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Posts Tagged ‘Washington’

Top 25 after Week 7

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

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

LSU-Georgia and Comparisons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Games Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

Top 25 Comments

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

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

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

Top 25

rank/team/prev.

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

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

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Top 25 after Week 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 25 after Week 1 (and Week 0)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 Preseason Top 25

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

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

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

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

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

Why Saban’s Sugar Bowl Record is Misleading

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, History on January 1, 2018 at 3:02 PM

So LSU had a touchdown stolen AGAIN and this time Notre Dame cheated on the play where they got the winning points as well, so that’s just groovy. We’ve beaten them four in a row if you go by the points we actually scored rather than the score the referees decided upon. I’m trying not to think about it though.

So I’ll turn to something else I just love talking about, which is Nick Saban.

You may know I’m not a huge fan of his, but ESPN has been repeating this stat about the Tide being 0-3 in Sugar Bowls under Saban. While technically true, it’s not really a fair description. The Tide is actually 1-1 when playing for a national championship in some way in New Orleans. The losses to Utah and Oklahoma were consolation Sugar Bowls after the Tide failed to win the SEC (after a conference-championship loss to Florida and the kick-six loss to Auburn respectively). The win over LSU in the BCS championship in 2011-2012 did not technically count as a Sugar Bowl.

Auburn fans are likely to point out that those Tigers have beaten the Tide twice for the SEC West championship since 2013 (both on the Plains), but they tend not to mention the Tide clinched the SEC West in the Iron Bowl in 2012, 2014, and 2015.

The Iron Bowl is a different type of game from a conference championship, a BCS Championship, or College Football Playoff though. While the winner almost always wins the SEC West in the last 10 years (LSU in the 2011 season was the only exception), it’s not a neutral-site game; and as we saw this year, it’s not necessarily even an elimination game. Except for Oklahoma in 2003 (when the human element counted for less than half of the standings), a loser of a conference championship game has never played for a national title though, so I think that does count as an elimination game. The games I will discuss are also played at neutral sites.

Since 2001, going back to LSU obviously, Saban is 14-3 when playing for a championship, which counts conference championships and national championships, including the three CFP semifinals in which the Tide has appeared. Saban is 2-1 in such games in New Orleans counting the BCS Championship with LSU in 2003. That game actually was called the Sugar Bowl.

Under the lights of the Superdome, Nick Saban discusses the win over LSU in January 2012.

Team Season Opponent Type of game Result
LSU 2001 Tennessee SEC W, 31-20
LSU 2003 Georgia SEC W, 34-13
LSU 2003 Oklahoma Sugar/BCS W, 21-14*
Alabama 2008 Florida SEC L, 20-31
Alabama 2009 Florida SEC W, 32-13
Alabama 2009 Texas BCS W, 37-21
Alabama 2011 LSU BCS W, 21-0*
Alabama 2012 Georgia SEC W, 32-28
Alabama 2012 Notre Dame BCS W, 42-14
Alabama 2014 Missouri SEC W, 42-13
Alabama 2014 Ohio St. Semifinal L, 35-42*
Alabama 2015 Florida SEC W, 29-15
Alabama 2015 Michigan St. Semifinal W, 38-0
Alabama 2015 Clemson CFP Final W, 45-40
Alabama 2016 Florida SEC W, 54-16
Alabama 2016 Washington Semifinal W, 24-7
Alabama 2016 Clemson CFP Final L, 31-35

*=Game in New Orleans

It’s also of note that Saban has never lost two such games either in a row or in consecutive seasons.

Other than Georgia’s win over Auburn a few weeks ago, the coaches of Oklahoma and Georgia do not have head coaching experience in such games. Dabo Swinney entered this year at 6-2, but six of those games were over the past two seasons, so there was no need for an extensive trip down memory lane there. The Tigers lost the ACC championship to Georgia Tech in 2009 (Swinney’s first season) and beat the Yellowjackets in a rematch to win the ACC in 2011.

Ranking Teams and Quality Wins

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on December 7, 2017 at 6:03 PM

When I updated my ratings, I was really not happy that two teams that don’t even belong in the conversation were fourth and fifth while the team I thought was the deserving #4 was a somewhat distant seventh.

If Alabama were fifth, I would have shrugged it off. Last year, after the Army/Navy game, Washington edged out Penn St. for fourth. I think if Penn St. had played Washington at a neutral site last December, Penn St. would have won. I know Penn St. lost the Rose Bowl, but a team going from playing for a national championship to playing for nothing but a bowl win can sometimes be a bit of a letdown. I still think the Penn St. team that won the Big Ten Championship game would have beaten Washington, and I still think that they had a better resume as well.

