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Posts Tagged ‘USC’

Final Top 25 of the 2016 Season

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on January 11, 2017 at 7:36 PM

I’ll keep you in suspense with my conference assessment (although you can find the summary here), but I thought it was interesting that Ohio St. and Washington were able to stay in the top 4. I know the last time I did a blog Penn St. was #4, but they actually fell to #5 after the Army/Navy game and FCS postseason games were added in.

Clemson didn’t win by as much as the champions have won previously in the CFP era, so my only concern is what if a 2-loss team ends up winning the national championship over a previous unbeaten? The winner might not be the best team in my rankings in that scenario; but it would be hard to have an NFL ranking that would put a 10-6 Super Bowl winner first, so I don’t regard that as a huge issue.

Congratulations to Clemson for not only having the best team (at least in the fourth quarter on Monday) but also the best schedule.

Congratulations to Clemson for not only having the best team (at least in the fourth quarter on Monday) but also the best schedule.

I also thought it was interesting that for the first time since I’ve been doing this the team with the best schedule is the national champion. Of course it didn’t hurt that they played three SEC teams and Ohio St. in addition to their ACC schedule.

Back to the other teams… to be fair, if you divide by playing week, Oklahoma and Florida St. would have passed up Washington. Also, Western Michigan (which had a conference championship game) would have fallen to #11.

USC closed the gap with Penn St. pretty well, but they were too far apart to start with for the Trojans to go ahead. USC did finish in the top 10 though, while Michigan fell out of the top 10 for the first time since Week 4.

LSU didn’t squeeze into the top 25 even though they beat the #25 team Louisville, but the Cardinals had built up enough of an advantage over the course of the season. The ACC bowl results didn’t hurt, although as I’ll discuss in the next blog the SEC didn’t do too badly either.

It also hurt the Tigers to have one fewer playing week. If you average ratings by playing week, LSU would have finished 22nd. If you give the Tigers a win over South Alabama (the canceled game), LSU would have probably finished 20th.

Other big movers were Tennessee, Oklahoma St., and Florida, which all improved 4 or 5 spots. Along with the teams that fell out (and Louisville), big movers in the wrong direction were Colorado, Boise St., and West Virginia.

South Florida actually fell a few spots despite beating South Carolina, but that was largely due to a disastrous bowl season for the American Conference (or AAC).

Stanford only had a modest gain after beating North Carolina, but the Pac-12 didn’t have a great bowl season either. It only qualified 6 teams, and only 2 other Pac-12 teams (USC and Utah) won bowl games. Stanford did not play Utah this season and USC was also in the other division, so the other wins didn’t help the Cardinal as much as another Pac-12 North win would have.

Top 25

rank/team/prev
1 Clemson 2
2 Alabama 1
3 Ohio St. 3
4 Washington 5
5 Oklahoma 8
6 Florida St. 10
7 Wisconsin 9
8 Penn St. 4
9 W. Michigan 6
10 USC 13
11 Michigan 7
12 Tennessee 16
13 Okie St. 18
14 Stanford 17
15 Colorado 11
16 Florida 21
17 Boise St. 12
18 S. Florida 15
19 App. St. —
20 U. Miami —
21 Virginia Tech —
22 West Virginia 14
23 W. Kentucky —
24 Georgia Tech —
25 Louisville 19

All 128 Teams

Out of rankings: (20) Nebraska, (22) Temple, (23) Houston, (24) Auburn, (25) Pittsburgh

Final Pre-Bowl Top 25; CFP Plays It Safe but Gets It Wrong

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, History, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on December 5, 2016 at 9:00 AM

College Football Committee: Top 4, Sugar Bowl, and Orange Bowl

There were some complaints in the media Saturday night about why the College Football Playoff committee even has weekly rankings.

Ideally, I think it’s good to let teams know where they stand from week to week and start the process from scratch after the games are all finished. But I wonder if that really happened or if they just took the easy route and rubber-stamped what they already had as the top four (Clemson and Ohio St. switched spots, but that won’t affect anything except who wears what jersey and who calls the coin toss). Would it have been easier to pick Penn St. over Washington had the committee not declared a few days before that Washington was #4 and Penn St. was #7? If so, the weekly ratings should be abandoned.

The committee also played it safe by picking as the BCS would have in all the major decisions. There were about 15 teams that were in contention for the major bowls (other than the “automatic” Western Michigan). This is how they would have finished if we had just kept the BCS system.

The BCS average of the polls (AP and Coaches' poll since the Harris poll no longer exists) and the medium 4 computer ratings.  They're calculated as fractions of the perfect score and then averaged.

The BCS average of the polls (AP and Coaches’ poll since the Harris poll no longer exists) and the medium 4 computer rankings. They’re calculated as fractions of the perfect score and then averaged.

As I mentioned last week, I also disagree with Auburn’s selection to the Sugar Bowl, but part of the problem was that it was a three-way race. Although LSU gained on Florida in the last couple of weeks (and actually passed the Gators in the most-recent AP poll) and had the highest computer average of the three, obviously head-to-head came into play in subjective rankings and put LSU at a disadvantage. Auburn would have the stronger argument had they not also lost to their chief SEC East rivals and had that team (Georgia) not been worse than Florida.

The answer Auburn people kept repeating about why it should be Auburn is head to head, but if that’s the primary way you decide between close teams (even if the game was early in the season), why is Ohio St. in the top 4 but not the team who beat them and then won their conference? Why is Florida St. in the Orange Bowl but not Louisville, who not only beat the Seminoles but blew them out? 63-20 is not similar to the difference of a foot or two or a second or two at the end of the game like the two relevant LSU games.

Louisville did lose two games late to fall into a “tie” (although they finished two games ahead of the FSU in the conference standings), but so did Auburn. At least in Florida St.’s case, they blew away the Cardinals in the BCS computer ratings.

To turn back to Washington vs. Penn St., one of the rewarding things about having my own objective mathematical system is when it validates my subjective opinion. I also like that I don’t have to do complicated mathematics like algorithms and least-squared regressions to get there. I’m not sure what any of those tell you about how good a football team is anyway.

Washington didn’t play a single team in my final top 10 and went only 2-1 against the top 25. Penn St. went 2-1 against the top 10, on the other hand. The Nittany Lions did lose to #25 Pitt, but I don’t think it’s really fair to eliminate them based upon that when Washington had one of the worst non-conference schedules in college football. The committee has sent a clear message that record counts for more than schedule and (in view of Ohio St. making the field, although I agree with that) for more than championship status.

