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Posts Tagged ‘Wisconsin’

Pre-Bowl Top 25 and Playoffs

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on December 8, 2019 at 7:20 PM

Top Teams and Conferences

If you look at my ratings site, the ratings look a bit different.  I noticed that the unweighted ratings were included multiple times in the weighted ratings, so previously it wasn’t really an average of the two systems.  Without counting the unweighted system four extra times, it wasn’t as necessary to produce such large numbers to create an average.

Before I get to the resumes and arguments, I did update the LSU-Georgia series blog.  It’s funny how the series is almost a perfectly even split in both Athens and Baton Rouge, but LSU has a 4-1 lead in Atlanta now. 

I thought it was appropriate that LSU came out first given where the Tigers’ best wins are ranked.  LSU beat #7 Georgia, #14 Florida, #15 Auburn, and #17 Alabama. Ohio St. beat #12 Penn St., #18 Cincinnati, #21 Wisconsin twice, #23 Michigan, and #25 Florida Atlantic.  So only one win was better than Alabama, LSU’s fourth-best win in hindsight. 

LSU struggled with a conventional rushing game at times against the Georgia defense in Atlanta on Saturday, but Joe Burrow was able to maintain the ground threat himself. He ran for 53 yards and also caught a deflected pass for 16 yards.

Utah St., Texas A&M, and Texas make seven top-50 wins for LSU; and Indiana makes seven top-50 wins for Ohio St., so it makes sense that the two teams ended up so close.  Georgia Southern, another LSU win, is just outside of the top 50 at #52.  

This doesn’t factor into my ratings directly; but for the sake of argument, I think it’s also noteworthy that Florida, Auburn, and Alabama only look worse because of subsequent losses to other teams LSU beat or would beat (Florida to Georgia, Auburn to Georgia, and Alabama to Auburn). 

For Playoff purposes, I think it’s also important that LSU was the first team to beat Texas (which they did on the road), the first team to beat Florida, and the first team to beat Alabama (which they also did on the road).  I know Texas isn’t a great team now, but entering the season with a quarterback who knows what he’s doing and with most of the team that had just won the Sugar Bowl made Texas a very good team relative to others in September.  They didn’t do much with that from that point forward, whereas someone like Florida Atlantic is probably a much better team now than they were.

I know Ohio St. has a couple more top-25 wins, but as the teams get lower in the top 25 they don’t count as much.  The cumulative victories are still enough for the Buckeyes to be a clear #1 in the unweighted system.  The weighted system is triggered by certain targets that aren’t necessarily the same as the final top 10 or top 25, and LSU won that.

It so happened that LSU got to play the other five best teams in the SEC (the teams I mentioned and Texas A&M, who only lost to the higher-ranked SEC teams, all of whom LSU beat, and Clemson). Ohio St. did not get to play Iowa or Minnesota, who were two of the three best teams in the other division.  If they had, there would have been no way for LSU to be ahead in my ratings, especially given that Cincinnati and Florida Atlantic turned out to be better on paper than LSU’s non-conference opponents.  I don’t think either would have beaten Texas, but they have better resumes. 

These wins explain LSU and Ohio St. being so far ahead of anyone else.  Clemson didn’t beat anyone in the top 30, and Oklahoma only beat a single top 30 team (which they did narrowly twice). 

Justin Fields runs for a long gain in the Buckeyes’ best win, 28-17, against Penn St. in Columbus on November 24. Fields had over 250 all-purpose yards in the game.

Speaking of Oklahoma, they were not able to pass up Memphis.  I thought Cincinnati had to win for the Sooners to be #4.  That doesn’t bother me though.  Let’s look at the best wins.  For Oklahoma: #11 Baylor twice, #33 Oklahoma St., #42 Iowa St. (by one point), and #43 Texas.  For Memphis: #18 Cincinnati twice, #19 Navy, and #22 SMU. 

Similar to Ohio St./LSU, Oklahoma has more quantity; but the quality isn’t as good.  Two wins against the top 30 versus four.  You have to go into the 60s for Memphis’s next win (Tulane), but I think there needs to be more focus on success versus the top teams.  I didn’t even mention how Memphis got screwed out of a chance to beat #34 Temple.  Even if it were a fair result, the Owls weren’t much worse than Oklahoma’s loss (#30 Kansas St.).

Clemson’s average win was worse than Oklahoma’s or Memphis’s average win, but Clemson got more credit for their wins because they had one more than Oklahoma or Memphis had.  So they would have been #3 even if Memphis and Oklahoma had taken extra bye weeks instead of losing.  If a team like Auburn or Florida had finished with one loss, they probably would have been #3 instead; but the schedules of the one-loss teams just weren’t strong enough to challenge for that third spot.

I’ll talk more about non-Power 5 teams at the end. 

There were a few odd side effects of recalculating the averages such as the improvements in Minnesota’s and Appalachian St.’s rankings.  I had Minnesota right ahead of Alabama going into rivalry week, which went poorly for both, so there wasn’t a great reason to put Alabama ahead in the first place.  I’ll also discuss Appalachian St. in the section at the end.

Michigan and Wisconsin went down a good bit, even more than Wisconsin’s loss would have normally dictated.  On the other hand, the Badgers went up the rankings dramatically fast after beating Minnesota.  I think the most important aspect of the shuffling of the Big Ten teams is Penn St., who counts as a really quality win for the Gophers.  Michigan couldn’t beat the Nittany Lions, and Wisconsin didn’t play them.  There is sort of a preliminary rating I give each team, and Penn St. basically shows up as a top-ten team there.  That’s important to the weighted ratings, which now have a bigger impact on the overall average.  Also, in Wisconsin’s case, it’s easier to fall below teams when you lose and they either won or didn’t have to play anyone.  The middle of the top 25 is always more crowded as well.

