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Posts Tagged ‘SEC’

Alabama Is Not a Playoff Team

In College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, Rankings Commentary on November 15, 2019 at 6:16 PM

I’m not here to argue that it’s unreasonable to believe Alabama is one of the four most-talented teams or to argue that there is no circumstance in which Alabama should be in the Playoff. What I am going to argue is that Alabama should only be considered if a conference champion hardly did anything important on the national level other than win that championship game.

I’m OK with Alabama being #5 as long as it doesn’t mean that if Georgia loses to Auburn or LSU, Alabama gets a playoff spot. Until the championship games are played, all one-loss teams are one-loss non-champions, so it doesn’t really bother me that much if you think Alabama is the best one-loss non-champion.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban reacts to the LSU touchdown with 6 seconds left in the first half in Tuscaloosa on Saturday. The Tigers led 33-13 at that point.

It should be a completely different conversation when comparing a one-loss non-champion to a one-loss champion. Rather than giving Alabama the benefit of the doubt, as it seems college football voters (the committee still votes; it’s just a more complicated process than the polls) always do, any one-loss champion should get the benefit of the doubt instead.

For instance, if LSU had one loss, the Tigers could point to the win over Florida and the win over Texas. Alabama can point to Tennessee and Duke. That doesn’t overcome champion versus non-champion. Unless Clemson loses, the only team I can think of that might give me pause is Utah. If Utah beats Oregon, they’ll be 1-1 against the top 30 (I consider USC top 30 even though the polls don’t, and maybe the latter will change after USC wins over Cal and UCLA), just like Alabama will be if they beat Auburn.

Maybe you could argue that the only reason Texas A&M won’t be in the top 30 is the fact that the Aggies have four currently top-5 teams on their schedule (they already played Clemson and Alabama and have Georgia and LSU left), not to mention #12 Auburn (who also beat them). So maybe it would then be fairer to say even without a championship game Alabama is 2-1 against teams that have reasonable capability of beating a top team whereas Utah will be only 1-1 even with the benefit of the championship.

So I’ve laid out what kind of argument might work for me. I just don’t see any potential one-loss major-conference champion apart from Utah or Clemson (whose best win might be Texas A&M) failing that test. I could also see a one-loss non-champion such as Ohio St. or Minnesota belonging ahead of Alabama.

Just thought this was funny. If you don’t get it, it’s a reference to the 2015 Sugar Bowl loss to Cardale Jones and Ohio St. in conjunction with the loss to former Ohio St. backup Joe Burrow on Saturday.

I’ve mentioned resumes, so let’s break down the resumes. I start with the various teams’ current ranking, then I discuss what could happen to that ranking down the line. This is relevant because I don’t accept the argument that a team was tough to beat just because they were ranked highly when you played them. Polls can be wrong, especially early in the season. Remember how Nebraska (4-5 and has only played one of the top three teams on its schedule) was ranked in both polls after Week 1?

Alabama:

Top-50 Wins –  #13 Auburn (who would be a few spots lower if they beat Georgia before losing to Alabama and several spots lower if not)

#43 Texas A&M (who might be higher if they beat LSU and will be lower if they don’t)

Loss – #1 LSU (will be clear favorites in remaining games)

If Oklahoma wins out:

Top 50 wins:

#6 Baylor, probably twice (obviously would fall in that scenario)

#28 Texas (losing to Baylor and winning the other two probably won’t hurt the Horns and may even result in a higher ranking)

#32 Oklahoma St. (will probably be about the same if they beat Baylor and lose to the Sooners, will probably be lower if they lose to both)

Loss: #30 Kansas St.

If Baylor wins out:

Top-50 wins – #16 Oklahoma, probably twice (would fall slightly in that scenario; the Sooners would benefit from wins over Oklahoma St. and TCU)

#28 Texas (might be about the same if that is the only loss, will be lower if they also lose to Iowa St.)

#30 Kansas St. (could be a bit higher since they already lost to the Bears and will probably be favored in remaining games)

#32 Oklahoma St. (will probably be a bit lower if they lose to the Bears and the Sooners)

Most likely losses – Texas or Oklahoma

If Minnesota wins out:

Top-50 wins – #2 Ohio St. (if the Buckeyes make the Big Ten
championship, but of course they would lose a few spots by losing to Minnesota)

#5 Penn St. (may lose a few spots by losing to Ohio St. and several spots by losing to Indiana), possibly twice if the Nittany Lions beat the Buckeyes.

#20 Wisconsin (may lose a few spots by losing to Minnesota but should win the rest)

#27 Iowa (may lose a few spots by losing to Minnesota but should win the rest)

#48 Illinois (probably won’t lose ground by losing to Iowa and beating Northwestern)

Most likely losses – See list of top-50 wins

If Penn St. wins out:

Top-50 wins – #2 Ohio St. (would lose a few spots of course)

#4 Minnesota (likely Big Ten championship opponent; would
lose a few spots of course)

#19 Michigan (will be higher if they beat Ohio St., probably about the same if not)

#27 Iowa (may lose a few spots by losing to Minnesota but should win the rest)

#36 Indiana (probably would finish about the same if they beat Michigan, lower if two or more losses in the last three games)

#39 Pittsburgh (would improve by beating Va. Tech and Boston College, probably even an improvement if they also lose to Clemson).

Loss – #4 Minnesota (would be hurt by any loss; see above)

If Oregon wins out:

Top-50 wins – #15 Utah (in Pac-12 championship; probably would not
change much if they win the other remaining games)

#25 USC (may be slightly higher, will be favored to
win remaining games)

#35 Washington

Loss:

#13 Auburn  (who would be a few spots lower if they beat Georgia before losing to Alabama and several spots lower if they lose to both)

If Utah wins out:

Top-50 wins – #7 Oregon (would drop by losing to Utah)

#34 BYU (will probably lose ground if they lose to San Diego St. regardless of other wins; will gain slightly if they beat the Aztecs)

#35 Washington (will improve with wins over Colorado and Washington St., will drop if they lose either or both)

Loss – #25 USC (may be slightly higher, will be favored to win remaining games)

I already talked about Utah.  Oregon in this scenario would have played 11 major-conference opponents, including all of the good teams in the Pac-12 and Auburn. I don’t want the Ducks penalized for playing a good non-conference opponent in August and not losing again even if Alabama beats the team they lost to in late November.  The wins are still more important.

Even if Baylor loses to either Texas or Oklahoma and then wins the Big XII championship, I’m still more impressed by that. 

Resumes aside, I’m against a team like Alabama being able to game the system like this.

I’m in favor of the 8-game SEC schedule because I want teams like Florida and South Carolina that have tough annual rivalries to be able to play other competitive games out of conference and still have a couple of games to catch their breaths.  But it shouldn’t be used by teams like Alabama to play 10 games against mediocre (or worse) opponents and only have to win one of two games against really good opponents.     

The Gamecocks overdid it this year by scheduling North Carolina and Appalachian St., but maybe they thought both would be worse than they have been.  Alabama didn’t do any of that.  Maybe when Alabama scheduled Duke, they didn’t sign on to play any weaker of a team than Florida did when they scheduled Miami; but Alabama doesn’t have an annual series either cross-division or out-of-conference that’s worth anything.  Florida already knew they had LSU and Florida St. in addition to the SEC East.  South Carolina already knew they had Texas A&M and Clemson annually in addition to the SEC East (I’m not sure how recently they realized they were also playing Alabama this year). 

A team should never have an easier road to the Playoff by losing a game, and that’s what Alabama thinks they deserve just like they thought they deserved it in 2011.  They don’t.  If they have a clearly better resume, I understand just taking the four teams with the best resumes; but if there is any doubt at all, the committee should lean toward conference champions and against potential rematches.  Also, just like in 2011, I think losing at home should doubly mean you don’t deserve a second shot.

It’s not only resumes, it’s not only fairness for this year’s teams, the idea should also be to discourage bad scheduling.  Duke has had some good seasons in the past, but they never had beat-Alabama (or other serious title contender) levels of talent. When the Tide played USC or Virginia Tech in earlier seasons, there was at least a chance they’d be facing a challenge.  They knew all along Duke wasn’t going to be a challenge.  The other three would have been bigger upsets than have ever happened to my knowledge. 

I also don’t believe for a second that New Mexico St. was the best team they could get that week when Saban went on his little rant.  There are a ton of better programs who would have loved the exposure of a nationally televised game in Tuscaloosa.  Troy or UAB would have been better opponents.  They certainly wouldn’t have required large travel budgets or had trouble selling their ticket allotments.

It’s also not right that the only two teams who can challenge Alabama (Auburn and LSU) play Georgia and Florida respectively every year while Alabama plays Tennessee.  If Alabama doesn’t win despite the uneven playing field and despite playing the eventual champion at home, they don’t deserve sympathy or special consideration.  I don’t care if the entire offense already has NFL contracts waiting.

LSU/Bama Recap and Week 11 Top 25

In College Football, General LSU, History, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 11, 2019 at 5:39 PM

I know there were a couple of other big games, but I only have time to write about LSU right now.

The Bama game was about what I expected apart from a few details. Tua had almost exactly how many yards per pass that I thought (8.32) until the long bomb to get the Tide within 5 with 81 seconds left put him over the 10 ypa mark. I expect College Football Nerds to celebrate how they lucked into that one even though they’d be the first to cite such a circumstance to show they weren’t really so wrong in some other game. I haven’t listened to their whole video, but they’re still saying Alabama has a better offense than LSU.

Joe Burrow, Ed Orgeron, and his wife Kelly are front and center celebrating the LSU win in Tuscaloosa Saturday.

I think more important than total yards was the fact that Tua threw 19 incompletions to Burrow’s 8. That’s usually what ends up hurting you in ypa average when you don’t get 85 on one play (and over 60 on another). Burrow also got 64 yards on the ground to Tua’s -5. LSU still got better QB play and still got more yards on the ground. Everything I brought up was in the context of LSU at least playing it close, and I did pick LSU to win.

As I commented on The Late Kick, another channel I follow (that also picked Alabama to beat the spread), I thought the winner would score in the high 30s instead of the mid-40s, but that’s a minor issue. The pass at the end (or not getting the punt return TD) and one more stop by Bama (or one fewer turnover, such as at the end of the first half) would have caused that to happen. I didn’t think Burrow would get out of quite as many jams as he did since I’ve been assured so many times how much better this defense was than the likes of Texas. So it was a little surprising that he didn’t seem any more affected by the pass rush than he did against Texas.

Harris of Alabama ran a little better than I expected, but my point in discussing Alabama running the ball was it wasn’t going to be anything close to the passing yards, and when you count the negative plays it was almost 300 yards fewer.

Early on, to Alabama’s credit, LSU struggled to get a traditional running game going; but the Tigers still made good use of the backs as blockers and receivers. Edwards-Helaire was ultimately responsible for 180 yards, 10 fewer than Harris. More than 70 of those yards were after contact on the rushing plays, probably another 50 were after contact on the receiving plays.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire catches a touchdown pass with 6 seconds left in the first half to put the Tigers up 33-13 in Tuscaloosa Saturday.

Sometimes a team in a hostile environment has to feel things out for a little while before they get comfortable. Obviously that wasn’t the case here. LSU early on seemed much more comfortable in a big-game environment, and I was right to question how capable Alabama would be in such a scenario. The Tide settled in of course, but the lack of experience of THIS Bama team probably decided the game.

