theknightswhosay

Posts Tagged ‘Florida St.’

Top 25 after Week 10

In College Football, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 4, 2018 at 4:46 PM

I’ll talk about my reaction to the Alabama game later in the week.  I updated the LSU-Alabama Rivalry blogHere is the one for Arkansas (which will be the SEC Network night game next week) if you’re interested, but I probably won’t write a detailed blog about that game.

Normally I don’t change the computer results for the list below at this point; but I like there to be some stability, so I’m keeping Alabama in the top spot one more week.  It also doesn’t make sense to move them down after such a win and move Notre Dame ahead after a somewhat lackluster win when the Irish play a mediocre Florida St. team next week.

The top 5 teams are closer together than Clemson (last week’s computer #1) was to Notre Dame last week.  Usually there is more clarity after the LSU-Alabama game, but this time there is less (partly because it was unusual that LSU has the higher computer ranking going in, but it’s a unique combination of results).  Clemson will probably pass up Notre Dame and stay ahead of Alabama next week, but if I’m not going to put the computer #1 anyway, I might as well keep the #1 I have.

Since returning from an injury suffered against Syracuse, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence has led the Tigers to an average victory of 60-9 in the last 4 games.  In Chestnut Hill on Saturday, Boston College will try to give the Tigers their first loss of the season.

Next week the #1 will definitely be the highest undefeated team, which I would also expect to be the computer #1.  If it’s Alabama, then I won’t be changing the #1 (although the Citadel in the following week probably wouldn’t be enough stay #1).  If it’s Clemson, then they’ll have earned it with a road win over a decent opponent (Boston College).  If it’s Notre Dame, I’ll be less impressed, but they’ll have to defend it against a good Syracuse team the next week. 

If by some bizarre circumstance the computer #1 is Georgia, I would go with an undefeated team because the Bulldogs play UMass the next week; and someone would likely pass them up.  Michigan is playing Rutgers next week, so that’s not really a concern even if there were some major upsets.

I guess it looks weird how much Central Florida moved up, but the win over Temple gave the Knights a much better strength of schedule.  They’re still behind a number of teams with losses (including a few with two losses), which I think is appropriate. 

Usually I only talk about my top 25, but I thought it was interesting that this is the first time there have been three Sun Belt teams in my top 40 at the same time (Appalachian St., Georgia Southern, and Troy).  Usually there are none.  I guess it was a good idea for Appalachian St. and Georgia Southern to join the FBS, although Georgia Southern just lost to UL-Monroe.

This is the first time UAB has been in my rankings since they canceled the football program in 2014 before reinstating it last season.  I’m not saying the Blazers will win, but Texas A&M may get more than they bargained for in a couple of weeks.

Despite there being 6 nationally ranked SEC teams, the Mississippi St.-Alabama game that I mentioned could be the last conference game between ranked teams before the SEC championship.  The Bulldogs have been held to single digits in three different SEC games so far, so I’m not giving them much of a chance.  I hope I’m wrong.  LSU and Alabama could be playing ranked teams in three weeks; but Texas A&M would have to pass up a lot of teams despite an unremarkable schedule, and Auburn would probably have to upset Georgia. 

I would say this is the last normal SEC week.  Next week, there are only 3 SEC games as most teams will play non-CFP-conference opponents.  Then in rivalry week, a few teams (Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Kentucky) also will be playing out of conference.  This is why the SEC East champion is often decided much earlier.  The SEC West was clinched only a few hours later this year because Alabama is at least three games ahead of everyone but LSU, who is two games back with two to play (and who would lose the tiebreaker anyway).

RankTeamPrev.
1Alabama1
2Clemson2
3Notre Dame3
4Georgia6
5Michigan5
6LSU4
7Oklahoma8
8Wash St.11
9Kentucky7
10Ohio St.10
11W. Virginia18
12Army14
13C. Florida25
14Michigan St.
15Penn St.13
16Washington21
17Florida9
18Buffalo19
19Fresno St.17
20NC State20
21Texas16
22Duke
23UAB
24Iowa12
25Boston College

Out of Top 25: (15) Utah, (22) Ga. Southern (23) Stanford, (24) Iowa St.

Advertisements

Alabama Offense vs. LSU Defense

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

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

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

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

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

Historical Precedent in General

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historical Precedent in LSU-Alabama Series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comparison to Other Games This Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction

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

Georgia-LSU Series and Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LSU-Auburn: Home Field Advantage

In College Football, General LSU, Preview, Rivalry on September 14, 2018 at 6:23 PM

I’ve discussed the LSU-Auburn series before. A lot of people don’t realize it was rarely played before the famous Earthquake Game in 1988. That’s one reason why when Auburn won in 1999 (the Cigar Game), it was only their third win in Baton Rouge in 60 years. Details of the interesting games before 2008 are in the link above.

Auburn has won 12 of the 19 games in the series that have been played in Auburn. LSU has only won at Auburn twice since 1998, both against teams that finished with losing records. Those happened to be the last respective years that Tommy Tuberville (2008) and Gene Chizik (2012) coached there.

LSU WR Stephen Sullivan dives into the end zone on 4th down to put the Fighting Tigers on the score board in Baton Rouge last year.

LSU was about one second of clock management away from winning in their last trip to the Plains, and that was not only Les Miles’ last season but his last game.

