theknightswhosay

Posts Tagged ‘Oregon’

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.

Advertisements

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

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 6 Top 25

In College Football, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on October 1, 2017 at 1:09 PM

As I mentioned last week, I’m on a trip, so this will be pretty minimal for the next week or so.

The next top 25 will be almost exclusively computer-based. In preparation, I made a rule that all teams had to be within 5 spots of their computer ranking to hopefully ease the transition. This early in the season though, the rankings are still volatile, so there still may be future 15-point swings.

Last week’s ranking listed after team name.

1 Alabama 1
2 Clemson 2
3 Georgia 3
4 Penn St. 5
5 Michigan 7
6 TCU 8
7 Central Florida 17
8 San Diego St. 15
9 Washington St. 24
10 Navy –
11 USC 4
12 Florida 9
13 Oklahoma 6
14 Wisconsin 18
15 Notre Dame –
16 Ohio St. 10
17 Oklahoma St. 25
18 U. Miami –
19 Oregon –
20 Michigan St. –
21 Washington 19
22 Kentucky 13
23 UCLA –
24 South Florida 14
25 Maryland –

Out of rankings: (11) Virginia Tech, (12) Texas Tech, (16) Wake Forest, (20) Louisville, (21) Memphis, (22) Mississippi St., (23) Vanderbilt

Week 7 Top 25 and Comments

In College Football, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on October 10, 2016 at 11:11 AM

I’ll talk about it more with my SEC Wednesday feature, but of course the big game was Texas A&M and Tennessee. Overtime is one of the ways you can be right but still get the spread wrong. They were exactly even through 60 minutes, so if you assume Tennessee has 6.5 extra points, picking Tennessee should be a win. What makes it even more annoying is that if Texas A&M had scored a touchdown to win in the first overtime (even if the Vols didn’t score at all), Tennessee would have still been the correct pick. Going even longer without being outscored only proved me more right, yet it made me wrong according to the bookies. I’m just glad I didn’t put actual money on it.

Anyway, I did pick the correct winner at least. Tennessee didn’t fall very far naturally because A&M on the road in overtime is the least-costly loss you can have right now and also because Tennessee had the most points going into the week. Still, I decided the fair thing to do was to move them below Ohio St. I think it’s too early for a team with a loss (despite the circumstances) to be in the top 5; but of course if they beat Alabama, they will be in the top 5 next week. Putting Alabama #1 and switching Tennessee with Ohio St. were the only changes I made from the computer. If Alabama wins, I expect them to be the natural #1, so maybe next week I can go without changing anything at all.

In one of the most amazing plays this season, Tennessee forced a fumble in the last moments just as it appeared Texas A&M was going to put the game away.  The turnover led to the tying touchdown.

In one of the most amazing plays this season, Tennessee forced a fumble in the last moments just as it appeared Texas A&M was going to put the game away. The turnover led to the tying touchdown.

I don’t think 8-10 are that good, but the more credible teams keep losing or having bye weeks.

How the mighty have fallen when you realize Washington beat Oregon and got jumped by Ohio St., who beat… Indiana?

I know Florida St. has two losses, but they keep playing competitive opponents. I did make losses slightly less devastating this year, but it helpss that they’re not bad losses. Despite the margin of victory Louisville had, it just counts as one loss to a decent team.

rank/team/prev

1 Alabama 1
2 Michigan 3
3 Texas A&M 5
4 Clemson 4
5 Ohio St. 8
6 Tennessee 2
7 Washington 6
8 Boise St. 15
9 W. Michigan 11
10 Wake Forest 14
11 Penn St. —
12 Navy —
13 Houston 7
14 Arizona St. —
15 Florida St. —
16 Wisconsin 12
17 West Virginia 9
18 Virginia Tech 25
19 Stanford 13
20 Nebraska 16
21 Utah —
22 N. Carolina 17
23 Air Force 20
24 Louisville 24
25 Auburn —

Full 128

Out of rankings: (10) U. Miami, (18) Arkansas, (19) Florida, (21) Maryland, (22) Baylor, (23) Cal

Conference Summary and Week 4 Preview

In College Football, Conference Reports on September 23, 2016 at 6:13 PM

Guess which conference has the fewest losses in non-conference play? (discussion of conference losses will mean non-conference play below)

140812_EYE_SEC1.jpg.CROP.original-original

The SEC has only lost one (Vanderbilt to Georgia Tech) since opening weekend. Five of its 7 losses were against Power-5 opponents. Only the Mississippi St. upset at the hands of South Alabama and Kentucky’s loss to Southern Miss were not to that group.

big10_logo_detail

The Big Ten still has a higher overall average winning percentage, but it has faced twice as many FCS opponents, two of which were victorious. Also, although there are many Power-5 wins, they’re often not against quality opponents. Four of the wins were Duke, Iowa St., Oregon St., and Colorado.

