theknightswhosay

Posts Tagged ‘Bear Bryant’

Week 2 Rankings with Recap and LSU Thoughts

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 6, 2016 at 10:01 PM

NOTE: Since I did not post this until late Tuesday and did not share widely until midday Wednesday, I’m delaying my SEC Review/Preview to Friday.  When I said it would be on Thursday, I did not realize there were no games on Thursday this week.

I know this isn’t the optimal time to post this, but I promised to get it done tonight.

On one of the sites where I post my blogs, I got a request to compare my preseason rankings (which, just to avoid confusion, are not part of my formula and on which I generally only spend two to three hours every offseason, especially in recent years) to results. I’ve added into my last blog a summary of the post-2014 blog and also a short comparison between my 2015 preseason top 25 and the AP preseason top 25. I didn’t do a blog with any such comparisons after last season. I meant to, but I wrote a series of blogs about the NFL relocating to Southern California and did not get around to it.

While on the subject, I am also glad, at least for the moment, that I did not rank Notre Dame in my preseason top 25. So I’m happy with the results of the two Texas games. Also, I thought I’d mention again that I did rank Wisconsin in the preseason top 25. I think it’s silly that 2 points better than LSU on the field puts them 12 spots ahead of LSU in the polls now after LSU was 20+ spots ahead in preseason though. But I’ll get to my new top 25 at the end.

I’ll give details in my next blog on Thursday, but I also did very well with my predictions on SEC teams. The only real surprises were the LSU and Mississippi St. losses (though I picked those to be close, so I wasn’t completely shocked) and the margin of the Alabama win (I thought maybe somewhere between 7 and 21 points). Yesterday, I was surprised Ole Miss went out to such a big lead, but I was not surprised by the final score.

The SEC did have some losses, but Auburn, Ole Miss, and Missouri had no business beating their respective opponents. Kentucky should have been somewhat evenly matched, but you can rarely count on Kentucky to win a football game, especially not against a team who won 9 games last season.

sec football

Although the SEC only went 6-6 overall out of conference, it faced SEVEN non-conference Power-5 opponents (just as a reminder for the casual fans: those conferences are the ACC, Big XII, Big Ten, Pac-12, and SEC… with Notre Dame thrown in) and zero FCS opponents. Only three other conferences even faced 4 Power-5 opponents: the Pac-12 (2-2; lost to two SEC teams), the MAC (1-3; Western Michigan beat Northwestern for the only win), and the MWC (0-4).

If you’re wondering what happened to the other two SEC teams, Vanderbilt played South Carolina for the first intra-conference game, so in total 9 of the 14 SEC teams faced a Power-5 opponent in the first week.

I don’t want to talk about LSU too much since I covered them in the last blog and there are still my rankings to get to.

Les Miles mentioned that Ohio St. lost its first game a couple of years ago before winning the national championship. The SEC is harder to win than the Big Ten (at least in recent years), but I think this Wisconsin team is a lot better than that Virginia Tech team (and it was a much closer game), so you can’t count out LSU or some of the other teams with losses out.

ohio-st-virginia-tech

A late Va. Tech touchdown helps put away Ohio St. in Columbus in the opening game of the 2014 season.  The Buckeyes did not lose again until 11/21/2015.

The message boards would have a meltdown if they see me blame OC Cam Cameron instead of Les Miles, but I thought Cam needed to go last year, and I don’t think he could have supported my point better if he’d tried. They’re moving him back to the press box, but I think that’s just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic if the offense turns in another performance like this. At the end of last year, they thought putting him on the field was a great solution.

In my opinion, Cam just can’t develop a quarterback. He did well with Mettenberger, but that was a senior quarterback who had been through a couple of major SEC camps before (he started at Georgia). Anthony Jennings, since transferred, didn’t seem to improve much either. Part of it was the offensive line, but Harris didn’t look much better than he looked at Auburn in his first start a couple of years ago.

Les mentioned there were two drops that worsened Harris’s stats this time, but there were also a few passes that required an athletic play to catch. Also, I’m not sure if Les is counting as a drop one of the balls that was over the receiver’s head. Harris also threw a lot of two- and three-yard passes when a better quarterback might have completed 20- and 30-yard passes on the same plays.

Obviously, Cameron’s quarterbacks in the NFL weren’t anything close to high-school-level. It’s like taking a college professor and trying to put him in an eighth-grade classroom. It might not work too well even if he’s good at his job (the Ravens fired Cameron, but he did help get them to the playoffs en route to winning the Super Bowl, so make of that what you will).

There was also a problem with missed blocks on the offensive line – and Les is knowledgeable in that area – but I think a good coordinator will take some initiative. I doubt Les would have intervened if Cam had an idea of personnel changes or of plays to avoid because they weren’t being executed properly. There will be at least one change in the personnel as Josh Boutte is suspended for his late hit/cheap shot. I know what it is to be frustrated (and he possibly thought the play was still alive), but risking an injury to someone is a completely unacceptable way to express that, so I agree with the suspension.

linemen-wisc

LSU linemen barely even slow down the Wisconsin defense on a screen during a key third-down play.

Cameron is largely responsible for the presence of LSU’s backup Danny Etling, a Purdue transfer who started five games for the Boilermakers in 2014, so maybe if Etling starts playing, Cameron can finally prove me wrong. Of course that 2014 Ohio St. team I mentioned (they didn’t play Purdue that year) had to get a quarterback or two off the bench as well.

Harris dropped back 23 times, and there were 8 pass-blocking misses according to the Advocate’s Ross Dellenger. Watch the highlights (mostly Wisconsin highlights) on his Twitter feed, by the way. So many blocks and tackles that just weren’t made. The LSU players were in the right position most of the time, they just didn’t make the plays.

It reminds me of a Bear Bryant comment after a loss. A homer announcer said, “The Lord just wasn’t with us.” Bear said, “The Lord expects you to block and tackle.” (source)

So the defense doesn’t completely get off the hook. Wisconsin was in position to score a lot more points than they did due to some missed tackles, 10 of them in the first half. However, given the offensive ineptitude, they did an amazing job when they were backed up to get the game into halftime down only 6-0 and to give the offense a chance to win at the end.

Anyway, unlike the polls, I don’t like to move teams more than 10 spots unless they lost to someone completely off the board, which didn’t happen to anyone in my top 15. One of many boneheaded plays could have kept LSU from losing to Wisconsin, and a slight breeze or bump in the turf or holding error could have caused Wisconsin to miss the winning field goal. So I think separating them by one spot is reasonable at this time anyway.

I did give Ohio St. the full 10 spots even though as I said I’m not inclined to reward running up the score. I would have put the Buckeyes in the same spot had neither team scored after halftime when it was 35-10. I think a lot of teams who are up 35-10 at the half can score 70 if they really want to.

It’s just that many teams in the 10 spots above them did not play well at all. Arkansas won by 1 over an inexperienced Louisiana Tech team, USC got annihilated, Washington St. and Mississippi St. lost to directional teams most people haven’t heard of, and Michigan St. and Florida failed to impress against two teams that Bowling Green (Ohio St.’s opponent) probably would have been beaten comfortably. Akron finished 8-5 a year ago and lost to Bowling Green, 59-10. UMass, Florida’s opponent, lost to Bowling Green, 62-38, last year.

The two Texas teams beat in my opinion deserving top-30 teams (the pollsters thought they were a whole lot better than that), so that’s good enough for now. They jumped over the same teams Ohio St. jumped over.

Ole Miss didn’t really move because my estimation of the Rebels has not changed at all. I just wanted to give credit to those three teams, and three other teams fell below for obvious reasons.

Anyway, it’s even getting to many people’s bedtimes where I am now, so I’ll leave it at that. If you’re reading this in the morning, I may add pictures later.

rank/team/previous
1 Alabama 1
2 Florida St. 3
3 Clemson 5
4 Michigan 6
5 Okie St. 7
6 Utah 8
7 Iowa 9
8 Houston 18
9 Stanford 10
10 Georgia 12
11 Wisconsin 21
12 LSU 2
13 Oklahoma 4
14 Ohio St. 24
15 Texas A&M —
16 Texas —
17 Tennessee 11
18 Oregon 22
19 Florida 19
20 Mich. St. 20
21 N. Carolina 13
22 Arkansas 14
23 Ole Miss 23
24 TCU 25
25 USC 15

Out of rankings: (16) Wash. St., (17) Miss. St.

Rams, Raiders, and Relocation

In NFL on January 22, 2016 at 7:57 PM

I started this off with a couple of observations after watching the Jeff Fisher interview after a welcoming party for the Rams. I eventually got around to adding some other topics based on my knowledge of the NFL in the 1990s and since, including some of the major figures around both Fisher, the Rams organization, and relocation.

Jeff Fisher is from the Los Angeles area and actually coached the Rams as a defensive coordinator in 1991. After the Rams fell from 11-5 with a conference championship appearance in 1989 to 5-11 in 1990, Fisher’s hiring was directly overseen by the late owner Georgia Frontiere, and he was actually supposed to be the heir to John Robinson. However, rather than turning things around, the Rams got even worse, going just 3-13.

Robinson resigned, and Fisher was not retained by the new head coach Chuck Knox, the last to coach the Rams in Southern California (Knox also coached the Rams from 1973 to 1977 when they were actually in Los Angeles).

This page chronicles Fisher’s experience with the Rams during the 1991 season and in the immediate aftermath:

I couldn't find a picture of Fisher as an assistant coach, but this was just a few years before.

I couldn’t find a picture of Fisher as an assistant coach, but this was just a few years before.

After Knox also failed to turn things around (his best season was 6-10 in 1992), Frontiere would orchestrate the move to St. Louis, the city of her birth.

I had forgotten that Fisher was also the coach of the Oilers when they went through the relocation process (They initially moved to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis as a temporary location, but there was little local fan interest since they knew the Oilers would not be their team). He had taken Jack Pardee’s place as head coach during the 1994 season (he was retained despite a 1-5 record after Pardee had started 1-9) and moved with the team after the 1996 season.

To give some additional perspective to how long ago this was, when Fisher took the defensive coordinator job in Houston, he replaced Buddy Ryan, famous for coaching the great Bears defense 30 years ago (he also happens to be the father of Rex and Rob if you were wondering). Coincidentally, Fisher had played for Ryan in Chicago and worked as his assistant in Philadelphia.

I have another blog planned where I modify my position on realignment given the NFL’s relocation approval for the Rams (effective immediately) and the Chargers (which is undetermined and may not take place at all).

In looking at the map, I thought it was interesting that both the Rams and the Oilers (now Titans) moved to the same basic part of the country. More on that in a moment.

Fisher coached in that area 19 of the past 20 seasons (he did not coach in 2011), so he expressed some mixed feelings about the move. I thought it was decent of him to mention in local press conferences the fans that the team is leaving behind and how they got to enjoy two NFC Championships and a Super Bowl win.

The Rams’ 1999 Super Bowl (January 2000) win was over Jeff Fisher’s Titans.

The Rams made two other Super Bowls in franchise history: Super Bowl XIV in January 1980 when they lost to the Steelers (after what would be their last year in Los Angeles proper) and Super Bowl XXXVI in January 2002 when they lost to the Patriots (in the Patriots’ first Super Bowl win). The Rams last made the playoffs in 2004.

Between the Ohio River and the southern edge of the Florida panhandle and between the eastern border of Texas and the Atlantic Ocean, there was previously only one team, the Atlanta Falcons. So all of a sudden there were two teams between Kansas City and Atlanta in roughly neighboring fan areas.

The area that had no teams before  the 1990s relocation is covered by the black lines on the left.  The gray box that is added on the right adds the area that had only one team.

The area that had no teams before the 1990s relocation is covered by the black lines on the left. The gray box that is added on the right adds the area that had only one team.

I’m curious about how this played into fan support, financing, etc. It also could have had something to do with the NFL allowing the Rams to move back. Maybe the St. Louis market being unexploited doesn’t seem like such a problem with all the relatively close teams.

The two new teams to populate the greater area I mentioned before (but slightly to the east of Atlanta) were 1995 expansion teams Carolina and Jacksonville. Jacksonville was a surprise winner over St. Louis, Baltimore, and Memphis. In recent years, there have been rumors about the Jaguars possibly relocating, and St. Louis has been suggested as a possibility. Jacksonville is the fourth-smallest TV market in the NFL, ahead of only Green Bay (which was the only smaller market in 1995), Buffalo, and New Orleans.

