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Conference Championship Rematches

In College Football, Preview on December 1, 2017 at 3:33 PM

I’ve talked about how I think Auburn is basically being treated as if they already beat Georgia a second time, but when there is anything approaching parity between two teams, I think the loser has the advantage in a rematch.

Kerryon Johnson dives for a touchdown in the Georgia @ Auburn game a few weeks ago.

Of course the most obvious rematch in recent years was LSU and Alabama. After the Tigers won at Alabama, the Tide won easily at a neutral site for the national championship.

There was a similar result in the same stadium in 1996 when Florida easily won a rematch over Florida St. after a close game during the regular season. Usually rematches are for the conference championship rather than the national championship though.

LSU’s first win in the SEC Championship in 2001 was a rematch against Tennessee. That was so long ago that the West was much easier to win than the East. LSU won the West despite 3 losses that year, one of which was to Tennessee. Tennessee won by 8 in September of 2001 and lost by 11 in the championship game; so it wasn’t quite as dramatic of a swing as LSU/Alabama in the 2011 season, but it was close.

Matt Mauck jumps for a touchdown in the SEC Championship in 2001.

There was an example ESPN cited of Texas beating Colorado easily in 2005 in both the regular season and the championship, but all of these rematches are between teams where apart from the previous game, it would either be difficult to pick which team is better or the loser would seem to be the better team. In 2005, Texas would have beaten Colorado probably 10 out of 10 times.

Most of the SEC rematches were closer to the Texas-Colorado category. In 2000, Florida was still one of the best teams in the county; and like I said, winning the SEC West wasn’t very impressive back then. I don’t think anyone was surprised that Florida beat Auburn easily in both the regular season and the championship. Four years later, Auburn went undefeated and had already beaten Tennessee by 24 in Knoxville. The Vols made it closer (38-28) in the rematch, but the gap was too large to start out with.

Granted, Georgia would have to make a bigger swing in the final score than LSU did in 2001 (they lost by 23), but I don’t think either the Bulldogs offense or defense was playing the way they normally would toward the end. When you throw the ball a lot, you can have much quicker three-and-outs, which puts more pressure on your defense than it wouldn’t normally feel.

As we saw against LSU, Auburn can score in bursts, and it’s a matter of being able to stop them and respond before it gets too bad. Once Auburn had scored 30 unanswered points against Georgia, it was too late. Had they only scored 20 unanswered instead (or had Georgia re-established its offense sooner), it would have been a one-possession game into the fourth quarter and changed the approach of both sides.

My feeling is that if Auburn is able to get a big lead, they can easily grind out Georgia the rest of the way again. We don’t know what happens if Georgia roughly keeps pace for three quarters though.

Although the TCU-Oklahoma game had a closer final score (38-20), it was 38-14 at halftime, so I think it will be easier for Oklahoma to overpower the Horned Frogs early and often than it will be for Auburn against the Bulldogs. Auburn only led 16-7 at the half.

Clemson-Miami and Wisconsin-Ohio St. are not rematches, so the other notable rematch likely does not have a bearing on the national championship, but USC-Stanford may be the best game of the bunch.

Freshman RB Stephen Carr had 129 all-purpose yards against Stanford in September, but it’s unclear how relevant that game will be tonight.

Although the Trojans won by 18 back in Week 2, Stanford has been the better team in the last two months. Both have lost at Washington St. by 3 points, but Notre Dame beat USC by 35 and lost to Stanford by 18. Stanford has no other losses since September 17.

Stanford has had more of a habit of playing down to opponents than USC has, but I don’t think that will be relevant to this game. I think it’s interesting that USC is favored, but ESPN’s FPI power index gives Stanford a 57% chance of victory. It may be that gamblers have been burned by picking Stanford more times than they have by USC.

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Comprehensive SEC Update

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, Post-game, Preview, SEC Wednesdays on November 15, 2017 at 7:28 PM

This is going to be long, because parts of this I meant to post midweek last week, and I forgot. I’ll make subheadings so it’s not a long ramble.

CFP Top 25

I think it’s ridiculous that a two-loss team without an especially great schedule is in the top 6 right now, but I think the committee sent a clear message that Auburn isn’t going to spoil the SEC’s chances by winning. I don’t have a problem with that. I just won’t think Auburn deserves to be in the top 6 unless they beat Alabama (if then). Then, if they beat Georgia again, I probably won’t mind them being in the top 4.

I want to explain why I think this is silly now. If Auburn goes ahead of Georgia despite having one more loss, why doesn’t LSU go ahead of Auburn despite having one more loss? I don’t know why Auburn always gets special rules. You could say LSU lost to Troy; but Troy is 8-2, so to remedy that objection, it should be Troy, LSU, Auburn, Georgia, Notre Dame, right? We don’t pay attention to other games, just how you did in your best game. Tell me that’s not the logic.

Going Bowling

Eight SEC teams are bowl-eligible: Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi St., LSU, and Texas A&M.

Christian Kirk and Texas A&M had no problem with New Mexico and in beating the Lobos became the 8th bowl-eligible SEC team.

Other than Ole Miss, which declared itself ineligible before the season, all other SEC teams have possible routes to bowl games.

Florida will finish with a losing record, which would make them ineligible for a bowl game in most cases. However, it’s possible that a 5-6 Florida team (given the canceled game due to the hurricane) would be allowed to play in a bowl over 5-7 teams if not enough teams are available to fill the bowl slots though. Mississippi St. made a bowl last year despite finishing with a losing record, for instance.

