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Posts Tagged ‘Auburn’

Alabama Is Not a Playoff Team

In College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, Rankings Commentary on November 15, 2019 at 6:16 PM

I’m not here to argue that it’s unreasonable to believe Alabama is one of the four most-talented teams or to argue that there is no circumstance in which Alabama should be in the Playoff. What I am going to argue is that Alabama should only be considered if a conference champion hardly did anything important on the national level other than win that championship game.

I’m OK with Alabama being #5 as long as it doesn’t mean that if Georgia loses to Auburn or LSU, Alabama gets a playoff spot. Until the championship games are played, all one-loss teams are one-loss non-champions, so it doesn’t really bother me that much if you think Alabama is the best one-loss non-champion.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban reacts to the LSU touchdown with 6 seconds left in the first half in Tuscaloosa on Saturday. The Tigers led 33-13 at that point.

It should be a completely different conversation when comparing a one-loss non-champion to a one-loss champion. Rather than giving Alabama the benefit of the doubt, as it seems college football voters (the committee still votes; it’s just a more complicated process than the polls) always do, any one-loss champion should get the benefit of the doubt instead.

For instance, if LSU had one loss, the Tigers could point to the win over Florida and the win over Texas. Alabama can point to Tennessee and Duke. That doesn’t overcome champion versus non-champion. Unless Clemson loses, the only team I can think of that might give me pause is Utah. If Utah beats Oregon, they’ll be 1-1 against the top 30 (I consider USC top 30 even though the polls don’t, and maybe the latter will change after USC wins over Cal and UCLA), just like Alabama will be if they beat Auburn.

Maybe you could argue that the only reason Texas A&M won’t be in the top 30 is the fact that the Aggies have four currently top-5 teams on their schedule (they already played Clemson and Alabama and have Georgia and LSU left), not to mention #12 Auburn (who also beat them). So maybe it would then be fairer to say even without a championship game Alabama is 2-1 against teams that have reasonable capability of beating a top team whereas Utah will be only 1-1 even with the benefit of the championship.

So I’ve laid out what kind of argument might work for me. I just don’t see any potential one-loss major-conference champion apart from Utah or Clemson (whose best win might be Texas A&M) failing that test. I could also see a one-loss non-champion such as Ohio St. or Minnesota belonging ahead of Alabama.

Just thought this was funny. If you don’t get it, it’s a reference to the 2015 Sugar Bowl loss to Cardale Jones and Ohio St. in conjunction with the loss to former Ohio St. backup Joe Burrow on Saturday.

I’ve mentioned resumes, so let’s break down the resumes. I start with the various teams’ current ranking, then I discuss what could happen to that ranking down the line. This is relevant because I don’t accept the argument that a team was tough to beat just because they were ranked highly when you played them. Polls can be wrong, especially early in the season. Remember how Nebraska (4-5 and has only played one of the top three teams on its schedule) was ranked in both polls after Week 1?

Alabama:

Top-50 Wins –  #13 Auburn (who would be a few spots lower if they beat Georgia before losing to Alabama and several spots lower if not)

#43 Texas A&M (who might be higher if they beat LSU and will be lower if they don’t)

Loss – #1 LSU (will be clear favorites in remaining games)

If Oklahoma wins out:

Top 50 wins:

#6 Baylor, probably twice (obviously would fall in that scenario)

#28 Texas (losing to Baylor and winning the other two probably won’t hurt the Horns and may even result in a higher ranking)

#32 Oklahoma St. (will probably be about the same if they beat Baylor and lose to the Sooners, will probably be lower if they lose to both)

Loss: #30 Kansas St.

If Baylor wins out:

Top-50 wins – #16 Oklahoma, probably twice (would fall slightly in that scenario; the Sooners would benefit from wins over Oklahoma St. and TCU)

#28 Texas (might be about the same if that is the only loss, will be lower if they also lose to Iowa St.)

#30 Kansas St. (could be a bit higher since they already lost to the Bears and will probably be favored in remaining games)

#32 Oklahoma St. (will probably be a bit lower if they lose to the Bears and the Sooners)

Most likely losses – Texas or Oklahoma

If Minnesota wins out:

Top-50 wins – #2 Ohio St. (if the Buckeyes make the Big Ten
championship, but of course they would lose a few spots by losing to Minnesota)

#5 Penn St. (may lose a few spots by losing to Ohio St. and several spots by losing to Indiana), possibly twice if the Nittany Lions beat the Buckeyes.

#20 Wisconsin (may lose a few spots by losing to Minnesota but should win the rest)

#27 Iowa (may lose a few spots by losing to Minnesota but should win the rest)

#48 Illinois (probably won’t lose ground by losing to Iowa and beating Northwestern)

Most likely losses – See list of top-50 wins

If Penn St. wins out:

Top-50 wins – #2 Ohio St. (would lose a few spots of course)

#4 Minnesota (likely Big Ten championship opponent; would
lose a few spots of course)

#19 Michigan (will be higher if they beat Ohio St., probably about the same if not)

#27 Iowa (may lose a few spots by losing to Minnesota but should win the rest)

#36 Indiana (probably would finish about the same if they beat Michigan, lower if two or more losses in the last three games)

#39 Pittsburgh (would improve by beating Va. Tech and Boston College, probably even an improvement if they also lose to Clemson).

Loss – #4 Minnesota (would be hurt by any loss; see above)

If Oregon wins out:

Top-50 wins – #15 Utah (in Pac-12 championship; probably would not
change much if they win the other remaining games)

#25 USC (may be slightly higher, will be favored to
win remaining games)

#35 Washington

Loss:

#13 Auburn  (who would be a few spots lower if they beat Georgia before losing to Alabama and several spots lower if they lose to both)

If Utah wins out:

Top-50 wins – #7 Oregon (would drop by losing to Utah)

#34 BYU (will probably lose ground if they lose to San Diego St. regardless of other wins; will gain slightly if they beat the Aztecs)

#35 Washington (will improve with wins over Colorado and Washington St., will drop if they lose either or both)

Loss – #25 USC (may be slightly higher, will be favored to win remaining games)

I already talked about Utah.  Oregon in this scenario would have played 11 major-conference opponents, including all of the good teams in the Pac-12 and Auburn. I don’t want the Ducks penalized for playing a good non-conference opponent in August and not losing again even if Alabama beats the team they lost to in late November.  The wins are still more important.

Even if Baylor loses to either Texas or Oklahoma and then wins the Big XII championship, I’m still more impressed by that. 

Resumes aside, I’m against a team like Alabama being able to game the system like this.

I’m in favor of the 8-game SEC schedule because I want teams like Florida and South Carolina that have tough annual rivalries to be able to play other competitive games out of conference and still have a couple of games to catch their breaths.  But it shouldn’t be used by teams like Alabama to play 10 games against mediocre (or worse) opponents and only have to win one of two games against really good opponents.     

The Gamecocks overdid it this year by scheduling North Carolina and Appalachian St., but maybe they thought both would be worse than they have been.  Alabama didn’t do any of that.  Maybe when Alabama scheduled Duke, they didn’t sign on to play any weaker of a team than Florida did when they scheduled Miami; but Alabama doesn’t have an annual series either cross-division or out-of-conference that’s worth anything.  Florida already knew they had LSU and Florida St. in addition to the SEC East.  South Carolina already knew they had Texas A&M and Clemson annually in addition to the SEC East (I’m not sure how recently they realized they were also playing Alabama this year). 

A team should never have an easier road to the Playoff by losing a game, and that’s what Alabama thinks they deserve just like they thought they deserved it in 2011.  They don’t.  If they have a clearly better resume, I understand just taking the four teams with the best resumes; but if there is any doubt at all, the committee should lean toward conference champions and against potential rematches.  Also, just like in 2011, I think losing at home should doubly mean you don’t deserve a second shot.

It’s not only resumes, it’s not only fairness for this year’s teams, the idea should also be to discourage bad scheduling.  Duke has had some good seasons in the past, but they never had beat-Alabama (or other serious title contender) levels of talent. When the Tide played USC or Virginia Tech in earlier seasons, there was at least a chance they’d be facing a challenge.  They knew all along Duke wasn’t going to be a challenge.  The other three would have been bigger upsets than have ever happened to my knowledge. 

I also don’t believe for a second that New Mexico St. was the best team they could get that week when Saban went on his little rant.  There are a ton of better programs who would have loved the exposure of a nationally televised game in Tuscaloosa.  Troy or UAB would have been better opponents.  They certainly wouldn’t have required large travel budgets or had trouble selling their ticket allotments.

It’s also not right that the only two teams who can challenge Alabama (Auburn and LSU) play Georgia and Florida respectively every year while Alabama plays Tennessee.  If Alabama doesn’t win despite the uneven playing field and despite playing the eventual champion at home, they don’t deserve sympathy or special consideration.  I don’t care if the entire offense already has NFL contracts waiting.

Early Discussion about LSU/Alabama

In College Football, General LSU, Preview on October 29, 2019 at 4:26 PM

I didn’t think I’d get into it this early, but I’ve already listened to a few people previewing the LSU-Alabama game.

I don’t know what their problem is, but I made a very thorough comment in response to College Football Nerds (CFN). I said right up front that I think either team could win by multiple scores (and therefore picking Alabama to win by 6-10 points, which they did, could well be correct). 

