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The Truth about the SEC and Coach O

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, History, Post-game on January 6, 2019 at 6:33 PM

I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays and the first round of the NFL playoffs.

Unlike what a lot of professional journalists seem to be able to do, I appreciated the opportunity to see what other people are saying without any kind of agenda of my own.  Whenever I do that, I am reminded of certain things that I feel need explaining.  Both professional commentators and common fans put a lot of false narratives out there. I’m not going to mention anyone in particular because I was so relaxed in my consumption of other media I didn’t even make note of who they were.

SEC Teams and Bowl Games

One thing is that bowls are the end-all and be-all of team or conference comparisons.  SEC teams don’t tend to lose Sugar Bowls, for instance, because the Big XII participants are superior.  I covered some of this last year when people apparently thought Alabama had a good chance of losing because they were playing in New Orleans.  A common circumstance is a team goes into the SEC Championship Game hoping to compete for a national championship.  Said team loses that game and gets the Sugar Bowl as a consolation.  Are they really going to play their best game when it’s the first game they know for a fact that the goal of a national championship is off the table? 

Of course almost every team faces that reality at some point, but they’re not necessarily playing a top 15 team away from home the first time they do so, so they can get away with having less motivation.  Also, I think it’s different trying to get back on track the week after a loss than it is losing a game and then waiting a month when you know it’s just one final game.  If Georgia had lost their second game in Week Five, for instance, there would be a desire to finish strong and maybe win the SEC East, so they would still be very motivated in Week Six.  That’s not the case in a bowl game.

SEC detractors will pretend we don’t have another Big XII-SEC game as a reference point.  Of course that was when Alabama played Oklahoma, winners of close games against Sugar Bowl participants Texas and Georgia.  Even though Alabama played a closer game and looked likely to lose well into the fourth quarter, Alabama’s win over Oklahoma was never really in doubt.  So even if Clemson wins on Monday, Alabama was still tested against one of the top four teams (I would argue one of the top three teams) and came out on top.  They’re not just in the top two because of some inflated perception of the SEC, especially not the SEC relative to the Big XII.


Tua Tagovailoa fights off a tackle from Oklahoma’s Robert Barnes in the Orange Bowl. Although he lost out on the Heisman to Kyler Murray (also of Oklahoma), he led the Tide to a 45-34 victory with 4 touchdowns, only 3 incompletions in 27 attempts, and 318 passing yards.

Anyway, the other participant in the Sugar Bowl, Texas, also lost their conference title game; but what the Longhorns were playing for in that game was a berth in the Sugar Bowl, so they didn’t have the goal from their most-recent game taken from them like Georgia did. 

Imagine an NFL team is eliminated in the second round of the playoffs and a month later they play a team that didn’t even make the playoffs.  The former team isn’t going to be anywhere close to as intense as they were in the playoffs.  The latter team would be disappointed they didn’t make the playoffs and have something to prove.  Not only that, the latter team would display the intensity that it would have had in the playoffs if given the opportunity.  One of the top NFL teams is the Saints.  A couple of weeks ago, they needed a comeback at home to beat the Steelers, a team that narrowly missed the playoffs.  If they Saints were to lose their first playoff game and have a rematch with the Steelers at a neutral site, I know which team I’d bet on.  It’s not the one everyone knows had a better regular season.

Anyway, Georgia is the only SEC team in the top three of either division that lost its bowl game.  I don’t have to use tiebreakers or anything, so I’m not manipulating the rankings to make that point.  There are exactly three teams in each division who won 5 SEC games or more. I didn’t even mention Florida’s Peach Bowl win over Michigan.

If you know how bowls work, it’s not surprising that the other teams lost.  The SEC had four teams in the “New Years Six” Bowls, so that meant that the top available SEC team Kentucky was fifth (and that’s generous since they lost to Texas A&M).  They played the top available Big Ten team, Penn St., even though Penn St. was third in the Big Ten (fourth in conference record; but Northwestern lost three games out of conference, and Penn St. lost none apart from the bowl).  So when you have a lot of good teams at the top, that means teams in the middle end up playing teams at the top of other conferences.  Kentucky won anyway; but a similar calculus went into matching Mississippi St. against Iowa, and Iowa narrowly came out on top.

