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2016 Final Conference Rankings

In Bowls, College Football, Conference Reports on January 14, 2017 at 4:05 PM

Bowls

I know what the television sports media does is look at bowl records as if that’s the end-all and be-all of a conference, rarely even giving credit for a large percentage of teams making bowls.

Before people tune me out, I will say upfront that the SEC did not have the best bowl season, but it was a strong second.

How is 50% (I’m not counting the national championship since I think it’s fairer to give each team exactly one bite at the apple) a strong second?

We need to look at how good the opposition is. For instance, not many conferences have their #9 team play the runner-up (who went 6-2 in conference, the third-best conference record) of a Power-5 (P5) conference. It was frustrating that Arkansas didn’t beat Virginia Tech after the Hogs built up a large lead, but even being in the game was an accomplishment.

I decided to break down the P5 conferences by team standings and bowl game. This is based on regular-season conference records. Ties are broken by head to head and, failing that, overall pre-bowl record.

Then I gave a projection of the approximate record a major conference should have had against that schedule. The first one I list is Alabama/Washington. Since it’s champion vs. champion, that’s a tossup. So the SEC should have expected ½ of a win (or .5). The SEC should have expected 0 from Arkansas/Virginia Tech, so that isn’t listed. If the SEC team had a better conference record in any matchup by more than half a game, that game would have projected 1 win. No such game took place.

So there were 6 approximately 50/50 games, and the SEC won 6 games. An average P5 conference would have only won 3.

watch-sec-football-online-e1374758489890

(2) SEC
Alabama #1 8-0 W, Washington #1 8-1
Florida #2 6-2 W, Iowa #5 6-3
Auburn #3 5-3 L, Oklahoma #1 9-0
LSU #4 5-3 W, Louisville #2 7-1
Texas A&M #5 4-4 L, Kansas St. #4 6-3
Tennessee #6 4-4 W, Nebraska #6 6-3
Georgia #7 4-4 W, TCU #5 4-5
Kentucky #8 4-4 L, Georgia Tech #8 4-4
Arkansas #9 3-5 L, Virginia Tech #3 6-2
South Carolina #10 3-5 L, South Florida #2 7-1
Vanderbilt #11 3-5 L, N.C. State #9 3-5
Mississippi State #12 3-5 W, Miami U. #4 6-2

The AAC had a very good year (before the bowls), and South Florida lost only one game in conference with wins over Navy and Houston. The non-conference team who beat the Bulls just won the Orange Bowl. The 10th SEC team losing to them in overtime is not in any way a black mark on the SEC, and I’d say that if it were any other conference.

The rest were all against power-5 opponents. If the SEC were an average conference, it would have only been expected to win about 3 bowl games. See below for explanation.

I would have liked to have seen Vanderbilt and Kentucky do better, but both overachieved by making bowl games at all. As I’ve mentioned before, even the two non-bowl teams had decent resumes that included multiple wins over eventual bowl teams.

SEC 52-34 (.605) #6.5
All 72-30 (.706) #4.17
P5 59-27 (.686) #4.4

Texas A&M wasn’t nearly as good of a team later in the season as earlier, but I put them first among the 4-4 teams because of their early-season overtime win over Tennessee. But no other team had as big of a swing as Miami U., which started 0-6 and entered the bowl game at 6-6. So when projecting how many the SEC should have won, it’s really hard to know how to treat that one, so
I’ll just say that was 50/50.

Hopefully you get the idea when I do this for other conferences below.

Bowl games SEC should have won:
#12 .5
#11 .5
#8 .5
#7 .5
#2 .5
#1 .5
Projected record: 3-9 = 25%
Actual record 6-6 = 50%
Difference +25

acc

(1) ACC
#1 Clemson #1 7-1 W, Ohio St. #2 8-1
#2 Louisville 7-1 L, LSU #4 5-3
#3 Virginia Tech 6-2 W, Arkansas #9 3-5
#4 North Carolina 5-3 L, Stanford #5 6-3
#5 Florida St. 5-3 W, Michigan #3 7-2
#6 U. Miami 5-3 W, West Virginia #3 7-2
#7 Pitt 5-3 L, Northwestern #8 5-4
#8 Georgia Tech 4-4 W, Kentucky #8 4-4
#9 N.C. State 3-5 W, Vanderbilt #11 3-5
#10 Wake Forest 3-5 W, Temple #1 7-1
#11 Boston College 2-6 W, Maryland #10 3-6

#11 .5
#9 .5
#8 .5
#7 .5
#4 .5
#3 1
#2 1
#1 .5
Projected record: 5-6 = 45%
Actual record 9-2 = 82%
Difference +37

(3) Big Ten
#1 Penn St. 8-1 L, USC #3 7-2
#2 Ohio St. 8-1 L, Clemson #1 7-1
#3 Michigan 7-2 L, Florida St. #5 5-3
#4 Wisconsin 7-2 W, Western Michigan #1 8-0
#5 Iowa 6-3 L, Florida #2 6-2
#6 Nebraska 6-3 L, Tennessee #6 4-4
#7 Minnesota 5-4 W, Washington St. #4 7-2
#8 Northwestern 5-4 W, Pitt #7 5-3
#9 Indiana 4-5 L, Utah #6 5-4
#10 Maryland 3-6 L, Boston College #11 2-6

#10 .5
#8 .5
#6 1
#4 .5
#3 1
#2 .5
#1 1
Projected record: 5-5 = 50%
Actual record 3-7 = 30%
Difference -20

(4) Big XII
#1 Oklahoma 9-0 W, Auburn #3 5-3
#2 Oklahoma St. 7-2 W, Colorado #2 8-1
#3 West Virginia 7-2 L, U. Miami #6 5-3
#4 Kansas St. 6-3 W, Texas A&M #5 4-4
#5 TCU 4-5 L, Georgia #7 4-4

#5 .5
#4 1
#3 1
#1 1
Projected record: 3.5-1.5 = 70%
Actual record 3-2 = 60%
Difference -10

(5)Pac-12
#1 Washington 8-1 L, Alabama #1 8-0
#2 Colorado 8-1 L, Oklahoma St. #2 7-2
#3 USC 7-2 W, #1 Penn St. 8-1
#4 Washington St. 7-2 L, #7 Minnesota 5-4
#5 Stanford 6-3 W, #4 North Carolina 5-3
#6 Utah 5-4 W, #9 Indiana 4-5

#6 1
#5 .5
#4 1
#2 1
#1 .5
Projected record: 4-2 = 67%
Actual record 3-3 = 50%
Difference -17

(6) AAC
#1 Temple 7-1 L, Wake Forest #10 3-5
#2 South Florida 7-1 W, South Carolina #10 3-5
#3 Navy 7-1 L, Louisiana Tech #3 6-2
#4 Tulsa 6-2 W, C. Michigan #7 3-5
#5 Memphis 5-3 L, W. Kentucky #1 7-1
#6 Houston 5-3 L, San Diego St. #1 6-2
#7 Central Florida L, Arkansas St. #2 7-1

#4 1
#3 1
#2 1
#1 1
Projected record: 4-3 = 57%
Actual record 2-5 = 29%
Difference -28

For the record, I put the Big Ten third on that list because at least they qualified a large percentage for bowl games. The Pac-12 and Big XII (which is 10 teams) only had half their teams in bowl games.

Overall Conference Rankings

But this doesn’t answer what the best conference is.

Before I talk about my own ratings, I’m going to talk about the consensus of objective ratings. Excluding the three ratings (the two major polls and one computer rating) that only have a fraction of the teams rated, only three out of 92 other ratings have the SEC somewhere outside of the top two.

