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Posts Tagged ‘Ole Miss’

Week 3 Top 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 25

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

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

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Week 1 Games and the SEC

In College Football, Post-game, Rankings Commentary on September 1, 2019 at 1:13 PM

As you might expect, I have a few things to say about the SEC’s performance in the opening weekend.  It wasn’t nearly as bad as ESPN’s David Hale and others made it out to be though.  I’m surprised he didn’t attack LSU for only winning the second half 13-0 like he attacked Georgia for only winning the second half 9-0 after a 21-6 halftime lead.  He basically ends with “So what if the SEC might have six really good teams, Wyoming could be third in the SEC East!”  Nothing in the results suggested Wyoming would beat Kentucky or Vanderbilt (Georgia and Florida are considered the top 2), but I’ll elaborate more below.

I’ll start with the positives.  Alabama, Georgia, and LSU didn’t do anything to complain about, although I suppose Bama could have started a little faster.  LSU had to punt only once in the first half and only allowed one meaningful drive to take a 42-3 lead into halftime, so I can’t complain about that one.  Florida, my fourth SEC team, looked mediocre against Miami, but I didn’t hold it against them for my Preseason/Week 0 rankings.

LSU QB Joe Burrow threw 5 touchdown passes (and led the Tigers on a 6th touchdown drive) before being benched early in the second half to give backup Myles Brennan playing time.

Auburn, a surprise top-10 pick of mine, looked terrible for much of the game, especially on offense.  I still think Gus Malzahn needs help calling plays – he had stopped for good reason – but they showed a lot of toughness in the fourth quarter.  LSU often plays Auburn in early games, and it’s been a consistent problem over the years. 

I know Oregon was supposedly #11, but they haven’t had double-digit wins since 2014 and have only won 18 games in the last three seasons.  I don’t care how many returning starters they have, they didn’t deserve #11 in my view.  I do give Auburn credit for the win, especially QB Bo Nix for hanging in there and playing like a veteran at the end, but it wasn’t spectacular.  They also need better coaching in my opinion.

I was nonetheless content with 5 wins, 4 of them over Power 5 opponents, by the SEC top 5.  There are 5 other SEC teams that I would rather not be associated with right now though.

Last season Arkansas went from a team that could hang in there against a tough schedule (despite winning only 11 games combined in Bret Bielema’s last two seasons) to a bad team by major-conference standards.  The Razorbacks showed few signs of recovery in a close win over Portland St. (although the defense wasn’t terrible), but I’m afraid Tennessee may be joining the Hogs among the ranks of bad teams.  Despite having more returning starters and winning more than twice as many games as Georgia St. did last season, somehow the Vols lost to the Panthers at home.  I guess the Vols are still pretty much a lock against Chattanooga, but I wouldn’t be confident in them beating BYU, UAB, or ANY SEC team.  They probably will win at least a couple of games, so I don’t want to be too dramatic, but this looks really bad.

I’m very disappointed in South Carolina for losing to North Carolina.  The Gamecocks beat the Tar Heels in 2015 despite only finishing with a 3-9 record that year.   The Heels went on to have a perfect regular-season ACC record.  South Carolina has to be significantly better than that team (they were my last pick in the preseason top 25), and I imagine North Carolina is much worse than that team. Maybe this series will be a reverse bellwether.

I saw some people suggest ranking Missouri, and I considered it before thinking about how hard it might be to replace Drew Lock and rebuild the offense (it didn’t occur to me that the defense would be that much worse).  I had the Tigers 35th last year, so I wasn’t confident they would even be that good, not to mention 10 spots higher.  I still didn’t think they would lose to Wyoming, who finished 86th in my ratings and had two fewer returning starters.  Allowing 27 points in a quarter to them is just embarrassing even though it was a close final score.

These guys look really rebellious.

Least distressing of the four SEC out-of-conference losses was by the team whose mascot used to be a Rebel before it became a bear and then a shark.  I was hoping Ole Miss would beat Memphis, but I knew the odds were against it.  The Rebels (I think I’m still allowed to call them that) had a 10-win team who lost there, coincidentally also in 2015.  Memphis has given Central Florida problems in the last couple of seasons while Ole Miss hasn’t beaten anyone since October 13 (when they barely beat Arkansas), so it made sense that Memphis was favored.  At least the Tigers didn’t beat the spread.

By the way, I wish former Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze a speedy recovery (from his back surgery and staph infection) and good fortune in trying to build a FBS program at Liberty.  Personal indiscretions (and possible recruiting violations) aside, I respected his ability and his teams when he coached in the SEC.  It’s good to see him as a head coach again, albeit in a hospital bed.

It’s hard to see, but the reclined man in the red hat is new Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze.

Despite what some SEC detractors say, there was nothing wrong with Mississippi St. or Kentucky.  UL-Lafayette (I refuse to call a regional university “Louisiana” when there is another “Louisiana” that still goes by UL-Monroe) ended up only losing by 10, but they were down by 21 going into the final 10 minutes.  At no point in the fourth quarter did the Ragin’ Cajuns have even a 3% chance of victory.  Also, ULL was a bowl team last year; they weren’t Georgia St..

Kentucky, which had by far the fewest returning starters in the SEC, struggled a bit in a 14-14 first half against Toledo, but the Rockets only scored 3 points in the 28 minutes and 58 seconds after halftime.  Meanwhile, the Wildcats scored 24 points in that span.  It annoys me that people suggest ULL’s touchdown with 2:45 left and Toledo’s touchdown with 1:02 left meant the outcomes were in doubt late in the game. 

Vanderbilt lost to a good team in Georgia, so no complaints about them.  And no, David Hale, losing to Georgia by 24 isn’t proof that Wyoming would beat them.  I don’t know how Georgia made Vanderbilt look bad at the same time Vanderbilt made Georgia look bad, but that’s typical SEC-hater logic.

Outside the SEC

First I wanted to mention Army, the final team that I decided NOT to rank.  I’m glad I didn’t rank them, because they didn’t score the final go-ahead touchdown against Rice until less than four minutes remained in the game.  The Black Knights only scored a total of 14 points against a team that suffered an 11-game losing streak last season. 

(This paragraph is a bit of a digression, but I found it interesting.)  Last year by contrast, LSU took less than 22 minutes to score 28 points against Rice.  The LSU offense looked great in the first game this season, but it wasn’t great late last year.  Don’t bring up Texas A&M: it was only 31 all at the end of regulation, and the Aggies were not playing good defense.  For instance, they gave up 28 to Mississippi St. a few weeks before.  Against LSU, Florida, Kentucky, and Alabama COMBINED the Bulldogs scored only 16 points.

