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Posts Tagged ‘Nick Saban’

Nega-Tiger Time & Head Coach Position

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game on November 20, 2016 at 4:14 PM

A few preliminaries:
Computer ratings of all teams after Week 11
Updated Florida Rivalry Blog
Texas A&M Rivalry Blog

I don’t know where this comes from exactly, but somehow on message boards there developed the concept of “nega-Tigers,” the more skeptical and pessimistic LSU fans, and “sunshine pumpers,” those who were more optimistic and stressed the positives. I try to be accurate and have seen the merits of both sides, but people have called me a sunshine pumper in recent seasons for pointing out that Les Miles had the best winning percentage of any coach of a substantial number of games in LSU history. Nega-Tigers tend to stress things like recent losses to teams like Alabama and Arkansas and the issues I’m about to discuss below.

One of the reasons I didn’t want to talk much about the Arkansas game was I didn’t want to get my confidence up too high. It’s just so disheartening that we can’t win a close game to save our lives. I don’t understand how you score one touchdown, you get a few yards away from another touchdown after driving for 75 yards, and then you can only come up with a single field goal for the last 37 ½ minutes of the game.

Technically, the Tigers beat Mississippi St. in a close game, but LSU was ahead by 17 with five minutes left. So let’s look at it another way:

Close game (<17 points) with 5 minutes left … result
Wisconsin 16, LSU 14 … Wisconsin 16, LSU 14
Auburn 18, LSU 13 … Auburn 18, LSU 13
Alabama 7, LSU 0 … Alabama 10, LSU 0
Florida 13, LSU 10 … Florida 16, LSU 10
Total: 0-4, scored 0 points, gave up 6 points

I don’t see a way out either even with a coaching change. We have to know how to win close games somehow. I know we were one positive play from beating Wisconsin, one second away from beating Auburn, and maybe one foot away from beating Florida, but losing all three is almost unforgivable.

Jimbo Fisher (right) with Nick Saban.  Fisher also coached under Les Miles for two seasons as the offensive coordinator.

Jimbo Fisher (right) with Nick Saban. Fisher also coached under Les Miles for two seasons as the offensive coordinator.

Jimbo Fisher is going to fix it (assuming we can get him anyway)? We had one of our best offenses in 2006 when Fisher was the offensive coordinator, and we lost to Auburn 7-3 and Florida 23-10. We also only managed 20 points in regulation against a pretty sorry Ole Miss team (coached by a guy called Ed Orgeron). You can’t tell me we can rest assured about not having games like this again.

Florida State has 3 losses against an ACC schedule and their best out-of-conference opponent was Ole Miss. If they’d played Wisconsin instead, that likely already puts them at 4 losses right now even if we pretend their conference schedule was just as hard as LSU’s.

Had the Seminoles played SEC opponents instead of North Carolina St. (won by 4) and U. Miami (won by a missed extra point), that could have made 5 or 6 losses.

That’s great that they only had two regular-season losses over the previous three seasons, but again, I think that has a lot to do with schedule. In 2014, there were five games that came down to one possession.

Jameis Winston was a great college football player and 2013 was a great season for the Noles; but we’re not talking about Gene Chizik, and he had a great season with Cam Newton as his QB in 2010. This is not a motivated team who plays to the best of its ability every week either. When you have an off game in the SEC, you lose the majority of the time no matter how good of a coach you are.

One big reason Alabama doesn’t have more losses is they don’t really have off games against teams that can beat them. They have sloppy games sometimes, but they seem motivated and ready to play every time, and the sloppiness is rare in big games. So I don’t mean that you can prevent guys in their late teens and early 20 from having an off night in all cases, but you can have a focused team that responds appropriately when things go wrong.

The Guice fumble was an example of sloppiness, but there is no way in the world Alabama would respond to something like that by shutting down on offense and allowing the other team to get ahead like LSU did. Outside of maybe a bowl game or two, I can’t think of an example of Alabama doing that since Saban’s first season.

Houston's Tom Herman

Houston’s Tom Herman

I’m even less impressed with Houston, led by Tom Herman (who actually beat the Seminoles in the Peach Bowl last year). There is no way Navy or SMU has even close to Houston’s level of talent, but the Cougars lost to both within 3 weeks this season. They had a full month of subpar play. In addition to those two games, they needed overtime to beat Tulsa in between, and then after the SMU game (which they lost handily), they struggled against Central Florida. Tulsa and Central Florida were home games. Houston apparently needed a bye week to snap out of it before easily beating Tulane and Louisville.

Maybe if we get a better offensive coordinator or maybe even if Ensminger is allowed to develop his own offense and playbook over an off-season, Orgeron can still be the guy, but how many chances did Les Miles get to figure out the right combination of coordinators to no avail?

Pretty soon recruits aren’t even going to remember the 2011 regular season, and LSU is going to be that team that gets hyped up every so often only to lose the big games.

I hope we give A&M a serious beat-down, and Orgeron somehow figures out a better plan for the offense and keeps his job, but here we are waiting till next year again. I’m not even talking about a national championship. I’m talking about losing fewer than 3 conference games in a season. 2011 was the last time that happened.

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LSU-Alabama Preview and Analysis

In College Football, General LSU, Preview, Rivalry on November 4, 2016 at 7:20 PM

I’ll start by saying there are some other interesting games this weekend, but I can’t even think about that. If you play on LSU-Alabama weekend a few days after a historic 7-game World Series and a few days before an apparently close presidential election, my focus will be limited.

I promise this is the last time until I update it, but I keep getting a ton of views for it, so once again I’ll give the link to the LSU-Alabama series, but I do want to focus on a few aspects that I haven’t covered in depth.

In the early days of the Miles-Saban portion of this series, LSU was able to beat Alabama by playing old-school hard-nosed football (with a few wrinkles) a little bit better when the Tide was able to intimidate most teams by its style of play.

Les Miles congratulates Nick Saban in January 2012 after the BCS championship.

Les Miles congratulates Nick Saban in January 2012 after the BCS championship.

LSU went 3-2 in that span, but the worst Tiger team of that span took Alabama to overtime, and the best Alabama team relied in part on a drive that should have ended in an interception if the officials had seen the play better. So it could have easily been at least 4-1. Sometimes the team that’s having a clearly better season just wins even if the match-up isn’t favorable.

Then LSU had more issues with coming up with anything but a one-dimensional offense.

In the 2011 regular season game (5 years ago tomorrow), LSU had an element of surprise: although obviously he didn’t engineer any touchdown drives, LSU’s more mobile quarterback Jordan Jefferson came off the bench and did a good job controlling the ball and spreading the field. The Tigers had a great defense that year, but even that unit couldn’t have stopped Alabama if the offense had kept producing quick three-and-outs (as would be demonstrated a couple of months later).

In the 2011 championship game (in January 2012), Alabama was a lot more prepared for Jefferson, Jefferson had a bad game (he completed passes, but they were almost all roughly at the line of scrimmage), and the LSU coaching staff was too stubborn to try anything else.

2012 didn’t require a different quarterback, but LSU still forced Alabama into unexpected situations when Zach Mettenberger finally looked comfortable in the position for the first time against a quality defense. The Tigers completed a series of long passes to get into a position where they were driving down the field with a chance to put the game out of reach.

Then LSU started playing not to lose. They ran the ball and tried to run the clock to play for a field goal (even though that would have only put them up 6). The fact that the field goal was missed might not have mattered because Alabama would score a touchdown on the ensuing drive to win by 4.

AJ McCarron completed the winning touchdown to T.J. Yelton on a screen pass in 2012.

AJ McCarron completed the winning touchdown to T.J. Yeldon on a screen pass in 2012.

So I would argue in both seasons when LSU had a more open offense was when they were able to find success, but obviously the calendar year of 2012 still gave LSU the first two of five consecutive losses.

Then Cam Cameron became the offensive coordinator. Although he and Mettenberger did well to tie the game at 17 early in the third quarter, the offense sputtered after that. The longest drive after that was for 7 plays, 50 yards, and ended in a punt. The other two drives went for a total of -9 yards.

This put pressure on the defense, which finally broke down toward the end of the game. Alabama outscored LSU 21-0 in the final 20 minutes of the game to win 38-17.

LSU nearly took advantage of a late fumble to win in 2014 before falling in overtime, but the win would have been despite the offense not because of it. Following some improvements that had been made by his predecessors Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier, Lane Kiffin didn’t do a great job in that game, but he called plays well enough to give the Tide a late field-goal opportunity which they converted and of course the winning touchdown in OT. I think those improvements are another reason that the gap between LSU and Alabama seemed to have grown in the last couple of years.

The only wrinkle in 2015 was a couple of surprising downfield throws from Brandon Harris; but once the Alabama defense adjusted its reads, that was off the table and LSU didn’t seem to have anything else to fall back on. After closing to within 3 points at halftime, LSU gave up 17 unanswered points and only scored again due to a fumble recovery deep in Alabama territory.