The ACC got a lot of 2s and 1s as well, but seven were outside of the top 2.

The SEC was on top in 57 ratings to the ACC’s 27 by my count. The other eight systems are nuts, I don’t know what more to say on that.

So in my own rating system, I suppose it comes as no surprise that the SEC is first, but the ACC made it very close, particularly with the national championship game. I don’t give that game any extra weight, but the way my system works is you get extra points for winning an extra game. No other team gets an extra game of that magnitude.

The ACC got some wins over SEC schools to be sure, but some of them were along the lines of Arkansas/Virginia Tech and Florida St./Ole Miss.

One thorn in the side of the ACC was Louisville, which lost both its last regular-season game and its bowl game to SEC teams that on paper the Cardinals should have beaten. The only ACC team to beat Louisville was Clemson, so all the other opponents were weighed down by their loss to the Cardinals, who also lost to Houston out of conference.

On the other hand something that might have given the SEC more of a buffer (at least in my ratings) was the two games that were not played as a result of moving the LSU/Florida game. As I mentioned last week, LSU would have moved up to about #20 with the addition of a win over South Alabama. Beating Presbyterian would have helped Florida in points slightly, but the Gators were too far behind Colorado to move ahead.

I think it’s fair to say this was a relatively weak year for the SEC at the top, but if it’s a weak year and the average team in your conference is better than the average team in any other conference, it’s hard to argue you’re not the best. Here are my averages:
1 SEC 0.441645
2 ACC 0.440546
3 Pac-12 0.314229
4 Big Ten 0.285768
5 Big XII 0.217209
6 AAC (American) 0.106448
7 MWC (Mountain West) 0.029324
8 SBC (Sun Belt) -0.008889
9 Independents -0.038589
10 MAC (Mid-American) -0.095654
11 CUSA -0.131416

Final Top 25 of the 2016 Season

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on January 11, 2017 at 7:36 PM

I’ll keep you in suspense with my conference assessment (although you can find the summary here), but I thought it was interesting that Ohio St. and Washington were able to stay in the top 4. I know the last time I did a blog Penn St. was #4, but they actually fell to #5 after the Army/Navy game and FCS postseason games were added in.

Clemson didn’t win by as much as the champions have won previously in the CFP era, so my only concern is what if a 2-loss team ends up winning the national championship over a previous unbeaten? The winner might not be the best team in my rankings in that scenario; but it would be hard to have an NFL ranking that would put a 10-6 Super Bowl winner first, so I don’t regard that as a huge issue.

Congratulations to Clemson for not only having the best team (at least in the fourth quarter on Monday) but also the best schedule.

Congratulations to Clemson for not only having the best team (at least in the fourth quarter on Monday) but also the best schedule.

I also thought it was interesting that for the first time since I’ve been doing this the team with the best schedule is the national champion. Of course it didn’t hurt that they played three SEC teams and Ohio St. in addition to their ACC schedule.

Back to the other teams… to be fair, if you divide by playing week, Oklahoma and Florida St. would have passed up Washington. Also, Western Michigan (which had a conference championship game) would have fallen to #11.

USC closed the gap with Penn St. pretty well, but they were too far apart to start with for the Trojans to go ahead. USC did finish in the top 10 though, while Michigan fell out of the top 10 for the first time since Week 4.

LSU didn’t squeeze into the top 25 even though they beat the #25 team Louisville, but the Cardinals had built up enough of an advantage over the course of the season. The ACC bowl results didn’t hurt, although as I’ll discuss in the next blog the SEC didn’t do too badly either.

It also hurt the Tigers to have one fewer playing week. If you average ratings by playing week, LSU would have finished 22nd. If you give the Tigers a win over South Alabama (the canceled game), LSU would have probably finished 20th.

Other big movers were Tennessee, Oklahoma St., and Florida, which all improved 4 or 5 spots. Along with the teams that fell out (and Louisville), big movers in the wrong direction were Colorado, Boise St., and West Virginia.

South Florida actually fell a few spots despite beating South Carolina, but that was largely due to a disastrous bowl season for the American Conference (or AAC).

Stanford only had a modest gain after beating North Carolina, but the Pac-12 didn’t have a great bowl season either. It only qualified 6 teams, and only 2 other Pac-12 teams (USC and Utah) won bowl games. Stanford did not play Utah this season and USC was also in the other division, so the other wins didn’t help the Cardinal as much as another Pac-12 North win would have.

Top 25

rank/team/prev
1 Clemson 2
2 Alabama 1
3 Ohio St. 3
4 Washington 5
5 Oklahoma 8
6 Florida St. 10
7 Wisconsin 9
8 Penn St. 4
9 W. Michigan 6
10 USC 13
11 Michigan 7
12 Tennessee 16
13 Okie St. 18
14 Stanford 17
15 Colorado 11
16 Florida 21
17 Boise St. 12
18 S. Florida 15
19 App. St. —
20 U. Miami —
21 Virginia Tech —
22 West Virginia 14
23 W. Kentucky —
24 Georgia Tech —
25 Louisville 19

All 128 Teams

Out of rankings: (20) Nebraska, (22) Temple, (23) Houston, (24) Auburn, (25) Pittsburgh

Matt Canada, Recruiting, & Other Updates

In College Football, General LSU on December 19, 2016 at 7:28 PM

Canada Should Be Here Longer Than Kiffin Would Have

LSU did not get the most obvious target, Lane Kiffin, for the offensive coordinator position, but I don’t know if that’s a bad thing. Instability at coordinator added to the LSU quarterback problems that existed before Cam Cameron’s arrival, and that’s what we would have gotten. It’s possible LSU could have gotten Kiffin as the next coordinator by presenting an attractive enough offer, but it would have only temporarily postponed his next head coaching job.

Also, one of the arguments for going after Kiffin was that even if he wasn’t with LSU permanently, at least we would have gotten him away from Alabama. He left Alabama anyway. Call it sour grapes if you like – I think LSU was looking more closely at Canada than they were at Kiffin in the first place – but I honestly think this turn of events is in LSU’s favor.

Before I get to the positives and negatives of his past performance, some people might be nervous because Canada has made a series of stops as well. I think that’s less of a concern because he’s never been a head coach, and he’s never coached in the NFL. Offensive coordinator for one of the best programs (not to pat ourselves on the back too much, but only a few have multiple national championships since 2003) is his highest aspiration for the time being. Also, as I’ll get into, I think this is the situation that might fit him best. Canada probably isn’t the type who would fit in the other places.

New LSU offensive coordinator Matt Canada at his introductory press conference with Ed Orgeron

New LSU offensive coordinator Matt Canada at his introductory press conference with Ed Orgeron

Canada’s Resume

First I wanted to address the concerns that Canada has moved around too much. Canada’s previous moves made sense in pursuing the type of job he has just attained. He did take a bit of a step back when he left Wisconsin for North Carolina State, it wasn’t his fault he got there a year before Bret Bielema decided to go to Arkansas.

I’m not sure why he didn’t follow Bielema to Arkansas, but I doubt it had to do with being unable to coach the offense well enough. ESPN said they “butted heads”, but it may have had more to do with the opportunity to coach with former NIU coach Dave Doeren again. Although they were outmatched in the Rose Bowl, his Badger team had scored 70 points in the 2012 Big Ten championship game and averaged about 30 points per game.

Canada’s departure from North Carolina State was also not his decision. After a rocky first year with the Wolfpack in which Canada couldn’t seem to find a reliable quarterback, the team averaged 30.0 and 32.2, respectively, in the next two seasons.