So maybe in hindsight I’ll regret ranking Florida St. and South Carolina (also, Iowa St. took 3 overtimes to beat FCS Northern Iowa), but at least I correctly recognized that Army and Missouri weren’t bringing top-25 teams into this season. I’m also glad I decided not to rank Virginia Tech, a loser to Boston College.

In my defense, I’ll also note that Florida St. showed the kind of team I imagine being #22.  When they play a team that’s at least competing for a ranking, they might do something like score 31 points in 26 minutes while only giving up 13.  At another point in the season against a team just as good, they might not score at all in 34 minutes while giving up 23 points.  The Noles just happened to do both things in the same game.  I’m holding out hope they’ll figure out how to keep the offense going in future games against decent teams. 

Maybe I should have given Boise St. the benefit of the doubt in preseason.  I just thought they would struggle against a “big boy” opponent like they did last season against Oklahoma St.

Hugh Freeze isn’t the only recently-successful SEC coach who made his debut yesterday.  There was a guy known as the Mad Hatter on the sidelines in Lawrence, Kansas, facing Indiana St.  It looked like a reasonably good start as the Jayhawks at one point led 16-3, although the offense could have been better. 

It should have been a larger lead. After four consecutive first downs in the second quarter while running a hurry-up offense, Kansas had a first and 10 at the 16.  RB Khalil Hebert fumbled for a loss of 4 yards. KU recovered, but they went right back to struggling and had to settle for a field goal..  The Jayhawks didn’t score an offensive touchdown until 8:40 remained in the third quarter.  Then they missed the extra point. 

It didn’t look like a problem at first as the Sycamores went three and out, but then a Jayhawk turnover on the next offensive drive led to a touchdown on the subsequent Indiana St. drive.  After an exchange of punts, Kansas got the ball back deep in its own territory.  Facing a third down and a possible safety, QB Carter Stanley began to try to throw the ball rather than taking a sack.  Before he could get it off, it was knocked out, leading to an Indiana St. touchdown and one-point lead.  Stanley was able to shake it off and led the Jayhawks down the field.  The drive stalled at the Sycamore 33, but Stanley threw for 11 yards on 3rd and 6 to WR Andrew Parchment to keep the drive alive.  On the next play he threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to WR Daylon Charlot with 2:20 left. 

Then came the only high-quality Mad Hatter play (if you don’t count I-formation after I-formation).  On the two-point try, Kansas engineered some kind of end-around reverse with a TE wheel route.  Parchment almost fell down evading the rush, but TE Jack Luavasa was wide open in the end zone, so Parchment didn’t have to have his feet set very well.  The conversion wasn’t necessary in hindsight anyway since Indiana St. couldn’t get another first down, but it was entertaining.

Kansas head coach Les Miles meets and greets supporters after winning his first game with the Jayhawks.

It remains to be seen if Kansas can struggle like that on offense (the touchdown I didn’t mention was a pick-six) and win a Big XII game though.  Maybe the Kansas QB Stanley will play more like he did at the end of the game going forward.  To go almost back to the beginning of this blog, I could see some parallels with Auburn.  Auburn is much better than Kansas (and Oregon is much better than Indiana St.) – don’t get me wrong – but both offenses were painfully bad until well into the second half; on the other hand, both quarterbacks (despite having good reason to doubt themselves) were able to hang in there for comeback wins late in the fourth quarter.

The Curious Case of LSU Basketball

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

Why I Generally Don’t Cover College Basketball

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

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

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

Brief Description of Recent LSU Basketball History

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

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

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

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

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

What Makes This Team Special (So Far)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rivalries and Coaching Carousels

In College Football, General LSU, History, Rivalry on November 22, 2018 at 5:06 PM

I planned to write something Wednesday, my first day off work for Thanksgiving,but I woke up sick and ended up sleeping most of the day.

There are a lot of great rivalries this week (see my blog about the battle of the A&Ms [Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College and Texas A&M] ,and see last week’s blog for mention of some rivalries I’ve enjoyed over the years), but there are plenty of stories about them and previews of the big games by other outlets, so I wanted to write something a little different (although also in the theme of this week’s games as many coaches will be coaching their last games at their current schools). If you ever play six degrees of Will Muschamp (or whatever you would call a game that involves who coached with whom), this could be useful. 

For more about a somewhat unappreciated rivalry though, former LSU beat writer Ross Dellenger wrote good article for the Sports Illustrated about the Egg Bowl and especially some of the coaches.  The only thing I disagreed with was his characterization of Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke as mild-mannered just because he’s respectful of other teams and coaches.  He’s extremely animated during games though. 

I’ve given more attention to the Mississippi schools than most people do, even people who write extensively about the SEC, but I haven’t talked that much about Ole Miss playing Mississippi St.  I did write about former Mississippi St. head coaches Sylvester Croom and Jackie Sherill (first sub-section under the heading A&M coaches), both of whom are mentioned in the article (and both of whom played for and coached with Bear Bryant, another former Texas A&M coach, at Alabama).  Of course I wrote about Ole Miss’s series with their second and third rivals, LSU and Vanderbilt (third section), and Mississippi St.’s series with their second rival LSU (there isn’t much worth writing about the series with their #3 Alabama).

Anyway, that article about the Egg Bowl got me thinking about a lot of coaches from the 1990s and early 2000s, partly because of stories like that and partly from things that have come up during Ed Orgeron press conferences in the last few weeks. 

Ed Orgeron walks off the field for the last time as Ole Miss head coach after losing in the Egg Bowl on November 23, 2007.

Orgeron coached Ole Miss for a few Egg Bowls (winning only one), but before that he was the strength coach at Arkansas under Ken Hatfield, who also happened to be the coach of Rice the last time LSU played them before this season (1995).

Orgeron was asked about the Saints on Monday, and he seemed very excited about their performance this year.  I had forgotten that he was a Saints assistant for a season before joining Lane Kiffin’s staff at Tennessee.  Not that he wasn’t a fan long before that having grown up in Cajun country and having been a close personal friend to (and high school and college teammate of) former Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert. 

Orgeron also mentioned his affinity for Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, who was the secondary coach the year Orgeron spent in New Orleans.  After returning to the Saints in 2015, Allen became defensive coordinator when Rob Ryan was fired.

Rob Ryan as Oklahoma St. offensive coordinator in the 1990s.

