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Posts Tagged ‘Auburn’

Week 3 Top 25

In College Football, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 15, 2019 at 3:38 PM

I’ll include my thoughts about the most-recent LSU game when I go into detail about Vanderbilt later in the week.  I’ve been waiting to write about the LSU-Vanderbilt series for a while, but there is only so much to say about it since Vandy has not won since 1990.

There is a bit more to say about the top 25 games that weren’t against FCS opponents and the new members of the top 25.  This is still primarily subjective, but I did try out my ratings system for the first time.  It’s pointless to even look at it before everyone plays an FBS opponent, so that’s why I hadn’t looked before.  Now that that’s happened, the system has given me a little bit of guidance; but it’s still somewhat limited.

For the new teams last week, I just added teams who beat opponents I previously thought were good.  That didn’t work out particularly well.  USC promptly lost to BYU, and Maryland promptly lost to Temple.  I don’t believe BYU or Temple belong in the top 25.  BYU should have lost to Tennessee, who I wouldn’t even put in my top 75.  Temple is closer, but I put that win down to Maryland being inconsistent (as usual) more than I put it down to Temple being very good.  Cal, the third team I added after last week, did win; but the Bears didn’t do very much to separate themselves from their opponent North Texas, whose only win is over a basically winless FCS team (I don’t count wins over Division II or lower).

BYU’s Dax Milne catches a 30-yard touchdown pass from Zach Wilson to put the Cougars ahead of USC in the second quarter in Provo on Saturday.

There are very basic observations this early that my computer system is not capable of.  For instance, it doesn’t realize Texas is harder to beat than USC.  They both faced three FBS opponents, and they’re both 2-1.  The opponents of both Texas and USC have a total of 3 wins against FBS opponents (LSU and Louisiana Tech combine for three as do BYU and Stanford).  I don’t add any inputs for how teams did last season or in any recent seasons, so it takes time to differentiate quality wins better.

Number 1 on the computer list is Auburn.  Only 7 teams are 3-0 against FBS teams at this point.  Only one of the Tigers’ three opponents has a loss to another team, and two of those opponents have wins over an FBS team.  All three have wins over FCS teams. Eighty-five of 130 teams have FCS wins, so it’s hard to have a better schedule so far among the unbeaten teams.  You could argue Ohio St. has a better schedule because their opponents had four wins over FBS team.  However, one of the four FBS wins by the Buckeyes’ opponents (Cincinnati over UCLA) was over a completely winless team, and the three other wins by Buckeyes’ opponents were over teams who are winless against the FBS. 

It only goes downhill from there.  In the computer, the worst 3-0 (vs. FBS) team is Alabama, who beat South Carolina (which counts for zero points since they’ve only beaten a winless FCS team) and New Mexico St. (who is completely winless).  Alabama did beat Duke, who beat Middle Tennessee; but as you might guess Middle Tennessee is also winless against FBS opponents. Anyway, this is why I said this early you have to look at more than wins and losses even though later in the year I move away from that.  I think we’ve seen more evidence of the ability to win championships by Alabama than Auburn even though Auburn has had more accomplishments so far.

Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa has been able to wear down the defenses he’s faced so far, but his coach expressed frustration that the Tide hasn’t been tested against better opponents.

Anyway, I’m not relying on the computer rankings to tell me if one team is better than another, but I did use it to find suggestions for teams to add to the top 25.  Three were teams I was already strongly considering: Arizona St. (which beat Michigan St.), Iowa (which beat Iowa St.), and Wake Forest (which beat North Carolina).  I’m not about to put them in the top 10 like the computer has them, but I think they’ve had a good enough 3 weeks to belong where I put them. 

Kansas St. was not one I was thinking of, but the Wildcats are 3-0 and have a win over Mississippi St.  Otherwise they beat a bad FBS team and a good FCS team.  Another candidate was Virginia, who has a very similar profile; but I think it’s harder to beat Mississippi St than Florida St. right now, especially since the Wildcats went on the road to beat the Bulldogs while the Cavaliers beat the Seminoles at home.

Despite what I said about the North Texas game, I still think Cal’s win over Washington will turn out to be a very good one. So I’m not inclined to take the Bears out of the top 25 unless there is a loss. They go on the road to face Ole Miss before two fairly tough in-conference opponents (Arizona St. and Oregon), so we will soon see how much of a fluke the Washington win was.

Top 25

rankteamlast
1Clemson1
2Alabama2
3Georgia3
4LSU4
5Ohio St.5
6Notre Dame6
7Auburn7
8Florida8
9Wash. St.9
10Oklahoma10
11Michigan11
12Texas A&M12
13Utah13
14Texas14
15C. Florida15
16Penn St.17
17Appalachian18
18Arizona St.
19Iowa
20Wake Forest
21Cincinnati21
22Boise St.22
23Oregon23
24UC-Berkeley25
25Kansas St.

Out of top 25: (16) Michigan St., (19) USC, (20) Maryland, (24) Iowa St.

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Week 2 Conference Report and Rankings Comments

In College Football, Conference Reports, Rankings Commentary on September 10, 2019 at 2:17 PM

I mostly wanted to post an update about inter-conference games so far, but I came across an interesting argument on “College Football Nerds” that basically said Texas should have stayed at the same spot or better in the major polls.

“We have two weeks of actual data, and we reshuffle based on the preseason poll…  We don’t vote with our eyes, we vote with who won and who lost.”

What are we supposed to reshuffle if not the preseason poll?  Last year’s final rankings?  Do the records from last year carry over?  If so, I’m not sure 11-5 Texas with two losses in the last four games should be in the top 10 either. 

Assuming that’s not what he wants to do, two games isn’t a lot of “data” that he wants us to rely on.  Looking a certain way in those two games doesn’t necessarily say how the rest of the season will go. The important factor is having a loss right now is significantly worse than not having a loss.

The second guy says you have to be insane to think Auburn would beat Texas.

I honestly don’t know who would win.  Making Joe Burrow look like a runaway Heisman winner makes me think Texas might make Bo Nix look at least above average, and he did look good at the end of the Oregon game.  There is a pretty decent possibility based on what I’ve seen that Auburn has a better defense than LSU does, so maybe with some ball control (which LSU didn’t have) they can hold Texas to two fewer touchdowns (24 points) and score 27 like they scored against Oregon. 

What overwhelming evidence do we have that Texas plays defense better than Oregon?  None.  Losing a game like that at home doesn’t prove that Texas would have beaten Oregon at a neutral site as Auburn did.  Yes, Auburn only beat Tulane 24-6; but if your defense is doing that well, why take chances on offense?  That doesn’t say anything about what you can do when a team is making you score points to stay in the game like Oregon did. 

LSU won a similar game against Tulane on the way to winning the 2007 national championship, by the way.  The Tigers ended up winning by 25 (after a 10-9 first half), but Tulane would only win 4 games that year. I would suspect this year’s Green Wave is at least one touchdown more competent.