The only sense anyone could make of the N.C. State firing as far as performance was that there were a few key games with relatively little scoring: 13 against Virginia Tech, 13 against Louisville, and 17 against Florida St. Louisville and Florida St. had reasonably good defenses in 2015, so it seems strange to fire a guy over one questionable game, but that’s apparently what they did. Also, I would note that all three point totals would have been enough for LSU to beat Alabama this season, and the Florida St. point total would have been enough to beat Wisconsin and Florida as well.

I would venture to guess that Canada will benefit from the kind of defense Dave Aranda seems to be running at LSU. Canada said during the press conference that if the pace of the game dictates winning 10-7 he has no problem with that. That reminds me… Canada and Aranda coached against each other in 2012. Final score: Wisconsin 16, Utah St. 14. I guess Aranda and the Aggies did a good enough job in that game that most of the USU coaching staff was hired when Bielema left for Arkansas.

I also liked that Canada doesn’t seem to be a purist in terms of what “system” he’s going to run. He’ll use multiple running backs in the backfield, he’ll throw to tight ends, and he’ll let the quarterback run if that’s in his skill set. Here is some more detailed information about what Canada likes to do.

Canada has been an offensive coordinator for 10 consecutive seasons. Before going to Wisconsin, he also had success at Northern Illinois in 2011, where his offenses averaged 38 points per game. His tenure at Indiana was a mixed bag. Canada helped to coach the Hoosiers to their first bowl game since 1993 in his first year (2007) after the death of head coach Terry Hoeppner in the offseason, but his offenses did not average more than 25 points per game again until his last year there in 2010.

A little bit of additional trivia… Canada was also with the Hoosiers (as an undergraduate assistant) in that previous bowl year of 1993, and the man who brought Canada back to Indiana (as a QB coach) was actually former LSU head coach Gerry DiNardo, who preceded Saban. In his career, Canada has also been a position coach for tight ends, wide receivers, and running backs.

Recruiting

I don’t usually comment on recruiting until the ink is dry and sometimes not even then, but with coaching turmoil, I think it’s an important thing to check on.

Orgeron kept some recruits guessing when he said at one point he wanted a pro-style quarterback and at another he wanted the spread, but it seems Canada can offer the best of both. It’s a good sign that St. Stanislaus (MS) quarterback Myles Brennan is back on board. Brennan is a pro-style quarterback who set state records for passing but also has a decent amount of rushing yards.

Junior College wide receiver Stephen Guidry, who de-committed in the wake of the Miles firing, also recommitted to the Tigers. Guidry attends Hines Community College, also in Mississippi, but went to high school in Louisiana. The LSU depth chart at the position seems to be getting shallower. Travin Dural’s eligibility will expire, Jazz Ferguson will be transferring after being suspended, and Malachi Dupre may declare for the NFL draft. If so, that will mean that only two wide receivers will be returning as upperclassmen.

The only other recruit (unless I’m misinformed) who de-committed from the Tigers since the Miles firing was Lowell Narcisse, a dual-threat quarterback from St. James (LA), who is also back on board as of this morning. I didn’t think he and Brennan would both want to come to LSU at the same time, but the more the merrier as far as I’m concerned. The last few years have shown us that you can’t always count on someone who appears to be the top guy, especially before they start taking snaps in a game.

Canada said he would use multiple-back sets. I’m not sure if that includes quarterbacks, but obviously there are some spread plays (as well as more traditional plays like halfback passes) where you’re not supposed to know whether a back will act like a quarterback or a running back, particularly not with the way Canada likes to change formations before the play.

SEC Country went into more detail about Narcisse and the rest of LSU’s potential key recruits. DandyDon (see the 12/19 update) also covered some of this.

I understand the Tigers have room for at least 5 more players and possibly up to 7.

Other Notes

This speaks for itself about two of my favorite NFL players at the moment.
beckham-landry

I’d like to give credit to fullback JD Moore, who earned the Charles E. Coates Award given to the senior who demonstrated the highest commitment to scholarly work in combination with excellence on the field. You might not notice him during the game as a casual fan, but he’s amazing when someone slows down the film and points him out.

The team MVP award went to senior linebacker Duke Riley. I don’t know how you replace guys like that in isolation, but that’s where teamwork and player development come in.

I know intricate detail about Xs and Os and recruiting aren’t historically my focus on this blog, but I have a renewed interest in how next year’s team is taking shape with the coaching changes.

I don’t see us winning the SEC, especially with 5 conference road games next season, but we were in every game this year. But if we become the type of team to win close games by converting scoring opportunities (we had some close games with late yards but not late points), anything could happen.

Regardless, I believe next season can be the start of something special. The last national championship came under a newish head coach and an innovative offensive coordinator (although Crowton never really found another quarterback to run his system after Matt Flynn left).

Final Pre-Bowl Top 25; CFP Plays It Safe but Gets It Wrong

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, History, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on December 5, 2016 at 9:00 AM

College Football Committee: Top 4, Sugar Bowl, and Orange Bowl

There were some complaints in the media Saturday night about why the College Football Playoff committee even has weekly rankings.

Ideally, I think it’s good to let teams know where they stand from week to week and start the process from scratch after the games are all finished. But I wonder if that really happened or if they just took the easy route and rubber-stamped what they already had as the top four (Clemson and Ohio St. switched spots, but that won’t affect anything except who wears what jersey and who calls the coin toss). Would it have been easier to pick Penn St. over Washington had the committee not declared a few days before that Washington was #4 and Penn St. was #7? If so, the weekly ratings should be abandoned.

The committee also played it safe by picking as the BCS would have in all the major decisions. There were about 15 teams that were in contention for the major bowls (other than the “automatic” Western Michigan). This is how they would have finished if we had just kept the BCS system.

The BCS average of the polls (AP and Coaches' poll since the Harris poll no longer exists) and the medium 4 computer ratings.  They're calculated as fractions of the perfect score and then averaged.

The BCS average of the polls (AP and Coaches’ poll since the Harris poll no longer exists) and the medium 4 computer rankings. They’re calculated as fractions of the perfect score and then averaged.

As I mentioned last week, I also disagree with Auburn’s selection to the Sugar Bowl, but part of the problem was that it was a three-way race. Although LSU gained on Florida in the last couple of weeks (and actually passed the Gators in the most-recent AP poll) and had the highest computer average of the three, obviously head-to-head came into play in subjective rankings and put LSU at a disadvantage. Auburn would have the stronger argument had they not also lost to their chief SEC East rivals and had that team (Georgia) not been worse than Florida.

The answer Auburn people kept repeating about why it should be Auburn is head to head, but if that’s the primary way you decide between close teams (even if the game was early in the season), why is Ohio St. in the top 4 but not the team who beat them and then won their conference? Why is Florida St. in the Orange Bowl but not Louisville, who not only beat the Seminoles but blew them out? 63-20 is not similar to the difference of a foot or two or a second or two at the end of the game like the two relevant LSU games.

Louisville did lose two games late to fall into a “tie” (although they finished two games ahead of the FSU in the conference standings), but so did Auburn. At least in Florida St.’s case, they blew away the Cardinals in the BCS computer ratings.

To turn back to Washington vs. Penn St., one of the rewarding things about having my own objective mathematical system is when it validates my subjective opinion. I also like that I don’t have to do complicated mathematics like algorithms and least-squared regressions to get there. I’m not sure what any of those tell you about how good a football team is anyway.

Washington didn’t play a single team in my final top 10 and went only 2-1 against the top 25. Penn St. went 2-1 against the top 10, on the other hand. The Nittany Lions did lose to #25 Pitt, but I don’t think it’s really fair to eliminate them based upon that when Washington had one of the worst non-conference schedules in college football. The committee has sent a clear message that record counts for more than schedule and (in view of Ohio St. making the field, although I agree with that) for more than championship status.

