theknightswhosay

Archive for the ‘Preview’ Category

Week 12: Not Rivalry Week Yet

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

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

The Former Rivalry Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the SEC Schedule for Mid-November Deteriorated

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ole Miss-Vanderbilt Headlines This Week’s SEC Schedule

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

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

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

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

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

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

LSU and Rice Renew a Rivalry Few Missed

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

Alabama Offense vs. LSU Defense

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

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

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

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

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

Historical Precedent in General

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historical Precedent in LSU-Alabama Series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comparison to Other Games This Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction

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

Betting Line & LSU Offense vs. Alabama Defense

In College Football, General LSU, Preview on October 31, 2018 at 6:05 PM

I’m going to do another blog after this about what to expect when Alabama has the ball, but for now I’m going to talk about the line and what to expect from the LSU offense.

I remember some disappointing Alabama games (see series blog for more), but even mediocre LSU teams have come within a touchdown in recent years, especially at home.  In fact, LSU hasn’t lost by more than 10 points to Alabama at home since 2002, when a man named Nick Saban coached the Tigers to a 31-point mauling at the hands of Dennis Franchione’s Tide.  That was also the last time Alabama scored more than 21 in regulation in Baton Rouge.

I also wanted to mention that the last time a top-5 team was a 14-point underdog at home, both the favored team and the loser of that game was Alabama.  You might remember a certain Iron Bowl game in 2013.

The famous Kick Six. I forgot how close Chris Davis came to being pushed out by the kicker.  The linemen never had a chance though.

So the 14.5-point early line makes it mighty tempting to take LSU.  One recent Alabama game (on the road though) gives me a little pause: the Tide won by 21 in 2013 (the season I just mentioned), but it was a tied game with under 5 minutes left in the third quarter.  I think that was the only recent game with a similar offensive production on both sides as I’d expect here.  Other than that game and the 2011 BCS Championship, every other LSU-Alabama game since that 2002 result I mentioned was decided by fewer than 14.5 points.  In short, a closer game seems more likely than not.

LSU was able to relax for the last quarter or so of a few games; but Auburn and Florida went down to the end, and LSU only really had a few minutes of leisure against the two Bulldog teams (Miss. St. ended the game theoretically within two possessions, and LSU was only up 13 against Georgia until about 4 minutes left).  I don’t think given Alabama’s inexperience in such games that they would do what they did in 2013 though.

On LSU’s side, Georgia was favored by 8.5 in early betting, and LSU won by 20 at home.  A few weeks before, Auburn was favored by 10, and LSU won by 1 on the road.  In the first game, Miami was favored by 3.5, and LSU won by 16 in Arlington.  So this wouldn’t be the first time that the Tigers out-performed expectations this season; and if LSU wins, it will be the third time they did so by more than two touchdowns.

RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire fights for extra yards at home against Georgia.  The Tigers beat the spread by four touchdowns.

I’ll discuss it more in the next blog, but the best teams I’ve followed in the last 27 or so years of really paying attention have been tested at some point. The most consistently dominant team I remember was Nebraska in 1995 (I’ll talk more about them next blog), but even they had a game against an unranked team at home that they could only win by 14.

LSU’s results against Auburn and Georgia also help my argument that this will most likely be the toughest game for Alabama.  LSU also beat Mississippi St., who plays the Tide on November 9.  Both that game and Auburn will be home games for the Tide, and the Georgia game (if it happens) would be in Atlanta with about half the audience on Alabama’s side.

In the last blog, I mentioned that it hurt Alabama in the computer that Texas A&M lost to Mississippi St.  It also hurts the real-life argument that the Tide really has been tested.  Alabama only had one extra score on the Aggies than Mississippi St. did (they won by 22 points rather than 15 points), although Texas A&M was in the Mississippi St. game a good bit longer.  Texas A&M justifiably fell out of the coaches poll and is now 25th in the AP poll.  Despite the Tigers’ loss to now-#13/14 Florida, playing LSU is a significant step beyond a #25-to-30 type of team.

The Alabama media, despite in many cases claiming it will be an easy game anyway, seems to agree that this will be the toughest test of the regular season.  I know they don’t think in unison; that was just a good example. 

I think Nick Saban made a good point on Monday that you can’t really apply the statistics from earlier to the Tide’s schedule going forward.  This is especially true on offense given that the A&M team I mentioned doesn’t have much of a defense. 

Saban was complimentary of Burrow as he tries to be of every upcoming opponent, but if you’ve been following LSU you could imagine that he was leaving out.  I’m going to leave out the ellipses, but I thought these were the key sentences about him: “Their quarterback play is well-formed.  They’ve got good receivers.  [Burrow] has been, I think a very very effective player.  He’s a good passer. He’s athletic enough to pull the ball and run it   They’ve got some very very good receivers.”