Orgeron also said he was very happy for Les Miles after his hiring by Kansas.  I found out that in 1997 Miles was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma St. at the same time that Ryan was the defensive coordinator for Oklahoma St. (I usually would say the Cowboys; but that could be confusing since both Miles and Ryan also coached for the Dallas Cowboys, though at different times). Those two characters on the same coaching staff must have been interesting.  The combination worked though: that was the one year between 1988 and Miles’s tenure as head coach in Stillwater (2001-04, during which the team made three bowl games) that Oklahoma St. reached a bowl game.  When Miles went to Dallas, Ryan stayed; but the college Cowboys’ fortunes declined (not that the NFL Cowboys improved either).

When Miles returned to Oklahoma St. as head coach, his offensive coordinator was Mike Gundy, who would take Les’s place as head coach and remains in that position today.  Les’s next offensive coordinator(when he got to LSU) was a guy named Jimbo Fisher, whom Miles inherited from Saban. 

When Miles won the Houston Bowl in 2002, he became the fourth head coach in 40 year sto coach Oklahoma St. to a bowl win.  The second of those coaches was Jimmy Johnson, who played at Arkansas with Hatfield and who hired Orgeron at the University of Miami.  Johnson also coached some other Cowboys to “Bowl”wins. 

Jimmy Johnson as head coach of Oklahoma St. in 1983. After the year he lost out to Ken Hatfield when Arkansas needed a replacement for Lou Holtz as head coach.

To go back to Fisher, of course it so happens that he’ll be the head coach of LSU’s opponent this weekend.  He also happens to be the head coach of fullback Ben Miles, Les’s son. 

I remember Fisher’s last season at LSU very well. LSU’s 7-3 loss to Auburn still stands out in my mind.  Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled with all of his calls in that game; but some credit goes to Auburn’s defensive coordinator Muschamp ( later head coach at Florida and now head coach at South Carolina).  Auburn’s head coach for that game was Tommy Tuberville, who came up in that Egg Bowl story because he was head coach at Ole Miss before going to Auburn, so that takes us full circle in this story. 

I wanted to mention a couple other items of interest from the 2006 season.  That season marked current Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn’s first foray into college football, as offensive coordinator for later-Ole-Miss-head-coach Houston Nutt at Arkansas.  Arkansas won the SEC West that year but lostin the regular-season finale to LSU before losing to Florida (the eventual national champions who helped prevent LSU from winning the West). 

Future Kansas head coaches Charlie Weis and Les Miles converse after the (January) 2007 Sugar Bowl.

Since the Tigers’ only losses all year were Florida and that Auburn game I mentioned,this allowed LSU to represent the SEC in the Sugar Bowl.  LSU’s opponent was Notre Dame, then coached by Charlie Weis.  Weis has something elsein common with Miles: both were later hired as head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks. I hope, unlike Weis, Miles can win 22% or more of his games as head coach with the Jayhawks though.

This is the first game between LSU and Texas A&M in four years where there will not be some major drama about either respective coaching staff. Last year, the game was the last of Kevin Sumlin’s tenure in College Station.  News of his firing had been leaked earlier in the week.  In the previous year, Ed Orgeron was just an interim coach; the interim tag was only removed after deals could not be reached with Tom Herman or (coincidentally enough) Fisher.    

The year prior, news had leaked of Miles being fired, but as with many Miles stories, that turned out not to be the case. In slight defense of the media, there had not been a decision to keep Miles before the game either.  But again after a lack of desirable candidates at suitable terms emerged, a decision was made to keep him (though his reprieve turned out to only be until the following September).  Fisher was also mentioned at that time. 

Despite all the drama and mixed emotions of those three games, LSU’s physicality was able to overcome Texas A&M’s finesse on each occasion LSU has played Texas A&M since and including the 2010 Cotton Bowl, which was the first meeting between the two schools this century and which pre-dated by about 20 months the Aggies’ participation as an SEC program (and Kevin Sumlin’s first game).  The character of Texas A&M has changed since Fisher replaced Sumlin.  The Aggies have become a team that runs really well (on conventional running plays, not just option pitches and quarterback runs) and also stops the run really well, so this will be a different challenge for the Tigers. If LSU wins, it will set the record for longest winning streak in the series.

In another tie to the Kansas hiring of Miles, the man Miles is replacing in Lawrence, David Beaty, was an assistant of Sumlin at Texas A&M from 2012 to 2014.  So he was an assistant during the last game in which there was not major drama around either coaching staff (although there was some disquiet since each team entered the game with four losses). 

An artist’s rendition of Kevin Sumlin (left) and John Chavis as Texas A&M coaches.

There was some drama involving the assistant coaches after the 2014 game, but not until later.  About five weeks after the Tigers held the Aggies to just 17 points in that contest, LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis was hired by the Aggies to the same position (he was fired along with Sumlin after the LSU game last year).  Chavis now occupies that position at Arkansas. 

Will Muschamp, Nick Saban, and Jimbo Fisher pose for the picture of the 2004 LSU coaching staff.  Later Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley was on staff, as was current Georgia head coach Kirby Smart.

There are no hard feelings if you ask me though. LSU is better off with Dave Aranda, who has been in the position since a year after Chavis left.  LSU’s defensive coordinator for the intervening year (hired along with Orgeron) was Kevin Steele, who, as DC for Auburn, will face Alabama (another former employer of his) during the Iron Bowl.  He replaced the aforementioned Will Muschamp, who was on LSU’s staff at the same time as Jimbo Fisher.

Week 12: Not Rivalry Week Yet

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

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

The Former Rivalry Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the SEC Schedule for Mid-November Deteriorated

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ole Miss-Vanderbilt Headlines This Week’s SEC Schedule

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

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

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

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

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

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

LSU and Rice Renew a Rivalry Few Missed

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

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

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

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

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

Alabama Offense vs. LSU Defense

In College Football, General LSU, History, Preview, Rivalry on November 2, 2018 at 4:24 PM

For more on what to expect from the LSU offense and general comments, please see Part I published on Wednesday.  This page links the major previous discussions of the LSU-Alabama Series.  LSU seems to have better kickers, but I’m not going to spend any time on that point.

Proposition: Alabama runs away with the game to score 40+ again (Intro)

What made me decide to split this into two blogs was how annoyed I was with how many people were picking Alabama to score 40+ while picking LSU to score <22. I listened to a couple of somewhat credible prognosticators on YouTube who did that based on Alabama’s stats.