St. Louis had given the Rams a very friendly lease before there was so much popular sentiment against public financing and of course before the global financial crisis that took place in 2008, the year of Frontiere’s death. Part of that agreement was for the city to maintain a top-tier stadium, meaning it had to be among the top 8 in the NFL even though St. Louis would have only been the 19th NFL TV market had the other Los Angeles stadium project been approved instead.

So the unwillingness/inability of St. Louis to do that does not, in my opinion, rule out potential relocation there by another franchise. Places like Houston, Baltimore, and Cleveland changed course after their original teams left (the current Browns team was really an expansion team even though we’re supposed to pretend it wasn’t), so the same could happen. Not that it would have to be in the top 8 (which shouldn’t be expected of a city that size anyway). It is concerning, however, that despite being in the middle of the pack in performance and despite the fans knowing relocation might be imminent, St. Louis was dead last in attendance in the NFL last year. More people per game went to see the Vikings, who play at a college stadium outdoors (which, to be fair, seems nice considering), even though there was room for 14,000 fewer people.

The view from the home plate side of Oakland Coliseum.  It is nostalgic to see a baseball diamond when you watch on TV, although it would annoy me as a fan.

The view from the home plate side of Oakland Coliseum. It is nostalgic to see a baseball diamond when you watch on TV, although it would annoy me as a fan.

On a related note, no one seems to care about the Raiders’ ongoing stadium problems. I guess the NFL still regards that franchise as the enemy even though Al Davis (the other owner who abandoned the L.A.) has also passed away. (Among many perceived slights to the league, Davis had moved the team to L.A. despite losing 22-0 when the proposal was submitted to the other owners.) USA Today technically ranked the Oakland Coliseum second to last, but the author wrote last place Soldier Field wasn’t really the worst but was being ranked last because it used to be nice. I’m sure that’s a comfort to the Raiders.

Ryan, Robinson, and Knox are all still alive and over 80 years old. Those guys were emblematic of football to me when I was young, so I’m happy to know they’re still around; and it was fun to refresh my memory of them.

Slightly less memorable was Pardee, who as an aside played for Bear Bryant at Texas A&M before being a Ram as a player. Unfortunately, he passed away a few days shy of his 77th birthday in 2013.

Other blogs related to Los Angeles relocation:
Before Announcement
After Announcement

History of Undefeated LSU vs. Alabama

In College Football, General LSU, History, Preview, Rivalry on October 30, 2015 at 2:57 PM

You can see the main entry of the LSU-Alabama rivalry here.

Alabama has beaten LSU 49 times with only 25 losses but has only beaten the Tigers twice at home this century.

I’ll just start by giving the list. I’ll fill in the blanks below. I’m excluding the times they played in the first few games. I’m including the couple of times LSU was undefeated in conference but not overall. The games at Alabama before 1988 were actually played in Birmingham.

1964 – @Alabama 17, LSU 9
1970* (undefeated in conference, not overall) – LSU 14, @Alabama 9
1972 – @Alabama 35, LSU 21
1973 – Alabama, 21, LSU 7
1982 – LSU 20, @Alabama 10
1984* (undefeated in conference, not overall) -LSU 16, @Alabama 14
1987* – Alabama 22, @LSU 10
2011* – LSU 9, @Alabama 6, ot
Jan. ’12* – Alabama 21, LSU 0

* = games when LSU had a higher ranking

Tenures of Coaches for Reference:
Bear Bryant 1958-82
Ray Perkins 1983-86
Bill Curry 1987-89
Nick Saban 2007-
Charles McClendon 1962-79
Jerry Stovall 1980-83
Bill Arnsparger 1984-86
Mike Archer 1987-90
Les Miles 2005-

Other Years Since 1958 with LSU Undefeated at the End of October:
1958 – stayed undefeated; national champions
1959 – lost to Tennessee by 1 in first week of November; lost Sugar Bowl
1962 – lost to Ole Miss by 8 in first week of November; won Sugar Bowl
1969 – lost to Ole Miss by 3 in first week of November; no bowl

Background

From talking to older fans, one might think LSU went undefeated several years in a row in the 60s and 70s only to lose to Alabama. That’s not what happened obviously, but I’ll try to explain why people think that.

I’m not going to get into detailed particulars of any games, just focus on the big picture of the seasons that are at least relevant to the time period.

A few years after LSU won its first recognized national championship in the poll era (and only before 2003), head coach Paul Dietzel left for Army. Hard to believe now, but Dietzel’s only coached three games against Alabama was in 7 seasons. He won all three.

Dietzel only coached against Bear Bryant in Bryant’s first game as head coach with Alabama. LSU won in Mobile, 13-3, actually not a bad result for the Tide being that this was the year of that LSU national championship I mentioned. Bama went 5-4-1 for its first winning season in five years

For the 18 seasons after Dietzel, Charles McClendon coached the Tigers. He’s still the winningest coach in LSU history, but he lacked any poll national championships and only won a single SEC title.

LSU had a number of good years, but shortly after Dietzel left and Alabama started to do well, LSU started playing Alabama every year. McClendon wasn’t winless against the Tide, but there was frequently a November hiccup against someone. I’ll cover the more interesting seasons.

There were a number of times in the late 60s and early 70s where ole miss was a big issue as well. LSU typically played the two in consecutive weeks, so this made it especially troublesome. See the Ole Miss blog for more, especially 1968 to 1972.

In 1962, LSU didn’t even play Alabama, but the Tigers did suffer their first loss in early November. That year it was Ole Miss. I wonder if people mix up Johnny Vaught (who also liked to wear suits and a hat and whose name is also on his team’s stadium now) with the Bear. Despite the loss, LSU is considered co-national champions by the Berryman system. Obviously I’m not counting that one as a major poll.

McClendon vs. Bryant

In 1964, Alabama derailed an LSU undefeated streak to start the season for the first time. The Tigers had tied Tennessee earlier though and would also lose to Florida before winning the Sugar Bowl over Syracuse. Alabama won the SEC but opted to play in the orange bowl instead.

LSU would also lose to Alabama the next four seasons but had lost at least twice before all four years.

1969 was much like 1962. LSU won every game until the first game of November against Ole Miss. Except this time the Tigers played and beat Alabama, the first win over the tide in 11 years.

The Tigers hoped to play in the cotton bowl for a potential claim on the national championship and refused all other invites. Instead notre dame decided at the last minute it wanted to go to a bowl game. So after one of the best LSU seasons in the last 50 years, the Tigers didn’t go to a bowl game at all.

LSU technically did not share the SEC championship since the Tigers only played five SEC games that season. This was shortly after Tulane left the SEC, and their spot remained on LSU’s schedule. SEC champion Tennessee had a blowout loss to Ole Miss, so they were apparently not considered title contenders.

LSU was not undefeated the next year against Alabama either, but they went (and stayed) undefeated in conference for McClendon’s only SEC championship. LSU had two non-conference losses though and also lost in the Orange Bowl.

In 1971, LSU lost early out of conference and lost to both Ole Miss and Alabama.

McClendon stayed at LSU until 1979, but in hindsight his last real chances to do anything were 1972 and 1973. This is why Alabama is usually brought up within seconds of his name being spoken among older LSU fans.

In 1972, LSU won in controversial fashion over Ole Miss 17-16 the previous week to remain undefeated. There were no heroics in Birmingham though, as #2 Alabama prevailed by 14. The Tigers would lose a bowl game to Tennessee to finish 9-2-1.

In 1973, LSU navigated all the non-conference traps including then-#10 Colorado but had only really been challenged in conference by Kentucky, with the Tigers winning by 7. Same result though. #2 Alabama again won by exactly two touchdowns.

LSU was apparently so disappointed that the next game they lost to Tulane for the first time since 1948. The Tigers would also lose the Orange bowl against Penn St. to finish 9-3.

McClendon would not beat Alabama again. Although his last team in 1979 was shut out, it held the #1 Tide to just a field goal.  There was some wind-driven dew causing inclement weather on the field though.

The 1980s

After McClendon, LSU hired Bo Rein, who tragically died in a plane crash before getting to coach the team. The Tigers turned to a loyal former player named Jerry Stovall, but he was an inconsistent coach.

So when the Tigers had the only really good start of his tenure (6-0-1), they went to #8 Alabama and won. Some may have thought happy days were in Baton Rouge again, but this feeling would be short-lived.

LSU would win a total of three games against top-10 teams that season (also Florida and Florida St.) but would lose to unranked Mississippi St. and Tulane (his second loss to them in a row) before losing in the Orange Bowl to Nebraska. The tie also came against an unranked team, Tennessee. Georgia, who LSU had not played, won the SEC.

After the Tigers went winless in the SEC the following year, defensive innovator Bill Arnsparger was at the helm in 1984. LSU once again beat Alabama in Birmingham but couldn’t win at Mississippi St. No more losses to Tulane to this day, but LSU did lose another Orange Bowl to finish 8-3-1. Florida, the team who tied LSU, would win the SEC, although the title was later vacated.

LSU lost early in Arnsparger’s other two seasons but tied Alabama in 1985 and beat them again in 1986. The ’86 win was the third road win in a row over the tide.

Between that 1969 season mentioned and Nick Saban’s first season in 2000 (in which LSU curiously lost to Alabama-Birmingham but beat the Tuscaloosa version), LSU did not beat Alabama at home even once.

In 1987, Arnsparger’s assistant Mike Archer took over. LSU was undefeated and untied in conference but had tied Ohio St. out of conference. Alabama won somewhat easily, 22-10, the Tigers’ only loss of the year. LSU finished 10-1-1 after winning the Gator Bowl.

Archer managed to win the SEC despite three non-conference losses the following year but couldn’t do much beyond that in the two losing seasons that followed.

The recent rivalry

Apart from those two games at the end of the list above, there isn’t much by way of undefeated LSU teams to talk about, but I thought I’d still tie up loose ends.

LSU only managed two winning seasons from 1989 to 1999. The longest LSU winning streak to start the season in that time was four games in 1996, so that didn’t come close to the Alabama game, but the Tide won 26-0 anyway. 1996 was one of only two 10-win LSU teams from 1962 to 2000.

The game has been in the first 16 days of November every year since 1982, so that limits the undefeated possibilities. Of course there are several examples of undefeated Alabama against LSU, and LSU has actually won a few of those in the last 20 years or so. That’s just obviously not the situation this year.

The intensity in the rivalry, despite a very entertaining overtime game in 2005, didn’t return to its prior levels until Saban took over in 2007. Although LSU won the national championship that year, the Tigers had lost to Kentucky in triple OT two games before the Alabama game.

Further evidence of the recent intensity is bye weeks. LSU had a bye before Alabama in 2007 and has had one from 2010 to at least 2016. Alabama has also typically had a bye before the LSU games. Their recent pre-LSU byes have been 2007, 2009-11, and 2013-2016 (and probably continuing afterward). Alabama won on the infamous screen pass in 2012 anyway.

2011 wasn’t that long ago, but that’s of course covered in my main rivalry entry.

Just as a side note, that weekend in 2011 was also one of the best of the history of this blog on WordPress and actually was the best full stop until last season when I got big boosts around the time of both Mississippi St. and Ole Miss.

Exorcise the Saban Ghost

In College Football, General LSU, History on November 19, 2014 at 3:03 PM

People talk about ghosts of Tiger Stadium (which turns 90 on Tuesday, by the way). Usually it’s positives like Billy Cannon’s Halloween Run in 1959, the 1988 Earthquake Game against Auburn, the five fourth-down conversions against Florida in 2007. There were a couple of other classics against those opponents and others.

There have also been negatives. One negative was when the Tigers went 30 years without a win against Alabama at home. Even though Bear was only there for about the first 1/3 of that time, it was like his ghost was still on the sidelines, pushing the Tide to victory in a way that it wasn’t even present in the state of Alabama.

Other than the national championship, one of the main things I’m grateful for from Saban’s tenure is the fact that he had two home wins over Alabama, the first of which ended that long streak. Neither win came against a great Alabama team, but that wasn’t important. Just like it wasn’t important how young this LSU team was or how well Ole Miss had played in previous games this season.

In January, it will have been ten years since Nick Saban coached an LSU team.

In January, it will have been ten years since Nick Saban coached an LSU team.

Under Miles, things against Alabama started even better. After winning two games over Mike Shula’s teams (I also find it kind of funny that Miami is the team Saban came from due to that last name), Miles won three of his first five games against Saban. If Miles had left after 7 seasons, he’d be known the guy who (unlike Saban) actually beat a number of good Alabama teams at LSU. (In addition to the three wins over Saban, LSU beat a previously unbeaten, 4th-ranked Alabama team in 2005.)