Saban also said LSU has the ability to be explosive in the passing game, which is true, but he didn’t even give Burrow one “very” when calling him a good passer.  The full sentence in my head ended with “but he’ll be lucky if he completes half his passes.”  Saban didn’t say anything about Burrow knowing when to step up in the pocket or throw the ball away when there is a pass rush outside of his field of vision.  Maybe I’m cynical by nature (or maybe I’ve listened to Saban point out problems with own teams often enough), but when I hear a coach talk about what can go right on the very best plays, I think of what can go wrong on the plays that aren’t so good.

Like this year, the best opponent Alabama had faced before the LSU game last year was Texas A&M.  Although A&M may be better this year than last year, I think last year was better preparation for LSU because playing A&M on the road was probably a good approximation to playing LSU at home. I don’t think you can make the same argument about the reverse this year.

In Alabama’s five SEC games before LSU last year, they gave up an average of 7.6 points, or about 2 ½ less than LSU scored. The average points given up in those games this year?  18.4. 

Last year the SEC average for the Tigers was about 22 points (1 fewer game though), and this year it was 28 points.  So whether you want to say Alabama will give up 11 more or LSU will score 6 more, I think if it were a similar game plan and similar circumstances, LSU would score between 16 and 21.

I think this year’s game being at home puts LSU’s upper limit more into the upper 20s (maybe even 30 or 31) than lower 20s though.  In Alabama’s two road games against ranked teams last year (then-#16 Mississippi St. and then-#6 Auburn), the Tide gave up 24 and 26 points, respectively.  As I think I’ve demonstrated, this Alabama defense isn’t as good as that one (though they can partly blame the offense for scoring faster).

I think LSU can only get above about 31 if something weird like the Georgia game happens (basically along with LSU playing them harder than anyone else has, the Alabama offense hurts itself a lot more than it has before and puts more pressure on the defense).  On the other hand, if the LSU offense hurts itself more than usual (basically if it looks like it did after the first drive and a half against Florida) and lets Alabama hold onto the ball most of the game, you could see LSU’s score going below the mid-teens and possibly into the single digits.

So I think the best to look at how you get there is that LSU will have to score about the top 45% of its range of points, and Alabama will have to score in the bottom 45% of its range out points for LSU to win (just to throw out a number, maybe 25 or more).  I’ll talk about the range for Alabama next time.  I might even give a guess as to the final score.

Preview of Miss. St. at LSU

In College Football, General LSU, Preview, Rivalry on October 17, 2018 at 2:06 PM

I wanted to say a couple more things about the Georgia game. I did think LSU would lose more likely than not, and I didn’t see them winning by more than 7 if they did win. In my defense, if you had told me ahead of time that LSU would win the turnover battle 4-0 and would only be penalized twice for 19 yards, I would have picked LSU to win by double digits. It was just hard to make that prediction after the Florida game. We could probably beat Alabama by double digits if we’re able to do that again. There is just an extremely low chance Alabama will turn the ball over that many times without forcing any though.

Kirby Smart said something that reminded me of the Florida game as well: “When you don’t stop the run well, guys, it makes it hard to do anything.”

Kirby Smart doesn’t always look worthy of the name, but he knows a thing of two about defense.

LSU has won 21 straight home games in the month of October. That’s partly because we play Alabama in November, and we had a couple of long streaks that were ended at the hands of Troy (the record regular-season non-conference winning streak) and Mississippi St., (a streak against the Bulldogs) respectively, in recent Septembers. But there is something to be said for the streak. When we haven’t started well, we usually recovered by this time. When we have started well but didn’t finish well, we still played well up until the Alabama game.

I didn’t see the Mississippi St.-Auburn game, but I wish that I had. I understand the Bulldogs added some wrinkles in the running game that they didn’t have against Florida. Most of those 349 yards were by Nick Fitzgerald, the quarterback; but lead running back Kylin Hill averaged over 5 yards per carry, so you can’t dismiss that easily either. Against Florida, Hill ran fewer times with fewer yards per carry, so it seems their running attack can wear down defenses.

I don’t know if trying to run the Mississippi St. offense against Dan Mullen was going to work very well regardless, but that doesn’t mean LSU can easily stop it even if nothing changed in the weeks since. We certainly didn’t do a very good job last year or in 2014 (when the Bulldogs broke LSU’s 14-game winning streak and 11-game home winning streak in the series) against Mississippi St. offenses with a similar philosophy.

With spread and option-oriented offenses it’s hard to be able to cover the whole field horizontally without opening up runs toward the middle of the field. Sometimes our players can also be too fast to run into the backfield, and then before you know it, the running back (or quarterback in their case) is in the defensive secondary. Against LSU last year, the Bulldogs had almost 6 yards per carry.

The good news is the Bulldogs only completed 9 passes for 69 yards against Auburn, so that’s probably one area where they won’t be able to do as well against LSU as last year (when Fitzgerald threw for 180 yards). It seems that after the Florida game, the Bulldog coaching staff made some of the same observations I had about Georgia hurting themselves by going away from the run and ending drives with incompletions.