One of them (SECfans, which I mentioned before) actually replied to my comment and asked if I thought Alabama’s offense was severely overrated due to the schedule.  I said that I didn’t think they were severely so, but in all the years I’ve been watching college football (I would say I had something like an adult appreciation of it starting in the mid-90s), there hasn’t been a top team who scored over 40 every game.

Historical Precedent in General

In the video, they had mentioned the 2005 Texas team that scored 41 points in the title game against USC.  A neutral-site bowl game isn’t really analogous to Tiger Stadium.  What might be analogous was when the Longhorns went to Ohio St. that year and were held to 25 points.  Also, late in the season the USC team in question had allowed 42 points at home to a Fresno St. team that would finish with 5 losses.

Vince Young runs for a touchdown in the 2006 Rose Bowl.

The best offense I’ve seen through 8 games was probably 2010 Oregon.  They had an even higher average (by less than a point, but still) than Alabama does now at 54.8 points per game.  That was despite having played a top 10 team at home and a top-25 team on the road, neither of which the Tide has done.

The 9th game was consistent with that, but in their 10th game, the Ducks went on the road to play the unranked Cal Bears and only won 15-13.  That was a Cal defense that would allow three different teams to score 48 or more against them.  Cal finished with a losing record that year.  I’d say it’s pretty likely LSU has a better defense this year than that team did then.

The Cal (Berkeley) defense held Oregon to about 40 fewer points than the Ducks’ average in their 2010 matchup.

One of the best SEC offenses was the 1996 Florida. Early on the Gators beat #2 Tennessee on the road, but apart from that game the Gators averaged 54 points per game through the first 8 games.  Then in early November, the Gators escaped Nashville (hardly an intimidating road environment by SEC standards) with only a 28-21 win.  A few weeks later, Florida St. held Florida to 21 for the Gators’ only loss of the season.  Of course Florida would then run away with the national championship against the Seminoles, 52-20.

Florida’s Danny Wuerffel led the Gator offense to over 50 points per game before being brought back down to earth in Nashville and Tallahassee (pictured).

I don’t mind if people are picking Alabama to score 35, for instance.  Maybe this Alabama offense is able to produce points just as well as and just as consistently as 1995 Nebraska, who was only held under 40 twice and never below 35.  That was the only team since World War II that won each game by at least 14, but the team who got within 14 was unranked and playing in Lincoln.  I just need to see this year’s Alabama play a better defense than Texas A&M or Missouri to believe they’re better than that Nebraska team.  Despite the Cornhuskers’ having won the national championship in 1994, the voters in 1995 were skeptical of Nebraska and did not move them up to #1 until the Huskers had beaten top-10 teams in consecutive weeks.

Historical Precedent in LSU-Alabama Series

I can also refer to past games in the LSU-Alabama rivalry. I mentioned the 2013 game in the last blog. LSU didn’t keep Alabama very far below their average, although they were on pace to do so for most of the game. More relevantly to this blog, the Tigers had averaged 40 points per game going in, and Alabama held LSU to less than half of that average.  The Tigers have a lot of work to do if that’s the best their defense can do this year, one reason I think the Tide wins, but 27 points wouldn’t make it an impossible task.

Alabama teams of the last few years probably don’t compare to this one in terms of how strong the respective offenses and defenses are, but I think we may also be able to learn a little from 2011 and 2009.

People act like in retrospect the 2011 regular season game was destined to be in the single digits, but it really wasn’t.  I don’t remember the over/under, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t 16. Alabama was averaging 39 points per game and had only been held below 37 twice (27 @ Penn St. and 34 against Vanderbilt).  LSU had almost the exact same average despite having played Oregon and West Virginia, two eventual winners of BCS bowls. Only Mississippi St. had held the Tigers below 35 (like this year, LSU scored only 19 against the Bulldogs).

Granted the points given up were lower in both cases in 2011 but not ridiculously so. LSU has only allowed one team to score over 21 this year (but two right at 21).  They’d allowed two to score over 11 in 2011.  Alabama has only allowed two teams to score more than 14 points this year.  In 2011, they’d allowed double digits 3 times. So maybe not 9-6, but 20-17 wouldn’t be a shockingly low score.

I want to mention one other Alabama team, and that’s 2009.  That was Saban’s third year and his first team there that really tipped the SEC off about what was to come.  The Tide opened against #7 Virginia Tech and then played four unranked opponents, two in SEC play and one on the road. That’s not a body of work similar to what they have now, but in those five games the Tide scored at least 34 points in each one and averaged 40 points.

Patrick Peterson grabs an apparent interception in Tuscaloosa in 2009. The pass was ruled incomplete. LSU may not have won the game in Tuscaloosa, but a different call here could have changed the score.

The Tide went to #20 Ole Miss and point production fell by 45% as they only scored 22. A similar reduction in this case would result in the Tide only scoring 30. Ole Miss had a good defense in 2009, but maybe LSU’s is better this year. The Rebels did allow 33 to Auburn and 41 to Mississippi St. that year. I don’t envision LSU giving up that many to an unranked team this year.

Comparison to Other Games This Season

It’s odd for two teams in the same division to have only one common opponent at this point, but in this case it doesn’t tell us very much.  It was Ole Miss, who really didn’t have much of a chance in either game.  I think the games worth considering are ones where either LSU or Alabama had to get out of their comfort zone in some way.  The Rebels did not force either team to do that.

Again, the best team Alabama has played is Texas A&M, who I believe is justifiably outside of the top 25 in the coaches poll.  The Texas A&M defense, which made Mississippi St.’s Nick Fitzgerald look like a Heisman contender doesn’t compare favorably to LSU’s defense at all.  Mississippi St. scored a combined 16 points against LSU, Florida, and Kentucky, 12 less than A&M gave up.  The point being that we really don’t have a model when it comes to how Alabama does against a defense that can really affect an offense the way LSU’s affected Fromm of Georgia and Fitzgerald.

If it’s a similar game with Alabama holding the opposing offense in the low 20s, LSU will likely take at least one touchdown opportunity away that A&M couldn’t, especially given that A&M was playing in Tuscaloosa.

I haven’t seen anyone suggest this, but I did want to add a caveat. I wouldn’t be upset if someone thinks Alabama wins 41-34. That wouldn’t show LSU’s defense is almost as bad as A&M’s; it would show Alabama’s offense had to keep going in high gear the whole game when it could pretty much relax in the second half against A&M. I’d be surprised to see that much offense from LSU, but they did score 36 against Georgia despite settling for field goals 5 times and despite a quarterback who could only complete half of his throws.