When this first became an annual series in 1992, it was typically the first SEC game for LSU; but this is a rare instance in which it is also the first SEC game for Auburn. From 2001 to 2011, the game was only played in September three times, but it seems September is going to return to being the default going forward.

Two years ago, LSU was the more experienced team, and the Fighting Tigers (that’s how I will refer to LSU in this blog) lost. As I discussed in my preseason blog, this time the roles are reversed. It’s only a difference of 3 returning starters though.

Although they were generally in Baton Rouge, I wanted to highlight some instances in which LSU has done relatively well against Auburn given the respective results of the teams for the season.

One that was in Auburn that was a really good game was 2010. Both teams were undefeated going into that game, but the Fighting Tigers were only ranked #6 and the Plainsmen (how I will refer to Auburn) were #4. LSU would later lose to Arkansas, and Auburn would win out.

The game started disastrously for LSU as Auburn capitalized on a Jordan Jefferson interception in LSU’s opening drive and scored the game’s first touchdown on the ensuing drive.

The score was 10-10 at the half though. Especially given the start of the game, this seemed to be an advantage to LSU since the game was a battle between the top SEC offense and the top SEC defense, but the Fighting Tigers struggled even more offensively in the second half. Nonetheless, on a halfback pass by Spencer Ware, LSU was able to tie the game at 17 with 12:16 left.

The LSU defense came through one more time when Auburn turned the ball over on downs at the LSU 40 with 7:51 left. The LSU 3-and-out that followed was just too much for the Fighting Tiger defense though. It only took 3 rushing plays (Newton 16 yards, Dyer 4 yards, and McCalebb 70 yards) for Auburn to drive 90 yards for the winning touchdown with 5:05 left. The Fighting Tigers were again unable to get a first down in the next possession, and the Plainsmen ran out the clock.

When Auburn was 80 seconds away from the national championship Florida St. won in 2013, their only prior loss had been to LSU in Baton Rouge. It was only an upset in retrospect though, because Auburn was unranked going into the game, and LSU was #6. LSU led 21-0 at the half and was never seriously challenged. (This game is not to be confused with the 2015 game in which LSU lead 24-0 at the half.) LSU’s Jeremy Hill rushed for 184 yards (and other backs combined for another 51 yards), so even though Auburn got within a couple of possessions, losing 35-21, it was too easy for LSU to control the clock in the second half.

LSU would finish 10-3. The Fighting Tigers would lose close games to Georgia and Ole Miss before Alabama pulled way in the last third of the game to beat them by 21. Auburn would advance to the SEC Championship game on the famous Kick Six against Alabama.

Finally, last year, Auburn again got to represent the SEC West in the championship game after beating Alabama. Once again though, when you look back, the one regularly scheduled loss was against LSU. The Fighting Tigers had already lost to Mississippi St. and Troy (although looking back those two teams combined for 20 victories), and Auburn was undefeated and #10 in the country.

This time it was the Auburn Tigers who scored the game’s first 20 points. If you don’t remember what happened next, feel free to see last year’s blog under the heading “LSU-Auburn Game Recap and Analysis”.

I’m going to list the games since and including that 2010 national championship season for Auburn. LSU had won the prior 3 games and 6 of the last 9 in the series. In 4 of those 6 years LSU won the SEC West, and after 1 of those Auburn wins they won the SEC West. 2010 was the last year in which this game was basically (in hindsight) the SEC West championship game.

2010: @Auburn 24, LSU 17
2011: @LSU 45, Auburn 10
2012: LSU 12, @Auburn 10
2013: @LSU 35, Auburn 21
2014: @Auburn 41, LSU 7
2015: @LSU 45, Auburn 21
2016: @Auburn 18, LSU 13
2017: @LSU 27, Auburn 23

Bold = Represented the SEC West in the SEC Championship Game
Underline =team beat Alabama
(Apologies for not making a neater chart, but I didn’t want to publish this any later than necessary.)

Top 25 after Week 1 (and Week 0)

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 4, 2018 at 3:09 PM

I don’t usually change the rankings too much after the first week, but I’ve modified my approach somewhat. I’ll explain with LSU and U. Miami, which of course was the main game I wanted to talk about anyway. I think U. Miami, for instance, is better than 25th; but they lost and didn’t play very well. That puts them behind most teams at the moment, so it’s a balance between the potential upside of this season and where you are after the one or two results each team has so far (none of the teams below have played two games yet.) In years past, I would have put both teams toward the middle of the top 25.

Nick Brossette’s 50-yard run was the only touchdown of more than one yard by the LSU offense against U. Miami (Brossette scored the other one as well).

I don’t want to put LSU in the top 15 though since there were still some weaknesses (mostly due to inexperience) exposed. It’s concerning that the Tigers had a worse third-down conversion percentage, fewer first downs, fewer pass completions, fewer yards per pass, and fewer total yards. Without the two interceptions (LSU committed no turnovers themselves), the Tigers would have had a very good chance of losing at the end. It would have changed the final score to 23-17, and that’s if U. Miami didn’t score on the drives in which the interceptions took place and if we assume a late Hurricane punt (rather than a fourth-down-conversion attempt) wouldn’t have given U. Miami good enough field position to score again.

Although no one in the top 25 had as disappointing a result as the Hurricanes did, there weren’t any performances by unranked teams that I thought merited them a spot in the top 25.