The “College Football Nerds” computer model, which predicts Alabama to have almost one yard per play more than Texas gained against LSU, not to mention more yards per play than the Tide got against Texas A&M (their best opponent so far). For comparison, the Aggies allowed 58 points between Auburn and Mississippi St., while LSU allowed 34 points between the two common opponents.

I’ll quote the exchange in full below; but to summarize, I pointed out that it’s hard to know just how good Alabama’s passing attack is given the schedule.  I also mentioned that the game plans against both Florida and Auburn were more centered around the idea that the quarterback can’t beat you (and therefore there was more cause for concern with the opponent running the ball) rather than that the quarterback is the biggest threat on the field, which is the case with Alabama. 

Had LSU not changed its defense in the second half, Trask might have beaten them; but that doesn’t mean that if on average the Alabama offense scores 50% more than the Florida offense against a given opponent that we can expect 42 points here.  If LSU plays Alabama the way they played Florida in the second half, you could only expect 21 for the game (Florida only scored 7 in the second half).

Maybe they’re just salty because their model doesn’t account for changes in strategy or for the fact that your point total can be cut in half (as LSU’s was by Auburn) if you all of a sudden play a much better defense than you have been playing.  Alabama’s average right now is about 48.6. LSU’s average before Auburn was 50.3, so Auburn actually held LSU to 45.7% of is average. 

If LSU does the same to Alabama, that’s 22 points.  I’m not saying that will happen or that 41 CAN’T happen.  There is just no inherent justification for it.  It’s not safe to assume the offense just keeps rolling as it has been minus 7-11 points.  Look at last year.  Same quarterback, but when Alabama played LSU they had a 54.1 average.  That makes the 29 allowed by LSU look pretty good.  (It helped that we couldn’t sustain drives, but that’s not our strong suit this year either.)  So if LSU is able to take 25 off of the average again, I like those chances.  Clemson took 38 off of the pre-LSU average.  I’ll be shocked if LSU does that, but only mildly surprised if they do as well as last year’s defense.  High 20s wouldn’t shock me any more than low 40s, and low 20s wouldn’t shock me any more than high 40s.

Tua Tagovailoa threw for under 8.7 yards per attempt the last time he was challenged by a defense (against Clemson in January, pictured above). The last time he played LSU he threw for just over 7 yards per attempt. CFN predicts almost 10 ypa on 11/9.

Alabama is not a particularly good team with the running backs this year, and CFN even said during their video that they expected LSU to have about 3/4 of a yard per carry more than Alabama.  And that’s given that Alabama has a decent front 7 and given that LSU isn’t particularly good at running the ball this year.

Their response was to strawman me as saying “Alabama could be terrible, they haven’t played anyone.”  I didn’t say they could be terrible, I just said they might not be as great at passing as these guys said since they haven’t faced a good defense this year.  If Alabama is going to score 41 points while not being able to run very well, they have to have a good passing game.

Anyway, the response to the strawman was that to hear this every year is “getting weird”. 

What does “every year” have to do with this year?  Alabama beat Clemson by 18 two years ago (despite losing to them the previous year).  Did that help last year when Clemson won by 28?  Trevor Lawrence outplayed Tua, who threw two interceptions (to zero), one fewer touchdown, and 2.1 fewer yards per attempt in January.  Does that mean someone shouldn’t adjust their expectations if Alabama’s next game were against Clemson instead of LSU?  I guess you can’t attack Clemson for their schedule anymore because they played two top-3 teams in January.

I attacked Finebaum for being half in this season and half in last season, but he saw the error of his ways.  He actually agrees with me now on Ohio St. #1 and LSU #2.  I changed by dropping Clemson since then, but at least I admitted I was giving Clemson the benefit of the doubt based on last year.  But he’s not these guys who construct their model and their arguments around this season and then act like I’m crazy for ignoring last season.  I don’t think he’d talk to me unless I called his show and got through, but that’s beside the point.

I finished my response to CFN by saying, “Florida is a pretty good defense [they held Auburn to 13, just FYI].  Tell me what game we can use to extrapolate that Bama would score 42 against Florida.”  I honestly would have loved an answer (and if it were a good one, I’d admit that LSU doing better than Florida would defensively might even be charitable), but the lack of an answer and the preference to mock a straw man tells me a good bit too.

The host of College Football Nerds (left) and his sidekick Josh. I’m not sure what exactly Josh looks like, so I took some artistic license.

Here is the full transcript:

Me:

Either team could win by multiple touchdowns depending on a key play here and there and who’s under pressure to be one-dimensional and throw 50/50 balls.

But I don’t think you can say Alabama has an elite passing attack based on their opponents. You’d be calling Burrow the best QB in history with Alabama’s schedule.

LSU has forced every team to throw the ball either to stay within a score or come from behind or both. In doing so, they often left a buffer behind the line of scrimmage just to prevent big plays and buckle down near the end zone. That’s how Florida was shut out for 25 minutes in a row. That’s how Miss. St. was shut out for 34 minutes. That’s how Auburn only had one legitimate scoring drive in a 50-minute period. That’s how Northwestern St. and Utah St. were completely shut out in the second halves. So the 90+% average probably won’t apply unless LSU has a good lead or is scoring so consistently Alabama is afraid to even try running the ball AND LSU struggles to get to passes and make tackles.

The other thing is part of the strategy against Florida (which didn’t work) and Auburn (which worked a lot better) was to make the quarterback beat you by leading long drives. They know Tua can do that. They know Bama isn’t as scary running the ball (with a non-QB) as Auburn and Florida. So they’re not going to focus on the run and be lax about the pass.

The Alabama offense hasn’t had to adjust to a good defense. Maybe they’ll do so flawlessly, but we don’t know. I trust LSU to do that more than Bama based on what’s been shown this year. For instance, Texas wasn’t good, but you don’t have to be good to stop a third and 19. They still couldn’t and it wasn’t their fault. Florida is a pretty good defense. Tell me what game we can use to extrapolate that Bama would score 42 against Florida.

CFN:

You think Auburn and Florida are better running teams than Alabama? Florida is 90th in total rushing, 75th in YPC. Also this “Alabama could be terrible, they haven’t played anyone” thing every year is getting weird. Alabama has a #1 overall draft pick at QB and the best WR unit in CFB history. Does that mean for certain they’ll break 40? No. But to question their passing attack is bizarre.

Me:

College Football Nerds You had to respect Perine being able to break a long run.  Even if Alabama has a player like that, he didn’t run for 88 yards in one play against a good defense. 

Pierce later ran 75 in one play against South Carolina.  That game could have been much different if it were 20-10 Carolina at the half.

To act like they have a proven passing attack THIS YEAR is bizarre

If Tua never started before this year he wouldn’t be a #1.  LSU had a #1 pick in 2006 and lost to Auburn 7-3.  That doesn’t prove Alabama is going to produce like you’re saying against a good defense.  This isn’t the NFL, there isn’t an NFL offensive line.  Not everything translates from college to the NFL.  Ask Saban.

Something else bizarre about one year transferring to another is how Alabama went from beating Clemson by 18 to losing by 28. Is Trevor Lawrence the best QB in college football today?  He was better than Tua in January

On a lighter note, this was hilarious.

Week 9 Top 25; Key Games and Race for #1

In College Football, General LSU, History, Post-game, Preview, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on October 27, 2019 at 2:02 PM

LSU/Auburn

I think my one-paragraph prediction about this game (last paragraph here) was exactly right.  There were some things that were somewhat surprising though.

I’ve updated the records here.  I had forgotten that other than Alabama, the only two teams that have beaten Auburn a majority of the time (with at least 10 games played) are from Louisiana: LSU and Tulane.

I advised taking Auburn and the points.  I said that I wouldn’t have been surprised if Auburn scored about what Florida did and actually thought Auburn might have scored more.  What I didn’t expect was that 24 would have been enough to win.  The visiting Tigers were still most of the way to Florida’s point total of 28. 

I said that Auburn would probably stop LSU from scoring a couple of times more than Florida did. LSU had four scoring drives rather than six, so that was correct.  I didn’t expect LSU would get to what would have been field-goal range last year about six times with no points to show for it though.

That’s the second game in a row in which LSU struggled to score touchdowns after driving deep in the opponent’s territory, especially early.  I don’t know if that’s a long-term issue or those were just two pretty good defenses with a relatively short field.  I know Mississippi St. has given up a lot of points over the course of the year, but some of that was the fault of their anemic offense.  The Bulldog defense at least seemed fresh with home crowd behind it for 25 minutes against LSU before the Tigers scored two touchdowns late in the first half last week.

Clyde Edwards-Hellaire, with 136 yards, was the top rusher of the game as LSU was able to control time of possession for one of the only times this season.

I was surprised that LSU committed two turnovers, one of which set up an Auburn touchdown.  There were also two officiating decisions that assisted in that score (both the turnover and the touchdown itself), but I’ll talk about officiating later.  Anyway, that actually brings up one unexpected positive for the Bayou Bengals.  I didn’t think Auburn would be incapable of a touchdown drive beyond 22 yards in the first 57 minutes of play.

The sacks and tackles for loss didn’t shock me. I knew that was an area that Auburn was good at.  I still think LSU has a good offensive line, but it’s not going to stop a really good front seven (possibly the best LSU will face) every time.

I did like how Burrow ran and threw across the backfield to avert the pass rush.  I knew that would be necessary to avoid some of the rush. Having more quick, short-yardage plays helped LSU win the time of possession.  This was more of a traditional LSU win in that way.