Penn St.’s dramatic Big Ten championship over Wisconsin convinced me they belonged in the top 4 last year. (Pictured: TD catch by TE Mike Gesicki)

No ratings system is perfect though, and for the two to be so close that the result of one major game (there were also a couple of FCS results added in) could tip the balance was good enough. Also, I don’t really mind the deciding factor when two teams are close being who has fewer losses.

But for the arguments I presented over the weekend in Alabama’s favor and to have them that far behind was cause to reevaluate things.

I still think I have a really good formula, but approaching each game neutrally has some shortfalls. So I’m going to have two different computer ratings from now on. I considered “power rating”, but I never know what that means, so I’m just going to call it weighted and unweighted. The new rating will be weighted toward success against the best teams.

With it unweighted, you get the same credit this year for beating Texas and Temple as you do for beating Alabama and having a bye week. Central Florida beat a lot of teams like Texas and Temple but didn’t even play any teams that were nearly as good as Alabama, Ohio St., USC, etc.

This made Wisconsin’s and Central Florida’s 12 wins apiece hard to overcome even though as I pointed out, each only had two wins apiece against the top 40. I could not devise a system I believed in that put Ohio St. ahead of Wisconsin and Central Florida, but by weighting overall strength of schedule and quality wins, I was able to get Alabama ahead of them.

Central Florida-Memphis was a fun game to watch; but being that this was the best team the Knights beat, UCF should not be considered one of the best teams.

When I tried to alter the system to allow for more losses without a high penalty in order to push Central Florida and Wisconsin down, it pushed up teams like USC, Notre Dame, and Auburn instead of Ohio St.

This year, the Big Ten’s problem was depth. Ohio St. only played 7 teams in the top 80 (one out of conference) and Wisconsin played 6. Both Ohio St. and Wisconsin played 10 games against Big Ten opponents, so it should have been higher. By contrast, Alabama played only 8 SEC games and had 9 opponents in the top 80 (Tennessee was the only SEC opponent outside; Florida St. and Fresno St. are both inside the top 80). Oklahoma played 10 games against the top 80 and played 10 conference games (Ohio St. and Tulane are in; Kansas and Baylor are not). Anyway, moving Wisconsin and UCF down a peg for not having very deep schedules is part of the reason Ohio St. fell just slightly below Alabama.

People will see me as a Big Ten detractor, but again, I wanted two Big Ten teams in the playoff last year. Also, in both the weighted and unweighted top 9s from last year, there were two other Big Ten teams. Like this year though, I did think the SEC was the best conference top to bottom.

How do I figure out which games to add weight to? I mentioned the top 80 above, that roughly corresponds with the positive numbers in my unweighted system. So that’s where I drew the line. It so happens to be just low enough to encompass teams with wins over competitors in the major conference (and in one case a playoff team). So along with Syracuse, the low positive-numbered teams also include Cal (Berkeley), which beat Washington St., and Pittsburgh, which beat U. Miami.

So that’s one tier. The next tier includes teams like Ole Miss, Duke, Utah, and Virginia, .500 Power 5 teams. Both Duke and Virginia had good non-conference wins too. It also includes Southern Mississippi, who went 8-4 despite playing two SEC teams in non-conference play.

The next tier starts with teams better than 0.3, which right now is the top 45. This is low enough to include Iowa St., which beat both Oklahoma and TCU. It has some slightly better (than the previous tier) Power 5 teams like Kentucky, UCLA, and Texas A&M as well as Group of 5 teams that competed for titles like South Florida, North Texas, and Fresno St. This tier has a little bit more of an increase in points than the last one.

The penultimate tier is teams better than 0.55. I made it that instead of an even 0.6 because last year it would have only encompassed 18 teams rather than 24. Right now it encompasses 25 teams instead of 23. Numbers 24 and 25 are San Diego St. and Virginia Tech, so this had nothing to do with trying to tilt the playing field. Clemson would have been #1 anyway.

I treated teams better than 0.9 (roughly top 10) a little bit differently. I think whether you win or lose to a top 10 team, you should get a little bit extra consideration. The loss hurts in some parts of the formula, and maybe it shouldn’t hurt as much. So that’s why Auburn and Ohio St. didn’t seem to get the proper credit in the unbalanced formula for playing really good teams out of conference. Also, teams like Wisconsin and Central Florida have less impressive resumes for not beating any top 10 teams.

I’m going to show the final top 10 for both this year and last year. If I had to make a list of teams most likely to compete well in a playoff now and at the end of last year, I’m not sure the membership of either top 10 or top 5 would be any different. Clemson would win obviously, but if I forced Clemson to be higher last year, the formula would move Central Florida higher this year. The whole point was to help teams with good opponents. Clemson and Penn St. were both safely in the top 4 and nearly tied last year, so I’m fine with how it turned out.

