(Go to the second bold subtitle if you want to skip all the LSU/Alabama stuff. Every time I try to post this, I lose my internet connection, so as I’ve reviewed, I’ve kept thinking of new things to mention.)
LSU/Alabama For the Record
As you might have expected, I’m not quite done talking about LSU/Alabama (since this is the first blog I’ve written since the actual game).
A few notes on the history before I get on my soap box. The last time LSU was in a game where the only scoring was field goal(s), they lost to Alabama, 3-0, in 1979. Alabama won the national championship that year as the only major undefeated and untied team. Going back to 2011, Les Miles moved past Nick Saban in wins against Alabama, 5 to 4 (Miles admittedly leads Saban in losses against Alabama, 2-1). No other coach in LSU history had more than two wins against Alabama, although Bill Arnsparger (1984-86) was an impressive 2-0-1, the tie of course coming in Baton Rouge. If LSU can get past Arkansas, Miles will have a winning record with LSU against every SEC team except for Georgia (1-2). (That would have been true even had LSU lost this game though.) LSU has now won 11 of the last 15 against the Tide in the state of Alabama and 7 of 9 (also 9 of 12) against the Tide overall. Alabama still has leads in the series: 45-25-5 overall, 20-16-2 in Alabama in general, 10-9 in Tuscaloosa, and 25-9-2 in Baton Rouge. The one game missing is a tie in New Orleans. It’s just bizarre that LSU has as many wins in Tuscaloosa in this series as in Baton Rouge despite playing about half as many games in Tuscaloosa. The two teams are tied in their last 31 games (15-15-1), their last 29 games (14-14-1), their last 27 games (13-13-1), and their last 22 games (11-11) against one another. One more thing: LSU now leads in overtimes in the series, 2-1. The Tigers had won in 2005 (in Tuscaloosa, of course) and lost in 2008 (in Baton Rouge, of course).
I’ve seen some criticisms of this year’s LSU/Alabama game that claimed that the defenses weren’t really so great, the offenses were just bad. I guess in that case, in every no-hitter in baseball history, the batting was just bad.
The fact that there were four interceptions thrown is somehow proof that the defense wasn’t that good? Well, the two interceptions thrown by Alabama would have been completions against your average BCS-conference defenders (especially against Oklahoma St. or Kansas St.), and one of them probably would have been a touchdown. Jarrett Lee threw one interception all year, a pass that basically amounted to a punt against Mississippi St. He doesn’t throw two in this game if Alabama doesn’t make him extremely uncomfortable. He was used to being able to resort to his “checkdown” receiver when someone wasn’t open downfield, but the Alabama linebackers were too good to allow that. And the reason Jefferson did better than Lee did is because they couldn’t allow the linebackers to fall back into coverage as easily given Jefferson’s ability to spread out the field and run.
A low-scoring game does not mean there weren’t sustained drives and good scoring opportunities. There were those things. For example, LSU had a 40-yard drive late in the fourth quarter, but that possession had started on the 5. Why did it start on the 5? Alabama punted after a 30-yard drive of their own. So why didn’t that drive put Alabama in better field position? Brad Wing’s 72-yard punt. Why was LSU so backed up before that punt? Eric Reid intercepted a ball at the 1. The offense of one team repeatedly did enough to bury the other team deep in its own territory (although Alabama didn’t do this as often as it perhaps should have due to long field-goal attempts). And how can you call that a boring game when it was tied in the fourth quarter through all these great plays and potential game-winning drives? The defenses basically put up a wall when it came time for the offenses to potentially make a game-changing play. That’s not simply offensive ineptitude.
Of course, there were some stupid penalties, but that takes place in big games all the time, especially in college. The back-of-the-helmet-grabbing penalty (I don’t know if you call that a facecollar or a horsemask or what) actually wasn’t that bad of a penalty, because I don’t know if LSU would have gotten the tackle (at least it may have been many yards downfield) without grabbing at the head and shoulder area. Of course the substitution penalty by Alabama and the pre-punt-return mugging by LSU were inexcusable, but these are young men with the average age of about 20, and it was a very tense, frustrating sort of game, so I don’t think that’s evidence of offensive ineptitude (of course the latter was a special-teams penalty anyway) or an indictment of either team overall. And I think it was tense and frustrating enough that even the coaches lost focus with some of the play-calling and decision-making.
Also, someone on the Alabama sidelines should have been making sure something like the substitution infraction didn’t take place. Alabama also had a similar penalty in the first quarter (which also helped put the Tide out of field-goal range, but don’t forget that in both cases, the LSU defense also helped out with tackles for a loss). LSU had a few pre-snap penalties as well, but a good defense will cause those at times. One of them was an illegal shift, which resulted from an effort to gain an advantage on the defense when those were obviously hard to come by. I think the only thing I didn’t cover was a couple of holding penalties, but every game has those—maybe they’re called, maybe not, but they’re there.