Kentucky RB Benny Snell led the Wildcats to the 27-24 Citrus Bowl win over Penn St. and in the process because the program’s all-time season leader in rushing yards. Kentucky also won 10 games for the first time since 1977.

Outside of Georgia’s Sugar Bowl loss, the only loss by the SEC top six the whole season to a team of another conference was Texas A&M’s controversial two-point loss to Clemson.  There were only six interconference losses by the whole conference before the bowls: three of those were to teams in the four-team Playoff, and two of the rest were by Arkansas.  (The sixth was Tennessee’s loss to West Virginia.)

Auburn, one of the SEC teams who beat Texas A&M, absolutely dominated Purdue (the fourth major Big Ten/SEC bowl) for the other SEC bowl win.  They’re a good example of a team who lost the first game after their main goals for the season were eliminated.  There was a reasonably strong shot at advancing to the SEC Championship with one loss (their first loss came by one point to LSU) and possibly winning the national championship but very little chance of either with two losses (the second loss was by 14 to Mississippi St.), so the week after their second loss, they picked up their third loss against Tennessee. 

Auburn WR Darius Slayton scores one of many early touchdowns for Auburn against Purdue. The Tigers led 56-7 at halftime and went on to win 63-14 in Gus Malzahn’s second bowl win as head coach.

Teams like Auburn are cited by SEC detractors every year as proof that the SEC isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, but only one team can make the title game out of the SEC West in a given year.  No other conference has as many aspiring national-title contenders. I don’t think any other conference has five teams who would have beaten Auburn. There might have been three in the Big Ten, maybe two in the Big XII. The eventual Pac-12 champion couldn’t even beat Auburn at a neutral site. Clemson probably would have, but I don’t know if anyone else in the ACC would have.

Tennessee’s other conference win came under similar circumstances when the Vols beat Kentucky the week after the Wildcats were eliminated from contention in the SEC East.  So if Tennessee (which didn’t even qualify for a bowl game) can get a win against one of the top six SEC teams, it’s not a surprise that Texas was able to get such a win.

I didn’t even mention how many players skipped their bowl game for the purpose of improving their NFL chances.  The top SEC teams tend to put the most players in the NFL, so I suspect this phenomenon affected the SEC more than other conferences.

Coach O and LSU

The other narrative I wanted to talk about is Ed Orgeron.  I also talked a little bit about this narrative last year. He’s far from perfect, but I’m still skeptical of the notion that LSU would have been better off with someone like Tom Herman or Jimbo Fisher.

Refer to the chart for the details, but the easiest shorthand way of comparing coach’s records is to say how many losses they have.  Other than a couple of Sun Belt coaches (who left for other conferences anyway), the only coaches with fewer losses than Orgeron in a comparable number of games since Orgeron was hired at LSU were Nick Saban of Alabama, Dabo Sweeney of Clemson, James Franklin of Penn St., and Urban Meyer of Ohio St.  Meyer won’t be coaching anymore, and I just mentioned what happened to Penn St. against Kentucky – and Franklin only had two fewer losses anyway.  So there are really only two continuing coaches who are clearly doing better at their current schools in the same time frame.

This list is limited to head coaches who have been in their positions from October 1, 2016, to present.

LSU had to cancel the 2017 game against South Alabama and unlike most of these schools has not competed in a conference championship game since Orgeron was hired before the game against Missouri on October 1, 2016.  So that partly accounts for fewer games played.

As I’m sure most readers are aware, Les Miles hasn’t coached a game since Orgeron was hired at LSU (although he will coach one in August), but I also looked at his last 34 games.  He was 23-11. In his last 38 games, he was only 25-13.  So even if Orgeron goes 0-4 to start next season (Georgia Southern, @Texas, his alma mater Northwestern St., and @Vanderbilt), he’d only fall into a tie over 38 games.  If he goes 4-0, he would be at 76.3% compared to Miles’ 65.8%.  If he goes 3-1, he would be at 73.7%, just a couple of decimal places above where he is now. 