In the SEC, on the other hand, four of the five wins against the Power-5 were against teams that were ranked in the preseason. 78% and 75% aren’t far enough apart to overcome the strength of schedule disparity, so I’d give the SEC a slight edge at this point, but it will depend on some future games, and the SEC will have more of them.

ACC
Pac-12

For #3, I’m going to go with the ACC. They played five SEC opponents as well as Oklahoma St. and Oregon. The Pac-12 has similar records against slightly worse teams.

american
big12logo

The Big XII is only 15-11 right now. The best wins were over Notre Dame and Pitt. Not only would I put them last among the Power-5, I would also argue the American (AAC) should go ahead.

The bottom tier of conferences is harder to rank. I would say the MAC and MWC are roughly even. The MAC would be ahead if it weren’t for the three FCS losses. The Sun Belt is a little better than CUSA. Mississippi St. is a better key win than Kentucky, and Southern Miss and Ohio are better than Bowling Green and Miami U.

Week 4 Preview

There are a few major inter-conference games this weekend. I already covered the SEC games.

I’ll address the ones going on right now first. If Eastern Michigan beats Wyoming, that could arguably break the MWC/MAC deadlock. TCU vs. SMU is another chance of an upset by the AAC over the Big XII.

Similar to TCU, Boise St. is only a story if they lose, but it’s still good to get a road Pac-12 win even if it is against Oregon St. Central Michigan is another G5 (meaning not in the Power-5 of ACC, Big XII, Big Ten, Pac-12, and SEC) team on the road that should probably win, at Virginia in their case.

Another game in the state of Virginia is East Carolina against Virginia Tech. The Pirates were able to beat North Carolina St. but were not so lucky against South Carolina. The Hokies have a chance to rehabilitate somewhat from their previous non-conference game against Tennessee.

BYU will play its fourth Power-5 opponent, this time traveling to West Virginia. The Cougars beat Arizona before losing to Utah and UCLA in close games.

I’ll be very interested in the Wisconsin-Michigan St. game, the big game between two ranked teams.

The Pac-12 has a couple of big games involving Southern California teams. USC is playing Utah right now, and UCLA plays Stanford tomorrow Of course Stanford beat USC last week, so they’re trying to sweep L.A.

I also wanted to mention there is a big game in the ACC Coastal between North Carolina and Pitt in conference openers for both.

Post-Game Comments and Week 4 Top 25

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 18, 2016 at 3:16 PM

I’ve updated the Mississippi St. Rivalry blog, and here is the one for Auburn.

LSU really needs to work on the end of the game. Everything was going great at halftime for the last two games, and the second half was underwhelming even though it didn’t hurt nearly as much against Jacksonville St. Against Wisconsin, the second half was better than the first, but the Tigers had the lead late in the fourth quarter and were in field goal position on the last drive before the interception that essentially ended the game.

There were a couple of bad calls in this one. There was a highly questionable pass interference call that set up one of the Mississippi St. field goals. Then Leonard Fournette appeared to have converted a fourth down play but was stripped as he crossed the line to gain. It was reversed by replay, although I don’t see how the video evidence was indisputable. Mississippi St. scored a touchdown on the ensuing possession then scored another touchdown 40 seconds later following an on-sides kick.

Fournette was effective most of the game, but a late fumble (his second of the game) helped keep the Bulldogs alive.

Fournette was effective most of the game, but a late fumble (his second of the game) helped keep the Bulldogs alive.

I do want to give some credit to the defense for that last series. They didn’t give State a chance at a tying or winning drive.

I think things are improving, but there is a long way to go before LSU can claim to be a top team. Going to Auburn is never easy even though the War Eagle Plains Tigers lost to A&M at home.

