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Posts Tagged ‘Florida’

SEC Bowl Scenarios

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU on November 22, 2017 at 5:00 PM

Unfortunately, it looks like there may only be 9 SEC bowl teams this year. It’s important to remember that’s not really a gauge of conference strength when all you have to do is rearrange outcomes of games to make all the SEC teams eligible. Or at least this conceivably could have happened before Ole Miss voluntarily banned itself.

If Mississippi St. and LSU were weaker, they may have lost last week and given Arkansas and Tennessee chances to make bowls this weekend. Florida and Vanderbilt haven’t been strong lately, but if they had dropped one fewer game earlier in the year (Florida lost consecutive games by a total of 3 points to LSU and Texas A&M, for instance), they would each be playing for their sixth win as well.

Speaking of LSU and Texas A&M, I wonder if teams entering the game with 15 wins between them have ever played on the SEC Network. Not that I’m complaining. LSU deserved a night game even if it were one of the old tape-delayed Jefferson Pilot broadcasts.

Christian Kirk and Texas A&M look to beat LSU for the first time since 1995 and end the Tigers’ 6-game winning streak in the series.

Anyway, I wanted to go over a couple of LSU bowl scenarios. I’ve seen both of the Michigan schools mentioned in either the Outback or Citrus Bowls. The Citrus may avoid picking the Tigers for a second consecutive year though. LSU hasn’t played Michigan St. since Nick Saban… was the Spartans’ head coach. The Tigers have never played Michigan. If they do, I hope Michigan grad Les Miles gets a good seat. I wonder if they’d rather be paying his salary than Harbaugh’s.

Les Miles (r) with Dick Enberg (l) and Dan Dierdorf during a trip to Michigan last year.

The Tigers have an outside chance at one of the big six bowls. If Mississippi St. and Auburn lose, it could put LSU third in the conference by head-to-head logic (Both would be ahead of the Bulldogs by record). There is almost definitely room for three SEC teams in the big six bowls (including one in the semifinal). If there is a fourth (maybe if Georgia wins the SEC and there isn’t a good alternative to Alabama), it could definitely be LSU with a win.

It’s too hot where I live, but maybe LSU fans can toast with some hot toddies after Thanksgiving dinner just in case. We don’t have to cheer for Alabama on Saturday; we can just cheer for Auburn to lose.

Hot toddy – lemon, honey, whiskey, and hot water. Cinnamon optional.

If LSU loses, not even the Outback may want them. The Outback doesn’t have an official special status after the Citrus Bowl, but it seems like the one taken most seriously since it’s typically on New Year’s Day.

The other candidates would be the Texas Bowl, the Belk Bowl, the Music City Bowl, the Tax Slayer (Gator) Bowl, and the Liberty Bowl. Strictly geographically, it would seem A&M to the Texas Bowl, Missouri to the Liberty, Kentucky to the Music City, and South Carolina to the Belk. That would leave the Gator.

LSU went to the Citrus last year, the Texas Bowl in 2015, the Music City Bowl in 2014, and the Outback in 2013. The Tigers last went to the Gator Bowl in 1987 and the Liberty Bowl in 1985. LSU has never been to the Belk Bowl (formerly the Continental Tire and the Meineke Car Care Bowl, respectively), which has only existed since 2002 and has only had an SEC team since 2014. It seems too far North and East (in Charlotte) to be a good match in any year though.

Anthony Jennings ultimately did not work out at LSU, but he stepped up at the end of the 2013 season to beat Arkansas in relief and then lead the Tigers to a win over Iowa in the Outback Bowl.

Texas A&M went to the Texas Bowl last year, but that bowl probably won’t have a desirable alternative unless LSU or Mississippi St. loses. Kentucky, Missouri, and South Carolina haven’t been anywhere recently that would conflict with the geographical logic above. Kentucky hasn’t been to many bowls of late (they went to the Gator last year though), and Missouri and South Carolina went from good bowls to no bowls or third-tier bowls (meaning below Belk, Gator, Liberty, Music City, and Texas).
If there are three or more teams in the big six bowls, at least one of the second-tier bowls won’t have a team unless Florida gets in at 5-6.

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Comprehensive SEC Update

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, Post-game, Preview, SEC Wednesdays on November 15, 2017 at 7:28 PM

This is going to be long, because parts of this I meant to post midweek last week, and I forgot. I’ll make subheadings so it’s not a long ramble.

CFP Top 25

I think it’s ridiculous that a two-loss team without an especially great schedule is in the top 6 right now, but I think the committee sent a clear message that Auburn isn’t going to spoil the SEC’s chances by winning. I don’t have a problem with that. I just won’t think Auburn deserves to be in the top 6 unless they beat Alabama (if then). Then, if they beat Georgia again, I probably won’t mind them being in the top 4.

I want to explain why I think this is silly now. If Auburn goes ahead of Georgia despite having one more loss, why doesn’t LSU go ahead of Auburn despite having one more loss? I don’t know why Auburn always gets special rules. You could say LSU lost to Troy; but Troy is 8-2, so to remedy that objection, it should be Troy, LSU, Auburn, Georgia, Notre Dame, right? We don’t pay attention to other games, just how you did in your best game. Tell me that’s not the logic.

Going Bowling

Eight SEC teams are bowl-eligible: Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi St., LSU, and Texas A&M.

Christian Kirk and Texas A&M had no problem with New Mexico and in beating the Lobos became the 8th bowl-eligible SEC team.

Other than Ole Miss, which declared itself ineligible before the season, all other SEC teams have possible routes to bowl games.

Florida will finish with a losing record, which would make them ineligible for a bowl game in most cases. However, it’s possible that a 5-6 Florida team (given the canceled game due to the hurricane) would be allowed to play in a bowl over 5-7 teams if not enough teams are available to fill the bowl slots though. Mississippi St. made a bowl last year despite finishing with a losing record, for instance.

Of the teams which have not guaranteed eligibility, Missouri seems the best-situated, needing only one win. The Tigers play two of the worst teams, Vanderbilt and Arkansas, albeit on the road.

Arkansas would need to beat both Mississippi St. and Missouri, but the upside is both games will be at home. Despite being blown out by Missouri on Saturday, Tennessee is still alive and like Arkansas has its final two contests at home (LSU and Vanderbilt), needing wins in both.

Vanderbilt would also need two wins, one at home and one on the road.