Of course, theoretically playing a close game and possibly beating Texas doesn’t count as much as actually doing so, so that’s why LSU is a good number of spots ahead of Auburn.  Theoretically losing to LSU (ESPN gives Auburn only about a 20% chance of winning that game right now) isn’t as bad as actually losing to LSU, so that’s why Auburn isn’t as far down as Texas is.  A 20% chance of winning a scheduled game is better than a 0% chance.

Also, unlike the polls, I had Auburn ahead of Texas at the beginning of the season, so my default position is Auburn is a better team anyway.   If I thought Texas was better going in, I would probably still have Texas ahead; but another difference between me and the polls is I didn’t expect Oregon to beat Auburn.  So I’m not saying the polls are completely right and these guys are completely wrong, but it’s not as hard to see the logic as they pretend it is. 

I do accept the point that Texas played a lot better than Michigan on Saturday, but that’s why Texas actually went up a spot and Michigan went down 5 spots.  That doesn’t mean the Michigan team that on paper in preseason looked like a much better team than Texas should drop below Texas as long as Michigan has a better record than Texas. 

Michigan forced the fumble above to beat Army in double overtime.

After about another month, I’m all in favor of discarding preseason and looking at resumes, but there isn’t enough information from this season to do that now.  In evaluating opponents, you would still need to guess at how good they are and not just look at the opponents’ resumes.  Tulane or Army, for instance, could win 10 games (they both won bowl games last year after all) or they could win 5 games (which would be much more typical of those two programs), we don’t know. 

I at least want to see LSU play Florida before I decide losing to LSU at home by 7 is better than being undefeated with a questionable performance against a “mid-major” type of team. 

I also agree with the point that Auburn will likely have more losses than Texas does, but right now I think there are 5 SEC teams (and Auburn plays all of the other 4) who would all go 3-0 against numbers 3 through 5 of the Big XII (assuming Texas and Oklahoma are the first two), so that could account for a few additional losses even if Auburn is the better team.  I’m not going to penalize a team for having a tougher schedule down the road.  I want to see how they do against that schedule and not just guess.

Anyway, there are only two conferences with winning records against teams of Power 5 conferences.   You could probably guess that the SEC (at 62.5%) is one of them.  The other is the Mountain West (54.5%), which is actually 1-0 against the SEC with the Wyoming win over Missouri.

It looks like the SEC will not be as deep as recent years though. There is a big gap between beating Texas and losing to Georgia St.  Missouri, which dominated West Virginia, is the only team that has both one of the Power 5 wins and one of the apparently bad losses.  Maybe Wyoming will turn out to be a good team, but I doubt it. 

After a disappointing opening against Wyoming, the Missouri defense nearly shut out West Virginia in the Tigers’ home opener.

Ole Miss is probably about #11 in the SEC, so I don’t mind too much their losing to Memphis, one of the best AAC teams in the last two seasons. It is something to take into consideration before giving the SEC too much credit for being far ahead of the other major conferences in terms of Power 5 record though.

In interconference FBS record, the SEC is more pedestrian at only 65%, which is actually fourth.  It’s a much closer fourth though.  It’s only 1.7% back of the ACC and Big XII, who are tied for second.

I would say the Big Ten is the best overall since it only has three total losses to the SEC’s seven.  The 1.7% I mentioned is more than made up by the SEC’s strength of schedule, so I’d rate the SEC second right now. 

I put the Pac-12 third.  It’s only won 60% of its FBS games, but lesser teams in the conference have lost to opponents like Cincinnati and Oklahoma St., so there is relatively little room to criticize.

I considered putting the MWC third, but the 53% record in FBS games made me reconsider.  I think fourth is fair given what I said earlier.

Fifth and sixth are the ACC and Big XII.  Pretty similar numbers, both 33% against Power 5, both 67% against FBS.  I put the ACC ahead because they’ve played twice as many games against the FBS though.  Also, one of the non-FBS teams was Boise St.

The only two left with winning records overall are the AAC and the Sun Belt.  Except for against Power 5 teams, the AAC has better records.  Also, the two have the same number of FCS opponents, but since the Sun Belt has fewer teams the Sun Belt has a weaker schedule as a result. 

The Independents aren’t a conference of course, but I would put them in between if you want to consider them as a group.  They have the same winning percentage against Power 5 as the Sun Belt.  Wins over Louisville and Tennessee are better than wins over Kansas and Tennessee (sorry Les).  The Independents have two non-Power-5 losses to the Sun Belt’s three.

The MAC and CUSA have done almost nothing positive out of conference.  The CUSA is 1-0 against the MAC, but since there are no other wins, that doesn’t help much.  The MAC’s only win is over Coastal Carolina, but since the Chanticleers have a win over a Big XII team, that’s at least some reason to be positive.  Also, the MAC doesn’t have a loss to an FCS opponent.

So if you didn’t follow or want to read all that, this is my current order:

  1. Big Ten
  2. SEC
  3. Pac-12
  4. MWC/Mountain West
  5. ACC
  6. Big XII
  7. AAC/American
  8. Independents
  9. Sun Belt
  10. MAC
  11. CUSA

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, 9-7-1

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, 7-1-1, with the only LSU win coming in 1938.

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

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).

Week 1 Games and the SEC

In College Football, Post-game, Rankings Commentary on September 1, 2019 at 1:13 PM

As you might expect, I have a few things to say about the SEC’s performance in the opening weekend.  It wasn’t nearly as bad as ESPN’s David Hale and others made it out to be though.  I’m surprised he didn’t attack LSU for only winning the second half 13-0 like he attacked Georgia for only winning the second half 9-0 after a 21-6 halftime lead.  He basically ends with “So what if the SEC might have six really good teams, Wyoming could be third in the SEC East!”  Nothing in the results suggested Wyoming would beat Kentucky or Vanderbilt (Georgia and Florida are considered the top 2), but I’ll elaborate more below.

I’ll start with the positives.  Alabama, Georgia, and LSU didn’t do anything to complain about, although I suppose Bama could have started a little faster.  LSU had to punt only once in the first half and only allowed one meaningful drive to take a 42-3 lead into halftime, so I can’t complain about that one.  Florida, my fourth SEC team, looked mediocre against Miami, but I didn’t hold it against them for my Preseason/Week 0 rankings.

LSU QB Joe Burrow threw 5 touchdown passes (and led the Tigers on a 6th touchdown drive) before being benched early in the second half to give backup Myles Brennan playing time.

Auburn, a surprise top-10 pick of mine, looked terrible for much of the game, especially on offense.  I still think Gus Malzahn needs help calling plays – he had stopped for good reason – but they showed a lot of toughness in the fourth quarter.  LSU often plays Auburn in early games, and it’s been a consistent problem over the years. 

I know Oregon was supposedly #11, but they haven’t had double-digit wins since 2014 and have only won 18 games in the last three seasons.  I don’t care how many returning starters they have, they didn’t deserve #11 in my view.  I do give Auburn credit for the win, especially QB Bo Nix for hanging in there and playing like a veteran at the end, but it wasn’t spectacular.  They also need better coaching in my opinion.

I was nonetheless content with 5 wins, 4 of them over Power 5 opponents, by the SEC top 5.  There are 5 other SEC teams that I would rather not be associated with right now though.