Auburn ended up passing Florida, but I’m OK with that.  A team from their division won the SEC, and a team they beat out of conference won the Pac-12.  Combine that with the fact that they had to play Alabama and Texas A&M (both of whom they beat) when Florida played easier opponents (such as Tennessee and Kentucky), I think it overcomes the fact that the Gators finished the game better at home against Auburn. 

That said, Auburn and Florida were close enough that I can understand making a judgment call based on head to head. But if you’re going to do that to resolve Auburn vs. Florida, you need to follow the same logic when it comes to Auburn vs. Alabama. The Citrus Bowl is supposed to go to the best available SEC team, which was Auburn. Auburn should not be penalized for having to play Florida and Georgia. Auburn and Alabama both lost to LSU, they both beat the other mutual opponents, Auburn beat Alabama, and Auburn also beat Oregon. Also, if it were Alabama, they would be rewarding the team who finished stronger.

Antonio Gibson of Memphis fights for extra yards yesterday against Cincinnati in the Liberty Bowl. The Tigers beat the Bearcats twice in one week to win the AAC.

Degrading Teams from Outside the Major Conferences

It really bothers me how 12 years ago fans blindly accepted a #10 rank for a team like Hawaii, who played absolutely no one of consequence.  Their main claim to fame was a last-minute win over a Pac-10 team with a losing record.  Previous teams like Tulane (21 years ago) had been even higher when they were undefeated.    1984 was before my time (I was alive but not watching football), but BYU’s big bowl win was over a 5-loss Big Ten team, and they finished #1 in both polls. 

I wasn’t in favor of any of those being so highly regarded, but you can go to the opposite extreme as well.  Now we have this fancy committee, who I think exists for the purpose of excluding non-Power-5 teams, and fans (and even voters) just accept that no other team is even in the top 15 no matter what they do because the committee tells them so.  The first year of the committee was 2014.  Marshall was unranked that year by the committee despite reaching #18 in the polls after starting 10-0 (and playing a much worse schedule than Group-of-5 teams who are ranked in the middle of the top-25 at best now).  It seems that since then the polls have learned to be more cautious about “outsider” teams.  The TV usually uses the committee rankings, so I think the pollsters generally just know what the number next to the team on the digital scoreboard was.

I know the BCS never put a non-Power-5 team like that in the top 2, but they put them in the top 4 multiple times.  (Given their schedule and history, Notre Dame is basically Power 5 although they don’t technically play in a conference.) Ten years ago, for instance, the BCS had three teams from outside of the Power 5 in the top six of the standings (Cincinnati, TCU, and Boise St.).  TCU even returned to the top 4 the next season.  Hold your breath for the Playoff committee to ever do that.

Boise St. even came close to Oklahoma this year.  The Broncos had five wins over the top 41 to Oklahoma’s three.  If they had played one additional good team from the other division (they avoided San Diego St.), they would have been ahead as well.  Maybe the Mountain West should just kick out New Mexico and UNLV (which would have given them almost the same average as the Big XII) and play a schedule like the Big XII does.  If they had, Boise St. would have gotten to play Air Force again. 

That’s not to say Oklahoma isn’t capable of winning the championship, but there should be consequences for not scheduling decent opponents and even most of the good teams you beat not scheduling decent opponents out of conference.  The Sooners’ best non-conference opponent was Houston, which finished with a losing record playing in Memphis’s division.  Baylor’s best non-conference opponent was Texas-San Antonio, #114 of 130 teams.  Oklahoma St. also didn’t play anyone out of conference who finished with a winning record.  Tulsa also played in Memphis’s division unsuccessfully Oregon St. had a better season than expected, but I only have the Beavers #85.  Houston and Tulsa were in the 90s, between UTSA and Oregon St.  Some other Big XII teams scheduled all right, but I’m not sure it helps to say “At least the team we lost to beat 6-6 Mississippi St.!”  It’s not worth bragging about at all to beat a team who lost to Iowa or who lost to LSU.

Appalachian St. only had one loss, and six wins against the top 70 isn’t bad given their conference.  They’re a much more credible member of the top 10 than that Hawaii team I mentioned , for instance.  I did think it was right for them to be behind Notre Dame, who only played a few teams who weren’t in the top 70.  Boston College was actually the Irish’s eighth-best win at #71, but you get the idea.   The Mountaineers scheduled well out of conference, but they still didn’t get as high-quality of a win as Navy.  Their loss (to Georgia Southern) was not as forgivable as Michigan or Georgia.  Given Baylor’s struggles against non-bowl teams, losses to the only top-30 team they played, and lack of any serious attempt to schedule anyone out of conference, I don’t mind Appalachian St. being ahead of the Bears.

Top 25

rankteamlast
1Ohio St.1
2LSU2
3Clemson3
4Memphis5
5Oklahoma8
6Boise St.7
7Georgia4
8Oregon16
9Notre Dame10
10Appalachian17
11Baylor11
12Utah9
13Penn St.12
14Auburn18
15Florida13
16Minnesota21
17Alabama19
18Cincinnati14
19Navy23
20Air Force22
21Wisconsin6
22SMU20
23Michigan15
24Iowa24
25Florida Atlantic

Out of top 25: (25) UL-Lafayette

Rivalry Week Top 25 and SEC Bowl Update

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, History, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on December 1, 2019 at 4:09 PM

Rivalry Week and Bowl Ramifications

I thought Mississippi St. would win.  People will say they didn’t deserve it because of the stupid celebration penalty, but Ole Miss didn’t deserve to get a first and goal from a phantom pass interference call. 

Mississippi St. is going to a bowl game for a 10th consecutive year for the first time, but they don’t mention that they made it one year without a winning record because there weren’t enough bowl-eligible teams by virtue of six wins (but you can’t have 7 losses, and at least five of the wins have to be over FBS opponents).

Mississippi St. RB Kylin Hill led the offense with 132 yards, which not only led all rushers but was more yards than any of the game’s three quarterbacks had passing. The Bulldogs won the Egg Bowl in Starkville on Thursday, their first home win in the series since 2013.