Now
1 Clemson 39.717752 (1)
2 Georgia 38.920924 (2)
3 Oklahoma 33.422577 (2)
4 Alabama 32.829833 (7)
5 Ohio St. 32.801820 (6)
6 UCF 32.794786 (5)
7 Auburn 32.580250 (10)
8 USC 32.413394 (8)
9 Wisconsin 32.266683 (4)
10 Notre Dame 32.227370 (9)

December 11, 2016
1 Alabama 43.268628 (1)
2 Ohio St. 37.306985 (3)
3 Penn St. 35.458147 (4)
4 Clemson 35.410836 (2)
5 Wisconsin 30.033484 (9)
6 Washington 28.799632 (5)
7 Colorado 27.670309 (11)
8 Michigan 26.841181 (7)
9 Florida St. 26.795726 (10)
10 Oklahoma 25.479138 (8)
(Western Michigan fell from 6th to 15th)

If you couldn’t tell, the number at the end is where the teams fell in my unweighted ratings.

If you’re interested in the full lists, they are as follows:
2016 Pre-Bowl
2016 Final
Current

I think with so many more opponents in flux or not yet attaining enough points (for instance, only 4 teams qualified for the second-highest tier in my first list this year), the weighted version may be less useful early on. I plan to start publishing both lists at the usual times (Saturday night or early Sunday morning between about October 1 and December 15 and the night of the national championship) though.

New Top 25

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

Out of rankings (compared to before the championships): (20) Boise St., (22) San Diego St., (23) Toledo, (24) Virginia Tech, (25) Fla. Atlantic

Quick Hits & LSU-Bama Series

In College Football, General LSU, History, MLB, Preview, Rivalry on November 2, 2017 at 4:37 PM

Quick Hits

I want to talk about LSU-Alabama of course, but I also wanted to talk about a couple of other things first.

Really briefly, I’ve made previous reference to my dislike for politics seeping into sports. Accordingly, I won’t go into details about any one issue. I feel that since a certain point of view is being pushed by much of the sports media, I should at least recommend someone who says mostly correct things about such topics (this is an interview he gave): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4lqeseEV5_w.

I didn’t get that into this baseball season; but as I mentioned in the last blog, I have enjoyed the World Series. While of course I’m happy for former LSU player Alex Bregman, I’m especially happy for the players I’ve been watching for 10 years or more like Carlos Beltran, Justin Verlander, and Francisco Liriano. As a long-term fan of the Cardinals and Mets, I’m especially happy for Beltran, who may have had his last chance at the age of 40. I thought the Dodgers had a strong advantage going into Game 7, but they make you play the game for a reason.

Carlos Beltran with his teammates after they held a memorial service for his fielding glove. Beltran spent most of his career as an outfielder, but the Astros rarely needed him to take the field defensively this season.

Along those lines, I think there are some college football teams who are not being given as much of a chance as they have in reality. I haven’t been picking lines much this season, although I did go 4-1 in my recommendations in Week 1 or 2. The following underdogs are all ones I’d be tempted to put a little bit of money on: Texas A&M +15 (vs. Auburn), South Carolina +23.5 (@Georgia), Iowa +17.5 (vs. Ohio St.), LSU +21.5 (@Alabama), and Oregon +17.5 (@Washington).

Before I go into details about the LSU-Alabama game, I wanted to wish Nick Saban a happy 66th birthday. I have no reason to believe he won’t be around for a while, but I think such milestones are a cause for reflection. Although I’ll be glad to see him go for some reasons, I think part of me will miss him. I honestly enjoy listening to a lot of his press conferences. He has important perspectives to share when he’s not berating reporters for asking dumb questions, and you can’t complain about a guy raising the bar for his opponents.

Alabama DB Daniel Wright sings “Happy Birthday” to Nick Saban

So I had the occasion to check out Saban’s Wikipedia page and remind myself of a couple of things. I had forgotten that Jim McElwain was his offensive coordinator from 2008 to 2011, which included two national championships. Of course the offensive coordinator for his first national championship (the one at LSU) was another coach now on a bit of a hot seat by the name of Jimbo Fisher.

Other than LSU-Alabama, the biggest SEC game (in my opinion) is South Carolina-Georgia, which will be two former defensive assistants under Saban facing off as head coaches. Georgia’s Kirby Smart obviously was the defensive coordinator at Alabama recently. Will Muschamp was a Saban assistant at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins but has never been an assistant at Alabama.

Alabama often gets LSU’s best shot.

Despite the repeated losses, LSU has typically played better against Alabama than they should have on paper. I mention all of this in my LSU-Alabama series of blogs (this is the main one), but I thought it was worth rehashing a few things.

In 1993, LSU ended Alabama’s 31-game unbeaten streak. As most LSU wins of the past few decades have been, that was on the road. Like this game, that was a betting line of more than 20 points (it was 27 actually). The Tigers were much worse back then though. It had been 5 years since LSU even made a bowl game at that point.