Another positive was the halftime adjustments.  A good offensive coach like Dan Mullen or Gus Malzahn can come up with a scoring drive to start the half, but Florida didn’t score a second time in the whole half and Auburn didn’t score a second time until about 24 minutes of play later.  Mississippi St.’s only score of the second half was in the closing minute.  Northwestern St. and Utah St. were completely shut out in the respective second halves.

I hope that LSU is at least within a couple of scores of Alabama after the Tide’s opening drive of the second half.  The Tigers could be ahead for all I know, but it really hurt their chances when Alabama scored a touchdown 75 seconds before the half last year to make it realistically a three-score game (two touchdowns and two two-point conversions isn’t necessarily realistic).  Nine points instead of 16 would have mattered there.  Nine points was the halftime deficit against Auburn two years ago, so I think that’s a good bare-minimum goal if we don’t have a good first half.  I think the defense would give the offense a chance to catch up in the third and fourth quarters in that scenario.

Tua Tagovailoa ran for more yards on this play than LSU had rushing yards in the whole game last year in Baton Rouge. Alabama also had over 100 more passing yards.

Going back to the Auburn score to open the half, I thought that even though Auburn scored, it was a moral victory of sorts for the defense to come up with a stop inside the 10.  LSU has been good at that this season.  Auburn was good too, but hopefully Alabama isn’t as good at that if the Tigers have such chances in Tuscaloosa. LSU responded by driving to the one-yard line when they were stopped at fourth and goal, but the ball pretty much stayed on the Auburn half of the field until LSU scored to take the lead for good.   

I’m not going to go into all the calls, but the officiating was terrible, so I was glad LSU was able to withstand that. 

The hit on Burrow looked bad.  I thought helmet-to-helmet hits when a guy is going out of bounds was against the rules.  The TV rules expert said Burrow wasn’t defenseless, but I’ve certainly seen other players being tackled or going out of bounds ruled as defenseless.  Those guys seem more like PR agents for the refs than unbiased arbiters anyway. 

There was also kind of a hip check by an LSU defender that was called pass interference.  I didn’t think it denied the opportunity to catch the ball, and the receiver wasn’t even looking for the ball.  Pass interference should only be called when it conceivably could have been a catch without the interference, which was the case when there was a non-call in the end zone at the end of the first half.  I’m not saying everything they called or didn’t call was in Auburn’s favor, but they definitely favored the visitors. 

We had a couple of players, Tyrion Davis-Price and Derrick Dillon, who reacted to what should have been penalties on other players.  That accounted for 30 of the 118 yards of penalties called on LSU.  If the ref doesn’t call something, a player doesn’t need to make it worse by having them call a penalty on LSU.  You also can’t count on offsetting penalties even when they’re deserved (which was a big part of the reason LSU lost to Alabama in 2014).  The flags themselves were justified though.

Top-10 opponents

Anyway, LSU is now 8-2 against top-10 opponents over the last three seasons. You can guess who the two exceptions were.  Alabama is 6-2 (losses to Clemson and Auburn), and Ohio St. is 6-1 (loss to Oklahoma).    Those three teams happen to be in close to a three-way tie atop the AP poll this week.

The Tide has not played a top-10 team this season, and LSU has played three top-10 teams.  How is this possible when they’re in the same division of the same conference?  Alabama has not played Auburn yet (obviously), their best out-of-conference opponent was Duke (LSU’s was Texas when the Longhorns were still undefeated), and their annual cross-divisional rival is Tennessee (LSU’s is Florida).

Before someone says I’m wrong about the top-10 opponents, I know there was an ESPN graphic posted after the Florida game about how Alabama and Ohio St. had more wins over top-10 teams; but that was going back to 2016, the year that Les Miles coached 4 games before giving way to Orgeron. LSU beat three ranked teams that year, but none were in the top 10.  This gave the other programs a head start, and I don’t think it’s really fair to expect an interim coach to beat top-10 teams anyway.

Race for #1

Most teams have played 8 games.  A couple have even played 9.  I think we’ve progressed far enough into the season to completely ignore last year from now on.  That being the case, although Clemson is still what I’d call a good undefeated team, I no longer consider them #1.  LSU’s best two opponents (Auburn and Florida) are better than Ohio St.’s best two opponents (Cincinnati and Wisconsin), but the Buckeyes have had a better schedule week to week.  Indiana rates higher than Texas (I don’t care how they were ranked at the time of the game), Michigan St. rates higher than Utah St., Florida Atlantic rates higher than Mississippi St., and Nebraska rates higher than Georgia Southern.  I don’t think anyone lower is worth mentioning. 

I don’t put much of a premium on margin of victory, and it has nothing to do with why Ohio St. is #1 in my computer formula; but the way the games have played out also indicates to me that there are fewer teams that Ohio St. would struggle against than teams that LSU would struggle against.

Ohio St. is the clear #1 in both the weighted and unweighted versions of my formula as well.  For instance, in the unweighted system, only 0.007 separates Penn St. from Clemson.  In the weighted system, 0.24 separates the two.  Ohio St’s respective leads over LSU are 0.093 (over 13 times the difference between Clemson and Penn St.) and 1.911 (about 8 times the difference between Clemson and Penn St.).

My educated guess is that if LSU and Ohio St. both win in two weeks, LSU will finally have enough points to go ahead, but it matters how prior opponents of the respective teams do and how opponents of those teams do over the next two weeks as well.  Also, there is more reason to be skeptical that LSU will beat Alabama than there is that Ohio St. will beat Maryland.

I mention two weeks instead of next week because #1 Ohio St., #2 LSU, #4 Penn St., #6 Alabama, and #7 Minnesota all have byes next week.  #3 Clemson plays Wofford, so I don’t think there is any concern of a major change among the top teams next week. If #5 SMU beats Memphis, the Mustangs may move up a spot or two; but that will probably be temporary given that SMU will not stand to gain many computer points by being East Carolina on November 9. 

Kansas and the Big XII

Baylor, an undefeated team I haven’t mentioned much and possibly the last good hope for the Big XII (at least unless a series of losses by others puts one-loss Oklahoma back in the top 4), starts a challenging three-game stretch on November 9 as well.  Unfortunately, they won’t be playing SMU since the Southwest Conference disbanded in 1995; but they travel to Forth Worth on that day before hosting Oklahoma and Texas in the subsequent two weeks.  November 23, which is the day Baylor plays the last of those teams, is also a big day for currently-undefeated teams since Ohio St. plays Penn St. on that day.

I don’t know whose idea it was for Baylor to travel to Lawrence, Kansas, on Rivalry Week unless they thought it was basketball; but Les Miles’ Jayhawks have been looking good the past couple of weeks under new offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon.  It might seem far-fetched for a team with only 3 wins right now to beat a team who’s currently undefeated, but something similar happened during Rivalry Week in 2001.  Les Miles’ first Oklahoma St. team entered the game against #4 Oklahoma with only 3 wins and yet beat the Sooners. Games like that can be tough when it’s the closest thing the opponent will get to a bowl game.

KU would need some luck, but they certainly had that last night.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a team have the potential winning field goal blocked only to simply try again from a closer distance on the next play.  Combined with the game in Austin I mentioned here, it was the second consecutive week that a field goal on the final play decided the winner in a Kansas game.  Also, although Texas and Oklahoma may have seen better years, I don’t know how many teams can beat the two in consecutive weeks and still be ready to ward off a potential upset on the road.  Maybe Baylor is just that special, but I have my doubts.

The ball peaks just a few yards downfield from where it was kicked by Kansas after being blocked on the second-to-last play by Texas Tech. The Red Raiders would fumble the ball; and Kansas would recover, allowing the Jayhawks to win on the last play.

Top 25

NOTE: I only gave myself leeway of two spots from the computer ranking. This was only done for a handful of teams though.

rankteamlast
1Ohio St.2
2LSU3
3Clemson1
4Penn St.5
5SMU8
6Alabama4
7Minnesota11
8Oregon12
9Baylor9
10Auburn7
11Cincinnati14
12Utah21
13Boise St.16
14Florida10
15Oklahoma6
16Michigan23
17Memphis17
18Appalachian15
19Wake Forest20
20Navy22
21Iowa24
22Wisconsin13
23Air Force
24Georgia18
25Notre Dame19

Out of top 25: (25) Texas

LSU/Auburn Series and Preview

In College Football, History, Preview, Rivalry on October 25, 2019 at 7:45 PM

As I’ve been doing with these series recaps, I’m only going to focus on a portion of Auburn’s rivalry with LSU.  The rivalry did pick up intensity in the 1990s as I’ll explain, but the really interesting time was 2000 to 2007.

My original entry in the Rivalry Series covers mostly the same games, but there are different emphases.  Here I won’t talk as much about the records or rankings of teams going into the game, and I won’t refer back to the significance of each game within the greater rivalry.

Deciding the SEC West and Home Field Advantage

When LSU became relevant in SEC title races starting around the time Saban showed up, the main obstacles every year were Florida and Auburn. Except for Arkansas in 2002 and 2006 (the Hogs had the benefit of not having an annual series with either Georgia or Florida), the winner of the LSU-Auburn game would represent the SEC West in the title game every year from 2000 to 2007.

By the way, for some reason, the SEC calls you a winner of the division if you don’t play in the title game; but the way I look at it is if you lose the tiebreaker for first you’re second.  You’re not still in the broken tie for first.  So when I talk about winning the SEC West, I’m going to mean winning the tiebreaker as well. 

