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Posts Tagged ‘Iowa’

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

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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.

Week 12: Not Rivalry Week Yet

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

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

The Former Rivalry Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the SEC Schedule for Mid-November Deteriorated

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ole Miss-Vanderbilt Headlines This Week’s SEC Schedule

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

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

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

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

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

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

LSU and Rice Renew a Rivalry Few Missed

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

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

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

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

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

Top 25 after Week 6

In College Football, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on October 7, 2018 at 5:49 PM

Eleven of last week’s computer top 25 lost, so that means a few things. (1) It makes it a lot easier for the winning teams to move up, (2) teams that lost might not fall as far as normal, and (3) you can get to a given spot with one more loss now.

I think (1) is obvious, but (2) might seem odd. The reason is if there are teams a couple spots lower who lost they probably won’t go ahead of the team in question. If you go down more than a few spots, even when you take away points from last week’s higher team and add them to the lower team, the lower team started too far back to take the lead.

The perfect example of (3) this week is Kentucky. Last week you needed to be undefeated (if you only had an average schedule) to be #8, but this week you can be #9 with a loss (and an improved schedule compared to what Kentucky had going in).

I know LSU just lost to Florida (see my reaction here), but the loss to Florida isn’t as bad as Florida’s loss to Kentucky and it certainly isn’t as bad as Texas’s loss to Maryland. I’m still moving LSU lower than the computer indicates. The multitude of highly-rated teams with losses as I explained above only resulted in a two-spot drop for the Tigers. Texas A&M, the team that beat Kentucky, doesn’t have a bad loss; but the problem is they have two of them and they don’t have any other good wins.

Arguably the most surprising result of the weekend was Texas’s win over Oklahoma in Dallas. The Longhorns broke the tie in the final seconds (above) after the Sooners rallied for 21 points in the fourth quarter.

Alabama (I’ll talk more about the Tide below) helps to depress the Texas A&M rating more than you would think. It also doesn’t help that the Aggies’ only two prior FBS wins were over Arkansas and UL-Monroe, whose combined record against the FBS is 1-9.

We will know a lot more about A&M when they go on the road to South Carolina, Mississippi St., and Auburn all in the next four weeks. If they keep winning, they’ll be rewarded. Of course it also wouldn’t hurt if Kentucky, Clemson, and Alabama kept winning and maybe if one of the others started winning.

I’m ranking Alabama #1 for now, but that is a weaker undefeated team than Notre Dame, Clemson, Georgia, and Ohio St. by the numbers at this point. In the last two weeks the Tide has played Arkansas and UL-Lafayette, who have a combined record of 1-8 against FBS opponents.

Notre Dame, Clemson, and Georgia all have bye weeks in the next two weeks, so I want to see how those teams withstand the byes before I would replace Alabama (assuming Alabama doesn’t lose). Ohio St. is unlikely to be #1 in the near future given the mutual bye with Alabama (in the last week of October) and mediocre upcoming schedule.

I could imagine detractors asking a few other questions, so I’ll pose and try to answer some.

Why did West Virginia fall? Michigan got a good win (for now) over aforementioned Maryland, and a team Maryland beat (Texas) beat Oklahoma. That doesn’t count for much compared to beating Kansas (which lost to Nicholls St. among others). It also didn’t help the Mountaineers that Kansas St. lost while Tennessee and Texas Tech were idle.

Why did Washington fall? You might remember they lost to Auburn, who now has two losses. Washington went up 8 spots last week and West Virginia shot up from unranked to 11th, so I don’t think either one is exactly aggrieved here.

Why did idle Penn St. and Army fall and not idle Duke? The two winning teams who were in striking distance of Duke (West Virginia and South Florida) both passed them up, I had actually moved Duke down a spot compared to the computer last week while I moved Penn St. up, and the Nittany Lions just had bad luck that South Carolina and U. Miami won by a combined 3 points. One of Army’s (Liberty) wins suffered a damaging loss, as did a team who beat them (Oklahoma). Also, Army’s 3-2 record is worse in a way right now, because more teams have won over 60% this week than last week.

That BYU game keeps looking worse for the Wisconsin Badgers. Not only did the Cougars lose to Utah St., but another team that beat them (Cal) lost to Arizona.

Michigan and South Carolina are back after respective one-week hiatuses followed by good conference wins. With Floyd of Rosedale in hand (Midwestern trophies are adorable), Iowa returns after last being ranked in the final rankings last year. Cincinnati is basically just ranked for being undefeated and not playing a terrible schedule (though not a good one either), and San Diego St. now has wins over Arizona St. and Boise St. with the only loss against Stanford (although the Cardinal fell 8 spots after losing to Utah). The Aztecs may fall out as a consequence of playing weaker opponents in the coming weeks though, especially if Stanford keeps losing.

