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Posts Tagged ‘Texas A&M’

2019 College Football Conference Report

In College Football, Conference Reports on March 21, 2020 at 4:05 PM

I never thought LSU would win all the major men’s sports for an entire academic year, but I guess there are a lot of things going on I thought I’d never see.

I wasn’t going to write this since it’s based on a season that ended two months ago, but I have the time now, and I thought someone might want to read about the last full season we had.  I am writing this on Friday, a day I originally took off in order to enjoy the first round of the basketball tournament.  My last day of work for a while was Tuesday, so I may write something else in the coming days.

Anyway, I used to do conference reports more often.  I would do them weekly after each of the first four weeks and then again at the end of the regular season with a final one at the end of bowl season.  I thought I had done more than one, but the only one I could find was after Week 2.  One reason I haven’t done them as much is I’ve been rating the conferences statistically on my ratings site. Another reason is time of course.

SEC Regular Season

The SEC did not start particularly strong.  In the first two weeks, Tennessee lost twice (to Georgia St. and to BYU), Missouri lost to Wyoming, Ole Miss lost to Memphis (which turned out to be not so bad), and South Carolina lost to North Carolina.  So after two weeks, I had the Big Ten higher in the conference standings. 

Week 3 didn’t really change anything.  Mississippi St.’s loss to Kansas St. on the road wasn’t really a shock.  Arkansas beating anyone in FBS was a good thing (they beat Colorado St.).  The other wins that week would have been complete surprises had they not been blowouts.

Week 4 was a little bit more encouraging with Georgia’s win over Notre Dame.  Ole Miss and Arkansas lost, but those were not unexpected; both games could have gone either way.

Georgia WR George Pickens jumps for a reception against Notre Dame in Week 4 in Athens.

There was nothing else of note out-of-conference until Week 11, when Appalachian St. beat South Carolina.  In the mean time, Vanderbilt went 1-1 against two weak teams and Arkansas lost out of conference yet again, a blowout at the hands of Western Kentucky.  At that point things were looking even worse for the SEC than at the time of my conference report.

Apart from South Carolina’s expected big loss to Clemson (the actual margin of 35 would have been a modest estimate), the SEC won the other major rivalry-week games (Florida-Florida St., Kentucky-Louisville, and Georgia-Georgia Tech) to at least put itself back in contention for best conference.

SEC Bowls

Almost every year, I talk about how the SEC is often held to unfair standards in bowl games.  For instance, in 2018, LSU was in a four-way tie for third and had to play a team on a 25-game winning streak in the Fiesta Bowl.  The major bowls’ going deep into the SEC leaves relatively mediocre teams in big games like the Citrus and Outback Bowls.  Also, the best SEC team not in the Playoff (Georgia in 2018, almost every Alabama team that hasn’t been competing for a national championship) often has a lackluster performance based on disappointment from elimination from championship contention.

None of those seemed to be problems in this bowl season though.  There were two losses that were both understandable.  Auburn was in a tie for fifth and lost to a team who tied for second in a good conference in a competitive game.  The only other loss was by Mississippi St., who only barely made a bowl game and had some intra-squad drama (to put it mildly) in bowl prep.

Obviously, LSU beat two conference champions.  Florida, which was the runner-up in the East, beat Virginia, which was the runner-up in the entire ACC.  Georgia beat Baylor in a matchup of conference runners-up.  Alabama capitalized on a rare favorable matchup for the SEC when the Tide played fifth-place Michigan of the Big Ten. 

Lamical Perine breaks through the Virginia defense in the 2019 Orange Bowl in Miami Gardens, Fla. Perine averaged over 10 yards per carry in the game.

In another SEC-Big Ten matchup, Tennessee beat seventh-place Indiana. In record, the Volunteers were tied for fifth in the SEC, but I think when you consider that the Vols played in the (weaker) SEC East while the Hoosiers played in the (stronger) Big Ten East, it was a fair fight. 

Texas A&M beat Oklahoma St. to complete the sweep of the Big XII, and Kentucky beat Virginia Tech to make the SEC 3-1 against the ACC in bowl games.

