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Posts Tagged ‘LSU’

LSU/Vanderbilt Series and Final Week 3 Notes

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game, Preview, Rivalry on September 18, 2019 at 9:22 AM

Neither LSU’s nor Kansas’s games last week had an effect upon the top 25, but as a fan of both LSU and Les Miles, obviously I have some interest there. When LSU has a big national game like the one against Texas, I’m probably going to cover it along with my rankings (unless I can’t wait until the next day, which happens sometimes); but when the only reason I’m writing about something is because I’m a fan, I prefer to do that in a separate blog. I will cover the LSU/Vanderbilt series in depth below.

Kansas @ BOSTON COLLEGE

The Jayhawks only scored three offensive touchdowns in their first two games and had gone scoreless in the last 57 minutes of Game 2 against Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers did win five games against an FBS schedule last season, so it wasn’t the most ridiculous upset; but KU still should have won.

It wasn’t something that was drastically out of character for the Kansas football program in the last few years.

When you’re trying to turn a program around, there may be some bumps in the road like that in the first year at any given school.  Even Nick Saban lost to UAB in his first year at LSU and to ULM in his first year at Alabama.

Anyway, given the offensive struggles, it was remarkable that the Jayhawks managed more offensive touchdowns in one half than they had scored in two full games.

It was out of character to win a road game against a Power 5 opponent, which the Jayhawks had not done since 2008 (and that was against a bad Iowa St. team).  It also wasn’t a very normal Kansas thing to beat the spread by over 40 points.

Until his last couple of seasons at LSU when the Tigers struggled after losing to Alabama, you never wanted to play a Les Miles team after a loss. I’m glad he seems to have brought that attitude to Kansas so quickly.

Kansas RB Khalil Herbert ran for 187 yards on 11 carries in Chestnut Hill, MA, Friday.

NORTHWESTERN ST. @ LSU

Before getting to the LSU-Vanderbilt series, I wanted to comment about the last LSU game.  This is the only preview of sorts I’m going to write.  I’m not saying the win is guaranteed, but I’m not going to give in-depth information about every opponent.

LSU’s first half last Saturday was ugly, I’m not going to lie, but there were positives in the game.  First of all, Joe Burrow and Myles Brennan combined set the LSU home record for most passing yards in a game with 488. Rohan Davey, who contributed in the previous home record, still holds the overall record (that one is by himself) with 528 at Alabama in 2001.  That Tommy Hodson individual home record (which I mentioned last week) also still stands, but Burrow did set a new single-game record for completion percentage with at least 20 attempts (87.5).

Brennan looked better than he did against Georgia Southern, with a QB rating almost as good as Burrow’s, and he was given more of the playbook to work with.  If  the one incompletion of his had been completed, he would be in the LSU record book individually for being one of only two quarterbacks (Fred Haynes in 1968) to go 9/9 in a game. 

I don’t think that 528-yard record will be broken in Nashville Saturday; but if there isn’t any kind of record in that game, the home game against Utah St. in three weeks might be a good opportunity to update some records.

The defense – no matter what was going on – should not have allowed 14 points in a half and should not have needed a drop to avoid giving up 21, but it is important to note that at least six important defenders, including three starting linemen, did not play.  This obviously contributed to Northwestern St.’s ability to sustain drives.  The defense made good adjustments in the second half though, so it’s at least encouraging that they can respond well to the proper guidance.  The Demons only gained about 80 yards in the second half.

Burrow did throw a silly interception, but I think he just got a little too confident in the ability to complete a sideline throw regardless of coverage for a moment there.  I don’t think he would have tried the same throw against Alabama, for instance.  I can’t think of another bad decision all night though. 

LSU still needs to work on the run game, but Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Tyrion Davis-Price, and Lanard Fournette (not to mention the quarterbacks) did find some running lanes on key plays, especially after the passing game got to be more consistent. Burrow said after the game that he doesn’t want to run the ball at all; but we didn’t hire Mike Leach, and even he runs it sometimes.

RIVALRY SERIES: LSU vs. VANDERBILT

I wasn’t going to write too much about the LSU-Vanderbilt series, but there were more close games than I realized even though LSU has dominated the series in the last 60+ years (winning 11 of 12).

This will be the second game in a row in the series to be held in Nashville.  The last time Vandy had consecutive home games in the series (1985 and 1990), they won the second contest, so this is very scary information. None of the historical problem areas stopped LSU from beating Texas though, so hopefully it will be the same here.

The good news is LSU leads the all-time series, 22-7-1, and leads in Nashville, 11-5.

See here for previous installments of my rivalry series. If you’re a Vanderbilt fan who stumbled across this blog, I did write about the Vanderbilt series with Ole Miss last year.

EARLY GAMES

Senator Huey Long, who was still the de facto governor, stands in front of the Vandy Express in 1934. Long would not live to see another football season.

Sorry for the older people reading, but I consider anything before 1988 an early game since it’s before I remember football. I only felt the need to elaborate slightly about one of the games that took place between 1957 and 1990 anyway.

The Commodores won at least 70% of their games, playing at least 7 games per season, between 1902 and 1912.  LSU had started playing football earlier, in 1893, but sometimes played three games or fewer in a year and often posted losing records or records at or around 50%.  With this in mind, it’s not surprising that Vandy won two games during this period by a combined score of 49 to 5. 

LSU would continue to have strong years occasionally surrounded by mediocre seasons. 1931 would be the first time in several years that the two teams would even finish with the same record. Vanderbilt’s four losses came to teams with a combined 4 losses while LSU’s four losses came to teams with a combined 8 losses, but the gap was narrowing. Vanderbilt would be the superior team again in 1932; but with the creation of the SEC the next year, LSU would get to see how they stacked up on the field for the first time since 1910.

LSU would play 10 games in the 1933 season and not lose a single one; whereas it was more of a rebuilding year for Vandy, who would suffer three losses after losing only one game (at Alabama) the year before.  And yet the game in Baton Rouge ended in a somewhat demoralizing 7-7 draw. 

The U.S. Senator (and still de facto governor) of Louisiana, Huey Long, was very insistent that since LSU would not play the Commodores in front of a home crowd the following year, they would bring the home crowd with them.  To facilitate this, he though the students should be given a 70% discount.  When the railroad was not so fond of that idea, he threatened to reassess the taxes that the railroad might owe.  According to one report I read, the railroad was only being taxed at about 2.5% of its actual worth.  He also gave “loans” to students who claimed to still be unable to afford the trip.  I imagine similar “loans” were given to players back then, but that’s another topic.

The Tigers had already been tied twice in four contests to begin the 1934 season, but the Commodores were undefeated. LSU may have gotten the upset anyway, but the enthusiastic fan supported probably contributed to the impressive 29-0 score in favor of the Tigers.  This was a clear turning point in the series.  The Tigers would remain undefeated until a one-point loss to Tulane denied LSU a berth in the inaugural Sugar Bowl, but LSU did finish with a better record than Vanderbilt for only the second time since 1914.  The Tigers would make the Sugar Bowl the next three years, so it was clear they were now part of the hierarchy of the new SEC.