There were 32 first downs in the game. By comparison, there were 37 in the Arkansas-South Carolina game, which the Hogs won, 44-28. Also, there was a good mix of run and pass in this game. In yards gained, there was a total of 290 passing yards and 244 rushing yards. Attempts favored rushing of course, but for Alabama even that was close, 29 passing attempts against 31 rushing attempts. The difference in the game, as expected by commentators and coaches alike, was a few big plays and special teams, but that’s not to say nothing else was going on. As stated earlier, those plays are less meaningful without enough offense to set them up.
To transition to my ratings, I didn’t have Alabama #2 going into this. They had fallen to #3 due to the bye week. But if I had voted this week, I think I would have put them #2. I watched most of the K-State/OSU game, and that just wasn’t at the same level. Oklahoma’s game against K-State might have been at that level, but that’s the only example I can think of. Maybe we’ll see if Stanford can come up with a similar game this weekend. As to the chorus of complaints from commentators too lazy to actually do research about these teams they think are mistreated by the computers, Stanford’s opponents have an overall winning percentage of 36.7. That’s pretty bad. Alabama’s and Oklahoma St.’s opponents average 52.7%. Even Boise St.’s opponents average 47.6% wins. Oklahoma’s average 55.3%. LSU’s opponents (keep in mind they’re about to play Western Kentucky and Ole Miss) average 61.2%. This doesn’t require a mysterious sophistical formula to explain. I don’t think you consider who these teams are going to play until they play them, and the BCS computers do not do this either.
So that’s nice that Stanford plays a decent team next week. If they win, they’ll get credit for that. They’ll also get credit for Notre Dame, which isn’t to Oregon’s level, but it’s better than a bye week, Ole Miss, Western Kentucky, Georgia Southern, Iowa St., or New Mexico. UCLA does count for significantly less than Iowa St. right now, but they won’t if they win their remaining games in order to capture the Pac-12 South and Iowa St. Cal is in a virtual tie with Iowa St., and Arizona St. (the other possibility in the Pac-12 championship game) is significantly ahead of Iowa St. Both Oklahoma and Oklahoma St. have bye weeks in addition to playing the Cyclones anyway, although the winner of that game stands to gain a good bit to make up for it.
As a side note, this is part of the reason why we have a human element and a computer element. I don’t believe there is a good way to input final scores into a computer. The only way to fairly consider that is as part of a human system where you can also see and consider the circumstances in which those points are scored. But obviously human rankings have too much bias, and I think silly unofficial rules about not moving teams down if they win and keeping teams ranked basically according to preseason rankings. There is also an unfair forgiveness phenomenon when teams like USC and Oklahoma lost to the likes of Stanford and Colorado a few years ago. Also, at times, there can be too much focus on a couple of recent games instead of the overall course of the season.
If anything, I believe human ratings carry too much weight, but then an even greater percentage of football coverage would be taken up by whiny commentators who are too self-important and ignorant for basic math, not to mention the kind of formulas we get in the individual BCS computers. They also forget that part of the rules forbids the computers from considering any kind of margin of victory. So if Texas Tech is in the top 50 (where I have them), they might scratch their heads and talk about what Iowa St. did in Lubbock and how lucky the Red Raiders were to beat Oklahoma, but the computers are only allowed to consider loss vs. Iowa St. and win vs. Oklahoma. There also isn’t room for Andrew Luck’s stats in there (by the way, I don’t know what his numbers were, but he didn’t pass the eye test in the last two weeks anyway). There needs to be a hype-free, emotion-free element in there, and I don’t think 1/3 (even lower than the percenage of games won by Stanford’s opponents thus far) is enough.
Anyway, with that in mind, it looks like a one-loss Alabama team (or Arkansas team) that doesn’t make the SEC Championship game isn’t realistically going to pass up a one-loss Oklahoma team. But to give you an idea of how far the teams are separated, #3 Oklahoma is about as close to #1 LSU as they are to #15 Michigan. The Sooners are also about as close to their in-state rivals (who are #2) as they are to #8 Clemson. The gap between Boise St. and Oklahoma is 1/10 that between Oklahoma and Oklahoma St. The gap between Alabama and Oklahoma is 1/3 that between Oklahoma and Oklahoma St. I believe this is the first time in the history of my rankings that the #1 team this late in the season is in the top 5 of my strength of schedule ratings, which are typically dominated by teams with losing records.