SEC vs. Big Ten and Pac-12

The fact that the SEC had as many wins over the Big Ten as they had total losses in bowl games was a good start.  The Big Ten lost four of its last five bowl games including both “New Years Six” bowls against major-conference opponents.

The Pac-12, who won one of those NY6 games against the Big Ten, had a good bowl showing, but they have a really weak collection of bowl games and did not have a strong enough showing against other conferences during the season.

So the SEC, despite all the bumps in the road early on, ended up the clear winner.  By my count, the SEC went 17-8 against games against the major conferences (and Notre Dame).  No one else finished more than one game over .500 in such games (and that was the Pac-12, which went 8-7).

Other than the Rose Bowl game I mentioned, the Pac-12 didn’t really beat anyone to write home about.  These are the seven other wins: Florida St., Northwestern, Nebraska, Michigan St., Illinois, Texas Tech, and Ole Miss.

The Big Ten beat USC, Auburn, and Notre Dame and has such excusable losses as Alabama, Oregon, and Clemson.  So despite the bowl record, I’m still going with the Big Ten as #2 over #3 Pac-12.

Other Major Conferences and the American Conference

The Big XII had a similar record to the Pac-12 but with an even less impressive list of wins, so that was an easy choice for #4.

The American conference is next.  The AAC only suffered two losses that were not against a top conference or Notre Dame.  Only two of the losses that were to teams in major conferences (Georgia Tech and North Carolina St.) were to teams that did not make bowl games.  There wasn’t a list of great wins, but American teams did beat two major-conference bowl teams despite not having much chance at such wins in the bowl games themselves.

The ACC had a bad record (6-19) against other major conferences and only went .500 against the FBS.  Other than Clemson’s major wins, the only others are the ones I mentioned by North Carolina and Louisville. 

Remaining Conferences and Independents

That’s still more than #7 Mountain West has to brag about.  The Mountain West had a better record against major conferences but only beat two major-conference teams who made bowl games (Washington St. and Florida St.).  The MWC also lost ten games against other conferences to the ACC’s six.

The Sun Belt, which went 4-9 against the major conferences, is next.  Those wins include North Carolina and Tennessee, which both made bowl games.  Only two of the losses to the major conferences were to non-bowl teams.  The Sun Belt also lost to ten teams in other conferences, but two of those were to Memphis, which made a NY6 bowl.

Obviously, independents aren’t officially a conference, but I’d count them next.  Notre Dame got a lot more decent wins than all the other teams combined, but there were BYU’s wins over Tennessee and USC.  Those were the only wins not by Notre Dame over major-conference teams though.  It also didn’t really help the Irish that five of its wins were against the ACC.  Other wins were over Stanford, Bowling Green, and New Mexico.  Virginia and USC were good wins though.

The bottom of the barrel are the CUSA and MAC.  I have to go with the MAC last given its single win against a major-conference team (albeit a bowl team, Illinois). Ten games   There were nine wins against others, including a couple of bowl teams, so it wasn’t all bad.  The CUSA had three wins against the major teams, two against U. Miami, which made a bowl game. It had 12 wins against other teams, including multiple additional bowl teams.

More on CFP Championship; Pelini back at LSU

In College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, History, Post-game on February 9, 2020 at 1:57 PM
Mike VII became the third Mike in a row to celebrate a national championship. If LSU manages another in the next few years, he would be the first tiger to preside over a second.

Although I haven’t written since the night of the championship, I have been reading, listening, and thinking about the season that has just ended. 

I wanted to start with some stats I found interesting and didn’t know until after that night. 

Clemson had won 50 games in a row when scoring first and 89 in a row after leading by at least 10 points. 

This isn’t to be disrespectful, I just thought it was funny. Clemson’s loss was also Lawrence’s first as a starting quarterback.

Of course they had also won 29 games in a row overall, meaning that for the second season in a row LSU ended a winning streak of 25 or more (Central Florida had won exactly 25).  This was the first time a program ended such streaks two years in a row.  Only one program has ended such streaks more than twice in its history.  That was Notre Dame in 1946 (Army, which was a winning streak ended by a tie), 1957 (Oklahoma), and 1970 (Texas), so none were even within a decade of the other.  Princeton is the only other program to end such a streak twice, in 1889 and 1893 (both over Yale).  (The Ivy League was considered top-division college football at the time.)

