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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

More on CFP Championship; Pelini back at LSU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unbeaten, Untied, Unrivaled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rivalry Week Top 25 and SEC Bowl Update

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, History, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on December 1, 2019 at 4:09 PM

Rivalry Week and Bowl Ramifications

I thought Mississippi St. would win.  People will say they didn’t deserve it because of the stupid celebration penalty, but Ole Miss didn’t deserve to get a first and goal from a phantom pass interference call. 

Mississippi St. is going to a bowl game for a 10th consecutive year for the first time, but they don’t mention that they made it one year without a winning record because there weren’t enough bowl-eligible teams by virtue of six wins (but you can’t have 7 losses, and at least five of the wins have to be over FBS opponents).

Mississippi St. RB Kylin Hill led the offense with 132 yards, which not only led all rushers but was more yards than any of the game’s three quarterbacks had passing. The Bulldogs won the Egg Bowl in Starkville on Thursday, their first home win in the series since 2013.

Congrats to Virginia for finally beating Virginia Tech. In the short term, that probably means a loss to Clemson, but that could also come with an Orange Bowl berth. 

I’m somewhat shocked that TCU lost its chance at bowl eligibility in a home game against West Virginia.  I guess they get up for the good teams and not so much for some of the others.    

The combination of the TCU loss and the Missouri bowl ban being upheld apparently gives more room for G5 conferences.  An Ole Miss win would have made yet another spot available.  I don’t believe it will be necessary to make other teams eligible this year. 

SEC Bowl Projections

If Missouri had been eligible, there would have been 10 SEC bowl teams.  As it stands, the Independence, Birmingham, and one other bowl (possibly the Belk) will have to do without SEC teams.

It’s expected Georgia and Alabama will be in NY6 bowls.  It’s possible Georgia could be in the Playoff along with LSU.  The mostly likely candidate for the Citrus will be Florida.  Cue the clips of Steve Spurrier mocking Tennessee for being in that game.  Auburn would probably be good for the Outback.  The Outback is officially even with the other bowls (apart from Independence and Birmingham), but it seems like in most years it gets the team that just barely misses the Citrus.  Auburn has better wins but one more loss, including a loss to Florida.

Texas A&M would make the most sense for the Texas Bowl, and Tennessee would make the most sense for the Music City Bowl since they can make pretty easy respective bus rides.  The Liberty Bowl (in Memphis) also might make a play for Tennessee.  Kentucky will probably get whichever Tennessee bowl is left over.  That would leave Mississippi St. for the Gator Bowl.  I don’t see any cause for upset or massive controversy with any of those. 

One more of those bowls mentioned in the last paragraph would be without an SEC team if a third SEC team ends up in a non-playoff  NY6 bowl.

LSU-Texas A&M Game and Series

Speaking of the SEC, I’ve updated the blog for the LSU-Texas A&M Series. That series of blogs is written as neutrally as I can, but I’m going to have to break objectivity for the moment.  I watched the game until the end hoping for more points by LSU’s second-team offense, but I don’t know if LSU will ever break the series margin of victory record that the Aggies set in 1914 (54 points).  On the show Off the Bench, someone asked what final score it would take to get the bad taste out of ones mouth from last year.  I said 75-0, but 50-7 will have to do. 

Ja’Marr Chase runs for a 78-yard TD catch. Chase averaged over 28 yards per catch and had a total of 197 receiving yards against the Aggies yesterday in Baton Rouge.

I go into more detail in the blog of course, but I also wanted to mention it was LSU’s largest margin of victory in series history, which had been 37 (in 1971, Gene Stallings’ last season).  That win had also followed a two-point upset loss in the previous year that ended a significant LSU unbeaten streak in the series (10 in that case; it had been 7 going into last year’s game).

Playoff Competition

In the top 25, Memphis and Cincinnati essentially switched places.  The Tigers will have to beat Cincinnati again to win the American Conference.

I said that Oklahoma, Baylor, and Utah (the three possible one-loss major-conference teams) would move up relative to other teams, and two of the three (Oklahoma and Utah) passed up Notre Dame on the strength of their wins Saturday.  None of them passed up Boise St., but those same two are a fraction of a point away from doing so.  Oregon, Baylor, and Oklahoma would all count for more than Hawaii, whom Boise will be playing in the Mountain West championship game. 

It would be tough to pass up Memphis if the Tigers win their championship game, but I honestly don’t see why Memphis shouldn’t be in the conversation other than the fact that the committee doesn’t like G5 teams. 

The American right now isn’t really inferior to how the Big East used to be.  In 2007, West Virginia would have played for a national championship had they not lost to a losing Pittsburgh team for the second loss on the final week.  Virginia Tech did play Florida St. for the national title in 1999.  In 2009, the top four of the final BCS standings included Cincinnati of the Big East and TCU of the Mountain West.

In those years, you had to be in the top two.  So it’s not far-fetched that a team like Memphis could be in the top four when you’re going to have a winner of a conference with only a couple of ranked teams and a weak non-conference schedule as competition.  I know the programs are mostly different now, but I think Memphis, SMU, Cincinnati, and Navy are better than West Virginia, Rutgers, and Louisville right now. 

I also think it’s harder to go undefeated against Cincinnati, SMU, and Navy than it is to go undefeated against Baylor and whatever teams tied for third in the Big XII you want to pick to compare.  The most direct point of comparison is that SMU beat TCU, who took Baylor to overtime and gave Oklahoma a scare before the referees bailed out the Sooners. 

As for Utah, if they beat Oregon, that will be the only top-25 win.  Second- and third-best wins would be BYU and Washington, who have 5 losses apiece.  There is no reason to think the better American teams wouldn’t have a good chance against those two either.  So even if I grant that Cincinnati is a lesser opponent than Baylor or Oregon (and I’m not convinced they are), I think we need to look past the best team you beat.  South Carolina has the best win in college football this season (whether you ask me or the committee), but they didn’t even have a mildly successful season.

As for overall strength of schedule, I have Memphis 63rd, Utah 76th, Oklahoma 89th, and Baylor 105th.  That is only an average of the FBS opponents, but I don’t think it’s very important to talk about who had the best FCS opponent (it was probably Memphis anyway since Southern beat Grambling to qualify for the SWAC championship game, and none of the others had successful conference campaigns). 

Anyway, the point of all this is if Memphis comes out ahead of one of these conference champions, I don’t think that’s an indictment of my system.  Just like it wasn’t an indictment of (what I now call) my unweighted system in 2009 when I agreed with the BCS about Cincinnati being #3.  We just have a committee now that uses “the eye test” (which I think is mostly a prestige test in reality) instead.  The point of computer ratings (at least for me) is to take out that kind of bias.

The loser of either (or both) the Big Ten or SEC championship could be ahead of the winners of the Big XII, Pac-12, and American conferences for that fourth spot here (and possibly with the committee) anyway.

Conference Comparisons

As far as conference strength, the SEC almost caught up with the Big Ten in best average team.  I thought they would improve by going at least 3-1 against the ACC on the final weekend, but I wasn’t sure if they could overtake the Big Ten.   The Big Ten also has a slight edge in top 25 teams on my list, 6 to 5. 

One area where the SEC is better is against other Power 5 opponents.  The SEC is 9-6 in such games, and the Big Ten is 5-5.  So playing 50% more opponents in that category with the same number of teams says something for the SEC. On the other hand, the SEC has played a lot more FCS opponents, so I guess it balances out somewhat.  The SEC has also played four games against potential champions of the six best conferences (A&M and South Carolina lost to Clemson, Ole Miss lost to Memphis, and Auburn beat Oregon), while the Big Ten has only played one (Ohio St. beat Cincinnati).

Top 25

rankteamlast
1Ohio St.1
2LSU2
3Clemson3
4Georgia4
5Memphis13
6Wisconsin14
7Boise St.8
8Oklahoma12
9Utah10
10Notre Dame6
11Baylor11
12Penn St.7
13Florida18
14Cincinnati5
15Michigan9
16Oregon17
17Appalachian19
18Auburn22
19Alabama16
20SMU21
21Minnesota15
22Air Force24
23Navy23
24Iowa20
25UL-Lafayette

Out of top 25: (25) USC

Week 12 LSU and Top 25

In College Football, General LSU, History, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 22, 2019 at 6:52 PM

Sorry for my absence. This was my first full week after a vacation, and I have a lingering cough that I’m still trying to get rid of. Also, I just wasn’t all that motivated. I guess it was hard for me to get that into the Ole Miss game after Alabama.