Anyway, I think Penn St. did enough to overcome the additional loss; but it’s close enough that if Washington had played a slightly better schedule, the Huskies would have been fourth. So I firmly believe I got the formula right. There are teams (like LSU this year) who aren’t necessarily treated appropriately, but for me it’s always been about getting the top two to four teams right.

That said, it will be interesting to see Penn St. against USC. I hope Penn St. can put this behind them, but it wouldn’t the first time a team that was snubbed or fell just short didn’t really show up for the bowl game. Although the Trojans and Nittany Lions have five losses between them, neither has lost since September. Both teams played the best (other) team in their own division and the best team of the other division in that span. Penn St. also played one of the runners-up from other division.

Washington versus Michigan in that game might have been even better though.

LSU in the Citrus Bowl

Then-Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino pointed at the LSU sidelines in anger (apparently that LSU ran up the score in a 24-point win in 2011) in his previous game against the Tigers.  Petrino is 4-4 against SEC teams since.

Then-Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino pointed at the LSU sidelines in anger (apparently that LSU ran up the score in a 24-point win in 2011) in his previous game against the Tigers. Petrino is 4-4 against SEC teams since.

Also, I want to reiterate that I’m content with LSU’s selection. You have to be extremely lucky to lose four games and go to the Sugar Bowl, so I can’t be too upset there. Tennessee, Florida, and Texas A&M were penalized more for late losses, so at least we got better bowls than they did. I’m not thrilled with it being early in the day on New Year’s Eve, when I’m typically up until 3 or 4 in the morning. Hopefully I can take a long nap.

Also, our opponent will be another team with a legitimate gripe about being left out of a major bowl in Louisville. Financially speaking at least, the Citrus is the top non-CFP bowl, so that’s something else to be happy about. I’m not sure how much of that actually goes to the school, but with what Louisiana has been through lately, every little bit helps. I always enjoy Bobby Petrino though. He’s a guy most of the SEC loves to hate for multiple reasons, but he’s also a very good coach. We’ve seen LSU DC Dave Arranda give Lane Kiffin about all he could handle, so I’m excited to see how Arranda and our defense do in this game.

I’m less excited to see LSU try to produce on offense, but obviously Kentucky gave me some encouragement. There hasn’t really been time to make many adjustments on offense since the dismissal of Cam Cameron, but often bowl prep allows some flexibility in that area. It has helped LSU before even in years with relatively poor offenses, such as last year.

Other Changes

Another team that made significant progress was Oklahoma, who will be the other team in the Sugar Bowl. I mentioned 2003 earlier. Oklahoma was in the Sugar Bowl that year of course, and Nick Saban got the better of Bob Stoops, who repaid the favor against Alabama in the 2014 Sugar Bowl 3 years ago. As a former New Orleans resident, welcome back to the Sooners and (other) Tigers. Oklahoma will play Auburn for the first time since the 1972 Sugar Bowl. This will be Auburn’s first Sugar Bowl in 12 years and only the second since 1989, so I guess that might have been a good reason to let them have this one.

West Virginia also made a significant stride even though beating Baylor wasn’t the best win, but it beat a loss or not playing at all.

Temple was also in the top 25 at this point last year before losing in the bowl game, but the Owls have another chance to finish in the final top 25 for the first time.

I’m not sure if Pitt has finished in my top 25 recently, but I don’t recall them doing so. Of course they were helped out by Penn St.’s win, but it was more about the losses by Navy and Virginia Tech.

Top 25

rank/team/prev
1 Alabama 1
2 Clemson 3
3 Ohio St. 2
4 Penn St. 6
5 Washington 5
6 W. Michigan 7
7 Michigan 4
8 Oklahoma 12
9 Wisconsin 8
10 Florida St. 10
11 Colorado 9
12 Boise St. 11
13 USC 13
14 West Virginia 21
15 S. Florida 14
16 Tennessee 16
17 Stanford 17
18 Okie St. 15
19 Louisville 20
20 Nebraska 19
21 Florida 18
22 Temple —
23 Houston 23
24 Auburn 22
25 Pittsburgh —

All 128 Teams

Out of rankings: (24) Virginia Tech, (25) Navy

“Best Conference” Arguments & Final “SEC Wednesday” of 2016

In College Football, Conference Reports, SEC Wednesdays on December 1, 2016 at 7:59 PM

I did take a few paragraphs out of this, so it’s less thorough than it could have been, but it was too long.

sec football

I’ve seen a lot of nonsense about the SEC having an off year even from SEC fans lately. Maybe the SEC has had more dominant years, but there really isn’t any legitimate doubt about the SEC still being the top conference top to bottom.

As has been the case for probably more years than I’ve been keeping track, the SEC is the consensus number 1 in computers top to bottom.

big10_logo_detail

SEC vs. Big Ten

Why are people forgetting that the SEC still has the best overall record? Now I know if you exclude FCS games, the Big Ten has the best record, but I think it matters that the Big Ten lost two games to FCS opponents. I’m not talking about bottom-of-the-barrel teams either. Iowa finished 6-3 in conference, and Northwestern finished 5-4 in conference.

The media talks about how there is only one SEC team in the top 10. That’s true, but why is that? Records. Why are the records the way they are? (1) Opponents like Wisconsin, Clemson, and Florida St., and (2) other SEC teams.
There are a couple of losses that weren’t too pretty by teams who finished .500 and below in the SEC, but that’s not why LSU, Florida, Auburn, Tennessee, and Texas A&M aren’t a game or two better and in or nearer to the top 10 as a result.

Apart from the few teams from other conferences I mentioned, the reason for that is simply that if any of that group played one another, both teams had a reasonable chance to win and it evened out over the course of the year. If Alabama does as expected and wins Saturday, all five other teams will go into the bowls with exactly 4 losses. That doesn’t mean the SEC is having a down year, that means Alabama is beating everyone and no one is making a particularly strong claim on second-best in the conference.

I’m going to compare the SEC teams to the Big Ten, just because the Big Ten happens to be the conference were their wins and losses ended up placing four teams in the top 10. It could have happened just as easily in the Pac-12 or ACC.

There is a group of teams of relative parity in the Big Ten as well, but that group is right at the top of the Big Ten. That’s the main reason why the Big Ten has four teams in the top 10. The highest group just isn’t very vulnerable to losing to anyone lower (the only in-conference exception was Iowa over Michigan).

Another thing that helped is big wins were by this top group instead of lower teams. On the other hand, three of the four best SEC wins were by teams that finished 4-4 in conference (Kentucky over Louisville, Tennessee over Virginia Tech, and Georgia over North Carolina).

Imagine the following. LSU beat Alabama and Florida, Tennessee beat Texas A&M, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt, and Auburn beat Georgia and Texas A&M. Without changing out of conference results at all, the result is two one-loss teams (Alabama and Tennessee) and two two-loss teams (Auburn and LSU). All four would easily be in the top 10.

We didn’t change how good the SEC was, we just made the lower SEC teams worse and the second-tier (the group below Alabama) better with the exception of Florida. If we add in a couple of Florida conference wins (Arkansas and Tennessee), maybe we could get 5 SEC teams in the top 10. Would anyone say the SEC was having an off year then? Probably not. At least not anyone who doesn’t claim that every year. But the perception of the SEC is ironically hurt by the middle and lower teams being better. It’s nice to have a relatively easy opponent at some point in conference play, but that didn’t really happen.