Anyway, I think Penn St. did enough to overcome the additional loss; but it’s close enough that if Washington had played a slightly better schedule, the Huskies would have been fourth. So I firmly believe I got the formula right. There are teams (like LSU this year) who aren’t necessarily treated appropriately, but for me it’s always been about getting the top two to four teams right.

That said, it will be interesting to see Penn St. against USC. I hope Penn St. can put this behind them, but it wouldn’t the first time a team that was snubbed or fell just short didn’t really show up for the bowl game. Although the Trojans and Nittany Lions have five losses between them, neither has lost since September. Both teams played the best (other) team in their own division and the best team of the other division in that span. Penn St. also played one of the runners-up from other division.

Washington versus Michigan in that game might have been even better though.

LSU in the Citrus Bowl

Then-Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino pointed at the LSU sidelines in anger (apparently that LSU ran up the score in a 24-point win in 2011) in his previous game against the Tigers.  Petrino is 4-4 against SEC teams since.

Then-Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino pointed at the LSU sidelines in anger (apparently that LSU ran up the score in a 24-point win in 2011) in his previous game against the Tigers. Petrino is 4-4 against SEC teams since.

Also, I want to reiterate that I’m content with LSU’s selection. You have to be extremely lucky to lose four games and go to the Sugar Bowl, so I can’t be too upset there. Tennessee, Florida, and Texas A&M were penalized more for late losses, so at least we got better bowls than they did. I’m not thrilled with it being early in the day on New Year’s Eve, when I’m typically up until 3 or 4 in the morning. Hopefully I can take a long nap.

Also, our opponent will be another team with a legitimate gripe about being left out of a major bowl in Louisville. Financially speaking at least, the Citrus is the top non-CFP bowl, so that’s something else to be happy about. I’m not sure how much of that actually goes to the school, but with what Louisiana has been through lately, every little bit helps. I always enjoy Bobby Petrino though. He’s a guy most of the SEC loves to hate for multiple reasons, but he’s also a very good coach. We’ve seen LSU DC Dave Arranda give Lane Kiffin about all he could handle, so I’m excited to see how Arranda and our defense do in this game.

I’m less excited to see LSU try to produce on offense, but obviously Kentucky gave me some encouragement. There hasn’t really been time to make many adjustments on offense since the dismissal of Cam Cameron, but often bowl prep allows some flexibility in that area. It has helped LSU before even in years with relatively poor offenses, such as last year.

Other Changes

Another team that made significant progress was Oklahoma, who will be the other team in the Sugar Bowl. I mentioned 2003 earlier. Oklahoma was in the Sugar Bowl that year of course, and Nick Saban got the better of Bob Stoops, who repaid the favor against Alabama in the 2014 Sugar Bowl 3 years ago. As a former New Orleans resident, welcome back to the Sooners and (other) Tigers. Oklahoma will play Auburn for the first time since the 1972 Sugar Bowl. This will be Auburn’s first Sugar Bowl in 12 years and only the second since 1989, so I guess that might have been a good reason to let them have this one.

West Virginia also made a significant stride even though beating Baylor wasn’t the best win, but it beat a loss or not playing at all.

Temple was also in the top 25 at this point last year before losing in the bowl game, but the Owls have another chance to finish in the final top 25 for the first time.

I’m not sure if Pitt has finished in my top 25 recently, but I don’t recall them doing so. Of course they were helped out by Penn St.’s win, but it was more about the losses by Navy and Virginia Tech.

Top 25

rank/team/prev
1 Alabama 1
2 Clemson 3
3 Ohio St. 2
4 Penn St. 6
5 Washington 5
6 W. Michigan 7
7 Michigan 4
8 Oklahoma 12
9 Wisconsin 8
10 Florida St. 10
11 Colorado 9
12 Boise St. 11
13 USC 13
14 West Virginia 21
15 S. Florida 14
16 Tennessee 16
17 Stanford 17
18 Okie St. 15
19 Louisville 20
20 Nebraska 19
21 Florida 18
22 Temple —
23 Houston 23
24 Auburn 22
25 Pittsburgh —

All 128 Teams

Out of rankings: (24) Virginia Tech, (25) Navy

SEC Wednesday #13: Thanksgiving Edition

In College Football, General LSU, Preview, SEC Wednesdays on November 24, 2016 at 4:01 PM

Last Week

I haven’t been right about an LSU line since Missouri. I justifiably felt really good when LSU had a great chance to go up 11 midway through the second quarter, but the second touchdown never came. It’s baffling to me that LSU scored almost 40 against Arkansas on the road but only scored 10 against a decimated Florida team at home the very next week.

I’ll talk about Texas A&M more below of course, but feel free to check out my LSU/A&M Rivalry blog. Despite the offensive deficiencies, LSU has not allowed more than 21 points all season, and A&M has not scored that many against LSU since the Aggies joined the SEC.

But the good news is I got every other FBS game right against the spread last week. The only other winner I got wrong was Vanderbilt. That was also kind of bizarre that Ole Miss scored 23 points in the fourth quarter against Texas A&M but only came up with 17 all game against Vanderbilt (including 7 after the game was out of reach). Even worse than that, they made Vandy’s offense look terrific. It could have been ugly had the Commodores not let off the gas after three quarters. I knew Vandy would run better, but I was surprised by almost twice as many yards per pass.

Vanderbilt's Ralph Webb ran for three touchdowns against Ole Miss and is only 27 yards short of the school career rushing record.

Vanderbilt’s Ralph Webb ran for three touchdowns against Ole Miss and is only 27 yards short of the school career rushing record.

I pretty much nailed everything else. There was no reason to believe Georgia would win by over 20 or A&M would win by almost 30. Tennessee cleared the spread by 10, which was about as expected. It makes sense to beat Kentucky by 13 and Missouri by 26 in consecutive games. I don’t know why the gamblers have over-valued the Tigers in all but one game in the last two months.

I really was not seeing Mississippi St. beating Arkansas under any circumstances (not that that’s a guarantee), but I was a bit surprised neither defense showed up. 100 combined points in an SEC FOOTBALL game? Were the quarterbacks Johnny Manziel and Cam Newton?

It’s usually pretty easy to pick the SEC team to beat FCS opponents. There were no real scares, although South Carolina winning by 13 (against a team that is winless on the road) is nothing to write home about.

I didn’t provide an updated total last week (probably a result of subconscious embarrassment), but my records improve to 82-20 and 40-45-1 against the spread.