I have to say I was impressed by the performance of the SEC. Tennessee lost as expected, but they kept the game close for longer than I thought they would (West Virginia led only 13-7 at the half). Auburn-Washington was a bit of a coin flip, but I certainly wasn’t counting on that one. I thought LSU and Ole Miss (in Houston against Texas Tech) were likely to lose, but both won easily. I also wouldn’t have been shocked had Vanderbilt lost at home against Middle Tennessee, but they won by 28.

Kentucky committed 4 turnovers and was threatened in the first half by Central Michigan, but every other team won by more than I expected.

Notre Dame-Michigan was the only non-SEC game between ranked teams. I felt the need to put Michigan behind LSU, but I still expect the Irish and Wolverines to finish close together, as I had them in my preseason rankings.

The other major movement in my rankings was in dropping Penn St. and Michigan St. I was concerned by the level of experience in both respective teams, and the close results of their games (Penn St. beat Appalachian St. in overtime, and Michigan St. beat Utah St. by 7) raised my level of concern. Iowa and Maryland did better than I expected, so I’m not down on the Big Ten overall though. They’re both on my rankings watch list, as are Minnesota and Northwestern.

In the ACC, I feel vindicated by not ranking Florida St.; but Virginia Tech is another team I have my eye on. Duke is another possibility. There aren’t any other unranked teams worth mentioning right now, but that can always change with upsets.

rank/team/prev.
1 Alabama 1
2 Clemson 2
3 Georgia 3
4 Wisconsin 4
5 Ohio St. 5
6 Oklahoma 7
7 Stanford 8
8 Auburn 10
9 Notre Dame 12
10 USC 14
11 Washington 6
12 Miss. St. 16
13 Florida 17
14 Boise St. 18
15 Fresno St. 19
16 UCF 20
17 LSU 24
18 Michigan 13
19 Penn St. 15
20 Mich. St. 9
21 TCU 21
22 Memphis 22
23 S Carolina 23
24 Okie St. 25
25 U. Miami 11

Week 4 Top 25

In College Football, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 17, 2017 at 2:36 PM

If you’re looking for my comments about the LSU game, go here.

This week starts the transition to my objective computer system. A couple of disclaimers for those who may not remember. No one is being penalized for a win (if they move down after one), only for not accomplishing good wins. Ranking team A ahead of team B does not necessarily mean I think team A would beat team B.

Once the transition is complete, teams will be in order of their accomplishments (with points subtracted for losses of course). For the moment though, I’m still giving some deference to my subjective rankings.

Auburn and Florida St., for instance, aren’t even in the top 60 of the objective ratings. They’re basically placeholders for right now. I rate them highly enough subjectively to stay in; but as I give less importance to that, they will likely fall out until they can compensate for the respective losses with quality wins.

Apart from those two exceptions, I required all the other teams to at least be better than U. Miami, which hasn’t played a game against an FBS opponent yet and only has a win over Bethune-Cookman. I guess another disclaimer is I don’t BLAME the team for not having played anyone due to weather events, but it’s not a moral judgment. The whole point of my ratings system is to boil it down to what has been shown on the field.

Anyway, a couple of other teams I considered were Iowa and Colorado; but they both have big games next week where they can play their way in (Penn St. @ Iowa and Washington @ Colorado). In addition to those two, some other match-ups of unbeatens will be significant: Alabama @ Vanderbilt, TCU @ Oklahoma St., Mississippi St. @ Georgia, USC @ UC-Berkeley, Toledo @ U. Miami, Texas Tech @ Houston, and UCF @ Maryland.

Something useful to look at if there are questions about some of these teams is wins by opponents. Kentucky’s opponents have a total of four wins (three of those against FBS teams). UC-Berkeley’s opponents have four wins (two of those over FBS teams). Mississippi St.’s are the same as Cal’s (just not quite as good), and so forth.

rank/team/prev.
1 Alabama 1
2 Oklahoma 2
3 Clemson 4
4 Penn St. 3
5 Wisconsin 5
6 Okla St. 6
7 Michigan 7
8 USC 8
9 Georgia 12
10 Ohio St. 9
11 Kentucky –
12 UC-Berkeley –
13 Mississippi St. –
14 Vanderbilt –

San Diego St….


… and Vanderbilt scored major wins over ranked teams late on Saturday night.

15 San Diego St. –
16 Florida 17
17 Washington 11
18 South Florida 18
19 Memphis –
20 Louisville 20
21 Wash. St. 21
22 TCU 22
23 Oregon 24
24 Florida St. 10
25 Auburn 15

Out of top 25: (13) LSU, (14) Kansas St., (16) Stanford, (19) U. Miami, (23) Tennessee, (25) S. Carolina

Cancellations and (later) Game Previews

In College Football, History, NFL, Preview on September 9, 2017 at 11:09 AM

I will not make a habit of posting game previews on Saturday, but it just worked out that way this week. I didn’t look for pictures but may do so later.

Cancellations

First of all, I want to make clear that South Florida (and possibly parts of North Florida, West Florida, South Georgia, etc.) are under very serious threat and nothing about Hurricane Irma should be taken lightly.

