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Posts Tagged ‘Texas A&M’

CFP Response and Bowl Projections

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, History, Rankings Commentary on November 27, 2018 at 6:57 PM

As for my top 25 commentary, I was slightly off in my prediction (here) that Clemson would overtake Notre Dame.  I forgot to account for the ACC losses to the SEC.  It makes it worse that Louisville and Florida St. are both in the ACC Atlantic. Clemson will move ahead next week in the unweighted ratings for sure;but I think in the lead up to the Playoff, the weighted ratings are more useful. I’m less confident there. 

Before I start talking about bowl possibilities, I did want to comment briefly about the bottom of my top 25.Texas and Fresno St. are subjectively good enough at the moment to be included as ranked teams. They’re just two weird teams that look good in one system but not in the other.  But if as expected they both lose in championship games, I won’t feel bad about leaving them out of the final top 25 before the bowl games. If they win, I think they’ll be rewarded fairly.  I just thought the fairest solution was to publish a top 25 this week that was completely objective. 

LSU did fall a spot in the unweighted ratings,but they were actually sixth in the weighted ratings before the supposed loss to Texas A&M (see the link at the beginning for more about that).  Even if that were a legitimate loss, LSU should still be considered the #3 team in the SEC.  I’ll explain why, but given the CFP rankings it may not matter who is ranked higher.  Florida and Kentucky didn’t play Alabama, and Texas A&M didn’t play Georgia.  I think being the only team of the four to play both divisional champions makes your conference record better if it’s a tie.  I think the following chart demonstrates my point better than my explanation.  I’ll explain below the charts why Kentucky shouldn’t merit consideration (unless you’re fixated on head-to-head and like to ignore the other 92% of the season). 

This chart shows who played whom and the relevant records. LSU beat an opponent above this group and has no losses below, unlike the other two teams.

Not to mention that Texas A&M has a non-conference loss.  I know it’s to a good team, but decisive wins over Georgia and U. Miami are better than a win over Kentucky in overtime and a loss to Clemson.  A questionable loss, but the Aggies don’t want to go down that road. Non-conference losses count in bowl game consideration. You’re just lying to yourself if you don’t think Florida would have gotten better bowl games (including at least one Sugar Bowl appearance) had they not lost to Florida St. the past few seasons, for instance. See the following for a chart of games that weren’t against the top 5 of the SEC.

As for this season, Florida did beat LSU on October 6 but since then the Gators struggled at Vanderbilt before losing to Missouri and Georgia.  They haven’t really redeemed themselves from those performances in which they lost by a combined 40 points.   The Gators only have a 4-point win over South Carolina (who is now 6-5) and wins over FCS Idaho (their second FCS opponent of the year) and a frankly sorry Florida St.team.  Good thing for Jimbo that he bailed, but that’s another story. Also, if want to say Florida goes ahead of LSU because of head to head despite the schedule, you’d better give a better bowl game to Kentucky than you give to Florida. I know they don’t have the chomp thing, the annoying song after the game,and that stupid jingle when they make a first down; and their fans don’t travel as well (especially not in the midst of basketball season), but be consistent if you’re going to go with that argument.

Obviously, I’m not making that argument about Kentucky though.  I’m surprised the Wildcats are so far ahead of Texas A&M in the CFP rankings, but I guess they are a lot more interested in body of work than who the hot teams are.  Suffice it to say Kentucky’s only win in the last month over a bowl-eligible team is the win over Middle Tennessee by 11.  The Wildcats have also lost to a bowl –ineligible team (Tennessee) in that time.

You could say LSU hasn’t redeemed themselves from the Alabama loss, but I don’t think they need to in the same way.  The Sugar, Peach, or Fiesta won’t involve playing Alabama, at least not unless Alabama loses in embarrassing fashion on Saturday (but for that a much different team from the one that showed up in Baton Rouge will have to be playing in Atlanta).  Those bowls might involve playing a team as good as Missouri or Texas A&M.  I know the loss-is-a-loss theory, it’s what my computer is mostly based on; but I think any bowl would love to have a 7-overtime 146-point game between good teams like the one in College Station on Saturday.  They don’t need the SEC team to win.  Think of the commercial revenue and the many highlights and references to that bowl over the years.  No bowl wants to see a team that plays 21 points poorer than Missouri though.  If it’s against a team even better than these three SEC teams, only one team of the three has beaten a team in the CFP top 8 (top 8 is significant because it’s higher than the three teams I’m focusing on).  

I think even if Georgia beats Alabama the Sugar doesn’t want LSU because LSU fans don’t buy as many hotel rooms and go to expensive restaurants over a few days like Florida fans might.  If you’re a conspiracy theorist ,this alone was a reason to fix the game in favor of the Aggies.  

I suspect the Peach will prefer Florida for geographical reasons whether the Gators were 9th or 10th.  The Fiesta is an even longer way away from Baton Rouge than the Peach.  I know only two states separate Arizona and Louisiana, but I promise you that trip is no leisurely stroll.  I do think more fans would travel from Baton Rouge than from Pullman, for instance; but the Fiesta doesn’t seem to like to have two teams from east of the Mississippi unless one of them is Notre Dame.  Except for the 2016 Clemson-Ohio St. national semifinal and the Notre Dame-Ohio St. games (2005 and 2015 seasons), you have to go back to the 1991 season to find a Fiesta Bowl that did not involve a team from West of the Mississippi (and six Fiesta Bowls since 2001 involved two from West of the Mississippi). 

Maybe the fact that the LSU campus is right next to the Mississippi is good enough, but I don’t know.  It is a good sign that LSU is several spots ahead of Washington St. and is also ahead of some other possibilities (such as Penn St. and Texas A&M).  It will be interesting to see what happens if LSU is not in a CFP Bowl.  Although LSU has been to the Citrus the past two seasons, I guess it’s possible they could go there again.  It’s also possible the Citrus would pick Kentucky, who is far ahead of the Aggies in the CFP rankings.

I’m going to give my major-bowl projections as of right now as well as how I would expect the CFP to decide the bowls.  I think one mistake people make in bowl projections is they act like the season literally ends right now.  So for instance, undefeated Alabama and one-loss Georgia are bowl teams.  If there were no SEC championship game, it’s no question that both teams should be in the top 4, but the only logical way to put Georgia in the top 4 is if you think they’re going to beat Alabama.  So I am going to factor in the expected results of the games on Saturday.   

I think I’ll be in agreement with what I expect the CFP will do. I have Ohio St. ahead of Oklahoma right now because beating Michigan and Penn St. are both better than anything Oklahoma has done, but I think Oklahoma redeeming their only loss would do a lot more for their argument than Ohio St. beating Northwestern would. Oklahoma will certainly be higher in my unweighted system. We’ll have to see what happens in the weighted one.  We do have a different committee now, so maybe they look at things slightly differently from the one last year.

Cotton: Alabama vs. Oklahoma

Orange: Clemson vs. Notre Dame

Sugar: Georgia vs. Texas

Rose: Washington vs. Ohio St.

Peach: Florida vs. UCF

Fiesta: LSU vs. Michigan

It’s unknown which hat Les Miles will wear if LSU plays Michigan. He may play it safe and stick with his Kansas hat.

It’s fairly straightforward to figure out what happens if one of Clemson, Oklahoma, and Ohio St. are upset. Instead of a choice between 5 teams for 4 spots, all 4 competitive teams make it. If Clemson were the one to lose, I would expect them against UCF in the Peach Bowl.  Georgia would be in the Sugar Bowl, so only one SEC team (I guess Florida) would be left for the Fiesta Bowl.  I wouldn’t like it, but TCU had the better resume a few years ago; and they lost out to Baylor due to head-to-head even though it was a close game. If Oklahoma is the team to lose, they would bump LSU from the Fiesta Bowl.  If Ohio St. is the team to lose, my guess is they bump Florida from the Peach and Florida bumps LSU from the Fiesta.

If two of them lose, it would then be easy for LSU to find a spot again because I think Georgia would make the semifinal even with two losses, and the Sugar Bowl would be available to the top SEC team(apparently Florida).

If Washington were to lose, you just replace them with Utah.  If UCF were to lose, replace them with Boise St.  If Boise St. also loses, my guess would be UCF keeps its spot.