I am a little annoyed that people act like LSU can’t play defense. I’ll admit LSU has struggled to play solid defense for a whole game, although I’d argue we did so against Auburn. I’m still annoyed with the questionable points off of the questionable turnover in that game. Otherwise Auburn gets held to 13.

Anyway, as to the Ole Miss game, if you go up 28-0, your defense had a role in that. The rest of the game we basically went score for score except obviously at the end we ran out the clock. I would have liked a couple more stops in the second half to give younger guys more playing time, but that doesn’t say much of anything about the ability to win big games that in all likelihood are coming up.

When Alabama had a great defense in 2011 (holding LSU to 6 points in 120 minutes of regulation play), Georgia Southern scored 21 points in 20 minutes of play to make it a 10-point game with 7 minutes left in the third quarter (LSU’s lead was reduced to 11 at the same time of the game). The Eagles, who were still in I-AA at the time, finished with over 300 rushing yards against the Tide.

Ole Miss finished with more against the Tigers, but they’re an SEC team with SEC talent. I know they haven’t been the best in the conference or anything close lately, but many of their players were recruited shortly after the Rebels won the Sugar Bowl. That’s a far cry from the talent that Georgia Southern team had. And with the offense LSU has had, they don’t need to be nearly as good on defense as that Alabama team was.


That was more than I had intended to say about Ole Miss, but there will hopefully be less to say about Arkansas. Feel free to check out the rivalry blogs on those two series:
Ole Miss
Arkansas

I’ll talk a bit about the top 25 now.

LSU strengthened its hold on #1 somewhat, but I think that will change if Ohio St. wins (and I think they will).

Georgia improved.three spots to fifth and I suspect will pass up the loser of the Penn St.-Ohio St. game (assuming the Bulldogs beat the Aggies). Of course only one team can win the SEC.

The Pac-12 champion is still well-positioned to move into my top 4 with Oregon at #6 and Utah at #8.

As for the Big XII, both Baylor and Oklahoma are back behind Alabama. The Sooners can gain a decent number of points the next three weeks though (TCU, Oklahoma St., and most likely a rematch with Baylor). Without an upset of one of the top three, I still think I’m going to be for the Pac-12 champions to make the top four.

There isn’t really anything else remarkable except that Iowa made it back in by beating Minnesota. The Gophers fell only three spots, so I think I’ll still have them in the top four if somehow they win the conference.

Auburn finally had a loss that really showed in the standings. It’s not because Georgia isn’t good, but the teams are clustered a lot closer together once you get out of the top 10. So a modest relative decrease in points shows up a lot more.

De’Andre Swift rushed for 106 yards in the Bulldogs win on Saturday in Auburn.
rankteamlast
1LSU1
2Ohio St.2
3Clemson3
4Penn St.5
5Georgia8
6Oregon7
7Minnesota4
8Utah15
9Cincinnati11
10Notre Dame17
11Alabama14
12Boise St.10
13Oklahoma16
14Memphis12
15Michigan19
16Baylor6
17SMU9
18Florida18
19Wisconsin20
20Auburn13
21Appalachian21
22Iowa
23Air Force23
24Navy22
25USC25

Out of Top 25: (24) Wake Forest

Full ratings

LSU/Bama Recap and Week 11 Top 25

In College Football, General LSU, History, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 11, 2019 at 5:39 PM

I know there were a couple of other big games, but I only have time to write about LSU right now.

The Bama game was about what I expected apart from a few details. Tua had almost exactly how many yards per pass that I thought (8.32) until the long bomb to get the Tide within 5 with 81 seconds left put him over the 10 ypa mark. I expect College Football Nerds to celebrate how they lucked into that one even though they’d be the first to cite such a circumstance to show they weren’t really so wrong in some other game. I haven’t listened to their whole video, but they’re still saying Alabama has a better offense than LSU.

Joe Burrow, Ed Orgeron, and his wife Kelly are front and center celebrating the LSU win in Tuscaloosa Saturday.

I think more important than total yards was the fact that Tua threw 19 incompletions to Burrow’s 8. That’s usually what ends up hurting you in ypa average when you don’t get 85 on one play (and over 60 on another). Burrow also got 64 yards on the ground to Tua’s -5. LSU still got better QB play and still got more yards on the ground. Everything I brought up was in the context of LSU at least playing it close, and I did pick LSU to win.

As I commented on The Late Kick, another channel I follow (that also picked Alabama to beat the spread), I thought the winner would score in the high 30s instead of the mid-40s, but that’s a minor issue. The pass at the end (or not getting the punt return TD) and one more stop by Bama (or one fewer turnover, such as at the end of the first half) would have caused that to happen. I didn’t think Burrow would get out of quite as many jams as he did since I’ve been assured so many times how much better this defense was than the likes of Texas. So it was a little surprising that he didn’t seem any more affected by the pass rush than he did against Texas.

Harris of Alabama ran a little better than I expected, but my point in discussing Alabama running the ball was it wasn’t going to be anything close to the passing yards, and when you count the negative plays it was almost 300 yards fewer.

Early on, to Alabama’s credit, LSU struggled to get a traditional running game going; but the Tigers still made good use of the backs as blockers and receivers. Edwards-Helaire was ultimately responsible for 180 yards, 10 fewer than Harris. More than 70 of those yards were after contact on the rushing plays, probably another 50 were after contact on the receiving plays.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire catches a touchdown pass with 6 seconds left in the first half to put the Tigers up 33-13 in Tuscaloosa Saturday.

Sometimes a team in a hostile environment has to feel things out for a little while before they get comfortable. Obviously that wasn’t the case here. LSU early on seemed much more comfortable in a big-game environment, and I was right to question how capable Alabama would be in such a scenario. The Tide settled in of course, but the lack of experience of THIS Bama team probably decided the game.

Speaking of the road environment, I’m going to add this to my LSU/Alabama series blog. LSU has done better on the road against Alabama than at home not only for the last 12+ years (three of the four LSU wins in that span have been in Tuscaloosa) but for the last 50 years. All seven LSU wins from 1970 to 1999 (inclusive) were in Alabama. LSU won 7 of the next 8 (and 9 of 12) games overall starting in 2000 (Saban’s first year with the Tigers), so where the game was played didn’t matter quite as much in that span. Still, from 1970 to today, LSU has gone 13-12 against the Tide in Alabama (including 4-4 in Birmingham) and only 4-21-1 in Louisiana (including 0-1 in New Orleans).

One other bit of trivia: The 87 points scored on Saturday by both teams were the most in an LSU-Alabama game by 12 points, beating the 41-34 LSU win in 2007, the last season the Tigers won the national championship (and before Saban recruited his own defense). The third-highest point total was only 58, a tie between the 1989 Alabama win and the 2000 LSU win (which had been the first Tiger win at home since 1969).

Top 25

rankteamlast
1LSU2
2Ohio St.1
3Clemson4
4Minnesota7
5Penn St.3
6Baylor8
7Oregon5
8Georgia15
9SMU13
10Boise St.16
11Cincinnati12
12Memphis11
13Auburn10
14Alabama9
15Utah6
16Oklahoma18
17Notre Dame20
18Florida19
19Michigan14
20Wisconsin23
21Appalachian24
22Navy21
23Air Force22
24Wake Forest17
25USC

Out of Top 25: (25) Central Florida

Week 10 Top 25

In College Football, General LSU, History, Post-game, Preview, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 4, 2019 at 2:43 PM

I’ve written so much about LSU/Alabama over the years, I have a whole page of links just for that. Yes, LSU hasn’t won since the 9-6 win in Tuscaloosa in 2011, although people forget the game came down to one possession in both 2012 and 2014. I also haven’t seen much mention that over about the last 50 years LSU does better on the road in this series. You’d think from the coverage that Albama hasn’t lost at home since they hired Bear Bryant and that every game was 20+ to 0.

I haven’t done a meaningful breakdown of what’s going on in my top 25 apart from the top 10 in a good while, so I thought now would be a good time to catch up with no LSU recap. I also don’t think we need to introduce Alabama and what they do well. I covered some of it here.