Of the teams which have not guaranteed eligibility, Missouri seems the best-situated, needing only one win. The Tigers play two of the worst teams, Vanderbilt and Arkansas, albeit on the road.

Arkansas would need to beat both Mississippi St. and Missouri, but the upside is both games will be at home. Despite being blown out by Missouri on Saturday, Tennessee is still alive and like Arkansas has its final two contests at home (LSU and Vanderbilt), needing wins in both.

Vanderbilt would also need two wins, one at home and one on the road.

The worst-case scenario for the SEC is as follows: Florida loses one of its two remaining games, Missouri loses both of its remaining games, Mississippi St. beats Arkansas, LSU beats Tennessee, and Tennessee beats Vanderbilt. The best case is: Florida wins twice, Arkansas wins twice, Tennessee wins twice, and Missouri beats Vanderbilt. The first scenario would mean only 8 bowl teams; the second scenario would mean at least 11 and possibly 12 bowl teams.

As I mentioned, Ole Miss will not be in a bowl game; but the Rebels could still finish at least 6-6 (which would have meant bowl-eligibility) by beating either Texas A&M or Mississippi St. At least the Rebels have no ability to stop another SEC team from becoming eligible.

Betting Tips

I went 3-1-1 with my betting recommendations over the previous weekend. So for the year my record is 7-2-1. When I try to give picks every week, I don’t do as well though. Iowa actually beat the spread by 48 1/2. You should get paid double for that. I don’t have any strong opinions this week, but I may for the rivalry week.

LSU-Alabama aftermath

I wanted to mention that I was touched by this tweet and the responses after the Alabama game. I feel bad for any of those young men who feel like they failed because the result wasn’t what they wanted. They failed to win, but the final score doesn’t always reflect the way you play. Any fan of this team should be proud of how we played Alabama or they’re not really a fan.

I don’t mean to dwell on Alabama, but like I said I thought this was worth saying last week and never got around to posting it. I think I would be remiss to omit it just because I was forgetful.

To quote Coach O, “We comin’, and we ain’t backing down.”

LSU-Arkansas Recap

I’ve updated the LSU-Arkansas Rivalry Blog

LSU did not play well in the first half against Arkansas, but I felt like we got on track fairly early in the second half. I found out afterward that Danny Etling was not at full strength and had some trouble warming up fully. This may have contributed to errant throws. I’m hoping this was just due to the fall chill setting in and the game being early. Don’t be surprised if the fans who want Myles Brennan to take over quarterback duties get their wish at some point in the regular season though.

After being absent since the Troy game, Myles Brennan saw some meaningful action toward the end of the Alabama game.

I’m very relieved that we have a coaching staff that makes necessary halftime adjustments and I believe does so better than the vast majority of coaching staffs in the country.

The problems weren’t all due to Etling of course. I know some players tried to get used to getting up early, but there is a difference between getting up early and having your usual energy when you’re accustomed to getting up.

The defense started pretty well, although it seemed like it got a bit lethargic on the Arkansas touchdown drive at the end of the half. If the offense had done its job during the half, that drive would not have happened though. Arkansas has not been shut out this season, so the fact that the Hogs would have been held to 3 points with some more first-half offensive efficiency bodes well for the remaining games. The only other teams to keep Arkansas below 20 points were Alabama (9) and TCU (7).

LSU-Tennessee Game Preview

The only way I can envision Tennessee winning is if the LSU offense is as bad as it was in the first half against Arkansas for the entire game. I struggle to imagine LSU scoring in the 30s again and losing. If LSU has incompletions and turnovers all game without any deep balls or long runs to compensate, they can lose to any SEC team under those circumstances.

I was not impressed with interim head coach Brady Hoke’s tenure at Michigan, but I can’t imagine that the team will not be improved from last week’s 50-17 loss to Missouri.

Tennessee went down hard at Missouri on Saturday, leaving the administration no choice but to move on from Butch Jones.

After scoring 42 points apiece in their first two games (Georgia Tech, which went to overtime, and Indiana St.), the Volunteers have scored 20 points or fewer six times this season, including in their home win over Massachusetts (the only win among them). The Vols scored 24 in their home win over Southern Mississippi and 26 in their loss at Kentucky.

As of right now, Tennessee has lost its most-recent game against every other member of the SEC. I’m pretty sure outgoing head coach Butch Jones is the first head coach to ever have lost his most-recent game against all 14 SEC teams at the same time (he also lost to the Vols as head coach of Cincinnati).

LSU-Tennessee Series

Nick Saban went 2-1 against Tennessee as LSU head coach, although in 2001 he lost his only contest in Knoxville as coach of the Tigers. Before Saban, the Tigers had only beaten the Vols 3 times in all locations.

Before Les Miles came to LSU, the Tigers had only won a single time in Knoxville in their history (1988). Miles won his two games there in 2006 and 2011, respectively. After losing his first SEC game at LSU to Tennessee in Baton Rouge, Miles beat the Vols in the four contests since including in the “Have a Great Day” SEC Championship game in 2007 and in the 16-14 win on the untimed down in Baton Rouge in 2010.

So although Tennessee leads the all-time series 20-9-3, LSU is 6-2 since 2000.