Last season Arkansas went from a team that could hang in there against a tough schedule (despite winning only 11 games combined in Bret Bielema’s last two seasons) to a bad team by major-conference standards.  The Razorbacks showed few signs of recovery in a close win over Portland St. (although the defense wasn’t terrible), but I’m afraid Tennessee may be joining the Hogs among the ranks of bad teams.  Despite having more returning starters and winning more than twice as many games as Georgia St. did last season, somehow the Vols lost to the Panthers at home.  I guess the Vols are still pretty much a lock against Chattanooga, but I wouldn’t be confident in them beating BYU, UAB, or ANY SEC team.  They probably will win at least a couple of games, so I don’t want to be too dramatic, but this looks really bad.

I’m very disappointed in South Carolina for losing to North Carolina.  The Gamecocks beat the Tar Heels in 2015 despite only finishing with a 3-9 record that year.   The Heels went on to have a perfect regular-season ACC record.  South Carolina has to be significantly better than that team (they were my last pick in the preseason top 25), and I imagine North Carolina is much worse than that team. Maybe this series will be a reverse bellwether.

I saw some people suggest ranking Missouri, and I considered it before thinking about how hard it might be to replace Drew Lock and rebuild the offense (it didn’t occur to me that the defense would be that much worse).  I had the Tigers 35th last year, so I wasn’t confident they would even be that good, not to mention 10 spots higher.  I still didn’t think they would lose to Wyoming, who finished 86th in my ratings and had two fewer returning starters.  Allowing 27 points in a quarter to them is just embarrassing even though it was a close final score.

These guys look really rebellious.

Least distressing of the four SEC out-of-conference losses was by the team whose mascot used to be a Rebel before it became a bear and then a shark.  I was hoping Ole Miss would beat Memphis, but I knew the odds were against it.  The Rebels (I think I’m still allowed to call them that) had a 10-win team who lost there, coincidentally also in 2015.  Memphis has given Central Florida problems in the last couple of seasons while Ole Miss hasn’t beaten anyone since October 13 (when they barely beat Arkansas), so it made sense that Memphis was favored.  At least the Tigers didn’t beat the spread.

By the way, I wish former Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze a speedy recovery (from his back surgery and staph infection) and good fortune in trying to build a FBS program at Liberty.  Personal indiscretions (and possible recruiting violations) aside, I respected his ability and his teams when he coached in the SEC.  It’s good to see him as a head coach again, albeit in a hospital bed.

It’s hard to see, but the reclined man in the red hat is new Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze.

Despite what some SEC detractors say, there was nothing wrong with Mississippi St. or Kentucky.  UL-Lafayette (I refuse to call a regional university “Louisiana” when there is another “Louisiana” that still goes by UL-Monroe) ended up only losing by 10, but they were down by 21 going into the final 10 minutes.  At no point in the fourth quarter did the Ragin’ Cajuns have even a 3% chance of victory.  Also, ULL was a bowl team last year; they weren’t Georgia St..

Kentucky, which had by far the fewest returning starters in the SEC, struggled a bit in a 14-14 first half against Toledo, but the Rockets only scored 3 points in the 28 minutes and 58 seconds after halftime.  Meanwhile, the Wildcats scored 24 points in that span.  It annoys me that people suggest ULL’s touchdown with 2:45 left and Toledo’s touchdown with 1:02 left meant the outcomes were in doubt late in the game. 

Vanderbilt lost to a good team in Georgia, so no complaints about them.  And no, David Hale, losing to Georgia by 24 isn’t proof that Wyoming would beat them.  I don’t know how Georgia made Vanderbilt look bad at the same time Vanderbilt made Georgia look bad, but that’s typical SEC-hater logic.

Outside the SEC

First I wanted to mention Army, the final team that I decided NOT to rank.  I’m glad I didn’t rank them, because they didn’t score the final go-ahead touchdown against Rice until less than four minutes remained in the game.  The Black Knights only scored a total of 14 points against a team that suffered an 11-game losing streak last season. 

(This paragraph is a bit of a digression, but I found it interesting.)  Last year by contrast, LSU took less than 22 minutes to score 28 points against Rice.  The LSU offense looked great in the first game this season, but it wasn’t great late last year.  Don’t bring up Texas A&M: it was only 31 all at the end of regulation, and the Aggies were not playing good defense.  For instance, they gave up 28 to Mississippi St. a few weeks before.  Against LSU, Florida, Kentucky, and Alabama COMBINED the Bulldogs scored only 16 points.

So maybe in hindsight I’ll regret ranking Florida St. and South Carolina (also, Iowa St. took 3 overtimes to beat FCS Northern Iowa), but at least I correctly recognized that Army and Missouri weren’t bringing top-25 teams into this season. I’m also glad I decided not to rank Virginia Tech, a loser to Boston College.

In my defense, I’ll also note that Florida St. showed the kind of team I imagine being #22.  When they play a team that’s at least competing for a ranking, they might do something like score 31 points in 26 minutes while only giving up 13.  At another point in the season against a team just as good, they might not score at all in 34 minutes while giving up 23 points.  The Noles just happened to do both things in the same game.  I’m holding out hope they’ll figure out how to keep the offense going in future games against decent teams. 

Maybe I should have given Boise St. the benefit of the doubt in preseason.  I just thought they would struggle against a “big boy” opponent like they did last season against Oklahoma St.

Hugh Freeze isn’t the only recently-successful SEC coach who made his debut yesterday.  There was a guy known as the Mad Hatter on the sidelines in Lawrence, Kansas, facing Indiana St.  It looked like a reasonably good start as the Jayhawks at one point led 16-3, although the offense could have been better. 

It should have been a larger lead. After four consecutive first downs in the second quarter while running a hurry-up offense, Kansas had a first and 10 at the 16.  RB Khalil Hebert fumbled for a loss of 4 yards. KU recovered, but they went right back to struggling and had to settle for a field goal..  The Jayhawks didn’t score an offensive touchdown until 8:40 remained in the third quarter.  Then they missed the extra point. 

It didn’t look like a problem at first as the Sycamores went three and out, but then a Jayhawk turnover on the next offensive drive led to a touchdown on the subsequent Indiana St. drive.  After an exchange of punts, Kansas got the ball back deep in its own territory.  Facing a third down and a possible safety, QB Carter Stanley began to try to throw the ball rather than taking a sack.  Before he could get it off, it was knocked out, leading to an Indiana St. touchdown and one-point lead.  Stanley was able to shake it off and led the Jayhawks down the field.  The drive stalled at the Sycamore 33, but Stanley threw for 11 yards on 3rd and 6 to WR Andrew Parchment to keep the drive alive.  On the next play he threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to WR Daylon Charlot with 2:20 left. 

Then came the only high-quality Mad Hatter play (if you don’t count I-formation after I-formation).  On the two-point try, Kansas engineered some kind of end-around reverse with a TE wheel route.  Parchment almost fell down evading the rush, but TE Jack Luavasa was wide open in the end zone, so Parchment didn’t have to have his feet set very well.  The conversion wasn’t necessary in hindsight anyway since Indiana St. couldn’t get another first down, but it was entertaining.