American Conference

The best Big Ten and SEC teams were idle, and the only ACC team that has much to offer played Wofford; so now seems like a good time to highlight the American conference.

SMU finally lost, so my whole top 10 is now Power Five teams. The American still has five teams in the top 25 though, which is tied with the SEC and the Big Ten for the best.

QB Brady White threw for over 10 yards per pass and three touchdowns in the 54-48 win over SMU.

The controversial loss to Temple is the only reason Memphis isn’t undefeated (although to be fair they barely escaped against Tulsa). Cincinnati’s only loss is to #1 Ohio St. I don’t factor in margin of victory unless the home team wins a game decided by less than a field goal in regulation, so 42 is the same as 4 in my formula. The average home advantage is about 3 points, and obviously that happens to be a field goal. Whether you need a field goal or a touchdown at the end of the game is often a big difference, so it seems like a perfect place to draw the line. SMU’s first loss was the one the Mustangs just suffered against Memphis, so I don’t see anything wrong with their rank either.

Staying in the same conference but skipping down a few spots, Navy and Central Florida have recovered well from early losses. Navy suffered its only loss to Memphis, so that gives even more context to that ranking. Navy beat Tulane, which as I mentioned is in the top 40, and Air Force, which rose to #21 after beating Army. Central Florida had a relatively ugly loss to Pitt, so that’s why the Knights are last in the top 25. The loss to Cincinnati wasn’t bad obviously. I doubt the American will have 5 ranked teams here at the end of the season, but they’ve seemed pretty legitimate so far.

Top 10

I don’t have a specific reason Clemson fell below Penn St., but a number of the purple/orange Tigers’ opponents have been stagnant or losing value. I’m sure Florida St.’s loss to U. Miami, which Clemson does not play and will not play, didn’t help. It will generally hurt a team if a team in their own division loses to a team in the other division. It would hurt Ohio St. slightly if Minnesota beat Penn St., although the Buckeyes haven’t even played the Nittany Lions yet.

Alabama barely stayed in the computer top 10 since their schedule is bad. I’d still put the SEC top 5 up against anyone else’s, but Alabama hasn’t played anyone else in the top 5 of the conference (or any other conference except arguably CUSA). In previous years the worst team or two was around #90 and sometimes the rest were all in the top 75. The SEC does have 11 teams in the top 75, which is still very respectable; but Arkansas and Vanderbilt are among the dozen worst teams in FBS football (with losses to San Jose St. and UNLV, respectively), so they bring down the average significantly. Ole Miss isn’t too much better at #104; the Rebels’ only FBS wins have come over Arkansas and Vanderbilt.

Bama only fell one spot in the computer formula, which isn’t unusual after a bye week, especially one in which one of your best opponents lost and another played a team outside of the top 100. They only fall three spots here because I had moved them up extra spots last week.

Unlike LSU and Auburn, the Tide does not have an annual cross-divisional game against one of the top teams of the East. This year they drew South Carolina and Tennessee, two of the worst teams in the East. The Tide’s best non-conference opponents on the schedule are #67 Duke and #78 Southern Miss. By contrast, LSU has beaten three teams in out-of-conference play alone that rate at least 14 spots higher than Duke. Auburn has the best non-conference win in the nation (over #5 Oregon), and their win over #40 Tulane helps too. In conference play, the one advantage Alabama has over LSU (but not Auburn) is having played Texas A&M already; but the Aggies only rate 9 spots higher than Mississippi St., who has played LSU (and Auburn) but not Alabama. LSU also has not yet taken the hit to the strength of schedule that playing Ole Miss and Arkansas will entail.

Hopefully that explains how a two-loss team is ahead of an undefeated team in their own division (I couldn’t let that stand in the list below though) and how the AP #1 and #2 are nothing close in my formula.

Other than switching Alabama and Auburn (who only has about 1/10 of 1% more points than their rivals), I decided not to make any other changes. Whether Alabama beats LSU or not, it would cause a bigger disruption if I put all the top-10 undefeateds in the top 7. Someone will also lose between Minnesota and Penn St., and whoever wins it will look like the loser is being unduly punished. If it’s the lower team, they’ll have lost a few spots before the game even started. If it’s the higher team, it will look like they’re being dropped too far for losing to a top-7 team, who in turn isn’t being rewarded enough for the big win.

The Rest

Like a couple of the other teams I mentioned, Michigan seems to be clawing back from relatively early losses.

Likewise, Georgia’s win over Florida went some way in repairing the Bulldogs’ resume. Auburn would be another huge help.

Boise St. can only go so far with the loss to BYU and the best non-conference win being Florida St.. Another team that barely beat Florida St. was Wake Forest, who has a habit of barely beating opponents; but the Demon Deacons still have only one loss (to unranked Louisville).

Oklahoma’s one meaningful win (over Texas, which has understandable losses but a lack of wins to be excited about) only goes so far. Notre Dame, Florida, and Wisconsin are two-loss teams capable of top-10 wins, but there are weak spots on the schedule that put them significantly behind a team like Auburn.

The only top-25 team I haven’t mentioned is Appalachian St., who barely stayed in the top 25 after losing to Georgia Southern. That’s been a fairly big rivalry going back to the schools’ I-AA days, so these things happen. I’m still going to be very interested in how the Mountaineers do against South Carolina.

Outside of the top 25, things are looking good for other Louisiana schools. I mentioned LSU and Tulane, but I didn’t mention there are two other Louisiana teams between the two, Louisiana Tech and UL-Lafayette. Louisiana Tech looks like the best team in its conference right now. I wish LSU had played one of them instead of Northwestern St. The Tigers’ non-conference schedule would look even better.

Top 25 (List)

rankteamlast
1Ohio St.1
2LSU2
3Penn St.4
4Clemson3
5Oregon8
6Utah12
7Minnesota7
8Baylor9
9Alabama6
10Auburn10
11Memphis17
12Cincinnati11
13SMU5
14Michigan16
15Georgia24
16Boise St.13
17Wake Forest19
18Oklahoma15
19Florida14
20Notre Dame25
21Navy20
22Air Force23
23Wisconsin22
24Appalachian18
25Central Florida

Out of top 25: (21) Iowa

Week 9 Top 25; Key Games and Race for #1

In College Football, General LSU, History, Post-game, Preview, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on October 27, 2019 at 2:02 PM

LSU/Auburn

I think my one-paragraph prediction about this game (last paragraph here) was exactly right.  There were some things that were somewhat surprising though.

I’ve updated the records here.  I had forgotten that other than Alabama, the only two teams that have beaten Auburn a majority of the time (with at least 10 games played) are from Louisiana: LSU and Tulane.

I advised taking Auburn and the points.  I said that I wouldn’t have been surprised if Auburn scored about what Florida did and actually thought Auburn might have scored more.  What I didn’t expect was that 24 would have been enough to win.  The visiting Tigers were still most of the way to Florida’s point total of 28. 

I said that Auburn would probably stop LSU from scoring a couple of times more than Florida did. LSU had four scoring drives rather than six, so that was correct.  I didn’t expect LSU would get to what would have been field-goal range last year about six times with no points to show for it though.

That’s the second game in a row in which LSU struggled to score touchdowns after driving deep in the opponent’s territory, especially early.  I don’t know if that’s a long-term issue or those were just two pretty good defenses with a relatively short field.  I know Mississippi St. has given up a lot of points over the course of the year, but some of that was the fault of their anemic offense.  The Bulldog defense at least seemed fresh with home crowd behind it for 25 minutes against LSU before the Tigers scored two touchdowns late in the first half last week.

Clyde Edwards-Hellaire, with 136 yards, was the top rusher of the game as LSU was able to control time of possession for one of the only times this season.

I was surprised that LSU committed two turnovers, one of which set up an Auburn touchdown.  There were also two officiating decisions that assisted in that score (both the turnover and the touchdown itself), but I’ll talk about officiating later.  Anyway, that actually brings up one unexpected positive for the Bayou Bengals.  I didn’t think Auburn would be incapable of a touchdown drive beyond 22 yards in the first 57 minutes of play.

The sacks and tackles for loss didn’t shock me. I knew that was an area that Auburn was good at.  I still think LSU has a good offensive line, but it’s not going to stop a really good front seven (possibly the best LSU will face) every time.