If Georgia beats Alabama, I think both Georgia and Alabama would be in the top 4 again, so I’ll make full projections for that scenario since it would be a lot of changes.

Orange: Clemson vs. Alabama

Cotton: Notre Dame vs. Georgia

Sugar: Florida (though I would switch LSU andFlorida as explained) vs. Oklahoma

Rose: Washington vs. Ohio St. 

Fiesta: Washington St. vs. Michigan

Peach: LSU vs. UCF

This time if Ohio St., Clemson or Oklahoma were to lose, I think Washington St. would get bumped and LSU would stay.  Unless it’s Oklahoma, I would guess LSU would go to the Fiesta.  If it were Oklahoma, I think the Sooners go out West and LSU stays in the Peach. The same thing as before applies to Washington’s spot in the Rose.  If Boise St. were to replace UCF, I would guess the Broncos would play Washington St. (or Oklahoma) while Michigan/LSU would be moved to Atlanta. Take the over in that Fiesta Bowl if it happens. 

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Rivalries and Coaching Carousels

In College Football, General LSU, History, Rivalry on November 22, 2018 at 5:06 PM

I planned to write something Wednesday, my first day off work for Thanksgiving,but I woke up sick and ended up sleeping most of the day.

There are a lot of great rivalries this week (see my blog about the battle of the A&Ms [Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College and Texas A&M] ,and see last week’s blog for mention of some rivalries I’ve enjoyed over the years), but there are plenty of stories about them and previews of the big games by other outlets, so I wanted to write something a little different (although also in the theme of this week’s games as many coaches will be coaching their last games at their current schools). If you ever play six degrees of Will Muschamp (or whatever you would call a game that involves who coached with whom), this could be useful. 

For more about a somewhat unappreciated rivalry though, former LSU beat writer Ross Dellenger wrote good article for the Sports Illustrated about the Egg Bowl and especially some of the coaches.  The only thing I disagreed with was his characterization of Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke as mild-mannered just because he’s respectful of other teams and coaches.  He’s extremely animated during games though. 

I’ve given more attention to the Mississippi schools than most people do, even people who write extensively about the SEC, but I haven’t talked that much about Ole Miss playing Mississippi St.  I did write about former Mississippi St. head coaches Sylvester Croom and Jackie Sherill (first sub-section under the heading A&M coaches), both of whom are mentioned in the article (and both of whom played for and coached with Bear Bryant, another former Texas A&M coach, at Alabama).  Of course I wrote about Ole Miss’s series with their second and third rivals, LSU and Vanderbilt (third section), and Mississippi St.’s series with their second rival LSU (there isn’t much worth writing about the series with their #3 Alabama).

Anyway, that article about the Egg Bowl got me thinking about a lot of coaches from the 1990s and early 2000s, partly because of stories like that and partly from things that have come up during Ed Orgeron press conferences in the last few weeks. 

Ed Orgeron walks off the field for the last time as Ole Miss head coach after losing in the Egg Bowl on November 23, 2007.

Orgeron coached Ole Miss for a few Egg Bowls (winning only one), but before that he was the strength coach at Arkansas under Ken Hatfield, who also happened to be the coach of Rice the last time LSU played them before this season (1995).

Orgeron was asked about the Saints on Monday, and he seemed very excited about their performance this year.  I had forgotten that he was a Saints assistant for a season before joining Lane Kiffin’s staff at Tennessee.  Not that he wasn’t a fan long before that having grown up in Cajun country and having been a close personal friend to (and high school and college teammate of) former Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert. 

Orgeron also mentioned his affinity for Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, who was the secondary coach the year Orgeron spent in New Orleans.  After returning to the Saints in 2015, Allen became defensive coordinator when Rob Ryan was fired.

Rob Ryan as Oklahoma St. offensive coordinator in the 1990s.

Orgeron also said he was very happy for Les Miles after his hiring by Kansas.  I found out that in 1997 Miles was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma St. at the same time that Ryan was the defensive coordinator for Oklahoma St. (I usually would say the Cowboys; but that could be confusing since both Miles and Ryan also coached for the Dallas Cowboys, though at different times). Those two characters on the same coaching staff must have been interesting.  The combination worked though: that was the one year between 1988 and Miles’s tenure as head coach in Stillwater (2001-04, during which the team made three bowl games) that Oklahoma St. reached a bowl game.  When Miles went to Dallas, Ryan stayed; but the college Cowboys’ fortunes declined (not that the NFL Cowboys improved either).

When Miles returned to Oklahoma St. as head coach, his offensive coordinator was Mike Gundy, who would take Les’s place as head coach and remains in that position today.  Les’s next offensive coordinator(when he got to LSU) was a guy named Jimbo Fisher, whom Miles inherited from Saban. 

When Miles won the Houston Bowl in 2002, he became the fourth head coach in 40 year sto coach Oklahoma St. to a bowl win.  The second of those coaches was Jimmy Johnson, who played at Arkansas with Hatfield and who hired Orgeron at the University of Miami.  Johnson also coached some other Cowboys to “Bowl”wins. 

Jimmy Johnson as head coach of Oklahoma St. in 1983. After the year he lost out to Ken Hatfield when Arkansas needed a replacement for Lou Holtz as head coach.

To go back to Fisher, of course it so happens that he’ll be the head coach of LSU’s opponent this weekend.  He also happens to be the head coach of fullback Ben Miles, Les’s son. 

I remember Fisher’s last season at LSU very well. LSU’s 7-3 loss to Auburn still stands out in my mind.  Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled with all of his calls in that game; but some credit goes to Auburn’s defensive coordinator Muschamp ( later head coach at Florida and now head coach at South Carolina).  Auburn’s head coach for that game was Tommy Tuberville, who came up in that Egg Bowl story because he was head coach at Ole Miss before going to Auburn, so that takes us full circle in this story. 

I wanted to mention a couple other items of interest from the 2006 season.  That season marked current Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn’s first foray into college football, as offensive coordinator for later-Ole-Miss-head-coach Houston Nutt at Arkansas.  Arkansas won the SEC West that year but lostin the regular-season finale to LSU before losing to Florida (the eventual national champions who helped prevent LSU from winning the West). 

Future Kansas head coaches Charlie Weis and Les Miles converse after the (January) 2007 Sugar Bowl.

Since the Tigers’ only losses all year were Florida and that Auburn game I mentioned,this allowed LSU to represent the SEC in the Sugar Bowl.  LSU’s opponent was Notre Dame, then coached by Charlie Weis.  Weis has something elsein common with Miles: both were later hired as head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks. I hope, unlike Weis, Miles can win 22% or more of his games as head coach with the Jayhawks though.

This is the first game between LSU and Texas A&M in four years where there will not be some major drama about either respective coaching staff. Last year, the game was the last of Kevin Sumlin’s tenure in College Station.  News of his firing had been leaked earlier in the week.  In the previous year, Ed Orgeron was just an interim coach; the interim tag was only removed after deals could not be reached with Tom Herman or (coincidentally enough) Fisher.    

The year prior, news had leaked of Miles being fired, but as with many Miles stories, that turned out not to be the case. In slight defense of the media, there had not been a decision to keep Miles before the game either.  But again after a lack of desirable candidates at suitable terms emerged, a decision was made to keep him (though his reprieve turned out to only be until the following September).  Fisher was also mentioned at that time. 

Despite all the drama and mixed emotions of those three games, LSU’s physicality was able to overcome Texas A&M’s finesse on each occasion LSU has played Texas A&M since and including the 2010 Cotton Bowl, which was the first meeting between the two schools this century and which pre-dated by about 20 months the Aggies’ participation as an SEC program (and Kevin Sumlin’s first game).  The character of Texas A&M has changed since Fisher replaced Sumlin.  The Aggies have become a team that runs really well (on conventional running plays, not just option pitches and quarterback runs) and also stops the run really well, so this will be a different challenge for the Tigers. If LSU wins, it will set the record for longest winning streak in the series.

In another tie to the Kansas hiring of Miles, the man Miles is replacing in Lawrence, David Beaty, was an assistant of Sumlin at Texas A&M from 2012 to 2014.  So he was an assistant during the last game in which there was not major drama around either coaching staff (although there was some disquiet since each team entered the game with four losses). 