Speaking of the road environment, I’m going to add this to my LSU/Alabama series blog. LSU has done better on the road against Alabama than at home not only for the last 12+ years (three of the four LSU wins in that span have been in Tuscaloosa) but for the last 50 years. All seven LSU wins from 1970 to 1999 (inclusive) were in Alabama. LSU won 7 of the next 8 (and 9 of 12) games overall starting in 2000 (Saban’s first year with the Tigers), so where the game was played didn’t matter quite as much in that span. Still, from 1970 to today, LSU has gone 13-12 against the Tide in Alabama (including 4-4 in Birmingham) and only 4-21-1 in Louisiana (including 0-1 in New Orleans).

One other bit of trivia: The 87 points scored on Saturday by both teams were the most in an LSU-Alabama game by 12 points, beating the 41-34 LSU win in 2007, the last season the Tigers won the national championship (and before Saban recruited his own defense). The third-highest point total was only 58, a tie between the 1989 Alabama win and the 2000 LSU win (which had been the first Tiger win at home since 1969).

Top 25

rankteamlast
1LSU2
2Ohio St.1
3Clemson4
4Minnesota7
5Penn St.3
6Baylor8
7Oregon5
8Georgia15
9SMU13
10Boise St.16
11Cincinnati12
12Memphis11
13Auburn10
14Alabama9
15Utah6
16Oklahoma18
17Notre Dame20
18Florida19
19Michigan14
20Wisconsin23
21Appalachian24
22Navy21
23Air Force22
24Wake Forest17
25USC

Out of Top 25: (25) Central Florida

Week 10 Top 25

In College Football, General LSU, History, Post-game, Preview, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 4, 2019 at 2:43 PM

I’ve written so much about LSU/Alabama over the years, I have a whole page of links just for that. Yes, LSU hasn’t won since the 9-6 win in Tuscaloosa in 2011, although people forget the game came down to one possession in both 2012 and 2014. I also haven’t seen much mention that over about the last 50 years LSU does better on the road in this series. You’d think from the coverage that Albama hasn’t lost at home since they hired Bear Bryant and that every game was 20+ to 0.

I haven’t done a meaningful breakdown of what’s going on in my top 25 apart from the top 10 in a good while, so I thought now would be a good time to catch up with no LSU recap. I also don’t think we need to introduce Alabama and what they do well. I covered some of it here.

American Conference

The best Big Ten and SEC teams were idle, and the only ACC team that has much to offer played Wofford; so now seems like a good time to highlight the American conference.

SMU finally lost, so my whole top 10 is now Power Five teams. The American still has five teams in the top 25 though, which is tied with the SEC and the Big Ten for the best.

QB Brady White threw for over 10 yards per pass and three touchdowns in the 54-48 win over SMU.

The controversial loss to Temple is the only reason Memphis isn’t undefeated (although to be fair they barely escaped against Tulsa). Cincinnati’s only loss is to #1 Ohio St. I don’t factor in margin of victory unless the home team wins a game decided by less than a field goal in regulation, so 42 is the same as 4 in my formula. The average home advantage is about 3 points, and obviously that happens to be a field goal. Whether you need a field goal or a touchdown at the end of the game is often a big difference, so it seems like a perfect place to draw the line. SMU’s first loss was the one the Mustangs just suffered against Memphis, so I don’t see anything wrong with their rank either.

Staying in the same conference but skipping down a few spots, Navy and Central Florida have recovered well from early losses. Navy suffered its only loss to Memphis, so that gives even more context to that ranking. Navy beat Tulane, which as I mentioned is in the top 40, and Air Force, which rose to #21 after beating Army. Central Florida had a relatively ugly loss to Pitt, so that’s why the Knights are last in the top 25. The loss to Cincinnati wasn’t bad obviously. I doubt the American will have 5 ranked teams here at the end of the season, but they’ve seemed pretty legitimate so far.

Top 10

I don’t have a specific reason Clemson fell below Penn St., but a number of the purple/orange Tigers’ opponents have been stagnant or losing value. I’m sure Florida St.’s loss to U. Miami, which Clemson does not play and will not play, didn’t help. It will generally hurt a team if a team in their own division loses to a team in the other division. It would hurt Ohio St. slightly if Minnesota beat Penn St., although the Buckeyes haven’t even played the Nittany Lions yet.

Alabama barely stayed in the computer top 10 since their schedule is bad. I’d still put the SEC top 5 up against anyone else’s, but Alabama hasn’t played anyone else in the top 5 of the conference (or any other conference except arguably CUSA). In previous years the worst team or two was around #90 and sometimes the rest were all in the top 75. The SEC does have 11 teams in the top 75, which is still very respectable; but Arkansas and Vanderbilt are among the dozen worst teams in FBS football (with losses to San Jose St. and UNLV, respectively), so they bring down the average significantly. Ole Miss isn’t too much better at #104; the Rebels’ only FBS wins have come over Arkansas and Vanderbilt.

Bama only fell one spot in the computer formula, which isn’t unusual after a bye week, especially one in which one of your best opponents lost and another played a team outside of the top 100. They only fall three spots here because I had moved them up extra spots last week.

Unlike LSU and Auburn, the Tide does not have an annual cross-divisional game against one of the top teams of the East. This year they drew South Carolina and Tennessee, two of the worst teams in the East. The Tide’s best non-conference opponents on the schedule are #67 Duke and #78 Southern Miss. By contrast, LSU has beaten three teams in out-of-conference play alone that rate at least 14 spots higher than Duke. Auburn has the best non-conference win in the nation (over #5 Oregon), and their win over #40 Tulane helps too. In conference play, the one advantage Alabama has over LSU (but not Auburn) is having played Texas A&M already; but the Aggies only rate 9 spots higher than Mississippi St., who has played LSU (and Auburn) but not Alabama. LSU also has not yet taken the hit to the strength of schedule that playing Ole Miss and Arkansas will entail.

Hopefully that explains how a two-loss team is ahead of an undefeated team in their own division (I couldn’t let that stand in the list below though) and how the AP #1 and #2 are nothing close in my formula.

Other than switching Alabama and Auburn (who only has about 1/10 of 1% more points than their rivals), I decided not to make any other changes. Whether Alabama beats LSU or not, it would cause a bigger disruption if I put all the top-10 undefeateds in the top 7. Someone will also lose between Minnesota and Penn St., and whoever wins it will look like the loser is being unduly punished. If it’s the lower team, they’ll have lost a few spots before the game even started. If it’s the higher team, it will look like they’re being dropped too far for losing to a top-7 team, who in turn isn’t being rewarded enough for the big win.

The Rest

Like a couple of the other teams I mentioned, Michigan seems to be clawing back from relatively early losses.

Likewise, Georgia’s win over Florida went some way in repairing the Bulldogs’ resume. Auburn would be another huge help.

Boise St. can only go so far with the loss to BYU and the best non-conference win being Florida St.. Another team that barely beat Florida St. was Wake Forest, who has a habit of barely beating opponents; but the Demon Deacons still have only one loss (to unranked Louisville).

Oklahoma’s one meaningful win (over Texas, which has understandable losses but a lack of wins to be excited about) only goes so far. Notre Dame, Florida, and Wisconsin are two-loss teams capable of top-10 wins, but there are weak spots on the schedule that put them significantly behind a team like Auburn.

The only top-25 team I haven’t mentioned is Appalachian St., who barely stayed in the top 25 after losing to Georgia Southern. That’s been a fairly big rivalry going back to the schools’ I-AA days, so these things happen. I’m still going to be very interested in how the Mountaineers do against South Carolina.

Outside of the top 25, things are looking good for other Louisiana schools. I mentioned LSU and Tulane, but I didn’t mention there are two other Louisiana teams between the two, Louisiana Tech and UL-Lafayette. Louisiana Tech looks like the best team in its conference right now. I wish LSU had played one of them instead of Northwestern St. The Tigers’ non-conference schedule would look even better.

Top 25 (List)

rankteamlast
1Ohio St.1
2LSU2
3Penn St.4
4Clemson3
5Oregon8
6Utah12
7Minnesota7
8Baylor9
9Alabama6
10Auburn10
11Memphis17
12Cincinnati11
13SMU5
14Michigan16
15Georgia24
16Boise St.13
17Wake Forest19
18Oklahoma15
19Florida14
20Notre Dame25
21Navy20
22Air Force23
23Wisconsin22
24Appalachian18
25Central Florida

Out of top 25: (21) Iowa

Early Discussion about LSU/Alabama

In College Football, General LSU, Preview on October 29, 2019 at 4:26 PM

I didn’t think I’d get into it this early, but I’ve already listened to a few people previewing the LSU-Alabama game.

I don’t know what their problem is, but I made a very thorough comment in response to College Football Nerds (CFN). I said right up front that I think either team could win by multiple scores (and therefore picking Alabama to win by 6-10 points, which they did, could well be correct). 

The “College Football Nerds” computer model, which predicts Alabama to have almost one yard per play more than Texas gained against LSU, not to mention more yards per play than the Tide got against Texas A&M (their best opponent so far). For comparison, the Aggies allowed 58 points between Auburn and Mississippi St., while LSU allowed 34 points between the two common opponents.

I’ll quote the exchange in full below; but to summarize, I pointed out that it’s hard to know just how good Alabama’s passing attack is given the schedule.  I also mentioned that the game plans against both Florida and Auburn were more centered around the idea that the quarterback can’t beat you (and therefore there was more cause for concern with the opponent running the ball) rather than that the quarterback is the biggest threat on the field, which is the case with Alabama. 

Had LSU not changed its defense in the second half, Trask might have beaten them; but that doesn’t mean that if on average the Alabama offense scores 50% more than the Florida offense against a given opponent that we can expect 42 points here.  If LSU plays Alabama the way they played Florida in the second half, you could only expect 21 for the game (Florida only scored 7 in the second half).

Maybe they’re just salty because their model doesn’t account for changes in strategy or for the fact that your point total can be cut in half (as LSU’s was by Auburn) if you all of a sudden play a much better defense than you have been playing.  Alabama’s average right now is about 48.6. LSU’s average before Auburn was 50.3, so Auburn actually held LSU to 45.7% of is average. 

If LSU does the same to Alabama, that’s 22 points.  I’m not saying that will happen or that 41 CAN’T happen.  There is just no inherent justification for it.  It’s not safe to assume the offense just keeps rolling as it has been minus 7-11 points.  Look at last year.  Same quarterback, but when Alabama played LSU they had a 54.1 average.  That makes the 29 allowed by LSU look pretty good.  (It helped that we couldn’t sustain drives, but that’s not our strong suit this year either.)  So if LSU is able to take 25 off of the average again, I like those chances.  Clemson took 38 off of the pre-LSU average.  I’ll be shocked if LSU does that, but only mildly surprised if they do as well as last year’s defense.  High 20s wouldn’t shock me any more than low 40s, and low 20s wouldn’t shock me any more than high 40s.

Tua Tagovailoa threw for under 8.7 yards per attempt the last time he was challenged by a defense (against Clemson in January, pictured above). The last time he played LSU he threw for just over 7 yards per attempt. CFN predicts almost 10 ypa on 11/9.

Alabama is not a particularly good team with the running backs this year, and CFN even said during their video that they expected LSU to have about 3/4 of a yard per carry more than Alabama.  And that’s given that Alabama has a decent front 7 and given that LSU isn’t particularly good at running the ball this year.

Their response was to strawman me as saying “Alabama could be terrible, they haven’t played anyone.”  I didn’t say they could be terrible, I just said they might not be as great at passing as these guys said since they haven’t faced a good defense this year.  If Alabama is going to score 41 points while not being able to run very well, they have to have a good passing game.

Anyway, the response to the strawman was that to hear this every year is “getting weird”. 