Miss. St. QB Nick Fitzgerald runs for a touchdown in Starkville last year. Fitzgerald accounted for 268 yards and 4 touchdowns for the game.

I think State makes up for their need to rely on running more than they did initially by having a better defense than it had in some of those past years though. LSU only scored 7 points against them last year, but Auburn scored 49 against the Bulldogs last year (compared to 9 this year) and three other teams scored over 30 (which no one has done so far this year).

Another positive is our offense is running a lot better than when we played them last year. We scored some points early on last season, but it was against BYU, Chattanooga, and Syracuse teams that struggled to defend against even mediocre offenses at times.

Obviously scoring 36 against Georgia, even with the assistance of turnovers, is much better than anything we were able to do in the early games last year. Even in the relatively poor showing of 19 points against Florida, that was with multiple drives of 30 yards or more that didn’t result in any points. It’s possible we could be held to around 20 points again; but I think that’s very close to the floor, at least against anyone other than Alabama.

I also have a slight concern because where the Mississippi St. defense does allow yardage tends to be in the passing game. I can see more problems with relying on Burrow if it comes to that than relying on the running backs. Burrow also still has a problem with holding onto the ball too long to look for receivers. This resulted in multiple sacks against Georgia, a team that only records half as many sacks on average as Mississippi St.

Despite last year and some of the other areas of concern, I’m going to pick LSU to win a close one, something like 24-20. It’s another opponent with a good field-goal kicker. They haven’t needed him much, but he’s kicked two field goals of 45 yards or more.

I’m predicting a closer game than either SEC fans commentator. Part of the reason is LSU did a lot of good things as far as sustaining drives against Georgia (as they also did in earlier games), which I think helps in their statistical model; but I think the Tigers have shown they won’t necessarily do the same things as well (or as poorly) from week to week. I think the talent and general competence will be just enough to get them over the top if the Tigers do regress slightly.

I’ll just mention a few other minor things that really didn’t play a role in this prediction. There are some general problems LSU has had with offenses like this that I covered above, but you can’t get too hung up on the final score from the previous year. In 2007, for instance, we lost to Kentucky after beating them 49-0 the year before. In 2015, we beat Auburn easily (45-21 after leading 38-7 at one point) despite losing to them by 34 the year before.

I mentioned this earlier, but if someone wins the turnover battle 4-0 like in the Georgia game, that can change outcome by double digits. I didn’t think last week’s result was reason to drastically change my approach to predictions. I think we have had a tendency to lose focus and motivation in other areas when we commit a turnover. On the other hand, we generally put points on the board when the other team commits a turnover.

Ed Orgeron has only beaten Mississippi St. once as head coach, a 20-3 win in the 2004 Egg Bowl; but he the good news is he’s 1-0 at home against the Bulldogs (and 0-3 on the road, but we’ll worry about that next year).

Georgia-LSU Series and Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LSU-Florida Series and Preview

In College Football, General LSU, Preview, Rivalry on October 4, 2018 at 3:30 PM

Before I get into specifics, you may want to see my detailed (and annually updated) post about the LSU/Florida series.

LSU will win, but LSU can only beat lesser teams?

I saw a video previewing the LSU/Florida game on YouTube, and I should have known better, but I clicked on it.

They’re picking LSU to win, and that’s great. I think LSU has a greater than 50% to win (although the FPI says LSU only has a 40% chance), as I’ve said since the Auburn game. Their predicted margin of victory is on the high end (27-13 and 24-13, respectively). I’m expecting something closer to 24-20. The problem is they had to say derogatory things about our coaches.

Both contributors to the video independently say LSU’s coaches aren’t good enough to beat teams better than LSU. What was the win over Auburn last year? To say the better team won a given game you have to look at all the games apart from the one they played against each other.

I too seem to remember LSU’s win over Auburn last year as an upset.

LSU was 8-4 last year if you take out the Auburn game. They lost to a good Troy team, but it was Troy nonetheless and couldn’t even give Mississippi St. much of a game. The only win over a ranked team was over Florida, who obviously ended up nowhere near the rankings. The Fighting Tigers did not play Georgia.

Auburn was 10-3 taking out the LSU game with wins over two teams who were #1 at the time. They also beat Mississippi St., a team who was in the top 25 and deserved to be there (after easily beating LSU), 49-10. Their losses were to #3, #6, and #12.

I think LSU’s final record is slightly misleading because of my opinion about the Notre Dame game, but Auburn played better in their bowl game against Central Florida than LSU played in their bowl game anyway.

Regardless, both in hindsight and at the time LSU was supposed to lose. Even after the game people (including Gus Malzahn) talked about Auburn still being able to win the West despite being a game behind LSU and therefore not controlling its own destiny absent another LSU loss.