Due to Long’s interference, head coach Biff Jones would resign following the season. The good news was his replacement Bernie Moore was one of LSU’s longest-tenured and most successful LSU head coaches. In this way, Long may have contributed to many LSU victories after his death.

Although Vanderbilt would host the next three contests in the series as well, the Commodores would only win one of them (by 1 point in 1937).  By 1947, the Tigers had built a 9-3-1 lead in the series. 

LSU head coach Bernie Moore (pictured in 1939) went 8-1 against Vanderbilt over 13 seasons. Les Miles, 3-0, is the only other LSU coach to have coached at least three games against the Commodores.

Moore, after whom the track stadium is still named, retired after the 1947 season.  The Tigers suffered only two losing seasons in his 13 years. He was replaced by Gus Tinsley, whom he coached to a claim of the national championship in 1936.  (Minnesota won a split decision in the AP poll, but LSU is recognized as the best team that year by Jeff Sagarin.)  Tinsley, who still went to LSU games until shortly before his death in 2002, proved to be a better player than coach though.  He posted only three wins in his first season and would never lead consecutive teams to winning records. 

Vanderbilt won two of the four contests against LSU with Tinsley as the head coach.

Although the series has been sporadic since the 1940s, only one of the last 12 full-time LSU head coaches who coached a game (Jerry Stovall) avoided a game against Vanderbilt.

For the LSU program overall, things eventually turned around under Paul Dietzel, Tinsley’s successor, but Dietzel’s first three years was the worst three-year stretch for the Tigers since the early 1920s.  LSU would lose 7-0 in Nashville in 1957 for the third loss in five games in the series.  The series would not resume until 1976.

LSU won the next four games easily… apart from the 1984 contest.  LSU led the whole game in that one but let the Commodores back into the game with three fourth-quarter turnovers that reduced the lead from 28 with about 12 minutes left to 7 with just over 2 minutes left.  All LSU had to do after that (in hindsight) was recover the onsides kick and hand the ball to future Saints star Dalton Hilliard, but I imagine there were some nervous moments in the final minutes.

1990: Vanderbilt Ends Four-Game LSU Winning Streak for First Win in Series Since 1957

Even when Vanderbilt won in 1990 (the first game in the series I remember), the Tigers were quickly going downhill as a program.  They had gone from 10-1-1 in 1987 to 8-4 in 1988 to 4-7 in 1989.  LSU would score a huge upset over Texas A&M in the following week, but once again the Tigers would finish with a losing record.  After  Vandy was a running team the whole game in 1990 (2 completions on 13 attempts to that point), LSU took the lead with 4:06 remaining, 21-17. 

Apparently forcing the ’Dores to throw was the worst thing to do.  Five completions and two quarterback runs (along with two incompletions and a third-down handoff) would give Vanderbilt the lead with 1:09 left and soon thereafter the win, 24-21.  That would be Vanderbilt’s only win of the season.

Neither LSU HC Mike Archer nor Vanderbilt HC Watson Brown would make it until the next season.

1991: LSU Begins a New Winning Streak

The Tigers did get revenge by winning a close game in 1991.  Vanderbilt out-gained LSU and got more first downs, but the Tigers won with a combination of forced turnovers and special teams.  LSU had 117 turnover-return yards to Vanderbilt’s 0 as the Tigers won the turnover battle 4 to 1. 

The Tigers took their first lead on an interception-touchdown early in the third quarter, but the Commodores responded with a 15-play, 80-yard drive to go back up, 14-10.  LSU had a long drive of its own to complete the third quarter, but it resulted only in a field goal.  Vandy still led 14-13 at the start of the fourth.  The ’Dores were forced to punt after going backwards on their next drive, and LSU QB Jesse Daigle was able to engineer another FG drive.  He passed for 44 yards and ran for another 5 on the drive, which put LSU ahead, 16-14.

In the nest drive, it looked as if Vanderbilt would both take the lead and nearly run out the clock.  After 7 plays, the Commodores already had the ball at the LSU 16.  Three straight running plays gave Vandy a first and goal from the LSU 5 with 2:13 to go in the game.  After two more runs, the Tigers took their last timeout with 1:18 to go and Vandy facing a third and goal from the 2.  As LSU had not managed a touchdown drive the whole game, a Vanderbilt score on the next play might have essentially ended the game.  Even if LSU forced the fourth down, the ’Dores could have run down the clock to well under a minute before kicking the go-ahead field goal.  Neither of those happened though, as LB Ricardo Washingon would force a fumble, returned 76 yards by DB Wayne Williams. 

It was LSU who would run out the clock and hold onto the two-point win. Both teams would finish 5-6, which was thought to be solid beginning for the two new coaches Gerry DiNardo and Curley Hallman.  DiNardo turned out all right for a Vanderbilt head coach, but Hallman turned out to be the worst modern head coach of LSU.

1996 and 1997: The Gerry DiNardo Bowls

LSU would not post another winning record until 1995, the year after Hallman was fired, but one coach was the same in 1996, the next time the Tigers faced the ’Dores.  That was Gerry DiNardo, who was in his second year with the Tigers after winning a whopping 18 games in four years at Vandy.  The LSU fans were so excited to see him face his former team, it was one of the largest crowds in Tiger Stadium history at the time. 

The Tigers wore gold jerseys (which were especially popular in light of the baseball team’s success in the 1990s) in protest of the Commodores’ refusal to allow LSU to wear white, the traditional home color.  For some reason, white was allowed at home but only with the visitor’s permission at that time.  I’m not sure how premeditated this was, but it was sort of like promoting a boxing match by engineering a big feud between the boxers.

In the following June, the baseball team would win its fourth College World Series in 7 years.

Vanderbilt QB Damian Allen throws to the flat to avoid a sack in Baton Rouge on October 5, 1996.

The ’Dores almost got some amount of revenge in 1997.  Both teams had chances to score in the first quarter, but LSU would miss a 44-yard field goal attempt, and Vanderbilt would fumble at the LSU at the LSU 24.  Vanderbilt dominated the second quarter, but the Commodores could not score.  This time Vandy would miss a 38-yard field goal.  On the following offensive drive, the ’Dores fumbled again at the LSU 11.  LSU finally recorded the game’s first score late in the third quarter to go up 7-0.  Before that 53-yard touchdown drive, the Tigers only had 96 net yards for the game.  Vanderbilt had gained more yards than that in the second quarter alone.   

After both offenses struggled for most of the fourth quarter, Vanderbilt was forced to punt to LSU with just under 6 minutes left.  The Tigers seemed intent to either score or run out the clock.  This strategy was bolstered by a 23-yard run on first down to the Commodore 38.  After being penalized for a hold, the Tigers would to advance to the 32 on a third and long.  Since it was too far to feel comfortable with a field goal, the Tigers went for it on 4th and 4.  LSU QB Herb Tyler dropped back to pass but was sacked, giving Vandy the ball at their own 41.  After an incompletion and a run for no gain, the ’Dores were forced into a third and long with just over 2 minutes left, but then the passing game came alive.  Fourteen-, 31-, and 11-yard passes were completed (with a negative rushing play mixed in) to give Vandy the ball at the LSU 12 with 21 seconds left and no timeouts.  The first-down pass fell incomplete, but the Commodores scored on the ensuing second down.  They elected to go for the tie, but lineman Arnold Miller blocked the extra point to give the Tigers the 7-6 win. 