Kansas head coach Les Miles meets and greets supporters after winning his first game with the Jayhawks.

It remains to be seen if Kansas can struggle like that on offense (the touchdown I didn’t mention was a pick-six) and win a Big XII game though.  Maybe the Kansas QB Stanley will play more like he did at the end of the game going forward.  To go almost back to the beginning of this blog, I could see some parallels with Auburn.  Auburn is much better than Kansas (and Oregon is much better than Indiana St.) – don’t get me wrong – but both offenses were painfully bad until well into the second half; on the other hand, both quarterbacks (despite having good reason to doubt themselves) were able to hang in there for comeback wins late in the fourth quarter.

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.”


The Curious Case of LSU Basketball

In College Basketball, General LSU, History, Me on February 25, 2019 at 6:19 PM

Why I Generally Don’t Cover College Basketball

If you’ve been following my blog, you’re probably aware I don’t write much about college basketball.  It’s not because I’m not a fan – I actually pride myself on picking mostly correct tournament brackets over the years – but when I have free time during basketball season, a lot of times I’ll have 6 or 7 games recorded to watch and do that instead.  If I don’t watch as many teams who may be in the tournament as possible, I tend not to pick as well.

With college football, I usually watch whatever it is I’m going to watch on Saturday, leaving other days for writing, preparing, etc. I don’t concern myself as much with any kind of postseason picks. Given that only four teams are playing for anything important, the postseason in football is kind of a crap-shoot anyway. I usually finish my computer rankings before I go to bed Saturday night/Sunday morning; so other than writing and research, all of the effort I put into following football is confined to about 14 hours on one day of the week.   

Another part of a sport with so many games is whether I want to write about my team doing well or poorly, there’s always another game looming that can change that.  So if there is a game on Saturday and I don’t have time to write, edit, and post a blog about it until Tuesday, what I’ve written might be moot by then.

Brief Description of Recent LSU Basketball History

I’m writing this now because even if LSU doesn’t finish well, there are milestones and things to be proud of.  The last several years I’ve expected to be disappointed.  Since the Final Four season in 2005-06, I can’t think of one season in which we made it farther than I thought we should have.  When I’ve gotten my hopes up, I’ve just waited a few days (or maybe a couple of weeks) and with the help of the team I’ve gotten over it. 

Former LSU head coach John Brady was fired after the Tigers went 25-28 over the 53 games immediately following LSU’s last Final Four appearance. The Tigers have returned to the NCAA tournament only twice since.

With as bad as things have been for the program at times, it’s amazing that there have been three Final Fours in the last 40 years (and 4 in the last 65 years). For instance, the Tigers lost 10 games or more in all but three seasons in the 27 years between the first two Final-Four appearances. In all but one season since the last Final Four appearance (in which the Tigers entered the tournament with 8 losses), the Tigers have also suffered 10 losses or more. During that second span, LSU has only won a single NCAA tournament game.

The 26 seasons that included the second, third, and fourth Final Four teams weren’t exactly full of success either. There were only four other teams in that span who won one NCAA tournament game or more. Only two of those teams (not including any of the teams for which Shaquille O’Neal played) made the Sweet 16. Seven teams during that span, by contrast, finished with losing records.

LSU went only 2-3 in NCAA tournament games with Shaquille O’Neal on the roster.

What Makes This Team Special (So Far)

With the win over Tennessee, who for much of the year has been #1, I have to acknowledge things are a bit different from the situation to which I’d become accustomed.  It’s certainly possible that LSU or someone else could have been 16-10 and just shot really well and things fell into place for a win over a team like this.  Last year, for instance, the Tigers beat #11 Texas A&M on the road (despite ending up with a losing record in conference).

But this year, one of LSU’s expected starters (Wayde Sims) was killed in the lead up to the season.  On Saturday, arguably the top player on both sides of the ball (Tremont Waters) was sick and did not play.  The Tigers’ second-leading scorer, Naz Reid, who is normally also one of the main defenders in the post, went 0 for 9 from the field and sat for 17 minutes due to foul trouble.  In other years, this would have been an ugly blowout loss under these circumstances; and I wouldn’t have even faulted the team if it had been.

What makes the current situation stand out even more is LSU beat another then-5th-ranked team on the road 11 days before.  It had been almost 40 years since the Tigers beat a team ranked that highly on the road.  Even the 1980-1981 Final Four team, the last LSU team with this small a number of losses this far into the year, lost in Rupp Arena, one of only two regular-season losses for that team. With apologies to Billy Gillispie (who was fired after failing to win an NCAA tournament game in consecutive seasons), this was the first LSU team to win there over a ranked Kentucky team since.

The Kentucky game was another comeback win and another night where some of the top scorers (such as Waters and Skyler Mays) were held in check. 

A couple other notes from that game. Only three times in 52 years had the Tigers overcome a halftime deficit of 8 points or more, and the Kentucky win was the second time in less than a week.  It so happened that both were on the road against ranked teams (the other had been in Starkville).  Also, John Calipari only averages one home loss per season since he took over the Kentucky program in 2009.

The Tigers recorded two wins over top-5 teams, although Tremont Waters (who leads the Tigers in points, assists, steals, and free throws made per game) did not play in one of them and made only 3 of 13 field goal attempts in the other.

This team is actually unbeaten on the road in conference (the Tigers did lose to now-#6 Houston in pre-conference).  Another remarkable thing is how many close games there have been.  The last 7 consecutive games have been decided by 5 points or fewer, and LSU has won 5 of them.  The Tigers are also 4-1 in overtime in conference play.  Three of those overtime wins were on the road. 

I’m going to backtrack a little bit to when I really started to pay close attention. Although I was encouraged by the win at Ole Miss (I’d seen the Rebels beat Auburn and Mississippi St.), I was still skeptical. I wasn’t sure if that might be something like the A&M game I mentioned last year: just one game not particularly apropos of anything (and maybe like the Aggies, the Rebels just happened to peak right before the game, which was apparently the case). 

I first really got the feeling there might be something a little different about this team with the overtime win over Missouri.  Missouri isn’t a great team, don’t get me wrong; but when you end up winning after being down 14 with 2:08 to play, you’ve done something impressive. It wasn’t a Division II school in a November tournament or exhibition; it was a road game against a credible program in a major conference.

Conclusion and Why You May Not Want to Bet the Farm on LSU

Before I finish, I want to include a couple of caveats. I don’t mean to suggest that the moment you get your brackets you need to put the Tigers in the Final Four regardless of the region or seeding.

While I think LSU can beat anyone anywhere now, the team also has a tendency to play down to the opposition, which can certainly cause problems in the postseason.  The Tigers lost to Arkansas at home by 1 and beat the Razorbacks on the road in overtime.  I think Arkansas is better than its record, but there is no reason LSU should be making a team 5-9 in the SEC look better than Tennessee and Kentucky regardless.  After beating Kentucky, the Tigers only got out of Athens with a 4-point win.  Georgia is only 1-13 in conference. There likely won’t be a worse team that LSU will play in the postseason.