What does “every year” have to do with this year?  Alabama beat Clemson by 18 two years ago (despite losing to them the previous year).  Did that help last year when Clemson won by 28?  Trevor Lawrence outplayed Tua, who threw two interceptions (to zero), one fewer touchdown, and 2.1 fewer yards per attempt in January.  Does that mean someone shouldn’t adjust their expectations if Alabama’s next game were against Clemson instead of LSU?  I guess you can’t attack Clemson for their schedule anymore because they played two top-3 teams in January.

I attacked Finebaum for being half in this season and half in last season, but he saw the error of his ways.  He actually agrees with me now on Ohio St. #1 and LSU #2.  I changed by dropping Clemson since then, but at least I admitted I was giving Clemson the benefit of the doubt based on last year.  But he’s not these guys who construct their model and their arguments around this season and then act like I’m crazy for ignoring last season.  I don’t think he’d talk to me unless I called his show and got through, but that’s beside the point.

I finished my response to CFN by saying, “Florida is a pretty good defense [they held Auburn to 13, just FYI].  Tell me what game we can use to extrapolate that Bama would score 42 against Florida.”  I honestly would have loved an answer (and if it were a good one, I’d admit that LSU doing better than Florida would defensively might even be charitable), but the lack of an answer and the preference to mock a straw man tells me a good bit too.

The host of College Football Nerds (left) and his sidekick Josh. I’m not sure what exactly Josh looks like, so I took some artistic license.

Here is the full transcript:

Me:

Either team could win by multiple touchdowns depending on a key play here and there and who’s under pressure to be one-dimensional and throw 50/50 balls.

But I don’t think you can say Alabama has an elite passing attack based on their opponents. You’d be calling Burrow the best QB in history with Alabama’s schedule.

LSU has forced every team to throw the ball either to stay within a score or come from behind or both. In doing so, they often left a buffer behind the line of scrimmage just to prevent big plays and buckle down near the end zone. That’s how Florida was shut out for 25 minutes in a row. That’s how Miss. St. was shut out for 34 minutes. That’s how Auburn only had one legitimate scoring drive in a 50-minute period. That’s how Northwestern St. and Utah St. were completely shut out in the second halves. So the 90+% average probably won’t apply unless LSU has a good lead or is scoring so consistently Alabama is afraid to even try running the ball AND LSU struggles to get to passes and make tackles.

The other thing is part of the strategy against Florida (which didn’t work) and Auburn (which worked a lot better) was to make the quarterback beat you by leading long drives. They know Tua can do that. They know Bama isn’t as scary running the ball (with a non-QB) as Auburn and Florida. So they’re not going to focus on the run and be lax about the pass.

The Alabama offense hasn’t had to adjust to a good defense. Maybe they’ll do so flawlessly, but we don’t know. I trust LSU to do that more than Bama based on what’s been shown this year. For instance, Texas wasn’t good, but you don’t have to be good to stop a third and 19. They still couldn’t and it wasn’t their fault. Florida is a pretty good defense. Tell me what game we can use to extrapolate that Bama would score 42 against Florida.

CFN:

You think Auburn and Florida are better running teams than Alabama? Florida is 90th in total rushing, 75th in YPC. Also this “Alabama could be terrible, they haven’t played anyone” thing every year is getting weird. Alabama has a #1 overall draft pick at QB and the best WR unit in CFB history. Does that mean for certain they’ll break 40? No. But to question their passing attack is bizarre.

Me:

College Football Nerds You had to respect Perine being able to break a long run.  Even if Alabama has a player like that, he didn’t run for 88 yards in one play against a good defense. 

Pierce later ran 75 in one play against South Carolina.  That game could have been much different if it were 20-10 Carolina at the half.

To act like they have a proven passing attack THIS YEAR is bizarre

If Tua never started before this year he wouldn’t be a #1.  LSU had a #1 pick in 2006 and lost to Auburn 7-3.  That doesn’t prove Alabama is going to produce like you’re saying against a good defense.  This isn’t the NFL, there isn’t an NFL offensive line.  Not everything translates from college to the NFL.  Ask Saban.

Something else bizarre about one year transferring to another is how Alabama went from beating Clemson by 18 to losing by 28. Is Trevor Lawrence the best QB in college football today?  He was better than Tua in January

On a lighter note, this was hilarious.

Week 9 Top 25; Key Games and Race for #1

In College Football, General LSU, History, Post-game, Preview, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on October 27, 2019 at 2:02 PM

LSU/Auburn

I think my one-paragraph prediction about this game (last paragraph here) was exactly right.  There were some things that were somewhat surprising though.

I’ve updated the records here.  I had forgotten that other than Alabama, the only two teams that have beaten Auburn a majority of the time (with at least 10 games played) are from Louisiana: LSU and Tulane.

I advised taking Auburn and the points.  I said that I wouldn’t have been surprised if Auburn scored about what Florida did and actually thought Auburn might have scored more.  What I didn’t expect was that 24 would have been enough to win.  The visiting Tigers were still most of the way to Florida’s point total of 28. 

I said that Auburn would probably stop LSU from scoring a couple of times more than Florida did. LSU had four scoring drives rather than six, so that was correct.  I didn’t expect LSU would get to what would have been field-goal range last year about six times with no points to show for it though.

That’s the second game in a row in which LSU struggled to score touchdowns after driving deep in the opponent’s territory, especially early.  I don’t know if that’s a long-term issue or those were just two pretty good defenses with a relatively short field.  I know Mississippi St. has given up a lot of points over the course of the year, but some of that was the fault of their anemic offense.  The Bulldog defense at least seemed fresh with home crowd behind it for 25 minutes against LSU before the Tigers scored two touchdowns late in the first half last week.

Clyde Edwards-Hellaire, with 136 yards, was the top rusher of the game as LSU was able to control time of possession for one of the only times this season.

I was surprised that LSU committed two turnovers, one of which set up an Auburn touchdown.  There were also two officiating decisions that assisted in that score (both the turnover and the touchdown itself), but I’ll talk about officiating later.  Anyway, that actually brings up one unexpected positive for the Bayou Bengals.  I didn’t think Auburn would be incapable of a touchdown drive beyond 22 yards in the first 57 minutes of play.

The sacks and tackles for loss didn’t shock me. I knew that was an area that Auburn was good at.  I still think LSU has a good offensive line, but it’s not going to stop a really good front seven (possibly the best LSU will face) every time.

I did like how Burrow ran and threw across the backfield to avert the pass rush.  I knew that would be necessary to avoid some of the rush. Having more quick, short-yardage plays helped LSU win the time of possession.  This was more of a traditional LSU win in that way.

Another positive was the halftime adjustments.  A good offensive coach like Dan Mullen or Gus Malzahn can come up with a scoring drive to start the half, but Florida didn’t score a second time in the whole half and Auburn didn’t score a second time until about 24 minutes of play later.  Mississippi St.’s only score of the second half was in the closing minute.  Northwestern St. and Utah St. were completely shut out in the respective second halves.

I hope that LSU is at least within a couple of scores of Alabama after the Tide’s opening drive of the second half.  The Tigers could be ahead for all I know, but it really hurt their chances when Alabama scored a touchdown 75 seconds before the half last year to make it realistically a three-score game (two touchdowns and two two-point conversions isn’t necessarily realistic).  Nine points instead of 16 would have mattered there.  Nine points was the halftime deficit against Auburn two years ago, so I think that’s a good bare-minimum goal if we don’t have a good first half.  I think the defense would give the offense a chance to catch up in the third and fourth quarters in that scenario.

Tua Tagovailoa ran for more yards on this play than LSU had rushing yards in the whole game last year in Baton Rouge. Alabama also had over 100 more passing yards.

Going back to the Auburn score to open the half, I thought that even though Auburn scored, it was a moral victory of sorts for the defense to come up with a stop inside the 10.  LSU has been good at that this season.  Auburn was good too, but hopefully Alabama isn’t as good at that if the Tigers have such chances in Tuscaloosa. LSU responded by driving to the one-yard line when they were stopped at fourth and goal, but the ball pretty much stayed on the Auburn half of the field until LSU scored to take the lead for good.   

I’m not going to go into all the calls, but the officiating was terrible, so I was glad LSU was able to withstand that. 

The hit on Burrow looked bad.  I thought helmet-to-helmet hits when a guy is going out of bounds was against the rules.  The TV rules expert said Burrow wasn’t defenseless, but I’ve certainly seen other players being tackled or going out of bounds ruled as defenseless.  Those guys seem more like PR agents for the refs than unbiased arbiters anyway. 

There was also kind of a hip check by an LSU defender that was called pass interference.  I didn’t think it denied the opportunity to catch the ball, and the receiver wasn’t even looking for the ball.  Pass interference should only be called when it conceivably could have been a catch without the interference, which was the case when there was a non-call in the end zone at the end of the first half.  I’m not saying everything they called or didn’t call was in Auburn’s favor, but they definitely favored the visitors. 

We had a couple of players, Tyrion Davis-Price and Derrick Dillon, who reacted to what should have been penalties on other players.  That accounted for 30 of the 118 yards of penalties called on LSU.  If the ref doesn’t call something, a player doesn’t need to make it worse by having them call a penalty on LSU.  You also can’t count on offsetting penalties even when they’re deserved (which was a big part of the reason LSU lost to Alabama in 2014).  The flags themselves were justified though.

Top-10 opponents

Anyway, LSU is now 8-2 against top-10 opponents over the last three seasons. You can guess who the two exceptions were.  Alabama is 6-2 (losses to Clemson and Auburn), and Ohio St. is 6-1 (loss to Oklahoma).    Those three teams happen to be in close to a three-way tie atop the AP poll this week.

The Tide has not played a top-10 team this season, and LSU has played three top-10 teams.  How is this possible when they’re in the same division of the same conference?  Alabama has not played Auburn yet (obviously), their best out-of-conference opponent was Duke (LSU’s was Texas when the Longhorns were still undefeated), and their annual cross-divisional rival is Tennessee (LSU’s is Florida).

Before someone says I’m wrong about the top-10 opponents, I know there was an ESPN graphic posted after the Florida game about how Alabama and Ohio St. had more wins over top-10 teams; but that was going back to 2016, the year that Les Miles coached 4 games before giving way to Orgeron. LSU beat three ranked teams that year, but none were in the top 10.  This gave the other programs a head start, and I don’t think it’s really fair to expect an interim coach to beat top-10 teams anyway.

Race for #1

Most teams have played 8 games.  A couple have even played 9.  I think we’ve progressed far enough into the season to completely ignore last year from now on.  That being the case, although Clemson is still what I’d call a good undefeated team, I no longer consider them #1.  LSU’s best two opponents (Auburn and Florida) are better than Ohio St.’s best two opponents (Cincinnati and Wisconsin), but the Buckeyes have had a better schedule week to week.  Indiana rates higher than Texas (I don’t care how they were ranked at the time of the game), Michigan St. rates higher than Utah St., Florida Atlantic rates higher than Mississippi St., and Nebraska rates higher than Georgia Southern.  I don’t think anyone lower is worth mentioning. 

I don’t put much of a premium on margin of victory, and it has nothing to do with why Ohio St. is #1 in my computer formula; but the way the games have played out also indicates to me that there are fewer teams that Ohio St. would struggle against than teams that LSU would struggle against.

Ohio St. is the clear #1 in both the weighted and unweighted versions of my formula as well.  For instance, in the unweighted system, only 0.007 separates Penn St. from Clemson.  In the weighted system, 0.24 separates the two.  Ohio St’s respective leads over LSU are 0.093 (over 13 times the difference between Clemson and Penn St.) and 1.911 (about 8 times the difference between Clemson and Penn St.).

My educated guess is that if LSU and Ohio St. both win in two weeks, LSU will finally have enough points to go ahead, but it matters how prior opponents of the respective teams do and how opponents of those teams do over the next two weeks as well.  Also, there is more reason to be skeptical that LSU will beat Alabama than there is that Ohio St. will beat Maryland.

