theknightswhosay

Posts Tagged ‘USC’

Championship Saturday Viewing Guide & Bowl Speculation

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, Preview, Rankings Commentary on November 30, 2018 at 4:24 PM

I was trying to get something out timely earlier in the week without being too convoluted, but I may have lost some people in the discussion of some of the various outcomes, so that’s what I want to focus on here.  Except for a few comments toward the end, I’m not talking about how things should be or who’s going to win, but I want to let people know teams to support depending on cheering interest.

BASICS

The top 4 teams will play in the Cotton and Orange Bowls.  The semifinal bowls and the other bowls that are part of the rotation and affiliated with the CFP committee are called the NY6 for New Year’s Six. Don’t get fixated on that name either though.  There are New Years Day bowls that are not those bowls, and all of those bowls won’t be on New Years Day.  The name just refers to the six bowls that are part of the CFP process and therefore part of the semifinal rotation. 

Champions of the SEC, ACC, Big XII, Pac-12, and Big Ten MUST be in NY6 bowls as must the best team from some other conference(most likely Central Florida).

The Sugar Bowl will be Big XII vs. SEC, and the Rose will be Pac-12 vs. Big Ten.  It appears that the Pac-12 representative will be the champion in the Rose Bowl and not anyone else in the other bowls, although there may be a route for Washington St. as discussed in the last blog.

Why does this matter?  The most likely visible result would be that even if they lose and even if they’re ranked well below other candidates for at-large spots, Texas is most likely going to the Sugar Bowl (I think the only way this won’t happen is if Georgia, Clemson, and Oklahoma all win).  Champions take precedence though.  So even if Michigan and Ohio St. are both higher-ranked Big Ten teams, Northwestern would be in the Rose Bowl by winning.  Likewise, even if Oklahoma is ranked higher than Texas, the Longhorns will be in the Sugar Bowl if they win the championship over the Sooners.  The SEC champion will be in the top 4 no matter what though and therefore not in the Sugar Bowl.

When it comes to following the games, the first thing to note is the games on Friday don’t really matter to anyone but fans of those playing.  Whether it’s Utah or Washington, the winner of the Pac-12 championship will go to the Rose Bowl and the loser will go to a non-NY6 bowl. Whether it’s Buffalo or Northern Illinois, both the winner and the loser of the MAC championship will be in non-NY6 bowls.

One other thing to note: since I wrote this,Central Florida has emerged as the popular pick to play in the Fiesta.  I don’t know if the media is responding to some inside tip with that, but basically the Fiesta and Peach Bowl teams are interchangeable anyway.

WHAT TO HOPE FOR BY CHEERING INTEREST

Most fans who will be affected at all by this weekend want their school to win and their conference to make the top 4 if that’s relevant, but there are a couple of fan bases worth elaborating upon. 

SEC/LSU fans

I touched on this in the last blog, but basically if you’re in the SEC and not an Alabama fan or don’t have some weird regional interest (such as you’re a Florida fan who lives in Atlanta and don’t want to travel), you want Georgia to upset Alabama and you DON’T want Clemson or Ohio St. to be upset (possibly wanting Urban Meyer to lose notwithstanding).  This would free up the Sugar Bowl for a third SEC team and allow other SEC teams to compete for other open slots. If Alabama wins, the Bulldogs will most likely take the SEC Sugar Bowl spot, but without another upset, there could still be third and fourth SEC teams in NY6 bowls.

The Oklahoma/Texas outcome probably (I’ll explain the situations below) won’t affect the SEC teams, so feel free to cheer for whichever you dislike less, although the outcome may influence for whom to cheer later.

No matter what happens, teams that are 9th and 10th with 3 losses (LSU and Florida) aren’t going to end up in the top 4, so even a series of upsets like in 2007 won’t put a team other than Alabama and Georgia in the top 4.

Georgia is currently in the top 4, but there is a strong likelihood that Oklahoma and/or Ohio St. winning this weekend would displace them after a Bulldog loss to Alabama.