Alabama at least has a good chance to pass up Boise St. and may pass up the loser of Bedlam (for BCS purposes, Tide fans should cheer for the Sooners, although that may not help their ranking for me). Although I would have voted Alabama #2 last week, I think that’s a reasonable place for them to be. I have no plans to tinker with my formula to change any of that. Penn St. was a good team out of conference, but Kent St., North Texas, and Georgia Southern are just too weak of a remaining non-conference slate to pick up Alabama’s other games. Don’t forget that the “Big XII” has a 9-game conference schedule now, so that makes it harder to play three weaklings out of conference for those teams even if they wanted to. Also, right now, Tulsa (with losses to only Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., and Boise St.) doesn’t qualify. It wouldn’t surprise me that if Stanford wins out, they might pass up Alabama too (probably in the BCS as well), since there would be one extra game, and as referenced Stanford’s worst remaining opponent is Cal (or possibly UCLA, but somehow, having watched local games and sports shows from time to time over the past 7 years, I believe UCLA will not make that game).
If LSU wins out, this is probably a moot point for national-championship purposes, but the SEC West teams should probably cheer for Auburn to beat Georgia for a couple of reasons. It would strengthen the value of Auburn, and also it would probably put a better team, South Carolina, in the SEC Championship game. And furthermore, it weakens the argument for Boise St. of course. Another side note: I believe the only prior wire-to-wire #1s in my personal rankings (this is almost impossible in the computer ratings per se…the first few weeks, I’ll keep #1 subjective) was Florida St. in 1999. I had no computer formula of any sort at that time. I didn’t even give them serious thought until 2003.
There MIGHT be a scenario where Alabama can be a #2 to LSU, but it’s remote. Alabama would have to beat Auburn of course. Auburn getting that win over Georgia would be key. If the SEC wins those remaining non-conference games (South Carolina-Clemson, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Florida-Florida St.), that could help. Of course, Oklahoma beating Oklahoma St. might be good (or if Texas Tech could beat Oklahoma St., that might be even better). Oregon (of course a victim to LSU) beating Stanford would help. A Boise St. loss or a loss or losses by Tulsa would probably help too. UCLA making the Pac-12 championship could keep a Pac-12 champion from the North from getting too much credit as well, but might as well cheer for ASU and UCLA both to lose. A late loss by LSU would not have the Tigers #1, but it could put the Tide #1 if enough dominoes fall, and Arkansas (or maybe one-loss LSU) could conceivably be up there too.
This isn’t just for my ratings, but these are things that help tilt the computers in one way or another as well. The computers are only 1/3 of the BCS formula though, so if there is a strong feeling among the voters, generally the voters get what they want.
Other than Oregon, who could at least factor into the top 4 and other BCS thresholds (and who made a good jump of 6 spots, mostly due to others’ losses), I doubt any of the other one-loss potential champions (Clemson, Va. Tech, Penn St., USM) will matter too much in any of this. There wasn’t anything else too surprising about how the ratings came out. Michigan fell a few spots. Nebraska fell many spots. Both are still ranked. Michigan St. fell a spot despite winning, but since they just lost to Nebraska, that’s not a surprise. Arizona St. and North Carolina both lost, so that opened up spots for Cincinnati and TCU. The reason Cincinnati is 22nd instead of 24th is that both Auburn and Georgia Tech had bye weeks. Georgia didn’t really get much credit for beating New Mexico St., but it (combined with other results) was enough to separate them from Georgia Tech as well. It so happens Nebraska’s loss put the Huskers and the Spartans below Georgia. The only other movement of note was Texas, which beat Texas Tech. This was better than the wins by USC (Colorado), Georgia, and Michigan St. (Minnesota).
rank / team / prior
1 LSU 1
2 Okie St. 2
3 Oklahoma 6
4 Boise St. 4
5 Alabama 3
6 Stanford 5
7 Houston 8
8 Clemson 7
9 Oregon 15
10 Va. Tech 9
11 Penn St. 13
12 Arkansas 16
13 S Carolina 12
14 So. Miss. 17
15 Michigan 11
16 Kansas St. 14
17 Texas 23
18 USC 18
19 Georgia 21
20 Mich St. 19
21 Nebraska 10
22 Cincinnati —
23 Ga. Tech 20
24 Auburn 24
25 TCU —
Out of rankings: (22) Arizona St, (25) North Carolina
Blog note: It might be obscure and/or boring to some, but my series of LSU/Alabama posts led to by far my highest-ever weekend, with 139 views Friday to Sunday (including my highest-ever views for one day, with 68 on Saturday–my previous high was 49). Anyway, thanks for reading.