The chart of course doesn’t account for strength of schedule.  To focus in on this year, LSU went 10-3 against a schedule that included five teams who were in the top 10 when the Tigers played them and three other teams who were ranked.  U. Miami and Auburn shouldn’t have been in the top 10 in hindsight; but if you want to use that standard, we should reduce Notre Dame’s opponents in the top 10 from two to one (since Stanford shouldn’t have been in the top 10) and Washington from three to two (since Auburn shouldn’t have been in the top 10), for instance.

Some might say I shouldn’t be that happy with Coach O being that LSU narrowly escaped the Fiesta Bowl with a victory, but actually it was a small miracle Central Florida was able to keep it that close.  The Tigers out-gained the Knights 555 to 250, had almost twice as many first downs (32 to 17), and had the ball about three times as long (44:31 to 15:29). 

It may not have been his intention, but this interception may have reminded some of the LSU coaches why they wanted JaCoby Stevens to play wide receiver going into the year.

LSU dominated a very good Louisville team two years ago in Coach O’s first bowl game as a head coach, and apart from some controversial calls and non-calls would have beaten Notre Dame last year.  I would argue these are increasingly challenging bowl games, which reflects positively on LSU in the first place, and winning two of the three is impressive regardless of the final scores.  LSU was also playing backup wide receivers in the defensive secondary for most of the Fiesta Bowl. 

This was LSU’s first win in what is now called a New Years Six Bowl (at the end of the BCS system 10 teams went to such bowls instead of the current 12) since the Tigers won the BCS National Championship following the 2007 season. The only appearance since then had been the BCS National Championship loss following the 2011 season.

I’m still not happy we didn’t give Alabama more of a game and we were certainly good enough for a couple more wins, but in what many (including me) thought would be a rebuilding year where we would be an average SEC team (or worse), 10 wins including the Fiesta Bowl is what I’d call a success.

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CFP got top 4 right; Pre-Bowl Top 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Championship Saturday Viewing Guide & Bowl Speculation

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

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

BASICS

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT TO HOPE FOR BY CHEERING INTEREST

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

SEC/LSU fans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cotton: Alabama vs. Oklahoma

Orange: Notre Dame vs. Clemson

Sugar: Georgia vs. Texas

Peach: Florida vs. Ohio St.

Rose: Washington vs. Northwestern

Fiesta: Michigan vs. Central Florida

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

Cotton: Alabama vs. Ohio St.

Orange: Notre Dame vs. Clemson

Sugar: Georgia vs. Texas

Peach: Florida vs. Central Florida

Rose: Washington vs. Michigan

Fiesta: LSU vs. Oklahoma

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

Cotton: Alabama vs. Georgia

Orange: Notre Dame vs. Clemson

Sugar: Florida vs. Texas

Rose: Washington vs. Northwestern

Fiesta: Michigan vs. Oklahoma

Peach: Ohio St. vs. Central Florida

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

Cotton: Alabama vs. Ohio St.

Orange: Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma

Sugar: Georgia vs. Texas

Rose: Washington vs. Michigan

Fiesta: Michigan vs. Pittsburgh

Peach: Clemson vs. Central Florida

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

Cotton: Alabama vs. Georgia

Orange: Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma

Sugar: Florida vs. Texas

Rose: Washington vs. Northwestern

Fiesta: Pitt vs. Ohio St.

Peach: Clemson vs. Central Florida

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

Big Ten/Michigan

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

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

Michigan in the top 4 would look like this:

Cotton: Alabama vs. Michigan

Orange: Notre Dame vs. Georgia

Sugar: Florida vs. Texas

Rose: Washington vs. Northwestern

Fiesta: Pitt vs. Oklahoma

Peach: Clemson vs. Central Florida

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

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

LSU ADVOCACY AND OTHER NOTES

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

CFP Response and Bowl Projections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cotton: Alabama vs. Oklahoma

Orange: Clemson vs. Notre Dame

Sugar: Georgia vs. Texas

Rose: Washington vs. Ohio St.

Peach: Florida vs. UCF

Fiesta: LSU vs. Michigan

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

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

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

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

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

Orange: Clemson vs. Alabama

Cotton: Notre Dame vs. Georgia

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

Rose: Washington vs. Ohio St. 

