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Posts Tagged ‘Texas A&M’

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. 

Final Top 25 of 2018 Season

In College Football, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on January 11, 2019 at 6:29 PM

This week is always tough for me to get back on schedule, so having a game on a week night and then trying to write all of this with work the next day caused me to keep pushing this back. I don’t plan to wait until next season for the next blog, but I can’t be sure when I’ll write again.

As demonstrated by the chart I posted along with the last blog, college football is Alabama, Clemson, and everyone else.  I’m happy someone other than Alabama comes out number one about half the time. 

The only thing I ever had against Clemson (other than a fight song that sounds similar to LSU’s) was that when South Carolina lost to them years ago it made the SEC look bad.  But now I don’t think it hurts that Clemson caused 1/4 of the SEC’s inter-conference losses during the season.

I also want to let the Alabama fans who freaked out when I put Clemson #1 earlier in the year to know I’m laughing at them even though I won’t rub it in.

There is no significance to using a Cotton Bowl picture instead of a national championship picture, but this was the best picture I saw of Trevor Lawrence. He snuck by a lot of people who couldn’t stop talking about Tua and Kyler, so I thought he deserved a good picture.

Final SEC Comments

The Alabama loss drops the top six teams of the SEC to 5-2 in postseason.  All three of my computer rankings (weighted, unweighted, and statistical average) have Clemson #1 and Alabama #2 as is appropriate. 

As I talked about in the last blog, the middle of the conference narrowly lost a few games because they were slightly overmatched. I thought I would explain that a little bit more.

Normally the #7 team and 4th in their division doesn’t end up in the Outback Bowl, for instance (last year South Carolina made it with a winning record at fifth place overall and second in the SEC East). If Mississippi St. had played in the Music City Bowl instead (or an even lesser bowl like the St. Petersburg Bowl they played in two years ago), they probably would have won.

Vanderbilt probably would have won had they not been playing a team that tied for fifth in their conference while the Commodores finished sixth of the seven teams in their division. In other years, the last SEC bowl team ended up in the Birmingham Bowl against a non-major opponent (and not a conference champion like LSU played this year and Auburn played last season).

I would honestly say Missouri was ninth in SEC play although they had the same record as a couple of other teams. Mississippi St. only finished 4-4 because they lost to the two best SEC West teams and to two of the three best SEC East teams. Unlike Missouri, they didn’t play the worst team of the other division. South Carolina was in the SEC East along with Missouri, and the Gamecocks beat the Tigers. The Gamecocks lost to Clemson out of conference, but I don’t think anyone would seriously tell me Missouri would have had a meaningful hope of beating Clemson at the end of the year.

Maybe there wouldn’t have been a blowout (and there would have been another SEC win) had Auburn played Oklahoma St. and Missouri played Purdue, but one reason that didn’t happen was Missouri already beat Purdue. Similarly to Auburn, Oklahoma St. seemed to show up best for their major out-of-conference games while being inconsistent in conference. The Cowboys made Boise St. look like Kansas, even though the Cowboys lost six conference games (including an embarrassing home loss to Texas Tech) between that game and the bowl.

I didn’t see the South Carolina game, just the highlights (if you can call them that); but it seemed like they just didn’t show up. I guess when you qualify 11 teams for bowls, chances are that will happen with one of them. Maybe South Carolina vs. Purdue was the pillow fight the bowl season needed.

In sum, I don’t think the top six of any other conference would have won five games (or even four games) against Oklahoma, Texas, Central Florida, Michigan, Penn St., and North Carolina St. I don’t think anyone else’s #11 plays a close game with Baylor like Vandy did or anyone else’s #10 blows out Purdue like Auburn did. Maybe you can quibble with a couple of others; but mid- and low-ranked teams of other conferences aren’t expected to play close games against the same caliber of teams, and with one exception those SEC teams did play close games.