So the only things I did this week compared to the computer top 25 were to make Alabama #1, move LSU down two spots, and switch Texas with Florida.

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

Out of Top 25: (12) Auburn, (17) Indiana, (18) Army, (20) Okie St., (24) Maryland

Top 25 after Week 2

In College Football, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 9, 2018 at 4:19 PM

I do plan to write blogs other than rankings soon, but there weren’t a lot of extra days in the first two weeks. I posted the preseason rankings right before Week 1 started, and there were 5 playing days followed by the midweek Week 1 rankings. I’ll definitely have something to say about the upcoming LSU-Auburn game, possibly on Thursday.

I’m dropping Clemson because from what I saw they didn’t deserve to win. I’ll take a controversial close win over a major unranked team on the road if you’re #20 maybe, but not if you’re #2. Later in the season, it just counts as a win, but when we have relatively little information about the teams, you have to look at how they won.

If you didn’t see the game or highlights, Texas A&M came close to scoring the potentially tying touchdown in the last few minutes, but the ball was knocked loose. The ruling on the field was a touchback. Although from every angle, it looked like that was wrong, the call stood. I’ll elaborate in the next paragraph, but I’ll warn you it’s a bit of a rant.

I don’t think there is any way to create this image if the ball crossed the goal line before going out of bounds.

I don’t blame the referee if he simply couldn’t tell and made a guess, but the problem I have is that even if the referee has to flip a coin to decide, you have an incredible burden of proof to change the call. I wish there were an option where the referee could appeal directly to the replay booth if he didn’t see or couldn’t tell. Regardless, the call should have been overturned. Every angle shouldn’t have to be 100% clear. I don’t believe it’s possible that the ball went through the end zone. Never mind that this is the most completely unfair rule in football in the first place. If the ball goes out at your own 1, you keep it, but if you make it 99 yards down the field and you fumble forward (but not backward), it’s a turnover? Absurd.

Anyway, despite losing the ball in this ridiculous and unfair fashion, the Aggies were able to get the ball back and score a touchdown anyway. They just weren’t able to get the two-point conversion. Maybe Clemson would have played differently if they’d gotten the ball up 2 instead of 8 (assuming the same unsuccessful conversion play), but either way they would have wanted to hold onto the ball until the clock ran out. There is a very high chance that had the ruling been correct Texas A&M would have won.

I did make a rule for this week that you need to have a win over an FBS opponent from now on, so that explains some of the turnover of teams.

I also lowered Notre Dame a little bit for their close win over Ball St., who now has a 10-game losing streak against FBS opponents.

I indicated last week that Minnesota and Duke were playing for potential rankings, so I stuck to that. Iowa was ranked at the end of last year, and they just beat Iowa St., who was also ranked for much of last year, so I thought it made sense to put the Hawkeyes back. I mentioned Maryland looked good in Week 1 and despite some trouble early on, they won decisively. Arizona St. got in by beating Michigan St., although the Sun Devils’ offense needs work (as does Iowa’s). Virginia Tech and West Virginia haven’t really impressed me. I don’t think Florida St. and Tennessee (their respective Week 1 opponents) are very good, but the Hokies and Mountaineers were both teams I considered ranking before the season and have done nothing to deserve not being ranked.

The only other team that moved a lot was USC. They lost to a good team but didn’t make it very close or beat a very good team in Week 1, so 8 spots seems reasonable.

Stanford RB Bryce Love tries to pad his yardage against USC.. He ran for 136 yards for the game.

rank/team/prev.
1 Alabama 1
2 Georgia 3
3 Wisconsin 4
4 Ohio St. 5
5 Oklahoma 6
6 Stanford 7
7 Clemson 2
8 Auburn 8
9 Miss. St. 12
10 Boise St. 14
11 Notre Dame 9
12 UCF 16
13 LSU 17
14 Michigan 18
15 Penn St. 19
16 TCU 21
17 Okie St. 24
18 USC 10
19 Minnesota —
20 Iowa —
21 Maryland —
22 Arizona St. —
23 Duke —
24 Va. Tech —
25 W. Virginia —

Out of top 25: (11) Washington, (13) Florida, (15) Fresno St., (20) Mich. St., (22) Memphis, (23) S Carolina, (25) U. Miami

Top 25 after Week 1 (and Week 0)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Championship Week Top 25

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on December 3, 2017 at 3:42 PM

More on “Who’s #4”

Last night, I think I made sufficient arguments for Alabama to be chosen over Ohio St. I wanted to elaborate on that a little bit more based on some arguments I’ve heard and considered since.