Congrats to Virginia for finally beating Virginia Tech. In the short term, that probably means a loss to Clemson, but that could also come with an Orange Bowl berth. 

I’m somewhat shocked that TCU lost its chance at bowl eligibility in a home game against West Virginia.  I guess they get up for the good teams and not so much for some of the others.    

The combination of the TCU loss and the Missouri bowl ban being upheld apparently gives more room for G5 conferences.  An Ole Miss win would have made yet another spot available.  I don’t believe it will be necessary to make other teams eligible this year. 

SEC Bowl Projections

If Missouri had been eligible, there would have been 10 SEC bowl teams.  As it stands, the Independence, Birmingham, and one other bowl (possibly the Belk) will have to do without SEC teams.

It’s expected Georgia and Alabama will be in NY6 bowls.  It’s possible Georgia could be in the Playoff along with LSU.  The mostly likely candidate for the Citrus will be Florida.  Cue the clips of Steve Spurrier mocking Tennessee for being in that game.  Auburn would probably be good for the Outback.  The Outback is officially even with the other bowls (apart from Independence and Birmingham), but it seems like in most years it gets the team that just barely misses the Citrus.  Auburn has better wins but one more loss, including a loss to Florida.

Texas A&M would make the most sense for the Texas Bowl, and Tennessee would make the most sense for the Music City Bowl since they can make pretty easy respective bus rides.  The Liberty Bowl (in Memphis) also might make a play for Tennessee.  Kentucky will probably get whichever Tennessee bowl is left over.  That would leave Mississippi St. for the Gator Bowl.  I don’t see any cause for upset or massive controversy with any of those. 

One more of those bowls mentioned in the last paragraph would be without an SEC team if a third SEC team ends up in a non-playoff  NY6 bowl.

LSU-Texas A&M Game and Series

Speaking of the SEC, I’ve updated the blog for the LSU-Texas A&M Series. That series of blogs is written as neutrally as I can, but I’m going to have to break objectivity for the moment.  I watched the game until the end hoping for more points by LSU’s second-team offense, but I don’t know if LSU will ever break the series margin of victory record that the Aggies set in 1914 (54 points).  On the show Off the Bench, someone asked what final score it would take to get the bad taste out of ones mouth from last year.  I said 75-0, but 50-7 will have to do. 

Ja’Marr Chase runs for a 78-yard TD catch. Chase averaged over 28 yards per catch and had a total of 197 receiving yards against the Aggies yesterday in Baton Rouge.

I go into more detail in the blog of course, but I also wanted to mention it was LSU’s largest margin of victory in series history, which had been 37 (in 1971, Gene Stallings’ last season).  That win had also followed a two-point upset loss in the previous year that ended a significant LSU unbeaten streak in the series (10 in that case; it had been 7 going into last year’s game).

Playoff Competition

In the top 25, Memphis and Cincinnati essentially switched places.  The Tigers will have to beat Cincinnati again to win the American Conference.

I said that Oklahoma, Baylor, and Utah (the three possible one-loss major-conference teams) would move up relative to other teams, and two of the three (Oklahoma and Utah) passed up Notre Dame on the strength of their wins Saturday.  None of them passed up Boise St., but those same two are a fraction of a point away from doing so.  Oregon, Baylor, and Oklahoma would all count for more than Hawaii, whom Boise will be playing in the Mountain West championship game. 

It would be tough to pass up Memphis if the Tigers win their championship game, but I honestly don’t see why Memphis shouldn’t be in the conversation other than the fact that the committee doesn’t like G5 teams. 

The American right now isn’t really inferior to how the Big East used to be.  In 2007, West Virginia would have played for a national championship had they not lost to a losing Pittsburgh team for the second loss on the final week.  Virginia Tech did play Florida St. for the national title in 1999.  In 2009, the top four of the final BCS standings included Cincinnati of the Big East and TCU of the Mountain West.

In those years, you had to be in the top two.  So it’s not far-fetched that a team like Memphis could be in the top four when you’re going to have a winner of a conference with only a couple of ranked teams and a weak non-conference schedule as competition.  I know the programs are mostly different now, but I think Memphis, SMU, Cincinnati, and Navy are better than West Virginia, Rutgers, and Louisville right now. 

I also think it’s harder to go undefeated against Cincinnati, SMU, and Navy than it is to go undefeated against Baylor and whatever teams tied for third in the Big XII you want to pick to compare.  The most direct point of comparison is that SMU beat TCU, who took Baylor to overtime and gave Oklahoma a scare before the referees bailed out the Sooners. 

As for Utah, if they beat Oregon, that will be the only top-25 win.  Second- and third-best wins would be BYU and Washington, who have 5 losses apiece.  There is no reason to think the better American teams wouldn’t have a good chance against those two either.  So even if I grant that Cincinnati is a lesser opponent than Baylor or Oregon (and I’m not convinced they are), I think we need to look past the best team you beat.  South Carolina has the best win in college football this season (whether you ask me or the committee), but they didn’t even have a mildly successful season.

As for overall strength of schedule, I have Memphis 63rd, Utah 76th, Oklahoma 89th, and Baylor 105th.  That is only an average of the FBS opponents, but I don’t think it’s very important to talk about who had the best FCS opponent (it was probably Memphis anyway since Southern beat Grambling to qualify for the SWAC championship game, and none of the others had successful conference campaigns). 

Anyway, the point of all this is if Memphis comes out ahead of one of these conference champions, I don’t think that’s an indictment of my system.  Just like it wasn’t an indictment of (what I now call) my unweighted system in 2009 when I agreed with the BCS about Cincinnati being #3.  We just have a committee now that uses “the eye test” (which I think is mostly a prestige test in reality) instead.  The point of computer ratings (at least for me) is to take out that kind of bias.

The loser of either (or both) the Big Ten or SEC championship could be ahead of the winners of the Big XII, Pac-12, and American conferences for that fourth spot here (and possibly with the committee) anyway.

