theknightswhosay

Posts Tagged ‘U. Miami’

2019 Preseason Rankings Intro

In College Football, Preview, Rankings Commentary on August 26, 2019 at 5:27 PM

I’ll publish the top 25 in a couple of days, but I’m going to keep you in suspense while I talk about my philosophy and some of the turnover that you may notice from the end of last season.

There are a few things I want to say about my philosophy when it comes to preseason rankings.  Although I do pride myself on a team having a good season after I started them unusually high or a bad season after I start them unusually low, I’m not trying to have the exact top 25 that will be in place at the end of the year. 

I’m also not trying to have the exact top 25 that will be in place before the bowls.  It sounds strange, but a lot of people will make the top 4 the teams they think will be in the playoff.  If there is a close call at #4 and #4 loses to #1 by 40 while #5 wins a big bowl, #4 going into the playoff is not going to stay #4.  There could even be a #6 or #7 that pass them up.  But if I were still on a site with a lot of comments, people would show up and tell me I’m crazy for thinking three SEC teams will be in the Playoff.  I wouldn’t even want that to happen if I honestly believed the best three teams were in the SEC.

Anyway, what I do believe in is a best guess as to who is going into the season with the toughest team.  So with that in mind, I don’t care how easy your schedule is.  Some people seem to think rankings are a list of most likely teams to go undefeated.  For instance, I read something that touted Nebraska as a potential ranked team since they don’t play any of the best teams in the Big Ten.  That tells me nothing about how good Nebraska is, so I don’t care.  Maybe they’ll get fewer injuries that way and will therefore be harder to beat in the bowl than they would have been otherwise.  But that’s one reason this isn’t as much about who’s good later in the year. 

Nebraska didn’t win its first game last year until October 20 (pictured). The Huskers finished the year 4-8 (a couple of plays from 6-6), but I’m still skeptical of a drastic improvement.

However, I do expect some correlation between the best teams going into the season and the best teams at the end of the season.  And by going into, I mean those with the best prospects on paper, not necessarily the teams who will have the most successful first few weeks.

For a while I focused just on returning starters and how good a team was last year, but I’ve been led astray too many times recently and decided to look more in depth.  If Alabama only had 9 returning starters (RS), for instance, I’d still have them in the top 5.  In past years I may have expected a team like that to fall from 14-1 to 10-4, but I don’t know if any number of returning starters no matter how small would cause Alabama or Clemson to lose four games this season.  Last year, the Tide only had 10 RS.

Tua Tagovailoa (pictured during the 2018 national championship) may feel spoiled as Alabama increases to 12 returning starters from 10 last season.

Such programs just get too many great recruits, and their coaches are attentive and hardworking enough to make even recent high-school players elite college players in just a few months. Teams like that seem most vulnerable early in the year (which I maintain is why Alabama has lost to Ole Miss recently but not LSU), so I guess that’s one caveat to what I said about who’s best going in, but Alabama has also lined up against some decent teams in the first game and blown them out.

Conversely, the two teams with the most RS are UCLA and Texas St.  If you put all of their returning starters on the same team, I still wouldn’t put that team in my top 25.  UCLA could be in the top 25 at the end of the year for all I know, but it would take a lot of improvement that I’ve seen no evidence is forthcoming from that particular program.  I had the Bruins 95th at the end of last season, so even if they improve 65 spots (jumping over half the teams in FBS football), they still wouldn’t be in the top 25.

The worst team last year that I’m ranking here is Florida St. (whom I had #61 in the final ratings), but since their schedule was so tough last year, their record wasn’t very indicative of talent level.  The Seminoles finished the year against five consecutive ranked opponents (beating one). The only loss to an unranked opponent was to Syracuse, which finished ranked #15 in both major polls and which nearly beat Clemson.  I decided that was as low as I was willing to go though.  I had Virginia Tech many spots lower and after some consideration opted to leave the Hokies unranked despite 16 returning starters.

Florida St.’s one-point loss to Miami, in hindsight, resulted in the Noles’ first season without a bowl game since 1982.

There were three other teams I considered moving into the rankings now despite not finishing last year ranked, but I’ll wait and see for now (last year’s final ranking), Mississippi St. (30), Baylor (47), and Wisconsin (48).

The only ranked teams from last season that I ruled out immediately were in the Mountain West. Boise St. has lacked consistency in recent years and only returns 13 starters, which do not include last year’s quarterback.  Fresno St. and Utah St. return only 9 starters apiece.  The “mid-major” teams can have difficulty with continuity even with a large number of returning starters.  I did decide to give Appalachian St., which returns 16 starters, the benefit of the doubt though.  By the way, RS numbers do not include kickers. 

Other ranked teams that fell out between the final ratings of last season and now are Kentucky (#12, 8 RS), Army (#14, 11 RS), Stanford (#24, 9 RS), and Iowa (#25, 10 RS).  Kentucky has improved or maintained its record from the previous season every year since 2014, but all good things must come to an end.  I considered keeping Army as the Black Knights have responded well in the past to personnel turnover, but there were too many talented major programs that have more potential to reach major bowls.