I mention two weeks instead of next week because #1 Ohio St., #2 LSU, #4 Penn St., #6 Alabama, and #7 Minnesota all have byes next week.  #3 Clemson plays Wofford, so I don’t think there is any concern of a major change among the top teams next week. If #5 SMU beats Memphis, the Mustangs may move up a spot or two; but that will probably be temporary given that SMU will not stand to gain many computer points by being East Carolina on November 9. 

Kansas and the Big XII

Baylor, an undefeated team I haven’t mentioned much and possibly the last good hope for the Big XII (at least unless a series of losses by others puts one-loss Oklahoma back in the top 4), starts a challenging three-game stretch on November 9 as well.  Unfortunately, they won’t be playing SMU since the Southwest Conference disbanded in 1995; but they travel to Forth Worth on that day before hosting Oklahoma and Texas in the subsequent two weeks.  November 23, which is the day Baylor plays the last of those teams, is also a big day for currently-undefeated teams since Ohio St. plays Penn St. on that day.

I don’t know whose idea it was for Baylor to travel to Lawrence, Kansas, on Rivalry Week unless they thought it was basketball; but Les Miles’ Jayhawks have been looking good the past couple of weeks under new offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon.  It might seem far-fetched for a team with only 3 wins right now to beat a team who’s currently undefeated, but something similar happened during Rivalry Week in 2001.  Les Miles’ first Oklahoma St. team entered the game against #4 Oklahoma with only 3 wins and yet beat the Sooners. Games like that can be tough when it’s the closest thing the opponent will get to a bowl game.

KU would need some luck, but they certainly had that last night.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a team have the potential winning field goal blocked only to simply try again from a closer distance on the next play.  Combined with the game in Austin I mentioned here, it was the second consecutive week that a field goal on the final play decided the winner in a Kansas game.  Also, although Texas and Oklahoma may have seen better years, I don’t know how many teams can beat the two in consecutive weeks and still be ready to ward off a potential upset on the road.  Maybe Baylor is just that special, but I have my doubts.

The ball peaks just a few yards downfield from where it was kicked by Kansas after being blocked on the second-to-last play by Texas Tech. The Red Raiders would fumble the ball; and Kansas would recover, allowing the Jayhawks to win on the last play.

Top 25

NOTE: I only gave myself leeway of two spots from the computer ranking. This was only done for a handful of teams though.

rankteamlast
1Ohio St.2
2LSU3
3Clemson1
4Penn St.5
5SMU8
6Alabama4
7Minnesota11
8Oregon12
9Baylor9
10Auburn7
11Cincinnati14
12Utah21
13Boise St.16
14Florida10
15Oklahoma6
16Michigan23
17Memphis17
18Appalachian15
19Wake Forest20
20Navy22
21Iowa24
22Wisconsin13
23Air Force
24Georgia18
25Notre Dame19

Out of top 25: (25) Texas

LSU/Auburn Series and Preview

In College Football, History, Preview, Rivalry on October 25, 2019 at 7:45 PM

As I’ve been doing with these series recaps, I’m only going to focus on a portion of Auburn’s rivalry with LSU.  The rivalry did pick up intensity in the 1990s as I’ll explain, but the really interesting time was 2000 to 2007.

My original entry in the Rivalry Series covers mostly the same games, but there are different emphases.  Here I won’t talk as much about the records or rankings of teams going into the game, and I won’t refer back to the significance of each game within the greater rivalry.

Deciding the SEC West and Home Field Advantage

When LSU became relevant in SEC title races starting around the time Saban showed up, the main obstacles every year were Florida and Auburn. Except for Arkansas in 2002 and 2006 (the Hogs had the benefit of not having an annual series with either Georgia or Florida), the winner of the LSU-Auburn game would represent the SEC West in the title game every year from 2000 to 2007.

By the way, for some reason, the SEC calls you a winner of the division if you don’t play in the title game; but the way I look at it is if you lose the tiebreaker for first you’re second.  You’re not still in the broken tie for first.  So when I talk about winning the SEC West, I’m going to mean winning the tiebreaker as well. 

LSU has still never won the SEC West in an even year largely because the Tigers play both Auburn and Florida on the road in even years (and historically LSU is less likely to beat Alabama at home than on the road anyway).  You’ve probably seen it mentioned that LSU hasn’t lost to Auburn at home since 1999, but for a while that was mutual.  Nick Saban went 0-3 at Auburn as LSU head coach, and Les Miles also lost his first game at Auburn.  Miles would win two of the next three before losing his last two, the last of which lost him his job. 

Auburn players celebrate the win in 1999. LSU has had its longest home winning streak against Auburn in the years since.

LSU would end that streak in 2008, but speaking of Nick Saban, that was when Alabama became the team to beat in the division.  LSU beat Alabama and Auburn to win the SEC West in 2011, and Auburn beat LSU and Alabama to win the SEC West in 2010.  The three teams went 1-1 against each other in 2013; but LSU lost to two other teams (Georgia and Ole Miss), so that allowed Auburn to win a two-team head-to-head tiebreaker.  I think we all know who won the other 8 SEC West titles since then. 

In addition to being less important for the division, those three games just didn’t have the drama to go into much detail.  The 2010 game was the relatively close one, decided by only 7; but the LSU defense and offense both seemed defeated once Auburn took the lead with a about 5 minutes to go. Auburn could have scored again at the end of the game but ran out the clock instead.  They took the last snap from the LSU 3.

The 2012 LSU win, which at the time was only the second win at Auburn since 1998, was close; but Auburn turned out to be a terrible team.  Gene Chizik has not been a head coach since that season and may never be one again.  There were also only 6 points scored after the first quarter – a field goal by Auburn in the second quarter and a field goal by LSU in the third quarter. I like to watch good defenses more than most fans, but there are only so many ways to describe not scoring points. 

Other than it being an important game since one or both teams has been a major force in the conference (if not nationally), it’s also been a close game – again, not unlike LSU-Florida.

The Making of a Rivalry: 1993 to 1999

Unlike Florida though, it was typically a competitive game even going back before 2000.  It wasn’t even an annual series until 1993. That first game wasn’t very close, as Auburn went undefeated that season (but since they were on probation they weren’t considered in the national-title hunt), but that changed in a hurry. 

LSU led 23-9 in 1994 before Jamie Howard threw three pick-sixes and the Bayou Bengals lost 30-26.  Auburn had a quarterback named Nix, but other than a field goal drive in the second quarter, he was unsuccessful.  The four defensive scores were enough for the Plainsmen though.

In Death Valley the next year, the home team won by only 6 points.  That would be LSU’s first winning season in 7 years.

In 1996, LSU won on “the night the barn burned”.  It wasn’t a barnburner as neither team was able to get to 20 points.  It was 17-15 with 38 seconds to go when the home-standing War Tigers decided to go for two.  That backfired (no pun intended) as LSU returned the botched conversion attempt for two points.  The game was given the nickname because an old gym caught on fire during the game.

The next year, an Auburn touchdown in the last minute of the game would make the difference as LSU was only ahead by 4 before the score. 

Both programs went downhill the following two seasons with the road team winning fairly easily both times.  However, Auburn made a coaching change between 1998 and 1999, while LSU waited until after the 1999 season.  Auburn’s new coach Tommy Tuberville happened to have been the coach of Ole Miss when they beat LSU in 1997, which in retrospect would keep LSU from winning the SEC West for the first time.

After that 1999 win by Auburn, Tuberville smoked cigars with his team on the field.  He rationalized it by saying it was only Auburn’s third win there since World War II, but he didn’t mention that it was also Auburn’s third win at LSU in four tries.  Now he explains that it was also his birthday, but you don’t have to linger in an opponent’s stadium to celebrate your birthday.  Even if he just had shared a big cake on the field with his team, that would have been weird. 

2004 to 2007 Game Narratives

That wouldn’t be the end of the weirdness.  It was a big game, but none of the games were very interesting or exciting the next few years.

Then in 2004 it got interesting again.  I know a lot of people blame Les Miles for ushering in low-scoring games, but the offense wasn’t always exciting in Saban’s last year either.  LSU led 9-3 after 58 minutes of play. Auburn would score on third and 12 from the LSU 16, but the extra point was blocked. Apparently a new rule had been implemented in the offseason that if you land on another player after attempting to block or successfully blocking a field goal, it was a personal foul. Auburn got to try again and would win by that one point.

Since 2004 would become known as the extra point game, it only followed that we needed a field goal game.  This would happen 13 months later when the two teams would miss a combined 7 field goals in 10 attempts. 

LSU led 14-10 after Auburn made its one field goal in the second quarter and the teams exchanged touchdowns in the third.  The Plains Tigers would score another touchdown with just under 5 minutes to go in the game. LSU would get its first field goal a few minutes later to tie the game at 17 and eventually send it to overtime.  LSU would have the ball to begin the overtime and would settle for a field goal.  The Bayou Tigers had gotten one first down to help out the kicker Chris Jackson.  Auburn would go nowhere during their possession, and John Vaughn would miss from 39 to end the game, his fifth miss of the game.

Auburn K John Vaughn collapses to the field after missing a field goal (his fifth miss of the game) to give LSU the win in 2005.

2006 was another weird low-scoring game.  Les Miles was the coach, but he had inherited his offensive coordinator from Saban.  That was a guy you’ve probably never heard of named Jimbo Fisher.  But somehow (with the help of the referees of course), he only managed to guide the Tigers to 3 points for the whole game.  Auburn didn’t need any field goals and won 7-3 despite LSU having gained about twice as many yards.

Nonetheless, Fisher would do an impressive enough job with LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell the rest of the season to be offered a similar position with Florida St. but with more incentive and under an aging head coach being gently nudged into retirement.

LSU’s offense seemed to work just fine without him in 2007 (although you can’t really say the same for the 10 years afterward).  LSU-Auburn was another close game though.  Auburn led 17-13 going into the fourth quarter.  Matt Flynn led the home team on an 8-play 85-yard drive to put LSU up 20-17.  After a punt, the Fighting Tigers expanded that lead to 23-17.  Auburn responded with a 9-play, 83-yard drive to go up 1 with 3:21 remaining.

Unlike the last time Auburn played in Tiger Stadium, K Colt David was having a good day, having gone 3 for 3 on field goals.  It seemed like that was what LSU was playing for.  There was a number of running plays (including spontaneous runs by the QB) that took time off the clock as Flynn drove the Tigers downfield.  LSU also converted a key third and 3 from the Auburn 41 to keep the drive going (on a Richard Murphy run). Jacob Hester, the hero of the Florida game a couple of weeks before, would come in with his own 10-yard run. 

When LSU had a third and 7 from the 23 with just under 10 seconds left, Auburn probably expected another run to set up a field goal (LSU still had a timeout).  Instead Flynn threw to the end zone just to the outside of Demetrius Byrd, who turned at just the right time to catch the ball (see here if the picture doesn’t do it justice).

Along with Jacob Hester’s winning touchdown (see the final picture) two weeks earlier, Demetrius Byrd’s catch in the final moments against Auburn was one of the iconic plays in LSU’s national-championship season in 2007.

Since the extra point was taken with 1 second left, a lot of people thought the pass was an unacceptable risk.  I never bought into that since Byrd began to catch the ball with :04 showing on the clock.  It just didn’t really matter whether they stopped it at 4 seconds or 1 second at that point.  If he had dropped the ball or missed it completely, it probably would have been 3 seconds.  Maybe if he had juggled it several times and then dropped it, it would have run out the clock though.

2016

One second would make all the difference 9 years later, but I’d rather not rehash that game again.  SBNation did a good job though. You can’t tell for sure that the center wasn’t beginning the snap in the picture though.