I’ll explain why the upsets would hurt SEC teams.  The teams other than Alabama and Georgia are hoping to be in the “New Years 6 (NY6) but not top 4”category.  The SEC wants as few other teams to be in this category as possible. An upset by Pittsburgh, for instance, would put Pittsburgh in this category.  Same thing for Northwestern.  As I already explained, a potential Texas upset by itself is not going to change anything for the SEC (though it would take the Sooners out of consideration for the top 4).

So let’s say Alabama beats Georgia, Oklahoma beats Texas, Clemson beats Pitt, and Northwestern beats Ohio St. 

The following teams would all be in NY6 bowls:Central Florida, Clemson, Ohio St., Northwestern, Washington, Texas, Georgia and Michigan.  There would only be room for one other SEC team (probably Florida) in the Sugar, Fiesta, Rose, and Peach Bowls. 

Don’t quote me on these bowl picks (the Fiesta Bowl teams are interchangeable under the rules with the Peach Bowl teams, but the Sugar and Rose have fixed conference match-ups), but just to show why there would be no room for a second team…

Cotton: Alabama vs. Oklahoma

Orange: Notre Dame vs. Clemson

Sugar: Georgia vs. Texas

Peach: Florida vs. Ohio St.

Rose: Washington vs. Northwestern

Fiesta: Michigan vs. Central Florida

If the one upset is Texas over Oklahoma, it wouldn’t hurt the SEC since Texas would stay in place and no additional teams would be added to the mix:

Cotton: Alabama vs. Ohio St.

Orange: Notre Dame vs. Clemson

Sugar: Georgia vs. Texas

Peach: Florida vs. Central Florida

Rose: Washington vs. Michigan

Fiesta: LSU vs. Oklahoma

If Northwestern beats Ohio St. and other favorites win, something like this would happen, removing LSU’s chance:

Cotton: Alabama vs. Georgia

Orange: Notre Dame vs. Clemson

Sugar: Florida vs. Texas

Rose: Washington vs. Northwestern

Fiesta: Michigan vs. Oklahoma

Peach: Ohio St. vs. Central Florida

If Pittsburgh beats Clemson and other favorites win, something like this would happen, removing LSU’s chance:

Cotton: Alabama vs. Ohio St.

Orange: Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma

Sugar: Georgia vs. Texas

Rose: Washington vs. Michigan

Fiesta: Michigan vs. Pittsburgh

Peach: Clemson vs. Central Florida

If both Pitt upsets Clemson and Northwestern upsets Ohio St.:

Cotton: Alabama vs. Georgia

Orange: Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma

Sugar: Florida vs. Texas

Rose: Washington vs. Northwestern

Fiesta: Pitt vs. Ohio St.

Peach: Clemson vs. Central Florida

The takeaway is that any of these would eliminate the second SEC team (most likely LSU) outside of the top 4.

Big Ten/Michigan

It’s more nuanced what Michigan fans should before. As shown above, on the one hand, the right combination of upsets could put the Wolverines in the Rose Bowl. On the other hand, the wrong combination of upsets could see the Wolverines in the Citrus Bowl or similar.

Michigan fans could also be cheering for the long-shot chance of making the top 4, which would involve Ohio St., Clemson, and Oklahoma all getting upset.  Clemson with one loss could be ahead of the Wolverines with two losses, but one loss to an unranked team is arguably worse than two losses to top 10 teams (Notre Dame and Ohio St.).  Since Oklahoma plays first inthat group, those who support Michigan should consult the scenarios above for beneficial upsets.

Michigan in the top 4 would look like this:

Cotton: Alabama vs. Michigan

Orange: Notre Dame vs. Georgia

Sugar: Florida vs. Texas

Rose: Washington vs. Northwestern

Fiesta: Pitt vs. Oklahoma

Peach: Clemson vs. Central Florida

For generic Big Ten fans, it’s a lot simpler.  If Oklahoma beats Texas in the early game on Saturday, the best thing for the Big Ten is for Northwestern to win.  I believe Ohio St. will be in an NY6 bowl regardless, so if I’m right there will likely be three Big Ten teams in the NY6 bowls this way. 

If Texas wins, it may be more important to cheer for Ohio St. in the hopes the Buckeyes make the semifinal than it is to hope for three Big Ten teams to be in NY6 bowls, but that would be personal preference.