The worst-case scenario for the SEC is as follows: Florida loses one of its two remaining games, Missouri loses both of its remaining games, Mississippi St. beats Arkansas, LSU beats Tennessee, and Tennessee beats Vanderbilt. The best case is: Florida wins twice, Arkansas wins twice, Tennessee wins twice, and Missouri beats Vanderbilt. The first scenario would mean only 8 bowl teams; the second scenario would mean at least 11 and possibly 12 bowl teams.

As I mentioned, Ole Miss will not be in a bowl game; but the Rebels could still finish at least 6-6 (which would have meant bowl-eligibility) by beating either Texas A&M or Mississippi St. At least the Rebels have no ability to stop another SEC team from becoming eligible.

Betting Tips

I went 3-1-1 with my betting recommendations over the previous weekend. So for the year my record is 7-2-1. When I try to give picks every week, I don’t do as well though. Iowa actually beat the spread by 48 1/2. You should get paid double for that. I don’t have any strong opinions this week, but I may for the rivalry week.

LSU-Alabama aftermath

I wanted to mention that I was touched by this tweet and the responses after the Alabama game. I feel bad for any of those young men who feel like they failed because the result wasn’t what they wanted. They failed to win, but the final score doesn’t always reflect the way you play. Any fan of this team should be proud of how we played Alabama or they’re not really a fan.

I don’t mean to dwell on Alabama, but like I said I thought this was worth saying last week and never got around to posting it. I think I would be remiss to omit it just because I was forgetful.

To quote Coach O, “We comin’, and we ain’t backing down.”

LSU-Arkansas Recap

I’ve updated the LSU-Arkansas Rivalry Blog

LSU did not play well in the first half against Arkansas, but I felt like we got on track fairly early in the second half. I found out afterward that Danny Etling was not at full strength and had some trouble warming up fully. This may have contributed to errant throws. I’m hoping this was just due to the fall chill setting in and the game being early. Don’t be surprised if the fans who want Myles Brennan to take over quarterback duties get their wish at some point in the regular season though.

After being absent since the Troy game, Myles Brennan saw some meaningful action toward the end of the Alabama game.

I’m very relieved that we have a coaching staff that makes necessary halftime adjustments and I believe does so better than the vast majority of coaching staffs in the country.

The problems weren’t all due to Etling of course. I know some players tried to get used to getting up early, but there is a difference between getting up early and having your usual energy when you’re accustomed to getting up.

The defense started pretty well, although it seemed like it got a bit lethargic on the Arkansas touchdown drive at the end of the half. If the offense had done its job during the half, that drive would not have happened though. Arkansas has not been shut out this season, so the fact that the Hogs would have been held to 3 points with some more first-half offensive efficiency bodes well for the remaining games. The only other teams to keep Arkansas below 20 points were Alabama (9) and TCU (7).

LSU-Tennessee Game Preview

The only way I can envision Tennessee winning is if the LSU offense is as bad as it was in the first half against Arkansas for the entire game. I struggle to imagine LSU scoring in the 30s again and losing. If LSU has incompletions and turnovers all game without any deep balls or long runs to compensate, they can lose to any SEC team under those circumstances.

I was not impressed with interim head coach Brady Hoke’s tenure at Michigan, but I can’t imagine that the team will not be improved from last week’s 50-17 loss to Missouri.

Tennessee went down hard at Missouri on Saturday, leaving the administration no choice but to move on from Butch Jones.

After scoring 42 points apiece in their first two games (Georgia Tech, which went to overtime, and Indiana St.), the Volunteers have scored 20 points or fewer six times this season, including in their home win over Massachusetts (the only win among them). The Vols scored 24 in their home win over Southern Mississippi and 26 in their loss at Kentucky.

As of right now, Tennessee has lost its most-recent game against every other member of the SEC. I’m pretty sure outgoing head coach Butch Jones is the first head coach to ever have lost his most-recent game against all 14 SEC teams at the same time (he also lost to the Vols as head coach of Cincinnati).

LSU-Tennessee Series

Nick Saban went 2-1 against Tennessee as LSU head coach, although in 2001 he lost his only contest in Knoxville as coach of the Tigers. Before Saban, the Tigers had only beaten the Vols 3 times in all locations.

Before Les Miles came to LSU, the Tigers had only won a single time in Knoxville in their history (1988). Miles won his two games there in 2006 and 2011, respectively. After losing his first SEC game at LSU to Tennessee in Baton Rouge, Miles beat the Vols in the four contests since including in the “Have a Great Day” SEC Championship game in 2007 and in the 16-14 win on the untimed down in Baton Rouge in 2010.

So although Tennessee leads the all-time series 20-9-3, LSU is 6-2 since 2000.

See more in the LSU-Tennessee Rivalry Blog

Coaching Hot Seats

Scott Rabalais of the Advocate did a run-down of all the SEC head coaching positions, so I thought I’d chime in.
I wanted to mention that Kentucky’s Mark Stoops is now the most-tenured coach in the SEC East. When he was told this information, he responded, “That’s scary.” In all seriousness though, Stoops could probably coach there for as long as he wants if he can maintain the Wildcats’ winning percentage of late. As hot seats go, his isn’t much warmer than Saban’s.

Obviously two coaches in the East have been fired in the last couple of weeks now. I don’t think either interim coach will stay. Derrick Mason may survive just because he’s at Vanderbilt, but I don’t know if his job is secure.

I certainly think Muschamp and Smart are safe, as both have had more success than expected this season. After a rough start (5-13 overall, 2-10 in conference), Barry Odom has won four in a row at Missouri; and none have been decided by fewer than four touchdowns. I’m almost certain he’ll survive to see season three.

In the West, Ole Miss will probably be looking for a new coach, although interim coach Matt Luke has done an admirable job under the circumstances. I know he wants that Arkansas game back though.

Speaking of which, Bret Bielema seems to have been given a long leash at Arkansas, but at a certain point you have to make progress. Even if the Hogs win out, the best they can do is tie last year’s final record of 7-6. To be fair, Arkansas is improved from his first season in 2013 in which they went 3-9 and failed to win an SEC game. Kevin Sumlin is in a similar situation at Texas A&M. They’re not bad, but they’re not really making progress either.

Saban and Mullen are fine of course, and can probably stay as long as they’d like. Mullen, incidentally was mentioned as a candidate at Tennessee, but I’m not sure why he’d take that job. Both Orgeron and Malzahn took some heat after their respective second losses this season (LSU to Troy and Auburn to LSU), but both sets of Tiger fans seem to have settled down for now.