Fiesta: Washington St. vs. Michigan

Peach: LSU vs. UCF

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

Week 12: Not Rivalry Week Yet

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

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

The Former Rivalry Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the SEC Schedule for Mid-November Deteriorated

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ole Miss-Vanderbilt Headlines This Week’s SEC Schedule

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

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

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

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

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

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

LSU and Rice Renew a Rivalry Few Missed

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

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

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

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

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

Final Top 25 of 2017 Season

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on January 12, 2018 at 5:59 PM

Sorry for the delay, but I only have time to put serious thought into this and get a blog out at a reasonable time when it’s not a week night. Also, my weekend is less hectic with the extra day and no college football to watch, so doing this any earlier in the week just didn’t make sense.

I’m glad I did put some thought into this, because I now have a top 25 that I’m really happy with for the first time in years.

Wisconsin’s Danny Davis scores one of his three touchdowns. The Badgers gained the most spots in the top 10 after finishing 13-1 with the win.

Although I think my weighted ratings system had a better top 4 (matching the CFP except with Georgia at #2) before the bowls, I’m not too happy with its final top 10. Since it’s almost exclusively objective, I use the Massey composite site to see how far out of the mainstream my ratings are.

By sight, I liked the top 10 in my old system better, and it so happens that the teams in that top 10 are only average just over one spot different from the composite. The average top-10 team in the weighted system, on the other hand, was about 2 1/2 spots different from the composite.

However, the problem with the old system is teams from outside of major conferences ended up far too high. Boise St. was 13th, Florida Atlantic was 16th, and Troy was 22nd. These are all double-digit differences from the composite. The weighted system had none of these problems and numbers 11 through 25 was much more in line with the composite.

To me, the only fair thing to do was to use the top 10 from the old system and numbers 11 through 25 (starting with those not in the old top 10) from the new weighted system. Follow the links if you want to see either one on its own.

Georgia edged Alabama in the post-bowl weighted system, but this was only because the Bulldogs had the benefit of winning a conference championship game while the Tide was idle. If the ratings are averaged by playing week, Alabama is #1 as you’d expect.

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

Out of top 25: (21) Wash. St., (25) Louisville

Why Saban’s Sugar Bowl Record is Misleading

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, History on January 1, 2018 at 3:02 PM

So LSU had a touchdown stolen AGAIN and this time Notre Dame cheated on the play where they got the winning points as well, so that’s just groovy. We’ve beaten them four in a row if you go by the points we actually scored rather than the score the referees decided upon. I’m trying not to think about it though.

So I’ll turn to something else I just love talking about, which is Nick Saban.

You may know I’m not a huge fan of his, but ESPN has been repeating this stat about the Tide being 0-3 in Sugar Bowls under Saban. While technically true, it’s not really a fair description. The Tide is actually 1-1 when playing for a national championship in some way in New Orleans. The losses to Utah and Oklahoma were consolation Sugar Bowls after the Tide failed to win the SEC (after a conference-championship loss to Florida and the kick-six loss to Auburn respectively). The win over LSU in the BCS championship in 2011-2012 did not technically count as a Sugar Bowl.

Auburn fans are likely to point out that those Tigers have beaten the Tide twice for the SEC West championship since 2013 (both on the Plains), but they tend not to mention the Tide clinched the SEC West in the Iron Bowl in 2012, 2014, and 2015.

The Iron Bowl is a different type of game from a conference championship, a BCS Championship, or College Football Playoff though. While the winner almost always wins the SEC West in the last 10 years (LSU in the 2011 season was the only exception), it’s not a neutral-site game; and as we saw this year, it’s not necessarily even an elimination game. Except for Oklahoma in 2003 (when the human element counted for less than half of the standings), a loser of a conference championship game has never played for a national title though, so I think that does count as an elimination game. The games I will discuss are also played at neutral sites.

Since 2001, going back to LSU obviously, Saban is 14-3 when playing for a championship, which counts conference championships and national championships, including the three CFP semifinals in which the Tide has appeared. Saban is 2-1 in such games in New Orleans counting the BCS Championship with LSU in 2003. That game actually was called the Sugar Bowl.