If Etling struggles like Jordan Jefferson did in the national championship game or like Brandon Harris did last year, LSU doesn’t win, but I think he has what it takes to play as well as Mettenberger did, which would give the Tigers a good chance.

Unlike Miles, Orgeron is not an offensive coach, but he did influence the direction of the new offense partly by dismissing Cam Cameron. He seemed to like the kind of offenses Norm Chow and Lane Kiffin ran at USC (and I suppose Clay Helton, who continued to run the offense during Orgeron’s season as interim coach in Los Angeles).

Steve Ensminger, who was a relative unknown as the tight ends coach, has done a good job in adapting the current playbook to suit what Orgeron had in mind, but he hasn’t been tested by a defense like this yet. Regardless, if LSU loses, I don’t think a lack of offensive creativity or playing too conservatively toward the end would be the reason for the loss.

New offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger

New offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger

I’m not minimizing the importance of defense, but I think that’s been a steadier unit in these games for both teams. I don’t see a deviation from that general rule this year.

To pick up a little bit on my point about creativity and playing too conservatively, there were at least elements of a prevent defense in 2012 and 2014 that I don’t think helped. The Tigers got themselves in a spot of bother against Mississippi St. in September, partly due to an on-sides kick, but I think LSU DC Dave Aranda is smarter about that than John Chavis was.

I know Texas A&M isn’t as talented on defense, so I don’t want to be too unfair to Chavis, but I think the video below demonstrates some of the risks when Chavis doesn’t put a lot of players in the box against a team like Alabama. It also shows how important the performance of guys like Kendall Beckwith and Arden Key will be. Calling the right play is one thing, but if you don’t have players read and respond to what happens during the play, you’re probably not going to look very good as a coordinator.

http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=17967092

The more established coordinators Kiffin and Aranda might be the superior chess match (see here for some discussion of that). I’m not attacking Steve Ensminger’s or Jeremy Pruitt’s mental faculties, but Ensminger is limited somewhat by inheriting someone else’s offense and by having a quarterback who (despite being around college football a while) still isn’t completely comfortable as a starter for this team. I don’t know quite as much about Pruitt, but as Gary Danielson explains below, it also seems like he’s limited in how much latitude he has by another coach (in his case Saban) and to some extent by personnel. On the other hand, the uncertainty might make the latter pairing more interesting.

http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=17956565

I try to be cool and rational when writing, but I’m really excited to see what happens, It’s not just that I’m a fan of LSU, but it’s also a bit of intellectual curiosity as to how the chess match will play out.

Coaching Changes and SEC Wednesday #5

In College Football, General LSU, History, Preview, SEC Wednesdays on September 28, 2016 at 5:07 PM

This is going to be a little bit different from the other entries in this series of blogs. I really didn’t have enough time to reflect and gather information on Monday. I had work until fairly late that day and had not had much sleep over the weekend. I also don’t like to feature anything lengthy when I post my rankings.

I thought about maybe posting something on its own yesterday, but having posted blogs three days in a row, I didn’t want to do that either. I still have to write something tomorrow for my ratings site, so I needed the break. I won’t go into much detail, but the basic picks and recap for SEC Wednesday is at the bottom if you just want to get straight down to business.

With the housekeeping out of the way, I want to start by acknowledging all the well-wishes etc. that Les Miles and his family have received from fans and coaches throughout the SEC and college football as a whole.

I’m starting to get annoyed with Nick Saban trying to make me like him. A couple of weeks ago he tried to get in my good graces by yelling at Lane Kiffin. Then he had what seemed to be heartfelt remarks remembering his time at Kent St. and the shooting that took place there. Now he goes on for about a minute about Les Miles during his weekly press conference when they’re not playing LSU for over two months. He’s not normally someone who likes to go on about extrinsic information like that.

I know Saban is going to miss beating Les, but I also think Les is one of those guys that even Saban couldn’t help but like.

As an aside, apart from single comment in a forum, I haven’t heard anyone who met Miles say anything negative about the experience of meeting him or talking to him. Even if one assumes the story were true, I guess once in 12 years it’s allowable to momentarily not be in the mood to talk to a stranger.

I would disagree with Saban’s characterization of the decision that was made, but what he had to say about Les as a man and as a coach was fitting. There is some commonality with Georgia’s decision to fire Mark Richt at the end of last season, as Saban pointed out, but I think both Georgia then and LSU now were entering a kind of managed decline. I’ll get into that below.

I also wanted to share a fan tribute to Miles that was posted. I don’t know if I’m getting sentimental in my old age, so maybe it’s just me, but I dare LSU fans to watch these two videos without some kind of emotional reaction. The first link shows the Saban piece I mentioned, but several other coaches make contributions including Kirby Smart, Butch Jones (who never got to face Les), Mark Stoops, and Jim McElwain. These were coaches who happened to have been asked about it in their Monday press briefings. I particularly liked McElwain’s mention of the players and families.

http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=17645961

Gus Malzahn’s press conference wasn’t until yesterday, but he had good words to say as well. He said Les is a legend and one of the reasons the SEC is what it is today, and I agree. SEC defenses were getting spotty, traditional offenses had been eroded by those chasing Spurrier a few years before and were just about to be threatened by the emergence of the spread that Gus himself helped to pioneer. Of course the best offenses have elements of all of the above. I’m going to give the timestamp, so it won’t load the same way: https://youtu.be/QdqNqGKgKkk?t=15m28s

In the last year, the SEC lost all three coaches with longer tenures at their respective schools than Nick Saban has at Alabama.  It was fitting that Spurrier coached his last game against Miles last season.

In the last year, the SEC lost all three coaches with longer tenures at their respective schools than Nick Saban has at Alabama. It was fitting that Spurrier coached his last game against Miles last season.

Anyway, to get back to the decision, I first want to acknowledge again that Les Miles in my opinion is the best head coach of LSU in history.

There have been positive and negative trends at times. The first three years Les won 85% of his games. The Tigers went only 17-9 over the following two years, but then it was like nothing had ever happened. They went 44-9 (over 83% wins) over the following four years, improving Miles’ overall winning percentage to almost 80%. Had he stopped there, his tenure at LSU would have ended with a better winning percentage than his mentor Bo Schembechler had at Michigan.

Here is a list of the only notable major-college coaching tenures I can think of who did better with a comparable or greater number of games: Saban (Alabama), Carroll (USC), Switzer (Oklahoma), Parseghian (Notre Dame), Osborne (Nebraska), Devaney (Nebraska), Neyland (Tennessee), Wilkinson (Oklahoma), Bryant (Alabama), Spurrier (Florida), Tressel (Ohio St.). Urban Meyer hasn’t had a comparable tenure at one school, but of course combining Florida and Ohio St. puts him pretty high on that list. Pretty good company there.

There were a few other notable tenures who passed him up as his winning percentage decreased since then: Lou Holtz (Arkansas), Darrell Royal (Texas), and Mack Brown (Texas). Active head coach Bob Stoops (Oklahoma) is nearly 2 percentage points ahead of Miles, but it’s going in the wrong direction for him as well.

So despite a lot of young talent and despite an upset over Ole Miss and despite giving Alabama all they could handle, LSU went 8-5 the next year (2014). Combined with the 11-5 total between September 1, 2015, and now, that dropped Les to almost exactly 77%.

I’ve been thinking this was the year this group of LSU players would peak since two years ago, so I wasn’t that discouraged by the losses in 2014 and 2015 because we recovered when the same thing happened in 2008 and 2009.

I thought this year might have been like 2010 or even 2011. We would have recovered from the mediocre play of the previous two seasons and everything would have come together. I think those four games were enough to see that a similar resurgence just was not in the cards.

LSU had a spark around the second quarter of both the Jacksonville St. and Mississippi St. games, but with an experienced team like this, we would have run away with both of those games from beginning to end in past seasons. Either Wisconsin or Auburn might have been close, but I don’t think both games would have had to come down to the last minute, nor do I think we would have lost both.

I’ve defended Miles from people who wanted him gone for the last few years, but it just became clear that we were just going to get farther and farther away from that 80% mark I mentioned and the level of play (accounting for the normal ebbs and flows of experience that take place in college) was going to keep slipping.

That winning percentage was just going to keep going down. The same thing was happening to Georgia. I think Richt’s winning percentage would have continued to decline as well. He lost his job with just under a 74% total winning percentage, but that number was going down over the previous three seasons. In a couple more years without a change, I think Miles’ percentage probably would have fallen below Saban’s LSU winning percentage of exactly 75%.

Les Miles with TE Foster Moreau, who scored the only official touchdown of the game on Saturday.  (Moreau said he was not actually assigned a route on the play.)

Les Miles with TE Foster Moreau, who scored the only official touchdown of the game on Saturday. (Moreau said he was not actually assigned a route on the play.)