SEC WED

Next Week

As is my custom, I am looking at the line on Wednesday even though this is published on Thursday.

I’ll take A&M +7.5. Maybe the LSU team that went to Arkansas shows back up and we win by 28, but last week we looked like we would struggle to win a rematch with Missouri by 7.5 or more. Ed Orgeron’s only road loss as an interim coach was @Notre Dame in his second game in 2013 (4-0 on the road as an interim coach since). I guess I’ll pick us to win, but I’m not confident at all. If I were an A&M fan, I wouldn’t be confident either though.

Speaking of Missouri and Arkansas, again I don’t see Arkansas being as bad or Missouri being as good as the gamblers do. The Hogs won by 16 in Starkville, so I have no idea why they don’t win by 8 in Columbia.

Georgia has had a problem with showing up in unexciting games against mediocre opponents. I don’t think the chance to close out the season with a home win over the Rambling Wreck qualifies. I also don’t think Georgia Tech is as good as a team like Tennessee and will beat them despite a great effort from the silver britches.

The two teams have the same record, and Georgia has played the better schedule. I have to go with the home team to win, and 4 points makes it hard to try to split the difference. I think if you played the game 10 times, Georgia wins by 4 to 14 points at least half the time, and there might be one in there they run away with.

Ole Miss didn’t play well in Nashville, but I don’t think that means they let Mississippi St. eliminate them from bowl eligibility. Do they win by 7.5 though? I’m going to guess yes based on the Bulldogs’ last couple of games, but I would not put money on it.

Maybe this year will be the exception, but rivalry games can generally be expected to stay within a couple of touchdowns more often than not. None of these next three underdogs are 3-8 and on a 6-game conference losing streak like Auburn was in 2012.

Louisville has played well at home, but I don’t know if home field is enough to go from losing to Houston by 26 to beating Kentucky by over 26. The Cardinals’ last home win was over Wake Forest by 32. Kentucky is better than Wake and is coming of a virtual bye against Austin Peay. Louisville hasn’t beaten Kentucky by more than 18 since 2006 despite the fact that the Wildcats had two 2-10 teams over that span. I think a Louisville win by between 14 and 21 points is most likely, but don’t discount the possibility that it could go down to the wire like it did two years ago even though the Wildcats entered that game on a five-game losing streak.

Against recent experience, I’m going to pick against Alabama. I just feel like if I finally break and pick them they won’t beat the spread. Auburn is a weird team that struggled in the last two weeks of the SEC schedule, but I just find it hard to imagine that they don’t find some inner strength to make it competitive. This is strange, but if Alabama is ever tempted to look ahead, this might be the situation. 17.5 is a relative beat-down compared to similar games. Alabama didn’t win by that last year, and the Tigers are improved. I don’t think the Tide plays better than they did last year in this game.

South Carolina is a mediocre team, but they have not lost ugly once (although I do scratch my head a bit over the Mississippi St. game back in Week 2). Clemson has won ugly more than they’ve won any other way. So I’ll take the Gamecocks +24.

About half the time Tennessee-Vanderbilt comes down to one possession. I think this is such a year. Vandy just beat another annual rival in Ole Miss handily at home, and this game is also at home. Obviously most of the time the Commodores are not playing for a bowl berth (even though they went to three in a row from 2011 to 2013). That has to add a little bit of motivation. I’ll take Vandy +7.5 but not to win. Apart from the three seasons I mentioned, losing close games is just more often than not something they do.

Same line for Florida-Florida St., but the home team is favored in this one. Like Georgia vs. Georgia Tech, the teams have the same number of wins (the Noles have an additional loss though). Actually in this one Florida has a weaker schedule, but I’d argue the Gators had a better conference schedule. Averaging in weak non-conference opponents can be misleading.

I’m going to go against the odds and pick Florida to win. Normally I pick the home team to win in a game like this, but I just have a weird feeling. Florida wouldn’t let LSU beat them 4 in a row for only the second time ever even though that was on the road. My guess is they won’t let the Seminoles beat them 4 in a row for the first time since 1990 (and third time ever) even though that will be on the road. The Gators’ last win in the series was at Florida St. in 2012 when both teams entered the game with 10-1 records.

Week 13 Top 25 and Comments

In College Football, College Football Playoff, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 22, 2016 at 8:38 PM

Since I didn’t get a chance to post my rankings blog until today, I’m delaying the SEC Wednesday blog to Thursday. Of course I will try to release it by game time on Thursday, but you may want to check the blog directly in case I’m delayed in one of the various ways I share this.

Before I get to the teams, I wanted to note that the SEC fell out of the top spot of the top-40 conference rankings but not the top-to-bottom ones. There is only one SEC team in my top 10 now, and of course LSU fell out of my top 40. The middle-of-the-pack SEC teams do enough to hurt the higher teams but don’t do enough to put themselves in the top 40.

It’s been strange to have the top-to-bottom so at odds with the top-40 rankings this season.

Top 40:
1. ACC
2. Big Ten
3. SEC
4. Pac-12

Top to Bottom:
1. SEC
2. ACC
3. Pac-12
4. Big Ten

The Big Ten East takes top division in my standings. It did so with its top three teams alone even though both the SEC West and ACC Coastal have more top-40 teams apiece. I don’t average out the divisions, but I would guess the SEC West would be #1 if I did. Maybe I’ll add room for that in the off-season.

The only thing I have to contribute to the playoff conversation is that the first three spots look pretty straightforward (Alabama by winning 2 games, Clemson by winning 2 games, and a 1-loss Big Ten champion or 1-loss non-champion Ohio St.). Even though they’re ahead now, the Sooners have a disadvantage against the Huskies because Washington potentially has two games left instead of one.

If Ohio St. beats Michigan, there is also a strong possibility that the Big XII would be shut out even if Washington were to lose. It would be hard to put the Sooners ahead of a two-loss Big Ten champion (which would be inevitable if Penn St., Ohio St., and Wisconsin all win this weekend). It’s worth noting that one of the teams to beat Oklahoma was Ohio St.

In addition to Oklahoma and Washington, Colorado also make a significant move upwards. The bad news for Washington and Colorado is that now both of their rivalry opponents are damaged as Utah also lost to Oregon. Colorado has not clinched the South, but obviously that should be the opponent that Washington should hope for.

The Pac-12 South will be decided in Boulder, where Colorado has not beaten Utah since 1957.

The Pac-12 South will be decided in Boulder, where Colorado has not beaten Utah since 1957.

