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Archive for the ‘General LSU’ Category

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

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.

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.

SEC Wednesday #12

In College Football, Conference Reports, General LSU, Post-game, Preview, SEC Wednesdays on November 16, 2016 at 7:30 PM

Last Week

The way things are looking, I guess Alabama will beat any line you put up there. On the other hand, maybe Mississippi St. is just that bad.

Kentucky scored late to beat the spread, but late in the third quarter the Wildcats had a great chance to score but instead fumbled inside the Tennessee 10 for no points, so I think the result was still fair.

Florida also deserved to beat the spread. It only got within a score somewhat late in the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach (barring 21 points in 7 minutes).

I don’t know what happened to Auburn. It’s like they just deflated after the Ole Miss game. They look like a middling SEC East team all of a sudden. I thought they just had a bad week against Vandy, but they look pathetic.

Speaking of Vandy, the Commodores were the first team to make Missouri look good in a long time.

So when I pick a team to go against the last several weeks, I lose; and when I pick a team to go with the last several weeks, I also lose.

guice

Then if I pick teams to play similarly to last week like I did with LSU and Arkansas, that doesn’t work out either. I guess I should have figured out that unlike in past seasons Arkansas has trouble with teams who can run the ball, and Florida isn’t so good in that department.

LSU is pretty decent, but I didn’t expect the longest play from scrimmage in LSU history as just one component of the second-best rushing performance in team history from Derrius Guice. He did this sharing a backfield with Leonard Fournette. Jon Gruden once said his dream job was running backs coach at LSU. I can see why. It’s just hard not to look at the previous match-up between opponents, which is what I should have done with LSU last week.

The last game was tied for the third-largest LSU victory in over 60 games in the series against Arkansas. Next week, LSU will be looking for its fourth consecutive win over the Gators and sixth in seven games.  That series has been about the same number of games but it’s had a lot more games after World War II than the Arkansas series has.

Ole Miss trailed 21-6 before new QB Shea Patterson led the Rebels to 23 points in the fourth quarter.

Ole Miss trailed 21-6 before new QB Shea Patterson led the Rebels to 23 points in the fourth quarter.

I have no idea where the Ole Miss comeback came from, but it was a funny weekend. The night games are killing me every week. I should just pick the opposite of what I expect, but I’m sure if I do that, I’ll be right about them.

Next Week

Even though UTSA (+27.5) just lost to a lesser team by 28, that was out of character. Frank Wilson coached at LSU and seems to be doing a really good job rebuilding the Roadrunners from a disappointing end to Larry Coker’s tenure. Also, Texas A&M has not had a good four weeks. I believe they failed to beat the spread in every one. They did blow out their fellow Aggies from New Mexico, but not by enough.

I’m also not taking the bait with Georgia (-22.5) despite their good performance in the last game. The Bulldogs have repeatedly played down to lesser competition. ULL isn’t good, but they’re probably a good bit better than Nicholls St.

SEC WED

I’ve picked against LSU three times now since Orgeron took over. The only one where I was wrong was when I took LSU with the points, but they were against spread juggernaut Alabama. I’ll begrudgingly take the Tigers -13.5. I think if you can beat Arkansas on the road by 28, you should be able to beat Florida at home by 14 even though it will be an early game. It should be the CBS game of the week at least. Missouri, really?

Speaking of which, Tennessee is favored by 16 over Mizzou. I’ll give the 16 points. It’s also Senior Day in Knoxville, and they’re not going to be looking past the Tigers to Vanderbilt or anything. Missouri surprised me last week, but if you can beat Kentucky by 13, you can beat Missouri by 16.

Four teams play FCS opponents, so I won’t bother with the lines (which ESPN doesn’t publish): South Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama, and Auburn.

Vandy +10 would have been an easy pick last week, but it’s much harder when they looked bad and Ole Miss looked good (at least at the end). Still, Vandy is a running, ball control team, and Ole Miss has a lot of trouble with that.

The only upset I’m picking is Arkansas (+1.5) against Mississippi St. The Hogs are a much better team than they looked last week. Mississippi St. is really not good. Losing to Alabama is understandable. Losing to Alabama and not making it close is also understandable, but not by 48. The Bulldogs managed good games against South Carolina and A&M, but like with Missouri, the chances still aren’t good in any given week.

Week 11 Top 25 and Comments

In College Football, General LSU, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 6, 2016 at 4:06 PM

LSU-Alabama

Not too much to say about LSU, at least not compared to before the game. I was very surprised with the lack of a passing game because of how that had appeared to develop in previous weeks.

Had it existed, it would have opened up the run; but to be honest, Leonard Fournette wasn’t making the best decisions anyway. It never seemed to sink in for him that the only holes that were going to open against Alabama were going to be small and very temporary.

Danny Etling made a number of decent (although imperfect) throws that just weren’t caught, so there was never any reason to provide much better than man-to-man coverage.

It’s a credit to the LSU defense it wasn’t 42-0 instead of 10-0. There were a couple of plays where the defense had the ball carrier or receiver in a good spot and just didn’t make the play, but that’s not worth griping about. They played well enough to allow a minimally competent offense to win. I think Dave Aranda won more strategic battles than Lane Kiffin did. That was the “chess match” everyone wanted to key in on before the game.

