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Posts Tagged ‘West Virginia’

LSU More Qualified for #3 Seed Than Kansas

In College Basketball, General LSU, Rankings Commentary on March 2, 2019 at 9:54 PM

For more background about LSU, see my blog before last week’s games.

I started seeing LSU projected as a three-seed when they beat Tennessee, but I’ve been waiting on probably the most famous prognosticator Joe Lunardi to put the Tigers there.  As of Friday, he still had not done so (I’m using archived links because these pages are updated frequently).  A ton of fans say their team should be higher and are vague about what team should move down in their stead, but I’m not.  It’s Kansas. 

LSU’s substitute point guard Javonte Smart (with ball) was fouled with about 1 second left before hitting the winning free throws against Tennessee.

Some people may say it’s Houston now that it lost to Central Florida (and that would be a convenient excuse to move LSU up without having to deal with Kansas fans), but I’m not making that argument.  Although it was in December, the Cougars beat LSU.  I know the first reaction to Central Florida is “This isn’t football,” but they are a top-30 team according to the NET (Warren Nolan’s version anyway), which I guess is the new and improved RPI (which I was never a huge fan of because it gives teams a ton of credit for the games they lose).  I’ll grant that it’s late in the year to record a loss like that, but I don’t think Houston was exposed all of a sudden.  There is no reason to believe that’s a game Kansas or LSU couldn’t have lost in past couple of weeks.

Losses by Marquette and Nevada may also help LSU going forward, but like I talked about in the last blog, new things happen in basketball all the time, and my blog process isn’t that fast. I’d also note that Jerry Palm (whom I’ll mention later) now has LSU as a #2 with KU still a 4-seed.

I don’t think Lunardi is doing this intentionally and it may well be the same subconscious bias the committee holds, but I can’t help but think Kansas is getting some “blue blood” special treatment. 

Worst Loss

Normally I wouldn’t quibble too much about the worst lost, I’d just say both lost to a bad team and leave it at that.  But in this case, Oklahoma St. is 24 spots higher than West Virginia in the NET, and we have the benefit of them being in the same conference, so it’s not like the two have had vastly different opportunities. 

I think a good example of these teams is their respective February trips to Lubbock.  Texas Tech is a similar team to LSU, so I think that makes it a particularly good point of comparison (what the teams can do when they get up for a game).  Oklahoma St. took the Red Raiders to overtime while West Virginia lost by 31.  In Kansas’s defense, they did play the Mountaineers much closer than LSU played the Cowboys; but a bad loss in November means a lot less to me than one in mid-January. 

Oklahoma St.’s Lindy Waters’ hit four threes in the final minute, including the tying shot as time expired against Texas Tech; but the Cowboys fell in overtime.

When LSU lost to Oklahoma St., they were playing their third night in a row and just off a disappointing overtime loss to Florida St.  We may see in the SEC tournament if that third night in a row is the problem, but for sure the Tigers won’t be playing the day after a loss.  Also, the most you play in the NCAA tournament is twice in a week.

I started writing this on Friday, but it so happened the Cowboys also played Kansas close, so that furthers my argument, while on Saturday LSU got a slightly more impressive road win over Alabama.  I think beating teams in the NCAA field on the road is impressive even if they end up being 11 or 12 seeds. 

Let’s talk about the second-worst loss.  LSU’s was against Arkansas.  Absent winning the SEC tournament or at least winning 4 or 5 more games, Arkansas will not be an at-large team.  However, the Razorbacks just got a pretty decent win over Ole Miss for their 6th win in conference play.  Also, if you throw Kansas a bone for only losing to West Virginia by 1, certainly it’s more understandable to lose to Arkansas by 1.

Other Losses

Kansas’s second-worst loss is slightly better, but Arizona St. just lost by 28 points to Oregon.  The Kansas-Arizona St. game was over two months ago, and Arizona St. is a higher-ranked team than Arkansas; but the disparity between Arizona St. and Arkansas is much less than that between Oklahoma St. and West Virginia. 

LSU’s other 3 losses are all against the NET top 30: (4) Houston, (23) Florida St., and (29) Florida.  Only one game in this group of losses (Florida, if you couldn’t guess) happened after December 12.

Kansas’s other losses: (5) Kentucky, (10) Texas Tech, (14) Iowa St., (28) Kansas St., and (36) Texas.  All the losses in this group have come since January 5.

Key Wins and Conclusion

According to Palm at CBS Sports, Kansas had two more “Quad 1” wins as of Friday morning.  Quad 1 wins consist of home games against the top 30, neutral games against the top 50, and road games against the top 75.  Since it was a road game, Alabama qualifies as a Quad 1 win, reducing the margin to 1.  Oklahoma St. is not in the top 75.

