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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Week 2 Recap and New Top 25

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

Top 25

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

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

Comments

LSU/Texas Recap and Significance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other games

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Week 1 Top 25 and LSU/Texas Series and Preview

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

TOP 25

rank/team/last

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

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

Top 25 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LSU @ Texas

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

All-time series: Texas leads, 9-7-1

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

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

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

Texas leads the series in Austin, 7-1-1, with the only LSU win coming in 1938.

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

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

Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Curious Case of LSU Basketball

In College Basketball, General LSU, History, Me on February 25, 2019 at 6:19 PM

Why I Generally Don’t Cover College Basketball

If you’ve been following my blog, you’re probably aware I don’t write much about college basketball.  It’s not because I’m not a fan – I actually pride myself on picking mostly correct tournament brackets over the years – but when I have free time during basketball season, a lot of times I’ll have 6 or 7 games recorded to watch and do that instead.  If I don’t watch as many teams who may be in the tournament as possible, I tend not to pick as well.

With college football, I usually watch whatever it is I’m going to watch on Saturday, leaving other days for writing, preparing, etc. I don’t concern myself as much with any kind of postseason picks. Given that only four teams are playing for anything important, the postseason in football is kind of a crap-shoot anyway. I usually finish my computer rankings before I go to bed Saturday night/Sunday morning; so other than writing and research, all of the effort I put into following football is confined to about 14 hours on one day of the week.   

Another part of a sport with so many games is whether I want to write about my team doing well or poorly, there’s always another game looming that can change that.  So if there is a game on Saturday and I don’t have time to write, edit, and post a blog about it until Tuesday, what I’ve written might be moot by then.

Brief Description of Recent LSU Basketball History

I’m writing this now because even if LSU doesn’t finish well, there are milestones and things to be proud of.  The last several years I’ve expected to be disappointed.  Since the Final Four season in 2005-06, I can’t think of one season in which we made it farther than I thought we should have.  When I’ve gotten my hopes up, I’ve just waited a few days (or maybe a couple of weeks) and with the help of the team I’ve gotten over it. 

Former LSU head coach John Brady was fired after the Tigers went 25-28 over the 53 games immediately following LSU’s last Final Four appearance. The Tigers have returned to the NCAA tournament only twice since.

With as bad as things have been for the program at times, it’s amazing that there have been three Final Fours in the last 40 years (and 4 in the last 65 years). For instance, the Tigers lost 10 games or more in all but three seasons in the 27 years between the first two Final-Four appearances. In all but one season since the last Final Four appearance (in which the Tigers entered the tournament with 8 losses), the Tigers have also suffered 10 losses or more. During that second span, LSU has only won a single NCAA tournament game.

The 26 seasons that included the second, third, and fourth Final Four teams weren’t exactly full of success either. There were only four other teams in that span who won one NCAA tournament game or more. Only two of those teams (not including any of the teams for which Shaquille O’Neal played) made the Sweet 16. Seven teams during that span, by contrast, finished with losing records.

LSU went only 2-3 in NCAA tournament games with Shaquille O’Neal on the roster.

What Makes This Team Special (So Far)

With the win over Tennessee, who for much of the year has been #1, I have to acknowledge things are a bit different from the situation to which I’d become accustomed.  It’s certainly possible that LSU or someone else could have been 16-10 and just shot really well and things fell into place for a win over a team like this.  Last year, for instance, the Tigers beat #11 Texas A&M on the road (despite ending up with a losing record in conference).

But this year, one of LSU’s expected starters (Wayde Sims) was killed in the lead up to the season.  On Saturday, arguably the top player on both sides of the ball (Tremont Waters) was sick and did not play.  The Tigers’ second-leading scorer, Naz Reid, who is normally also one of the main defenders in the post, went 0 for 9 from the field and sat for 17 minutes due to foul trouble.  In other years, this would have been an ugly blowout loss under these circumstances; and I wouldn’t have even faulted the team if it had been.

What makes the current situation stand out even more is LSU beat another then-5th-ranked team on the road 11 days before.  It had been almost 40 years since the Tigers beat a team ranked that highly on the road.  Even the 1980-1981 Final Four team, the last LSU team with this small a number of losses this far into the year, lost in Rupp Arena, one of only two regular-season losses for that team. With apologies to Billy Gillispie (who was fired after failing to win an NCAA tournament game in consecutive seasons), this was the first LSU team to win there over a ranked Kentucky team since.

The Kentucky game was another comeback win and another night where some of the top scorers (such as Waters and Skyler Mays) were held in check. 

A couple other notes from that game. Only three times in 52 years had the Tigers overcome a halftime deficit of 8 points or more, and the Kentucky win was the second time in less than a week.  It so happened that both were on the road against ranked teams (the other had been in Starkville).  Also, John Calipari only averages one home loss per season since he took over the Kentucky program in 2009.

The Tigers recorded two wins over top-5 teams, although Tremont Waters (who leads the Tigers in points, assists, steals, and free throws made per game) did not play in one of them and made only 3 of 13 field goal attempts in the other.

This team is actually unbeaten on the road in conference (the Tigers did lose to now-#6 Houston in pre-conference).  Another remarkable thing is how many close games there have been.  The last 7 consecutive games have been decided by 5 points or fewer, and LSU has won 5 of them.  The Tigers are also 4-1 in overtime in conference play.  Three of those overtime wins were on the road. 

I’m going to backtrack a little bit to when I really started to pay close attention. Although I was encouraged by the win at Ole Miss (I’d seen the Rebels beat Auburn and Mississippi St.), I was still skeptical. I wasn’t sure if that might be something like the A&M game I mentioned last year: just one game not particularly apropos of anything (and maybe like the Aggies, the Rebels just happened to peak right before the game, which was apparently the case). 

I first really got the feeling there might be something a little different about this team with the overtime win over Missouri.  Missouri isn’t a great team, don’t get me wrong; but when you end up winning after being down 14 with 2:08 to play, you’ve done something impressive. It wasn’t a Division II school in a November tournament or exhibition; it was a road game against a credible program in a major conference.