There was one 2-6 team per SEC division, Missouri and Ole Miss. Missouri beat two bowl-eligible teams, and Ole Miss beat three. There were no 1-7 or 0-8 teams. There were 3 teams in the Big Ten who finished with one conference win or fewer, and those teams had one more chance to pick up a conference win than the SEC teams did. The lone 2-7 team (Illinois) didn’t beat anyone bowl-eligible; the Illini’s only FBS wins were over teams that finished below them in the Big Ten. So all Big Ten teams were guaranteed to have two less-dangerous conference games than anyone in the SEC faced in conference all year. Most had three such games (although Ohio St. to its credit wasn’t one of them).

ACC

SEC vs. ACC

There is one other conference argument I’ll address and that’s, “You just went 1-3 against the ACC [in the final weekend].” Let’s look at that another way.

I’m going to take out the names of teams and just put a list of the records. These are games over the course of the year. I just listed them in order of ACC record.

4-4 SEC beat 7-1 ACC
7-1 ACC beat 3-5 SEC
7-1 ACC beat 5-3 SEC
4-4 SEC beat 6-2 ACC
4-4 SEC beat 5-3 ACC
5-3 ACC beat 6-2 SEC
5-3 ACC beat 2-6 SEC
4-4 ACC beat 4-4 SEC

So the SEC won three games in which the SEC team had the worse conference record, while the ACC only won one game in which the ACC team had the worse conference record. Also, all of these games but two (7-1 ACC vs. 5-3 and 5-3 ACC vs. 2-6) were played by teams in the SEC East, the lesser SEC division. Five of the eight games were played by the top three teams of the ACC Atlantic, the better ACC division.

SEC WED

“SEC Wednesday”

I’ll keep the SEC Wednesday relatively short this time.

I guess I’ll finally give up and take Alabama -24, which probably will make the game close. It seems like Florida is fading. Judging by their games against LSU, it should be a nail-biter, but that’s not how it works. LSU played much worse against Florida, at least for the last 2 ½ quarters. For one analogy, I’m sure Arkansas thought LSU (who beat them by 28) was much better than Florida (whom they beat by 21).

Anyway, Florida seemed to fade toward the end of the last few games (they almost let LSU win after all), and Alabama always seems ready to get that one more score to beat the spread at the end. Alabama just beat a much-improved Auburn team by more than they beat them last year. So it might be Alabama by 14 at the half and they end up winning by 27 or something with a late touchdown or field goal.

Well, that’s it for predictions in this season. Bowl games have too many variables for me to include. I’ve made good bowl predictions in the past, but I’ve also made really bad ones. It’s like flipping a coin.

There might be a lot of this Saturday.

There might be a lot of this Saturday.

So a team favored by 7.5 (Vanderbilt) pulled an upset (over Tennessee), but I picked the wrong one (I picked Florida. Unfortunately, the wrong team scored meaningless points right at the end in multiple games (Florida St., LSU, and Alabama, for instance), which hurt me in the spread. I did not pick the 26.5-point underdog who won (Kentucky), but I did caution it could come down to the end. I did take the points in both upsets though. Too bad I couldn’t use the excess.

Georgia was in great shape up 13 late, but then they lost by 1.

I was wrong about LSU against the spread again. Maybe I should pick the other team more often so LSU plays well more consistently.

The Missouri team who beat Vanderbilt showed back up again against Arkansas, but I admit I didn’t see that coming. That was one reason I didn’t pick Vanderbilt to beat Tennessee. It’s like these teams try to screw with me.

South Carolina didn’t really show up at all, so that was another game that was completely uncharacteristic of the rest of the season. Same with Mississippi St. but for the opposite reason.

I think my readers can add one to either side of these after this weekend, so almost-final records: 85-26 and 42-52-1 against the spread.

SEC Bowls: LSU and Florida Should Go Ahead of Auburn

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, Rankings Commentary on November 29, 2016 at 7:16 PM

*In an earlier version I neglected to mention Florida’s loss to Arkansas.*

Most bowl projection sites that I looked at over the past few days have Auburn going to the Sugar and Florida going to the Citrus. I hope ESPN’s Greg Ostendorf is right and LSU gets the Citrus (you can see his other projections as well), which would be a just result for my Tigers in my humble opinion. It would not be fair to Florida, but Florida is not exactly on my good side right now. So while personally I would not feel aggrieved as long as LSU is in the Sugar or Citrus, it still bothers me as someone who values fairness and logical consistency that Auburn would go ahead of either team.

In the new College Football Playoff (CFP) standings, Auburn is ahead of BOTH LSU and Florida.

It’s important to note that the Sugar Bowl and the SEC get no input. The Sugar is contractually bound to pick the best available SEC team in the College Football Playoff standings. It appears that unless Florida wins (or loses so valiantly that they move up), Auburn will go to the Sugar Bowl. It’s also possible that a Clemson loss could negatively affect Auburn.

How the SEC bowl selection process works.  For this year, it is assumed that only one SEC team will be in the top 4 and that the Cotton Bowl will not select an SEC team.

How the SEC bowl selection process works. For this year, it is assumed that only one SEC team will be in the top 4 and that the Cotton Bowl will not select an SEC team.

It will be very frustrating if LSU ties both Auburn and Florida in losses but falls below the top three SEC bowl slots (CFP semifinal which is all but guaranteed to Alabama, Sugar which will likely go to Auburn, and Citrus which will was previously projected to go to Florida).

I won’t be one to complain if Florida makes the Sugar Bowl, but LSU should at least get the Citrus (once known as the CapitalOne) Bowl over Auburn. I like my formula and if it were followed, LSU would also be out of the SEC top 3, but that’s not how this or similar systems have historically worked.

The way LSU is being treated is not in keeping with fair play. For instance, when LSU lost to Alabama, the Tigers fell 11 spots. Auburn just fell ONE spot even though they lost to the Tide by 8 more points than LSU did. That more than accounts for the current gap between Auburn and LSU of 7 spots. If Florida loses to Alabama, I’m guessing the Gators won’t fall 11 spots either.

CFP rankings after Alabama defeated LSU.  Florida was unranked.

CFP rankings after Alabama defeated LSU. Florida was unranked.

The three relevant teams in the current CFP rankings.

The three relevant teams in the current CFP rankings.

I know the argument is that if you lose to a team no matter how close it was, that team should go ahead if there is any ambiguity, but I think that’s wrong. It’s better to lose to the top 3 teams in the conference than it is to lose only one of the top 3 and to two 4-4 teams (Texas A&M and Georgia). In the whole season and despite the rocky start, LSU has only lost to one team that was not a division winner (Wisconsin won its division as well), and that was the road game against Auburn in September when the clock apparently expired to take what would have been the winning points off the board.

How does ending a season like Auburn did put you in the Sugar Bowl? Florida would also end with two losses, but I think ending with two losses in regular season conference play is worse than rivalry game on the road (against a team the committee tells us is better than anyone in the SEC but Alabama) followed by conference championship against the #1 team in the nation. Florida won’t fall to 5-3 in conference with a loss; they’d fall to 6-3 against SEC teams. Again, I have no problem with Florida getting the Sugar. The Gators played in a lesser division; but they did beat all but one team in that division (losing on the road to Tennessee early in the year), and they will finish with a better record in conference.

There are multiple reasons my ratings look at things differently than bowl consideration has typically done.

The first that I touched on was how close the games were. LSU was less than a yard short of beating Florida and less than a second short of beating Auburn. I don’t give them any credit for that. I also don’t give them any credit for playing Alabama closes than anyone has since Ole Miss. By the way, make a mental note of that for when I talk about teams playing differently at different times of the season.

The second is that LSU has played one fewer game (I don’t think we need to go into why), but that has not historically been a reason to penalize a team. I don’t think anyone would question that LSU would have beaten South Alabama in a home game 10 days ago.