The ghost of Bear might be gone now, but now there is a living ghost in the collective psyche of LSU fans by the name of Nick Saban. Some still openly regret the fact that he’d left and wanted him to come back. I’ve heard from multiple sources there was a group of boosters who thought they could get Saban back if Miles were to leave. Others bitterly resent what they see as his betrayal of LSU by going to Alabama.

I believe like most supposedly supernatural phenomena, this ghost is present in our minds only to the extent we allow it to be, but it’s been really hard to shake since 1/9/12, that fateful day that ended what would have been LSU’s first undefeated season since 1958 (although LSU still won two more games in 2011 than it had in 1958). It also prematurely ended what should have been at least 24 consecutive months of bragging rights over the Tide and gave Alabama another national championship to rub everyone’s noses in.

To backtrack a bit, I want to note that very few people mind the fact that he went to Miami. He had rejected many NFL offers out of respect for LSU, and he was still of the age that it made sense to give it a try. Also Wayne Huizenga, the owner of the Dolphins, had bent over backwards to accommodate Saban’s every contractual demand.

The betrayal was going to Alabama. Alabama may not have ever put too much emphasis on beating LSU, but the same could not be said of LSU’s priorities. Of course, Alabama was not what it once was in 2007, but I think most LSU fans knew it would only be dormant for so long. For the catalyst of Alabama’s return to be Nick Saban was the ultimate slap in the face.

Both LSU and Michigan St. (his two stops before his brief experiment with NFL head coaching) fans took part in derogatory chants against Saban a couple of weeks ago. The Michigan St. fans did it when Chris Fowler interviewed Saban by satellite (if that’s even still the technology used), and the LSU fans did so in person when the Tide came to Tiger Stadium.

What annoys me more though is the perception by some that LSU and Michigan St. owe any success in the last few years to Saban. I wanted to set the record straight on some things, because Saban did not have anything close to the kind of improvement or level of consistency he’s had at Alabama since 2008.

I could probably write a book about all the things I like and don’t like about him and my observations of him as a person and a coach over the last 20 years (I clearly remember Michigan St. both before he took the job and during his time there), but I just want to focus on what exactly changed at Michigan St. and LSU when you look at the results on the field. I also want to consider the argument or suggestion that if he’d stayed at LSU, the LSU football team would be what Alabama has been over the last five seasons.

Saban’s last year at Michigan St. was a good one; but before that, his teams were just about as mediocre as they were under his predecessor there (although to be fair, 6-5-1 and 6-6 at least aren’t losing seasons, which his predecessor had suffered a couple of times). Still, Saban’s second-best season there was only 7-5.

I don’t want to dwell on Michigan St. too much — his last season there was 15 years ago — but in his first season gone, they went right back to 5-6, which they had finished the year before Saban started there. That was a long-term impact of approximately 0. In fact, you can go out even further. In the five years before Saban, Michigan St. won 48% of its games. In the five years after he left, Michigan St. won 48% of its games. What are fans today supposed to thank him for again? Other than memories of the 1999 Citrus Bowl?

It doesn’t take a great coach to have a single ten-win season in five years. I don’t think any major programs are beating down the doors of Will Muschamp, Larry Coker, Gerry DiNardo (Saban’s full-time predecessor), or even Gene Chizik, who has a national championship to his credit. Another example from the SEC, David Cutcliffe, took a long time to get back into a head coaching job despite having led Ole Miss to its best season in decades in 2003.

Saban did step things up in his fourth and fifth years at LSU, but the Tigers had a combined 12 losses in his first three years. The conference championship in 2001 was a fluke. How often has the SEC champion had three conference losses? How often does the SEC champion have a loss by 29 points at home?

LSU had worse in the previous two seasons than Michigan St. had had immediately before Saban but had two season of the previous four with wins of 9 games or more, whereas the last time Michigan St. had won even 8 games was five seasons before Saban got there.

LSU likely had better athletes to start with. After being a dormant program for 6 seasons, DiNardo did have some initial success. In his first season, he led the Tigers to only their second bowl win in 16 years, and it was over Saban’s first Michigan St. team. This was followed by a 19-5 record over the next two seasons, which included a win over defending national champions Florida in 1997. Also, Louisiana is more fertile recruiting ground for recruiting than the state of Michigan, and LSU isn’t “little brother” to anyone in the state of Louisiana.

It was not that difficult to have a spike in Louisiana recruiting. It also wasn’t the case that DiNardo couldn’t develop players, which he clearly did given some of the close results against good teams. He just lost the ability (partly due to turnover among his assistants) to manage the team to wins.

I’m sure that put a damper on recruiting in the 1998-99 offseason, but LSU would finish the 1999 campaign with a strong win over a ranked Arkansas team (with an interim coach), and the hope that the hire of Saban brought (probably as much as or more than Saban himself) kept the recruiting after the 1999 season from being a problem. If they could beat a ranked team with a no-name interim coach at the helm, the sky was the limit.

Nonetheless, Saban’s first three seasons were actually worse than DiNardo’s first three by record, and there had been no winning seasons that preceded any of the recruiting classes DiNardo worked with in that time.

Saban’s 9 wins in his final season were good in the context of the 12 years before his arrival, but I don’t remember Les Miles getting a ton of credit for following a national championship season with 8-win and 9-win seasons, respectively. Nor did he get a lot of credit for winning 33 games in the past three full seasons combined. Saban’s best three years at LSU together didn’t account for that many wins.

One of the other coaches I mentioned likely could have coached Saban’s 2004 team to 9 wins or more. Also, the loss to Georgia that season was reminiscent of the handful of bad losses Miles has had. So there was really only one season at LSU that was better than what had taken place at LSU the five seasons before Saban’s arrival.

As he did at Michigan St., he did raise the floor at LSU. When things didn’t go well, he went 8-5 and 8-4 instead of 4-7 and (starting) 2-8. That was an improvement, but just like with Michigan St., he only raised the ceiling in one year.

In both instances, those singular seasons caused his stock to go through the roof (continuing with the housing analogy), although he did decide to stick around at LSU another year anyway. Also, it’s not just wins and losses on their own. There were baffling losses under Saban. In his first season, he lost to Florida by 32, he lost to UAB (with only 10 points scored), and he lost to an Arkansas team (which had gone into the game with a losing record), 14-3.

It’s not good if you have three games where you score 10 or fewer points and four games where you score 17 or fewer.

The next year, they had the opposite problem. The offense was only held under 20 twice, but they allowed 44 to Florida, 25 to a bad Kentucky team, 35 to Ole Miss, 38 to Arkansas, and 34 to Illinois.

2002 was all over the map. They scored 14 or fewer four times, but they scored over 30 seven times. They allowed over 25 points five times.

2003’s team only had a single loss, but it was an ugly one: 19-7 at home against Ron Zook’s Gators. The Tigers struggled offensively at times against the better teams such as Georgia, Ole Miss, and Oklahoma. It helped that that team was able to play 6 teams with losing records and a I-AA opponent. Before the last four games of that season, LSU had not played two teams back-to-back that would finish with winning records. Contrast that with Miles’ last couple of seasons.

The 2004 team did not have a stellar offense, and LSU actually hurt themselves by trying to start JaMarcus Russell too soon. They nearly lost to Florida before Marcus Randall came off the bench to lead a comeback. They also needed Oregon St. to miss a few extra points in order to win the opener by 1 point in overtime. I already mentioned the Georgia loss that year.

LSU scored over 40 points three times that year (against teams with a combined 11 wins), but their highest point output otherwise was 27 against an Ole Miss team that finished 4-7. They only managed to score 24 apiece against the likes of Troy and Vanderbilt.

This was with Jimbo Fisher as the offensive coordinator. To apply the criticism Miles gets to Saban, he must have been holding the offensive coordinator back, right? It would seem to apply to Saban even more. In fact, I’m calling it right now: Cam Cameron is not going to be the head coach of a national-championship team in the next 10 years.

One could have also argued Saban only developed one “real” quarterback (Matt Mauck, whom he actually first recruited during his Michigan St. days) in those five years.

Saban was there when Russell came to LSU, but I’m sure that had more to do with Jimbo. Also, Russell didn’t really come into his own until the middle of his last year, which had nothing to do with Saban.

Point being, if you start from the perspective of looking to blame the head coach for everything, Saban could have taken a lot of blame as well as credit during his time at LSU. I think people just don’t realize how much their expectations have changed, which made every big win Saban had wonderful and every loss (or sometimes even close win) under Miles tragic.

So if we’re going to be assigning blame, we can blame Saban for causing LSU fans to forget what a losing season feels like. I still don’t think we have him to thank for the 7 double-digit-win seasons since he left, although of course he was instrumental for at least the first couple of them.

The LSU fans who do have this pathetic sense of longing for Saban are misguided. Alabama has certain advantages that LSU just isn’t going to have.

I don’t buy into conspiracies, but I think there is a natural degree of deference they get from recruits, from referees, from the media, from conference officials (who, perhaps not coincidentally, are based in Alabama), etc. Notre Dame has not had a sustained presence atop college football in 20 years. For Nebraska, it’s been about 15 years. So Alabama is the focal point of the historically great programs right now. There is just a different level of mystique for such programs. Nick Saban or not, that wasn’t going to be LSU.

People can’t accept that though. They just think that had Saban been here in 2009, 2011, and 2012, we would have had three national championships in those years rather than none. Maybe Saban wins in 2011 with either team (although even that’s arguable), but I’m doubtful about 2009 and 2012.

What if LSU (rather than Alabama) had been undefeated in 2009 and threw an interception on the game-clinching drive against Alabama. You think that gets ruled incomplete and LSU goes on to kick the field goal anyway?

LSU got some flak for winning in 2007 with two losses, but at least they won the conference, unlike Alabama in 2011.

Let’s say LSU loses a home game to Alabama like they did this year and everything else plays out like 2011. Do you think LSU gets a re-match over a one-loss champion of another conference? I doubt it.

LSU hasn’t gotten a soft touch at all in their slate against the SEC East even though their annual opponent (Florida) has been better than Alabama’s annual opponent (Tennessee).
The previous two seasons have had “bridge” schedules, temporary stop-gaps before they started off the new rotation, which was formalized before this season.

Alabama drew Missouri in 2012. Missouri played in the 2011 Independence Bowl, but they had an anticipated lull in adjusting to the SEC slate in 2012. In addition to the one good Muschamp team (which would only lose one SEC game), LSU had to play South Carolina, which had gone 11-2 in 2011. South Carolina would finish with the same record in 2012.

If you switch both SEC East opponents around, chances are LSU goes to the SEC Championship game instead of Alabama in 2012, even assuming Alabama still beats LSU in the closing seconds. Point being, I don’t think had Saban coached LSU that year (even if he had players just as good as the ones he had at Alabama), he would have beaten both Florida and South Carolina.

In 2013, LSU got Georgia, which had nearly beaten Alabama in the 2012 championship game, while Alabama played Kentucky, fresh off another losing season. Again, that scenario does not get reversed if Saban coaches LSU instead of Alabama.

It was an extra advantage for Alabama because what turned out to be their top challenger, Auburn, had to play Georgia also. Auburn had a favorable bounce and there were some unfortunate injuries to Bulldogs players between playing LSU and Auburn, but that could have easily been another Alabama divisional win (even with the Iron Bowl loss) owing in significant part to the schedule.

A Saban team might have won another game last season at LSU, but if they don’t end up winning two more, they don’t win the championship anyway.

So all things considered, maybe Saban wins one more championship than Miles did over the last 10 years (that’s right, this is the 10th LSU season after Saban). On the other hand, maybe they don’t win in 2007. You might blame Miles for the OT losses, but maybe Saban loses games to Florida and Auburn (there were some gutsy calls Saban may not have made) and they either lose a third somewhere along the way or someone else wins the division. So it could even be the same number of championships.

I don’t mind the idea of looking at the unmatched level of success Alabama has had over the better part of the last seven seasons (the only time a program had done anything like that in my memory was Nebraska in the mid-1990s) and wanting to match that, but just get over the fact that the head coach there coached LSU 10 years ago. That goes for people who want to insult him and those who wish he’d stayed (or fantasize about his return) alike. For those who persist in being hung up on Saban, at least get your facts right.

LSU/Alabama: Blog of the Century

In College Football, Rivalry on November 4, 2011 at 6:01 PM

(It’s not that great, but I had to put “of the Century” in there somewhere. It is pretty long though, especially if you follow the links.)