Conclusion and Why You May Not Want to Bet the Farm on LSU

Before I finish, I want to include a couple of caveats. I don’t mean to suggest that the moment you get your brackets you need to put the Tigers in the Final Four regardless of the region or seeding.

While I think LSU can beat anyone anywhere now, the team also has a tendency to play down to the opposition, which can certainly cause problems in the postseason.  The Tigers lost to Arkansas at home by 1 and beat the Razorbacks on the road in overtime.  I think Arkansas is better than its record, but there is no reason LSU should be making a team 5-9 in the SEC look better than Tennessee and Kentucky regardless.  After beating Kentucky, the Tigers only got out of Athens with a 4-point win.  Georgia is only 1-13 in conference. There likely won’t be a worse team that LSU will play in the postseason.

After Georgia (and before Tennessee), LSU lost to Florida at home.  The Tigers will have to play the Gators again and also have rematches against Texas A&M (whom the Tigers beat easily in College Station) and Alabama (whom the Tigers struggled to put away in Baton Rouge), so finishing at the top of the conference or even top two is far from guaranteed.  They’re projected to be a #3 seed in the NCAA tournament, which usually makes a team safe to enter the round of 32, but if they fall below that I’d be very concerned about a loss in the first game.

Also, some of LSU’s second halves and final stretches would be less remarkable if it didn’t tend to fall behind in the first place, often due to poor shot selection. Although the Tigers were able to claw back against Kentucky and Tennessee as well as against some lesser teams, there could be an opponent in the post-season against which they are not so lucky.

For the reasons I mentioned though, I think it’s worth noting the accomplishments so far. 

The Truth about the SEC and Coach O

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

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

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

SEC Teams and Bowl Games

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coach O and LSU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the NHL Should Handle Divisions and Scheduling

In History, NHL, Realignment on December 8, 2018 at 7:07 PM

I do have various thoughts about the college football bowl games and also about a certain coach I’ve loved to hate for about the last 15 years.  However, since there is a full week before even the uninteresting bowl games start, my mind has wandered to other topics, like hockey.  (By the way, I updated my college football ratings site after the Army/Navy game.)

If you’re not familiar with my work here, college football is what I normally write about.  I watch a variety of sports at least on occasional, but sports like hockey don’t leave enough time between games to ruminate like I like to do, so I usually only write about the big-picture items for those sports.

I’m hoping people who actually somewhat follow hockey will read this, but I’ll try to make sure I cover all the bases (or the five hole or whatever the hockey analogy would be) for those who don’t.

If you haven’t heard, the NHL has recently decided to join the NFL at 32 teams (by expanding to Seattle). I hope the league takes this opportunity to enact some realignment like the NFL did when it went to 32 teams (except without adding divisions).

The logo and color pattern of the Seattle Metropolitans, who won the Stanley Cup in 1917. The logo of the new team has not been determined.

Historical Context

I did previously write about this topic in 2014; but as that was before the expansions to Las Vegas and Seattle, I no longer think that the Red Wings should be put back in the Western Conference.  I have a section below about what I would do if the geographic balance were to change in the future.

I also wrote about the topic in 2011, but (in addition to being before the expansion teams were awarded) that was before the most-recent realignment and the reduction to two divisions (which took place after the 2012 season).  At that time, it would have been necessary to have American teams from outside of the Pacific time zone play in the most-western division if they did go down to four divisions.  Part of that blog also had in mind expansion teams in the Midwest and Eastern Canada, which the NHL obviously chose not to do. 

I still think there may be some merit in splitting North America into four geographic quarters in the future (obviously with the Western ones being much wider); but with exactly half of the teams (once Seattle joins) being in the Eastern time zone, the border between the Eastern and Central time zones makes the most sense as a boundary between the Eastern and Western Conferences.  It also makes sense for continuity because that’s the current boundary.

I also think it’s a good thing that under my current suggestion three of the four divisions will have an “original six” (I’ll talk about what that means later) member.  The exception would be the West Coast/Pacific Division, but there were four teams from the West Coast who won or tied for the Stanley Cup (the 1919 Finals were cut short by the flu epidemic) between 1915 and 1925 (two represented Seattle, one represented Victoria, and one represented Vancouver). 

During that time, the NHL champion played the WCHL or WHL (for West Coast or Western Hockey League), which went out of business in 1926.  Thereafter, the NHL has had exclusive possession of the Stanley Cup.  For obvious logistical reasons, it did not make sense to add West Coast teams to the NHL at that time.  The NHL would not expand to the West Coast (with the Los Angeles Kings and Oakland Seals) until over 40 years later, and Vancouver did not have a team again until 1970.  The new team will be the first NHL team in Seattle, and there has not been one in Victoria.

Current Playoff Format and Western Conference

I’ll start with what makes sense right now.

The first thing I wouldn’t change is the playoff format.  I like that the top three teams in the each division make it onto each side of the playoff bracket, and I think it’s reasonable to have the two wild cards to address any imbalances between the divisions.  The early-round games are more fun when there are natural rivalries involved.

The current alignment in the west is fine except adding Seattle would give the pacific division too many teams, so Arizona makes the most sense to move over. This seems to be the NHL’s intention, but I’ll explain why.

Arizona is admittedly only partially in the Mountain Time Zone (for about 4 months a year since most of the year is now daylight savings, which Arizona does not have; so during daylight savings, Arizona is the same time as Pacific Daylight Time).  

Calgary and Edmonton (both in the province of Alberta) do have daylight savings, but it just makes too much sense to have the three western Canada teams together (with Seattle going forward), in my opinion. The Alberta teams are closer to Vancouver (in British Columbia) and Seattle than they are to Minnesota and Winnipeg (in Manitoba).

Arizona isn’t really driving distance to other teams either way.  Dallas and Colorado are short flights away, so it’s not a huge change in travel, although they will have more.  Playing more eastern teams may be better for Phoenix residents who moved from the Midwest, Texas, or Colorado.  I don’t know how long they’ll stay there since they’ve consistently been one of the worst-performing teams for attendance anyway.  For now, the NHL seems to want to keep them there so these are still things worth considering.

