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Posts Tagged ‘Florida’

LSU More Qualified for #3 Seed Than Kansas

In College Basketball, General LSU, Rankings Commentary on March 2, 2019 at 9:54 PM

For more background about LSU, see my blog before last week’s games.

I started seeing LSU projected as a three-seed when they beat Tennessee, but I’ve been waiting on probably the most famous prognosticator Joe Lunardi to put the Tigers there.  As of Friday, he still had not done so (I’m using archived links because these pages are updated frequently).  A ton of fans say their team should be higher and are vague about what team should move down in their stead, but I’m not.  It’s Kansas. 

LSU’s substitute point guard Javonte Smart (with ball) was fouled with about 1 second left before hitting the winning free throws against Tennessee.

Some people may say it’s Houston now that it lost to Central Florida (and that would be a convenient excuse to move LSU up without having to deal with Kansas fans), but I’m not making that argument.  Although it was in December, the Cougars beat LSU.  I know the first reaction to Central Florida is “This isn’t football,” but they are a top-30 team according to the NET (Warren Nolan’s version anyway), which I guess is the new and improved RPI (which I was never a huge fan of because it gives teams a ton of credit for the games they lose).  I’ll grant that it’s late in the year to record a loss like that, but I don’t think Houston was exposed all of a sudden.  There is no reason to believe that’s a game Kansas or LSU couldn’t have lost in past couple of weeks.

Losses by Marquette and Nevada may also help LSU going forward, but like I talked about in the last blog, new things happen in basketball all the time, and my blog process isn’t that fast. I’d also note that Jerry Palm (whom I’ll mention later) now has LSU as a #2 with KU still a 4-seed.

I don’t think Lunardi is doing this intentionally and it may well be the same subconscious bias the committee holds, but I can’t help but think Kansas is getting some “blue blood” special treatment. 

Worst Loss

Normally I wouldn’t quibble too much about the worst lost, I’d just say both lost to a bad team and leave it at that.  But in this case, Oklahoma St. is 24 spots higher than West Virginia in the NET, and we have the benefit of them being in the same conference, so it’s not like the two have had vastly different opportunities. 

I think a good example of these teams is their respective February trips to Lubbock.  Texas Tech is a similar team to LSU, so I think that makes it a particularly good point of comparison (what the teams can do when they get up for a game).  Oklahoma St. took the Red Raiders to overtime while West Virginia lost by 31.  In Kansas’s defense, they did play the Mountaineers much closer than LSU played the Cowboys; but a bad loss in November means a lot less to me than one in mid-January. 

Oklahoma St.’s Lindy Waters’ hit four threes in the final minute, including the tying shot as time expired against Texas Tech; but the Cowboys fell in overtime.

When LSU lost to Oklahoma St., they were playing their third night in a row and just off a disappointing overtime loss to Florida St.  We may see in the SEC tournament if that third night in a row is the problem, but for sure the Tigers won’t be playing the day after a loss.  Also, the most you play in the NCAA tournament is twice in a week.

I started writing this on Friday, but it so happened the Cowboys also played Kansas close, so that furthers my argument, while on Saturday LSU got a slightly more impressive road win over Alabama.  I think beating teams in the NCAA field on the road is impressive even if they end up being 11 or 12 seeds. 

Let’s talk about the second-worst loss.  LSU’s was against Arkansas.  Absent winning the SEC tournament or at least winning 4 or 5 more games, Arkansas will not be an at-large team.  However, the Razorbacks just got a pretty decent win over Ole Miss for their 6th win in conference play.  Also, if you throw Kansas a bone for only losing to West Virginia by 1, certainly it’s more understandable to lose to Arkansas by 1.

Other Losses

Kansas’s second-worst loss is slightly better, but Arizona St. just lost by 28 points to Oregon.  The Kansas-Arizona St. game was over two months ago, and Arizona St. is a higher-ranked team than Arkansas; but the disparity between Arizona St. and Arkansas is much less than that between Oklahoma St. and West Virginia. 

LSU’s other 3 losses are all against the NET top 30: (4) Houston, (23) Florida St., and (29) Florida.  Only one game in this group of losses (Florida, if you couldn’t guess) happened after December 12.

Kansas’s other losses: (5) Kentucky, (10) Texas Tech, (14) Iowa St., (28) Kansas St., and (36) Texas.  All the losses in this group have come since January 5.

Key Wins and Conclusion

According to Palm at CBS Sports, Kansas had two more “Quad 1” wins as of Friday morning.  Quad 1 wins consist of home games against the top 30, neutral games against the top 50, and road games against the top 75.  Since it was a road game, Alabama qualifies as a Quad 1 win, reducing the margin to 1.  Oklahoma St. is not in the top 75.

Although Alabama hit two late 3s, Tremont Waters (no relation to Lindy) led the Tigers to a 5-point victory in his first game back.