Even in the worst of years, LSU/Alabama is my personal-favorite rivalry. I don’t remember Bear, but I remember Gene Stallings and the early 1990s, so Alabama was the gold standard for me at that time. I was also aware that LSU notoriously had trouble against the Tide. LSU ended the Tide’s 31-game unbeaten streak in 1993, but that was LSU’s only win in an 8-year period which took place right around the time I started to become an LSU fan. I vaguely recall the 1988 season, which was LSU’s previous win in the series.

Almost as big for me as that upset in 1993 (a year in which LSU finished only 5-6) was 2000, when LSU defeated the Tide in Baton Rouge for the first time since 1969. That so happened to be Nick Saban’s first year with the Tigers. Interestingly, LSU still lost to a team from Alabama in Baton Rouge that year, but it was UAB. Alabama only finished 3-8 that year and LSU finished a respectable (at the time) 8-4, but it was still huge that LSU finally got that done.

So in light of this background, I’ve had a few different takes on the LSU/Alabama series.

I’m not going to do the entire history again, but to say a couple of things about recent history, Alabama has only won once at home in this series since 1999. That was of course two years ago with the Tide on its way to a national championship. Bama won by 9, but in reality it was much closer. In total, LSU has won in Alabama 10 times since 1982 (inclusive), while the Tide has only won 4 times during that period in the series. The series is knotted at 14-14-1 overall during that time. That tells you how far ahead Alabama was before that, but that’s part of why I enjoy cheering against them. As you can imagine, I’m also sick of the suggestion that playing at home is the trump card when I still have a very fresh memory of thinking that was the only place LSU would win. Alabama is LSU’s only annual opponent against whom the Tigers are exactly .500 during that time period (Tennessee and Georgia are the other two SEC opponents in that category, although of course LSU has broken the tie against Tennessee). So that probably has helped keep the intensity of the rivalry going as well, even through all the ups and downs of these two programs.

I’m just pasting the “Series Facts” from the Rivalry entry below (you’ll know it’s over when you see a line like this, “~~~~~”).

Alabama leads 45-24-5, including 25-9-2 in Baton Rouge, 10-8 in Tuscaloosa, 8-5-1 in Birmingham, and 2-0 in Montgomery.
LSU only leads in Mobile (2-1-1, the last meeting in 1958, the first game of Bear Bryant’s career at Alabama and of LSU’s last undefeated season), and the two tied their only meeting in New Orleans in 1921.
Largest win: Alabama, 47-3 in 1922 (largest shutout was 33-0 in 1930 in Montgomery)
Largest LSU win: 28-0 in 1957
(The most recent shutouts were 1997 {LSU, 27-0} and 2002 {Alabama, 31-0}. There have been 16 shutout wins in the series {only 3 by LSU} as well as a 0-0 tie in 1927.)

Longest winning streak: Alabama, 11, 1971-1981
Longest unbeaten streak: Alabama, 12 (9-0-3), 1919-1945
Longest LSU winning streak: 5, 2003-2007
Longest road winning streak: Alabama, 7, 1987-1998 and 1971-1983
Longest road unbeaten streak: Alabama, 15 (14-0-1), 1971-1998
Longest LSU road winning streak: 4, 1982-1988 and 2001-2007
Longest home winning streak: Alabama, 5, 1972-80
Longest home unbeaten streak: Alabama, 8 (7-0-1), 1920-1947
(LSU has only won two in a row at home twice, 1946 & 1948 and 2004 &2006)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Since this is a matchup of unbeatens, I will include one last paragraph about history that does not include history of one of the current coaches of either team. LSU was the first team to beat the Tide in 2005. Alabama last beat an undefeated LSU team in 1987, but (like when the Tigers beat Bama in 1993) there had been a tie earlier in the season. The teams faced one another in the opener in 1981, but that would turn out to be an awful year for LSU (3-7-1). Apart from that, the last time LSU and Alabama were both undefeated was 1973. Alabama won, 21-7 , in Baton Rouge but would suffer its only loss to Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. LSU would fall to Tulane the following week and lose to Penn St. in the Orange Bowl to finish 9-3. This is LSU’s first 8-0 start since then. Both teams were also undefeated and untied when they met in Birmingham the year before. Alabama won that game, 35-21, although they lost to Auburn in the finale and again to Texas in the Cotton Bowl. After LSU won in both 1969 and 1970, Alabama started 10-0 or better (beating LSU) every year from 1971 to 1974 but finished undefeated none of those years. LSU did not finally beat the Tide again until 1982.

Les Miles (see here for a great OTL story about him) is 4-2 against Alabama. With a win, he would break the tie with (guess who?) Nick Saban for #1 in LSU history in wins against the Tide. Saban was 4-1 against Alabama with the Tigers, but to be fair, only one of those Bama teams he beat finished above .500 (7-5 in 2001). Miles’ Tigers have defeated two winning Alabama teams, in 2005 and 2010. Each of those Bama teams finished with 10 wins.

I’m also interested in John Chavis’s record against Alabama. I’ll just give a list of scores. Chavis was the defensive coordinator at Tennessee (a permanent interdivision rival of Alabama) from 1995-2008. He took the same position at LSU in 2009. (If location is not indicated in some way, the game took place in Tuscaloosa.)
Tennessee, 41-14 (Birmingham)
@Tennessee, 20-13
Tennessee, 38-21* (Birmingham)
@Tennessee, 35-18**
Tennessee, 21-7#
@Tennessee, 20-10
Tennessee, 35-24
Alabama, 34-14 (Knoxville)
Tennessee, 51-43
@Tennessee, 17-13
Alabama, 6-3
@Tennessee, 16-13
Alabama, 41-17
Alabama, 29-9 (Knoxville)
Alabama (hosting LSU), 24-15**
@LSU, 24-21
*=winner won conference championship
**=winner won conference and national championships
#=loser won conference championship

So his defenses have allowed over 24 points to be scored by Alabama only 4 times (2002, 2003, 2007, and 2008) since 1995. Of course, 24 points might easily be enough to win this game, as it was in the previous two games in this series. I doubt this Alabama offense is quite as good as the one in 2009 though.

We also have a short history of Nick Saban’s defenses against LSU. To be fair to him, his early Alabama teams did face a few players he recruited.
LSU (vs. Michigan St. in Shreveport), 45-26
LSU (@ Alabama), 41-34**
Alabama (@ LSU), 27-21, ot+
Alabama (hosting LSU), 24-15**
LSU (hosting Alabama), 24-21
+=winner won division championship
**=winner won conference and national championships

So after two games he probably wanted back, I think he was at least somewhat satisfied in the last three games. The LSU offenses were struggling though. Alabama probably would not have had enough points were it not for Jarrett Lee throwing to them in 2008, and LSU had, to be kind, inconsistent offenses in the past two seasons. I think this will be the Alabama defense’s toughest test against LSU, at least since it truly became Nick Saban’s team.

I wanted to give just a little bit of game analysis, which I don’t normally do myself. I’ll post a few links (mostly from Bleacher Report) and give my comments.

This is a good place to start: Strengths and Weaknesses…
(Hit “Next” to see the LSU info.)

If AJ McCarron completed less than 50% of his passes against Florida, I really don’t think he will complete more than that against LSU. The side-by-side comparisons may make it look like the LSU defense isn’t great against the pass, but a couple of things to keep in mind. When fumbles are forced, that doesn’t count in the passing statistics even if it’s a passing play. Alabama will at least have to be careful about avoiding such turnovers and this may lead to taking sacks (also not reflected in passing yardage) or throwing the ball away.

Also, the big number counting against LSU is 463 passing yards by West Virginia, whom LSU beat 47-21. It was 27-7 at halftime. Although at one point they closed the gap to 6 (at least until LSU ran back the ensuing kickoff), they were throwing the entire second half. They had 15 COMPLETIONS against 11 official rushes (this includes sacks and fumbles). There were also 11 incompletions by my count. The Mountaineers threw for 256 yards in the second half with only two touchdowns to show for it. In LSU’s other 7 games, the Tigers have averaged giving up 133.6 yards per game in the air, two yards fewer than Alabama has overall.

An under-reported statistic is that LSU has a +15 turnover margin (almost +2 per game) while Alabama only has a +6 turnover margin. This should make up for any small differences between the two in net yardage. This information was provided here: 11 Stats you Must Know.

There are also some other interesting numbers on ESPN.

The video only offers a very superficial analysis though. He mentions that LSU is good against the run against teams like West Virginia and Oregon due to its speed, but then he suggests that running straight at LSU will work wonders for Alabama. With speed, players can fill gaps, and LSU has plenty of players that can tackle well in the backfield or at the line. That’s how you get an advantage against larger offensive linemen. You run around them. Every defense does this in one way or another. And if it were so easy to run down the middle against LSU, it would have been done by now. I’m not saying Alabama won’t get rushing yards, but it won’t be three yards and a cloud of dust for the whole game with Alabama emerging on top.

I also enjoyed this piece which gives LSU and Alabama point totals based on different aspects of their respective games: Predicting Value for Each Key Element.

I especially liked that LSU won, 17-14, which would not be a surprising final score. This is despite the fact that Saban garnered Alabama one more point than Miles garnered LSU. Come on, they’re at least even, especially factoring in LSU’s assistant coaches.

This game is really a tough call though. I said that LSU’s relative advantages MAKE UP FOR Bama’s advantages, but I’m not sure they overcome those advantages. As the Daughters column (11 stats…game of the century) states,

“LSU has a slight edge due to two huge facts: one, they’ve earned their stats with stiffer competition (which would realistically level the playing field statistically in some areas), and secondly, the turnover category which in reality is three numbers in one.
The Tigers lead in fewest turnovers, most take-aways and, therefore, turnover margin, which combined with the opponent resume (another three prong category) gives LSU a narrow advantage in the game of the century.
How narrow?
Very, very, very slim…and this is why the 2011 LSU-at-Alabama extravaganza has all the right stuff to be one for the ages.”

I agree with that basically, but I’m not even sure there is ANY advantage either way. I’d like to think the Tigers’ most impressive start since the 1970s (or possibly even since the 1950s) will result in an undefeated season, but picking a winner here is really just a guess. I think it will come down to how on-target the respective quarterbacks are. If they can open up the defenses, that will provide a necessary advantage to the running game. McCarron will have to avoid the various ways LSU can create turnovers, and LSU can’t frustrate the efforts of its quarterbacks by rotating at the wrong time. There will probably be one or two special teams plays (see here) that can make the difference as well. So if the QB play evens out, I would give LSU the advantage on that basis. But despite what I just said, it’s also possible it could just be one team’s day and not so exciting after all. I am picking a close LSU win (10 points or fewer), but I can’t be too confident in that pick since I think there is about a 40% chance of that happening.

Rivalry Series: LSU vs. Texas A&M

In College Football, Rivalry on January 6, 2011 at 7:20 PM

Recent games
2010 (Cotton Bowl) LSU 41, Texas A&M 24
2012 LSU 24, @Texas A&M 19
2013 @LSU 34, Texas A&M 10
2014 LSU 23, @Texas A&M 16
2015 @LSU 19, Texas A&M 7
2016: LSU 54, @Texas A&M 39

Unofficial promotional t-shirt for 2012 game

2011 New Year’s post

UPDATED RECORDS (after 2016 game)
LSU leads, 31-20-3
(The first game was in 1899, in LSU’s seventh “season” and only the second of more than three games.)

There are a few different ways of looking at the records by location:
In Baton Rouge, LSU leads, 24-10-1.
In Louisiana (the 1908 game was played in New Orleans), LSU leads, 25-10-1.
In College Station, Texas A&M leads, 7-4-1 (LSU’s one win before the Aggies joined the SEC was in 1987, in what had been their first visit since 1922).
In Dallas (1914, 1955, and 2010), Texas A&M leads, 2-1.
In other cities in Texas (Houston, Galveston, and San Antonio; from 1913 to 1917), the teams are tied, 1-1-1.
Overall in Texas, Texas A&M leads, 10-6-2, but has lost four in a row.
In bowl games (The Jan. 1944 Orange Bowl and Jan. 2011 Cotton Bowl), LSU leads, 2-0.

In the Cotton Bowl overall, LSU is 3-1-1.
LSU handed the Aggies the sixth straight loss in Cotton Bowls in which A&M has played, and dropped them to is 4-8 overall. Texas A&M has since improved its record with the win over Oklahoma after the 2012 season. (This italicized section is not updated.)