The third difference, which I already touched on, is I don’t give any benefit or penalty for recent versus early-season games.

I know it’s a completely different group of people, but the football committee is intentionally designed to be similar to the basketball committee. No one would question that if Team A’s only losses in the two months leading up to selection day were to two top-15 teams that Team A would go ahead of Team B who had the same record but who lost to one team in common and then lost to another team that wasn’t even in the top 40. Team B’s win over Team A earlier in the year would not overcome that.

This is another apparent difference from basketball. When there is a dramatic change—and there was a dramatic change in what kind of team LSU was, at least when they weren’t playing a really good rushing defense—you consider the team that is going to actually be playing much more than the team otherwise.

I’m just not seeing the logic unless they’re using my ratings as part of the formula and not telling me. If they are, LSU shouldn’t have fallen much after losing to Alabama though. Maybe they just started using it? I wonder if I got an email about that. I should check my junk mail more thoroughly.

It would be great if it were the case, but computers aren’t unanimous either. I’ll take the BCS ratings one at a time. One difference from mine is they tend to measure whether the team and its opponents are on the upswing or downswing.

Anderson and Hester: (17) Florida, (24) Auburn, (26) LSU
Billingsley: (14) Florida, (16) LSU, (31) Auburn
Colley: (19) Florida, (22) Auburn, (24) LSU
Massey: (14) LSU, (15) Auburn, (20) Florida
Wolfe: (18) Florida, (21) LSU, (24) Auburn
Sagarin: (8) LSU, (13) Auburn, (24) Florida
LSU average: 18.17 (2 first places among the three teams)
Florida average: 18.67 (4 first places among the three teams)
Auburn average: 21.5

I can see Florida just getting a freebie loss to Alabama since neither Auburn nor LSU has to play this weekend and someone saying it’s close enough given the other factors to give Florida the Sugar, but there is no good objective measure to justify putting Auburn first.

Is it because they have a more interesting offense than either LSU or Florida? If that’s the most important factor, how in the world is Washington State not even ranked? Put the Cougars ahead of all three by that measure. Also, Auburn’s offense hasn’t even been interesting lately. LSU scored 54 in the last game, and in the last three SEC games combined Auburn has only scored 42. So it’s best offense in October then? Ridiculous.

LSU Keeps Coach O and Week 14 Top 25

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 27, 2016 at 8:42 PM

I’m going to have to do three blogs this week to keep them from being too long. I’m not sure when I will have my SEC material ready, but since there is only one game coming up, I see no need to do that on Wednesday. I also want to talk about bowl games and other conferences.

LSU Sticks with Coach O

I don’t know what to believe about the LSU coaching search and the conversation with Tom Herman and his agent. One story is there never was any kind of final offer, just informal talks. Another story is Herman asked for $6 million per year and LSU rejected it. A third story is all details of the deal were in place and agreeable to both sides, but LSU withdrew its offer and hired Orgeron when Herman or his agent said he wanted to talk to Texas before signing.

Like Coach O (or Eaux as some fans spell it) said in the Texas A&M press conference, I really would have liked to have had that Florida game. LSU would be all but a lock for the Sugar Bowl as well as making this decision easier. Should falling short by a foot or so when we had a chance to get that win determine who the next coach should be on a permanent basis? I don’t think it should. I’ll talk more about bowl possibilities later in the week.

Coach Orgeron accepting "the greatest job in the country" Saturday.

Coach Orgeron accepting “the greatest job in the country” Saturday.

I don’t want to belittle the job Steve Ensminger and the offensive staff did in trying to make a productive offense out of the playbook and offense that Les Miles and Cam Cameron left behind. It wasn’t very ideal to have to patch something together like that four games into the season, but offensive inadequacies were still exposed against Alabama and Florida and even in the first half against Southern Miss. I hope Coach Ensminger can stay on to help the new coordinator because I think it did show that he’s not just a run-of-the-mill tight ends coach.

If we get one of the best offensive coordinators like Orgeron says he wants to do and that guy has the whole offseason, that should put us in position to score more than 10 points against Alabama, more than 16 points against Florida, more than 18 points against Auburn, and more than 16 points against Wisconsin. Had we done that this season, we would be undefeated. I don’t know if the defense will be quite as good next year as some of our replacement players struggled on Thursday, but we will not be rebuilding from scratch either.

I’m more skeptical about LSU doing well next year than I was this year because I felt like the array of talent should have been just right this year (which was why starting 2-2 was bad enough to fire the coach), but sometimes you do better when you’re not quite as good on paper. One example was when we had a number of players drafted early and a new offensive coordinator in 2007 and had a better year than the year before.

I mostly agree with the decisions Alleva made, although I would prefer to have that Florida game at home next year.

Oh yeah, and we did a couple of neat things in the game (see bolded areas).

Rankings Comments

Before you have too much of a knee-jerk reaction, remember that Ohio St. and Michigan won’t gain any more points this week. It might benefit them slightly if Penn St. beats Wisconsin instead of losing to the Badgers, but the big points will go to the teams that win this weekend. Regardless of the Pac-12 and Big Ten champions, chances are that both will pass up Michigan. If Clemson wins, it is likely they will pass up Ohio St., but the Buckeyes should be secure in the top 4.

I don’t think Western Michigan would beat any team in the top 10, but I think this shows my system has adequate safeguards against an undefeated team with an easy schedule finishing ahead of a one-loss team or even in some cases a two-loss team with a strong schedule.

The idea is to rank playoff-worthiness. If there were an 8-game playoff (heaven forfend), I do think it would be fairer to include a team like Western Michigan than the fourth Big Ten team or the third ACC or Pac-12 team. If the season ended today, I think Wisconsin should get the 7th seed instead (since we won’t really establish which Big Ten team should be fourth until Saturday), but I’m not going to overhaul my formula over a 0.006-point difference between two teams that will be irrelevant after this weekend anyway.

The next thing I can see people griping about is Oklahoma taking a tumble, but that’s because some teams picked up meaningful points while the Sooners were idle. It also didn’t help the Sooners that Houston lost to Memphis, which is obviously more harmful than Ohio St. beating Michigan was helpful. An oversimplified explanation is that Houston’s FBS winning percentage fell 8 points while Ohio St.’s winning percentage only improved 0.8 points. Oklahoma should be able to recover all the lost ground with a win though.

Normally Boise St.’s loss would have hurt more, but of the Broncos’ four out-of-conference opponents, three of them won. The only loss was by Washington St. to Washington, which didn’t hurt very much. ULL and Oregon St. both got really important wins for them. Oregon was by far the best team Oregon St. beat; and Arkansas St. had been undefeated in the Sun Belt, so that was a big win for the Cajuns, who had only had four wins before that game.

Why is Tennessee still 16th? Well, they beat one conference champion (Appalachian St. of the Sun Belt) and three divisional champions (MAC East, ACC Coastal, and SEC East). That’s in addition to playing Alabama and Texas A&M as non-divisional opponents. Every SEC team is now in the top 75, so while there were only a few good arguments for the top 25, there is still a laundry list of at least somewhat decent teams that the Volunteers beat while none of the losses were catastrophic.

I’ll talk more about conferences later in the week, but because of what I said above, the SEC is still the best top-to-bottom conference in my rankings, although analysis of the top 40 (the part at the top) tells a different story.