SEC Wednesday #5

Back to your regularly-scheduled programming…

Last Week

Alabama just had to get that extra touchdown. I could swear Lane Kiffin Is placing bets on the side. This has happened with Alabama a lot the past couple of years.

I was surprised by the Ole Miss margin of victory. I guess Saban was the driving force behind Kirby Smart.

I was also surprised how A&M pulled away.

Florida was way out ahead against the spread, but of course Tennessee had to score one too many times. It just turned out to be a big win weekend and I was expecting a series of close games. Why couldn’t this have happened with Auburn?

Well I thought South Carolina-Kentucky might be the magical bookie game, but I just couldn’t make a pick that didn’t make any sense to me.

I was right about Mississippi St. – UMass at least. The Minutemen are a little too good to lose by three touchdowns at home.

I saw final scores on the television or computer showing me that I picked the right team to win and the game was over! But they were both wrong somehow. At least I got the spread right in the Vandy game, but it’s another bad week in that category.

Missouri beat their FCS opponent as expected.

So given that I picked the wrong team to get credit for the last-second touchdown, I ended up with three losses straight-up, although the only genuine surprise for me was Kentucky.

Overall I fall to 36-8; against the spread I’m now 16-21.
SEC WED

 

Next Week

I’ll start with the easy one. If Arkansas can’t beat Alcorn St., they should just disband the football program.

Florida goes back to the state of Tennessee. I screwed up by taking the Gators with the points last time (but right winner), and I screwed up by not picking Vandy to win (but right on the point spread). On the other hand, neither team can be trusted week-to-week. Vandy can be mediocre at home after a win, and Florida has done really well with the lesser teams this year. Florida minus 10.

I don’t think ULM is a whole lot different from Arkansas St., so the Auburn offense should come back with a vengeance. I’ll take the War Eagle Plains Tigers -32.5.

I got burned by both Tennessee and Georgia against the spread last week. I don’t think Tennessee wins by 10 again, but 3.5 is too small to pick a team I don’t think will win, so the Vols -3.5.

I’m going to pick South Carolina and the points against A&M. I still think the Aggies will drop a couple, but they’ll be against the West. I just think South Carolina will keep it within 18.

If Lane Kiffin has Alabama throwing from the shotgun up 30, I’m not going to be happy; but I don’t think Alabama goes to Lexington and wins by 35 especially now that Kentucky has finally shown some fight.

Memphis made Ole Miss and people who pick the SEC look silly last year, but I don’t think the Rebels are resting easy this time, and they’ll be at home. The blue Tigers probably faced a tougher opponent in the spring game than they have since. I just think they’ll be out of their element. Ole Miss -14.5. 17 to 21 points seems about right.

My logic is similar with LSU-Missouri, but there is the added benefit that two touchdowns and two extra points would beat the spread. Missouri played Georgia to about the same level at home that Nicholls St. had between the hedges. SEC Network tried to sell me on the Mizzou offense based on the Tecmo Bowl performances against Eastern Michigan and Delaware St., but they only managed 11 points in Morgantown (3 points in the first 57:59 of the game). I think that’s the closest thing to a trip to Baton Rouge Mizzou has experienced this season.

If LSU is to be beaten it’s probably like they have been, one score in the teens against a slightly lower score in the teens. I haven’t seen any indication the black and gold Tigers can win a game like that.

If the most successful coach in program history getting canned isn’t a wake-up call, I don’t know what is. Also, I’d bet Ed Orgeron is a hell of an alarm clock. I expect LSU to get a lead like they did in their last home game against Mississippi St., and then it will just be a question of keeping it.

Speaking of which, I had to post one more Les picture. This is him singing the Alma Mater for the last time in Tiger Stadium after Mississippi St.

lsu-football-6156_rs1

SEC Wednesday #4: Recap and Predictions

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game, Preview, SEC Wednesdays on September 21, 2016 at 8:37 PM

I know this is late, but it’s SEC Wednesday, not Thursday. For reference, here is the previous edition.

Finally doing this on an actual Wednesday.

Finally doing this on an actual Wednesday.

Two of the games were looking really good factoring in the spread, but as I mentioned previously, LSU had a late fourth-down conversion that was controversially reversed on replay. This led to a Mississippi St. touchdown, which led to an on-sides kick for 30 yards, which led to another touchdown. The other Mississippi team did something similar with scoring after an on-sides kick to beat the spread as well. So without that I’m .500 against the spread, which is where you want to be. A lot of these bets are not ones I would actually take. Maybe I should try just doing a selection of them if this doesn’t turn around.

I did get a little lucky on one when Kentucky decided to play defense in the fourth quarter against New Mexico St. The Wildcats only beat the spread by half a point.

I got Tennessee right. I thought they were going to have a bit of a letdown against Ohio U. after the strong win over Virginia Tech, and that looks like exactly what happened.

Otherwise, the only one I got right was Florida. North Texas can’t do much against SEC defenses, but I guess their defense can do all right (at least if all right means giving up fewer points than the entire spread is). The Mean Green has been outscored 56-0 over the last two games against the SEC though. North Texas has been shut out 3 times since 2011, all at the hands of SEC opponents.

Auburn haunted me last year and tripped me up last week.  I hope they take a day off.

Auburn haunted me last year and tripped me up last week. I hope they take a day off.

I still can’t make much sense of Auburn. Other than the two fluke good seasons (and if I recall correctly even those were not easily predictable against the spread), they’re consistently inconsistent. John Chavis (now at Texas A&M) won the battle of former LSU defensive coordinators, but next week current LSU DC Dave Aranda gets a crack at his immediate predecessor on the Plains. He’s had an interesting September.

Another former LSU coordinator is head coach at South Carolina now, and I was surprised they managed to beat East Carolina. I guess the Gamecocks have done pretty well against other teams from the Carolinas in recent years. It’s nice when an SEC team who hasn’t been doing very well in conference can win a game like that, but it’s even nicer when you see it coming.

The only game I didn’t touch on was Arkansas against Texas St. Like I said last week, it’s hard to predict when a blowout is coming. They could have just as easily had a close game against Texas St. and won easily over Louisiana Tech.

I was 8-2 in picking winners but only 3-7 against the sprea. So now I’m 30-5 in picking winners and 14-15 against the spread for the season.

I was initially unsure what to do with Alabama against Kent St. since I think they’re overdue for a solid game in all aspects.  It is Nick Saban’s alma mater. I wonder if that might allow him to take the foot off the gas in the second half. I’m not a fan of his, but he had a very humanizing moment this week in talking about the Kent St. shooting in 1970 that left four students dead. He wasn’t present at the scene, but he was on campus around that time. The Golden Flashes lost to a really bad team in Week 2 but had respectable showing against Penn St. in Week 1. Maybe they get up for the challenge. 44 points is a lot, so I’ll take Kent St. Alabama to win obviously.

Ole Miss is favored by 7 over Georgia in an intriguing inter-divisional matchup. Georgia has been disappointing, but they like to play close games. I don’t expect Ole Miss will be very well-rested and energetic after Saturday, so against my first inclination, I’ll take the Bulldogs and the points. Ole Miss to win though. Kirby can only dodge so many bullets, right?

I almost feel sorry for Tennessee fans and their struggles with Florida. If not now, when? But that’s what I said about LSU-Alabama and Florida-Kentucky in the last couple of years. I think Tennessee will benefit from having played a tough opponent already, and I think the crowd will be in full force (it was lackluster most of the time in the first two home games), so I think they will defeat the curse this time. I have to take the points though. I’m almost always for Tennessee in this rivalry, but part of me hopes Tennessee loses just to diffuse the hype and perhaps allow them to sneak up on Alabama. Also, it would look much better for LSU to beat Florida if Florida wins this game.

Mississippi St. @ UMass. Do I look back at South Alabama or will State do what Arkansas did and have a completely different non-conference personality for this one? UMass has played surprisingly well this season. If they only lost by 17 at the Swamp, I struggle to see them losing by 22+ at home. The Bulldog backup QB did well last week, but it usually takes a little luster off when the defense prepares for you.

Missouri is a weird team, but I don’t do point spreads for FCS games. I pick Mizzou to win.

Vandy played Western Kentucky really close last year only losing by 2 at the end. I think they’re at least marginally better this year even though they were terrible against Georgia Tech last week. The ’Dores beat Middle Tennessee by 23. I don’t think the Blue Raiders and Hilltoppers are that far apart. I will pick the Hilltoppers to win since they’re at home though.

3.5 isn’t enough to try to split the difference with LSU. I can’t even countenance LSU losing the game right now, although I never expect an easy time @Auburn. This is Danny Etling’s first road SEC start, but he had several starts in hostile environments when he was at Purdue and doesn’t seem very easily shaken. It was Brandon Harris’s first start period two years ago.

This was the only picture I could find of Danny Etling during his last road start.

This was the only picture I could find of Danny Etling during his last start outside of his home stadium.