I’ve given you a few hints, but check back for the preseason top 25 in the coming days.

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CFP Response and Bowl Projections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cotton: Alabama vs. Oklahoma

Orange: Clemson vs. Notre Dame

Sugar: Georgia vs. Texas

Rose: Washington vs. Ohio St.

Peach: Florida vs. UCF

Fiesta: LSU vs. Michigan

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

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

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

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

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

Orange: Clemson vs. Alabama

Cotton: Notre Dame vs. Georgia

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

Rose: Washington vs. Ohio St. 

Fiesta: Washington St. vs. Michigan

Peach: LSU vs. UCF

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

Rivalries and Coaching Carousels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Betting Line & LSU Offense vs. Alabama Defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 25 after Week 7

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on October 14, 2018 at 2:26 PM

Since the top 25 will be almost purely mathematical from now on (I do have three paragraphs about the changes I made to the top 7), I plan to talk more about what happened on the field Saturday than why I like one team better than another.

LSU-Georgia and Comparisons

I wrote extensively about the 2003 game, LSU’s previous home win over Georgia, in my update to the LSU-Georgia Series Blog (since updated to add the result), so it was interesting to see the Advocate’s Scott Rabalais bring that game up here. That was one of the top games in the rivalry in my opinion because at that time they were the last two SEC champions facing off, and it was the first time either team faced opposing head coaches Nick Saban and Mark Richt, respectively. Also, LSU was one of only two teams to beat the Bulldogs that year (which they did twice). Both teams lost to Florida, who somehow lost 5 games on the season; but LSU would win the BCS national championship in the following January.

It’s funny how the start of games can be so different from the way they play out. I almost feel bad for Georgia fans, because I would have been really frustrated. I don’t have to think back very far to recall such a feeling.

After LSU took a 3-0 lead, Georgia took the field and was able to run on LSU almost at will after Florida ran for over 200 yards against the Tigers the week before. I thought it was going to be a long day. Then one running play didn’t work out for the Bulldogs setting up a 2nd and 9, and they largely gave up on the run.

Two incompletions followed, and then on 4th and 9 they ran a fake kick. They gave up on Holyfield and Swift and flipped the ball to Rodrigo Blankenship? That was one of the dumbest set of downs I’ve seen from a major program this year. The Bulldogs didn’t run the ball the next possession either, a three and out. By this time LSU led 13-0. In the next 3 runs the Bulldogs averaged 4.3 yards, but I guess the scoreboard kept them from committing to the run in any kind of consistent way. Georgia ran for 71 yards in the drive that set up the fake field goal (before the lost yardage on the fake) and ended up with only 113 rushing yards for the game, but to be fair a few good runs were canceled out by negative plays.

In LSU’s game at Florida, the Tigers were doing great on both sides of the ball early on. The Tigers had one touchdown drive to start up 7-0. The Gators got one first down on their next drive but stalled immediately afterward. Then LSU took only 5 plays to get down to the Florida 28, and Burrow fumbled it on first down. The Tigers didn’t establish that kind of rhythm again the rest of the game. Even in the only other touchdown drive, it was only four plays and 78 of the 80 yards came on two runs by Nick Brossette, so that’s not really what I’d call a rhythm.

Here is the Mississippi St. rivalry blog if you want to look ahead to that game. It’s not talked about as much as some other series, but LSU has actually played more games against Mississippi St. than any other opponent. Something else I just noticed is LSU’s next three opponents will all be coming off of bye weeks.

Georgia QB Jake Fromm (being pressured by LSU LB Devin White) completed only 47% of his passes, significantly reduced from his previous season average of 73%.

Other Games Saturday

Another thing that had made me a little nervous at the early going of the Georgia game was the way Auburn and Florida had looked against Tennessee and Vanderbilt, respectively. Auburn lost, but Vanderbilt had led Florida 21-3 before losing 37-27.

I guess we’re just at the time of the season that you can’t really take anything from one week to the next as teams get into the heart of their conference schedules. No conference punishes you the way the SEC does if you don’t get up for a given game, but we still saw teams like West Virginia and U. Miami lose road games that on paper they should have won.
I mentioned Auburn and U. Miami, who both lost, but there was another prior LSU opponent who almost lost as well. That was Ole Miss, who really seemed down and out. The Rebels missed a field goal with 13:47 left in the game while down 9.

Arkansas did a good job running the clock and setting up disadvantageous field positions for the Rebels, but the Razorbacks didn’t score again. Ole Miss took advantage with 84- and 97-yard touchdown drives in the final 7 minutes. Arkansas will attempt to end its 6-game losing streak next week against Tulsa before facing Vanderbilt, another victim of a significant comeback. The Razorbacks will have a bye week before hosting LSU on November 9.