Also, the average SEC team still blows every other conference out of the water. In my conference ratings, 0.07 points separates the #2 conference (the ACC) and the #5 conference (the Pac-12), but 0.19 separates the ACC and the SEC.

Top 10 (Including LSU)

I also think it’s right to have Notre Dame #3.  The Irish’s loss to Clemson doesn’t look as bad now, and–although Michigan lost–two of the better teams the Irish beat, Northwestern and Syracuse, had good bowl results.  Stanford also won; but I don’t know if that really helps Notre Dame’s argument since they beat Pittsburgh, another opponent of theirs.  I don’t factor this in, but there was also some bad luck in their scheduling.  You would have thought at least one team among Navy, USC, and Florida St. would have qualified for a bowl game, but no such luck.

Oklahoma did beat Texas, which added to its value by winning the Sugar Bowl, but there isn’t much else to be excited about in the Big XII results.  Both of the teams who tied for #3 in the regular season, West Virginia and Iowa St., lost.  There were a couple of wins by lower teams over two middling SEC East teams and Cal, but it also hurt Oklahoma that the team who beat them lost in the national championship.  Also, since Alabama played Georgia and Missouri (the second-best team the Big XII beat in bowls), it didn’t help the Sooners as much to have Big XII teams beat them.

Urban Meyer went out a winner in the Rose Bowl. His team was pretty good too, although that Purdue game still defies explanation.

I think it’s right that Ohio St. finishes ahead of the Sooners.  The top of the Big Ten had some losses too, but I don’t think basically a .500 team of any other conference would have beaten Mississippi St. in the Outback Bowl.  I don’t know if (other than the SEC) another conference’s effective #4 team (Northwestern had as good a conference record as Ohio St. but played in a much weaker division and lost three games out of conference) would have beaten Utah.  Maybe Oklahoma would have beaten Washington, but maybe they would have come out flat like Georgia did against what I consider a worse team. More on Texas later.

I have LSU 7th, but with the objective way my ratings work I can’t give credit to my belief that LSU was the better team when they played Texas A&M.  I think most of the voters probably treated that like a tie at worst.  The polls also frown upon losing your last two games regardless of the opponents, so that also contributed to the Tigers passing up the Bulldogs… not to mention that LSU beat Georgia by 20 points.

Speaking of head-to-head, there is of course an argument Florida should be ahead of Michigan, but the Gators were hurt by being in the SEC East (which went only 2-4 in bowl games) and losing to Missouri.  Florida was the only team outside of my top four who beat Michigan though.

So Michigan finished ninth behind Central Florida, and Washington St. rounds out the top 10. Iowa St. wasn’t a spectacular opponent (although again the bowl selectors did their job in making it entertaining), but 11 wins is a job well-done anyway.

The Rest of the Top 25

Appalachian St. finished higher than I would have liked (simply because I think at least 25 teams would beat them at a neutral site), but I think keeping an 11-2 team outside of the top 15 based on strength of schedule is about the best to be expected, especially when one of the two losses was to a team in the top 20.  Cincinnati also finished 11-2 and barely made the top 25.

Texas finished fairly low considering the two big wins (Oklahoma earlier in the season and Georgia), but let’s not forget they lost to Maryland (who didn’t qualify for a bowl game).  Only one other Longhorn win (over 8-5 Iowa St.) came against a team who finished with fewer than 6 losses, so that hurts them in the weighted ratings.  Texas A&M, which had no bad losses, also had exactly three wins over teams who finished with fewer than 6 losses. 

I’d like to give the Aggies less credit, but I believe in being consistent.  The Aggies’ worst loss was to Auburn; but given that Auburn beat a 5-4 Big Ten team by about 50 points (and didn’t really even try to score in the second half), they probably could have done the same or worse to Maryland, who finished 3-6 in the Big Ten after beating Texas.  So I don’t consider Auburn a bad loss to the same extent.