Although Alabama hit two late 3s, Tremont Waters (no relation to Lindy) led the Tigers to a 5-point victory in his first game back.

Kansas has the best non-conference strength of schedule in the nation, so a lot of these key wins took place before the new year, and as mentioned a lot of losses took place after.  I think analysis of the losses and when the games took place more than compensates for Kansas’s single additional Quad 1 win, and I hope Lunardi’s new projections give LSU the #3 ahead of Kansas.

Of course if LSU loses two (or more) of the next three games and Kansas wins out in the Big XII, Kansas will belong ahead; but I think it’s getting close enough to Selection Sunday that it’s a concern if you’re not giving teams proper credit for what they’ve done as of right now. 

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CFP got top 4 right; Pre-Bowl Top 25

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on December 2, 2018 at 11:13 AM

As far as #1, I had mixed results between the weighted system and the unweighted system. The top 4 is the same in both, but Clemson is ahead of Alabama in the unweighted system.  I’ve mentioned how Alabama didn’t have a particularly good schedule despite playing in the SEC.  Their best non-conference opponent finished with a losing record, as did one of their two regular-season SEC East opponents.  However, Georgia by itself deserves more consideration than just one game out of 13 (as does LSU), so that’s why I didn’t use the unweighted system by itself below. 

Even though I generally support the SEC, I want to make clear I don’t like Alabama; and I feel like they’re given unfair treatment by the officials in just about every game (though they rarely need it). Nonetheless, it’s important for me to figure out who on paper has accomplished more while taking into account losses (which only applies to one of the top 4 teams). 

A questionable review on this alleged touchdown by Josh Jacobs kept the Tide in the game. As usual, they took full advantage to eliminate the Bulldogs.

I think I would do teams like Alabama a disservice by failing to acknowledge their strength of resume; and both ratings had their strengths and weaknesses, so what I did was combine the two ratings.Since the two systems create very different numbers, I multiplied the unweighted ratings by 15 and then averaged the two. The top 50 teams on average got a number about 15 times higher in the weighted system than in the unweighted system, so I thought this was fair.

These averaged ratings were directly incorporated into my top 25 below without any subjective input.  This isn’t covering new ground, but it’s worth reiterating that this is purely about how good the numbers made the teams look in that formula.  It doesn’t matter how anyone was projected in preseason or how good the public perception of an opponent was at the time they were played.  It doesn’t matter which teams, coaches, and players I like, or which ones I thought got a raw deal in officiating or could beat better teams if only they’d played them, or anything like that. 

Margin of victory only has a slight impact where a home team won by 3 or less in regulation (meaning if they won by 8 in overtime it’s still considered a win with the home advantage) since that’s the average advantage by playing at home, and it also happens to be the smallest number of points typically scored in one play (I don’t know of any two-minute drills to get that key safety to win the game if you’re down by 1 late).

I let the numbers guide me the same way in my rankings below, but another thing I hesitated to do was to put Ohio St. (even though I have strongly disliked the Buckeyes for some time) below Oklahoma.  It’s no question whose best wins came against the better two teams.  Michigan has lost to two teams, and those two teams have a total of one loss between them, and Penn St. isn’t far behind.  The key problem for the Buckeyes is their loss to Purdue. The Boilermakers had to win their final game just to finish 6-6.  I know Texas isn’t spectacular; but if they played Purdue in a bowl game, the Longhorns would probably be favored by double digits.  Texas also lost to a mediocre Big Ten team to be fair; but had Maryland been their only loss, I’d be explaining why Ohio St. deserved to go ahead of them right now.  But I’m not comparing a team with a loss to Maryland to a team with a loss to Purdue: I’m comparing a team with a loss to Texas to a team with a loss to Purdue. 

To give credit where it’s due again and to explain how close it is, the second win for the Buckeyes is also strong.  To get to the next best win for Ohio St.though (Northwestern), I have to go outside of the top 25 and even outside of the top 35.  To get there, I pass up four teams that Oklahoma has beaten: Army, West Virginia, Texas, and Iowa St.  I really don’t know if it’s harder to beat four teams who are better than Northwestern but in the top 15 or to beat two teams who are in the top 15 and none others who are better.  I suspect the former is more difficult; but that loss breaks the tie if it’s just as difficult, so I will defend the outcome here.

As an LSU fan, I know a lot about playing top-15 teams and playing teams somewhere between #16 and #40.  I’d rather have two tough games to focus on against teams in the top 15 than the week-after-week onslaught of #16 to #40 teams.  LSU beat 3 top-10 teams, although I acknowledge two of them didn’t belong anywhere near the top 10 in hindsight.  Although Alabama beats us every year, we had a mediocre team take them to overtime a few years ago.  Georgia definitely belongs in the top 10;they were a play or two away from making the playoff.  We lost to Florida, but I think that’s a better team than Penn St.  If that were the only other game we had needed to get up for and we didn’t play Alabama, I think we would have won. Ohio St. beat Penn St. by 1, and we trailed Florida by 1 before a late “pick six” made the final score a loss by 8. 