LSU has still never won the SEC West in an even year largely because the Tigers play both Auburn and Florida on the road in even years (and historically LSU is less likely to beat Alabama at home than on the road anyway).  You’ve probably seen it mentioned that LSU hasn’t lost to Auburn at home since 1999, but for a while that was mutual.  Nick Saban went 0-3 at Auburn as LSU head coach, and Les Miles also lost his first game at Auburn.  Miles would win two of the next three before losing his last two, the last of which lost him his job. 

Auburn players celebrate the win in 1999. LSU has had its longest home winning streak against Auburn in the years since.

LSU would end that streak in 2008, but speaking of Nick Saban, that was when Alabama became the team to beat in the division.  LSU beat Alabama and Auburn to win the SEC West in 2011, and Auburn beat LSU and Alabama to win the SEC West in 2010.  The three teams went 1-1 against each other in 2013; but LSU lost to two other teams (Georgia and Ole Miss), so that allowed Auburn to win a two-team head-to-head tiebreaker.  I think we all know who won the other 8 SEC West titles since then. 

In addition to being less important for the division, those three games just didn’t have the drama to go into much detail.  The 2010 game was the relatively close one, decided by only 7; but the LSU defense and offense both seemed defeated once Auburn took the lead with a about 5 minutes to go. Auburn could have scored again at the end of the game but ran out the clock instead.  They took the last snap from the LSU 3.

The 2012 LSU win, which at the time was only the second win at Auburn since 1998, was close; but Auburn turned out to be a terrible team.  Gene Chizik has not been a head coach since that season and may never be one again.  There were also only 6 points scored after the first quarter – a field goal by Auburn in the second quarter and a field goal by LSU in the third quarter. I like to watch good defenses more than most fans, but there are only so many ways to describe not scoring points. 

Other than it being an important game since one or both teams has been a major force in the conference (if not nationally), it’s also been a close game – again, not unlike LSU-Florida.

The Making of a Rivalry: 1993 to 1999

Unlike Florida though, it was typically a competitive game even going back before 2000.  It wasn’t even an annual series until 1993. That first game wasn’t very close, as Auburn went undefeated that season (but since they were on probation they weren’t considered in the national-title hunt), but that changed in a hurry. 

LSU led 23-9 in 1994 before Jamie Howard threw three pick-sixes and the Bayou Bengals lost 30-26.  Auburn had a quarterback named Nix, but other than a field goal drive in the second quarter, he was unsuccessful.  The four defensive scores were enough for the Plainsmen though.

In Death Valley the next year, the home team won by only 6 points.  That would be LSU’s first winning season in 7 years.

In 1996, LSU won on “the night the barn burned”.  It wasn’t a barnburner as neither team was able to get to 20 points.  It was 17-15 with 38 seconds to go when the home-standing War Tigers decided to go for two.  That backfired (no pun intended) as LSU returned the botched conversion attempt for two points.  The game was given the nickname because an old gym caught on fire during the game.

The next year, an Auburn touchdown in the last minute of the game would make the difference as LSU was only ahead by 4 before the score. 

Both programs went downhill the following two seasons with the road team winning fairly easily both times.  However, Auburn made a coaching change between 1998 and 1999, while LSU waited until after the 1999 season.  Auburn’s new coach Tommy Tuberville happened to have been the coach of Ole Miss when they beat LSU in 1997, which in retrospect would keep LSU from winning the SEC West for the first time.

After that 1999 win by Auburn, Tuberville smoked cigars with his team on the field.  He rationalized it by saying it was only Auburn’s third win there since World War II, but he didn’t mention that it was also Auburn’s third win at LSU in four tries.  Now he explains that it was also his birthday, but you don’t have to linger in an opponent’s stadium to celebrate your birthday.  Even if he just had shared a big cake on the field with his team, that would have been weird. 

2004 to 2007 Game Narratives

That wouldn’t be the end of the weirdness.  It was a big game, but none of the games were very interesting or exciting the next few years.

Then in 2004 it got interesting again.  I know a lot of people blame Les Miles for ushering in low-scoring games, but the offense wasn’t always exciting in Saban’s last year either.  LSU led 9-3 after 58 minutes of play. Auburn would score on third and 12 from the LSU 16, but the extra point was blocked. Apparently a new rule had been implemented in the offseason that if you land on another player after attempting to block or successfully blocking a field goal, it was a personal foul. Auburn got to try again and would win by that one point.

Since 2004 would become known as the extra point game, it only followed that we needed a field goal game.  This would happen 13 months later when the two teams would miss a combined 7 field goals in 10 attempts. 

LSU led 14-10 after Auburn made its one field goal in the second quarter and the teams exchanged touchdowns in the third.  The Plains Tigers would score another touchdown with just under 5 minutes to go in the game. LSU would get its first field goal a few minutes later to tie the game at 17 and eventually send it to overtime.  LSU would have the ball to begin the overtime and would settle for a field goal.  The Bayou Tigers had gotten one first down to help out the kicker Chris Jackson.  Auburn would go nowhere during their possession, and John Vaughn would miss from 39 to end the game, his fifth miss of the game.

Auburn K John Vaughn collapses to the field after missing a field goal (his fifth miss of the game) to give LSU the win in 2005.

2006 was another weird low-scoring game.  Les Miles was the coach, but he had inherited his offensive coordinator from Saban.  That was a guy you’ve probably never heard of named Jimbo Fisher.  But somehow (with the help of the referees of course), he only managed to guide the Tigers to 3 points for the whole game.  Auburn didn’t need any field goals and won 7-3 despite LSU having gained about twice as many yards.

Nonetheless, Fisher would do an impressive enough job with LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell the rest of the season to be offered a similar position with Florida St. but with more incentive and under an aging head coach being gently nudged into retirement.

LSU’s offense seemed to work just fine without him in 2007 (although you can’t really say the same for the 10 years afterward).  LSU-Auburn was another close game though.  Auburn led 17-13 going into the fourth quarter.  Matt Flynn led the home team on an 8-play 85-yard drive to put LSU up 20-17.  After a punt, the Fighting Tigers expanded that lead to 23-17.  Auburn responded with a 9-play, 83-yard drive to go up 1 with 3:21 remaining.

Unlike the last time Auburn played in Tiger Stadium, K Colt David was having a good day, having gone 3 for 3 on field goals.  It seemed like that was what LSU was playing for.  There was a number of running plays (including spontaneous runs by the QB) that took time off the clock as Flynn drove the Tigers downfield.  LSU also converted a key third and 3 from the Auburn 41 to keep the drive going (on a Richard Murphy run). Jacob Hester, the hero of the Florida game a couple of weeks before, would come in with his own 10-yard run. 

When LSU had a third and 7 from the 23 with just under 10 seconds left, Auburn probably expected another run to set up a field goal (LSU still had a timeout).  Instead Flynn threw to the end zone just to the outside of Demetrius Byrd, who turned at just the right time to catch the ball (see here if the picture doesn’t do it justice).

Along with Jacob Hester’s winning touchdown (see the final picture) two weeks earlier, Demetrius Byrd’s catch in the final moments against Auburn was one of the iconic plays in LSU’s national-championship season in 2007.

Since the extra point was taken with 1 second left, a lot of people thought the pass was an unacceptable risk.  I never bought into that since Byrd began to catch the ball with :04 showing on the clock.  It just didn’t really matter whether they stopped it at 4 seconds or 1 second at that point.  If he had dropped the ball or missed it completely, it probably would have been 3 seconds.  Maybe if he had juggled it several times and then dropped it, it would have run out the clock though.

2016

One second would make all the difference 9 years later, but I’d rather not rehash that game again.  SBNation did a good job though. You can’t tell for sure that the center wasn’t beginning the snap in the picture though.

(I already said all I needed to say about the games from 2008 to 2015.)

2017

I mentioned in the Florida summary how LSU had two ugly losses in the first five weeks of the season in 2017 but came back to beat Florida by 1.  The next week, it looked like the Tigers were going to have three ugly losses in seven weeks when #10 Auburn went out to a 20-0 lead in Tiger Stadium. 

See my 2017 blog about the game for details, but I’ll just set up how LSU reduced the lead to 9 before halftime.

The defense holding Auburn to a field goal (meaning it was 20-0 and not 24-0) wouldn’t have meant anything if the LSU offense hadn’t gotten into gear on the next drive. LSU wouldn’t even require a single pass to be thrown.  Six rushing plays got the Fighting Tigers 90 yards and touchdown (70 of the yards by on a carry Russell Gage).

Auburn looked ready to bring the lead back up to 20 a couple of drives later, but once again the defense bent but didn’t break.  After a first and goal from the 10, Auburn was only at the 8 before settling for a field goal. 

LSU took possession back with 2:16 left.  Given the passing struggles, success didn’t seem likely, but that didn’t stop Danny Etling.  On the drive, Etling completed 5 of 6 pass attempts for 67 yards and a touchdown. 

The comeback wasn’t complete yet, but a 9-point deficit at halftime looks a lot better than a 20-point deficit early in the second quarter. 

2018

I didn’t even talk about the details of the last LSU-Auburn game last year, I just debunked some of the whining after the fact by Auburn fans. 

LSU went out to an early 10-point lead midway through the second quarter, but Auburn roared back to go up 21-10 with about 25 minutes to go in the game.