I did like how Burrow ran and threw across the backfield to avert the pass rush.  I knew that would be necessary to avoid some of the rush. Having more quick, short-yardage plays helped LSU win the time of possession.  This was more of a traditional LSU win in that way.

Another positive was the halftime adjustments.  A good offensive coach like Dan Mullen or Gus Malzahn can come up with a scoring drive to start the half, but Florida didn’t score a second time in the whole half and Auburn didn’t score a second time until about 24 minutes of play later.  Mississippi St.’s only score of the second half was in the closing minute.  Northwestern St. and Utah St. were completely shut out in the respective second halves.

I hope that LSU is at least within a couple of scores of Alabama after the Tide’s opening drive of the second half.  The Tigers could be ahead for all I know, but it really hurt their chances when Alabama scored a touchdown 75 seconds before the half last year to make it realistically a three-score game (two touchdowns and two two-point conversions isn’t necessarily realistic).  Nine points instead of 16 would have mattered there.  Nine points was the halftime deficit against Auburn two years ago, so I think that’s a good bare-minimum goal if we don’t have a good first half.  I think the defense would give the offense a chance to catch up in the third and fourth quarters in that scenario.

Tua Tagovailoa ran for more yards on this play than LSU had rushing yards in the whole game last year in Baton Rouge. Alabama also had over 100 more passing yards.

Going back to the Auburn score to open the half, I thought that even though Auburn scored, it was a moral victory of sorts for the defense to come up with a stop inside the 10.  LSU has been good at that this season.  Auburn was good too, but hopefully Alabama isn’t as good at that if the Tigers have such chances in Tuscaloosa. LSU responded by driving to the one-yard line when they were stopped at fourth and goal, but the ball pretty much stayed on the Auburn half of the field until LSU scored to take the lead for good.   

I’m not going to go into all the calls, but the officiating was terrible, so I was glad LSU was able to withstand that. 

The hit on Burrow looked bad.  I thought helmet-to-helmet hits when a guy is going out of bounds was against the rules.  The TV rules expert said Burrow wasn’t defenseless, but I’ve certainly seen other players being tackled or going out of bounds ruled as defenseless.  Those guys seem more like PR agents for the refs than unbiased arbiters anyway. 

There was also kind of a hip check by an LSU defender that was called pass interference.  I didn’t think it denied the opportunity to catch the ball, and the receiver wasn’t even looking for the ball.  Pass interference should only be called when it conceivably could have been a catch without the interference, which was the case when there was a non-call in the end zone at the end of the first half.  I’m not saying everything they called or didn’t call was in Auburn’s favor, but they definitely favored the visitors. 

We had a couple of players, Tyrion Davis-Price and Derrick Dillon, who reacted to what should have been penalties on other players.  That accounted for 30 of the 118 yards of penalties called on LSU.  If the ref doesn’t call something, a player doesn’t need to make it worse by having them call a penalty on LSU.  You also can’t count on offsetting penalties even when they’re deserved (which was a big part of the reason LSU lost to Alabama in 2014).  The flags themselves were justified though.

Top-10 opponents

Anyway, LSU is now 8-2 against top-10 opponents over the last three seasons. You can guess who the two exceptions were.  Alabama is 6-2 (losses to Clemson and Auburn), and Ohio St. is 6-1 (loss to Oklahoma).    Those three teams happen to be in close to a three-way tie atop the AP poll this week.

The Tide has not played a top-10 team this season, and LSU has played three top-10 teams.  How is this possible when they’re in the same division of the same conference?  Alabama has not played Auburn yet (obviously), their best out-of-conference opponent was Duke (LSU’s was Texas when the Longhorns were still undefeated), and their annual cross-divisional rival is Tennessee (LSU’s is Florida).

Before someone says I’m wrong about the top-10 opponents, I know there was an ESPN graphic posted after the Florida game about how Alabama and Ohio St. had more wins over top-10 teams; but that was going back to 2016, the year that Les Miles coached 4 games before giving way to Orgeron. LSU beat three ranked teams that year, but none were in the top 10.  This gave the other programs a head start, and I don’t think it’s really fair to expect an interim coach to beat top-10 teams anyway.

Race for #1

Most teams have played 8 games.  A couple have even played 9.  I think we’ve progressed far enough into the season to completely ignore last year from now on.  That being the case, although Clemson is still what I’d call a good undefeated team, I no longer consider them #1.  LSU’s best two opponents (Auburn and Florida) are better than Ohio St.’s best two opponents (Cincinnati and Wisconsin), but the Buckeyes have had a better schedule week to week.  Indiana rates higher than Texas (I don’t care how they were ranked at the time of the game), Michigan St. rates higher than Utah St., Florida Atlantic rates higher than Mississippi St., and Nebraska rates higher than Georgia Southern.  I don’t think anyone lower is worth mentioning. 

I don’t put much of a premium on margin of victory, and it has nothing to do with why Ohio St. is #1 in my computer formula; but the way the games have played out also indicates to me that there are fewer teams that Ohio St. would struggle against than teams that LSU would struggle against.

Ohio St. is the clear #1 in both the weighted and unweighted versions of my formula as well.  For instance, in the unweighted system, only 0.007 separates Penn St. from Clemson.  In the weighted system, 0.24 separates the two.  Ohio St’s respective leads over LSU are 0.093 (over 13 times the difference between Clemson and Penn St.) and 1.911 (about 8 times the difference between Clemson and Penn St.).

My educated guess is that if LSU and Ohio St. both win in two weeks, LSU will finally have enough points to go ahead, but it matters how prior opponents of the respective teams do and how opponents of those teams do over the next two weeks as well.  Also, there is more reason to be skeptical that LSU will beat Alabama than there is that Ohio St. will beat Maryland.

I mention two weeks instead of next week because #1 Ohio St., #2 LSU, #4 Penn St., #6 Alabama, and #7 Minnesota all have byes next week.  #3 Clemson plays Wofford, so I don’t think there is any concern of a major change among the top teams next week. If #5 SMU beats Memphis, the Mustangs may move up a spot or two; but that will probably be temporary given that SMU will not stand to gain many computer points by being East Carolina on November 9. 

Kansas and the Big XII

Baylor, an undefeated team I haven’t mentioned much and possibly the last good hope for the Big XII (at least unless a series of losses by others puts one-loss Oklahoma back in the top 4), starts a challenging three-game stretch on November 9 as well.  Unfortunately, they won’t be playing SMU since the Southwest Conference disbanded in 1995; but they travel to Forth Worth on that day before hosting Oklahoma and Texas in the subsequent two weeks.  November 23, which is the day Baylor plays the last of those teams, is also a big day for currently-undefeated teams since Ohio St. plays Penn St. on that day.

I don’t know whose idea it was for Baylor to travel to Lawrence, Kansas, on Rivalry Week unless they thought it was basketball; but Les Miles’ Jayhawks have been looking good the past couple of weeks under new offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon.  It might seem far-fetched for a team with only 3 wins right now to beat a team who’s currently undefeated, but something similar happened during Rivalry Week in 2001.  Les Miles’ first Oklahoma St. team entered the game against #4 Oklahoma with only 3 wins and yet beat the Sooners. Games like that can be tough when it’s the closest thing the opponent will get to a bowl game.

KU would need some luck, but they certainly had that last night.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a team have the potential winning field goal blocked only to simply try again from a closer distance on the next play.  Combined with the game in Austin I mentioned here, it was the second consecutive week that a field goal on the final play decided the winner in a Kansas game.  Also, although Texas and Oklahoma may have seen better years, I don’t know how many teams can beat the two in consecutive weeks and still be ready to ward off a potential upset on the road.  Maybe Baylor is just that special, but I have my doubts.

The ball peaks just a few yards downfield from where it was kicked by Kansas after being blocked on the second-to-last play by Texas Tech. The Red Raiders would fumble the ball; and Kansas would recover, allowing the Jayhawks to win on the last play.