I was surprised a little bit by how high Florida climbed in the top 25, but I expected them to make the top 25 with a win. LSU has a long way to go to make the top 25, but it’s not impossible with two quality wins (A&M and a bowl game).

Stanford, USC, and Virginia Tech garnered wins over losing teams who weren’t too terrible, but their progress had more to do with losses by others. The Hokies are one win away from getting the honor of playing Clemson for the ACC title, and USC makes the Pac-12 title game if Utah beats Colorado.

Top 25

rank/team/prev
1 Alabama 1
2 Clemson 2
3 Ohio St. 3
4 Michigan 4
5 Penn St. 5
6 Oklahoma 13
7 Boise St. 8
8 Washington 12
9 Wisconsin 9
10 W. Michigan 7
11 Tennessee 10
12 Colorado 23
13 Louisville 6
14 Florida St. 14
15 Nebraska 16
16 Okie St. 19
17 Houston 21
18 Florida —
19 Auburn 11
20 Texas A&M 17
21 S. Florida 24
22 USC —
23 Stanford —
24 Virginia Tech —
25 N. Carolina 20

All 128 Teams

Out of rankings:
15 Wash. St.
18 West Virginia
22 Utah
25 Troy

LSU-Alabama Preview and Analysis

In College Football, General LSU, Preview, Rivalry on November 4, 2016 at 7:20 PM

I’ll start by saying there are some other interesting games this weekend, but I can’t even think about that. If you play on LSU-Alabama weekend a few days after a historic 7-game World Series and a few days before an apparently close presidential election, my focus will be limited.

I promise this is the last time until I update it, but I keep getting a ton of views for it, so once again I’ll give the link to the LSU-Alabama series, but I do want to focus on a few aspects that I haven’t covered in depth.

In the early days of the Miles-Saban portion of this series, LSU was able to beat Alabama by playing old-school hard-nosed football (with a few wrinkles) a little bit better when the Tide was able to intimidate most teams by its style of play.

Les Miles congratulates Nick Saban in January 2012 after the BCS championship.

Les Miles congratulates Nick Saban in January 2012 after the BCS championship.

LSU went 3-2 in that span, but the worst Tiger team of that span took Alabama to overtime, and the best Alabama team relied in part on a drive that should have ended in an interception if the officials had seen the play better. So it could have easily been at least 4-1. Sometimes the team that’s having a clearly better season just wins even if the match-up isn’t favorable.

Then LSU had more issues with coming up with anything but a one-dimensional offense.

In the 2011 regular season game (5 years ago tomorrow), LSU had an element of surprise: although obviously he didn’t engineer any touchdown drives, LSU’s more mobile quarterback Jordan Jefferson came off the bench and did a good job controlling the ball and spreading the field. The Tigers had a great defense that year, but even that unit couldn’t have stopped Alabama if the offense had kept producing quick three-and-outs (as would be demonstrated a couple of months later).

In the 2011 championship game (in January 2012), Alabama was a lot more prepared for Jefferson, Jefferson had a bad game (he completed passes, but they were almost all roughly at the line of scrimmage), and the LSU coaching staff was too stubborn to try anything else.

2012 didn’t require a different quarterback, but LSU still forced Alabama into unexpected situations when Zach Mettenberger finally looked comfortable in the position for the first time against a quality defense. The Tigers completed a series of long passes to get into a position where they were driving down the field with a chance to put the game out of reach.

Then LSU started playing not to lose. They ran the ball and tried to run the clock to play for a field goal (even though that would have only put them up 6). The fact that the field goal was missed might not have mattered because Alabama would score a touchdown on the ensuing drive to win by 4.

AJ McCarron completed the winning touchdown to T.J. Yelton on a screen pass in 2012.

AJ McCarron completed the winning touchdown to T.J. Yeldon on a screen pass in 2012.

So I would argue in both seasons when LSU had a more open offense was when they were able to find success, but obviously the calendar year of 2012 still gave LSU the first two of five consecutive losses.

Then Cam Cameron became the offensive coordinator. Although he and Mettenberger did well to tie the game at 17 early in the third quarter, the offense sputtered after that. The longest drive after that was for 7 plays, 50 yards, and ended in a punt. The other two drives went for a total of -9 yards.

This put pressure on the defense, which finally broke down toward the end of the game. Alabama outscored LSU 21-0 in the final 20 minutes of the game to win 38-17.

LSU nearly took advantage of a late fumble to win in 2014 before falling in overtime, but the win would have been despite the offense not because of it. Following some improvements that had been made by his predecessors Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier, Lane Kiffin didn’t do a great job in that game, but he called plays well enough to give the Tide a late field-goal opportunity which they converted and of course the winning touchdown in OT. I think those improvements are another reason that the gap between LSU and Alabama seemed to have grown in the last couple of years.

The only wrinkle in 2015 was a couple of surprising downfield throws from Brandon Harris; but once the Alabama defense adjusted its reads, that was off the table and LSU didn’t seem to have anything else to fall back on. After closing to within 3 points at halftime, LSU gave up 17 unanswered points and only scored again due to a fumble recovery deep in Alabama territory.

If Etling struggles like Jordan Jefferson did in the national championship game or like Brandon Harris did last year, LSU doesn’t win, but I think he has what it takes to play as well as Mettenberger did, which would give the Tigers a good chance.

Unlike Miles, Orgeron is not an offensive coach, but he did influence the direction of the new offense partly by dismissing Cam Cameron. He seemed to like the kind of offenses Norm Chow and Lane Kiffin ran at USC (and I suppose Clay Helton, who continued to run the offense during Orgeron’s season as interim coach in Los Angeles).

Steve Ensminger, who was a relative unknown as the tight ends coach, has done a good job in adapting the current playbook to suit what Orgeron had in mind, but he hasn’t been tested by a defense like this yet. Regardless, if LSU loses, I don’t think a lack of offensive creativity or playing too conservatively toward the end would be the reason for the loss.

New offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger

New offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger

I’m not minimizing the importance of defense, but I think that’s been a steadier unit in these games for both teams. I don’t see a deviation from that general rule this year.

To pick up a little bit on my point about creativity and playing too conservatively, there were at least elements of a prevent defense in 2012 and 2014 that I don’t think helped. The Tigers got themselves in a spot of bother against Mississippi St. in September, partly due to an on-sides kick, but I think LSU DC Dave Aranda is smarter about that than John Chavis was.