Kansas has the best non-conference strength of schedule in the nation, so a lot of these key wins took place before the new year, and as mentioned a lot of losses took place after.  I think analysis of the losses and when the games took place more than compensates for Kansas’s single additional Quad 1 win, and I hope Lunardi’s new projections give LSU the #3 ahead of Kansas.

Of course if LSU loses two (or more) of the next three games and Kansas wins out in the Big XII, Kansas will belong ahead; but I think it’s getting close enough to Selection Sunday that it’s a concern if you’re not giving teams proper credit for what they’ve done as of right now. 

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The Curious Case of LSU Basketball

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

Why I Generally Don’t Cover College Basketball

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

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

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

Brief Description of Recent LSU Basketball History

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

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

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

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

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

What Makes This Team Special (So Far)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Top 25 of 2018 Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final SEC Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 10 (Including LSU)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rest of the Top 25

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

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

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

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

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

Top 25 List

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

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

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

The Truth about the SEC and Coach O

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

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

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

SEC Teams and Bowl Games

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coach O and LSU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CFP got top 4 right; Pre-Bowl Top 25

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on December 2, 2018 at 11:13 AM

As far as #1, I had mixed results between the weighted system and the unweighted system. The top 4 is the same in both, but Clemson is ahead of Alabama in the unweighted system.  I’ve mentioned how Alabama didn’t have a particularly good schedule despite playing in the SEC.  Their best non-conference opponent finished with a losing record, as did one of their two regular-season SEC East opponents.  However, Georgia by itself deserves more consideration than just one game out of 13 (as does LSU), so that’s why I didn’t use the unweighted system by itself below. 

Even though I generally support the SEC, I want to make clear I don’t like Alabama; and I feel like they’re given unfair treatment by the officials in just about every game (though they rarely need it). Nonetheless, it’s important for me to figure out who on paper has accomplished more while taking into account losses (which only applies to one of the top 4 teams). 

A questionable review on this alleged touchdown by Josh Jacobs kept the Tide in the game. As usual, they took full advantage to eliminate the Bulldogs.

I think I would do teams like Alabama a disservice by failing to acknowledge their strength of resume; and both ratings had their strengths and weaknesses, so what I did was combine the two ratings.Since the two systems create very different numbers, I multiplied the unweighted ratings by 15 and then averaged the two. The top 50 teams on average got a number about 15 times higher in the weighted system than in the unweighted system, so I thought this was fair.

These averaged ratings were directly incorporated into my top 25 below without any subjective input.  This isn’t covering new ground, but it’s worth reiterating that this is purely about how good the numbers made the teams look in that formula.  It doesn’t matter how anyone was projected in preseason or how good the public perception of an opponent was at the time they were played.  It doesn’t matter which teams, coaches, and players I like, or which ones I thought got a raw deal in officiating or could beat better teams if only they’d played them, or anything like that. 

Margin of victory only has a slight impact where a home team won by 3 or less in regulation (meaning if they won by 8 in overtime it’s still considered a win with the home advantage) since that’s the average advantage by playing at home, and it also happens to be the smallest number of points typically scored in one play (I don’t know of any two-minute drills to get that key safety to win the game if you’re down by 1 late).

I let the numbers guide me the same way in my rankings below, but another thing I hesitated to do was to put Ohio St. (even though I have strongly disliked the Buckeyes for some time) below Oklahoma.  It’s no question whose best wins came against the better two teams.  Michigan has lost to two teams, and those two teams have a total of one loss between them, and Penn St. isn’t far behind.  The key problem for the Buckeyes is their loss to Purdue. The Boilermakers had to win their final game just to finish 6-6.  I know Texas isn’t spectacular; but if they played Purdue in a bowl game, the Longhorns would probably be favored by double digits.  Texas also lost to a mediocre Big Ten team to be fair; but had Maryland been their only loss, I’d be explaining why Ohio St. deserved to go ahead of them right now.  But I’m not comparing a team with a loss to Maryland to a team with a loss to Purdue: I’m comparing a team with a loss to Texas to a team with a loss to Purdue. 

To give credit where it’s due again and to explain how close it is, the second win for the Buckeyes is also strong.  To get to the next best win for Ohio St.though (Northwestern), I have to go outside of the top 25 and even outside of the top 35.  To get there, I pass up four teams that Oklahoma has beaten: Army, West Virginia, Texas, and Iowa St.  I really don’t know if it’s harder to beat four teams who are better than Northwestern but in the top 15 or to beat two teams who are in the top 15 and none others who are better.  I suspect the former is more difficult; but that loss breaks the tie if it’s just as difficult, so I will defend the outcome here.

