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Archive for the ‘Preview’ Category

LSU/Mississippi St.: Recent Games and Coaches

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

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

Coach O and Intro

Ed Orgeron walks off the field for the last time as Ole Miss head coach after losing in the Egg Bowl on November 23, 2007. He is still looking for his first win in Starkville.

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

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

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

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

Worse: LSU 0-3, Alabama 0-6

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

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

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

Dan Mullen vs. LSU and Rivalry Intro

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dan Mullen discusses his first Bulldog recruiting class in 2009.

LSU vs. Mississippi St. 2009 to 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mullen goes to Florida

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

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

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

2019 Preview and Joe Moorhead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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LSU/Florida Series Recap and Preview

In College Football, General LSU, History, Post-game, Preview, Rankings Commentary on October 8, 2019 at 2:36 PM

Utah St.

It was below the radar for most, but I think it’s worth mentioning a couple of developments from the Utah St. game that may feed into the Florida game and have affected the emphasis in practice.

I was pleased with some aspects of the LSU game.  The passing game didn’t look as great as it had previously, but the defense and running game looked a lot better.  We were able to control the clock more, which I think made the defense more comfortable despite the heat.  We had 3 running backs with at least 8 carries, and the worst one averaged 4.8 yards per carry. Burrow was almost as good with 4.2 yards per carry, and in college that number includes sacks.  He had about 6.5 yards per carry without those.

Utah St. couldn’t run at all. The Aggies had 1 yard rushing in the first half and 18 in the second. I think this showed that the tackling drills during the week that Orgeron talked about paid off. Hopefully the practice drills to correct fumbles will bear similar fruit.

I really don’t like that Burrow threw another interception deep in the LSU end of the field (although it arguably should have been caught by LSU); but like when that happened inside the 10 against Texas, the defense kept the other team from scoring a touchdown.  The defense only gave up one other scoring drive, and that one required a 35-yard pass (with a one-handed reception) and a 47-yard field goal.  There was a similar long pass on the next drive for Utah St., but the LSU defense came up with a turnover before any more damage could be done. 

Although I thought the passing game took a step back from previous games, there were some very nice touchdown passes (this one to Justin Jefferson). Burrow was involved in all 6 touchdowns, running for one of them.

There were a couple of penalties that shouldn’t have happened.  There were actually three fumbles, although LSU recovered two of them.  Utah St. is not a bad team, but if we have two turnovers against them, that gives me some concerns for some of the better SEC teams coming up.  I also mentioned sacks, so it wasn’t the best pass blocking.

Florida Preview

I won’t go into elaborate detail about players to watch for etc.; but I have consumed some media discussing the game, so I’ll give my take. 

I wasn’t that impressed with the model used by College Football Nerds and resulting predictions, but they did an all right job talking about the various units.  I think Florida’s main problem, other than Tiger Stadium at night, is the fact that they’re coming off a tough game against Auburn.   It’s just hard to improve along with the competition two weeks in a row. 

If you didn’t see the game, Florida had a little bit of luck at key moments too.  Auburn was poised to take the lead and threw an interception in the end zone after an 80-yard drive to end the third quarter.  Auburn was driving again to at least get within 1 with a field goal, and Nix was dropped for a 22-yard sack (which he made much worse than it could have been).  Then the first play after the punt the Florida running back Perine was able to get to the outside and no one was home, so he scored 88 yards later.  I’m not minimizing the Gators’ skills, but it’s a little misleading that they finished with almost twice as many points as Auburn.

There were four turnovers by each team in the Florida-Auburn game, and I think winning the turnover battle is definitely a possible avenue to victory for the Gators.  LSU can force turnovers; but defenders have to have good hands and be ready to fall on fumbles.  On the other hand, Tiger turnovers deep in LSU territory (which have happened at least four times) that didn’t really affect the outcome in previous games could make the difference here. 

Auburn has a good defense that Florida got through for a few long plays (no Florida touchdown drive was more than 2 plays), although the Gators are not the best at sustaining drives.  So basically I’m really confident if the LSU offense doesn’t make huge mistakes and the defense keeps the play in front of them and forces mistakes.  Those are big ifs though.

Florida WR Freddie Swain slips a tackle on the way to the opening score in Gainesville Saturday. Auburn allowed just enough of a seam for Swain to run 64 yards.

I’ll elaborate more below and I’ve covered this in previous discussions of the rivalry history, but I’m really skeptical of LSU winning this game by multiple touchdowns (they’re favored by 13 1/2 last I saw).  If they do, I think it will still be late plays that allow that to happen. 

Since the Miles-Meyer era began, 2011 LSU (the one that lost the national championship to Alabama) and 2008 Florida (which won the national championship) were the only two teams to win by 14 more..  All were against opponents who lost at least 5 games on the year.  The only other Florida wins by more than one possession (2006 and 2009) were by eventual 13-1 teams.  The 2006 LSU team only lost two games, but the 2009 edition lost four.  LSU won by 11 in 2013, but Florida would lose eight games to LSU’s three.

So if LSU is a Playoff team, I can see them winning by 10 or 13; but any more than that would probably mean Florida isn’t nearly as good as their rank.

Also, as sort of a transition, I wanted to mention that there is a good chance the game could come close to a high score in the series. Here are the games with the most combined points. It also shows how consistent the time of year in which the game is played has been.

DateLocationLSUFlorida Total
10/11/2008Florida 215172
10/12/1996Florida 135669
10/17/2015LSU352863
10/9/2010Florida 332962
10/9/1993LSU35861
10/8/1994Florida 184260
10/6/2001LSU154459
10/11/2014Florida 302757
10/7/1978Florida 342155
10/9/1971LSU48755

LSU/FLORIDA SERIES

See my series blog for the full details, but LSU/Florida has been a weird series.  Prior to the addition of Arkansas and South Carolina in time for the 1992 season, LSU was the farthest West SEC school, and Florida was the farthest East.  On the other hand, they are the two southernmost SEC schools and almost as far south as one another (Gainesville is slightly south being that it’s below the panhandle, and Baton Rouge is basically a straight line from the panhandle).

The third game in the series wasn’t played until 1953, but LSU has played Florida nearly every year since then (apart from a three-season gap between 1968 and 1970). 

I’m glad the game against Florida is at night.  I think that’s as important as location if not moreso.  LSU is 6-2 in night games against the Gators this century compared to 5-4 at home (the Tigers have the same mark in Gainesville since 2001). 

I’m not sure it mattered where or when the games in 2008 and 2009 were played.  LSU was in a rebuilding cycle those two years (The Tigers lost 9 games between the 2007 BCS championship and the 24-2 stretch that encompassed the 2010 and 2011 calendar years) while Florida experienced a 22-game winning streak that included both LSU games.  Tebow’s last game against LSU was in 2009, which corresponded with the Tigers doing a bit better, so that’s why I included the record since 2010 at the bottom. 

Florida’s only win at Tiger Stadium since that 2009 game was a noon kickoff in a rescheduled game in 2016.  Florida’s late goal-line stand in that game nearly cost Ed Orgeron the permanent job as head coach. 

LSU’s one-point win at Florida in 2017 (by the same score the Tigers would have won by in 2016) got the ball rolling for Jim McElwain’s departure.  This development was also enjoyable for LSU fans given his reaction to the win.  The Tigers entered with two losses to unranked teams.  Florida had a loss, but it was to a fairly decent Michigan team to open the season (at least the Wolverines were fairly decent in their 8-2 start), so that loss stung.  The Gators would have another close home loss the next week before getting blown out by Georgia in Jacksonville, in what turned out to be McElwain’s last game. 

