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Posts Tagged ‘Pittsburgh’

Sly Croom’s Lasting Influence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Croom with Mike Shula after a game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Croom coaching at the Titans minicamp in 2014.

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

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Matt Canada, Recruiting, & Other Updates

In College Football, General LSU on December 19, 2016 at 7:28 PM

Canada Should Be Here Longer Than Kiffin Would Have

LSU did not get the most obvious target, Lane Kiffin, for the offensive coordinator position, but I don’t know if that’s a bad thing. Instability at coordinator added to the LSU quarterback problems that existed before Cam Cameron’s arrival, and that’s what we would have gotten. It’s possible LSU could have gotten Kiffin as the next coordinator by presenting an attractive enough offer, but it would have only temporarily postponed his next head coaching job.

Also, one of the arguments for going after Kiffin was that even if he wasn’t with LSU permanently, at least we would have gotten him away from Alabama. He left Alabama anyway. Call it sour grapes if you like – I think LSU was looking more closely at Canada than they were at Kiffin in the first place – but I honestly think this turn of events is in LSU’s favor.

Before I get to the positives and negatives of his past performance, some people might be nervous because Canada has made a series of stops as well. I think that’s less of a concern because he’s never been a head coach, and he’s never coached in the NFL. Offensive coordinator for one of the best programs (not to pat ourselves on the back too much, but only a few have multiple national championships since 2003) is his highest aspiration for the time being. Also, as I’ll get into, I think this is the situation that might fit him best. Canada probably isn’t the type who would fit in the other places.

New LSU offensive coordinator Matt Canada at his introductory press conference with Ed Orgeron

New LSU offensive coordinator Matt Canada at his introductory press conference with Ed Orgeron

Canada’s Resume

First I wanted to address the concerns that Canada has moved around too much. Canada’s previous moves made sense in pursuing the type of job he has just attained. He did take a bit of a step back when he left Wisconsin for North Carolina State, it wasn’t his fault he got there a year before Bret Bielema decided to go to Arkansas.

I’m not sure why he didn’t follow Bielema to Arkansas, but I doubt it had to do with being unable to coach the offense well enough. ESPN said they “butted heads”, but it may have had more to do with the opportunity to coach with former NIU coach Dave Doeren again. Although they were outmatched in the Rose Bowl, his Badger team had scored 70 points in the 2012 Big Ten championship game and averaged about 30 points per game.

Canada’s departure from North Carolina State was also not his decision. After a rocky first year with the Wolfpack in which Canada couldn’t seem to find a reliable quarterback, the team averaged 30.0 and 32.2, respectively, in the next two seasons.

The only sense anyone could make of the N.C. State firing as far as performance was that there were a few key games with relatively little scoring: 13 against Virginia Tech, 13 against Louisville, and 17 against Florida St. Louisville and Florida St. had reasonably good defenses in 2015, so it seems strange to fire a guy over one questionable game, but that’s apparently what they did. Also, I would note that all three point totals would have been enough for LSU to beat Alabama this season, and the Florida St. point total would have been enough to beat Wisconsin and Florida as well.

I would venture to guess that Canada will benefit from the kind of defense Dave Aranda seems to be running at LSU. Canada said during the press conference that if the pace of the game dictates winning 10-7 he has no problem with that. That reminds me… Canada and Aranda coached against each other in 2012. Final score: Wisconsin 16, Utah St. 14. I guess Aranda and the Aggies did a good enough job in that game that most of the USU coaching staff was hired when Bielema left for Arkansas.

I also liked that Canada doesn’t seem to be a purist in terms of what “system” he’s going to run. He’ll use multiple running backs in the backfield, he’ll throw to tight ends, and he’ll let the quarterback run if that’s in his skill set. Here is some more detailed information about what Canada likes to do.

Canada has been an offensive coordinator for 10 consecutive seasons. Before going to Wisconsin, he also had success at Northern Illinois in 2011, where his offenses averaged 38 points per game. His tenure at Indiana was a mixed bag. Canada helped to coach the Hoosiers to their first bowl game since 1993 in his first year (2007) after the death of head coach Terry Hoeppner in the offseason, but his offenses did not average more than 25 points per game again until his last year there in 2010.

A little bit of additional trivia… Canada was also with the Hoosiers (as an undergraduate assistant) in that previous bowl year of 1993, and the man who brought Canada back to Indiana (as a QB coach) was actually former LSU head coach Gerry DiNardo, who preceded Saban. In his career, Canada has also been a position coach for tight ends, wide receivers, and running backs.

Recruiting

I don’t usually comment on recruiting until the ink is dry and sometimes not even then, but with coaching turmoil, I think it’s an important thing to check on.

Orgeron kept some recruits guessing when he said at one point he wanted a pro-style quarterback and at another he wanted the spread, but it seems Canada can offer the best of both. It’s a good sign that St. Stanislaus (MS) quarterback Myles Brennan is back on board. Brennan is a pro-style quarterback who set state records for passing but also has a decent amount of rushing yards.

Junior College wide receiver Stephen Guidry, who de-committed in the wake of the Miles firing, also recommitted to the Tigers. Guidry attends Hines Community College, also in Mississippi, but went to high school in Louisiana. The LSU depth chart at the position seems to be getting shallower. Travin Dural’s eligibility will expire, Jazz Ferguson will be transferring after being suspended, and Malachi Dupre may declare for the NFL draft. If so, that will mean that only two wide receivers will be returning as upperclassmen.

The only other recruit (unless I’m misinformed) who de-committed from the Tigers since the Miles firing was Lowell Narcisse, a dual-threat quarterback from St. James (LA), who is also back on board as of this morning. I didn’t think he and Brennan would both want to come to LSU at the same time, but the more the merrier as far as I’m concerned. The last few years have shown us that you can’t always count on someone who appears to be the top guy, especially before they start taking snaps in a game.

Canada said he would use multiple-back sets. I’m not sure if that includes quarterbacks, but obviously there are some spread plays (as well as more traditional plays like halfback passes) where you’re not supposed to know whether a back will act like a quarterback or a running back, particularly not with the way Canada likes to change formations before the play.