The loss to Texas A&M (questionable though it was) and similar losses over the years (such as losing to Kentucky and Arkansas in our 2007 championship year and losing to a mediocre Florida team in our 2003 championship year) would result in increased nerves over Oklahoma’s schedule than Ohio St.’s.  If we had a 45%chance to beat Michigan and a 55% chance to beat Penn St., for instance, that gives us a 25% chance to win both.  (These numbers are just off the top of my head.) If we had a 70% chance to beat Army, a 60% chance to beat West Virginia,a 60% chance to beat Texas, and an 80% chance to beat Iowa St., we’d only have a 20% chance to win all four (assuming independence of the numbers).  Again, it’s very close, but if I have to pick one to be better, I pick Oklahoma.

I’m not persuaded by the arguments for Georgia.  I disagreed with the decision in 2011 (by voters and some computers) to pick Alabama ahead of Oklahoma St.  The Tide had their chance to beat LSU (at home) and shouldn’t have gotten another.  The fact that they got it and took advantage of it didn’t make it the right decision. But I can respect a difference of opinion on that more than I respect the opinion of Georgia being in the top 4 this season.  At least that was a choice between two one-loss teams.  Georgia supporters want them to advance as a two-loss team despite two decent one-loss options. 

Obviously I’m an advocate for LSU and what they’ve done this season—and their record does not fairly represent that in my opinion—but losing to LSU by 20 is not like losing to a title-contender by 3 in overtime,which is what Alabama did in 2011.  I do have the Bulldogs extremely close to Ohio St., mostly because losing to LSU hurts a lot less than losing to Purdue. If Oklahoma had lost to Texas a second time, it would be harder to make the case for the Buckeyes (but I’d still probably do so).  As it stands, I think the Sooners redeemed themselves against Texas (although I don’t think the Big XII championship should be allowed in the first place), their three-point loss in the first game against the Longhorns was probably a fluke, and it’s best that someone else gets a shot at Alabama. I have a feeling the Tide would do better in a rematch with Georgia than they did yesterday. Oklahoma-Alabama is an unknown. For all we know, it could be like the Ohio St.-Alabama game a few years ago.  Let’s find out.

I already made the argument about how LSU should be picked for a major bowl above Florida (which I don’t think will happen) and Washington St. (which I think probably will happen), so I think other than #1 and #4 there isn’t much more to discuss.  ***UPDATE*** LSU has been confirmed for the Fiesta Bowl against Central Florida.  Apparently it was decided not to send the Knights to Atlanta two years in a row.

I would like to say that I would have liked to have seen that North Carolina St./West Virginia game that was canceled. I would have preferred the winner to be in the top 25 over Utah, but that’s the breaks.  The Mountaineers and Wolfpack are #26 and #27, respectively, followed by Stanford and then Texas.

I plan to make the average used here a regular feature on my “weighted average” page on my ratings site.  I may continue to wait until after the first CFP rankings are released to publish that list though.

RankTeamPrev.
1Alabama1
2Clemson3
3Notre Dame2
4Oklahoma6
5Ohio St.5
6Georgia4
7C. Florida9
8Michigan7
9LSU8
10Washington14
11Florida11
12Kentucky10
13Wash St.13
14Penn St.12
15Fresno St.
16App. St.23
17Army18
18Texas A&M15
19Syracuse19
20Missouri16
21Utah St.22
22Boise St.17
23Cincinnati
24Miss. St.20
25Utah21

Out of Top 25: (24) N Carolina St., (25) West Virginia

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.  

Top 25 after Week 11

In College Football, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 11, 2018 at 4:59 PM

Alabama did end up becoming #1 based on the computer data.  This is both in the formula that I’ve been using for about 10 years and in the “weighted ratings,” which I created last year to give higher ratings for playing very good opponents. 

For instance, I think Mississippi St. is one of the 25 toughest teams to beat, but they’re not in the top 25 below since that system averages every week together equally.    So when Mississippi St. lost to Alabama and beat Auburn, they got 0.27 for those two weeks.  That’s fewer points than Alabama-Birmingham got for beating Charlotte and Texas-San Antonio, for example.  I don’t think for a second Alabama-Birmingham would beat Auburn or Alabama (we’ll see how they do against Texas A&M), but since they have a lot more mediocre wins than losses they appear higher in the original rankings than Mississippi St. does.  The Bulldogs have 4 losses to the Blazers’ 1, so it’s hard for them to overcome the loss disparity AND get enough points in the 5 FBS wins to get a higher rating than UAB (with 8 FBS wins).