As an LSU fan, I know a lot about playing top-15 teams and playing teams somewhere between #16 and #40.  I’d rather have two tough games to focus on against teams in the top 15 than the week-after-week onslaught of #16 to #40 teams.  LSU beat 3 top-10 teams, although I acknowledge two of them didn’t belong anywhere near the top 10 in hindsight.  Although Alabama beats us every year, we had a mediocre team take them to overtime a few years ago.  Georgia definitely belongs in the top 10;they were a play or two away from making the playoff.  We lost to Florida, but I think that’s a better team than Penn St.  If that were the only other game we had needed to get up for and we didn’t play Alabama, I think we would have won. Ohio St. beat Penn St. by 1, and we trailed Florida by 1 before a late “pick six” made the final score a loss by 8. 

The loss to Texas A&M (questionable though it was) and similar losses over the years (such as losing to Kentucky and Arkansas in our 2007 championship year and losing to a mediocre Florida team in our 2003 championship year) would result in increased nerves over Oklahoma’s schedule than Ohio St.’s.  If we had a 45%chance to beat Michigan and a 55% chance to beat Penn St., for instance, that gives us a 25% chance to win both.  (These numbers are just off the top of my head.) If we had a 70% chance to beat Army, a 60% chance to beat West Virginia,a 60% chance to beat Texas, and an 80% chance to beat Iowa St., we’d only have a 20% chance to win all four (assuming independence of the numbers).  Again, it’s very close, but if I have to pick one to be better, I pick Oklahoma.

I’m not persuaded by the arguments for Georgia.  I disagreed with the decision in 2011 (by voters and some computers) to pick Alabama ahead of Oklahoma St.  The Tide had their chance to beat LSU (at home) and shouldn’t have gotten another.  The fact that they got it and took advantage of it didn’t make it the right decision. But I can respect a difference of opinion on that more than I respect the opinion of Georgia being in the top 4 this season.  At least that was a choice between two one-loss teams.  Georgia supporters want them to advance as a two-loss team despite two decent one-loss options. 

Obviously I’m an advocate for LSU and what they’ve done this season—and their record does not fairly represent that in my opinion—but losing to LSU by 20 is not like losing to a title-contender by 3 in overtime,which is what Alabama did in 2011.  I do have the Bulldogs extremely close to Ohio St., mostly because losing to LSU hurts a lot less than losing to Purdue. If Oklahoma had lost to Texas a second time, it would be harder to make the case for the Buckeyes (but I’d still probably do so).  As it stands, I think the Sooners redeemed themselves against Texas (although I don’t think the Big XII championship should be allowed in the first place), their three-point loss in the first game against the Longhorns was probably a fluke, and it’s best that someone else gets a shot at Alabama. I have a feeling the Tide would do better in a rematch with Georgia than they did yesterday. Oklahoma-Alabama is an unknown. For all we know, it could be like the Ohio St.-Alabama game a few years ago.  Let’s find out.

I already made the argument about how LSU should be picked for a major bowl above Florida (which I don’t think will happen) and Washington St. (which I think probably will happen), so I think other than #1 and #4 there isn’t much more to discuss.  ***UPDATE*** LSU has been confirmed for the Fiesta Bowl against Central Florida.  Apparently it was decided not to send the Knights to Atlanta two years in a row.

I would like to say that I would have liked to have seen that North Carolina St./West Virginia game that was canceled. I would have preferred the winner to be in the top 25 over Utah, but that’s the breaks.  The Mountaineers and Wolfpack are #26 and #27, respectively, followed by Stanford and then Texas.

I plan to make the average used here a regular feature on my “weighted average” page on my ratings site.  I may continue to wait until after the first CFP rankings are released to publish that list though.

RankTeamPrev.
1Alabama1
2Clemson3
3Notre Dame2
4Oklahoma6
5Ohio St.5
6Georgia4
7C. Florida9
8Michigan7
9LSU8
10Washington14
11Florida11
12Kentucky10
13Wash St.13
14Penn St.12
15Fresno St.
16App. St.23
17Army18
18Texas A&M15
19Syracuse19
20Missouri16
21Utah St.22
22Boise St.17
23Cincinnati
24Miss. St.20
25Utah21

Out of Top 25: (24) N Carolina St., (25) West Virginia

Championship Saturday Viewing Guide & Bowl Speculation

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, Preview, Rankings Commentary on November 30, 2018 at 4:24 PM

I was trying to get something out timely earlier in the week without being too convoluted, but I may have lost some people in the discussion of some of the various outcomes, so that’s what I want to focus on here.  Except for a few comments toward the end, I’m not talking about how things should be or who’s going to win, but I want to let people know teams to support depending on cheering interest.

BASICS

The top 4 teams will play in the Cotton and Orange Bowls.  The semifinal bowls and the other bowls that are part of the rotation and affiliated with the CFP committee are called the NY6 for New Year’s Six. Don’t get fixated on that name either though.  There are New Years Day bowls that are not those bowls, and all of those bowls won’t be on New Years Day.  The name just refers to the six bowls that are part of the CFP process and therefore part of the semifinal rotation. 