SEC Country went into more detail about Narcisse and the rest of LSU’s potential key recruits. DandyDon (see the 12/19 update) also covered some of this.

I understand the Tigers have room for at least 5 more players and possibly up to 7.

Other Notes

This speaks for itself about two of my favorite NFL players at the moment.
beckham-landry

I’d like to give credit to fullback JD Moore, who earned the Charles E. Coates Award given to the senior who demonstrated the highest commitment to scholarly work in combination with excellence on the field. You might not notice him during the game as a casual fan, but he’s amazing when someone slows down the film and points him out.

The team MVP award went to senior linebacker Duke Riley. I don’t know how you replace guys like that in isolation, but that’s where teamwork and player development come in.

I know intricate detail about Xs and Os and recruiting aren’t historically my focus on this blog, but I have a renewed interest in how next year’s team is taking shape with the coaching changes.

I don’t see us winning the SEC, especially with 5 conference road games next season, but we were in every game this year. But if we become the type of team to win close games by converting scoring opportunities (we had some close games with late yards but not late points), anything could happen.

Regardless, I believe next season can be the start of something special. The last national championship came under a newish head coach and an innovative offensive coordinator (although Crowton never really found another quarterback to run his system after Matt Flynn left).

Final Pre-Bowl Top 25; CFP Plays It Safe but Gets It Wrong

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, History, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on December 5, 2016 at 9:00 AM

College Football Committee: Top 4, Sugar Bowl, and Orange Bowl

There were some complaints in the media Saturday night about why the College Football Playoff committee even has weekly rankings.

Ideally, I think it’s good to let teams know where they stand from week to week and start the process from scratch after the games are all finished. But I wonder if that really happened or if they just took the easy route and rubber-stamped what they already had as the top four (Clemson and Ohio St. switched spots, but that won’t affect anything except who wears what jersey and who calls the coin toss). Would it have been easier to pick Penn St. over Washington had the committee not declared a few days before that Washington was #4 and Penn St. was #7? If so, the weekly ratings should be abandoned.

The committee also played it safe by picking as the BCS would have in all the major decisions. There were about 15 teams that were in contention for the major bowls (other than the “automatic” Western Michigan). This is how they would have finished if we had just kept the BCS system.

The BCS average of the polls (AP and Coaches' poll since the Harris poll no longer exists) and the medium 4 computer ratings.  They're calculated as fractions of the perfect score and then averaged.

The BCS average of the polls (AP and Coaches’ poll since the Harris poll no longer exists) and the medium 4 computer rankings. They’re calculated as fractions of the perfect score and then averaged.

As I mentioned last week, I also disagree with Auburn’s selection to the Sugar Bowl, but part of the problem was that it was a three-way race. Although LSU gained on Florida in the last couple of weeks (and actually passed the Gators in the most-recent AP poll) and had the highest computer average of the three, obviously head-to-head came into play in subjective rankings and put LSU at a disadvantage. Auburn would have the stronger argument had they not also lost to their chief SEC East rivals and had that team (Georgia) not been worse than Florida.

The answer Auburn people kept repeating about why it should be Auburn is head to head, but if that’s the primary way you decide between close teams (even if the game was early in the season), why is Ohio St. in the top 4 but not the team who beat them and then won their conference? Why is Florida St. in the Orange Bowl but not Louisville, who not only beat the Seminoles but blew them out? 63-20 is not similar to the difference of a foot or two or a second or two at the end of the game like the two relevant LSU games.

Louisville did lose two games late to fall into a “tie” (although they finished two games ahead of the FSU in the conference standings), but so did Auburn. At least in Florida St.’s case, they blew away the Cardinals in the BCS computer ratings.

To turn back to Washington vs. Penn St., one of the rewarding things about having my own objective mathematical system is when it validates my subjective opinion. I also like that I don’t have to do complicated mathematics like algorithms and least-squared regressions to get there. I’m not sure what any of those tell you about how good a football team is anyway.

Washington didn’t play a single team in my final top 10 and went only 2-1 against the top 25. Penn St. went 2-1 against the top 10, on the other hand. The Nittany Lions did lose to #25 Pitt, but I don’t think it’s really fair to eliminate them based upon that when Washington had one of the worst non-conference schedules in college football. The committee has sent a clear message that record counts for more than schedule and (in view of Ohio St. making the field, although I agree with that) for more than championship status.

Anyway, I think Penn St. did enough to overcome the additional loss; but it’s close enough that if Washington had played a slightly better schedule, the Huskies would have been fourth. So I firmly believe I got the formula right. There are teams (like LSU this year) who aren’t necessarily treated appropriately, but for me it’s always been about getting the top two to four teams right.

That said, it will be interesting to see Penn St. against USC. I hope Penn St. can put this behind them, but it wouldn’t the first time a team that was snubbed or fell just short didn’t really show up for the bowl game. Although the Trojans and Nittany Lions have five losses between them, neither has lost since September. Both teams played the best (other) team in their own division and the best team of the other division in that span. Penn St. also played one of the runners-up from other division.

Washington versus Michigan in that game might have been even better though.

LSU in the Citrus Bowl

Then-Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino pointed at the LSU sidelines in anger (apparently that LSU ran up the score in a 24-point win in 2011) in his previous game against the Tigers.  Petrino is 4-4 against SEC teams since.

Then-Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino pointed at the LSU sidelines in anger (apparently that LSU ran up the score in a 24-point win in 2011) in his previous game against the Tigers. Petrino is 4-4 against SEC teams since.

Also, I want to reiterate that I’m content with LSU’s selection. You have to be extremely lucky to lose four games and go to the Sugar Bowl, so I can’t be too upset there. Tennessee, Florida, and Texas A&M were penalized more for late losses, so at least we got better bowls than they did. I’m not thrilled with it being early in the day on New Year’s Eve, when I’m typically up until 3 or 4 in the morning. Hopefully I can take a long nap.