Chart of recent games

2005 was the first Les Miles vs. Urban Meyer game, so I thought that was a good place for the chart to begin although ig doesn’t encompass all the night wins.  The coaches won three games apiece against one another, but the LSU wins were close (all by exactly four points) and dramatic.

There was also a close (night) game in Gainesville in 2004 that LSU won after benching JaMarcus Russell; but LSU suffered two losses in the previous three games that season, and Florida would lose five games overall.   Both teams played like it (when the winning team throws three interceptions and misses two field goals it usually isn’t a well-played game), so it just didn’t have the same feel as the next few years, so I didn’t include it.  LSU’s win in 2002, the Tigers’ first in Gainesville since 1986, was also at night; but it was a blowout.

Yearlocationkickoffresult
2018Florida 3:30Florida 27, LSU 19
2017Florida 3:30LSU 17, Florida 16
2016LSU12:00Florida 16, LSU 10
2015LSU 6:00LSU 35, Florida 28
2014Florida 7:30LSU 30, Florida 27
2013LSU2:30LSU 17, Florida 6
2012Florida 3:30Florida 14, LSU 6
2011LSU2:30LSU 41, Florida 11
2010Florida 7:30LSU 33, Florida 29
2009LSU7:00Florida 13, LSU 3
2008Florida 8:00Florida 51, LSU 21
2007LSU7:30LSU 28, Florida 24
2006Florida 3:30Florida 23, LSU 10
2005LSU2:30LSU 21, Florida 17

In 2005, LSU scored the go-ahead touchdown with 12 minutes left and held the Gators to 17 total yards over the next four drives to hold onto the win.  In 2007, LSU went 5 for 5 on fourth downs (one of them a fake field goal) and also added 8 third-down conversions to dominate time of possession.  The Tigers scored the winning touchdown with 1:09 left after a drive of over 8 minutes.  In 2010, in his last game against LSU, Meyer nearly had a meltdown after an over-the-shoulder pitch to the kicker on a fake field goal was ruled a lateral rather than an incomplete pass.  The Tigers scored the winning touchdown in that one with only 6 seconds left.

Jacob Hester scores the winning touchdown in Baton Rouge in 2007. Hester had converted two fourth downs earlier in the drive. The Tigers entered the fourth quarter down by 10 but possessed the ball for more than 10 minutes in the quarter and won by 4.

The Florida wins in the Miles-Meyer era were relatively comfortable.  Meyer’s three wins were the only Florida wins by more than one possession since 2003. LSU has only beaten Florida by more than one possession once since 2002. 

Additional Background

This isn’t really key information, but I think it helps explain why this series is probably second to Alabama when it comes to motivating the LSU fans and also a little bit more about why I’m doubtful LSU will win big.

I’ll finish with years before the Miles-Meyer era and then fill in the gap between that era and 2016.

Going into the 2002 game, Florida had beaten LSU easily four games in a row and 8 games of 9.  LSU only had two close games against Spurrier-coached Florida teams, both 28-21 final scores.  The Tigers lost in Gainesville in 1992 and won in Baton Rouge in 1997.  In the 2002 game, the first season without Spurrier, LSU won 36-7, its first win in Gainesville since 1986 and its first win over Florida by more than 11 since 1980.  LSU has won by more than 11 only once since then, in 2011.  Florida would 5 games in 2002 and 6 in 2011, so that’s why I’m skeptical of a big LSU win in this one.  I’ve been wrong about LSU lines before, but I would lean toward taking Florida and the points.

The 1997 LSU win (the Gators’ first loss since winning the national championship in the previous season) was the Tigers’ only over the Gators from 1988 to 2001  Spurrier was hired before the 1990 season and left after the 2001 season.  That was when LSU’s fortunes in the series began to change, not when Nick Saban arrived.

Saban went only 2-3 against the Gators as LSU head coach and also went 2-3 against Spurrier for his career (0-2 at LSU, 1-0 at Michigan St., and 1-1 at Alabama; of course the Alabama games were against South Carolina, not Florida).  2001 to 2004 was also a weird stretch because road teams won every game, none of the games were between top-15 teams, and the game was decided by one possession only once.

Anyway, I mentioned that in 2011 (the first game after Meyer left) LSU won easily.  Florida won a close defensive struggle in 2012 when somehow former LSU coordinator Will Muschamp would lead the Gators to the Sugar Bowl.  LSU would win the next three games before Les Miles was fired. The 2014 game was a rollercoaster; but it turned out to be two mediocre teams, so I won’t go into detail again.

LSU/Vanderbilt Series and Final Week 3 Notes

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game, Preview, Rivalry on September 18, 2019 at 9:22 AM

Neither LSU’s nor Kansas’s games last week had an effect upon the top 25, but as a fan of both LSU and Les Miles, obviously I have some interest there. When LSU has a big national game like the one against Texas, I’m probably going to cover it along with my rankings (unless I can’t wait until the next day, which happens sometimes); but when the only reason I’m writing about something is because I’m a fan, I prefer to do that in a separate blog. I will cover the LSU/Vanderbilt series in depth below.

Kansas @ BOSTON COLLEGE

The Jayhawks only scored three offensive touchdowns in their first two games and had gone scoreless in the last 57 minutes of Game 2 against Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers did win five games against an FBS schedule last season, so it wasn’t the most ridiculous upset; but KU still should have won.

It wasn’t something that was drastically out of character for the Kansas football program in the last few years.

When you’re trying to turn a program around, there may be some bumps in the road like that in the first year at any given school.  Even Nick Saban lost to UAB in his first year at LSU and to ULM in his first year at Alabama.

Anyway, given the offensive struggles, it was remarkable that the Jayhawks managed more offensive touchdowns in one half than they had scored in two full games.

It was out of character to win a road game against a Power 5 opponent, which the Jayhawks had not done since 2008 (and that was against a bad Iowa St. team).  It also wasn’t a very normal Kansas thing to beat the spread by over 40 points.

Until his last couple of seasons at LSU when the Tigers struggled after losing to Alabama, you never wanted to play a Les Miles team after a loss. I’m glad he seems to have brought that attitude to Kansas so quickly.

Kansas RB Khalil Herbert ran for 187 yards on 11 carries in Chestnut Hill, MA, Friday.

NORTHWESTERN ST. @ LSU

Before getting to the LSU-Vanderbilt series, I wanted to comment about the last LSU game.  This is the only preview of sorts I’m going to write.  I’m not saying the win is guaranteed, but I’m not going to give in-depth information about every opponent.

LSU’s first half last Saturday was ugly, I’m not going to lie, but there were positives in the game.  First of all, Joe Burrow and Myles Brennan combined set the LSU home record for most passing yards in a game with 488. Rohan Davey, who contributed in the previous home record, still holds the overall record (that one is by himself) with 528 at Alabama in 2001.  That Tommy Hodson individual home record (which I mentioned last week) also still stands, but Burrow did set a new single-game record for completion percentage with at least 20 attempts (87.5).

Brennan looked better than he did against Georgia Southern, with a QB rating almost as good as Burrow’s, and he was given more of the playbook to work with.  If  the one incompletion of his had been completed, he would be in the LSU record book individually for being one of only two quarterbacks (Fred Haynes in 1968) to go 9/9 in a game. 

I don’t think that 528-yard record will be broken in Nashville Saturday; but if there isn’t any kind of record in that game, the home game against Utah St. in three weeks might be a good opportunity to update some records.