LSU ADVOCACY AND OTHER NOTES

Some fans of other schools seem upset that if LSUis apparently in line for an NY6 bowl, the Tigers aren’t really being punished for the loss. LSU was going to be in the Sugar Bowl provided Georgia made the top 4, but that doesn’t seem to be the case now.  The next in line for the Sugar seems to be Florida.  I’ve covered a few scenarios above where LSU doesn’t get any NY6 bowl. 

In a much less dramatic and controversial Rivalry Week contest, Washington RM Myles Gaskin scores a first-half touchdown in the snow in Pullman.

A number of bowl projections have LSU being left out of the NY6 bowls even if nothing weird happens, and some even have the Tigers falling all the way to the Outback Bowl (since I imagine the Citrus doesn’t want LSU for the third year in a row).

I don’t know how other than geography you would justify Washington St. going ahead of LSU, but maybe the rankings will be ignored.  Other than the questionable A&M loss (the Aggies are now #19 in the CFP rankings), the Tigers’ other two losses have come to top-10 teams. LSU also has a win over Georgia, better than any team the Cougars have played much less beaten.  Washington St.has beaten three of the four other teams in the Pac-12 North with winning records (none with a better record than 8-4), but Wazzu has a loss to 5-7 USC.  Washington St. has 4 wins against teams with winning records, while LSU has 5.  The Cougars also lost to in-state rival Washington. Although the Huskies may be the Pac-12 champions, it’s important to remember they lost to Auburn, who’s in the middle of the SEC on a good day (and who lost at home to LSU).

If Boise St. wins the Mountain West and Central Florida loses the American championship, it’s possible Boise St. could make it ahead of Central Florida.  In that case,the Broncos would probably play in the Fiesta Bowl; but as I explained earlier,Central Florida might be slotted for the Fiesta Bowl anyway, so in that case no other team would be affected.

I already talked about the potential impact of Georgia beating Alabama, so I didn’t include that here.  I think it would create a Big XII-champions. Florida Sugar Bowl, a Big Ten champion vs. Pac-12 champion Rose Bowl, and the other teams would depend upon who else wins. 

CONCLUSION

The simplest way to sum all of this up that I can think of is as follows.  The following teams are in NY6 bowls almost no matter what: Alabama, Notre Dame,Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma, Ohio St., Michigan, and Florida.  Washington, Utah, Pittsburgh, Northwestern,Texas, and Central Florida are in with wins. LSU and possibly Washington St. or Penn St. could get in (Penn St. being the least likely of the three); but since none are playing, they’re dependent on the right combination of other teams to win.

Advertisements

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.

Week 12: Not Rivalry Week Yet

In Bowls, College Football, General LSU, History, Me, Preview, Rivalry on November 16, 2018 at 7:42 PM

Apart from some remotely possibly upsets of top teams (I mentioned Clemson and Notre Dame in the Rankings blog), I’m not wildly excited about any of the matchups this week.   I still thought of somethings I’d like to talk about. 

The Former Rivalry Week

I miss the days where this was THE main rivalry week. 

The Big Ten used to finish up for good, but now they have 3 more weeks including the championship.  Tomorrow it will be exactly 11 years since Ohio St. beat Michigan, probably with no suspicion that they were about to be involved in the craziest ending to a college football season in recent memory.  Although the Buckeyes were ranked only #7 going into that final game, they would enter the bowls as the #1 team in the BCS standings.  Despite its second loss coming in the last regularly-scheduled game, LSU would become the surprise #2 after winning the SEC championship on the same day Numbers 1 and 2 in the BCS (Missouri and West Virginia) both lost. 

LSU LB Ali Highsmith gets to the ball before Ohio St. QB Todd Boeckman can throw it in LSU’s 38-24 championship win in New Orleans on January 7, 2008.

Anyway, I bring that up because the normal time of year for Ohio St. to play Michigan going back to the 1930s was between about November 17 and November 24.  2007 just happened to be the last time the game was on the 17th.  The end of the Big Ten season got pushed closer to the end of November in 2010; and then with the start of the Big Ten Championship game in 2011, the Big Ten season now extends into December.. 