Also, our opponent will be another team with a legitimate gripe about being left out of a major bowl in Louisville. Financially speaking at least, the Citrus is the top non-CFP bowl, so that’s something else to be happy about. I’m not sure how much of that actually goes to the school, but with what Louisiana has been through lately, every little bit helps. I always enjoy Bobby Petrino though. He’s a guy most of the SEC loves to hate for multiple reasons, but he’s also a very good coach. We’ve seen LSU DC Dave Arranda give Lane Kiffin about all he could handle, so I’m excited to see how Arranda and our defense do in this game.

I’m less excited to see LSU try to produce on offense, but obviously Kentucky gave me some encouragement. There hasn’t really been time to make many adjustments on offense since the dismissal of Cam Cameron, but often bowl prep allows some flexibility in that area. It has helped LSU before even in years with relatively poor offenses, such as last year.

Other Changes

Another team that made significant progress was Oklahoma, who will be the other team in the Sugar Bowl. I mentioned 2003 earlier. Oklahoma was in the Sugar Bowl that year of course, and Nick Saban got the better of Bob Stoops, who repaid the favor against Alabama in the 2014 Sugar Bowl 3 years ago. As a former New Orleans resident, welcome back to the Sooners and (other) Tigers. Oklahoma will play Auburn for the first time since the 1972 Sugar Bowl. This will be Auburn’s first Sugar Bowl in 12 years and only the second since 1989, so I guess that might have been a good reason to let them have this one.

West Virginia also made a significant stride even though beating Baylor wasn’t the best win, but it beat a loss or not playing at all.

Temple was also in the top 25 at this point last year before losing in the bowl game, but the Owls have another chance to finish in the final top 25 for the first time.

I’m not sure if Pitt has finished in my top 25 recently, but I don’t recall them doing so. Of course they were helped out by Penn St.’s win, but it was more about the losses by Navy and Virginia Tech.

Top 25

rank/team/prev
1 Alabama 1
2 Clemson 3
3 Ohio St. 2
4 Penn St. 6
5 Washington 5
6 W. Michigan 7
7 Michigan 4
8 Oklahoma 12
9 Wisconsin 8
10 Florida St. 10
11 Colorado 9
12 Boise St. 11
13 USC 13
14 West Virginia 21
15 S. Florida 14
16 Tennessee 16
17 Stanford 17
18 Okie St. 15
19 Louisville 20
20 Nebraska 19
21 Florida 18
22 Temple —
23 Houston 23
24 Auburn 22
25 Pittsburgh —

All 128 Teams

Out of rankings: (24) Virginia Tech, (25) Navy

Week 8 Top 25 and Comments

In College Football, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on October 16, 2016 at 2:22 PM

Please see here for my blog about the LSU-Ole Miss series, the second-longest football series for LSU.

The conference standings are interesting. The standings on my site are only looking at the top 40.

There are FIVE SEC teams (LSU, Georgia, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky) in numbers 41-55, however. The winner of LSU and Ole Miss at the very least should join the top 40 next week, which would help the SEC assuming no one else falls out. Although it may help in traditional polls, the unexpected bye weeks did not help LSU and Florida in my ratings.

The ACC is higher in those standings because it has a mass of four teams (Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, U. Miami, and Georgia Tech) between 26 and 37.

This is also useful background for why Clemson came ahead of Alabama in the computer ratings. I am keeping Alabama #1, however, since if the Tide win next week they will certainly be #1. I had said I THOUGHT Alabama would be the natural #1 this week, but beating an undefeated team is better than beating a one-loss team. Also, Alabama isn’t as far from #1 now as they were last week. Clemson is idle next week, so they would be unlikely to remain #1. Texas A&M with a win could be #1, but I can’t be sure.

Alabama will look to continue its success at Tennessee as the Tide return home to host the Texas A&M Aggies.

Alabama will look to continue its success at Tennessee as the Tide return home to host the Texas A&M Aggies.

Given how high Penn St. is right now, Ohio St. may jump Michigan with a win next week; but I would not expect the Buckeyes to compete for #1 just yet. However, since Alabama has a bye week and Texas A&M plays New Mexico St. on the 22nd, Ohio St. could be playing for the #1 spot in the next two or three weeks.

The #1 spot is the only change I’ve made to the formula and the only change I plan to make going forward. I anticipate that regardless of what happens, I will follow my formula for #1 at the latest after the games of November 5 when Ohio St. will play Nebraska. Also on that date Alabama plays LSU, Texas A&M plays Mississippi St., Michigan plays Maryland, and Clemson (after playing Florida St. the week before) plays Syracuse.

I know Tennessee is oddly high for a two-loss team, but the Vols have had the best schedule by far to this point after playing four ranked teams in consecutive weeks. However, none of their future opponents are currently ranked and none have been ranked since early last season. Tennessee’s next three weeks are South Carolina, bye, and Tennessee Tech. Many teams will have the opportunity to pass them up during this time. I don’t envy the Tennessee coaching staff’s job in trying to keep the team motivated, so a loss in one of the remaining games is quite possible (November SEC opponents are Kentucky, Missouri, and Vanderbilt). Despite that, there aren’t huge point opportunities.

I’m still waiting on someone else to surpass the three-team “mid-major” group, but it may take a couple of weeks. The absence of another major team is one reason Tennessee did not lose a spot on this blog (although they were one spot higher in the computer last week). This could change on October 29, when Nebraska will play Wisconsin, Florida St. will play Clemson (as mentioned), and Washington will play Utah.

West Virginia, the Big XII’s best hope (in the near future anyway), may help itself with wins in the next two weeks, and the winner of Arkansas and Auburn should move up into that range as well.

rank/team/prev
1 Alabama 1
2 Clemson 4
3 Texas A&M 3
4 Michigan 2
5 Ohio St. 5
6 Tennessee 6
7 W. Michigan 9
8 Boise St. 8
9 Houston 13
10 Florida St. 15
11 Nebraska 20
12 N. Carolina 22
13 Washington 7
14 Louisville 24
15 West Virginia 17
16 Penn St. 11
17 Utah 21
18 Pittsburgh —
19 Oklahoma —
20 Stanford 19
21 Navy 12
22 Arkansas —
23 Auburn 25
24 Washington St. —
25 South Florida —

Full 128

Out of rankings: (10) Wake Forest, (14) Arizona St., (16) Wisconsin, (18) Virginia Tech, (23) Air Force

Week 9 Rankings and Comments

In College Football, Post-game, Preview, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 2, 2015 at 7:12 PM

Before I begin, I wanted to refer people to my Alabama blogs.  Most of my hits this week have already been the main rivalry blog.