Ivory Hilliard of LSU returns an interception deep into Alabama territory in Tuscaloosa in 1993. LSU would win, 17-13.

LSU would not beat Alabama again until 1997 when the Tide was having a bad year, but 5 of the Tide’s 7 losses that season were by 12 points or less, and 4 of the losses were by one possession. The only ones that were decided by more than 12 points were Tennessee’s 38-21 win (the Vols finished 11-2) and LSU’s 27-0 win (the Tigers finished 9-3). So in short, LSU should have won; but they shouldn’t have won by that much.

The respective fortunes reversed the next season, but despite finishing with a 4-7 record, LSU played the Tide close, only losing by 6. Alabama would lose 4 games to teams who would win 9 games or more apiece on the season and finished 7-5. It was the same margin the following year, in which LSU finished 3-8 and Alabama finished 10-3.

The series ceased to be a really meaningful rivalry until 2005 when Alabama entered the game undefeated and LSU entered the game on a 6-game winning streak after losing the conference opener in a weekday game that had been delayed by Hurricane Rita. The Tigers would win in overtime in another road game.

LSU’s JaMarcus Russell escapes an Alabama defender in Tuscaloosa in 2005.

The Tide kept the game close in Nick Saban’s first season in 2007, but they were ultimately overmatched by an LSU team on the way to a national championship.
Alabama would partially avenge LSU’s 5-game winning streak in the series by winning the next two, but the Tigers still played better than they should have. 2008 was probably LSU’s worst year under Les Miles, and yet they took the Tide to overtime. Alabama won the SEC West that year and probably would have won the national championship had they not lost to Florida in the SEC Championship. In the following year, Alabama beat everyone and LSU would finish 9-4, but the Tide only won by 9. That was despite a crucial LSU interception that was ruled incomplete.

Patrick Peterson grabs an apparent interception in Tuscaloosa in 2009. The pass was ruled incomplete.

Alabama’s 19-game winning streak was ended by South Carolina in 2010, but a number of people still favored the Tide in the SEC Championship race because they would have represented the West had they won out even though Auburn was undefeated at the time. But first they ran into LSU, who had just lost to Auburn the week before. LSU won in an upset, 24-21, in Baton Rouge. Although the SEC West was out of reach, Alabama would still nearly beat Auburn in the Iron Bowl before falling 28-27.

The 2011 regular-season game was as close as a #1 vs. #2 game should be, and I don’t need to recount how much of a disappointment the national championship game was, but since then, LSU has been generally competitive even when they really shouldn’t have been.

Alabama was on the way to another national championship in 2012 and LSU had already registered a 14-6 loss to Florida, but the Tide needed a last-minute touchdown to win by 4. The Tide pulled away late to win by 21 in 2013, but it was a 7-point game going into the last 11 minutes and a tie game going into the last 20 minutes. Alabama was #1, and LSU had already lost twice and was ranked #13.

I’m still angry about the way LSU lost in 2014. The Tigers recovered a late fumble near the Alabama end zone in a tie game. Under normal circumstances, LSU wins, but after some routine mutual pushing and shoving, there was a personal foul called which pushed LSU back and kept crucial seconds on the clock for the next Alabama possession. After the field goal to go up 3, the idea was for LSU to kick a low bouncing ball in the middle of the field. It was the kind of kick the coaches had in mind except for how it bounced out of bounds. Had LSU scored a touchdown, which would have been a strong possibility without the personal foul, Alabama would have nonetheless needed a Hail Mary to win. Anyway, after these turns of events, Alabama was able to kick the tying field goal at the end of regulation before winning in overtime. I was happy when Alabama lost to Ohio St. a couple of months later, but the feeling from that loss still lingers. By the way, that was one of 5 LSU losses that season.

Alabama’s T. J. Yeldon fumbles, while Kendell Beckwith (#52) prepares to recover the ball in Baton Rouge in 2014.

The result in 2015 (Alabama winning 30-16) was consistent with how good the teams were, but I thought last year was much closer than it should have been on paper. Alabama ended up winning by 10, but it was a scoreless game going into the fourth quarter. Alabama was every bit as good as Clemson even though they didn’t win the national championship game at the end, and LSU finished 8-4 last year. So despite the losing streak, more often than not LSU does better than they theoretically should do against Alabama.

I’m not picking LSU to win, but I’d be at least mildly surprised if it’s a 14-point margin or greater. LSU has a better offense than they did at this time last year. The Tigers have a much better playbook, and LSU quarterback Danny Etling is improved. Alabama’s offense is also arguably better, but I think the difference between this year and last year for LSU is larger. Even if Alabama is just as superior as last year, I still don’t think they should win by more than twice as much.