Quick Hits & LSU-Bama Series

In College Football, General LSU, History, MLB, Preview, Rivalry on November 2, 2017 at 4:37 PM

Quick Hits

I want to talk about LSU-Alabama of course, but I also wanted to talk about a couple of other things first.

Really briefly, I’ve made previous reference to my dislike for politics seeping into sports. Accordingly, I won’t go into details about any one issue. I feel that since a certain point of view is being pushed by much of the sports media, I should at least recommend someone who says mostly correct things about such topics (this is an interview he gave): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4lqeseEV5_w.

I didn’t get that into this baseball season; but as I mentioned in the last blog, I have enjoyed the World Series. While of course I’m happy for former LSU player Alex Bregman, I’m especially happy for the players I’ve been watching for 10 years or more like Carlos Beltran, Justin Verlander, and Francisco Liriano. As a long-term fan of the Cardinals and Mets, I’m especially happy for Beltran, who may have had his last chance at the age of 40. I thought the Dodgers had a strong advantage going into Game 7, but they make you play the game for a reason.

Carlos Beltran with his teammates after they held a memorial service for his fielding glove. Beltran spent most of his career as an outfielder, but the Astros rarely needed him to take the field defensively this season.

Along those lines, I think there are some college football teams who are not being given as much of a chance as they have in reality. I haven’t been picking lines much this season, although I did go 4-1 in my recommendations in Week 1 or 2. The following underdogs are all ones I’d be tempted to put a little bit of money on: Texas A&M +15 (vs. Auburn), South Carolina +23.5 (@Georgia), Iowa +17.5 (vs. Ohio St.), LSU +21.5 (@Alabama), and Oregon +17.5 (@Washington).

Before I go into details about the LSU-Alabama game, I wanted to wish Nick Saban a happy 66th birthday. I have no reason to believe he won’t be around for a while, but I think such milestones are a cause for reflection. Although I’ll be glad to see him go for some reasons, I think part of me will miss him. I honestly enjoy listening to a lot of his press conferences. He has important perspectives to share when he’s not berating reporters for asking dumb questions, and you can’t complain about a guy raising the bar for his opponents.

Alabama DB Daniel Wright sings “Happy Birthday” to Nick Saban

So I had the occasion to check out Saban’s Wikipedia page and remind myself of a couple of things. I had forgotten that Jim McElwain was his offensive coordinator from 2008 to 2011, which included two national championships. Of course the offensive coordinator for his first national championship (the one at LSU) was another coach now on a bit of a hot seat by the name of Jimbo Fisher.

Other than LSU-Alabama, the biggest SEC game (in my opinion) is South Carolina-Georgia, which will be two former defensive assistants under Saban facing off as head coaches. Georgia’s Kirby Smart obviously was the defensive coordinator at Alabama recently. Will Muschamp was a Saban assistant at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins but has never been an assistant at Alabama.

Alabama often gets LSU’s best shot.

Despite the repeated losses, LSU has typically played better against Alabama than they should have on paper. I mention all of this in my LSU-Alabama series of blogs (this is the main one), but I thought it was worth rehashing a few things.

In 1993, LSU ended Alabama’s 31-game unbeaten streak. As most LSU wins of the past few decades have been, that was on the road. Like this game, that was a betting line of more than 20 points (it was 27 actually). The Tigers were much worse back then though. It had been 5 years since LSU even made a bowl game at that point.

Ivory Hilliard of LSU returns an interception deep into Alabama territory in Tuscaloosa in 1993. LSU would win, 17-13.

LSU would not beat Alabama again until 1997 when the Tide was having a bad year, but 5 of the Tide’s 7 losses that season were by 12 points or less, and 4 of the losses were by one possession. The only ones that were decided by more than 12 points were Tennessee’s 38-21 win (the Vols finished 11-2) and LSU’s 27-0 win (the Tigers finished 9-3). So in short, LSU should have won; but they shouldn’t have won by that much.

The respective fortunes reversed the next season, but despite finishing with a 4-7 record, LSU played the Tide close, only losing by 6. Alabama would lose 4 games to teams who would win 9 games or more apiece on the season and finished 7-5. It was the same margin the following year, in which LSU finished 3-8 and Alabama finished 10-3.

The series ceased to be a really meaningful rivalry until 2005 when Alabama entered the game undefeated and LSU entered the game on a 6-game winning streak after losing the conference opener in a weekday game that had been delayed by Hurricane Rita. The Tigers would win in overtime in another road game.

LSU’s JaMarcus Russell escapes an Alabama defender in Tuscaloosa in 2005.

The Tide kept the game close in Nick Saban’s first season in 2007, but they were ultimately overmatched by an LSU team on the way to a national championship.
Alabama would partially avenge LSU’s 5-game winning streak in the series by winning the next two, but the Tigers still played better than they should have. 2008 was probably LSU’s worst year under Les Miles, and yet they took the Tide to overtime. Alabama won the SEC West that year and probably would have won the national championship had they not lost to Florida in the SEC Championship. In the following year, Alabama beat everyone and LSU would finish 9-4, but the Tide only won by 9. That was despite a crucial LSU interception that was ruled incomplete.

Patrick Peterson grabs an apparent interception in Tuscaloosa in 2009. The pass was ruled incomplete.

Alabama’s 19-game winning streak was ended by South Carolina in 2010, but a number of people still favored the Tide in the SEC Championship race because they would have represented the West had they won out even though Auburn was undefeated at the time. But first they ran into LSU, who had just lost to Auburn the week before. LSU won in an upset, 24-21, in Baton Rouge. Although the SEC West was out of reach, Alabama would still nearly beat Auburn in the Iron Bowl before falling 28-27.

The 2011 regular-season game was as close as a #1 vs. #2 game should be, and I don’t need to recount how much of a disappointment the national championship game was, but since then, LSU has been generally competitive even when they really shouldn’t have been.

Alabama was on the way to another national championship in 2012 and LSU had already registered a 14-6 loss to Florida, but the Tide needed a last-minute touchdown to win by 4. The Tide pulled away late to win by 21 in 2013, but it was a 7-point game going into the last 11 minutes and a tie game going into the last 20 minutes. Alabama was #1, and LSU had already lost twice and was ranked #13.