A better measuring stick for Alabama offense (though the Tide defense did extremely well) is the Missouri game. That was the best comparison I could find to a tough game Georgia had to play (partly because it was on the road) before coming to Baton Rouge. Missouri had been the only team to score more than 17 against the Bulldogs (they scored 29) and the only team to come within 14 points (and that was despite a defensive touchdown by Georgia).

Tua Tagovailoa is sacked by Missouri’s 
Kobie Whiteside in Tuscaloosa on October 13.

For Alabama vs. Missouri, I’m more going to look to see what we can gather about things LSU might be able to do on defense.  Missouri did have the second-closest game with the Tide so far (after A&M), but more impressively (and more relevantly to this blog) the Tigers are the only team to hold Alabama below 40, and they did this in Tuscaloosa.

Giving up 39 isn’t that impressive on its own (unless LSU really does give up 41 without producing much on offense); but as I’ve said before, you can score into the 40s against almost anyone if you’re given easy points. Twice while the game was still competitive, Missouri committed a turnover deep in their own territory. So where it was 27-10 with 10 minutes left in the half, it probably would have been Missouri ball down only 17-10. I’m not that Alabama didn’t deserve to beat them like they did, but what I am saying is the Missouri defensive unit did even better than Alabama’s point total indicates.

It’s also somewhat impressive that Mizzou limited Tua to only 2 of 5 on third downs and 12 of 22 overall (though it was still an average of over 10 yards per attempt) with only one positive run. Missouri has neither a good pass rush nor a good secondary. I couldn’t get the stats on how many sacks and hurries they had against Bama, but I know they had one sack and no hurries against Georgia. That’s one reason LSU was able to limit Georgia to fewer scoring drives than Mizzou had.

LSU was able to improve significantly on what Missouri did with Georgia. Even if we cut out the defensive score, LSU roughly cut Georgia’s point-scoring in half. So I think the low end of Alabama’s point total (barring a disaster or freakishly low-scoring game) is a lot lower than some people have it. I would put it in the low 20s. So I think the route for LSU to win would most likely be LSU scoring between 24 and 31 and Alabama scoring 1-7 points fewer.

Prediction

My prediction is that LSU holds Alabama to 31, which is two touchdowns fewer than Texas A&M allowed, and that the Tigers score 24. I think chances are the Tigers score closer to their point total against Auburn and Florida than the point total against Georgia. Most other people seem to be picking either a narrow LSU upset or a complete blowout by the Tide, either of which could happen of course, but I think these are two really good teams and LSU is just slightly outmatched.

Preview of Miss. St. at LSU

In College Football, General LSU, Preview, Rivalry on October 17, 2018 at 2:06 PM

I wanted to say a couple more things about the Georgia game. I did think LSU would lose more likely than not, and I didn’t see them winning by more than 7 if they did win. In my defense, if you had told me ahead of time that LSU would win the turnover battle 4-0 and would only be penalized twice for 19 yards, I would have picked LSU to win by double digits. It was just hard to make that prediction after the Florida game. We could probably beat Alabama by double digits if we’re able to do that again. There is just an extremely low chance Alabama will turn the ball over that many times without forcing any though.

Kirby Smart said something that reminded me of the Florida game as well: “When you don’t stop the run well, guys, it makes it hard to do anything.”

Kirby Smart doesn’t always look worthy of the name, but he knows a thing of two about defense.

LSU has won 21 straight home games in the month of October. That’s partly because we play Alabama in November, and we had a couple of long streaks that were ended at the hands of Troy (the record regular-season non-conference winning streak) and Mississippi St., (a streak against the Bulldogs) respectively, in recent Septembers. But there is something to be said for the streak. When we haven’t started well, we usually recovered by this time. When we have started well but didn’t finish well, we still played well up until the Alabama game.

I didn’t see the Mississippi St.-Auburn game, but I wish that I had. I understand the Bulldogs added some wrinkles in the running game that they didn’t have against Florida. Most of those 349 yards were by Nick Fitzgerald, the quarterback; but lead running back Kylin Hill averaged over 5 yards per carry, so you can’t dismiss that easily either. Against Florida, Hill ran fewer times with fewer yards per carry, so it seems their running attack can wear down defenses.

I don’t know if trying to run the Mississippi St. offense against Dan Mullen was going to work very well regardless, but that doesn’t mean LSU can easily stop it even if nothing changed in the weeks since. We certainly didn’t do a very good job last year or in 2014 (when the Bulldogs broke LSU’s 14-game winning streak and 11-game home winning streak in the series) against Mississippi St. offenses with a similar philosophy.

With spread and option-oriented offenses it’s hard to be able to cover the whole field horizontally without opening up runs toward the middle of the field. Sometimes our players can also be too fast to run into the backfield, and then before you know it, the running back (or quarterback in their case) is in the defensive secondary. Against LSU last year, the Bulldogs had almost 6 yards per carry.

The good news is the Bulldogs only completed 9 passes for 69 yards against Auburn, so that’s probably one area where they won’t be able to do as well against LSU as last year (when Fitzgerald threw for 180 yards). It seems that after the Florida game, the Bulldog coaching staff made some of the same observations I had about Georgia hurting themselves by going away from the run and ending drives with incompletions.

Miss. St. QB Nick Fitzgerald runs for a touchdown in Starkville last year. Fitzgerald accounted for 268 yards and 4 touchdowns for the game.

I think State makes up for their need to rely on running more than they did initially by having a better defense than it had in some of those past years though. LSU only scored 7 points against them last year, but Auburn scored 49 against the Bulldogs last year (compared to 9 this year) and three other teams scored over 30 (which no one has done so far this year).

Another positive is our offense is running a lot better than when we played them last year. We scored some points early on last season, but it was against BYU, Chattanooga, and Syracuse teams that struggled to defend against even mediocre offenses at times.

Obviously scoring 36 against Georgia, even with the assistance of turnovers, is much better than anything we were able to do in the early games last year. Even in the relatively poor showing of 19 points against Florida, that was with multiple drives of 30 yards or more that didn’t result in any points. It’s possible we could be held to around 20 points again; but I think that’s very close to the floor, at least against anyone other than Alabama.

I also have a slight concern because where the Mississippi St. defense does allow yardage tends to be in the passing game. I can see more problems with relying on Burrow if it comes to that than relying on the running backs. Burrow also still has a problem with holding onto the ball too long to look for receivers. This resulted in multiple sacks against Georgia, a team that only records half as many sacks on average as Mississippi St.