Then the makers of the video acted like they must have made a great video because both Florida and LSU fans took umbrage. Florida fans aren’t happy they just won a well-played game and here someone is telling them they’re going to lose by double digits at home.

I don’t expect them to be happy about that (even if there is a fair chance it will turn out to be true), but just because you say something to anger LSU fans as well doesn’t mean the video got both teams about right. So if they said both teams were going to finish with losing records in conference. would they have been right just because both fan bases would have been reacted to that with skepticism if not anger? How do you not think, “Let’s look at the handful of big wins Orgeron has had in just over two seasons and see if what we’re saying might not be true”?

Another thing that annoyed me was they both discounted LSU’s win over Ole Miss as if the Rebels were the Little Sisters of the Poor, but then they quoted Florida’s stats against Colorado St. and Tennessee as if they proved something. Mississippi St. isn’t a bad team, but that was the only thing close to a quality win. The Bulldogs play Auburn on Saturday. I guess we’ll see how beating them compares to beating Auburn then. Not to mention how losing to Kentucky compares to any LSU game so far.

FPI and my thoughts

The FPI, ESPN’s power index, still seems to be selling LSU short, by the way. It still predicts 4 losses. When Mississippi St. lost its second game in a row, it finally decided the Tigers had a greater than 50% chance of beating the Bulldogs, but on the other hand it gave Florida a greater chance to beat LSU. LSU is still predicted to lose to Georgia, Alabama, and Texas A&M (to whom they have not lost in 7 games going back to 2010).

Why do I think the game will be closer than the guys in the video said? Like I said about the Auburn series, even sub-par Florida teams can be tough to beat on the road?

Florida finished 4-7 last year. They say Ole Miss is terrible, but Ole Miss already has 3 wins, and they still have ULM, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, and Mississippi St. to play. I’ll be shocked if the Rebels don’t win at least two of those games, so if a terrible team nearly beat last year’s LSU team, a much-improved Florida team can beat a slightly-improved LSU team.

Why do I say slightly improved? If LSU had slightly better play-calling and field-goal kicking last year, they would have beaten Troy and Notre Dame (despite the officiating) and finished 11-2. Even though LSU is undefeated right now, 11-2 is still a lot to hope for. For me, “much improved” would mean either playing in the SEC championship game or tying Alabama at one SEC loss apiece (and losing head-to-head). It would also require a post-season win either in the SEC Championship or in a consolation CFP bowl. It’s a possibility, don’t get me wrong, but we aren’t there yet.

LSU’s then-QB Danny Etling evades the Florida defense in the 17-16 LSU win in Gainesville last year.

Recent history against Florida and LSU at 5-0

The last trip to Florida before last season wasn’t against a great team either, with the Tigers winning 30-27 in 2014. LSU and Florida finished with similar records that year, but that was the LSU team that took Alabama to overtime and should have beaten them but for a personal foul and kickoff out of bounds in the last two minutes.

Anyway, the Tigers would win after a wild fourth quarter. Florida returned a punt 53 yards with under 7 minutes left in the fourth quarter, which set up a touchdown to put the Gators ahead by 4. It seemed like the game was over a few minutes later when LSU faced a 3rd and 25 from their own 33 with 3:33 left (not a typo), but Anthony Jennings (not remembered as our most effectual quarterback) had no problem with this and threw a 41-yard pass on that down followed in short order by an 11-yard touchdown pass (both to Travin Dural).

Florida seemed to be in control again when the Gators completed a 73-yard pass on the next play from scrimmage to set up a first and goal from the 2. Two running plays combined for one yard, and then an incomplete pass led to a field goal, which tied the game at 27.

LSU struggled offensively, giving the ball back to Florida with 54 seconds left after the Gators had called a timeout to give themselves a chance to win the game in regulation. For some unknown reason, Florida QB Jeff Driskel threw a risky pass even though the Gators had a first and 10 less than 20 yards from the potential winning field goal. LSU intercepted, and this set up the winning 50-yard field goal by Colby Delahoussaye with 3 second left.

Both the 2012 and 2010 games at Florida were decided by one possession apiece as well. LSU was much better in 2010, but that had a crazy ending to that I won’t get into here. This video might help jog your memory. For more about the LSU-Florida series, see here. I have every game in the series since 2004 listed there.

This is the 7th time since 2007 that LSU has started the season with 5 straight wins or more. That includes 2010 and 2012 season, but 2015 was the only other instance since 2012. So the last six times this has happened it did not lead to a national championship, although LSU was 13-0 with a conference championship before losing to Alabama in January 2012. In both 2009 and 2012, the first team to beat LSU after such a start was Florida. In 2008, Florida beat LSU immediately after the Tigers started 4-0.