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

LSU will hope to reverse its recent fortunes against Alabama. In his weekly press conference, Nick Saban referred to this play as a counter to the idea that LSU-Alabama games are won by playing conservatively.

LSU will hope to reverse its recent fortunes against Alabama. In his weekly press conference, Nick Saban referred to this play as a counter to the idea that LSU-Alabama games are won by playing conservatively.

Also, these are the completely objective numerical results in my full computer ratings.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about last week’s games.  We seem to have had a bit of a lull in anticipation of this week.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a Saturday with so few top teams in action.

Obviously, a couple of them had interesting endings though.  I picked WSU to win, so that was a tough late disappointment, especially combined with the late innings of the last two World Series games.

I also would have felt vindicated had Temple won, but I make no apologies for having an undefeated team ahead (by just one spot in that case) as long as that team remained undefeated.

Another example may play out this week when LSU plays Alabama.  Alabama is favored and while I definitely lean toward taking LSU and the points (though I would remind gamblers of the possibility of Alabama winning by 7 in overtime… again), it’s very difficult to pick the Tide to lose that one.  If Alabama wins, the rankings will reflect that at that time.  I don’t believe they should now no matter how one thinks the game will unfold.

I’ll give additional LSU and Alabama examples.  I thought LSU would win all along in the 2007 championship and felt the same way about Alabama in 2012.  I still thought it was right to put the team with fewer losses (Ohio St. And Notre Dame, respectively) higher.  Of course a prerequisite to that is similar schedules, so that’s a factor for certain undefeated teams below.

I’m expecting that with a win LSU will be on top, but I’m not sure.  It may be that if Clemson wins and some of their prior opponents such as Notre Dame also win, they could move up.  I think Alabama would have too far to go.  Current computer #1 Michigan St. would have a win over what would become a 3-7 (FBS) Nebraska team, so I don’t know if Sparty can hold on.  Even Iowa could possibly move ahead.

If LSU loses, there is a very high chance that I’ll have a number one in this list for the first time.  I have not put Michigan St., Clemson, or Iowa first in this list before.  I nearly put Iowa in 2009 when they were the computer #1, but they didn’t make it past this week of play before a loss.

With games as significant as Alabama-LSU, Clemson-Florida St., and Notre Dame-Pittsburgh, and TCU-Oklahoma St., I think that affords a suitable enough occasion to just let the numbers do the talking going forward.

Texas A&M, Mississippi St., and Ole Miss are also playing important conference games that could bolster the winner of the game in Tuscaloosa.  In other conferences, there are games like Penn St.-Northwestern and Duke-North Carolina than can have effects throughout those respective conferences.  Also, TCU would get a big boost to its résumé if Minnesota can upset Ohio St.

So for a number of reasons, I really think this is the big week that will tell us who belongs where in the conversation.  I wouldn’t make a big deal out of the playoff rankings tomorrow whatever they are.

  1. LSU 1
  2. Mich. St. 2
  3. Clemson 5
  4. Iowa 4
  5. Ohio St. 3
  6. Notre Dame 12
  7. Utah 6
  8. Florida 10
  9. Memphis 8
  10. Alabama 7
  11. TCU 9
  12. Stanford 14
  13. Okie St. 13
  14. Toledo 16
  15. Ole Miss 22
  16. Baylor 15
  17. Temple 11
  18. Houston 20
  19. Michigan 21
  20. Oklahoma 17
  21. N’western 18
  22. TX A&M 23
  23. Penn St. —
  24. UCLA 24
  25. Miss. St. 19

Out of rankings: (25) Pittsburgh

Here are the previous rankings blogs:

Preseason

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6

Week 7

Week 8

Trojan Horse of Misinformation

In Bowls, College Football, History, NFL on October 23, 2015 at 2:43 PM

I watched the “30 for 30” about the USC “dynasty”.  They won a lot of games in a row, but that’s not my definition of a dynasty.  Overall, it wasn’t bad, but there were so many misleading or outright false things in there.  That detracts from the quality and entertainment value.

The first thing was the comparison between Paul Hackett and Pete Carroll.  I wasn’t in the L.A. area at the time, so I don’t know know what the conventional wisdom was around here, but it just doesn’t match reality.  Hackett’s previous head coaching job was with the Pittsburgh PANTHERS (not in the NFL like the documentary said).  How is that like the New England Patriots at all?  Hackett’s previous job was in the NFL, but offensive coordinator isn’t the same thing.

The Chiefs did make the playoffs all but one year while Hackett was there, but after his first season, they failed to win any playoff games under head coach Marty Schottenheimer.

The Jets never gave Carroll a chance and have been a poorly run organization for a long time, so I don’t blame him for their 6-10 mark in the one season he was there.  Jimmy Johnson went 1-15 his first season with the Cowboys.  Speaking of the Cowboys, Tom Landry went 0-11-1 in his first season there.  It’s ridiculous to judge anything based on a head coach’s first year with no chance to follow up (Carroll didn’t do much better his first couple of years in Seattle either), so I’ll focus on his time in New England.

Carroll coached the Patriots for three seasons and made the playoffs twice with an overall record of 28-23.  He followed Bill Parcells, who had coached there for four seasons and also made the playoffs twice, going exactly .500 in his time there.

I really don’t understand the view that Carroll was a failed NFL coach who was going to do poorly at USC; and as someone who followed the NFL closely in the 1990s, I did not have that expectation at all.  I’m not saying I thought USC was going to be one of the top four teams seven years in a row though.  I don’t think anyone could have reasonably expected that.

We can also contrast Carroll’s prior NFL record with that of Bill Belichik, who coached a total of five seasons in the 1990s and only made the playoffs once with a total record with the Browns of 37-45.