(I already said all I needed to say about the games from 2008 to 2015.)

2017

I mentioned in the Florida summary how LSU had two ugly losses in the first five weeks of the season in 2017 but came back to beat Florida by 1.  The next week, it looked like the Tigers were going to have three ugly losses in seven weeks when #10 Auburn went out to a 20-0 lead in Tiger Stadium. 

See my 2017 blog about the game for details, but I’ll just set up how LSU reduced the lead to 9 before halftime.

The defense holding Auburn to a field goal (meaning it was 20-0 and not 24-0) wouldn’t have meant anything if the LSU offense hadn’t gotten into gear on the next drive. LSU wouldn’t even require a single pass to be thrown.  Six rushing plays got the Fighting Tigers 90 yards and touchdown (70 of the yards by on a carry Russell Gage).

Auburn looked ready to bring the lead back up to 20 a couple of drives later, but once again the defense bent but didn’t break.  After a first and goal from the 10, Auburn was only at the 8 before settling for a field goal. 

LSU took possession back with 2:16 left.  Given the passing struggles, success didn’t seem likely, but that didn’t stop Danny Etling.  On the drive, Etling completed 5 of 6 pass attempts for 67 yards and a touchdown. 

The comeback wasn’t complete yet, but a 9-point deficit at halftime looks a lot better than a 20-point deficit early in the second quarter. 

2018

I didn’t even talk about the details of the last LSU-Auburn game last year, I just debunked some of the whining after the fact by Auburn fans. 

LSU went out to an early 10-point lead midway through the second quarter, but Auburn roared back to go up 21-10 with about 25 minutes to go in the game.

Like in the previous year, it just seemed like the LSU defense drew a line in the sand at that point.  Auburn went three and out on their next drive, then after one first down Stidham threw an interception in LSU territory.  The next drive, Auburn missed a 52-yard field goal.  The only reason they got that far downfield was a targeting call, and Auburn would not get beyond their own 30 again.

LSU also had to score in the meantime of course.  After one three and out, LSU was able to vary run and pass to get into first and goal at the Auburn 8 but had to settle for a field goal.

The next drive was really quick, too quick to watch in real time.  Here is the slow-motion replay.

Derrick Dillon catches a pass over the middle before running for the end zone on a 71-yard completion to bring LSU within two at Auburn last year.

But LSU couldn’t get the two-point conversion.  As mentioned, Auburn could do nothing on offense, so LSU had to win the game with a field goal. 

LSU had a third and 11 right away, but that’s when there was one of the major pass interference calls I talked about in the blog above. After an incompletion on first down, Burrow ran a few yards on second down to make it a more reasonable third and 7, which the Fighting Tigers just barely converted. 

Burrow also ran on the next second down (which was also 2nd and 10), but he was tackled for a loss on third down.  Again, LSU was just able to get past the marker, this time to Stephen Sullivan. After yet another first-down incompletion, another pass interference was called on third down.  This put LSU into field goal position, and of course Cole Tracy made it.

This Year

Until the game last week (when LSU settled for field goals on the first three offensive possessions), I might have said how Auburn shouldn’t expect to hold this offense out of the end zone for long stretches of time.  LSU would eventually score as many points against Mississippi St. in the first half as they scored against Auburn the whole game last year though, so I’m still expecting this year’s LSU team to easily outscore last year’s in this game.

I watched parts of the Auburn games against Oregon and Florida.  Although, the LSU defense hasn’t always been great (though it is underrated by people who look at scores rather than watching games), I still think there will be stretches where Auburn can’t score.  Auburn scored only 3 points in the first four drives and 6 in the first nine drives against the Ducks   Against Florida, which let’s remember allowed 42 to LSU, Auburn couldn’t score for the last 40 minutes of the game. 

I do think Auburn’s pass rush will cause some incompletions and might get sacks (unlike Florida’s), but the defensive backfield might be even less able to keep up with LSU wide receivers.

Auburn does have a good front, hence the concerns about the pass rush, but pass rush and run defense aren’t the same thing.  If Auburn sends too much pressure, that could leave open lanes for Burrow or one of the backs.  If Auburn is trying too hard to defend the run, that often requires staying near the line of scrimmage rather than rushing the backfield. 

Auburn also has a good offensive line, so LSU could have some of the same dilemmas.  But I’m more confident in Burrow making good decisions in a game like this than Auburn fans should be in (the younger) Nix even if Nix ends up with more time.  Whitlow ran for about 4.5 yards per carry against both Oregon and Florida, but he won’t be playing.  Kam Martin (who had a few good carries against Florida but ran poorly against Oregon) ran well in his first full game as Whitlow’s replacement, but I don’t know how comparable running against Arkansas is to running against LSU.

I would lean toward taking the points.  I know I guessed wrong about Florida, but Auburn can probably score about what Florida did and maybe hold LSU out of the end zone on one or two more drives.  Maybe LSU just doesn’t have that final score to go up double digits like they did against Florida.  I would give Auburn about a 1 in 3 chance to win.  I think having a week off after Florida and not having to do anything fancy against Arkansas could be a slight advantage.  Florida did beat Auburn, but I think it was harder for the Gators to get back up for the LSU game than it will be for Auburn.  Also, despite the eventual loss by 14, Florida did still have a decent chance to win late.

Defending Coach O and Comments on Rankings

In College Football, General LSU, Rankings Commentary on October 18, 2019 at 7:00 PM

I have a few other notes about LSU, but I mostly covered the ones about Florida Sunday and the ones about Mississippi St. Wednesday. I know I’m publishing this late, but it’s a weekend night; and the kind of people who are awake and ready for football before games start can read it as well.

I heard one bit of trivia I wanted to share. LSU has kept official stats on this since 1978, but Florida is the only documented time I can find in which the Tigers have faced only four third downs in a game.  I looked at relatively high-scoring LSU games going back to the early 1960s (the Tigers did score into the 60s at times in the 1960s and 1970s and even scored 77 against Rice in 1977) and couldn’t find anything close.  There may have been a blowout of an in-state school 100 years ago or something, but it’s probably been several decades at least.

I liked when they asked Orgeron what he would have said if someone told him the offense would average 52.5 points at this point before the season.  He leaned toward the microphone like he was telling a secret and grumbled, “I’ll take it.”

Anyway, you’d think people would be positive about Orgeron and his team after a big win over another well-respected program and head coach, but it seems like Troy all over again.

Defending Orgeron

Finebaum

Also related to LSU, Paul Finebaum will say whatever he needs to say to pretend the best team is Alabama for as long as he can.  Nothing LSU does counts because supposedly he heard the same things about the LSU offense last year.  I don’t know how he would have heard the team who scored 19 against Florida last year had just as good of an offense as the one who scored 42 against Florida this year; but he does talk to the most ignorant people in Alabama, so it’s possible. 

What really annoys me is he said this a couple of weeks after saying he was dropping Clemson because the rankings are only for this season and you don’t factor in anything from last season.  So Alabama goes ahead of Clemson because the 44-16 win in January doesn’t count, but Alabama also goes ahead of LSU because the 29-0 win last November does count. 

John Hayes

To be fair, you could read this as an innocent compliment of the three coaches; but he admitted that wasn’t how he meant it.

Then I saw today someone named John Hayes trying to insult Orgeron (he said the tweet was a “backhanded compliment”, and he admitted he sees Orgeron as a lesser coach) by saying he’s not really the one on the field doing anything.  I think he was trying to say Orgeron isn’t calling the plays, but so what?  When Saban doesn’t call plays, he doesn’t get credit?

Hayes was interviewed by “Off the Bench”.  I mentioned this tendency of his before, but yet again T-Bob got the stat wrong.  He said Dabo Swinney had more wins over top-10 teams since Orgeron became head coach, but that’s not true. The only two better than Orgeron were actually Nick Saban and Urban Meyer. 

Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban

Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney had a friendly chat before the 2018 Sugar Bowl. Alabama has faced Clemson in the Playoff in four consecutive seasons.

Just to be clear, there isn’t anything a coach can do in three seasons (other than win three national championships right away) that really earn a comparison to where Swinney and Saban are right now, but we can look at how they got here and think about other coaches possibly following a similar path.

Dabo was actually part of Hayes’ argument since he has recent wins over Saban, but let’s not forget that Swinney didn’t just start at Clemson.  He became the interim coach 11 years ago, not 3 like Orgeron.  In 2011 (which is the season that corresponds to this one for Orgeron), Clemson went 10-4 and gave up 70 points in a bowl game.  So should he have been written off as a mediocre coach then?  By the way, Dabo was in the middle of five consecutive losses to South Carolina.  It’s just a completely unfair comparison if you only look at where Swinney is now. 

Even Saban lost to LSU in three of his first five tries and was lucky to win that many.  LSU and South Carolina 10 years ago were nothing like Alabama (the two LSU teams Saban beat in that span lost a combined 9 games) now.  Saban won a national title in his third full year, but people weren’t crowning him best coach ever in October 2009.

The main question is why Orgeron should be expected to reach Saban’s or Swinney’s peak faster than they did.  But I think the fact that people like Feinbaum and Hayes see the need to point out the difference between Orgeron now and those guys at their peak (or is it a plateau?) means he’s one of the best coaches right now. 

Hayes said he would be proven right if Alabama beats LSU easily this year, but I completely disagree. If Clemson lost to West Virginia by 37, they wouldn’t have been close to Alabama, which won the championship by 21, in 2011. I don’t know if there is a score Alabama could win by that would be the equivalent of losing to that West Virginia team by 37. 70 maybe?

Lincoln Riley

Oklahoma got revenge for last year’s regular-season loss to the Longhorns (Lincoln Riley’s only loss to the Longhorns in four games) in Dallas last week, 34-27. Above, Sooner LB Kenneth Murray hits Sam Ehlinger after a third-quarter throw.

I don’t hear anyone pointing out how Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma, for instance, hasn’t won the games Swinney and Saban won the last few years to minimize a good win.  He’s started out his career with a great record and is coming off a big rivalry win this week too.   “Hold on, you can’t say he’s a great coach yet” is only necessary to these commentators because people are more tempted to say Orgeron is great.

I did listen to a follow-up interview Hayes did (I had to get a free trial, so sorry if it doesn’t work for you), and to my surprise he said Riley would be his #1 choice for head coach if he were an AD. I’m sorry, that’s silly. It’s just typical offense-obsessed media. Riley had three big games last season (his second full year) and lost two of them (the first game against Texas and the semifinal). He won three of the four big games (out-of-conference game against Ohio St., the two against Big XII #2 TCU, and the national semifinal) his first year, but he also lost to what turned out to be the 4th-best opponent Iowa St.

Like Joe Brady, he’s a good young offensive mind, but he’s not even in the top 10 on my list of best head coaches; and I don’t think we have a real sense of how he can recruit yet. There are probably a dozen coaches who could have won 24 games or more in 2017 and 2018 in Norman.

Kirby Smart

Kirby Smart was on Nick Saban’s LSU staff in 2004 alongside Texas A&M HC Jimbo Fisher and South Carolina HC Will Muschamp (who beat Smart Saturday), who were the two coordinators. Former Tennessee HC Derek Dooley was also on that staff.

On the Off the Bench interview, there was an argument made about Kirby Smart, but Orgeron beat Smart easily in their only meeting last year.  Smart did win the SEC and a semifinal game in 2017, but the Bulldogs lost one of only two regular-season games against the SEC West.  Georgia did win the follow-up over Auburn; but LSU beat Auburn the first and only time.  So Georgia winning the SEC and making that game against Oklahoma was more a result of playing in the East than of Georgia being in better shape than LSU (although as I mentioned in the previous blog LSU didn’t have a great start in Orgeron’s first full season). 