This is the current format. Except for Phoenix (black dot on purple), the NHL teams are represented by purple dots on the map. If you need labels, those are on the map of my suggested alignment below. Arizona is purple because it’s expected that Phoenix will be moving from the westernmost division to the more eastern division of the Western Conference.

Conference Alignment and Possible Changes

I already covered why I would want to keep the teams in their current conferences barring a new round of expansions or a team moving.

I did want to address the possibility of the Coyotes moving east.  If it were not to the East Coast or eastern Canada, they’d be fine where they are. If they (or another Western Conference team) were to move to the East Coast or to eastern Canada, I’d suggest moving Columbus to the Western Conference given relative proximity to Chicago, St. Louis, and Nashville.  Another possibility would be moving Detroit to the Western Conference, where they played until 2012; but I now think separating them from the New York (including Buffalo) and eastern Canada teams makes less sense.

It seems unlikely, but if a team were to move from east to west, the best team to change conferences would be Nashville given relative proximity to Columbus, Carolina,and the Florida teams (Florida [Miami area] and Tampa Bay).

Problems with Current Eastern Conference Alignment

Anyway, the only criticism I have of the current alignment is in the East. The extreme northeastern teams (the three Canadian teams [Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto], Buffalo, and Boston) were added to Detroit and the two Florida teams.  I would prefer that these changes be made before the expansion since expansion won’t affect the Eastern Conference.

Columbus and Detroit

Detroit had previously been in a Western Conference division with Chicago, St. Louis, Columbus, and Nashville.

No one should worry about whether people will attend games in Detroit; it’s more about the interests of the players as far as travel and time.  As mentioned, it’s probably best for them not to be the only Eastern Time Zone team in the Western Conference.

I also think it’s a good idea for the Red Wings to be a representative of the “original six”in the more Southern division in the East. So one shouldn’t be worried about attendance for their home games like I said, but their presence on the schedules may help with attendance of their road games.

I would also note that none of the other major leagues have Detroit in the Eastern seaboard/Northeast division. They’re with Midwestern teams.  In the NFL, Detroit plays Chicago, Green Bay, and Minnesota in the same division.  In the NBA, they play Milwaukee, Indiana, Cleveland, and Chicago.  In the AL, they play Chicago, Cleveland, Kansas City, and Minnesota.

Columbus is kind of a stand-in for Cleveland, and obviously there are rivalries along the Michigan-Ohio border, so I like the idea of Detroit and Columbus being in the same division again.  I don’t think anyone currently in the same division places much priority on Columbus as a rival.  The Pennsylvania teams make some sense geographically, but I would keep them in the same division as Columbus anyway.

I’ll admit it made some sense to put Detroit with Buffalo and Toronto, but I still think on balance this is better.  Detroit also moved from the East (where they played Toronto and New York) to the Central at one point in baseball.

Proposed NHL divisional format. The two-letter combinations in black without punctuation are postal codes. The NHL teams are given three-letter abbreviations or initials mostly in white. Since it was hard to see white on yellow, those franchises are given black letters. There wasn’t room to mark New Jersey or the District of Columbia within the geographical boundaries, so I just put black boxes around those postal codes..

Florida and Tampa Bay

The Florida teams had previously been in a division with Carolina, Washington, and Winnipeg (who moved from Atlanta; about 20 years ago the previous Winnipeg team moved to Phoenix to become the Coyotes)

I think people should worry about Florida and Tampa Bay.  If you’re going to have teams in such places, an effort needs to be made to attract fans (like me) who have not grown up playing or following hockey.  Florida was a bad team for a long time; but the five years before divisional realignment they were no worse than 25th in attendance, and the last three years before realignment they were no worse than 22nd in attendance.  They did have a relatively high number of points (wins x2 + OT/shootout losses) in 2011 (94), but they had two of their worst teams (of the last 10 seasons anyway) in 2010 and 2012.

The year after realignment wasn’t really fair to judge on its own because it was the worst full season of the last 10 years (2012 was only 48 games, but they would have been projected to do worse over a full season), but the troubling thing is attendance has never gone back to 21st and 22nd.  The Panthers were last in the league in attendance in 2014 despite 91 points.  They recovered to 24th in 2015 when they would earn 103 points; but when they did almost as well in 2017 (96 points), they were only 28th in attendance. 

103 is the average number of points Tampa Bay has had since 2012, and their attendance has been in the top 10 consistently.  This is a significant improvement from the average of 80 points (by projecting the shortened season) in the five seasons before, but I think the increase is due to the better performance of the team.  It also helps that there isn’t an NBA team in the immediate area. 

I thought it would be interesting to divide attendance by number of points for the two Florida teams.  This isn’t a perfect measure because attendance will look good during really low number of appoints even if it’s one of the worst attendances in the league and bad during right high number of points even if it’s one of the best attendances in the league.  It’s a good measure for the more medium seasons, and I think five years on each side is a good sample.

Florida is represented by a thick yellow line with lighter blue dots over a field of red.  Tampa Bay is represented by a darker blue line.  In the two years in which Florida had a noticeably better ratio, I added black dots and a thin blue line to connect with the rest of Tampa Bay’s numbers. 

See the text above for the explanation.

You can see that they both peaked the year before realignment.  

Since it wasn’t a good year in points for either team, I’m not focusing on that one year though.  Two of the four other years on the left side of the graph for Tampa Bay are better than all five full seasons since realignment. 

Despite being a lot better the last four years, Florida’s worst three results on this graph are all in the last four years.

2016 was a little bit better for the Panthers’ ratio, but that’s probably because of the previous season.  They likely sold more season tickets (and early single-game tickets) in the wake of the 103-point season, so despite dropping 22 points there was not a corresponding decrease in attendance that large.

Tampa Bay is selling out its games, and I’m sure that would continue regardless of alignment if they keep winning at this rate (absent some drastic economic decline).  I still think it’s doubtful that if they return to the 80-point-per-year average that things would look like the left side of the graph again with the current alignment.

The Lightening’s 113 points last year is the only reason the Panthers’ dismal showing last season doesn’t look worse on here.  There wasn’t room for Tampa to add more fans to compensate for the increase in points.