Conference Comparisons

As far as conference strength, the SEC almost caught up with the Big Ten in best average team.  I thought they would improve by going at least 3-1 against the ACC on the final weekend, but I wasn’t sure if they could overtake the Big Ten.   The Big Ten also has a slight edge in top 25 teams on my list, 6 to 5. 

One area where the SEC is better is against other Power 5 opponents.  The SEC is 9-6 in such games, and the Big Ten is 5-5.  So playing 50% more opponents in that category with the same number of teams says something for the SEC. On the other hand, the SEC has played a lot more FCS opponents, so I guess it balances out somewhat.  The SEC has also played four games against potential champions of the six best conferences (A&M and South Carolina lost to Clemson, Ole Miss lost to Memphis, and Auburn beat Oregon), while the Big Ten has only played one (Ohio St. beat Cincinnati).

Top 25

rankteamlast
1Ohio St.1
2LSU2
3Clemson3
4Georgia4
5Memphis13
6Wisconsin14
7Boise St.8
8Oklahoma12
9Utah10
10Notre Dame6
11Baylor11
12Penn St.7
13Florida18
14Cincinnati5
15Michigan9
16Oregon17
17Appalachian19
18Auburn22
19Alabama16
20SMU21
21Minnesota15
22Air Force24
23Navy23
24Iowa20
25UL-Lafayette

Out of top 25: (25) USC

Week 9 Top 25; Key Games and Race for #1

In College Football, General LSU, History, Post-game, Preview, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on October 27, 2019 at 2:02 PM

LSU/Auburn

I think my one-paragraph prediction about this game (last paragraph here) was exactly right.  There were some things that were somewhat surprising though.

I’ve updated the records here.  I had forgotten that other than Alabama, the only two teams that have beaten Auburn a majority of the time (with at least 10 games played) are from Louisiana: LSU and Tulane.

I advised taking Auburn and the points.  I said that I wouldn’t have been surprised if Auburn scored about what Florida did and actually thought Auburn might have scored more.  What I didn’t expect was that 24 would have been enough to win.  The visiting Tigers were still most of the way to Florida’s point total of 28. 

I said that Auburn would probably stop LSU from scoring a couple of times more than Florida did. LSU had four scoring drives rather than six, so that was correct.  I didn’t expect LSU would get to what would have been field-goal range last year about six times with no points to show for it though.

That’s the second game in a row in which LSU struggled to score touchdowns after driving deep in the opponent’s territory, especially early.  I don’t know if that’s a long-term issue or those were just two pretty good defenses with a relatively short field.  I know Mississippi St. has given up a lot of points over the course of the year, but some of that was the fault of their anemic offense.  The Bulldog defense at least seemed fresh with home crowd behind it for 25 minutes against LSU before the Tigers scored two touchdowns late in the first half last week.

Clyde Edwards-Hellaire, with 136 yards, was the top rusher of the game as LSU was able to control time of possession for one of the only times this season.

I was surprised that LSU committed two turnovers, one of which set up an Auburn touchdown.  There were also two officiating decisions that assisted in that score (both the turnover and the touchdown itself), but I’ll talk about officiating later.  Anyway, that actually brings up one unexpected positive for the Bayou Bengals.  I didn’t think Auburn would be incapable of a touchdown drive beyond 22 yards in the first 57 minutes of play.

The sacks and tackles for loss didn’t shock me. I knew that was an area that Auburn was good at.  I still think LSU has a good offensive line, but it’s not going to stop a really good front seven (possibly the best LSU will face) every time.

I did like how Burrow ran and threw across the backfield to avert the pass rush.  I knew that would be necessary to avoid some of the rush. Having more quick, short-yardage plays helped LSU win the time of possession.  This was more of a traditional LSU win in that way.

Another positive was the halftime adjustments.  A good offensive coach like Dan Mullen or Gus Malzahn can come up with a scoring drive to start the half, but Florida didn’t score a second time in the whole half and Auburn didn’t score a second time until about 24 minutes of play later.  Mississippi St.’s only score of the second half was in the closing minute.  Northwestern St. and Utah St. were completely shut out in the respective second halves.

I hope that LSU is at least within a couple of scores of Alabama after the Tide’s opening drive of the second half.  The Tigers could be ahead for all I know, but it really hurt their chances when Alabama scored a touchdown 75 seconds before the half last year to make it realistically a three-score game (two touchdowns and two two-point conversions isn’t necessarily realistic).  Nine points instead of 16 would have mattered there.  Nine points was the halftime deficit against Auburn two years ago, so I think that’s a good bare-minimum goal if we don’t have a good first half.  I think the defense would give the offense a chance to catch up in the third and fourth quarters in that scenario.

Tua Tagovailoa ran for more yards on this play than LSU had rushing yards in the whole game last year in Baton Rouge. Alabama also had over 100 more passing yards.

Going back to the Auburn score to open the half, I thought that even though Auburn scored, it was a moral victory of sorts for the defense to come up with a stop inside the 10.  LSU has been good at that this season.  Auburn was good too, but hopefully Alabama isn’t as good at that if the Tigers have such chances in Tuscaloosa. LSU responded by driving to the one-yard line when they were stopped at fourth and goal, but the ball pretty much stayed on the Auburn half of the field until LSU scored to take the lead for good.   

I’m not going to go into all the calls, but the officiating was terrible, so I was glad LSU was able to withstand that. 

The hit on Burrow looked bad.  I thought helmet-to-helmet hits when a guy is going out of bounds was against the rules.  The TV rules expert said Burrow wasn’t defenseless, but I’ve certainly seen other players being tackled or going out of bounds ruled as defenseless.  Those guys seem more like PR agents for the refs than unbiased arbiters anyway. 

There was also kind of a hip check by an LSU defender that was called pass interference.  I didn’t think it denied the opportunity to catch the ball, and the receiver wasn’t even looking for the ball.  Pass interference should only be called when it conceivably could have been a catch without the interference, which was the case when there was a non-call in the end zone at the end of the first half.  I’m not saying everything they called or didn’t call was in Auburn’s favor, but they definitely favored the visitors. 