LSU-Auburn Recap and Notes

In College Football, General LSU, History, Post-game, Preview on September 19, 2018 at 1:50 PM

I wanted to address something before going into detail about the LSU-Auburn game. I saw some Auburn fans were incensed about the pass interference (PI) calls during the game; but honestly, the referees didn’t even call all of them. They also apparently had double standards (in Auburn’s favor) about what constitutes a taunting. The referees missed some holding calls too (probably on both sides), but no officiating staff can call every hold. The ones they did call were obvious, but I’m sure some Auburn fans complained about those too.

In the less egregious of the two PIs that were called on the final drive, the defender grabbed the receiver’s elbow before the ball arrived. It wasn’t one of those hand-check PI calls: it hindered the receiver’s ability to catch the ball. The receiver wasn’t tackled or anything, and defenders can get away with worse at times; but there are few if any officials who would have seen that play well and not called it. Earlier in the game, there was another PI call that was borderline uncatchable, but it has to be clearly uncatchable to overrule an interference. The interference took place right as the ball was being released, so it was very hard to say where the receiver would have ended up had the interference (it may have even been holding) not occurred.

I know coaches are careful to avoid saying anything that may result in a fine, but both head coach Gus Malzahn and defensive coordinator Kevin Steele (formerly LSU’s defensive coordinator) deserve credit for properly placing the blame on the way the plays were called and executed. I agree with them that the important thing is LSU made plays with the game on the line and Auburn didn’t.

The only thing I would quibble with is Steele blamed the coverage on the 71-yard touchdown play. Someone may have been a yard out of place; but I think it was mostly just a good offensive play, and no one could catch Derrick Dillon. He had four players right near him when he caught the ball, so the coverage couldn’t have been that bad. He and LSU quarterback Joe Burrow just saw and succeeded at hitting the small space on the field the defense left open. The whole field can’t be covered at all times, especially with LSU running or throwing very short passes on first down most of the time.

LSU WR Derrick Dillon catches a touchdown pass (what would be a touchdown pass after a sprint to the end zone anyway) over the outstretched arms of Auburn LB Deshaun Davis in the fourth quarter on Saturday in Auburn.

It’s been since the mid-1990s (that’s before Saban arrived in Baton Rouge) that either LSU or Auburn beat a team that would finish with a winning record in a road game in this series. LSU won such a game in 1995, and Auburn won one in 1997. When Auburn won in 1999 and when LSU won in 2008 and 2012, the wins came against teams that would finish with losing records and fired head coaches. So in all likelihood, this is one of the best teams to lose at home in the history of the series.

Another historical note: this was the first time since 1993 that LSU won on the road with the other team favored by 10 points or more. That was up the road in Tuscaloosa when a Tiger team that would finish with a losing record (one of six consecutive LSU teams to do so) beat the defending national champions, who had not lost a game in almost 26 months.

I know coaches take things one game at a time, but I don’t have to. I’m not going to pretend to take Louisiana Tech just as seriously as Auburn, so before talking about the next opponent in detail, I wanted to talk more about what I’m looking forward to the rest of the season as a whole. As I said in the last blog, I’m not convinced that LSU is all of a sudden a title contender, even for the SEC title, but I’m confident that the Tigers will return to a bowl game with a winning record already secured. Whether that will be 7 wins or 11 wins, I’m not quite sure. ESPN’s FPI gives LSU a 0.1% chance of winning all of its remaining games. I’m not sure it’s that low, but it’s low enough not to worry about right now.

The Tigers are given a 0.7% chance of winning the conference. That’s about 142:1. I’m not rich, but I’d put down $100 right now if you give me those odds.

Anyway, as to the number of wins, I like LSU’s chances at Arkansas and at home against Ole Miss, Louisiana Tech, and Rice. That’s how I get to 7. Even if we somehow lose one of those, I don’t think every other team (at Florida, Mississippi St., Georgia, Alabama, at Texas A&M) would beat us, so even falling to 7-5 (which would mean a 4-5 finish) probably won’t happen either.

I believe there is value to using computer systems, but I think descriptive ones (where you just value results so far) are better than predictive ones (where you try to calculate odds of winning). Anyway, I think the FPI I mentioned isn’t giving LSU enough credit.

It puts the Florida game as almost 50/50. I did think Florida was going to win that game going into the season, but I was worried about LSU’s inexperience. As I said in the last blog, the Auburn and U. Miami wins show that being young isn’t a huge problem even if those are the only really good wins away from home for the whole season. Florida’s 27-16 home loss to Kentucky shows their experience isn’t quite as helpful as I thought it might be. I’m not sure how the FPI works, but it doesn’t seem to take new information on board as well as it should.

The FPI also gives Mississippi St. a 57.5% chance of winning at Tiger Stadium. I expect a tough game, but I really don’t see Mississippi St. on the road being tougher than Auburn at home. The Bulldogs did beat LSU easily last year, but I think that was an LSU team that clearly wasn’t ready for SEC play in a tough road environment. They weren’t even ready for a good Sun Belt opponent at home. We will learn more about Mississippi St. after the Bulldogs play Kentucky and Florida though.