I’m still angry about the way LSU lost in 2014. The Tigers recovered a late fumble near the Alabama end zone in a tie game. Under normal circumstances, LSU wins, but after some routine mutual pushing and shoving, there was a personal foul called which pushed LSU back and kept crucial seconds on the clock for the next Alabama possession. After the field goal to go up 3, the idea was for LSU to kick a low bouncing ball in the middle of the field. It was the kind of kick the coaches had in mind except for how it bounced out of bounds. Had LSU scored a touchdown, which would have been a strong possibility without the personal foul, Alabama would have nonetheless needed a Hail Mary to win. Anyway, after these turns of events, Alabama was able to kick the tying field goal at the end of regulation before winning in overtime. I was happy when Alabama lost to Ohio St. a couple of months later, but the feeling from that loss still lingers. By the way, that was one of 5 LSU losses that season.

Alabama’s T. J. Yeldon fumbles, while Kendell Beckwith (#52) prepares to recover the ball in Baton Rouge in 2014.

The result in 2015 (Alabama winning 30-16) was consistent with how good the teams were, but I thought last year was much closer than it should have been on paper. Alabama ended up winning by 10, but it was a scoreless game going into the fourth quarter. Alabama was every bit as good as Clemson even though they didn’t win the national championship game at the end, and LSU finished 8-4 last year. So despite the losing streak, more often than not LSU does better than they theoretically should do against Alabama.

I’m not picking LSU to win, but I’d be at least mildly surprised if it’s a 14-point margin or greater. LSU has a better offense than they did at this time last year. The Tigers have a much better playbook, and LSU quarterback Danny Etling is improved. Alabama’s offense is also arguably better, but I think the difference between this year and last year for LSU is larger. Even if Alabama is just as superior as last year, I still don’t think they should win by more than twice as much.

Sly Croom’s Lasting Influence

In College Football, History on October 27, 2017 at 1:36 PM

Since this is a bye week for LSU, I thought I’d reminisce a little. Ed Orgeron’s return to Ole Miss reminded me that he was one of the victims of Sylvester Croom. I don’t just mean his team lost to Mississippi St.’s, but he apparently lost his job in large part because of the 2007 game (the 2005 game didn’t help either).

Sylvester Croom after winning the Egg Bowl in a dramatic comeback in Starkville in 2007.

Losses to Sylvester Croom also factored heavily into Florida’s firing of Ron Zook, Alabama’s firing of Mike Shula, and arguably Auburn’s firing of Tommy Tuberville.

I think part of it was the perception of Mississippi St. up until then. Overall from 2001 to 2003, the Bulldogs went 8-27 and only 3-21 in the SEC. So with how competitive the SEC was, that just wasn’t a team you entertained losing to, especially since they were given heavy sanctions stemming from the Jackie Sherrill era.

In fact I remember a Florida fan (ironically) complaining that the SEC West teams got to play “the Mississippis” ever year.

So I’m not even saying it was altogether fair for Croom that losses to his teams were met with such hostility since he did improve the situation from how he found it.

Ron Zook was the only head coach to defeat Nick Saban’s Tigers in 2003; but that didn’t help him much after the loss to the Bulldogs in 2004.

The Bulldogs’ win against Florida in 2004 (Croom’s first year) was only the second SEC win in three seasons. It didn’t seem to help Zook that Mississippi St. won the next week against Kentucky. The damage had been done, and the fans wanted blood. Without Zook’s firing, who knows how Urban Meyer’s career would have developed?

Mississippi St. would only go 4-20 in SEC play from 2004 to 2006, but all but one of those wins (the one over Kentucky) resulted in a firing. Orgeron wasn’t fired until 2007, but maybe that loss would have been less fatal had he beaten the Bulldogs in his first season in 2005.

Orgeron’s one win over the Bulldogs came in 2006, but Croom did beat Mike Shula’s Tide. The fact that it was in Tuscaloosa couldn’t have helped matters. No only was it the only SEC win for the Bulldogs that year, it was the only win over a I-A (now FBS) opponent in regulation. Alabama lost six games in that regular season, but one of them was by one point in overtime at Arkansas, and the other four (apart from Mississippi St.) were against teams that were in the top 15 at the time of the game. Without that loss, there is a good chance Nick Saban never coaches Alabama. Even if he started a year later, does the Tide win the West in 2008? Do they win the national championship in 2009? Probably doubtful in both cases.

Croom with Mike Shula after a game.

In 2007, the Bulldogs went a respectable 4-4 in conference and won the Liberty Bowl to finish 8-5 overall. (The non-conference loss was to West Virginia, who won the Big East and nearly played for the national championship that year.)

Nonetheless, rivalry games can be funny things (as that same West Virginia team found out against Pitt), and Orgeron was seen as responsible for giving up a late lead (see the link in the first sentence for more details).

Had Ole Miss won, it’s possible that the administration could have held out for that fourth year, which was when Croom finally had a decent year.

It’s arguable that there was another victim, and that was Tommy Tuberville. Had Auburn beaten the Bulldogs in 2007, that would have been four consecutive seasons of two conference losses or fewer after Tuberville had only accomplished the feat once in his first five seasons on the Plains.

Tuberville recently took credit for Shula’s firing (and indirectly for Saban’s hiring) as a result of beating Shula every year, but Croom likely also played a role in his own demise.

Also, one of the two SEC wins in Tuberville’s (and Croom’s) final season of 2008 was a 3-2 win over the Bulldogs. I know that in the minds of some fans, that didn’t count as a win, at least not for the football team. Especially since the offense was under fire at that time, that score was an easy one to recall and complain about. The other SEC win was 14-12, and there were SEC losses of 14-13, 17-7, and 17-13.

It’s hard to argue the decision in hindsight (I don’t think anyone would argue that Dan Mullen hasn’t proven himself better-suited to the position), but I wasn’t that fond of Croom’s firing at the time. He did take a step back in his final season in only going 4-8, but that was still better than any team there between 2001 and 2006. The loss to Auburn was one of two one-point losses that year (the other to Kentucky). Had they won both, they would have been bowl-eligible. They also played fairly close road games against Louisiana Tech (a loss by 8) and then-#5 LSU (a loss by 10). Louisiana Tech had one of its better seasons going 8-5 and winning a bowl game under head coach Derek Dooley, so that was not an embarrassing loss by any means.

Croom coaching at the Titans minicamp in 2014.

If you were curious, Croom went back to being an NFL running backs coach, a position he still occupies today with the Tennessee Titans. Apart from his stint at Mississippi St. and a four-year term as Offensive Coordinator of the Detroit Lions, Croom has been an NFL running backs coach since 1987. Before that, he coached linebackers at Alabama, his alma mater, under Bear Bryant and Ray Perkins. Alabama and Mississippi St. were his only two college coaching stops.