Like in the previous year, it just seemed like the LSU defense drew a line in the sand at that point.  Auburn went three and out on their next drive, then after one first down Stidham threw an interception in LSU territory.  The next drive, Auburn missed a 52-yard field goal.  The only reason they got that far downfield was a targeting call, and Auburn would not get beyond their own 30 again.

LSU also had to score in the meantime of course.  After one three and out, LSU was able to vary run and pass to get into first and goal at the Auburn 8 but had to settle for a field goal.

The next drive was really quick, too quick to watch in real time.  Here is the slow-motion replay.

Derrick Dillon catches a pass over the middle before running for the end zone on a 71-yard completion to bring LSU within two at Auburn last year.

But LSU couldn’t get the two-point conversion.  As mentioned, Auburn could do nothing on offense, so LSU had to win the game with a field goal. 

LSU had a third and 11 right away, but that’s when there was one of the major pass interference calls I talked about in the blog above. After an incompletion on first down, Burrow ran a few yards on second down to make it a more reasonable third and 7, which the Fighting Tigers just barely converted. 

Burrow also ran on the next second down (which was also 2nd and 10), but he was tackled for a loss on third down.  Again, LSU was just able to get past the marker, this time to Stephen Sullivan. After yet another first-down incompletion, another pass interference was called on third down.  This put LSU into field goal position, and of course Cole Tracy made it.

This Year

Until the game last week (when LSU settled for field goals on the first three offensive possessions), I might have said how Auburn shouldn’t expect to hold this offense out of the end zone for long stretches of time.  LSU would eventually score as many points against Mississippi St. in the first half as they scored against Auburn the whole game last year though, so I’m still expecting this year’s LSU team to easily outscore last year’s in this game.

I watched parts of the Auburn games against Oregon and Florida.  Although, the LSU defense hasn’t always been great (though it is underrated by people who look at scores rather than watching games), I still think there will be stretches where Auburn can’t score.  Auburn scored only 3 points in the first four drives and 6 in the first nine drives against the Ducks   Against Florida, which let’s remember allowed 42 to LSU, Auburn couldn’t score for the last 40 minutes of the game. 

I do think Auburn’s pass rush will cause some incompletions and might get sacks (unlike Florida’s), but the defensive backfield might be even less able to keep up with LSU wide receivers.

Auburn does have a good front, hence the concerns about the pass rush, but pass rush and run defense aren’t the same thing.  If Auburn sends too much pressure, that could leave open lanes for Burrow or one of the backs.  If Auburn is trying too hard to defend the run, that often requires staying near the line of scrimmage rather than rushing the backfield. 

Auburn also has a good offensive line, so LSU could have some of the same dilemmas.  But I’m more confident in Burrow making good decisions in a game like this than Auburn fans should be in (the younger) Nix even if Nix ends up with more time.  Whitlow ran for about 4.5 yards per carry against both Oregon and Florida, but he won’t be playing.  Kam Martin (who had a few good carries against Florida but ran poorly against Oregon) ran well in his first full game as Whitlow’s replacement, but I don’t know how comparable running against Arkansas is to running against LSU.

I would lean toward taking the points.  I know I guessed wrong about Florida, but Auburn can probably score about what Florida did and maybe hold LSU out of the end zone on one or two more drives.  Maybe LSU just doesn’t have that final score to go up double digits like they did against Florida.  I would give Auburn about a 1 in 3 chance to win.  I think having a week off after Florida and not having to do anything fancy against Arkansas could be a slight advantage.  Florida did beat Auburn, but I think it was harder for the Gators to get back up for the LSU game than it will be for Auburn.  Also, despite the eventual loss by 14, Florida did still have a decent chance to win late.

Week 8 Top 25 and LSU

In College Football, History, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary, Rivalry on October 20, 2019 at 11:30 AM

I think the way I organized the blogs last week worked well, so I’ll talk about LSU and a couple of other big games.  I won’t thoroughly go through the top 25, but it’s listed below. Click here for the computer rating of all teams.

I couldn’t find a quality picture of the record-breaking or record-tying pass, but this reception and score by Racey McMath put Joe Burrow one touchdown pass short of the LSU single-season record, which he went on to break in Starkville Saturday.

I’ve updated the LSU/Mississippi St. rivalry blog.  I did think LSU would be slowed early, and that ultimately held the Tigers below 40 for the first time this season.  It was pretty close to the reverse of the 37-7 Bulldog win in Starkville two years ago.  If LSU doesn’t miss an extra point and allow a last-minute touchdown, it would have been the same final score.

If anyone asked, I’m sure Coach Orgeron would say it’s not about him; but I’m sure he’s satisfied to finally get a win in Starkville. There was a lot that went wrong in his tenure at Ole Miss, but his two games there were the main reason he got fired.  To get blown out there his first game against the Bulldogs at LSU had to feel like a bad case of déjà vu.  

I’ve talked a bit about Auburn in previewing both Mississippi St. and Florida.  I might or might not have more to say later, but LSU/Auburn is always a big game. 

For now I’ll just talk briefly about the recent rivalry. This game is at Tiger Stadium, but we had a couple of ugly losses against them at their place before last year.  I mentioned Coach O’s two losses in Starkville as it related to his firing back in 2007.  Les Miles had a much more successful tenure overall, but two losses in two trips to Auburn immediately preceded his firing at LSU. 

Auburn has some desire for payback too.  Those two losses at Auburn at the end of the Miles era are the only LSU losses in the series since Auburn’s 2010 national championship.  Auburn hasn’t won at LSU in 20 years.  LSU beat a few pretty highly-regarded Auburn teams over the past few years, including the one that was one stop/score away from a national championship in 2013 and the one who went to the SEC Championship Game two years ago.  Auburn didn’t end up having a great year last year, but they were ranked #7 and expected to beat LSU by a couple of scores.  The bayou Tigers won on walk-off field goal.  The point being that Auburn would especially enjoy getting LSU back with an upset in this one.

Speaking of Les and upsets, Kansas almost had a big upset in Austin on Saturday; but if they’d won it would have made LSU’s win there less impressive.  Even if the Jayhawks don’t win another game this season, I think he’s had a positive influence there so far.  I was reminded this weekend that Lou Holtz went winless his first year at South Carolina, but Holtz without question got that program headed in the right direction.

Pooka Williams of Kansas ran for 190 yards on 25 carries in the 50-48 loss in Austin Saturday.

I checked the score late in the Wisconsin game, and I thought they would run out the clock being that they were up 9 and had generally had a dominant defense so far.  So I was a bit surprised when I found out what happened.  That takes some of the luster off of the Ohio St. game, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the Buckeyes have more chance to win than they did a few days ago.

I followed the same basic guidelines as last week. I didn’t move anyone more than 3 spots from the computer ranking.  The only difference is there were no exceptions this week.  I anticipate this will be Clemson’s last week at #1, but maybe not if LSU and Ohio St. both lose next week. I think the computer results are starting to make more sense, so I might not move teams much if at all next week.

rankteamlast
1Clemson1
2Ohio St.2
3LSU3
4Alabama4
5Penn St.6
6Oklahoma9
7Auburn7
8SMU12
9Baylor13
10Florida10
11Minnesota17
12Oregon11
13Wisconsin5
14Cincinnati20
15Appalachian16
16Boise St.8
17Memphis25
18Georgia18
19Notre Dame19
20Wake Forest24
21Utah
22Navy22
23Michigan15
24Iowa
25Texas

Out of Top 25: (14) Arizona St., (21) Washington, (23) Hawaii

Defending Coach O and Comments on Rankings

In College Football, General LSU, Rankings Commentary on October 18, 2019 at 7:00 PM

I have a few other notes about LSU, but I mostly covered the ones about Florida Sunday and the ones about Mississippi St. Wednesday. I know I’m publishing this late, but it’s a weekend night; and the kind of people who are awake and ready for football before games start can read it as well.

I heard one bit of trivia I wanted to share. LSU has kept official stats on this since 1978, but Florida is the only documented time I can find in which the Tigers have faced only four third downs in a game.  I looked at relatively high-scoring LSU games going back to the early 1960s (the Tigers did score into the 60s at times in the 1960s and 1970s and even scored 77 against Rice in 1977) and couldn’t find anything close.  There may have been a blowout of an in-state school 100 years ago or something, but it’s probably been several decades at least.

I liked when they asked Orgeron what he would have said if someone told him the offense would average 52.5 points at this point before the season.  He leaned toward the microphone like he was telling a secret and grumbled, “I’ll take it.”

Anyway, you’d think people would be positive about Orgeron and his team after a big win over another well-respected program and head coach, but it seems like Troy all over again.

Defending Orgeron

Finebaum

Also related to LSU, Paul Finebaum will say whatever he needs to say to pretend the best team is Alabama for as long as he can.  Nothing LSU does counts because supposedly he heard the same things about the LSU offense last year.  I don’t know how he would have heard the team who scored 19 against Florida last year had just as good of an offense as the one who scored 42 against Florida this year; but he does talk to the most ignorant people in Alabama, so it’s possible. 

What really annoys me is he said this a couple of weeks after saying he was dropping Clemson because the rankings are only for this season and you don’t factor in anything from last season.  So Alabama goes ahead of Clemson because the 44-16 win in January doesn’t count, but Alabama also goes ahead of LSU because the 29-0 win last November does count. 