So why don’t I just use that system for everything?  The best example is the final rating of last year.  It exacerbated the differences between Alabama’s and Georgia’s respective schedules and gave Georgia the higher rating.  Georgia played Auburn twice, and the second time they did it, Alabama was idle because only two teams can be in the SEC Championship game.  So playing the extra quality opponent, along with the overall schedule, helped Georgia overcome having the extra loss.  I think Georgia and Alabama were close enough in my original formula, so I wouldn’t want to try some kind of average either. 

If Georgia Tech had won a couple more games, for instance, Alabama should have still been #1 after beating Georgia.  But I agreed with the top 4 it picked before the bowl games last year, so it may continue to be useful for that purpose among the top teams.  Also, the SEC is good; but I’m not sure 9 SEC teams in the top 25 (the result of the weighted formula right now) is appropriate, so I’m not using it at all for the top 25 at this time.

I think at the end of last season my weighted ratings did a better job with teams lower in the top 25, at least if your primary concern is most difficult teams to play, which is probably closer to the CFP committee’s thinking.  It’s more difficult in both my weighted ratings and in the CFP for teams in lesser conferences to rise in the rankings.    After last season, I used the original rankings for the top 10 and the weighted ratings for 11-25.  I may follow something similar at the end of this season; but since it’s new, I’m not sure if that will be the optimal solution every year.

For now, the entire top 25 is exactly as dictated by the original ratings. 

The Clemson offense celebrates a touchdown in Chestnut Hill, MA, on Saturday.  The Tigers were never threatened and won 27-7, their closest win since September.  Clemson hosts (23) Duke next week before completing the regular season against South Carolina.

I still do not expect Alabama to be first in the original ratings after next week because FCS opponents do not help ratings very much (look how far Army fell); and both Clemson and Notre Dame are playing fairly good opponents (Duke and Syracuse, respectively).  These results tell me that I made the right call last week in keeping Alabama #1 and Clemson #2 for continuity between two weeks ago and now.  Also, Clemson has clinched a berth in the ACC title game, which will help the Tigers to finish ahead of Notre Dame assuming they keep winning.

The two new Mountain West teams in the top 25 is a little strange, but this might help explain how the formula can react to obscure results.  The main reason is that both Boise St. and Utah St. were in the top 30 to begin with and both won, but that’s not the whole story.  BYU’s win over Massachusetts helped their value as an opponent not because the Minutemen are very good, but they did have good opponents themselves.  This contributed to the increase in points for both Boise St. and Utah St. as well as the Mountain West in general (BYU also played Hawaii).  Of course it also helped Boise St. a lot to beat Fresno St.  Utah St.’s win over San Jose St. didn’t count for much, but UNLV’s upset win over San Diego St. (which Utah St. does not play this year) helped the Aggies too.  Also, Boise St. and Utah St. helped one another because both are in the Mountain Division and both beat teams in the Western Division.

Utah (which has not played BYU yet) got back on track with a win over Oregon.  The Utes also have a helpful non-conference win over Northern Illinois, which is now 7-3.  It also helped that two of the three teams who beat Utah won on Saturday (and the other was idle).

Cincinnati benefited from losses by six teams between 15th and 26th (the Bearcats were 27th last week).  Three additional teams (Buffalo, Duke, amd UAB) in that range got very few points, so Cincinnati would have moved up significantly even if they’d played a worse team than then-7-2 South Florida.  Since South Florida has now lost 3 in a row and might well lose 5 in a row, the Bearcats will have to beat Central Florida to keep going up.  So I wouldn’t expect two American Conference teams to be in the top 15 for very long.

Anyway, it’s important not to just look at last week’s results and think that’s the whole story of why a team moves from Point A to Point B.

RankTeamPrev.
1Alabama1
2Clemson2
3Notre Dame3
4Georgia4
5Michigan5
6Oklahoma7
7LSU6
8Ohio St.10
9Wash St.8
10W. Virginia11
11Penn St.15
12C. Florida13
13Boise St.
14Florida17
15Cincinnati
16Texas21
17Army12
18Kentucky9
19Buffalo18
20Washington16
21Utah
22Utah St.
23Duke22
24UAB23
25Iowa St.

Out of Top 25: (14) Michigan St., (19) Fresno St., (20) NC State, (24) Iowa, (25) Boston College

Top 25 after Week 7

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

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

LSU-Georgia and Comparisons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Games Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

Top 25 Comments

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

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

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

Top 25

rank/team/prev.

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

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

Top 25 after Week 6

In College Football, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on October 7, 2018 at 5:49 PM

Eleven of last week’s computer top 25 lost, so that means a few things. (1) It makes it a lot easier for the winning teams to move up, (2) teams that lost might not fall as far as normal, and (3) you can get to a given spot with one more loss now.