Other than the WVU-Iowa St. and U. Miami-Virginia games I referred to earlier, I can’t tell you too much about the non-SEC games. Notre Dame didn’t look very impressive in the quarter or so I watched against Pitt; but as usual the Irish were just good enough to beat a lesser opponent. I only watched Washington-Oregon briefly. I can’t stand watching defenses who can’t tackle.

I was going to turn on Michigan-Wisconsin after the SEC games, but it was already a blowout. I don’t understand how that game was chosen over LSU. The best team Michigan beat was Maryland, the only team Wisconsin beat that wasn’t terrible was Iowa, and both teams had losses (Wisconsin’s was to BYU). At least Lee Corso looks dumb, not that it was the first time.

Top 25 Comments

I’m keeping Alabama #1 for this week, but there is a good chance I will replace the Tide next week if Clemson wins (against N.C. St.) and becomes the computer #1 over idle Notre Dame. It’s not that Bama isn’t playing well; but they haven’t played any of the top 9 teams (in my opinion including non-conference games) in the SEC, and their only game in the next two weeks is against Tennessee. The Vols just beat Auburn; but being that it was their first SEC win since 2016, they’re not one of the top 9 teams in the SEC either. The Tide also don’t have a non-conference win that does them much good: Bama’s three opponents are only a combined 5-11 in FBS play, and two of them play in the Sun Belt.

The only other change from the computer was to move Ohio St. up two spots to be ahead of Texas and Florida. Texas did lose to a Big Ten team after all. I didn’t want to move the Buckeyes higher since they really haven’t played anyone… anyone who didn’t just lose to Michigan St. anyway. Ohio St. belonged ahead of LSU going into the week even though my computer didn’t have them ahead, but with the win (and Penn St.’s loss) LSU is now 3-1 against teams in my top 40 when Ohio St. hasn’t played any of those teams. LSU has beaten 5 teams in the top 65 to Ohio St.’s 2; so however you look at it, I think LSU’s quality wins overcome the one loss at this point. It helps Ohio St. a little bit that the Buckeyes haven’t played an FCS opponent, but still for Ohio St. to be 96th in FBS strength of schedule and for LSU to be 3rd explains how LSU can afford a loss.

Florida did beat LSU and has a better loss than Texas, which is why they’re ahead of the Longhorns; but I didn’t think the Gators had the quality wins to overcome the loss to Kentucky. LSU and Mississippi St. are the only top-50 wins according to my computer rankings. One of those two will lose value next week since they play one another, and Florida will lose value since they have the week off. It just makes sense to keep Ohio St. ahead for now when most likely Florida will fall next week anyway. Texas is off next week as well.

Top 25

rank/team/prev.

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

Out of Top 25: (18) U. Miami, (19) S Carolina, (20) Penn St., (24) Wisconsin

Top 25 after Week 4

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game on September 23, 2018 at 1:21 PM

LSU had a good first 22 minutes and a good fourth quarter against Louisiana Tech, but it’s concerning to give up 21 consecutive points to two opponents in a row.

Apart from the touchdown drive at the end of the first half against Southeastern (SLU), LSU has not played well around halftime and the third quarter in any of its first four games.

The Tigers were way out in front of U. Miami and SLU; but in the case of U. Miami, ending a game with no touchdowns in your last 8 drives (not counting the kneel-down at the end) isn’t desirable in my opinion no matter what the score is. LSU may have been shut out in the second half against SLU if they had not recovered a fumble at the SLU 18 late in the fourth quarter.

The troubles started against Auburn after about a quarter and a half instead of two quarters, and that’s the same thing that happened against the Bulldogs on Saturday. We were up 24 against the Bulldogs instead of the 10-point lead at Auburn, but the play from that point until the fourth quarter was similar with identical results (outscored 21-0 in both instances). So there is a wide range of teams that could blow out LSU if the Tigers were to play like that for a full game. To look on the bright side, LSU could probably beat anyone if they eliminate that mid-game lag.

If the Tigers don’t play better, they may well lose the next game against Ole Miss. See here for more about that rivalry.

That said, I don’t see anyone other than LSU I want to put #4. Clemson’s game against Texas A&M and Oklahoma’s game against Army were more concerning, and no one has the pair of top-10 wins the Tigers have.

I thought about dropping Ohio St. due to not having played anyone except a team that just got beaten soundly by Texas, but I may have gotten some flak if the first three teams were all in the SEC. The Buckeyes’ strength of schedule should improve significantly in the next two weeks though, so I’ll leave them where they are for now.

Army’s ground game and ball control were almost enough to beat Oklahoma in Norman on Saturday.

I know I ranked Army #25 last week, but that’s not really a good excuse for Oklahoma to go into overtime against the Knights/Cadets at home. After an uninspired win at Iowa St. the week before, I’m not really feeling the Sooners right now. I’m phasing out the feeling element of this as I always do in late September, but going solely by the numbers wouldn’t even put OU in the top 10. I haven’t been impressed with other Big XII teams either, but the toughest games may be away from home: TCU, Texas Tech, West Virginia, and Texas (in Dallas). The remaining home schedule is Baylor, Kansas St., Oklahoma St., and Kansas.