An artist’s rendition of Kevin Sumlin (left) and John Chavis as Texas A&M coaches.

There was some drama involving the assistant coaches after the 2014 game, but not until later.  About five weeks after the Tigers held the Aggies to just 17 points in that contest, LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis was hired by the Aggies to the same position (he was fired along with Sumlin after the LSU game last year).  Chavis now occupies that position at Arkansas. 

Will Muschamp, Nick Saban, and Jimbo Fisher pose for the picture of the 2004 LSU coaching staff.  Later Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley was on staff, as was current Georgia head coach Kirby Smart.

There are no hard feelings if you ask me though. LSU is better off with Dave Aranda, who has been in the position since a year after Chavis left.  LSU’s defensive coordinator for the intervening year (hired along with Orgeron) was Kevin Steele, who, as DC for Auburn, will face Alabama (another former employer of his) during the Iron Bowl.  He replaced the aforementioned Will Muschamp, who was on LSU’s staff at the same time as Jimbo Fisher.

Top 25 after Week 12

In College Football, General LSU, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 18, 2018 at 12:52 PM

After relying on my original computer formula for 100% of the list below last week, I just couldn’t do it this week.  I am switching #1 and#2.  Notre Dame has the better schedule for the moment by just a whisker (mostly because the Irish played Michigan),but Southern California (Notre Dame’s next opponent) will have a worse rating than South Carolina (Clemson’s next opponent) next week.  In addition, the Gamecocks (who are already bowl-eligible) will be able to pad their record with a win over Akron on December 1.  The Trojans, assuming they lose, will be done for the season (and ineligible for a bowl).

The Irish looked good, both in uniforms and in playing ability, against Syracuse and became my computer #1. Irish safety Alohi Gilman is pictured intercepting a pass
in Yankee Stadium on Saturday .

One other difference is the last four teams in the list below are the four teams(in order) that appear in the top 20 of my weighted ratings (which better mimic the CFP committee considerations by giving priority to how many of the best teams you play over your average opponent… to the extent the CFP committee is based on wins and losses and an objective evaluation of strength of schedule anyway), but did not appear in the top 20 of my older formulation.  Utah St. was #21 in both, so I thought it made sense to put those teams after the Aggies. If you were curious, the teams omitted as a result of this decision are Cincinnati, Buffalo, and Troy.  It’s three omitted teams instead of four because Missouri would be ranked either way.  The Tigers are just two spots higher this way. 

Syracuse, Auburn, and Northwestern are the three teams in the top 25 of the weighted ratings but not listed below.  Had I followed the weighted ratings exclusively, they would have replaced Texas, Fresno St., and Washington.

A perfectly average SEC team would be ranked #30, so that makes it much easier for the SEC teams to get the extra points awarded in the weighted ratings.  The Big Ten has the second-best average rating, but a perfectly average Big Ten team would only be ranked #48.

Auburn (Alabama’s next opponent) has a very similar rating to South Carolina, so I don’t think the Tide will be able to narrow the gap much if at all.  Alabama may pass up Notre Dame though, another reason not to make the Irish #1 right now.

I normally only use this top 25 blog entry to talk about why the ratings are what they are, but I wanted to make a couple of comments about Alabama.  It’s a coincidence that this demotion comes after their worst first half of the season, but I guess it’s fitting.  I thought LSU should have used the option against Alabama, and I think the Citadel’s performance in the first half supported that idea.  LSU won the 2011 “Game of the Century” by using more option than Alabama expected as well.  Nick Saban said probably none of the Citadel players could play for Alabama (maybe one or two could be decent walk-ons), and it still made them competitive for a while.  That’s not the case with LSU obviously.  Maybe it’s something we can work on in the offseason.  I don’t mean become one of those all-option all-the-time teams that almost never throw the ball (like Georgia Tech and the service academies), but we need ways to spread out defenses like Alabama’s horizontally in order to sustain drives and limit opponents’ possessions.

LSU fell two spots after playing possibly the worst team at the FBS level (they lost to the other candidate, UTEP, but the Owls have faced a stronger schedule).  If Michigan and LSU win next week, the Tigers should move back ahead of the Buckeyes. Washington St. may be ahead for good, although of course the Cougars could lose to Washington or Utah (which clinched the Pac-12 South).  Oklahoma and Georgia could also suffer losses in the next two weeks.  In my weighted ratings, LSU is still #6 behind Michigan. 

RankTeamPrev.
1Clemson2
2Notre Dame3
3Alabama1
4Georgia4
5Michigan5
6Oklahoma6
7Ohio St.8
8Wash St.9
9LSU7
10C. Florida12
11Kentucky18
12Boise St.13
13Texas16
14Penn St.11
15Florida14
16Utah21
17W. Virginia10
18Fresno St.
19Washington20
20Army17
21Utah St.22
22Texas A&M
23Missouri
24S Carolina
25Miss. St.

Out of Top 25: (15) Cincinnati, (19) Buffalo, (23) Duke, (24) UAB, (25) Iowa St.

Alabama Offense vs. LSU Defense

In College Football, General LSU, History, Preview, Rivalry on November 2, 2018 at 4:24 PM

For more on what to expect from the LSU offense and general comments, please see Part I published on Wednesday.  This page links the major previous discussions of the LSU-Alabama Series.  LSU seems to have better kickers, but I’m not going to spend any time on that point.

Proposition: Alabama runs away with the game to score 40+ again (Intro)

What made me decide to split this into two blogs was how annoyed I was with how many people were picking Alabama to score 40+ while picking LSU to score <22. I listened to a couple of somewhat credible prognosticators on YouTube who did that based on Alabama’s stats.

One of them (SECfans, which I mentioned before) actually replied to my comment and asked if I thought Alabama’s offense was severely overrated due to the schedule.  I said that I didn’t think they were severely so, but in all the years I’ve been watching college football (I would say I had something like an adult appreciation of it starting in the mid-90s), there hasn’t been a top team who scored over 40 every game.

Historical Precedent in General

In the video, they had mentioned the 2005 Texas team that scored 41 points in the title game against USC.  A neutral-site bowl game isn’t really analogous to Tiger Stadium.  What might be analogous was when the Longhorns went to Ohio St. that year and were held to 25 points.  Also, late in the season the USC team in question had allowed 42 points at home to a Fresno St. team that would finish with 5 losses.

Vince Young runs for a touchdown in the 2006 Rose Bowl.

The best offense I’ve seen through 8 games was probably 2010 Oregon.  They had an even higher average (by less than a point, but still) than Alabama does now at 54.8 points per game.  That was despite having played a top 10 team at home and a top-25 team on the road, neither of which the Tide has done.

The 9th game was consistent with that, but in their 10th game, the Ducks went on the road to play the unranked Cal Bears and only won 15-13.  That was a Cal defense that would allow three different teams to score 48 or more against them.  Cal finished with a losing record that year.  I’d say it’s pretty likely LSU has a better defense this year than that team did then.

The Cal (Berkeley) defense held Oregon to about 40 fewer points than the Ducks’ average in their 2010 matchup.

One of the best SEC offenses was the 1996 Florida. Early on the Gators beat #2 Tennessee on the road, but apart from that game the Gators averaged 54 points per game through the first 8 games.  Then in early November, the Gators escaped Nashville (hardly an intimidating road environment by SEC standards) with only a 28-21 win.  A few weeks later, Florida St. held Florida to 21 for the Gators’ only loss of the season.  Of course Florida would then run away with the national championship against the Seminoles, 52-20.

Florida’s Danny Wuerffel led the Gator offense to over 50 points per game before being brought back down to earth in Nashville and Tallahassee (pictured).

I don’t mind if people are picking Alabama to score 35, for instance.  Maybe this Alabama offense is able to produce points just as well as and just as consistently as 1995 Nebraska, who was only held under 40 twice and never below 35.  That was the only team since World War II that won each game by at least 14, but the team who got within 14 was unranked and playing in Lincoln.  I just need to see this year’s Alabama play a better defense than Texas A&M or Missouri to believe they’re better than that Nebraska team.  Despite the Cornhuskers’ having won the national championship in 1994, the voters in 1995 were skeptical of Nebraska and did not move them up to #1 until the Huskers had beaten top-10 teams in consecutive weeks.