I know Texas A&M isn’t as talented on defense, so I don’t want to be too unfair to Chavis, but I think the video below demonstrates some of the risks when Chavis doesn’t put a lot of players in the box against a team like Alabama. It also shows how important the performance of guys like Kendall Beckwith and Arden Key will be. Calling the right play is one thing, but if you don’t have players read and respond to what happens during the play, you’re probably not going to look very good as a coordinator.

http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=17967092

The more established coordinators Kiffin and Aranda might be the superior chess match (see here for some discussion of that). I’m not attacking Steve Ensminger’s or Jeremy Pruitt’s mental faculties, but Ensminger is limited somewhat by inheriting someone else’s offense and by having a quarterback who (despite being around college football a while) still isn’t completely comfortable as a starter for this team. I don’t know quite as much about Pruitt, but as Gary Danielson explains below, it also seems like he’s limited in how much latitude he has by another coach (in his case Saban) and to some extent by personnel. On the other hand, the uncertainty might make the latter pairing more interesting.

http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=17956565

I try to be cool and rational when writing, but I’m really excited to see what happens, It’s not just that I’m a fan of LSU, but it’s also a bit of intellectual curiosity as to how the chess match will play out.

Week 6 Top 25 and LSU Comments

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on October 4, 2016 at 6:46 PM

Orgeron Tenure Weeks 1 and 2

Since I haven’t posted about LSU in a while, I’ll start with just a few comments. Beating Missouri doesn’t mean a whole lot on its own, but the way the Fighting Tigers did it has to mean something. Mississippi St. is a similar team, and LSU could never quite put them away. Granted, LSU was up 17 somewhat late against the Bulldogs, but even despite the onside kick, State would have never been able to make it close had the LSU offense not stagnated.

LSU is given about a 4% chance of running the table in the regular season, but it improves to about 10% if you allow for one loss.

The Fighting Tigers scored their first points of the season in the fourth quarter. Even though the game was over, I think the changes to the play-calling and to the practice schedule are already having an impact on stamina.

I think everyone knows the LSU coaches would be crazy not to call a lot of running plays with the current team, but it doesn’t take a genius to know that if you don’t have a particularly mobile quarterback (although he can pick up 5-10 yards in a pinch), it’s probably a good idea to throw some play-action in there somewhat regularly.

Derrius Guice (left) and Darrel Williams combined for 314 yards and 6 touchdowns against Mizzou.  LSU's total offense of 634 yards was the most in an SEC game in program history.

Derrius Guice (left) and Darrel Williams combined for 314 yards and 6 touchdowns against Mizzou. LSU’s total offense of 634 yards was the most in an SEC game in program history.

A lot of LSU fans have whined about the I formation. If you soften up the defense with the pass effectively and you can tempt the defense into focusing on the wrong part of the line, it can be a great formation. It just doesn’t work very well if it’s play after play with the same blockers and the same running backs doing the same things. You can at least switch up the people in the backfield, which they finally did in this game.

Orgeron talked about using elements of the USC offense (not 100% sure if he meant Kiffin or Chow), and I think there were a few minor things that were adapted, although obviously a major overhaul doesn’t happen in a week. New offensive coordinator Ensminger handled two running backs well, Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams. The full-time fullback J.D. Moore was also helpful.

There was a vertical passing game that was at least credible. It’s a long way from what Matt Leinart did, but the defense at least had to be mindful of the receivers.

I don’t know if Leonard Fournette will play next week, but I’m hopeful. I know sometimes the next day it feels worse, but Fournette was able to play (but limping) toward the end of the game against Auburn. I doubt anything happened since then. Maybe there is something major they’re just not telling us.

I know we’re not short on people in the backfield who can gain yards, but Fournette does have a gear that Guice doesn’t have, and he’s not as likely to slow himself down with stutter steps and hesitations. Being tackled inside the 10 versus scoring a touchdown might make a much bigger difference next week.

I almost always enjoy this rivalry though. This isn’t the best game on paper, but I think it’s much more likely to have a stereotypical SEC final score. 21-17 would not surprise me a bit. A lot of these games have been very close over the years. Click here for more on the rivalry.

Rankings Commentary

LSU still has a long way to go before they’re relevant here.

I don’t like to alter what the computer tells me, but for the first couple of weeks of the computer ranking, I think it’s OK to substitute my own #1 and perhaps include a team over another in the top 10 or top 25.

I need to say upfront that I messed up by ranking Louisville so high the last two weeks. When they beat Florida St. so easily, I thought they would also beat Clemson. Before the Florida St. game, I had them #23; so keep in mind they’re only one spot lower now.

Most of the new additions are just teams lucky enough not to have a loss or it’s fairly obvious that they beat a team who fell out. An exception is Air Force, which beat an undefeated Navy team (easily) and moving into the driver’s seat for the Commander-In-Chief Trophy. Navy would have been ranked last week had it been an objective system last week, so the Midshipmen may make it back at some point.

Although he completed only 8 passes, Air Force quarterback Nate Romine led the Falcons to a 28-14 win over Navy.

Although he completed only 8 passes, Air Force quarterback Nate Romine led the Falcons to a 28-14 win over Navy.

I realized that with my new formula, losses aren’t going to subtract enough points this early, so I modified the formula slightly for the purposes of this blog (I did not change my mind about the formula on the ratings site). I tried to rely on objective numbers as much as possible though. I’ll explain how I did that.

I am keeping Alabama #1 (I don’t like to change #1 without a clear problem with the current #1, and I especially don’t like to do this if the computer #1 will play the current #1 soon), and I’m making Western Michigan #11 for now (I’m a little bit skeptical of how good they are, and it just a little bit too far on one week; U. Miami moved farther, but it was justified). Then for #17 to #23, I actually like the order better in the formula on the site. It is somewhat objective, but I chose one objective order of teams over another.

I’m hoping I won’t feel the need to do anything like this next week. If Alabama loses, I plan to follow the site from beginning to end. If Alabama wins, they stay #1; and if Tennessee wins as well, I expect the winner of the game between Tennessee and Alabama will be the computer #1 in two weeks. Their respective opponents on Saturday are no joke though.

I know Western Michigan is a weird one, but they keep beating teams with decent records. It also doesn’t hurt that they don’t have a bye week yet. Also, their FCS opponent hasn’t lost a game against the FCS. It’s kind of a quirk in my system at this point if you’ve played an FCS team like that because very few (if any) of these teams will finish that way.

The system as a whole is designed to be ideal at the end of the year of course, not now. But I still like to know how far along teams are.