So you can compare oranges to oranges (because Florida), I would note that 2008 and 2011 were about the same number of points for the Panthers as 2014 and 2017.  You can see the difference.

2010 was the only good year for the Lightening on the left side of the graph (and there are no bad years on the right side), so it’s harder to make a good comparison.  2014 and 2010 were similar in points, but I would say the reason 2014 was a slightly higher ratio was because it followed a four-year average of 89 points with 101 points the prior year while 2010 followed a four-year average of 78 points with 80 points the prior year.  I certainly don’t think it’s because fans were more excited to see Buffalo and Ottawa than they had been to see Carolina and Washington.  The 2010 season was kind of a turning point for Lightening fandom.  Even though the team wasn’t good the next couple of seasons, the successful 2013 season was just in time to keep fans from losing interest.

Anyway, I think it’s fairly clear that if you want to keep both Florida fan groups interested even in the relatively lean years, it would be better to have more games against teams that are closer geographically.

Other Teams

I already mentioned the Pennsylvania teams.  I think it’s important that they continue to play each other in the same division even though I don’t think the Flyers would be necessarily thrilled about the move since for obvious reasons Philadelphia teams generally play with teams like New York in other leagues.  In other leagues they don’t try to have a Pittsburgh team play a Philadelphia team (since Pittsburgh is more of a Midwestern city) divisionally, but I think it’s good that the NHL does.  Philadelphia is in the same division as the Washington teams in other leagues though, so that makes sense here.

Philadelphia/New Jersey was a particularly good series, but I think getting northern New Jersey interested is more important than southern New Jersey.  So the Devils would be in a division with the three teams from the state of New York instead.

Having a New York team play Boston is a no-brainer in other leagues, so why not hockey? 

The other two North Carolina teams (the Carolina Panthers and the Charlotte Hornets) play opponents in Florida in their division, so again, why not in hockey?  New Orleans and Atlanta don’t have NHL teams,so the North Carolina-Tampa Bay connection is the only thing that can transfer over from the NFL.

Scheduling Format

Whether it realigns or not, the additional team will mean a tweak to the scheduling format.

Even though I’m only more than a casual hockey fan, I’m a longstanding fan of enough sports to have some strong opinions about matters such as rivalry and scheduling. 

I also like to look at maps and numbers.  I’m more of a nerdy sports fan than one who drinks a lot during games and pounds on tables if you didn’t know or couldn’t guess…not that I’m above showing emotion.

One thing I agree with about the way the NFL schedules is every team has the same number of divisional games (6).  Even before expansion, every team played its divisional rivals exactly twice each.

I also agree with the NFL’s uniform rules about how many inter-conference games are played (4), and every team within a division plays the same opponents.  

With 82 games,the NHL has the luxury of having at least one home and home with every other team. It’s just a matter of how many (if any) more than that you have with teams in your conference and/or division.

Some prefer to have a divisional super rival, one you might play 5 or 6 times instead of 4, but I think there is more concern with playing other teams too few times than with not playing a divisional rival enough. It also should be a reasonably level playing field within the division since most playoff seedings are based on where you finish in your division.

For that reason, I think the easiest and best solution is to add two games. 82 games started in the 1995 season, when there were only 26 teams. I don’t think with six extra teams added in the 24 years since (by the start of next season) that adding two games is unreasonable.

If it stays at 82, that’s 32 games against the other division (each with the minimum of 2 games).

If they follow my suggestion and also have the uniform 4 games against each divisional rival,that would mean two of the eight teams in the other intra-conference division could only be played twice instead of 3 times.

They could just have a rotation regardless of proximity, success, or any other measure.  That’s basically what they do now, but that’s boring.

Another option is (also following the NFL principles) to punish success, but it would be relatively very minor: eliminating 2 games out of what would be 84 versus 6 games of 16 that change completely based on the prior year in the NFL (at least that’s how many games change if you finish in the top two versus the bottom two in your division).

If you don’t follow, the NFL has 6 intra-conference cross-divisional games. Those 6 are dependent on where you place the season before.  If you’re in the top 2 of your division, you’d play the top 2 of the other three divisions in your conference.  If you’re in the bottom 2, you’d play the bottom 2 of the other three divisions in your conference.

So applying this to the NHL would mean 1 and 2 wouldn’t play 7 and 8 an extra time, and 3 and 4 wouldn’t play 5 and 6 an extra time.

I think an even better solution would be proximity.  So even though Arizona still goes to another division, they can still play everyone in the pacific division 3 times except for Edmonton and Calgary.  Put Nashville in that boat too.  Dallas and Colorado can skip playing Vancouver and Seattle the extra time.  Anaheim and L.A. can skip Minnesota and Winnipeg.  San José and Las Vegas can skip Chicago and St. Louis.

In the East, Florida and Tampa can skip Ottawa and Montreal.  Carolina and Washington can skip Boston and the Islanders.  The Pennsylvanias (meaning Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) can skip Buffalo and Toronto.  The Rangers and Devils can skip Detroit and Columbus. It’s bad enough that Rutgers plays Michigan and Ohio St.every year now. (Had to get in my college football reference.)

Original Six

Evolution of logos of the “original six” NHL teams. Except for Toronto, I prefer the old ones.

I tried to pair up non-original-six with original-six so as not to take too many original-six opponents away from any one team.  

If you’re not an NHL fan, “original six” is a misnomer, but it’s the six oldest teams in continuous operation and who were the only NHL franchises between 1942 and 1967: Toronto, Montreal, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, and the New York Rangers.  I won’t go over the various permutations before that, but it’s interesting reading if early-20th-century professional athletics is your cup of tea.

Anyway, fans like to see these teams.  A lot of people have been multi-generational fans of one of them.  Others move around and may have become a fan by living in one of those cities even briefly.

It’s like how if you’re an MLB or NBA fan, it’s just different if you go to a game against the Yankees, Red Sox, Lakers, or Celtics, for instance.  Even teams around since the 1960s (there are a couple exceptions in the NFL at least) have trouble replicating that kind of impact and support when they go on the road.