See more in the LSU-Tennessee Rivalry Blog

Coaching Hot Seats

Scott Rabalais of the Advocate did a run-down of all the SEC head coaching positions, so I thought I’d chime in.
I wanted to mention that Kentucky’s Mark Stoops is now the most-tenured coach in the SEC East. When he was told this information, he responded, “That’s scary.” In all seriousness though, Stoops could probably coach there for as long as he wants if he can maintain the Wildcats’ winning percentage of late. As hot seats go, his isn’t much warmer than Saban’s.

Obviously two coaches in the East have been fired in the last couple of weeks now. I don’t think either interim coach will stay. Derrick Mason may survive just because he’s at Vanderbilt, but I don’t know if his job is secure.

I certainly think Muschamp and Smart are safe, as both have had more success than expected this season. After a rough start (5-13 overall, 2-10 in conference), Barry Odom has won four in a row at Missouri; and none have been decided by fewer than four touchdowns. I’m almost certain he’ll survive to see season three.

In the West, Ole Miss will probably be looking for a new coach, although interim coach Matt Luke has done an admirable job under the circumstances. I know he wants that Arkansas game back though.

Speaking of which, Bret Bielema seems to have been given a long leash at Arkansas, but at a certain point you have to make progress. Even if the Hogs win out, the best they can do is tie last year’s final record of 7-6. To be fair, Arkansas is improved from his first season in 2013 in which they went 3-9 and failed to win an SEC game. Kevin Sumlin is in a similar situation at Texas A&M. They’re not bad, but they’re not really making progress either.

Saban and Mullen are fine of course, and can probably stay as long as they’d like. Mullen, incidentally was mentioned as a candidate at Tennessee, but I’m not sure why he’d take that job. Both Orgeron and Malzahn took some heat after their respective second losses this season (LSU to Troy and Auburn to LSU), but both sets of Tiger fans seem to have settled down for now.

Quick Hits & LSU-Bama Series

In College Football, General LSU, History, MLB, Preview, Rivalry on November 2, 2017 at 4:37 PM

Quick Hits

I want to talk about LSU-Alabama of course, but I also wanted to talk about a couple of other things first.

Really briefly, I’ve made previous reference to my dislike for politics seeping into sports. Accordingly, I won’t go into details about any one issue. I feel that since a certain point of view is being pushed by much of the sports media, I should at least recommend someone who says mostly correct things about such topics (this is an interview he gave): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4lqeseEV5_w.

I didn’t get that into this baseball season; but as I mentioned in the last blog, I have enjoyed the World Series. While of course I’m happy for former LSU player Alex Bregman, I’m especially happy for the players I’ve been watching for 10 years or more like Carlos Beltran, Justin Verlander, and Francisco Liriano. As a long-term fan of the Cardinals and Mets, I’m especially happy for Beltran, who may have had his last chance at the age of 40. I thought the Dodgers had a strong advantage going into Game 7, but they make you play the game for a reason.

Carlos Beltran with his teammates after they held a memorial service for his fielding glove. Beltran spent most of his career as an outfielder, but the Astros rarely needed him to take the field defensively this season.

Along those lines, I think there are some college football teams who are not being given as much of a chance as they have in reality. I haven’t been picking lines much this season, although I did go 4-1 in my recommendations in Week 1 or 2. The following underdogs are all ones I’d be tempted to put a little bit of money on: Texas A&M +15 (vs. Auburn), South Carolina +23.5 (@Georgia), Iowa +17.5 (vs. Ohio St.), LSU +21.5 (@Alabama), and Oregon +17.5 (@Washington).

Before I go into details about the LSU-Alabama game, I wanted to wish Nick Saban a happy 66th birthday. I have no reason to believe he won’t be around for a while, but I think such milestones are a cause for reflection. Although I’ll be glad to see him go for some reasons, I think part of me will miss him. I honestly enjoy listening to a lot of his press conferences. He has important perspectives to share when he’s not berating reporters for asking dumb questions, and you can’t complain about a guy raising the bar for his opponents.

Alabama DB Daniel Wright sings “Happy Birthday” to Nick Saban

So I had the occasion to check out Saban’s Wikipedia page and remind myself of a couple of things. I had forgotten that Jim McElwain was his offensive coordinator from 2008 to 2011, which included two national championships. Of course the offensive coordinator for his first national championship (the one at LSU) was another coach now on a bit of a hot seat by the name of Jimbo Fisher.

Other than LSU-Alabama, the biggest SEC game (in my opinion) is South Carolina-Georgia, which will be two former defensive assistants under Saban facing off as head coaches. Georgia’s Kirby Smart obviously was the defensive coordinator at Alabama recently. Will Muschamp was a Saban assistant at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins but has never been an assistant at Alabama.

Alabama often gets LSU’s best shot.

Despite the repeated losses, LSU has typically played better against Alabama than they should have on paper. I mention all of this in my LSU-Alabama series of blogs (this is the main one), but I thought it was worth rehashing a few things.

In 1993, LSU ended Alabama’s 31-game unbeaten streak. As most LSU wins of the past few decades have been, that was on the road. Like this game, that was a betting line of more than 20 points (it was 27 actually). The Tigers were much worse back then though. It had been 5 years since LSU even made a bowl game at that point.

Ivory Hilliard of LSU returns an interception deep into Alabama territory in Tuscaloosa in 1993. LSU would win, 17-13.