Coach O Makes the Right Decisions, Confuses Media Narrative

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game on October 17, 2017 at 3:23 PM

Setting of the Game and Media Commentary

This season the Tigers lost at home to a non-conference opponent for the first time since 2000, Nick Saban’s first season, and lost at Mississippi St. for the first time since 1999. I was bracing for another such loss being that 1999 was the last time they lost at home to Auburn, but somehow they escaped.

That was known as the Cigar Game, by the way. Tommy Tuberville and company smoked cigars after the game even though LSU was pathetic that year. Tuberville beat basically the same LSU team when he was at Ole Miss the year before (and his predecessor Terry Bowden had won in Baton Rouge in 1997), but he wanted to act like he accomplished something special. Maybe we can call it the Cigar Curse if this keeps up. Maybe Auburn can hire Tubs back and he can defeat his own curse. Gene Chizik, Gus Malzahn, and Terry Bowden can be his assistants.

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

Back to the present, I’m annoyed that no matter what LSU does they’re going to be insulted the rest of the year. They could win out, and people like Paul Feinbaum will still say, “same old LSU, win the games they’re not supposed to and lose the games they should have won.”

There were a lot of ups and downs in terms of talent and whatnot between 2005 and 2016, when Les Miles was the head coach. Whatever happens this season, you can’t say this is some kind of permanent condition going forward. Miles had especially difficult years in 2008 and 2014. Whether it was Miles or Orgeron, this would be another year like those two in terms of experience (although there is a bit more experience at the QB position), but we may not end up with five or even four losses. (Technically, finishing with two losses is possible; but that would require not only winning the rest of the games on the schedule but also winning at least the SEC Championship and a bowl game.)

I’m not worried though, keep up the low expectations. I don’t think the 2003 team was nearly as good as the 2007 and 2011 teams, but no one saw the 2003 performance coming. I think that was preferable.

Auburn and Florida Rivalries

I didn’t realize this going in, but this was actually the first competitive LSU-Auburn game in Tiger Stadium since 2007. That was when LSU only needed a field goal to win, but Matt Flynn threw a touchdown to Demetrius Byrd that was caught with about 3 seconds left (although the ensuing kickoff was with 1 second left). Appropriately enough, the 2007 team was in attendance on Saturday. The 2007 game came two years after an overtime win by LSU which resulted from multiple missed field goals by Auburn.

It was nice to get another close win against Auburn in light of the 4-point loss in 1994 (the disaster on the plains), the 1-point loss in 2004 (the extra point game), the 4-point loss in 2006 (Refgate), the 7-point loss in 2010 (I don’t think it had a nickname; it was just a good close game on the way to Auburn’s national championship), and the 5-point loss last season (I guess we can call it the end of an era since it was Les Miles’ last game). The other games mentioned in this paragraph were all at Auburn, where LSU has only won twice since 1998.

This was the first year since 1980 in which LSU beat Auburn and Florida with at least one of those wins coming on the road. Just like this year, there were also wins at Florida and at home against Auburn that season. That year was the last of four consecutive LSU wins against Florida, which has not been repeated since then. LSU has won 6 of 8 against the Gators and 3 of the last 4 in Gainesville though. All three of those wins in Gainesville were decided in the final moments, and this was the ninth LSU-Florida game since (and including) 2004 that was decided by one possession.

Before the loss to LSU, Florida had won 14 of 15 home games and 10 of the last 11 decided by 8 points or fewer (with the previous close loss coming to LSU in 2015). Now both LSU and Texas A&M have won close games in the Swamp (by 1 and 2 points respectively) in consecutive weeks. The Gators’ remaining home games this season are against UAB and Florida St.

For more on these series, see the Auburn and Florida rivalry blogs.

LSU-Auburn Game Recap and Analysis

So I’ve talked about pundits and I’ve talked about historical significance. I’d like to talk a little more about Saturday’s game and what I think brought about the result.

I’ve mentioned this is still a young inexperienced team, but let’s recap a couple of things they have seen in recent weeks. As we have been reminded dozens of times now, yes, they lost to Troy, but let’s look at that.. Troy was up 17-0 in the second half. Had it been 17-0 at halftime, maybe LSU wins. Had the coaching staff not panicked a bit by calling an onsides kick only halfway through the fourth quarter, the Tigers may have completed the comeback. Also, after the Tigers’ initial touchdown, Troy scored again and still led by 17 well into the fourth quarter.

There was another home game where it was the opposite situation. It was LSU who seemed to have the game in control and what was an 18-point LSU lead with 20 minutes left in the game became a 28-26 lead with 5 minutes left in the game. So if Syracuse can reduce a lead by 16 points in 15 minutes on the road and LSU can reduce a lead by 14 points in 6 minutes in a nearly-empty stadium, 42 ½ minutes (especially with a nearly-full stadium) should have seemed like plenty of time to close a 20-point gap. Nine points in 30 minutes? Easy.

Florida isn’t exactly analogous, but there were two things to take from that as well. The first is LSU had the lead and despite an anemic offense, the defense realized (according to Orgeron anyway) that if Florida didn’t score over the last 17 minutes they couldn’t win. The other point was that it only took 6 minutes to close the gap from 17-3 to 17-16.

I think having Syracuse, Troy, and Florida in consecutive weeks was more than enough for this team to know there was no reason to give up hope.

I don’t agree with many commentators that the turning point was the punt return. That is what made it a 2-point game. What about the plays that made it only a 9-point lead before that?

The first important thing was the LSU defense drawing the line at the 20-yardline so Auburn didn’t go ahead 24-0.

I’ve been a critic, including in this blog, of some of Orgeron’s decisions, but like when Les Miles called 5 fourth-down attempts against Florida in the 2007 season, he made (in hindsight anyway) the right call time after time.

Russell Gage’s 70-yard run helped set up the Tigers’ first score.

When LSU got the ball back, some would have said to just take the field goal “to get some points on the board” facing a fourth and goal down 20-0, but he went for it. I doubt he called the play, but he certainly didn’t object when the jet sweep was called even though Auburn had been covering that particular play.

It’s hard to narrow it down to one decision before the half, but the Tigers played for the touchdown (not for a field goal as some recent offensive coordinators would have done), but they did it in such a way that the touchdown (or perhaps short field goal had it been necessary) was scored with less than a minute left. I’m not going to pretend I knew we had a win at that point, but I had resigned myself to being down 13 or 14 at the half (after the first touchdown; I was of course more pessimistic before that). I was honestly excited that we only ended up down 9.