Next, they acted like USC looked so bad in early 2002 to for losing to Washington St.  You have to hear the way they say it.  The tone suggested they had lost to a Cougar team from 2008-2010.  The loss was in overtime in Pullman, and Wazzu had won 10 games the season before and went on to win 10 games again that season before losing in the Rose Bowl.

Washington St. completes a long pass against USC in October 2002. The Trojans won 46 of their next 47 games after this loss.

Then they acted like the win at Auburn in 2003 was a monumental victory, calling them “one of the best teams in the country”.  The Tigers went 9-4 in 2002 and would finish 8-5 in 2003, infamously resulting in Tommy Tuberville nearly being replaced by Bobby Petrino.

The documentary ignored the Trojans’ last loss before the streak, which was in Berkeley against a similar team.   Winning 34 in a row and 45 of 46 doesn’t really need to be embellished, does it? So why completely ignore the one loss in those 46 games?

Cal’s Tyler Fredrickson kicks the winning field goal in overtime against USC in 2003.

I guess it was to avoid mentioning the three-team race at the end of that year.  No mention was made of the fact that Oklahoma was the unanimous #1 going into the conference championships (which of course the Pac-10 didn’t have) or that the Trojans finished third in the BCS standings behind the eventual winners of the BCS LSU.

I did note that at one point Matt Leinart used the singular when referring to the USC national championship, although the narrator repeatedly talked about how the Trojans were a minute away from winning a third in a row.  USC did beat Michigan at the end of that year, but when the team you’re playing is just playing for a nice bowl win, that’s not the same as actually playing a team who’s also trying to win a national championship.

The famous “Bush push” to win against Notre Dame.

Apart from the last-second controversial win over Notre Dame, the documentary also acted like USC was untouchable in 2005.  A lot of mention was made of how many yards the Trojans (Reggie Bush in particular) put up against Fresno St. in the second-to-last game of the regular season, but somehow the fact that they gave up 42 points and only beat the Bulldogs by 8 wasn’t mentioned at all.  You would have guessed from the information provided that USC won by several touchdowns.

The point being that there were some cracks in the façade.  USC was not seen as unbeatable by any sports fan I remember talking to that year, and I talked to a lot more people about sports back then.  They were in 2004 by some but not in 2005.  It was similar to the difference between the perception of the 2013 Florida St. team and the 2014 edition.  They were still expected to win every game during the regular season, but they weren’t seen as invincible.

I remember going to Louisiana for Christmas in 2005 and people asked me how close USC would make it, implying Texas was going to win and the only question was the margin.  Of course, I insisted USC was in fact a very good team even though I picked Texas myself.

Vince Young scores the winning touchdown against USC, ending the Trojan’s 34-game winning streak and giving Texas its only national championship since 1970.

I know that’s an indication of regional bias, but there were people in other areas who saw USC as vulnerable.  Based on the Notre Dame performance, there were also some Midwesterners (and Notre Dame fans from other regions) who saw the same thing.

Anyway, I had a lot of respect for Pete Carroll even going back to the Patriots and I still do.  I wanted him to lose once USC became a prominent team in 2003, but when I cheered for other teams to beat him I knew they were facing a prepared and formidable opponent.  It just bothers me not to correctly characterize what actually went on, and not just trying to bolster a simplistic cardinal-and-gold-tinted recollection of events.

I’m not even saying this as a USC detractor.  Why not give Carroll some credit for not being a bad coach (though I guess you could say he was mediocre) in the NFL?  Why not give the 2002 team credit for only losing a couple of early games to good teams (the other was to Kansas St., who would finish 11-2) and then finishing strong?  According to Jeff Sagarin, that was the best team in the country that year despite the losses.  I thought they at least had the best second half of the season.

I understand you can always highlight some things and not other things to tell the story a certain way, but don’t pick a game that’s a bad example of what you’re talking about and distort what happened and who the other team was.

One thing I was glad they didn’t do was mention whether Vince Young’s knee was down in the second quarter.  I think the ball was already coming loose from his hands when the knee touched (if we were evaluating a fumble rather than a lateral, I don’t think it would even be very controversial); but even if he were down, he already had a first down on the play.  Texas would have had first and goal at the 10.  The game was decided by who did (or didn’t do) what in the fourth quarter, not by that call.

I just think getting it right is more important than telling a dramatized story, which was compelling enough on its own in reality.

Week 7 Rankings with LSU Comments

In College Football, General LSU, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on October 18, 2015 at 4:09 PM

Blog updates/LSU

I decided to delay my response to “30 for 30: Trojan Horse” until the end of the week, because I won’t have much to talk about then.

There isn’t enough with Western Kentucky worth talking about for a full blog. The Hilltoppers played close games at Vanderbilt (which they won) and at Indiana (the only team to beat them).  LSU’s secondary may be stretched again as WKU has a good passing game with two wide receivers who have at least 25 receptions AND average over 18 yards per reception as well as a number of other targets.  The rushing game has been spotty, but it has improved in the last couple of weeks with the introduction of Anthony Wales, who gained over 300 yards combined in the two games.

On the other hand, the defense should allow LSU to keep up the offensive output from yesterday.  Although there were a few games with low scores by opponents, Louisiana Tech and Indiana each scored 38 against the Hilltoppers last month.  In the last two games, Middle Tennessee and North Texas each scored 28.

I updated my two LSU-Florida blogs, the one I did last week that focuses on the last 15 years and the full rivalry blog that covers the entirety of the series.  Apart from “SEC Wednesday”, that’s all I have specifically about LSU this week unless something unusual happens.

Trent Dominque (who just recently earned a scholarship) became the second LSU kicker in five years with one of the key plays in an LSU-Florida game. In Dominque's case, he scored the winning touchdown himself.

Trent Dominque (who just recently earned a scholarship) became the second LSU kicker in five years with one of the key running plays in an LSU-Florida game. In Dominque’s case, he scored the winning touchdown himself.

Rankings

Before I get to the top 25 list, here is the 100% objective full list of 128 teams.

I guess there is one more thing.  I have moved my Tigers to #1.  Florida exposed some weaknesses and LSU was in some ways fortunate to win; but that’s true of anyone who has played another ranked team this season, except that a number of them had more trouble with lesser teams.