Season Preview/Week 1 Top 25

In College Football, Preview, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on August 31, 2017 at 3:39 PM

I’m pasting my word version of this at 7:30 Eastern. Check back in an hour or so and it will be better quality and have pictures. I just wanted to make sure it was up before any games really got going. I have no idea of anything that happened since I just got done driving back in a rainstorm and haven’t turned on the TV or logged onto any sports sites.

As always, my first few rankings will be subjective. In preseason this means I look at what I believe the potential of each team is rather than a mathematical assessment of results, which is my approach after the first few weeks (and a couple of weeks’ transition).

Of course there are several teams that could under some circumstance end up winning the whole thing, but some of those could also finish outside the top 20. I think the odds are against Alabama being the national champion this year, but I can’t think of a single team more likely to be the national champion. I also can’t imagine the Tide losing more than maybe 3 games despite what may well end up being the best schedule (SEC West + Florida St. + Tennessee). So I think their range of likely outcomes is better than that of any other team.

The teams that I basically considered eligible for my preseason top 25 were the top 52 teams from last year (I thought it was worth looking into Arkansas and they were 52nd, so that’s the only logic there) and any other major-conference teams which had 16 or more returning starters (not counting kickers).

I had some trouble reducing the number of teams I wanted to consider though, so I did make somewhat of a formula just to give me a range of where I might want to put teams and to reduce the number to around 30 teams to consider. This formula was just based on last year’s rating in my system (modified to make them all positive numbers) and number of returning starters. This was a rough estimate of how good the returning group of players is.

The last team I eliminated was Georgia Tech. Despite some other returning starters, the Yellow Jackets don’t have returning kickers or a returning quarterback, so I thought it was more likely that they would take a step back from last season at the end of which I had them 24th. That was the only team I really struggled with.

There is a lot of talent to replace, but that hasn’t stopped this man from smiling at the end of the season before.

1) Alabama has a relatively small number of returning starters, but that has not stopped them from having very good teams in the last few years, and this time we know who the quarterback is because he’s among those starters. The Tide was a close #2 last year (both on the field and in the ratings) and was far ahead of #3 Ohio St.

2) Speaking of the Ohio St., they had among the fewest returning starters last season and still made the semifinals. I wouldn’t care if they lost that last game 100-0, it took a quality program to get there under the circumstances. I briefly considered the Buckeyes for the top spot.

3) Other than Clemson, Florida St. is the other recent (2011 and after) major national champion I haven’t mentioned. After being blown out against Louisville and losing a nail-biter against North Carolina, the Seminoles dropped only one game, one they easily could have won against Clemson.

4) Despite the ’Noles’ impressive finish, I had Oklahoma finishing ahead of them in the final rankings last year. Being that they have 16 returning starters including a very good quarterback, I could not justify ranking the Sooners any lower. I strongly believe this is the most likely final 4 even though Florida St. obviously plays Alabama in a few days.

5) Penn St. won the highly competitive Big Ten last season and returns 16 starters, so yet again they may be the best team out before the bowl season. Or perhaps the loser of Alabama/Florida St. can’t walk the tight rope the rest of the year, which will open up a spot.

6) Speaking of walking a tight rope, that’s what Clemson did for most of last year. I don’t believe those Tigers would have finished the SEC or Big Ten with only one loss, but that’s a different scenario from being the best team in the country for one game (maybe two) at the end. That’s not to say they weren’t the deserving national champions, but – being that they will have to find a new quarterback and replace approximately half of the starters – I consider Clemson less likely to finish in the top 5 than the others.

7) Wisconsin finished a close second in the Big Ten to Penn St., and the championship-game loss was the Badgers’ only loss since falling in overtime to Ohio St. on October 15. The Badgers return 15 starters.

8) Stanford had an awful 9 days in the early season last year in which they were outscored (by the two big Washington teams) 86-22. But other than that, the Cardinal only had a single 5-point loss and I still ended up ranking them 13th. They return 16 starters.

9) There is no other good combination of strong finish last year and high number of returning starters. One team I was personally impressed with was Oklahoma St. I just feel like the Cowboys have a little bit better upside potential. The defense will be a question mark though.

Two of the most exciting quarterbacks this season are expected to be in the state of Oklahoma.

10) Rounding out the top 10 is Washington. I don’t really expect them to finish in the top 10, but I think it’s right to show some degree of deference to a team which made the semifinals last year, and I just don’t think much on paper separates #9 to about #15.

11) Georgia replaced Mark Richt before last season and got worse, but I think it was most likely part of the calculation that the Bulldogs were not likely to have a great season either way. Their only losses down the stretch were two games by a point apiece (Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech) and the Cocktail Party against Florida. I think the results of games like that will be overturned with the benefit of experience that 17 returning starters provide.

