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Posts Tagged ‘Ohio St.’

Ranking Teams and Quality Wins

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on December 7, 2017 at 6:03 PM

When I updated my ratings, I was really not happy that two teams that don’t even belong in the conversation were fourth and fifth while the team I thought was the deserving #4 was a somewhat distant seventh.

If Alabama were fifth, I would have shrugged it off. Last year, after the Army/Navy game, Washington edged out Penn St. for fourth. I think if Penn St. had played Washington at a neutral site last December, Penn St. would have won. I know Penn St. lost the Rose Bowl, but a team going from playing for a national championship to playing for nothing but a bowl win can sometimes be a bit of a letdown. I still think the Penn St. team that won the Big Ten Championship game would have beaten Washington, and I still think that they had a better resume as well.

Penn St.’s dramatic Big Ten championship over Wisconsin convinced me they belonged in the top 4 last year. (Pictured: TD catch by TE Mike Gesicki)

No ratings system is perfect though, and for the two to be so close that the result of one major game (there were also a couple of FCS results added in) could tip the balance was good enough. Also, I don’t really mind the deciding factor when two teams are close being who has fewer losses.

But for the arguments I presented over the weekend in Alabama’s favor and to have them that far behind was cause to reevaluate things.

I still think I have a really good formula, but approaching each game neutrally has some shortfalls. So I’m going to have two different computer ratings from now on. I considered “power rating”, but I never know what that means, so I’m just going to call it weighted and unweighted. The new rating will be weighted toward success against the best teams.

With it unweighted, you get the same credit this year for beating Texas and Temple as you do for beating Alabama and having a bye week. Central Florida beat a lot of teams like Texas and Temple but didn’t even play any teams that were nearly as good as Alabama, Ohio St., USC, etc.

This made Wisconsin’s and Central Florida’s 12 wins apiece hard to overcome even though as I pointed out, each only had two wins apiece against the top 40. I could not devise a system I believed in that put Ohio St. ahead of Wisconsin and Central Florida, but by weighting overall strength of schedule and quality wins, I was able to get Alabama ahead of them.

Central Florida-Memphis was a fun game to watch; but being that this was the best team the Knights beat, UCF should not be considered one of the best teams.

When I tried to alter the system to allow for more losses without a high penalty in order to push Central Florida and Wisconsin down, it pushed up teams like USC, Notre Dame, and Auburn instead of Ohio St.

This year, the Big Ten’s problem was depth. Ohio St. only played 7 teams in the top 80 (one out of conference) and Wisconsin played 6. Both Ohio St. and Wisconsin played 10 games against Big Ten opponents, so it should have been higher. By contrast, Alabama played only 8 SEC games and had 9 opponents in the top 80 (Tennessee was the only SEC opponent outside; Florida St. and Fresno St. are both inside the top 80). Oklahoma played 10 games against the top 80 and played 10 conference games (Ohio St. and Tulane are in; Kansas and Baylor are not). Anyway, moving Wisconsin and UCF down a peg for not having very deep schedules is part of the reason Ohio St. fell just slightly below Alabama.

People will see me as a Big Ten detractor, but again, I wanted two Big Ten teams in the playoff last year. Also, in both the weighted and unweighted top 9s from last year, there were two other Big Ten teams. Like this year though, I did think the SEC was the best conference top to bottom.

How do I figure out which games to add weight to? I mentioned the top 80 above, that roughly corresponds with the positive numbers in my unweighted system. So that’s where I drew the line. It so happens to be just low enough to encompass teams with wins over competitors in the major conference (and in one case a playoff team). So along with Syracuse, the low positive-numbered teams also include Cal (Berkeley), which beat Washington St., and Pittsburgh, which beat U. Miami.

So that’s one tier. The next tier includes teams like Ole Miss, Duke, Utah, and Virginia, .500 Power 5 teams. Both Duke and Virginia had good non-conference wins too. It also includes Southern Mississippi, who went 8-4 despite playing two SEC teams in non-conference play.

The next tier starts with teams better than 0.3, which right now is the top 45. This is low enough to include Iowa St., which beat both Oklahoma and TCU. It has some slightly better (than the previous tier) Power 5 teams like Kentucky, UCLA, and Texas A&M as well as Group of 5 teams that competed for titles like South Florida, North Texas, and Fresno St. This tier has a little bit more of an increase in points than the last one.