Top 25

NOTE: I only gave myself leeway of two spots from the computer ranking. This was only done for a handful of teams though.

rankteamlast
1Ohio St.2
2LSU3
3Clemson1
4Penn St.5
5SMU8
6Alabama4
7Minnesota11
8Oregon12
9Baylor9
10Auburn7
11Cincinnati14
12Utah21
13Boise St.16
14Florida10
15Oklahoma6
16Michigan23
17Memphis17
18Appalachian15
19Wake Forest20
20Navy22
21Iowa24
22Wisconsin13
23Air Force
24Georgia18
25Notre Dame19

Out of top 25: (25) Texas

LSU/Auburn Series and Preview

In College Football, History, Preview, Rivalry on October 25, 2019 at 7:45 PM

As I’ve been doing with these series recaps, I’m only going to focus on a portion of Auburn’s rivalry with LSU.  The rivalry did pick up intensity in the 1990s as I’ll explain, but the really interesting time was 2000 to 2007.

My original entry in the Rivalry Series covers mostly the same games, but there are different emphases.  Here I won’t talk as much about the records or rankings of teams going into the game, and I won’t refer back to the significance of each game within the greater rivalry.

Deciding the SEC West and Home Field Advantage

When LSU became relevant in SEC title races starting around the time Saban showed up, the main obstacles every year were Florida and Auburn. Except for Arkansas in 2002 and 2006 (the Hogs had the benefit of not having an annual series with either Georgia or Florida), the winner of the LSU-Auburn game would represent the SEC West in the title game every year from 2000 to 2007.

By the way, for some reason, the SEC calls you a winner of the division if you don’t play in the title game; but the way I look at it is if you lose the tiebreaker for first you’re second.  You’re not still in the broken tie for first.  So when I talk about winning the SEC West, I’m going to mean winning the tiebreaker as well. 

LSU has still never won the SEC West in an even year largely because the Tigers play both Auburn and Florida on the road in even years (and historically LSU is less likely to beat Alabama at home than on the road anyway).  You’ve probably seen it mentioned that LSU hasn’t lost to Auburn at home since 1999, but for a while that was mutual.  Nick Saban went 0-3 at Auburn as LSU head coach, and Les Miles also lost his first game at Auburn.  Miles would win two of the next three before losing his last two, the last of which lost him his job. 

Auburn players celebrate the win in 1999. LSU has had its longest home winning streak against Auburn in the years since.

LSU would end that streak in 2008, but speaking of Nick Saban, that was when Alabama became the team to beat in the division.  LSU beat Alabama and Auburn to win the SEC West in 2011, and Auburn beat LSU and Alabama to win the SEC West in 2010.  The three teams went 1-1 against each other in 2013; but LSU lost to two other teams (Georgia and Ole Miss), so that allowed Auburn to win a two-team head-to-head tiebreaker.  I think we all know who won the other 8 SEC West titles since then. 

In addition to being less important for the division, those three games just didn’t have the drama to go into much detail.  The 2010 game was the relatively close one, decided by only 7; but the LSU defense and offense both seemed defeated once Auburn took the lead with a about 5 minutes to go. Auburn could have scored again at the end of the game but ran out the clock instead.  They took the last snap from the LSU 3.

The 2012 LSU win, which at the time was only the second win at Auburn since 1998, was close; but Auburn turned out to be a terrible team.  Gene Chizik has not been a head coach since that season and may never be one again.  There were also only 6 points scored after the first quarter – a field goal by Auburn in the second quarter and a field goal by LSU in the third quarter. I like to watch good defenses more than most fans, but there are only so many ways to describe not scoring points. 

Other than it being an important game since one or both teams has been a major force in the conference (if not nationally), it’s also been a close game – again, not unlike LSU-Florida.

The Making of a Rivalry: 1993 to 1999

Unlike Florida though, it was typically a competitive game even going back before 2000.  It wasn’t even an annual series until 1993. That first game wasn’t very close, as Auburn went undefeated that season (but since they were on probation they weren’t considered in the national-title hunt), but that changed in a hurry. 

LSU led 23-9 in 1994 before Jamie Howard threw three pick-sixes and the Bayou Bengals lost 30-26.  Auburn had a quarterback named Nix, but other than a field goal drive in the second quarter, he was unsuccessful.  The four defensive scores were enough for the Plainsmen though.

In Death Valley the next year, the home team won by only 6 points.  That would be LSU’s first winning season in 7 years.

In 1996, LSU won on “the night the barn burned”.  It wasn’t a barnburner as neither team was able to get to 20 points.  It was 17-15 with 38 seconds to go when the home-standing War Tigers decided to go for two.  That backfired (no pun intended) as LSU returned the botched conversion attempt for two points.  The game was given the nickname because an old gym caught on fire during the game.

The next year, an Auburn touchdown in the last minute of the game would make the difference as LSU was only ahead by 4 before the score. 

Both programs went downhill the following two seasons with the road team winning fairly easily both times.  However, Auburn made a coaching change between 1998 and 1999, while LSU waited until after the 1999 season.  Auburn’s new coach Tommy Tuberville happened to have been the coach of Ole Miss when they beat LSU in 1997, which in retrospect would keep LSU from winning the SEC West for the first time.

After that 1999 win by Auburn, Tuberville smoked cigars with his team on the field.  He rationalized it by saying it was only Auburn’s third win there since World War II, but he didn’t mention that it was also Auburn’s third win at LSU in four tries.  Now he explains that it was also his birthday, but you don’t have to linger in an opponent’s stadium to celebrate your birthday.  Even if he just had shared a big cake on the field with his team, that would have been weird. 

2004 to 2007 Game Narratives

That wouldn’t be the end of the weirdness.  It was a big game, but none of the games were very interesting or exciting the next few years.

Then in 2004 it got interesting again.  I know a lot of people blame Les Miles for ushering in low-scoring games, but the offense wasn’t always exciting in Saban’s last year either.  LSU led 9-3 after 58 minutes of play. Auburn would score on third and 12 from the LSU 16, but the extra point was blocked. Apparently a new rule had been implemented in the offseason that if you land on another player after attempting to block or successfully blocking a field goal, it was a personal foul. Auburn got to try again and would win by that one point.

Since 2004 would become known as the extra point game, it only followed that we needed a field goal game.  This would happen 13 months later when the two teams would miss a combined 7 field goals in 10 attempts. 

LSU led 14-10 after Auburn made its one field goal in the second quarter and the teams exchanged touchdowns in the third.  The Plains Tigers would score another touchdown with just under 5 minutes to go in the game. LSU would get its first field goal a few minutes later to tie the game at 17 and eventually send it to overtime.  LSU would have the ball to begin the overtime and would settle for a field goal.  The Bayou Tigers had gotten one first down to help out the kicker Chris Jackson.  Auburn would go nowhere during their possession, and John Vaughn would miss from 39 to end the game, his fifth miss of the game.

Auburn K John Vaughn collapses to the field after missing a field goal (his fifth miss of the game) to give LSU the win in 2005.

2006 was another weird low-scoring game.  Les Miles was the coach, but he had inherited his offensive coordinator from Saban.  That was a guy you’ve probably never heard of named Jimbo Fisher.  But somehow (with the help of the referees of course), he only managed to guide the Tigers to 3 points for the whole game.  Auburn didn’t need any field goals and won 7-3 despite LSU having gained about twice as many yards.

Nonetheless, Fisher would do an impressive enough job with LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell the rest of the season to be offered a similar position with Florida St. but with more incentive and under an aging head coach being gently nudged into retirement.

LSU’s offense seemed to work just fine without him in 2007 (although you can’t really say the same for the 10 years afterward).  LSU-Auburn was another close game though.  Auburn led 17-13 going into the fourth quarter.  Matt Flynn led the home team on an 8-play 85-yard drive to put LSU up 20-17.  After a punt, the Fighting Tigers expanded that lead to 23-17.  Auburn responded with a 9-play, 83-yard drive to go up 1 with 3:21 remaining.

Unlike the last time Auburn played in Tiger Stadium, K Colt David was having a good day, having gone 3 for 3 on field goals.  It seemed like that was what LSU was playing for.  There was a number of running plays (including spontaneous runs by the QB) that took time off the clock as Flynn drove the Tigers downfield.  LSU also converted a key third and 3 from the Auburn 41 to keep the drive going (on a Richard Murphy run). Jacob Hester, the hero of the Florida game a couple of weeks before, would come in with his own 10-yard run. 