Despite last year and some of the other areas of concern, I’m going to pick LSU to win a close one, something like 24-20. It’s another opponent with a good field-goal kicker. They haven’t needed him much, but he’s kicked two field goals of 45 yards or more.

I’m predicting a closer game than either SEC fans commentator. Part of the reason is LSU did a lot of good things as far as sustaining drives against Georgia (as they also did in earlier games), which I think helps in their statistical model; but I think the Tigers have shown they won’t necessarily do the same things as well (or as poorly) from week to week. I think the talent and general competence will be just enough to get them over the top if the Tigers do regress slightly.

I’ll just mention a few other minor things that really didn’t play a role in this prediction. There are some general problems LSU has had with offenses like this that I covered above, but you can’t get too hung up on the final score from the previous year. In 2007, for instance, we lost to Kentucky after beating them 49-0 the year before. In 2015, we beat Auburn easily (45-21 after leading 38-7 at one point) despite losing to them by 34 the year before.

I mentioned this earlier, but if someone wins the turnover battle 4-0 like in the Georgia game, that can change outcome by double digits. I didn’t think last week’s result was reason to drastically change my approach to predictions. I think we have had a tendency to lose focus and motivation in other areas when we commit a turnover. On the other hand, we generally put points on the board when the other team commits a turnover.

Ed Orgeron has only beaten Mississippi St. once as head coach, a 20-3 win in the 2004 Egg Bowl; but he the good news is he’s 1-0 at home against the Bulldogs (and 0-3 on the road, but we’ll worry about that next year).

Top 25 after Week 7

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on October 14, 2018 at 2:26 PM

Since the top 25 will be almost purely mathematical from now on (I do have three paragraphs about the changes I made to the top 7), I plan to talk more about what happened on the field Saturday than why I like one team better than another.

LSU-Georgia and Comparisons

I wrote extensively about the 2003 game, LSU’s previous home win over Georgia, in my update to the LSU-Georgia Series Blog (since updated to add the result), so it was interesting to see the Advocate’s Scott Rabalais bring that game up here. That was one of the top games in the rivalry in my opinion because at that time they were the last two SEC champions facing off, and it was the first time either team faced opposing head coaches Nick Saban and Mark Richt, respectively. Also, LSU was one of only two teams to beat the Bulldogs that year (which they did twice). Both teams lost to Florida, who somehow lost 5 games on the season; but LSU would win the BCS national championship in the following January.

It’s funny how the start of games can be so different from the way they play out. I almost feel bad for Georgia fans, because I would have been really frustrated. I don’t have to think back very far to recall such a feeling.

After LSU took a 3-0 lead, Georgia took the field and was able to run on LSU almost at will after Florida ran for over 200 yards against the Tigers the week before. I thought it was going to be a long day. Then one running play didn’t work out for the Bulldogs setting up a 2nd and 9, and they largely gave up on the run.

Two incompletions followed, and then on 4th and 9 they ran a fake kick. They gave up on Holyfield and Swift and flipped the ball to Rodrigo Blankenship? That was one of the dumbest set of downs I’ve seen from a major program this year. The Bulldogs didn’t run the ball the next possession either, a three and out. By this time LSU led 13-0. In the next 3 runs the Bulldogs averaged 4.3 yards, but I guess the scoreboard kept them from committing to the run in any kind of consistent way. Georgia ran for 71 yards in the drive that set up the fake field goal (before the lost yardage on the fake) and ended up with only 113 rushing yards for the game, but to be fair a few good runs were canceled out by negative plays.

In LSU’s game at Florida, the Tigers were doing great on both sides of the ball early on. The Tigers had one touchdown drive to start up 7-0. The Gators got one first down on their next drive but stalled immediately afterward. Then LSU took only 5 plays to get down to the Florida 28, and Burrow fumbled it on first down. The Tigers didn’t establish that kind of rhythm again the rest of the game. Even in the only other touchdown drive, it was only four plays and 78 of the 80 yards came on two runs by Nick Brossette, so that’s not really what I’d call a rhythm.

Here is the Mississippi St. rivalry blog if you want to look ahead to that game. It’s not talked about as much as some other series, but LSU has actually played more games against Mississippi St. than any other opponent. Something else I just noticed is LSU’s next three opponents will all be coming off of bye weeks.

Georgia QB Jake Fromm (being pressured by LSU LB Devin White) completed only 47% of his passes, significantly reduced from his previous season average of 73%.

Other Games Saturday

Another thing that had made me a little nervous at the early going of the Georgia game was the way Auburn and Florida had looked against Tennessee and Vanderbilt, respectively. Auburn lost, but Vanderbilt had led Florida 21-3 before losing 37-27.

I guess we’re just at the time of the season that you can’t really take anything from one week to the next as teams get into the heart of their conference schedules. No conference punishes you the way the SEC does if you don’t get up for a given game, but we still saw teams like West Virginia and U. Miami lose road games that on paper they should have won.
I mentioned Auburn and U. Miami, who both lost, but there was another prior LSU opponent who almost lost as well. That was Ole Miss, who really seemed down and out. The Rebels missed a field goal with 13:47 left in the game while down 9.

Arkansas did a good job running the clock and setting up disadvantageous field positions for the Rebels, but the Razorbacks didn’t score again. Ole Miss took advantage with 84- and 97-yard touchdown drives in the final 7 minutes. Arkansas will attempt to end its 6-game losing streak next week against Tulsa before facing Vanderbilt, another victim of a significant comeback. The Razorbacks will have a bye week before hosting LSU on November 9.

Other than the WVU-Iowa St. and U. Miami-Virginia games I referred to earlier, I can’t tell you too much about the non-SEC games. Notre Dame didn’t look very impressive in the quarter or so I watched against Pitt; but as usual the Irish were just good enough to beat a lesser opponent. I only watched Washington-Oregon briefly. I can’t stand watching defenses who can’t tackle.

I was going to turn on Michigan-Wisconsin after the SEC games, but it was already a blowout. I don’t understand how that game was chosen over LSU. The best team Michigan beat was Maryland, the only team Wisconsin beat that wasn’t terrible was Iowa, and both teams had losses (Wisconsin’s was to BYU). At least Lee Corso looks dumb, not that it was the first time.

Top 25 Comments

I’m keeping Alabama #1 for this week, but there is a good chance I will replace the Tide next week if Clemson wins (against N.C. St.) and becomes the computer #1 over idle Notre Dame. It’s not that Bama isn’t playing well; but they haven’t played any of the top 9 teams (in my opinion including non-conference games) in the SEC, and their only game in the next two weeks is against Tennessee. The Vols just beat Auburn; but being that it was their first SEC win since 2016, they’re not one of the top 9 teams in the SEC either. The Tide also don’t have a non-conference win that does them much good: Bama’s three opponents are only a combined 5-11 in FBS play, and two of them play in the Sun Belt.