I think (1) is obvious, but (2) might seem odd. The reason is if there are teams a couple spots lower who lost they probably won’t go ahead of the team in question. If you go down more than a few spots, even when you take away points from last week’s higher team and add them to the lower team, the lower team started too far back to take the lead.

The perfect example of (3) this week is Kentucky. Last week you needed to be undefeated (if you only had an average schedule) to be #8, but this week you can be #9 with a loss (and an improved schedule compared to what Kentucky had going in).

I know LSU just lost to Florida (see my reaction here), but the loss to Florida isn’t as bad as Florida’s loss to Kentucky and it certainly isn’t as bad as Texas’s loss to Maryland. I’m still moving LSU lower than the computer indicates. The multitude of highly-rated teams with losses as I explained above only resulted in a two-spot drop for the Tigers. Texas A&M, the team that beat Kentucky, doesn’t have a bad loss; but the problem is they have two of them and they don’t have any other good wins.

Arguably the most surprising result of the weekend was Texas’s win over Oklahoma in Dallas. The Longhorns broke the tie in the final seconds (above) after the Sooners rallied for 21 points in the fourth quarter.

Alabama (I’ll talk more about the Tide below) helps to depress the Texas A&M rating more than you would think. It also doesn’t help that the Aggies’ only two prior FBS wins were over Arkansas and UL-Monroe, whose combined record against the FBS is 1-9.

We will know a lot more about A&M when they go on the road to South Carolina, Mississippi St., and Auburn all in the next four weeks. If they keep winning, they’ll be rewarded. Of course it also wouldn’t hurt if Kentucky, Clemson, and Alabama kept winning and maybe if one of the others started winning.

I’m ranking Alabama #1 for now, but that is a weaker undefeated team than Notre Dame, Clemson, Georgia, and Ohio St. by the numbers at this point. In the last two weeks the Tide has played Arkansas and UL-Lafayette, who have a combined record of 1-8 against FBS opponents.

Notre Dame, Clemson, and Georgia all have bye weeks in the next two weeks, so I want to see how those teams withstand the byes before I would replace Alabama (assuming Alabama doesn’t lose). Ohio St. is unlikely to be #1 in the near future given the mutual bye with Alabama (in the last week of October) and mediocre upcoming schedule.

I could imagine detractors asking a few other questions, so I’ll pose and try to answer some.

Why did West Virginia fall? Michigan got a good win (for now) over aforementioned Maryland, and a team Maryland beat (Texas) beat Oklahoma. That doesn’t count for much compared to beating Kansas (which lost to Nicholls St. among others). It also didn’t help the Mountaineers that Kansas St. lost while Tennessee and Texas Tech were idle.

Why did Washington fall? You might remember they lost to Auburn, who now has two losses. Washington went up 8 spots last week and West Virginia shot up from unranked to 11th, so I don’t think either one is exactly aggrieved here.

Why did idle Penn St. and Army fall and not idle Duke? The two winning teams who were in striking distance of Duke (West Virginia and South Florida) both passed them up, I had actually moved Duke down a spot compared to the computer last week while I moved Penn St. up, and the Nittany Lions just had bad luck that South Carolina and U. Miami won by a combined 3 points. One of Army’s (Liberty) wins suffered a damaging loss, as did a team who beat them (Oklahoma). Also, Army’s 3-2 record is worse in a way right now, because more teams have won over 60% this week than last week.

That BYU game keeps looking worse for the Wisconsin Badgers. Not only did the Cougars lose to Utah St., but another team that beat them (Cal) lost to Arizona.

Michigan and South Carolina are back after respective one-week hiatuses followed by good conference wins. With Floyd of Rosedale in hand (Midwestern trophies are adorable), Iowa returns after last being ranked in the final rankings last year. Cincinnati is basically just ranked for being undefeated and not playing a terrible schedule (though not a good one either), and San Diego St. now has wins over Arizona St. and Boise St. with the only loss against Stanford (although the Cardinal fell 8 spots after losing to Utah). The Aztecs may fall out as a consequence of playing weaker opponents in the coming weeks though, especially if Stanford keeps losing.

So the only things I did this week compared to the computer top 25 were to make Alabama #1, move LSU down two spots, and switch Texas with Florida.

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

Out of Top 25: (12) Auburn, (17) Indiana, (18) Army, (20) Okie St., (24) Maryland

Top 25 after Week 5

In College Basketball, College Football, General LSU, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on October 2, 2018 at 3:00 PM

Before I begin, I know I missed the midweek blog. I had a baseball fantasy team (I won the championship of 10-team league), but that’s obviously over. I had a couple of other obligations last week as well.

