theknightswhosay

Archive for the ‘Preview’ Category

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).

Advertisements

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.

LSU-Florida Reaction, Previews, & SEC Wed. #7

In College Football, General LSU, Preview, SEC Wednesdays on October 14, 2016 at 7:35 PM

LSU-Florida

So if you haven’t heard, the LSU-Florida game got resolved. The downside is LSU loses a home game next year (and will have FIVE SEC road games) and will play one fewer game this season.

I understand the SEC insurance policy will kick in for the South Alabama buyout. Reportedly South Alabama offered to play on the LSU bye week of 10/29, and LSU was not interested. So far the Texas A&M game is still scheduled for 5 days after the Florida game (the date when LSU was originally going to play South Alabama).

The upside is LSU still keeps the 7 home games for this season, Although the Tigers now finish with five consecutive opponents who are currently ranked, two will be separated by a bye week and only two of those five will be on the road. LSU has not played a ranked team yet this season, although Wisconsin and Auburn are currently ranked.

I doubt it will be two top-10 teams at game time like it was back then, but I think of the 2007 match-up every time Florida @ LSU is brought up.

I doubt it will be two top-10 teams at game time like it was back then, but I think of the 2007 match-up every time Florida @ LSU is brought up.

Also, despite all the road games next season, LSU also avoids having to go on the road in consecutive weeks next season. There will be two potentially brutal stretches though: @Florida/Auburn/@Ole Miss and @Alabama/Arkansas/@Tennessee/Texas A&M. At least that A&M game will be on a Saturday.

Florida loses two home games this year in the process (for a loss of one net, same as LSU), but let that be a lesson to them. When a program used to reacting to hurricanes calls you and tells you that you need a better backup plan than “we’ll delay the game a few hours,” listen.

I thought this was a pretty good take on what happened. It suggests that Florida reacted to LSU with paranoia, and that was part of the problem: http://www.outkickthecoverage.com/what-really-happened-with-lsu-and-florida-101316

SEC Wednesday #7

Last Week

I mentioned my aggravation with the Tennessee/A&M ATS “loss” in the rankings blog. You shouldn’t ever have to cheer for the team that you didn’t pick to score. If A&M wins in regulation with a field goal, I win. If they win in the first overtime with a touchdown, I win. But since they win in the second overtime with a touchdown, which means Tennessee played even better, I lose.

Kentucky likes to just barely beat the spread, so at least I won that one. I think they beat it by 4, but Vandy was close to sending that game into OT.
I was somewhat reluctant about Auburn, but they’ve been doing quite well on offense. Random stat I noticed: Sean White completed 14 passes for 204 yards with only 4 incompletions.

I was just plain wrong about Alabama. I could have backed into it with another late TD, but it was not to be. Maybe LSU will be able to get the Golden Boot back this year even though the game is in Fayetteville.

Most of the game Georgia was ahead either 14 or 7, but thankfully time expired with them ahead by 14.

I am finally back to a winning record against the spread. I was not hopeful about that happening again a couple of weeks ago. My records are now 49-8 picking winners and 25-24 against the spread.

SEC WED

Next Week

I guess for next week I’ll start out with the non-conference games. Lines were taken from the ESPN site on Wednesday to be consistent with other weeks.

BYU is kind of a tough nut to crack. I don’t understand beating Toledo by 2 at home and then running away with a game at Michigan St. Missouri beat BYU last year despite having an awful season, but the game was in Kansas City. I’ll take the Bulldogs and the points, but I’ll pick the Cougars to win.

I think the line has gotten out of control for LSU/Southern Miss. I think it opened at 21. It’s now 25.5. So 31-7, for instance, wouldn’t be good enough. I’ll take the Golden Eagles. LSU has some serious injuries on offense. If they’re up by between 17 and 21 at halftime, I don’t think they’ll be trying too hard to outscore the opponent in the second half.

USM is coming off an ugly road loss, which may have helped to inflate the line, but they did win by 9 at Kentucky earlier in the year. In the other road game a couple of weeks ago, the Golden Eagles beat UTEP 34-7, so last week may have just been an aberration. It could be a blowout, but I think the unnecessary bye week could have put a damper on LSU’s momentum.

Georgia by 14 hosting Vandy is a good line. Vandy is roughly equivalent to South Carolina and this will be between the hedges. I’ll take the Dawgs, who I think have been improving overall.