But being that hurricanes are storm systems that move methodically and don’t shoot out death rays from hundreds of miles away, I do have some criticism over games that were canceled.

hurricane 0909

I understand South Florida and Miami deciding not to play even though they had road games. There would have been too many distractions on Saturday, and there would have been legitimate concerns about the ability to go back after game activities without getting stuck. Preparing to make a couple of days’ trip for a football game and preparing to evacuate indefinitely are two very different things. Maybe the two games could have been moved up to Friday if the decision had been made earlier in the week, but it’s hard to coordinate that with road games against opponents who aren’t used to hurricanes.

I don’t think Florida and Florida St. needed to cancel their games though. I think they should have done what LSU did with the Appalachian St. game in 2008 and played the games in the early morning on Saturday (10:00 Central was early for me anyway, especially as a West Coast resident). The storm would have still been in Cuba at that time, and it would have allowed plenty of storm preparation to help out evacuees from other places.

Along the same lines, I don’t know why it was necessary to cancel the Friday game in Orlando (Memphis @ Central Florida). Attendance might have been low with people having difficulty traveling or for whatever reason having more important matters to attend to, but make-up games often have low attendance anyway.

Anyway, if there are hurricane-force winds in Gainesville, it would probably not be until Monday morning, even later in Tallahassee (if at all). I know some of the players would have had family evacuating from South Florida, but South Floridians play at a large number of schools. I think the primary concern should be for the teams whose campuses were under immediate threat.

Also, for the NFL game, there is of course no question that the game should have been moved. It could have been played at a neutral site elsewhere in Florida, but obviously Florida and Florida St. didn’t want to host games this weekend for NFL or college. Maybe Jacksonville could have been a possibility, but I guess that would have been too close to the anticipated path of the storm. There was also the fact that the Dolphins would have only had six home games. (They already gave up one to play the Saints in London.)

Florida International, which is in the Miami area, managed to host a game on Friday, which makes it even more baffling to me that Central Florida canceled their game. FIU beat Alcorn St. 17-10 if you were curious. Maybe FIU has more sense because they have an international hurricane research center on campus. Also, Florida Atlantic, which is in Boca Raton (North of Miami), is playing @Wisconsin now (Wisconsin will win, but it was surprisingly competitive).

Another possibility is that the road teams who were traveling to Florida got nervous, but I hope that wasn’t the case. I would think someone could have explained that although circular winds in this one have been 160 mph or more within the last day a hurricane isn’t going to suddenly start moving across the map at such a speed. I’m pretty sure people in Monroe understood that, but I’m less sure about whatever city Northern Colorado is in.

Another LSU memory I have is of 2005 when LSU didn’t play Tennessee until Monday night because Hurricane Rita was too close for Tennessee and its fans even though that Saturday in Baton Rouge was just a normal fall evening. Rita was a very destructive storm, just not for Baton Rouge and not on Saturday. That game was also notable because it was Les Miles’ first SEC game at LSU. I’d rather not recall the game itself.

One good thing is that other than Central Florida, none of the games were conference games. Those can cause all kinds of issues later in the year. As you might recall, the SEC had to threaten Florida’s possible berth in the SEC championship (which they eventually earned) before the Gators finally decided to play LSU last year.

Today’s Big Games

Anyway, I did want to talk a little bit about the games that will be played. As I mentioned above, the conference games are the most important, and there is an SEC game between residents of the two “Columbias” (South Carolina and Missouri). I decided that instead of picking all games involving SEC teams, I would just do the conference games and maybe a few extras in weeks with few conference games. So in this game, I’m picking South Carolina +3. I just don’t think Missouri is very good despite all the points they scored last week. They scored 61 against Eastern Michigan last year but lost to South Carolina by 10. I don’t see why the same sort of scenario is less realistic this year.

Offensive lineman Mason Zandi hoists the “Columbia Cup” after last year’s game.

Clemson isn’t in the SEC obviously, but they’re playing Auburn. Clemson won by 6 last year with the best team they’ve had in over 30 years and Auburn was relatively mediocre. So I’m taking Auburn and 5. Auburn might even win, but if they don’t, I can easily see them losing by 3 or 4 and not more.

Somehow Notre Dame is favored by 5 over Georgia. I think if anything Georgia will outperform expectations. Notre Dame’s expectations seem to be unjustifiably positive as usual, so I’m taking Georgia and the points there.

I guess I’ll go against the SEC in the early game of interest, which is TCU (-3) @ Arkansas. Arkansas has started slow a few times in recent years. I think TCU has more of the pieces in place even though I think Kenny Hill probably has a lower ceiling than some of the other quarterbacks in the Big XII alone, but he had a pretty good game in the early going in 2014 against an SEC team (Texas A&M @ South Carolina). Not saying he’ll pass for over 500 yards, just enough to win by 3 or more.

I’m not going to pick any more games against the spread, but there was another early game I’m very eager to follow, which is Pitt at Penn St. It was a great finish last year and probably kept the Nittany Lions out of the playoff in hindsight.

A few other big evening games I haven’t mentioned: Oklahoma @ Ohio St. (two of my top 4, hopefully better than Alabama/Florida St. game), Stanford @ USC (the Trojans were underwhelming last week, but maybe WMU is good), and Boise St. @ Washington St. (I’d take the over, although both struggled offensively in the last couple of games last season).

