theknightswhosay

Posts Tagged ‘Auburn’

Final Top 25 of 2018 Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final SEC Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 10 (Including LSU)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rest of the Top 25

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

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

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

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

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

Top 25 List

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

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

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

Advertisements

The Truth about the SEC and Coach O

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

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

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

SEC Teams and Bowl Games

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coach O and LSU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rivalries and Coaching Carousels

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ed Orgeron walks off the field for the last time as Ole Miss head coach after losing in the Egg Bowl on November 23, 2007.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 12: Not Rivalry Week Yet

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

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

The Former Rivalry Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the SEC Schedule for Mid-November Deteriorated

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ole Miss-Vanderbilt Headlines This Week’s SEC Schedule

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

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

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

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

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

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

LSU and Rice Renew a Rivalry Few Missed

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

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

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

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

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

Betting Line & LSU Offense vs. Alabama Defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preview of Miss. St. at LSU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 25 after Week 7

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on October 14, 2018 at 2:26 PM

Since the top 25 will be almost purely mathematical from now on (I do have three paragraphs about the changes I made to the top 7), I plan to talk more about what happened on the field Saturday than why I like one team better than another.

LSU-Georgia and Comparisons

I wrote extensively about the 2003 game, LSU’s previous home win over Georgia, in my update to the LSU-Georgia Series Blog (since updated to add the result), so it was interesting to see the Advocate’s Scott Rabalais bring that game up here. That was one of the top games in the rivalry in my opinion because at that time they were the last two SEC champions facing off, and it was the first time either team faced opposing head coaches Nick Saban and Mark Richt, respectively. Also, LSU was one of only two teams to beat the Bulldogs that year (which they did twice). Both teams lost to Florida, who somehow lost 5 games on the season; but LSU would win the BCS national championship in the following January.

It’s funny how the start of games can be so different from the way they play out. I almost feel bad for Georgia fans, because I would have been really frustrated. I don’t have to think back very far to recall such a feeling.

After LSU took a 3-0 lead, Georgia took the field and was able to run on LSU almost at will after Florida ran for over 200 yards against the Tigers the week before. I thought it was going to be a long day. Then one running play didn’t work out for the Bulldogs setting up a 2nd and 9, and they largely gave up on the run.

Two incompletions followed, and then on 4th and 9 they ran a fake kick. They gave up on Holyfield and Swift and flipped the ball to Rodrigo Blankenship? That was one of the dumbest set of downs I’ve seen from a major program this year. The Bulldogs didn’t run the ball the next possession either, a three and out. By this time LSU led 13-0. In the next 3 runs the Bulldogs averaged 4.3 yards, but I guess the scoreboard kept them from committing to the run in any kind of consistent way. Georgia ran for 71 yards in the drive that set up the fake field goal (before the lost yardage on the fake) and ended up with only 113 rushing yards for the game, but to be fair a few good runs were canceled out by negative plays.

In LSU’s game at Florida, the Tigers were doing great on both sides of the ball early on. The Tigers had one touchdown drive to start up 7-0. The Gators got one first down on their next drive but stalled immediately afterward. Then LSU took only 5 plays to get down to the Florida 28, and Burrow fumbled it on first down. The Tigers didn’t establish that kind of rhythm again the rest of the game. Even in the only other touchdown drive, it was only four plays and 78 of the 80 yards came on two runs by Nick Brossette, so that’s not really what I’d call a rhythm.

Here is the Mississippi St. rivalry blog if you want to look ahead to that game. It’s not talked about as much as some other series, but LSU has actually played more games against Mississippi St. than any other opponent. Something else I just noticed is LSU’s next three opponents will all be coming off of bye weeks.

Georgia QB Jake Fromm (being pressured by LSU LB Devin White) completed only 47% of his passes, significantly reduced from his previous season average of 73%.

Other Games Saturday

Another thing that had made me a little nervous at the early going of the Georgia game was the way Auburn and Florida had looked against Tennessee and Vanderbilt, respectively. Auburn lost, but Vanderbilt had led Florida 21-3 before losing 37-27.

I guess we’re just at the time of the season that you can’t really take anything from one week to the next as teams get into the heart of their conference schedules. No conference punishes you the way the SEC does if you don’t get up for a given game, but we still saw teams like West Virginia and U. Miami lose road games that on paper they should have won.
I mentioned Auburn and U. Miami, who both lost, but there was another prior LSU opponent who almost lost as well. That was Ole Miss, who really seemed down and out. The Rebels missed a field goal with 13:47 left in the game while down 9.