We had a couple of players, Tyrion Davis-Price and Derrick Dillon, who reacted to what should have been penalties on other players.  That accounted for 30 of the 118 yards of penalties called on LSU.  If the ref doesn’t call something, a player doesn’t need to make it worse by having them call a penalty on LSU.  You also can’t count on offsetting penalties even when they’re deserved (which was a big part of the reason LSU lost to Alabama in 2014).  The flags themselves were justified though.

Top-10 opponents

Anyway, LSU is now 8-2 against top-10 opponents over the last three seasons. You can guess who the two exceptions were.  Alabama is 6-2 (losses to Clemson and Auburn), and Ohio St. is 6-1 (loss to Oklahoma).    Those three teams happen to be in close to a three-way tie atop the AP poll this week.

The Tide has not played a top-10 team this season, and LSU has played three top-10 teams.  How is this possible when they’re in the same division of the same conference?  Alabama has not played Auburn yet (obviously), their best out-of-conference opponent was Duke (LSU’s was Texas when the Longhorns were still undefeated), and their annual cross-divisional rival is Tennessee (LSU’s is Florida).

Before someone says I’m wrong about the top-10 opponents, I know there was an ESPN graphic posted after the Florida game about how Alabama and Ohio St. had more wins over top-10 teams; but that was going back to 2016, the year that Les Miles coached 4 games before giving way to Orgeron. LSU beat three ranked teams that year, but none were in the top 10.  This gave the other programs a head start, and I don’t think it’s really fair to expect an interim coach to beat top-10 teams anyway.

Race for #1

Most teams have played 8 games.  A couple have even played 9.  I think we’ve progressed far enough into the season to completely ignore last year from now on.  That being the case, although Clemson is still what I’d call a good undefeated team, I no longer consider them #1.  LSU’s best two opponents (Auburn and Florida) are better than Ohio St.’s best two opponents (Cincinnati and Wisconsin), but the Buckeyes have had a better schedule week to week.  Indiana rates higher than Texas (I don’t care how they were ranked at the time of the game), Michigan St. rates higher than Utah St., Florida Atlantic rates higher than Mississippi St., and Nebraska rates higher than Georgia Southern.  I don’t think anyone lower is worth mentioning. 

I don’t put much of a premium on margin of victory, and it has nothing to do with why Ohio St. is #1 in my computer formula; but the way the games have played out also indicates to me that there are fewer teams that Ohio St. would struggle against than teams that LSU would struggle against.

Ohio St. is the clear #1 in both the weighted and unweighted versions of my formula as well.  For instance, in the unweighted system, only 0.007 separates Penn St. from Clemson.  In the weighted system, 0.24 separates the two.  Ohio St’s respective leads over LSU are 0.093 (over 13 times the difference between Clemson and Penn St.) and 1.911 (about 8 times the difference between Clemson and Penn St.).

My educated guess is that if LSU and Ohio St. both win in two weeks, LSU will finally have enough points to go ahead, but it matters how prior opponents of the respective teams do and how opponents of those teams do over the next two weeks as well.  Also, there is more reason to be skeptical that LSU will beat Alabama than there is that Ohio St. will beat Maryland.

I mention two weeks instead of next week because #1 Ohio St., #2 LSU, #4 Penn St., #6 Alabama, and #7 Minnesota all have byes next week.  #3 Clemson plays Wofford, so I don’t think there is any concern of a major change among the top teams next week. If #5 SMU beats Memphis, the Mustangs may move up a spot or two; but that will probably be temporary given that SMU will not stand to gain many computer points by being East Carolina on November 9. 

Kansas and the Big XII

Baylor, an undefeated team I haven’t mentioned much and possibly the last good hope for the Big XII (at least unless a series of losses by others puts one-loss Oklahoma back in the top 4), starts a challenging three-game stretch on November 9 as well.  Unfortunately, they won’t be playing SMU since the Southwest Conference disbanded in 1995; but they travel to Forth Worth on that day before hosting Oklahoma and Texas in the subsequent two weeks.  November 23, which is the day Baylor plays the last of those teams, is also a big day for currently-undefeated teams since Ohio St. plays Penn St. on that day.

I don’t know whose idea it was for Baylor to travel to Lawrence, Kansas, on Rivalry Week unless they thought it was basketball; but Les Miles’ Jayhawks have been looking good the past couple of weeks under new offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon.  It might seem far-fetched for a team with only 3 wins right now to beat a team who’s currently undefeated, but something similar happened during Rivalry Week in 2001.  Les Miles’ first Oklahoma St. team entered the game against #4 Oklahoma with only 3 wins and yet beat the Sooners. Games like that can be tough when it’s the closest thing the opponent will get to a bowl game.

KU would need some luck, but they certainly had that last night.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a team have the potential winning field goal blocked only to simply try again from a closer distance on the next play.  Combined with the game in Austin I mentioned here, it was the second consecutive week that a field goal on the final play decided the winner in a Kansas game.  Also, although Texas and Oklahoma may have seen better years, I don’t know how many teams can beat the two in consecutive weeks and still be ready to ward off a potential upset on the road.  Maybe Baylor is just that special, but I have my doubts.

The ball peaks just a few yards downfield from where it was kicked by Kansas after being blocked on the second-to-last play by Texas Tech. The Red Raiders would fumble the ball; and Kansas would recover, allowing the Jayhawks to win on the last play.

Top 25

NOTE: I only gave myself leeway of two spots from the computer ranking. This was only done for a handful of teams though.

rankteamlast
1Ohio St.2
2LSU3
3Clemson1
4Penn St.5
5SMU8
6Alabama4
7Minnesota11
8Oregon12
9Baylor9
10Auburn7
11Cincinnati14
12Utah21
13Boise St.16
14Florida10
15Oklahoma6
16Michigan23
17Memphis17
18Appalachian15
19Wake Forest20
20Navy22
21Iowa24
22Wisconsin13
23Air Force
24Georgia18
25Notre Dame19

Out of top 25: (25) Texas

Week 8 Top 25 and LSU

In College Football, History, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary, Rivalry on October 20, 2019 at 11:30 AM

I think the way I organized the blogs last week worked well, so I’ll talk about LSU and a couple of other big games.  I won’t thoroughly go through the top 25, but it’s listed below. Click here for the computer rating of all teams.