Champions of the SEC, ACC, Big XII, Pac-12, and Big Ten MUST be in NY6 bowls as must the best team from some other conference(most likely Central Florida).

The Sugar Bowl will be Big XII vs. SEC, and the Rose will be Pac-12 vs. Big Ten.  It appears that the Pac-12 representative will be the champion in the Rose Bowl and not anyone else in the other bowls, although there may be a route for Washington St. as discussed in the last blog.

Why does this matter?  The most likely visible result would be that even if they lose and even if they’re ranked well below other candidates for at-large spots, Texas is most likely going to the Sugar Bowl (I think the only way this won’t happen is if Georgia, Clemson, and Oklahoma all win).  Champions take precedence though.  So even if Michigan and Ohio St. are both higher-ranked Big Ten teams, Northwestern would be in the Rose Bowl by winning.  Likewise, even if Oklahoma is ranked higher than Texas, the Longhorns will be in the Sugar Bowl if they win the championship over the Sooners.  The SEC champion will be in the top 4 no matter what though and therefore not in the Sugar Bowl.

When it comes to following the games, the first thing to note is the games on Friday don’t really matter to anyone but fans of those playing.  Whether it’s Utah or Washington, the winner of the Pac-12 championship will go to the Rose Bowl and the loser will go to a non-NY6 bowl. Whether it’s Buffalo or Northern Illinois, both the winner and the loser of the MAC championship will be in non-NY6 bowls.

One other thing to note: since I wrote this,Central Florida has emerged as the popular pick to play in the Fiesta.  I don’t know if the media is responding to some inside tip with that, but basically the Fiesta and Peach Bowl teams are interchangeable anyway.

WHAT TO HOPE FOR BY CHEERING INTEREST

Most fans who will be affected at all by this weekend want their school to win and their conference to make the top 4 if that’s relevant, but there are a couple of fan bases worth elaborating upon. 

SEC/LSU fans

I touched on this in the last blog, but basically if you’re in the SEC and not an Alabama fan or don’t have some weird regional interest (such as you’re a Florida fan who lives in Atlanta and don’t want to travel), you want Georgia to upset Alabama and you DON’T want Clemson or Ohio St. to be upset (possibly wanting Urban Meyer to lose notwithstanding).  This would free up the Sugar Bowl for a third SEC team and allow other SEC teams to compete for other open slots. If Alabama wins, the Bulldogs will most likely take the SEC Sugar Bowl spot, but without another upset, there could still be third and fourth SEC teams in NY6 bowls.

The Oklahoma/Texas outcome probably (I’ll explain the situations below) won’t affect the SEC teams, so feel free to cheer for whichever you dislike less, although the outcome may influence for whom to cheer later.

No matter what happens, teams that are 9th and 10th with 3 losses (LSU and Florida) aren’t going to end up in the top 4, so even a series of upsets like in 2007 won’t put a team other than Alabama and Georgia in the top 4.

Georgia is currently in the top 4, but there is a strong likelihood that Oklahoma and/or Ohio St. winning this weekend would displace them after a Bulldog loss to Alabama.

I’ll explain why the upsets would hurt SEC teams.  The teams other than Alabama and Georgia are hoping to be in the “New Years 6 (NY6) but not top 4”category.  The SEC wants as few other teams to be in this category as possible. An upset by Pittsburgh, for instance, would put Pittsburgh in this category.  Same thing for Northwestern.  As I already explained, a potential Texas upset by itself is not going to change anything for the SEC (though it would take the Sooners out of consideration for the top 4).

So let’s say Alabama beats Georgia, Oklahoma beats Texas, Clemson beats Pitt, and Northwestern beats Ohio St. 

The following teams would all be in NY6 bowls:Central Florida, Clemson, Ohio St., Northwestern, Washington, Texas, Georgia and Michigan.  There would only be room for one other SEC team (probably Florida) in the Sugar, Fiesta, Rose, and Peach Bowls. 

Don’t quote me on these bowl picks (the Fiesta Bowl teams are interchangeable under the rules with the Peach Bowl teams, but the Sugar and Rose have fixed conference match-ups), but just to show why there would be no room for a second team…

Cotton: Alabama vs. Oklahoma

Orange: Notre Dame vs. Clemson

Sugar: Georgia vs. Texas

Peach: Florida vs. Ohio St.

Rose: Washington vs. Northwestern

Fiesta: Michigan vs. Central Florida

If the one upset is Texas over Oklahoma, it wouldn’t hurt the SEC since Texas would stay in place and no additional teams would be added to the mix:

Cotton: Alabama vs. Ohio St.