Alabama QB Jalen Hurts attempts to avoid a sack.

Alabama QB Jalen Hurts attempts to avoid a sack.

The LSU offense barely won any battles. They had one first down in the second half and six for the game. In recent games, the LSU offense was able to wear down the defense; but in this game the LSU offense seemed to get more discouraged and inept with every play. Maybe Steve Ensminger isn’t the play-caller we need after all (I wonder why Guice only got two carries, I wonder why Fournette wasn’t used as a decoy at all), but for the most-part I don’t care who calls the plays with that lack of execution.

Alabama has once again defeated LSU more than twice as many times as LSU has defeated Alabama. For more, see the series blog.

Future LSU Games

Enough about that. Arkansas lost 56-3 a couple of weeks ago, and yesterday they beat Florida by 21. If they can turn it around after that game, LSU can after this game… never mind that the next game is against Arkansas. If the LSU players like Coach O and want to keep him, they need to win. I don’t know if they need to win all three remaining regular-season games; but they can only win one at a time, and it’s definitely time to get the Golden Boot back.

No meaningful chance of any kind of conference honors now, but I think we could get a decent bowl game going 6-1 to end the season. It would be the same record as last year, but we lost 3 games late last year.

Rankings Commentary

Other than some other SEC play, I didn’t see too many of the other games. Most of the ones I recorded were blowouts, but I’ll talk about the impacts of the various games on my rankings.

Arkansas over Florida was a big win for the SEC West. Mississippi St.’s win over Texas A&M also helped some teams like LSU, which stayed in the top 40. Arkansas especially is also part of the reason Auburn went up several spots. It’s also helpful to Auburn that Clemson continues to do well.

As I anticipated, Western Michigan and Boise St. are still gradually sliding downward despite winning.

North Carolina might be surprising until you look at what their opponents did this week. Georgia, Florida St., and even Illinois won. Florida St. played a future UNC opponent rather than a previous one, but the wins by the non-conference opponents are really significant because they don’t involve a loss by another conference team.

The win by Illinois also kept Western Michigan from falling even farther.

Tennessee also fell despite a win (over Tennessee Tech), mostly because Texas A&M lost.

West Virginia also fell. Missouri and Texas Tech lost, while Kansas barely counts for any points. On the other hand, Oklahoma St., the team that beat West Virginia, got a quality win over Kansas St. to move into the top 25.

Appalachian St. improves in part because Miami won. The Hurricanes are one of the Mountaineers’ two losses (the other was Tennessee).

Wyoming improved party because of Air Force’s non-conference win over Army and Northern Illinois’s second consecutive victory after starting 1-6.

Of course in all these cases, it helps if there is a group of teams close together (for instance, #16 is closer to #32 than #4 is to #5) and other nearby teams lost, didn’t play, or for some other reason had worse weeks.

My conference standings didn’t really change much, but the SEC is still considered ahead for having more teams in the top 40. As I mentioned, LSU barely hung on to the top 40. Arkansas rejoined the top 40 although they did so by knocking Florida out of the top 25. Georgia knocked Kentucky out of the top 40, but it was not enough for the Bulldogs to join the top 40.

There are several SEC teams that have potential to move up though. Arkansas and Florida would likely make it into the top 25 with wins. LSU could make it in depending on other games, but 15 spots is a lot to move in one week. The SEC also has 6 teams between #43 and #62. So the only SEC team below #62 is Missouri, which fell to #107.

Not surprisingly based on this information, when you look at all the teams top to bottom, the SEC comes out first as well.

Top 25


rank/team/prev

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

All 128 teams

Out of rankings: (18) Florida, (20) South Florida, (24) Utah

LSU-Alabama Preview and Analysis

In College Football, General LSU, Preview, Rivalry on November 4, 2016 at 7:20 PM

I’ll start by saying there are some other interesting games this weekend, but I can’t even think about that. If you play on LSU-Alabama weekend a few days after a historic 7-game World Series and a few days before an apparently close presidential election, my focus will be limited.

I promise this is the last time until I update it, but I keep getting a ton of views for it, so once again I’ll give the link to the LSU-Alabama series, but I do want to focus on a few aspects that I haven’t covered in depth.

In the early days of the Miles-Saban portion of this series, LSU was able to beat Alabama by playing old-school hard-nosed football (with a few wrinkles) a little bit better when the Tide was able to intimidate most teams by its style of play.

Les Miles congratulates Nick Saban in January 2012 after the BCS championship.

Les Miles congratulates Nick Saban in January 2012 after the BCS championship.

LSU went 3-2 in that span, but the worst Tiger team of that span took Alabama to overtime, and the best Alabama team relied in part on a drive that should have ended in an interception if the officials had seen the play better. So it could have easily been at least 4-1. Sometimes the team that’s having a clearly better season just wins even if the match-up isn’t favorable.

Then LSU had more issues with coming up with anything but a one-dimensional offense.