I couldn’t find a quality picture of the record-breaking or record-tying pass, but this reception and score by Racey McMath put Joe Burrow one touchdown pass short of the LSU single-season record, which he went on to break in Starkville Saturday.

I’ve updated the LSU/Mississippi St. rivalry blog.  I did think LSU would be slowed early, and that ultimately held the Tigers below 40 for the first time this season.  It was pretty close to the reverse of the 37-7 Bulldog win in Starkville two years ago.  If LSU doesn’t miss an extra point and allow a last-minute touchdown, it would have been the same final score.

If anyone asked, I’m sure Coach Orgeron would say it’s not about him; but I’m sure he’s satisfied to finally get a win in Starkville. There was a lot that went wrong in his tenure at Ole Miss, but his two games there were the main reason he got fired.  To get blown out there his first game against the Bulldogs at LSU had to feel like a bad case of déjà vu.  

I’ve talked a bit about Auburn in previewing both Mississippi St. and Florida.  I might or might not have more to say later, but LSU/Auburn is always a big game. 

For now I’ll just talk briefly about the recent rivalry. This game is at Tiger Stadium, but we had a couple of ugly losses against them at their place before last year.  I mentioned Coach O’s two losses in Starkville as it related to his firing back in 2007.  Les Miles had a much more successful tenure overall, but two losses in two trips to Auburn immediately preceded his firing at LSU. 

Auburn has some desire for payback too.  Those two losses at Auburn at the end of the Miles era are the only LSU losses in the series since Auburn’s 2010 national championship.  Auburn hasn’t won at LSU in 20 years.  LSU beat a few pretty highly-regarded Auburn teams over the past few years, including the one that was one stop/score away from a national championship in 2013 and the one who went to the SEC Championship Game two years ago.  Auburn didn’t end up having a great year last year, but they were ranked #7 and expected to beat LSU by a couple of scores.  The bayou Tigers won on walk-off field goal.  The point being that Auburn would especially enjoy getting LSU back with an upset in this one.

Speaking of Les and upsets, Kansas almost had a big upset in Austin on Saturday; but if they’d won it would have made LSU’s win there less impressive.  Even if the Jayhawks don’t win another game this season, I think he’s had a positive influence there so far.  I was reminded this weekend that Lou Holtz went winless his first year at South Carolina, but Holtz without question got that program headed in the right direction.

Pooka Williams of Kansas ran for 190 yards on 25 carries in the 50-48 loss in Austin Saturday.

I checked the score late in the Wisconsin game, and I thought they would run out the clock being that they were up 9 and had generally had a dominant defense so far.  So I was a bit surprised when I found out what happened.  That takes some of the luster off of the Ohio St. game, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the Buckeyes have more chance to win than they did a few days ago.

I followed the same basic guidelines as last week. I didn’t move anyone more than 3 spots from the computer ranking.  The only difference is there were no exceptions this week.  I anticipate this will be Clemson’s last week at #1, but maybe not if LSU and Ohio St. both lose next week. I think the computer results are starting to make more sense, so I might not move teams much if at all next week.

rankteamlast
1Clemson1
2Ohio St.2
3LSU3
4Alabama4
5Penn St.6
6Oklahoma9
7Auburn7
8SMU12
9Baylor13
10Florida10
11Minnesota17
12Oregon11
13Wisconsin5
14Cincinnati20
15Appalachian16
16Boise St.8
17Memphis25
18Georgia18
19Notre Dame19
20Wake Forest24
21Utah
22Navy22
23Michigan15
24Iowa
25Texas

Out of Top 25: (14) Arizona St., (21) Washington, (23) Hawaii

Defending Coach O and Comments on Rankings

In College Football, General LSU, Rankings Commentary on October 18, 2019 at 7:00 PM

I have a few other notes about LSU, but I mostly covered the ones about Florida Sunday and the ones about Mississippi St. Wednesday. I know I’m publishing this late, but it’s a weekend night; and the kind of people who are awake and ready for football before games start can read it as well.

I heard one bit of trivia I wanted to share. LSU has kept official stats on this since 1978, but Florida is the only documented time I can find in which the Tigers have faced only four third downs in a game.  I looked at relatively high-scoring LSU games going back to the early 1960s (the Tigers did score into the 60s at times in the 1960s and 1970s and even scored 77 against Rice in 1977) and couldn’t find anything close.  There may have been a blowout of an in-state school 100 years ago or something, but it’s probably been several decades at least.

I liked when they asked Orgeron what he would have said if someone told him the offense would average 52.5 points at this point before the season.  He leaned toward the microphone like he was telling a secret and grumbled, “I’ll take it.”

Anyway, you’d think people would be positive about Orgeron and his team after a big win over another well-respected program and head coach, but it seems like Troy all over again.

Defending Orgeron

Finebaum

Also related to LSU, Paul Finebaum will say whatever he needs to say to pretend the best team is Alabama for as long as he can.  Nothing LSU does counts because supposedly he heard the same things about the LSU offense last year.  I don’t know how he would have heard the team who scored 19 against Florida last year had just as good of an offense as the one who scored 42 against Florida this year; but he does talk to the most ignorant people in Alabama, so it’s possible. 

What really annoys me is he said this a couple of weeks after saying he was dropping Clemson because the rankings are only for this season and you don’t factor in anything from last season.  So Alabama goes ahead of Clemson because the 44-16 win in January doesn’t count, but Alabama also goes ahead of LSU because the 29-0 win last November does count. 