Tennessee and Louisville

It makes perfect sense that Tennessee is #1 in my system because they’ve had a big game almost every week. This means they’re the farthest along toward a national championship. If they were to have 3 more intervals that were just as strong, they’d probably have twice as many points as Alabama had last season.

Tennessee celebrating the win at Georgia.

Tennessee celebrating the win at Georgia.

But of course that won’t happen. They’ll play Tennessee Tech, Missouri, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina. So far, the only somewhat easy opponent statistically was Ohio, which nonetheless has a winning record. The non-conference opponents may lose ground as the season goes on. If Florida loses to LSU, that would hurt the quality of that win and the quality of the East as a whole. Same thing if Georgia were to lose to Auburn, for instance.

I know things are unstable right now, which is part of why Louisville fell so dramatically (as I mentioned, it was also partly my fault). All their opponents lost. Adding four opponents’ losses makes a big difference at this stage.

You might notice Maryland up there. They have no losses, and the teams they beat also have the same number of combined FBS wins as the teams Louisville beat (but Maryland has no losses).

Anyway, Louisville may fall out of the top 25 next week as they are idle; but if it comes down to Florida St. or Louisville, I will give the Cardinals the edge for about 43 reasons. That being said, my formula is win/loss (although close home wins only count only get 9/10 of the credit and close away losses only count as 9/10 of the normal “debit”), so it would arguably just be one reason. It will be a long time before Louisville has another shot at a strong win, possibly not until Houston in November. Until then, 1-1 against good teams (provided Florida St. even qualifies as a good team after next week) only takes them so far.

Top 25

rank/team/previous
1 Alabama 1
2 Tennessee 2
3 Michigan 8
4 Clemson 4
5 Texas A&M 6
6 Washington 19
7 Houston 7
8 Ohio St. 9
9 West Virginia 21
10 U. Miami —
11 W. Michigan 24
12 Wisconsin 5
13 Stanford 10
14 Wake Forest 12
15 Boise St. 13
16 Nebraska 16
17 N. Carolina 25
18 Arkansas 11
19 Florida 15
20 Air Force —
21 Maryland —
22 Baylor —
23 Cal —
24 Louisville 3
25 Virginia Tech 22

Out of rankings: (14) Ga. Tech, (17) Utah, (18) San Diego St., (20) Florida St., (23) Arizona St.

Full ratings 1-128

The King is Dead; Long Live Coach O

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game on September 25, 2016 at 6:08 PM

This is the thought I left off with last night: “Anyway, the off-season decisions are water under the bridge. All you can do in this situation (assuming a decision isn’t made immediately) is win the rest of your games.”

It’s still true even though, as you probably know by now, a decision was made immediately.

Les Miles (with Larry Coker) before his first bowl game at LSU. So many great (and not-so-great) moments since, but yet it doesn't seem that long ago.

Les Miles (with Larry Coker) before his first bowl game at LSU. So many great (and not-so-great) moments since, but yet it doesn’t seem that long ago.

Before I get into it, I want to say that I’m grateful for Les Miles coming to LSU all those years ago. He’s done more than anyone in their right mind could have anticipated. As Joe Alleva said, he’s been a great ambassador for LSU, and as far as I can tell, he’s an all-around good person. I think he still has the best winning percentage of any head coach of a substantial number of games in LSU history. If you win 80 games more than you lose, you’ve done something at a program. I’ll research the specifics at another time.

He also seems to be going gracefully as he took part in the meeting with the players held with AD Joe Alleva and interim head coach Ed Orgeron. According to at least one of the players, Miles said he supports the decision. Some cynics say Les has been laughing all the way to the bank since the contract extension after the 2012 season; but I think he really cares about the players and the program going forward, so hopefully his reassurances will help to smooth the transition.

I’ve been calling for Cam Cameron to be fired for a while, but I also have nothing against him as a person. I just didn’t think he was suited to developing teenagers into good quarterbacks. He did a good job with Mettenberger, but Mettenberger was already a mostly-finished product.

I wish them and their families the best with whatever they do going forward.

As I said multiple times, if it were up to me, getting rid of Cam Cameron would have been an absolute requirement after last season, but given that Alleva’s attitude was essentially “as long as we keep calling you head coach, you have control over your staff”, I don’t blame him for pulling the plug the way he did.

This team is too good to have lost the game last night. Maybe that’s why I believed we had won it for so long. Assuming the clocks were run correctly and the replay booth did its job properly, all it needed was one guy getting out of bounds on one of the final plays.
I thought they would have waited until at least after the Florida game to make this move since the next week after Florida is a non-conference game against USM, but I guess the risk of losing another game they shouldn’t have lost due to Miles and/or Cameron was too high.

If the win against Missouri is jeopardized by this, I guess trying to save the season was a meaningless exercise anyway.

People have said LSU is out in the West, but last I checked Wisconsin isn’t an SEC team. Provided Auburn loses again (which I frankly can’t imagine not happening), LSU still controls its own destiny right now.

Ed Orgeron during his time as interim head coach at USC

Ed Orgeron during his time as interim head coach at USC

Any USC fan will probably tell you that in hindsight it was a great idea to make Ed Orgeron the interim coach, and it was a mistake to let him go. So I have no problem with making hm the interim coach. I don’t know if he’s the best option for permanent head coach (Ole Miss fans probably don’t remember him so fondly), but if he goes 11-0 or even 8-1, it would be hard to argue against him. I have my ideas about other potential candidates, but there are about two months for interested candidates to make themselves available if Orgeron’s position turns out not to be permanent.

So I think the timing is really good. As well as giving candidates time to prepare and allowing for communications behind the scenes (as opposed to the desperate scramble that firing Les after last year would have been), there is what in the old days would have constituted a whole season left to play to give Orgeron a trial run. (For instance, when LSU won the national title in 1958, the bowl game was only the 11th game of the season.)

My fear has been that we could descend into mediocrity with a coaching change like so many other programs have. I mentioned USC; another example is Oregon. Notre Dame and Oklahoma aren’t looking too hot this season either. This was the team where Les could prove he still has it. Maybe if he’d given someone else the reins of the offense, he could have, but he didn’t.

Oregon and Pete Jenkins after a USC win in the L.A. Coliseum in 2013.

Oregon and Pete Jenkins after a USC win in the L.A. Coliseum in 2013.

Speaking of which, the staff isn’t official until tomorrow (although the players seem to have already confirmed the below with the media), but I’ve also read that long-time LSU defensive coach Pete Jenkins, who also helped out Saban in his first year, will help with defensive line duties since Orgeron will have other matters to attend to. Jenkins had also joined Orgeron at USC when Orgeron became the interim head coach there.