Auburn didn’t do anything wrong; but even assuming they win next week, 3 of their four wins will be Alabama St. (who has lost by at least 34 to every Division I opponent), Arkansas (who probably still won’t have any FBS wins), and Southern Mississippi (whose only FBS win is over Rice). It’s just time to start factoring in strength of schedule more. Auburn has Georgia and Alabama later of course, but they won’t get credit until they play one of them.

Central Florida, the (AU) Tigers’ opponents in the Peach Bowl, and Michigan were even further from a ranking in my formula, so they dropped more.

Mississippi St. lost to a team I already had ranked, so I thought a 10-spot drop was enough even though the Bulldogs are also not on my computer list.

After that, I knew which teams I wanted to rank (they were all selected from the top 25 of my computer), but when I couldn’t decide the order, I just ranked them by how good the teams who beat them are. For instance, Texas Tech and Maryland (which beat Texas before the Longhorns’ big wins of the past two weeks) had lost to unranked teams. Ole Miss (which beat Texas Tech) has only lost to Alabama, and Temple (which beat Maryland) lost two games, one of which was to Villanova—and it wasn’t in basketball—so that was pretty easy to sort out. I think Oklahoma St. lost to a better team than Texas Tech did, but I couldn’t put the Cowboys ahead of a team who just beat them 41-17 in Stillwater.

The five teams that are in the computer top 25 but not in this one are (in order): Buffalo (beat Temple; see above for discussion about Maryland and Texas), Indiana (lost to Michigan St. but is the only team to beat Virginia), Michigan St. (beat Indiana, although the Spartans lost to Arizona St.), San Diego St. (beat Arizona St., only loss is to Stanford), and North Carolina St. (nothing too special, but they are the only team to have beaten James Madison or Marshall; they play Virginia next).

San Diego St. has a bye week, so they will be staying out; but any of the others could make it in by winning. I know it sounds silly, but this is especially true of Buffalo, which plays Army. Who knew New York could field decent college football teams, not to mention (possibly) three of them? The third is undefeated Syracuse, who fell just a few spots outside of the top 25 and will attempt to beat Clemson for the second year in a row on Saturday.

rank/team/prev.
1 Alabama 1
2 Georgia 2
3 Ohio St. 3
4 LSU 5
5 Stanford 6
6 Oklahoma 4
7 Clemson 7
8 Notre Dame 12
9 Penn St. 11
10 Auburn 9
11 Duke 15
12 Kentucky 24
13 UC-Berkeley 18
14 BYU 19
15 Wisconsin 20
16 UCF 13
17 Michigan 14
18 Miss. St. 8
19 S Carolina —
20 U. Miami —
21 Washington —
22 Texas —
23 Texas Tech —
24 Okie St. 10
25 Maryland —

Out of Top 25:
(16) Minnesota, (17) Iowa, (21) Boise St., (22) TCU, (23) Indiana, (25) Army

Top 25 after Week 1 (and Week 0)

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 4, 2018 at 3:09 PM

I don’t usually change the rankings too much after the first week, but I’ve modified my approach somewhat. I’ll explain with LSU and U. Miami, which of course was the main game I wanted to talk about anyway. I think U. Miami, for instance, is better than 25th; but they lost and didn’t play very well. That puts them behind most teams at the moment, so it’s a balance between the potential upside of this season and where you are after the one or two results each team has so far (none of the teams below have played two games yet.) In years past, I would have put both teams toward the middle of the top 25.

Nick Brossette’s 50-yard run was the only touchdown of more than one yard by the LSU offense against U. Miami (Brossette scored the other one as well).

I don’t want to put LSU in the top 15 though since there were still some weaknesses (mostly due to inexperience) exposed. It’s concerning that the Tigers had a worse third-down conversion percentage, fewer first downs, fewer pass completions, fewer yards per pass, and fewer total yards. Without the two interceptions (LSU committed no turnovers themselves), the Tigers would have had a very good chance of losing at the end. It would have changed the final score to 23-17, and that’s if U. Miami didn’t score on the drives in which the interceptions took place and if we assume a late Hurricane punt (rather than a fourth-down-conversion attempt) wouldn’t have given U. Miami good enough field position to score again.

Although no one in the top 25 had as disappointing a result as the Hurricanes did, there weren’t any performances by unranked teams that I thought merited them a spot in the top 25.

I have to say I was impressed by the performance of the SEC. Tennessee lost as expected, but they kept the game close for longer than I thought they would (West Virginia led only 13-7 at the half). Auburn-Washington was a bit of a coin flip, but I certainly wasn’t counting on that one. I thought LSU and Ole Miss (in Houston against Texas Tech) were likely to lose, but both won easily. I also wouldn’t have been shocked had Vanderbilt lost at home against Middle Tennessee, but they won by 28.

Kentucky committed 4 turnovers and was threatened in the first half by Central Michigan, but every other team won by more than I expected.