GAME FACTS
Largest margin of victory—54, by Texas A&M, 1914 (in Dallas)
Largest LSU margin of victory—37, 1971 (Baton Rouge)…also LSU’s
Largest shutout win—46, by Texas A&M, 1922 (College Station)
Longest winning streak—6 games, LSU, 1960-1965 and 2010-2016
Longest A&M winning streak—5 games, 1991-1995
Longest unbeaten streak—LSU, 10 games (9-0-1), 1960-1969

Highest-scoring games:
2016: LSU 54, Texas A&M 39
1914: Texas A&M 63, LSU 9
2010 (Cotton Bowl played in Jan. 2011): LSU 41, Texas A&M 24
1972: LSU 42, Texas A&M 17
1992: Texas A&M 31, LSU 22

Going into the 2010 game, Texas A&M was still LSU’s 9th most commonly-played opponent. Florida, Kentucky, and Arkansas had all passed up the Aggies since that last regularly-scheduled LSU-Texas A&M game in 1995. They won’t gain any ground on the other two, but they will probably pass up Kentucky again if the current alignment continues.

LSU is Texas A&M’s 8th most commonly-played opponent, and this has not changed. LSU is ahead of only one SWC team, Houston, but is the only non-SWC program ahead of Houston. Oklahoma and Oklahoma St. are the only two other programs to have played the Aggies 20 times or more (at least as major teams).

SERIES SUMMARY

LSU’s success in the series corresponded with the Tigers becoming a consistently strong program, beginning after World War II. When the series took a break (there was a gap in the series between 1923 and 1942), Texas A&M led, 7-3-2.

LSU was strong in some of the years before World War I (going 1-0-1 in the series from 1908-1913) and in the 1930s (no games against A&M at all). From 1914 to 1921, the series was tied 2-2-1. The Tigers had some declining years in the early to middle 1920s, so the Texas Aggies (as a side note, LSU is an A&M school too) won the last two games of that installment of the series. LSU had no wins against current SEC teams in either of those two years and did not win any such games until defeating Auburn in 1926.

The rivalry went back and forth when it was renewed in the early 1940s, but LSU would win every year from 1945 to 1949. There was a home and home in 1955 and 1956, both games Texas A&M wins (with Bear Bryant as head coach), but by the time the rivalry became a semi-permanent fixture in 1960, LSU had one of its strongest periods in history, and Texas A&M had only one winning season between 1960 and 1973. LSU failed to win only two of those games. To be fair, they were all played in Baton Rouge, but that likely had something to do with the disparity between the teams. Texas A&M had good years in 1974 and 1975 while LSU was mediocre, so the Aggies won those two, but then the series ended until 1986.

The ten-year run from 1986 to 1995 was back to a home-and-home format. LSU won 4 of the first 5 games in this set to take a 26-15-3 series lead. But then Curley Hallman, the worst coach of more than 10 games in LSU history, took over and went 0-4 against the Aggies. Four consecutive double-digit-win seasons by Texas A&M didn’t hurt their cause either. In Gerry DiNardo’s first game as LSU head coach, his team traveled to College Station to face an A&M team that had gone undefeated the year before, so not surprisingly, the Tigers lost. So that’s why the LSU lead is still smaller than it used to be.

The intervening 17 years were better for LSU than they were for Texas A&M, and despite the emergence of “Johnny Football,” LSU has won its first two games against the Aggies as SEC rivals, holding A&M to below 20 points in each game. The Aggies actually scored more points in the Cotton Bowl against LSU after the 2010 season than in either game. The 10 points scored in 2013 is the fewest A&M has scored against LSU since 1990.

The rivalry was also interesting over the years because of the fertile recruiting ground between Texas A&M and LSU. East Texas and Louisiana have supplied a much higher percentage of major-college and NFL talent than their population would warrant; and this is true over decades, not just recently.

LSU went to no bowl games from 1989 to 1994 (inclusive), and their improvements as a program since the first game of 1995 (bowl games in all but two seasons, a minimum of 8 wins ever year since 2000) obviously were not reflected. Certainly, there were some potentially interesting games that the cessation of the series caused us as fans to miss.

A&M COACHES

That’s what I had to say by way of general series summary, but it seems like a more interesting story to me if you place Texas A&M in the context of rivalries with the following three former Aggie coaches (LSU scarcely went a year from 1949 to 2003 without facing one or more of these coaches), although much of the story is away from Texas A&M:

Jackie Sherrill
Texas A&M vs. LSU (1982-1988), 0-3
Mississippi St. vs. LSU (1991-2003), 2-11

In Sherrill’s last three seasons at Texas A&M, the Aggies won 9 games, 10 games, and 7 games, respectively. But he couldn’t quite beat LSU, and only came within two touchdowns in his one game against the Tigers in College Station in 1987. LSU won 9 games, 10 games, and 8 games, respectively, so talent-wise, maybe it should have been closer. One of Sherrill’s best years was the SWC Championship team in 1985 (losses only to Alabama and Baylor), and the Aggies would win the Cotton Bowl over Auburn, but they did not play LSU that season.

Sherrill defeated LSU for the first time when he faced them as head coach of Mississippi St. in 1991, and it was in Tiger Stadium no less. But things mostly went downhill from there.

LSU’s one loss in the last 19 games was by 1 point at MSU in 1999. MSU would finish 10-2, while LSU would finish 3-8.

Although it is not surprising that LSU has dominated Mississippi St. for the last 10 seasons, it was strange how the recent run against the Bulldogs began.

LSU would only win 2 games in 1992, Jackie Sherrill’s second season with the Bulldogs, but they beat #20 Miss. St., 24-3. Mississippi St. finished 7-5 that season after a loss to North Carolina in the Peach Bowl. The LSU loss was only one of two they suffered before Nov. 14. Sherrill would only defeat the Tigers in his first season (1991 in Baton Rouge) and 1999 in Starkville, when LSU was going through an 8-game losing streak that was only broken after coach Gerry DiNardo was fired before the last game of the season against Arkansas.

Although LSU would finish only 5-6 in 1993 and the game was in Starkville, the Tigers won on a last-second field goal by Andre LaFleur, 18-16. Miss. St. would only finish 3-6-2 though.

Miss. St. would finish 8-4 the following year, once again losing the Peach Bowl, and LSU would finish 4-7, but once again, that didn’t stop LSU from winning, 44-24 this time.

1998 was the Bulldogs’ only appearance in the SEC Championship and LSU would again finish 4-7, but the Tigers beat the #24 Bulldogs, 41-6. It would be the last conference win for DiNardo.

Gene Stallings
Texas A&M vs. LSU (1965-71), 1-5-1
Alabama vs. LSU (1990-96), 6-1

The aforementioned Curley Hallman’s biggest win as LSU head coach was over Alabama in 1993 (in terms of winning percentage, he was easily the worst LSU head coach of more than 10 games in history). LSU was the first team to beat Alabama after the Tide’s 1992 national championship, putting an end to a 30-game undefeated streak. Hallman was an assistant at Alabama for Bryant after playing at Texas A&M under Gene Stallings, who was Alabama’s coach in 1993.

As head coach of Southern Mississippi, Hallman also defeated Stallings in 1990.

LSU had also come close to a huge upset in 1991. The Tigers would finish with a losing record and Alabama would finish 11-1, but Bama only won 20-17 at Tiger Stadium. The only other game that was close (decided by fewer than eighteen) in the Stallings era was in 1995 when the Tide won 10-3 in Tuscaloosa.

Stallings’ one win against LSU while at A&M was one of only two wins in 1970, the other against Wichita St. (which stopped having a football team in 1986), in a year in which LSU would win the SEC outright. The Tigers have not gone unbeaten in the SEC since (this changed, at least nominally, with the 2011 season… LSU won all 8 regularly scheduled SEC games as well as the conference championship but lost to an SEC team, Alabama, in the postseason). All contests against the Tigers during Stallings’ time in College Station were played in Baton Rouge. Stallings had only one winning record in his seven seasons with the Aggies, beating Alabama in the Cotton Bowl after the 1967 season (Curley Hallman grabbed two Ken Stabler interceptions in that game). LSU, who eventually won the Sugar Bowl that year, beat the Aggies, 17-6. The tie took place in 1966, in unremarkable 5-4-1 and 4-5-1 respective seasons, except it was remarkable in the fact that it was LSU’s worst season between 1961 and 1980.

Bear Bryant
Kentucky vs. LSU (1946-53), 2-1-1
Texas A&M vs. LSU (1954-57), 2-0
Alabama vs. LSU (1958-82), 16-4

For his career, he was 20-5-1 against the Tigers with a total of 6 shutouts.

The head coach of Kentucky the first time the Wildcats played LSU was none other than Bear Bryant, who always seemed to give the Tigers trouble. His teams shut out the Tigers the first two times he faced them, before LSU beat Kentucky in his second-to-last season there and tied them in his last. LSU-Kentucky was a yearly rivalry from that time until 2003, after the SEC decided on one permanent inter-division rivalry per team.

His success in the LSU-Alabama series is despite the fact that he lost to the Tigers, 13-3, at Mobile in 1958, his first season at Alabama. LSU won the national championship that year, and the Tide finished 5-4-1 and only 3-4-1 in conference. Still, it was a vast improvement over the previous three years, in which Bama had only won four games combined.

To go back to LSU coaches for a second, the 1958 win was the second in a row over Alabama for LSU coach Paul Dietzel. The next LSU coach to beat Alabama two years in a row would be Nick Saban in 2000 and 2001. Dietzel did not lose to Alabama, but he did not face the Tide (at least not with LSU) after that 1958 game.

The Tide would win a national championship of its own in 1961, but wouldn’t be able to return the favor against the Tigers until 1964, a 10-1 season in which Alabama won the polls but lost the bowl game. Alabama, LSU, and Ole Miss were unofficial national co-champions in 1962, when USC won the major polls as well as the vast majority of other ranking systems for its first national championship. 1962 was LSU’s last claim to a national championship, recognized by the NCAA anyway, until 2003; but Alabama would get several and beat LSU often for the remainder of its contests against them under Bryant. LSU’s only subsequent wins over Bear Bryant were 1969, 1970, and 1982.

Despite his claim that playing at Tiger Stadium was like playing inside a drum, he was 10-1-1 there overall and 8-1 with the Tide. LSU was 3-8 against Bryant in the state of Alabama.

Rivalry Series: LSU vs. Alabama

In Rivalry on November 14, 2010 at 1:11 AM

Bear Bryant with Mike the Tiger

Please see the LSU-Alabama page for yearly entries from the past few seasons that will supplement this.

Final scores, 2000 to present (I decided to start when Nick Saban first came to LSU)
2000 – LSU 30, Alabama 28
2001 – LSU 35, Alabama 31
2002 – Alabama 31, LSU 0
2003 – LSU 27, Alabama 3
2004 – LSU 26, Alabama 10
2005 – LSU 16, Alabama 13 (OT)
2006 – LSU 28, Alabama 14
2007 – LSU 41, Alabama 34
2008 – Alabama 27, LSU 21 (OT)
2009 – Alabama 24, LSU 15
2010 – LSU 24, Alabama 21
2011 – LSU 9, Alabama 6 (OT)
2011 BCS – Alabama 21, LSU 0
2012 – Alabama 21, LSU 17
2013 – Alabama 38, LSU 17*
2014 – Alabama 20, LSU 13 (OT)
2015 – Alabama 30, LSU 16
2016 – Alabama 10, LSU 0

*Game was tied with 4:11 remaining in third quarter.

Series facts (updated after the 2016 game)

Alabama has leads in the series 51-25-5 overall, 22-16-2 in Alabama in general, 12-9 in Tuscaloosa, 27-9-2 in Baton Rouge, and 1-0-1 in New Orleans.

LSU only leads in Mobile (2-1-1, the last meeting in 1958, the first game of Bear Bryant’s career at Alabama and of LSU’s last undefeated season).
Largest win: Alabama, 47-3 in 1922 (largest shutout was 42-0 in Baton Rouge in 1925)
Largest LSU win: 28-0 in 1957

Longest winning streak: Alabama, 11, 1971-1981
Longest unbeaten streak: Alabama, 12 (9-0-3), 1919-1945
Longest LSU winning streak: 5, 2003-2007

Longest road winning streak: Alabama, 7, 1987-1998 and 1971-1983
Longest road unbeaten streak: Alabama, 15 (14-0-1), 1971-1998
Longest LSU road winning streak: 4, 1982-1988 and 2001-2007

Longest home winning streak: Alabama, 5, 1972-80
Longest home unbeaten streak: Alabama, 8 (7-0-1), 1920-1947
(LSU has only won two in a row at home twice, 1946 & 1948 and 2004 & 2006)

Since only winning twice from 1989 to 1999, inclusive, LSU had won 9 of 12 in the series before losing to the Tide in the BCS championship following the 2011 season. That means Alabama once led 42-16-5.