Top 25

rank/team/prev
1 Alabama 1
2 Ohio St. 3
3 Clemson 2
4 Michigan 4
5 Washington 8
6 Penn St. 5
7 W. Michigan 10
8 Wisconsin 9
9 Colorado 12
10 Florida St. 14
11 Boise St. 7
12 Oklahoma 6
13 USC 22
14 S. Florida 21
15 Okie St. 16
16 Tennessee 11
17 Stanford 23
18 Florida 18
19 Nebraska 15
20 Louisville 13
21 West Virginia —
22 Auburn 19
23 Houston 17
24 Virginia Tech 24
25 Navy —

All 128 Teams

Out of rankings: (20) Texas A&M, (25) N. Carolina

SEC Wednesday #13: Thanksgiving Edition

In College Football, General LSU, Preview, SEC Wednesdays on November 24, 2016 at 4:01 PM

Last Week

I haven’t been right about an LSU line since Missouri. I justifiably felt really good when LSU had a great chance to go up 11 midway through the second quarter, but the second touchdown never came. It’s baffling to me that LSU scored almost 40 against Arkansas on the road but only scored 10 against a decimated Florida team at home the very next week.

I’ll talk about Texas A&M more below of course, but feel free to check out my LSU/A&M Rivalry blog. Despite the offensive deficiencies, LSU has not allowed more than 21 points all season, and A&M has not scored that many against LSU since the Aggies joined the SEC.

But the good news is I got every other FBS game right against the spread last week. The only other winner I got wrong was Vanderbilt. That was also kind of bizarre that Ole Miss scored 23 points in the fourth quarter against Texas A&M but only came up with 17 all game against Vanderbilt (including 7 after the game was out of reach). Even worse than that, they made Vandy’s offense look terrific. It could have been ugly had the Commodores not let off the gas after three quarters. I knew Vandy would run better, but I was surprised by almost twice as many yards per pass.

Vanderbilt's Ralph Webb ran for three touchdowns against Ole Miss and is only 27 yards short of the school career rushing record.

Vanderbilt’s Ralph Webb ran for three touchdowns against Ole Miss and is only 27 yards short of the school career rushing record.

I pretty much nailed everything else. There was no reason to believe Georgia would win by over 20 or A&M would win by almost 30. Tennessee cleared the spread by 10, which was about as expected. It makes sense to beat Kentucky by 13 and Missouri by 26 in consecutive games. I don’t know why the gamblers have over-valued the Tigers in all but one game in the last two months.

I really was not seeing Mississippi St. beating Arkansas under any circumstances (not that that’s a guarantee), but I was a bit surprised neither defense showed up. 100 combined points in an SEC FOOTBALL game? Were the quarterbacks Johnny Manziel and Cam Newton?

It’s usually pretty easy to pick the SEC team to beat FCS opponents. There were no real scares, although South Carolina winning by 13 (against a team that is winless on the road) is nothing to write home about.

I didn’t provide an updated total last week (probably a result of subconscious embarrassment), but my records improve to 82-20 and 40-45-1 against the spread.

SEC WED

Next Week

As is my custom, I am looking at the line on Wednesday even though this is published on Thursday.

I’ll take A&M +7.5. Maybe the LSU team that went to Arkansas shows back up and we win by 28, but last week we looked like we would struggle to win a rematch with Missouri by 7.5 or more. Ed Orgeron’s only road loss as an interim coach was @Notre Dame in his second game in 2013 (4-0 on the road as an interim coach since). I guess I’ll pick us to win, but I’m not confident at all. If I were an A&M fan, I wouldn’t be confident either though.

Speaking of Missouri and Arkansas, again I don’t see Arkansas being as bad or Missouri being as good as the gamblers do. The Hogs won by 16 in Starkville, so I have no idea why they don’t win by 8 in Columbia.

Georgia has had a problem with showing up in unexciting games against mediocre opponents. I don’t think the chance to close out the season with a home win over the Rambling Wreck qualifies. I also don’t think Georgia Tech is as good as a team like Tennessee and will beat them despite a great effort from the silver britches.

The two teams have the same record, and Georgia has played the better schedule. I have to go with the home team to win, and 4 points makes it hard to try to split the difference. I think if you played the game 10 times, Georgia wins by 4 to 14 points at least half the time, and there might be one in there they run away with.

Ole Miss didn’t play well in Nashville, but I don’t think that means they let Mississippi St. eliminate them from bowl eligibility. Do they win by 7.5 though? I’m going to guess yes based on the Bulldogs’ last couple of games, but I would not put money on it.

Maybe this year will be the exception, but rivalry games can generally be expected to stay within a couple of touchdowns more often than not. None of these next three underdogs are 3-8 and on a 6-game conference losing streak like Auburn was in 2012.

Louisville has played well at home, but I don’t know if home field is enough to go from losing to Houston by 26 to beating Kentucky by over 26. The Cardinals’ last home win was over Wake Forest by 32. Kentucky is better than Wake and is coming of a virtual bye against Austin Peay. Louisville hasn’t beaten Kentucky by more than 18 since 2006 despite the fact that the Wildcats had two 2-10 teams over that span. I think a Louisville win by between 14 and 21 points is most likely, but don’t discount the possibility that it could go down to the wire like it did two years ago even though the Wildcats entered that game on a five-game losing streak.

Against recent experience, I’m going to pick against Alabama. I just feel like if I finally break and pick them they won’t beat the spread. Auburn is a weird team that struggled in the last two weeks of the SEC schedule, but I just find it hard to imagine that they don’t find some inner strength to make it competitive. This is strange, but if Alabama is ever tempted to look ahead, this might be the situation. 17.5 is a relative beat-down compared to similar games. Alabama didn’t win by that last year, and the Tigers are improved. I don’t think the Tide plays better than they did last year in this game.

South Carolina is a mediocre team, but they have not lost ugly once (although I do scratch my head a bit over the Mississippi St. game back in Week 2). Clemson has won ugly more than they’ve won any other way. So I’ll take the Gamecocks +24.

About half the time Tennessee-Vanderbilt comes down to one possession. I think this is such a year. Vandy just beat another annual rival in Ole Miss handily at home, and this game is also at home. Obviously most of the time the Commodores are not playing for a bowl berth (even though they went to three in a row from 2011 to 2013). That has to add a little bit of motivation. I’ll take Vandy +7.5 but not to win. Apart from the three seasons I mentioned, losing close games is just more often than not something they do.

Same line for Florida-Florida St., but the home team is favored in this one. Like Georgia vs. Georgia Tech, the teams have the same number of wins (the Noles have an additional loss though). Actually in this one Florida has a weaker schedule, but I’d argue the Gators had a better conference schedule. Averaging in weak non-conference opponents can be misleading.

I’m going to go against the odds and pick Florida to win. Normally I pick the home team to win in a game like this, but I just have a weird feeling. Florida wouldn’t let LSU beat them 4 in a row for only the second time ever even though that was on the road. My guess is they won’t let the Seminoles beat them 4 in a row for the first time since 1990 (and third time ever) even though that will be on the road. The Gators’ last win in the series was at Florida St. in 2012 when both teams entered the game with 10-1 records.

Week 13 Top 25 and Comments

In College Football, College Football Playoff, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 22, 2016 at 8:38 PM

Since I didn’t get a chance to post my rankings blog until today, I’m delaying the SEC Wednesday blog to Thursday. Of course I will try to release it by game time on Thursday, but you may want to check the blog directly in case I’m delayed in one of the various ways I share this.

Before I get to the teams, I wanted to note that the SEC fell out of the top spot of the top-40 conference rankings but not the top-to-bottom ones. There is only one SEC team in my top 10 now, and of course LSU fell out of my top 40. The middle-of-the-pack SEC teams do enough to hurt the higher teams but don’t do enough to put themselves in the top 40.

It’s been strange to have the top-to-bottom so at odds with the top-40 rankings this season.