That was the only convincing loss by LSU in the series since 2002 (rivalry series blog). LSU lost two controversial games, 10-9 in 2004 and 7-3 in 2006. Then Cam Newton was just a little too good in 2010. Those were vastly different Auburn teams though. So my guess is the game two years ago was an aberration and LSU can do well this time. The Fighting Tigers dominated at home last year.

Kentucky is favored by 2 somehow. I don’t see it. Gamecocks +2 all day long. Sometimes there is some unique bookie insight I’m not privy to, but I’d rather risk suffering in ignorance than outsmart myself out of a win.

The night game is Arkansas @ Texas A&M. The Aggies are coming off a decent win on the Plains, but the Hogs usually play them close and then had a bit of a breather last week. Arkansas with the points but the Aggies to win. I still expect the Aggies to lose a few this year, but not this one. The game went to overtime each of the last two years with A&M winning both. If that happens again, hopefully they only win by 3. I hate when you take a team with the points, they tie over 60 minutes, and then you get screwed in overtime.

In Defense of Preseason Rankings

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game, Rankings Commentary on September 4, 2016 at 12:25 PM

I never claimed projections, especially preseason ones, as my strong suit, but a lot of smart people who spent more than a couple of hours before they make their projections picked LSU and/or Oklahoma to make the national semifinal. Sometimes I project the final rankings better than the professionals, and sometimes I don’t. I think I’ve done a pretty decent job over the years for the focus that I give to it.

I’ve always had a greater motivation to give teams proper credit for what they’ve done, and I’ll strive to do that for the wins over LSU, Oklahoma, and Bowling Green. (Those are the three results where there is the most apparent discrepancy with my preseason rankings so far.)

I actually spent more time in the off-season looking at my formula (so that later this year I do give teams the rankings they deserve) than I spent looking at anything to do with preseason.

I expected LSU to have a close game against Wisconsin in the state of Wisconsin. I just didn’t expect them to get into winning-field-goal position and for the quarterback to inexplicably throw It to the wrong team. I also didn’t anticipate that Wisconsin would hit two long field goals, the second of which was to take the lead in the fourth quarter. If they miss the second one, there is little doubt that LSU wins.

The Wisconsin defense won't get many easier interceptions this season.

The Wisconsin defense won’t get many easier interceptions this season.

Although I did not rank Wisconsin at the end of last season, I ranked them at the beginning of this season because I believe they can play good teams, especially close to home, and have a chance to win if said good team chokes. I don’t think they’ll beat everyone, but I would be surprised if they didn’t beat another ranked team at some point. I moved Wisconsin up more spots than I moved LSU in the preseason. Also, I only ranked LSU 3 spots higher than the AP poll did. I didn’t do anything crazy there.

As for Houston, 18th is pretty high for a preseason ranking for a non-power-5 team. I was surprised that the Houston defense took control late rather than the Oklahoma offense. Usually you expect a good offense to wear down a suspect defense, but maybe the Cougars are going to be a more balanced team than in past seasons. Absolutely no one should be surprised Houston scored 33 points (although the special teams is responsible for one touchdown), but holding Oklahoma to 23 was a bit surprising.

Regarding Ohio St., which got the most immediate push-back, I did want to say a couple of things about not buying in to certain preseason considerations that are present in other polls and rankings. This is typical of my preseason outlook of only seeing a team as worthy of continuing in the top 10 if they have most of their key players back.

Although Florida St. had about twice as many returning starters last year as Ohio St. does this year, I still got criticism for dropping the Seminoles from #2 (where I had them at the end of 2014) to #12. They finished #14 in both polls (and even lower in my rankings, obviously), so I was actually conservative in demoting them. Like Ohio St., the Seminoles had won the national championship two years before. Unlike Ohio St., they had an undefeated regular season and made the national semifinal the prior year.

Even if they’d rallied to end the year in the top 10, my skepticism in preseason was still warranted by the level of play early on. I try to accurately reflect how tough a team it is now or at least in the near future more than I try to look into the crystal ball to predict what might happen in late November and afterward, but often they mean the same thing. If you have a lack of experience now, that will in most cases plague you throughout the year because for most teams the experienced players will get even better, so it’s hard to surpass them.

I also think the pushback is a function of Saban’s success at Alabama, though he’s generally had 11 or 12 returning starters, which is a a lot more than 6. Everyone thinks their team should be able to be really good yet again if they were good last year. Never mind how much the final top 10 changed from one year to the next. Urban Meyer is a great coach, don’t get me wrong, but even great coaches have years with a few losses. Half of his Florida teams had at least three losses and a third of them had at least four.

Urban Meyer's results at Florida.

Urban Meyer’s results at Florida.

Speaking of Florida, I dropped them to #13 in the 2013 preseason when they only had 10 returning starters after finishing the regular season with one loss the year before (they lost the bowl game, but not showing up for the bowl game the year before didn’t stop Alabama in 2009 or 2015 (it also didn’t stop the Tide from making the national semifinal in 2014). Anyway, I should have dropped that 2013 Florida team a lot more than that since they finished 4-8.

I’m not saying anything like what happened to Florida in 2013 will happen to Ohio St. this year. I’m only picking one Ohio St. team to have a few losses.

The only real argument I got in response was that Urban Meyer is a really good coach and recruiter. In 2010 (when they had 10 returning starters according to Phil Steele), even Alabama had 3 losses. That was Saban’s fourth year there, so there isn’t some other coach to blame for that. There is just only so much even the best coaches with even the best recruits can do with raw talent in the offseason.

Maybe Ohio St. better talent than some of these other examples, maybe they’ll be really good at avoiding injuries. Maybe they’ll have a couple injuries, lack depth, and start having trouble. All this is about is assessing likelihoods. With 128 teams playing 12 or so games apiece, a lot of unlikely things are going to happen.

The final score in the Bowling Green game doesn’t mean much to me. Urban Meyer always liked to run up the score. There is absolutely no reason in a game like that to score 42 points in the second half. I don’t think Louisville scoring 70 means they should be in the top 10 either, and I also didn’t think that when Boston College scored 76 in a game last year that they deserved a ranking.

I’m not making a prediction at this time, but I’ll be very interested in the outcome of Ohio St.@ Oklahoma in a couple of weeks.

I’m sure there will be examples where I made better picks than the experts and examples where I made worse picks. The decision not to rank UCLA, for instance, is looking pretty good at the moment. Also, I was 9-1 against the spread in SEC games. Of course I would have preferred to go 1-9 with LSU winning, but that’s life.

Addendum: Review of 2014 and 2015 Preseason Rankings

I didn’t do a blog after last season about it (I was busy writing the NFL blogs, and then I just got onto college basketball and didn’t think about it again).

I think I did a good job when I reviewed the results after 2014. I got 3 of the top 4 right in preseason that year. I also had two other top 10 teams who ended up in the top 10, Ohio St. and UCLA. I got the exact rank correct for UCLA.

No one (by no one I mean the other major preseason listings I compared) had Boise St., TCU, Marshall, or Ga. Tech. Some had Michigan St., but I had them pretty close to the top 10 myself.

I also had Ole Miss higher than anyone else did in 2014. Northern Illinois was a good pick no one else had.

The only one I ranked in preseason who didn’t make a bowl game was Michigan. Brady Hoke always surprised me by how much talent he was able to waste.

I know you think I always hate the Big Ten, but I’ve actually been too positive about some Big Ten teams over the years. I think I’ve picked Ohio St. #1 in preseason more than any other team, although it’s possible Alabama tied or passed them up recently.

I also had the wisdom not to pick North Carolina or Oregon St. in 2014. They were both worse than Michigan. Other good non-picks were Texas A&M (which resulted in some criticism here) and Washington.

In 2015, I just calculated this really quickly:

Semifinal teams
In my preseason top 4: 1
In AP preseason top 4: 1
In my preseason top 5: 2
In AP preseason top 5: 2
In my preseason top 10: 3
In AP preseason top 10: 3

*Ohio St. finished in the AP top 4 but did not make the semifinal. The AP and I both had them in the preseason top 4.

AP final top 10:
5 were in my preseason top 10
4 were in AP preseason top 10
6 were in my preseason top 11
4 were in AP preseason top 11
The AP and I both had 8 in preseason top 25 (we did not have Houston or Iowa)

LSU’s Regular Season Ends; Miles’ Tenure Doesn’t

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game on November 29, 2015 at 6:19 PM

I nearly forgot about this completely, but I’ve just updated my LSU/Texas A&M Rivalry blog. The win marks LSU’s fifth straight over the Aggies.

Also, here are my new computer ratings of all the teams.

As I told everyone, the threat to Les Miles job was exaggerated since before the Ole Miss game.

Les Miles receives the crowd's blessing after the game.

Les Miles receives the crowd’s blessing after the game.

One coach who wasn’t so fortunate was Mark Richt, fired less than three years after the Bulldogs lost a close battle against Alabama in the default national championship game in 2012. Georgia had a tough stretch this year as well, going 1-3 (the 1 being a 3-point win over Missouri) in the month of October.