The defense – no matter what was going on – should not have allowed 14 points in a half and should not have needed a drop to avoid giving up 21, but it is important to note that at least six important defenders, including three starting linemen, did not play.  This obviously contributed to Northwestern St.’s ability to sustain drives.  The defense made good adjustments in the second half though, so it’s at least encouraging that they can respond well to the proper guidance.  The Demons only gained about 80 yards in the second half.

Burrow did throw a silly interception, but I think he just got a little too confident in the ability to complete a sideline throw regardless of coverage for a moment there.  I don’t think he would have tried the same throw against Alabama, for instance.  I can’t think of another bad decision all night though. 

LSU still needs to work on the run game, but Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Tyrion Davis-Price, and Lanard Fournette (not to mention the quarterbacks) did find some running lanes on key plays, especially after the passing game got to be more consistent. Burrow said after the game that he doesn’t want to run the ball at all; but we didn’t hire Mike Leach, and even he runs it sometimes.

RIVALRY SERIES: LSU vs. VANDERBILT

I wasn’t going to write too much about the LSU-Vanderbilt series, but there were more close games than I realized even though LSU has dominated the series in the last 60+ years (winning 11 of 12).

This will be the second game in a row in the series to be held in Nashville.  The last time Vandy had consecutive home games in the series (1985 and 1990), they won the second contest, so this is very scary information. None of the historical problem areas stopped LSU from beating Texas though, so hopefully it will be the same here.

[Updated after game] LSU leads the all-time series, 23-7-1, and leads in Nashville, 12-5. In this 2019 game, LSU won 66-38. Even Vanderbilt’s total points were fourth in the series history and the second-most for the Commodores. LSU broke its single-game record (49-7 in 1985) by 17 points. The only other teams to score more than VANDY did was LSU in 1945 (39-7) and Vandy in 1948 (48-7).

See here for previous installments of my rivalry series. If you’re a Vanderbilt fan who stumbled across this blog, I did write about the Vanderbilt series with Ole Miss last year.

EARLY GAMES

Senator Huey Long, who was still the de facto governor, stands in front of the Vandy Express in 1934. Long would not live to see another football season.

Sorry for the older people reading, but I consider anything before 1988 an early game since it’s before I remember football. I only felt the need to elaborate slightly about one of the games that took place between 1957 and 1990 anyway.

The Commodores won at least 70% of their games, playing at least 7 games per season, between 1902 and 1912.  LSU had started playing football earlier, in 1893, but sometimes played three games or fewer in a year and often posted losing records or records at or around 50%.  With this in mind, it’s not surprising that Vandy won two games during this period by a combined score of 49 to 5. 

LSU would continue to have strong years occasionally surrounded by mediocre seasons. 1931 would be the first time in several years that the two teams would even finish with the same record. Vanderbilt’s four losses came to teams with a combined 4 losses while LSU’s four losses came to teams with a combined 8 losses, but the gap was narrowing. Vanderbilt would be the superior team again in 1932; but with the creation of the SEC the next year, LSU would get to see how they stacked up on the field for the first time since 1910.

LSU would play 10 games in the 1933 season and not lose a single one; whereas it was more of a rebuilding year for Vandy, who would suffer three losses after losing only one game (at Alabama) the year before.  And yet the game in Baton Rouge ended in a somewhat demoralizing 7-7 draw. 

The U.S. Senator (and still de facto governor) of Louisiana, Huey Long, was very insistent that since LSU would not play the Commodores in front of a home crowd the following year, they would bring the home crowd with them.  To facilitate this, he though the students should be given a 70% discount.  When the railroad was not so fond of that idea, he threatened to reassess the taxes that the railroad might owe.  According to one report I read, the railroad was only being taxed at about 2.5% of its actual worth.  He also gave “loans” to students who claimed to still be unable to afford the trip.  I imagine similar “loans” were given to players back then, but that’s another topic.

The Tigers had already been tied twice in four contests to begin the 1934 season, but the Commodores were undefeated. LSU may have gotten the upset anyway, but the enthusiastic fan supported probably contributed to the impressive 29-0 score in favor of the Tigers.  This was a clear turning point in the series.  The Tigers would remain undefeated until a one-point loss to Tulane denied LSU a berth in the inaugural Sugar Bowl, but LSU did finish with a better record than Vanderbilt for only the second time since 1914.  The Tigers would make the Sugar Bowl the next three years, so it was clear they were now part of the hierarchy of the new SEC.

Due to Long’s interference, head coach Biff Jones would resign following the season. The good news was his replacement Bernie Moore was one of LSU’s longest-tenured and most successful LSU head coaches. In this way, Long may have contributed to many LSU victories after his death.

Although Vanderbilt would host the next three contests in the series as well, the Commodores would only win one of them (by 1 point in 1937).  By 1947, the Tigers had built a 9-3-1 lead in the series. 

LSU head coach Bernie Moore (pictured in 1939) went 8-1 against Vanderbilt over 13 seasons. Les Miles, 3-0, is the only other LSU coach to have coached at least three games against the Commodores.

Moore, after whom the track stadium is still named, retired after the 1947 season.  The Tigers suffered only two losing seasons in his 13 years. He was replaced by Gus Tinsley, whom he coached to a claim of the national championship in 1936.  (Minnesota won a split decision in the AP poll, but LSU is recognized as the best team that year by Jeff Sagarin.)  Tinsley, who still went to LSU games until shortly before his death in 2002, proved to be a better player than coach though.  He posted only three wins in his first season and would never lead consecutive teams to winning records. 

Vanderbilt won two of the four contests against LSU with Tinsley as the head coach.

Although the series has been sporadic since the 1940s, only one of the last 12 full-time LSU head coaches who coached a game (Jerry Stovall) avoided a game against Vanderbilt.

For the LSU program overall, things eventually turned around under Paul Dietzel, Tinsley’s successor, but Dietzel’s first three years was the worst three-year stretch for the Tigers since the early 1920s.  LSU would lose 7-0 in Nashville in 1957 for the third loss in five games in the series.  The series would not resume until 1976.

LSU won the next four games easily… apart from the 1984 contest.  LSU led the whole game in that one but let the Commodores back into the game with three fourth-quarter turnovers that reduced the lead from 28 with about 12 minutes left to 7 with just over 2 minutes left.  All LSU had to do after that (in hindsight) was recover the onsides kick and hand the ball to future Saints star Dalton Hilliard, but I imagine there were some nervous moments in the final minutes.

1990: Vanderbilt Ends Four-Game LSU Winning Streak for First Win in Series Since 1957

Even when Vanderbilt won in 1990 (the first game in the series I remember), the Tigers were quickly going downhill as a program.  They had gone from 10-1-1 in 1987 to 8-4 in 1988 to 4-7 in 1989.  LSU would score a huge upset over Texas A&M in the following week, but once again the Tigers would finish with a losing record.  After  Vandy was a running team the whole game in 1990 (2 completions on 13 attempts to that point), LSU took the lead with 4:06 remaining, 21-17. 

Apparently forcing the ’Dores to throw was the worst thing to do.  Five completions and two quarterback runs (along with two incompletions and a third-down handoff) would give Vanderbilt the lead with 1:09 left and soon thereafter the win, 24-21.  That would be Vanderbilt’s only win of the season.

Neither LSU HC Mike Archer nor Vanderbilt HC Watson Brown would make it until the next season.

1991: LSU Begins a New Winning Streak

The Tigers did get revenge by winning a close game in 1991.  Vanderbilt out-gained LSU and got more first downs, but the Tigers won with a combination of forced turnovers and special teams.  LSU had 117 turnover-return yards to Vanderbilt’s 0 as the Tigers won the turnover battle 4 to 1. 