Arkansas did a good job running the clock and setting up disadvantageous field positions for the Rebels, but the Razorbacks didn’t score again. Ole Miss took advantage with 84- and 97-yard touchdown drives in the final 7 minutes. Arkansas will attempt to end its 6-game losing streak next week against Tulsa before facing Vanderbilt, another victim of a significant comeback. The Razorbacks will have a bye week before hosting LSU on November 9.

Other than the WVU-Iowa St. and U. Miami-Virginia games I referred to earlier, I can’t tell you too much about the non-SEC games. Notre Dame didn’t look very impressive in the quarter or so I watched against Pitt; but as usual the Irish were just good enough to beat a lesser opponent. I only watched Washington-Oregon briefly. I can’t stand watching defenses who can’t tackle.

I was going to turn on Michigan-Wisconsin after the SEC games, but it was already a blowout. I don’t understand how that game was chosen over LSU. The best team Michigan beat was Maryland, the only team Wisconsin beat that wasn’t terrible was Iowa, and both teams had losses (Wisconsin’s was to BYU). At least Lee Corso looks dumb, not that it was the first time.

Top 25 Comments

I’m keeping Alabama #1 for this week, but there is a good chance I will replace the Tide next week if Clemson wins (against N.C. St.) and becomes the computer #1 over idle Notre Dame. It’s not that Bama isn’t playing well; but they haven’t played any of the top 9 teams (in my opinion including non-conference games) in the SEC, and their only game in the next two weeks is against Tennessee. The Vols just beat Auburn; but being that it was their first SEC win since 2016, they’re not one of the top 9 teams in the SEC either. The Tide also don’t have a non-conference win that does them much good: Bama’s three opponents are only a combined 5-11 in FBS play, and two of them play in the Sun Belt.

The only other change from the computer was to move Ohio St. up two spots to be ahead of Texas and Florida. Texas did lose to a Big Ten team after all. I didn’t want to move the Buckeyes higher since they really haven’t played anyone… anyone who didn’t just lose to Michigan St. anyway. Ohio St. belonged ahead of LSU going into the week even though my computer didn’t have them ahead, but with the win (and Penn St.’s loss) LSU is now 3-1 against teams in my top 40 when Ohio St. hasn’t played any of those teams. LSU has beaten 5 teams in the top 65 to Ohio St.’s 2; so however you look at it, I think LSU’s quality wins overcome the one loss at this point. It helps Ohio St. a little bit that the Buckeyes haven’t played an FCS opponent, but still for Ohio St. to be 96th in FBS strength of schedule and for LSU to be 3rd explains how LSU can afford a loss.

Florida did beat LSU and has a better loss than Texas, which is why they’re ahead of the Longhorns; but I didn’t think the Gators had the quality wins to overcome the loss to Kentucky. LSU and Mississippi St. are the only top-50 wins according to my computer rankings. One of those two will lose value next week since they play one another, and Florida will lose value since they have the week off. It just makes sense to keep Ohio St. ahead for now when most likely Florida will fall next week anyway. Texas is off next week as well.

Top 25

rank/team/prev.

1 Alabama 1
2 Notre Dame 2
3 Clemson 3
4 LSU 6
5 Ohio St. 5
6 Florida 7
7 Texas 8
8 Oklahoma 11
9 NC State 10
10 Kentucky 9
11 Michigan 12
12 Stanford 17
13 Duke 15
14 Georgia 4
15 Iowa 21
16 Cincinnati 25
17 San Diego St. 23
18 S Florida 14
19 Army —
20 C. Florida 22
21 Maryland —
22 Miss. St. —
23 W. Virginia 13
24 Washington 16
25 Utah —

Out of Top 25: (18) U. Miami, (19) S Carolina, (20) Penn St., (24) Wisconsin

Georgia-LSU Series and Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LSU-Florida Series and Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FPI and my thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

Recent history against Florida and LSU at 5-0

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 25 after Week 4

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game on September 23, 2018 at 1:21 PM

LSU had a good first 22 minutes and a good fourth quarter against Louisiana Tech, but it’s concerning to give up 21 consecutive points to two opponents in a row.

Apart from the touchdown drive at the end of the first half against Southeastern (SLU), LSU has not played well around halftime and the third quarter in any of its first four games.

The Tigers were way out in front of U. Miami and SLU; but in the case of U. Miami, ending a game with no touchdowns in your last 8 drives (not counting the kneel-down at the end) isn’t desirable in my opinion no matter what the score is. LSU may have been shut out in the second half against SLU if they had not recovered a fumble at the SLU 18 late in the fourth quarter.