Notre Dame-Michigan was the only non-SEC game between ranked teams. I felt the need to put Michigan behind LSU, but I still expect the Irish and Wolverines to finish close together, as I had them in my preseason rankings.

The other major movement in my rankings was in dropping Penn St. and Michigan St. I was concerned by the level of experience in both respective teams, and the close results of their games (Penn St. beat Appalachian St. in overtime, and Michigan St. beat Utah St. by 7) raised my level of concern. Iowa and Maryland did better than I expected, so I’m not down on the Big Ten overall though. They’re both on my rankings watch list, as are Minnesota and Northwestern.

In the ACC, I feel vindicated by not ranking Florida St.; but Virginia Tech is another team I have my eye on. Duke is another possibility. There aren’t any other unranked teams worth mentioning right now, but that can always change with upsets.

rank/team/prev.
1 Alabama 1
2 Clemson 2
3 Georgia 3
4 Wisconsin 4
5 Ohio St. 5
6 Oklahoma 7
7 Stanford 8
8 Auburn 10
9 Notre Dame 12
10 USC 14
11 Washington 6
12 Miss. St. 16
13 Florida 17
14 Boise St. 18
15 Fresno St. 19
16 UCF 20
17 LSU 24
18 Michigan 13
19 Penn St. 15
20 Mich. St. 9
21 TCU 21
22 Memphis 22
23 S Carolina 23
24 Okie St. 25
25 U. Miami 11

2018 Preseason Top 25

In College Football, General LSU, Preview, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on August 29, 2018 at 2:23 PM

Welcome back. I’ve had a busier than usual offseason, so apologies for not writing anything all that time. I’ll get right to it.

NOTE: I use Phil Steele for numbers of returning starters. He only counts offense and defense. The prior rankings refer to my list from last year as well as my weighted rankings for teams not in the top 25. Coincidentally, none of these teams were in the handful of games that have already been played.