Some Big Ten teams finished conference play even earlier.  For instance, in 2005, Wisconsin played its last Big Ten game on November 12.  There were 11 teams in the Big Ten then, so I guess the Badgers were the odd men out for the rivalry week.  Other end-of-season rivalries in the Big Ten were Minnesota-Iowa, Michigan St.-Penn St., Purdue-Indiana, and Illinois-Northwestern.

Althoughit was often played later (and only became the traditional final regular-seasongame in 1977), Florida played Florida St. on November 17 as recently as 2001.  2001 was also the last time UCLA played USC onNovember 17.  Sometimes there was a latergame for one or both schools, but it was the second-to-last Saturday inNovember going back to the 1970s.

17 Nov 2001: Kevin Arbet tackles Craig Bragg as USC upsets UCLA 27-0 to qualify for a bowl game in Pete Carroll’s first year with the Trojans.

Another big rivalry that used to be the second-to-last Saturday in November was Oklahoma-Nebraska.  It was permanently moved to the last Saturday in November in the early 1990s before it stopped being an annual game in 1998.  Of course Nebraska was a much more important team in those days than they are today.  The date would sometimes vary a week or so, but the rivalry had been played around that time of year since the 1940s.

The Iron Bowl was played between November 17 and November 23 every year from 1993 through 2006.  Those were the first 14 seasons in which I had a meaningful interest in college football on the national level, though I followed LSU for about 5 years before that. 

Anyway, so I think that’s enough explanation of why I always feel like something is missing this week, especially since it became the week for the SEC to take it easy. 

How the SEC Schedule for Mid-November Deteriorated

Although it had been done occasionally a few times before (for instance, South Carolina played Middle Tennessee the week before Clemson in 2006; and LSU played Conference-USA opponents before Arkansas a few times in the 1990s), Alabama led the way with a real commitment to this trend. 

Startingin 2007, the Tide has usually had a bye before the LSU game, so since theycouldn’t have another bye before Auburn, they played UL-Monroe.  The ended up losing to LSU, Auburn, and ULMin 2007; but that didn’t deter Alabama from that strategy.  In 2008, the Tide did the opposite (byebefore Auburn, non-conference game before LSU), and it worked.  Alabama only went a combined 3-3 against LSUand Auburn between 2009 and 2011, but they’re a combined 11-2 in regularly-scheduledgames against the two rivals since.

For itspart, LSU played Tulane the week before the Alabama game in 2008 and 2009,which did not work.  Then LSU went to thebye before Alabama (which worked for two years and hasn’t worked since), but theprecedent was already set.  Sometimes it’sin late October instead of November, but the Tigers have had a late-seasonnon-conference game most of the years since. They did not have one in 2016 only because of rescheduling that resultedfrom the hurricane that hit Florida. 

Auburn has been more consistent.  Except for 2013 when the Plains-Tigers were able to use a second bye before Alabama, Auburn has had a non-conference opponent the week before Alabama every year since 2011.

Georgia originally scheduled its late-season non-conference opponent before Auburn, but in 2014 the Bulldogs changed it to the week before Georgia Tech.  I’m not sure why it wasn’t done that way last year, but Georgia is back to that pattern this year. 

A few of the less significant SEC programs are still playing regular games, but the SEC schedule leaves a lot to be desired…

Ole Miss-Vanderbilt Headlines This Week’s SEC Schedule

Anyway, so we are now at the stage where the big SEC rivalry game this week is Ole Miss-Vanderbilt.  I’ll explain why.

Arkansas has played Mississippi St. annually since 1992, but the Bulldogs have won 5 of 6 in the series, and the Hogs are only 2-8 on the season.  Arkansas could back into a single-digit game like they did against LSU last week, but I hardly expect high drama.  So that’s not a game to watch. 

Missouri and Tennessee (the CBS game of the week) have slightly better combined records than Vanderbilt and Ole Miss, but that’s only been a rivalry (of sorts) since Missouri joined the SEC in 2012.  It hasn’t been a very interesting one either.  Missouri ended both 2015 and 2016 really badly and lost to the Vols in the process.  The Tigers won the other games.  The only game of the six decided by fewer than 8 points was in 2012 (when each team would finish 5-7).

Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, however, is a competitive longstanding rivalry between fairly evenly-matched teams. Since 2005, the only SEC team against which the Commodores have a winning record is Ole Miss (7-6).  Vanderbilt won 5 of 6 in the series from 2007 to 2012, but Ole Miss responded by winning the next 3.  The two programs have exchanged home wins over the past two years.  The Commodores have won 4 of the last 6 games played against the Rebels in Vanderbilt Stadium. 

The three touchdowns by Vanderbilt RB Ralph Webb (#7) were the difference in Nashville two years ago. The Commodores had ended a 3-game series winning streak by the Rebels.

As for this year’s respective teams, both are near .500 and have identical 1-5 conference records.  Nonetheless,Vanderbilt could still guarantee a bowl game by finishing the season with home wins over the Rebels and the Volunteers, their two biggest historical rivals.  The Rebels are still on probation and ineligible for a bowl, but I’m sure there is motivation to avoid a losing record and potentially finish with a winning record (which they could do by beating Vanderbilt and winning the Egg Bowl over Mississippi St.).

LSU and Rice Renew a Rivalry Few Missed

One other rivalry I’d like to mention is LSU-Rice.  It was before my time, but this used to be an annual series.  Other than in-state (former/sporadic) rival Tulane, LSU has played Rice more than any other team that is currently outside of the SEC. LSU and Rice played each other every year between 1932 and 1952 and every year but one between 1955 and 1983.  The only meetings between 1983 and this season were in 1987 and 1995.

Rice has only beaten the Tigers once since 1966.  However, despite LSU winning a national championship in 1958, it was a competitive series between 1955 and 1966.  Rice had a 5-4-2 record against LSU during that span. 

The most notable Rice win was in 1961.  The Owls denied the Tigers a chance at second national championship in four seasons.  After losing the opener to Rice 16-3, LSU would win the next 10 games including the Orange Bowl.  Rice would finish 7-4 and lose in the Bluebonnet Bowl, the Owls’ last bowl appearance until 2006.

Rice made 5 bowl games from 2006 to 2014, winning 3 of them, their only wins in bowl games since 1953 (they also lost the 1957 Cotton Bowl and the 1960 Sugar Bowl). 

The Owls have returned to their prior form since that 2014 bowl win though.  After falling just one win short of qualifying for a bowl for the fourth consecutive year in 2015 (with a 5-7 record), Rice has only won 5 games since the start of the 2016 season.  Two of those wins were over FCS opponent Prairie View A&M, including in the opener this year, which was Rice’s only victory in its last 21 contests.  Two of the other wins since 2016 were over UTEP, which finally ended a 20-game losing streak two weeks ago against Rice. The fifth win was over UNC-Charlotte, which only began playing in the FBS in the past few years.  

Alabama Offense vs. LSU Defense

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

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

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

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

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

Historical Precedent in General

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historical Precedent in LSU-Alabama Series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comparison to Other Games This Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction

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

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

Final Top 25 of 2017 Season

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on January 12, 2018 at 5:59 PM

Sorry for the delay, but I only have time to put serious thought into this and get a blog out at a reasonable time when it’s not a week night. Also, my weekend is less hectic with the extra day and no college football to watch, so doing this any earlier in the week just didn’t make sense.

I’m glad I did put some thought into this, because I now have a top 25 that I’m really happy with for the first time in years.

Wisconsin’s Danny Davis scores one of his three touchdowns. The Badgers gained the most spots in the top 10 after finishing 13-1 with the win.

Although I think my weighted ratings system had a better top 4 (matching the CFP except with Georgia at #2) before the bowls, I’m not too happy with its final top 10. Since it’s almost exclusively objective, I use the Massey composite site to see how far out of the mainstream my ratings are.

By sight, I liked the top 10 in my old system better, and it so happens that the teams in that top 10 are only average just over one spot different from the composite. The average top-10 team in the weighted system, on the other hand, was about 2 1/2 spots different from the composite.