John Hayes

To be fair, you could read this as an innocent compliment of the three coaches; but he admitted that wasn’t how he meant it.

Then I saw today someone named John Hayes trying to insult Orgeron (he said the tweet was a “backhanded compliment”, and he admitted he sees Orgeron as a lesser coach) by saying he’s not really the one on the field doing anything.  I think he was trying to say Orgeron isn’t calling the plays, but so what?  When Saban doesn’t call plays, he doesn’t get credit?

Hayes was interviewed by “Off the Bench”.  I mentioned this tendency of his before, but yet again T-Bob got the stat wrong.  He said Dabo Swinney had more wins over top-10 teams since Orgeron became head coach, but that’s not true. The only two better than Orgeron were actually Nick Saban and Urban Meyer. 

Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban

Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney had a friendly chat before the 2018 Sugar Bowl. Alabama has faced Clemson in the Playoff in four consecutive seasons.

Just to be clear, there isn’t anything a coach can do in three seasons (other than win three national championships right away) that really earn a comparison to where Swinney and Saban are right now, but we can look at how they got here and think about other coaches possibly following a similar path.

Dabo was actually part of Hayes’ argument since he has recent wins over Saban, but let’s not forget that Swinney didn’t just start at Clemson.  He became the interim coach 11 years ago, not 3 like Orgeron.  In 2011 (which is the season that corresponds to this one for Orgeron), Clemson went 10-4 and gave up 70 points in a bowl game.  So should he have been written off as a mediocre coach then?  By the way, Dabo was in the middle of five consecutive losses to South Carolina.  It’s just a completely unfair comparison if you only look at where Swinney is now. 

Even Saban lost to LSU in three of his first five tries and was lucky to win that many.  LSU and South Carolina 10 years ago were nothing like Alabama (the two LSU teams Saban beat in that span lost a combined 9 games) now.  Saban won a national title in his third full year, but people weren’t crowning him best coach ever in October 2009.

The main question is why Orgeron should be expected to reach Saban’s or Swinney’s peak faster than they did.  But I think the fact that people like Feinbaum and Hayes see the need to point out the difference between Orgeron now and those guys at their peak (or is it a plateau?) means he’s one of the best coaches right now. 

Hayes said he would be proven right if Alabama beats LSU easily this year, but I completely disagree. If Clemson lost to West Virginia by 37, they wouldn’t have been close to Alabama, which won the championship by 21, in 2011. I don’t know if there is a score Alabama could win by that would be the equivalent of losing to that West Virginia team by 37. 70 maybe?

Lincoln Riley

Oklahoma got revenge for last year’s regular-season loss to the Longhorns (Lincoln Riley’s only loss to the Longhorns in four games) in Dallas last week, 34-27. Above, Sooner LB Kenneth Murray hits Sam Ehlinger after a third-quarter throw.

I don’t hear anyone pointing out how Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma, for instance, hasn’t won the games Swinney and Saban won the last few years to minimize a good win.  He’s started out his career with a great record and is coming off a big rivalry win this week too.   “Hold on, you can’t say he’s a great coach yet” is only necessary to these commentators because people are more tempted to say Orgeron is great.

I did listen to a follow-up interview Hayes did (I had to get a free trial, so sorry if it doesn’t work for you), and to my surprise he said Riley would be his #1 choice for head coach if he were an AD. I’m sorry, that’s silly. It’s just typical offense-obsessed media. Riley had three big games last season (his second full year) and lost two of them (the first game against Texas and the semifinal). He won three of the four big games (out-of-conference game against Ohio St., the two against Big XII #2 TCU, and the national semifinal) his first year, but he also lost to what turned out to be the 4th-best opponent Iowa St.

Like Joe Brady, he’s a good young offensive mind, but he’s not even in the top 10 on my list of best head coaches; and I don’t think we have a real sense of how he can recruit yet. There are probably a dozen coaches who could have won 24 games or more in 2017 and 2018 in Norman.

Kirby Smart

Kirby Smart was on Nick Saban’s LSU staff in 2004 alongside Texas A&M HC Jimbo Fisher and South Carolina HC Will Muschamp (who beat Smart Saturday), who were the two coordinators. Former Tennessee HC Derek Dooley was also on that staff.

On the Off the Bench interview, there was an argument made about Kirby Smart, but Orgeron beat Smart easily in their only meeting last year.  Smart did win the SEC and a semifinal game in 2017, but the Bulldogs lost one of only two regular-season games against the SEC West.  Georgia did win the follow-up over Auburn; but LSU beat Auburn the first and only time.  So Georgia winning the SEC and making that game against Oklahoma was more a result of playing in the East than of Georgia being in better shape than LSU (although as I mentioned in the previous blog LSU didn’t have a great start in Orgeron’s first full season). 

What LSU fan would trade Orgeron for Smart right now?  I think Georgia would take that trade in a heartbeat.  If they’re going to lose to South Carolina in a home game with Fromm, who knows what could happen the first year without?  The Bulldogs are far from guaranteed a win over Florida, which obviously LSU has now.  Smart also had an offseason of recruiting and hiring that Orgeron didn’t have in 2016.

I think Smart is a good coach despite what happened Saturday. You could argue he’s better than Orgeron, but I don’t think there is a good argument that they’re not comparable.

Other Comments

As for the other games, there were a couple of embarrassingly bad calls by referees.  Memphis completed a pass in Temple territory late in the fourth quarter, and somehow it was overturned despite no evidence of the ball hitting the ground.  That easily could have prevented the winning field goal by the Tigers, but the ball went over on downs.  There was a call that went against Penn St. at Iowa.  Penn St. won, so it didn’t really affect the game, but it does cost the Nittany Lions 4 points.  The pylon cam confirmed the call on the field, and yet it was overturned.  Eventually Penn St. settled for a field goal on the drive.  Replays of late seem to be just an extra avenue for home cooking.

Memphis TE Joey Magnifico made this great catch at the Temple 30 in Philadelphia on Saturday. Although no picture could be found of the ball even grazing the turf before or after being secured by Magnifico, the ruling of a catch was overturned.

I went into detail about the schedules of four of my top five on Sunday (Ohio St./Wisconsin and LSU/Alabama could be matchups of unbeatens), but Clemson will continue to play nobody.  MAYBE 1-loss Wake Forest can give them a game on the 16th, and traveling to Columbia, South Carolina, might be a challenge after all; but I don’t think any potential winner of the Coastal will be much of a test.  Given the North Carolina game, it’s hard to know for sure though.

If Wisconsin can’t do it, the next big test for the Buckeyes is expected to be currently undefeated Penn St. on November 23.  The Nittany Lions have a big game with Michigan tomorrow though.  Of course Ohio St. will have to play them too.  Penn St. had a decent rise in the polls, but not as much as Oklahoma, who finally joined the top 10 after beating Clemson. I know the Sooners hoped that Houston game would mean something, but it really doesn’t.

Auburn being ahead of Florida might raise eyebrows, but I don’t determine better resume by head-to-head.  Both teams are 1-1 against the top 11.  Texas A&M isn’t a great conference win, but it’s better than Kentucky and Tennessee.  Auburn also beat Tulane.  The Green Wave looks better than the Hurricanes (Florida’s best non-conference opponent) so far. 

Florida does play Florida St. later, but so far the only other non-conference games have been against FCS opponents.  Florida will be fine if they win the next few weeks (South Carolina and Georgia with a bye week in between) though.  Unless Auburn beats LSU a week from tomorrow, they don’t have a good chance for meaningful points for about the next month (two byes, Arkansas, and Ole Miss).  I’m not projecting who will look better a month from now though, just looking at who has done what so far.

Baylor’s undefeated resume got a little bit of substance to it with the win over Texas Tech; but there was so little of importance before that, the Bears are still only 13th.  They almost have as good of a resume as fellow undefeated and former SWC rival SMU.

Minnesota is an undefeated team that’s creeping up even more slowly, but beating Rutgers won’t help much.  Nor would beating Maryland the next week.  The Gophers do have an intimidating November schedule though: Penn St., @ Iowa, @ Northwestern, Wisconsin in consecutive weeks.

To round out the rankings, Washington returned by beating Arizona, who had nearly made the top 25 the previous week.  Wake Forest and Memphis are no longer undefeated, but both held onto the top 25 after narrow losses.  Navy was able to make it into the top 25 (despite having lost to Memphis a few weeks ago) after wins over Air Force and Tulsa in the past two weeks.  Hawaii also stayed in the top 25 after a loss; but it was on the blue field, so the Warriors weren’t hurt that much.

I do think Texas is still a top-25 team, but respectable losses don’t get you far in my system.  They need to find some decent wins.  Oklahoma St., the Longhorns’ best win, is mediocre unless the Cowboys beat Baylor tomorrow.  Texas plays Kansas, so the Horns won’t earn much there.

LSU/Florida Series Recap and Preview

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

Utah St.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florida Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LSU/FLORIDA SERIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chart of recent games

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 6 Rankings and Comments

In College Football, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on October 6, 2019 at 1:43 PM

I didn’t get around to posting a mid-week blog last week, but I may have a couple of them this week. I forgot to link them last week, but I’ve published my computer ratings for the second time this season. Maybe it’s good that I didn’t link them, because I had made a couple of mistakes that I’ve since caught.