The penultimate tier is teams better than 0.55. I made it that instead of an even 0.6 because last year it would have only encompassed 18 teams rather than 24. Right now it encompasses 25 teams instead of 23. Numbers 24 and 25 are San Diego St. and Virginia Tech, so this had nothing to do with trying to tilt the playing field. Clemson would have been #1 anyway.

I treated teams better than 0.9 (roughly top 10) a little bit differently. I think whether you win or lose to a top 10 team, you should get a little bit extra consideration. The loss hurts in some parts of the formula, and maybe it shouldn’t hurt as much. So that’s why Auburn and Ohio St. didn’t seem to get the proper credit in the unbalanced formula for playing really good teams out of conference. Also, teams like Wisconsin and Central Florida have less impressive resumes for not beating any top 10 teams.

I’m going to show the final top 10 for both this year and last year. If I had to make a list of teams most likely to compete well in a playoff now and at the end of last year, I’m not sure the membership of either top 10 or top 5 would be any different. Clemson would win obviously, but if I forced Clemson to be higher last year, the formula would move Central Florida higher this year. The whole point was to help teams with good opponents. Clemson and Penn St. were both safely in the top 4 and nearly tied last year, so I’m fine with how it turned out.

Now
1 Clemson 39.717752 (1)
2 Georgia 38.920924 (2)
3 Oklahoma 33.422577 (2)
4 Alabama 32.829833 (7)
5 Ohio St. 32.801820 (6)
6 UCF 32.794786 (5)
7 Auburn 32.580250 (10)
8 USC 32.413394 (8)
9 Wisconsin 32.266683 (4)
10 Notre Dame 32.227370 (9)

December 11, 2016
1 Alabama 43.268628 (1)
2 Ohio St. 37.306985 (3)
3 Penn St. 35.458147 (4)
4 Clemson 35.410836 (2)
5 Wisconsin 30.033484 (9)
6 Washington 28.799632 (5)
7 Colorado 27.670309 (11)
8 Michigan 26.841181 (7)
9 Florida St. 26.795726 (10)
10 Oklahoma 25.479138 (8)
(Western Michigan fell from 6th to 15th)

If you couldn’t tell, the number at the end is where the teams fell in my unweighted ratings.

If you’re interested in the full lists, they are as follows:
2016 Pre-Bowl
2016 Final
Current

I think with so many more opponents in flux or not yet attaining enough points (for instance, only 4 teams qualified for the second-highest tier in my first list this year), the weighted version may be less useful early on. I plan to start publishing both lists at the usual times (Saturday night or early Sunday morning between about October 1 and December 15 and the night of the national championship) though.

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Championship Week Top 25

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

More on “Who’s #4”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rankings from 9 to 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full list

What the CFP Playoff Should Look Like

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conference Championship Rematches

In College Football, Preview on December 1, 2017 at 3:33 PM

I’ve talked about how I think Auburn is basically being treated as if they already beat Georgia a second time, but when there is anything approaching parity between two teams, I think the loser has the advantage in a rematch.

Kerryon Johnson dives for a touchdown in the Georgia @ Auburn game a few weeks ago.

Of course the most obvious rematch in recent years was LSU and Alabama. After the Tigers won at Alabama, the Tide won easily at a neutral site for the national championship.

There was a similar result in the same stadium in 1996 when Florida easily won a rematch over Florida St. after a close game during the regular season. Usually rematches are for the conference championship rather than the national championship though.

LSU’s first win in the SEC Championship in 2001 was a rematch against Tennessee. That was so long ago that the West was much easier to win than the East. LSU won the West despite 3 losses that year, one of which was to Tennessee. Tennessee won by 8 in September of 2001 and lost by 11 in the championship game; so it wasn’t quite as dramatic of a swing as LSU/Alabama in the 2011 season, but it was close.

Matt Mauck jumps for a touchdown in the SEC Championship in 2001.

There was an example ESPN cited of Texas beating Colorado easily in 2005 in both the regular season and the championship, but all of these rematches are between teams where apart from the previous game, it would either be difficult to pick which team is better or the loser would seem to be the better team. In 2005, Texas would have beaten Colorado probably 10 out of 10 times.