LSU would not beat Alabama again until 1997 when the Tide was having a bad year, but 5 of the Tide’s 7 losses that season were by 12 points or less, and 4 of the losses were by one possession. The only ones that were decided by more than 12 points were Tennessee’s 38-21 win (the Vols finished 11-2) and LSU’s 27-0 win (the Tigers finished 9-3). So in short, LSU should have won; but they shouldn’t have won by that much.

The respective fortunes reversed the next season, but despite finishing with a 4-7 record, LSU played the Tide close, only losing by 6. Alabama would lose 4 games to teams who would win 9 games or more apiece on the season and finished 7-5. It was the same margin the following year, in which LSU finished 3-8 and Alabama finished 10-3.

The series ceased to be a really meaningful rivalry until 2005 when Alabama entered the game undefeated and LSU entered the game on a 6-game winning streak after losing the conference opener in a weekday game that had been delayed by Hurricane Rita. The Tigers would win in overtime in another road game.

LSU’s JaMarcus Russell escapes an Alabama defender in Tuscaloosa in 2005.

The Tide kept the game close in Nick Saban’s first season in 2007, but they were ultimately overmatched by an LSU team on the way to a national championship.
Alabama would partially avenge LSU’s 5-game winning streak in the series by winning the next two, but the Tigers still played better than they should have. 2008 was probably LSU’s worst year under Les Miles, and yet they took the Tide to overtime. Alabama won the SEC West that year and probably would have won the national championship had they not lost to Florida in the SEC Championship. In the following year, Alabama beat everyone and LSU would finish 9-4, but the Tide only won by 9. That was despite a crucial LSU interception that was ruled incomplete.

Patrick Peterson grabs an apparent interception in Tuscaloosa in 2009. The pass was ruled incomplete.

Alabama’s 19-game winning streak was ended by South Carolina in 2010, but a number of people still favored the Tide in the SEC Championship race because they would have represented the West had they won out even though Auburn was undefeated at the time. But first they ran into LSU, who had just lost to Auburn the week before. LSU won in an upset, 24-21, in Baton Rouge. Although the SEC West was out of reach, Alabama would still nearly beat Auburn in the Iron Bowl before falling 28-27.

The 2011 regular-season game was as close as a #1 vs. #2 game should be, and I don’t need to recount how much of a disappointment the national championship game was, but since then, LSU has been generally competitive even when they really shouldn’t have been.

Alabama was on the way to another national championship in 2012 and LSU had already registered a 14-6 loss to Florida, but the Tide needed a last-minute touchdown to win by 4. The Tide pulled away late to win by 21 in 2013, but it was a 7-point game going into the last 11 minutes and a tie game going into the last 20 minutes. Alabama was #1, and LSU had already lost twice and was ranked #13.

I’m still angry about the way LSU lost in 2014. The Tigers recovered a late fumble near the Alabama end zone in a tie game. Under normal circumstances, LSU wins, but after some routine mutual pushing and shoving, there was a personal foul called which pushed LSU back and kept crucial seconds on the clock for the next Alabama possession. After the field goal to go up 3, the idea was for LSU to kick a low bouncing ball in the middle of the field. It was the kind of kick the coaches had in mind except for how it bounced out of bounds. Had LSU scored a touchdown, which would have been a strong possibility without the personal foul, Alabama would have nonetheless needed a Hail Mary to win. Anyway, after these turns of events, Alabama was able to kick the tying field goal at the end of regulation before winning in overtime. I was happy when Alabama lost to Ohio St. a couple of months later, but the feeling from that loss still lingers. By the way, that was one of 5 LSU losses that season.

Alabama’s T. J. Yeldon fumbles, while Kendell Beckwith (#52) prepares to recover the ball in Baton Rouge in 2014.

The result in 2015 (Alabama winning 30-16) was consistent with how good the teams were, but I thought last year was much closer than it should have been on paper. Alabama ended up winning by 10, but it was a scoreless game going into the fourth quarter. Alabama was every bit as good as Clemson even though they didn’t win the national championship game at the end, and LSU finished 8-4 last year. So despite the losing streak, more often than not LSU does better than they theoretically should do against Alabama.

I’m not picking LSU to win, but I’d be at least mildly surprised if it’s a 14-point margin or greater. LSU has a better offense than they did at this time last year. The Tigers have a much better playbook, and LSU quarterback Danny Etling is improved. Alabama’s offense is also arguably better, but I think the difference between this year and last year for LSU is larger. Even if Alabama is just as superior as last year, I still don’t think they should win by more than twice as much.

Cancellations and (later) Game Previews

In College Football, History, NFL, Preview on September 9, 2017 at 11:09 AM

I will not make a habit of posting game previews on Saturday, but it just worked out that way this week. I didn’t look for pictures but may do so later.

Cancellations

First of all, I want to make clear that South Florida (and possibly parts of North Florida, West Florida, South Georgia, etc.) are under very serious threat and nothing about Hurricane Irma should be taken lightly.

But being that hurricanes are storm systems that move methodically and don’t shoot out death rays from hundreds of miles away, I do have some criticism over games that were canceled.

hurricane 0909

I understand South Florida and Miami deciding not to play even though they had road games. There would have been too many distractions on Saturday, and there would have been legitimate concerns about the ability to go back after game activities without getting stuck. Preparing to make a couple of days’ trip for a football game and preparing to evacuate indefinitely are two very different things. Maybe the two games could have been moved up to Friday if the decision had been made earlier in the week, but it’s hard to coordinate that with road games against opponents who aren’t used to hurricanes.