It wasn’t the most eventful week.  Thirty-four teams had the week off.  There were a couple of losses by mid-range top-25 teams, but they were conference road games.  None were particularly shocking.  There was also the Auburn-Florida game.  Most people I saw picked Auburn, but I don’t think anyone was too shocked Florida won. 

In the late game, Stanford beat Washington.  I found out that Stanford’s kicker is named Jet Toner, which sounds like printer ink.  Anyone can beat anyone in the Pac-12 it seems, but Oregon is still probably the best bet to compete for a playoff spot since the Ducks have no conference losses.  The Rose Bowl is not a semifinal this year, so the Pac-12 champion is guaranteed at least that.

Anyway, the main tricky team I got in the computer was Auburn, and that was largely because the Florida loss barely damages the Tigers right now.  As an opponent, Florida is overrated in my system at the moment because their two games against FCS opponents don’t damage the strength of schedule.  As a team, they don’t get much credit for those two games though.  That’s why the computer doesn’t put the Gators ahead of Auburn even though they’re one of the “best losses” possible.  It will be fairer if Florida loses because then the Gators will be harmed in winning percentage (4-1 is a lower percentage than 6-1, but 5-0 isn’t a lower percentage than 7-0).

LB Jonathan Greenard and the Gators defense had an easier time than expected keeping Auburn quarterback Bo Nix from doing a lot of damage (in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday). We will see how they do against LSU QB Joe Burrow in Baton Rouge next Saturday night.

I tinkered with a few different ideas of addressing this before deciding that I would just move Auburn down the normal variation I allowed myself for this week, which is four spots.  There were more undefeated teams I wanted to put ahead of Auburn, but I don’t think numbers 7 to 10 would beat Auburn anyway. 

Clemson is still in the top 3 in the computer formula with three wins against the top 60, so I still don’t think it makes sense to make a change.  Ohio St. has more impressive wins so far, but there isn’t the kind of signature win that justifies becoming #1 in my mind. Maybe Wisconsin in a couple of weeks will do it, depending on how the SEC sorts itself out by then.

Although I tried to stay within the four spots, I did make a few exceptions based on losses (or lack thereof).  

I liked that there was a group of undefeated teams followed by a group of one-loss teams (with Oklahoma thrown in… see below), so I didn’t think it made sense to put Oregon ahead of more undefeated teams, especially now that the team they lost to has a loss itself. So I moved the Ducks one extra spot down.

I moved Oklahoma one extra spot up because I think the Sooners should be ahead of Texas since they’re undefeated.  If the Longhorns are better, they don’t have to wait long to prove it on the field.  Switching them before the game doesn’t accomplish anything. 

Third, I excluded Washington from the top 25 despite a computer rank of 20th.  If you’ve lost 40% of the FBS games you’ve played (to teams with 3 losses combined), that’s not top-25-worthy even with a good schedule.  Again, it’s a problem that can be easily rectified on Saturday. If they beat Arizona (#27 in the computer formula), they’ll be in.  If not, they won’t be.

Stanford K Jet Toner was responsible for 11 of the Cardinal’s 23 points against Washington Saturday night. Stanford dominated in both time of possession total yards largely due to the success of RB Cameron Scarlett (not pictured).

Michigan St. did take the last spot despite two losses, but I think 4-2 vs. FBS (which is what Washington would be with a win on Saturday) is easier to justify than 3-2 with an FCS win.  Also, one of the Spartans’ losses is to the computer #1.  The Huskies’ better loss is to #31.

As for undefeated teams, Memphis, Baylor, and Minnesota all joined the top 25 by virtue of being undefeated.  All the teams who fell out of the top 25 lost on Saturday.  Colorado fell the most spots, but that was partly due to Air Force’s loss to Navy. Michigan and Cincinnati moved back into the top 25 despite earlier losses.  Ohio St. and Wisconsin are two of the top four teams in the computer formula though, so I didn’t see those respective losses as a reason to keep the Wolverines or Bearcats out.  Both had decent wins over the weekend.  Michigan beat Iowa; and Cincinnati beat Central Florida.

A few teams have been seesawing, such as LSU (from 4th to 14th and back up to 3rd) and Notre Dame (from 25th to 7th and back down to 16th), but that’s part of the volatility that takes place in the first weeks of the transition to the computer system.  It’s also partly mistakes on my part in anticipating what the computer formula will do.

LSU gained from beating Utah St., which isn’t a bad team; but Georgia Southern finally won a game, so that gives the Tigers more credit for that win (so it was like two wins in one week).  The Tigers also benefited from the rule changes I made to my top 25.  Georgia and Alabama were too far back in the computer formula, and Auburn lost, so that accounts for all three spots that I moved the Tigers from the computer formula.  This had minimal affect on the ranking, but I also feel like LSU addressed some of its issues in the way it played against Utah St.  I’m less impressed by some of the other undefeateds.  I’ll write more about LSU later in the week.

We will know more about a lot of teams this weekend, not just LSU.  Hopefully that will clarify things and help limit the erratic movements from week to week. 

rankteamlast
1Clemson1
2Ohio St.5
3LSU14
4Alabama2
5Florida15
6Auburn4
7Wisconsin9
8SMU11
9Georgia3
10Boise St.6
11Penn St.17
12Wake Forest8
13Memphis
14Oregon18
15Arizona St.10
16Notre Dame7
17Oklahoma21
18Texas25
19Baylor
20Michigan
21Hawaii24
22Appalachian19
23Minnesota
24Cincinnati
25Michigan St.13

Out of top 25: (12) Colorado, (16) Washington, (20) UC-Berkeley, (22) Oklahoma St., (23) Iowa

Week 5 Rankings and Comments

In College Football, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 29, 2019 at 3:16 PM

This is the first week that I have published my computer rantings; but as I mentioned I did some trial runs before.  I won’t be following the order too closely for now, but that will partly explain some teams that may be in surprising places.

Part of the transition from subjective to objective rankings (for this year anyway) is a strict rule that the ranking of a given team can only vary 6 spots from the computer formula.  For instance, Georgia and Washington were 9 and 10, but they ended up 3 and 16. Likewise, teams that started 13 spots apart could be one spot.  If 6 seems like an arbitrary number, it is. I wanted the flexibility to put a team like Oklahoma with no losses ahead of a team like Oklahoma St. with a loss to Texas, whom I was barely able to include in the top 25. I had to leave Berkeley ahead of the Sooners though.

For now I’m keeping the top 5 the same as I had it last week, but I probably won’t next week even if none of them lose. I will give myself less leeway to deviate from the computer, and I expect at least Alabama to have a lower computer rating due to missing out on points entirely during the bye week.

North Carolina had no chance of getting what would have been the go-ahead two-point conversion try in Chapel Hill on Saturday.

Partly because margin of victory for the most-part doesn’t factor into my philosophy (except to fill in the gaps early on and except for certain narrow home victories), I am keeping Clemson #1.  I need some pretty strong evidence a team is the best to make a change at #1; it’s not purely about who had the best 5 weeks and picking a team in a vacuum.  The other candidates don’t have the quality wins necessary yet.  Georgia, with the win over Notre Dame, had the best argument on paper; but their second-best win is Arkansas St., so that doesn’t do it for me.  Alabama hasn’t beaten anyone in the computer top 50, and that may not even change if they beat Texas A&M.in two weeks.  Alabama and Clemson are a much closer 1 and 2 to other teams than earlier in the season, but I’m giving it another week.

Outside of the top 3, Auburn still has too many question marks despite being the computer #1.  Ohio St. is also up there, but the Buckeyes need a better win than Cincinnati (I never bought into the Nebraska hype, and neither does the computer). 

I decided to leave Boise St. ahead of Notre Dame.  While the Irish have the better win against an ACC team (since Virginia beat Florida St.), the Broncos beat Air Force. Notre Dame’s second-best win is over Louisville.  The Irish also have a loss, but I think Boise St. would have also lost, so that wasn’t a major factor.

Arizona St. (which beat Cal Friday in Berkeley) might not have an impressive offense, but the Sun Devils have had two impressive road wins with ball control and defense.

There are some unexpected teams after that.  Arizona St.’s being 2-1 against the top 20 with a third OK FBS win (over Kent St., whose only other loss is to Auburn) is pretty good right now.  Wake Forest is undefeated and didn’t come as close to losing to UNC as Clemson did.  SMU is also undefeated with a win over TCU.  Colorado beat Arizona St. but lost to Air Force.  More on the Falcons below.  Michigan St. lost to Arizona St. but has three fairly decent wins.  Appalachian St. is undefeated and also beat UNC more easily than Clemson did.  Berkeley is 1-1 against the computer top 10 with no other losses, so that was as low as I could put them.

I could have ranked Air Force and Virginia, but I preferred to keep undefeated Iowa and one-loss Texas.  Although LSU hasn’t had depth in its schedule yet, I think the Tigers look like a better team than Boise St. or Notre Dame.  Also, the Longhorns beat a better team (Oklahoma St.) than anyone Virginia beat. Air Force did beat Colorado, but I want to see if they can follow that up with anything before I kick Texas or someone who hasn’t lost out of the top 25. In the next five weeks, the Falcons play Navy, Hawaii, Utah St., and Army.

Not only did Kansas St. lose to Oklahoma St., but the Wildcats’ win over Mississippi St. lost its luster when the Bulldogs got blown out by Auburn.  So Virginia and Kansas St. are the only two teams to fall out from last week.

Hawaii’s Cedric Byrd II celebrates one of two touchdown catches in Reno on Saturday.