After Georgia (and before Tennessee), LSU lost to Florida at home.  The Tigers will have to play the Gators again and also have rematches against Texas A&M (whom the Tigers beat easily in College Station) and Alabama (whom the Tigers struggled to put away in Baton Rouge), so finishing at the top of the conference or even top two is far from guaranteed.  They’re projected to be a #3 seed in the NCAA tournament, which usually makes a team safe to enter the round of 32, but if they fall below that I’d be very concerned about a loss in the first game.

Also, some of LSU’s second halves and final stretches would be less remarkable if it didn’t tend to fall behind in the first place, often due to poor shot selection. Although the Tigers were able to claw back against Kentucky and Tennessee as well as against some lesser teams, there could be an opponent in the post-season against which they are not so lucky.

For the reasons I mentioned though, I think it’s worth noting the accomplishments so far. 

Final Top 25 of 2018 Season

In College Football, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on January 11, 2019 at 6:29 PM

This week is always tough for me to get back on schedule, so having a game on a week night and then trying to write all of this with work the next day caused me to keep pushing this back. I don’t plan to wait until next season for the next blog, but I can’t be sure when I’ll write again.

As demonstrated by the chart I posted along with the last blog, college football is Alabama, Clemson, and everyone else.  I’m happy someone other than Alabama comes out number one about half the time. 

The only thing I ever had against Clemson (other than a fight song that sounds similar to LSU’s) was that when South Carolina lost to them years ago it made the SEC look bad.  But now I don’t think it hurts that Clemson caused 1/4 of the SEC’s inter-conference losses during the season.

I also want to let the Alabama fans who freaked out when I put Clemson #1 earlier in the year to know I’m laughing at them even though I won’t rub it in.

There is no significance to using a Cotton Bowl picture instead of a national championship picture, but this was the best picture I saw of Trevor Lawrence. He snuck by a lot of people who couldn’t stop talking about Tua and Kyler, so I thought he deserved a good picture.

Final SEC Comments

The Alabama loss drops the top six teams of the SEC to 5-2 in postseason.  All three of my computer rankings (weighted, unweighted, and statistical average) have Clemson #1 and Alabama #2 as is appropriate. 

As I talked about in the last blog, the middle of the conference narrowly lost a few games because they were slightly overmatched. I thought I would explain that a little bit more.

Normally the #7 team and 4th in their division doesn’t end up in the Outback Bowl, for instance (last year South Carolina made it with a winning record at fifth place overall and second in the SEC East). If Mississippi St. had played in the Music City Bowl instead (or an even lesser bowl like the St. Petersburg Bowl they played in two years ago), they probably would have won.

Vanderbilt probably would have won had they not been playing a team that tied for fifth in their conference while the Commodores finished sixth of the seven teams in their division. In other years, the last SEC bowl team ended up in the Birmingham Bowl against a non-major opponent (and not a conference champion like LSU played this year and Auburn played last season).

I would honestly say Missouri was ninth in SEC play although they had the same record as a couple of other teams. Mississippi St. only finished 4-4 because they lost to the two best SEC West teams and to two of the three best SEC East teams. Unlike Missouri, they didn’t play the worst team of the other division. South Carolina was in the SEC East along with Missouri, and the Gamecocks beat the Tigers. The Gamecocks lost to Clemson out of conference, but I don’t think anyone would seriously tell me Missouri would have had a meaningful hope of beating Clemson at the end of the year.

Maybe there wouldn’t have been a blowout (and there would have been another SEC win) had Auburn played Oklahoma St. and Missouri played Purdue, but one reason that didn’t happen was Missouri already beat Purdue. Similarly to Auburn, Oklahoma St. seemed to show up best for their major out-of-conference games while being inconsistent in conference. The Cowboys made Boise St. look like Kansas, even though the Cowboys lost six conference games (including an embarrassing home loss to Texas Tech) between that game and the bowl.

I didn’t see the South Carolina game, just the highlights (if you can call them that); but it seemed like they just didn’t show up. I guess when you qualify 11 teams for bowls, chances are that will happen with one of them. Maybe South Carolina vs. Purdue was the pillow fight the bowl season needed.

In sum, I don’t think the top six of any other conference would have won five games (or even four games) against Oklahoma, Texas, Central Florida, Michigan, Penn St., and North Carolina St. I don’t think anyone else’s #11 plays a close game with Baylor like Vandy did or anyone else’s #10 blows out Purdue like Auburn did. Maybe you can quibble with a couple of others; but mid- and low-ranked teams of other conferences aren’t expected to play close games against the same caliber of teams, and with one exception those SEC teams did play close games.

Also, the average SEC team still blows every other conference out of the water. In my conference ratings, 0.07 points separates the #2 conference (the ACC) and the #5 conference (the Pac-12), but 0.19 separates the ACC and the SEC.

Top 10 (Including LSU)

I also think it’s right to have Notre Dame #3.  The Irish’s loss to Clemson doesn’t look as bad now, and–although Michigan lost–two of the better teams the Irish beat, Northwestern and Syracuse, had good bowl results.  Stanford also won; but I don’t know if that really helps Notre Dame’s argument since they beat Pittsburgh, another opponent of theirs.  I don’t factor this in, but there was also some bad luck in their scheduling.  You would have thought at least one team among Navy, USC, and Florida St. would have qualified for a bowl game, but no such luck.

Oklahoma did beat Texas, which added to its value by winning the Sugar Bowl, but there isn’t much else to be excited about in the Big XII results.  Both of the teams who tied for #3 in the regular season, West Virginia and Iowa St., lost.  There were a couple of wins by lower teams over two middling SEC East teams and Cal, but it also hurt Oklahoma that the team who beat them lost in the national championship.  Also, since Alabama played Georgia and Missouri (the second-best team the Big XII beat in bowls), it didn’t help the Sooners as much to have Big XII teams beat them.

Urban Meyer went out a winner in the Rose Bowl. His team was pretty good too, although that Purdue game still defies explanation.

I think it’s right that Ohio St. finishes ahead of the Sooners.  The top of the Big Ten had some losses too, but I don’t think basically a .500 team of any other conference would have beaten Mississippi St. in the Outback Bowl.  I don’t know if (other than the SEC) another conference’s effective #4 team (Northwestern had as good a conference record as Ohio St. but played in a much weaker division and lost three games out of conference) would have beaten Utah.  Maybe Oklahoma would have beaten Washington, but maybe they would have come out flat like Georgia did against what I consider a worse team. More on Texas later.

I have LSU 7th, but with the objective way my ratings work I can’t give credit to my belief that LSU was the better team when they played Texas A&M.  I think most of the voters probably treated that like a tie at worst.  The polls also frown upon losing your last two games regardless of the opponents, so that also contributed to the Tigers passing up the Bulldogs… not to mention that LSU beat Georgia by 20 points.

Speaking of head-to-head, there is of course an argument Florida should be ahead of Michigan, but the Gators were hurt by being in the SEC East (which went only 2-4 in bowl games) and losing to Missouri.  Florida was the only team outside of my top four who beat Michigan though.