I don’t think Florida and Florida St. needed to cancel their games though. I think they should have done what LSU did with the Appalachian St. game in 2008 and played the games in the early morning on Saturday (10:00 Central was early for me anyway, especially as a West Coast resident). The storm would have still been in Cuba at that time, and it would have allowed plenty of storm preparation to help out evacuees from other places.

Along the same lines, I don’t know why it was necessary to cancel the Friday game in Orlando (Memphis @ Central Florida). Attendance might have been low with people having difficulty traveling or for whatever reason having more important matters to attend to, but make-up games often have low attendance anyway.

Anyway, if there are hurricane-force winds in Gainesville, it would probably not be until Monday morning, even later in Tallahassee (if at all). I know some of the players would have had family evacuating from South Florida, but South Floridians play at a large number of schools. I think the primary concern should be for the teams whose campuses were under immediate threat.

Also, for the NFL game, there is of course no question that the game should have been moved. It could have been played at a neutral site elsewhere in Florida, but obviously Florida and Florida St. didn’t want to host games this weekend for NFL or college. Maybe Jacksonville could have been a possibility, but I guess that would have been too close to the anticipated path of the storm. There was also the fact that the Dolphins would have only had six home games. (They already gave up one to play the Saints in London.)

Florida International, which is in the Miami area, managed to host a game on Friday, which makes it even more baffling to me that Central Florida canceled their game. FIU beat Alcorn St. 17-10 if you were curious. Maybe FIU has more sense because they have an international hurricane research center on campus. Also, Florida Atlantic, which is in Boca Raton (North of Miami), is playing @Wisconsin now (Wisconsin will win, but it was surprisingly competitive).

Another possibility is that the road teams who were traveling to Florida got nervous, but I hope that wasn’t the case. I would think someone could have explained that although circular winds in this one have been 160 mph or more within the last day a hurricane isn’t going to suddenly start moving across the map at such a speed. I’m pretty sure people in Monroe understood that, but I’m less sure about whatever city Northern Colorado is in.

Another LSU memory I have is of 2005 when LSU didn’t play Tennessee until Monday night because Hurricane Rita was too close for Tennessee and its fans even though that Saturday in Baton Rouge was just a normal fall evening. Rita was a very destructive storm, just not for Baton Rouge and not on Saturday. That game was also notable because it was Les Miles’ first SEC game at LSU. I’d rather not recall the game itself.

One good thing is that other than Central Florida, none of the games were conference games. Those can cause all kinds of issues later in the year. As you might recall, the SEC had to threaten Florida’s possible berth in the SEC championship (which they eventually earned) before the Gators finally decided to play LSU last year.

Today’s Big Games

Anyway, I did want to talk a little bit about the games that will be played. As I mentioned above, the conference games are the most important, and there is an SEC game between residents of the two “Columbias” (South Carolina and Missouri). I decided that instead of picking all games involving SEC teams, I would just do the conference games and maybe a few extras in weeks with few conference games. So in this game, I’m picking South Carolina +3. I just don’t think Missouri is very good despite all the points they scored last week. They scored 61 against Eastern Michigan last year but lost to South Carolina by 10. I don’t see why the same sort of scenario is less realistic this year.

Offensive lineman Mason Zandi hoists the “Columbia Cup” after last year’s game.

Clemson isn’t in the SEC obviously, but they’re playing Auburn. Clemson won by 6 last year with the best team they’ve had in over 30 years and Auburn was relatively mediocre. So I’m taking Auburn and 5. Auburn might even win, but if they don’t, I can easily see them losing by 3 or 4 and not more.

Somehow Notre Dame is favored by 5 over Georgia. I think if anything Georgia will outperform expectations. Notre Dame’s expectations seem to be unjustifiably positive as usual, so I’m taking Georgia and the points there.

I guess I’ll go against the SEC in the early game of interest, which is TCU (-3) @ Arkansas. Arkansas has started slow a few times in recent years. I think TCU has more of the pieces in place even though I think Kenny Hill probably has a lower ceiling than some of the other quarterbacks in the Big XII alone, but he had a pretty good game in the early going in 2014 against an SEC team (Texas A&M @ South Carolina). Not saying he’ll pass for over 500 yards, just enough to win by 3 or more.

I’m not going to pick any more games against the spread, but there was another early game I’m very eager to follow, which is Pitt at Penn St. It was a great finish last year and probably kept the Nittany Lions out of the playoff in hindsight.

A few other big evening games I haven’t mentioned: Oklahoma @ Ohio St. (two of my top 4, hopefully better than Alabama/Florida St. game), Stanford @ USC (the Trojans were underwhelming last week, but maybe WMU is good), and Boise St. @ Washington St. (I’d take the over, although both struggled offensively in the last couple of games last season).

Season Preview/Week 1 Top 25

In College Football, Preview, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on August 31, 2017 at 3:39 PM

I’m pasting my word version of this at 7:30 Eastern. Check back in an hour or so and it will be better quality and have pictures. I just wanted to make sure it was up before any games really got going. I have no idea of anything that happened since I just got done driving back in a rainstorm and haven’t turned on the TV or logged onto any sports sites.

As always, my first few rankings will be subjective. In preseason this means I look at what I believe the potential of each team is rather than a mathematical assessment of results, which is my approach after the first few weeks (and a couple of weeks’ transition).