Alabama is favored by 12.5. I’m thinking they’ll win by 3 to 10 points, somewhere around there.

Florida has looked shaky and as mentioned is banged up. Despite the manhandling LSU gave them, Missouri should be able to keep it much closer. I’ll take the Tigers +13.5.

As mentioned, Arkansas has been a bit flat. Ole Miss was playing very well before the bye week. I think they can win by more than 7.5. I’m sure they want revenge from the last two years. I don’t really understand how in both 2014 and 2015 they lost to Arkansas but beat Alabama, but anyway.

Other Games

I was going to do some kind of preview of other games, but the only thing outside of the SEC that excites me much is Ohio St. @ Wisconsin. So far Ohio St. hasn’t shown any symptoms of having a young, mostly inexperienced team, but the only thing that looked like a major challenge previously was Oklahoma. The Sooners are not nearly as good as they were projected to be though.

Of course Wisconsin beat LSU, although both teams are a lot different now from what they were then. The Badgers had a surprisingly easy victory over Michigan St., another team that has proven not to be very good after making the Playoff last year. The Badgers’ only loss was by 7 @Michigan. The home field may make the difference here as well.

ESPN’s FPI gives the Buckeyes a 71% chance to win. I’d put money on Wisconsin if you gave me 7:3 odds.

The only other non-SEC game I plan to watch is UCLA @ Washington St. Both teams can have fun offenses, although as an SEC fan, I may get frustrated with some of the defensive play. There may be good defensive players, but it’s hard to keep up they barely have time to catch their breath between opponents’ possessions.

LSU/Florida and SEC Wednesday #6

In College Football, General LSU, Preview, Rivalry, SEC Wednesdays on October 5, 2016 at 5:26 PM

NOTE: The LSU-Florida game has been postponed indefinitely.  If it is not rescheduled, this would give LSU about a 7% chance of winning the remaining games.

LSU and FPI

Obviously there are a few big games to be excited about in the SEC, and I’ll talk more about this in the picks section, but I wanted to expound upon something I added to the last blog at the last minute. I mentioned there is a 4% chance that LSU still has only two losses after the regular season (meaning games before championship week). There is a 10% chance LSU finishes the regular season with 3 losses or fewer. I calculated this from the FPI numbers released by ESPN.

I'm skeptical of some of these numbers.

I’m skeptical of some of these numbers.

It seems like FPI doesn’t factor in recent results in the respective series. LSU has owned Texas A&M and has been owned by Alabama. We’ve seen A&M start strong before without much to show for it by the time we get to late November. I honestly would not be surprised if LSU is favored by the time we get there. I’m not saying this to prematurely brag about LSU but to say that I don’t think home field is enough to give LSU more of a chance to beat Alabama than the Tigers will have to beat A&M. Also, I was surprised the likelihood of LSU beating Arkansas was so high.

I found it interesting that despite the location of the LSU/Florida game (series blog), both the FPI and the commentators seem to think LSU has this. Some of them are more confident than I am, but as I’ll explain, if I had to pick the winner, I’d guess LSU is more likely. Steve Spurrier, who I guess is now a PR spokesman for the Gators, didn’t do much to dissuade me of that notion either.

LSU has about a 25% chance to finish 5-2 or better, which would give Ed Orgeron at least the same record that he had as the interim coach at USC. That might seem counter-intuitive since the Tigers should be favored against everyone but Alabama and (possibly) A&M, but I’ll give an example. If your chance in one game is 60% and your chance in the next game is 60%, you only have a 36% chance to win both games (roughly LSU’s chance of beating Florida and Ole Miss). That’s just the way odds work.

SEC WED

Last Week

A lot of things went about as I expected, so you can just read the link above about why things happened as they did. I expected Tennessee to win a fairly close game. I hoped it was going to be by 4 instead of by 3, but my prediction was still pretty smart although unlucky. This isn’t all about getting it right, it’s partly about describing what kind of game we might have.

I said Ole Miss would win by between 17 and 21 points, and they won by 20, so it’s nice to get something that specific right. 5-2 with a shenanigans incorrect pick in Athens is pretty good. It’s a fluke in the gambling rules more than anything. If it were up to me there would be two exceptions. (1) If you took the points in an overtime game, you should automatically win, and (2) if a team scores a touchdown on the last play (not in overtime), they should get credit for 7 points unless there is a try.