The only other change from the computer was to move Ohio St. up two spots to be ahead of Texas and Florida. Texas did lose to a Big Ten team after all. I didn’t want to move the Buckeyes higher since they really haven’t played anyone… anyone who didn’t just lose to Michigan St. anyway. Ohio St. belonged ahead of LSU going into the week even though my computer didn’t have them ahead, but with the win (and Penn St.’s loss) LSU is now 3-1 against teams in my top 40 when Ohio St. hasn’t played any of those teams. LSU has beaten 5 teams in the top 65 to Ohio St.’s 2; so however you look at it, I think LSU’s quality wins overcome the one loss at this point. It helps Ohio St. a little bit that the Buckeyes haven’t played an FCS opponent, but still for Ohio St. to be 96th in FBS strength of schedule and for LSU to be 3rd explains how LSU can afford a loss.

Florida did beat LSU and has a better loss than Texas, which is why they’re ahead of the Longhorns; but I didn’t think the Gators had the quality wins to overcome the loss to Kentucky. LSU and Mississippi St. are the only top-50 wins according to my computer rankings. One of those two will lose value next week since they play one another, and Florida will lose value since they have the week off. It just makes sense to keep Ohio St. ahead for now when most likely Florida will fall next week anyway. Texas is off next week as well.

Top 25

rank/team/prev.

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

Out of Top 25: (18) U. Miami, (19) S Carolina, (20) Penn St., (24) Wisconsin

LSU-Florida Series and Preview

In College Football, General LSU, Preview, Rivalry on October 4, 2018 at 3:30 PM

Before I get into specifics, you may want to see my detailed (and annually updated) post about the LSU/Florida series.

LSU will win, but LSU can only beat lesser teams?

I saw a video previewing the LSU/Florida game on YouTube, and I should have known better, but I clicked on it.

They’re picking LSU to win, and that’s great. I think LSU has a greater than 50% to win (although the FPI says LSU only has a 40% chance), as I’ve said since the Auburn game. Their predicted margin of victory is on the high end (27-13 and 24-13, respectively). I’m expecting something closer to 24-20. The problem is they had to say derogatory things about our coaches.

Both contributors to the video independently say LSU’s coaches aren’t good enough to beat teams better than LSU. What was the win over Auburn last year? To say the better team won a given game you have to look at all the games apart from the one they played against each other.

I too seem to remember LSU’s win over Auburn last year as an upset.

LSU was 8-4 last year if you take out the Auburn game. They lost to a good Troy team, but it was Troy nonetheless and couldn’t even give Mississippi St. much of a game. The only win over a ranked team was over Florida, who obviously ended up nowhere near the rankings. The Fighting Tigers did not play Georgia.

Auburn was 10-3 taking out the LSU game with wins over two teams who were #1 at the time. They also beat Mississippi St., a team who was in the top 25 and deserved to be there (after easily beating LSU), 49-10. Their losses were to #3, #6, and #12.

I think LSU’s final record is slightly misleading because of my opinion about the Notre Dame game, but Auburn played better in their bowl game against Central Florida than LSU played in their bowl game anyway.

Regardless, both in hindsight and at the time LSU was supposed to lose. Even after the game people (including Gus Malzahn) talked about Auburn still being able to win the West despite being a game behind LSU and therefore not controlling its own destiny absent another LSU loss.

Then the makers of the video acted like they must have made a great video because both Florida and LSU fans took umbrage. Florida fans aren’t happy they just won a well-played game and here someone is telling them they’re going to lose by double digits at home.

I don’t expect them to be happy about that (even if there is a fair chance it will turn out to be true), but just because you say something to anger LSU fans as well doesn’t mean the video got both teams about right. So if they said both teams were going to finish with losing records in conference. would they have been right just because both fan bases would have been reacted to that with skepticism if not anger? How do you not think, “Let’s look at the handful of big wins Orgeron has had in just over two seasons and see if what we’re saying might not be true”?

Another thing that annoyed me was they both discounted LSU’s win over Ole Miss as if the Rebels were the Little Sisters of the Poor, but then they quoted Florida’s stats against Colorado St. and Tennessee as if they proved something. Mississippi St. isn’t a bad team, but that was the only thing close to a quality win. The Bulldogs play Auburn on Saturday. I guess we’ll see how beating them compares to beating Auburn then. Not to mention how losing to Kentucky compares to any LSU game so far.

FPI and my thoughts

The FPI, ESPN’s power index, still seems to be selling LSU short, by the way. It still predicts 4 losses. When Mississippi St. lost its second game in a row, it finally decided the Tigers had a greater than 50% chance of beating the Bulldogs, but on the other hand it gave Florida a greater chance to beat LSU. LSU is still predicted to lose to Georgia, Alabama, and Texas A&M (to whom they have not lost in 7 games going back to 2010).

Why do I think the game will be closer than the guys in the video said? Like I said about the Auburn series, even sub-par Florida teams can be tough to beat on the road?

Florida finished 4-7 last year. They say Ole Miss is terrible, but Ole Miss already has 3 wins, and they still have ULM, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, and Mississippi St. to play. I’ll be shocked if the Rebels don’t win at least two of those games, so if a terrible team nearly beat last year’s LSU team, a much-improved Florida team can beat a slightly-improved LSU team.

Why do I say slightly improved? If LSU had slightly better play-calling and field-goal kicking last year, they would have beaten Troy and Notre Dame (despite the officiating) and finished 11-2. Even though LSU is undefeated right now, 11-2 is still a lot to hope for. For me, “much improved” would mean either playing in the SEC championship game or tying Alabama at one SEC loss apiece (and losing head-to-head). It would also require a post-season win either in the SEC Championship or in a consolation CFP bowl. It’s a possibility, don’t get me wrong, but we aren’t there yet.

LSU’s then-QB Danny Etling evades the Florida defense in the 17-16 LSU win in Gainesville last year.

Recent history against Florida and LSU at 5-0

The last trip to Florida before last season wasn’t against a great team either, with the Tigers winning 30-27 in 2014. LSU and Florida finished with similar records that year, but that was the LSU team that took Alabama to overtime and should have beaten them but for a personal foul and kickoff out of bounds in the last two minutes.