That’s all I have to say about that. There were some more significant developments elsewhere.

The Florida St.-Louisville game blew me away. If Louisville wins by a touchdown, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised, but someone wrote that they made the Seminoles look like the Charlotte 49ers, which isn’t too far off. I mentioned before that I don’t like to move teams more than 10 spots in a week, but I had to make an exception and move them up 15 spots.

Louisville's Lamar Jackson had no problems with the Florida St. defense.

Louisville’s Lamar Jackson had no problems with the Florida St. defense.

It seems that Florida St. and Oklahoma are showing that having a top-4 season and a talented team doesn’t guarantee anything for the next year or even a couple of years later after a successful rebuilding year.

There were a couple of other dramatic movements that were necessary. Of course Florida St. had to go down pretty far, and so did Iowa for its loss to North Dakota St. The Bison would probably go about .500 (if not better) in the Big Ten West, but still.

I did the first trial run of my computer rankings. I only used them as a somewhat small part of the consideration this week, but next week I’ll do a full computer formula and a subjective top 25 and roughly average the two.

Since I am relying more on what’s happened on the field, I feel it is appropriate to move Michigan down even though I still think they’re a potential competitor for championships.

Since 9 of the 14 SEC teams started Week 1 against power 5 opponents and there have been a number of such games since then (both in conference and out of conference), it’s not really surprising that five undefeated SEC teams are in the top 10 in the formula. However, other teams will still get a couple more weeks to see what they can do in big games before I would rank those SEC teams so highly.

LSU’s win last night helped to bolster Wisconsin, so that’s why they’re up there. Oklahoma is almost certainly out of the running for the national title, but beating them still looks pretty good right now. Maybe they’re just not good and Houston and Ohio St. didn’t do anything special, but for now, it’s hard to justify not giving the Cougars and Buckeyes high rankings.

UCLA (who fell to the Aggies in Week 1) beat BYU and of course Texas A&M beat Auburn, so that’s why they move up again. Arkansas is also 3-0 with all games against FBS opponents, which is significant at this point.

As I mentioned, I moved Louisville up as far in one week as I was willing to. It will be interesting to see if they keep blowing out teams like this. I think Stanford’s results are what you expect of a #9 team, but I didn’t see anything that seemed to require that they move up. I’m also comfortable with where Clemson is. I’m OK with moving LSU up one spot because I do think they show some potential.

Florida goes up two spots. They’re also 3-0 against (not very good) FBS opponents, and they have won comfortably.

San Diego St.'s Week 2 win over Cal could be significant if the Aztecs make a run toward a New Years Day bowl.

San Diego St.’s Week 2 win over Cal could be significant if the Aztecs make a run toward a New Years Day bowl.

San Diego St. beat Cal, and Cal looked pretty decent last night. Maybe Sports Illustrated was right to rank the Aztecs in pre-season. At least it looks good for the moment.

I only dropped Georgia one spot even though they looked pretty bad at times in a close win again. You win on the road in the SEC, and I can’t gripe too much about the margin. I wouldn’t be confident about the next two weeks (@Ole Miss and hosting Tennessee) if I were a Dawgs fan though.

I moved Nebraska up six spots for the win over Oregon even though the two teams scored the same number of touchdowns. Going for two every time is a losing battle.

I don’t think Notre Dame is anything special, and I didn’t think so in preseason either, so I kept Michigan St. in the same spot. I also saw no reason to move Boise St. or Washington.

I think of Oklahoma St.-Central Michigan as a tie roughly, and the Cowboys just beat the Pitt Panthers, so they seem to be good selections for 23 and 24. I thought about #25 for a long time, but Cal was pretty high in the computer ranking and Texas is a good win. I won’t penalize them any more for San Diego St. until the Aztecs have a loss.