When LSU had a third and 7 from the 23 with just under 10 seconds left, Auburn probably expected another run to set up a field goal (LSU still had a timeout).  Instead Flynn threw to the end zone just to the outside of Demetrius Byrd, who turned at just the right time to catch the ball (see here if the picture doesn’t do it justice).

Along with Jacob Hester’s winning touchdown (see the final picture) two weeks earlier, Demetrius Byrd’s catch in the final moments against Auburn was one of the iconic plays in LSU’s national-championship season in 2007.

Since the extra point was taken with 1 second left, a lot of people thought the pass was an unacceptable risk.  I never bought into that since Byrd began to catch the ball with :04 showing on the clock.  It just didn’t really matter whether they stopped it at 4 seconds or 1 second at that point.  If he had dropped the ball or missed it completely, it probably would have been 3 seconds.  Maybe if he had juggled it several times and then dropped it, it would have run out the clock though.

2016

One second would make all the difference 9 years later, but I’d rather not rehash that game again.  SBNation did a good job though. You can’t tell for sure that the center wasn’t beginning the snap in the picture though.

(I already said all I needed to say about the games from 2008 to 2015.)

2017

I mentioned in the Florida summary how LSU had two ugly losses in the first five weeks of the season in 2017 but came back to beat Florida by 1.  The next week, it looked like the Tigers were going to have three ugly losses in seven weeks when #10 Auburn went out to a 20-0 lead in Tiger Stadium. 

See my 2017 blog about the game for details, but I’ll just set up how LSU reduced the lead to 9 before halftime.

The defense holding Auburn to a field goal (meaning it was 20-0 and not 24-0) wouldn’t have meant anything if the LSU offense hadn’t gotten into gear on the next drive. LSU wouldn’t even require a single pass to be thrown.  Six rushing plays got the Fighting Tigers 90 yards and touchdown (70 of the yards by on a carry Russell Gage).

Auburn looked ready to bring the lead back up to 20 a couple of drives later, but once again the defense bent but didn’t break.  After a first and goal from the 10, Auburn was only at the 8 before settling for a field goal. 

LSU took possession back with 2:16 left.  Given the passing struggles, success didn’t seem likely, but that didn’t stop Danny Etling.  On the drive, Etling completed 5 of 6 pass attempts for 67 yards and a touchdown. 

The comeback wasn’t complete yet, but a 9-point deficit at halftime looks a lot better than a 20-point deficit early in the second quarter. 

2018

I didn’t even talk about the details of the last LSU-Auburn game last year, I just debunked some of the whining after the fact by Auburn fans. 

LSU went out to an early 10-point lead midway through the second quarter, but Auburn roared back to go up 21-10 with about 25 minutes to go in the game.

Like in the previous year, it just seemed like the LSU defense drew a line in the sand at that point.  Auburn went three and out on their next drive, then after one first down Stidham threw an interception in LSU territory.  The next drive, Auburn missed a 52-yard field goal.  The only reason they got that far downfield was a targeting call, and Auburn would not get beyond their own 30 again.

LSU also had to score in the meantime of course.  After one three and out, LSU was able to vary run and pass to get into first and goal at the Auburn 8 but had to settle for a field goal.

The next drive was really quick, too quick to watch in real time.  Here is the slow-motion replay.

Derrick Dillon catches a pass over the middle before running for the end zone on a 71-yard completion to bring LSU within two at Auburn last year.

But LSU couldn’t get the two-point conversion.  As mentioned, Auburn could do nothing on offense, so LSU had to win the game with a field goal. 

LSU had a third and 11 right away, but that’s when there was one of the major pass interference calls I talked about in the blog above. After an incompletion on first down, Burrow ran a few yards on second down to make it a more reasonable third and 7, which the Fighting Tigers just barely converted. 

Burrow also ran on the next second down (which was also 2nd and 10), but he was tackled for a loss on third down.  Again, LSU was just able to get past the marker, this time to Stephen Sullivan. After yet another first-down incompletion, another pass interference was called on third down.  This put LSU into field goal position, and of course Cole Tracy made it.

This Year

Until the game last week (when LSU settled for field goals on the first three offensive possessions), I might have said how Auburn shouldn’t expect to hold this offense out of the end zone for long stretches of time.  LSU would eventually score as many points against Mississippi St. in the first half as they scored against Auburn the whole game last year though, so I’m still expecting this year’s LSU team to easily outscore last year’s in this game.

I watched parts of the Auburn games against Oregon and Florida.  Although, the LSU defense hasn’t always been great (though it is underrated by people who look at scores rather than watching games), I still think there will be stretches where Auburn can’t score.  Auburn scored only 3 points in the first four drives and 6 in the first nine drives against the Ducks   Against Florida, which let’s remember allowed 42 to LSU, Auburn couldn’t score for the last 40 minutes of the game. 

I do think Auburn’s pass rush will cause some incompletions and might get sacks (unlike Florida’s), but the defensive backfield might be even less able to keep up with LSU wide receivers.

Auburn does have a good front, hence the concerns about the pass rush, but pass rush and run defense aren’t the same thing.  If Auburn sends too much pressure, that could leave open lanes for Burrow or one of the backs.  If Auburn is trying too hard to defend the run, that often requires staying near the line of scrimmage rather than rushing the backfield. 

Auburn also has a good offensive line, so LSU could have some of the same dilemmas.  But I’m more confident in Burrow making good decisions in a game like this than Auburn fans should be in (the younger) Nix even if Nix ends up with more time.  Whitlow ran for about 4.5 yards per carry against both Oregon and Florida, but he won’t be playing.  Kam Martin (who had a few good carries against Florida but ran poorly against Oregon) ran well in his first full game as Whitlow’s replacement, but I don’t know how comparable running against Arkansas is to running against LSU.

I would lean toward taking the points.  I know I guessed wrong about Florida, but Auburn can probably score about what Florida did and maybe hold LSU out of the end zone on one or two more drives.  Maybe LSU just doesn’t have that final score to go up double digits like they did against Florida.  I would give Auburn about a 1 in 3 chance to win.  I think having a week off after Florida and not having to do anything fancy against Arkansas could be a slight advantage.  Florida did beat Auburn, but I think it was harder for the Gators to get back up for the LSU game than it will be for Auburn.  Also, despite the eventual loss by 14, Florida did still have a decent chance to win late.

Week 8 Top 25 and LSU

In College Football, History, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary, Rivalry on October 20, 2019 at 11:30 AM

I think the way I organized the blogs last week worked well, so I’ll talk about LSU and a couple of other big games.  I won’t thoroughly go through the top 25, but it’s listed below. Click here for the computer rating of all teams.

I couldn’t find a quality picture of the record-breaking or record-tying pass, but this reception and score by Racey McMath put Joe Burrow one touchdown pass short of the LSU single-season record, which he went on to break in Starkville Saturday.

I’ve updated the LSU/Mississippi St. rivalry blog.  I did think LSU would be slowed early, and that ultimately held the Tigers below 40 for the first time this season.  It was pretty close to the reverse of the 37-7 Bulldog win in Starkville two years ago.  If LSU doesn’t miss an extra point and allow a last-minute touchdown, it would have been the same final score.

If anyone asked, I’m sure Coach Orgeron would say it’s not about him; but I’m sure he’s satisfied to finally get a win in Starkville. There was a lot that went wrong in his tenure at Ole Miss, but his two games there were the main reason he got fired.  To get blown out there his first game against the Bulldogs at LSU had to feel like a bad case of déjà vu.  

I’ve talked a bit about Auburn in previewing both Mississippi St. and Florida.  I might or might not have more to say later, but LSU/Auburn is always a big game. 

For now I’ll just talk briefly about the recent rivalry. This game is at Tiger Stadium, but we had a couple of ugly losses against them at their place before last year.  I mentioned Coach O’s two losses in Starkville as it related to his firing back in 2007.  Les Miles had a much more successful tenure overall, but two losses in two trips to Auburn immediately preceded his firing at LSU. 

Auburn has some desire for payback too.  Those two losses at Auburn at the end of the Miles era are the only LSU losses in the series since Auburn’s 2010 national championship.  Auburn hasn’t won at LSU in 20 years.  LSU beat a few pretty highly-regarded Auburn teams over the past few years, including the one that was one stop/score away from a national championship in 2013 and the one who went to the SEC Championship Game two years ago.  Auburn didn’t end up having a great year last year, but they were ranked #7 and expected to beat LSU by a couple of scores.  The bayou Tigers won on walk-off field goal.  The point being that Auburn would especially enjoy getting LSU back with an upset in this one.