Something else I noticed when re-watching the game was that on average this season Clemson had given up 264 yards per game. LSU eclipsed 500 yards in the first minute of the fourth quarter.

It was not surprising that Joe Brady was hired away.  What was slightly surprising was that after the LSU defense was underestimated through most of the year, the defensive coordinator (DC) Dave Aranda got one of the best available coaching vacancies, at least in terms of how good the team was last season.  Baylor was a close second to Oklahoma twice and lost no other games until the Sugar Bowl.  Like Oklahoma, the Bears also ran into an SEC team who finished in the same place in the Big XII (LSU and Oklahoma were both champions; Baylor and Georgia were both runners-up).  It was also an odd coincidence that the person who hired Brady for the Carolina Panthers is the one who left the vacancy in Waco.

Bo Pelini (left in gray) celebrates an interception during LSU’s 2007 BCS Championship.

It’s also interesting that after the DC for this year’s championship team was hired away, we decided to bring back Bo Pelini, the DC who was hired away directly after our last championship in 2007.  Pelini had also left to coach a Big XII team, although Nebraska is now in the Big Ten.  Also worth noting that LSU had top-three overall defenses all three years under Pelini, which corresponded with Les Miles first three years, during which the Tigers had an overall record of 34-6.  Pelini was the first DC hired by Miles, and Aranda was the last.  Pelini will make over 10 times more per year as the LSU DC than he had been making as the Youngstown St. head coach; but he did coach there while still being paid by Nebraska.

I’ll be interested to see if there is any trouble readjusting to major college football for Pelini, but Coach Orgeron has had a good record in hiring assistants so far.  So I’m not overly worried.

I don’t think LSU has a tremendously good chance to repeat as champions even if all the coaches had stayed, but I’m not greedy. I’m OK with someone else winning next year.  I just hope it’s not Alabama and preferably not Clemson or Ohio St. either.  By the way, I enjoyed a segment with former LSU coach/current Alabama coach Nick Saban and his former offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher (Fisher and Pelini overlapped as coordinators at LSU in 2005 and 2006, by the way).  That segment has been taken down from YouTube, but you can find Fisher (who was the only head coach to go against both LSU and Clemson this season) and Saban (who coached against Clemson a few months before Fisher did) comment separately.

Jimbo Fisher discusses LSU’s BCS championship on Jan. 4, 2004.

Saban and Fisher are two of only six active head coaches who have won national championships.  Orgeron and Miles are two others, so it’s interesting that four of the six have worked at LSU during one of our national championships.  The other two are Dabo Swinney and Mack Brown.  Mack Brown does have Louisiana ties though.  He was LSU’s QB coach in 1982 (shortly after Steve Ensimger graduated) and was the head coach (and athletic director) at Tulane from 1985 to 1987.

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.

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 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.

Week 4 Top 25 and Summary

In College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 22, 2019 at 4:47 PM

I had too many tangents in addition to my rankings blog, so I’ll publish those separately along with my normal blog during the week.  LSU doesn’t play next week, so I have something special planned.

LSU

To get the main LSU coverage out of the way, the Vandy game wasn’t interesting enough to go into elaborate detail.  I did update the series blog. / (I also just remembered to update the Texas one too.)  The LSU defense wasn’t good but wasn’t nearly as bad as the score made it look.  The offense actually gave up two touchdowns (both after LSU had a big lead), so that reduces the 38 points to 24.  When there were 1 to 5 plays for some of the early LSU drives, it’s hot and humid on an artificial surface, and a number of good players weren’t playing, I don’t think 24 is embarrassing.  As Coach O pointed out though, there being too many quick offensive drives doesn’t make you miss your assignment, which happened multiple times and which Vandy exploited.  They aren’t as talented as LSU for sure; but at least their first team could generally have some role had they gone to LSU, and they have coaches who can get a lot out of their generally intelligent players.  So when you mess up, you aren’t getting away with it easily.