If Mississippi St. is being held against LSU because of last year, why isn’t last year being held against Texas A&M? The Aggies haven’t beaten LSU since the 1990s, and they’re given about a 63% chance of winning this year. A&M looked good against Clemson (in a loss); but Syracuse looked just as good against Clemson last year (actually better because they won), and where did that get the Orange? Obviously one game isn’t proof of how the whole season is going to go, or LSU’s two big wins are proof that the Tigers will win at least 10 games.

There isn’t too much to say about Louisiana Tech, but I hope we take them seriously. There isn’t much difference between a team like that and a team like Troy. The Bulldogs don’t have as many key wins (last beating an SEC team, Ole Miss, in 2011, after beating Mississippi St. in 2008), but the Bulldogs have made bowl games for 4 consecutive years and qualified for them in 6 of 8 years. They’ve played the following Power-5 teams within one possession, all on the road: South Carolina (2017), Arkansas (2016), Kansas St. (2015), Kansas (2013), Mississippi St. (2011), and LSU (2009). The Bulldogs have also beaten Illinois twice over that span. In 2011, Tech narrowly lost the Pointsettia Bowl to TCU, which finished 11-2 that year. In 2007, Tech lost to Hawaii at home by a single point. That Hawaii team suffered its only loss for the season in the Sugar Bowl.

Louisiana Tech RB Daniel Porter throws a touchdown pass to give the Bulldogs a 13-10 lead as time expires in the second quarter in Baton Rouge in 2009.

This is the first LSU-Louisiana Tech game since the 24-16 LSU win in 2009, which was only the third game in the series since the start of World War II. LSU is 18-1 all time with the only Tiger loss coming in 1904 (one of only five to be played in Ruston; there was one game on a neutral field). LSU has won by as much as 71, which they did in 1930. Since 1914, every game in the series (including this one) has been in Baton Rouge.

LSU-Auburn: Home Field Advantage

In College Football, General LSU, Preview, Rivalry on September 14, 2018 at 6:23 PM

I’ve discussed the LSU-Auburn series before. A lot of people don’t realize it was rarely played before the famous Earthquake Game in 1988. That’s one reason why when Auburn won in 1999 (the Cigar Game), it was only their third win in Baton Rouge in 60 years. Details of the interesting games before 2008 are in the link above.

Auburn has won 12 of the 19 games in the series that have been played in Auburn. LSU has only won at Auburn twice since 1998, both against teams that finished with losing records. Those happened to be the last respective years that Tommy Tuberville (2008) and Gene Chizik (2012) coached there.

LSU WR Stephen Sullivan dives into the end zone on 4th down to put the Fighting Tigers on the score board in Baton Rouge last year.

LSU was about one second of clock management away from winning in their last trip to the Plains, and that was not only Les Miles’ last season but his last game.

When this first became an annual series in 1992, it was typically the first SEC game for LSU; but this is a rare instance in which it is also the first SEC game for Auburn. From 2001 to 2011, the game was only played in September three times, but it seems September is going to return to being the default going forward.

Two years ago, LSU was the more experienced team, and the Fighting Tigers (that’s how I will refer to LSU in this blog) lost. As I discussed in my preseason blog, this time the roles are reversed. It’s only a difference of 3 returning starters though.

Although they were generally in Baton Rouge, I wanted to highlight some instances in which LSU has done relatively well against Auburn given the respective results of the teams for the season.

One that was in Auburn that was a really good game was 2010. Both teams were undefeated going into that game, but the Fighting Tigers were only ranked #6 and the Plainsmen (how I will refer to Auburn) were #4. LSU would later lose to Arkansas, and Auburn would win out.

The game started disastrously for LSU as Auburn capitalized on a Jordan Jefferson interception in LSU’s opening drive and scored the game’s first touchdown on the ensuing drive.

The score was 10-10 at the half though. Especially given the start of the game, this seemed to be an advantage to LSU since the game was a battle between the top SEC offense and the top SEC defense, but the Fighting Tigers struggled even more offensively in the second half. Nonetheless, on a halfback pass by Spencer Ware, LSU was able to tie the game at 17 with 12:16 left.

The LSU defense came through one more time when Auburn turned the ball over on downs at the LSU 40 with 7:51 left. The LSU 3-and-out that followed was just too much for the Fighting Tiger defense though. It only took 3 rushing plays (Newton 16 yards, Dyer 4 yards, and McCalebb 70 yards) for Auburn to drive 90 yards for the winning touchdown with 5:05 left. The Fighting Tigers were again unable to get a first down in the next possession, and the Plainsmen ran out the clock.

When Auburn was 80 seconds away from the national championship Florida St. won in 2013, their only prior loss had been to LSU in Baton Rouge. It was only an upset in retrospect though, because Auburn was unranked going into the game, and LSU was #6. LSU led 21-0 at the half and was never seriously challenged. (This game is not to be confused with the 2015 game in which LSU lead 24-0 at the half.) LSU’s Jeremy Hill rushed for 184 yards (and other backs combined for another 51 yards), so even though Auburn got within a couple of possessions, losing 35-21, it was too easy for LSU to control the clock in the second half.