The offensive coordinator will apparently be current tight ends coach and former LSU quarterback Steve Ensminger. I thought it might have been the running backs and OL coach, but I’m relaxed about it either way since I don’t think anyone will call plays worse than Cameron. Etling does seem to like throwing to tight ends anyway. I guess it’s Etling’s Big Ten background. Ensminger was most recently a quarterbacks coach at Auburn under Tommy Tuberville in 2003 before moving to tight ends but has extensive experience as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator at multiple schools.

New offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger

New offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger

To be fair, I felt that the series of plays LSU called last night was not bad, but I don’t think the players were ready to execute the plays as well as they should have been. There was too much uncertainty and confusion in the final plays. We don’t have to call fancy plays; we have to have a team ready to execute what is called, and we should be fine.

Missouri isn’t a bad team. They nearly beat Georgia last week, and they had a good non-conference win over BYU late last season. But this is the kind of team, particularly at home, that LSU should be able to dispense with without too much trouble.

I think it’s important that we not only win but have the luxury of giving Fournette some rest. We’ve been putting too much on his plate, and he wasn’t at full strength at the end of the game last night. That led to one of the sacks, and obviously sacks cause you to lose time.

The real test will be at Florida in two weeks; but regardless of the outcome, I doubt that we’ll feel that after that game we should have kept Les and Cam and it would have been better.

Instant Reaction: LSU vs. Auburn 2016

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game on September 24, 2016 at 6:53 PM

First of all, given the limited information for the television viewer, the replay decision seemed to have been wrong. There has to be indisputable evidence to overturn the call on the field, which was that the snap was made on time, and the touchdown pass to give LSU a 19-18 win was completed. There is no doubt about the touchdown pass being completed if the first call were correct. If such evidence exists to overturn the call on the field, it was not shown.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I understand that the play is not to be ruled dead if the snap is already in progress unless there is a dead-ball foul or something of that nature. This seems to be the rule every time there is a borderline delay-of-game situation, I just can’t find clear textual confirmation. Even if the quarterback has to be in the process of receiving the ball, there still wasn’t enough to overturn the call on the field based on what was shown.

DJ Chark's winning touchdown that wasn't.

DJ Chark’s winning touchdown that wasn’t.

There is a picture that I’ll post below where it appears that the clock is at all zeros and there is no snap being made (although hard to tell from a still picture); but once the play clock starts, you can’t tell. My next question is whether they started at the same time or different times. If they started at different times, maybe the play clock started at the correct time. (No whistle could be heard in the replay.)

000

There are two additional things I need to see established before I will believe the call was correct: (1) another still after this with no movement OR for someone to point out in the rules that the quarterback has to be touching the ball when time runs out for it to count as a timely snap; and (2) the two clocks started at the correct time, but the game clock went to 0:00 because it was less than 0:01.0 when the play was whistled ready, OR the game clock started when the play was whistled ready but the play clock did not.

It also seemed like there was unnecessary time taken off the clock after the previous completion (which was called back).

This is the third time in seven trips to Auburn that there has been some kind of referee foolishness that decided the game (see rivalry series blog). The first time was in 2004 when Auburn’s winning extra point was blocked, but there was a questionable penalty called regarding the LSU player who blocked the ball using another player for support (Auburn was successful in the re-kick and won 10-9). In 2006, there were multiple questionable calls, including pass interference when LSU was on offense, in a 7-3 loss. So this is the third time LSU has “lost” to Auburn in such a way at Auburn, but LSU won in 2008 and 2012. So in seven games, 2 LSU wins, 2 clear Auburn wins, and 3 disputed Auburn wins.

The good news is I had already started writing about the loss, so at least those few paragraphs below are not wasted. Also, I didn’t have enough time to delete them since I was too busy celebrating the win that was eventually taken away.  I guess now I know how Tennessee fans felt in 2010.  See video below if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

All right, well, I never expected the Auburn or Wisconsin games to be easy this year. All we needed was a fourth-quarter score, and I think we win both games. Against Wisconsin, we were in field-goal position and turned the ball over in the last minute of the game.

It’s not like we haven’t been able to do this in the past. I know the offense hasn’t been good the past couple of seasons, but we still got what should have been game-winning scores against Alabama and Ole Miss two years ago when many of the current juniors were freshmen who were getting significant playing time. That was an 8-5 team, and Alabama (who would go on to get a last-second field goal and win in overtime) and Ole Miss were top-5 teams when LSU played them. How was I to know that two years later, as one of the most-experienced teams in the country, we wouldn’t be able to figure out how to beat or tie the other team in fourth-quarter points?

Had we gotten the field goal against Auburn, then we would have only needed a field goal at the end instead of a touchdown. I know it’s easier to get into field goal position when you need a touchdown, but again, I think based on what we were doing at the end of the game on offense, I think we could do that. Not to mention that all Etling had to do was look toward the middle of the field on 2nd and 1 and it would have been an easy pitch-and-catch for the probable win (although Auburn might have had a chance to hit a winning field goal).

One of the reasons I like college football is it’s not particularly predictable. Of course people will call me a homer because I expected LSU to do a lot better than it looks like they’ll do this season. LSU could easily be in better position nationally right now than Alabama is, but once again it seems that Alabama is just that little bit better when it counts the most. At least I predicted that much when I picked the Tide #1.

I just would have never guessed that LSU would have two losses that were this close. Regardless, my reasoning for predicting a good LSU season was sound. A lot of people whose careers are based on college football picked LSU for the top four, so that’s really an annoying attack I’ve gotten.  If people who do this for a living said LSU wouldn’t get out of September without two losses, I might have re-evaluated my position.

Also, feel free to give me credit any time for going against the experts by ranking Wisconsin and not ranking Notre Dame or USC in the preseason.

Les Miles

Not surprisingly, people are calling for Les Miles’ head already.  I don’t agree that the last sequence was his fault though.  What was he supposed to do?  Tell Etling not to throw the ball on fourth down to put them in that situation?  Get on the field and snap the ball himself when it was whistled ready?  Ideally, there would have been more time, but there are only so many variables in actual game play you can control.

ap_les-miles_ap-photo3-wi-640x452

Les Miles being carried off the field the last time everyone said he was done.

I think the problem – more  than finishing the game – is there wasn’t a drastic change on offense that would have allowed LSU to run out the clock against Wisconsin and Auburn instead of having to try to score at the end in the first place.