So Michigan finished ninth behind Central Florida, and Washington St. rounds out the top 10. Iowa St. wasn’t a spectacular opponent (although again the bowl selectors did their job in making it entertaining), but 11 wins is a job well-done anyway.

The Rest of the Top 25

Appalachian St. finished higher than I would have liked (simply because I think at least 25 teams would beat them at a neutral site), but I think keeping an 11-2 team outside of the top 15 based on strength of schedule is about the best to be expected, especially when one of the two losses was to a team in the top 20.  Cincinnati also finished 11-2 and barely made the top 25.

Texas finished fairly low considering the two big wins (Oklahoma earlier in the season and Georgia), but let’s not forget they lost to Maryland (who didn’t qualify for a bowl game).  Only one other Longhorn win (over 8-5 Iowa St.) came against a team who finished with fewer than 6 losses, so that hurts them in the weighted ratings.  Texas A&M, which had no bad losses, also had exactly three wins over teams who finished with fewer than 6 losses. 

I’d like to give the Aggies less credit, but I believe in being consistent.  The Aggies’ worst loss was to Auburn; but given that Auburn beat a 5-4 Big Ten team by about 50 points (and didn’t really even try to score in the second half), they probably could have done the same or worse to Maryland, who finished 3-6 in the Big Ten after beating Texas.  So I don’t consider Auburn a bad loss to the same extent.

I finished with three Mountain West teams in the top 25; but I think they were pretty similar, and despite the early losses to major-conference opponents it’s hard to say there were 20+ teams who were more deserving than all of them.  Fresno St. finished higher than I would have liked, but the Bulldogs did beat a fairly decent team in Arizona St. in the bowl game to finish 12-2.  Other than losing to Boise St., for which they redeemed themselves in the conference championship game, Fresno St. won the rest of the conference games.  Utah St. (which finished 11-2) may have been just as good, but they didn’t get the rematch against Boise St. and unfortunately didn’t have a chance at a better team than North Texas in the bowl.  They’ll get a crack at LSU next year though.

Fresno St.’s Ronnie Rivers ran for 212 yards (almost 9 yards per rush) against Arizona St. in the Las Vegas Bowl on December 15. The Bulldogs trailed, 20-17, before Rivers scored the last two touchdowns of the game.

Top 25 List

I did want to note that I’m using the statistical average of the weighted and unweighted ratings (I guess you could call it semi-weighted). I thought including Stanford and Iowa made more sense than the other versions. The top 10 was pretty consistent, so I didn’t worry about that as much as including the right lower teams. Here is the full 130-team list, but the top 25 list below has the recent changes.

RankTeamPrev.
1Clemson2
2Alabama1
3Notre Dame3
4Ohio St.5
5Oklahoma4
6Georgia6
7LSU9
8C. Florida7
9Michigan8
10Wash St.13
11Florida11
12Kentucky12
13Fresno St.15
14Army17
15Syracuse19
16App. St.16
17Texas A&M18
18Washington10
19Texas
20Penn St.14
21Boise St.22
22Utah St.21
23Cincinnati23
24Stanford
25Iowa

Out of Top 25: (20) Missouri, (24) Miss. St., (25) Utah

The Truth about the SEC and Coach O

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, History, Post-game on January 6, 2019 at 6:33 PM

I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays and the first round of the NFL playoffs.

Unlike what a lot of professional journalists seem to be able to do, I appreciated the opportunity to see what other people are saying without any kind of agenda of my own.  Whenever I do that, I am reminded of certain things that I feel need explaining.  Both professional commentators and common fans put a lot of false narratives out there. I’m not going to mention anyone in particular because I was so relaxed in my consumption of other media I didn’t even make note of who they were.

SEC Teams and Bowl Games

One thing is that bowls are the end-all and be-all of team or conference comparisons.  SEC teams don’t tend to lose Sugar Bowls, for instance, because the Big XII participants are superior.  I covered some of this last year when people apparently thought Alabama had a good chance of losing because they were playing in New Orleans.  A common circumstance is a team goes into the SEC Championship Game hoping to compete for a national championship.  Said team loses that game and gets the Sugar Bowl as a consolation.  Are they really going to play their best game when it’s the first game they know for a fact that the goal of a national championship is off the table? 

Of course almost every team faces that reality at some point, but they’re not necessarily playing a top 15 team away from home the first time they do so, so they can get away with having less motivation.  Also, I think it’s different trying to get back on track the week after a loss than it is losing a game and then waiting a month when you know it’s just one final game.  If Georgia had lost their second game in Week Five, for instance, there would be a desire to finish strong and maybe win the SEC East, so they would still be very motivated in Week Six.  That’s not the case in a bowl game.

SEC detractors will pretend we don’t have another Big XII-SEC game as a reference point.  Of course that was when Alabama played Oklahoma, winners of close games against Sugar Bowl participants Texas and Georgia.  Even though Alabama played a closer game and looked likely to lose well into the fourth quarter, Alabama’s win over Oklahoma was never really in doubt.  So even if Clemson wins on Monday, Alabama was still tested against one of the top four teams (I would argue one of the top three teams) and came out on top.  They’re not just in the top two because of some inflated perception of the SEC, especially not the SEC relative to the Big XII.


Tua Tagovailoa fights off a tackle from Oklahoma’s Robert Barnes in the Orange Bowl. Although he lost out on the Heisman to Kyler Murray (also of Oklahoma), he led the Tide to a 45-34 victory with 4 touchdowns, only 3 incompletions in 27 attempts, and 318 passing yards.

Anyway, the other participant in the Sugar Bowl, Texas, also lost their conference title game; but what the Longhorns were playing for in that game was a berth in the Sugar Bowl, so they didn’t have the goal from their most-recent game taken from them like Georgia did. 

Imagine an NFL team is eliminated in the second round of the playoffs and a month later they play a team that didn’t even make the playoffs.  The former team isn’t going to be anywhere close to as intense as they were in the playoffs.  The latter team would be disappointed they didn’t make the playoffs and have something to prove.  Not only that, the latter team would display the intensity that it would have had in the playoffs if given the opportunity.  One of the top NFL teams is the Saints.  A couple of weeks ago, they needed a comeback at home to beat the Steelers, a team that narrowly missed the playoffs.  If they Saints were to lose their first playoff game and have a rematch with the Steelers at a neutral site, I know which team I’d bet on.  It’s not the one everyone knows had a better regular season.

Anyway, Georgia is the only SEC team in the top three of either division that lost its bowl game.  I don’t have to use tiebreakers or anything, so I’m not manipulating the rankings to make that point.  There are exactly three teams in each division who won 5 SEC games or more. I didn’t even mention Florida’s Peach Bowl win over Michigan.

If you know how bowls work, it’s not surprising that the other teams lost.  The SEC had four teams in the “New Years Six” Bowls, so that meant that the top available SEC team Kentucky was fifth (and that’s generous since they lost to Texas A&M).  They played the top available Big Ten team, Penn St., even though Penn St. was third in the Big Ten (fourth in conference record; but Northwestern lost three games out of conference, and Penn St. lost none apart from the bowl).  So when you have a lot of good teams at the top, that means teams in the middle end up playing teams at the top of other conferences.  Kentucky won anyway; but a similar calculus went into matching Mississippi St. against Iowa, and Iowa narrowly came out on top.