Historical Precedent in LSU-Alabama Series

I can also refer to past games in the LSU-Alabama rivalry. I mentioned the 2013 game in the last blog. LSU didn’t keep Alabama very far below their average, although they were on pace to do so for most of the game. More relevantly to this blog, the Tigers had averaged 40 points per game going in, and Alabama held LSU to less than half of that average.  The Tigers have a lot of work to do if that’s the best their defense can do this year, one reason I think the Tide wins, but 27 points wouldn’t make it an impossible task.

Alabama teams of the last few years probably don’t compare to this one in terms of how strong the respective offenses and defenses are, but I think we may also be able to learn a little from 2011 and 2009.

People act like in retrospect the 2011 regular season game was destined to be in the single digits, but it really wasn’t.  I don’t remember the over/under, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t 16. Alabama was averaging 39 points per game and had only been held below 37 twice (27 @ Penn St. and 34 against Vanderbilt).  LSU had almost the exact same average despite having played Oregon and West Virginia, two eventual winners of BCS bowls. Only Mississippi St. had held the Tigers below 35 (like this year, LSU scored only 19 against the Bulldogs).

Granted the points given up were lower in both cases in 2011 but not ridiculously so. LSU has only allowed one team to score over 21 this year (but two right at 21).  They’d allowed two to score over 11 in 2011.  Alabama has only allowed two teams to score more than 14 points this year.  In 2011, they’d allowed double digits 3 times. So maybe not 9-6, but 20-17 wouldn’t be a shockingly low score.

I want to mention one other Alabama team, and that’s 2009.  That was Saban’s third year and his first team there that really tipped the SEC off about what was to come.  The Tide opened against #7 Virginia Tech and then played four unranked opponents, two in SEC play and one on the road. That’s not a body of work similar to what they have now, but in those five games the Tide scored at least 34 points in each one and averaged 40 points.

Patrick Peterson grabs an apparent interception in Tuscaloosa in 2009. The pass was ruled incomplete. LSU may not have won the game in Tuscaloosa, but a different call here could have changed the score.

The Tide went to #20 Ole Miss and point production fell by 45% as they only scored 22. A similar reduction in this case would result in the Tide only scoring 30. Ole Miss had a good defense in 2009, but maybe LSU’s is better this year. The Rebels did allow 33 to Auburn and 41 to Mississippi St. that year. I don’t envision LSU giving up that many to an unranked team this year.

Comparison to Other Games This Season

It’s odd for two teams in the same division to have only one common opponent at this point, but in this case it doesn’t tell us very much.  It was Ole Miss, who really didn’t have much of a chance in either game.  I think the games worth considering are ones where either LSU or Alabama had to get out of their comfort zone in some way.  The Rebels did not force either team to do that.

Again, the best team Alabama has played is Texas A&M, who I believe is justifiably outside of the top 25 in the coaches poll.  The Texas A&M defense, which made Mississippi St.’s Nick Fitzgerald look like a Heisman contender doesn’t compare favorably to LSU’s defense at all.  Mississippi St. scored a combined 16 points against LSU, Florida, and Kentucky, 12 less than A&M gave up.  The point being that we really don’t have a model when it comes to how Alabama does against a defense that can really affect an offense the way LSU’s affected Fromm of Georgia and Fitzgerald.

If it’s a similar game with Alabama holding the opposing offense in the low 20s, LSU will likely take at least one touchdown opportunity away that A&M couldn’t, especially given that A&M was playing in Tuscaloosa.

I haven’t seen anyone suggest this, but I did want to add a caveat. I wouldn’t be upset if someone thinks Alabama wins 41-34. That wouldn’t show LSU’s defense is almost as bad as A&M’s; it would show Alabama’s offense had to keep going in high gear the whole game when it could pretty much relax in the second half against A&M. I’d be surprised to see that much offense from LSU, but they did score 36 against Georgia despite settling for field goals 5 times and despite a quarterback who could only complete half of his throws.

A better measuring stick for Alabama offense (though the Tide defense did extremely well) is the Missouri game. That was the best comparison I could find to a tough game Georgia had to play (partly because it was on the road) before coming to Baton Rouge. Missouri had been the only team to score more than 17 against the Bulldogs (they scored 29) and the only team to come within 14 points (and that was despite a defensive touchdown by Georgia).

Tua Tagovailoa is sacked by Missouri’s 
Kobie Whiteside in Tuscaloosa on October 13.

For Alabama vs. Missouri, I’m more going to look to see what we can gather about things LSU might be able to do on defense.  Missouri did have the second-closest game with the Tide so far (after A&M), but more impressively (and more relevantly to this blog) the Tigers are the only team to hold Alabama below 40, and they did this in Tuscaloosa.

Giving up 39 isn’t that impressive on its own (unless LSU really does give up 41 without producing much on offense); but as I’ve said before, you can score into the 40s against almost anyone if you’re given easy points. Twice while the game was still competitive, Missouri committed a turnover deep in their own territory. So where it was 27-10 with 10 minutes left in the half, it probably would have been Missouri ball down only 17-10. I’m not that Alabama didn’t deserve to beat them like they did, but what I am saying is the Missouri defensive unit did even better than Alabama’s point total indicates.

It’s also somewhat impressive that Mizzou limited Tua to only 2 of 5 on third downs and 12 of 22 overall (though it was still an average of over 10 yards per attempt) with only one positive run. Missouri has neither a good pass rush nor a good secondary. I couldn’t get the stats on how many sacks and hurries they had against Bama, but I know they had one sack and no hurries against Georgia. That’s one reason LSU was able to limit Georgia to fewer scoring drives than Mizzou had.

LSU was able to improve significantly on what Missouri did with Georgia. Even if we cut out the defensive score, LSU roughly cut Georgia’s point-scoring in half. So I think the low end of Alabama’s point total (barring a disaster or freakishly low-scoring game) is a lot lower than some people have it. I would put it in the low 20s. So I think the route for LSU to win would most likely be LSU scoring between 24 and 31 and Alabama scoring 1-7 points fewer.

Prediction

My prediction is that LSU holds Alabama to 31, which is two touchdowns fewer than Texas A&M allowed, and that the Tigers score 24. I think chances are the Tigers score closer to their point total against Auburn and Florida than the point total against Georgia. Most other people seem to be picking either a narrow LSU upset or a complete blowout by the Tide, either of which could happen of course, but I think these are two really good teams and LSU is just slightly outmatched.

Betting Line & LSU Offense vs. Alabama Defense

In College Football, General LSU, Preview on October 31, 2018 at 6:05 PM

I’m going to do another blog after this about what to expect when Alabama has the ball, but for now I’m going to talk about the line and what to expect from the LSU offense.

I remember some disappointing Alabama games (see series blog for more), but even mediocre LSU teams have come within a touchdown in recent years, especially at home.  In fact, LSU hasn’t lost by more than 10 points to Alabama at home since 2002, when a man named Nick Saban coached the Tigers to a 31-point mauling at the hands of Dennis Franchione’s Tide.  That was also the last time Alabama scored more than 21 in regulation in Baton Rouge.

I also wanted to mention that the last time a top-5 team was a 14-point underdog at home, both the favored team and the loser of that game was Alabama.  You might remember a certain Iron Bowl game in 2013.

The famous Kick Six. I forgot how close Chris Davis came to being pushed out by the kicker.  The linemen never had a chance though.

So the 14.5-point early line makes it mighty tempting to take LSU.  One recent Alabama game (on the road though) gives me a little pause: the Tide won by 21 in 2013 (the season I just mentioned), but it was a tied game with under 5 minutes left in the third quarter.  I think that was the only recent game with a similar offensive production on both sides as I’d expect here.  Other than that game and the 2011 BCS Championship, every other LSU-Alabama game since that 2002 result I mentioned was decided by fewer than 14.5 points.  In short, a closer game seems more likely than not.

LSU was able to relax for the last quarter or so of a few games; but Auburn and Florida went down to the end, and LSU only really had a few minutes of leisure against the two Bulldog teams (Miss. St. ended the game theoretically within two possessions, and LSU was only up 13 against Georgia until about 4 minutes left).  I don’t think given Alabama’s inexperience in such games that they would do what they did in 2013 though.