The point was made that Alabama isn’t like last year’s Ohio St., which was ranked #2 going into championship week. Nonetheless, between the two, Alabama was 5th going into championship week while Ohio St. was 8th. So rankings going in is one of the weaker arguments I’ve seen, but I’m just addressing it because it seemed to get some play in social media.

I mentioned how Alabama is favored by Las Vegas over Ohio St. if the two were to play on a neutral site. Alabama was also the #1 most likely to win the national champion and is #1 in ESPN’s Football Power Index. Also, Alabama is in the top 4 in “strength of record,” which compares success versus a given schedule to how the average top 25 team would do. I agree with the “strength of record” calculations that 11-1 against Alabama’s schedule was harder to do than 11-2 against Ohio St.’s. So those are additional reasons I think it’s much harder to leave Alabama out than two-loss Ohio St.

Nick Saban and his team receive the CFP trophy from the late John Saunders after defeating Clemson in January 2016. The Tide will attempt to win its second such trophy in three years.

This isn’t really covering new ground, but I made a chart that I think might be useful in trying to clarify my position.

Team Rank Last SoS Top 40 %/100
Clemson 1 2 12 6-0* 1.00
Georgia 2 3 11 4-1+ 0.80
Oklahoma 3 4 75 4-1 0.80
Wisconsin 4 1 66 2-1 0.67
UCF 5 7 65 2-0 1.00
Ohio St. 6 11 31 4-2 0.67
Alabama 7 4 41 3-1 0.75
USC 8 12 34 3-2 0.60

*lost to (74) Syracuse
+beat (41) Kentucky

I think with the small number of top-40 games, you can eliminate Wisconsin and Central Florida (UCF). Then you can eliminate USC based on the top-40 percentage to get us to the main decision, which was between Alabama and Ohio St.

But for illustration, I wanted to explain why I think Alabama should be ahead of a team with one fewer loss than they have.

Alabama’s one loss was to a better team than any UCF played, so I think it’s hard to count that loss as a point in UCF’s favor. Also, even if that weren’t the case, being 24 spots higher in strength of schedule would result in another loss for any team this year. Maybe a really dominant team from years past could have played a much tougher schedule without losing another game, but there is a reason UCF is the only undefeated team. No team could withstand a much tougher schedule without losing to SOMEONE.

When you go to Ohio St. vs. Alabama, it’s not as easy to get around the extra loss. Alabama beat two teams, LSU and Mississippi St., that are better than Iowa. That’s not just my opinion; that’s the outcome of a range of objective measures as well as the CFP rankings themselves.

Also, 10 spots in strength of schedule makes is harder to argue that if you make Alabama’s schedule a little tougher that they would have lost another game. Maybe if they had played a top-10 team on the road the same day they played Mississippi St. on the road, it would have mattered. If LSU or Fresno St. or any other opponent were a little better (LSU in some ways played better, but they would have had to be a much better team to get 14 more touchdowns or stop Alabama from scoring 14 of its points), Alabama’s record doesn’t change.

Having a better winning percentage against the top 40 is more relevant to fitness for the CFP playoff as well. It’s roughly the top third of teams. Actually the top third is 43 teams if you round down the fraction, but that’s why I noted that Georgia beat Kentucky. It’s also teams that in general are able to beat the better teams (Syracuse/Clemson was obviously an outlier). If these teams have a bad day against a team not in the top 40, there is a very high chance they win anyway.

Oklahoma played a lot of easy opponents obviously, which is why I have their strength of schedule below that of both Wisconsin and Central Florida; but they made up for it with a very top-heavy schedule. Three wins in the top 15 is hard to do, and none were in doubt for much of the second half. I’m not sure I can explain the loss to Iowa St. very well, but the Cyclones are a good enough team that if you get them on the road they can be dangerous to anyone under the right circumstances. Just ask Mike Gundy, who lost to a much more mediocre Cyclone team to miss out on a chance to play for the national championship with Oklahoma St. in 2011.

I think Clemson’s and Oklahoma’s respective losses put into context Alabama’s loss to Auburn (a much, much better team than either of those losses) and close win over Mississippi St. (a team that at least would be the clear favorite against either Iowa St. or Syracuse regardless of location).