I’m back at .500 (22-22), which is not easy to do when you force yourself to pick games you’re not comfortable with. If I picked a similar number of games from all over college football but only lines I liked, I’d like to think my winning percentage would actually make money at a sports book.

As to the one I more clearly got wrong (although I was only off by a few points), there was a Florida fumble near the goal line where obviously another touchdown could have allowed me to win. I usually cheer for Vanderbilt as the traditional underdog of the SEC East, so I was disappointed they didn’t do more with the opportunity, but it’s predictable.

On the other hand, since I picked Florida with the points the last two weeks, I was disappointed with their performance. I hope the Gators will be similarly disappointing to their fans next week. I know a few Florida fans, and I’ve enjoyed being on the right side. Anyway, I thought it was going to be a bad day when I started out with that one, but as they say, it’s not how you start.

I didn’t even mention that I got all the winners right, not that it was particularly hard this week as long as you had the Vols. My overall record in picking winning teams is 44-8.

Next Week

Only six conference games this week.

It appears Leonard Fournette will NOT play for LSU against Florida. This makes me more nervous, but I just don’t think LSU will revert back to the way they played against Auburn just because of being on the road. If they play better than in that game, they should win. Still unclear who the Florida QB is or whether both will play. Also still unclear if the game will actually happen at the date and time currently scheduled.

LSU went far above and beyond the line last week of course. The Tigers may get half the yards and half the points, but that should still be enough to win. As I mentioned previously, Florida has been disappointing of late. -3 isn’t enough for the ATS (against the spread) to be different.

I already mentioned Auburn. Obviously the Tigers would rather be at home, but I don’t think Mississippi St. is the toughest venue in the SEC. They’re not the better team either. Once again I’ll reluctantly take the visitors -3.

Texas A&M is favored by 6.5. I think that’s a bit too much, but Tennessee is overdue for a loss, so I will split my prediction there.

Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight looks downfield in Week 1 against UCLA.

Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight looks downfield in Week 1 against UCLA.

Kentucky is favored by 3 at home. If they could do it to South Carolina, I see no reason why they can’t do it to Vanderbilt.

I think 13.5 is too much for Alabama. Too many recent Bama @ Arkansas games have been close. I know a few were blowouts, but this is not an Arkansas team that will finish with 3 or 4 wins like the one that lost 52-0 a few years ago. So I’m not picking the upset, but I think the Hogs will keep it within about 10.

Georgia/South Carolina can happen a number of ways. Georgia did play a lot better last week than in any previous game, so if they can maintain, it could be over at halftime. On the other hand, it might be hard to show up in an opposing stadium with any kind of momentum after the heartbreak of last week. Even if it’s the latter, I could still see the Bulldogs winning by 7 or more with a late touchdown or something, so I will give the Gamecocks 7.

Coaching Changes and SEC Wednesday #5

In College Football, General LSU, History, Preview, SEC Wednesdays on September 28, 2016 at 5:07 PM

This is going to be a little bit different from the other entries in this series of blogs. I really didn’t have enough time to reflect and gather information on Monday. I had work until fairly late that day and had not had much sleep over the weekend. I also don’t like to feature anything lengthy when I post my rankings.

I thought about maybe posting something on its own yesterday, but having posted blogs three days in a row, I didn’t want to do that either. I still have to write something tomorrow for my ratings site, so I needed the break. I won’t go into much detail, but the basic picks and recap for SEC Wednesday is at the bottom if you just want to get straight down to business.

With the housekeeping out of the way, I want to start by acknowledging all the well-wishes etc. that Les Miles and his family have received from fans and coaches throughout the SEC and college football as a whole.

I’m starting to get annoyed with Nick Saban trying to make me like him. A couple of weeks ago he tried to get in my good graces by yelling at Lane Kiffin. Then he had what seemed to be heartfelt remarks remembering his time at Kent St. and the shooting that took place there. Now he goes on for about a minute about Les Miles during his weekly press conference when they’re not playing LSU for over two months. He’s not normally someone who likes to go on about extrinsic information like that.

I know Saban is going to miss beating Les, but I also think Les is one of those guys that even Saban couldn’t help but like.

As an aside, apart from single comment in a forum, I haven’t heard anyone who met Miles say anything negative about the experience of meeting him or talking to him. Even if one assumes the story were true, I guess once in 12 years it’s allowable to momentarily not be in the mood to talk to a stranger.