Kentucky RB Benny Snell led the Wildcats to the 27-24 Citrus Bowl win over Penn St. and in the process because the program’s all-time season leader in rushing yards. Kentucky also won 10 games for the first time since 1977.

Outside of Georgia’s Sugar Bowl loss, the only loss by the SEC top six the whole season to a team of another conference was Texas A&M’s controversial two-point loss to Clemson.  There were only six interconference losses by the whole conference before the bowls: three of those were to teams in the four-team Playoff, and two of the rest were by Arkansas.  (The sixth was Tennessee’s loss to West Virginia.)

Auburn, one of the SEC teams who beat Texas A&M, absolutely dominated Purdue (the fourth major Big Ten/SEC bowl) for the other SEC bowl win.  They’re a good example of a team who lost the first game after their main goals for the season were eliminated.  There was a reasonably strong shot at advancing to the SEC Championship with one loss (their first loss came by one point to LSU) and possibly winning the national championship but very little chance of either with two losses (the second loss was by 14 to Mississippi St.), so the week after their second loss, they picked up their third loss against Tennessee. 

Auburn WR Darius Slayton scores one of many early touchdowns for Auburn against Purdue. The Tigers led 56-7 at halftime and went on to win 63-14 in Gus Malzahn’s second bowl win as head coach.

Teams like Auburn are cited by SEC detractors every year as proof that the SEC isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, but only one team can make the title game out of the SEC West in a given year.  No other conference has as many aspiring national-title contenders. I don’t think any other conference has five teams who would have beaten Auburn. There might have been three in the Big Ten, maybe two in the Big XII. The eventual Pac-12 champion couldn’t even beat Auburn at a neutral site. Clemson probably would have, but I don’t know if anyone else in the ACC would have.

Tennessee’s other conference win came under similar circumstances when the Vols beat Kentucky the week after the Wildcats were eliminated from contention in the SEC East.  So if Tennessee (which didn’t even qualify for a bowl game) can get a win against one of the top six SEC teams, it’s not a surprise that Texas was able to get such a win.

I didn’t even mention how many players skipped their bowl game for the purpose of improving their NFL chances.  The top SEC teams tend to put the most players in the NFL, so I suspect this phenomenon affected the SEC more than other conferences.

Coach O and LSU

The other narrative I wanted to talk about is Ed Orgeron.  I also talked a little bit about this narrative last year. He’s far from perfect, but I’m still skeptical of the notion that LSU would have been better off with someone like Tom Herman or Jimbo Fisher.

Refer to the chart for the details, but the easiest shorthand way of comparing coach’s records is to say how many losses they have.  Other than a couple of Sun Belt coaches (who left for other conferences anyway), the only coaches with fewer losses than Orgeron in a comparable number of games since Orgeron was hired at LSU were Nick Saban of Alabama, Dabo Sweeney of Clemson, James Franklin of Penn St., and Urban Meyer of Ohio St.  Meyer won’t be coaching anymore, and I just mentioned what happened to Penn St. against Kentucky – and Franklin only had two fewer losses anyway.  So there are really only two continuing coaches who are clearly doing better at their current schools in the same time frame.

This list is limited to head coaches who have been in their positions from October 1, 2016, to present.

LSU had to cancel the 2017 game against South Alabama and unlike most of these schools has not competed in a conference championship game since Orgeron was hired before the game against Missouri on October 1, 2016.  So that partly accounts for fewer games played.

As I’m sure most readers are aware, Les Miles hasn’t coached a game since Orgeron was hired at LSU (although he will coach one in August), but I also looked at his last 34 games.  He was 23-11. In his last 38 games, he was only 25-13.  So even if Orgeron goes 0-4 to start next season (Georgia Southern, @Texas, his alma mater Northwestern St., and @Vanderbilt), he’d only fall into a tie over 38 games.  If he goes 4-0, he would be at 76.3% compared to Miles’ 65.8%.  If he goes 3-1, he would be at 73.7%, just a couple of decimal places above where he is now. 

The chart of course doesn’t account for strength of schedule.  To focus in on this year, LSU went 10-3 against a schedule that included five teams who were in the top 10 when the Tigers played them and three other teams who were ranked.  U. Miami and Auburn shouldn’t have been in the top 10 in hindsight; but if you want to use that standard, we should reduce Notre Dame’s opponents in the top 10 from two to one (since Stanford shouldn’t have been in the top 10) and Washington from three to two (since Auburn shouldn’t have been in the top 10), for instance.

Some might say I shouldn’t be that happy with Coach O being that LSU narrowly escaped the Fiesta Bowl with a victory, but actually it was a small miracle Central Florida was able to keep it that close.  The Tigers out-gained the Knights 555 to 250, had almost twice as many first downs (32 to 17), and had the ball about three times as long (44:31 to 15:29). 

It may not have been his intention, but this interception may have reminded some of the LSU coaches why they wanted JaCoby Stevens to play wide receiver going into the year.

LSU dominated a very good Louisville team two years ago in Coach O’s first bowl game as a head coach, and apart from some controversial calls and non-calls would have beaten Notre Dame last year.  I would argue these are increasingly challenging bowl games, which reflects positively on LSU in the first place, and winning two of the three is impressive regardless of the final scores.  LSU was also playing backup wide receivers in the defensive secondary for most of the Fiesta Bowl. 

This was LSU’s first win in what is now called a New Years Six Bowl (at the end of the BCS system 10 teams went to such bowls instead of the current 12) since the Tigers won the BCS National Championship following the 2007 season. The only appearance since then had been the BCS National Championship loss following the 2011 season.

I’m still not happy we didn’t give Alabama more of a game and we were certainly good enough for a couple more wins, but in what many (including me) thought would be a rebuilding year where we would be an average SEC team (or worse), 10 wins including the Fiesta Bowl is what I’d call a success.

Rivalries and Coaching Carousels

In College Football, General LSU, History, Rivalry on November 22, 2018 at 5:06 PM

I planned to write something Wednesday, my first day off work for Thanksgiving,but I woke up sick and ended up sleeping most of the day.

There are a lot of great rivalries this week (see my blog about the battle of the A&Ms [Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College and Texas A&M] ,and see last week’s blog for mention of some rivalries I’ve enjoyed over the years), but there are plenty of stories about them and previews of the big games by other outlets, so I wanted to write something a little different (although also in the theme of this week’s games as many coaches will be coaching their last games at their current schools). If you ever play six degrees of Will Muschamp (or whatever you would call a game that involves who coached with whom), this could be useful. 

For more about a somewhat unappreciated rivalry though, former LSU beat writer Ross Dellenger wrote good article for the Sports Illustrated about the Egg Bowl and especially some of the coaches.  The only thing I disagreed with was his characterization of Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke as mild-mannered just because he’s respectful of other teams and coaches.  He’s extremely animated during games though. 