After making 3 SEC Championship games (2-1) and 3 BCS bowls between 2002 and 2007 (also 2-1), Georgia has only returned to an SEC Championship game twice, winning neither. Contrast this with Miles, who won the SEC and made the actual national championship game (which Richt had never made) only four years ago. I wonder if Les would have been a candidate for that job or perhaps a bit up the road in South Carolina.

Mark Richt's firing/resignation leaves Miles as the most tenured active SEC coach with one program.

Mark Richt’s firing/resignation leaves Miles as the most tenured active SEC coach with one program.

One of the criticisms of Les is that he is 0 for 5 against Alabama (though I keep reminding people we did beat them just over 4 years ago and the year before that as well), 6-5 against Arkansas, and 7-4 against Ole Miss.

On the other hand, Les is 5-0 against Texas A&M, has beaten Florida 5 times in 6 attempts, and has beaten Auburn 7 times in 9 attempts.

Compare that with Nick Saban at Alabama: 3-1 against Texas A&M, 4-1 against Florida, and 6-3 against Auburn. Saban has not lost to Arkansas though and was undefeated against Ole Miss until dropping the last two.

In the early part of Miles’ tenure, Florida and Auburn were LSU’s big rivals. Arkansas, Alabama, and Ole Miss were not. I always cared about the Alabama game, but it hadn’t been considered a must-see game annually for several years before the Saban hire. I think a lot of coaches would have lost more of those Florida games especially given the dramatic conclusions to many of them.

Anyway, turning back to the recent drama, it didn’t help Les’s cause that the offense was often ineffectual when it mattered, but despite what the chattering classes told us, there was a serious attempt at running the offense differently in the Ole Miss game. Sometimes completing only 50% of your passes (Harris completed 51% against Ole Miss) isn’t good enough, especially when an interception gives the opposition the ball at the 11 when they’re already up 17-0.

Of course the passing percentage was even worse yesterday. Texas A&M (and former LSU) Defensive Coordinator John Chavis seemed more worried about guarding against the big play than the other recent opposing defensive coordinators were. My guess is he knew the Aggie offense wouldn’t have an easy time making up for a quick LSU touchdown, so he couldn’t take the chance of a long touchdown strike like Alabama could. Even though the Tigers did call passing plays on first down multiple times, none resulted in a completion. The Aggies allowed 244 rushing yards.

People have been assuming that AD Joe Alleva was mistreating Miles by not letting him know he was being fired, but that would have only been true if Miles were actually being fired.

This has put a bit of a cloud over what was recently a #1 recruiting class. I’m sure some coaches would mention there is no guarantee Miles will be staying beyond next year, but almost anyone’s job is in jeopardy every year. Who thought Spurrier, Pinkel, and Richt would all be gone now at the beginning of the year?

It’s not a secret that if you lose five games one year and three (or four) the next at a program like LSU, you may not survive another mediocre (by LSu standards) year. I’m sure the three-game losing streak put a damper on some of the enthusiasm too; but if you have fickle recruits who want to give up easily, that’s not who you really want anyway. That said, I have no problem with player de-committing in order to look around and make sure. I think that shows they want to take the decision seriously.

Alleva said that an evaluation about Miles continuing would take place after the season, but local media people like Scott Rabalais and Jim Kleinpeter thought they could just make more and more dramatic statements, and if it wasn’t specifically contested by Alleva, it must be true.

Nola.com's Jim Kleinpeter responds to a comment about whether LSU should fire Miles.

Nola.com’s Jim Kleinpeter responds to a comment about whether LSU should fire Miles.

I’m not discounting the idea that a conversation was had with Jimbo Fisher and his representatives. If it were even a possibility at some point that Miles were going to be fired after the A&M game, it would not have made sense to do that without at least a good possibility of a replacement that would have met our standards.

Of course, some people’s standards are completely ridiculous. In the last six seasons, we had three years with conference records of 6-2 or better. That’s the same as Urban Meyer’s six seasons at Florida. In the past five seasons, LSU has a better overall record than Nick Saban’s five seasons in Baton Rouge.

It’s not enough that Miles has been coaching at a level no one coached at LSU before. Fans want a coach to do better than Saban is doing at Alabama now. I mentioned a couple other points of comparison here.

Another coach who seemed feasible was Chip Kelly, who went 46-7 at Oregon and isn’t exactly doing great in the NFL.

However, moving to the spread would be major overhaul and would not be easily done in one season. Also, the kind of quick-strike offense he ran at Oregon probably would not complement LSU’s current defense, which thrives when it is able to spend a lot of time off the field.

I’m not a big fan of those offenses, partly because it seems like there are a couple of games every year where they just don’t work and you have to struggle through. For instance, in 2009, Oregon lost to Boise St. 19-8. In 2010, they beat Cal 15-13 and lost to Auburn 22-19. LSU was the only team to keep the Ducks below 34 in 2011, but Stanford beat them 17-14 in overtime in 2012. I think it would be more than one or two such games a year against SEC defenses though. It could work though provided we could have better defenses than those Oregon teams. As I’ve said, we will need a new approach without some improvement next year, so I wouldn’t rule it out.

A lot of people are also saying we can revamp an offense similarly to the way Oklahoma has in recent years. This could be done next year obviously without a new head coach. Again, it’s not a perfect analogy to LSU, but it is the same basic idea.

les want

Both sides of the Miles argument seemed to rush to judgment last night. Miles keeping his job is not a big victory for the program, nor is it a permanent enshrinement of mediocrity. It’s simply another chance for the person who’s done the best job as head coach in the history of the program to reach the levels of success he has reached before. There is a lot of hard work over the next 60 weeks to see if that will happen. I’m sure Miles has a want do that work. I’m not certain it’s his last chance, but I don’t think anyone who wants Miles to stay is inclined to risk it.

Rumors of Miles’ Demise Greatly Exaggerated

In College Football, General LSU on November 20, 2015 at 9:38 PM

I know it’s late, but I had to get this out there. Before I forget, here is the LSU-Ole Miss Rivalry blog again. I also recently uncovered a blog I wrote about former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt before his last game against LSU. I’ll talk about him a bit below.

Les Miles is the most successful coach in LSU history.

Charles McClendon won more games, but let’s look at what it took to push him out. LSU lost four games or more in McClendon’s final six seasons. In 1973, his last year in which the Tigers only lost three games, LSU got out to a 9-0 start before dropping the final three. Tulane was one of the three teams to bear the Tigers that season.

So all of a sudden Miles is coaching for his job after a 7-game winning streak (should have been 9 games considering the Norte Dame debacle) turns into 7-2 record? I’m sorry, I don’t buy it.

Miles taking responsibility after the Arkansas loss.

Miles taking responsibility after the Arkansas loss.

Yes, the 1970s were a different era, but we aren’t suddenly in an age where a coach who wins 78% of his games over 10 years is on the hot seat because of two games, one of which was played against the #4 team in the country.

Let’s look at what had to happen to other coaches to get fired.

I’ll just stay in the SEC because some fans will claim anything else is apples to oranges.

Will Muschamp was only 18-8 in his first two seasons, yet he survived a 4-8 year before finally being fired after a 5-5 start the following year. Florida is pretty similar to LSU being that they won BCS titles in 2006 and 2008 under urban Meyer. 2008 of course was just one year after LSU last won. We’re not talking about a patient group of fans and boosters since the Spurrier years.

Spurrier’s successor Ron Zook was only allowed two 5-loss seasons, the most LSU can possibly lose this year, but that was out of only three.

Auburn-LSU was THE GAME in the SEC West before Saban first won the division with the Tide in 2008.

Tommy Tuberville was nearly fired after an 8-5 season in 2003, but Tuberville’s best mark up to that point was only 9-4, a record he had reached twice in five seasons. Of course, he redeemed himself with an undefeated year. I’ll go into why that might be relevant for Miles below. What actually got Tuberville fired was a 14-11 mark over two years in 2007 and 2008. The worst Miles will do is 15-10 over two seasons, but Tuberville only had two seasons with double-digit wins in 10 seasons. Miles has had six.

Staying with Auburn, Gene Chizik was of course fired a couple of years ago despite having won the national championship in 2010. Chizik only went 11-14 over his final two seasons. The team had apparently given up on him in the final season during a five game losing streak and finished only 3-9.

At Alabama, Mike Shula was fired after going exactly .500 over two consecutive regular seasons.

That takes care of the other relevant national-championship-level programs in the SEC being that of course Urban Meyer left voluntarily.

Georgia came close to the national title game in 2012, so maybe you could argue that’s a similar program, but of course Richt has been at Georgia for years longer than Miles has been at LSU and still has his job. Richt survived a 14-12 stretch in 2009 and 2010, by the way.

Is Miles the new Houston Nutt?

So nothing like firing Les Miles has happened.