Most of the SEC rematches were closer to the Texas-Colorado category. In 2000, Florida was still one of the best teams in the county; and like I said, winning the SEC West wasn’t very impressive back then. I don’t think anyone was surprised that Florida beat Auburn easily in both the regular season and the championship. Four years later, Auburn went undefeated and had already beaten Tennessee by 24 in Knoxville. The Vols made it closer (38-28) in the rematch, but the gap was too large to start out with.

Granted, Georgia would have to make a bigger swing in the final score than LSU did in 2001 (they lost by 23), but I don’t think either the Bulldogs offense or defense was playing the way they normally would toward the end. When you throw the ball a lot, you can have much quicker three-and-outs, which puts more pressure on your defense than it wouldn’t normally feel.

As we saw against LSU, Auburn can score in bursts, and it’s a matter of being able to stop them and respond before it gets too bad. Once Auburn had scored 30 unanswered points against Georgia, it was too late. Had they only scored 20 unanswered instead (or had Georgia re-established its offense sooner), it would have been a one-possession game into the fourth quarter and changed the approach of both sides.

My feeling is that if Auburn is able to get a big lead, they can easily grind out Georgia the rest of the way again. We don’t know what happens if Georgia roughly keeps pace for three quarters though.

Although the TCU-Oklahoma game had a closer final score (38-20), it was 38-14 at halftime, so I think it will be easier for Oklahoma to overpower the Horned Frogs early and often than it will be for Auburn against the Bulldogs. Auburn only led 16-7 at the half.

Clemson-Miami and Wisconsin-Ohio St. are not rematches, so the other notable rematch likely does not have a bearing on the national championship, but USC-Stanford may be the best game of the bunch.

Freshman RB Stephen Carr had 129 all-purpose yards against Stanford in September, but it’s unclear how relevant that game will be tonight.

Although the Trojans won by 18 back in Week 2, Stanford has been the better team in the last two months. Both have lost at Washington St. by 3 points, but Notre Dame beat USC by 35 and lost to Stanford by 18. Stanford has no other losses since September 17.

Stanford has had more of a habit of playing down to opponents than USC has, but I don’t think that will be relevant to this game. I think it’s interesting that USC is favored, but ESPN’s FPI power index gives Stanford a 57% chance of victory. It may be that gamblers have been burned by picking Stanford more times than they have by USC.

Quick Hits & LSU-Bama Series

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

Quick Hits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alabama often gets LSU’s best shot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 10 Top 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SYR @ LSU & Week 5 Top 25

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

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

Syracuse @ LSU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 25

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

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

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

Alabama literally ran away with the game at Vanderbilt.

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

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

rank/team/prev.

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

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

Week 4 Top 25

In College Football, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 17, 2017 at 2:36 PM

If you’re looking for my comments about the LSU game, go here.

This week starts the transition to my objective computer system. A couple of disclaimers for those who may not remember. No one is being penalized for a win (if they move down after one), only for not accomplishing good wins. Ranking team A ahead of team B does not necessarily mean I think team A would beat team B.

Once the transition is complete, teams will be in order of their accomplishments (with points subtracted for losses of course). For the moment though, I’m still giving some deference to my subjective rankings.

Auburn and Florida St., for instance, aren’t even in the top 60 of the objective ratings. They’re basically placeholders for right now. I rate them highly enough subjectively to stay in; but as I give less importance to that, they will likely fall out until they can compensate for the respective losses with quality wins.

Apart from those two exceptions, I required all the other teams to at least be better than U. Miami, which hasn’t played a game against an FBS opponent yet and only has a win over Bethune-Cookman. I guess another disclaimer is I don’t BLAME the team for not having played anyone due to weather events, but it’s not a moral judgment. The whole point of my ratings system is to boil it down to what has been shown on the field.

Anyway, a couple of other teams I considered were Iowa and Colorado; but they both have big games next week where they can play their way in (Penn St. @ Iowa and Washington @ Colorado). In addition to those two, some other match-ups of unbeatens will be significant: Alabama @ Vanderbilt, TCU @ Oklahoma St., Mississippi St. @ Georgia, USC @ UC-Berkeley, Toledo @ U. Miami, Texas Tech @ Houston, and UCF @ Maryland.