What LSU fan would trade Orgeron for Smart right now?  I think Georgia would take that trade in a heartbeat.  If they’re going to lose to South Carolina in a home game with Fromm, who knows what could happen the first year without?  The Bulldogs are far from guaranteed a win over Florida, which obviously LSU has now.  Smart also had an offseason of recruiting and hiring that Orgeron didn’t have in 2016.

I think Smart is a good coach despite what happened Saturday. You could argue he’s better than Orgeron, but I don’t think there is a good argument that they’re not comparable.

Other Comments

As for the other games, there were a couple of embarrassingly bad calls by referees.  Memphis completed a pass in Temple territory late in the fourth quarter, and somehow it was overturned despite no evidence of the ball hitting the ground.  That easily could have prevented the winning field goal by the Tigers, but the ball went over on downs.  There was a call that went against Penn St. at Iowa.  Penn St. won, so it didn’t really affect the game, but it does cost the Nittany Lions 4 points.  The pylon cam confirmed the call on the field, and yet it was overturned.  Eventually Penn St. settled for a field goal on the drive.  Replays of late seem to be just an extra avenue for home cooking.

Memphis TE Joey Magnifico made this great catch at the Temple 30 in Philadelphia on Saturday. Although no picture could be found of the ball even grazing the turf before or after being secured by Magnifico, the ruling of a catch was overturned.

I went into detail about the schedules of four of my top five on Sunday (Ohio St./Wisconsin and LSU/Alabama could be matchups of unbeatens), but Clemson will continue to play nobody.  MAYBE 1-loss Wake Forest can give them a game on the 16th, and traveling to Columbia, South Carolina, might be a challenge after all; but I don’t think any potential winner of the Coastal will be much of a test.  Given the North Carolina game, it’s hard to know for sure though.

If Wisconsin can’t do it, the next big test for the Buckeyes is expected to be currently undefeated Penn St. on November 23.  The Nittany Lions have a big game with Michigan tomorrow though.  Of course Ohio St. will have to play them too.  Penn St. had a decent rise in the polls, but not as much as Oklahoma, who finally joined the top 10 after beating Clemson. I know the Sooners hoped that Houston game would mean something, but it really doesn’t.

Auburn being ahead of Florida might raise eyebrows, but I don’t determine better resume by head-to-head.  Both teams are 1-1 against the top 11.  Texas A&M isn’t a great conference win, but it’s better than Kentucky and Tennessee.  Auburn also beat Tulane.  The Green Wave looks better than the Hurricanes (Florida’s best non-conference opponent) so far. 

Florida does play Florida St. later, but so far the only other non-conference games have been against FCS opponents.  Florida will be fine if they win the next few weeks (South Carolina and Georgia with a bye week in between) though.  Unless Auburn beats LSU a week from tomorrow, they don’t have a good chance for meaningful points for about the next month (two byes, Arkansas, and Ole Miss).  I’m not projecting who will look better a month from now though, just looking at who has done what so far.

Baylor’s undefeated resume got a little bit of substance to it with the win over Texas Tech; but there was so little of importance before that, the Bears are still only 13th.  They almost have as good of a resume as fellow undefeated and former SWC rival SMU.

Minnesota is an undefeated team that’s creeping up even more slowly, but beating Rutgers won’t help much.  Nor would beating Maryland the next week.  The Gophers do have an intimidating November schedule though: Penn St., @ Iowa, @ Northwestern, Wisconsin in consecutive weeks.

To round out the rankings, Washington returned by beating Arizona, who had nearly made the top 25 the previous week.  Wake Forest and Memphis are no longer undefeated, but both held onto the top 25 after narrow losses.  Navy was able to make it into the top 25 (despite having lost to Memphis a few weeks ago) after wins over Air Force and Tulsa in the past two weeks.  Hawaii also stayed in the top 25 after a loss; but it was on the blue field, so the Warriors weren’t hurt that much.

I do think Texas is still a top-25 team, but respectable losses don’t get you far in my system.  They need to find some decent wins.  Oklahoma St., the Longhorns’ best win, is mediocre unless the Cowboys beat Baylor tomorrow.  Texas plays Kansas, so the Horns won’t earn much there.

LSU/Mississippi St.: Recent Games and Coaches

In College Football, General LSU, History, Preview, Rivalry on October 16, 2019 at 6:38 PM

I put a couple of paragraphs at the end about what I expect of this game, but this is not a preview blog.

Coach O and Intro

Ed Orgeron walks off the field for the last time as Ole Miss head coach after losing in the Egg Bowl on November 23, 2007. He is still looking for his first win in Starkville.

You’ll see the relevance below, but I wanted to update Ed Orgeron’s record against the various SEC teams.  Other than Saban, whose first year at Alabama was Orgeron’s last year at Ole Miss (Alabama won, 27-24), none of the coaches he has coached against as the Ole Miss head coach were SEC head coaches whom Orgeron has coached against at LSU.  In fact, Les Miles is the only other active head coach in any conference whom Orgeron coached directly against at Ole Miss.

Winning records (not counting the 1-0 mark against Missouri since they joined the SEC): Ole Miss 3-0, Texas A&M 2-1

.500: Arkansas 3-3, Vanderbilt 2-2, Kentucky 1-1, Tennessee 1-1

1 game under .500: Auburn 2-3, Mississippi St. 2-3, Florida 2-3, Georgia 1-2, Missouri 1-2 (Missouri was not in the SEC when Orgeron coached against the Tigers at Ole Miss)

Worse: LSU 0-3, Alabama 0-6

Mississippi St., Florida, and Alabama are the only SEC programs against whom Orgeron has coached but against whom he does not have a winning record while the coach at LSU.

He didn’t coach against South Carolina at either stop and is still waiting to get revenge on Kentucky for beating his Rebels 31-14 in 2006. On the other hand, the first and one of only three conference wins at Ole Miss was against the Wildcats. The others were against Mississippi St. and Vanderbilt.

Anyway, this mostly isn’t about Coach O and his disappointments with the Rebels. It occurred to me that now was the perfect time to talk about LSU’s history against Dan Mullen, the current Florida and former Mississippi St. head coach.  I’ll explain why, but given that LSU usually plays Florida in early October, it’s very rare that the Tigers play the Gators and Bulldogs back-to-back despite LSU having played both almost every year going back to the 1950s.

Dan Mullen vs. LSU and Rivalry Intro

Last week, Dan Mullen fell to 1-1 against LSU as head coach of the Gators, but he’s still 2-1 overall against Orgeron given his big win in 2017.  LSU has a much more well-established historical series against the Mississippi St. Bulldogs, where Mullen coached from 2009 to 2017. 

If you’re interested, here is the the full LSU/Mississippi St. Rivalry blog.

At State, Mullen didn’t have a good record against LSU (2-7), but he had as many wins as Jackie Sherrill, the all-time State leader in wins (75, which Mullen probably would have beaten by staying one more season) and the only Mississippi St. coach to lead the Bulldogs to the SEC Championship.  Sherrill was there 13 years to Mullen’s 9, and this has been an annual series since 1944 (the Bulldogs didn’t field a team in 1943).

The 2014 State win in Baton Rouge was the first since 1991, Sherrill’s first season.  The 2017 win (Mullen’s last year) was only the second win over LSU in Starkville since 1984.  The only other win was by that Sherrill-coached team that made the SEC championship in 1999.  It was by 1 point, and LSU would finish the season 3-8.

One thing I regret about the changes in schedules is that this was a traditional late-season game for both teams.  Mississippi St. was usually warming up for the Egg Bowl, and LSU usually played State between Alabama and Tulane.  It was played on the second or third Saturday of November (between 11/12 and 11/18) every year from 1947 to 1991.  The first game between the two was actually played on the third Saturday of November 1896.  It moved around the calendar before settling on a particular time consistently, but it was generally in November from then until 1922 and then every year from 1933 to 1940. 

The game was played on the third Saturday of October from 1928 to 1932 and on five other occasions, so I guess there is at least some tradition to draw on this time.  I don’t mind that this season we have a bit of a buffer between Florida and Auburn, although sometimes that is when a team gets tripped up, particularly on the road. Since Ole Miss can’t be Halloween weekend (which is a bye), I would have preferred Ole Miss serve as the buffer, but they didn’t ask me.

Dan Mullen discusses his first Bulldog recruiting class in 2009.

LSU vs. Mississippi St. 2009 to 2017

Mullen nearly scored an upset over the Tigers in Starkville in his first season in 2009.  LSU won with a late goal-line stand by 4 points.  I wonder if Mullen had flashbacks to that on Saturday. LSU didn’t ultimately have a great season at 9-4; but it was only two years after LSU won the BCS Championship, so it would have been a big deal. 

That 2009 season was Mullen’s only season there that the Bulldogs did not qualify for a bowl game, so he probably would have been 9/9 had he figured out a way to gain that one more yard.  The Bulldogs gained one yard on first and goal from the 2 and were stuffed on the next three plays.  Only the third-down play was a pass.  Chad Jones, who also won a national championship as a pitcher on the baseball team, made the two tackles at the line of scrimmage on second and fourth downs and defended the third-down pass.

In the next four years, no matter how good they were, they couldn’t even make it interesting against the Tigers. It helped that LSU went 44-9 over those 4 years.

The Tigers finally had a serious rebuilding job to do in 2014; and Mississippi St. had its best team in decades.  The Tigers would play well at times that season (such as upsetting the #3 team and nearly upsetting the #4 team… more on that here), but that wasn’t until later in the year.  What made it worse was the Tigers could not find a consistent quarterback that season, and the Bulldog quarterback was Louisiana native Dak Prescott, whom the Tigers coaching staff refused to offer a scholarship as a quarterback. 

Dak Prescott stiff-arms DB Jalen Mills in Tiger Stadium in September 2014.

Prescott was not a household name before that game.  LSU was ranked #8 and the Bulldogs were unranked.  The depleted LSU defense led by DC John Chavis was not prepared for that type of spread attack at all.  The defenders were somehow unable to fill gaps or keep the play in front of them, and they weren’t able to make key tackles.  Prescott threw for 268 yards and rushed for 118 (not counting the sack yardage).

The only reason LSU was able to make the final score respectable was that three different Tigers were able to throw for a combined 341 yards, but they didn’t even try to do that until they got well behind in the game.  QB Brandon Harris threw two touchdown passes in less than 30 seconds late in the fourth quarter.  The Tigers attempted an onsides kick with 1:27 left that would have given them a real chance to win, but when the Bulldogs recovered it, they were able to run over a minute off of the clock.  LSU then had 20 seconds to go 80 yards, and you can guess how that went.  Harris did have 34 all-purpose yards on that drive before throwing an interception on the final play, but it needed to be at least 34 yards in one play.

It was 34-10 in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, so the 34-29 final score doesn’t convey how dominant the Bulldogs were for most of the game.

The next year in Starkville it was the Tigers who led early in the fourth quarter, 21-6 in that case.  Kevin Steele, the new defensive coordinator (now the defensive coordinator at Auburn), and Ed Orgeron, the Tigers’ new defensive line coach, seemed to have instilled the right schemes and techniques in the offseason.  Cracks were already developing late in the third quarter though.  The Bulldogs had just gotten into the red zone when the fourth quarter began and shortly afterward Prescott took the ball into the end zone himself.

When LSU got the ball, the Tigers called three rushing plays for a combined -1 yards.  Mississippi St. would drive again, but the drive stalled behind the LSU 30.  Prescott was sacked by Lewis Neal on third down to prevent a long field goal try (the kicker Devon Bell had previously made it from 43 and it would have been about 49 before the sack).