The Tigers would finish 9-3 on the season following the 10-2 campaign the year before, but DiNardo would win only two more SEC games after the 1997 season. The silver lining in his struggles was the hiring of Nick Saban of Michigan St. (whom DiNardo had ironincally beaten in the 1995 Independence Bowl) after the 1999 season.

Vandy finished the 1997 season only 3-8, so even a tie would have been an upset of sorts.  LSU has won the four subsequent meetings by at least 14 points apiece (and the ’Dores didn’t score double digits in any of them).

DiNardo’s replacement at Vanderbilt, Woody Widenhofer, was also fired before getting to coach in this series again. 

2004 and 2005: Jay Culter and More Vandy Defense

I mentioned how DiNardo’s tenure went downhill after the 1997 season, but LSU did not play Vanderbilt again until 2004, the year after Saban won the BCS championship at LSU, the Tigers’ first recognized by a major poll since 1958.  It also happened to be Saban’s last season.  Vandy had only gone 2-10 the year before, but the Commodores drew some attention by having a quarterback throw for over 2300 yards in that season.  That QB, Jay Cutler, also was the third-leading rusher on the team, so there was a glimmer of hope in the early years of Bobby Johnson, but 2004 would be another 2-win season. 

LSU had more problems at the QB position that year, alternating between a talented but rough-around-the-edges JaMarcus Russell and the more experienced but often lackluster Marcus Randall.  So the Tigers weren’t known for their offense that season to put it nicely.  It was only 10-7 at the half, but the Tigers pulled away in the third quarter, and the ’Dores didn’t have an answer.  LSU would only manage 102 passing yards (in just 11 attempts) for the game.  Cutler was not very good either with 111 yards in 20 attempts, but he did run for 39 yards not counting yards lost on a sack.

LSU Safety Jessie Daniels sacks Vandy QB Jay Cutler in Nashville on October 8, 2005.

In 2005, Les Miles’ first year, it was another defensive stalemate until late in the third quarter.  The Tigers offense scored a touchdown early in the first quarter but would go scoreless for the next 2 ½ quarters.  The LSU defense helped out with a safety later in the first quarter, but Vanderbilt would respond with a field goal late in the first quarter and another early in the third.  In a reverse of the 1997 game, it was actually LSU who had multiple long drives and no points to show for it for most of the game.  At halftime, the Tigers held a 303 to 41 advantage in net yardage but only led 9-3.  The Tigers turned the ball over 4 times over the course of the game and missed two field goals. 

After the third-quarter field goal to get within 3, things were starting to look good for the Commodores.  LSU was forced to punt on their ensuing offensive drive, giving Vandy QB Jay Cutler a chance to give his team the lead. It looked like that might happen when he completed a 15-yard pass on first down.  An incompletion and a 6-yard run set up a 3rd and 4, but Cutler would throw his second interception of the game.  The other one had led to a missed field goal, but the Tigers took advantage of this one to extend the lead to 6 points.  Although it was close on the scoreboard for a few more minutes, the momentum shift would prove to be irreversible.  From that point until the final play of the game, Vanderbilt would only get one more first down that was not due to a penalty, and LSU would score touchdowns on its next three offensive drives.

Russell, who was the full-time quarterback in 2005, managed 285 total yards, many of them in the fourth quarter, when he threw his only touchdown pass.  Cutler barely threw for more yards than he had in the 2004 game but with 10 more attempts, so you can see why the Commodores could not get a scoring drive going unless they took over in field goal range.

LSU would finish 11-2, and Vandy would barely miss a bowl game at 5-6, which was a good record at Vanderbilt since the ’Dores at that time had not had a winning record since 1982.  They would not finally end the bowl drought until 2008 (while Johnson was still there).

2009 and 2010: LSU Maintains Dominance

LSU got lucky and did not face Vandy again until the twin rebuilding years of 2009 and 2010 (both 2-10 seasons).  2009 was the closer of the two at the final whistle, with the Tigers only winning by 14; but LSU led from late in the first quarter until the end of the game, and Vanderbilt never led.

In 2010, due in part to a lackluster passing attack, LSU didn’t pull away until the fourth quarter; but the Commodores never looked likely to win since they only managed 2 yards per carry to LSU’s 5.6. LSU won, 24-3.

LSU RB Stevan Ridley ran for 159 yards on 17 carries the last time LSU played Vandy (in Nashville on Sept. 11, 2010).
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Week 3 Top 25

In College Football, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 15, 2019 at 3:38 PM

I’ll include my thoughts about the most-recent LSU game when I go into detail about Vanderbilt later in the week.  I’ve been waiting to write about the LSU-Vanderbilt series for a while, but there is only so much to say about it since Vandy has not won since 1990.

There is a bit more to say about the top 25 games that weren’t against FCS opponents and the new members of the top 25.  This is still primarily subjective, but I did try out my ratings system for the first time.  It’s pointless to even look at it before everyone plays an FBS opponent, so that’s why I hadn’t looked before.  Now that that’s happened, the system has given me a little bit of guidance; but it’s still somewhat limited.

For the new teams last week, I just added teams who beat opponents I previously thought were good.  That didn’t work out particularly well.  USC promptly lost to BYU, and Maryland promptly lost to Temple.  I don’t believe BYU or Temple belong in the top 25.  BYU should have lost to Tennessee, who I wouldn’t even put in my top 75.  Temple is closer, but I put that win down to Maryland being inconsistent (as usual) more than I put it down to Temple being very good.  Cal, the third team I added after last week, did win; but the Bears didn’t do very much to separate themselves from their opponent North Texas, whose only win is over a basically winless FCS team (I don’t count wins over Division II or lower).

BYU’s Dax Milne catches a 30-yard touchdown pass from Zach Wilson to put the Cougars ahead of USC in the second quarter in Provo on Saturday.

There are very basic observations this early that my computer system is not capable of.  For instance, it doesn’t realize Texas is harder to beat than USC.  They both faced three FBS opponents, and they’re both 2-1.  The opponents of both Texas and USC have a total of 3 wins against FBS opponents (LSU and Louisiana Tech combine for three as do BYU and Stanford).  I don’t add any inputs for how teams did last season or in any recent seasons, so it takes time to differentiate quality wins better.

Number 1 on the computer list is Auburn.  Only 7 teams are 3-0 against FBS teams at this point.  Only one of the Tigers’ three opponents has a loss to another team, and two of those opponents have wins over an FBS team.  All three have wins over FCS teams. Eighty-five of 130 teams have FCS wins, so it’s hard to have a better schedule so far among the unbeaten teams.  You could argue Ohio St. has a better schedule because their opponents had four wins over FBS team.  However, one of the four FBS wins by the Buckeyes’ opponents (Cincinnati over UCLA) was over a completely winless team, and the three other wins by Buckeyes’ opponents were over teams who are winless against the FBS. 

It only goes downhill from there.  In the computer, the worst 3-0 (vs. FBS) team is Alabama, who beat South Carolina (which counts for zero points since they’ve only beaten a winless FCS team) and New Mexico St. (who is completely winless).  Alabama did beat Duke, who beat Middle Tennessee; but as you might guess Middle Tennessee is also winless against FBS opponents. Anyway, this is why I said this early you have to look at more than wins and losses even though later in the year I move away from that.  I think we’ve seen more evidence of the ability to win championships by Alabama than Auburn even though Auburn has had more accomplishments so far.

Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa has been able to wear down the defenses he’s faced so far, but his coach expressed frustration that the Tide hasn’t been tested against better opponents.

Anyway, I’m not relying on the computer rankings to tell me if one team is better than another, but I did use it to find suggestions for teams to add to the top 25.  Three were teams I was already strongly considering: Arizona St. (which beat Michigan St.), Iowa (which beat Iowa St.), and Wake Forest (which beat North Carolina).  I’m not about to put them in the top 10 like the computer has them, but I think they’ve had a good enough 3 weeks to belong where I put them. 

Kansas St. was not one I was thinking of, but the Wildcats are 3-0 and have a win over Mississippi St.  Otherwise they beat a bad FBS team and a good FCS team.  Another candidate was Virginia, who has a very similar profile; but I think it’s harder to beat Mississippi St than Florida St. right now, especially since the Wildcats went on the road to beat the Bulldogs while the Cavaliers beat the Seminoles at home.

Despite what I said about the North Texas game, I still think Cal’s win over Washington will turn out to be a very good one. So I’m not inclined to take the Bears out of the top 25 unless there is a loss. They go on the road to face Ole Miss before two fairly tough in-conference opponents (Arizona St. and Oregon), so we will soon see how much of a fluke the Washington win was.

Top 25

rankteamlast
1Clemson1
2Alabama2
3Georgia3
4LSU4
5Ohio St.5
6Notre Dame6
7Auburn7
8Florida8
9Wash. St.9
10Oklahoma10
11Michigan11
12Texas A&M12
13Utah13
14Texas14
15C. Florida15
16Penn St.17
17Appalachian18
18Arizona St.
19Iowa
20Wake Forest
21Cincinnati21
22Boise St.22
23Oregon23
24UC-Berkeley25
25Kansas St.

Out of top 25: (16) Michigan St., (19) USC, (20) Maryland, (24) Iowa St.

Week 2 Conference Report and Rankings Comments

In College Football, Conference Reports, Rankings Commentary on September 10, 2019 at 2:17 PM

I mostly wanted to post an update about inter-conference games so far, but I came across an interesting argument on “College Football Nerds” that basically said Texas should have stayed at the same spot or better in the major polls.

“We have two weeks of actual data, and we reshuffle based on the preseason poll…  We don’t vote with our eyes, we vote with who won and who lost.”

What are we supposed to reshuffle if not the preseason poll?  Last year’s final rankings?  Do the records from last year carry over?  If so, I’m not sure 11-5 Texas with two losses in the last four games should be in the top 10 either. 

Assuming that’s not what he wants to do, two games isn’t a lot of “data” that he wants us to rely on.  Looking a certain way in those two games doesn’t necessarily say how the rest of the season will go. The important factor is having a loss right now is significantly worse than not having a loss.

The second guy says you have to be insane to think Auburn would beat Texas.

I honestly don’t know who would win.  Making Joe Burrow look like a runaway Heisman winner makes me think Texas might make Bo Nix look at least above average, and he did look good at the end of the Oregon game.  There is a pretty decent possibility based on what I’ve seen that Auburn has a better defense than LSU does, so maybe with some ball control (which LSU didn’t have) they can hold Texas to two fewer touchdowns (24 points) and score 27 like they scored against Oregon. 

What overwhelming evidence do we have that Texas plays defense better than Oregon?  None.  Losing a game like that at home doesn’t prove that Texas would have beaten Oregon at a neutral site as Auburn did.  Yes, Auburn only beat Tulane 24-6; but if your defense is doing that well, why take chances on offense?  That doesn’t say anything about what you can do when a team is making you score points to stay in the game like Oregon did. 

LSU won a similar game against Tulane on the way to winning the 2007 national championship, by the way.  The Tigers ended up winning by 25 (after a 10-9 first half), but Tulane would only win 4 games that year. I would suspect this year’s Green Wave is at least one touchdown more competent.

Of course, theoretically playing a close game and possibly beating Texas doesn’t count as much as actually doing so, so that’s why LSU is a good number of spots ahead of Auburn.  Theoretically losing to LSU (ESPN gives Auburn only about a 20% chance of winning that game right now) isn’t as bad as actually losing to LSU, so that’s why Auburn isn’t as far down as Texas is.  A 20% chance of winning a scheduled game is better than a 0% chance.

Also, unlike the polls, I had Auburn ahead of Texas at the beginning of the season, so my default position is Auburn is a better team anyway.   If I thought Texas was better going in, I would probably still have Texas ahead; but another difference between me and the polls is I didn’t expect Oregon to beat Auburn.  So I’m not saying the polls are completely right and these guys are completely wrong, but it’s not as hard to see the logic as they pretend it is. 

I do accept the point that Texas played a lot better than Michigan on Saturday, but that’s why Texas actually went up a spot and Michigan went down 5 spots.  That doesn’t mean the Michigan team that on paper in preseason looked like a much better team than Texas should drop below Texas as long as Michigan has a better record than Texas. 

Michigan forced the fumble above to beat Army in double overtime.

After about another month, I’m all in favor of discarding preseason and looking at resumes, but there isn’t enough information from this season to do that now.  In evaluating opponents, you would still need to guess at how good they are and not just look at the opponents’ resumes.  Tulane or Army, for instance, could win 10 games (they both won bowl games last year after all) or they could win 5 games (which would be much more typical of those two programs), we don’t know. 

I at least want to see LSU play Florida before I decide losing to LSU at home by 7 is better than being undefeated with a questionable performance against a “mid-major” type of team. 

I also agree with the point that Auburn will likely have more losses than Texas does, but right now I think there are 5 SEC teams (and Auburn plays all of the other 4) who would all go 3-0 against numbers 3 through 5 of the Big XII (assuming Texas and Oklahoma are the first two), so that could account for a few additional losses even if Auburn is the better team.  I’m not going to penalize a team for having a tougher schedule down the road.  I want to see how they do against that schedule and not just guess.

Anyway, there are only two conferences with winning records against teams of Power 5 conferences.   You could probably guess that the SEC (at 62.5%) is one of them.  The other is the Mountain West (54.5%), which is actually 1-0 against the SEC with the Wyoming win over Missouri.

It looks like the SEC will not be as deep as recent years though. There is a big gap between beating Texas and losing to Georgia St.  Missouri, which dominated West Virginia, is the only team that has both one of the Power 5 wins and one of the apparently bad losses.  Maybe Wyoming will turn out to be a good team, but I doubt it. 

After a disappointing opening against Wyoming, the Missouri defense nearly shut out West Virginia in the Tigers’ home opener.

Ole Miss is probably about #11 in the SEC, so I don’t mind too much their losing to Memphis, one of the best AAC teams in the last two seasons. It is something to take into consideration before giving the SEC too much credit for being far ahead of the other major conferences in terms of Power 5 record though.

In interconference FBS record, the SEC is more pedestrian at only 65%, which is actually fourth.  It’s a much closer fourth though.  It’s only 1.7% back of the ACC and Big XII, who are tied for second.