Anyway, the Tigers would win after a wild fourth quarter. Florida returned a punt 53 yards with under 7 minutes left in the fourth quarter, which set up a touchdown to put the Gators ahead by 4. It seemed like the game was over a few minutes later when LSU faced a 3rd and 25 from their own 33 with 3:33 left (not a typo), but Anthony Jennings (not remembered as our most effectual quarterback) had no problem with this and threw a 41-yard pass on that down followed in short order by an 11-yard touchdown pass (both to Travin Dural).

Florida seemed to be in control again when the Gators completed a 73-yard pass on the next play from scrimmage to set up a first and goal from the 2. Two running plays combined for one yard, and then an incomplete pass led to a field goal, which tied the game at 27.

LSU struggled offensively, giving the ball back to Florida with 54 seconds left after the Gators had called a timeout to give themselves a chance to win the game in regulation. For some unknown reason, Florida QB Jeff Driskel threw a risky pass even though the Gators had a first and 10 less than 20 yards from the potential winning field goal. LSU intercepted, and this set up the winning 50-yard field goal by Colby Delahoussaye with 3 second left.

Both the 2012 and 2010 games at Florida were decided by one possession apiece as well. LSU was much better in 2010, but that had a crazy ending to that I won’t get into here. This video might help jog your memory. For more about the LSU-Florida series, see here. I have every game in the series since 2004 listed there.

This is the 7th time since 2007 that LSU has started the season with 5 straight wins or more. That includes 2010 and 2012 season, but 2015 was the only other instance since 2012. So the last six times this has happened it did not lead to a national championship, although LSU was 13-0 with a conference championship before losing to Alabama in January 2012. In both 2009 and 2012, the first team to beat LSU after such a start was Florida. In 2008, Florida beat LSU immediately after the Tigers started 4-0.

Top 25 after Week 5

In College Basketball, College Football, General LSU, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on October 2, 2018 at 3:00 PM

Before I begin, I know I missed the midweek blog. I had a baseball fantasy team (I won the championship of 10-team league), but that’s obviously over. I had a couple of other obligations last week as well.

I also should mention that I was sad to hear the news about LSU basketball player Wayde Sims. It’s going to hurt the team, but that’s a small consideration compared to a life cut short like that. I’ve lost a couple of other people prematurely who were important in different ways to my sports fandom in other Septembers, so I’m always glad for September for the cooler weather to commence.

Speaking of cooler weather, that’s usually when the Ole Miss game is played, but it was early this year. Here is the updated information about the LSU/Ole Miss series. I don’t have a whole lot to say about the game though. It was sloppy on both sides, but LSU just has a lot more talent. There were a couple of fumbles, but Ole Miss had a lot more penalties than LSU did (one of which negated a fumble), so it balanced out. It was nice for Burrow to do well statistically, although I’m not sure how well the land plankton compare to other SEC defenses. I plan to talk about the upcoming Florida game later this week. I heard an interesting discussion about it today that I’ll talk about as well.

LSU QB Joe Burrow accounted for 388 total yards against Ole Miss.

If you didn’t notice, I did complete my first official computer rankings of the year. I’m obviously not following them exactly in this list, but there were only two teams below whom I moved more than 4 spots. The first was Auburn, which I thought belonged one spot ahead of Washington, which it beat. The Plains Tigers just have low-value wins like Alabama St., Southern Miss, and Arkansas that makes their computer numbers look relatively bad. The second was Central Florida, who has a 17-game winning streak and lost out on potential points due to the hurricane. I will not move either team as much next week or in future weeks though.

There will probably be only a handful of deviations overall from the computer order next week. Some people have been confused about why I change the approach from week to week, but I just think people don’t realize the transition in other mediums. You start with preseason, which is only about how good you think teams will be, maybe with a little bit of consideration for how good they were in prior years. Then when it comes to bowls and the playoff, you want to exclusively base it on how well a team did this season.

You can’t make that transition and approach each week the exact same, but the polls tend to have this arrested development where they try to do that. I imagine them thinking, “I moved team A up 5 spots because they beat team B last week, and team B was in the top 10.” They’ll do that just as much in November as in September. They don’t think back and wonder if team B was only in the top 10 because of what they did this season or not, and then if team B loses to several other teams they don’t take away the extra credit they gave team A. They only reevaluate when it gets right to the end. I don’t understand what they’re waiting for.

I won’t have as much to say about my decision-making process going forward. Where I do make decisions I’m mostly just trying to provide a smooth transition from subjective to objective. It’s going to be more about why the computer formula reacts to input the way it does.

I will talk about the top teams a bit. I didn’t want to move LSU up another spot until they do something more impressive than beating Ole Miss at home. Ohio St. had a better win than Clemson did Saturday, but I’m no longer holding the closeness of the win over Texas A&M against them. The computer had the orange Tigers a good bit higher, so I followed that. Notre Dame is playing well just in time (and I believe Stanford is also better than Syracuse), so I’m now willing to look past the close final scores early on. Those are two examples of how margin of victory won’t really factor in going forward.

I’ve talked about Army and Duke in the last couple of weeks. Duke beat Army, so even though the Blue Devils lost and the Cadets won in big games last week, I decided they were close enough to put the winning team (especially with one fewer loss) ahead.

I’ll just briefly address the other new teams on this list. West Virginia held on in Lubbock to remain undefeated, which I considered in giving them an extra boost here. Florida had a good win in Starkville. I’m still skeptical of North Carolina St. and Indiana, but as I explained objective numbers are taking more of a role now. Indiana doesn’t get much credit for beating Rutgers, but it has moved up as other teams have lost or are no longer receiving extra subjective credit and did too well in the computer ratings to put lower. North Carolina St. got a numerically helpful win against Virginia and is undefeated. The Wolfpack and the Hoosiers are the only two teams to beat the Cavaliers, but we will see if that means anything soon (when Virginia plays U. Miami and Duke in the next two weeks).

Apart from Michigan, all the teams who fell out lost. The Wolverines are getting a lot of credit in other places for beating winless Nebraska (partly due to margin of victory). That doesn’t count for much here. Northwestern, the team they barely beat on Saturday, is 1-3 and lost to Akron. By the way, that’s an example of margin of victory the other direction. One reason I’m not that far away from many rankings who consider margin of victory is it tends to balance out. Anyway, I just didn’t see the logic in putting Michigan ahead of any team on this list, but they’re still close to the top 25.

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

Out of Top 25: (13) UC-Berkeley, (14) BYU, (17) Michigan, (18) Miss. St., (19) S Carolina, (23) Texas Tech