Orange: Notre Dame vs. Clemson

Sugar: Georgia vs. Texas

Peach: Florida vs. Central Florida

Rose: Washington vs. Michigan

Fiesta: LSU vs. Oklahoma

If Northwestern beats Ohio St. and other favorites win, something like this would happen, removing LSU’s chance:

Cotton: Alabama vs. Georgia

Orange: Notre Dame vs. Clemson

Sugar: Florida vs. Texas

Rose: Washington vs. Northwestern

Fiesta: Michigan vs. Oklahoma

Peach: Ohio St. vs. Central Florida

If Pittsburgh beats Clemson and other favorites win, something like this would happen, removing LSU’s chance:

Cotton: Alabama vs. Ohio St.

Orange: Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma

Sugar: Georgia vs. Texas

Rose: Washington vs. Michigan

Fiesta: Michigan vs. Pittsburgh

Peach: Clemson vs. Central Florida

If both Pitt upsets Clemson and Northwestern upsets Ohio St.:

Cotton: Alabama vs. Georgia

Orange: Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma

Sugar: Florida vs. Texas

Rose: Washington vs. Northwestern

Fiesta: Pitt vs. Ohio St.

Peach: Clemson vs. Central Florida

The takeaway is that any of these would eliminate the second SEC team (most likely LSU) outside of the top 4.

Big Ten/Michigan

It’s more nuanced what Michigan fans should before. As shown above, on the one hand, the right combination of upsets could put the Wolverines in the Rose Bowl. On the other hand, the wrong combination of upsets could see the Wolverines in the Citrus Bowl or similar.

Michigan fans could also be cheering for the long-shot chance of making the top 4, which would involve Ohio St., Clemson, and Oklahoma all getting upset.  Clemson with one loss could be ahead of the Wolverines with two losses, but one loss to an unranked team is arguably worse than two losses to top 10 teams (Notre Dame and Ohio St.).  Since Oklahoma plays first inthat group, those who support Michigan should consult the scenarios above for beneficial upsets.

Michigan in the top 4 would look like this:

Cotton: Alabama vs. Michigan

Orange: Notre Dame vs. Georgia

Sugar: Florida vs. Texas

Rose: Washington vs. Northwestern

Fiesta: Pitt vs. Oklahoma

Peach: Clemson vs. Central Florida

For generic Big Ten fans, it’s a lot simpler.  If Oklahoma beats Texas in the early game on Saturday, the best thing for the Big Ten is for Northwestern to win.  I believe Ohio St. will be in an NY6 bowl regardless, so if I’m right there will likely be three Big Ten teams in the NY6 bowls this way. 

If Texas wins, it may be more important to cheer for Ohio St. in the hopes the Buckeyes make the semifinal than it is to hope for three Big Ten teams to be in NY6 bowls, but that would be personal preference.

LSU ADVOCACY AND OTHER NOTES

Some fans of other schools seem upset that if LSUis apparently in line for an NY6 bowl, the Tigers aren’t really being punished for the loss. LSU was going to be in the Sugar Bowl provided Georgia made the top 4, but that doesn’t seem to be the case now.  The next in line for the Sugar seems to be Florida.  I’ve covered a few scenarios above where LSU doesn’t get any NY6 bowl. 

In a much less dramatic and controversial Rivalry Week contest, Washington RM Myles Gaskin scores a first-half touchdown in the snow in Pullman.

A number of bowl projections have LSU being left out of the NY6 bowls even if nothing weird happens, and some even have the Tigers falling all the way to the Outback Bowl (since I imagine the Citrus doesn’t want LSU for the third year in a row).

I don’t know how other than geography you would justify Washington St. going ahead of LSU, but maybe the rankings will be ignored.  Other than the questionable A&M loss (the Aggies are now #19 in the CFP rankings), the Tigers’ other two losses have come to top-10 teams. LSU also has a win over Georgia, better than any team the Cougars have played much less beaten.  Washington St.has beaten three of the four other teams in the Pac-12 North with winning records (none with a better record than 8-4), but Wazzu has a loss to 5-7 USC.  Washington St. has 4 wins against teams with winning records, while LSU has 5.  The Cougars also lost to in-state rival Washington. Although the Huskies may be the Pac-12 champions, it’s important to remember they lost to Auburn, who’s in the middle of the SEC on a good day (and who lost at home to LSU).

If Boise St. wins the Mountain West and Central Florida loses the American championship, it’s possible Boise St. could make it ahead of Central Florida.  In that case,the Broncos would probably play in the Fiesta Bowl; but as I explained earlier,Central Florida might be slotted for the Fiesta Bowl anyway, so in that case no other team would be affected.

I already talked about the potential impact of Georgia beating Alabama, so I didn’t include that here.  I think it would create a Big XII-champions. Florida Sugar Bowl, a Big Ten champion vs. Pac-12 champion Rose Bowl, and the other teams would depend upon who else wins. 

CONCLUSION

The simplest way to sum all of this up that I can think of is as follows.  The following teams are in NY6 bowls almost no matter what: Alabama, Notre Dame,Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma, Ohio St., Michigan, and Florida.  Washington, Utah, Pittsburgh, Northwestern,Texas, and Central Florida are in with wins. LSU and possibly Washington St. or Penn St. could get in (Penn St. being the least likely of the three); but since none are playing, they’re dependent on the right combination of other teams to win.