Of course there are several teams that could under some circumstance end up winning the whole thing, but some of those could also finish outside the top 20. I think the odds are against Alabama being the national champion this year, but I can’t think of a single team more likely to be the national champion. I also can’t imagine the Tide losing more than maybe 3 games despite what may well end up being the best schedule (SEC West + Florida St. + Tennessee). So I think their range of likely outcomes is better than that of any other team.

The teams that I basically considered eligible for my preseason top 25 were the top 52 teams from last year (I thought it was worth looking into Arkansas and they were 52nd, so that’s the only logic there) and any other major-conference teams which had 16 or more returning starters (not counting kickers).

I had some trouble reducing the number of teams I wanted to consider though, so I did make somewhat of a formula just to give me a range of where I might want to put teams and to reduce the number to around 30 teams to consider. This formula was just based on last year’s rating in my system (modified to make them all positive numbers) and number of returning starters. This was a rough estimate of how good the returning group of players is.

The last team I eliminated was Georgia Tech. Despite some other returning starters, the Yellow Jackets don’t have returning kickers or a returning quarterback, so I thought it was more likely that they would take a step back from last season at the end of which I had them 24th. That was the only team I really struggled with.

There is a lot of talent to replace, but that hasn’t stopped this man from smiling at the end of the season before.

1) Alabama has a relatively small number of returning starters, but that has not stopped them from having very good teams in the last few years, and this time we know who the quarterback is because he’s among those starters. The Tide was a close #2 last year (both on the field and in the ratings) and was far ahead of #3 Ohio St.

2) Speaking of the Ohio St., they had among the fewest returning starters last season and still made the semifinals. I wouldn’t care if they lost that last game 100-0, it took a quality program to get there under the circumstances. I briefly considered the Buckeyes for the top spot.

3) Other than Clemson, Florida St. is the other recent (2011 and after) major national champion I haven’t mentioned. After being blown out against Louisville and losing a nail-biter against North Carolina, the Seminoles dropped only one game, one they easily could have won against Clemson.

4) Despite the ’Noles’ impressive finish, I had Oklahoma finishing ahead of them in the final rankings last year. Being that they have 16 returning starters including a very good quarterback, I could not justify ranking the Sooners any lower. I strongly believe this is the most likely final 4 even though Florida St. obviously plays Alabama in a few days.

5) Penn St. won the highly competitive Big Ten last season and returns 16 starters, so yet again they may be the best team out before the bowl season. Or perhaps the loser of Alabama/Florida St. can’t walk the tight rope the rest of the year, which will open up a spot.

6) Speaking of walking a tight rope, that’s what Clemson did for most of last year. I don’t believe those Tigers would have finished the SEC or Big Ten with only one loss, but that’s a different scenario from being the best team in the country for one game (maybe two) at the end. That’s not to say they weren’t the deserving national champions, but – being that they will have to find a new quarterback and replace approximately half of the starters – I consider Clemson less likely to finish in the top 5 than the others.

7) Wisconsin finished a close second in the Big Ten to Penn St., and the championship-game loss was the Badgers’ only loss since falling in overtime to Ohio St. on October 15. The Badgers return 15 starters.

8) Stanford had an awful 9 days in the early season last year in which they were outscored (by the two big Washington teams) 86-22. But other than that, the Cardinal only had a single 5-point loss and I still ended up ranking them 13th. They return 16 starters.

9) There is no other good combination of strong finish last year and high number of returning starters. One team I was personally impressed with was Oklahoma St. I just feel like the Cowboys have a little bit better upside potential. The defense will be a question mark though.

Two of the most exciting quarterbacks this season are expected to be in the state of Oklahoma.

10) Rounding out the top 10 is Washington. I don’t really expect them to finish in the top 10, but I think it’s right to show some degree of deference to a team which made the semifinals last year, and I just don’t think much on paper separates #9 to about #15.

11) Georgia replaced Mark Richt before last season and got worse, but I think it was most likely part of the calculation that the Bulldogs were not likely to have a great season either way. Their only losses down the stretch were two games by a point apiece (Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech) and the Cocktail Party against Florida. I think the results of games like that will be overturned with the benefit of experience that 17 returning starters provide.

12) Speaking of Florida, I don’t think we can overlook them in the East either. That Cocktail Party game can go either way though, and 14 returning starters after winning the East is still pretty good. The Gators had to play two of the best-finishing teams toward the end, or otherwise they could have finished in the top 10.

13) I had to split up the group of SEC teams with someone, so I chose the SEC’s nemesis (though not on the field) from 13 years ago or so USC. The Trojans had an overdue breakthrough season last year, winning the Rose Bowl; but the Men of Troy do not have a large number of returning starters, so I’m skeptical they can do it again.

For the first time in 10 years, Ed Orgeron will lead a team onto the field to start the season.

14) So this is the lowest I have ranked LSU in the preseason in a long time, but I have to treat the Tigers like I would any other team in their position. The program has been out of the spotlight for the last 5 seasons, and I think they’ve lost too much talent to be a vast improvement over last season. But #14 is a lot better than they finished in my ratings last year, so this doesn’t mean I don’t expect improvement. The Fighting Tigers lost three games in the waning moments and had an eminently respectable loss to Alabama. If they can open up the same opportunities, the improved offensive coordinator and quarterback situation could make the difference.