LSU would finish 10-3. The Fighting Tigers would lose close games to Georgia and Ole Miss before Alabama pulled way in the last third of the game to beat them by 21. Auburn would advance to the SEC Championship game on the famous Kick Six against Alabama.

Finally, last year, Auburn again got to represent the SEC West in the championship game after beating Alabama. Once again though, when you look back, the one regularly scheduled loss was against LSU. The Fighting Tigers had already lost to Mississippi St. and Troy (although looking back those two teams combined for 20 victories), and Auburn was undefeated and #10 in the country.

This time it was the Auburn Tigers who scored the game’s first 20 points. If you don’t remember what happened next, feel free to see last year’s blog under the heading “LSU-Auburn Game Recap and Analysis”.

I’m going to list the games since and including that 2010 national championship season for Auburn. LSU had won the prior 3 games and 6 of the last 9 in the series. In 4 of those 6 years LSU won the SEC West, and after 1 of those Auburn wins they won the SEC West. 2010 was the last year in which this game was basically (in hindsight) the SEC West championship game.

2010: @Auburn 24, LSU 17
2011: @LSU 45, Auburn 10
2012: LSU 12, @Auburn 10
2013: @LSU 35, Auburn 21
2014: @Auburn 41, LSU 7
2015: @LSU 45, Auburn 21
2016: @Auburn 18, LSU 13
2017: @LSU 27, Auburn 23

Bold = Represented the SEC West in the SEC Championship Game
Underline =team beat Alabama
(Apologies for not making a neater chart, but I didn’t want to publish this any later than necessary.)

2018 Preseason Top 25

In College Football, General LSU, Preview, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on August 29, 2018 at 2:23 PM

Welcome back. I’ve had a busier than usual offseason, so apologies for not writing anything all that time. I’ll get right to it.

NOTE: I use Phil Steele for numbers of returning starters. He only counts offense and defense. The prior rankings refer to my list from last year as well as my weighted rankings for teams not in the top 25. Coincidentally, none of these teams were in the handful of games that have already been played.