As I expected, LSU didn’t come close to the passing yards record; but Burrow did set the team passing touchdown record with 6.   This was the most points in regulation for LSU since 1977. One other note for Burrow: if you’re going to throw the ball away, make sure it goes clearly out of bounds (luckily the Vandy player he threw it to was ineligible for having stepped out).  I’ll have a slight rant about the inconsistent targeting rulings. 

LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase caught 4 touchdown passes to set the team receiving record. His 229 receiving yards are fourth all-time and most in an SEC game in LSU history.

It wasn’t related to the injuries, defense, or turnovers; but I had to lower LSU in the rankings.  The main reason was that apart from Texas there is almost no basis for the computer to give any points, and I’m beginning to remove subjectivity.  The three other teams LSU beat are a combined 0-6 against FBS, 1-3 against FCS, and 0-1 against Division II. Georgia Southern nearly beat Minnesota, but that doesn’t help much.  It may be a rare bye week that actually helps a team in my computer since both Vandy and GSoU play winnable games (Northern Illinois and ULL). 

Rankings and Playoff Race

LSU is still better on paper than Oklahoma at least.  The Sooners are the only undefeated team I ranked with fewer points than the Tigers, but they’ve already had a bye week.  I don’t think any of the teams I moved up would beat Oklahoma or LSU (or that any outside of the top 6 would beat Notre Dame), but that’s just a reminder that this is about accomplishments to date.  Even if you look good and put up good numbers, you don’t really accomplish much by beating a team with no FBS wins, at least not until they prove they can get those wins.

That should answer any questions about why the rankings look so different compared to a couple of weeks ago.  Moving on, there are finally some interesting games between ranked teams to discuss this week; and that’s not to mention the upsets.

Michigan is back to Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke levels of disappointment.   I’ll rank them in the future if they recover, but I think it would be an insult to dozens of other teams to leave them in right now.  I really don’t understand how you make so much talent look so mediocre, and people used to think Jim Harbaugh was a great coach.  Maybe something in the water.  I still think there is reason to be skeptical of Wisconsin, because I don’t think beating a team as close to Middle Tennessee and Army as Michigan was means the Badgers are back.  They won solidly enough and are undefeated though.

Wisconsin QB Jack Coan runs for a 25-yard touchdown against Michigan Saturday. Coan went 13 of 16 passing, but the big story was the 359 rushing yards by the Badgers.

I watched the last quarter or so of Utah and USC on Friday.  Utah looked like the better team, but they just couldn’t score reliably in the red zone.  USC couldn’t run at all; but somehow the same receiver kept getting open, and Utah didn’t seem to change their defense accordingly.  That provided all the points and first downs the Trojans needed.  They scored the touchdown that put the game away based on a phantom pass interference, but they probably would have won anyway. 

I am beginning to doubt the ability of a Pac-12 team to make the playoff (the only undefeated Pac-12 team left is Cal), and this isn’t a bad time to start discussing such things; but I think it’s too soon to count out a team like Oregon.  If Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Ohio St. all go undefeated, then probably not; but people forget how extremely rare it’s been to go 13-0 in a major conference.  Even the Washington team who made the playoff a few years ago had a loss.  Oregon has a loss, but a 12-game winning streak and possibly several ranked opponents would be hard to pass up, especially if Auburn can beat a couple of the tough teams they play (let’s just say it’s a gauntlet) to make the Ducks’ one loss look better. 

One problem that may come in is Oregon won’t have beaten enough ranked teams, but it’s possible Clemson may have zero wins over ranked teams at the end of the year.  I would actually prefer a one-loss Pac-12 team (unless it’s Washington St., who just lost to UCLA and whose only non-conference win is over 3-loss Houston) to one-loss Clemson though. 