CFP Response and Bowl Projections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cotton: Alabama vs. Oklahoma

Orange: Clemson vs. Notre Dame

Sugar: Georgia vs. Texas

Rose: Washington vs. Ohio St.

Peach: Florida vs. UCF

Fiesta: LSU vs. Michigan

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

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

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

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

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

Orange: Clemson vs. Alabama

Cotton: Notre Dame vs. Georgia

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

Rose: Washington vs. Ohio St. 

Fiesta: Washington St. vs. Michigan

Peach: LSU vs. UCF

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

Rivalries and Coaching Carousels

In College Football, General LSU, History, Rivalry on November 22, 2018 at 5:06 PM

I planned to write something Wednesday, my first day off work for Thanksgiving,but I woke up sick and ended up sleeping most of the day.

There are a lot of great rivalries this week (see my blog about the battle of the A&Ms [Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College and Texas A&M] ,and see last week’s blog for mention of some rivalries I’ve enjoyed over the years), but there are plenty of stories about them and previews of the big games by other outlets, so I wanted to write something a little different (although also in the theme of this week’s games as many coaches will be coaching their last games at their current schools). If you ever play six degrees of Will Muschamp (or whatever you would call a game that involves who coached with whom), this could be useful. 

For more about a somewhat unappreciated rivalry though, former LSU beat writer Ross Dellenger wrote good article for the Sports Illustrated about the Egg Bowl and especially some of the coaches.  The only thing I disagreed with was his characterization of Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke as mild-mannered just because he’s respectful of other teams and coaches.  He’s extremely animated during games though. 

I’ve given more attention to the Mississippi schools than most people do, even people who write extensively about the SEC, but I haven’t talked that much about Ole Miss playing Mississippi St.  I did write about former Mississippi St. head coaches Sylvester Croom and Jackie Sherill (first sub-section under the heading A&M coaches), both of whom are mentioned in the article (and both of whom played for and coached with Bear Bryant, another former Texas A&M coach, at Alabama).  Of course I wrote about Ole Miss’s series with their second and third rivals, LSU and Vanderbilt (third section), and Mississippi St.’s series with their second rival LSU (there isn’t much worth writing about the series with their #3 Alabama).

Anyway, that article about the Egg Bowl got me thinking about a lot of coaches from the 1990s and early 2000s, partly because of stories like that and partly from things that have come up during Ed Orgeron press conferences in the last few weeks. 

Ed Orgeron walks off the field for the last time as Ole Miss head coach after losing in the Egg Bowl on November 23, 2007.

Orgeron coached Ole Miss for a few Egg Bowls (winning only one), but before that he was the strength coach at Arkansas under Ken Hatfield, who also happened to be the coach of Rice the last time LSU played them before this season (1995).

Orgeron was asked about the Saints on Monday, and he seemed very excited about their performance this year.  I had forgotten that he was a Saints assistant for a season before joining Lane Kiffin’s staff at Tennessee.  Not that he wasn’t a fan long before that having grown up in Cajun country and having been a close personal friend to (and high school and college teammate of) former Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert. 

Orgeron also mentioned his affinity for Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, who was the secondary coach the year Orgeron spent in New Orleans.  After returning to the Saints in 2015, Allen became defensive coordinator when Rob Ryan was fired.

Rob Ryan as Oklahoma St. offensive coordinator in the 1990s.

Orgeron also said he was very happy for Les Miles after his hiring by Kansas.  I found out that in 1997 Miles was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma St. at the same time that Ryan was the defensive coordinator for Oklahoma St. (I usually would say the Cowboys; but that could be confusing since both Miles and Ryan also coached for the Dallas Cowboys, though at different times). Those two characters on the same coaching staff must have been interesting.  The combination worked though: that was the one year between 1988 and Miles’s tenure as head coach in Stillwater (2001-04, during which the team made three bowl games) that Oklahoma St. reached a bowl game.  When Miles went to Dallas, Ryan stayed; but the college Cowboys’ fortunes declined (not that the NFL Cowboys improved either).

When Miles returned to Oklahoma St. as head coach, his offensive coordinator was Mike Gundy, who would take Les’s place as head coach and remains in that position today.  Les’s next offensive coordinator(when he got to LSU) was a guy named Jimbo Fisher, whom Miles inherited from Saban. 

When Miles won the Houston Bowl in 2002, he became the fourth head coach in 40 year sto coach Oklahoma St. to a bowl win.  The second of those coaches was Jimmy Johnson, who played at Arkansas with Hatfield and who hired Orgeron at the University of Miami.  Johnson also coached some other Cowboys to “Bowl”wins. 

Jimmy Johnson as head coach of Oklahoma St. in 1983. After the year he lost out to Ken Hatfield when Arkansas needed a replacement for Lou Holtz as head coach.

To go back to Fisher, of course it so happens that he’ll be the head coach of LSU’s opponent this weekend.  He also happens to be the head coach of fullback Ben Miles, Les’s son. 

I remember Fisher’s last season at LSU very well. LSU’s 7-3 loss to Auburn still stands out in my mind.  Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled with all of his calls in that game; but some credit goes to Auburn’s defensive coordinator Muschamp ( later head coach at Florida and now head coach at South Carolina).  Auburn’s head coach for that game was Tommy Tuberville, who came up in that Egg Bowl story because he was head coach at Ole Miss before going to Auburn, so that takes us full circle in this story. 

I wanted to mention a couple other items of interest from the 2006 season.  That season marked current Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn’s first foray into college football, as offensive coordinator for later-Ole-Miss-head-coach Houston Nutt at Arkansas.  Arkansas won the SEC West that year but lostin the regular-season finale to LSU before losing to Florida (the eventual national champions who helped prevent LSU from winning the West). 

Future Kansas head coaches Charlie Weis and Les Miles converse after the (January) 2007 Sugar Bowl.

Since the Tigers’ only losses all year were Florida and that Auburn game I mentioned,this allowed LSU to represent the SEC in the Sugar Bowl.  LSU’s opponent was Notre Dame, then coached by Charlie Weis.  Weis has something elsein common with Miles: both were later hired as head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks. I hope, unlike Weis, Miles can win 22% or more of his games as head coach with the Jayhawks though.