The only periods of time comparable to that for LSU took place from 1946-58 (5-3-1) and 1982-88 (4-2-1). Apart from those time periods, LSU is only 7-40-3 against the Tide (including the three LSU losses since).

Before 2013, LSU had won 5 of 6 and 8 of 12 in Tuscaloosa and 11 of 14 in the state of Alabama in general.

2010 and 2011 were only the third and fourth respective times that LSU beat an eventual 10-win Alabama team (the others being 1986 and 2005).

2013 was the 50th consecutive season LSU played Alabama. Alabama is the fifth-longest streak for LSU and third-longest current streak after only Mississippi St. and Ole Miss. The Kentucky streak was broken by the SEC in 2003, and the Tulane streak was ended by LSU in the 1995 season.

Road teams are 24-9-1 in this series since 1981.

Intro

I know what you might be thinking as far as “rivalry”–Alabama’s biggest rivals are Tennessee and Auburn. While this is true, LSU has had no such rivals in the conference since Tulane left after the 1965 season. LSU started playing Auburn and Arkansas consistently only when the SEC split into two divisions, which coincided with Arkansas’s joining the conference in 1992. (LSU and Arkansas did have a big rivalry before World War II.) Florida and LSU don’t have the same history insofar as battling for #1 in the conference as LSU and Alabama. LSU started playing Florida every year in 1971 and it wasn’t until 1983 that the Gators finished with fewer than 3 losses, and only once in that time period did they finish with 3. As for Ole Miss, that rivalry peaked in the 1960s–only twice since 1974 (1986 and 2003) have both teams finished with winning records in conference in the same season–and the Rebels have a natural rivalry with Miss St. anyway. I’ll start with series facts, transitioning into more narrative about the LSU/Alabama rivalry.

Numbers don’t really prove a rivalry, but it is worth mentioning that Alabama is LSU’s 4th most commonly-played opponent and only one of the three series that were played more (Ole Miss) has been competitive lately (defined as three wins or more by the opponent over the last 10 games). The 2011 game was the 75th between LSU and Alabama. LSU is also fourth on Alabama’s list and the only more-played rivalry that has been competitive for Alabama lately is Tennessee. Alabama has played LSU more than it has played Auburn (at least since 1902).

I had been adding something after each game, but I’m just going to say that even though the 2013 game looks as bad as the Jan. 2012 loss on the scoreboard, LSU was much more in the game. LSU fumbled away what should have been at least 10 points in the first half, and then LSU still had the ball deep in Alabama territory down 14 with about 10 minutes left. (The coaches made the right decision not to kick the field goal, but if the score were a good bit closer, they may have done so.) This is the first time Alabama has won 3 in a row over LSU since 1996.

Timing and presidential coincidence (added after the 2012 game)

The Tigers have made the SEC championship game 5 times, but all were in odd-numbered years. LSU has played @Auburn and @Florida in every even-numbered year since the SEC championship game began. The Tigers have also hosted Alabama in even-numbered years that whole time and have generally fared worse against the Tide at home than on the road.

For the eighth presidential election in a row, the LSU/Alabama game has corresponded with the outcome of the presidential election. It’s simple: LSU beats Alabama in an election year, the Republican wins; Alabama beats LSU, the Democrat wins. So if you don’t like Obama, blame Les Miles for getting him re-elected. The Alabama/LSU game often takes place after the election though.

The game also has had added significance because of when it is played on the calendar. With only a handful of exceptions since this became an annual game in 1964, the game is played between November 3 and November 11 (election day falls between 11/2 and 11/8). From 2002 to 2005, it was played only slightly later in November (the latest being the 16th). In 1973, it was played on November 22; and in 1981, it was the opener for both teams. The 2011 bowl rematch was in January of course.

Mississippi St. has moved around on LSU’s schedule several times, but the traditional order for LSU is Ole Miss (late October, early November), Alabama, Mississippi St., and Tulane (replaced by Arkansas starting about 20 years ago, but a few times it was Tulane followed by Arkansas). Alabama and Mississippi St. are back in their normal spots this season with Arkansas last, but Ole Miss has instead been LSU’s second-to-last regularly-scheduled SEC opponent every year since 2002. Next year, Alabama and Arkansas will remain in their traditional spots, but several teams will be out of order due to the addition of Texas A&M as the second-to-last opponent. LSU was not able to secure a bye week before the Alabama game, but they will be facing an FCS opponent (Furman) that week. (This was later changed when Furman was bumped up a week.)

2011 Post-game narrative:
The last time LSU was in a game where the only scoring was field goal(s), they lost to Alabama, 3-0, in 1979. Alabama won the national championship that year as the only major undefeated and untied team. Going back to 2011, Les Miles moved past Nick Saban in wins against Alabama, 5 to 4 (Miles admittedly leads Saban in losses against Alabama, 2-1). No other coach in LSU history had more than two wins against Alabama, although Bill Arnsparger (1984-86) was an impressive 2-0-1, the tie of course coming in Baton Rouge. If LSU can get past Arkansas, Miles will have a winning record with LSU against every SEC team except for Georgia (1-2). (That would have been true even had LSU lost this game though.) LSU has now won 11 of the last 15 against the Tide in the state of Alabama and 7 of 9 against the Tide overall. It’s just bizarre that LSU has as many wins in Tuscaloosa in this series as in Baton Rouge despite playing about half as many games in Tuscaloosa. The two teams are tied in their last 31 games (15-15-1), their last 29 games (14-14-1), their last 27 games (13-13-1), and their last 22 games (11-11) against one another. One more thing: LSU now leads in overtimes in the series, 2-1. The Tigers had won in 2005 (in Tuscaloosa, of course) and lost in 2008 (in Baton Rouge, of course).

(The remainder of this entry is as it was written in 2010.)

LSU coaches

During the game last week, the trivia question was, “Which LSU coach has the most wins against Alabama,” with the predictable answer, Nick Saban. With the win incidentally, he was tied by Les Miles, who is now 4-2 against the Tide. Saban was 4-1, although to be fair to Miles, Alabama wasn’t as hard to beat back then. For instance, in Saban’s first year, the Tigers lost to Alabama-Birmingham before beating the Tide.

After the trivia question, they then showed the list of LSU coaches and in a tie for third (with two wins) is Charlie McClendon, who coached LSU for 16 seasons.

The most frustrating period of the rivalry for LSU was 1967 to 1977, during which LSU lost 2 games or fewer in conference 8 times. One of the years (1970), the Tigers finished undefeated (although with three non-conference losses, including in the bowl game). In the rest of the years, with one exception (1969, in Baton Rouge), LSU lost to Alabama. In each of the other three years in that time frame, LSU lost to Alabama.

If you were wondering why I mentioned the location of the 1969 game–in every Alabama @ LSU game over the next 30 seasons, LSU lost to Alabama. It wasn’t completely one-sided either, as LSU won @ Alabama 7 times in the interim, about half the time. There was one tie in Baton Rouge, in 1985. (I’ve seen people argue on this basis, so if you were curious, the first 4 of the 7 were in Birmingham.)

In 1972, both teams finished with one loss in the conference, but LSU finished third rather than first because of the loss. In 1973, LSU was one of two teams to finish the SEC with less than 3 conference losses: LSU lost 1, and Bama lost none. In 1979, LSU would have finished in a tie for first had it beaten Bama, to whom the Tigers had lost 3-0 at home. 1979 was McClendon’s last season at LSU.

Had LSU beaten rather than tied Bama in 1985 (Bill Arnsparger was the coach by that time), LSU would have also tied for first. In 1986, the tables turned: the LSU/Bama game proved to be decisive, but LSU won this time. In only three seasons (1984-86), Arnsparger won 2 games against Alabama himself. Arnsparger was the only LSU coach between McClendon and Saban (20 seasons under 5 different coaches who faced the Tide) who beat Alabama more than once.

In 1987, the Tigers’ only loss all season was to Alabama, without which the Tigers of course would have repeated. LSU tied for the championship in 1988 and then didn’t make a bowl game until until 1995. Admittedly that cooled off the rivalry, but those 20 years still weren’t exactly a distant memory. Even when LSU only lost 6 games from 1995 to 1997, two of them were to Alabama.

There were some big games in the 1990s and early 2000s though. LSU was the first team to beat Alabama after the Tide’s 1992 national championship, putting an end to a 30-game undefeated streak. Then in 1996, LSU lost the SEC West due to the head-to-head tie-breaker in favor of Alabama. In 1997, LSU finally beat rivals Alabama and Florida, but losses to Auburn and Ole Miss kept the Tigers out of the SEC championship game. LSU won in Tuscaloosa for their first win against Alabama since 1993 and only their second since 1988. Although otherwise unremarkable, 2000 was a big win for LSU because it was LSU’s first home win against Alabama since 1969. Bama only won 3 games that year and LSU won 7, but the Tigers still only beat the Tide by 2. And of course in 2005, LSU was the first team to beat Bama, who had started 9-0.

I’ll get to comparisons of the recent Alabama coaches, a few of whom coached against LSU at other schools.

Other connections include Curley Hallman, whose biggest win as LSU head coach was over Alabama in 1993 (in terms of winning percentage, he was easily the worst LSU head coach of more than 10 games in history). He was an assistant at Alabama for Bryant after playing at Texas A&M under Gene Stallings, who was Alabama’s coach in 1993. Sylvester Croom and Jackie Sherill, both of whom LSU gave fits at Mississippi St. (Sherill also coached at A&M, where he was 0-3 against LSU), had played for successful Alabama teams. Alabama coaches Ray Perkins and Mike Shula had played for Bryant as well, although neither did particularly well as head coaches against LSU either.

Alabama coaches: Bear Bryant to present (in reverse order)

Nick Saban
Michigan St. vs. LSU (1995-99), 0-1
LSU vs. Alabama (2000-04), 4-1
Alabama vs. LSU, 2-2

His match-up against LSU while he was at Michigan St. consisted of the 1995 Independence Bowl, in the first year of his predecessor Gerry DiNardo. LSU was 6-4-1 entering the game, having finished fourth in the SEC West. Michigan St. was also 6-4-1 and had finished fifth in the Big Ten in Saban’s first year there. LSU won the game, 45-26. Although LSU had the crowd on its side, which may have helped the margin of victory, this probably did not affect the outcome.

In Saban’s first season (2000), LSU beat Alabama in Baton Rouge for the first time since 1969. Although LSU would finish with an 8-4 record and Alabama would finish 3-8, the Tigers only won 30-28. But the Tide was right back to normal in Tiger Stadium in 2002, winning 31-0, Saban’s only loss to the Tide. LSU won the other games against Alabama in Saban’s tenure by at least 14 points each.

Mike Shula
vs. LSU (2003-06), 0-4

His only game of note against the Tigers was a 16-13 overtime loss for the Tide’s first loss in 2005, which so happened to be Les Miles’ first year. The game was Miles’ first win over a top ten opponent at LSU. LSU was 2-1 in overtime games that year (beating Auburn and losing to Tennessee, both at home). The contest was the only time Shula lost to LSU by less than 14.

In the game, Alabama led 10-0 in the second quarter after Brodie Croyle connected with DJ Hall. In the first half, the #3 Tide out-gained the #5 Tigers, 207-72, and only allowed 5 first downs. LSU opened the second half with a nine-play, 80-yard drive and kept the Tide from getting another first down until they tied the game on a 42-yard field goal with 5:46 left in the third quarter. Not much offense ensued, although LSU would miss three subsequent field goal attempts, and the game went to OT tied at 10. After Alabama got the opening possession and kicked a field goal, LSU decided not to rely on kicking anymore, and JaMarcus Russell threw the game-winning, 11-yard pass to Dwayne Bowe. Russell finished at 16-30 for 229 and no interceptions. Alabama out-gained LSU for the game, 284-275, and had more first downs, 20-16. As a side note, Croyle and Bowe are both Kansas City Chiefs now.

Dennis Franchione
vs. LSU (2001-02), 1-1

Franchione’s two seasons at Alabama coincided with Nick Saban’s second and third at LSU. The Tide lost to the eventual SEC Champions, 35-21, at home in 2001. Alabama’s 31-0 win in 2002 took place as the Tide finished the season 10-3 by winning 6 of its last 7. The Tide were ineligible for a bowl game that year, and LSU would lose to Texas in the Cotton Bowl to finish 8-5.