Rankings from 9 to 25

Notre Dame fell short of a New Years Six Bowl, but this win over eventual Pac-12 champion USC helps make them the best of the rest. (Pictured: RB Josh Adams)

It’s a very close call between Notre Dame and Auburn (0.00071), but I do think Notre Dame had a slightly harder schedule. It will be interesting to see what the Irish do against another SEC team that beat Auburn (they lost to Georgia by 1 in September and play LSU on January 1 in Orlando).

Miami is not far behind the Irish. I know they blew out Notre Dame, but they didn’t beat USC by 35 either. The Hurricanes lost to a much worse team (Pitt) before the ACC title game than any teams who beat Notre Dame (Georgia, Stanford, and themselves).

Penn St. didn’t have any great non-conference or even non-divisional opponents, but they played in a pretty tough division and were one point away from a chance to make the playoff.

I mentioned Stanford a moment ago. They were better than Notre Dame and pretty even with USC in recent weeks, but it’s not that easy to overcome three losses especially when one was to San Diego St. (although the Aztecs are now in my top 25). I would have rather seen the Cardinal in a New Years Six bowl than Washington, but no one asked me.

Boise St., Florida Atlantic, and Toledo moved up with wins in conference championship games. I think we could make a chart like I did with the top 8 and explain that they’re not really in the top 20 of toughest teams to beat, but what I focus on is a system that general gets top few teams right. This is the first year in a while that I’m not happy with 1 through 4 although I think 1 through 3 are perfect. Anyway, the point is I’m not going to alter my ratings to make 3- or 4-loss teams higher in this part of the rankings. That would move teams like Notre Dame and Auburn higher, which I don’t want to do.

The rankings after the bowl sort out some of these issues because the major-conference 3- or 4-loss teams generally get better opponents than the minor-conference champions.
Odd for this to happen after such a dramatic week, but there was no turnover at all in my top 25.

rank/team/prev.
9 Notre Dame 8
10 Auburn 5
11 U. Miami 9
12 Penn St. 10
13 Stanford 13
14 Washington 14
15 Boise St. 20
16 Mich. St. 15
17 Fla. Atlantic 25
18 Memphis 16
19 TCU 17
20 Toledo 23
21 Wash. St. 18
22 LSU 19
23 Northwestern 21
24 San Diego St. 22
25 Virginia Tech 24

Full list

What the CFP Playoff Should Look Like

In College Football, College Football Playoff, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on December 2, 2017 at 10:16 PM

Sugar: Clemson vs. ??
Rose: Georgia vs. Oklahoma

Before I get to the discussion, I wanted to start by acknowledging that my formula is not always going to align with which teams are deserving of the playoff. I do think it had the top 4 teams correct going into the week, but I think in a way championship week functions as a preliminary round of the playoffs, and Wisconsin was rightly eliminated.

If the Big Ten had not had a championship game and this were just another week of conference play, maybe Wisconsin would be deserving of being ranked ahead of Ohio St. just like last week I thought Georgia and Alabama deserved to be ahead of Auburn. But when you win a championship game over the other team, that should overcome having one more loss. So had Georgia been undefeated going into the SEC Championship Game and Auburn won, I’d be willing to overlook that extra loss by Auburn.

Let’s not forget last year. Penn St. beat Ohio St. and had one more loss, but they did not play one another for the conference title. So Penn St.’s conference championship did not eliminate the Buckeyes from the national title hunt.

Also, I think it’s fair to say that if there are at least four teams with better schedules and one loss or fewer, you can eliminate teams that do not have schedules in the top 50, which neither Wisconsin nor Central Florida have.

Anyway, if you eliminate Wisconsin and Central Florida, 4 and 5 are Ohio St. and Alabama. Ohio St. is ahead on my list, but I don’t compensate in any way for the fact that Ohio St. got an extra game this week. If you average the rating by playing week, Alabama comes out ahead of Ohio St. instead of one spot behind.

That doesn’t mean Alabama should automatically be considered better, but when it’s a conflict to me that means we need to look further. One reason I didn’t rank Wisconsin #1 on my blog sooner was the fact that they were not first when you divided by number of playing weeks, so that is something that I’ve looked at this year as well as in other years.

As I’ve made clear over the years, I’m no fan of Nick Saban or Alabama despite their being in the SEC. The last time Ohio St. played Alabama, I was for the Buckeyes. So I’m not writing in favor of Alabama out of any personal desire for the Tide’s success.

This article is a good breakdown of all of the statistical arguments in favor of Alabama.

It doesn’t mention that if you want to focus on the top 10 alone, Ohio St. is now 2-1 and Alabama is 0-1; but would you really ignore Alabama’s 11-0 record otherwise? Would you also ignore that Ohio St. lost to a team that isn’t even in the top 25 by 31 points just 4 weeks ago?