Week 2 Top 25

In College Football, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 5, 2017 at 4:54 PM

I was in a hurry for last week’s rankings, so the numbers in parentheses refer to last year’s final ranking. The numbers in the middle for the top 25 are last week’s rating. Reasoning below.

1 Alabama 1 (2)
2 Ohio St. 2 (3)
3 Oklahoma 4 (5)
4 Penn St. 5 (8)
5 Clemson 6 (1)
6 Wisconsin 7 (7)
7 Stanford 8 (14)
8 Okla St. 9 (13)
9 Michigan (11)
10 Florida St. 3 (6)
11 Washington 10 (4)
12 Georgia 11 (–)
13 LSU 14 (–)
14 Auburn 15 (–)
15 USC 13 (10)
16 Kansas St. 17 (–)
17 Florida 12 (16)
18 South Florida 16 (18)
19 U. Miami 18 (20)
20 Louisville 19 (25)
21 Northwestern 20 (–)
22 Wash. St. 21 (–)
23 TCU 22 (–)
24 Tennessee 23 (12)
25 Oregon 25 (–)

Fell out after Week 1: 24 Texas (–)

Others ranked at end of 2016: (9) W. Michigan, (15) Colorado, (17) Boise St., (19) App. St., (21) VA Tech, (22) W. Virginia, (23) W. Kentucky, (24) Georgia Tech

Alabama’s Jalen Hurts looks to pass against Florida State.

As expected, Alabama once again asserted itself as a major contender for the national title, inasmuch as that can be done in Week 1.

Ohio St. struggled in the first half, but I didn’t see any other major teams playing a conference road game. I’m not going to pretend Indiana is great, but the Hoosiers have made it to bowl games in the past two seasons. Most importantly, the Buckeyes pulled away fairly easily in the second half.

There is nothing really to add about #3 to #8; they all did what they were supposed to do.

I didn’t have Michigan ranked all that highly at the end of last year – when they lost three of the last four – and they had very few returning starters, so that’s why I opted not to rank them in the preseason. I didn’t see them as another 2016 Ohio St. because Jim Harbaugh has only been there a couple of years, but it looks like he has enough good young players to compete against some of the top teams. I’m not predicting that they will beat Ohio St., Wisconsin, or Penn St., but the chances of winning one of them are higher than I had them before the Florida game.

Florida St. had more success against Alabama than they’re being given credit for because they only managed to score 7 points, but I’m also not going to pretend that the loss of their starting quarterback for the season doesn’t lessen their likelihood for success. So that’s why I put them behind Michigan even though a few days ago I had Florida St. projected in the playoff and Michigan unranked. There are a number of teams that won’t get to prove themselves for a few weeks like Michigan has, so it may be that other teams just need to catch up.

Some of the teams that are a spot lower didn’t do anything wrong but have Michigan inserted ahead of them, but I think Washington deserved to fall out of the top 10 after not putting away Rutgers (one of the worst power 5 teams last year) very convincingly.

Georgia and LSU both played apparently decent teams and both won by more than 20. If I really wanted to punish Washington I would have put them below those two; but like with Ohio St., I can’t be too critical about playing their first game on the road like that even though Ohio St. probably played a much better team.

Auburn didn’t have a very good opponent in Georgia Southern, but the Eagles did give Ole Miss about all they could handle last year.

USC seemed overwhelmed for all but the last 5 minutes or the game.

USC struggled with Western Michigan, which makes me feel vindicated about not rating them as highly as a lot of people did. We’ll see how well the Trojans handle Stanford though. If they win, I’ll likely put them in the top 10 all the same.

Kansas St. had a rough quarter and a half, but I can’t complain too much regardless of the opponent when you’re up 22 at halftime. I think they have more pieces in place than Florida or South Florida does. I need to see South Florida or Miami do more to put them ahead of the Gators as #2 in the state.

Louisville didn’t do very well against Purdue, but it’s a win over a power 5 team. There was certainly no reason to put Northwestern ahead after the Wildcats didn’t really separate themselves from Nevada until 5 minutes left in the game.

Washington St. finally took care of business against an FCS opponent after losing to Portland St. and Eastern Washington, respectively, in the past two years. TCU and Oregon also won easily over FCS opponents.

Tennessee held on in overtime against Georgia Tech, whom I regarded as #26 entering the year, so I saw no reason to move the Vols up or down relative to the neighboring teams.


(Georgia Tech’s failed conversion)

Paul Johnson of Georgia Tech got praise for going for 2, but that’s nonsense. It’s giving the other team the advantage when you go for 2 after they go for 1. You should make decisions to give your own team the advantage. Two-point-conversions are only successful about 40% of the time, and Georgia Tech had at worst a 50% chance of winning in overtime (or arguably higher given how easily the Yellow Jackets scored the last touchdown). The only good reason to go for two there is if you believe that Tennessee was somehow in the process of gaining more than a 3:2 advantage going forward. The commentators mentioned how they would have had to go for 2 in the next overtime anyway, but so did Tennessee. So in that case, it wouldn’t have been an automatic disadvantage.

LSU and Major SEC Games Week 1

In College Football, General LSU, History, Post-game on September 4, 2017 at 3:04 PM

Strange times in the SEC, but I suppose it’s not too unusual that LSU and Alabama look good in the early going.

I’m still getting used to the absence of people like Les Miles, Steve Spurrier, and Mark Richt.