There is some precedent for firing a generally successful coach after a 5-loss season, and that was when Houston Nutt was fired at Arkansas. Nutt of course was never a national-championship-level coach, although the Hogs were briefly in the conversation in 2006. However, his tenure in Fayetteville was a significant step forward from the years prior to his arrival.

Arkansas went from one winning season between 1990 and 1997 to seven in Nutt’s 10 seasons there.

There are two good reasons for this though. 2007 was the last year of Felix Jones and Darren McFadden, so not only was that season disappointing, but Arkansas was not looking at a good 2008. Bobby Petrino is not without his personal issues, but I don’t think many coaches including Nutt would have done better than his 5-7 mark in 2008.

The other good reason was the fact that Nutt had already survived a bad stretch and was given the benefit of the doubt. Arkansas had gone a total of 9-13 in 2004 and 2005 before surprising everyone with a 10-game winning streak in 2006.

What does 78% as a coach mean?

I also wanted to take a moment to consider how good 78% is as compared to others.

At LSU, Nick Saban only won 75%. Joe Paterno’s overall winning percentage at Penn St. was almost identical depending on how you count ties.

Lou Holtz won 76.5% at Notre Dame and 78.6% at Arkansas.

Woody Hayes only won just over 76% at Ohio St.

Miles does fall a bit short of Hayes’ rival (and Miles’ mentor) Bo Schembechler though. Schembechler won 79.6%.

At Ole Miss, John Vaught only won 74.6%.

At Texas, Darrel Royal won 77.4%.

At USC, John McKay won 74.9%.

At Florida St., Bobby Bowden won 75.6%

At Army, Red Blaik won 76.8%.

There are coaches with better records, such as Pete Carroll and Urban Meyer. Of course, factoring in Alabama puts Saban higher. Are any of them coming (back in Saban’s case) to LSU? I wouldn’t bet on it. Maybe if LSU offers $10 million a year or something ridiculous like that.

I was thinking about photoshopping Carroll in purple and gold, but then I found this.

I was thinking about photoshopping Carroll in purple and gold, but then I found this.

Here are some others that Miles doesn’t quite live up to: Spurrier, Parseghian, Byrant, Osborne, Devaney, Wilkinson, Switzer, Neyland.

So if you’re not of those, you don’t get a job at LSU? Those are absurd standards to live up to.

Young players represent an opportunity, not an “excuse”

There was one other thing I wanted to mention. I made some reference to it above. This is not Leonard Fournette’s last season with next season being some abyss we’re staring into. Brandon Harris is also a sophomore.

I’m not just selectively picking two examples. Look at this depth chart.

Three of the top four receivers are underclassmen. There is only one guard who is older than a sophomore. There is one junior and one senior tackle on the depth chart, the rest are underclassmen. Actually, that’s true on both offense and defense. The #2 tight end right now is a true freshman. Two junior defensive ends, the rest underclassmen. Both strong safeties are sophomores.

I think anyone looking at this team and saying it’s a failure and we need to give up and start over next year with a new head coach is just insane.

Few people expected this to be the year for LSU until they surpassed expectations by starting 7-0. Of course, it almost certainly would have been 8-0 had the first game not been cancelled. Why are the problems that have emerged since then insurmountable because we have some younger players in key positions and it looks like the national semifinals are off the table? That could very well jeopoardize a great year like the one Auburn had in 2004.

Even if some other coach comes in and wins a national championship next year, maybe that same coach leads us to a 3-9 season a few years later like Chizik did. `There is no guarantee of being able to replace and develop talent as well as Miles has even though we can probably find a coach better at calling plays (which I don’t think Miles actually does that often). You might remember a coach named Larry Coker. He went undefeated at U. Miami in 2001 and nearly went undefeated in 2002 before a controversial overtime loss to Ohio St. The ‘Canes have been mediocre for 10 years now.

That said, if we go 8-5 next year with a healthy Fournette in what would almost certainly be his last season, I might see their point.

Edit: Given the third loss in a row which came after this was written, I might see their point with a fourth loss in a row.

Preview of LSU-Alabama 2015

In College Football, General LSU, Preview, Rivalry on November 6, 2015 at 2:40 PM

Before I begin, I wanted to refer people to my previous Alabama blogs. Most of my hits this week have already been the main rivalry blog first written in 2010 but updated annually.

Last Friday, I wrote specifically about LSU’s meetings with Alabama while undefeated.

So in my SEC Wednesday blog/column, I said I would be taking LSU and the points. I’m going to talk about picking the winner now.

With my luck in recent weeks, I should probably hedge my bets and pick Alabama to win, but I have to call it how I see it. Alabama has won four in a row in the series, but I’ll tell you why that doesn’t matter.

The first thing I would note is Alabama has been favored against LSU every year since 2008, and LSU has won twice since then. Also in that time, Alabama has only won by more than they were supposed to twice.

This is not a rematch. Nick Saban and his defensive coaches haven’t had over a month to prepare for a quarterback that they’d seen two months ago like the 2011 BCS championship. I think LSU’s quarterback now is better anyway. Harris didn’t throw a single pass against the Tide last year, so they not only have nothing from this year to look at, they have nothing against them at all. So I think these factors were essentially what made the difference between the game on 11/2011 and the one on 1/2012 and obviously are not at play tomorrow.

LSU's Drew Alleman kicks the tying field goal at Alabama in 2011.  Alleman would kick the winner in overtime.  The LSU-Alabama game has gone to overtime four times since 2005, with the road team winning each time.

LSU’s Drew Alleman kicks the tying field goal at Alabama in 2011. Alleman would kick the winner in overtime. The LSU-Alabama game has gone to overtime four times since 2005, with the road team winning each time.

In 2012 and 2014, LSU had the lead until the final minute. If they were equal teams every year, this would be troubling; but they haven’t been. Alabama won the national championship in 2012 and the SEC in 2014. LSU finished with three losses in 2012 and five losses in 2014. So it would have been rightly considered an upset had LSU won either.

If you just look at the score, you might think Alabama blew LSU away in 2013, but that really isn’t the case. The game was tied with less than five minutes left in the third quarter. LSU entered the game with two losses, while Alabama entered the game undefeated. Alabama did pull away late; but again, you would not have expected them to have to do that based on other wins and losses that year. Alabama being able to go back and forth from McCarron throwing to Yeldon running was a big problem for the LSU defense in that game, and I don’t think the current Alabama team will replicate that. Of course, I loved the way that season ended for the Tide; but if they make that long field goal or win in overtime, they likely would have won a third straight national title.

Apart from 2007, when LSU played many more players Saban recruited than Alabama did, LSU did better than they should have based on the respective overall seasons every year of Miles vs. Saban previous to 2012.

In 2010 and 2011, LSU and Alabama were pretty even. LSU played a better schedule in 2011, but it’s not surprising based on other results that they played each other twiee and each time got a win. Alabama was still playing for a national championship when they went to Baton Rouge in 2010. They would have had to upset Cam Newton and Auburn, but Alabama was expected to win the LSU game.

Bama also had better teams in 2008 (when they lost the SEC Championship to Florida) and 2009. LSU went to overtime in 2008 and should have had a chance to win but for a botched call in 2009. That was the Alabama team that went undefeated. So that’s six times LSU has done better on the scoreboard than should have been on paper, and only twice that Alabama has.

LSU's Patrick Peterson apparently intercepts Alabama's Greg McElroy in Bryant-Denny Stadium in November 2009.  The play was ruled incomplete.

LSU’s Patrick Peterson apparently intercepts Alabama’s Greg McElroy in Bryant-Denny Stadium in November 2009. The play was ruled incomplete.

Just to be clear, give credit to Alabama for being the better team of late; but that accounts for the success much more than some unique approach to playing LSU.

Of course Alabama has a good chance to win—there is a small percentage chance they could even win easily—but I think LSU has a better chance this year.

Apart from a picture which I will post again, I haven’t made reference to the long-term dominance of the road team in this game. Since and including 1970, LSU has beaten Alabama 15 times. Guess how many were in Baton Rouge…

Alabama has beaten LSU 49 times with only 25 losses but has only beaten the Tigers twice at home this century.


FOUR.

Obviously since they alternate yearly, Alabama has also done much better on the road in this series than at home. LSU did tie Alabama a couple of times at home that I didn’t mention, so the recent series has actually been pretty even. It’s even closer if you start after Alabama’s 11-year winning streak in the series from 1971 to 1981 (inclusive).

I was going to go into detail about some of the more interesting plays in the recent series, but the videos tell the story better than I can. LSU’s reverse on fourth down is pretty easy to find. I mentioned a botched call in 2009. You may have heard of a guy named Patrick Peterson. He intercepted an Alabama pass and I guess they didn’t think he had complete control, but it looked pretty obvious to me. LSU could have been a much better team in 2008, but I think they had a record number of pick-sixes that year. Some of the losses had two or three of them. I’d rather not relive that.