The Tigers went back to their conservative ways on offense again, but it actually worked for a couple of first downs before the drive stalled at midfield, giving the ball back to Dak at the Mississippi St. 18 after a punt.

Prescott threw completions on 6 consecutive plays to lead the Bulldogs to a touchdown, but he could not score from three yards out on the conversion attempt, so LSU still led by 2, 21-19.

The Tigers still refused to throw the ball; and Mississippi St. got the ball again, this time at the 11. Only 1:32 remained though, so it wasn’t the dual-threat situation that the Bulldogs excelled in.  LSU jumped offsides on the first play, and Prescott then threw completions in four of the next five plays.  This gave the Bulldogs the ball at the LSU 39.  The Tiger defense, knowing time was running out, knew the Bulldogs were going to throw, probably toward the sidelines.  All three passes from that spot were unsuccessful, leading to a fourth down with 3 seconds left.  Fifty+ was probably not in Bell’s comfort zone, and he missed from 52 as time expired.

The next year, Dak had been replaced by Nick Fitzgerald (with assistance from Damian Williams… Mullen likes having a second QB to throw into games apparently), and LSU had settled on Purdue transfer Danny Etling as the starting quarterback in another early-season game. The Tigers started strong again, this time with a 20-0 lead midway through the second quarter.  After and exchange of field goals, it was 23-3 at the half.  The Bulldogs got another field goal in the third quarter, but it seemed like LSU was going to run out the clock with no major drama. 

However, the momentum shifted when LSU failed to convert a fourth down from the Mississippi St. 34.  Rather than trying for a field goal to go back up by 20, LSU decided to go for the first down instead.  Fournette was stuffed.  He actually fumbled on the play, but by rule a fourth-down fumble recovered by the offense (which it was) essentially means the play was dead.

Nick Fitzgerald looks for the sideline after a first-down run as LSU safety John Battle closes in in Starkville two years ago.

Fitzgerald and Williams responded with a 9-play, 66-yard touchdown drive to bring the score to 23-13.  State recovered the ensuing onsides kick, and Williams led the Bulldogs to another score, this time taking only two plays.  It was now 23-20 with 3:30 to play.  You can guess what LSU did (or didn’t do) on offense, and the Bulldogs would start the next drive on their own 33 with 1:35 remaining. 

The Bulldogs could only come up with a two-yard rush, two incompletions, and a sack, so LSU would be able to run out the clock after tense final minutes for the third consecutive game in the series.  It was Les Miles’ 114th win as LSU head coach and would be his last.  It was his 10th win against the Bulldogs in 12 seasons.

In 2017, both offenses were ineffective early (0-0 after the first quarter) and then more methodical (10-7 in favor of the home Bulldogs with 5 minutes left in the half).  The wind was taken out of LSU’s sails when Mississippi St. had a 10-play, 54-yard touchdown drive to end the first half and a 7-play, 48-yard drive that ended in a field goal to begin the second half.

Now down 20-7, LSU tried to mix run and pass on the ensuing drive, but Etling went 1/3 for 6 yards on the drive.  So Mississippi St. got the ball back. The shorthanded LSU defense was already getting worn out, and then two players were ejected for targeting.  The Bulldogs were forced into two third-and-1 situations, but they ran for a first down on one of them and fooled the defense on the second one for a 45-yard touchdown pass.  In hindsight, the game was essentially over at that point even though 5 minutes remained in the third quarter. 

The final score was Mississippi St. 37, LSU 7.  The Tigers did have a couple of decent long drives on offense, but when you’re three possessions or more behind, you usually don’t try to settle for long field goals even if they were likely to go in.  The field-goal kicking that year was not very reliable anyway.

The Tigers would lose to Troy two weeks later before going 6-1 to close out the regular season.  I’d rather not talk about the bowl game.

At Mississippi St., Mullen only had double-digit wins that one year of 2014, but the 2017 team was tied for second-best of his tenure at 9-4.  It was tied with the 2015 season in which they lost to LSU, 21-19.

Mullen goes to Florida

So 2017 was the first Orgeron-Mullen meeting.  I still wish LSU had last year’s Florida game back, but Orgeron has had a pretty decent improvement in two seasons, especially considering that Mullen took over a better program.  I look forward to more games between the two.

Mullen didn’t even replace a bad coach, just one who lost a few games in a row the year after winning the SEC East the prior year.  As I mentioned last week, I’m not a Jim McElwain fan; but from what I saw he could at least do a respectable job of recruiting, hiring assistants, and managing the game (at least unless they got behind a few scores).  The point of bringing him up is, although Mullen had to recover from a bad year and did well to win 10 games last season, I don’t think McElwain did anything that made it more difficult to win games at Florida than it had been at Mississippi St. in any long-term sense.

Not really apropos of anything, but McElwain is 4-3 as the Central Michigan head coach this season despite games against Wisconsin and U. of Miami.  I was just curious where he ended up and didn’t find out until I looked him up while preparing the Florida preview, so I thought I’d share.

2019 Preview and Joe Moorhead

Anyway, since I’m done talking about Dan Mullen for now, I’ll mention the upcoming game against his successor Joe Moorhead, who actually served on the Penn St. staff with LSU passing game coordinator Joe Brady.  Ed Orgeron said Moorhead called after the hire to add his endorsement.

I would say Moorhead had a respectable showing last season, going 8-5. He had close losses to Florida and Iowa (in the bowl game). He beat four teams who went to bowl games: UL-Lafayette, Auburn, Texas A&M, and Louisiana Tech. Apart from Iowa, all the losses were to teams who would win 10 games or more.

Things aren’t going quite as well this year. State started 3-1, which looked decent given the win over Kentucky (which had beaten the Bulldogs 28-7 last year); but the Bulldogs have been outscored 76-33 in the last two games. That included Moorhead’s first loss to a mediocre to bad team Tennessee.

LSU K Cole Tracy was responsible for 13 of the game’s 22 points – and for all of the points after the first quarter – in Baton Rouge last year. LSU had one touchdown drive that started at the Bulldog 3, and State only scored on one field goal.

Since Mississippi St. could only hold Tennessee to 20, I don’t think we will see a replay of last year’s 19-3 score in favor of LSU.  The Bulldogs had three defensive players drafted from last year’s team, not to mention LSU’s changes on offense. 

State has another decent mobile quarterback Garrett Shrader, but he won’t have the kind of talent around him that Nick Fitzgerald had in the big Bulldog win in September 2017 (and didn’t have last season).  They have another quarterback Tommy Stevens who may come off the bench, but he’s statistically not as good at running or passing. Both have had injuries, which is the main reason LSU doesn’t want Burrow to show off his running abilities more.

Yet again I think the prior opponent most comparable to LSU is Auburn, who won 56-23.  Shrader did average 5.6 yards per rush and 9.1 yards per pass in that game though.  That was at Auburn and not following a top-10 opponent, so don’t be too disappointed if LSU doesn’t beat that margin of victory. 

I will be very interested to see how the LSU defense deals with Shrader early though.  Like Florida, the Bulldogs are capable of long, methodical drives; but unlike Florida they showed that ability against Auburn.  They just couldn’t keep up with the Auburn offense, which had great field position on its first three drives to take a 21-0 lead.  But if by contrast LSU struggles early offensively (which happened against Northwestern St. and Utah St.), maybe it will be a game for a while.

Week 7 SEC Big Games and Top 25

In College Football, General LSU, History, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on October 13, 2019 at 3:08 PM

The SEC didn’t go exactly how I expected this week, but I do feel vindicated on a few counts.  I will try to write about the other games and my rankings (below) later in the week.

South Carolina Upsets Georgia

I didn’t pick South Carolina to beat Georgia specifically, but when I picked South Carolina in my preseason top 25, I anticipated they would beat some good team during the course of the year.  It could have been Florida, Clemson, Texas A&M (who, as I thought, isn’t as good as was projected anyway), I wasn’t sure.  They still might beat one (or more) of those three, by the way.  Also, I feel more justified in not giving the Bulldogs a higher rank going into the week. 

Rodrigo Blankenship (98), aka Hot Rod, one of the best-known kickers in college football recently, had not missed a field goal or extra point until Saturday. In the background, Gamecocks rush the field after Blankenship missed a field goal to end the game.

LSU Somehow Beats the Spread

First of all, I’ve updated the LSU/Florida history blog. Most importantly, the series is tied in Baton Rouge. LSU has not had the lead in its home stadium in the series as long as I remember. I may write something about the LSU/Dan Mullen series later in the week.

I didn’t pick LSU to beat the spread, but I said if they did it would be the result of a late score.  It was.  Florida was within a couple of yards of scoring a late touchdown in response.  It was for the most-part a one-score game.  I was right that Florida couldn’t do a 4-man rush and drop 7 effectively.  Burrow completed 15 of his first 16 passes (eventually going 21/24 for 293 yards), and even when Florida got good pressure he was able to at least get a couple of positive yards on the ground.  Florida ended up with 18 more passing yards; but it took 20 more attempts, and it would be almost dead even if sack yards went against passing yards in college.

LSU’s Joe Burrow made up for a pivotal “Pick Six” in last year’s game by throwing for 293 yards in 24 attempts (21 completed). LSU gave up no sacks and no turnovers.

I was also right in the number of points Florida would score, 28. Arguably both offenses should have had more though (and I also underestimated LSU’s points), so maybe I did give too much credit to the defenses.

LSU DC Dave Aranda apparently thought the same way I and some of the prognosticators did: if LSU could keep Florida from scoring quickly the Gators wouldn’t be able to sustain drives.  That was incorrect, but I (and I imagine Aranda) correctly anticipated LSU’s ability to avoid those long plays whether they pressured or not.  I could be giving him too much credit, but I suspect Dan Mullen intentionally had a very different game plan against Auburn even though I don’t think the defenses are drastically different. I also think, like LSU, they’re good at diagnosing problems and correcting them. Florida and LSU both have good arguments for second-best coaching in the conference right now. As Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times said, not bad for a couple of backup plans.

I also thought in general LSU would do better in pass coverage especially early.  The Tigers gave up yards after the opening drive in the second half, but they were just better when it counted during the 21-0 LSU run to end the game.

The turning point in LSU/Florida games is often how a team responds to a lead or to giving up a lead.  In the last three games of the series, the winning team had a narrow lead (< 3 points) late; and the defense just barely held on.  When LSU went down by 7 in this one (after Florida received the second half kickoff), it was the (momentarily) trailing team that seemed invigorated. The Tigers gave up a ton of yards after that but no points.

The offense let its foot off the gas a little bit at times (a couple of first-down runs where a pass might have been a better option, a couple of snaps late into the play clock) in the second half; but LSU scored 21 in both halves, so it didn’t hurt scoring. Being more methodical, which LSU rightly emphasized against Utah St., may have allowed the defense to have just enough of a reserve to close the deal in those fourth-quarter drives.

LSU did better penetrating into the backfield in the second half.  It was also partly the defensive backs making interceptions (one of which was wrongly called back) instead of tipping the ball and Florida completing it.  There was also a crucial (incorrect) interference call against the Tigers that helped Florida to score at the end of the first half.  Late in the second half there was some good coverage by the Tigers that did not result in flags though. 

If the linebackers or even blitzing backs left someone open during some of those plays where LSU sent pressure, the Florida quarterbacks didn’t have time to get it to them.  The only blitz I noticed that really backfired in the second half was a screen pass on third and 16 during Florida’s last drive.  I think the better strategy would have been to force the quarterback to throw short or try to scramble. LSU got only two sacks, but there were a lot more hurries and there were five tackles for a loss as well as several for very short gains.