Some people say the LSU AD was overruled by the president about keeping Miles.  If so, I thought he should have fired Cam Cameron as a substitute for firing Miles.  If Miles does not keep his job, some will say it’s because Les is just bad with quarterbacks (not to mention clock management), but I think his undoing will have been loyalty to Cam Cameron.

Etling has shown better control and the ability to execute a good drive, but obviously he hasn’t done so consistently.  The announcer who said he wasn’t an improvement over Harris didn’t know what he was talking about.  Cam was the one to bring in Etling, so I guess that was at least a marginally good thing; but we’ve had inept offenses for a few years now, so it doesn’t make up for his other inadequacies.

Anyway, the offseason decisions are water under the bridge.  All you can do in this situation (assuming a decision isn’t made immediately) is win the rest of your games.

 

Conference Summary and Week 4 Preview

In College Football, Conference Reports on September 23, 2016 at 6:13 PM

Guess which conference has the fewest losses in non-conference play? (discussion of conference losses will mean non-conference play below)

140812_EYE_SEC1.jpg.CROP.original-original

The SEC has only lost one (Vanderbilt to Georgia Tech) since opening weekend. Five of its 7 losses were against Power-5 opponents. Only the Mississippi St. upset at the hands of South Alabama and Kentucky’s loss to Southern Miss were not to that group.

big10_logo_detail

The Big Ten still has a higher overall average winning percentage, but it has faced twice as many FCS opponents, two of which were victorious. Also, although there are many Power-5 wins, they’re often not against quality opponents. Four of the wins were Duke, Iowa St., Oregon St., and Colorado.

In the SEC, on the other hand, four of the five wins against the Power-5 were against teams that were ranked in the preseason. 78% and 75% aren’t far enough apart to overcome the strength of schedule disparity, so I’d give the SEC a slight edge at this point, but it will depend on some future games, and the SEC will have more of them.

ACC
Pac-12

For #3, I’m going to go with the ACC. They played five SEC opponents as well as Oklahoma St. and Oregon. The Pac-12 has similar records against slightly worse teams.

american
big12logo

The Big XII is only 15-11 right now. The best wins were over Notre Dame and Pitt. Not only would I put them last among the Power-5, I would also argue the American (AAC) should go ahead.

The bottom tier of conferences is harder to rank. I would say the MAC and MWC are roughly even. The MAC would be ahead if it weren’t for the three FCS losses. The Sun Belt is a little better than CUSA. Mississippi St. is a better key win than Kentucky, and Southern Miss and Ohio are better than Bowling Green and Miami U.

Week 4 Preview

There are a few major inter-conference games this weekend. I already covered the SEC games.

I’ll address the ones going on right now first. If Eastern Michigan beats Wyoming, that could arguably break the MWC/MAC deadlock. TCU vs. SMU is another chance of an upset by the AAC over the Big XII.

Similar to TCU, Boise St. is only a story if they lose, but it’s still good to get a road Pac-12 win even if it is against Oregon St. Central Michigan is another G5 (meaning not in the Power-5 of ACC, Big XII, Big Ten, Pac-12, and SEC) team on the road that should probably win, at Virginia in their case.

Another game in the state of Virginia is East Carolina against Virginia Tech. The Pirates were able to beat North Carolina St. but were not so lucky against South Carolina. The Hokies have a chance to rehabilitate somewhat from their previous non-conference game against Tennessee.

BYU will play its fourth Power-5 opponent, this time traveling to West Virginia. The Cougars beat Arizona before losing to Utah and UCLA in close games.

I’ll be very interested in the Wisconsin-Michigan St. game, the big game between two ranked teams.

The Pac-12 has a couple of big games involving Southern California teams. USC is playing Utah right now, and UCLA plays Stanford tomorrow Of course Stanford beat USC last week, so they’re trying to sweep L.A.

I also wanted to mention there is a big game in the ACC Coastal between North Carolina and Pitt in conference openers for both.

Week 3 College Football Preview

In College Football, Preview on September 16, 2016 at 6:54 PM
Mississippi St. cowbell from the days when they regularly beat LSU.

Mississippi St. cowbell from the days when they regularly beat LSU.

LSU-Mississippi St. Rivalry blog (updated annually). Reminder that this is LSU’s most-played series.

So there are a couple of big games in the middle of the country – Michigan St.-Notre Dame and Ohio St.-Oklahoma – and one on either coast – USC-Stanford and Florida St.-Louisville.

FSU
lu
This is probably Florida St.’s toughest road test all year in their first ACC game. I’ve been a Louisville skeptic to this point; but the Cardinals were up 21-0 at one point two years ago, so good teams can have trouble visiting Louisville.  This would make a good baseball match-up too, come to think of it.

ohio st
okla
Ohio St. isn’t in conference, but the Buckeyes will have one of a few big tests in Norman. Later in the season, they will have trips to Wisconsin, Penn St., and Michigan St. This is why I thought they might have a few losses this season. I certainly suspected going into the year that this game would be one of them, but now I’m not so sure. Chances are inexperienced teams lose such games, but on paper Oklahoma should have beaten Houston, so who knows?

michsu
notre-dame1
I’ve also been a Notre Dame skeptic, and I’m not quite sure why they’re ranked, but at least for a few hours maybe they’ll be ranked roughly correctly if they win. The Irish are playing at home though, so you can’t say they don’t have a chance even though I believe Michigan St. has the better team.

usc
stanford
USC has had trouble with Stanford over the years even when they’ve had a better team, and going to Stanford is an additional challenge. The Trojans did win there two years ago despite themselves, but they lost the previous two games there. USC also lost to Stanford last year, so this is an opportunity to take a big step forward. The Trojans have been expected to return to the glory days many times in recent years, but it hasn’t materialized.

There are a couple of other interesting games involving Pac-12 teams, but not quite as compelling and not conference games. Oregon-Nebraska is a top-25-adjacent matchup. Oregon was near the top of football a bit more recently, but this would also be a really strong win for them in the effort to go back. Another is Texas-Cal. I don’t think Cal is a good team, but Texas needs to do well to back up its ranking.

I think the SEC (see my SEC Wednesday entry for more) will continue to have more unknowns than knowns. For instance, if LSU wins, it won’t really prove much. If Miss St. wins, then they’re just inconsistent; although 2-0 in conference is always a good way to start.

If Ole Miss beats Bama (the only game between two ranked teams), it would be a big deal; but I’d be pretty shocked by that. A&M at Auburn is a good test for both teams, but they both have so far to go from last season, it won’t prove either is going to compete for the West.