Franchione is the third coach (at least that I know of) to coach both Alabama and A&M; but the LSU/A&M rivalry was discontinued after 1995, so he never coached against LSU while there.

Mike DuBose
vs. LSU (1997-2000), 2-2

DuBose lost his first game against LSU, 27-0, in 1997, when LSU would finish 9-3 and Alabama 4-7. DuBose’s teams then beat LSU by 6 each of the next two years, however, LSU only won a combined 7 games in those two years while the Tide won a combined 17. Those two wins were of course followed by Saban’s first season at LSU, in which the Tigers won. Somewhat dampening the mood surrounding the end of the Tide’s 15-game unbeaten streak in Baton Rouge for Tiger fans was the fact that Bama didn’t win any road games at all that year.

Gene Stallings
@Alabama vs. LSU (1990-96), 6-1
@Texas A&M vs. LSU (1965-71), 1-5-1

I mentioned the 1993 game above.

LSU also came close to a huge upset in 1991. The Tigers would finish with a losing record and Alabama would finish 11-1, but Bama only won 20-17 at Tiger Stadium. The only other game that was close (decided by fewer than eighteen) in the Stallings era was in 1995 when the Tide won 10-3 to avenge the end of its 31-game unbeaten streak in the previous contest in Tuscaloosa.

Stallings’ one win against LSU while at A&M was one of only two wins that season, the other against Wichita St. (which stopped having a football team in 1986), in 1970, a year in which LSU would win the SEC outright. The Tigers have not gone unbeaten in the SEC since. All contests against the Tigers during his time in College Station were played in Baton Rouge. Stallings had only one winning record in his seven seasons with the Aggies, beating Alabama in the Cotton Bowl after the 1967 season (Curley Hallman grabbed two Ken Stabler intereceptions in that game). LSU, who eventually won the Sugar Bowl that year, beat the Aggies, 17-6. The tie took place in 1966, in unremarkable 5-4-1 and 4-5-1 respective seasons, except it was remarkable in the fact that it was LSU’s worst season between 1961 and 1980.

Bill Curry
Alabama vs. LSU (1987-89), 2-1
Kentucky vs. LSU (1990-96), 3-4

In 1987, Curry’s first season, his team defeated LSU, 22-10, in Baton Rouge but did not win another game and finished 7-5. LSU, on the other hand, finished 10-1-1, and as a result of the loss, came in second to Auburn.

In 1988 (also extensively discussed in the LSU/Auburn rivalry blog), the Tigers continued their run to the SEC co-championship (with Auburn) by beating the Tide, 19-18, in Tuscaloosa.

In 1989, Curry’s team beat the Tigers to go 9-0 on the way to a 10-0 start, 32-16. This coincided with only the third losing season for LSU since 1956.

LSU continued its losing ways almost throughout Curry’s tenure at Kentucky, but the Wildcats didn’t fare much better. 1992 and 1994 were probably the sorriest match-ups during that period. 1992 was Curry’s only win with the Cats in Baton Rouge, but LSU would finish 2-9 and Kentucky would finish 4-7. In 1994, Kentucky’s lone win of the season was over Louisville in the opener. They still managed to make it close against LSU, losing 17-13 in Baton Rouge. LSU finished 4-7.

In 1993, Curry’s most successful season at Kentucky (6-6, with a loss to Clemson in the Peach Bowl), Kentucky won 35-17.

Although LSU would finish 7-4-1 in 1995, the Tigers lost to Kentucky, who would finish 4-7, anyway. LSU made the unfortunate decision to wear purple pants for the game. And rather than causing Kentucky to avert its eyes for the entire contest, it seemed to make the Tigers self-conscious. I don’t think LSU has worn purple pants since. The final was 24-16 in Lexington. Curry had another 4-7 campaign in his final year, but LSU, on its way to a 10-2 record, had no problem with the Cats this time, 41-14.

Ray Perkins
vs. LSU (1983-86), 1-2-1

Both home games against the Tigers were played in Birmingham and both were losses. No contest against LSU while Perkins was at Alabama was decided by less than 6 points. Alabama won by 6 in 1983, then LSU won by 2 in 1984 and by 4 in 1986. 1986 was Perkins’ final year, and after a 7-0 start, the Tide lost 3 of its last 5 regular-season games, to Penn St., LSU, and Auburn, before winning the Sun Bowl over Washington. 1986 was LSU’s most recent outright SEC title before Nick Saban came to Baton Rouge.

Bear Bryant
Alabama vs. LSU (1958-82), 16-4
Texas A&M vs. LSU (1954-57), 2-0
Kentucky vs. LSU (1946-53), 2-1-1

For his career, he was 20-5-1 against the Tigers with a total of 6 shutouts.

The head coach of Kentucky the first time the Wildcats played LSU was none other than Bear Bryant, who always seemed to give the Tigers trouble. His teams shut out the Tigers the first two times he faced them, before LSU beat Kentucky in his second-to-last season there and tied them in his last. LSU-Kentucky was a yearly rivalry from that time until 2003, after the SEC decided on one permanent inter-division rivalry per team.

His success in the LSU-Alabama series is despite the fact that he lost to the Tigers, 13-3, at Mobile in 1958, his first season at Alabama. LSU won the national championship that year, and the Tide finished 5-4-1 and only 3-4-1 in conference. Still, it was a vast improvement over the previous three years, in which Bama had only won four games combined.

To go back to LSU coaches for a second, the 1958 win was the second in a row over Alabama for LSU coach Paul Dietzel. The only subsequent LSU coaches to do so have been Charles McClendon (1969 & 1970), Nick Saban (2000 & 2001 and 2003 & 2004), and Les Miles (2005-07). Dietzel did not lose to Alabama, but he did not face the Tide (at least not with LSU) after that 1958 game.

The Tide would win a national championship of its own in 1961 but wouldn’t be able to return the favor against the Tigers until 1964, a 10-1 season in which Alabama won the polls but lost the bowl game. Alabama, LSU, and Ole Miss were unofficial national co-champions in 1962, when USC won the major polls as well as the vast majority of other ranking systems for its first national championship. 1962 was LSU’s last claim to a national championship, recognized by the NCAA anyway, until 2003; but Alabama would get several and beat LSU often for the remainder of its contests against them under Bryant. LSU’s only subsequent wins over Bear Bryant were 1969, 1970, and 1982.

Despite his claim that playing at Tiger Stadium was like playing inside a drum, he was 10-1-1 there overall and 8-1 with the Tide. LSU was 3-8 against Bryant in the state of Alabama.

Other Rivalry Series entries

Team List:
Arkansas
Auburn (2010 post-game)
Florida
Georgia
Kentucky
Mississippi St.
Ole Miss
(Steve Spurrier and) South Carolina
Tennessee
Texas A&M

Special editions:
Pac-12

Rivalry Series: LSU vs. Auburn

In College Football, Rivalry on October 21, 2010 at 9:29 PM

(Alternate title, LSU/Auburn: Battle of the Nicknames)

Overall records (Now includes 2015)

LSU leads, 28-22-1
In Baton Rouge, LSU leads, 17-5-1
In the state of Alabama, Auburn leads, 17-11

      In Auburn, Auburn leads, 12-7
      In Birmingham, Auburn leads, 3-2
      In Mobile, Auburn leads, 2-0
      In Montgomery, LSU leads, 2-0

Longest winning/unbeaten streak–6 wins by LSU, 1926-1937

Longest Auburn winning streak–4 wins, 1989-1994

Home/away streaks
LSU won 3 in a row at Auburn, 1926-1936
Auburn won 2 in a row at LSU, 1997 & 1999
LSU won 7 in a row at home, 2001-present
Auburn won 4 in a row at home, 1981-1994

Longest streaks with only one loss (pure winning streaks excluded):
LSU, 6/7, 1969-1988 and 2007-2013
Auburn, 5/6, 1981-1994

Biggest wins:
LSU, 35, 45-10 in 2011
Auburn, 34, 41-7 in 1999 (@ LSU) and 2014 (at home)
LSU’s biggest win at Auburn was 20-6 in 1973. Their largest point total at Auburn was 31, in a 12-point win in 1998.

Biggest shutout wins:
LSU, 10, 1926 (in Montgomery)
Auburn, 7, 1912 and 1913 (both in Mobile)
(The lowest-scoring post-war game was a 7-3 home win for Auburn in 2006. There has not been a shutout in this series since 1935.)

Highest-scoring games:

@LSU : LSU 45, Auburn 21, 2015

@Auburn: Auburn 30, LSU 28, 1992

Highest scores by either team:
45, LSU in 2011 and 2015
41, Auburn in 1999 and 2014
35, LSU in 1972 and 2013
34, Auburn in 2000
31, LSU in 1998, 2003, and 2009; Auburn in 1997

2016 reaction blog

In 2011, LSU once again tied up Auburn in games since the start of the 1980 season, 12-12. It also tied the teams at 10 since the start of the 1992 season. (Both ties were of course broken by LSU’s win in 2012.) The 1999 Cigar Game (see below for more background) is no longer the record-holder in a couple of aspects, but it remains Auburn’s last win at LSU. It is one of only four Auburn wins at LSU ever. The first happened in 1939, but the last three all happened from 1993 to 1999. The one tie took place in 1941, and then Auburn did not return to LSU until 1969. It is also worth noting that LSU surpassed the 1999 Auburn point total in the first 38 minutes of the 2011 game.

Intro (written before 2010 game)

I called it the battle of nicknames, because they’re both nicknamed, in the simplest sense, “Tigers” but have other monikers. LSU added “Fighting” at some point to their nickname. Supposedly “war eagle” was always just a live mascot/battle cry and never a nickname, but people have called them War Eagles (I fail to see how that’s a bad thing, but far be it from me to judge other fans’ sensitivities). Auburn’s teams have also been referred to as the Plainsmen, and LSU’s teams have also been referred to as the Bayou Bengals, both in reference to the local geography. (Who said sports weren’t educational?) Many of the recent games have nicknames as well.

With the win last season, LSU became the first team to win three in a row in the series since Auburn won four in a row from 1989 to 1994 (obviously non-consecutive seasons…this corresponds to the six consecutive seasons in which LSU finished with a losing record). But even at that time, even though Auburn won 9 games or more in three of those seasons, three of those four games were still decided by 4 points or fewer.

Before 2008, the home team had won for 8 consecutive seasons. This was one reason LSU has never won the SEC West in an even year (which, since SEC expansion in 1992, are the only years that LSU has traveled to Auburn).

LSU’s 21-point win {in 2009} was the largest margin since LSU won 31-7 in 2003, but the 5 games from 2004 to 2008 were decided by a total of 19 points. That’s actually a deceptively high number since the whistle blew after LSU’s go-ahead touchdown in 2007 with only a second left, and LSU won by 6. Also, the games between the two teams are typically defensive struggles. In 1988, LSU won, 7-6. Since 1988, there have also been final scores of 10-6, 12-6, 19-15, 20-17, 10-9, and 7-3. There have only been 3 games since 1972 in which either team scored more than 31 points (all Auburn wins).

This may be quite a different game in light of Auburn’s SEC-record-breaking 65-43 win last week. On the other hand, LSU has played in four games (Vanderbilt, Mississippi St., WVU, and Tennessee) this season with a combined point total under 37. Auburn has played in one, a 17-14 win at Mississippi St.

The series is knotted up at 11 wins apiece since 1980 (inclusive), so I’ll say it could go either way. Both teams were also undefeated in 2008, 2006, 2004, and 2000, but none of those games were after September. Each team had one loss in 2005, the mutually best recent October match-up. Except for 2001 (only due to 9/11), 2002, 2003, 2005, and 2007, all of the games since 1992 (inclusive) had been in September.

The following is mostly copied and pasted from a post on TSN on October 17, 2007, so some references are to that time and not to the present…

The rivalry

(In the following, I’ve used “Fighting Tigers” to denote LSU.)

This is different from many of the other LSU series since I actually remember most of the significant games in the series. I think that has helped endear the rivalry to those my age (late 20s) and younger. When people start talking about Bear Bryant or John Vaught (prominent opposing coaches, neither of whom I remember, for rivals Alabama and Ole Miss, respectively), it doesn’t really register as well. LSU and Auburn only played 6 times between 1942 and 1988. Even though this became a yearly event in 1992 and Tulane left the SEC after the 1965 season, Auburn still played Tulane more times in the 20th century than it played LSU.