However, the problem with the old system is teams from outside of major conferences ended up far too high. Boise St. was 13th, Florida Atlantic was 16th, and Troy was 22nd. These are all double-digit differences from the composite. The weighted system had none of these problems and numbers 11 through 25 was much more in line with the composite.

To me, the only fair thing to do was to use the top 10 from the old system and numbers 11 through 25 (starting with those not in the old top 10) from the new weighted system. Follow the links if you want to see either one on its own.

Georgia edged Alabama in the post-bowl weighted system, but this was only because the Bulldogs had the benefit of winning a conference championship game while the Tide was idle. If the ratings are averaged by playing week, Alabama is #1 as you’d expect.

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

Out of top 25: (21) Wash. St., (25) Louisville

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.

Week 13 Top 25

In College Football, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 19, 2017 at 6:00 PM

I’ve updated the LSU-Tennessee Rivalry Blog. It’s interesting how LSU has dominated the series recently after it went the other way for 75 years.

LSU Tennessee

Weather helped the Tigers stop the Vols on the opening drive of the second half in LSU’s third consecutive win in Knoxville.

The Tigers have historically had a more spirited rivalry with Texas A&M, but the Aggies are looking for their first win over the Tigers since winning five in a row from 1991 to 1995.

By way of transition, LSU fans should keep in mind as the season winds down that next year the Tigers face both U. Miami and Georgia. Mark Richt’s footprints will be all over the place.

Speaking of Georgia, a couple of weeks ago I decided to wait another week before making Georgia #1, and that turned out to be the right move.

I’m going to do the same with Wisconsin this week but mostly because Wisconsin has a relatively weak opponent (Minnesota) next week and Alabama has a relatively strong one in Auburn.

Wisconsin’s A.J. Taylor catches what would be the winning touchdown pass against Michigan. The win should put the Badgers in serious contention for a playoff spot pending their date with the Buckeyes.

If Wisconsin had a clearer lead, I might feel differently, but when you look at points per playing week, the Badgers aren’t atop that list.

They’re only slightly behind U. Miami and only slightly ahead of Alabama. Wisconsin also has only the #70 best schedule right now (U. Miami is #33 [but with one fewer win to take credit for], and Alabama is #62), so I feel like this week’s ratings may be a statistical fluke. I would either like the numbers or the results on the field to clarify things a little better. It’s not only reluctance to make a change; I want to make sure I change to the more deserving team if and when I do.

As with my decision regarding Georgia, this is just a one-week deferment of a possible change at #1. The rest of the top 25 is in the computer order.

Clemson took a bit of a hit by playing the Citadel, but like Alabama, they can expect to recover a lot of the lost ground with another win on Saturday.

Central Florida has slipped four spots in the last two weeks, but they will be looking to recover some of the ground by beating South Florida.
USC may seem too high right now, but with the bye next week, others will be able to pass them up.

That basically covers the top 10. Auburn and Ohio St. are both outside of the top 10, but with two wins by either, they could put themselves right back into the playoff conversation.

Northwestern earned their way back in, and Florida Atlantic joins the top 25 for the first time. Lane Kiffin has worked fast. Perhaps coaching a smaller school suits him better than coaching a major-college or NFL team, but I doubt he’ll give up those goals. At any rate, the Owls are the 89th team I’ve ranked since I started this listing over 20 years ago now. It was originally completely subjective, but I’ve introduced subjective standards to varying degrees since 2004.

Kalib Woods of Florida Atlantic catches a fourth-quarter touchdown against FIU. This has become an important CUSA rivalry after the two programs were largely irrelevant in their first several I-A/FBS years.

I said LSU might make it into the top 25 with some losses, but those didn’t happen. Florida Atlantic passed up LSU, but only two teams ahead of LSU (Iowa and North Carolina St.) had bad enough losses to fall behind the Tigers. Michigan’s loss to Wisconsin didn’t hurt them enough, and Oklahoma St. was too far ahead for Kansas St. to drop them below LSU. The Tigers should easily pass up the Cowboys if both win this weekend though. If as expected Michigan loses to Ohio St., LSU would pass up the Wolverines with a win as well.

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

Out of top 25: (20) Iowa, (25) San Diego St.

See Full 128-team List.