15) One of those last-second LSU losses was to Auburn, whom they briefly appeared to beat last season before it was determined time expired before what would have been the winning score. Those Tigers return more starters, but it’s still not clear why the Plainsmen fell short of expectations last year despite making the Sugar Bowl. While I understood why they made the Sugar Bowl, I did not believe they were the most deserving team for that game. I give a little less credit to returning starters on a team that in its last five games lost three games (and didn’t look good in any of them), barely beat Vanderbilt in a home game, and beat up on Alabama A&M.

You might hear a lot about South Florida and Quinton Flowers this season. You also might hear the phrase “strength of schedule” mentioned at the same time though.

16) Although they barely beat South Carolina in the bowl (which is why I had to put them below 5 SEC teams), South Florida made significant strides last year and returns a large number of starters including a senior quarterback and two senior kickers. The Bulls only plan to start a handful of players who aren’t juniors or seniors. It could go either way, but USF could easily be the last undefeated team this season.

17) This might catch some people off-guard, but Kansas St. was solid in most of every game last year. The fell behind early in Norman and could never quite catch up, but that was the only big loss (21) and was back on October 15. The only loss since was by six to Oklahoma St., and in the following weeks they won by more than 20 points in both Waco and Fort Worth. Fourteen starters including the quarterback return.

18) I mentioned Mark Richt, now at the U. of Miami, above. He definitely has the ability to get teams into this range, although the top 10 has been elusive for some time. The Hurricanes have to find a new quarterback but return 15 other starters after winning their last five games easily last season. The Notre Dame game is mystifying to me, but three of the four losses were by one possession.

19) Louisville didn’t go out with a very good look in the bowl loss to LSU last season with the aforementioned blowout of Florida St. a distant memory. The Cardinals also finished out with a big loss to Houston and what must have been a frustrating loss to Kentucky. Lamar Jackson is back, but with all of his major targets and most of his blockers missing. The defense has holes too, but that was not a stellar unit in the first place.

20) Northwestern nearly beat Ohio St. late in the year, and I can forgive losing to Wisconsin by 14. Losing to Minnesota by 17 isn’t great, but those were the only three losses since last September. The Wildcats return 17 starters. We’re in the area where everyone has some flaws, so that’s good enough for me.

Mike Leach can run an offense, but his teams have struggled with consistency throughout the season.

21) Washington St. will return 16 starters including the quarterback and had an impressive 8-game winning streak before understandable losses to Washington and Colorado (although they could have been closer). The bowl performance was uninspired, but they could have easily won that one as well as the two losses the Cougars suffered to begin the year. The two early losses are mostly the ones that kept Wazzu out of the top 25, but since that was nearly a year ago, I can’t figure those too highly.

22) TCU was very inconsistent last season, but Gary Patterson has managed to bounce back before (such as improving from 4-8 to 12-1 from 2013 to 2014), and I don’t see why that should change. The Horned Frogs have 17 returning starters including quarterback Kenny Hill.

23) Tennessee in some respects had a breakthrough season last year with wins over both Georgia and Florida, but they also showed they were not quite ready for prime time in some other games. I expect a little bit more of the latter this year, but like Texas I could at least see them as a spoiler team for someone.

24) Texas had a losing record last year, but they played pretty well in losses (apart from the last quarter and a half of the season against TCU), and I think the combination of experience and a new coach could make them at least a spoiler in the Big XII.

25) I mentioned TCU bouncing back from a 4-8 season a few years ago, and Oregon will try to do the same. I don’t think they’ll win 12 games, but 8 may be attainable. Three of the losses were by only three points apiece, and I think the win in Salt Lake City was a preview of what could happen next season. Of course then the Ducks went and lost to Oregon St.; but again, maybe they won’t have letdowns like that with the benefit of experience.

Another Tradition Lost; Week 1 Plans

In College Football, General LSU, History, Preview on August 27, 2017 at 2:57 PM

(After I wrote this, I found out I lost the ability to use my Facebook account, so I made a new one: https://www.facebook.com/TheBayouBlogger)

I usually try to use sports as an escape from real-world issues including personal problems and politics. I won’t bore you with any personal problems, but unfortunately politics has been intruding into college football and its traditions, so I feel obliged to talk about it.

The new resident of the LSU athletic complex

LSU will have a new live tiger mascot to replace Mike VI, now known as Mike VII (he was previously known as Harvey when he lived in Florida), but not only will he not be brought to the stadium if he doesn’t feel like it (which had been the policy), he won’t be brought into the stadium EVER, which seems to be a move to placate animal rights activists.

The last time a live Tiger will have been brought to a game was when Mike VI witnessed the beginning of a game against McNeese St., which went down as a cancellation. Mike VI, who had taken over the job in October 2007, declined to get in the cage pictured above for all the subsequent home games while he was still alive. He was euthanized on October 11, 2016, after battling cancer which had been diagnosed in June.

This is a 2015 picture of the late Mike VI during his traditional trip to the stadium on game day. He seems relaxed in the picture, but the various “Mike the Tigers” would at times roar or otherwise express hostility toward opposing players.

I AM grateful LSU isn’t Ole Miss, which had its main mascot replaced by a guy dressed as a bear (a rebellious bear I suppose), but I still find it ridiculous. I’m also glad the flag of Louisiana isn’t banned like the flag of Mississippi apparently is from the University of Mississippi, but that’s another conversation.