CFP Response and Bowl Projections

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, History, Rankings Commentary on November 27, 2018 at 6:57 PM

As for my top 25 commentary, I was slightly off in my prediction (here) that Clemson would overtake Notre Dame.  I forgot to account for the ACC losses to the SEC.  It makes it worse that Louisville and Florida St. are both in the ACC Atlantic. Clemson will move ahead next week in the unweighted ratings for sure;but I think in the lead up to the Playoff, the weighted ratings are more useful. I’m less confident there. 

Before I start talking about bowl possibilities, I did want to comment briefly about the bottom of my top 25.Texas and Fresno St. are subjectively good enough at the moment to be included as ranked teams. They’re just two weird teams that look good in one system but not in the other.  But if as expected they both lose in championship games, I won’t feel bad about leaving them out of the final top 25 before the bowl games. If they win, I think they’ll be rewarded fairly.  I just thought the fairest solution was to publish a top 25 this week that was completely objective. 

LSU did fall a spot in the unweighted ratings,but they were actually sixth in the weighted ratings before the supposed loss to Texas A&M (see the link at the beginning for more about that).  Even if that were a legitimate loss, LSU should still be considered the #3 team in the SEC.  I’ll explain why, but given the CFP rankings it may not matter who is ranked higher.  Florida and Kentucky didn’t play Alabama, and Texas A&M didn’t play Georgia.  I think being the only team of the four to play both divisional champions makes your conference record better if it’s a tie.  I think the following chart demonstrates my point better than my explanation.  I’ll explain below the charts why Kentucky shouldn’t merit consideration (unless you’re fixated on head-to-head and like to ignore the other 92% of the season). 

This chart shows who played whom and the relevant records. LSU beat an opponent above this group and has no losses below, unlike the other two teams.

Not to mention that Texas A&M has a non-conference loss.  I know it’s to a good team, but decisive wins over Georgia and U. Miami are better than a win over Kentucky in overtime and a loss to Clemson.  A questionable loss, but the Aggies don’t want to go down that road. Non-conference losses count in bowl game consideration. You’re just lying to yourself if you don’t think Florida would have gotten better bowl games (including at least one Sugar Bowl appearance) had they not lost to Florida St. the past few seasons, for instance. See the following for a chart of games that weren’t against the top 5 of the SEC.

As for this season, Florida did beat LSU on October 6 but since then the Gators struggled at Vanderbilt before losing to Missouri and Georgia.  They haven’t really redeemed themselves from those performances in which they lost by a combined 40 points.   The Gators only have a 4-point win over South Carolina (who is now 6-5) and wins over FCS Idaho (their second FCS opponent of the year) and a frankly sorry Florida St.team.  Good thing for Jimbo that he bailed, but that’s another story. Also, if want to say Florida goes ahead of LSU because of head to head despite the schedule, you’d better give a better bowl game to Kentucky than you give to Florida. I know they don’t have the chomp thing, the annoying song after the game,and that stupid jingle when they make a first down; and their fans don’t travel as well (especially not in the midst of basketball season), but be consistent if you’re going to go with that argument.

Obviously, I’m not making that argument about Kentucky though.  I’m surprised the Wildcats are so far ahead of Texas A&M in the CFP rankings, but I guess they are a lot more interested in body of work than who the hot teams are.  Suffice it to say Kentucky’s only win in the last month over a bowl-eligible team is the win over Middle Tennessee by 11.  The Wildcats have also lost to a bowl –ineligible team (Tennessee) in that time.

You could say LSU hasn’t redeemed themselves from the Alabama loss, but I don’t think they need to in the same way.  The Sugar, Peach, or Fiesta won’t involve playing Alabama, at least not unless Alabama loses in embarrassing fashion on Saturday (but for that a much different team from the one that showed up in Baton Rouge will have to be playing in Atlanta).  Those bowls might involve playing a team as good as Missouri or Texas A&M.  I know the loss-is-a-loss theory, it’s what my computer is mostly based on; but I think any bowl would love to have a 7-overtime 146-point game between good teams like the one in College Station on Saturday.  They don’t need the SEC team to win.  Think of the commercial revenue and the many highlights and references to that bowl over the years.  No bowl wants to see a team that plays 21 points poorer than Missouri though.  If it’s against a team even better than these three SEC teams, only one team of the three has beaten a team in the CFP top 8 (top 8 is significant because it’s higher than the three teams I’m focusing on).  

I think even if Georgia beats Alabama the Sugar doesn’t want LSU because LSU fans don’t buy as many hotel rooms and go to expensive restaurants over a few days like Florida fans might.  If you’re a conspiracy theorist ,this alone was a reason to fix the game in favor of the Aggies.  