This is the first game between LSU and Texas A&M in four years where there will not be some major drama about either respective coaching staff. Last year, the game was the last of Kevin Sumlin’s tenure in College Station.  News of his firing had been leaked earlier in the week.  In the previous year, Ed Orgeron was just an interim coach; the interim tag was only removed after deals could not be reached with Tom Herman or (coincidentally enough) Fisher.    

The year prior, news had leaked of Miles being fired, but as with many Miles stories, that turned out not to be the case. In slight defense of the media, there had not been a decision to keep Miles before the game either.  But again after a lack of desirable candidates at suitable terms emerged, a decision was made to keep him (though his reprieve turned out to only be until the following September).  Fisher was also mentioned at that time. 

Despite all the drama and mixed emotions of those three games, LSU’s physicality was able to overcome Texas A&M’s finesse on each occasion LSU has played Texas A&M since and including the 2010 Cotton Bowl, which was the first meeting between the two schools this century and which pre-dated by about 20 months the Aggies’ participation as an SEC program (and Kevin Sumlin’s first game).  The character of Texas A&M has changed since Fisher replaced Sumlin.  The Aggies have become a team that runs really well (on conventional running plays, not just option pitches and quarterback runs) and also stops the run really well, so this will be a different challenge for the Tigers. If LSU wins, it will set the record for longest winning streak in the series.

In another tie to the Kansas hiring of Miles, the man Miles is replacing in Lawrence, David Beaty, was an assistant of Sumlin at Texas A&M from 2012 to 2014.  So he was an assistant during the last game in which there was not major drama around either coaching staff (although there was some disquiet since each team entered the game with four losses). 

An artist’s rendition of Kevin Sumlin (left) and John Chavis as Texas A&M coaches.

There was some drama involving the assistant coaches after the 2014 game, but not until later.  About five weeks after the Tigers held the Aggies to just 17 points in that contest, LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis was hired by the Aggies to the same position (he was fired along with Sumlin after the LSU game last year).  Chavis now occupies that position at Arkansas. 

Will Muschamp, Nick Saban, and Jimbo Fisher pose for the picture of the 2004 LSU coaching staff.  Later Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley was on staff, as was current Georgia head coach Kirby Smart.

There are no hard feelings if you ask me though. LSU is better off with Dave Aranda, who has been in the position since a year after Chavis left.  LSU’s defensive coordinator for the intervening year (hired along with Orgeron) was Kevin Steele, who, as DC for Auburn, will face Alabama (another former employer of his) during the Iron Bowl.  He replaced the aforementioned Will Muschamp, who was on LSU’s staff at the same time as Jimbo Fisher.

Week 12: Not Rivalry Week Yet

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

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

The Former Rivalry Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the SEC Schedule for Mid-November Deteriorated

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ole Miss-Vanderbilt Headlines This Week’s SEC Schedule

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

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

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

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

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

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

LSU and Rice Renew a Rivalry Few Missed

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

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

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

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

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

Alabama Offense vs. LSU Defense

In College Football, General LSU, History, Preview, Rivalry on November 2, 2018 at 4:24 PM

For more on what to expect from the LSU offense and general comments, please see Part I published on Wednesday.  This page links the major previous discussions of the LSU-Alabama Series.  LSU seems to have better kickers, but I’m not going to spend any time on that point.

Proposition: Alabama runs away with the game to score 40+ again (Intro)

What made me decide to split this into two blogs was how annoyed I was with how many people were picking Alabama to score 40+ while picking LSU to score <22. I listened to a couple of somewhat credible prognosticators on YouTube who did that based on Alabama’s stats.

One of them (SECfans, which I mentioned before) actually replied to my comment and asked if I thought Alabama’s offense was severely overrated due to the schedule.  I said that I didn’t think they were severely so, but in all the years I’ve been watching college football (I would say I had something like an adult appreciation of it starting in the mid-90s), there hasn’t been a top team who scored over 40 every game.

Historical Precedent in General

In the video, they had mentioned the 2005 Texas team that scored 41 points in the title game against USC.  A neutral-site bowl game isn’t really analogous to Tiger Stadium.  What might be analogous was when the Longhorns went to Ohio St. that year and were held to 25 points.  Also, late in the season the USC team in question had allowed 42 points at home to a Fresno St. team that would finish with 5 losses.

Vince Young runs for a touchdown in the 2006 Rose Bowl.

The best offense I’ve seen through 8 games was probably 2010 Oregon.  They had an even higher average (by less than a point, but still) than Alabama does now at 54.8 points per game.  That was despite having played a top 10 team at home and a top-25 team on the road, neither of which the Tide has done.

The 9th game was consistent with that, but in their 10th game, the Ducks went on the road to play the unranked Cal Bears and only won 15-13.  That was a Cal defense that would allow three different teams to score 48 or more against them.  Cal finished with a losing record that year.  I’d say it’s pretty likely LSU has a better defense this year than that team did then.

The Cal (Berkeley) defense held Oregon to about 40 fewer points than the Ducks’ average in their 2010 matchup.

One of the best SEC offenses was the 1996 Florida. Early on the Gators beat #2 Tennessee on the road, but apart from that game the Gators averaged 54 points per game through the first 8 games.  Then in early November, the Gators escaped Nashville (hardly an intimidating road environment by SEC standards) with only a 28-21 win.  A few weeks later, Florida St. held Florida to 21 for the Gators’ only loss of the season.  Of course Florida would then run away with the national championship against the Seminoles, 52-20.

Florida’s Danny Wuerffel led the Gator offense to over 50 points per game before being brought back down to earth in Nashville and Tallahassee (pictured).

I don’t mind if people are picking Alabama to score 35, for instance.  Maybe this Alabama offense is able to produce points just as well as and just as consistently as 1995 Nebraska, who was only held under 40 twice and never below 35.  That was the only team since World War II that won each game by at least 14, but the team who got within 14 was unranked and playing in Lincoln.  I just need to see this year’s Alabama play a better defense than Texas A&M or Missouri to believe they’re better than that Nebraska team.  Despite the Cornhuskers’ having won the national championship in 1994, the voters in 1995 were skeptical of Nebraska and did not move them up to #1 until the Huskers had beaten top-10 teams in consecutive weeks.