Touchy feely stuff

Instead, I’m going to conclude by mentioning a couple of extra motivators for LSU. If you just want serious sports coverage and not emotional stuff, you might want to stop reading now. ESPN may be covering one or both of these tomorrow on GameDay, SportsCenter, etc.

I don’t usually write about things like this; but I’ve had a couple of personal relationships end in death lately (people that I know would want to be watching the game), so I guess I’m in a place where it seems appropriate. I usually make fun of those people who get emotional after games, but I think this might be one where that happens to me, possibly regardless of the winner. I think sports can be very therapeutic in these situations, but in some cases they also remind us of people that we miss and so forth. I usually use the journalistic style of referring to people by their last name, but I won’t do that for this section.

The first story is about a young man named Sid Ortis, who passed away from cancer this week. There are pictures of him with Miles and some members of the team. He lived in Alabama, but he was a big Tiger fan. Apparently a local minister put Sid in touch with Les. I’m sure this game had extra meaning for Sid even though he didn’t quite make it.

Teenage cancer victim Sid Ortis meets Les Miles before the LSU-Auburn game.

Teenage cancer victim Sid Ortis meets Les Miles before the LSU-Auburn game.

Les talked about him during his Monday press conference (about 8:35): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HuBsCS2TplE

Les said, “We all will have our day, and he was with his mother and father and is in a better place… I think about how fortunate that we are—that I am… my family being healthy and being in position to continue.”

If you didn’t know this about Miles, something about sick kids really tugs at his heartstrings. On Wednesday, he talked some more about Sid (nothing really new or different) and mentioned helping a little girl get her medical expenses paid in the first couple of minutes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56WfKS7zPAM

I don’t expect most people who aren’t Tiger fans to know who Jim Hawthorne is, but Jim has been the voice of the Tigers and called every LSU game since 1984. I barely knew what a football was in 1984, so obviously I don’t remember anyone else doing it. Growing up in the 1990s when we had some really sorry teams, often you heard the Tigers on the radio or you didn’t find out much about them.

The Voice of the Tigers Jim Hawthorne talks to CBS, also before the Auburn game this year.

The Voice of the Tigers Jim Hawthorne talks to CBS, also before the Auburn game this year.

I’ll give an example. In 1994, LSU appeared on Jefferson Pilot (the syndicate that preceded the SEC Network) twice and on ESPN once. For most games, if you didn’t listen on the radio, you only saw them in local news coverage or in the newspaper.

In February, Jim announced that last spring would be his last baseball season but that he would remain the voice of the Tigers until the conclusion of the 2015-16 basketball season.

His streak of 387 or 388 games called will end prematurely with this game after what is reported to be quadruple bypass surgery. He said 388, other sources said 387, maybe McNeese St. is the sticking point.

During the Wednesday press conference linked above, Les said, “what’s a couple bypasses? …Put a Band-Aid on it, let’s go.”

It is unclear whether Jim will call another football game. Not that the Tigers needed more motivation, but I’m sure as Les would say there is a want to do well for these people who have meant so much for the LSU football community.

Hawthorne with Nick Saban in 2003

Hawthorne with Nick Saban in 2003

You may remember that the highlight of last season was the win over then-#3 Ole Miss, which came the day after Les’s mother passed. So maybe things like this can influence outcomes.

History of Undefeated LSU vs. Alabama

In College Football, General LSU, History, Preview, Rivalry on October 30, 2015 at 2:57 PM

You can see the main entry of the LSU-Alabama rivalry here.

Alabama has beaten LSU 49 times with only 25 losses but has only beaten the Tigers twice at home this century.

I’ll just start by giving the list. I’ll fill in the blanks below. I’m excluding the times they played in the first few games. I’m including the couple of times LSU was undefeated in conference but not overall. The games at Alabama before 1988 were actually played in Birmingham.

1964 – @Alabama 17, LSU 9
1970* (undefeated in conference, not overall) – LSU 14, @Alabama 9
1972 – @Alabama 35, LSU 21
1973 – Alabama, 21, LSU 7
1982 – LSU 20, @Alabama 10
1984* (undefeated in conference, not overall) -LSU 16, @Alabama 14
1987* – Alabama 22, @LSU 10
2011* – LSU 9, @Alabama 6, ot
Jan. ’12* – Alabama 21, LSU 0

* = games when LSU had a higher ranking

Tenures of Coaches for Reference:
Bear Bryant 1958-82
Ray Perkins 1983-86
Bill Curry 1987-89
Nick Saban 2007-
Charles McClendon 1962-79
Jerry Stovall 1980-83
Bill Arnsparger 1984-86
Mike Archer 1987-90
Les Miles 2005-

Other Years Since 1958 with LSU Undefeated at the End of October:
1958 – stayed undefeated; national champions
1959 – lost to Tennessee by 1 in first week of November; lost Sugar Bowl
1962 – lost to Ole Miss by 8 in first week of November; won Sugar Bowl
1969 – lost to Ole Miss by 3 in first week of November; no bowl

Background

From talking to older fans, one might think LSU went undefeated several years in a row in the 60s and 70s only to lose to Alabama. That’s not what happened obviously, but I’ll try to explain why people think that.

I’m not going to get into detailed particulars of any games, just focus on the big picture of the seasons that are at least relevant to the time period.

A few years after LSU won its first recognized national championship in the poll era (and only before 2003), head coach Paul Dietzel left for Army. Hard to believe now, but Dietzel’s only coached three games against Alabama was in 7 seasons. He won all three.

Dietzel only coached against Bear Bryant in Bryant’s first game as head coach with Alabama. LSU won in Mobile, 13-3, actually not a bad result for the Tide being that this was the year of that LSU national championship I mentioned. Bama went 5-4-1 for its first winning season in five years

For the 18 seasons after Dietzel, Charles McClendon coached the Tigers. He’s still the winningest coach in LSU history, but he lacked any poll national championships and only won a single SEC title.

LSU had a number of good years, but shortly after Dietzel left and Alabama started to do well, LSU started playing Alabama every year. McClendon wasn’t winless against the Tide, but there was frequently a November hiccup against someone. I’ll cover the more interesting seasons.

There were a number of times in the late 60s and early 70s where ole miss was a big issue as well. LSU typically played the two in consecutive weeks, so this made it especially troublesome. See the Ole Miss blog for more, especially 1968 to 1972.

In 1962, LSU didn’t even play Alabama, but the Tigers did suffer their first loss in early November. That year it was Ole Miss. I wonder if people mix up Johnny Vaught (who also liked to wear suits and a hat and whose name is also on his team’s stadium now) with the Bear. Despite the loss, LSU is considered co-national champions by the Berryman system. Obviously I’m not counting that one as a major poll.

McClendon vs. Bryant

In 1964, Alabama derailed an LSU undefeated streak to start the season for the first time. The Tigers had tied Tennessee earlier though and would also lose to Florida before winning the Sugar Bowl over Syracuse. Alabama won the SEC but opted to play in the orange bowl instead.

LSU would also lose to Alabama the next four seasons but had lost at least twice before all four years.

1969 was much like 1962. LSU won every game until the first game of November against Ole Miss. Except this time the Tigers played and beat Alabama, the first win over the tide in 11 years.

The Tigers hoped to play in the cotton bowl for a potential claim on the national championship and refused all other invites. Instead notre dame decided at the last minute it wanted to go to a bowl game. So after one of the best LSU seasons in the last 50 years, the Tigers didn’t go to a bowl game at all.

LSU technically did not share the SEC championship since the Tigers only played five SEC games that season. This was shortly after Tulane left the SEC, and their spot remained on LSU’s schedule. SEC champion Tennessee had a blowout loss to Ole Miss, so they were apparently not considered title contenders.

LSU was not undefeated the next year against Alabama either, but they went (and stayed) undefeated in conference for McClendon’s only SEC championship. LSU had two non-conference losses though and also lost in the Orange Bowl.

In 1971, LSU lost early out of conference and lost to both Ole Miss and Alabama.

McClendon stayed at LSU until 1979, but in hindsight his last real chances to do anything were 1972 and 1973. This is why Alabama is usually brought up within seconds of his name being spoken among older LSU fans.

In 1972, LSU won in controversial fashion over Ole Miss 17-16 the previous week to remain undefeated. There were no heroics in Birmingham though, as #2 Alabama prevailed by 14. The Tigers would lose a bowl game to Tennessee to finish 9-2-1.

In 1973, LSU navigated all the non-conference traps including then-#10 Colorado but had only really been challenged in conference by Kentucky, with the Tigers winning by 7. Same result though. #2 Alabama again won by exactly two touchdowns.

LSU was apparently so disappointed that the next game they lost to Tulane for the first time since 1948. The Tigers would also lose the Orange bowl against Penn St. to finish 9-3.

McClendon would not beat Alabama again. Although his last team in 1979 was shut out, it held the #1 Tide to just a field goal.  There was some wind-driven dew causing inclement weather on the field though.