12) Speaking of Florida, I don’t think we can overlook them in the East either. That Cocktail Party game can go either way though, and 14 returning starters after winning the East is still pretty good. The Gators had to play two of the best-finishing teams toward the end, or otherwise they could have finished in the top 10.

13) I had to split up the group of SEC teams with someone, so I chose the SEC’s nemesis (though not on the field) from 13 years ago or so USC. The Trojans had an overdue breakthrough season last year, winning the Rose Bowl; but the Men of Troy do not have a large number of returning starters, so I’m skeptical they can do it again.

For the first time in 10 years, Ed Orgeron will lead a team onto the field to start the season.

14) So this is the lowest I have ranked LSU in the preseason in a long time, but I have to treat the Tigers like I would any other team in their position. The program has been out of the spotlight for the last 5 seasons, and I think they’ve lost too much talent to be a vast improvement over last season. But #14 is a lot better than they finished in my ratings last year, so this doesn’t mean I don’t expect improvement. The Fighting Tigers lost three games in the waning moments and had an eminently respectable loss to Alabama. If they can open up the same opportunities, the improved offensive coordinator and quarterback situation could make the difference.

15) One of those last-second LSU losses was to Auburn, whom they briefly appeared to beat last season before it was determined time expired before what would have been the winning score. Those Tigers return more starters, but it’s still not clear why the Plainsmen fell short of expectations last year despite making the Sugar Bowl. While I understood why they made the Sugar Bowl, I did not believe they were the most deserving team for that game. I give a little less credit to returning starters on a team that in its last five games lost three games (and didn’t look good in any of them), barely beat Vanderbilt in a home game, and beat up on Alabama A&M.

You might hear a lot about South Florida and Quinton Flowers this season. You also might hear the phrase “strength of schedule” mentioned at the same time though.

16) Although they barely beat South Carolina in the bowl (which is why I had to put them below 5 SEC teams), South Florida made significant strides last year and returns a large number of starters including a senior quarterback and two senior kickers. The Bulls only plan to start a handful of players who aren’t juniors or seniors. It could go either way, but USF could easily be the last undefeated team this season.

17) This might catch some people off-guard, but Kansas St. was solid in most of every game last year. The fell behind early in Norman and could never quite catch up, but that was the only big loss (21) and was back on October 15. The only loss since was by six to Oklahoma St., and in the following weeks they won by more than 20 points in both Waco and Fort Worth. Fourteen starters including the quarterback return.

18) I mentioned Mark Richt, now at the U. of Miami, above. He definitely has the ability to get teams into this range, although the top 10 has been elusive for some time. The Hurricanes have to find a new quarterback but return 15 other starters after winning their last five games easily last season. The Notre Dame game is mystifying to me, but three of the four losses were by one possession.

19) Louisville didn’t go out with a very good look in the bowl loss to LSU last season with the aforementioned blowout of Florida St. a distant memory. The Cardinals also finished out with a big loss to Houston and what must have been a frustrating loss to Kentucky. Lamar Jackson is back, but with all of his major targets and most of his blockers missing. The defense has holes too, but that was not a stellar unit in the first place.

20) Northwestern nearly beat Ohio St. late in the year, and I can forgive losing to Wisconsin by 14. Losing to Minnesota by 17 isn’t great, but those were the only three losses since last September. The Wildcats return 17 starters. We’re in the area where everyone has some flaws, so that’s good enough for me.

Mike Leach can run an offense, but his teams have struggled with consistency throughout the season.

21) Washington St. will return 16 starters including the quarterback and had an impressive 8-game winning streak before understandable losses to Washington and Colorado (although they could have been closer). The bowl performance was uninspired, but they could have easily won that one as well as the two losses the Cougars suffered to begin the year. The two early losses are mostly the ones that kept Wazzu out of the top 25, but since that was nearly a year ago, I can’t figure those too highly.

22) TCU was very inconsistent last season, but Gary Patterson has managed to bounce back before (such as improving from 4-8 to 12-1 from 2013 to 2014), and I don’t see why that should change. The Horned Frogs have 17 returning starters including quarterback Kenny Hill.

23) Tennessee in some respects had a breakthrough season last year with wins over both Georgia and Florida, but they also showed they were not quite ready for prime time in some other games. I expect a little bit more of the latter this year, but like Texas I could at least see them as a spoiler team for someone.

24) Texas had a losing record last year, but they played pretty well in losses (apart from the last quarter and a half of the season against TCU), and I think the combination of experience and a new coach could make them at least a spoiler in the Big XII.

25) I mentioned TCU bouncing back from a 4-8 season a few years ago, and Oregon will try to do the same. I don’t think they’ll win 12 games, but 8 may be attainable. Three of the losses were by only three points apiece, and I think the win in Salt Lake City was a preview of what could happen next season. Of course then the Ducks went and lost to Oregon St.; but again, maybe they won’t have letdowns like that with the benefit of experience.