John Hayes

To be fair, you could read this as an innocent compliment of the three coaches; but he admitted that wasn’t how he meant it.

Then I saw today someone named John Hayes trying to insult Orgeron (he said the tweet was a “backhanded compliment”, and he admitted he sees Orgeron as a lesser coach) by saying he’s not really the one on the field doing anything.  I think he was trying to say Orgeron isn’t calling the plays, but so what?  When Saban doesn’t call plays, he doesn’t get credit?

Hayes was interviewed by “Off the Bench”.  I mentioned this tendency of his before, but yet again T-Bob got the stat wrong.  He said Dabo Swinney had more wins over top-10 teams since Orgeron became head coach, but that’s not true. The only two better than Orgeron were actually Nick Saban and Urban Meyer. 

Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban

Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney had a friendly chat before the 2018 Sugar Bowl. Alabama has faced Clemson in the Playoff in four consecutive seasons.

Just to be clear, there isn’t anything a coach can do in three seasons (other than win three national championships right away) that really earn a comparison to where Swinney and Saban are right now, but we can look at how they got here and think about other coaches possibly following a similar path.

Dabo was actually part of Hayes’ argument since he has recent wins over Saban, but let’s not forget that Swinney didn’t just start at Clemson.  He became the interim coach 11 years ago, not 3 like Orgeron.  In 2011 (which is the season that corresponds to this one for Orgeron), Clemson went 10-4 and gave up 70 points in a bowl game.  So should he have been written off as a mediocre coach then?  By the way, Dabo was in the middle of five consecutive losses to South Carolina.  It’s just a completely unfair comparison if you only look at where Swinney is now. 

Even Saban lost to LSU in three of his first five tries and was lucky to win that many.  LSU and South Carolina 10 years ago were nothing like Alabama (the two LSU teams Saban beat in that span lost a combined 9 games) now.  Saban won a national title in his third full year, but people weren’t crowning him best coach ever in October 2009.

The main question is why Orgeron should be expected to reach Saban’s or Swinney’s peak faster than they did.  But I think the fact that people like Feinbaum and Hayes see the need to point out the difference between Orgeron now and those guys at their peak (or is it a plateau?) means he’s one of the best coaches right now. 

Hayes said he would be proven right if Alabama beats LSU easily this year, but I completely disagree. If Clemson lost to West Virginia by 37, they wouldn’t have been close to Alabama, which won the championship by 21, in 2011. I don’t know if there is a score Alabama could win by that would be the equivalent of losing to that West Virginia team by 37. 70 maybe?

Lincoln Riley

Oklahoma got revenge for last year’s regular-season loss to the Longhorns (Lincoln Riley’s only loss to the Longhorns in four games) in Dallas last week, 34-27. Above, Sooner LB Kenneth Murray hits Sam Ehlinger after a third-quarter throw.

I don’t hear anyone pointing out how Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma, for instance, hasn’t won the games Swinney and Saban won the last few years to minimize a good win.  He’s started out his career with a great record and is coming off a big rivalry win this week too.   “Hold on, you can’t say he’s a great coach yet” is only necessary to these commentators because people are more tempted to say Orgeron is great.

I did listen to a follow-up interview Hayes did (I had to get a free trial, so sorry if it doesn’t work for you), and to my surprise he said Riley would be his #1 choice for head coach if he were an AD. I’m sorry, that’s silly. It’s just typical offense-obsessed media. Riley had three big games last season (his second full year) and lost two of them (the first game against Texas and the semifinal). He won three of the four big games (out-of-conference game against Ohio St., the two against Big XII #2 TCU, and the national semifinal) his first year, but he also lost to what turned out to be the 4th-best opponent Iowa St.

Like Joe Brady, he’s a good young offensive mind, but he’s not even in the top 10 on my list of best head coaches; and I don’t think we have a real sense of how he can recruit yet. There are probably a dozen coaches who could have won 24 games or more in 2017 and 2018 in Norman.

Kirby Smart

Kirby Smart was on Nick Saban’s LSU staff in 2004 alongside Texas A&M HC Jimbo Fisher and South Carolina HC Will Muschamp (who beat Smart Saturday), who were the two coordinators. Former Tennessee HC Derek Dooley was also on that staff.

On the Off the Bench interview, there was an argument made about Kirby Smart, but Orgeron beat Smart easily in their only meeting last year.  Smart did win the SEC and a semifinal game in 2017, but the Bulldogs lost one of only two regular-season games against the SEC West.  Georgia did win the follow-up over Auburn; but LSU beat Auburn the first and only time.  So Georgia winning the SEC and making that game against Oklahoma was more a result of playing in the East than of Georgia being in better shape than LSU (although as I mentioned in the previous blog LSU didn’t have a great start in Orgeron’s first full season). 

What LSU fan would trade Orgeron for Smart right now?  I think Georgia would take that trade in a heartbeat.  If they’re going to lose to South Carolina in a home game with Fromm, who knows what could happen the first year without?  The Bulldogs are far from guaranteed a win over Florida, which obviously LSU has now.  Smart also had an offseason of recruiting and hiring that Orgeron didn’t have in 2016.

I think Smart is a good coach despite what happened Saturday. You could argue he’s better than Orgeron, but I don’t think there is a good argument that they’re not comparable.

Other Comments

As for the other games, there were a couple of embarrassingly bad calls by referees.  Memphis completed a pass in Temple territory late in the fourth quarter, and somehow it was overturned despite no evidence of the ball hitting the ground.  That easily could have prevented the winning field goal by the Tigers, but the ball went over on downs.  There was a call that went against Penn St. at Iowa.  Penn St. won, so it didn’t really affect the game, but it does cost the Nittany Lions 4 points.  The pylon cam confirmed the call on the field, and yet it was overturned.  Eventually Penn St. settled for a field goal on the drive.  Replays of late seem to be just an extra avenue for home cooking.