Under the lights of the Superdome, Nick Saban discusses the win over LSU in January 2012.

Team Season Opponent Type of game Result
LSU 2001 Tennessee SEC W, 31-20
LSU 2003 Georgia SEC W, 34-13
LSU 2003 Oklahoma Sugar/BCS W, 21-14*
Alabama 2008 Florida SEC L, 20-31
Alabama 2009 Florida SEC W, 32-13
Alabama 2009 Texas BCS W, 37-21
Alabama 2011 LSU BCS W, 21-0*
Alabama 2012 Georgia SEC W, 32-28
Alabama 2012 Notre Dame BCS W, 42-14
Alabama 2014 Missouri SEC W, 42-13
Alabama 2014 Ohio St. Semifinal L, 35-42*
Alabama 2015 Florida SEC W, 29-15
Alabama 2015 Michigan St. Semifinal W, 38-0
Alabama 2015 Clemson CFP Final W, 45-40
Alabama 2016 Florida SEC W, 54-16
Alabama 2016 Washington Semifinal W, 24-7
Alabama 2016 Clemson CFP Final L, 31-35

*=Game in New Orleans

It’s also of note that Saban has never lost two such games either in a row or in consecutive seasons.

Other than Georgia’s win over Auburn a few weeks ago, the coaches of Oklahoma and Georgia do not have head coaching experience in such games. Dabo Swinney entered this year at 6-2, but six of those games were over the past two seasons, so there was no need for an extensive trip down memory lane there. The Tigers lost the ACC championship to Georgia Tech in 2009 (Swinney’s first season) and beat the Yellowjackets in a rematch to win the ACC in 2011.

LSU-Notre Dame and the Stolen Touchdown

In Bowls, College Football, General LSU, Rivalry on January 1, 2018 at 10:08 AM

I don’t really have a whole lot to add to my previous LSU-Notre Dame entry.

In the only match-up subsequent to that blog, the play of the game was a missed call (sustained after replay review) where LSU had a touchdown. This was the best picture I saw, but there were also better angles of the plane of the goal line where you could tell the ball was over before the knee touched.

Notre Dame would win on a field goal in the fourth quarter; but obviously if the Tigers had another 7 points on the board, no last-minute score by the Irish would have mattered.

This was a good summary of the circumstances surrounding the game and also made mention of the touchdown that wasn’t.

Brad Kragthorpe, then the holder and backup quarterback for the Tigers, scores an apparent touchdown at the end of the first half in the Music City Bowl between the Tigers and the Irish in 2014.

LSU will look to even the all-time series at six wins apiece today.

Ranking Teams and Quality Wins

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on December 7, 2017 at 6:03 PM

When I updated my ratings, I was really not happy that two teams that don’t even belong in the conversation were fourth and fifth while the team I thought was the deserving #4 was a somewhat distant seventh.

If Alabama were fifth, I would have shrugged it off. Last year, after the Army/Navy game, Washington edged out Penn St. for fourth. I think if Penn St. had played Washington at a neutral site last December, Penn St. would have won. I know Penn St. lost the Rose Bowl, but a team going from playing for a national championship to playing for nothing but a bowl win can sometimes be a bit of a letdown. I still think the Penn St. team that won the Big Ten Championship game would have beaten Washington, and I still think that they had a better resume as well.

Penn St.’s dramatic Big Ten championship over Wisconsin convinced me they belonged in the top 4 last year. (Pictured: TD catch by TE Mike Gesicki)

No ratings system is perfect though, and for the two to be so close that the result of one major game (there were also a couple of FCS results added in) could tip the balance was good enough. Also, I don’t really mind the deciding factor when two teams are close being who has fewer losses.

But for the arguments I presented over the weekend in Alabama’s favor and to have them that far behind was cause to reevaluate things.

I still think I have a really good formula, but approaching each game neutrally has some shortfalls. So I’m going to have two different computer ratings from now on. I considered “power rating”, but I never know what that means, so I’m just going to call it weighted and unweighted. The new rating will be weighted toward success against the best teams.