Baylor hasn’t played any close games, so they’re the popular pick right now, but give me a break.  Their best win is over Texas Tech, who is well into the “others receiving votes” category in both polls.  The Red Raiders’ best win is over Arkansas, who has also lost to undefeated Toledo and a couple of otherwise-defeated SEC opponents.  So if beating the team that beat Arkansas makes an undefeated team #2, why doesn’t beating Arkansas directly make Toledo #1?

I’m not saying it’s impossible that Baylor easily beats everyone all the way until mid-January, but I just don’t think they’ve proven much yet.  If they’re undefeated after playing Oklahoma, @TCU, and @Oklahoma St. within 13 days in November, then I think it’s a very different conversation.

I mentioned last week that it was possible that I would follow the computer ratings top 25 exactly, but I’ve made only two switches.  I switched LSU with Utah for #1, and I switched Florida St. with Memphis for #10.  I just think #10 is too big of a jump at this point.  Memphis has a couple of weeks coming up where they will earn only a few points (assuming wins), so it is likely that they will not stay in the top 10 anyway.  However, this is the last adjustment apart from the top spot that I will make.

Starting after the games of the first week of November, I will also not alter the #1 spot.  It’s possible that LSU will be #1 in the computer next week; but even if they do, I would expect them to fall after the bye week at the end of October. At that time, LSU will have only had 7 weeks of play and would likely be competing with other undefeated teams who will have had 8 or 9 weeks of play.  The Tigers are of course slightly disadvantaged by having had to cancel the opener against McNeese St.

Anyway, I don’t like to have a carousel of #1 teams, that’s why I held onto Ohio St. this long.  I just think it’s time to limit myself to the top few teams based on my objective standards.  Moving Ohio St. from #5 in the computer to #1 here would go too far, in my opinion.  The way the Buckeyes played in earlier games didn’t help their cause too much either.

The scary thing is Utah could be an even more convincing computer #1 at this point.  Michigan could have held onto the win yesterday, and Oregon could be better than 4-3. Still, I consider the Utes a little suspect being that they will not play Stanford, who is (at this point) apparently the best team of the North, the better of the two Pac-12 divisions.

Utah's Devontae Booker breaks free from the ASU defense yesterday.

Utah’s Devontae Booker breaks free from the ASU defense yesterday.

Of course, LSU just beat Florida, who is apparently the best team of the SEC East, the weaker of the two SEC divisions.  That being said, if Utah or Iowa or whoever is #1 in a few weeks, they will also be #1 here.  Last year at this time, Ole Miss was #1 in the computers; and I was glad I waited before making them #1 here.

Alabama jumped 11 spots with the win @Texas A&M.  It wasn’t just the strength of the win.  There were very low-point weeks by some teams in between such as Toledo (beat 1-win EMU), UC-Berkeley (bye), Temple (beat winless Central Florida).  Michigan of course fell with the last-second loss to Michigan St.

Some other teams moved up with less impressive victories than Alabama’s. Notre Dame moved up five spots after beating USC, and Baylor moved up five spots after beating West Virginia.

Stanford went up just a few spots with the win over UCLA, and BYU and Pittsburgh joined the top 25 after wins over Cincinnati and Georgia Tech, respectively.  Both new teams were helped by losses by Penn St., Ole Miss, UCLA, and Kentucky.

Rank Team Previous
1 LSU 2
2 Utah 4
3 Mich. St. 10
4 Iowa 6
5 Ohio St. 1
6 Florida 3
7 TCU 5
8 Alabama 19
9 Clemson 13
10 Florida St. 14
11 Memphis

Memphis

12 Okie St. 9
13 Notre Dame 18
14 Temple 11
15 Baylor 20
16 Toledo 17
17 UC-Berkeley 15
18 TX A&M 7
19 Stanford 22
20 Michigan 8
21 BYU
22 N’western 12
23 Oklahoma 23
24 Houston 21
25 Pittsburgh

pittsburgh_panthers-primary-1980

Out of rankings (with last week’s rank):

16 Penn St.
24 UCLA
25 Ole Miss

Here are the previous rankings blogs:

Preseason

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6

Week 3 Top 25 + LSU/MSU Notes

In College Football, General LSU, History, Post-game, Preview, Rankings, Rankings Commentary, Rivalry on September 16, 2014 at 3:06 PM

I’ll get my few comments about the LSU/Mississippi St. series out of the way. If you haven’t yet, please check out my Rivalry post about the series, which despite being played annually (in fact, it is LSU’s most-played series) has not resulted in a win for the Bulldogs since 1999. Even in the bad LSU years that preceded that game (such as the 2-9 team in 1992), the Tigers won, usually in convincing fashion. That is my most popular post over the last year. Judging by search teams such as “has mississippi state ever won against lsu” (now that would be a streak if the answer were no), “mississippi state losing streak against lsu”, etc., it’s at least in part due to interest in how well the Tigers have done over the last 20-25 years in the series.

Les Miles isn’t exactly on the hot seat right now, but Glenn Guilbeau had an interesting take on what losing to Mississippi St. has meant for coaching careers at LSU.

Speaking of Les, he mentioned a couple fun facts during his press conference. When the Tigers held ULM scoreless with less than 100 yards of offense, that was the first time since 1941 that the Tigers recorded consecutive shutouts at Tiger Stadium. In 1985, the Tigers had consecutive shut-outs during conference play; but the two games were separated by a bye week, and the second game was on the road. LSU finished in second place in the SEC the latter year (among teams eligible for the title), just a half-game behind Tennessee.

Gerry DiNardo (left) could no longer figure out how to beat anyone in 1999 but nearly upset one of Jackie Sherrill's best teams anyway. LSU has not lost to the Bulldogs since.

Gerry DiNardo (left) could no longer figure out how to beat anyone in 1999 but nearly upset Jackie Sherrill’s Bulldogs anyway. LSU has not lost to Miss. St. since.

Week 3 College Football Rankings 2014

(Teams new to the rankings have logos posted below. I was in more of a retro mood today, especially given some of the teams below.)