I suspect the Peach will prefer Florida for geographical reasons whether the Gators were 9th or 10th.  The Fiesta is an even longer way away from Baton Rouge than the Peach.  I know only two states separate Arizona and Louisiana, but I promise you that trip is no leisurely stroll.  I do think more fans would travel from Baton Rouge than from Pullman, for instance; but the Fiesta doesn’t seem to like to have two teams from east of the Mississippi unless one of them is Notre Dame.  Except for the 2016 Clemson-Ohio St. national semifinal and the Notre Dame-Ohio St. games (2005 and 2015 seasons), you have to go back to the 1991 season to find a Fiesta Bowl that did not involve a team from West of the Mississippi (and six Fiesta Bowls since 2001 involved two from West of the Mississippi). 

Maybe the fact that the LSU campus is right next to the Mississippi is good enough, but I don’t know.  It is a good sign that LSU is several spots ahead of Washington St. and is also ahead of some other possibilities (such as Penn St. and Texas A&M).  It will be interesting to see what happens if LSU is not in a CFP Bowl.  Although LSU has been to the Citrus the past two seasons, I guess it’s possible they could go there again.  It’s also possible the Citrus would pick Kentucky, who is far ahead of the Aggies in the CFP rankings.

I’m going to give my major-bowl projections as of right now as well as how I would expect the CFP to decide the bowls.  I think one mistake people make in bowl projections is they act like the season literally ends right now.  So for instance, undefeated Alabama and one-loss Georgia are bowl teams.  If there were no SEC championship game, it’s no question that both teams should be in the top 4, but the only logical way to put Georgia in the top 4 is if you think they’re going to beat Alabama.  So I am going to factor in the expected results of the games on Saturday.   

I think I’ll be in agreement with what I expect the CFP will do. I have Ohio St. ahead of Oklahoma right now because beating Michigan and Penn St. are both better than anything Oklahoma has done, but I think Oklahoma redeeming their only loss would do a lot more for their argument than Ohio St. beating Northwestern would. Oklahoma will certainly be higher in my unweighted system. We’ll have to see what happens in the weighted one.  We do have a different committee now, so maybe they look at things slightly differently from the one last year.

Cotton: Alabama vs. Oklahoma

Orange: Clemson vs. Notre Dame

Sugar: Georgia vs. Texas

Rose: Washington vs. Ohio St.

Peach: Florida vs. UCF

Fiesta: LSU vs. Michigan

It’s unknown which hat Les Miles will wear if LSU plays Michigan. He may play it safe and stick with his Kansas hat.

It’s fairly straightforward to figure out what happens if one of Clemson, Oklahoma, and Ohio St. are upset. Instead of a choice between 5 teams for 4 spots, all 4 competitive teams make it. If Clemson were the one to lose, I would expect them against UCF in the Peach Bowl.  Georgia would be in the Sugar Bowl, so only one SEC team (I guess Florida) would be left for the Fiesta Bowl.  I wouldn’t like it, but TCU had the better resume a few years ago; and they lost out to Baylor due to head-to-head even though it was a close game. If Oklahoma is the team to lose, they would bump LSU from the Fiesta Bowl.  If Ohio St. is the team to lose, my guess is they bump Florida from the Peach and Florida bumps LSU from the Fiesta.

If two of them lose, it would then be easy for LSU to find a spot again because I think Georgia would make the semifinal even with two losses, and the Sugar Bowl would be available to the top SEC team(apparently Florida).

If Washington were to lose, you just replace them with Utah.  If UCF were to lose, replace them with Boise St.  If Boise St. also loses, my guess would be UCF keeps its spot.

If Georgia beats Alabama, I think both Georgia and Alabama would be in the top 4 again, so I’ll make full projections for that scenario since it would be a lot of changes.

Orange: Clemson vs. Alabama

Cotton: Notre Dame vs. Georgia

Sugar: Florida (though I would switch LSU andFlorida as explained) vs. Oklahoma

Rose: Washington vs. Ohio St. 

Fiesta: Washington St. vs. Michigan

Peach: LSU vs. UCF

This time if Ohio St., Clemson or Oklahoma were to lose, I think Washington St. would get bumped and LSU would stay.  Unless it’s Oklahoma, I would guess LSU would go to the Fiesta.  If it were Oklahoma, I think the Sooners go out West and LSU stays in the Peach. The same thing as before applies to Washington’s spot in the Rose.  If Boise St. were to replace UCF, I would guess the Broncos would play Washington St. (or Oklahoma) while Michigan/LSU would be moved to Atlanta. Take the over in that Fiesta Bowl if it happens. 

Rivalries and Coaching Carousels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LSU-Alabama Post Mortem

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game, Rivalry on November 7, 2018 at 4:24 PM

I wrote most of this toward the end of the game, but I’ve held onto this until now.  I prefer to spread my blogs out.