After LSU punted in its first three possessions of the second half and the previous punt couldn’t even be downed before rolling into the end zone, another punt had to be hard to call at the Auburn 36. This was the possession after Malzahn lost his nerve before a 4th and 1 at midfield. LSU didn’t really have a good chance of converting, but some coaches might have tried the long field goal even though it was a likely miss just to say they tried to take the lead. Had LSU lost, that would have been a criticism. Then the special teams came through and downed the ball at the 3.

LSU did have to take the points on the next possession. Despite the field goal woes, 42 yards was close enough that they had to try for the lead even though it was 4th and 1.

Another right decision. Malzahn had to be the one to answer questions about his fourth-down decisions after the game. Why go on 4th and 10 but not on 4th and 1? Did you not believe your defense could stop LSU all the same without giving them the ball in field goal position?

On the final drive though, LSU finally did play for a field goal. It’s like a sacrifice in baseball. They give you an out at first base, throw it to first base. Don’t do anything crazy. Orgeron could have tried for a touchdown Mad-Hatter-style; but even though LSU had been down most of the day, when you have the lead you act like you can keep the lead.

Of course it make it easier to come back without penalties and turnovers that continued to haunt the Tigers in the second half against Troy, but those coaching decisions were key in this game.

The Future

A new pet peeve after the game is that Gus Malzahn said multiple times that Auburn controls its own destiny, and this was accepted without question by the media. Actually, someone at Auburn might have heard it during the game broadcast. If LSU and Auburn each finish with one loss, what happens? Spoiler alert: Auburn doesn’t represent the West. I don’t know how that many people who get paid to do so don’t bother to think for themselves.

I’m not saying LSU is going to beat Alabama, but it would be less strange than losing to Troy or beating Auburn after being down 20 points. It would be less strange than Syracuse beating Clemson.

LSU is given a 65% chance or greater (in ESPN’s FPI formula anyway) to win each of their remaining games except against Alabama. Auburn is given a 52% chance to beat Georgia and a 75% chance to beat A&M, but I’m not buying either one. If I put $100 on A&M to beat Auburn at home, you’re really going to give me $300 back if they do so? I also don’t think Auburn is 5 times as likely to beat Alabama as LSU is.

Anyway, another big rivalry game next week. After these last few games, I’m looking forward to the bye week though.

Week 7 Top 25 and Recent LSU Thoughts

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game on October 13, 2017 at 4:19 PM

I had a long trip out of the country, so I haven’t had much time for blogging and so forth. I only included one picture, so I’m sure this will look like a wall of text in spots.

Troy-LSU

Not that more than a handful of people read what I have to say anyway (I never recovered from losing the free advertising TSN used to provide), but if you’re a regular reader and resorted to listening to mainstream media instead, my condolences.

Why are the most ignorant people who don’t even lift a finger to give themselves the level of knowledge that can be gained by five minutes with a search engine the ones with the biggest voices in national media? A perfect example from the NFL was Skip Bayless pretending Tim Tebow was going to the Hall of Fame, but there are people you can take seriously. I think Skip Bayless is what you get in college if you’re lucky.

Paul Feinbaum never seems to know basic facts. Maybe he’s just feigning ignorance, but if he’s that good of an actor, he should be in Hollywood.

For instance, before last year’s Florida game (the offense had looked good between Les Miles’ last game and Florida), he had no idea who Steve Ensminger was or how he came to be interim OC. He can have good commentary when he does read up on something, but he phones it in when it comes to details and it’s not a big game. Feinbaum also said the chance of Orgeron becoming head coach was infinitesimal. Why is he considered some kind of SEC guru?

Anyway, to get to the point, after Troy, he had on some guy who admitted being preoccupied with college BASKETBALL. Anyone in their right mind would have hung up instead of asking for anything about football. There are probably a million SEC fans who haven’t been distracted one iota by basketball he could have spoken to instead.

So this guy says that Orgeron is responsible for any lack of depth because he was a recruiter (for defensive linemen… for a year and a half) under Les Miles and then proceeds to bash the program in general. Who does that, who says, “I haven’t been paying attention to this sport, but here is my condemnation based on one final score”? A drunk at a bar maybe, and a relatively dumb one at that. I couldn’t keep listening.

We have had good recruiting classes the last couple of years, but that doesn’t magically give you a quality team when the field is loaded with freshmen. Go back to covering basketball, where leaving college early means not playing in college.

So then I listened to Damon Amendolara. At least that’s material I can work with, even though he’s obnoxious. I’ll respond to his points.

>LSU was embarrassed at Mississippi St.

Again, we are talking about a team playing a ton of freshmen, they should have been up 14-7 in the second quarter (but for a bullshit penalty), halftime score ends up 17-7, then the game gets away as offense starts desperation mode during a third quarter that didn’t go well. That’s not being embarrassed. Embarrassing final score maybe, but the performance was not as bad as the score.

>for the first time since 2000, a non-conference team walked into Death Valley…

Gee, who was the head coach then? That guy is probably selling life insurance now if not dead from chronic stupidity. Oh no, that’s one of the best college football coaches in history? Same difference.

You know what else that guy did? Lost his conference opener against a sub-top-20 team. He lost by 17, but it could have been worse had the other team elected to keep up the pressure.

By the way, I made these points to my family after the Troy game. I’m not just saying this because of Florida. By the way, after losing to UAB in 2000, LSU beat a ranked team the next week as well. The Tigers would finish 8-4 on the year, which I would take this year as well. The next season, they won the SEC Championship.

>Troy was up 17-0

They were up more and LSU didn’t quit and nearly came all the way back? That makes it worse if you’re a mainstream media sports guy?

>LSU frankly is a pathetic football team.

They didn’t even lose to a pathetic football team, and it was by 3 points. That’s not rushing to judgment at all. But at least if you say it like you know what you’re talking about…

>[Ed Ogeron] can’t fix the problem.

He clearly improved something being that LSU scored 21 of the last 31 points. I understand if he was arguing that LSU did the same exact things they did against Mississippi St., but this guy’s main gripe was Troy and seemed to be aware of no details of Mississippi St. You don’t see if the problems are fixed until the next game is played.

>Troy is trolling them on twitter (by saying they enjoyed the trip).