I finished with three Mountain West teams in the top 25; but I think they were pretty similar, and despite the early losses to major-conference opponents it’s hard to say there were 20+ teams who were more deserving than all of them.  Fresno St. finished higher than I would have liked, but the Bulldogs did beat a fairly decent team in Arizona St. in the bowl game to finish 12-2.  Other than losing to Boise St., for which they redeemed themselves in the conference championship game, Fresno St. won the rest of the conference games.  Utah St. (which finished 11-2) may have been just as good, but they didn’t get the rematch against Boise St. and unfortunately didn’t have a chance at a better team than North Texas in the bowl.  They’ll get a crack at LSU next year though.

Fresno St.’s Ronnie Rivers ran for 212 yards (almost 9 yards per rush) against Arizona St. in the Las Vegas Bowl on December 15. The Bulldogs trailed, 20-17, before Rivers scored the last two touchdowns of the game.

Top 25 List

I did want to note that I’m using the statistical average of the weighted and unweighted ratings (I guess you could call it semi-weighted). I thought including Stanford and Iowa made more sense than the other versions. The top 10 was pretty consistent, so I didn’t worry about that as much as including the right lower teams. Here is the full 130-team list, but the top 25 list below has the recent changes.

RankTeamPrev.
1Clemson2
2Alabama1
3Notre Dame3
4Ohio St.5
5Oklahoma4
6Georgia6
7LSU9
8C. Florida7
9Michigan8
10Wash St.13
11Florida11
12Kentucky12
13Fresno St.15
14Army17
15Syracuse19
16App. St.16
17Texas A&M18
18Washington10
19Texas
20Penn St.14
21Boise St.22
22Utah St.21
23Cincinnati23
24Stanford
25Iowa

Out of Top 25: (20) Missouri, (24) Miss. St., (25) Utah

The Truth about the SEC and Coach O

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, History, Post-game on January 6, 2019 at 6:33 PM

I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays and the first round of the NFL playoffs.

Unlike what a lot of professional journalists seem to be able to do, I appreciated the opportunity to see what other people are saying without any kind of agenda of my own.  Whenever I do that, I am reminded of certain things that I feel need explaining.  Both professional commentators and common fans put a lot of false narratives out there. I’m not going to mention anyone in particular because I was so relaxed in my consumption of other media I didn’t even make note of who they were.

SEC Teams and Bowl Games

One thing is that bowls are the end-all and be-all of team or conference comparisons.  SEC teams don’t tend to lose Sugar Bowls, for instance, because the Big XII participants are superior.  I covered some of this last year when people apparently thought Alabama had a good chance of losing because they were playing in New Orleans.  A common circumstance is a team goes into the SEC Championship Game hoping to compete for a national championship.  Said team loses that game and gets the Sugar Bowl as a consolation.  Are they really going to play their best game when it’s the first game they know for a fact that the goal of a national championship is off the table? 

Of course almost every team faces that reality at some point, but they’re not necessarily playing a top 15 team away from home the first time they do so, so they can get away with having less motivation.  Also, I think it’s different trying to get back on track the week after a loss than it is losing a game and then waiting a month when you know it’s just one final game.  If Georgia had lost their second game in Week Five, for instance, there would be a desire to finish strong and maybe win the SEC East, so they would still be very motivated in Week Six.  That’s not the case in a bowl game.

SEC detractors will pretend we don’t have another Big XII-SEC game as a reference point.  Of course that was when Alabama played Oklahoma, winners of close games against Sugar Bowl participants Texas and Georgia.  Even though Alabama played a closer game and looked likely to lose well into the fourth quarter, Alabama’s win over Oklahoma was never really in doubt.  So even if Clemson wins on Monday, Alabama was still tested against one of the top four teams (I would argue one of the top three teams) and came out on top.  They’re not just in the top two because of some inflated perception of the SEC, especially not the SEC relative to the Big XII.


Tua Tagovailoa fights off a tackle from Oklahoma’s Robert Barnes in the Orange Bowl. Although he lost out on the Heisman to Kyler Murray (also of Oklahoma), he led the Tide to a 45-34 victory with 4 touchdowns, only 3 incompletions in 27 attempts, and 318 passing yards.