I also should mention that I was sad to hear the news about LSU basketball player Wayde Sims. It’s going to hurt the team, but that’s a small consideration compared to a life cut short like that. I’ve lost a couple of other people prematurely who were important in different ways to my sports fandom in other Septembers, so I’m always glad for September for the cooler weather to commence.

Speaking of cooler weather, that’s usually when the Ole Miss game is played, but it was early this year. Here is the updated information about the LSU/Ole Miss series. I don’t have a whole lot to say about the game though. It was sloppy on both sides, but LSU just has a lot more talent. There were a couple of fumbles, but Ole Miss had a lot more penalties than LSU did (one of which negated a fumble), so it balanced out. It was nice for Burrow to do well statistically, although I’m not sure how well the land plankton compare to other SEC defenses. I plan to talk about the upcoming Florida game later this week. I heard an interesting discussion about it today that I’ll talk about as well.

LSU QB Joe Burrow accounted for 388 total yards against Ole Miss.

If you didn’t notice, I did complete my first official computer rankings of the year. I’m obviously not following them exactly in this list, but there were only two teams below whom I moved more than 4 spots. The first was Auburn, which I thought belonged one spot ahead of Washington, which it beat. The Plains Tigers just have low-value wins like Alabama St., Southern Miss, and Arkansas that makes their computer numbers look relatively bad. The second was Central Florida, who has a 17-game winning streak and lost out on potential points due to the hurricane. I will not move either team as much next week or in future weeks though.

There will probably be only a handful of deviations overall from the computer order next week. Some people have been confused about why I change the approach from week to week, but I just think people don’t realize the transition in other mediums. You start with preseason, which is only about how good you think teams will be, maybe with a little bit of consideration for how good they were in prior years. Then when it comes to bowls and the playoff, you want to exclusively base it on how well a team did this season.

You can’t make that transition and approach each week the exact same, but the polls tend to have this arrested development where they try to do that. I imagine them thinking, “I moved team A up 5 spots because they beat team B last week, and team B was in the top 10.” They’ll do that just as much in November as in September. They don’t think back and wonder if team B was only in the top 10 because of what they did this season or not, and then if team B loses to several other teams they don’t take away the extra credit they gave team A. They only reevaluate when it gets right to the end. I don’t understand what they’re waiting for.

I won’t have as much to say about my decision-making process going forward. Where I do make decisions I’m mostly just trying to provide a smooth transition from subjective to objective. It’s going to be more about why the computer formula reacts to input the way it does.

I will talk about the top teams a bit. I didn’t want to move LSU up another spot until they do something more impressive than beating Ole Miss at home. Ohio St. had a better win than Clemson did Saturday, but I’m no longer holding the closeness of the win over Texas A&M against them. The computer had the orange Tigers a good bit higher, so I followed that. Notre Dame is playing well just in time (and I believe Stanford is also better than Syracuse), so I’m now willing to look past the close final scores early on. Those are two examples of how margin of victory won’t really factor in going forward.

I’ve talked about Army and Duke in the last couple of weeks. Duke beat Army, so even though the Blue Devils lost and the Cadets won in big games last week, I decided they were close enough to put the winning team (especially with one fewer loss) ahead.

I’ll just briefly address the other new teams on this list. West Virginia held on in Lubbock to remain undefeated, which I considered in giving them an extra boost here. Florida had a good win in Starkville. I’m still skeptical of North Carolina St. and Indiana, but as I explained objective numbers are taking more of a role now. Indiana doesn’t get much credit for beating Rutgers, but it has moved up as other teams have lost or are no longer receiving extra subjective credit and did too well in the computer ratings to put lower. North Carolina St. got a numerically helpful win against Virginia and is undefeated. The Wolfpack and the Hoosiers are the only two teams to beat the Cavaliers, but we will see if that means anything soon (when Virginia plays U. Miami and Duke in the next two weeks).

Apart from Michigan, all the teams who fell out lost. The Wolverines are getting a lot of credit in other places for beating winless Nebraska (partly due to margin of victory). That doesn’t count for much here. Northwestern, the team they barely beat on Saturday, is 1-3 and lost to Akron. By the way, that’s an example of margin of victory the other direction. One reason I’m not that far away from many rankings who consider margin of victory is it tends to balance out. Anyway, I just didn’t see the logic in putting Michigan ahead of any team on this list, but they’re still close to the top 25.

rank/team/prev.
1 Alabama 1
2 Notre Dame 8
3 Clemson 7
4 LSU 4
5 Georgia 2
6 Ohio St. 3
7 Oklahoma 6
8 Kentucky 12
9 Stanford 5
10 NC State —
11 W. Virginia —
12 Auburn 10
13 Washington 21
14 Penn St. 9
15 Duke 11
16 Texas 22
17 Indiana —
18 Army —
19 S Florida —
20 Okie St. 24
21 Wisconsin 15
22 Florida —
23 U. Miami 20
24 Maryland 25
25 C. Florida 16