I think we’ll have a much better idea about a lot of things next week. I count about 10 games that could have a major influence on how the divisions and conferences shake out at the end of the year.

rank/team/previous
1 Alabama 1
2 Wisconsin 5
3 Ohio St. 6
4 Tennessee 7
5 Houston 8
6 Arkansas 14
7 Texas A&M 16
8 Louisville 23
9 Stanford 9
10 Clemson 10
11 LSU 12
12 Michigan 3
13 Utah 11
14 Florida St. 2
15 Florida 17
16 Iowa 4
17 San Diego St. —
18 Nebraska 24
19 Georgia 18
20 Mich. St. 20
21 Boise St. 21
22 Washington 22
23 Okie St. 25
24 C. Michigan —
25 Cal —

Out of rankings: (13) Oklahoma, (15) Texas, (19) Oregon

Week 3 College Football Preview

In College Football, Preview on September 16, 2016 at 6:54 PM

Mississippi St. cowbell from the days when they regularly beat LSU.

Mississippi St. cowbell from the days when they regularly beat LSU.

LSU-Mississippi St. Rivalry blog (updated annually). Reminder that this is LSU’s most-played series.

So there are a couple of big games in the middle of the country – Michigan St.-Notre Dame and Ohio St.-Oklahoma – and one on either coast – USC-Stanford and Florida St.-Louisville.

FSU
lu
This is probably Florida St.’s toughest road test all year in their first ACC game. I’ve been a Louisville skeptic to this point; but the Cardinals were up 21-0 at one point two years ago, so good teams can have trouble visiting Louisville.  This would make a good baseball match-up too, come to think of it.

ohio st
okla
Ohio St. isn’t in conference, but the Buckeyes will have one of a few big tests in Norman. Later in the season, they will have trips to Wisconsin, Penn St., and Michigan St. This is why I thought they might have a few losses this season. I certainly suspected going into the year that this game would be one of them, but now I’m not so sure. Chances are inexperienced teams lose such games, but on paper Oklahoma should have beaten Houston, so who knows?

michsu
notre-dame1
I’ve also been a Notre Dame skeptic, and I’m not quite sure why they’re ranked, but at least for a few hours maybe they’ll be ranked roughly correctly if they win. The Irish are playing at home though, so you can’t say they don’t have a chance even though I believe Michigan St. has the better team.

usc
stanford
USC has had trouble with Stanford over the years even when they’ve had a better team, and going to Stanford is an additional challenge. The Trojans did win there two years ago despite themselves, but they lost the previous two games there. USC also lost to Stanford last year, so this is an opportunity to take a big step forward. The Trojans have been expected to return to the glory days many times in recent years, but it hasn’t materialized.

There are a couple of other interesting games involving Pac-12 teams, but not quite as compelling and not conference games. Oregon-Nebraska is a top-25-adjacent matchup. Oregon was near the top of football a bit more recently, but this would also be a really strong win for them in the effort to go back. Another is Texas-Cal. I don’t think Cal is a good team, but Texas needs to do well to back up its ranking.

I think the SEC (see my SEC Wednesday entry for more) will continue to have more unknowns than knowns. For instance, if LSU wins, it won’t really prove much. If Miss St. wins, then they’re just inconsistent; although 2-0 in conference is always a good way to start.

If Ole Miss beats Bama (the only game between two ranked teams), it would be a big deal; but I’d be pretty shocked by that. A&M at Auburn is a good test for both teams, but they both have so far to go from last season, it won’t prove either is going to compete for the West.

2016 College Football Preseason Projections

In College Football, Preview on August 28, 2016 at 11:47 AM

It’s always a bit of a challenge to take last year’s results and even make an educated guess as to what that means in light of returning players, but it is a useful guide.

Alabama as well as the teams they beat in the SEC and national championship games, respectively, had relatively few returning starters last year. Alabama and Clemson had 11 apiece, and Florida had 10.

Alabama hasn't seemed to need too many returning starters, but returning starters are still a good indicator of which teams will and will not improve.

Alabama hasn’t seemed to need too many returning starters, but returning starters are still a good indicator of which teams will and will not improve.

On the other hand, it’s not hard to find disappointments among the teams who had relatively few returning starters. Many expected Auburn, for instance, to compete for championships. Their results were much less disappointing when you realize they only had 12 returning starters from an 8-5 team in 2014.

Georgia, which started last season in the top 10, had the same number. The Bulldogs finished outside the AP top 25 and barely made the final coaches’ top 25.

Mississippi St., which had one of the smallest numbers of returning starters (9), was less surprising but still went from 11 and 12 at the end of 2014 to unranked (in the national polls anyway) at the end of last year.