What is Orgeron supposed to do? Beat up on whoever controls their twitter? What a nonsensical point to even bring up.

These buffoons count on people to forget their mistakes. Don’t let them get away with it. Be as unforgiving as they are.

LSU struggled against the run, but the Tigers got just enough stops when they needed them.

LSU-Florida

I’m not going to pretend I knew it would work beforehand, but the important thing is players stepped up after the game to have a players meeting, and LSU maintained its normal routine before the Florida win.

You can say they got lucky with the extra point, but I would say they got unlucky with the officiating. There is no way blocking a guy with your hands around his shoulder pads is what any rules committee has ever meant by targeting even though the penalty was upheld. If that’s so dangerous you need to remove someone from the game, they need to ban blocking and tackling altogether.

There was also an LSU first down that was reversed on a spot judgment call, and yet Florida was given a first down when the guy stepped out a full two yards short of the line to gain. There was a personal foul called for bumping into a player while getting up. There was a roughing the punter that was only called running into. There were other examples, such as clear holdings that were not called, but I’m just saying what stood out. All in all, typical SEC officiating for the home team that had better prospects going into the game.

Both Florida touchdowns were set up by 15-yard LSU penalties. The other one was a correct call by the referee, but it was bad luck in a split-second decision. The defender could have gone in front of the receiver on a crossing route and broken up the pass (if not intercepted it) for a third-down stop. Instead, I think he misjudged the timing of the ball and wrapped up the receiver. Only problem was the ball hadn’t gotten there yet. To be fair, he had a perfectly-timed jump to tip a ball way over his head on the play before.

I mentioned Mississippi St. above and how pivotal the go-ahead touchdown would have been. I also think not going down 7-0 to Troy would have made a huge difference.

Of course that wasn’t the whole story. LSU did very well on third down after going 0-8 (I think a conversion or two was called back) the week before. The Tigers committed four turnovers against Troy and none against Florida. There were times they could have just hanged their heads like when Danny Etling missed wide-open receivers, when three offensive linemen had to leave the game, or when the targeting I mentioned was called and another quality offensive player was ejected. These seemed ominous as a fan, but I think the team has really worked on controlling what’s in their power and shrugging off everything else.

This was Ed Orgeron’s first-ever SEC road win as a permanent head coach. It was the third counting Texas A&M and Arkansas last season though, so he’s 3-1 in such games with the Tigers after going 0-12 at Ole Miss.

I didn’t have time before, but this weekend I will update both the Florida and Auburn rivalry blogs. Jim McElwain had previously done pretty well both in close games and in the Swamp, but LSU has won a fair number of games in both categories in recent years as well.

Top 25

I did calculate the official computer ratings for the first time this season. My top 25 for this blog is a little bit different. Summary of differences: Alabama moved from #3 to #1, Michigan put ahead of Florida (they beat Florida after all), Notre Dame ahead of Michigan St. (same reasoning), and Oklahoma St. #25 instead of South Carolina. I don’t like to remove teams from the top 25 just because they had a bye week, and it’s not like South Carolina has done anything special since Week 1. No team was moved more than two spots, and for the vast majority of teams I just let the chips fall where they may.

rank/team/prev.
1 Alabama 1
2 Clemson 2
3 Georgia 3
4 Penn St. 4
5 Wash. St. 9
6 Central Florida 7
7 TCU 6
8 San Diego St. 8
9 USC 11
10 Notre Dame 15
11 Mich. St. 20
12 Ohio St. 16
13 Wisconsin 14
14 U. Miami 18
15 Houston –
16 Iowa –
17 Navy 10
18 Washington 21
19 North Carolina St. –
20 Michigan 5
21 Florida 12
22 Kentucky 22
23 Oregon 19
24 Oklahoma 13
25 Okla St. 17

Out of rankings: (23) UCLA, (24) South Florida, (25) Maryland

SYR @ LSU & Week 5 Top 25

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 24, 2017 at 6:29 PM

Sorry for the lack of a midweek blog last week, but I’m planning a trip and have a lot of work responsibilities lately. Everything will be back to normal after Columbus Day.

Syracuse @ LSU

I don’t want to write a separate blog about LSU. It took a little while to get the offense going, and then we seemed to be fine; but I think the quarterback substitution was way too premature. Ed Orgeron said he wanted to give Miles Brennan some experience when the game was on the line, but the decision to put Brennan in PUT the game on the line late. When the game was really on the line in the last drive, Danny Etling was put back into the game.

Etling was originally pulled after completing 5 of his last 6 attempts for 159 yards and two touchdowns. Since it was only 21-10 when Brennan entered (and he returned to the field the last time up only 28-19), I thought LSU needed at least a couple more scores before taking the chance.

It briefly looked like the gamble paid off when Brennan’s first drive resulted in a touchdown, but Brennan only completed two short passes. He ended up getting credit for a bunch of passing yards, but that was because Darrel Williams (the main RB for the game) broke into the secondary after a short pass, not because Brennan showed any proficiency throwing the ball down the field. Brennan also threw a pass that could have been intercepted and returned for a touchdown, but it was thankfully dropped.

After Syracuse was forced to punt, the Tigers were then pinned back on their own 1. I’m not sure if Etling would have avoided the safety (possibly with some kind of audible), but I didn’t feel good when I saw Brennan take the field. So that drive resulted in the safety and the next ended in an interception before Brennan was taken out. Meanwhile, Syracuse scored touchdowns on the two intervening possessions to get within 2. I also do not understand why Brennan was in the game the drive after the safety.

LSU wide receiver D.J. Chark scores the deciding touchdown.

On the last touchdown drive, Etling didn’t even attempt a pass, but he did have a crucial 8-yard run on second down, which allowed Nick Brossette to just barely pass the line to gain on the third down. One of OC Matt Canada’s tricky plays finally worked immediately after that when the ball was handed off to Chark in the backfield instead of to the running back, and D.J. Chark went around the left end for the 20-yard touchdown run.

The defense isn’t completely blameless for allowing Syracuse to get close of course, but they kept being put back on the field too quickly. It was also frustrating that there seemed to be a stop on 3rd and 19 when a personal foul was called for roughing the passer. It was just an unnecessary bump. The only good thing to say about that is it was the only LSU penalty that cost more than 5 yards the whole game. The automatic first down was a bigger problem than the yards.