The Tigers took their first lead on an interception-touchdown early in the third quarter, but the Commodores responded with a 15-play, 80-yard drive to go back up, 14-10.  LSU had a long drive of its own to complete the third quarter, but it resulted only in a field goal.  Vandy still led 14-13 at the start of the fourth.  The ’Dores were forced to punt after going backwards on their next drive, and LSU QB Jesse Daigle was able to engineer another FG drive.  He passed for 44 yards and ran for another 5 on the drive, which put LSU ahead, 16-14.

In the nest drive, it looked as if Vanderbilt would both take the lead and nearly run out the clock.  After 7 plays, the Commodores already had the ball at the LSU 16.  Three straight running plays gave Vandy a first and goal from the LSU 5 with 2:13 to go in the game.  After two more runs, the Tigers took their last timeout with 1:18 to go and Vandy facing a third and goal from the 2.  As LSU had not managed a touchdown drive the whole game, a Vanderbilt score on the next play might have essentially ended the game.  Even if LSU forced the fourth down, the ’Dores could have run down the clock to well under a minute before kicking the go-ahead field goal.  Neither of those happened though, as LB Ricardo Washingon would force a fumble, returned 76 yards by DB Wayne Williams. 

It was LSU who would run out the clock and hold onto the two-point win. Both teams would finish 5-6, which was thought to be solid beginning for the two new coaches Gerry DiNardo and Curley Hallman.  DiNardo turned out all right for a Vanderbilt head coach, but Hallman turned out to be the worst modern head coach of LSU.

1996 and 1997: The Gerry DiNardo Bowls

LSU would not post another winning record until 1995, the year after Hallman was fired, but one coach was the same in 1996, the next time the Tigers faced the ’Dores.  That was Gerry DiNardo, who was in his second year with the Tigers after winning a whopping 18 games in four years at Vandy.  The LSU fans were so excited to see him face his former team, it was one of the largest crowds in Tiger Stadium history at the time. 

The Tigers wore gold jerseys (which were especially popular in light of the baseball team’s success in the 1990s) in protest of the Commodores’ refusal to allow LSU to wear white, the traditional home color.  For some reason, white was allowed at home but only with the visitor’s permission at that time.  I’m not sure how premeditated this was, but it was sort of like promoting a boxing match by engineering a big feud between the boxers.

In the following June, the baseball team would win its fourth College World Series in 7 years.

Vanderbilt QB Damian Allen throws to the flat to avoid a sack in Baton Rouge on October 5, 1996.

The ’Dores almost got some amount of revenge in 1997.  Both teams had chances to score in the first quarter, but LSU would miss a 44-yard field goal attempt, and Vanderbilt would fumble at the LSU at the LSU 24.  Vanderbilt dominated the second quarter, but the Commodores could not score.  This time Vandy would miss a 38-yard field goal.  On the following offensive drive, the ’Dores fumbled again at the LSU 11.  LSU finally recorded the game’s first score late in the third quarter to go up 7-0.  Before that 53-yard touchdown drive, the Tigers only had 96 net yards for the game.  Vanderbilt had gained more yards than that in the second quarter alone.   

After both offenses struggled for most of the fourth quarter, Vanderbilt was forced to punt to LSU with just under 6 minutes left.  The Tigers seemed intent to either score or run out the clock.  This strategy was bolstered by a 23-yard run on first down to the Commodore 38.  After being penalized for a hold, the Tigers would to advance to the 32 on a third and long.  Since it was too far to feel comfortable with a field goal, the Tigers went for it on 4th and 4.  LSU QB Herb Tyler dropped back to pass but was sacked, giving Vandy the ball at their own 41.  After an incompletion and a run for no gain, the ’Dores were forced into a third and long with just over 2 minutes left, but then the passing game came alive.  Fourteen-, 31-, and 11-yard passes were completed (with a negative rushing play mixed in) to give Vandy the ball at the LSU 12 with 21 seconds left and no timeouts.  The first-down pass fell incomplete, but the Commodores scored on the ensuing second down.  They elected to go for the tie, but lineman Arnold Miller blocked the extra point to give the Tigers the 7-6 win. 

The Tigers would finish 9-3 on the season following the 10-2 campaign the year before, but DiNardo would win only two more SEC games after the 1997 season. The silver lining in his struggles was the hiring of Nick Saban of Michigan St. (whom DiNardo had ironincally beaten in the 1995 Independence Bowl) after the 1999 season.

Vandy finished the 1997 season only 3-8, so even a tie would have been an upset of sorts.  LSU has won the four subsequent meetings by at least 14 points apiece (and the ’Dores didn’t score double digits in any of them).

DiNardo’s replacement at Vanderbilt, Woody Widenhofer, was also fired before getting to coach in this series again. 

2004 and 2005: Jay Culter and More Vandy Defense

I mentioned how DiNardo’s tenure went downhill after the 1997 season, but LSU did not play Vanderbilt again until 2004, the year after Saban won the BCS championship at LSU, the Tigers’ first recognized by a major poll since 1958.  It also happened to be Saban’s last season.  Vandy had only gone 2-10 the year before, but the Commodores drew some attention by having a quarterback throw for over 2300 yards in that season.  That QB, Jay Cutler, also was the third-leading rusher on the team, so there was a glimmer of hope in the early years of Bobby Johnson, but 2004 would be another 2-win season. 

LSU had more problems at the QB position that year, alternating between a talented but rough-around-the-edges JaMarcus Russell and the more experienced but often lackluster Marcus Randall.  So the Tigers weren’t known for their offense that season to put it nicely.  It was only 10-7 at the half, but the Tigers pulled away in the third quarter, and the ’Dores didn’t have an answer.  LSU would only manage 102 passing yards (in just 11 attempts) for the game.  Cutler was not very good either with 111 yards in 20 attempts, but he did run for 39 yards not counting yards lost on a sack.

LSU Safety Jessie Daniels sacks Vandy QB Jay Cutler in Nashville on October 8, 2005.

In 2005, Les Miles’ first year, it was another defensive stalemate until late in the third quarter.  The Tigers offense scored a touchdown early in the first quarter but would go scoreless for the next 2 ½ quarters.  The LSU defense helped out with a safety later in the first quarter, but Vanderbilt would respond with a field goal late in the first quarter and another early in the third.  In a reverse of the 1997 game, it was actually LSU who had multiple long drives and no points to show for it for most of the game.  At halftime, the Tigers held a 303 to 41 advantage in net yardage but only led 9-3.  The Tigers turned the ball over 4 times over the course of the game and missed two field goals. 

After the third-quarter field goal to get within 3, things were starting to look good for the Commodores.  LSU was forced to punt on their ensuing offensive drive, giving Vandy QB Jay Cutler a chance to give his team the lead. It looked like that might happen when he completed a 15-yard pass on first down.  An incompletion and a 6-yard run set up a 3rd and 4, but Cutler would throw his second interception of the game.  The other one had led to a missed field goal, but the Tigers took advantage of this one to extend the lead to 6 points.  Although it was close on the scoreboard for a few more minutes, the momentum shift would prove to be irreversible.  From that point until the final play of the game, Vanderbilt would only get one more first down that was not due to a penalty, and LSU would score touchdowns on its next three offensive drives.

Russell, who was the full-time quarterback in 2005, managed 285 total yards, many of them in the fourth quarter, when he threw his only touchdown pass.  Cutler barely threw for more yards than he had in the 2004 game but with 10 more attempts, so you can see why the Commodores could not get a scoring drive going unless they took over in field goal range.