The old and new mascots of Ole Miss

The live tiger at LSU is one of the best cared-for tigers in the country, but it’s now unconscionable for him to earn his keep by spending 7 or 8 evenings a year in a cage inside the stadium? He lives in the tiger equivalent of a mansion and is well-fed with excellent medical care. Even if one didn’t like football, what person wouldn’t take that deal?

What about all the police dogs that are compelled to sniff out drugs somewhere? Wouldn’t they be better off if they were given a huge habitat to hang out in all day? Why is that any different?

At least there will still be an eye of a tiger on the field.

I don’t even want to talk about why a guy named Robert Lee can’t do a football game in Virginia. I’ll just try to move on, but this stuff needs to stop intruding into my sports.

I know the major polls came out before the games that just took place. South Florida and Stanford didn’t experience what would have been shocking upsets, but I didn’t think that small possibility was worth doing the rankings early.

I’ll just release the “Preseason”/Week 1 rankings by kickoff on the Thursday before Labor Day as usual. I may release the top 10 before that, but it just depends on how quickly I get things ready. I already have my top 25 picked out, but I’m not sure about the exact order or presentation yet.

Also, best wishes to South Texas and the Houston area (where LSU is still scheduled to play its opener against BYU in less than a week) in the recovery from Hurricane Harvey.  (Reports indicate that a different venue may be chosen during the day on Monday.)

SEC Wednesday #13: Thanksgiving Edition

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

Last Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEC WED

Next Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEC Wednesday #12

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

Last Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

guice

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Week

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

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

SEC WED

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

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

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

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

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

LSU-Alabama Preview and Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger

New offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEC Wednesday #8

In College Football, Preview, Rankings, SEC Wednesdays on October 19, 2016 at 3:45 PM

Please see here for my blog about the LSU-Ole Miss series, the second-longest football series for LSU.

Last Week

I had almost no luck this week. There is usually one week that just wipes me out, and this might be it this year.

I was glad that Mississippi St. was supposed to lose by more than a touchdown according to most spreads, because I almost got tripped up by the overtime thing again. Of course I’m not so glad I got 0 right on Saturday.

My LSU pick looked good after the first half, but then this happened in the first 13 minutes of the second half (not that as a fan I’m complaining)…

lsu

I slept through the game, so I don’t know how Vandy beat Georgia, but I guess it’s just Georgia’s ridiculous habit of playing down to their opponents. On second thought, I shouldn’t have given UGA credit for beating South Carolina by 14 since they only managed to do it by running back an onsides kick.

Florida did the same thing against Missouri and also scored two defensive touchdowns. A 19-14 final score would have been just about right in that one.

I don’t know what it is about Arkansas that gives Ole Miss so much trouble that even a week off doesn’t allow them to prepare for. I just hope it carries over into the next game unlike last season (although the difference last season was Ole Miss had a bye week between Arkansas and LSU, and LSU was the one to play Arkansas the week before).

My records fall to 53-10 and 26-29.

SEC WED

Next Week

The pollsters seem to think last week is a prediction of next week, but I don’t always buy that. For instance, I don’t think it’s likely that Alabama will win by nearly three touchdowns over Texas A&M just because they beat Arkansas and Tennessee more easily than predicted. I think if anything it’s harder to do it again after having that much success two weeks in a row. I think these are both legitimate top 5 teams (I don’t think Tennessee was necessarily, especially given what happened to Georgia), so I’m pretty skeptical of that. I do think it will be awfully tough for A&M to win that one on the road though.

This is how the Alabama season has gone: won by way more than expected, won by slightly more than expected, won by much less than expected, won by more than expected, won by less than expected, won by more than expected, won by more than expected. They haven’t won by more than expected three weeks in a row yet.

UMass hasn’t beaten much of anyone, but they usually make a respectable showing of themselves, as they did against Florida and Mississippi St. I don’t know if South Carolina would beat anyone but the worst FBS teams by 3 touchdowns.

Middle Tennessee lost to Vanderbilt by a lot, and I don’t think Vanderbilt is a lot better than Missouri. The Tigers have had a rough few weeks, but they usually find their offense out of conference. If Vandy can score 47 against this team, Missouri can score over 60. Mizzou might allow 40, but they should cover the 6.5.

If two teams are equal, the road team should lose by about a field goal. I’m really unclear on why Auburn is clearly better than Arkansas, so I’ll take Arkansas and the points, which is what I should have done last week.

Apart from the second game and the last few minutes against LSU in the third game, Mississippi St. has not played very well, while Kentucky has played better than I expected. I’m going to take Kentucky to win and with the three extra points too of course.

Tennessee St. is a pretty good FCS team, but I think Vanderbilt will manage to win. ESPN doesn’t show a spread for these, so I skip that part.

LSU is favored by 5.5. Ole Miss fans used to talk about good Bo and bad Bo when Bo Wallace was with the team, but I think that characteristic caught on. As I indicated, I was a little taken aback by the loss to Arkansas after winning the two previous games by an average of 25.5 points. The game before those two wins was the 5-point loss to Alabama.

I honestly don’t know which Ole Miss team shows up, nor do I know if the first-half LSU team from last week shows up. I think LSU can end up winning something like what Arkansas did last week. It could be a 3- or 4-point game and the LSU defense can hold on like they did at the end against Mississippi St. It’s a tough choice though. It could go to overtime and LSU could win by 6 or 7, but I guess if you add in the approximately 1 in 3 chance Ole Miss has of winning, on balance it’s best to take the Rebels with the points.