Week 12 Top 25

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary, Rivalry on November 12, 2017 at 3:30 PM

First of all, I wanted to mention I’ve updated the LSU-Arkansas rivalry blog. The Tigers brought the Golden Boot home from Fayetteville last year after leaving it there in 2014, so I was pleased that it will be staying in Louisiana until it makes the trip (round trip, I hope) North next season. It is also good to have two decisive wins in a row over the Hogs since either losing or playing a one-possession game against them every year but one (2011) in the Les Miles era.

LSU players with the Golden Boot after the game on Saturday

Moving onto the rankings, the point of posting this blog…

I made the right call to make Georgia prove themselves one more week before becoming #1, and my meddling will stop now. From now on this season, this list will be the exact order my computer formula gives me. Alabama has shown some vulnerabilities in the last couple of weeks though, so I wouldn’t count Georgia out yet. Contrast Saturday with Bulldogs’ win against Mississippi St.

I know some people are going to be confused that two-loss Notre Dame is ahead of a one-loss Georgia team they beat. Losing to undefeated Miami doesn’t hurt as much as losing to two-loss Auburn, for one thing.

Keep in mind that if Georgia runs the table, they’ll have three wins including one over Alabama, so there is no way they wouldn’t be ahead of Notre Dame (who only has two remaining opponents) after that. If Georgia loses again, then this is a moot point.

But Georgia plays in the SEC! This is true, and this is why they have a top-20 schedule so far. They play in the SEC East though, and they haven’t played one of the best SEC East teams (Kentucky) yet. Also, they avoided LSU and of course Alabama in the regular season by playing in the East. Other than Notre Dame, the Bulldogs’ non-conference wins are over Samford and Appalachian St. The value of their win over Mississippi St. went down slightly after the maroon Bulldogs lost to Alabama.

Alabama players wrap up Mississippi St. quarterback Nick Fitzgerald in Starkville on Saturday.

Notre Dame happened to piece together one of the best schedules this season. They’ve played two of the best ACC teams (U. Miami and North Carolina St.), they’ve played possibly the best Pac-12 team (USC), and they’ve played one of the Big Ten leaders going into the week (Michigan St.). The Irish have had much better schedules since contracting with the ACC for four games per year (the other two were Boston College and Wake Forest). The SEC East just doesn’t quite stack up to that even with two good cross-division opponents. The Irish have a few weaker opponents like Temple and North Carolina, but that doesn’t cancel out all the quality wins.

It’s also worth noting that Miami, Notre Dame, Georgia, and Oklahoma are extremely close to one another. If Oklahoma were playing a good team instead of Kansas, they could easily move up to #4 next week even if there were no upsets. The other three teams could be in any order depending on results in other games.

As I anticipated, Central Florida fell a few spots after a relatively weak win over Connecticut. The Knights won’t get many points if they beat Temple next week either.

LSU went up a few spots as other teams fell but obviously did not make the top 25. If the same number of teams in the 20-30 range lose next week and LSU takes care of Tennessee, the Tigers can expect to move into the top 25 then. A win over Texas A&M would be a good bit better than Tennessee or Arkansas, possibly counting for about as much as those two wins combined.

There was not a lot of movement toward the bottom of the top 25, which frustrated LSU and some other teams right below the top 25. Mississippi St. lost, but losing to Alabama didn’t hurt enough to knock them out of the top 25. San Diego St. remained in the top 25 despite a bye week. Washington and Iowa were high enough going into the week that they didn’t fall out.

rank/team/prev.

1 Alabama 1
2 Clemson 3
3 Wisconsin 6
4 U. Miami 7
5 Notre Dame 4
6 Georgia 2
7 Oklahoma 11
8 C. Florida 5
9 USC 8
10 Penn St. 9
11 Ohio St. 13
12 Auburn 22
13 Wash. St. 14
14 Mich. St. 10
15 Boise St. 18
16 TCU 12
17 Okla. St. 25
18 Memphis 17
19 Michigan 21
20 Iowa 16
21 Washington 15
22 Stanford –
23 S. Carolina 24
24 Miss. St. 20
25 San Diego St. 19

Out of top 25: (23) Toledo