LSU would finish 11-2, and Vandy would barely miss a bowl game at 5-6, which was a good record at Vanderbilt since the ’Dores at that time had not had a winning record since 1982.  They would not finally end the bowl drought until 2008 (while Johnson was still there).

2009 and 2010: LSU Maintains Dominance

LSU got lucky and did not face Vandy again until the twin rebuilding years of 2009 and 2010 (both 2-10 seasons).  2009 was the closer of the two at the final whistle, with the Tigers only winning by 14; but LSU led from late in the first quarter until the end of the game, and Vanderbilt never led.

In 2010, due in part to a lackluster passing attack, LSU didn’t pull away until the fourth quarter; but the Commodores never looked likely to win since they only managed 2 yards per carry to LSU’s 5.6. LSU won, 24-3.

LSU RB Stevan Ridley ran for 159 yards on 17 carries the last time LSU played Vandy (in Nashville on Sept. 11, 2010).

Week 1 Top 25 and LSU/Texas Series and Preview

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

TOP 25

rank/team/last

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

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

Top 25 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LSU @ Texas

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

All-time series: Texas leads, 9-8-1 (updated after the game)

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

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

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

Texas leads the series in Austin, 7-2-1, the other LSU win coming in 1938. (updated after the game).

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

Added after the game: Both teams scored more in 2019 (45 to 38 final in favor of LSU) than either had in this series before. LSU more than doubled its previous high of 20 (in the loss in Jan. 2003 and in wins in 1938 and 1953).

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

Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 Preseason Top 25

In College Football, Preview, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on August 28, 2019 at 2:29 PM

This could probably be a little shorter, but I don’t have the energy to edit it down today; and I don’t want to be in a rush to get it out before the games start tomorrow (if you didn’t know, I have a day job and live on the West Coast).  I made all the preliminary comments as well as comments about teams that didn’t make the list in the last blog.

Key: CB = cornerback(s), DL = defensive lineman(/men), HC = head coach, OL = offensive lineman(/men), QB = quarterback, RS = returning starter(s), RB = running back(s), SECCG = SEC championship game, TE = tight end(s), WR= wide receiver(s).

The Top 15

(# 1) Clemson – This is not a pick of Clemson to beat Alabama if they are to play again. Last year the Tigers had a big advantage in returning starters, and once they got their QB situation sorted out, I don’t think anyone could have beaten them in hindsight. These are without question the top two programs, so I just assume they can overcome losses in personnel. The tiebreaker went to the Tigers due to last season.

Trevor Lawrence will attempt to lead the Tigers to a repeat.

(# 2) Alabama – The Tide looked unbeatable most of the time last season with 10 returning starters. A season of wear and tear exposed a few vulnerabilities in the last two games, but they increase to 12 returning starters this season.

(# 3) Georgia – The Bulldogs were one of the teams to expose those vulnerabilities before the Tide pulled away late in the SECCG. I don’t hold the Texas loss against them since the goal was playoff and national championship, and the bowl prep and motivation may have been relatively lackluster. The Longhorns were excited to be in a big game and would have gotten the same bowl had they won the Big XII. For them, the playoff was likely off the table in September.

(# 4) LSU – I didn’t want to pick another SEC team so soon, but there is a very poor correlation this season between success last year and experience this year. A top-10 finish and NY6 bowl win with 16 returning starters (RS), 8 on each side, made it impossible to pass up the Tigers. LSU does lose a bit more from the defense than this indicates as they lose more of the tackles than Georgia (who has 14 RS, 7 each side) and have a less proven secondary in my opinion. But as I’ll explain, the other teams that seem like good candidates to make a playoff run have much less obvious talent coming back. Someone may go undefeated while LSU will most likely lose to someone, but if that does happen I think that other team will be exposed by Clemson or an SEC team.

(# 5) Michigan – I’m not sure I’ve ever been less excited about a #5 team.  I’ve always liked Shea Patterson, and he’s a senior who will be leading an offense with 8 returning starters.  That gives me slightly more confidence than another inexperienced Ohio St. team (albeit with the same number of RS).  This could be the year the Wolverines finally beat the Buckeyes, although they were favored last year and didn’t come close.  It’s also possible that Michigan will lose that game and Ohio St. will drop more games to lesser teams, which seems to be a recurring issue for the Buckeyes.  I wouldn’t necessarily trust the Wolverine defense though, especially not against one of the better Big Ten offenses or in an elite bowl game.

(# 6) Ohio St. – See above, but it’s worth noting that the majority of the Ohio St. RS will be on defense instead of offense.  This may be more of a rushing Ohio St. team since the Buckeyes do not return their quarterback.  I’m also not sure if the nine returning starters on defense are a good thing unless they learned how to tackle a lot better.  We’re only to #6, and it already sounds like I’m talking about #20.

(# 7) Notre Dame – The Irish also have 13 RS, but they lose their top RB, WR, and TE.  The defense has one fewer RS than the offense and also loses some of the top playmakers.  HC Kelley has shown some resiliency and ability to recruit depth over the years though.  It seems extraordinarily unlikely that the Irish will go undefeated (both Georgia and Michigan are road games); but if they win one of those and suffer no other losses, a return to the playoff would not be surprising.

(# 8) Florida – The Gators also have 13 RS (that’s four teams in a row if you’re keeping track).  Imagine LSU didn’t have to play Alabama or Texas A&M last year.  I can see Florida having a similar year.  The Miami win was too close for comfort (I’m not factoring that in); but if they can pull a couple of upsets like LSU did without the close losses, the playoff isn’t out of the realm of possibility.  He’s not outstanding, but QB Feleipe Franks seems capable of leading such a team. 

(# 9) Auburn – The Tigers (who break the trend with 14 RS) are often better when they can sneak up on people.  2004 (which followed Tommy Tuberville nearly getting fired) and 2013 (which followed the apparent end of Gene Chizik’s head coaching career) come to mind, although this wouldn’t be as dramatic as 2013. The schedule (they get Florida along with the yearly Georgia game) may make representing the West in the SECCG nearly impossible, but I’m only picking them third in the division after all.

(# 10) Washington St. – Although the Cougars have a lower ceiling (the Rose Bowl is the best realistic outcome), I see them as similar to LSU.  If they were able to do what they did last year with a relatively weak team on paper, I see no reason they can’t at least be about as good (if not better) this season.  It’s another team with 13 RS, but a couple of notable transfers (at QB and DL) make that misleading.  Wazzu won 11 games last year, so they may be even better than some of the teams above with 13.

(# 11) Oklahoma – A lot of people see the Sooners as a playoff team – and I do begrudgingly consider them most likely to win the Big XII – but they’re just too inexperienced for me to believe that.  Alabama transfer Hurts is a good QB, but he’s going to be playing behind 4 new OL and will only have four RS on that side of the ball overall.  The Sooners have a total of 12 RS, which isn’t terrible, but when you look more in depth they’re not even in the top 100 in terms of experience.  I’m not sure the 8 RS on defense are a good thing given how porous the unit was last year.

(# 12) Texas A&M – The Aggies have 11 RS.  HC Fisher got away with that type of team at Florida St. before Clemson got so good, but I think that’s a lot harder to do in the SEC West (and this year he has to face Clemson as well).  Since it’s only Fisher’s second year, he didn’t recruit most of the starters.  If Sumlin were still the BC they wouldn’t even be ranked, so I think making them 12th (a lucky number for the Aggies) is giving Fisher the credit he’s due.  Maybe even too much given what happened at Florida St.in 2017, when the Seminoles barely became bowl-eligible.