Speaking of Les and upsets, Kansas almost had a big upset in Austin on Saturday; but if they’d won it would have made LSU’s win there less impressive.  Even if the Jayhawks don’t win another game this season, I think he’s had a positive influence there so far.  I was reminded this weekend that Lou Holtz went winless his first year at South Carolina, but Holtz without question got that program headed in the right direction.

Pooka Williams of Kansas ran for 190 yards on 25 carries in the 50-48 loss in Austin Saturday.

I checked the score late in the Wisconsin game, and I thought they would run out the clock being that they were up 9 and had generally had a dominant defense so far.  So I was a bit surprised when I found out what happened.  That takes some of the luster off of the Ohio St. game, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the Buckeyes have more chance to win than they did a few days ago.

I followed the same basic guidelines as last week. I didn’t move anyone more than 3 spots from the computer ranking.  The only difference is there were no exceptions this week.  I anticipate this will be Clemson’s last week at #1, but maybe not if LSU and Ohio St. both lose next week. I think the computer results are starting to make more sense, so I might not move teams much if at all next week.

rankteamlast
1Clemson1
2Ohio St.2
3LSU3
4Alabama4
5Penn St.6
6Oklahoma9
7Auburn7
8SMU12
9Baylor13
10Florida10
11Minnesota17
12Oregon11
13Wisconsin5
14Cincinnati20
15Appalachian16
16Boise St.8
17Memphis25
18Georgia18
19Notre Dame19
20Wake Forest24
21Utah
22Navy22
23Michigan15
24Iowa
25Texas

Out of Top 25: (14) Arizona St., (21) Washington, (23) Hawaii

LSU/Mississippi St.: Recent Games and Coaches

In College Football, General LSU, History, Preview, Rivalry on October 16, 2019 at 6:38 PM

I put a couple of paragraphs at the end about what I expect of this game, but this is not a preview blog.

Coach O and Intro

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. He is still looking for his first win in Starkville.

You’ll see the relevance below, but I wanted to update Ed Orgeron’s record against the various SEC teams.  Other than Saban, whose first year at Alabama was Orgeron’s last year at Ole Miss (Alabama won, 27-24), none of the coaches he has coached against as the Ole Miss head coach were SEC head coaches whom Orgeron has coached against at LSU.  In fact, Les Miles is the only other active head coach in any conference whom Orgeron coached directly against at Ole Miss.

Winning records (not counting the 1-0 mark against Missouri since they joined the SEC): Ole Miss 3-0, Texas A&M 2-1

.500: Arkansas 3-3, Vanderbilt 2-2, Kentucky 1-1, Tennessee 1-1

1 game under .500: Auburn 2-3, Mississippi St. 2-3, Florida 2-3, Georgia 1-2, Missouri 1-2 (Missouri was not in the SEC when Orgeron coached against the Tigers at Ole Miss)

Worse: LSU 0-3, Alabama 0-6

Mississippi St., Florida, and Alabama are the only SEC programs against whom Orgeron has coached but against whom he does not have a winning record while the coach at LSU.

He didn’t coach against South Carolina at either stop and is still waiting to get revenge on Kentucky for beating his Rebels 31-14 in 2006. On the other hand, the first and one of only three conference wins at Ole Miss was against the Wildcats. The others were against Mississippi St. and Vanderbilt.

Anyway, this mostly isn’t about Coach O and his disappointments with the Rebels. It occurred to me that now was the perfect time to talk about LSU’s history against Dan Mullen, the current Florida and former Mississippi St. head coach.  I’ll explain why, but given that LSU usually plays Florida in early October, it’s very rare that the Tigers play the Gators and Bulldogs back-to-back despite LSU having played both almost every year going back to the 1950s.

Dan Mullen vs. LSU and Rivalry Intro

Last week, Dan Mullen fell to 1-1 against LSU as head coach of the Gators, but he’s still 2-1 overall against Orgeron given his big win in 2017.  LSU has a much more well-established historical series against the Mississippi St. Bulldogs, where Mullen coached from 2009 to 2017. 

If you’re interested, here is the the full LSU/Mississippi St. Rivalry blog.

At State, Mullen didn’t have a good record against LSU (2-7), but he had as many wins as Jackie Sherrill, the all-time State leader in wins (75, which Mullen probably would have beaten by staying one more season) and the only Mississippi St. coach to lead the Bulldogs to the SEC Championship.  Sherrill was there 13 years to Mullen’s 9, and this has been an annual series since 1944 (the Bulldogs didn’t field a team in 1943).

The 2014 State win in Baton Rouge was the first since 1991, Sherrill’s first season.  The 2017 win (Mullen’s last year) was only the second win over LSU in Starkville since 1984.  The only other win was by that Sherrill-coached team that made the SEC championship in 1999.  It was by 1 point, and LSU would finish the season 3-8.

One thing I regret about the changes in schedules is that this was a traditional late-season game for both teams.  Mississippi St. was usually warming up for the Egg Bowl, and LSU usually played State between Alabama and Tulane.  It was played on the second or third Saturday of November (between 11/12 and 11/18) every year from 1947 to 1991.  The first game between the two was actually played on the third Saturday of November 1896.  It moved around the calendar before settling on a particular time consistently, but it was generally in November from then until 1922 and then every year from 1933 to 1940. 

The game was played on the third Saturday of October from 1928 to 1932 and on five other occasions, so I guess there is at least some tradition to draw on this time.  I don’t mind that this season we have a bit of a buffer between Florida and Auburn, although sometimes that is when a team gets tripped up, particularly on the road. Since Ole Miss can’t be Halloween weekend (which is a bye), I would have preferred Ole Miss serve as the buffer, but they didn’t ask me.

Dan Mullen discusses his first Bulldog recruiting class in 2009.

LSU vs. Mississippi St. 2009 to 2017

Mullen nearly scored an upset over the Tigers in Starkville in his first season in 2009.  LSU won with a late goal-line stand by 4 points.  I wonder if Mullen had flashbacks to that on Saturday. LSU didn’t ultimately have a great season at 9-4; but it was only two years after LSU won the BCS Championship, so it would have been a big deal. 

That 2009 season was Mullen’s only season there that the Bulldogs did not qualify for a bowl game, so he probably would have been 9/9 had he figured out a way to gain that one more yard.  The Bulldogs gained one yard on first and goal from the 2 and were stuffed on the next three plays.  Only the third-down play was a pass.  Chad Jones, who also won a national championship as a pitcher on the baseball team, made the two tackles at the line of scrimmage on second and fourth downs and defended the third-down pass.

In the next four years, no matter how good they were, they couldn’t even make it interesting against the Tigers. It helped that LSU went 44-9 over those 4 years.

The Tigers finally had a serious rebuilding job to do in 2014; and Mississippi St. had its best team in decades.  The Tigers would play well at times that season (such as upsetting the #3 team and nearly upsetting the #4 team… more on that here), but that wasn’t until later in the year.  What made it worse was the Tigers could not find a consistent quarterback that season, and the Bulldog quarterback was Louisiana native Dak Prescott, whom the Tigers coaching staff refused to offer a scholarship as a quarterback. 

Dak Prescott stiff-arms DB Jalen Mills in Tiger Stadium in September 2014.

Prescott was not a household name before that game.  LSU was ranked #8 and the Bulldogs were unranked.  The depleted LSU defense led by DC John Chavis was not prepared for that type of spread attack at all.  The defenders were somehow unable to fill gaps or keep the play in front of them, and they weren’t able to make key tackles.  Prescott threw for 268 yards and rushed for 118 (not counting the sack yardage).

The only reason LSU was able to make the final score respectable was that three different Tigers were able to throw for a combined 341 yards, but they didn’t even try to do that until they got well behind in the game.  QB Brandon Harris threw two touchdown passes in less than 30 seconds late in the fourth quarter.  The Tigers attempted an onsides kick with 1:27 left that would have given them a real chance to win, but when the Bulldogs recovered it, they were able to run over a minute off of the clock.  LSU then had 20 seconds to go 80 yards, and you can guess how that went.  Harris did have 34 all-purpose yards on that drive before throwing an interception on the final play, but it needed to be at least 34 yards in one play.