I would say the Big Ten is the best overall since it only has three total losses to the SEC’s seven.  The 1.7% I mentioned is more than made up by the SEC’s strength of schedule, so I’d rate the SEC second right now. 

I put the Pac-12 third.  It’s only won 60% of its FBS games, but lesser teams in the conference have lost to opponents like Cincinnati and Oklahoma St., so there is relatively little room to criticize.

I considered putting the MWC third, but the 53% record in FBS games made me reconsider.  I think fourth is fair given what I said earlier.

Fifth and sixth are the ACC and Big XII.  Pretty similar numbers, both 33% against Power 5, both 67% against FBS.  I put the ACC ahead because they’ve played twice as many games against the FBS though.  Also, one of the non-FBS teams was Boise St.

The only two left with winning records overall are the AAC and the Sun Belt.  Except for against Power 5 teams, the AAC has better records.  Also, the two have the same number of FCS opponents, but since the Sun Belt has fewer teams the Sun Belt has a weaker schedule as a result. 

The Independents aren’t a conference of course, but I would put them in between if you want to consider them as a group.  They have the same winning percentage against Power 5 as the Sun Belt.  Wins over Louisville and Tennessee are better than wins over Kansas and Tennessee (sorry Les).  The Independents have two non-Power-5 losses to the Sun Belt’s three.

The MAC and CUSA have done almost nothing positive out of conference.  The CUSA is 1-0 against the MAC, but since there are no other wins, that doesn’t help much.  The MAC’s only win is over Coastal Carolina, but since the Chanticleers have a win over a Big XII team, that’s at least some reason to be positive.  Also, the MAC doesn’t have a loss to an FCS opponent.

So if you didn’t follow or want to read all that, this is my current order:

  1. Big Ten
  2. SEC
  3. Pac-12
  4. MWC/Mountain West
  5. ACC
  6. Big XII
  7. AAC/American
  8. Independents
  9. Sun Belt
  10. MAC
  11. CUSA

Week 2 Recap and New Top 25

In College Football, General LSU, History, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 8, 2019 at 2:37 PM

Top 25

rankteamlast
1Clemson1
2Alabama2
3Georgia3
4LSU4
5Ohio St.5
6Notre Dame7
7Auburn8
8Florida9
9Wash. St.10
10Oklahoma11
11Michigan6
12Texas A&M12
13Utah13
14Texas15
15C. Florida16
16Michigan St.17
17Penn St.19
18Appalachian20
19USC
20Maryland
21Cincinnati21
22Boise St.22
23Oregon23
24Iowa St.24
25UC-Berkeley

Out of top 25: (14) Washington, (18) Syracuse, (25) Stanford

Comments

LSU/Texas Recap and Significance

I considered making LSU comments a separate blog, but since it was the only big game this weekend worth delving into, I’m doing it here. 

I wasn’t wrong about LSU winning, but I was wrong about a couple of other things.  I would have been right both about LSU not beating the spread and about LSU not getting to 45 points on offense if only the Tigers had failed in the two-point conversion attempt, so I wasn’t far off.

Anyway, I’m happy to be wrong about LSU being able to get the same number of points Oklahoma did in the Texas win in Dallas last season and happy LSU beat the spread.  I did expect one late score to make the difference though, so my reasoning for picking Texas to beat the spread was sound.  The win didn’t feel secure until LSU went up 12 (14 with the conversion) with 2:27 left in the game, and then the game wasn’t really over until the onsides kick failed with 22 seconds left.  The field was just a couple of inches too narrow for Texas to recover.

Despite some problems that will need to be fixed, it’s at least somewhat encouraging that LSU did 10 points better than Oklahoma did on defense last year in the first game against the Horns.  I thought that was the most impressive Texas game last year, so that’s why it was my point of comparison in the preview.  I wasn’t sure if Texas would be equally impressive on offense in this game, but they were in my opinion. 

I don’t think the LSU offense is quite at the level of the Oklahoma offense last season, but the relative inexperience of the Texas defense (which I thought was the main reason the Longhorns would lose) made it look like that.

Anyway, I’ll add some stats I found interesting.  LSU once again looked extremely good against a top 10 team not named Alabama.  The Tigers are 6-0 in such games under Orgeron and have won 4 of the 6 by at least 7 points.  This game was closer than average, but the offense did about 2 touchdowns better than the average number of points in the previous 5 such games. 

One reason the game was close was the fact that it was on the road.  LSU had never won a road game against a top-10 opponent out of conference; although under Les Miles alone, the Tigers did beat #16 West Virginia in Morgantown in 2011 and #15 Arizona St. in Tempe in 2005.  This was the second LSU win in Austin and first since 1938.

QB Joe Burrow throws downfield in Austin on Saturday. Burrow went 31/39 for 471 yards.

This was also the first time in LSU history that the Tigers had three receivers with over 100 yards each (Jefferson, 163; Chase, 147; and Marshall, 123).  Joe Burrow’s 471-yard performance on Saturday is second in the Tiger record books only to that of Rohan Davey, who threw for 528 yards against (unranked) Alabama in 2001.  Davey (with Josh Booty) also contributed to more total passing yards (485) in the win over Western Carolina in 2000, but neither quarterback exceeded 300 yards.  For possible future reference, the individual home record is held by Tommy Hodson, who threw for 438 yards in a loss to Tennessee in 1989.

Other games

Other people are moving LSU up to the top 4, but since I had them there already, I think the top 10 (apart from Michigan, who needed overtime to beat Army and still deserved to lose) is fine how it is.

The only other big game going into the week was Texas A&M at Clemson.  It went about what I’d expect with the #1 team playing at home against the 6th-best SEC team.  I didn’t make a specific mention of the game; but you can see my preseason top 25 if you don’t believe that was how I viewed the respective teams.

There were two Pac-12 games that were somewhat surprising, especially the endings.  Stanford looked good against USC for about a quarter and a half, but then the Trojans scored the last 35 points of the game to win 45-20.  The Cal (UC-Berkeley) Bears used a lot of ball control late in the game to give themselves a chance against Washington.  It took until about 1:30 a.m. local time (due to a 2-hour lightening delay), but the Bears scored the winning field goal with 8 seconds left after Washington had scored a go-ahead field goal from about 50 yards with just over 2 minutes left.

The only thing else that was surprising was Maryland beating Syracuse by 43 points.  I wouldn’t have been surprised by a closer Maryland win since it was a Terps home game, but the Orange was blown away on defense in both rushing and passing.  It could be a long day when Syracuse faces Clemson next week.

Anthony McFarland, Jr., (no relation to the former LSU player) runs for one of his three touchdowns against Syracuse in College Park, Md., Saturday.

Due to Stanford, Syracuse, and Iowa St. (who was idle after needing 3 OTs to beat FCS foe Northern Iowa), no games within the AP top 25 will be played next weekend.  I left the Cyclones in though, so the battle for the Cy-Hawk trophy is unusually interesting this year.