Oregon fell from #2 in the final poll in 2014 to about #20 at the end of last year after having 12 returning starters. Arizona was also a strong team out of the Pac-12 in 2014, finishing #10 in the CFP standings before the bowls. The Wildcats only had 12 returning starters and didn’t receive even a vote in either poll after last season.

Another team with very few returning starters was Boston College (9). They went from a bowl game in 2014 (and nearly a huge upset of then-undefeated Florida St. in late November of that season) to finishing 3-9 last season. Two of those three wins were over FCS opponents.

According to Phil Steele, other than the ones I mentioned at the beginning, no other teams with 11 or fewer returning starters posted improved records over the prior year. Of the 26 teams with 16 or more returning starters, 19 had improved records and only two had worse records.

So a program that traditionally has depth and does a good job recruiting can maintain the same basic level of play with 12 or fewer returning, but few very can improve, especially not substantially. For instance, no team with 12 or fewer returning starters finished in the top 10 last season after finishing outside the top 10 in 2014. Stanford, Iowa, Houston, and Oklahoma all had 13 though, so it doesn’t have to be among the highest numbers. All four returned their respective starting quarterbacks last year.

Going back to Alabama, I don’t normally do this with returning champions with 11 returning starters, but I consider them #1 until proven otherwise. It also doesn’t hurt that the Tide was in the top 4 after the regular season (including conference championship games) the last five years in a row. I hate when people say a team “reloads”; but if it ever fit a team, it fits them.

In the first of those seasons, there was an interesting situation wherein the Tide lost during the regular season and did not make the SEC championship game yet won the national title. There might just be a similar predicament this year since the 18 returning starters of LSU could do some damage in the SEC as well.

LSU has not beaten Alabama since November 2011 but seems to have all the pieces in place, with the possible exception of the quarterback position.

LSU has not beaten Alabama since November 2011 but seems to have all the pieces in place, with the possible exception of the quarterback position.

So that’s my top 2. Had LSU won maybe one more game and had Alabama not won the national championship, the two teams might have been reversed, but I’m more comfortable with Alabama anyway since they’ve obviously been more likely to win the key games toward the end in recent years. Also, I don’t think the Tide’s early-season nemesis Ole Miss is going to beat them again with their 10 returning starters. Also, I’ll probably get enough harassment from having LSU #2.

Apart from Alabama, I was skeptical of other teams with 11 or fewer returning starters, but those that were good enough to finish ranked last year I placed in the 18-25 range. Three teams that I really liked last year (Clemson, Iowa, and Stanford) had 12 returning starters apiece, so I put those in the top 10, but I’m not expecting those to make national semifinals.

The ACC may come down to Florida St. vs. Clemson for the sixth straight season, and the Seminoles look to take back control of the rivalry.

The ACC may come down to Florida St. vs. Clemson for the sixth straight season, and the Seminoles look to take back control of the rivalry.

I thought about putting Clemson higher, but they had a pretty close game with Florida St. last year. They were tied going into the fourth quarter, and I think part of the reason they won was better relative experience last year (they had the same number of returning starters, but most of the Seminoles’ returning starters were on a defense that wasn’t very good). When it’s 17 returning starters to 12, I think we can expect the script to flip.

Last year saw the Sooners return to national -championship contention for the first time in several years, and they are still the team to beat in the Big XII.

Last year saw the Sooners return to national -championship contention for the first time in several years, and they are still the team to beat in the Big XII.

There were a lot of teams who finished in the 20-32 range last year with substantial numbers of returning starters, but they have to prove more before I put them in the top 10, so that describes teams 11-17. It’s going to be interesting to see how 11-17 compares with 18-25 (except for Wisconsin) and with the three 12-returning-starter teams.

After the top 25, I list teams I left out by number of returning starters and last season’s adjusted rank. I’ll talk about this more later, but I decided to alter my formula slightly, and I looked at the adjusted ratings for last season when deciding the preseason rankings below. In short, it works the same basic way, I just gave a little more credit for quality wins, so when I start using computer ratings again (likely in early October), the teams you beat will be a little more important and the teams you lost to will be a little less important.