It was 34-10 in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, so the 34-29 final score doesn’t convey how dominant the Bulldogs were for most of the game.

The next year in Starkville it was the Tigers who led early in the fourth quarter, 21-6 in that case.  Kevin Steele, the new defensive coordinator (now the defensive coordinator at Auburn), and Ed Orgeron, the Tigers’ new defensive line coach, seemed to have instilled the right schemes and techniques in the offseason.  Cracks were already developing late in the third quarter though.  The Bulldogs had just gotten into the red zone when the fourth quarter began and shortly afterward Prescott took the ball into the end zone himself.

When LSU got the ball, the Tigers called three rushing plays for a combined -1 yards.  Mississippi St. would drive again, but the drive stalled behind the LSU 30.  Prescott was sacked by Lewis Neal on third down to prevent a long field goal try (the kicker Devon Bell had previously made it from 43 and it would have been about 49 before the sack).

The Tigers went back to their conservative ways on offense again, but it actually worked for a couple of first downs before the drive stalled at midfield, giving the ball back to Dak at the Mississippi St. 18 after a punt.

Prescott threw completions on 6 consecutive plays to lead the Bulldogs to a touchdown, but he could not score from three yards out on the conversion attempt, so LSU still led by 2, 21-19.

The Tigers still refused to throw the ball; and Mississippi St. got the ball again, this time at the 11. Only 1:32 remained though, so it wasn’t the dual-threat situation that the Bulldogs excelled in.  LSU jumped offsides on the first play, and Prescott then threw completions in four of the next five plays.  This gave the Bulldogs the ball at the LSU 39.  The Tiger defense, knowing time was running out, knew the Bulldogs were going to throw, probably toward the sidelines.  All three passes from that spot were unsuccessful, leading to a fourth down with 3 seconds left.  Fifty+ was probably not in Bell’s comfort zone, and he missed from 52 as time expired.

The next year, Dak had been replaced by Nick Fitzgerald (with assistance from Damian Williams… Mullen likes having a second QB to throw into games apparently), and LSU had settled on Purdue transfer Danny Etling as the starting quarterback in another early-season game. The Tigers started strong again, this time with a 20-0 lead midway through the second quarter.  After and exchange of field goals, it was 23-3 at the half.  The Bulldogs got another field goal in the third quarter, but it seemed like LSU was going to run out the clock with no major drama. 

However, the momentum shifted when LSU failed to convert a fourth down from the Mississippi St. 34.  Rather than trying for a field goal to go back up by 20, LSU decided to go for the first down instead.  Fournette was stuffed.  He actually fumbled on the play, but by rule a fourth-down fumble recovered by the offense (which it was) essentially means the play was dead.

Nick Fitzgerald looks for the sideline after a first-down run as LSU safety John Battle closes in in Starkville two years ago.

Fitzgerald and Williams responded with a 9-play, 66-yard touchdown drive to bring the score to 23-13.  State recovered the ensuing onsides kick, and Williams led the Bulldogs to another score, this time taking only two plays.  It was now 23-20 with 3:30 to play.  You can guess what LSU did (or didn’t do) on offense, and the Bulldogs would start the next drive on their own 33 with 1:35 remaining. 

The Bulldogs could only come up with a two-yard rush, two incompletions, and a sack, so LSU would be able to run out the clock after tense final minutes for the third consecutive game in the series.  It was Les Miles’ 114th win as LSU head coach and would be his last.  It was his 10th win against the Bulldogs in 12 seasons.

In 2017, both offenses were ineffective early (0-0 after the first quarter) and then more methodical (10-7 in favor of the home Bulldogs with 5 minutes left in the half).  The wind was taken out of LSU’s sails when Mississippi St. had a 10-play, 54-yard touchdown drive to end the first half and a 7-play, 48-yard drive that ended in a field goal to begin the second half.

Now down 20-7, LSU tried to mix run and pass on the ensuing drive, but Etling went 1/3 for 6 yards on the drive.  So Mississippi St. got the ball back. The shorthanded LSU defense was already getting worn out, and then two players were ejected for targeting.  The Bulldogs were forced into two third-and-1 situations, but they ran for a first down on one of them and fooled the defense on the second one for a 45-yard touchdown pass.  In hindsight, the game was essentially over at that point even though 5 minutes remained in the third quarter. 

The final score was Mississippi St. 37, LSU 7.  The Tigers did have a couple of decent long drives on offense, but when you’re three possessions or more behind, you usually don’t try to settle for long field goals even if they were likely to go in.  The field-goal kicking that year was not very reliable anyway.

The Tigers would lose to Troy two weeks later before going 6-1 to close out the regular season.  I’d rather not talk about the bowl game.

At Mississippi St., Mullen only had double-digit wins that one year of 2014, but the 2017 team was tied for second-best of his tenure at 9-4.  It was tied with the 2015 season in which they lost to LSU, 21-19.

Mullen goes to Florida

So 2017 was the first Orgeron-Mullen meeting.  I still wish LSU had last year’s Florida game back, but Orgeron has had a pretty decent improvement in two seasons, especially considering that Mullen took over a better program.  I look forward to more games between the two.

Mullen didn’t even replace a bad coach, just one who lost a few games in a row the year after winning the SEC East the prior year.  As I mentioned last week, I’m not a Jim McElwain fan; but from what I saw he could at least do a respectable job of recruiting, hiring assistants, and managing the game (at least unless they got behind a few scores).  The point of bringing him up is, although Mullen had to recover from a bad year and did well to win 10 games last season, I don’t think McElwain did anything that made it more difficult to win games at Florida than it had been at Mississippi St. in any long-term sense.

Not really apropos of anything, but McElwain is 4-3 as the Central Michigan head coach this season despite games against Wisconsin and U. of Miami.  I was just curious where he ended up and didn’t find out until I looked him up while preparing the Florida preview, so I thought I’d share.

2019 Preview and Joe Moorhead

Anyway, since I’m done talking about Dan Mullen for now, I’ll mention the upcoming game against his successor Joe Moorhead, who actually served on the Penn St. staff with LSU passing game coordinator Joe Brady.  Ed Orgeron said Moorhead called after the hire to add his endorsement.

I would say Moorhead had a respectable showing last season, going 8-5. He had close losses to Florida and Iowa (in the bowl game). He beat four teams who went to bowl games: UL-Lafayette, Auburn, Texas A&M, and Louisiana Tech. Apart from Iowa, all the losses were to teams who would win 10 games or more.

Things aren’t going quite as well this year. State started 3-1, which looked decent given the win over Kentucky (which had beaten the Bulldogs 28-7 last year); but the Bulldogs have been outscored 76-33 in the last two games. That included Moorhead’s first loss to a mediocre to bad team Tennessee.

LSU K Cole Tracy was responsible for 13 of the game’s 22 points – and for all of the points after the first quarter – in Baton Rouge last year. LSU had one touchdown drive that started at the Bulldog 3, and State only scored on one field goal.

Since Mississippi St. could only hold Tennessee to 20, I don’t think we will see a replay of last year’s 19-3 score in favor of LSU.  The Bulldogs had three defensive players drafted from last year’s team, not to mention LSU’s changes on offense. 

State has another decent mobile quarterback Garrett Shrader, but he won’t have the kind of talent around him that Nick Fitzgerald had in the big Bulldog win in September 2017 (and didn’t have last season).  They have another quarterback Tommy Stevens who may come off the bench, but he’s statistically not as good at running or passing. Both have had injuries, which is the main reason LSU doesn’t want Burrow to show off his running abilities more.

Yet again I think the prior opponent most comparable to LSU is Auburn, who won 56-23.  Shrader did average 5.6 yards per rush and 9.1 yards per pass in that game though.  That was at Auburn and not following a top-10 opponent, so don’t be too disappointed if LSU doesn’t beat that margin of victory. 

I will be very interested to see how the LSU defense deals with Shrader early though.  Like Florida, the Bulldogs are capable of long, methodical drives; but unlike Florida they showed that ability against Auburn.  They just couldn’t keep up with the Auburn offense, which had great field position on its first three drives to take a 21-0 lead.  But if by contrast LSU struggles early offensively (which happened against Northwestern St. and Utah St.), maybe it will be a game for a while.