Top 40:
1. ACC
2. Big Ten
3. SEC
4. Pac-12

Top to Bottom:
1. SEC
2. ACC
3. Pac-12
4. Big Ten

The Big Ten East takes top division in my standings. It did so with its top three teams alone even though both the SEC West and ACC Coastal have more top-40 teams apiece. I don’t average out the divisions, but I would guess the SEC West would be #1 if I did. Maybe I’ll add room for that in the off-season.

The only thing I have to contribute to the playoff conversation is that the first three spots look pretty straightforward (Alabama by winning 2 games, Clemson by winning 2 games, and a 1-loss Big Ten champion or 1-loss non-champion Ohio St.). Even though they’re ahead now, the Sooners have a disadvantage against the Huskies because Washington potentially has two games left instead of one.

If Ohio St. beats Michigan, there is also a strong possibility that the Big XII would be shut out even if Washington were to lose. It would be hard to put the Sooners ahead of a two-loss Big Ten champion (which would be inevitable if Penn St., Ohio St., and Wisconsin all win this weekend). It’s worth noting that one of the teams to beat Oklahoma was Ohio St.

In addition to Oklahoma and Washington, Colorado also make a significant move upwards. The bad news for Washington and Colorado is that now both of their rivalry opponents are damaged as Utah also lost to Oregon. Colorado has not clinched the South, but obviously that should be the opponent that Washington should hope for.

The Pac-12 South will be decided in Boulder, where Colorado has not beaten Utah since 1957.

The Pac-12 South will be decided in Boulder, where Colorado has not beaten Utah since 1957.

I was surprised a little bit by how high Florida climbed in the top 25, but I expected them to make the top 25 with a win. LSU has a long way to go to make the top 25, but it’s not impossible with two quality wins (A&M and a bowl game).

Stanford, USC, and Virginia Tech garnered wins over losing teams who weren’t too terrible, but their progress had more to do with losses by others. The Hokies are one win away from getting the honor of playing Clemson for the ACC title, and USC makes the Pac-12 title game if Utah beats Colorado.

Top 25

rank/team/prev
1 Alabama 1
2 Clemson 2
3 Ohio St. 3
4 Michigan 4
5 Penn St. 5
6 Oklahoma 13
7 Boise St. 8
8 Washington 12
9 Wisconsin 9
10 W. Michigan 7
11 Tennessee 10
12 Colorado 23
13 Louisville 6
14 Florida St. 14
15 Nebraska 16
16 Okie St. 19
17 Houston 21
18 Florida —
19 Auburn 11
20 Texas A&M 17
21 S. Florida 24
22 USC —
23 Stanford —
24 Virginia Tech —
25 N. Carolina 20

All 128 Teams

Out of rankings:
15 Wash. St.
18 West Virginia
22 Utah
25 Troy

Nega-Tiger Time & Head Coach Position

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game on November 20, 2016 at 4:14 PM

A few preliminaries:
Computer ratings of all teams after Week 11
Updated Florida Rivalry Blog
Texas A&M Rivalry Blog

I don’t know where this comes from exactly, but somehow on message boards there developed the concept of “nega-Tigers,” the more skeptical and pessimistic LSU fans, and “sunshine pumpers,” those who were more optimistic and stressed the positives. I try to be accurate and have seen the merits of both sides, but people have called me a sunshine pumper in recent seasons for pointing out that Les Miles had the best winning percentage of any coach of a substantial number of games in LSU history. Nega-Tigers tend to stress things like recent losses to teams like Alabama and Arkansas and the issues I’m about to discuss below.

One of the reasons I didn’t want to talk much about the Arkansas game was I didn’t want to get my confidence up too high. It’s just so disheartening that we can’t win a close game to save our lives. I don’t understand how you score one touchdown, you get a few yards away from another touchdown after driving for 75 yards, and then you can only come up with a single field goal for the last 37 ½ minutes of the game.

Technically, the Tigers beat Mississippi St. in a close game, but LSU was ahead by 17 with five minutes left. So let’s look at it another way:

Close game (<17 points) with 5 minutes left … result
Wisconsin 16, LSU 14 … Wisconsin 16, LSU 14
Auburn 18, LSU 13 … Auburn 18, LSU 13
Alabama 7, LSU 0 … Alabama 10, LSU 0
Florida 13, LSU 10 … Florida 16, LSU 10
Total: 0-4, scored 0 points, gave up 6 points

I don’t see a way out either even with a coaching change. We have to know how to win close games somehow. I know we were one positive play from beating Wisconsin, one second away from beating Auburn, and maybe one foot away from beating Florida, but losing all three is almost unforgivable.

Jimbo Fisher (right) with Nick Saban.  Fisher also coached under Les Miles for two seasons as the offensive coordinator.

Jimbo Fisher (right) with Nick Saban. Fisher also coached under Les Miles for two seasons as the offensive coordinator.

Jimbo Fisher is going to fix it (assuming we can get him anyway)? We had one of our best offenses in 2006 when Fisher was the offensive coordinator, and we lost to Auburn 7-3 and Florida 23-10. We also only managed 20 points in regulation against a pretty sorry Ole Miss team (coached by a guy called Ed Orgeron). You can’t tell me we can rest assured about not having games like this again.

Florida State has 3 losses against an ACC schedule and their best out-of-conference opponent was Ole Miss. If they’d played Wisconsin instead, that likely already puts them at 4 losses right now even if we pretend their conference schedule was just as hard as LSU’s.

Had the Seminoles played SEC opponents instead of North Carolina St. (won by 4) and U. Miami (won by a missed extra point), that could have made 5 or 6 losses.

That’s great that they only had two regular-season losses over the previous three seasons, but again, I think that has a lot to do with schedule. In 2014, there were five games that came down to one possession.

Jameis Winston was a great college football player and 2013 was a great season for the Noles; but we’re not talking about Gene Chizik, and he had a great season with Cam Newton as his QB in 2010. This is not a motivated team who plays to the best of its ability every week either. When you have an off game in the SEC, you lose the majority of the time no matter how good of a coach you are.

One big reason Alabama doesn’t have more losses is they don’t really have off games against teams that can beat them. They have sloppy games sometimes, but they seem motivated and ready to play every time, and the sloppiness is rare in big games. So I don’t mean that you can prevent guys in their late teens and early 20 from having an off night in all cases, but you can have a focused team that responds appropriately when things go wrong.

The Guice fumble was an example of sloppiness, but there is no way in the world Alabama would respond to something like that by shutting down on offense and allowing the other team to get ahead like LSU did. Outside of maybe a bowl game or two, I can’t think of an example of Alabama doing that since Saban’s first season.

Houston's Tom Herman

Houston’s Tom Herman

I’m even less impressed with Houston, led by Tom Herman (who actually beat the Seminoles in the Peach Bowl last year). There is no way Navy or SMU has even close to Houston’s level of talent, but the Cougars lost to both within 3 weeks this season. They had a full month of subpar play. In addition to those two games, they needed overtime to beat Tulsa in between, and then after the SMU game (which they lost handily), they struggled against Central Florida. Tulsa and Central Florida were home games. Houston apparently needed a bye week to snap out of it before easily beating Tulane and Louisville.

Maybe if we get a better offensive coordinator or maybe even if Ensminger is allowed to develop his own offense and playbook over an off-season, Orgeron can still be the guy, but how many chances did Les Miles get to figure out the right combination of coordinators to no avail?

Pretty soon recruits aren’t even going to remember the 2011 regular season, and LSU is going to be that team that gets hyped up every so often only to lose the big games.

I hope we give A&M a serious beat-down, and Orgeron somehow figures out a better plan for the offense and keeps his job, but here we are waiting till next year again. I’m not even talking about a national championship. I’m talking about losing fewer than 3 conference games in a season. 2011 was the last time that happened.