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Posts Tagged ‘Nick Saban’

Comprehensive SEC Update

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

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

CFP Top 25

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

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

Going Bowling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Betting Tips

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

LSU-Alabama aftermath

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

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

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

LSU-Arkansas Recap

I’ve updated the LSU-Arkansas Rivalry Blog

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

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

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

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

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

LSU-Tennessee Game Preview

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

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

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

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

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

LSU-Tennessee Series

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

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

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

See more in the LSU-Tennessee Rivalry Blog

Coaching Hot Seats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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LSU-Alabama Recap and Reaction 2017

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game on November 4, 2017 at 8:35 PM

(Pictures from this game will be added tomorrow, I just wanted to get this out quickly since it’s so late. I also updated the LSU-Alabama rivalry blog)

Although LSU played much better this year, they ultimately weren’t able to stop Jalen Hurts again.

I didn’t pick LSU to win, but I’m still annoyed that it wasn’t closer. The offense and defense were working well enough that LSU could have been up a score or two instead of down 14-0 in the beginning.

LSU should have stopped Alabama twice on the first touchdown drive. Alabama got away with a hold/tackle on a third-and-long play, and then LSU should have had a sack on second and 6 to force another third-and-long. In the latter play, two defenders routed Jalen Hurts from the backfield; but they both went to his right, so he rolled left for the first down instead of a big loss.

The interception, which set up the second touchdown, was a 50/50 ball. Usually the first guy to get to the ground gets awarded possession, but not with an SEC crew in Tuscaloosa I guess. The Alabama player did get there first and win the tug-of-war, to be fair.

Regardless of whether that should have been an interception, Danny Etling’s judgment was not very good. He threw the ball downfield a few times (and not particularly well) when there were other receivers who could have made first downs. These long incompletions stalled drives when LSU was otherwise gaining yards.

DJ Chark tries to catch a pass that was thrown behind him in the first quarter. Notice the defender’s left hand though.

Etling should have thrown it to Guice for a touchdown on third down in the next possession; but instead the ball fell incomplete toward the corner of the end zone, so the Tigers settled for a field goal.

Then after a punt, LSU was pinned back by what I thought was a bogus block-in-the-back call. The block was in the right shoulder pad as the Alabama player turned toward DJ Chark, who fielded the punt and ran to about midfield. Even if it was a bad call though, it was stupid to even touch the guy since he didn’t have a good shot at Chark. Similar blocks by Alabama later in the game were not called.

I would say the referees did better than they usually do in these games, and I don’t think they ultimately affected the outcome. I just think it helps explain the game to mention possible bad breaks from the officiating as well as other bad breaks.

Late in the third quarter on third and 9, Hurts threw a pass that was worse than the one Etling threw; but the difference is it was somehow complete. A couple of LSU players were between Hurts and the ball, and a couple more were in coverage. As Brad Nessler said, the ball “found eyes” to get there anyway. Devin White was a few milliseconds late on either breaking up or intercepting the pass.

Ed Orgeron said during one of his press conferences that the opportunities will be there; but if you miss them, Alabama will take advantage. This is exactly what happened consistently to give the Tide a 21-3 advantage, and Alabama didn’t have to do anything spectacular after that.

With about 12 minutes left, Etling made a good decision in throwing it downfield, but he missed again. This time he underthrew the ball (after earlier overthrowing him on a similar play), and Chark dropped it. Chark was open enough that he should have had it regardless though. Nonetheless, the incompletion helped put LSU into a third and long and another unsuccessful possession. Etling missed another open receiver with about 7 minutes left, causing another third and long and ultimately a fourth down.

Devin White and the LSU defense contained many of the Alabama offensive weapons including Bo Scarborough.

Just like last year though, the defense kept LSU in it. It wasn’t over until the final few minutes. The Tigers forced 6 three-and-outs, and I mentioned another that they should have had. LSU also had 3 other third-down stops. I told my brother we had a good chance if we kept them under 20, and one reason we didn’t was a turnover. When you have more yards on offense than the other team, your offense is good enough; but we needed better quarterback play to win. The blocking was good enough, the routes were good enough, and the game plan was good enough.

Last year Alabama outgained LSU 323-125, Alabama had 16 first downs to 6, and Alabama converted 7 third downs to LSU’s 4 (and one fourth down to none). This year those numbers were 299-306, 14-16, and 5-9. Time of possession doesn’t matter sometimes, but it does when it’s part of your game plan like it is for LSU against Alabama. Last year we had the ball for 26:05, and this year we had it for 34:07. I honestly think this is indicative of superior preparation and coaching.

Saban and Orgeron chat before the game.

It’s of course extremely frustrating that in so many games of this series it could have gone either way. Alabama just got the better of plays, and LSU didn’t. It’s not an annual domination by any stretch of the imagination, although Alabama fans tell me that the only reason it’s ever close is because Nick Saban is a nice guy who wants to keep the LSU coaches from getting fired.

Myles Brennan isn’t there yet; but (assuming he’s the QB) if he makes EITHER the right decisions or the right throws next year all things being equal, we will have an excellent chance to win the game. If he does both, we should win easily. I really like Danny Etling as a person, and I think he worked extremely hard just to become the starter; but I am hoping Brennan gets more playing time going forward than he has gotten so far.

This loss does sting in terms of recruiting, but this is what I would say: (1) you can play in games like this in your first year or two and do a good job (as many of our young players did today), and (2) we’re a player or two from ending this streak and winning our own championships, and you can be that player.

Also this:

Despite last year’s respectable final score, LSU was starting to look like a second-tier football team in these games. That ended today.

Sly Croom’s Lasting Influence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Croom with Mike Shula after a game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Croom coaching at the Titans minicamp in 2014.

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

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.

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.