Historical Precedent in LSU-Alabama Series

I can also refer to past games in the LSU-Alabama rivalry. I mentioned the 2013 game in the last blog. LSU didn’t keep Alabama very far below their average, although they were on pace to do so for most of the game. More relevantly to this blog, the Tigers had averaged 40 points per game going in, and Alabama held LSU to less than half of that average.  The Tigers have a lot of work to do if that’s the best their defense can do this year, one reason I think the Tide wins, but 27 points wouldn’t make it an impossible task.

Alabama teams of the last few years probably don’t compare to this one in terms of how strong the respective offenses and defenses are, but I think we may also be able to learn a little from 2011 and 2009.

People act like in retrospect the 2011 regular season game was destined to be in the single digits, but it really wasn’t.  I don’t remember the over/under, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t 16. Alabama was averaging 39 points per game and had only been held below 37 twice (27 @ Penn St. and 34 against Vanderbilt).  LSU had almost the exact same average despite having played Oregon and West Virginia, two eventual winners of BCS bowls. Only Mississippi St. had held the Tigers below 35 (like this year, LSU scored only 19 against the Bulldogs).

Granted the points given up were lower in both cases in 2011 but not ridiculously so. LSU has only allowed one team to score over 21 this year (but two right at 21).  They’d allowed two to score over 11 in 2011.  Alabama has only allowed two teams to score more than 14 points this year.  In 2011, they’d allowed double digits 3 times. So maybe not 9-6, but 20-17 wouldn’t be a shockingly low score.

I want to mention one other Alabama team, and that’s 2009.  That was Saban’s third year and his first team there that really tipped the SEC off about what was to come.  The Tide opened against #7 Virginia Tech and then played four unranked opponents, two in SEC play and one on the road. That’s not a body of work similar to what they have now, but in those five games the Tide scored at least 34 points in each one and averaged 40 points.

Patrick Peterson grabs an apparent interception in Tuscaloosa in 2009. The pass was ruled incomplete. LSU may not have won the game in Tuscaloosa, but a different call here could have changed the score.

The Tide went to #20 Ole Miss and point production fell by 45% as they only scored 22. A similar reduction in this case would result in the Tide only scoring 30. Ole Miss had a good defense in 2009, but maybe LSU’s is better this year. The Rebels did allow 33 to Auburn and 41 to Mississippi St. that year. I don’t envision LSU giving up that many to an unranked team this year.

Comparison to Other Games This Season

It’s odd for two teams in the same division to have only one common opponent at this point, but in this case it doesn’t tell us very much.  It was Ole Miss, who really didn’t have much of a chance in either game.  I think the games worth considering are ones where either LSU or Alabama had to get out of their comfort zone in some way.  The Rebels did not force either team to do that.

Again, the best team Alabama has played is Texas A&M, who I believe is justifiably outside of the top 25 in the coaches poll.  The Texas A&M defense, which made Mississippi St.’s Nick Fitzgerald look like a Heisman contender doesn’t compare favorably to LSU’s defense at all.  Mississippi St. scored a combined 16 points against LSU, Florida, and Kentucky, 12 less than A&M gave up.  The point being that we really don’t have a model when it comes to how Alabama does against a defense that can really affect an offense the way LSU’s affected Fromm of Georgia and Fitzgerald.

If it’s a similar game with Alabama holding the opposing offense in the low 20s, LSU will likely take at least one touchdown opportunity away that A&M couldn’t, especially given that A&M was playing in Tuscaloosa.

I haven’t seen anyone suggest this, but I did want to add a caveat. I wouldn’t be upset if someone thinks Alabama wins 41-34. That wouldn’t show LSU’s defense is almost as bad as A&M’s; it would show Alabama’s offense had to keep going in high gear the whole game when it could pretty much relax in the second half against A&M. I’d be surprised to see that much offense from LSU, but they did score 36 against Georgia despite settling for field goals 5 times and despite a quarterback who could only complete half of his throws.

A better measuring stick for Alabama offense (though the Tide defense did extremely well) is the Missouri game. That was the best comparison I could find to a tough game Georgia had to play (partly because it was on the road) before coming to Baton Rouge. Missouri had been the only team to score more than 17 against the Bulldogs (they scored 29) and the only team to come within 14 points (and that was despite a defensive touchdown by Georgia).

Tua Tagovailoa is sacked by Missouri’s 
Kobie Whiteside in Tuscaloosa on October 13.

For Alabama vs. Missouri, I’m more going to look to see what we can gather about things LSU might be able to do on defense.  Missouri did have the second-closest game with the Tide so far (after A&M), but more impressively (and more relevantly to this blog) the Tigers are the only team to hold Alabama below 40, and they did this in Tuscaloosa.

Giving up 39 isn’t that impressive on its own (unless LSU really does give up 41 without producing much on offense); but as I’ve said before, you can score into the 40s against almost anyone if you’re given easy points. Twice while the game was still competitive, Missouri committed a turnover deep in their own territory. So where it was 27-10 with 10 minutes left in the half, it probably would have been Missouri ball down only 17-10. I’m not that Alabama didn’t deserve to beat them like they did, but what I am saying is the Missouri defensive unit did even better than Alabama’s point total indicates.

It’s also somewhat impressive that Mizzou limited Tua to only 2 of 5 on third downs and 12 of 22 overall (though it was still an average of over 10 yards per attempt) with only one positive run. Missouri has neither a good pass rush nor a good secondary. I couldn’t get the stats on how many sacks and hurries they had against Bama, but I know they had one sack and no hurries against Georgia. That’s one reason LSU was able to limit Georgia to fewer scoring drives than Mizzou had.

LSU was able to improve significantly on what Missouri did with Georgia. Even if we cut out the defensive score, LSU roughly cut Georgia’s point-scoring in half. So I think the low end of Alabama’s point total (barring a disaster or freakishly low-scoring game) is a lot lower than some people have it. I would put it in the low 20s. So I think the route for LSU to win would most likely be LSU scoring between 24 and 31 and Alabama scoring 1-7 points fewer.