LSU definitely needs better defense on third and medium-to-long overall though.  I got so frustrated at one point I turned on Iowa/Penn St. to see some defense when the Gators had the ball.  When you’re a couple of yards away though, they make it very difficult to score a touchdown.  It reminded me of the two goal-line stands against Texas that I think ultimately won the game. There was a similar defensive showing against Utah St. after a turnover at the 7. Even on the third and goal from the two that the Gators scored on (the only score of the second half), it was lucky for the Gators the ball wasn’t intercepted. 

One area that pleasantly surprised me was running the ball.  I knew we had better backs than people said, but I didn’t expect over 200 yards against a good defense.  I don’t think many predicted LSU would have 70 more rushing yards (on 16 fewer carries) than Florida and fewer passing yards.  LSU had the same exact number of throwing plays as running plays.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who ran for 134 yards on 13 carries, scores a 57-yard touchdown in the first half. The Tigers gained 218 rushing yards for the game.

I hesitated to predict that this would be the highest-scoring LSU/Florida game ever, and it just barely fell short.  If LSU had hit the field goal in the first quarter or if Florida had scored when they were a few yards away either time in the fourth quarter, this game would have set the record.  The 51-21 2008 runaway (also known as running up the score) with Tebow in Gainesville is still in first. 

In 1996, Florida won 56-13 on the way to an earlier national championship (Spurrier also tried to score 50 every game regardless of the other team), so this game beat that one by one point.  LSU doesn’t have that kind of margin of victory of course, but maybe winning a high-scoring game like this is a good omen. This is the highest-scoring game that LSU won.  The Tigers had won 35-28 in 2015.  LSU did score more (48) in a victory in 1971, but the Tigers held a winless Florida team to only 7.

Since Ed Orgeron took over at LSU, the Tigers have seven wins over the AP top 10.  Only Nick Saban and Urban Meyer (with nine apiece) have more over that time span.  Clemson’s Dabo Swinner has six.

Who’s #1 (and Who’s Going To Be #1)?

I still want to see what happens with Ohio St. and Wisconsin before I make either team #1.  There is a very good chance the winner will be #1 regardless, but I don’t want to promise that.  Sometimes there can be a combination of good results by prior opponents of one team and bad results by prior opponents of another team, and it yields unexpected results.

Mike Maskalunas and the Wisconsin defense shut out Michigan St. 38-0 Saturday, the Badgers’ fourth shutout of the season and first against a Big Ten opponent.

I’m only moving Clemson two extra spots to accomplish this, so it’s not anything crazy.  The orange-and-purple Tigers are third in the weighted system behind LSU and Oklahoma, so at least they’re ahead of Ohio St. by some objective measure to introduce ambiguity.

On November 2, Ohio St., Wisconsin, Alabama, and LSU have byes and Clemson plays Wofford.  So given that, I think it’s appropriate that after the games of October 26, I go with the computer unless there is something really close or what I consider a scheduling quirk. 

This is what I consider a scheduling quirk.  Let’s say I make Ohio St. #1, and after Ohio St. beats Rutgers on 11/16, they fall only slightly behind Clemson.  I would keep Ohio St. #1 because they would have Penn St. next and Clemson would have a bye.  I don’t like switching up #1 in my personal list without a loss (the computer formula does what it does and I don’t interfere).  I will at some point, but I don’t consider a team with a good schedule no longer number one because they play a couple of weak teams in a row before they play two pretty good teams in a row (in Ohio St.’s case, Penn St. and Michigan).

If it turns out Ohio St. is the best team, what would be optimal from my perspective is Clemson stays #1 until Ohio St. takes over, and then there are no further changes. Alabama has a terrible schedule the next two weeks (Tennessee and Arkansas), so even if they beat LSU on November 9, it might not be enough. I don’t want to give Clemson a boost for that long anyway.

It’s fairly likely that whoever is #1 October 27 will stay that way on November 3.  The only big game in the interim is Florida/Georgia (which is obviously less big on the national stage since both have a loss now), and I hopefully won’t have to agonize over anything. 

If LSU goes undefeated through November 9, maybe the Tigers would have a chance at that point. Then the next week, Oklahoma might have a chance if Baylor keeps winning until they meet the Sooners.

Anyway, I don’t like to do a back-and-forth horse race at #1 for the reasons explained, but I almost never make any changes to the rest of the rankings after October for my personal rankings.  I put what I think is most important into my system, and once we’ve played 2/3 of the season or more, I let that guide me.  The reason I made a computer system in the first place is it’s too hard to look at 30+ schedules late in the season and consistently give pluses and minuses for every win and loss.  It’s easier to do for 2 or 3 teams who have arguments for #1.

How the Sausage is Made

I’m not going to say anything else about the results last week or upcoming games until later this week, but I do have a bit to say about my rankings today and going forward.  I think some people call this “inside baseball,” so feel free to skip to the rankings below if you don’t want the gory details (or click here if you only want the purely objective ratings).

Seven weeks into the season, I think we can start giving extra credit for quality opponents.  If you played someone above zero, which is a team in the top 68 right now that’s the first bonus tier.  The next one is 0.15, which is the top 39 right now.  The highest tier is 0.3, which is the highest 19 teams right now.  There are a couple of higher tiers, but those only come into play later in the season. Those decimal numbers are from the “traditional” unweighted system.  So the unweighted system is the base, and the bonus tiers go on top of that to create the weighted system.  So if you beat someone who’s 15th in the weighted system, it’s possible that they’re not in the top 19 in the unweighted system.

I think the best result is to average the weighted and unweighted systems.  This is a little tricky because the numbers are so different, but the range from #1 to #130 in the unweighted system is almost exactly 1/50 the range in the weighted system.  So I zero out the worst teams and then I average weighted score with unweighted score times 50.

I’m still giving myself leeway to move the teams three spots this week.    The only exceptions are the top spot, which I treat a little differently, and Notre Dame, whom I wanted to move behind Georgia (Georgia is only two spots higher than the computer rank).  Georgia lost to one USC and Notre Dame beat the other, but they both looked bad. So I thought the Bulldogs should remain ahead of the Irish team they beat.

Top 25

rankteamlast
1Clemson1
2Ohio St.2
3LSU3
4Alabama4
5Wisconsin7
6Penn St.11
7Auburn6
8Boise St.10
9Oklahoma17
10Florida5
11Oregon14
12SMU8
13Baylor19
14Arizona St.15
15Michigan20
16Appalachian22
17Minnesota23
18Georgia9
19Notre Dame16
20Cincinnati24
21Washington
22Navy
23Hawaii21
24Wake Forest12
25Memphis13

Out of Top 25: (18) Texas, (25) Michigan St.

Week 5 Rankings and Comments

In College Football, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 29, 2019 at 3:16 PM

This is the first week that I have published my computer rantings; but as I mentioned I did some trial runs before.  I won’t be following the order too closely for now, but that will partly explain some teams that may be in surprising places.

Part of the transition from subjective to objective rankings (for this year anyway) is a strict rule that the ranking of a given team can only vary 6 spots from the computer formula.  For instance, Georgia and Washington were 9 and 10, but they ended up 3 and 16. Likewise, teams that started 13 spots apart could be one spot.  If 6 seems like an arbitrary number, it is. I wanted the flexibility to put a team like Oklahoma with no losses ahead of a team like Oklahoma St. with a loss to Texas, whom I was barely able to include in the top 25. I had to leave Berkeley ahead of the Sooners though.

For now I’m keeping the top 5 the same as I had it last week, but I probably won’t next week even if none of them lose. I will give myself less leeway to deviate from the computer, and I expect at least Alabama to have a lower computer rating due to missing out on points entirely during the bye week.

North Carolina had no chance of getting what would have been the go-ahead two-point conversion try in Chapel Hill on Saturday.

Partly because margin of victory for the most-part doesn’t factor into my philosophy (except to fill in the gaps early on and except for certain narrow home victories), I am keeping Clemson #1.  I need some pretty strong evidence a team is the best to make a change at #1; it’s not purely about who had the best 5 weeks and picking a team in a vacuum.  The other candidates don’t have the quality wins necessary yet.  Georgia, with the win over Notre Dame, had the best argument on paper; but their second-best win is Arkansas St., so that doesn’t do it for me.  Alabama hasn’t beaten anyone in the computer top 50, and that may not even change if they beat Texas A&M.in two weeks.  Alabama and Clemson are a much closer 1 and 2 to other teams than earlier in the season, but I’m giving it another week.

Outside of the top 3, Auburn still has too many question marks despite being the computer #1.  Ohio St. is also up there, but the Buckeyes need a better win than Cincinnati (I never bought into the Nebraska hype, and neither does the computer). 

I decided to leave Boise St. ahead of Notre Dame.  While the Irish have the better win against an ACC team (since Virginia beat Florida St.), the Broncos beat Air Force. Notre Dame’s second-best win is over Louisville.  The Irish also have a loss, but I think Boise St. would have also lost, so that wasn’t a major factor.

Arizona St. (which beat Cal Friday in Berkeley) might not have an impressive offense, but the Sun Devils have had two impressive road wins with ball control and defense.

There are some unexpected teams after that.  Arizona St.’s being 2-1 against the top 20 with a third OK FBS win (over Kent St., whose only other loss is to Auburn) is pretty good right now.  Wake Forest is undefeated and didn’t come as close to losing to UNC as Clemson did.  SMU is also undefeated with a win over TCU.  Colorado beat Arizona St. but lost to Air Force.  More on the Falcons below.  Michigan St. lost to Arizona St. but has three fairly decent wins.  Appalachian St. is undefeated and also beat UNC more easily than Clemson did.  Berkeley is 1-1 against the computer top 10 with no other losses, so that was as low as I could put them.

I could have ranked Air Force and Virginia, but I preferred to keep undefeated Iowa and one-loss Texas.  Although LSU hasn’t had depth in its schedule yet, I think the Tigers look like a better team than Boise St. or Notre Dame.  Also, the Longhorns beat a better team (Oklahoma St.) than anyone Virginia beat. Air Force did beat Colorado, but I want to see if they can follow that up with anything before I kick Texas or someone who hasn’t lost out of the top 25. In the next five weeks, the Falcons play Navy, Hawaii, Utah St., and Army.

Not only did Kansas St. lose to Oklahoma St., but the Wildcats’ win over Mississippi St. lost its luster when the Bulldogs got blown out by Auburn.  So Virginia and Kansas St. are the only two teams to fall out from last week.

Hawaii’s Cedric Byrd II celebrates one of two touchdown catches in Reno on Saturday.

I had to rank Hawaii due to the six-spot rule, but I think the Warriors deserve it.  In addition to blowing out Nevada on the road Saturday, they’ve played three Pac-12 teams and only lost to Washington.  Oregon St., as usual, isn’t good; but the Beavers gave Stanford a game.  Arizona hasn’t lost to anyone else yet, although UCLA gave them a scare.

Speaking of the Pac-12, that conference has the highest computer rating per team.  There aren’t any undefeated teams, so the Pac-12 is outnumbered in the top 10 by the SEC.  However, the Pac-12 has more teams in the top 25 and doesn’t have as many teams below 100.  The SEC leads 3-1 in the latter category (Vanderbilt, Arkansas, and Tennessee against just UCLA). 

Top 25

rankteamlast
1Clemson1
2Alabama2
3Georgia3
4Auburn4
5Ohio St.5
6Boise St.7
7Notre Dame25
8Wake Forest9
9Wisconsin13
10Arizona St.22
11SMU11
12Colorado20
13Michigan St.23
14LSU10
15Florida6
16Washington21
17Penn St.14
18Oregon24
19Appalachian16
20UC-Berkeley8
21Oklahoma19
22Oklahoma St.
23Iowa18
24Hawaii
25Texas15

Out of rankings: (12) Virginia, (17) Kansas St.