The flashpoint in the LSU/AU rivalry was the 1988 Earthquake Game, when an earthquake was actually recorded at LSU’s geology department after Tommy Hodson threw the winning touchdown to Eddie Fuller with less than two minutes left in the game. Likely contributing to the earthquake was the fact that the score was the Fighting Tigers’ only in the game, as LSU won 7-6.

Auburn had been ranked #4 in the country and LSU had lost consecutive games, at Ohio St. and at Florida, to fall out of the top 25. The two teams would be co-champions that year, and despite LSU having beaten Auburn, the Tigers went to the Sugar Bowl as a one-loss team. Auburn would lose in the Sugar Bowl to Florida St., and LSU would lose in the Hall of Fame Bowl (now known as the Outback Bowl) to Syracuse to finish with 4 losses. The Fighting Tigers’ only regular-season loss after the Auburn game was to #3 Miami.

The Earthquake Game had been the first meeting between LSU and Auburn in 7 years. It was only the 26th meeting between the two teams, and the first meeting had been in 1901. The two teams met in 1989 then didn’t meet again until 1992, when the SEC split into two divisions, mandating annual meetings between LSU and Auburn.

A long series of games with nicknames followed. They weren’t consecutive, but there are a lot of them.

Close games intensify rivalry

The 1989 and 1992 games did not merit any nicknames that I know of, but they were close as well, with Auburn winning 10-6 and 30-28, respectively. Auburn had hosted both games.

The 1993 meeting (the year of Terry Bowden’s undefeated probation season) does not have a nickname that I know of, but it was the first time Auburn had won @ LSU in 54 years. It also gave Auburn its first three-game winning streak over LSU since 1924. Auburn, of course, would finish undefeated but would not make a bowl game or join any serious national championship discussion because the Tigers were on probation.

The Disaster on the Plains

The 1994 game, the fourth game in the series after the Earthquake game, was hosted by #11 (AP) Auburn, who was still on probation so was unranked in the coaches’ poll, in the third week of the season.

LSU had not qualified for a bowl game since the year of the Earthquake Game but had scored a major victory over then-undefeated Alabama (see Alabama link below) the prior year on the way to finishing 5-6. After starting the previous season 2-5, LSU had won 4 of 6, one of the losses by only five against #15 Texas A&M to start the season.

When the Fighting Tigers beat a good Mississippi St. team (who would finish 8-4) by 20 in week 2, it seemed that LSU head coach Curley Hallman may have finally been turning the team around in his fourth season. Hallman was starting to be seen as the opposite of his predecessor Mike Archer, who was a good game manager but after his first two seasons seem to waste away the talent that had been recruited by Bill Arnsparger.

Seemingly maintaining this momentum, the Fighting Tigers led the 2-0 Tigers 23-9 with 12 minutes left in the game.

On second down, deep in his own territory, LSU quarterback Jamie Howard inexplicably threw the ball into triple coverage, and it was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. LSU got the ball back, and Howard did the same exact thing, but on third down this time. The game was now tied.

The Fighting Tigers responded though, driving down to the Auburn 5 before kicking a field goal. LSU would lead by 3 with 2:14 left in the game.

On third and short at the LSU 30, the Fighting Tigers should have run the ball again, followed by a punt if unsuccessful, to force the hapless Auburn offense into the two-minute drill, which probably would have resulted in no worse than a tie since the Tigers had not had an offensive touchdown all game.

But Howard threw to a crossing wide receiver, once again into triple coverage. That was tipped and a fourth defender caught it and ran for a touchdown as well. Auburn won 30-26.

Auburn fans call it The Comeback Game or The Interception Game. Auburn would finish the season 9-1-1, losing only to Alabama.

It was the third time in four meetings and fourth time in six meetings that the game was decided by 4 or fewer.

It was almost all downhill from there for Hallman, who was fired after LSU lost five of its next six–six of seven including the Auburn game–before relatively meaningless wins over Tulane and Arkansas to end the season. Hallman has not been a college head coach since and briefly (and unsuccessfully) coached a high-school team in Alabama.

More close games

In 1995, after only losing 1 game over the previous two seasons and starting 2-0 again, Auburn was ranked #5 in the AP poll (#6 in the coaches poll), and made a return trip to Baton Rouge to face its benefactor from the previous season, Jamie Howard. LSU had recently hired as head coach Vanderbilt’s Gerry DiNardo, whose most impressive record as head coach had been 5-6.

LSU had again lost to Texas A&M and had beaten Mississippi St.

The Auburn offense had a similar performance to the one in 1994, but their defense was held scoreless this time; the Fighting Tigers won, 12-6. Although that wasn’t exactly an impressive achievement for LSU’s offense, the redeemed Howard was carried off the field as a hero.

LSU would end that long bowl-less streak by beating Nick Saban’s Michigan St. Spartans in the Independence Bowl. Both Auburn and LSU would lose four games on the year.

The Night the Barn Burned

LSU also won the next year (1996) at Auburn, 19-15, on the way to a 10-2 record. During the game, an old gymnasium caught fire on the Auburn campus (this has been blamed on LSU fans, although I’ve never heard of any actual evidence substantiating this), and smoke could be seen from the stadium. This also happened to be LSU’s first win @ Auburn since 1973.

But Auburn took a road game back the next year, winning 31-28.

Back and forth

In the nine years beginning in 1998, LSU won 4 and Auburn won five.

1999 was the last game of the series under DiNardo, who, after beating Auburn on the way to a 3-0 start in 1998, would lose 15 of his last 18 games as head coach.

This didn’t stop Tommy Tuberville from lighting up a cigar after his Tigers’ 41-7 win in Baton Rouge, hence “The Cigar Game.” Auburn has not won a road game in the series since.

In fact, every game in the series since then {no longer true} has been won by the home team. Of possible interest to those other Tiger fans, Auburn was 3-2 against Saban with all three wins coming at home.

Auburn won by 17 in 2000, followed by a 13-point loss in 2001, which, due to Sept. 11, had been postponed to December and acted as a playoff for LSU’s first SEC West Championship. LSU started only 4-3, so the timing may have affected the outcome. In 2001, LSU won its first outright SEC Championship since 1986 and its first Sugar Bowl since the 1967 season. LSU has won 2 Sugar Bowls, 2 SEC West titles {now 3}, and once SEC title {now 2} since.

The two teams then exchanged 31-7 victories, the second of course by LSU on the way to the Fighting Tigers’ first national championship since 1958.

2004 – The Extra Point Game

This set up quite a meeting in 2004, as LSU was ranked #4 and #5 (AP) and visited #13 Auburn, who had gone through a tumultuous off-season that had almost ended Tommy Tuberville’s employment on the Plains.

After an impressive opening drive and a missed extra point, the Fighting Tigers led only 9-3 at halftime. That score stood until Auburn got the ball with about 8 minutes to play. LSU at one point forced Auburn into a 4th and 12 from LSU’s 28-yard line.

Not only did Courtney Taylor catch Jason Campbell’s pass for a first down on that play, but he also later caught his first touchdown pass with 1:14 to play, also on fourth down.

In what seemed apropos, John Vaughn then missed the extra point after a low snap.

Vaughn got another chance though, as Ronnie Prude was whistled for doing something (I still don’t quite understand this rule or why it applied) that involved trying to use another player for support in an effort to block the kick when actually he hit the player coming down from a jump.

Even if it was the correct call, I think it should be like the opposite of roughing the punter. If he successfully blocks the kick, then make it a penalty. If not, why call a penalty? Because he could have hurt himself? So what? It’s football. That seems to be how it’s called in practice—I’ve only seen it called twice at the most since then—but I think it was a rule modification and therefore fresh in the official’s minds. Nick Saban was on the rules committee and claimed not to understand the rule himself.

This game is now known as the “Extra-Point Game.” The winning points are shown on YouTube.

You could probably guess that Vaughn’s second try sailed through and Auburn held on for a 10-9 win. That game and the 8-point win over Alabama were the Tigers’ only games decided by fewer than 18 during the regular season that year. Saban’s last LSU team would finish 9-3 after a hail-mary loss to Iowa in the CapitalOne Bowl.

2005 – The Field Goal Game

Maybe it was bad juju from 2004, but Vaughn (same guy) missed field goals from 41, 54, 37, and 49 yards during regulation. He did make one from 26 yards and converted both extra points attempted without any drama. LSU’s two kickers were 1 for 2 in regulation.

Vaughn missed the 49-yarder in the waning seconds of regulation, after LSU had tied it with about 90 seconds left in the game, sending the contest into overtime.

Chris Jackson redeemed himself from a 38-yard miss with a 30-yard successful attempt for his only field goal of the game (Colt David, LSU’s primary kicker {in 2007}, had kicked the first from 44 yards). Auburn, unlike LSU, could not pick up the initial first down when it got the ball. Ronnie Prude (same guy who was flagged for the penalty on the try in 2004) broke up Brandon Cox’s third-and-long throw to Anthony Mix, who had caught Auburn’s go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Vaughn’s 40-yard attempt at the tie hit the left side of the upright, putting him at 1 for 6 for the game and ending the game.

LSU won despite being out-gained by 112 yards and only converting 4 third downs to Auburn’s 8.

2006

The game is known as Ref Gate–you know which side calls it that since the official final score was 7-3 Auburn. It’s also called “The Play,” and I think I’ve also seen it called “The Call,” since the most pivotal referee decision was to pick up a flag that had been thrown for pass interference. But there were a number of important calls that went against LSU. Also, the Mad Hatter may have played a role in this one (although Jimbo Fisher was the offensive coordinator, and I think Miles deferred more to him at the time), as LSU had many potential field-goal chances that the Fighting Tigers bypassed in an effort to get in the end zone. I don’t want to post the video of calls again, but it can easily be found on Youtube.

Auburn won despite being out-gained 311-182.

More series facts from the 2007 blog

Auburn has not led in the series since it lost in 1934.

The only Auburn opponents that the Plainsmen have played 10 times or more and have a worse winning percentage against are Alabama and, wait for it…

Tulane. It is a compliment to only have losing records against three teams that you’ve played that many times, but I wasn’t expecting one of them to be Tulane. Also in Auburn’s defense, they’ve only played the Green Wave once since playing them every year from 1921-1955.

The largest margin of victory in the series was 34 in the 1999 Cigar Game, surpassing the previous record of 28 (Auburn had won by 28 in 1901, and LSU had won by 28 in 1972). The 31-7 contests are in a 3-way tie with Auburn’s 34-10 win in 1993.

Right now (2010), LSU has won 3 in a row and 8 of the last 11 contests in Baton Rouge, the first of the group being in 1969.

Last year was only the second time in 6 years that the winner of the LSU/Auburn game did not win the SEC West. Along with LSU’s co-championship in 1988, Auburn of course finished with the best record in the SEC in 1993 but was not eligible for the SEC Championship.

Auburn is only LSU’s 10th most-common opponent, and LSU is Auburn’s 8th most-common opponent, but Auburn appears in the list of the top 15 Tiger Stadium crowds three times, for each of the last three games there. Arkansas and Florida, with 2 each, are the only other teams on that list more than once.

The two teams have also done a good job filling Jordan-Hare stadium recently. According to the Auburn CSTV website (I’m not sure when it was last updated, I assume after the 2004 season), the Extra-Point Game was tied for first with only two other contests (Georgia and Arkansas in 2004). LSU also appeared in the top 15 for the 2000 contest won by Auburn, 34-17. LSU’s two appearances were tied for second with Alabama, among others.

The other blogs in this series can be accessed through the LSU Rivalry Series tab above.

Post-2014 Additional info

LSU lost by an identical score when the Fighting Tigers started 0-7 in conference before Gerry DiNardo was relieved of his duties (leading to the hiring of Nick Saban in the following offseason).  LSU won by 35 in 2011, so that’s still the biggest win in the series by either team.  This is the fifth time Auburn has beaten LSU by more than 20 (49 games dating back to 1901), but it is only the third time since 1938.  The closest of the three was by 24 in 1993.

LSU did have five losses of 28 or more since then, but only once was under Les Miles.  They were Florida 2000, Florida 2001, Alabama 2002, Georgia 2004, and Florida 2008.

Since the SEC expanded to 12 teams in 1992, LSU has traveled to both Auburn and Florida in every even year.  LSU has never won both games and not coincidentally has never won the SEC West in an even year, so this pretty much assures it won’t happen this year either.