With it unweighted, you get the same credit this year for beating Texas and Temple as you do for beating Alabama and having a bye week. Central Florida beat a lot of teams like Texas and Temple but didn’t even play any teams that were nearly as good as Alabama, Ohio St., USC, etc.

This made Wisconsin’s and Central Florida’s 12 wins apiece hard to overcome even though as I pointed out, each only had two wins apiece against the top 40. I could not devise a system I believed in that put Ohio St. ahead of Wisconsin and Central Florida, but by weighting overall strength of schedule and quality wins, I was able to get Alabama ahead of them.

Central Florida-Memphis was a fun game to watch; but being that this was the best team the Knights beat, UCF should not be considered one of the best teams.

When I tried to alter the system to allow for more losses without a high penalty in order to push Central Florida and Wisconsin down, it pushed up teams like USC, Notre Dame, and Auburn instead of Ohio St.

This year, the Big Ten’s problem was depth. Ohio St. only played 7 teams in the top 80 (one out of conference) and Wisconsin played 6. Both Ohio St. and Wisconsin played 10 games against Big Ten opponents, so it should have been higher. By contrast, Alabama played only 8 SEC games and had 9 opponents in the top 80 (Tennessee was the only SEC opponent outside; Florida St. and Fresno St. are both inside the top 80). Oklahoma played 10 games against the top 80 and played 10 conference games (Ohio St. and Tulane are in; Kansas and Baylor are not). Anyway, moving Wisconsin and UCF down a peg for not having very deep schedules is part of the reason Ohio St. fell just slightly below Alabama.

People will see me as a Big Ten detractor, but again, I wanted two Big Ten teams in the playoff last year. Also, in both the weighted and unweighted top 9s from last year, there were two other Big Ten teams. Like this year though, I did think the SEC was the best conference top to bottom.

How do I figure out which games to add weight to? I mentioned the top 80 above, that roughly corresponds with the positive numbers in my unweighted system. So that’s where I drew the line. It so happens to be just low enough to encompass teams with wins over competitors in the major conference (and in one case a playoff team). So along with Syracuse, the low positive-numbered teams also include Cal (Berkeley), which beat Washington St., and Pittsburgh, which beat U. Miami.

So that’s one tier. The next tier includes teams like Ole Miss, Duke, Utah, and Virginia, .500 Power 5 teams. Both Duke and Virginia had good non-conference wins too. It also includes Southern Mississippi, who went 8-4 despite playing two SEC teams in non-conference play.

The next tier starts with teams better than 0.3, which right now is the top 45. This is low enough to include Iowa St., which beat both Oklahoma and TCU. It has some slightly better (than the previous tier) Power 5 teams like Kentucky, UCLA, and Texas A&M as well as Group of 5 teams that competed for titles like South Florida, North Texas, and Fresno St. This tier has a little bit more of an increase in points than the last one.

The penultimate tier is teams better than 0.55. I made it that instead of an even 0.6 because last year it would have only encompassed 18 teams rather than 24. Right now it encompasses 25 teams instead of 23. Numbers 24 and 25 are San Diego St. and Virginia Tech, so this had nothing to do with trying to tilt the playing field. Clemson would have been #1 anyway.

I treated teams better than 0.9 (roughly top 10) a little bit differently. I think whether you win or lose to a top 10 team, you should get a little bit extra consideration. The loss hurts in some parts of the formula, and maybe it shouldn’t hurt as much. So that’s why Auburn and Ohio St. didn’t seem to get the proper credit in the unbalanced formula for playing really good teams out of conference. Also, teams like Wisconsin and Central Florida have less impressive resumes for not beating any top 10 teams.

I’m going to show the final top 10 for both this year and last year. If I had to make a list of teams most likely to compete well in a playoff now and at the end of last year, I’m not sure the membership of either top 10 or top 5 would be any different. Clemson would win obviously, but if I forced Clemson to be higher last year, the formula would move Central Florida higher this year. The whole point was to help teams with good opponents. Clemson and Penn St. were both safely in the top 4 and nearly tied last year, so I’m fine with how it turned out.