On LSU’s side, Georgia was favored by 8.5 in early betting, and LSU won by 20 at home.  A few weeks before, Auburn was favored by 10, and LSU won by 1 on the road.  In the first game, Miami was favored by 3.5, and LSU won by 16 in Arlington.  So this wouldn’t be the first time that the Tigers out-performed expectations this season; and if LSU wins, it will be the third time they did so by more than two touchdowns.

RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire fights for extra yards at home against Georgia.  The Tigers beat the spread by four touchdowns.

I’ll discuss it more in the next blog, but the best teams I’ve followed in the last 27 or so years of really paying attention have been tested at some point. The most consistently dominant team I remember was Nebraska in 1995 (I’ll talk more about them next blog), but even they had a game against an unranked team at home that they could only win by 14.

LSU’s results against Auburn and Georgia also help my argument that this will most likely be the toughest game for Alabama.  LSU also beat Mississippi St., who plays the Tide on November 9.  Both that game and Auburn will be home games for the Tide, and the Georgia game (if it happens) would be in Atlanta with about half the audience on Alabama’s side.

In the last blog, I mentioned that it hurt Alabama in the computer that Texas A&M lost to Mississippi St.  It also hurts the real-life argument that the Tide really has been tested.  Alabama only had one extra score on the Aggies than Mississippi St. did (they won by 22 points rather than 15 points), although Texas A&M was in the Mississippi St. game a good bit longer.  Texas A&M justifiably fell out of the coaches poll and is now 25th in the AP poll.  Despite the Tigers’ loss to now-#13/14 Florida, playing LSU is a significant step beyond a #25-to-30 type of team.

The Alabama media, despite in many cases claiming it will be an easy game anyway, seems to agree that this will be the toughest test of the regular season.  I know they don’t think in unison; that was just a good example. 

I think Nick Saban made a good point on Monday that you can’t really apply the statistics from earlier to the Tide’s schedule going forward.  This is especially true on offense given that the A&M team I mentioned doesn’t have much of a defense. 

Saban was complimentary of Burrow as he tries to be of every upcoming opponent, but if you’ve been following LSU you could imagine that he was leaving out.  I’m going to leave out the ellipses, but I thought these were the key sentences about him: “Their quarterback play is well-formed.  They’ve got good receivers.  [Burrow] has been, I think a very very effective player.  He’s a good passer. He’s athletic enough to pull the ball and run it   They’ve got some very very good receivers.”

Saban also said LSU has the ability to be explosive in the passing game, which is true, but he didn’t even give Burrow one “very” when calling him a good passer.  The full sentence in my head ended with “but he’ll be lucky if he completes half his passes.”  Saban didn’t say anything about Burrow knowing when to step up in the pocket or throw the ball away when there is a pass rush outside of his field of vision.  Maybe I’m cynical by nature (or maybe I’ve listened to Saban point out problems with own teams often enough), but when I hear a coach talk about what can go right on the very best plays, I think of what can go wrong on the plays that aren’t so good.

Like this year, the best opponent Alabama had faced before the LSU game last year was Texas A&M.  Although A&M may be better this year than last year, I think last year was better preparation for LSU because playing A&M on the road was probably a good approximation to playing LSU at home. I don’t think you can make the same argument about the reverse this year.

In Alabama’s five SEC games before LSU last year, they gave up an average of 7.6 points, or about 2 ½ less than LSU scored. The average points given up in those games this year?  18.4. 

Last year the SEC average for the Tigers was about 22 points (1 fewer game though), and this year it was 28 points.  So whether you want to say Alabama will give up 11 more or LSU will score 6 more, I think if it were a similar game plan and similar circumstances, LSU would score between 16 and 21.

I think this year’s game being at home puts LSU’s upper limit more into the upper 20s (maybe even 30 or 31) than lower 20s though.  In Alabama’s two road games against ranked teams last year (then-#16 Mississippi St. and then-#6 Auburn), the Tide gave up 24 and 26 points, respectively.  As I think I’ve demonstrated, this Alabama defense isn’t as good as that one (though they can partly blame the offense for scoring faster).

I think LSU can only get above about 31 if something weird like the Georgia game happens (basically along with LSU playing them harder than anyone else has, the Alabama offense hurts itself a lot more than it has before and puts more pressure on the defense).  On the other hand, if the LSU offense hurts itself more than usual (basically if it looks like it did after the first drive and a half against Florida) and lets Alabama hold onto the ball most of the game, you could see LSU’s score going below the mid-teens and possibly into the single digits.

So I think the best to look at how you get there is that LSU will have to score about the top 45% of its range of points, and Alabama will have to score in the bottom 45% of its range out points for LSU to win (just to throw out a number, maybe 25 or more).  I’ll talk about the range for Alabama next time.  I might even give a guess as to the final score.

Top 25 after Week 8

In College Football, General LSU, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on October 21, 2018 at 2:44 PM

I decided I would post more detailed reactions to the top games later in the week since I don’t have an LSU preview blog to write this week.  It’s possible I may preview other games though.

By the way, there is a new editing system for this blog that I’m trying out.  

Purdue’s D.J. Knox ran for 128 yards and 3 touchdowns in the upset of the Buckeyes in West Lafayette, IN, on Saturday.

Here is the update to the Mississippi St. Rivalry series, and if you want to read anything about Alabama-LSU, you might want to start here.  

LSU is on top in the computer rankings for the moment, but if you divide score by playing week, the Tigers are only third (after Notre Dame and Clemson).  That’s an indication that LSU will fall in the computer after the bye next week.  In the rankings below, I’m keeping them fourth.

Although Alabama hasn’t faced anything close to the competition LSU has, the Tide doesn’t have a loss and is likely to stay that way for a while (ESPN gives them a 79% chance of beating LSU), which I project will be enough to make put them in the #1 spot in the computer after that game.  Usually the first week of November is when I completely follow my computer rankings, but I’m already doing that for numbers 5 through 25.

Why do I stick with my current computer formula if it would put LSU ahead of Alabama right now?  If at the end of the season a team has the 86th-best schedule and is undefeated (that wouldn’t be a strange number for a team in the American Conference, for instance), I generally wouldn’t want that team ahead of a 1-loss team with the 6th-best strength of schedule (which is often higher than the winners of even the best conferences).  Alabama’s and LSU’s respective schedules will become more similar as the season goes on though.

The basis of my computer rankings is basically an unbiased assessment of a team’s accomplishments against its schedule up until now.  LSU will lose ground in strength of schedule compared to other major teams when it plays Arkansas and Rice in consecutive weeks after the Alabama.game.  The Tide would gain more points by beating Mississippi St. than LSU will by beating Arkansas.  The following week (when LSU plays Rice and Alabama plays the Citadel), other teams will be able to gain on both.  Although a bye doesn’t affect strength of schedule, it could also allow teams to pass up LSU and/or Alabama next week.

I had said if Clemson was #1 after this week I’d move them in front, but those Tigers are only #3 right now.  They’re very close to Notre Dame and I would expect them to pass up the Irish by beating Florida St.  I still wouldn’t want to make them #1 only to potentially move them back out of #1 after the Louisville game (even if they beat Florida St.). 

Clemson WR Hunter Renfrow heads downfield after evading the North Carolina St. defender in Clemson, SC, on Saturday.

ESPN gives Clemson at least an 86% chance to win in each of its remaining games (only a 58% chance to win them all though), but I think Florida St. has a better chance than that.  Although Clemson did all you could ask for last week, they have to get over it and get ready for a road game against the improving Seminoles next week  Ohio St. didn’t really have a big high to get over (they beat Minnesota the week before) last week at Purdue, and look at what happened to them. Purdue had won 3 in a row after a bad start, and Florida St. has won 3 of 4 (with only a one-point loss to U. Miami in the mix) after a bad start.

Notre Dame has a similar schedule to Clemson over the next two weeks (wins over Navy and Northwestern would be similar to wins over Florida St. and Louisville), but I think the Irish have less chance of losing at Northwestern.  So Notre Dame is another possible #1 in the coming weeks.

LSU could be #1 by beating Alabama in two weeks, but I’m not sure if either Florida or Georgia losing would hurt the Tigers enough so that another team could go in front.

Georgia is relatively low in the rankings right now, but they could also be a competitor for #1 by beating Florida and Kentucky.  Florida would probably be less so because the Gators play Missouri the week after that. 