(# 13) Utah – The Utes are not the most experienced team in the Pac-12 – UCLA and Oregon have more experience – but I had Utah as the better team last year, and I think with a typically solid defense (3 first-team all-conference players) and experienced seniors at QB and RB (though both were injured late last season), Utah may even have an outside shot at the playoff.  They will have 14 RS, 7 on each side.

Utah QB Tyler Huntley is a running and throwing threat who can keep defenses off-balance.

(# 14) Washington – The Huskies are widely picked to win the Pac-12 again, but after losing their QB, their RB, and all but two defensive starters, let’s just say I’m skeptical. Another strong Pac-12 season still wouldn’t be shocking given that the Huskies have won 14 straight conference home games though.

(# 15) Texas – Tom Herman enters his third year, but I would not be surprised if the team took a step back given only 8 RS.  I couldn’t find another team in the Big XII to challenge Oklahoma though. Maybe someone will be a surprise. The Longhorns do have a pretty good quarterback and a couple of good WR from last season. 

Numbers 16 to 25

I like many teams toward the bottom of the top 25 more than #5 to #15, but these are programs that I don’t trust as much to produce a good team even though the potential is there.  Sometimes an unranked team (in particular) that has a lot of players back stays an unranked team, but some of these could also be in NY6 bowls.

(# 16) Oregon – As I mentioned under Utah, the Ducks are one of the most experienced teams in the Pac-12 and with Washington vulnerable, they may have a reasonable shot at taking their place.  17 starters are back, 10 on offense.  Oregon does lose 3 of its best tacklers on defense though.  QB Justin Herbert should lead the best offense in the conference, but WSU HC Mike Leach may have something to say about that..

(# 17) Central Florida – Like many of those above, the Knights have 13 RS, mostly on offense.  Surprisingly, UCF is only slightly less experienced than last season, so another top-11 finish (it would be the fourth since 2013) is not out of the question.  UCF has a new QB, and I’m not sure Wimbush, the Notre Dame transfer will keep the offense going as well.  The defense will probably have holes having lost 5 of the front 7 and 4 of the top 6 tacklers.

(# 18) Michigan St. – Like Oregon, the Spartans have a lot of experience (17 RS), but the experience is from a team that was barely in the top 50 last season.  Two years ago, State won 7 conference games, so if things go well they could return to that level.

(# 19) Iowa St. – The Cyclones have been a pest for the top teams in the Big XII the last few years.  With 16 returning starters, ISU may have a chance to compete for the conference title.  Brock Purdy returns after leading the offense to over 30 points per game in his 9 games.  The Cyclones still haven’t won a conference title since 1912 (they only played two conference games that year), although they did tie for the Big XII North in 2004.  Even a conference-championship game would be a first for Iowa St.

(# 20) Syracuse – The Orange will likely improve defensively (with 7 RS there) but may take a step back on offense.  Six starters return on offense, but that does not include the quarterback, and part of the reason for the proficiency last year was the experience.  I wouldn’t bet on anyone challenging Clemson in the ACC this year, but if Syracuse competes in years like this that will be a good sign for the future where maybe Clemson isn’t a defending national champion and there is a clear advantage in RS.

(# 21) Penn St. – The Nittany Lions barely snuck into the top 20 last season and with fewer RS (12, evenly split) than the vast majority of the top 25, I don’t think predicting them to be about the same is an insult.  They will have a new QB and a new primary RB, although the OL look good.  The defense had the same or fewer RS the last two years and was very good nonetheless, allowing 16.5 and 20.5 points per game in the last two years respectively. 

(# 22) Florida St. – It’s weird that this was one of the last teams I even thought to add to consideration.  The Seminoles had the third toughest schedule last season, and that’s just not a good situation to try to implement a new system that hasn’t been really established at the major-conference level.  Not to mention that HC Fisher (see Texas A&M) didn’t leave on a very good note.  FSU should have beaten Miami and does deserve some credit for beating Boston College when they were getting beaten up against a ranked team every week at the end.  There were some games that should have been closer, but I think reports of the program’s demise are greatly exaggerated.  Anyway, they have EIGHT starters back on both sides of the ball.  I’m taking the mediocre couple of years into account or they would be in the top 10, but I think top 25 is warranted.

Florida St. RB Cam Akers ran for over 1000 yards as a freshman in 2017 and, with an improved offensive line and possibly more carries, will look to do so again.

(# 23) Appalachian St. – The second team in a row with 16 RS.  Nearly the whole offense is back from a team that scored over 37 points per game last season.  The major area of concern on defense is CB, so there may be a few more points allowed.  It’s hard to do much better than last year’s mark of 15.5 points per game.  I know the schedule hasn’t been great, but if you win 11 games and have that many guys back, you can beat some people.  The only conference loss last season was to Georgia Southern in a game where the QB was injured and the backup was turnover-prone, so they could be undefeated in conference.  The only nonconference loss was to Penn St. in overtime, so the Mountaineers could go undefeated overall too.

(# 24) Cincinnati – The Bearcats also suffered only two losses last year, and one was also in overtime.  The more substantial loss (by 25) was to UCF, so that’s hardly disqualifying.  That game may be closer this year.  Cincy has 7 RS on each side of the ball.  Three of the 4 major passing targets along with last year’s QB and RB are returners.   OL and DL are the only two areas that seem weaker.

(# 25) South Carolina – The Gamecocks are by far the biggest impediment to Appalachian St. possibly having an undefeated run. HC Muschamp says this is his best team at South Carolina, but I’m not sure that’s saying a whole lot.  Carolina had a decent year last year, but going the last 6 quarters without a point wasn’t a good look.  They also have 7 RS on each side of the ball.  The Cocks aren’t picked in some top 25s due to schedule (Clemson, Alabama, Georgia, Florida), but like I said in the intro, I don’t factor that in.  They need to figure out how to beat ranked teams (0 wins in the last 10 attempts) to justify being widely ranked regardless.

Changes in Rankings

Finally, I made a chart of the teams that are ranked above as well as the teams that are not on the list above but were in the top 25 at the end of last season. I use two different ratings systems, one that essentially gives bonus points for quality opponents (“weighted” toward better schedules) and another that treats every game equally (which I call unweighted). That’s what W and UW stand for below. The overall ranking is determined by averaging the two (adjusting for how different the range in numbers is); therefore it is in the column under “Avg.”


2019 Preseason Rankings Intro

In College Football, Preview, Rankings Commentary on August 26, 2019 at 5:27 PM

I’ll publish the top 25 in a couple of days, but I’m going to keep you in suspense while I talk about my philosophy and some of the turnover that you may notice from the end of last season.

There are a few things I want to say about my philosophy when it comes to preseason rankings.  Although I do pride myself on a team having a good season after I started them unusually high or a bad season after I start them unusually low, I’m not trying to have the exact top 25 that will be in place at the end of the year. 

I’m also not trying to have the exact top 25 that will be in place before the bowls.  It sounds strange, but a lot of people will make the top 4 the teams they think will be in the playoff.  If there is a close call at #4 and #4 loses to #1 by 40 while #5 wins a big bowl, #4 going into the playoff is not going to stay #4.  There could even be a #6 or #7 that pass them up.  But if I were still on a site with a lot of comments, people would show up and tell me I’m crazy for thinking three SEC teams will be in the Playoff.  I wouldn’t even want that to happen if I honestly believed the best three teams were in the SEC.