Rank/team/previous
1 Auburn 1
2 Oregon 2
3 Oklahoma 3
4 Florida St. 4
5 Alabama 6
6 TX A&M 8
7 LSU 7
8 Notre Dame 10
9 Ole Miss 12
10 BYU 11
11 S Carolina 18
12 Penn St. 24
13 Georgia 5
pitt
14 Pittsburgh —
ECU
15 E. Carolina —
BC
16 Boston Coll. —
UCLA
17 UCLA —
18 Va. Tech 9
UVA
19 Virginia —
20 USC 14
21 Louisville 15
22 Ohio St. 19
arizona-logo
23 Arizona —
Missouri_Tigers_Helmet
24 Missouri —
9159_oklahoma_state_cowboys-mascot-2001
25 Okie St. —

Out of rankings: (13) Clemson, (16) Mich. St., (17) Stanford, (20) Arizona St., (21) Baylor, (22) Florida, (23) Duke, (25) N. Illinois

I haven’t become too much of a purist this week (although you can check out my completely objective top 10 here), but I decided you actually have to have beaten somebody of substance to be on this list. I was a little bit liberal with that, especially in the case of Oklahoma St., but UTSA nearly beat Arizona and had a 6-game winning streak going into the Arizona game. This policy will help ease the transition into the computer system.

I also opted against ranking any team ahead of a team that beat them. I think that makes sense this early. The likes of East Carolina, Boston College, and Virginia might be flukes, but if we find that out later, so be it. When teams down the win chain start to beat the higher teams (for instance, maybe Louisville beats Boston College and USC beats UCLA) is when it gets tricky, and that’s when I resort to my objective system.

If you’re a little hazy, I’ll go through the main ones (best wins of the lowest ranked team in parentheses):
Texas A&M > S. Carolina > Georgia (> Clemson)
Pittsburgh > Boston College > USC (> Stanford)
UCLA > Virginia > Louisville (> U. Miami)
East Carolina > Virginia Tech > Ohio St. (> Navy)

Earlier rankings:
Preseason
Week 1
Week 2

Rankings Reminder and Discussion

In Blogger Poll, College Football, Rankings Commentary on October 21, 2013 at 11:15 AM

Once again, please submit your top-25 rankings, by Wednesday if possible. I may not post them until Thursday evening though. If you’re like me and most of your sports time is reserved for the weekend, feel free to leave a comment on my most-recent rankings blog (once all the games are finished) on any of the various sites I post it. I haven’t had anyone (that I know of) contact me through intheneutralzone.com, which I allow to republish my WordPress blog automatically, but that’s the only place where I might not get it.

I will post my full rankings tomorrow, but in the mean time, you can view my computer ratings. I haven’t gotten many views this week, I guess because Kenneth Massey didn’t get around to posting most of the ratings until right around the time the BCS standings were released. I will vote Alabama #1, for what it’s worth; but for the time being, Missouri is ahead slightly in my formula.

If you don’t want to post your personal rankings publicly, that’s fine. Send a message. If you do post them publicly, I’ll take that as an invitation to discuss your list (and I think anyone else should be able to discuss it). For the vast majority of teams, I don’t have a comment. For instance, the team I primarily cheer for is LSU. An argument could be made that LSU is a top-10 team. Another argument could be made that because LSU has two losses, particularly combined with the fact that the two teams that beat LSU each have multiple losses, LSU should not be in the top 25. I don’t have a problem with either. Just please try to be aware of major results and treat similarly situated teams similarly. If you don’t, I’m still going to accept your list, at least for the foreseeable future; but I don’t think that’s an unreasonable request.

For instance, if team A (one loss) beats team B (only loss), and team B beats team C (only loss), and your ranking looks like this:
10. Team A
11. Team C

18. Team B

I might say something resembling, “Say, kind sir, were you aware that Team B beat Team C?” I would be especially inclined to ask that if Team C didn’t beat anyone ranked #25 or higher and obviously Team B did. We can also add in the fact that Team B beat Team D, who beat Team A.

Turning to the first release of the BCS ratings, I predicted Florida St. to come out ahead of Oregon, and they did. They deserve it. They probably won’t deserve to be #2 in December, but why don’t we put off talk about who deserves what in December at least until late November? I’m not going to do that right now though, because the talking heads on ESPN have already opened the door to that discussion.

ESPN suggested that Florida St.’s rating was “a mirage” and that Oregon would surpass the ’Noles. They may well be right about the latter, but I don’t understand why people insist on looking at it that way. Being #2 at the moment in no way suggests that you should remain #2 or higher as long as you don’t lose. In recent history (the last 10 years) there have been Michigan, Cal, and USC fans, among others, who never seemed to understand this; and I think the failure to address this was part of the problem with the public perception of the BCS.

If voters maintain the same confidence in Oregon that they have currently, I do think Oregon will surpass Florida St., but it won’t be because Florida St. isn’t more deserving at this moment.

I don’t see a legitimate dispute there. Florida St. is the only team to beat Clemson, one of two teams to beat Maryland, and one of two teams to beat Pittsburgh. That should count for more than being one of three teams to beat Washington and one of three teams to beat Tennessee. To be clear, I do think beating Washington is more impressive than beating Pittsburgh and beating Tennessee is more impressive than beating Maryland, but Oregon hasn’t had a third big decent win yet. Washington St. isn’t terrible, but they’re no Clemson. Florida St.’s best three wins certainly should put them above Oregon.

B-but Florida St. plays in the ACC and Oregon plays in the Pac-12 North!

I didn’t make the schedule. Oregon does have quite a remaining slate, but they shouldn’t get credit for the teams they’re GOING TO play, only the ones they’ve played so far. I don’t think rankings (especially not computer rankings, which comprise 1/3 of the formula) should assume when picking teams that they’re all going to win their remaining games. But I definitely anticipate being on the Oregon bandwagon (at least as a proponent of them being in the title game) if they beat UCLA next week and then after the following bye week win the following games in consecutive weeks: @Stanford, Utah, @Arizona, Oregon St., and the Pac-12 South champion (Most likely, the winner of UCLA and Arizona St.).