Now
1 Clemson 39.717752 (1)
2 Georgia 38.920924 (2)
3 Oklahoma 33.422577 (2)
4 Alabama 32.829833 (7)
5 Ohio St. 32.801820 (6)
6 UCF 32.794786 (5)
7 Auburn 32.580250 (10)
8 USC 32.413394 (8)
9 Wisconsin 32.266683 (4)
10 Notre Dame 32.227370 (9)

December 11, 2016
1 Alabama 43.268628 (1)
2 Ohio St. 37.306985 (3)
3 Penn St. 35.458147 (4)
4 Clemson 35.410836 (2)
5 Wisconsin 30.033484 (9)
6 Washington 28.799632 (5)
7 Colorado 27.670309 (11)
8 Michigan 26.841181 (7)
9 Florida St. 26.795726 (10)
10 Oklahoma 25.479138 (8)
(Western Michigan fell from 6th to 15th)

If you couldn’t tell, the number at the end is where the teams fell in my unweighted ratings.

If you’re interested in the full lists, they are as follows:
2016 Pre-Bowl
2016 Final
Current

I think with so many more opponents in flux or not yet attaining enough points (for instance, only 4 teams qualified for the second-highest tier in my first list this year), the weighted version may be less useful early on. I plan to start publishing both lists at the usual times (Saturday night or early Sunday morning between about October 1 and December 15 and the night of the national championship) though.

New Top 25

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

Out of rankings (compared to before the championships): (20) Boise St., (22) San Diego St., (23) Toledo, (24) Virginia Tech, (25) Fla. Atlantic

Championship Week Top 25

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on December 3, 2017 at 3:42 PM

More on “Who’s #4”

Last night, I think I made sufficient arguments for Alabama to be chosen over Ohio St. I wanted to elaborate on that a little bit more based on some arguments I’ve heard and considered since.

The point was made that Alabama isn’t like last year’s Ohio St., which was ranked #2 going into championship week. Nonetheless, between the two, Alabama was 5th going into championship week while Ohio St. was 8th. So rankings going in is one of the weaker arguments I’ve seen, but I’m just addressing it because it seemed to get some play in social media.

I mentioned how Alabama is favored by Las Vegas over Ohio St. if the two were to play on a neutral site. Alabama was also the #1 most likely to win the national champion and is #1 in ESPN’s Football Power Index. Also, Alabama is in the top 4 in “strength of record,” which compares success versus a given schedule to how the average top 25 team would do. I agree with the “strength of record” calculations that 11-1 against Alabama’s schedule was harder to do than 11-2 against Ohio St.’s. So those are additional reasons I think it’s much harder to leave Alabama out than two-loss Ohio St.

Nick Saban and his team receive the CFP trophy from the late John Saunders after defeating Clemson in January 2016. The Tide will attempt to win its second such trophy in three years.

This isn’t really covering new ground, but I made a chart that I think might be useful in trying to clarify my position.

Team Rank Last SoS Top 40 %/100
Clemson 1 2 12 6-0* 1.00
Georgia 2 3 11 4-1+ 0.80
Oklahoma 3 4 75 4-1 0.80
Wisconsin 4 1 66 2-1 0.67
UCF 5 7 65 2-0 1.00
Ohio St. 6 11 31 4-2 0.67
Alabama 7 4 41 3-1 0.75
USC 8 12 34 3-2 0.60

*lost to (74) Syracuse
+beat (41) Kentucky

I think with the small number of top-40 games, you can eliminate Wisconsin and Central Florida (UCF). Then you can eliminate USC based on the top-40 percentage to get us to the main decision, which was between Alabama and Ohio St.

But for illustration, I wanted to explain why I think Alabama should be ahead of a team with one fewer loss than they have.

Alabama’s one loss was to a better team than any UCF played, so I think it’s hard to count that loss as a point in UCF’s favor. Also, even if that weren’t the case, being 24 spots higher in strength of schedule would result in another loss for any team this year. Maybe a really dominant team from years past could have played a much tougher schedule without losing another game, but there is a reason UCF is the only undefeated team. No team could withstand a much tougher schedule without losing to SOMEONE.