Whether it had to do with injuries, the change of location, or the defense just being ready for the way Auburn plays, I don’t think what we saw from Auburn today was the same thing the Tide faced last week.

I hate to be reminded of this, but I think if you look at what Georgia did today, it has some similarities to the adjustments Alabama was able to against LSU in the 2011 season. So I think if you gave Alabama a second chance against Auburn at a neutral location, they would also win.

I didn’t like how Gary Danielson talked about Alabama all night or how he said we shouldn’t look at the SEC Championship game in evaluating Alabama, but Auburn certainly didn’t become inferior to Iowa all of a sudden. I think he was right to say Auburn may have beaten anyone with the way they played at home their last two SEC regular-season games.

If you factor in Iowa, you need to factor in teams that are better than Iowa like LSU and Mississippi St. I don’t care if they’re not “signature wins”, but they’re wins over better teams than the one that dominated Ohio St. four weeks ago.

Another way I can see to rationalize it is to say we should look at wins only. I think if we do that, it’s easy to pick Ohio St. If we pretend Alabama and Ohio St. had the same number of losses, I don’t think that tells you who is likely to be a good team in the playoff, which I think the standard should be when two teams are close enough statistically to get into a discussion like this. The losses are informative about the range of performances that you can expect in the playoff.

In short, I think varying between losing to Auburn by 12 and beating LSU by 14 is better than varying between losing to Iowa by 31 and beating Wisconsin by 6.
I’m not crying for Alabama if they’re left out though. They’ve backed into enough national-championship competitions as it is.

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.

Week 10 Top 25

In College Football, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on October 29, 2017 at 1:46 PM

So as I said I would do, for the purposes of this list, I’m keeping Alabama #1 here. Assuming one of the top teams is still undefeated, I will make sure the #1 next week is undefeated. This might or might not be Alabama. I hope I can just follow the computer list though.

Since a couple of teams fell from the ranks of the unbeaten anyway, other than the top spot, I just let the chips fall where they may this week. Wisconsin falls a spot on this list only because I artificially moved them up last week as one of the top unbeaten teams. Other than keeping Alabama #1, the remaining order is exactly as the computer numbers gave me.

Clemson may briefly retake #1 in the formula with a win next week, but the Tigers will probably lose ground when they play Florida St. and the Citadel, so I don’t want to jump the gun. How this develops in future weeks also somewhat depends on how Auburn finishes (which matters already because Auburn plays Georgia and Alabama) and how South Carolina (who plays Georgia next week) finishes.

If you’re wondering why Mississippi St. is so high, all of their prior FBS opponents who played (Louisiana Tech, BYU, Georgia, and Kentucky) won in addition to their own win. The Bulldogs now have the 14th-best strength of schedule, which makes a pretty good combination of record and schedule at this point.

The Bulldogs are fourth in the SEC West at the moment, but since Alabama still has to play the best divisional teams and Auburn still has to play Georgia, some interesting possibilities still exist.

Alabama had the opposite situation. Unless they were playing each other (which was the case with Ole Miss and Arkansas), their prior opponents all lost. So despite not playing, the Tide lost about 0.1 points, which is about how far TCU is from Ohio St. or Virginia Tech is from Mississippi St.

I don’t normally point this out, but the Big Ten did rate higher on my chart of top 40 teams this week. The SEC had more teams in the top 40 than any other conference (8), but the Big Ten was the only conference with three teams in the top 10. Also, the Big Ten East edged the SEC West on similar grounds. Although the SEC West has more top 40 teams than any other division (5), the Big Ten East was the only division with two teams in the top 10.

However, the average SEC team is still better than the average Big Ten team. These rankings are at the bottom of the page. The Big Ten did move into second though, just ahead of the Pac-12.

The ACC is fourth and the Big XII a very distant fifth. I haven’t had time to do a more detailed conference analysis.

rank/team/prev.
1 Alabama 1
2 Georgia 3
3 Clemson 6
4 Notre Dame 7
5 Penn St. 2
6 Wisconsin 5
7 Central Florida 4
8 Ohio St. 17
9 USC 13
10 Memphis 11
11 U. Miami 9
12 San Diego St. 14
13 TCU 10
14 Oklahoma 18
15 Miss. St. –
16 Mich. St. 8
17 Oklahoma St. 20
18 Boise St. 21
19 Wash. St. 12
20 Iowa St. –
21 Washington 19
22 South Carolina 24
23 Virginia Tech 23
24 Iowa –
25 Stanford 15

Out of top 25: (19) N. Carolina St., (22) LSU, (25) Michigan