I think A&M will finish in the middle of the SEC West (they just lost to Auburn, who most consider third right now), but that’s the only currently ranked team Clemson has played or will play.  If the Aggies lose to LSU and to Georgia in the last two playing weeks to fall to 5 losses (in addition to the two they already have and Alabama), they may not be ranked at that point.  Clemson could play a ranked team in the ACC championship, but even that is questionable given that the top two teams in the other division are Virginia (who struggled against Old Dominion) and North Carolina (who now has two “non-conference” losses, although one is to an ACC team Wake Forest).  Duke is third in the ACC Coastal, but they haven’t played an ACC team yet.  The team Clemson beats could fall out of the rankings even if that team is ranked.

JaTarvious Whitlow, Auburn’s leading rusher, dives for a touchdown against Texas A&M in a key SEC West contest on Saturday. It was the Aggies’ second loss overall, first in SEC play.

It’s kind of unfortunate that Clemson doesn’t play Notre Dame every year, because that would possibly help either team overcome a loss (and finally do away with the other).  Notre Dame now has a loss if you didn’t notice.  Georgia almost gave me a heart attack by allowing the Irish a chance to take the lead in the final minute, but thankfully they succeeded in knocking the ball down on 4th and 9. 

To backtrack, it was 10 to 7 Notre Dame at the half, and Georgia dominated the third quarter defensively but had to settle for two field goals.  The Bulldogs broke through with a 15-yard TD pass early in the fourth quarter (to go up 20-10) and looked likely to score another TD about 7 minutes later, but Jake Fromm was rightly called down short of a firs after a third-and-long scramble, so that ended up giving the Irish the ball down 23-17, which ended up being the final score.

I wasn’t just for Georgia because of SEC favoritism.  The Bulldogs are my favorite SEC East team among those who have ever won the SEC East (I’ll cheer for Vandy and Kentucky against UGA since I like underdogs, but neither has ever won the division).  It also increases the chance that an SEC team apart from the champion could make it into the top 4.  Not only could it help remove Notre Dame as an impediment, but it makes it more likely that Georgia or Florida (who most likely would have to beat Georgia to stop the Bulldogs from winning the East) could register as really good wins.  As an LSU fan, I would like there to be another avenue besides winning the SEC championship.  The SEC now has several losses to other conferences, but Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Georgia, and Florida do not.  It’s difficult to conceive of another SEC team having any kind of chance even though I know it’s early.  I’ll talk about my general dislike for Notre Dame later in the week. 

Top 25

Rank TeamLast
1Clemson1
2Alabama2
3Georgia3
4Auburn7
5Ohio St.5
6Florida8
7Boise St.22
8UC-Berkeley24
9Wake Forest20
10LSU4
11SMU
12Virginia
13Wisconsin
14Penn St.16
15Texas14
16Appalachian17
17Kansas St.25
18Iowa19
19Oklahoma10
20Colorado
21Washington
22Arizona St.18
23Michigan St.
24Oregon23
25Notre Dame6

Out of top 25: (9) Wash. St., (11) Michigan, (12) Texas A&M, (13) Utah, (15) C. Florida, (21) Cincinnati

Week 2 Recap and New Top 25

In College Football, General LSU, History, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 8, 2019 at 2:37 PM

Top 25

rankteamlast
1Clemson1
2Alabama2
3Georgia3
4LSU4
5Ohio St.5
6Notre Dame7
7Auburn8
8Florida9
9Wash. St.10
10Oklahoma11
11Michigan6
12Texas A&M12
13Utah13
14Texas15
15C. Florida16
16Michigan St.17
17Penn St.19
18Appalachian20
19USC
20Maryland
21Cincinnati21
22Boise St.22
23Oregon23
24Iowa St.24
25UC-Berkeley

Out of top 25: (14) Washington, (18) Syracuse, (25) Stanford

Comments

LSU/Texas Recap and Significance

I considered making LSU comments a separate blog, but since it was the only big game this weekend worth delving into, I’m doing it here. 

I wasn’t wrong about LSU winning, but I was wrong about a couple of other things.  I would have been right both about LSU not beating the spread and about LSU not getting to 45 points on offense if only the Tigers had failed in the two-point conversion attempt, so I wasn’t far off.