However, if they can’t do it and Florida St. keeps winning, then the current BCS standings will be vindicated. In my view, the reason a team derives more credit for a more difficult schedule is it overcame greater odds of losing. So it’s not a knock on Florida St. that I think any given team has greater odds of losing a game against Oregon’s future schedule than it would against Florida St.’s. Nor is it a knock on Oregon that I think any given team would have had greater odds of losing against Florida St.’s schedule to this point than it would have against Oregon’s. I think it makes more sense if you consider the BCS computers from the same perspective. You don’t get credit for overcoming those greater odds of losing until you’ve faced them.

I don’t know why this is the case, but it’s always seemed to me that voters usually have in the back of their minds, “What’s going to happen if both teams keep winning?” One time they didn’t necessarily do that was when Michigan was ranked #3 after losing to Ohio St. in 2006. They didn’t think #3 was going to be a BCS championship team until #2 USC lost, then they thought about who should be in that game and selected previously #4 Florida to “jump” Michigan.

The exception proves the rule in a way. They don’t want someone to feel cheated because they held serve, so to speak, and fell in the rankings anyway. So some of them are putting Oregon ahead because they know the Ducks will eventually be tested enough to substantiate a #2 ranking even if all of the top 4 go undefeated. Others are putting them ahead because they had a higher opinion of Oregon going into the year (and perhaps factored in the schedule at that point), something else that the computer formulas don’t contemplate.

So it’s not that one is right and the other is wrong, but the computers and the voters have different perspectives, and they’re both right from those respective points of view. Despite what I said above about Florida St. deserving #2, I would pick Oregon to beat Florida St. on a neutral field.

2012 SEC Recap

In Bowls, College Football, Conference Reports, General LSU, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on January 8, 2013 at 1:18 PM

I’m not happy about Alabama winning the BCS title (and finishing #1 in my ratings) and I still don’t like the man at all, but Nick Saban has been pretty good about reminding people what it means to be in the SEC rather than pretending this is all about Alabama. He gave Georgia and the SEC credit, saying, “We got here by 5 yards — Georgia was 5 yards from scoring [the winning touchdown in the SEC title game],” Saban said. “It’s a pretty tough league we play in. We’re going to have to improve as a program to have the opportunity to play for a national championship again, because of the quality of our league.”

After, the LSU game, Saban’s opening remarks to the media included the following: “LSU played a great game. They had a great game plan. They did a great job of executing. I think their quarterback played really well. There was a stretch there in the second half where they converted seven straight third down and five or mores…. This was a very physical game. I’m going to tell you that our guys are probably going to be as sore as they’ve ever been after any game.” It was obviously in part to give his team credit for winning despite this, but he acknowledged all during the following week that if anything he needed to keep a lid on his team’s self-congratulatory mood (he was smart enough to worry about what happened in the A&M game before it happened), so I don’t think he was just patting himself or the team on the back with these comments.

I also want to give Gregg Doyel (who gave the Saban quote about Georgia here) credit for pointing out what an idiot he made out of himself earlier in the year.

I believe the Tide would have finished undefeated and possibly without the scares it had against LSU and Georgia had it competed in any other conference, and the same may well have been true had the Tide faced Notre Dame’s schedule. That’s not to say there wouldn’t have been any close games, but I don’t think there would have been the type of game that either the Tigers or the Bulldogs had against the Tide. I don’t think Texas A&M was as outstanding as some think they were, but they beat Alabama because they got out to a 20-0 lead, and I’m almost certain that they’re the only team in the country that could have realistically done that.

I just mentioned the three best teams that Alabama played this season (at least based on the games those teams gave Alabama), and it could have easily been any one of them in their place. I’ll further note that the Tide did not play Florida or South Carolina. So if the schedule and a couple other things had worked out differently, Alabama could have been the fifth or sixth team in the SEC this year. After all, that’s the spot LSU (at least according to the polls) ended up in this year, and we saw how close they were to Alabama on the field.

Speaking of which, LSU and Florida (LSU’s only conference loss besides Alabama) had disappointing bowl results, but they were basically national quarterfinalists. Georgia beat Florida, which eventually got the Bulldogs into the semifinal against Alabama, which had beaten LSU to all-but secure its place in the semifinal. The fact that Florida and LSU (and their fans) didn’t seem enthused by the bowls they ended up in–and the teams suffered losses in those games–doesn’t take that away in my view. I don’t think Florida or LSU would have lost those games had they taken place during the regular season even if both the Gators and Fighting Tigers had played them on the road. If you had put LSU or Florida in the Cotton or Sugar against Oklahoma, you might not have seen the same final score, but you would have still seen strong SEC wins in either case. I think the same can be said with regard to the BCS Championship against Notre Dame.

That being said, there were 14 teams in the SEC and that leaves out 8 of them; but even Missouri, which wasn’t eligible for a bowl, beat Arizona St., and Kentucky, which was winless in the SEC, beat Kent St. Northwestern did beat Mississippi St. and even Vanderbilt earlier in the year, but the Commodores came on strong at the end of the year and those Bulldogs did not. Both Tennessee and Vanderbilt beat North Carolina St., Vanderbilt doing it in a bowl, and Tennessee (which did not win enough games for a bowl berth) doing it to start the year. Also, there was another SEC bowl win when Ole Miss soundly beat Pittsburgh, which was a 33-yard field goal (attempted in the second of three overtimes) away from beating Notre Dame in South Bend.

If you look at inter-conference record, the SEC was second to the Big XII, but I think when you look at the top 2 Big XII teams, that’s an indication that the whole conference was a step behind the SEC. The Pac-12 was probably a better conference than the Big XII, but they were 24-11 out of conference to the SEC’s 43-8 before the bowl games. Both the SEC and Pac-12 were just over .500 in games against the AQ’s (and Notre Dame) before the bowls. The Big XII was 25-2 overall, but I think you’ll find that apart from the record, the conference didn’t do anything that impressive.

I don’t have anything particularly complimentary to say about Arkansas and Auburn, but I think in a lot of conferences both would have made bowl games. I felt like Auburn gave up, but with a few wins rather than losses in September and October, I don’t think that would have happened. I almost forgot that Arkansas beat a pretty good Tulsa team in November though.