Week 1 Top 25 and LSU/Texas Series and Preview

In College Football, General LSU, History, Preview, Rankings, Rankings Commentary, Rivalry on September 3, 2019 at 6:01 PM

TOP 25

rank/team/last

1Clemson1
2Alabama2
3Georgia3
4LSU4
5Ohio St.6
6Michigan5
7Notre Dame7
8Auburn9
9Florida8
10Wash. St.10
11Oklahoma11
12Texas A&M12
13Utah13
14Washington14
15Texas15
16C. Florida17
17Michigan St.18
18Syracuse20
19Penn St.21
20Appy St.23
21Cincinnati24
22Boise St.
23Oregon16
24Iowa St.19
25Stanford

Out of top 25: (22) Florida St., (25) South Carolina

Top 25 Comments

I know it’s late for many of you, so I only used one picture. I usually try to avoid walls of text, but it couldn’t be helped.

I covered most of what I had to say about the games over the weekend on Sunday

I thought Michigan struggled too much to stay ahead of Ohio St., who dominated.

I think Auburn barely beat a much better team than Florida barely beat, so I switched the two.

I dropped Oregon close to the bottom just because they’re 0-1, but they can bounce back pretty quickly. 

Boise St. was a late cut from my list of potentials, so it was easy to put them in.

As for the other new team, I’m not in love with Stanford being that they only scored 17 points and will probably rely on the backup quarterback in the next game, but sometimes that helps teams.

Florida St. and South Carolina deserved to fall out for obvious reasons.  It may be a while before I consider South Carolina again, but Florida St. showed some good things.

If you need three overtimes to beat a FCS team like Iowa St. did (although it’s worth noting Northern Iowa has had a lot of success in recent history), that’s almost like a loss to a top-10 team.  A win is a win for the most-part (giving credit for strength of schedule of course); but with only one game to consider, you have to look at how easily the win came. 

Oklahoma and Notre Dame, who played since my last blog, took care of business.  

Notre Dame probably let Louisville hang around too long, but the Irish don’t typically have an offense that leaves the opposition in the dust right away anyway 

Oklahoma let Houston score a couple of touchdowns to get within two possessions late, but I don’t hold it against them.  I’m still skeptical about how the Sooners will do against Power 5 competition though.  It could be that the Big XII will make them look good even if they aren’t.  Texas looked all right, but nobody looked great. Speaking of the Longhorns…

LSU @ Texas

Texas QB Sam Ehlinger looks to throw against TCU last season. LSU HC Ed Orgeron said preparing for Ehlinger was similar to preparing for Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow.

All-time series: Texas leads, 9-7-1

The first game of the series was way back in 1896, LSU’s 11th official game as a program (and 10th intercollegiate game), but 10 of the 17 games in the series were clustered between 1935 and 1954, the last regular-season matchup (Texas won 20-6 in Austin).

The (January) 2003 Cotton Bowl (Texas 35, LSU 20) was the only matchup since 1963 (also the Cotton Bowl, which LSU won 13-0), so LSU fans shouldn’t despair too much about these facts.  The more-recent Cotton Bowl was the highest-scoring game of the series, beating out the 35-14 Texas win in 1952.  In the 2003 game, Texas entered at 10-2, and LSU entered at 8-4.  LSU would win the BCS national championship in the following January though.

The third-largest point total and largest margin of victory is also owned by Texas, 34-0 in 1941.  Other than the tie in 1936, the closest game was the 5-0 LSU win in San Antonio in 1902.

Texas leads the series in Austin, 7-1-1, with the only LSU win coming in 1938.

The Tigers lead 2-1 at “neutral” sites (two in Dallas, one in San Antonio) and 4-1 at home. 

After Saturday, the next game is scheduled for Tiger Stadium on September 12 of next season with no future plans thereafter; although LSU plans to return to Big XII country (if the Big XII is still a thing) in 2027 to face Oklahoma.

Preview

Speaking of the Longhorns, there was a debate on the College Football Nerds YouTube channel (formerly known as SEC Fans) about whether Texas will beat LSU.

They absolutely can…  I’m not going to suggest for a moment it’s going to be as easy to stop Texas’s mobile quarterback as it was to stop the Georgia Southern quarterbacks.  I’m not a big fan of the Texas defense even before the loss of all but two or three starters, but I’m reasonably sure LSU will go scoreless on more than one drive with the first-team offense in the game. I also don’t discount the degree of difficulty in playing in Austin.  I don’t know if it’s the same as the best SEC stadiums, but we’ve had some of our best teams lose at home (like in the 2003 season) or lose at less-intimidating SEC places like Commonwealth Stadium (the sponsor isn’t paying me) in Lexington (like in the 2007 season).

.. But I don’t think they will.  LSU has a clear advantage in returning starters; but even if they didn’t, I think last year’s LSU team would have beaten last year’s Texas team even in Austin.  Oklahoma played terribly on defense and only lost by a field goal, and that was Texas’s best game.  The Longhorns only won the Sugar because Georgia was going to be the team that blew the lead to Alabama in the SECCG whether they beat Texas or not.  A month of relatively little motivation can make a big difference.  LSU in their worst game wouldn’t have lost to Maryland like Texas did.

Anyway, in the video, I don’t know if the guy arguing for Texas was advancing weak arguments on purpose or he was just trying hard to sell the only arguments he could come up with; but they weren’t very persuasive.  One was “we’ve heard it before that the offense is different.”  There were changes when Cameron was fired, there were changes when Canada came in, and there were changes last year; but there weren’t wholesale changes like this.  Neither Etling in 2015 and 2016 nor Burrow last year were ready for anything crazy anyway. 

Shea Dixon had some good stats on differences from last year.  In all of last season 14 players caught passes, four of them running backs.  On Saturday, 14 players caught passes, 5 of them running backs.  He also included a special teams stat: LSU had 52 yards in punt returns Saturday compared with 99 in all of last season.

Another one is “Texas doesn’t rebuilt, they reload.”  Charlie Strong (who still recruited a lot of the players) would be surprised to know that.  They’re not Alabama or Clemson all of a sudden because of one year with double-digit wins (which with 14 games isn’t what it used to be).  LSU has done a bit of reloading over the years as well.  It’s still an advantage to have more players back, especially from a successful year.  Speaking of Alabama and Clemson, they both had successful years in 2017; but Clemson had a lot more players back in 2018.  I think that helped the Tigers win the championship as easily as they did.  Even if Texas “reloads” an exact replica of last season on defense (though I’m not sure Louisiana Tech gets 340 passing yards last year), that’s probably a good sign for the LSU offense.  To be fair, the La. Tech scoring was all in the fourth quarter, but they had several earlier opportunities.  In short, I’m not convinced.

Another point I’m not buying is that Texas can handle the SEC based on the Georgia game.  If LSU played Georgia and that was LSU’s only SEC game last year, that wouldn’t mean LSU would beat every SEC team this year with.  LSU played a Georgia team that still had a potential national championship run in front of it too.  Also, bowl games are a lot different.  You don’t get the same players.  LSU had a patchwork team in the bowl game last season and looked pretty good, which is part of the reason I rank them so highly now; but I don’t know how different the Texas-Georgia game would have been if it had been a playoff game.