Less significantly, Hugh Freeze is gone now too. Based on recent developments, Kevin Sumlin may be on his way out as well. It’s a tough job and you expect turnover, but it’s getting to the point where you can barely get used to people.

Despite managing to win the East the past two years, Florida has been struggling against non-divisional major-conference opponents for a long time. By my count, the Gators have dropped the 16 of the last 20 such contests (see the end of the blog for the list).

So although I’ve never been a fan, it’s been disconcerting to have Florida struggle outside of its own division as well. It’s not the Spurrier or Meyer days there anymore for sure.

Moving on to specifics over the weekend, Florida St. (who incidentally is responsible for four of those Gator losses) made me feel a little bit better about the fact that LSU was shut out against Alabama about 10 months ago. That’s a pretty talented quarterback with a pretty talented play-caller (actually one of the best), and the Tide held them to only 7 points. LSU had an interim OC and a quarterback who couldn’t manage to hold the starting job at Purdue a couple of years before.

The Seminoles’ longest run from scrimmage was 9 yards. If that happens to LSU against Alabama, we’re most likely going to see another shutout.

Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher when Fisher was Saban’s offensive coordinator at LSU. Of course, they were head coaches on opposite sides of the Alabama-Florida St. game.

I do want to be fair to both Florida St. and Alabama (which did show some weaknesses in giving up 210 passing yards) going forward though. If Florida St. struggles in the passing game this year, it may be due to the season-ending injury of that quarterback at the end of the game. If Alabama’s defense doesn’t look quite as good, it may be because that unit suffered a couple of season-ending injuries as well.

Going back to Florida for a moment, the score makes the Gators offense looks a lot better than it was because two of the scores were from interception returns. Even without any injuries, Florida may struggle at the QB position more than Florida St. does going forward.

Another program that shouldn’t be feeling too good is Texas A&M. When you’re paying your head coach $5 million per year and your defensive coordinator $1.55 million, you don’t blow a 44-10 lead. That’s something that happens to a school where the head coach and DC are lucky to get $1 million per year combined.

Kevin Sumlin (left) and John Chavis probably don’t have very secure jobs at the moment.

So with the big headline scores in the SEC out of the way, I’m going to talk a bit about my Tigers. It might not be quite as impressive as holding Florida St. to 250 total yards; but BYU isn’t Savannah St. or anything, and the Cougars were held below 100 total yards for the game.

The negative rushing yardage was the lowest by an LSU opponent since Ole Miss in 1982. The longest run from scrimmage being only six yards was the “lowest long” since Tulane in 1976.

On the LSU rushing side, there will be some criticisms that the Tigers ran too much, but when you average over 5 yards per carry and only have to punt once, you can theoretically run every down without it being “too much”.

Although he only threw 17 passes, Danny Etling (the former Purdue quarterback I mentioned) had the highest completion percentage since Zach Mettenberger was 25/29 in Week 6 of 2013. Unlike Mett, Etling didn’t throw an interception though. Etling mostly threw short passes, but he did throw one pass for 52 yards and another for 32.

DJ Chark catches a 52-yard pass from Danny Etling to set up the Tigers’ second touchdown in the second quarter.

It was far from a perfect game though, as you’d expect from a first game. At halftime of his game Nick Saban said something like, “We made a lot of mistakes, but we got away with most of them.” Same applies here to some extent.

LSU did get to third down 10 times, which resulted in 5 conversions, 3 field-goal attempts (1 missed), 1 punt, and 1 failed fourth down attempt. So only 3 of the 10 were complete failures.

Without a deep threat and without the ability to gain speed in space, the offense did sputter at times in the red zone. The failed fourth-down attempt was on the goal line and it looked like a combination of the wrong back and a missed block. I don’t think it was a bad play call though.

There could have been some more passing plays called in the red zone, but there were reasons not to call those. When you have less margin for error, there is a greater chance of an interception. LSU’s field goal kicking is a work in progress. Giving up a sack could have taken them out of field goal range. Also, since LSU was ahead by 14 or more points for 2/3 of the game, it was obviously in the Tigers’ interest to run the clock.

A couple of other minor things that could be problems in the future…

The one LSU drive (the first one) that led to a punt was mostly due to 15 penalty yards. LSU was also penalized a total of 15 yards in the drive that ended in a missed field goal. In total, the Tigers were penalized 10 times for a total of 86 yards in the game.

LSU had a lot of kickoffs, which is good, but on many of them the coverage outran the return team. This is how you give up special teams touchdowns. It didn’t happen, but I’m sure there will be someone back to make them pay in some of the SEC games without improvement. The average BYU kick return was still almost 20 yards.

At any rate, I’m more optimistic than I was going into the game. I think the line was 14.5, which seemed about right to me. If anything I thought LSU would win by less than that. I’m impressed by how well the young players did, and to think many of them are second string right now gives me hope for both this season and for the future. We have to go one week at a time, but I have a feeling that we could at least win more big games than we lose in October and November.

I don’t anticipate having much to say about LSU after next week’s game, but I’m going to consider what kind of blog I want to write in the middle of the week going forward. This will be a much shorter week than normal since I won’t have the top 25 until tomorrow.

Many were on the road or at neutral sites, but the Swamp still isn’t what it used to be.