Out of Top 25: (13) UC-Berkeley, (14) BYU, (17) Michigan, (18) Miss. St., (19) S Carolina, (23) Texas Tech

Top 25 after Week 2

In College Football, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 9, 2018 at 4:19 PM

I do plan to write blogs other than rankings soon, but there weren’t a lot of extra days in the first two weeks. I posted the preseason rankings right before Week 1 started, and there were 5 playing days followed by the midweek Week 1 rankings. I’ll definitely have something to say about the upcoming LSU-Auburn game, possibly on Thursday.

I’m dropping Clemson because from what I saw they didn’t deserve to win. I’ll take a controversial close win over a major unranked team on the road if you’re #20 maybe, but not if you’re #2. Later in the season, it just counts as a win, but when we have relatively little information about the teams, you have to look at how they won.

If you didn’t see the game or highlights, Texas A&M came close to scoring the potentially tying touchdown in the last few minutes, but the ball was knocked loose. The ruling on the field was a touchback. Although from every angle, it looked like that was wrong, the call stood. I’ll elaborate in the next paragraph, but I’ll warn you it’s a bit of a rant.

I don’t think there is any way to create this image if the ball crossed the goal line before going out of bounds.

I don’t blame the referee if he simply couldn’t tell and made a guess, but the problem I have is that even if the referee has to flip a coin to decide, you have an incredible burden of proof to change the call. I wish there were an option where the referee could appeal directly to the replay booth if he didn’t see or couldn’t tell. Regardless, the call should have been overturned. Every angle shouldn’t have to be 100% clear. I don’t believe it’s possible that the ball went through the end zone. Never mind that this is the most completely unfair rule in football in the first place. If the ball goes out at your own 1, you keep it, but if you make it 99 yards down the field and you fumble forward (but not backward), it’s a turnover? Absurd.

Anyway, despite losing the ball in this ridiculous and unfair fashion, the Aggies were able to get the ball back and score a touchdown anyway. They just weren’t able to get the two-point conversion. Maybe Clemson would have played differently if they’d gotten the ball up 2 instead of 8 (assuming the same unsuccessful conversion play), but either way they would have wanted to hold onto the ball until the clock ran out. There is a very high chance that had the ruling been correct Texas A&M would have won.

I did make a rule for this week that you need to have a win over an FBS opponent from now on, so that explains some of the turnover of teams.

I also lowered Notre Dame a little bit for their close win over Ball St., who now has a 10-game losing streak against FBS opponents.

I indicated last week that Minnesota and Duke were playing for potential rankings, so I stuck to that. Iowa was ranked at the end of last year, and they just beat Iowa St., who was also ranked for much of last year, so I thought it made sense to put the Hawkeyes back. I mentioned Maryland looked good in Week 1 and despite some trouble early on, they won decisively. Arizona St. got in by beating Michigan St., although the Sun Devils’ offense needs work (as does Iowa’s). Virginia Tech and West Virginia haven’t really impressed me. I don’t think Florida St. and Tennessee (their respective Week 1 opponents) are very good, but the Hokies and Mountaineers were both teams I considered ranking before the season and have done nothing to deserve not being ranked.

The only other team that moved a lot was USC. They lost to a good team but didn’t make it very close or beat a very good team in Week 1, so 8 spots seems reasonable.

Stanford RB Bryce Love tries to pad his yardage against USC.. He ran for 136 yards for the game.

rank/team/prev.
1 Alabama 1
2 Georgia 3
3 Wisconsin 4
4 Ohio St. 5
5 Oklahoma 6
6 Stanford 7
7 Clemson 2
8 Auburn 8
9 Miss. St. 12
10 Boise St. 14
11 Notre Dame 9
12 UCF 16
13 LSU 17
14 Michigan 18
15 Penn St. 19
16 TCU 21
17 Okie St. 24
18 USC 10
19 Minnesota —
20 Iowa —
21 Maryland —
22 Arizona St. —
23 Duke —
24 Va. Tech —
25 W. Virginia —

Out of top 25: (11) Washington, (13) Florida, (15) Fresno St., (20) Mich. St., (22) Memphis, (23) S Carolina, (25) U. Miami

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

Sly Croom’s Lasting Influence

In College Football, History on October 27, 2017 at 1:36 PM

Since this is a bye week for LSU, I thought I’d reminisce a little. Ed Orgeron’s return to Ole Miss reminded me that he was one of the victims of Sylvester Croom. I don’t just mean his team lost to Mississippi St.’s, but he apparently lost his job in large part because of the 2007 game (the 2005 game didn’t help either).