In the 2011 regular season game (5 years ago tomorrow), LSU had an element of surprise: although obviously he didn’t engineer any touchdown drives, LSU’s more mobile quarterback Jordan Jefferson came off the bench and did a good job controlling the ball and spreading the field. The Tigers had a great defense that year, but even that unit couldn’t have stopped Alabama if the offense had kept producing quick three-and-outs (as would be demonstrated a couple of months later).

In the 2011 championship game (in January 2012), Alabama was a lot more prepared for Jefferson, Jefferson had a bad game (he completed passes, but they were almost all roughly at the line of scrimmage), and the LSU coaching staff was too stubborn to try anything else.

2012 didn’t require a different quarterback, but LSU still forced Alabama into unexpected situations when Zach Mettenberger finally looked comfortable in the position for the first time against a quality defense. The Tigers completed a series of long passes to get into a position where they were driving down the field with a chance to put the game out of reach.

Then LSU started playing not to lose. They ran the ball and tried to run the clock to play for a field goal (even though that would have only put them up 6). The fact that the field goal was missed might not have mattered because Alabama would score a touchdown on the ensuing drive to win by 4.

AJ McCarron completed the winning touchdown to T.J. Yelton on a screen pass in 2012.

AJ McCarron completed the winning touchdown to T.J. Yeldon on a screen pass in 2012.

So I would argue in both seasons when LSU had a more open offense was when they were able to find success, but obviously the calendar year of 2012 still gave LSU the first two of five consecutive losses.

Then Cam Cameron became the offensive coordinator. Although he and Mettenberger did well to tie the game at 17 early in the third quarter, the offense sputtered after that. The longest drive after that was for 7 plays, 50 yards, and ended in a punt. The other two drives went for a total of -9 yards.

This put pressure on the defense, which finally broke down toward the end of the game. Alabama outscored LSU 21-0 in the final 20 minutes of the game to win 38-17.

LSU nearly took advantage of a late fumble to win in 2014 before falling in overtime, but the win would have been despite the offense not because of it. Following some improvements that had been made by his predecessors Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier, Lane Kiffin didn’t do a great job in that game, but he called plays well enough to give the Tide a late field-goal opportunity which they converted and of course the winning touchdown in OT. I think those improvements are another reason that the gap between LSU and Alabama seemed to have grown in the last couple of years.

The only wrinkle in 2015 was a couple of surprising downfield throws from Brandon Harris; but once the Alabama defense adjusted its reads, that was off the table and LSU didn’t seem to have anything else to fall back on. After closing to within 3 points at halftime, LSU gave up 17 unanswered points and only scored again due to a fumble recovery deep in Alabama territory.

If Etling struggles like Jordan Jefferson did in the national championship game or like Brandon Harris did last year, LSU doesn’t win, but I think he has what it takes to play as well as Mettenberger did, which would give the Tigers a good chance.

Unlike Miles, Orgeron is not an offensive coach, but he did influence the direction of the new offense partly by dismissing Cam Cameron. He seemed to like the kind of offenses Norm Chow and Lane Kiffin ran at USC (and I suppose Clay Helton, who continued to run the offense during Orgeron’s season as interim coach in Los Angeles).

Steve Ensminger, who was a relative unknown as the tight ends coach, has done a good job in adapting the current playbook to suit what Orgeron had in mind, but he hasn’t been tested by a defense like this yet. Regardless, if LSU loses, I don’t think a lack of offensive creativity or playing too conservatively toward the end would be the reason for the loss.

New offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger

New offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger

I’m not minimizing the importance of defense, but I think that’s been a steadier unit in these games for both teams. I don’t see a deviation from that general rule this year.

To pick up a little bit on my point about creativity and playing too conservatively, there were at least elements of a prevent defense in 2012 and 2014 that I don’t think helped. The Tigers got themselves in a spot of bother against Mississippi St. in September, partly due to an on-sides kick, but I think LSU DC Dave Aranda is smarter about that than John Chavis was.

I know Texas A&M isn’t as talented on defense, so I don’t want to be too unfair to Chavis, but I think the video below demonstrates some of the risks when Chavis doesn’t put a lot of players in the box against a team like Alabama. It also shows how important the performance of guys like Kendall Beckwith and Arden Key will be. Calling the right play is one thing, but if you don’t have players read and respond to what happens during the play, you’re probably not going to look very good as a coordinator.

http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=17967092

The more established coordinators Kiffin and Aranda might be the superior chess match (see here for some discussion of that). I’m not attacking Steve Ensminger’s or Jeremy Pruitt’s mental faculties, but Ensminger is limited somewhat by inheriting someone else’s offense and by having a quarterback who (despite being around college football a while) still isn’t completely comfortable as a starter for this team. I don’t know quite as much about Pruitt, but as Gary Danielson explains below, it also seems like he’s limited in how much latitude he has by another coach (in his case Saban) and to some extent by personnel. On the other hand, the uncertainty might make the latter pairing more interesting.

http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=17956565

I try to be cool and rational when writing, but I’m really excited to see what happens, It’s not just that I’m a fan of LSU, but it’s also a bit of intellectual curiosity as to how the chess match will play out.