This was the list of Florida games I referred to earlier.
1/2/13 Louisville (Sugar Bowl) L 23-33
9/7/13 @Miami L 16-21
10/5/13 Arkansas W 30-10
10/12/13 @LSU L 6-17
11/30/13 Florida St. L 7-37
9/20/14 @Alabama L 21-42
10/11/14 LSU L 27-30
11/29/14 @Florida St. L 19-24
10/3/15 Ole Miss W 38-10
10/17/15 @LSU L 28-35
11/28/15 Florida St. L 2-27
12/5/15 Alabama (SEC Champ) L 15-29
1/1/16 Michigan (Citrus Bowl) L 7-41
11/5/16 @Arkansas L 10-31
11/19/16 @LSU W 16-10
11/26/16 @Florida St. L 13-31
12/3/16 Alabama (SEC Champ) L 16-54
1/2/17 Iowa (Outback Bowl) W 30-3
9/2/17 Michigan L 17-33

Season Preview/Week 1 Top 25

In College Football, Preview, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on August 31, 2017 at 3:39 PM

I’m pasting my word version of this at 7:30 Eastern. Check back in an hour or so and it will be better quality and have pictures. I just wanted to make sure it was up before any games really got going. I have no idea of anything that happened since I just got done driving back in a rainstorm and haven’t turned on the TV or logged onto any sports sites.

As always, my first few rankings will be subjective. In preseason this means I look at what I believe the potential of each team is rather than a mathematical assessment of results, which is my approach after the first few weeks (and a couple of weeks’ transition).

Of course there are several teams that could under some circumstance end up winning the whole thing, but some of those could also finish outside the top 20. I think the odds are against Alabama being the national champion this year, but I can’t think of a single team more likely to be the national champion. I also can’t imagine the Tide losing more than maybe 3 games despite what may well end up being the best schedule (SEC West + Florida St. + Tennessee). So I think their range of likely outcomes is better than that of any other team.

The teams that I basically considered eligible for my preseason top 25 were the top 52 teams from last year (I thought it was worth looking into Arkansas and they were 52nd, so that’s the only logic there) and any other major-conference teams which had 16 or more returning starters (not counting kickers).

I had some trouble reducing the number of teams I wanted to consider though, so I did make somewhat of a formula just to give me a range of where I might want to put teams and to reduce the number to around 30 teams to consider. This formula was just based on last year’s rating in my system (modified to make them all positive numbers) and number of returning starters. This was a rough estimate of how good the returning group of players is.

The last team I eliminated was Georgia Tech. Despite some other returning starters, the Yellow Jackets don’t have returning kickers or a returning quarterback, so I thought it was more likely that they would take a step back from last season at the end of which I had them 24th. That was the only team I really struggled with.

There is a lot of talent to replace, but that hasn’t stopped this man from smiling at the end of the season before.

1) Alabama has a relatively small number of returning starters, but that has not stopped them from having very good teams in the last few years, and this time we know who the quarterback is because he’s among those starters. The Tide was a close #2 last year (both on the field and in the ratings) and was far ahead of #3 Ohio St.

2) Speaking of the Ohio St., they had among the fewest returning starters last season and still made the semifinals. I wouldn’t care if they lost that last game 100-0, it took a quality program to get there under the circumstances. I briefly considered the Buckeyes for the top spot.

3) Other than Clemson, Florida St. is the other recent (2011 and after) major national champion I haven’t mentioned. After being blown out against Louisville and losing a nail-biter against North Carolina, the Seminoles dropped only one game, one they easily could have won against Clemson.

4) Despite the ’Noles’ impressive finish, I had Oklahoma finishing ahead of them in the final rankings last year. Being that they have 16 returning starters including a very good quarterback, I could not justify ranking the Sooners any lower. I strongly believe this is the most likely final 4 even though Florida St. obviously plays Alabama in a few days.

5) Penn St. won the highly competitive Big Ten last season and returns 16 starters, so yet again they may be the best team out before the bowl season. Or perhaps the loser of Alabama/Florida St. can’t walk the tight rope the rest of the year, which will open up a spot.

6) Speaking of walking a tight rope, that’s what Clemson did for most of last year. I don’t believe those Tigers would have finished the SEC or Big Ten with only one loss, but that’s a different scenario from being the best team in the country for one game (maybe two) at the end. That’s not to say they weren’t the deserving national champions, but – being that they will have to find a new quarterback and replace approximately half of the starters – I consider Clemson less likely to finish in the top 5 than the others.

7) Wisconsin finished a close second in the Big Ten to Penn St., and the championship-game loss was the Badgers’ only loss since falling in overtime to Ohio St. on October 15. The Badgers return 15 starters.

8) Stanford had an awful 9 days in the early season last year in which they were outscored (by the two big Washington teams) 86-22. But other than that, the Cardinal only had a single 5-point loss and I still ended up ranking them 13th. They return 16 starters.

9) There is no other good combination of strong finish last year and high number of returning starters. One team I was personally impressed with was Oklahoma St. I just feel like the Cowboys have a little bit better upside potential. The defense will be a question mark though.

Two of the most exciting quarterbacks this season are expected to be in the state of Oklahoma.

10) Rounding out the top 10 is Washington. I don’t really expect them to finish in the top 10, but I think it’s right to show some degree of deference to a team which made the semifinals last year, and I just don’t think much on paper separates #9 to about #15.