Something else I did out of curiosity was rank the top 25 opponents.  This is not the final top 25, but in order to make the top 25 I have to give each team a score.  The only three teams with two wins against that list are Notre Dame, Clemson, and LSU.  So I really don’t have any doubt that LSU is the best one-loss team (at least on paper) right now.  We could debate how high a one-loss team should be though.

LSU’s loss is to the seventh team on that list, so the Tigers don’t lose enough points to cancel out any win except maybe Southeastern.  Every other LSU win is against a team in the top 45 on the opponents list, so that’s why it’s close enough to put the Tigers ahead if you don’t consider the extra playing week.

LSU’s opponents getting such high marks might be surprising given some of the games Auburn and Ole Miss have played in, but both Ole Miss and Auburn have as many wins against the top 25 opponents as Alabama does (1 each), and both teams are .500 in their other games for winning records against the FBS overall.  Auburn’s loss to Tennessee is the only loss between the two of them to a team outside the top 45.  Auburn counteracts that with a better key win (Washington rates a good bit higher than Texas Tech, which is even lower as a team than as an opponent).

So, as strange as it seems, Ohio St. has lost to a worse opponent (Purdue) than any Ole Miss has lost to (Alabama, LSU, and Auburn).  Mississippi St. has also lost to LSU now of course, but instead of losing to Alabama and Auburn the Bulldogs lost to Florida and Kentucky.

Keep in mind that my projections as to future weeks are only rough guesses because I’m just looking at current record and schedule strength and adding a loss.  Any prior opponent (or opponents’ opponent) losing or winning makes a difference as well.  I think I mentioned all the realistic #1 possibilities for the next few weeks regardless.

Top 25

RankTeamPrev.
1Alabama1
2Notre Dame2
3Clemson3
4LSU4
5Michigan11
6Oklahoma8
7Texas7
8Florida6
9Iowa15
10Kentucky10
11Washington24
12Georgia14
13Ohio St.5
14Stanford12
15NC State9
16Utah25
17Duke 13
18Buffalo
19C. Florida20
20San Diego St.17
21Texas A&M
22Virginia
23Army19
24Wisconsin
25W. Virginia23

Out of Top 25: (16) Cincinnati, (18) S Florida, (21) Maryland, (22) Miss. St.

Top 25 after Week 6

In College Football, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on October 7, 2018 at 5:49 PM

Eleven of last week’s computer top 25 lost, so that means a few things. (1) It makes it a lot easier for the winning teams to move up, (2) teams that lost might not fall as far as normal, and (3) you can get to a given spot with one more loss now.

I think (1) is obvious, but (2) might seem odd. The reason is if there are teams a couple spots lower who lost they probably won’t go ahead of the team in question. If you go down more than a few spots, even when you take away points from last week’s higher team and add them to the lower team, the lower team started too far back to take the lead.

The perfect example of (3) this week is Kentucky. Last week you needed to be undefeated (if you only had an average schedule) to be #8, but this week you can be #9 with a loss (and an improved schedule compared to what Kentucky had going in).

I know LSU just lost to Florida (see my reaction here), but the loss to Florida isn’t as bad as Florida’s loss to Kentucky and it certainly isn’t as bad as Texas’s loss to Maryland. I’m still moving LSU lower than the computer indicates. The multitude of highly-rated teams with losses as I explained above only resulted in a two-spot drop for the Tigers. Texas A&M, the team that beat Kentucky, doesn’t have a bad loss; but the problem is they have two of them and they don’t have any other good wins.

Arguably the most surprising result of the weekend was Texas’s win over Oklahoma in Dallas. The Longhorns broke the tie in the final seconds (above) after the Sooners rallied for 21 points in the fourth quarter.

Alabama (I’ll talk more about the Tide below) helps to depress the Texas A&M rating more than you would think. It also doesn’t help that the Aggies’ only two prior FBS wins were over Arkansas and UL-Monroe, whose combined record against the FBS is 1-9.

We will know a lot more about A&M when they go on the road to South Carolina, Mississippi St., and Auburn all in the next four weeks. If they keep winning, they’ll be rewarded. Of course it also wouldn’t hurt if Kentucky, Clemson, and Alabama kept winning and maybe if one of the others started winning.

I’m ranking Alabama #1 for now, but that is a weaker undefeated team than Notre Dame, Clemson, Georgia, and Ohio St. by the numbers at this point. In the last two weeks the Tide has played Arkansas and UL-Lafayette, who have a combined record of 1-8 against FBS opponents.

Notre Dame, Clemson, and Georgia all have bye weeks in the next two weeks, so I want to see how those teams withstand the byes before I would replace Alabama (assuming Alabama doesn’t lose). Ohio St. is unlikely to be #1 in the near future given the mutual bye with Alabama (in the last week of October) and mediocre upcoming schedule.

I could imagine detractors asking a few other questions, so I’ll pose and try to answer some.

Why did West Virginia fall? Michigan got a good win (for now) over aforementioned Maryland, and a team Maryland beat (Texas) beat Oklahoma. That doesn’t count for much compared to beating Kansas (which lost to Nicholls St. among others). It also didn’t help the Mountaineers that Kansas St. lost while Tennessee and Texas Tech were idle.

Why did Washington fall? You might remember they lost to Auburn, who now has two losses. Washington went up 8 spots last week and West Virginia shot up from unranked to 11th, so I don’t think either one is exactly aggrieved here.

Why did idle Penn St. and Army fall and not idle Duke? The two winning teams who were in striking distance of Duke (West Virginia and South Florida) both passed them up, I had actually moved Duke down a spot compared to the computer last week while I moved Penn St. up, and the Nittany Lions just had bad luck that South Carolina and U. Miami won by a combined 3 points. One of Army’s (Liberty) wins suffered a damaging loss, as did a team who beat them (Oklahoma). Also, Army’s 3-2 record is worse in a way right now, because more teams have won over 60% this week than last week.

That BYU game keeps looking worse for the Wisconsin Badgers. Not only did the Cougars lose to Utah St., but another team that beat them (Cal) lost to Arizona.

Michigan and South Carolina are back after respective one-week hiatuses followed by good conference wins. With Floyd of Rosedale in hand (Midwestern trophies are adorable), Iowa returns after last being ranked in the final rankings last year. Cincinnati is basically just ranked for being undefeated and not playing a terrible schedule (though not a good one either), and San Diego St. now has wins over Arizona St. and Boise St. with the only loss against Stanford (although the Cardinal fell 8 spots after losing to Utah). The Aztecs may fall out as a consequence of playing weaker opponents in the coming weeks though, especially if Stanford keeps losing.

So the only things I did this week compared to the computer top 25 were to make Alabama #1, move LSU down two spots, and switch Texas with Florida.

rank/team/prev.
1 Alabama 1
2 Notre Dame 2
3 Clemson 3
4 Georgia 5
5 Ohio St. 6
6 LSU 4
7 Florida 22
8 Texas 16
9 Kentucky 8
10 NC State 10
11 Oklahoma 7
12 Michigan —
13 W. Virginia 11
14 S Florida 19
15 Duke 15
16 Washington 13
17 Stanford 9
18 U. Miami 23
19 S Carolina —
20 Penn St. 14
21 Iowa —
22 C. Florida 25
23 San Diego St. —
24 Wisconsin 21
25 Cincinnati —

Out of Top 25: (12) Auburn, (17) Indiana, (18) Army, (20) Okie St., (24) Maryland

LSU-Florida Series and Preview

In College Football, General LSU, Preview, Rivalry on October 4, 2018 at 3:30 PM

Before I get into specifics, you may want to see my detailed (and annually updated) post about the LSU/Florida series.

LSU will win, but LSU can only beat lesser teams?

I saw a video previewing the LSU/Florida game on YouTube, and I should have known better, but I clicked on it.

They’re picking LSU to win, and that’s great. I think LSU has a greater than 50% to win (although the FPI says LSU only has a 40% chance), as I’ve said since the Auburn game. Their predicted margin of victory is on the high end (27-13 and 24-13, respectively). I’m expecting something closer to 24-20. The problem is they had to say derogatory things about our coaches.

Both contributors to the video independently say LSU’s coaches aren’t good enough to beat teams better than LSU. What was the win over Auburn last year? To say the better team won a given game you have to look at all the games apart from the one they played against each other.