2016 Final Conference Rankings

In Bowls, College Football, Conference Reports on January 14, 2017 at 4:05 PM

Bowls

I know what the television sports media does is look at bowl records as if that’s the end-all and be-all of a conference, rarely even giving credit for a large percentage of teams making bowls.

Before people tune me out, I will say upfront that the SEC did not have the best bowl season, but it was a strong second.

How is 50% (I’m not counting the national championship since I think it’s fairer to give each team exactly one bite at the apple) a strong second?

We need to look at how good the opposition is. For instance, not many conferences have their #9 team play the runner-up (who went 6-2 in conference, the third-best conference record) of a Power-5 (P5) conference. It was frustrating that Arkansas didn’t beat Virginia Tech after the Hogs built up a large lead, but even being in the game was an accomplishment.

I decided to break down the P5 conferences by team standings and bowl game. This is based on regular-season conference records. Ties are broken by head to head and, failing that, overall pre-bowl record.

Then I gave a projection of the approximate record a major conference should have had against that schedule. The first one I list is Alabama/Washington. Since it’s champion vs. champion, that’s a tossup. So the SEC should have expected ½ of a win (or .5). The SEC should have expected 0 from Arkansas/Virginia Tech, so that isn’t listed. If the SEC team had a better conference record in any matchup by more than half a game, that game would have projected 1 win. No such game took place.

So there were 6 approximately 50/50 games, and the SEC won 6 games. An average P5 conference would have only won 3.

watch-sec-football-online-e1374758489890

(2) SEC
Alabama #1 8-0 W, Washington #1 8-1
Florida #2 6-2 W, Iowa #5 6-3
Auburn #3 5-3 L, Oklahoma #1 9-0
LSU #4 5-3 W, Louisville #2 7-1
Texas A&M #5 4-4 L, Kansas St. #4 6-3
Tennessee #6 4-4 W, Nebraska #6 6-3
Georgia #7 4-4 W, TCU #5 4-5
Kentucky #8 4-4 L, Georgia Tech #8 4-4
Arkansas #9 3-5 L, Virginia Tech #3 6-2
South Carolina #10 3-5 L, South Florida #2 7-1
Vanderbilt #11 3-5 L, N.C. State #9 3-5
Mississippi State #12 3-5 W, Miami U. #4 6-2

The AAC had a very good year (before the bowls), and South Florida lost only one game in conference with wins over Navy and Houston. The non-conference team who beat the Bulls just won the Orange Bowl. The 10th SEC team losing to them in overtime is not in any way a black mark on the SEC, and I’d say that if it were any other conference.

The rest were all against power-5 opponents. If the SEC were an average conference, it would have only been expected to win about 3 bowl games. See below for explanation.

I would have liked to have seen Vanderbilt and Kentucky do better, but both overachieved by making bowl games at all. As I’ve mentioned before, even the two non-bowl teams had decent resumes that included multiple wins over eventual bowl teams.

SEC 52-34 (.605) #6.5
All 72-30 (.706) #4.17
P5 59-27 (.686) #4.4

Texas A&M wasn’t nearly as good of a team later in the season as earlier, but I put them first among the 4-4 teams because of their early-season overtime win over Tennessee. But no other team had as big of a swing as Miami U., which started 0-6 and entered the bowl game at 6-6. So when projecting how many the SEC should have won, it’s really hard to know how to treat that one, so
I’ll just say that was 50/50.

Hopefully you get the idea when I do this for other conferences below.

Bowl games SEC should have won:
#12 .5
#11 .5
#8 .5
#7 .5
#2 .5
#1 .5
Projected record: 3-9 = 25%
Actual record 6-6 = 50%
Difference +25

acc

(1) ACC
#1 Clemson #1 7-1 W, Ohio St. #2 8-1
#2 Louisville 7-1 L, LSU #4 5-3
#3 Virginia Tech 6-2 W, Arkansas #9 3-5
#4 North Carolina 5-3 L, Stanford #5 6-3
#5 Florida St. 5-3 W, Michigan #3 7-2
#6 U. Miami 5-3 W, West Virginia #3 7-2
#7 Pitt 5-3 L, Northwestern #8 5-4
#8 Georgia Tech 4-4 W, Kentucky #8 4-4
#9 N.C. State 3-5 W, Vanderbilt #11 3-5
#10 Wake Forest 3-5 W, Temple #1 7-1
#11 Boston College 2-6 W, Maryland #10 3-6

#11 .5
#9 .5
#8 .5
#7 .5
#4 .5
#3 1
#2 1
#1 .5
Projected record: 5-6 = 45%
Actual record 9-2 = 82%
Difference +37