11) Georgia replaced Mark Richt before last season and got worse, but I think it was most likely part of the calculation that the Bulldogs were not likely to have a great season either way. Their only losses down the stretch were two games by a point apiece (Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech) and the Cocktail Party against Florida. I think the results of games like that will be overturned with the benefit of experience that 17 returning starters provide.

12) Speaking of Florida, I don’t think we can overlook them in the East either. That Cocktail Party game can go either way though, and 14 returning starters after winning the East is still pretty good. The Gators had to play two of the best-finishing teams toward the end, or otherwise they could have finished in the top 10.

13) I had to split up the group of SEC teams with someone, so I chose the SEC’s nemesis (though not on the field) from 13 years ago or so USC. The Trojans had an overdue breakthrough season last year, winning the Rose Bowl; but the Men of Troy do not have a large number of returning starters, so I’m skeptical they can do it again.

For the first time in 10 years, Ed Orgeron will lead a team onto the field to start the season.

14) So this is the lowest I have ranked LSU in the preseason in a long time, but I have to treat the Tigers like I would any other team in their position. The program has been out of the spotlight for the last 5 seasons, and I think they’ve lost too much talent to be a vast improvement over last season. But #14 is a lot better than they finished in my ratings last year, so this doesn’t mean I don’t expect improvement. The Fighting Tigers lost three games in the waning moments and had an eminently respectable loss to Alabama. If they can open up the same opportunities, the improved offensive coordinator and quarterback situation could make the difference.

15) One of those last-second LSU losses was to Auburn, whom they briefly appeared to beat last season before it was determined time expired before what would have been the winning score. Those Tigers return more starters, but it’s still not clear why the Plainsmen fell short of expectations last year despite making the Sugar Bowl. While I understood why they made the Sugar Bowl, I did not believe they were the most deserving team for that game. I give a little less credit to returning starters on a team that in its last five games lost three games (and didn’t look good in any of them), barely beat Vanderbilt in a home game, and beat up on Alabama A&M.

You might hear a lot about South Florida and Quinton Flowers this season. You also might hear the phrase “strength of schedule” mentioned at the same time though.

16) Although they barely beat South Carolina in the bowl (which is why I had to put them below 5 SEC teams), South Florida made significant strides last year and returns a large number of starters including a senior quarterback and two senior kickers. The Bulls only plan to start a handful of players who aren’t juniors or seniors. It could go either way, but USF could easily be the last undefeated team this season.

17) This might catch some people off-guard, but Kansas St. was solid in most of every game last year. The fell behind early in Norman and could never quite catch up, but that was the only big loss (21) and was back on October 15. The only loss since was by six to Oklahoma St., and in the following weeks they won by more than 20 points in both Waco and Fort Worth. Fourteen starters including the quarterback return.

18) I mentioned Mark Richt, now at the U. of Miami, above. He definitely has the ability to get teams into this range, although the top 10 has been elusive for some time. The Hurricanes have to find a new quarterback but return 15 other starters after winning their last five games easily last season. The Notre Dame game is mystifying to me, but three of the four losses were by one possession.

19) Louisville didn’t go out with a very good look in the bowl loss to LSU last season with the aforementioned blowout of Florida St. a distant memory. The Cardinals also finished out with a big loss to Houston and what must have been a frustrating loss to Kentucky. Lamar Jackson is back, but with all of his major targets and most of his blockers missing. The defense has holes too, but that was not a stellar unit in the first place.

20) Northwestern nearly beat Ohio St. late in the year, and I can forgive losing to Wisconsin by 14. Losing to Minnesota by 17 isn’t great, but those were the only three losses since last September. The Wildcats return 17 starters. We’re in the area where everyone has some flaws, so that’s good enough for me.

Mike Leach can run an offense, but his teams have struggled with consistency throughout the season.

21) Washington St. will return 16 starters including the quarterback and had an impressive 8-game winning streak before understandable losses to Washington and Colorado (although they could have been closer). The bowl performance was uninspired, but they could have easily won that one as well as the two losses the Cougars suffered to begin the year. The two early losses are mostly the ones that kept Wazzu out of the top 25, but since that was nearly a year ago, I can’t figure those too highly.

22) TCU was very inconsistent last season, but Gary Patterson has managed to bounce back before (such as improving from 4-8 to 12-1 from 2013 to 2014), and I don’t see why that should change. The Horned Frogs have 17 returning starters including quarterback Kenny Hill.

23) Tennessee in some respects had a breakthrough season last year with wins over both Georgia and Florida, but they also showed they were not quite ready for prime time in some other games. I expect a little bit more of the latter this year, but like Texas I could at least see them as a spoiler team for someone.

24) Texas had a losing record last year, but they played pretty well in losses (apart from the last quarter and a half of the season against TCU), and I think the combination of experience and a new coach could make them at least a spoiler in the Big XII.

25) I mentioned TCU bouncing back from a 4-8 season a few years ago, and Oregon will try to do the same. I don’t think they’ll win 12 games, but 8 may be attainable. Three of the losses were by only three points apiece, and I think the win in Salt Lake City was a preview of what could happen next season. Of course then the Ducks went and lost to Oregon St.; but again, maybe they won’t have letdowns like that with the benefit of experience.