Anyway, the other participant in the Sugar Bowl, Texas, also lost their conference title game; but what the Longhorns were playing for in that game was a berth in the Sugar Bowl, so they didn’t have the goal from their most-recent game taken from them like Georgia did. 

Imagine an NFL team is eliminated in the second round of the playoffs and a month later they play a team that didn’t even make the playoffs.  The former team isn’t going to be anywhere close to as intense as they were in the playoffs.  The latter team would be disappointed they didn’t make the playoffs and have something to prove.  Not only that, the latter team would display the intensity that it would have had in the playoffs if given the opportunity.  One of the top NFL teams is the Saints.  A couple of weeks ago, they needed a comeback at home to beat the Steelers, a team that narrowly missed the playoffs.  If they Saints were to lose their first playoff game and have a rematch with the Steelers at a neutral site, I know which team I’d bet on.  It’s not the one everyone knows had a better regular season.

Anyway, Georgia is the only SEC team in the top three of either division that lost its bowl game.  I don’t have to use tiebreakers or anything, so I’m not manipulating the rankings to make that point.  There are exactly three teams in each division who won 5 SEC games or more. I didn’t even mention Florida’s Peach Bowl win over Michigan.

If you know how bowls work, it’s not surprising that the other teams lost.  The SEC had four teams in the “New Years Six” Bowls, so that meant that the top available SEC team Kentucky was fifth (and that’s generous since they lost to Texas A&M).  They played the top available Big Ten team, Penn St., even though Penn St. was third in the Big Ten (fourth in conference record; but Northwestern lost three games out of conference, and Penn St. lost none apart from the bowl).  So when you have a lot of good teams at the top, that means teams in the middle end up playing teams at the top of other conferences.  Kentucky won anyway; but a similar calculus went into matching Mississippi St. against Iowa, and Iowa narrowly came out on top.

Kentucky RB Benny Snell led the Wildcats to the 27-24 Citrus Bowl win over Penn St. and in the process because the program’s all-time season leader in rushing yards. Kentucky also won 10 games for the first time since 1977.

Outside of Georgia’s Sugar Bowl loss, the only loss by the SEC top six the whole season to a team of another conference was Texas A&M’s controversial two-point loss to Clemson.  There were only six interconference losses by the whole conference before the bowls: three of those were to teams in the four-team Playoff, and two of the rest were by Arkansas.  (The sixth was Tennessee’s loss to West Virginia.)

Auburn, one of the SEC teams who beat Texas A&M, absolutely dominated Purdue (the fourth major Big Ten/SEC bowl) for the other SEC bowl win.  They’re a good example of a team who lost the first game after their main goals for the season were eliminated.  There was a reasonably strong shot at advancing to the SEC Championship with one loss (their first loss came by one point to LSU) and possibly winning the national championship but very little chance of either with two losses (the second loss was by 14 to Mississippi St.), so the week after their second loss, they picked up their third loss against Tennessee. 

Auburn WR Darius Slayton scores one of many early touchdowns for Auburn against Purdue. The Tigers led 56-7 at halftime and went on to win 63-14 in Gus Malzahn’s second bowl win as head coach.

Teams like Auburn are cited by SEC detractors every year as proof that the SEC isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, but only one team can make the title game out of the SEC West in a given year.  No other conference has as many aspiring national-title contenders. I don’t think any other conference has five teams who would have beaten Auburn. There might have been three in the Big Ten, maybe two in the Big XII. The eventual Pac-12 champion couldn’t even beat Auburn at a neutral site. Clemson probably would have, but I don’t know if anyone else in the ACC would have.

Tennessee’s other conference win came under similar circumstances when the Vols beat Kentucky the week after the Wildcats were eliminated from contention in the SEC East.  So if Tennessee (which didn’t even qualify for a bowl game) can get a win against one of the top six SEC teams, it’s not a surprise that Texas was able to get such a win.