Something useful to look at if there are questions about some of these teams is wins by opponents. Kentucky’s opponents have a total of four wins (three of those against FBS teams). UC-Berkeley’s opponents have four wins (two of those over FBS teams). Mississippi St.’s are the same as Cal’s (just not quite as good), and so forth.

rank/team/prev.
1 Alabama 1
2 Oklahoma 2
3 Clemson 4
4 Penn St. 3
5 Wisconsin 5
6 Okla St. 6
7 Michigan 7
8 USC 8
9 Georgia 12
10 Ohio St. 9
11 Kentucky –
12 UC-Berkeley –
13 Mississippi St. –
14 Vanderbilt –

San Diego St….


… and Vanderbilt scored major wins over ranked teams late on Saturday night.

15 San Diego St. –
16 Florida 17
17 Washington 11
18 South Florida 18
19 Memphis –
20 Louisville 20
21 Wash. St. 21
22 TCU 22
23 Oregon 24
24 Florida St. 10
25 Auburn 15

Out of top 25: (13) LSU, (14) Kansas St., (16) Stanford, (19) U. Miami, (23) Tennessee, (25) S. Carolina

Week 3 Top 25

In College Football, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 10, 2017 at 1:28 PM

rank/team/prev.
1 Alabama 1
2 Oklahoma 3
3 Penn St. 4
4 Clemson 5
5 Wisconsin 6
6 Okla St. 8
7 Michigan 9
8 USC 15
9 Ohio St. 2
10 Florida St. 10
11 Washington 11
12 Georgia 12
13 LSU 13
14 Kansas St. 16
15 Auburn 14
16 Stanford 7
17 Florida 17
18 South Florida 18
19 U. Miami 19
20 Louisville 20
21 Wash. St. 22
22 TCU 23
23 Tennessee 24
24 Oregon 25
25 S. Carolina –

Out of top 25: (21) Northwestern

I thought about ranking Virginia Tech instead of South Carolina, but the Gamecocks have a neutral win in a competitive game in Week 1 AND a convincing road win, both against Power 5 teams. Missouri probably will not be a good team at the end of the year, but they have good athletes and have sneaked up on people in recent years with apparently worse teams.

South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst runs for a touchdown in the third quarter in Columbia, Mo.

Ohio St. did something pretty positive in the Indiana game despite the slow start, so even though they looked about as bad as Florida St. did in their loss, I still think Ohio St. deserves to be higher.

It so happens that after #10 I’m a lot more skeptical of the teams so at this point, I’m not moving the teams with losses out, but I anticipate that will happen when I can run preliminary computer numbers. We still have four teams without an FBS result (Air Force, Connecticut, Texas Tech, and U. Miami), so I can’t even do that at this point.

Georgia did about as well as I thought they would, and the only team Notre Dame beat is Temple, so I’m not inclined to move the Bulldogs at this point.

Auburn did a little bit worse than I thought they would against Clemson. They did as well as I thought in the first half, but the offense went away after that. I guess Brent Venables might earn his money in part with halftime adjustments. I didn’t see a need to move the plains Tigers more than one spot down, especially not below teams that didn’t play.

Washington St. and TCU played respectable opponents, but I wasn’t so impressed that I wanted to move them ahead of either Louisville (which has two Power 5 wins) or the teams who didn’t play.

Week 2 Top 25

In College Football, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 5, 2017 at 4:54 PM

I was in a hurry for last week’s rankings, so the numbers in parentheses refer to last year’s final ranking. The numbers in the middle for the top 25 are last week’s rating. Reasoning below.

1 Alabama 1 (2)
2 Ohio St. 2 (3)
3 Oklahoma 4 (5)
4 Penn St. 5 (8)
5 Clemson 6 (1)
6 Wisconsin 7 (7)
7 Stanford 8 (14)
8 Okla St. 9 (13)
9 Michigan (11)
10 Florida St. 3 (6)
11 Washington 10 (4)
12 Georgia 11 (–)
13 LSU 14 (–)
14 Auburn 15 (–)
15 USC 13 (10)
16 Kansas St. 17 (–)
17 Florida 12 (16)
18 South Florida 16 (18)
19 U. Miami 18 (20)
20 Louisville 19 (25)
21 Northwestern 20 (–)
22 Wash. St. 21 (–)
23 TCU 22 (–)
24 Tennessee 23 (12)
25 Oregon 25 (–)

Fell out after Week 1: 24 Texas (–)

Others ranked at end of 2016: (9) W. Michigan, (15) Colorado, (17) Boise St., (19) App. St., (21) VA Tech, (22) W. Virginia, (23) W. Kentucky, (24) Georgia Tech

Alabama’s Jalen Hurts looks to pass against Florida State.