Prediction

My prediction is that LSU holds Alabama to 31, which is two touchdowns fewer than Texas A&M allowed, and that the Tigers score 24. I think chances are the Tigers score closer to their point total against Auburn and Florida than the point total against Georgia. Most other people seem to be picking either a narrow LSU upset or a complete blowout by the Tide, either of which could happen of course, but I think these are two really good teams and LSU is just slightly outmatched.

Georgia-LSU Series and Preview

In College Football, General LSU, History, Preview, Rivalry on October 11, 2018 at 2:08 PM

Before I get to anything currently going on, I updated and revised my LSU-Georgia Series blog. Usually I only do this after games and it’s primarily to update the records, but it’s like a separate new blog this time. I hope you find the discussion of the last few close games between the two teams as interesting to read as it was to write.

Best wishes to everyone dealing with the hurricane. As far as I can tell, no games for this weekend will be affected. As far as campuses of major programs, there may have been some damage to Florida St. The Seminoles happened to have a bye this weekend. Hopefully if there is any damage to the stadium, it can be remedied by the next home game. Auburn was affected by the storm system; but apparently there will be no impact on Saturday’s game. The intersection of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida is key recruiting ground for a number of programs including LSU and Georgia, so I’m sure there is a lot of interest and support in helping people get through this.

With that out of the way, LSU was once again lucky (or is it unlucky?) enough to be chosen as the game of the week The Tigers do not tend to do as well at home during day games, but that may only be because they tend to play the better teams during the day.

If you were curious, the Mississippi St. @ LSU game next week (regardless of the respective outcomes) will be the early evening game (7 eastern/4 pacific) on ESPN. The last SEC home game will be against Alabama in 3 weeks and will almost certainly be at night, so Georgia should be the only day game in Tiger Stadium this season.

I gave the SECFans vlog another chance after not being too excited about their commentary against Florida last week. I also gave some more thought to what I wrote last week. At least that commentary game me a starting point, so I may listen to them more in the future to help give me ideas for writing.

My feeling about the game is LSU has a chance to win, but it’s not the greater chance. I can see LSU winning by a touchdown or losing by a few touchdowns (or anywhere in between), so I think the two commentators picking LSU to lose by 7 and 10 respectively are decent picks.

Both commentators in the video said Georgia was a better team and that LSU has a real chance to win, so I guess they abandoned the “LSU can’t beat better teams” line.

First off, it’s hard to compare the results of the two teams since Georgia hasn’t really been tested by its opposition. South Carolina was the only team ranked (24th) at the time, and they’ve since lost to Kentucky before beating Missouri with a last-second field goal last week. LSU has played three teams better than South Carolina (U. Miami, Auburn, and Florida). Georgia has not yet played its apparent challengers for the SEC East crown Kentucky and Florida.

Georgia has given up as much as 29 points, which they did on the road against Missouri. LSU is definitely a tougher place to play than Missouri, so even if there weren’t a talent gap between LSU and Missouri, that should be enough to make it a competitive game. The Bulldogs’ offense was responsible for only 36 of those points. In addition to the fumble return for a touchdown, 3 other Georgia points resulted in part from a Missouri turnover.

LSU does not have a passing offense like Missouri, but on the other hand they’re also not going to throw 25 incompletions, so I think that’s one Georgia game worth talking about. Part of the reason is that was the only Georgia game in which the outcome was in doubt well into the fourth quarter.

Georgia DB Tyson Campbell returns a fumble for a touchdown at Missouri on September 22. The Bulldogs went on to win, 43-29.

Although Mizzou threw the ball 48 times (partly because they were playing from behind almost the whole game), they still had a fairly good rush-pass balance. There was only a 50-yard difference between their total passing yards and total rushing yards. Mizzou also committed 3 turnovers which led to 10 points. If it weren’t for that, Mizzou may have been able to have even better run-pass balance.

As I discussed in the LSU-Florida post-game, LSU is most likely undefeated if not for two key turnovers against the Gators; but in other games the Tigers won the turnover battle. So LSU might not have to be much better than a Missouri but just without the big mistakes Missouri had against Georgia or LSU had against Florida.

Maybe LSU won’t sneak up on Georgia as much, but it’s not like against Missouri the Bulldogs had a hangover from Middle Tennessee the prior week or were really worried about hosting Tennessee the next week.

As discussed in the video, Georgia only has an average performance against the rush. That gives LSU more of a chance than against a generic top-5 team. LSU did struggle somewhat against Florida’s rushing game, but the Gators had 15 more rushing attempts than passing attempts.

Georgia is not that kind of team unless they’re trying to run the clock out. It doesn’t make sense for a team that averages about twice as many yards per pass as yards per rush to run the ball all the time. It does make some sense if your quarterback is Felipe Franks to run the ball a lot in a close game. Florida had more yards per pass than yards per rush but not by much; and when you’re more likely to throw an incompletion than a completion, passing kills drives.

It’s no question that Georgia has a better quarterback than LSU, and I feel pretty sure that LSU has the better secondary, but I think the LSU and Georgia pass defenses are a lot more similar than the quarterbacks. The reason I think Georgia wins is even a well-defended Georgia will probably be able to contribute another scoring drive or two with its passing game. On the other hand, Burrow may be more comfortable if the running game is doing better and he doesn’t get sacked. Georgia does not have a very good pass rush.

Like with LSU –Florida though, if the team that should win is in scoring position and turns the ball over in one drive and there is another drive that ends in a defensive score, I think that’s enough to tip the game the other way.

I mentioned Missouri turned the ball over three times against Georgia, but Georgia had two turnovers. I think LSU is a team that is better at forcing turnovers than Missouri is, so LSU getting 3 turnovers is not out of the question. If LSU also has 3 turnovers, which they technically did against Florida (the interception at the end of the game doesn’t mean too much), I still think they lose though.

There are two good field-goal kickers in this game and I sense a lot of effective third-down defense on both sides (Georgia was only 3/12 against Missouri; LSU was only 4/17 against Florida), so I’m thinking the final score will be something like 30-23 Georgia.