There was another point that might have been good had Texas had its defense back from last year, and that was that LSU’s new offense is more similar to what Big XII teams run.  Being used to scrimmaging against the Texas offense isn’t the same thing as a season of Big XII opponents.  When you’re up 42-3 at the half and take most of your starters out shortly thereafter, you’re not going to show everything anyway.  So we can’t be sure this would be so easy for an experienced Big XII defense anyway.  Also, let’s not forget even in the best team game for the Longhorns they allowed 45 points.  Do I think LSU will score 45?  No.  Do I think they’ll allow 48 like Oklahoma did?  That’s not even a serious question in my mind.

My final thoughts: I don’t want to discount the fact that Texas has a chance to win at home. It just seems less likely.  Maybe 60-40 odds in LSU’s favor.  If you point a gun to my head and make me bet, I’d take Texas and the points (5.5 according to ESPN), but it’s a close call. If someone wins the turnover battle 4-0 (as was the case when LSU beat Georgia last year), that team could win by 20+ though. I don’t think feel like I know enough about either team under pressure to even venture a guess as to over/under.

Last topic, speaking of turnovers, both teams were +2 in turnovers in the first game, but stats from last year indicate LSU might do better.  LSU was tied for 7th in turnover margin last year (with an advantage of 0.8 per game).  Georgia Southern’s turnover margin was more than twice as much though (1.7, 1st), so that makes the first game more impressive for the Tigers.  Texas was close behind LSU last year (0.6, tied for 18th), but Louisiana Tech was barely positive (0.2, tied for 43rd).

2019 Preseason Top 25

In College Football, Preview, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on August 28, 2019 at 2:29 PM

This could probably be a little shorter, but I don’t have the energy to edit it down today; and I don’t want to be in a rush to get it out before the games start tomorrow (if you didn’t know, I have a day job and live on the West Coast).  I made all the preliminary comments as well as comments about teams that didn’t make the list in the last blog.

Key: CB = cornerback(s), DL = defensive lineman(/men), HC = head coach, OL = offensive lineman(/men), QB = quarterback, RS = returning starter(s), RB = running back(s), SECCG = SEC championship game, TE = tight end(s), WR= wide receiver(s).

The Top 15

(# 1) Clemson – This is not a pick of Clemson to beat Alabama if they are to play again. Last year the Tigers had a big advantage in returning starters, and once they got their QB situation sorted out, I don’t think anyone could have beaten them in hindsight. These are without question the top two programs, so I just assume they can overcome losses in personnel. The tiebreaker went to the Tigers due to last season.

Trevor Lawrence will attempt to lead the Tigers to a repeat.

(# 2) Alabama – The Tide looked unbeatable most of the time last season with 10 returning starters. A season of wear and tear exposed a few vulnerabilities in the last two games, but they increase to 12 returning starters this season.

(# 3) Georgia – The Bulldogs were one of the teams to expose those vulnerabilities before the Tide pulled away late in the SECCG. I don’t hold the Texas loss against them since the goal was playoff and national championship, and the bowl prep and motivation may have been relatively lackluster. The Longhorns were excited to be in a big game and would have gotten the same bowl had they won the Big XII. For them, the playoff was likely off the table in September.

(# 4) LSU – I didn’t want to pick another SEC team so soon, but there is a very poor correlation this season between success last year and experience this year. A top-10 finish and NY6 bowl win with 16 returning starters (RS), 8 on each side, made it impossible to pass up the Tigers. LSU does lose a bit more from the defense than this indicates as they lose more of the tackles than Georgia (who has 14 RS, 7 each side) and have a less proven secondary in my opinion. But as I’ll explain, the other teams that seem like good candidates to make a playoff run have much less obvious talent coming back. Someone may go undefeated while LSU will most likely lose to someone, but if that does happen I think that other team will be exposed by Clemson or an SEC team.

(# 5) Michigan – I’m not sure I’ve ever been less excited about a #5 team.  I’ve always liked Shea Patterson, and he’s a senior who will be leading an offense with 8 returning starters.  That gives me slightly more confidence than another inexperienced Ohio St. team (albeit with the same number of RS).  This could be the year the Wolverines finally beat the Buckeyes, although they were favored last year and didn’t come close.  It’s also possible that Michigan will lose that game and Ohio St. will drop more games to lesser teams, which seems to be a recurring issue for the Buckeyes.  I wouldn’t necessarily trust the Wolverine defense though, especially not against one of the better Big Ten offenses or in an elite bowl game.

(# 6) Ohio St. – See above, but it’s worth noting that the majority of the Ohio St. RS will be on defense instead of offense.  This may be more of a rushing Ohio St. team since the Buckeyes do not return their quarterback.  I’m also not sure if the nine returning starters on defense are a good thing unless they learned how to tackle a lot better.  We’re only to #6, and it already sounds like I’m talking about #20.

(# 7) Notre Dame – The Irish also have 13 RS, but they lose their top RB, WR, and TE.  The defense has one fewer RS than the offense and also loses some of the top playmakers.  HC Kelley has shown some resiliency and ability to recruit depth over the years though.  It seems extraordinarily unlikely that the Irish will go undefeated (both Georgia and Michigan are road games); but if they win one of those and suffer no other losses, a return to the playoff would not be surprising.

(# 8) Florida – The Gators also have 13 RS (that’s four teams in a row if you’re keeping track).  Imagine LSU didn’t have to play Alabama or Texas A&M last year.  I can see Florida having a similar year.  The Miami win was too close for comfort (I’m not factoring that in); but if they can pull a couple of upsets like LSU did without the close losses, the playoff isn’t out of the realm of possibility.  He’s not outstanding, but QB Feleipe Franks seems capable of leading such a team. 

(# 9) Auburn – The Tigers (who break the trend with 14 RS) are often better when they can sneak up on people.  2004 (which followed Tommy Tuberville nearly getting fired) and 2013 (which followed the apparent end of Gene Chizik’s head coaching career) come to mind, although this wouldn’t be as dramatic as 2013. The schedule (they get Florida along with the yearly Georgia game) may make representing the West in the SECCG nearly impossible, but I’m only picking them third in the division after all.

(# 10) Washington St. – Although the Cougars have a lower ceiling (the Rose Bowl is the best realistic outcome), I see them as similar to LSU.  If they were able to do what they did last year with a relatively weak team on paper, I see no reason they can’t at least be about as good (if not better) this season.  It’s another team with 13 RS, but a couple of notable transfers (at QB and DL) make that misleading.  Wazzu won 11 games last year, so they may be even better than some of the teams above with 13.

(# 11) Oklahoma – A lot of people see the Sooners as a playoff team – and I do begrudgingly consider them most likely to win the Big XII – but they’re just too inexperienced for me to believe that.  Alabama transfer Hurts is a good QB, but he’s going to be playing behind 4 new OL and will only have four RS on that side of the ball overall.  The Sooners have a total of 12 RS, which isn’t terrible, but when you look more in depth they’re not even in the top 100 in terms of experience.  I’m not sure the 8 RS on defense are a good thing given how porous the unit was last year.

(# 12) Texas A&M – The Aggies have 11 RS.  HC Fisher got away with that type of team at Florida St. before Clemson got so good, but I think that’s a lot harder to do in the SEC West (and this year he has to face Clemson as well).  Since it’s only Fisher’s second year, he didn’t recruit most of the starters.  If Sumlin were still the BC they wouldn’t even be ranked, so I think making them 12th (a lucky number for the Aggies) is giving Fisher the credit he’s due.  Maybe even too much given what happened at Florida St.in 2017, when the Seminoles barely became bowl-eligible.