As expected, Alabama once again asserted itself as a major contender for the national title, inasmuch as that can be done in Week 1.

Ohio St. struggled in the first half, but I didn’t see any other major teams playing a conference road game. I’m not going to pretend Indiana is great, but the Hoosiers have made it to bowl games in the past two seasons. Most importantly, the Buckeyes pulled away fairly easily in the second half.

There is nothing really to add about #3 to #8; they all did what they were supposed to do.

I didn’t have Michigan ranked all that highly at the end of last year – when they lost three of the last four – and they had very few returning starters, so that’s why I opted not to rank them in the preseason. I didn’t see them as another 2016 Ohio St. because Jim Harbaugh has only been there a couple of years, but it looks like he has enough good young players to compete against some of the top teams. I’m not predicting that they will beat Ohio St., Wisconsin, or Penn St., but the chances of winning one of them are higher than I had them before the Florida game.

Florida St. had more success against Alabama than they’re being given credit for because they only managed to score 7 points, but I’m also not going to pretend that the loss of their starting quarterback for the season doesn’t lessen their likelihood for success. So that’s why I put them behind Michigan even though a few days ago I had Florida St. projected in the playoff and Michigan unranked. There are a number of teams that won’t get to prove themselves for a few weeks like Michigan has, so it may be that other teams just need to catch up.

Some of the teams that are a spot lower didn’t do anything wrong but have Michigan inserted ahead of them, but I think Washington deserved to fall out of the top 10 after not putting away Rutgers (one of the worst power 5 teams last year) very convincingly.

Georgia and LSU both played apparently decent teams and both won by more than 20. If I really wanted to punish Washington I would have put them below those two; but like with Ohio St., I can’t be too critical about playing their first game on the road like that even though Ohio St. probably played a much better team.

Auburn didn’t have a very good opponent in Georgia Southern, but the Eagles did give Ole Miss about all they could handle last year.

USC seemed overwhelmed for all but the last 5 minutes or the game.

USC struggled with Western Michigan, which makes me feel vindicated about not rating them as highly as a lot of people did. We’ll see how well the Trojans handle Stanford though. If they win, I’ll likely put them in the top 10 all the same.

Kansas St. had a rough quarter and a half, but I can’t complain too much regardless of the opponent when you’re up 22 at halftime. I think they have more pieces in place than Florida or South Florida does. I need to see South Florida or Miami do more to put them ahead of the Gators as #2 in the state.

Louisville didn’t do very well against Purdue, but it’s a win over a power 5 team. There was certainly no reason to put Northwestern ahead after the Wildcats didn’t really separate themselves from Nevada until 5 minutes left in the game.

Washington St. finally took care of business against an FCS opponent after losing to Portland St. and Eastern Washington, respectively, in the past two years. TCU and Oregon also won easily over FCS opponents.

Tennessee held on in overtime against Georgia Tech, whom I regarded as #26 entering the year, so I saw no reason to move the Vols up or down relative to the neighboring teams.


(Georgia Tech’s failed conversion)

Paul Johnson of Georgia Tech got praise for going for 2, but that’s nonsense. It’s giving the other team the advantage when you go for 2 after they go for 1. You should make decisions to give your own team the advantage. Two-point-conversions are only successful about 40% of the time, and Georgia Tech had at worst a 50% chance of winning in overtime (or arguably higher given how easily the Yellow Jackets scored the last touchdown). The only good reason to go for two there is if you believe that Tennessee was somehow in the process of gaining more than a 3:2 advantage going forward. The commentators mentioned how they would have had to go for 2 in the next overtime anyway, but so did Tennessee. So in that case, it wouldn’t have been an automatic disadvantage.