When you go to Ohio St. vs. Alabama, it’s not as easy to get around the extra loss. Alabama beat two teams, LSU and Mississippi St., that are better than Iowa. That’s not just my opinion; that’s the outcome of a range of objective measures as well as the CFP rankings themselves.

Also, 10 spots in strength of schedule makes is harder to argue that if you make Alabama’s schedule a little tougher that they would have lost another game. Maybe if they had played a top-10 team on the road the same day they played Mississippi St. on the road, it would have mattered. If LSU or Fresno St. or any other opponent were a little better (LSU in some ways played better, but they would have had to be a much better team to get 14 more touchdowns or stop Alabama from scoring 14 of its points), Alabama’s record doesn’t change.

Having a better winning percentage against the top 40 is more relevant to fitness for the CFP playoff as well. It’s roughly the top third of teams. Actually the top third is 43 teams if you round down the fraction, but that’s why I noted that Georgia beat Kentucky. It’s also teams that in general are able to beat the better teams (Syracuse/Clemson was obviously an outlier). If these teams have a bad day against a team not in the top 40, there is a very high chance they win anyway.

Oklahoma played a lot of easy opponents obviously, which is why I have their strength of schedule below that of both Wisconsin and Central Florida; but they made up for it with a very top-heavy schedule. Three wins in the top 15 is hard to do, and none were in doubt for much of the second half. I’m not sure I can explain the loss to Iowa St. very well, but the Cyclones are a good enough team that if you get them on the road they can be dangerous to anyone under the right circumstances. Just ask Mike Gundy, who lost to a much more mediocre Cyclone team to miss out on a chance to play for the national championship with Oklahoma St. in 2011.

I think Clemson’s and Oklahoma’s respective losses put into context Alabama’s loss to Auburn (a much, much better team than either of those losses) and close win over Mississippi St. (a team that at least would be the clear favorite against either Iowa St. or Syracuse regardless of location).

Rankings from 9 to 25

Notre Dame fell short of a New Years Six Bowl, but this win over eventual Pac-12 champion USC helps make them the best of the rest. (Pictured: RB Josh Adams)

It’s a very close call between Notre Dame and Auburn (0.00071), but I do think Notre Dame had a slightly harder schedule. It will be interesting to see what the Irish do against another SEC team that beat Auburn (they lost to Georgia by 1 in September and play LSU on January 1 in Orlando).

Miami is not far behind the Irish. I know they blew out Notre Dame, but they didn’t beat USC by 35 either. The Hurricanes lost to a much worse team (Pitt) before the ACC title game than any teams who beat Notre Dame (Georgia, Stanford, and themselves).

Penn St. didn’t have any great non-conference or even non-divisional opponents, but they played in a pretty tough division and were one point away from a chance to make the playoff.

I mentioned Stanford a moment ago. They were better than Notre Dame and pretty even with USC in recent weeks, but it’s not that easy to overcome three losses especially when one was to San Diego St. (although the Aztecs are now in my top 25). I would have rather seen the Cardinal in a New Years Six bowl than Washington, but no one asked me.

Boise St., Florida Atlantic, and Toledo moved up with wins in conference championship games. I think we could make a chart like I did with the top 8 and explain that they’re not really in the top 20 of toughest teams to beat, but what I focus on is a system that general gets top few teams right. This is the first year in a while that I’m not happy with 1 through 4 although I think 1 through 3 are perfect. Anyway, the point is I’m not going to alter my ratings to make 3- or 4-loss teams higher in this part of the rankings. That would move teams like Notre Dame and Auburn higher, which I don’t want to do.

The rankings after the bowl sort out some of these issues because the major-conference 3- or 4-loss teams generally get better opponents than the minor-conference champions.
Odd for this to happen after such a dramatic week, but there was no turnover at all in my top 25.

rank/team/prev.
9 Notre Dame 8
10 Auburn 5
11 U. Miami 9
12 Penn St. 10
13 Stanford 13
14 Washington 14
15 Boise St. 20
16 Mich. St. 15
17 Fla. Atlantic 25
18 Memphis 16
19 TCU 17
20 Toledo 23
21 Wash. St. 18
22 LSU 19
23 Northwestern 21
24 San Diego St. 22
25 Virginia Tech 24

Full list