Sylvester Croom after winning the Egg Bowl in a dramatic comeback in Starkville in 2007.

Losses to Sylvester Croom also factored heavily into Florida’s firing of Ron Zook, Alabama’s firing of Mike Shula, and arguably Auburn’s firing of Tommy Tuberville.

I think part of it was the perception of Mississippi St. up until then. Overall from 2001 to 2003, the Bulldogs went 8-27 and only 3-21 in the SEC. So with how competitive the SEC was, that just wasn’t a team you entertained losing to, especially since they were given heavy sanctions stemming from the Jackie Sherrill era.

In fact I remember a Florida fan (ironically) complaining that the SEC West teams got to play “the Mississippis” ever year.

So I’m not even saying it was altogether fair for Croom that losses to his teams were met with such hostility since he did improve the situation from how he found it.

Ron Zook was the only head coach to defeat Nick Saban’s Tigers in 2003; but that didn’t help him much after the loss to the Bulldogs in 2004.

The Bulldogs’ win against Florida in 2004 (Croom’s first year) was only the second SEC win in three seasons. It didn’t seem to help Zook that Mississippi St. won the next week against Kentucky. The damage had been done, and the fans wanted blood. Without Zook’s firing, who knows how Urban Meyer’s career would have developed?

Mississippi St. would only go 4-20 in SEC play from 2004 to 2006, but all but one of those wins (the one over Kentucky) resulted in a firing. Orgeron wasn’t fired until 2007, but maybe that loss would have been less fatal had he beaten the Bulldogs in his first season in 2005.

Orgeron’s one win over the Bulldogs came in 2006, but Croom did beat Mike Shula’s Tide. The fact that it was in Tuscaloosa couldn’t have helped matters. No only was it the only SEC win for the Bulldogs that year, it was the only win over a I-A (now FBS) opponent in regulation. Alabama lost six games in that regular season, but one of them was by one point in overtime at Arkansas, and the other four (apart from Mississippi St.) were against teams that were in the top 15 at the time of the game. Without that loss, there is a good chance Nick Saban never coaches Alabama. Even if he started a year later, does the Tide win the West in 2008? Do they win the national championship in 2009? Probably doubtful in both cases.

Croom with Mike Shula after a game.

In 2007, the Bulldogs went a respectable 4-4 in conference and won the Liberty Bowl to finish 8-5 overall. (The non-conference loss was to West Virginia, who won the Big East and nearly played for the national championship that year.)

Nonetheless, rivalry games can be funny things (as that same West Virginia team found out against Pitt), and Orgeron was seen as responsible for giving up a late lead (see the link in the first sentence for more details).

Had Ole Miss won, it’s possible that the administration could have held out for that fourth year, which was when Croom finally had a decent year.

It’s arguable that there was another victim, and that was Tommy Tuberville. Had Auburn beaten the Bulldogs in 2007, that would have been four consecutive seasons of two conference losses or fewer after Tuberville had only accomplished the feat once in his first five seasons on the Plains.

Tuberville recently took credit for Shula’s firing (and indirectly for Saban’s hiring) as a result of beating Shula every year, but Croom likely also played a role in his own demise.

Also, one of the two SEC wins in Tuberville’s (and Croom’s) final season of 2008 was a 3-2 win over the Bulldogs. I know that in the minds of some fans, that didn’t count as a win, at least not for the football team. Especially since the offense was under fire at that time, that score was an easy one to recall and complain about. The other SEC win was 14-12, and there were SEC losses of 14-13, 17-7, and 17-13.

It’s hard to argue the decision in hindsight (I don’t think anyone would argue that Dan Mullen hasn’t proven himself better-suited to the position), but I wasn’t that fond of Croom’s firing at the time. He did take a step back in his final season in only going 4-8, but that was still better than any team there between 2001 and 2006. The loss to Auburn was one of two one-point losses that year (the other to Kentucky). Had they won both, they would have been bowl-eligible. They also played fairly close road games against Louisiana Tech (a loss by 8) and then-#5 LSU (a loss by 10). Louisiana Tech had one of its better seasons going 8-5 and winning a bowl game under head coach Derek Dooley, so that was not an embarrassing loss by any means.

Croom coaching at the Titans minicamp in 2014.

If you were curious, Croom went back to being an NFL running backs coach, a position he still occupies today with the Tennessee Titans. Apart from his stint at Mississippi St. and a four-year term as Offensive Coordinator of the Detroit Lions, Croom has been an NFL running backs coach since 1987. Before that, he coached linebackers at Alabama, his alma mater, under Bear Bryant and Ray Perkins. Alabama and Mississippi St. were his only two college coaching stops.