I would disagree with Saban’s characterization of the decision that was made, but what he had to say about Les as a man and as a coach was fitting. There is some commonality with Georgia’s decision to fire Mark Richt at the end of last season, as Saban pointed out, but I think both Georgia then and LSU now were entering a kind of managed decline. I’ll get into that below.

I also wanted to share a fan tribute to Miles that was posted. I don’t know if I’m getting sentimental in my old age, so maybe it’s just me, but I dare LSU fans to watch these two videos without some kind of emotional reaction. The first link shows the Saban piece I mentioned, but several other coaches make contributions including Kirby Smart, Butch Jones (who never got to face Les), Mark Stoops, and Jim McElwain. These were coaches who happened to have been asked about it in their Monday press briefings. I particularly liked McElwain’s mention of the players and families.

http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=17645961

Gus Malzahn’s press conference wasn’t until yesterday, but he had good words to say as well. He said Les is a legend and one of the reasons the SEC is what it is today, and I agree. SEC defenses were getting spotty, traditional offenses had been eroded by those chasing Spurrier a few years before and were just about to be threatened by the emergence of the spread that Gus himself helped to pioneer. Of course the best offenses have elements of all of the above. I’m going to give the timestamp, so it won’t load the same way: https://youtu.be/QdqNqGKgKkk?t=15m28s

In the last year, the SEC lost all three coaches with longer tenures at their respective schools than Nick Saban has at Alabama.  It was fitting that Spurrier coached his last game against Miles last season.

In the last year, the SEC lost all three coaches with longer tenures at their respective schools than Nick Saban has at Alabama. It was fitting that Spurrier coached his last game against Miles last season.

Anyway, to get back to the decision, I first want to acknowledge again that Les Miles in my opinion is the best head coach of LSU in history.

There have been positive and negative trends at times. The first three years Les won 85% of his games. The Tigers went only 17-9 over the following two years, but then it was like nothing had ever happened. They went 44-9 (over 83% wins) over the following four years, improving Miles’ overall winning percentage to almost 80%. Had he stopped there, his tenure at LSU would have ended with a better winning percentage than his mentor Bo Schembechler had at Michigan.

Here is a list of the only notable major-college coaching tenures I can think of who did better with a comparable or greater number of games: Saban (Alabama), Carroll (USC), Switzer (Oklahoma), Parseghian (Notre Dame), Osborne (Nebraska), Devaney (Nebraska), Neyland (Tennessee), Wilkinson (Oklahoma), Bryant (Alabama), Spurrier (Florida), Tressel (Ohio St.). Urban Meyer hasn’t had a comparable tenure at one school, but of course combining Florida and Ohio St. puts him pretty high on that list. Pretty good company there.

There were a few other notable tenures who passed him up as his winning percentage decreased since then: Lou Holtz (Arkansas), Darrell Royal (Texas), and Mack Brown (Texas). Active head coach Bob Stoops (Oklahoma) is nearly 2 percentage points ahead of Miles, but it’s going in the wrong direction for him as well.

So despite a lot of young talent and despite an upset over Ole Miss and despite giving Alabama all they could handle, LSU went 8-5 the next year (2014). Combined with the 11-5 total between September 1, 2015, and now, that dropped Les to almost exactly 77%.

I’ve been thinking this was the year this group of LSU players would peak since two years ago, so I wasn’t that discouraged by the losses in 2014 and 2015 because we recovered when the same thing happened in 2008 and 2009.

I thought this year might have been like 2010 or even 2011. We would have recovered from the mediocre play of the previous two seasons and everything would have come together. I think those four games were enough to see that a similar resurgence just was not in the cards.

LSU had a spark around the second quarter of both the Jacksonville St. and Mississippi St. games, but with an experienced team like this, we would have run away with both of those games from beginning to end in past seasons. Either Wisconsin or Auburn might have been close, but I don’t think both games would have had to come down to the last minute, nor do I think we would have lost both.

I’ve defended Miles from people who wanted him gone for the last few years, but it just became clear that we were just going to get farther and farther away from that 80% mark I mentioned and the level of play (accounting for the normal ebbs and flows of experience that take place in college) was going to keep slipping.