Anyway, what I do believe in is a best guess as to who is going into the season with the toughest team.  So with that in mind, I don’t care how easy your schedule is.  Some people seem to think rankings are a list of most likely teams to go undefeated.  For instance, I read something that touted Nebraska as a potential ranked team since they don’t play any of the best teams in the Big Ten.  That tells me nothing about how good Nebraska is, so I don’t care.  Maybe they’ll get fewer injuries that way and will therefore be harder to beat in the bowl than they would have been otherwise.  But that’s one reason this isn’t as much about who’s good later in the year. 

Nebraska didn’t win its first game last year until October 20 (pictured). The Huskers finished the year 4-8 (a couple of plays from 6-6), but I’m still skeptical of a drastic improvement.

However, I do expect some correlation between the best teams going into the season and the best teams at the end of the season.  And by going into, I mean those with the best prospects on paper, not necessarily the teams who will have the most successful first few weeks.

For a while I focused just on returning starters and how good a team was last year, but I’ve been led astray too many times recently and decided to look more in depth.  If Alabama only had 9 returning starters (RS), for instance, I’d still have them in the top 5.  In past years I may have expected a team like that to fall from 14-1 to 10-4, but I don’t know if any number of returning starters no matter how small would cause Alabama or Clemson to lose four games this season.  Last year, the Tide only had 10 RS.

Tua Tagovailoa (pictured during the 2018 national championship) may feel spoiled as Alabama increases to 12 returning starters from 10 last season.

Such programs just get too many great recruits, and their coaches are attentive and hardworking enough to make even recent high-school players elite college players in just a few months. Teams like that seem most vulnerable early in the year (which I maintain is why Alabama has lost to Ole Miss recently but not LSU), so I guess that’s one caveat to what I said about who’s best going in, but Alabama has also lined up against some decent teams in the first game and blown them out.

Conversely, the two teams with the most RS are UCLA and Texas St.  If you put all of their returning starters on the same team, I still wouldn’t put that team in my top 25.  UCLA could be in the top 25 at the end of the year for all I know, but it would take a lot of improvement that I’ve seen no evidence is forthcoming from that particular program.  I had the Bruins 95th at the end of last season, so even if they improve 65 spots (jumping over half the teams in FBS football), they still wouldn’t be in the top 25.

The worst team last year that I’m ranking here is Florida St. (whom I had #61 in the final ratings), but since their schedule was so tough last year, their record wasn’t very indicative of talent level.  The Seminoles finished the year against five consecutive ranked opponents (beating one). The only loss to an unranked opponent was to Syracuse, which finished ranked #15 in both major polls and which nearly beat Clemson.  I decided that was as low as I was willing to go though.  I had Virginia Tech many spots lower and after some consideration opted to leave the Hokies unranked despite 16 returning starters.

Florida St.’s one-point loss to Miami, in hindsight, resulted in the Noles’ first season without a bowl game since 1982.

There were three other teams I considered moving into the rankings now despite not finishing last year ranked, but I’ll wait and see for now (last year’s final ranking), Mississippi St. (30), Baylor (47), and Wisconsin (48).

The only ranked teams from last season that I ruled out immediately were in the Mountain West. Boise St. has lacked consistency in recent years and only returns 13 starters, which do not include last year’s quarterback.  Fresno St. and Utah St. return only 9 starters apiece.  The “mid-major” teams can have difficulty with continuity even with a large number of returning starters.  I did decide to give Appalachian St., which returns 16 starters, the benefit of the doubt though.  By the way, RS numbers do not include kickers. 

Other ranked teams that fell out between the final ratings of last season and now are Kentucky (#12, 8 RS), Army (#14, 11 RS), Stanford (#24, 9 RS), and Iowa (#25, 10 RS).  Kentucky has improved or maintained its record from the previous season every year since 2014, but all good things must come to an end.  I considered keeping Army as the Black Knights have responded well in the past to personnel turnover, but there were too many talented major programs that have more potential to reach major bowls.

I’ve given you a few hints, but check back for the preseason top 25 in the coming days.

Championship Saturday Viewing Guide & Bowl Speculation

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, Preview, Rankings Commentary on November 30, 2018 at 4:24 PM

I was trying to get something out timely earlier in the week without being too convoluted, but I may have lost some people in the discussion of some of the various outcomes, so that’s what I want to focus on here.  Except for a few comments toward the end, I’m not talking about how things should be or who’s going to win, but I want to let people know teams to support depending on cheering interest.

BASICS

The top 4 teams will play in the Cotton and Orange Bowls.  The semifinal bowls and the other bowls that are part of the rotation and affiliated with the CFP committee are called the NY6 for New Year’s Six. Don’t get fixated on that name either though.  There are New Years Day bowls that are not those bowls, and all of those bowls won’t be on New Years Day.  The name just refers to the six bowls that are part of the CFP process and therefore part of the semifinal rotation. 

Champions of the SEC, ACC, Big XII, Pac-12, and Big Ten MUST be in NY6 bowls as must the best team from some other conference(most likely Central Florida).

The Sugar Bowl will be Big XII vs. SEC, and the Rose will be Pac-12 vs. Big Ten.  It appears that the Pac-12 representative will be the champion in the Rose Bowl and not anyone else in the other bowls, although there may be a route for Washington St. as discussed in the last blog.

Why does this matter?  The most likely visible result would be that even if they lose and even if they’re ranked well below other candidates for at-large spots, Texas is most likely going to the Sugar Bowl (I think the only way this won’t happen is if Georgia, Clemson, and Oklahoma all win).  Champions take precedence though.  So even if Michigan and Ohio St. are both higher-ranked Big Ten teams, Northwestern would be in the Rose Bowl by winning.  Likewise, even if Oklahoma is ranked higher than Texas, the Longhorns will be in the Sugar Bowl if they win the championship over the Sooners.  The SEC champion will be in the top 4 no matter what though and therefore not in the Sugar Bowl.

When it comes to following the games, the first thing to note is the games on Friday don’t really matter to anyone but fans of those playing.  Whether it’s Utah or Washington, the winner of the Pac-12 championship will go to the Rose Bowl and the loser will go to a non-NY6 bowl. Whether it’s Buffalo or Northern Illinois, both the winner and the loser of the MAC championship will be in non-NY6 bowls.

One other thing to note: since I wrote this,Central Florida has emerged as the popular pick to play in the Fiesta.  I don’t know if the media is responding to some inside tip with that, but basically the Fiesta and Peach Bowl teams are interchangeable anyway.

WHAT TO HOPE FOR BY CHEERING INTEREST

Most fans who will be affected at all by this weekend want their school to win and their conference to make the top 4 if that’s relevant, but there are a couple of fan bases worth elaborating upon. 

SEC/LSU fans

I touched on this in the last blog, but basically if you’re in the SEC and not an Alabama fan or don’t have some weird regional interest (such as you’re a Florida fan who lives in Atlanta and don’t want to travel), you want Georgia to upset Alabama and you DON’T want Clemson or Ohio St. to be upset (possibly wanting Urban Meyer to lose notwithstanding).  This would free up the Sugar Bowl for a third SEC team and allow other SEC teams to compete for other open slots. If Alabama wins, the Bulldogs will most likely take the SEC Sugar Bowl spot, but without another upset, there could still be third and fourth SEC teams in NY6 bowls.

The Oklahoma/Texas outcome probably (I’ll explain the situations below) won’t affect the SEC teams, so feel free to cheer for whichever you dislike less, although the outcome may influence for whom to cheer later.

No matter what happens, teams that are 9th and 10th with 3 losses (LSU and Florida) aren’t going to end up in the top 4, so even a series of upsets like in 2007 won’t put a team other than Alabama and Georgia in the top 4.