1. Alabama, #1, CFP Champions – Despite very few (10) returning starters, Alabama has been so consistently in the top 2 (or at least top 4) at the end of the season, I can’t put any other team #1.
2. Clemson, #4, CFP Semifinalists – Although Clemson missed the championship game after being there the prior two years, I had to give the Tigers the edge for #2 over Georgia, last year’s runners-up. Seven returning starters on offense and 8 on defense could be scary even from a middling top-20 team.
3. Georgia, #2, CFP Runners-up – Georgia has a similar profile to Wisconsin, so I had to go with the better team from last year. Wisconsin was very good, but the competition throughout the season could have been better.
4. Wisconsin, #3, Orange Bowl Champions
The Badgers got mixed reactions from the major polls. I have to disagree with the coaches. I don’t see Oklahoma back in the Playoff, and despite the returning starters I can’t take Washington seriously as a title contender until proven otherwise.
5. Ohio St., #5, Cotton Bowl Champions
I don’t see why I shouldn’t leave the Buckeyes where they finished last season. They’re similar to Alabama in consistency from year to year (maybe not from game to game) regardless of how many returning starters. I don’t think the Meyer suspension will make a difference. I don’t understand TCU being so highly-rated, and the Buckeyes could probably win the other two games easily if the players drew up the plays themselves. The chances of winning the division are too low to rank Ohio St. higher.
6. Washington, #21
I’m not very excited about this pick, but the Huskies have a good chance to go undefeated or make the playoffs as a 1-loss conference champion. In that scenario, they would most likely finish with a similar result to 2016, but without anyone else to get excited about, I had to go with CFP Bowl experience and 17 returning starters. They could lose to Auburn, but Auburn has so many other potential losses on the schedule, the Huskies will most likely finish higher anyway.
7. Oklahoma, #7, CFP Semifinalists
This spot goes to the Sooners basically by default. Michigan, Michigan St., and Notre Dame weren’t good enough last year. Penn St. doesn’t have enough returning starters (10). Auburn is not especially appealing on either count.
8. Stanford, #18 – Stanford has to go on the road to Oregon, Washington, and Notre Dame, but on the other hand, the Cardinal beat all 3 last year. It’s a matter of not losing to teams like USC (twice) and San Diego St. again though. Other than the first game against the Trojans, Stanford lost each of the other 4 games by a field goal or less. Having 15 starters back can make the difference in games like that.
9. Michigan St., #11 – The Spartans were completely out of their depth against Notre Dame and Ohio St. last year, but the combination of 10 wins last year and 17 returning starters was hard to pass up.
10. Auburn, #12 – I’m a little wary of this pick because the Tigers are usually overrated in the polls, and I’m ranking them where the coaches’ poll has them. But there just isn’t a strong reason not to give them this spot. The Tigers did happen to lose to UCF, but it wasn’t exactly decisive. The only loss by more than one possession last year came against Georgia. A mediocre number of returning starters (13) made it hard to move the Plainsmen any higher though.
11. U. Miami, #13 – I don’t understand why the polls aren’t more skeptical of the Hurricanes. I think you have to do something more in recent years to get into the preseason top 10. Fourteen isn’t a bad number of returning starters, but it’s like we’re pretending they didn’t finish last year on a 3-game losing streak.
12. Notre Dame, #8 – I’ve made no secret of my opinion about the last time the Irish took the field, so I don’t think they were really the 8th-best team. In the first six weeks alone, the Irish will play Michigan, Stanford, and (at) Virginia Tech. If they get through that, we may be looking at a top-10 team or better. Fifteen returning starters give the Irish a decent chance to win each game.
13. Michigan, #26
Like Miami, the Wolverines also finished last season with 3 losses. In their defense, Wisconsin and Ohio St. were two of the five best teams in hindsight. South Carolina was probably just a letdown. The only loss to really hang their heads over was the blowout at Penn St. The middle of the top 25 seems like a realistic goal for a team with 17 returning starters despite not looking very good on paper last year.
14. USC, #10 – The Trojans have some experience (13 returning starters), but not at the QB position. #14 for a defending Power-5 conference champion is as low as I was willing to go in these circumstances.
15. Penn St., #9, Fiesta Bowl Champions – The Nittany Lions are 22-5 over the last two seasons, and 4 of those losses were by a field goal or less. I think they’re going to take a step back with only 10 returning starters, but no one should be checking them off as an easy win.
16. Mississippi St., #19 ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
17. Florida, #63
I’m really looking forward to the Dan Mullen Bowl on September 29. In 2012, the Gators shocked many of their own fans by starting 11-1 (before losing the bowl game to Louisville) after going only 7-6 the year before. I can see a similar turnaround here except I think the ceiling is a little lower. They just went off the rails after losing home games against LSU and Texas A&M by a combined three points in an 8-day period. I did give Mississippi St. the edge based on last year’s results though. Florida has the most returning starters in the SEC with 19, and the Bulldogs tied with Arkansas for second with 17.
18. Boise St., #25
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
19. Fresno St., #34
The Broncos might just be the most likely team in this list to go undefeated. Fresno St. is the only team on the schedule who beat them last year (although the Broncos won the rematch). Both have a high number of returning starters, 15 for Fresno, 16 for Boise. The Bulldogs did lose 4 games last year, but they also played Alabama and Washington.
20. UCF, #6, Peach Bowl Champions
Staying in the G5 conferences, I think the Knights deserve some recognition after going undefeated last year. They only have 12 returning starters, but that’s tied for fifth-best in their conference. Three of those teams with more returning starters finished .500 or worse in conference, so there is a very good chance UCF will repeat. On the other hand, there are a few possible losses out of conference.
21. TCU, #15
The Horned Frogs are last in the Big XII in returning starters (11), so only falling six spots is rather optimistic. It’s just hard to find teams to feel good about at this point. Other than the two losses to Oklahoma, the only loss from last year was by a touchdown at Iowa St. I’ve seen Patterson credited with knowing “how to rebuild,” but he also knows how to have a losing record in a rebuilding year.
22. Memphis, #24
When I mentioned UCF, Memphis was the one team in the conference with more returning starters who had a winning record in conference last year. The Tigers’ only regular-season losses were to UCF. In the first matchup, the Tigers lost by 27, but they improved enough during the year to require two overtimes before falling in the American Championship game. Memphis lost to Iowa St. by 1 in the Liberty Bowl.
23. South Carolina, #23 – The Gamecocks have won 6 games in a row that were not against top-3 opponents. This included wins over Florida and Michigan. South Carolina returns 14 starters including the quarterback, so keeping them at the same spot they finished made sense.
24. LSU, #20 – It’s hard for me to pick a team that’s tied last in its conference in returning starters to improve, especially without a tested quarterback or offensive coordinator. As for the OC, Steve Ensminger did do a good job in relief of Cam Cameron a couple of years ago, but having some success against mediocre teams with an offense that hadn’t been working well is different from running the offense throughout the offseason and preparing the players. He also had help from Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice. There is a plus side to the uncertainty (catching opponents off guard etc.); but in preseason, uncertainty is usually bad.
25. Oklahoma St., #22 – The Cowboys played well in the loss to Oklahoma last year, but that’s probably about the best they can expect this year as well. In the last six games last season, Okie St. won three games against ranked teams, two on the road and one in the bowl game. With only 12 returning starters and also a new quarterback to break in, it may be hard for the Cowboys to stay ranked.

Out of rankings: (14) Northwestern, (16) North Carolina St., (17) Iowa

Championship Week Top 25

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on December 3, 2017 at 3:42 PM

More on “Who’s #4”

Last night, I think I made sufficient arguments for Alabama to be chosen over Ohio St. I wanted to elaborate on that a little bit more based on some arguments I’ve heard and considered since.

The point was made that Alabama isn’t like last year’s Ohio St., which was ranked #2 going into championship week. Nonetheless, between the two, Alabama was 5th going into championship week while Ohio St. was 8th. So rankings going in is one of the weaker arguments I’ve seen, but I’m just addressing it because it seemed to get some play in social media.