I’ve given more attention to the Mississippi schools than most people do, even people who write extensively about the SEC, but I haven’t talked that much about Ole Miss playing Mississippi St.  I did write about former Mississippi St. head coaches Sylvester Croom and Jackie Sherill (first sub-section under the heading A&M coaches), both of whom are mentioned in the article (and both of whom played for and coached with Bear Bryant, another former Texas A&M coach, at Alabama).  Of course I wrote about Ole Miss’s series with their second and third rivals, LSU and Vanderbilt (third section), and Mississippi St.’s series with their second rival LSU (there isn’t much worth writing about the series with their #3 Alabama).

Anyway, that article about the Egg Bowl got me thinking about a lot of coaches from the 1990s and early 2000s, partly because of stories like that and partly from things that have come up during Ed Orgeron press conferences in the last few weeks. 

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.

Orgeron coached Ole Miss for a few Egg Bowls (winning only one), but before that he was the strength coach at Arkansas under Ken Hatfield, who also happened to be the coach of Rice the last time LSU played them before this season (1995).

Orgeron was asked about the Saints on Monday, and he seemed very excited about their performance this year.  I had forgotten that he was a Saints assistant for a season before joining Lane Kiffin’s staff at Tennessee.  Not that he wasn’t a fan long before that having grown up in Cajun country and having been a close personal friend to (and high school and college teammate of) former Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert. 

Orgeron also mentioned his affinity for Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, who was the secondary coach the year Orgeron spent in New Orleans.  After returning to the Saints in 2015, Allen became defensive coordinator when Rob Ryan was fired.

Rob Ryan as Oklahoma St. offensive coordinator in the 1990s.

Orgeron also said he was very happy for Les Miles after his hiring by Kansas.  I found out that in 1997 Miles was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma St. at the same time that Ryan was the defensive coordinator for Oklahoma St. (I usually would say the Cowboys; but that could be confusing since both Miles and Ryan also coached for the Dallas Cowboys, though at different times). Those two characters on the same coaching staff must have been interesting.  The combination worked though: that was the one year between 1988 and Miles’s tenure as head coach in Stillwater (2001-04, during which the team made three bowl games) that Oklahoma St. reached a bowl game.  When Miles went to Dallas, Ryan stayed; but the college Cowboys’ fortunes declined (not that the NFL Cowboys improved either).

When Miles returned to Oklahoma St. as head coach, his offensive coordinator was Mike Gundy, who would take Les’s place as head coach and remains in that position today.  Les’s next offensive coordinator(when he got to LSU) was a guy named Jimbo Fisher, whom Miles inherited from Saban. 

When Miles won the Houston Bowl in 2002, he became the fourth head coach in 40 year sto coach Oklahoma St. to a bowl win.  The second of those coaches was Jimmy Johnson, who played at Arkansas with Hatfield and who hired Orgeron at the University of Miami.  Johnson also coached some other Cowboys to “Bowl”wins. 

Jimmy Johnson as head coach of Oklahoma St. in 1983. After the year he lost out to Ken Hatfield when Arkansas needed a replacement for Lou Holtz as head coach.

To go back to Fisher, of course it so happens that he’ll be the head coach of LSU’s opponent this weekend.  He also happens to be the head coach of fullback Ben Miles, Les’s son. 

I remember Fisher’s last season at LSU very well. LSU’s 7-3 loss to Auburn still stands out in my mind.  Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled with all of his calls in that game; but some credit goes to Auburn’s defensive coordinator Muschamp ( later head coach at Florida and now head coach at South Carolina).  Auburn’s head coach for that game was Tommy Tuberville, who came up in that Egg Bowl story because he was head coach at Ole Miss before going to Auburn, so that takes us full circle in this story. 

I wanted to mention a couple other items of interest from the 2006 season.  That season marked current Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn’s first foray into college football, as offensive coordinator for later-Ole-Miss-head-coach Houston Nutt at Arkansas.  Arkansas won the SEC West that year but lostin the regular-season finale to LSU before losing to Florida (the eventual national champions who helped prevent LSU from winning the West). 

Future Kansas head coaches Charlie Weis and Les Miles converse after the (January) 2007 Sugar Bowl.

Since the Tigers’ only losses all year were Florida and that Auburn game I mentioned,this allowed LSU to represent the SEC in the Sugar Bowl.  LSU’s opponent was Notre Dame, then coached by Charlie Weis.  Weis has something elsein common with Miles: both were later hired as head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks. I hope, unlike Weis, Miles can win 22% or more of his games as head coach with the Jayhawks though.

This is the first game between LSU and Texas A&M in four years where there will not be some major drama about either respective coaching staff. Last year, the game was the last of Kevin Sumlin’s tenure in College Station.  News of his firing had been leaked earlier in the week.  In the previous year, Ed Orgeron was just an interim coach; the interim tag was only removed after deals could not be reached with Tom Herman or (coincidentally enough) Fisher.    

The year prior, news had leaked of Miles being fired, but as with many Miles stories, that turned out not to be the case. In slight defense of the media, there had not been a decision to keep Miles before the game either.  But again after a lack of desirable candidates at suitable terms emerged, a decision was made to keep him (though his reprieve turned out to only be until the following September).  Fisher was also mentioned at that time. 

Despite all the drama and mixed emotions of those three games, LSU’s physicality was able to overcome Texas A&M’s finesse on each occasion LSU has played Texas A&M since and including the 2010 Cotton Bowl, which was the first meeting between the two schools this century and which pre-dated by about 20 months the Aggies’ participation as an SEC program (and Kevin Sumlin’s first game).  The character of Texas A&M has changed since Fisher replaced Sumlin.  The Aggies have become a team that runs really well (on conventional running plays, not just option pitches and quarterback runs) and also stops the run really well, so this will be a different challenge for the Tigers. If LSU wins, it will set the record for longest winning streak in the series.

In another tie to the Kansas hiring of Miles, the man Miles is replacing in Lawrence, David Beaty, was an assistant of Sumlin at Texas A&M from 2012 to 2014.  So he was an assistant during the last game in which there was not major drama around either coaching staff (although there was some disquiet since each team entered the game with four losses). 

An artist’s rendition of Kevin Sumlin (left) and John Chavis as Texas A&M coaches.

There was some drama involving the assistant coaches after the 2014 game, but not until later.  About five weeks after the Tigers held the Aggies to just 17 points in that contest, LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis was hired by the Aggies to the same position (he was fired along with Sumlin after the LSU game last year).  Chavis now occupies that position at Arkansas. 

Will Muschamp, Nick Saban, and Jimbo Fisher pose for the picture of the 2004 LSU coaching staff.  Later Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley was on staff, as was current Georgia head coach Kirby Smart.

There are no hard feelings if you ask me though. LSU is better off with Dave Aranda, who has been in the position since a year after Chavis left.  LSU’s defensive coordinator for the intervening year (hired along with Orgeron) was Kevin Steele, who, as DC for Auburn, will face Alabama (another former employer of his) during the Iron Bowl.  He replaced the aforementioned Will Muschamp, who was on LSU’s staff at the same time as Jimbo Fisher.

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.