I’ll do my full rankings chart and mention the Week 1 match-ups later in the week.

rank/team/returning starters
1. Alabama 11
2. LSU 18
3. Florida St. 17
4. Oklahoma 13
5. Clemson 12
6. Michigan 13
7. Oklahoma St. 16
8. Utah 14
9. Iowa 12
10. Stanford 12
11. Tennessee 17
12. Georgia 14
13. North Carolina 14
14. Arkansas 14
15. USC 15
16. Washington St 14
17. Miss. St. 13
18. Houston 11
19. Florida 11
20. Michigan St. 10
21. Wisconsin 13
22. Oregon 11
23. Ole Miss 10
24. Ohio St. 6
25. TCU 10

18 returning starters (final adjusted 2015 rank)
Louisville (50)

16 returning starters (final adjusted 2015 rank)
Miami (43)

15 returning starters (final adjusted 2015 rank)
Washington (48)

13 returning starters (final adjusted 2015 rank)
Texas A&M (40)
WVU (49)
Boise St. (53)

11 returning starters (final adjusted 2015 rank)
Northwestern (16)

10 returning starters (final adjusted 2015 rank)
Notre Dame (17)
Toledo (19)
Baylor (23)

8 returning starters (final adjusted 2015 rank)
Navy (18)

2015 Final Conference Report

In College Football, Conference Reports on January 18, 2016 at 4:06 PM

This is my last regularly scheduled blog of the college football season. Five months go by so fast. Hopefully, I will get a chance to index things on here so they’re easier to find.

For the final blogger poll, click here.

I’ll get to the point now.

The SEC was #1 going into the bowls, so going 9-2 (counting the championship game) was obviously good enough to stay #1.

I do want to stress a little bit how impressive that is. Only one of the SEC bowl teams (Auburn, the worst of the SEC bowl teams) played an opponent that was not in a Power 5 (P5) conference.
Contrast that with the Pac-12, who played three non-P5 (Group of Five or G5) opponents in 10 bowl games.

(BYU isn’t in any conference, but it was most recently in the Mountain West and never has been a P5 program, so it’s classified in the G5 group.)

One of the Pac-12’s P5 opponents was Nebraska, who was granted a waiver as a 5-7 team because there were not enough normal bowl-eligible teams.

sec-pinwheel-logo

These were the match-ups for the SEC:
#1 vs. Big Ten #1 (then vs. ACC #1 in championship)
#2 vs. Big XII #2 (Ole Miss is counted as #2 because it got a better bowl selection than Florida; Oklahoma St. is likewise counted over TCU for the same reason)
#3 vs. Big Ten #4
#4 vs. Big Ten #5 (four teams went 5-3 in the SEC, so some of these will be debatable)
#5 vs. Big XII #7 (Kansas St. was actually #8 in the standings, but Texas did not qualify for a bowl game)
#6 vs. Big XII #6
#7 vs. Big Ten #7
#8 vs. ACC #5
#9 vs. ACC #9
#10 vs. AAC #5

These were the Pac-12 match-ups:
#1 vs. Big Ten #2
#2 vs. Big XII #3
#3 vs. Big Ten #6
#4 vs. ACC #6
#5 vs. Independent
#6 vs. Big Ten #8
#7 vs. MWC #2
#8 vs. Big XII #5
#9 vs. CUSA #2
#10 vs. MWC #3

I don’t look at margin of victory for the purposes of these rankings, but I think they do help show that most of these SEC bowl wins weren’t just luck.

The Big Ten ended up with a worse record than the Pac-12 even though Nebraska and Minnesota got to play in bowl games with losing records. The win by Nebraska was good, but you expect any but the worst Big Ten teams to beat Central Michigan. I would also give the Big Ten credit for not playing any other G5 opponents.

There was a clear enough gap between the Big Ten and the Pac-12 to begin with, so even if the bowls were harder, there isn’t any reason for the Big Ten to pass up the Pac-12. Also if you look at the apples-to-apples games, USC-Wisconsin was a 50/50 game and Stanford beat Iowa soundly.

The Big XII went 3-4 in bowl games, so likewise, I see no reason they should pass up the Big Ten.

The AAC only had two wins. Although both were against the ACC, the ACC still won four bowls. The two conferences were so close, I think that was enough to flip the two.

The other conferences were all within a game of .500, so there was no reason to make any other changes. The lower-ranked conferences don’t play as many bowl games, so those are a smaller percentage of overall games anyway.