The 1980s

After McClendon, LSU hired Bo Rein, who tragically died in a plane crash before getting to coach the team. The Tigers turned to a loyal former player named Jerry Stovall, but he was an inconsistent coach.

So when the Tigers had the only really good start of his tenure (6-0-1), they went to #8 Alabama and won. Some may have thought happy days were in Baton Rouge again, but this feeling would be short-lived.

LSU would win a total of three games against top-10 teams that season (also Florida and Florida St.) but would lose to unranked Mississippi St. and Tulane (his second loss to them in a row) before losing in the Orange Bowl to Nebraska. The tie also came against an unranked team, Tennessee. Georgia, who LSU had not played, won the SEC.

After the Tigers went winless in the SEC the following year, defensive innovator Bill Arnsparger was at the helm in 1984. LSU once again beat Alabama in Birmingham but couldn’t win at Mississippi St. No more losses to Tulane to this day, but LSU did lose another Orange Bowl to finish 8-3-1. Florida, the team who tied LSU, would win the SEC, although the title was later vacated.

LSU lost early in Arnsparger’s other two seasons but tied Alabama in 1985 and beat them again in 1986. The ’86 win was the third road win in a row over the tide.

Between that 1969 season mentioned and Nick Saban’s first season in 2000 (in which LSU curiously lost to Alabama-Birmingham but beat the Tuscaloosa version), LSU did not beat Alabama at home even once.

In 1987, Arnsparger’s assistant Mike Archer took over. LSU was undefeated and untied in conference but had tied Ohio St. out of conference. Alabama won somewhat easily, 22-10, the Tigers’ only loss of the year. LSU finished 10-1-1 after winning the Gator Bowl.

Archer managed to win the SEC despite three non-conference losses the following year but couldn’t do much beyond that in the two losing seasons that followed.

The recent rivalry

Apart from those two games at the end of the list above, there isn’t much by way of undefeated LSU teams to talk about, but I thought I’d still tie up loose ends.

LSU only managed two winning seasons from 1989 to 1999. The longest LSU winning streak to start the season in that time was four games in 1996, so that didn’t come close to the Alabama game, but the Tide won 26-0 anyway. 1996 was one of only two 10-win LSU teams from 1962 to 2000.

The game has been in the first 16 days of November every year since 1982, so that limits the undefeated possibilities. Of course there are several examples of undefeated Alabama against LSU, and LSU has actually won a few of those in the last 20 years or so. That’s just obviously not the situation this year.

The intensity in the rivalry, despite a very entertaining overtime game in 2005, didn’t return to its prior levels until Saban took over in 2007. Although LSU won the national championship that year, the Tigers had lost to Kentucky in triple OT two games before the Alabama game.

Further evidence of the recent intensity is bye weeks. LSU had a bye before Alabama in 2007 and has had one from 2010 to at least 2016. Alabama has also typically had a bye before the LSU games. Their recent pre-LSU byes have been 2007, 2009-11, and 2013-2016 (and probably continuing afterward). Alabama won on the infamous screen pass in 2012 anyway.

2011 wasn’t that long ago, but that’s of course covered in my main rivalry entry.

Just as a side note, that weekend in 2011 was also one of the best of the history of this blog on WordPress and actually was the best full stop until last season when I got big boosts around the time of both Mississippi St. and Ole Miss.

LSU Wraps Up 2014-2015 Well; Football Is a Question Mark

In College Baseball, College Basketball, College Football, General LSU, Other NCAA Sports, Track on June 20, 2015 at 3:37 PM

I was getting ready to write about how encouraged I was with LSU sports over the last few months, and then I read this: http://theadvocate.com/sports/lsu/12689249-123/lsu-qb-anthony-jennings-two

I’ll talk about why that’s especially upsetting when I talk about the football team later, but first I wanted to talk about sports that actually competed in intercollegiate athletics recently.

It’s only been a few months since basketball ended, so I’ll start there. It would have been nice to have had a win in the NCAA tournament, but even making it was a big step forward for the program. Without an injury, NC State may well have been an Elite Eight team, so losing to them by one point was nothing to hang our heads about.

Nothing ever went quite how it was supposed to go under Trent Johnson, but it definitely seems on track with Johnny Jones, especially given that LSU got a few big recruits to come onto the team for next season.

Ben Simmons has already shown that he looks good in purple and gold.

Ben Simmons has already shown that he looks good in purple and gold.

I’m not a big follower of women’s sports, but although track and basketball were disappointing (only because those were until recently two of LSU’s best programs of either sex), I was happy for the softball team, which made it to the semifinals at the Women’s College World Series.

LSU softball celebrates a walk-off win over Alabama

LSU softball celebrates a walk-off win over Alabama

I was very impressed by the end results of the last three major men’s programs: golf, which won the first national championship in 60 years; men’s track, which finished fourth in both the SEC and the nation; and baseball, where LSU won its first game at the college World Series since winning the whole tournament in 2009.

LSU football Head Coach Les Miles and Athletic Director Joe Alleva congratulate the LSU golf team after its first national championship since 1955 (and first SEC championship since 1987).

LSU football Head Coach Les Miles and Athletic Director Joe Alleva congratulate the LSU golf team after its first national championship since 1955 (and first SEC championship since 1987).

This was the best combined finish in a single year by the LSU baseball and softball teams. Both made their respective CWS’s in 2004, but LSU baseball did not win a game in Omaha that year.

I’ll reluctantly shift gears to football. I didn’t lose any sleep at all over John Chavis’s departure. I appreciate what he’s done at both LSU and Tennessee over the past couple of decades, but it was probably best to look toward the future anyway.

From the moment I heard about it, I wanted us to find a way to bring in Ed Orgeron, which we managed to do. Orgeron isn’t the defensive coordinator, but I have confidence Steele will do a good job. Anyone with a bigger name may not have felt comfortable being potentially overshadowed by an assistant.

Some criticize LSU for taking Alabama’s leftovers (Steele was demoted from DC at Alabama when Saban decided to call the plays himself), but I couldn’t find much fault with any of the defensive performances in Steele’s tenure. Alabama’s problem in 2007 had been offense, not defense. They did have a little bit of trouble in an early win over Arkansas (giving up 38 points), but Arkansas’s offense was pretty good that year. LSU also put up big numbers against the Tide that year (41 points), but that so happened to be the last LSU team that won a national championship. Steele was also an assistant under Saban at LSU in 2004, also coaching alongside Will Muschamp, Auburn’s new (and old) Defensive Coordinator.

Speaking of unsuccessful head coaches, Steele never won more than three games as Baylor Head Coach, and Orgeron never won more than four games as Ole Miss Head Coach, but I think they both learned a thing or two about recruiting.

DC Kevin Steele (left) and Ed Orgeron are possibly the best combination of defensive coaches in college football.

DC Kevin Steele (left) and Ed Orgeron are possibly the best combination of defensive coaches in college football.

Steele had also served as Clemson’s defensive coordinator for four seasons. After being in the top 20 in total defense in 2009 and 2010, he had some problems in his third season there and the beginning of his fourth; but Clemson only allowed 3 of its last 7 opponents in 2012 (one of them LSU) to score 21 points or more and only 1 of those 7 scored 28 or more.

So why was that article I posted at the beginning so upsetting? What LSU has been missing for many years under Les Miles has been a reliable quarterback. Ryan Perrilloux should have been one, but that didn’t happen. Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee never seemed to reach their potentials. Zach Mettenberger had some success (as a transfer) in 2012 and 2013, but then Anthony Jennings had some hiccups last season.

One of the things I was encouraged with was Anthony Jennings. One of the things I was NOT impressed with was Brandon Harris, who mostly looked about as effective during the spring game as he had during the season.

Harris ran well in the spring game, but he only looked proficient as a passer when he was with the white (primarily first-string) team. That was mostly because of good plays by receivers and openings in the secondary you could drive a tank through.

(l to r) Brandon Harris, Anthony Jennings, and Brad Kragthorpe practice in the LSU indoor facility.

(l to r) Brandon Harris, Anthony Jennings, and Brad Kragthorpe practice in the LSU indoor facility.

I did not see the whole game, so I don’t know if last year’s third-string QB Brad Kragthorpe (who scored the apparent touchdown that was denied against Notre Dame) even played. LSU successfully recruited three-star QB Justin McMillan, but I would be surprised if he’s ready to lead the offense anytime soon either.

I do think the white defense was good and even parts of the purple offense looked good, I will be worried about the defensive secondary late in games though since the depth doesn’t seem to be there.

I expect LSU can have among the best rushing games, run defenses, and pass rushes in the country, but having a quarterback you can count on (which certainly makes running the ball easier) and having depth in the secondary (which can make the line and linebackers irrelevant) are two important areas.

I’m not saying Jennings is the answer to LSU’s problems or that he would have been had he not been arrested, but he certainly looked like the best hope at the position for next season. It won’t require greatness, but it will require some accuracy and good decision-making. Obviously the latter needs to take place off the field too.