I mentioned how Alabama is favored by Las Vegas over Ohio St. if the two were to play on a neutral site. Alabama was also the #1 most likely to win the national champion and is #1 in ESPN’s Football Power Index. Also, Alabama is in the top 4 in “strength of record,” which compares success versus a given schedule to how the average top 25 team would do. I agree with the “strength of record” calculations that 11-1 against Alabama’s schedule was harder to do than 11-2 against Ohio St.’s. So those are additional reasons I think it’s much harder to leave Alabama out than two-loss Ohio St.

Nick Saban and his team receive the CFP trophy from the late John Saunders after defeating Clemson in January 2016. The Tide will attempt to win its second such trophy in three years.

This isn’t really covering new ground, but I made a chart that I think might be useful in trying to clarify my position.

Team Rank Last SoS Top 40 %/100
Clemson 1 2 12 6-0* 1.00
Georgia 2 3 11 4-1+ 0.80
Oklahoma 3 4 75 4-1 0.80
Wisconsin 4 1 66 2-1 0.67
UCF 5 7 65 2-0 1.00
Ohio St. 6 11 31 4-2 0.67
Alabama 7 4 41 3-1 0.75
USC 8 12 34 3-2 0.60

*lost to (74) Syracuse
+beat (41) Kentucky

I think with the small number of top-40 games, you can eliminate Wisconsin and Central Florida (UCF). Then you can eliminate USC based on the top-40 percentage to get us to the main decision, which was between Alabama and Ohio St.

But for illustration, I wanted to explain why I think Alabama should be ahead of a team with one fewer loss than they have.

Alabama’s one loss was to a better team than any UCF played, so I think it’s hard to count that loss as a point in UCF’s favor. Also, even if that weren’t the case, being 24 spots higher in strength of schedule would result in another loss for any team this year. Maybe a really dominant team from years past could have played a much tougher schedule without losing another game, but there is a reason UCF is the only undefeated team. No team could withstand a much tougher schedule without losing to SOMEONE.

When you go to Ohio St. vs. Alabama, it’s not as easy to get around the extra loss. Alabama beat two teams, LSU and Mississippi St., that are better than Iowa. That’s not just my opinion; that’s the outcome of a range of objective measures as well as the CFP rankings themselves.

Also, 10 spots in strength of schedule makes is harder to argue that if you make Alabama’s schedule a little tougher that they would have lost another game. Maybe if they had played a top-10 team on the road the same day they played Mississippi St. on the road, it would have mattered. If LSU or Fresno St. or any other opponent were a little better (LSU in some ways played better, but they would have had to be a much better team to get 14 more touchdowns or stop Alabama from scoring 14 of its points), Alabama’s record doesn’t change.

Having a better winning percentage against the top 40 is more relevant to fitness for the CFP playoff as well. It’s roughly the top third of teams. Actually the top third is 43 teams if you round down the fraction, but that’s why I noted that Georgia beat Kentucky. It’s also teams that in general are able to beat the better teams (Syracuse/Clemson was obviously an outlier). If these teams have a bad day against a team not in the top 40, there is a very high chance they win anyway.

Oklahoma played a lot of easy opponents obviously, which is why I have their strength of schedule below that of both Wisconsin and Central Florida; but they made up for it with a very top-heavy schedule. Three wins in the top 15 is hard to do, and none were in doubt for much of the second half. I’m not sure I can explain the loss to Iowa St. very well, but the Cyclones are a good enough team that if you get them on the road they can be dangerous to anyone under the right circumstances. Just ask Mike Gundy, who lost to a much more mediocre Cyclone team to miss out on a chance to play for the national championship with Oklahoma St. in 2011.

I think Clemson’s and Oklahoma’s respective losses put into context Alabama’s loss to Auburn (a much, much better team than either of those losses) and close win over Mississippi St. (a team that at least would be the clear favorite against either Iowa St. or Syracuse regardless of location).

Rankings from 9 to 25

Notre Dame fell short of a New Years Six Bowl, but this win over eventual Pac-12 champion USC helps make them the best of the rest. (Pictured: RB Josh Adams)

It’s a very close call between Notre Dame and Auburn (0.00071), but I do think Notre Dame had a slightly harder schedule. It will be interesting to see what the Irish do against another SEC team that beat Auburn (they lost to Georgia by 1 in September and play LSU on January 1 in Orlando).

Miami is not far behind the Irish. I know they blew out Notre Dame, but they didn’t beat USC by 35 either. The Hurricanes lost to a much worse team (Pitt) before the ACC title game than any teams who beat Notre Dame (Georgia, Stanford, and themselves).

Penn St. didn’t have any great non-conference or even non-divisional opponents, but they played in a pretty tough division and were one point away from a chance to make the playoff.

I mentioned Stanford a moment ago. They were better than Notre Dame and pretty even with USC in recent weeks, but it’s not that easy to overcome three losses especially when one was to San Diego St. (although the Aztecs are now in my top 25). I would have rather seen the Cardinal in a New Years Six bowl than Washington, but no one asked me.