1. Alabama, #1, CFP Champions – Despite very few (10) returning starters, Alabama has been so consistently in the top 2 (or at least top 4) at the end of the season, I can’t put any other team #1.
2. Clemson, #4, CFP Semifinalists – Although Clemson missed the championship game after being there the prior two years, I had to give the Tigers the edge for #2 over Georgia, last year’s runners-up. Seven returning starters on offense and 8 on defense could be scary even from a middling top-20 team.
3. Georgia, #2, CFP Runners-up – Georgia has a similar profile to Wisconsin, so I had to go with the better team from last year. Wisconsin was very good, but the competition throughout the season could have been better.
4. Wisconsin, #3, Orange Bowl Champions
The Badgers got mixed reactions from the major polls. I have to disagree with the coaches. I don’t see Oklahoma back in the Playoff, and despite the returning starters I can’t take Washington seriously as a title contender until proven otherwise.
5. Ohio St., #5, Cotton Bowl Champions
I don’t see why I shouldn’t leave the Buckeyes where they finished last season. They’re similar to Alabama in consistency from year to year (maybe not from game to game) regardless of how many returning starters. I don’t think the Meyer suspension will make a difference. I don’t understand TCU being so highly-rated, and the Buckeyes could probably win the other two games easily if the players drew up the plays themselves. The chances of winning the division are too low to rank Ohio St. higher.
6. Washington, #21
I’m not very excited about this pick, but the Huskies have a good chance to go undefeated or make the playoffs as a 1-loss conference champion. In that scenario, they would most likely finish with a similar result to 2016, but without anyone else to get excited about, I had to go with CFP Bowl experience and 17 returning starters. They could lose to Auburn, but Auburn has so many other potential losses on the schedule, the Huskies will most likely finish higher anyway.
7. Oklahoma, #7, CFP Semifinalists
This spot goes to the Sooners basically by default. Michigan, Michigan St., and Notre Dame weren’t good enough last year. Penn St. doesn’t have enough returning starters (10). Auburn is not especially appealing on either count.
8. Stanford, #18 – Stanford has to go on the road to Oregon, Washington, and Notre Dame, but on the other hand, the Cardinal beat all 3 last year. It’s a matter of not losing to teams like USC (twice) and San Diego St. again though. Other than the first game against the Trojans, Stanford lost each of the other 4 games by a field goal or less. Having 15 starters back can make the difference in games like that.
9. Michigan St., #11 – The Spartans were completely out of their depth against Notre Dame and Ohio St. last year, but the combination of 10 wins last year and 17 returning starters was hard to pass up.
10. Auburn, #12 – I’m a little wary of this pick because the Tigers are usually overrated in the polls, and I’m ranking them where the coaches’ poll has them. But there just isn’t a strong reason not to give them this spot. The Tigers did happen to lose to UCF, but it wasn’t exactly decisive. The only loss by more than one possession last year came against Georgia. A mediocre number of returning starters (13) made it hard to move the Plainsmen any higher though.
11. U. Miami, #13 – I don’t understand why the polls aren’t more skeptical of the Hurricanes. I think you have to do something more in recent years to get into the preseason top 10. Fourteen isn’t a bad number of returning starters, but it’s like we’re pretending they didn’t finish last year on a 3-game losing streak.
12. Notre Dame, #8 – I’ve made no secret of my opinion about the last time the Irish took the field, so I don’t think they were really the 8th-best team. In the first six weeks alone, the Irish will play Michigan, Stanford, and (at) Virginia Tech. If they get through that, we may be looking at a top-10 team or better. Fifteen returning starters give the Irish a decent chance to win each game.
13. Michigan, #26
Like Miami, the Wolverines also finished last season with 3 losses. In their defense, Wisconsin and Ohio St. were two of the five best teams in hindsight. South Carolina was probably just a letdown. The only loss to really hang their heads over was the blowout at Penn St. The middle of the top 25 seems like a realistic goal for a team with 17 returning starters despite not looking very good on paper last year.
14. USC, #10 – The Trojans have some experience (13 returning starters), but not at the QB position. #14 for a defending Power-5 conference champion is as low as I was willing to go in these circumstances.
15. Penn St., #9, Fiesta Bowl Champions – The Nittany Lions are 22-5 over the last two seasons, and 4 of those losses were by a field goal or less. I think they’re going to take a step back with only 10 returning starters, but no one should be checking them off as an easy win.
16. Mississippi St., #19 ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
17. Florida, #63
I’m really looking forward to the Dan Mullen Bowl on September 29. In 2012, the Gators shocked many of their own fans by starting 11-1 (before losing the bowl game to Louisville) after going only 7-6 the year before. I can see a similar turnaround here except I think the ceiling is a little lower. They just went off the rails after losing home games against LSU and Texas A&M by a combined three points in an 8-day period. I did give Mississippi St. the edge based on last year’s results though. Florida has the most returning starters in the SEC with 19, and the Bulldogs tied with Arkansas for second with 17.
18. Boise St., #25
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
19. Fresno St., #34
The Broncos might just be the most likely team in this list to go undefeated. Fresno St. is the only team on the schedule who beat them last year (although the Broncos won the rematch). Both have a high number of returning starters, 15 for Fresno, 16 for Boise. The Bulldogs did lose 4 games last year, but they also played Alabama and Washington.
20. UCF, #6, Peach Bowl Champions
Staying in the G5 conferences, I think the Knights deserve some recognition after going undefeated last year. They only have 12 returning starters, but that’s tied for fifth-best in their conference. Three of those teams with more returning starters finished .500 or worse in conference, so there is a very good chance UCF will repeat. On the other hand, there are a few possible losses out of conference.
21. TCU, #15
The Horned Frogs are last in the Big XII in returning starters (11), so only falling six spots is rather optimistic. It’s just hard to find teams to feel good about at this point. Other than the two losses to Oklahoma, the only loss from last year was by a touchdown at Iowa St. I’ve seen Patterson credited with knowing “how to rebuild,” but he also knows how to have a losing record in a rebuilding year.
22. Memphis, #24
When I mentioned UCF, Memphis was the one team in the conference with more returning starters who had a winning record in conference last year. The Tigers’ only regular-season losses were to UCF. In the first matchup, the Tigers lost by 27, but they improved enough during the year to require two overtimes before falling in the American Championship game. Memphis lost to Iowa St. by 1 in the Liberty Bowl.
23. South Carolina, #23 – The Gamecocks have won 6 games in a row that were not against top-3 opponents. This included wins over Florida and Michigan. South Carolina returns 14 starters including the quarterback, so keeping them at the same spot they finished made sense.
24. LSU, #20 – It’s hard for me to pick a team that’s tied last in its conference in returning starters to improve, especially without a tested quarterback or offensive coordinator. As for the OC, Steve Ensminger did do a good job in relief of Cam Cameron a couple of years ago, but having some success against mediocre teams with an offense that hadn’t been working well is different from running the offense throughout the offseason and preparing the players. He also had help from Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice. There is a plus side to the uncertainty (catching opponents off guard etc.); but in preseason, uncertainty is usually bad.
25. Oklahoma St., #22 – The Cowboys played well in the loss to Oklahoma last year, but that’s probably about the best they can expect this year as well. In the last six games last season, Okie St. won three games against ranked teams, two on the road and one in the bowl game. With only 12 returning starters and also a new quarterback to break in, it may be hard for the Cowboys to stay ranked.

Out of rankings: (14) Northwestern, (16) North Carolina St., (17) Iowa

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.