Anyway, I’m happy to be wrong about LSU being able to get the same number of points Oklahoma did in the Texas win in Dallas last season and happy LSU beat the spread.  I did expect one late score to make the difference though, so my reasoning for picking Texas to beat the spread was sound.  The win didn’t feel secure until LSU went up 12 (14 with the conversion) with 2:27 left in the game, and then the game wasn’t really over until the onsides kick failed with 22 seconds left.  The field was just a couple of inches too narrow for Texas to recover.

Despite some problems that will need to be fixed, it’s at least somewhat encouraging that LSU did 10 points better than Oklahoma did on defense last year in the first game against the Horns.  I thought that was the most impressive Texas game last year, so that’s why it was my point of comparison in the preview.  I wasn’t sure if Texas would be equally impressive on offense in this game, but they were in my opinion. 

I don’t think the LSU offense is quite at the level of the Oklahoma offense last season, but the relative inexperience of the Texas defense (which I thought was the main reason the Longhorns would lose) made it look like that.

Anyway, I’ll add some stats I found interesting.  LSU once again looked extremely good against a top 10 team not named Alabama.  The Tigers are 6-0 in such games under Orgeron and have won 4 of the 6 by at least 7 points.  This game was closer than average, but the offense did about 2 touchdowns better than the average number of points in the previous 5 such games. 

One reason the game was close was the fact that it was on the road.  LSU had never won a road game against a top-10 opponent out of conference; although under Les Miles alone, the Tigers did beat #16 West Virginia in Morgantown in 2011 and #15 Arizona St. in Tempe in 2005.  This was the second LSU win in Austin and first since 1938.

QB Joe Burrow throws downfield in Austin on Saturday. Burrow went 31/39 for 471 yards.

This was also the first time in LSU history that the Tigers had three receivers with over 100 yards each (Jefferson, 163; Chase, 147; and Marshall, 123).  Joe Burrow’s 471-yard performance on Saturday is second in the Tiger record books only to that of Rohan Davey, who threw for 528 yards against (unranked) Alabama in 2001.  Davey (with Josh Booty) also contributed to more total passing yards (485) in the win over Western Carolina in 2000, but neither quarterback exceeded 300 yards.  For possible future reference, the individual home record is held by Tommy Hodson, who threw for 438 yards in a loss to Tennessee in 1989.

Other games

Other people are moving LSU up to the top 4, but since I had them there already, I think the top 10 (apart from Michigan, who needed overtime to beat Army and still deserved to lose) is fine how it is.

The only other big game going into the week was Texas A&M at Clemson.  It went about what I’d expect with the #1 team playing at home against the 6th-best SEC team.  I didn’t make a specific mention of the game; but you can see my preseason top 25 if you don’t believe that was how I viewed the respective teams.

There were two Pac-12 games that were somewhat surprising, especially the endings.  Stanford looked good against USC for about a quarter and a half, but then the Trojans scored the last 35 points of the game to win 45-20.  The Cal (UC-Berkeley) Bears used a lot of ball control late in the game to give themselves a chance against Washington.  It took until about 1:30 a.m. local time (due to a 2-hour lightening delay), but the Bears scored the winning field goal with 8 seconds left after Washington had scored a go-ahead field goal from about 50 yards with just over 2 minutes left.

The only thing else that was surprising was Maryland beating Syracuse by 43 points.  I wouldn’t have been surprised by a closer Maryland win since it was a Terps home game, but the Orange was blown away on defense in both rushing and passing.  It could be a long day when Syracuse faces Clemson next week.

Anthony McFarland, Jr., (no relation to the former LSU player) runs for one of his three touchdowns against Syracuse in College Park, Md., Saturday.

Due to Stanford, Syracuse, and Iowa St. (who was idle after needing 3 OTs to beat FCS foe Northern Iowa), no games within the AP top 25 will be played next weekend.  I left the Cyclones in though, so the battle for the Cy-Hawk trophy is unusually interesting this year.

Week 1 Games and the SEC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These guys look really rebellious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outside the SEC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Curious Case of LSU Basketball

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

Why I Generally Don’t Cover College Basketball

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

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

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

Brief Description of Recent LSU Basketball History

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

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

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

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

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

What Makes This Team Special (So Far)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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