The troubles started against Auburn after about a quarter and a half instead of two quarters, and that’s the same thing that happened against the Bulldogs on Saturday. We were up 24 against the Bulldogs instead of the 10-point lead at Auburn, but the play from that point until the fourth quarter was similar with identical results (outscored 21-0 in both instances). So there is a wide range of teams that could blow out LSU if the Tigers were to play like that for a full game. To look on the bright side, LSU could probably beat anyone if they eliminate that mid-game lag.

If the Tigers don’t play better, they may well lose the next game against Ole Miss. See here for more about that rivalry.

That said, I don’t see anyone other than LSU I want to put #4. Clemson’s game against Texas A&M and Oklahoma’s game against Army were more concerning, and no one has the pair of top-10 wins the Tigers have.

I thought about dropping Ohio St. due to not having played anyone except a team that just got beaten soundly by Texas, but I may have gotten some flak if the first three teams were all in the SEC. The Buckeyes’ strength of schedule should improve significantly in the next two weeks though, so I’ll leave them where they are for now.

Army’s ground game and ball control were almost enough to beat Oklahoma in Norman on Saturday.

I know I ranked Army #25 last week, but that’s not really a good excuse for Oklahoma to go into overtime against the Knights/Cadets at home. After an uninspired win at Iowa St. the week before, I’m not really feeling the Sooners right now. I’m phasing out the feeling element of this as I always do in late September, but going solely by the numbers wouldn’t even put OU in the top 10. I haven’t been impressed with other Big XII teams either, but the toughest games may be away from home: TCU, Texas Tech, West Virginia, and Texas (in Dallas). The remaining home schedule is Baylor, Kansas St., Oklahoma St., and Kansas.

Auburn didn’t do anything wrong; but even assuming they win next week, 3 of their four wins will be Alabama St. (who has lost by at least 34 to every Division I opponent), Arkansas (who probably still won’t have any FBS wins), and Southern Mississippi (whose only FBS win is over Rice). It’s just time to start factoring in strength of schedule more. Auburn has Georgia and Alabama later of course, but they won’t get credit until they play one of them.

Central Florida, the (AU) Tigers’ opponents in the Peach Bowl, and Michigan were even further from a ranking in my formula, so they dropped more.

Mississippi St. lost to a team I already had ranked, so I thought a 10-spot drop was enough even though the Bulldogs are also not on my computer list.

After that, I knew which teams I wanted to rank (they were all selected from the top 25 of my computer), but when I couldn’t decide the order, I just ranked them by how good the teams who beat them are. For instance, Texas Tech and Maryland (which beat Texas before the Longhorns’ big wins of the past two weeks) had lost to unranked teams. Ole Miss (which beat Texas Tech) has only lost to Alabama, and Temple (which beat Maryland) lost two games, one of which was to Villanova—and it wasn’t in basketball—so that was pretty easy to sort out. I think Oklahoma St. lost to a better team than Texas Tech did, but I couldn’t put the Cowboys ahead of a team who just beat them 41-17 in Stillwater.

The five teams that are in the computer top 25 but not in this one are (in order): Buffalo (beat Temple; see above for discussion about Maryland and Texas), Indiana (lost to Michigan St. but is the only team to beat Virginia), Michigan St. (beat Indiana, although the Spartans lost to Arizona St.), San Diego St. (beat Arizona St., only loss is to Stanford), and North Carolina St. (nothing too special, but they are the only team to have beaten James Madison or Marshall; they play Virginia next).

San Diego St. has a bye week, so they will be staying out; but any of the others could make it in by winning. I know it sounds silly, but this is especially true of Buffalo, which plays Army. Who knew New York could field decent college football teams, not to mention (possibly) three of them? The third is undefeated Syracuse, who fell just a few spots outside of the top 25 and will attempt to beat Clemson for the second year in a row on Saturday.

rank/team/prev.
1 Alabama 1
2 Georgia 2
3 Ohio St. 3
4 LSU 5
5 Stanford 6
6 Oklahoma 4
7 Clemson 7
8 Notre Dame 12
9 Penn St. 11
10 Auburn 9
11 Duke 15
12 Kentucky 24
13 UC-Berkeley 18
14 BYU 19
15 Wisconsin 20
16 UCF 13
17 Michigan 14
18 Miss. St. 8
19 S Carolina —
20 U. Miami —
21 Washington —
22 Texas —
23 Texas Tech —
24 Okie St. 10
25 Maryland —

Out of Top 25:
(16) Minnesota, (17) Iowa, (21) Boise St., (22) TCU, (23) Indiana, (25) Army