I had to rank Hawaii due to the six-spot rule, but I think the Warriors deserve it.  In addition to blowing out Nevada on the road Saturday, they’ve played three Pac-12 teams and only lost to Washington.  Oregon St., as usual, isn’t good; but the Beavers gave Stanford a game.  Arizona hasn’t lost to anyone else yet, although UCLA gave them a scare.

Speaking of the Pac-12, that conference has the highest computer rating per team.  There aren’t any undefeated teams, so the Pac-12 is outnumbered in the top 10 by the SEC.  However, the Pac-12 has more teams in the top 25 and doesn’t have as many teams below 100.  The SEC leads 3-1 in the latter category (Vanderbilt, Arkansas, and Tennessee against just UCLA). 

Top 25

rankteamlast
1Clemson1
2Alabama2
3Georgia3
4Auburn4
5Ohio St.5
6Boise St.7
7Notre Dame25
8Wake Forest9
9Wisconsin13
10Arizona St.22
11SMU11
12Colorado20
13Michigan St.23
14LSU10
15Florida6
16Washington21
17Penn St.14
18Oregon24
19Appalachian16
20UC-Berkeley8
21Oklahoma19
22Oklahoma St.
23Iowa18
24Hawaii
25Texas15

Out of rankings: (12) Virginia, (17) Kansas St.

Saban in Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Reactions

In College Football, General LSU, History on September 25, 2019 at 4:15 PM

This started out as an afterthought, but I can get on a roll when it comes to media people not doing their jobs well and narratives getting out of control. I was going to write something else for my midweek blog, but I changed my mind.

If you didn’t hear, Nick Saban will be inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. You can follow the link for his quotes; he seems genuinely grateful.

Nick Saban holds the BCS Championship “crystal ball” after the Sugar Bowl in January 2004. Saban would leave LSU for the Dolphins 368 days later.

I’m OK with it, although he was barely even eligible since he only lived and worked in Louisiana about 5 years total. 

The reason for the rant is the local sports media sounds really dumb when they write and talk about it.  I’m reminded of all the journalists who were so sure Miles was going to Michigan (more than once in some cases), then they were so sure Jimbo was replacing Miles (even if they weren’t sure about Jimbo, there were sure that A&M game was Miles’ last), then they were so sure Jimbo was replacing Orgeron, and then they were so sure Herman was replacing Orgeron (or at least there was an agreement in principle).

I wanted to dissect this column from Glenn Guilbeau. You can see that link for more quotes; but it was quotes from Guilbeau, not Saban, that bothered me.

What I don’t like is the idea that LSU was some kind of toxic wasteland that he arrived in and that everything that happened for the five years after he left was inevitable.

Saban won as many games in his last two seasons (which were half a game from being his best two seasons and which included the national championship) as Miles won in his first two seasons (which did not include the national championship, and neither of which was in the top two of Miles’ seasons). Guilbeau says Saban “set LSU up” for the 2007 national championship, which was three years after he left. That’s three years of practices, three recruiting cycles, three seasons of games coached that Saban had nothing to do with.

But everything was just “set up” for Miles to just a national championship in 2007. I understand making that argument about Larry Coker, who won 24 consecutive games to start his career, but his third season was a modest 9-3 and he went downhill from there. I’ll write more below about how you don’t really get an idea of what kind of coach someone is in two seasons.

Gerry DiNardo (left) chats with Les Miles. This was probably in the lead-up to the 2011 BCS Championship game that the Tigers lost to Saban’s Tide.

This is the part that started to get under my skin: ” after what he inherited – a program that had losing seasons in eight of the previous 11 years and lost 10 straight SEC games in 1998 and ’99 under Coach Gerry DiNardo,…”

None of that is false, but it is misleading. That makes you think there were only a few random winning seasons sprinkled in and there wasn’t a dramatic change in the middle of those 11 seasons.  That doesn’t make you think all three of those winning seasons were within the five years before Saban arrived. 

It wasn’t just Guilbeau. I’ve also heard others, most recently T-Bob Hebert echo similar sentiments. He wrongly said there had been 7 losing seasons in 8 years. He remembered the number 8 I guess; but it shows that the impression is there were only a few lonely winning seasons, not some recent group of winning seasons.

I take more issue with Gulbeau’s conclusion of the last quote: “whose (DiNardo’s) roster was depleting of talent and numbers.”

Yes, there was a conference losing streak under DiNardo, and it seemed the team lost confidence; but LSU easily beat a ranked Arkansas team in the season finale (under and interim coach) in 1999 to end that losing streak. Also, if you look at the streak, the Tigers were in a lot of close games against good teams. Five of those 10 losses were to winning teams AND by less than a touchdown (including 10-win Mississippi St. and Alabama teams in 1999). The following were not part of the streak, but in 1998 there was also a 1-point loss to Georgia and a 3-point loss to Notre Dame. Both the Irish and the Bulldogs would finish 9-3.

The Bulldogs celebrate after a controversial touchdown gave #11 Mississippi St. a one-point win at home in October 1999. State would win the SEC West, and DiNardo would lose his remaining games.

So Saban did great with what he got (as did Miles), don’t get me wrong; but he didn’t take over a team full of chumps who didn’t have the talent to keep up with many of the best teams in the SEC.  It wasn’t hard for a guy like Saban to look at LSU and see 3 or 4 wins a season in those last two years that DiNardo had left on the field. If you want to give him credit for what came after him, then you need to give Gerry DiNardo credit for giving Saban something to work with.  If Saban had taken over for someone like Hallman (DiNardo’s predecessor) or the transfer rules were as they are now, Saban might not have ever won an SEC championship not to mention a national championship at LSU.  He might not have even come to LSU.  Michigan St. might have been a better opportunity to do something nationally.  Maybe he goes to Miami or Alabama directly from there.

Even factoring in those disappointing 1998 and 1999 seasons, DiNardo’s teams still had an average of 6.6 wins and 4.8 losses.  That’s in contrast to the previous six seasons where there was an average of 4.17 wins and 6.17 losses.  It wasn’t night and day when Saban showed up either.  His first season wasn’t as good as the 1996 or 1997 seasons. Neither was his third season.  Even his SEC championship 2001 season (his second) wasn’t as good as DiNardo’s best season (which was his third).  Saban averaged 8.67 wins and exactly 4 losses in his first three years; so it was another step up, but it wasn’t a giant leap from the basement to the ceiling.  It was only the fourth and fifth years where you got a big contrast between the two coaches. 

This part infuriated me: “Miles failed in his first two seasons to get the most out of the tremendous amount of talent he inherited.”

Not in 2001, but certainly by 2004 Saban was responsible for the level of talent that was on the team. He won 9 games. The great Saban 9 games in the 2004 season. Miles comes in and wins 11. Failed? Are you joking? Then he does it again the next year, winning the Sugar Bowl. Another failure! Then he goes 12-2 with a national championship in his third season. Ah, that was all due to Saban!

Let’s compare Florida, which had to replace a couple of really successful coaches lately. Urban Meyer took over about 3 years after Spurrier left, but there was still a good amount of residual talent. He improved as many games in his first season as Miles did, and surely it’s harder to improve from 9 wins to 11 than 7 wins to 9. What a failure!

Urban Meyer (with Chris Leake) in 2005.

That’s sarcasm, but I can agree it’s a failure when Florida went from just under 10 wins a season (in Spurrier’s last 5 years) to just under 8 (in Zook’s 3 seasons. Another example of a failure is when Florida fell from 43 wins in 4 seasons (almost 11 wins per year) under Meyer to only 28 wins (7 per year) under Muschamp. Then it’s fair to say you weren’t getting the most out of your talent because talent doesn’t evaporate that quickly.

Any team could theoretically have done better, certainly including all of Saban’s teams. I mentioned Ron Zook. Why did Saban lose to Ron Zook at home with his best team? I guess he failed to get the most of his talent that season and every other, right? That’s just a ridiculously condescending statement.

Les admittedly hit a lull in his fourth and fifth years (dropping from an average of 11.33 wins to an average of 8.50 wins); but then in the next three seasons, he got the average (in those seasons, not his average at the school) back up to 11.33.  So Miles followed his own 9-win season with just as much success over the following three seasons as he had in the three seasons following Saban’s 9-win season in 2004.  Saban definitely helped for 2005 to 2007, but how do you give Saban credit for 2010 to 2012? 

Actually if he weren’t a couple of states away, we win two more games in that span for an average of 12 wins even (not to mention a win each in 2008 and 2009… we almost beat Alabama in those years even with Saban).  When Saban was at LSU, he didn’t have someone like Saban at Alabama he had to coach against every year.    He did get his butt kicked twice in his first 16 LSU games by Spurrier, but that was years after Spurrier had won a national championship and he would not win another.  Those two Florida teams went a combined 20-5, so that falls short of recent Alabama quality anyway.

That leads me to another point about how much more competitive the SEC became between when Saban started at LSU and when Miles was still early in his tenure. Saban was the only SEC coach in his 5 years at LSU to even play for a national championship. Miles had had to deal with three national-championship Alabama teams (one of whom he coached against twice), a playoff-qualifying Alabama team, a fifth Alabama team that was undefeated through 12 games, two Florida national championship teams, a third Florida team that went 13-1, a national-championship Auburn team, and a national runner-up Auburn team. I know this is over more seasons for Miles, but it’s no comparison