Georgia is currently in the top 4, but there is a strong likelihood that Oklahoma and/or Ohio St. winning this weekend would displace them after a Bulldog loss to Alabama.

I’ll explain why the upsets would hurt SEC teams.  The teams other than Alabama and Georgia are hoping to be in the “New Years 6 (NY6) but not top 4”category.  The SEC wants as few other teams to be in this category as possible. An upset by Pittsburgh, for instance, would put Pittsburgh in this category.  Same thing for Northwestern.  As I already explained, a potential Texas upset by itself is not going to change anything for the SEC (though it would take the Sooners out of consideration for the top 4).

So let’s say Alabama beats Georgia, Oklahoma beats Texas, Clemson beats Pitt, and Northwestern beats Ohio St. 

The following teams would all be in NY6 bowls:Central Florida, Clemson, Ohio St., Northwestern, Washington, Texas, Georgia and Michigan.  There would only be room for one other SEC team (probably Florida) in the Sugar, Fiesta, Rose, and Peach Bowls. 

Don’t quote me on these bowl picks (the Fiesta Bowl teams are interchangeable under the rules with the Peach Bowl teams, but the Sugar and Rose have fixed conference match-ups), but just to show why there would be no room for a second team…

Cotton: Alabama vs. Oklahoma

Orange: Notre Dame vs. Clemson

Sugar: Georgia vs. Texas

Peach: Florida vs. Ohio St.

Rose: Washington vs. Northwestern

Fiesta: Michigan vs. Central Florida

If the one upset is Texas over Oklahoma, it wouldn’t hurt the SEC since Texas would stay in place and no additional teams would be added to the mix:

Cotton: Alabama vs. Ohio St.

Orange: Notre Dame vs. Clemson

Sugar: Georgia vs. Texas

Peach: Florida vs. Central Florida

Rose: Washington vs. Michigan

Fiesta: LSU vs. Oklahoma

If Northwestern beats Ohio St. and other favorites win, something like this would happen, removing LSU’s chance:

Cotton: Alabama vs. Georgia

Orange: Notre Dame vs. Clemson

Sugar: Florida vs. Texas

Rose: Washington vs. Northwestern

Fiesta: Michigan vs. Oklahoma

Peach: Ohio St. vs. Central Florida

If Pittsburgh beats Clemson and other favorites win, something like this would happen, removing LSU’s chance:

Cotton: Alabama vs. Ohio St.

Orange: Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma

Sugar: Georgia vs. Texas

Rose: Washington vs. Michigan

Fiesta: Michigan vs. Pittsburgh

Peach: Clemson vs. Central Florida

If both Pitt upsets Clemson and Northwestern upsets Ohio St.:

Cotton: Alabama vs. Georgia

Orange: Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma

Sugar: Florida vs. Texas

Rose: Washington vs. Northwestern

Fiesta: Pitt vs. Ohio St.

Peach: Clemson vs. Central Florida

The takeaway is that any of these would eliminate the second SEC team (most likely LSU) outside of the top 4.

Big Ten/Michigan

It’s more nuanced what Michigan fans should before. As shown above, on the one hand, the right combination of upsets could put the Wolverines in the Rose Bowl. On the other hand, the wrong combination of upsets could see the Wolverines in the Citrus Bowl or similar.

Michigan fans could also be cheering for the long-shot chance of making the top 4, which would involve Ohio St., Clemson, and Oklahoma all getting upset.  Clemson with one loss could be ahead of the Wolverines with two losses, but one loss to an unranked team is arguably worse than two losses to top 10 teams (Notre Dame and Ohio St.).  Since Oklahoma plays first inthat group, those who support Michigan should consult the scenarios above for beneficial upsets.

Michigan in the top 4 would look like this:

Cotton: Alabama vs. Michigan

Orange: Notre Dame vs. Georgia

Sugar: Florida vs. Texas

Rose: Washington vs. Northwestern

Fiesta: Pitt vs. Oklahoma

Peach: Clemson vs. Central Florida

For generic Big Ten fans, it’s a lot simpler.  If Oklahoma beats Texas in the early game on Saturday, the best thing for the Big Ten is for Northwestern to win.  I believe Ohio St. will be in an NY6 bowl regardless, so if I’m right there will likely be three Big Ten teams in the NY6 bowls this way. 

If Texas wins, it may be more important to cheer for Ohio St. in the hopes the Buckeyes make the semifinal than it is to hope for three Big Ten teams to be in NY6 bowls, but that would be personal preference.

LSU ADVOCACY AND OTHER NOTES

Some fans of other schools seem upset that if LSUis apparently in line for an NY6 bowl, the Tigers aren’t really being punished for the loss. LSU was going to be in the Sugar Bowl provided Georgia made the top 4, but that doesn’t seem to be the case now.  The next in line for the Sugar seems to be Florida.  I’ve covered a few scenarios above where LSU doesn’t get any NY6 bowl. 

In a much less dramatic and controversial Rivalry Week contest, Washington RM Myles Gaskin scores a first-half touchdown in the snow in Pullman.

A number of bowl projections have LSU being left out of the NY6 bowls even if nothing weird happens, and some even have the Tigers falling all the way to the Outback Bowl (since I imagine the Citrus doesn’t want LSU for the third year in a row).

I don’t know how other than geography you would justify Washington St. going ahead of LSU, but maybe the rankings will be ignored.  Other than the questionable A&M loss (the Aggies are now #19 in the CFP rankings), the Tigers’ other two losses have come to top-10 teams. LSU also has a win over Georgia, better than any team the Cougars have played much less beaten.  Washington St.has beaten three of the four other teams in the Pac-12 North with winning records (none with a better record than 8-4), but Wazzu has a loss to 5-7 USC.  Washington St. has 4 wins against teams with winning records, while LSU has 5.  The Cougars also lost to in-state rival Washington. Although the Huskies may be the Pac-12 champions, it’s important to remember they lost to Auburn, who’s in the middle of the SEC on a good day (and who lost at home to LSU).

If Boise St. wins the Mountain West and Central Florida loses the American championship, it’s possible Boise St. could make it ahead of Central Florida.  In that case,the Broncos would probably play in the Fiesta Bowl; but as I explained earlier,Central Florida might be slotted for the Fiesta Bowl anyway, so in that case no other team would be affected.

I already talked about the potential impact of Georgia beating Alabama, so I didn’t include that here.  I think it would create a Big XII-champions. Florida Sugar Bowl, a Big Ten champion vs. Pac-12 champion Rose Bowl, and the other teams would depend upon who else wins. 

CONCLUSION

The simplest way to sum all of this up that I can think of is as follows.  The following teams are in NY6 bowls almost no matter what: Alabama, Notre Dame,Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma, Ohio St., Michigan, and Florida.  Washington, Utah, Pittsburgh, Northwestern,Texas, and Central Florida are in with wins. LSU and possibly Washington St. or Penn St. could get in (Penn St. being the least likely of the three); but since none are playing, they’re dependent on the right combination of other teams to win.

Week 12: Not Rivalry Week Yet

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

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

The Former Rivalry Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the SEC Schedule for Mid-November Deteriorated

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ole Miss-Vanderbilt Headlines This Week’s SEC Schedule

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

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

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

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

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

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

LSU and Rice Renew a Rivalry Few Missed

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

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

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

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

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

Alabama Offense vs. LSU Defense

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

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

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

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

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

Historical Precedent in General

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historical Precedent in LSU-Alabama Series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comparison to Other Games This Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction

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

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.