(3) Big Ten
#1 Penn St. 8-1 L, USC #3 7-2
#2 Ohio St. 8-1 L, Clemson #1 7-1
#3 Michigan 7-2 L, Florida St. #5 5-3
#4 Wisconsin 7-2 W, Western Michigan #1 8-0
#5 Iowa 6-3 L, Florida #2 6-2
#6 Nebraska 6-3 L, Tennessee #6 4-4
#7 Minnesota 5-4 W, Washington St. #4 7-2
#8 Northwestern 5-4 W, Pitt #7 5-3
#9 Indiana 4-5 L, Utah #6 5-4
#10 Maryland 3-6 L, Boston College #11 2-6

#10 .5
#8 .5
#6 1
#4 .5
#3 1
#2 .5
#1 1
Projected record: 5-5 = 50%
Actual record 3-7 = 30%
Difference -20

(4) Big XII
#1 Oklahoma 9-0 W, Auburn #3 5-3
#2 Oklahoma St. 7-2 W, Colorado #2 8-1
#3 West Virginia 7-2 L, U. Miami #6 5-3
#4 Kansas St. 6-3 W, Texas A&M #5 4-4
#5 TCU 4-5 L, Georgia #7 4-4

#5 .5
#4 1
#3 1
#1 1
Projected record: 3.5-1.5 = 70%
Actual record 3-2 = 60%
Difference -10

(5)Pac-12
#1 Washington 8-1 L, Alabama #1 8-0
#2 Colorado 8-1 L, Oklahoma St. #2 7-2
#3 USC 7-2 W, #1 Penn St. 8-1
#4 Washington St. 7-2 L, #7 Minnesota 5-4
#5 Stanford 6-3 W, #4 North Carolina 5-3
#6 Utah 5-4 W, #9 Indiana 4-5

#6 1
#5 .5
#4 1
#2 1
#1 .5
Projected record: 4-2 = 67%
Actual record 3-3 = 50%
Difference -17

(6) AAC
#1 Temple 7-1 L, Wake Forest #10 3-5
#2 South Florida 7-1 W, South Carolina #10 3-5
#3 Navy 7-1 L, Louisiana Tech #3 6-2
#4 Tulsa 6-2 W, C. Michigan #7 3-5
#5 Memphis 5-3 L, W. Kentucky #1 7-1
#6 Houston 5-3 L, San Diego St. #1 6-2
#7 Central Florida L, Arkansas St. #2 7-1

#4 1
#3 1
#2 1
#1 1
Projected record: 4-3 = 57%
Actual record 2-5 = 29%
Difference -28

For the record, I put the Big Ten third on that list because at least they qualified a large percentage for bowl games. The Pac-12 and Big XII (which is 10 teams) only had half their teams in bowl games.

Overall Conference Rankings

But this doesn’t answer what the best conference is.

Before I talk about my own ratings, I’m going to talk about the consensus of objective ratings. Excluding the three ratings (the two major polls and one computer rating) that only have a fraction of the teams rated, only three out of 92 other ratings have the SEC somewhere outside of the top two.

The ACC got a lot of 2s and 1s as well, but seven were outside of the top 2.

The SEC was on top in 57 ratings to the ACC’s 27 by my count. The other eight systems are nuts, I don’t know what more to say on that.

So in my own rating system, I suppose it comes as no surprise that the SEC is first, but the ACC made it very close, particularly with the national championship game. I don’t give that game any extra weight, but the way my system works is you get extra points for winning an extra game. No other team gets an extra game of that magnitude.

The ACC got some wins over SEC schools to be sure, but some of them were along the lines of Arkansas/Virginia Tech and Florida St./Ole Miss.

One thorn in the side of the ACC was Louisville, which lost both its last regular-season game and its bowl game to SEC teams that on paper the Cardinals should have beaten. The only ACC team to beat Louisville was Clemson, so all the other opponents were weighed down by their loss to the Cardinals, who also lost to Houston out of conference.

On the other hand something that might have given the SEC more of a buffer (at least in my ratings) was the two games that were not played as a result of moving the LSU/Florida game. As I mentioned last week, LSU would have moved up to about #20 with the addition of a win over South Alabama. Beating Presbyterian would have helped Florida in points slightly, but the Gators were too far behind Colorado to move ahead.

I think it’s fair to say this was a relatively weak year for the SEC at the top, but if it’s a weak year and the average team in your conference is better than the average team in any other conference, it’s hard to argue you’re not the best. Here are my averages:
1 SEC 0.441645
2 ACC 0.440546
3 Pac-12 0.314229
4 Big Ten 0.285768
5 Big XII 0.217209
6 AAC (American) 0.106448
7 MWC (Mountain West) 0.029324
8 SBC (Sun Belt) -0.008889
9 Independents -0.038589
10 MAC (Mid-American) -0.095654
11 CUSA -0.131416

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