(# 13) Utah – The Utes are not the most experienced team in the Pac-12 – UCLA and Oregon have more experience – but I had Utah as the better team last year, and I think with a typically solid defense (3 first-team all-conference players) and experienced seniors at QB and RB (though both were injured late last season), Utah may even have an outside shot at the playoff.  They will have 14 RS, 7 on each side.

Utah QB Tyler Huntley is a running and throwing threat who can keep defenses off-balance.

(# 14) Washington – The Huskies are widely picked to win the Pac-12 again, but after losing their QB, their RB, and all but two defensive starters, let’s just say I’m skeptical. Another strong Pac-12 season still wouldn’t be shocking given that the Huskies have won 14 straight conference home games though.

(# 15) Texas – Tom Herman enters his third year, but I would not be surprised if the team took a step back given only 8 RS.  I couldn’t find another team in the Big XII to challenge Oklahoma though. Maybe someone will be a surprise. The Longhorns do have a pretty good quarterback and a couple of good WR from last season. 

Numbers 16 to 25

I like many teams toward the bottom of the top 25 more than #5 to #15, but these are programs that I don’t trust as much to produce a good team even though the potential is there.  Sometimes an unranked team (in particular) that has a lot of players back stays an unranked team, but some of these could also be in NY6 bowls.

(# 16) Oregon – As I mentioned under Utah, the Ducks are one of the most experienced teams in the Pac-12 and with Washington vulnerable, they may have a reasonable shot at taking their place.  17 starters are back, 10 on offense.  Oregon does lose 3 of its best tacklers on defense though.  QB Justin Herbert should lead the best offense in the conference, but WSU HC Mike Leach may have something to say about that..

(# 17) Central Florida – Like many of those above, the Knights have 13 RS, mostly on offense.  Surprisingly, UCF is only slightly less experienced than last season, so another top-11 finish (it would be the fourth since 2013) is not out of the question.  UCF has a new QB, and I’m not sure Wimbush, the Notre Dame transfer will keep the offense going as well.  The defense will probably have holes having lost 5 of the front 7 and 4 of the top 6 tacklers.

(# 18) Michigan St. – Like Oregon, the Spartans have a lot of experience (17 RS), but the experience is from a team that was barely in the top 50 last season.  Two years ago, State won 7 conference games, so if things go well they could return to that level.

(# 19) Iowa St. – The Cyclones have been a pest for the top teams in the Big XII the last few years.  With 16 returning starters, ISU may have a chance to compete for the conference title.  Brock Purdy returns after leading the offense to over 30 points per game in his 9 games.  The Cyclones still haven’t won a conference title since 1912 (they only played two conference games that year), although they did tie for the Big XII North in 2004.  Even a conference-championship game would be a first for Iowa St.

(# 20) Syracuse – The Orange will likely improve defensively (with 7 RS there) but may take a step back on offense.  Six starters return on offense, but that does not include the quarterback, and part of the reason for the proficiency last year was the experience.  I wouldn’t bet on anyone challenging Clemson in the ACC this year, but if Syracuse competes in years like this that will be a good sign for the future where maybe Clemson isn’t a defending national champion and there is a clear advantage in RS.

(# 21) Penn St. – The Nittany Lions barely snuck into the top 20 last season and with fewer RS (12, evenly split) than the vast majority of the top 25, I don’t think predicting them to be about the same is an insult.  They will have a new QB and a new primary RB, although the OL look good.  The defense had the same or fewer RS the last two years and was very good nonetheless, allowing 16.5 and 20.5 points per game in the last two years respectively. 

(# 22) Florida St. – It’s weird that this was one of the last teams I even thought to add to consideration.  The Seminoles had the third toughest schedule last season, and that’s just not a good situation to try to implement a new system that hasn’t been really established at the major-conference level.  Not to mention that HC Fisher (see Texas A&M) didn’t leave on a very good note.  FSU should have beaten Miami and does deserve some credit for beating Boston College when they were getting beaten up against a ranked team every week at the end.  There were some games that should have been closer, but I think reports of the program’s demise are greatly exaggerated.  Anyway, they have EIGHT starters back on both sides of the ball.  I’m taking the mediocre couple of years into account or they would be in the top 10, but I think top 25 is warranted.

Florida St. RB Cam Akers ran for over 1000 yards as a freshman in 2017 and, with an improved offensive line and possibly more carries, will look to do so again.

(# 23) Appalachian St. – The second team in a row with 16 RS.  Nearly the whole offense is back from a team that scored over 37 points per game last season.  The major area of concern on defense is CB, so there may be a few more points allowed.  It’s hard to do much better than last year’s mark of 15.5 points per game.  I know the schedule hasn’t been great, but if you win 11 games and have that many guys back, you can beat some people.  The only conference loss last season was to Georgia Southern in a game where the QB was injured and the backup was turnover-prone, so they could be undefeated in conference.  The only nonconference loss was to Penn St. in overtime, so the Mountaineers could go undefeated overall too.

(# 24) Cincinnati – The Bearcats also suffered only two losses last year, and one was also in overtime.  The more substantial loss (by 25) was to UCF, so that’s hardly disqualifying.  That game may be closer this year.  Cincy has 7 RS on each side of the ball.  Three of the 4 major passing targets along with last year’s QB and RB are returners.   OL and DL are the only two areas that seem weaker.

(# 25) South Carolina – The Gamecocks are by far the biggest impediment to Appalachian St. possibly having an undefeated run. HC Muschamp says this is his best team at South Carolina, but I’m not sure that’s saying a whole lot.  Carolina had a decent year last year, but going the last 6 quarters without a point wasn’t a good look.  They also have 7 RS on each side of the ball.  The Cocks aren’t picked in some top 25s due to schedule (Clemson, Alabama, Georgia, Florida), but like I said in the intro, I don’t factor that in.  They need to figure out how to beat ranked teams (0 wins in the last 10 attempts) to justify being widely ranked regardless.

Changes in Rankings

Finally, I made a chart of the teams that are ranked above as well as the teams that are not on the list above but were in the top 25 at the end of last season. I use two different ratings systems, one that essentially gives bonus points for quality opponents (“weighted” toward better schedules) and another that treats every game equally (which I call unweighted). That’s what W and UW stand for below. The overall ranking is determined by averaging the two (adjusting for how different the range in numbers is); therefore it is in the column under “Avg.”


LSU More Qualified for #3 Seed Than Kansas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worst Loss

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Losses

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

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

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

Key Wins and Conclusion

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

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

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

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

The Curious Case of LSU Basketball

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

Why I Generally Don’t Cover College Basketball

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

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

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

Brief Description of Recent LSU Basketball History

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

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

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

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

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

What Makes This Team Special (So Far)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Top 25 of 2018 Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final SEC Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 10 (Including LSU)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rest of the Top 25

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

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

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

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

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

Top 25 List

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

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

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

The Truth about the SEC and Coach O

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

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

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

SEC Teams and Bowl Games

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coach O and LSU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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