have to win four more games now to go undefeated. 

It’s also nice that we don’t have to wait until next December for one of the players from this team to win the Heisman like the 1958 team did.  Getting the Heisman when you already know you won’t win the national championship has to feel more like a consolation prize even if you won a national championship previously. 

I grew up hearing about that 1958 team, but that seemed more like some kind of ancient legend than anything the likes of which I would see myself.  I classified it in my mind somewhere next to Greek mythology and Jonah being swallowed by the whale.  This is LSU’s third national title in 17 years.  If you had told 10-year-old me (I turned 11 during the season we went 2-9) I would see three in 70 years I would have taken it.

I’m still processing everything, but I do plan to write more about what happened this season. 

One thing of note: the SEC beat the Big Ten in a tiebreaker for the better collection of teams in the top 40.  The SEC had passed up the Big Ten a while back in best average team, but it took an 8-2 postseason record to pass it up in the top-40 list that I include.  The American Conference was a surprise #3 in both measures.  I might have to start including them in the divisional standings next season.  You can see “Conferences & Divisions” and “SoS” in the top left corner of my site for more.

I wish more of my relatives could have seen this LSU season, but I’m glad my parents and most of my aunts and uncles are still here for it.  By the way, early happy birthday to my grandmother, who turns 90 next week.