In all, Syracuse was able to keep drives going 10 times after facing a third down (of which they had 19). The Orange had to get two of those on fourth down though. Also, the Orange ended up with 24 first downs to LSU’s 18. This is why Syracuse had a similar time of possession to LSU even though the Tigers won the rushing battle 151-76.

Also, it’s worth noting that LSU has played probably dozens of freshmen, and Syracuse had the most returning starters of any team going into the season. I think that’s one thing that kept them in the game, particularly when LSU intentionally put in less experienced players like Brennan.

Top 25

This week’s top 25 was easier to draft than last week’s. Some of the teams that seem good (like Alabama) are actually starting to prove it. It would have been difficult to keep Florida St. in if they’d won; but since they lost, I didn’t have to worry about it.

My procedure was to calculate the objective computer rating and to give the teams my own ranking. I averaged the two different rankings to arrive at the final top 25; and with only a couple of exceptions, I only gave myself the latitude to move teams more than two spots.

Alabama only ended up fifth in following this process, but I obviously was not going to remove the Tide from the top spot after they went on the road to beat a previously undefeated team 59-0.

Alabama literally ran away with the game at Vanderbilt.

Washington St. only ended up 29th in this calculation, but they’re playing USC next week. It just makes more sense to let that result determine whether they stay in or fall out. Their average was 25.5, so this wasn’t that big of a departure. Oklahoma St. was even lower, but it was similar logic there as the Pokes play Texas Tech next week.

If you’re curious, the excluded teams who scored higher than WSU are Navy, UC-Berkeley, Iowa, and Notre Dame. Cal and Iowa are both coming off losses even though Iowa looked like the better team for much of the night. Any of these teams could easily find themselves in the to 25 in the near future. Notre Dame’s only loss is to Georgia, and you can see how high they are. Navy has no losses, but their points will be limited until they play Memphis on October 14.

rank/team/prev.

1 Alabama 1
2 Clemson 3
3 Georgia 9
4 USC 8
5 Penn St. 4
6 Oklahoma 2
7 Michigan 7
8 TCU 22
9 Florida 16
10 Ohio St. 10
11 Virginia Tech –
12 Texas Tech –
13 Kentucky 11
14 South Florida 18
15 San Diego St. 15
16 Wake Forest –
17 Central Florida –
18 Wisconsin 5
19 Washington 17
20 Louisville 20
21 Memphis 19
22 Mississippi St. 13
23 Vanderbilt 14
24 Wash. St. 21
25 Okla St. 6

Out of top 25: (12) UC-Berkeley, (23) Oregon, (24) Florida St., (25) Auburn

What Happened: LSU @ Mississippi St.

In College Football, General LSU, History, Post-game on September 16, 2017 at 7:53 PM

Before I begin, I’ve updated my rivalry blog for the LSU-Mississippi St. series. The Bulldogs ended LSU’s run of 8 straight wins in Starkville (the longest such streak by either team if you don’t count LSU’s run at home that ended a few years ago) and also beat the Tigers by the largest margin of victory ever.

Although LSU had not lost in Starkville since 1999, Ed Orgeron is now 0-3 there as a head coach. Ole Miss did beat the Bulldogs the one time he faced them at home.

I wanted to write to explain what happened in the game this evening. I’m not offering excuses (it was a deserved loss) and not trying to take anything away from Mississippi St. for playing well and having a good game plan; but there are reasons this game got away from LSU, and one of those reasons was not that Mississippi St. had more talent.

One thing is the early touchdown that was taken away from LSU for no good reason. The game starting out 14-7 in LSU’s favor is a completely different scenario from Mississippi St. starting the second half with the ball up 17-7.

Of course, LSU’s second touchdown never came.

There were a couple of other Mississippi St. drives in the first half that were either extended by penalties (at least one of which should not have been called) or by an LSU player accidentally knocking down a potential tackler. I don’t remember which one of those led to touchdowns or field goals, but all but a couple of drives ended in one or the other.

LSU had stops when the whistle was blown on other occasions, but they had no one to blame but themselves. A defensive lineman had already been injured in the first half, and when LSU momentarily had a three-and-out to start the second half (which could have been a turning point for the Tigers), a defensive lineman was ejected for a completely stupid targeting penalty.

Within a few minutes of that ejection, LSU got a second ejection for a similar penalty. I don’t think that was an intentional head-to-head hit, but you don’t take the chance of being called for a late hit when it can’t benefit the play. It was a targeting in my opinion because right as the defender approached, the quarterback turned his head toward the defender (after he released the ball), causing a collision between the defender’s helmet and the quarterback’s facemask.

In all, LSU was penalized for 112 yards, but that doesn’t count the 66-yard (If I heard correctly; I didn’t see it) touchdown pass that was taken off of the board. The Tigers also had to score twice on the actual touchdown drive that took place because of a deserved penalty.

After the ejections, LSU had almost no chance to win whatsoever. The linebackers and secondary tried to support the defensive line, but you can’t do that without opening up passes over the top of the defense. This was demonstrated by the second-to-last touchdown where the receiver could have walked into the end zone if he wanted to.

DJ Chark scores an apparent touchdown that was called back due to a phantom penalty.

It also didn’t help that multiple LSU passes that could have given them some offensive rhythm (not to mention helping out the run and giving the defense a chance to catch its breath) were dropped.

Both sides of the ball got more and more desperate as the score got worse. The defense over-pursued in the backfield (or got flagged for interference), and the offense had overly ambitious downfield throws.

I ranked LSU #14 in preseason because I thought that’s where they would finish, not because I thought LSU would play that way consistently in September. I still think the talent is there to finish in that area or higher, but when you have 5 returning defensive starters in their first road game and you lose 3 players, it’s awfully tough to defend an offense like Mississippi St.’s.

To give some credit where it’s due, MSU’s Nick Fitzgerald showed good poise in the pocket even before the ejections and injuries.

The ejections come with disqualifications from the first half of the next game against Syracuse (in Baton Rouge). If LSU loses to Syracuse, then I’ll admit I overestimated this team significantly, but I have a feeling the Tigers both upper- and lowerclassmen will play with more consistency and confidence in that game.

There are two very winnable games coming up (also a home game against Troy), and despite the win over Tennessee today, Florida is vulnerable. If LSU gets behind the 8-ball again, that could be another long and miserable road game, but if not it could be pretty competitive. I did pick Florida ahead of LSU in preseason, but we’ll see.

Cancellations and (later) Game Previews

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

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

Cancellations

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

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

hurricane 0909

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Big Games

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LSU and Major SEC Games Week 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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