Boise St., Florida Atlantic, and Toledo moved up with wins in conference championship games. I think we could make a chart like I did with the top 8 and explain that they’re not really in the top 20 of toughest teams to beat, but what I focus on is a system that general gets top few teams right. This is the first year in a while that I’m not happy with 1 through 4 although I think 1 through 3 are perfect. Anyway, the point is I’m not going to alter my ratings to make 3- or 4-loss teams higher in this part of the rankings. That would move teams like Notre Dame and Auburn higher, which I don’t want to do.

The rankings after the bowl sort out some of these issues because the major-conference 3- or 4-loss teams generally get better opponents than the minor-conference champions.
Odd for this to happen after such a dramatic week, but there was no turnover at all in my top 25.

rank/team/prev.
9 Notre Dame 8
10 Auburn 5
11 U. Miami 9
12 Penn St. 10
13 Stanford 13
14 Washington 14
15 Boise St. 20
16 Mich. St. 15
17 Fla. Atlantic 25
18 Memphis 16
19 TCU 17
20 Toledo 23
21 Wash. St. 18
22 LSU 19
23 Northwestern 21
24 San Diego St. 22
25 Virginia Tech 24

Full list

Conference Championship Rematches

In College Football, Preview on December 1, 2017 at 3:33 PM

I’ve talked about how I think Auburn is basically being treated as if they already beat Georgia a second time, but when there is anything approaching parity between two teams, I think the loser has the advantage in a rematch.

Kerryon Johnson dives for a touchdown in the Georgia @ Auburn game a few weeks ago.

Of course the most obvious rematch in recent years was LSU and Alabama. After the Tigers won at Alabama, the Tide won easily at a neutral site for the national championship.

There was a similar result in the same stadium in 1996 when Florida easily won a rematch over Florida St. after a close game during the regular season. Usually rematches are for the conference championship rather than the national championship though.

LSU’s first win in the SEC Championship in 2001 was a rematch against Tennessee. That was so long ago that the West was much easier to win than the East. LSU won the West despite 3 losses that year, one of which was to Tennessee. Tennessee won by 8 in September of 2001 and lost by 11 in the championship game; so it wasn’t quite as dramatic of a swing as LSU/Alabama in the 2011 season, but it was close.

Matt Mauck jumps for a touchdown in the SEC Championship in 2001.

There was an example ESPN cited of Texas beating Colorado easily in 2005 in both the regular season and the championship, but all of these rematches are between teams where apart from the previous game, it would either be difficult to pick which team is better or the loser would seem to be the better team. In 2005, Texas would have beaten Colorado probably 10 out of 10 times.

Most of the SEC rematches were closer to the Texas-Colorado category. In 2000, Florida was still one of the best teams in the county; and like I said, winning the SEC West wasn’t very impressive back then. I don’t think anyone was surprised that Florida beat Auburn easily in both the regular season and the championship. Four years later, Auburn went undefeated and had already beaten Tennessee by 24 in Knoxville. The Vols made it closer (38-28) in the rematch, but the gap was too large to start out with.

Granted, Georgia would have to make a bigger swing in the final score than LSU did in 2001 (they lost by 23), but I don’t think either the Bulldogs offense or defense was playing the way they normally would toward the end. When you throw the ball a lot, you can have much quicker three-and-outs, which puts more pressure on your defense than it wouldn’t normally feel.

As we saw against LSU, Auburn can score in bursts, and it’s a matter of being able to stop them and respond before it gets too bad. Once Auburn had scored 30 unanswered points against Georgia, it was too late. Had they only scored 20 unanswered instead (or had Georgia re-established its offense sooner), it would have been a one-possession game into the fourth quarter and changed the approach of both sides.

My feeling is that if Auburn is able to get a big lead, they can easily grind out Georgia the rest of the way again. We don’t know what happens if Georgia roughly keeps pace for three quarters though.

Although the TCU-Oklahoma game had a closer final score (38-20), it was 38-14 at halftime, so I think it will be easier for Oklahoma to overpower the Horned Frogs early and often than it will be for Auburn against the Bulldogs. Auburn only led 16-7 at the half.

Clemson-Miami and Wisconsin-Ohio St. are not rematches, so the other notable rematch likely does not have a bearing on the national championship, but USC-Stanford may be the best game of the bunch.

Freshman RB Stephen Carr had 129 all-purpose yards against Stanford in September, but it’s unclear how relevant that game will be tonight.

Although the Trojans won by 18 back in Week 2, Stanford has been the better team in the last two months. Both have lost at Washington St. by 3 points, but Notre Dame beat USC by 35 and lost to Stanford by 18. Stanford has no other losses since September 17.

Stanford has had more of a habit of playing down to opponents than USC has, but I don’t think that will be relevant to this game. I think it’s interesting that USC is favored, but ESPN’s FPI power index gives Stanford a 57% chance of victory. It may be that gamblers have been burned by picking Stanford more times than they have by USC.