I did think it would be a much closer game, but my instincts about the LSU defense and Alabama offense were largely correct (if the Tide had converted the two extra points, my score guess would have been perfect). I did underestimate the Alabama defense and overestimate the LSU offense, but I wasn’t nearly as confident about what we would see when LSU had the ball.

I was upset by the picks of Alabama winning 41-17, 40-21 and so forth because if we had been scoring points, that probably would have meant we would have been around 50/50 in time of possession, probably better.  Had that been the case, there would have been no way we would have allowed 41. 

After 3 quarters, Alabama had about an 8-minute edge in time of possession.  But if you had told me that LSU would have less than 100 yards going into the final 16 minutes of the game (there was a long throw and a penalty right at the end of the third quarter), I would have predicted Alabama to have scored at least 30 by that time.

Also, had there been just a couple more minutes in time of possession for LSU (some of this was the fault of the play-calling), the first half would have ended with Alabama only up 9-0.

I think I was right to pick out the Missouri game as something analogous to what could be done in this game.  Instead of our offense committing turnovers inside our own 20, we helped out the Tide by sustaining very few drives.  Missouri completed drives in the early going and could go no further, and LSU failed to convert on drives late in game; but both teams struggled to do much of anything offensively most of the game.

LSU’s offense on average is probably a little bit behind Missouri (we outscored them against Georgia, but they almost doubled our score against Florida) and LSU’s defense is ahead (taking out the defensive score, the totals against Florida were within a couple of points; but Georgia’s offense scored almost twice as much against Missouri’s defense). Hindsight is 20/20 of course, but when I made the prediction Missouri had not yet played Florida.

I want to say a couple more things to keep the game in perspective.  These are not excuses or sour grapes, but I’m not going to say we’re just terrible and Alabama is just great without defending my team a little bit.

I’ve already seen people on Twitter saying, “We should be scoring, Tennessee scored 21 points, Arkansas scored 31.”  This was not a good performance by any stretch, but we’re not Arkansas or Tennessee.

If Alabama had scored 28 in the first quarter like they did against Tennessee, they might have let us score 21.

If they’d scored 41 by halftime like they did against Arkansas, they might have let us score 17 in the second half.  We may have also scored in the first half if their defense didn’t have time to catch its breath between LSU possessions.

When the Tide did go up in this game 29-0, we moved the ball pretty well to set up a first and goal (before a penalty and a turnover).  I don’t know the Alabama defensive personnel very well, but I’m pretty sure some of those guys jumping offsides to help us get there weren’t first-string.  Regardless, that was not nearly the same type of defense we saw earlier.  So had our defense been worse, we probably would have seen it sooner.

It just wasn’t our night in a couple of other ways.  K Cole Tracy had been perfect from 50 yards or fewer and he missed what should have been an easy 33-yarder. 

I already talked about the Devin White situation.  If you just look at the scoring, you might think nothing changed when he came in. That’s not quite true.  Alabama had to convert multiple third-and-longs to get that third touchdown.

This is what happens when you turn your back to Tua Tagovailoa.

Before the third and 16, you could tell LSU was doing a better job diagnosing some of the things the Tide was doing.  The touchdown was an improvised scramble rather than a designed run, so it’s not like Alabama did something weird before the play that the defense didn’t catch.  Someone should have been paying more attention to Tua during the play, but that’s another topic.  There was only one more score after that.  

Also, Burrow had multiple really good downfield throws in the first half, but at least a few were incomplete because of uncalled obvious pass interferences.  I’m not saying that would have made the game close, but it’s another reason 0 points isn’t really a fair representation of what we could do on offense.  We also had the ball at the Alabama 38 on another drive and punted.  One of the things I expressed concern about was a return to Burrow’s form against Florida, but this was much worse than that.

We’ve still done a lot considering how few starters returned this year (at least a couple of whom were hurt early), and Coach O didn’t inherit the kind of bench Alabama has had.  Saban built that up over a lot of years and a lot of national titles (and near-national-titles), taking a lot of players we couldn’t get or overlooked.  I’m sure they’ve done that to some other SEC teams too.  Maybe if Coach O were around years ago we would have recruited Irv Smith, Jr., or convinced Dylan Moses to keep his commitment.  

Anyway, point being, I didn’t think the game would be close because I didn’t think Alabama was really good or even possibly one of the best teams ever.  I’ve ranked Alabama #1 since last year for good reason, and I ranked LSU #24 in preseason (instead of higher) for good reason.  I also kept the Tigers ranked below Clemson and Notre Dame  (and Alabama above them) for longer than my computer did for the same reason. 

We did about 24 points better than I thought we would against Georgia, so being about 22 points worse than I thought this game kind of balances it out.  It’s hard to consistently do better than you should do on paper, and it’s been a challenge to people who make any kind of predictions to know when LSU will do that and when they won’t this year.

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.