I didn’t even mention how many players skipped their bowl game for the purpose of improving their NFL chances.  The top SEC teams tend to put the most players in the NFL, so I suspect this phenomenon affected the SEC more than other conferences.

Coach O and LSU

The other narrative I wanted to talk about is Ed Orgeron.  I also talked a little bit about this narrative last year. He’s far from perfect, but I’m still skeptical of the notion that LSU would have been better off with someone like Tom Herman or Jimbo Fisher.

Refer to the chart for the details, but the easiest shorthand way of comparing coach’s records is to say how many losses they have.  Other than a couple of Sun Belt coaches (who left for other conferences anyway), the only coaches with fewer losses than Orgeron in a comparable number of games since Orgeron was hired at LSU were Nick Saban of Alabama, Dabo Sweeney of Clemson, James Franklin of Penn St., and Urban Meyer of Ohio St.  Meyer won’t be coaching anymore, and I just mentioned what happened to Penn St. against Kentucky – and Franklin only had two fewer losses anyway.  So there are really only two continuing coaches who are clearly doing better at their current schools in the same time frame.

This list is limited to head coaches who have been in their positions from October 1, 2016, to present.

LSU had to cancel the 2017 game against South Alabama and unlike most of these schools has not competed in a conference championship game since Orgeron was hired before the game against Missouri on October 1, 2016.  So that partly accounts for fewer games played.

As I’m sure most readers are aware, Les Miles hasn’t coached a game since Orgeron was hired at LSU (although he will coach one in August), but I also looked at his last 34 games.  He was 23-11. In his last 38 games, he was only 25-13.  So even if Orgeron goes 0-4 to start next season (Georgia Southern, @Texas, his alma mater Northwestern St., and @Vanderbilt), he’d only fall into a tie over 38 games.  If he goes 4-0, he would be at 76.3% compared to Miles’ 65.8%.  If he goes 3-1, he would be at 73.7%, just a couple of decimal places above where he is now. 

The chart of course doesn’t account for strength of schedule.  To focus in on this year, LSU went 10-3 against a schedule that included five teams who were in the top 10 when the Tigers played them and three other teams who were ranked.  U. Miami and Auburn shouldn’t have been in the top 10 in hindsight; but if you want to use that standard, we should reduce Notre Dame’s opponents in the top 10 from two to one (since Stanford shouldn’t have been in the top 10) and Washington from three to two (since Auburn shouldn’t have been in the top 10), for instance.

Some might say I shouldn’t be that happy with Coach O being that LSU narrowly escaped the Fiesta Bowl with a victory, but actually it was a small miracle Central Florida was able to keep it that close.  The Tigers out-gained the Knights 555 to 250, had almost twice as many first downs (32 to 17), and had the ball about three times as long (44:31 to 15:29). 

It may not have been his intention, but this interception may have reminded some of the LSU coaches why they wanted JaCoby Stevens to play wide receiver going into the year.

LSU dominated a very good Louisville team two years ago in Coach O’s first bowl game as a head coach, and apart from some controversial calls and non-calls would have beaten Notre Dame last year.  I would argue these are increasingly challenging bowl games, which reflects positively on LSU in the first place, and winning two of the three is impressive regardless of the final scores.  LSU was also playing backup wide receivers in the defensive secondary for most of the Fiesta Bowl. 

This was LSU’s first win in what is now called a New Years Six Bowl (at the end of the BCS system 10 teams went to such bowls instead of the current 12) since the Tigers won the BCS National Championship following the 2007 season. The only appearance since then had been the BCS National Championship loss following the 2011 season.

I’m still not happy we didn’t give Alabama more of a game and we were certainly good enough for a couple more wins, but in what many (including me) thought would be a rebuilding year where we would be an average SEC team (or worse), 10 wins including the Fiesta Bowl is what I’d call a success.