I too seem to remember LSU’s win over Auburn last year as an upset.

LSU was 8-4 last year if you take out the Auburn game. They lost to a good Troy team, but it was Troy nonetheless and couldn’t even give Mississippi St. much of a game. The only win over a ranked team was over Florida, who obviously ended up nowhere near the rankings. The Fighting Tigers did not play Georgia.

Auburn was 10-3 taking out the LSU game with wins over two teams who were #1 at the time. They also beat Mississippi St., a team who was in the top 25 and deserved to be there (after easily beating LSU), 49-10. Their losses were to #3, #6, and #12.

I think LSU’s final record is slightly misleading because of my opinion about the Notre Dame game, but Auburn played better in their bowl game against Central Florida than LSU played in their bowl game anyway.

Regardless, both in hindsight and at the time LSU was supposed to lose. Even after the game people (including Gus Malzahn) talked about Auburn still being able to win the West despite being a game behind LSU and therefore not controlling its own destiny absent another LSU loss.

Then the makers of the video acted like they must have made a great video because both Florida and LSU fans took umbrage. Florida fans aren’t happy they just won a well-played game and here someone is telling them they’re going to lose by double digits at home.

I don’t expect them to be happy about that (even if there is a fair chance it will turn out to be true), but just because you say something to anger LSU fans as well doesn’t mean the video got both teams about right. So if they said both teams were going to finish with losing records in conference. would they have been right just because both fan bases would have been reacted to that with skepticism if not anger? How do you not think, “Let’s look at the handful of big wins Orgeron has had in just over two seasons and see if what we’re saying might not be true”?

Another thing that annoyed me was they both discounted LSU’s win over Ole Miss as if the Rebels were the Little Sisters of the Poor, but then they quoted Florida’s stats against Colorado St. and Tennessee as if they proved something. Mississippi St. isn’t a bad team, but that was the only thing close to a quality win. The Bulldogs play Auburn on Saturday. I guess we’ll see how beating them compares to beating Auburn then. Not to mention how losing to Kentucky compares to any LSU game so far.

FPI and my thoughts

The FPI, ESPN’s power index, still seems to be selling LSU short, by the way. It still predicts 4 losses. When Mississippi St. lost its second game in a row, it finally decided the Tigers had a greater than 50% chance of beating the Bulldogs, but on the other hand it gave Florida a greater chance to beat LSU. LSU is still predicted to lose to Georgia, Alabama, and Texas A&M (to whom they have not lost in 7 games going back to 2010).

Why do I think the game will be closer than the guys in the video said? Like I said about the Auburn series, even sub-par Florida teams can be tough to beat on the road?

Florida finished 4-7 last year. They say Ole Miss is terrible, but Ole Miss already has 3 wins, and they still have ULM, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, and Mississippi St. to play. I’ll be shocked if the Rebels don’t win at least two of those games, so if a terrible team nearly beat last year’s LSU team, a much-improved Florida team can beat a slightly-improved LSU team.

Why do I say slightly improved? If LSU had slightly better play-calling and field-goal kicking last year, they would have beaten Troy and Notre Dame (despite the officiating) and finished 11-2. Even though LSU is undefeated right now, 11-2 is still a lot to hope for. For me, “much improved” would mean either playing in the SEC championship game or tying Alabama at one SEC loss apiece (and losing head-to-head). It would also require a post-season win either in the SEC Championship or in a consolation CFP bowl. It’s a possibility, don’t get me wrong, but we aren’t there yet.

LSU’s then-QB Danny Etling evades the Florida defense in the 17-16 LSU win in Gainesville last year.

Recent history against Florida and LSU at 5-0

The last trip to Florida before last season wasn’t against a great team either, with the Tigers winning 30-27 in 2014. LSU and Florida finished with similar records that year, but that was the LSU team that took Alabama to overtime and should have beaten them but for a personal foul and kickoff out of bounds in the last two minutes.

Anyway, the Tigers would win after a wild fourth quarter. Florida returned a punt 53 yards with under 7 minutes left in the fourth quarter, which set up a touchdown to put the Gators ahead by 4. It seemed like the game was over a few minutes later when LSU faced a 3rd and 25 from their own 33 with 3:33 left (not a typo), but Anthony Jennings (not remembered as our most effectual quarterback) had no problem with this and threw a 41-yard pass on that down followed in short order by an 11-yard touchdown pass (both to Travin Dural).

Florida seemed to be in control again when the Gators completed a 73-yard pass on the next play from scrimmage to set up a first and goal from the 2. Two running plays combined for one yard, and then an incomplete pass led to a field goal, which tied the game at 27.

LSU struggled offensively, giving the ball back to Florida with 54 seconds left after the Gators had called a timeout to give themselves a chance to win the game in regulation. For some unknown reason, Florida QB Jeff Driskel threw a risky pass even though the Gators had a first and 10 less than 20 yards from the potential winning field goal. LSU intercepted, and this set up the winning 50-yard field goal by Colby Delahoussaye with 3 second left.

Both the 2012 and 2010 games at Florida were decided by one possession apiece as well. LSU was much better in 2010, but that had a crazy ending to that I won’t get into here. This video might help jog your memory. For more about the LSU-Florida series, see here. I have every game in the series since 2004 listed there.

This is the 7th time since 2007 that LSU has started the season with 5 straight wins or more. That includes 2010 and 2012 season, but 2015 was the only other instance since 2012. So the last six times this has happened it did not lead to a national championship, although LSU was 13-0 with a conference championship before losing to Alabama in January 2012. In both 2009 and 2012, the first team to beat LSU after such a start was Florida. In 2008, Florida beat LSU immediately after the Tigers started 4-0.

LSU-Auburn Recap and Notes

In College Football, General LSU, History, Post-game, Preview on September 19, 2018 at 1:50 PM

I wanted to address something before going into detail about the LSU-Auburn game. I saw some Auburn fans were incensed about the pass interference (PI) calls during the game; but honestly, the referees didn’t even call all of them. They also apparently had double standards (in Auburn’s favor) about what constitutes a taunting. The referees missed some holding calls too (probably on both sides), but no officiating staff can call every hold. The ones they did call were obvious, but I’m sure some Auburn fans complained about those too.

In the less egregious of the two PIs that were called on the final drive, the defender grabbed the receiver’s elbow before the ball arrived. It wasn’t one of those hand-check PI calls: it hindered the receiver’s ability to catch the ball. The receiver wasn’t tackled or anything, and defenders can get away with worse at times; but there are few if any officials who would have seen that play well and not called it. Earlier in the game, there was another PI call that was borderline uncatchable, but it has to be clearly uncatchable to overrule an interference. The interference took place right as the ball was being released, so it was very hard to say where the receiver would have ended up had the interference (it may have even been holding) not occurred.

I know coaches are careful to avoid saying anything that may result in a fine, but both head coach Gus Malzahn and defensive coordinator Kevin Steele (formerly LSU’s defensive coordinator) deserve credit for properly placing the blame on the way the plays were called and executed. I agree with them that the important thing is LSU made plays with the game on the line and Auburn didn’t.

The only thing I would quibble with is Steele blamed the coverage on the 71-yard touchdown play. Someone may have been a yard out of place; but I think it was mostly just a good offensive play, and no one could catch Derrick Dillon. He had four players right near him when he caught the ball, so the coverage couldn’t have been that bad. He and LSU quarterback Joe Burrow just saw and succeeded at hitting the small space on the field the defense left open. The whole field can’t be covered at all times, especially with LSU running or throwing very short passes on first down most of the time.

LSU WR Derrick Dillon catches a touchdown pass (what would be a touchdown pass after a sprint to the end zone anyway) over the outstretched arms of Auburn LB Deshaun Davis in the fourth quarter on Saturday in Auburn.

It’s been since the mid-1990s (that’s before Saban arrived in Baton Rouge) that either LSU or Auburn beat a team that would finish with a winning record in a road game in this series. LSU won such a game in 1995, and Auburn won one in 1997. When Auburn won in 1999 and when LSU won in 2008 and 2012, the wins came against teams that would finish with losing records and fired head coaches. So in all likelihood, this is one of the best teams to lose at home in the history of the series.