That winning percentage was just going to keep going down. The same thing was happening to Georgia. I think Richt’s winning percentage would have continued to decline as well. He lost his job with just under a 74% total winning percentage, but that number was going down over the previous three seasons. In a couple more years without a change, I think Miles’ percentage probably would have fallen below Saban’s LSU winning percentage of exactly 75%.

Les Miles with TE Foster Moreau, who scored the only official touchdown of the game on Saturday.  (Moreau said he was not actually assigned a route on the play.)

Les Miles with TE Foster Moreau, who scored the only official touchdown of the game on Saturday. (Moreau said he was not actually assigned a route on the play.)

SEC Wednesday #5

Back to your regularly-scheduled programming…

Last Week

Alabama just had to get that extra touchdown. I could swear Lane Kiffin Is placing bets on the side. This has happened with Alabama a lot the past couple of years.

I was surprised by the Ole Miss margin of victory. I guess Saban was the driving force behind Kirby Smart.

I was also surprised how A&M pulled away.

Florida was way out ahead against the spread, but of course Tennessee had to score one too many times. It just turned out to be a big win weekend and I was expecting a series of close games. Why couldn’t this have happened with Auburn?

Well I thought South Carolina-Kentucky might be the magical bookie game, but I just couldn’t make a pick that didn’t make any sense to me.

I was right about Mississippi St. – UMass at least. The Minutemen are a little too good to lose by three touchdowns at home.

I saw final scores on the television or computer showing me that I picked the right team to win and the game was over! But they were both wrong somehow. At least I got the spread right in the Vandy game, but it’s another bad week in that category.

Missouri beat their FCS opponent as expected.

So given that I picked the wrong team to get credit for the last-second touchdown, I ended up with three losses straight-up, although the only genuine surprise for me was Kentucky.

Overall I fall to 36-8; against the spread I’m now 16-21.
SEC WED

 

Next Week

I’ll start with the easy one. If Arkansas can’t beat Alcorn St., they should just disband the football program.

Florida goes back to the state of Tennessee. I screwed up by taking the Gators with the points last time (but right winner), and I screwed up by not picking Vandy to win (but right on the point spread). On the other hand, neither team can be trusted week-to-week. Vandy can be mediocre at home after a win, and Florida has done really well with the lesser teams this year. Florida minus 10.

I don’t think ULM is a whole lot different from Arkansas St., so the Auburn offense should come back with a vengeance. I’ll take the War Eagle Plains Tigers -32.5.

I got burned by both Tennessee and Georgia against the spread last week. I don’t think Tennessee wins by 10 again, but 3.5 is too small to pick a team I don’t think will win, so the Vols -3.5.

I’m going to pick South Carolina and the points against A&M. I still think the Aggies will drop a couple, but they’ll be against the West. I just think South Carolina will keep it within 18.

If Lane Kiffin has Alabama throwing from the shotgun up 30, I’m not going to be happy; but I don’t think Alabama goes to Lexington and wins by 35 especially now that Kentucky has finally shown some fight.

Memphis made Ole Miss and people who pick the SEC look silly last year, but I don’t think the Rebels are resting easy this time, and they’ll be at home. The blue Tigers probably faced a tougher opponent in the spring game than they have since. I just think they’ll be out of their element. Ole Miss -14.5. 17 to 21 points seems about right.

My logic is similar with LSU-Missouri, but there is the added benefit that two touchdowns and two extra points would beat the spread. Missouri played Georgia to about the same level at home that Nicholls St. had between the hedges. SEC Network tried to sell me on the Mizzou offense based on the Tecmo Bowl performances against Eastern Michigan and Delaware St., but they only managed 11 points in Morgantown (3 points in the first 57:59 of the game). I think that’s the closest thing to a trip to Baton Rouge Mizzou has experienced this season.

If LSU is to be beaten it’s probably like they have been, one score in the teens against a slightly lower score in the teens. I haven’t seen any indication the black and gold Tigers can win a game like that.

If the most successful coach in program history getting canned isn’t a wake-up call, I don’t know what is. Also, I’d bet Ed Orgeron is a hell of an alarm clock. I expect LSU to get a lead like they did in their last home game against Mississippi St., and then it will just be a question of keeping it.

Speaking of which, I had to post one more Les picture. This is him singing the Alma Mater for the last time in Tiger Stadium after Mississippi St.

lsu-football-6156_rs1