Another historical note: this was the first time since 1993 that LSU won on the road with the other team favored by 10 points or more. That was up the road in Tuscaloosa when a Tiger team that would finish with a losing record (one of six consecutive LSU teams to do so) beat the defending national champions, who had not lost a game in almost 26 months.

I know coaches take things one game at a time, but I don’t have to. I’m not going to pretend to take Louisiana Tech just as seriously as Auburn, so before talking about the next opponent in detail, I wanted to talk more about what I’m looking forward to the rest of the season as a whole. As I said in the last blog, I’m not convinced that LSU is all of a sudden a title contender, even for the SEC title, but I’m confident that the Tigers will return to a bowl game with a winning record already secured. Whether that will be 7 wins or 11 wins, I’m not quite sure. ESPN’s FPI gives LSU a 0.1% chance of winning all of its remaining games. I’m not sure it’s that low, but it’s low enough not to worry about right now.

The Tigers are given a 0.7% chance of winning the conference. That’s about 142:1. I’m not rich, but I’d put down $100 right now if you give me those odds.

Anyway, as to the number of wins, I like LSU’s chances at Arkansas and at home against Ole Miss, Louisiana Tech, and Rice. That’s how I get to 7. Even if we somehow lose one of those, I don’t think every other team (at Florida, Mississippi St., Georgia, Alabama, at Texas A&M) would beat us, so even falling to 7-5 (which would mean a 4-5 finish) probably won’t happen either.

I believe there is value to using computer systems, but I think descriptive ones (where you just value results so far) are better than predictive ones (where you try to calculate odds of winning). Anyway, I think the FPI I mentioned isn’t giving LSU enough credit.

It puts the Florida game as almost 50/50. I did think Florida was going to win that game going into the season, but I was worried about LSU’s inexperience. As I said in the last blog, the Auburn and U. Miami wins show that being young isn’t a huge problem even if those are the only really good wins away from home for the whole season. Florida’s 27-16 home loss to Kentucky shows their experience isn’t quite as helpful as I thought it might be. I’m not sure how the FPI works, but it doesn’t seem to take new information on board as well as it should.

The FPI also gives Mississippi St. a 57.5% chance of winning at Tiger Stadium. I expect a tough game, but I really don’t see Mississippi St. on the road being tougher than Auburn at home. The Bulldogs did beat LSU easily last year, but I think that was an LSU team that clearly wasn’t ready for SEC play in a tough road environment. They weren’t even ready for a good Sun Belt opponent at home. We will learn more about Mississippi St. after the Bulldogs play Kentucky and Florida though.

If Mississippi St. is being held against LSU because of last year, why isn’t last year being held against Texas A&M? The Aggies haven’t beaten LSU since the 1990s, and they’re given about a 63% chance of winning this year. A&M looked good against Clemson (in a loss); but Syracuse looked just as good against Clemson last year (actually better because they won), and where did that get the Orange? Obviously one game isn’t proof of how the whole season is going to go, or LSU’s two big wins are proof that the Tigers will win at least 10 games.

There isn’t too much to say about Louisiana Tech, but I hope we take them seriously. There isn’t much difference between a team like that and a team like Troy. The Bulldogs don’t have as many key wins (last beating an SEC team, Ole Miss, in 2011, after beating Mississippi St. in 2008), but the Bulldogs have made bowl games for 4 consecutive years and qualified for them in 6 of 8 years. They’ve played the following Power-5 teams within one possession, all on the road: South Carolina (2017), Arkansas (2016), Kansas St. (2015), Kansas (2013), Mississippi St. (2011), and LSU (2009). The Bulldogs have also beaten Illinois twice over that span. In 2011, Tech narrowly lost the Pointsettia Bowl to TCU, which finished 11-2 that year. In 2007, Tech lost to Hawaii at home by a single point. That Hawaii team suffered its only loss for the season in the Sugar Bowl.

Louisiana Tech RB Daniel Porter throws a touchdown pass to give the Bulldogs a 13-10 lead as time expires in the second quarter in Baton Rouge in 2009.

This is the first LSU-Louisiana Tech game since the 24-16 LSU win in 2009, which was only the third game in the series since the start of World War II. LSU is 18-1 all time with the only Tiger loss coming in 1904 (one of only five to be played in Ruston; there was one game on a neutral field). LSU has won by as much as 71, which they did in 1930. Since 1914, every game in the series (including this one) has been in Baton Rouge.

Top 25 after Week 2

In College Football, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 9, 2018 at 4:19 PM

I do plan to write blogs other than rankings soon, but there weren’t a lot of extra days in the first two weeks. I posted the preseason rankings right before Week 1 started, and there were 5 playing days followed by the midweek Week 1 rankings. I’ll definitely have something to say about the upcoming LSU-Auburn game, possibly on Thursday.

I’m dropping Clemson because from what I saw they didn’t deserve to win. I’ll take a controversial close win over a major unranked team on the road if you’re #20 maybe, but not if you’re #2. Later in the season, it just counts as a win, but when we have relatively little information about the teams, you have to look at how they won.

If you didn’t see the game or highlights, Texas A&M came close to scoring the potentially tying touchdown in the last few minutes, but the ball was knocked loose. The ruling on the field was a touchback. Although from every angle, it looked like that was wrong, the call stood. I’ll elaborate in the next paragraph, but I’ll warn you it’s a bit of a rant.

I don’t think there is any way to create this image if the ball crossed the goal line before going out of bounds.

I don’t blame the referee if he simply couldn’t tell and made a guess, but the problem I have is that even if the referee has to flip a coin to decide, you have an incredible burden of proof to change the call. I wish there were an option where the referee could appeal directly to the replay booth if he didn’t see or couldn’t tell. Regardless, the call should have been overturned. Every angle shouldn’t have to be 100% clear. I don’t believe it’s possible that the ball went through the end zone. Never mind that this is the most completely unfair rule in football in the first place. If the ball goes out at your own 1, you keep it, but if you make it 99 yards down the field and you fumble forward (but not backward), it’s a turnover? Absurd.

Anyway, despite losing the ball in this ridiculous and unfair fashion, the Aggies were able to get the ball back and score a touchdown anyway. They just weren’t able to get the two-point conversion. Maybe Clemson would have played differently if they’d gotten the ball up 2 instead of 8 (assuming the same unsuccessful conversion play), but either way they would have wanted to hold onto the ball until the clock ran out. There is a very high chance that had the ruling been correct Texas A&M would have won.

I did make a rule for this week that you need to have a win over an FBS opponent from now on, so that explains some of the turnover of teams.

I also lowered Notre Dame a little bit for their close win over Ball St., who now has a 10-game losing streak against FBS opponents.

I indicated last week that Minnesota and Duke were playing for potential rankings, so I stuck to that. Iowa was ranked at the end of last year, and they just beat Iowa St., who was also ranked for much of last year, so I thought it made sense to put the Hawkeyes back. I mentioned Maryland looked good in Week 1 and despite some trouble early on, they won decisively. Arizona St. got in by beating Michigan St., although the Sun Devils’ offense needs work (as does Iowa’s). Virginia Tech and West Virginia haven’t really impressed me. I don’t think Florida St. and Tennessee (their respective Week 1 opponents) are very good, but the Hokies and Mountaineers were both teams I considered ranking before the season and have done nothing to deserve not being ranked.

The only other team that moved a lot was USC. They lost to a good team but didn’t make it very close or beat a very good team in Week 1, so 8 spots seems reasonable.

Stanford RB Bryce Love tries to pad his yardage against USC.. He ran for 136 yards for the game.

rank/team/prev.
1 Alabama 1
2 Georgia 3
3 Wisconsin 4
4 Ohio St. 5
5 Oklahoma 6
6 Stanford 7
7 Clemson 2
8 Auburn 8
9 Miss. St. 12
10 Boise St. 14
11 Notre Dame 9
12 UCF 16
13 LSU 17
14 Michigan 18
15 Penn St. 19
16 TCU 21
17 Okie St. 24
18 USC 10
19 Minnesota —
20 Iowa —
21 Maryland —
22 Arizona St. —
23 Duke —
24 Va. Tech —
25 W. Virginia —

Out of top 25: (11) Washington, (13) Florida, (15) Fresno St., (20) Mich. St., (22) Memphis, (23) S Carolina, (25) U. Miami