Memphis TE Joey Magnifico made this great catch at the Temple 30 in Philadelphia on Saturday. Although no picture could be found of the ball even grazing the turf before or after being secured by Magnifico, the ruling of a catch was overturned.

I went into detail about the schedules of four of my top five on Sunday (Ohio St./Wisconsin and LSU/Alabama could be matchups of unbeatens), but Clemson will continue to play nobody.  MAYBE 1-loss Wake Forest can give them a game on the 16th, and traveling to Columbia, South Carolina, might be a challenge after all; but I don’t think any potential winner of the Coastal will be much of a test.  Given the North Carolina game, it’s hard to know for sure though.

If Wisconsin can’t do it, the next big test for the Buckeyes is expected to be currently undefeated Penn St. on November 23.  The Nittany Lions have a big game with Michigan tomorrow though.  Of course Ohio St. will have to play them too.  Penn St. had a decent rise in the polls, but not as much as Oklahoma, who finally joined the top 10 after beating Clemson. I know the Sooners hoped that Houston game would mean something, but it really doesn’t.

Auburn being ahead of Florida might raise eyebrows, but I don’t determine better resume by head-to-head.  Both teams are 1-1 against the top 11.  Texas A&M isn’t a great conference win, but it’s better than Kentucky and Tennessee.  Auburn also beat Tulane.  The Green Wave looks better than the Hurricanes (Florida’s best non-conference opponent) so far. 

Florida does play Florida St. later, but so far the only other non-conference games have been against FCS opponents.  Florida will be fine if they win the next few weeks (South Carolina and Georgia with a bye week in between) though.  Unless Auburn beats LSU a week from tomorrow, they don’t have a good chance for meaningful points for about the next month (two byes, Arkansas, and Ole Miss).  I’m not projecting who will look better a month from now though, just looking at who has done what so far.

Baylor’s undefeated resume got a little bit of substance to it with the win over Texas Tech; but there was so little of importance before that, the Bears are still only 13th.  They almost have as good of a resume as fellow undefeated and former SWC rival SMU.

Minnesota is an undefeated team that’s creeping up even more slowly, but beating Rutgers won’t help much.  Nor would beating Maryland the next week.  The Gophers do have an intimidating November schedule though: Penn St., @ Iowa, @ Northwestern, Wisconsin in consecutive weeks.

To round out the rankings, Washington returned by beating Arizona, who had nearly made the top 25 the previous week.  Wake Forest and Memphis are no longer undefeated, but both held onto the top 25 after narrow losses.  Navy was able to make it into the top 25 (despite having lost to Memphis a few weeks ago) after wins over Air Force and Tulsa in the past two weeks.  Hawaii also stayed in the top 25 after a loss; but it was on the blue field, so the Warriors weren’t hurt that much.

I do think Texas is still a top-25 team, but respectable losses don’t get you far in my system.  They need to find some decent wins.  Oklahoma St., the Longhorns’ best win, is mediocre unless the Cowboys beat Baylor tomorrow.  Texas plays Kansas, so the Horns won’t earn much there.

Week 7 SEC Big Games and Top 25

In College Football, General LSU, History, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on October 13, 2019 at 3:08 PM

The SEC didn’t go exactly how I expected this week, but I do feel vindicated on a few counts.  I will try to write about the other games and my rankings (below) later in the week.

South Carolina Upsets Georgia

I didn’t pick South Carolina to beat Georgia specifically, but when I picked South Carolina in my preseason top 25, I anticipated they would beat some good team during the course of the year.  It could have been Florida, Clemson, Texas A&M (who, as I thought, isn’t as good as was projected anyway), I wasn’t sure.  They still might beat one (or more) of those three, by the way.  Also, I feel more justified in not giving the Bulldogs a higher rank going into the week. 

Rodrigo Blankenship (98), aka Hot Rod, one of the best-known kickers in college football recently, had not missed a field goal or extra point until Saturday. In the background, Gamecocks rush the field after Blankenship missed a field goal to end the game.

LSU Somehow Beats the Spread

First of all, I’ve updated the LSU/Florida history blog. Most importantly, the series is tied in Baton Rouge. LSU has not had the lead in its home stadium in the series as long as I remember. I may write something about the LSU/Dan Mullen series later in the week.

I didn’t pick LSU to beat the spread, but I said if they did it would be the result of a late score.  It was.  Florida was within a couple of yards of scoring a late touchdown in response.  It was for the most-part a one-score game.  I was right that Florida couldn’t do a 4-man rush and drop 7 effectively.  Burrow completed 15 of his first 16 passes (eventually going 21/24 for 293 yards), and even when Florida got good pressure he was able to at least get a couple of positive yards on the ground.  Florida ended up with 18 more passing yards; but it took 20 more attempts, and it would be almost dead even if sack yards went against passing yards in college.

LSU’s Joe Burrow made up for a pivotal “Pick Six” in last year’s game by throwing for 293 yards in 24 attempts (21 completed). LSU gave up no sacks and no turnovers.

I was also right in the number of points Florida would score, 28. Arguably both offenses should have had more though (and I also underestimated LSU’s points), so maybe I did give too much credit to the defenses.

LSU DC Dave Aranda apparently thought the same way I and some of the prognosticators did: if LSU could keep Florida from scoring quickly the Gators wouldn’t be able to sustain drives.  That was incorrect, but I (and I imagine Aranda) correctly anticipated LSU’s ability to avoid those long plays whether they pressured or not.  I could be giving him too much credit, but I suspect Dan Mullen intentionally had a very different game plan against Auburn even though I don’t think the defenses are drastically different. I also think, like LSU, they’re good at diagnosing problems and correcting them. Florida and LSU both have good arguments for second-best coaching in the conference right now. As Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times said, not bad for a couple of backup plans.

I also thought in general LSU would do better in pass coverage especially early.  The Tigers gave up yards after the opening drive in the second half, but they were just better when it counted during the 21-0 LSU run to end the game.

The turning point in LSU/Florida games is often how a team responds to a lead or to giving up a lead.  In the last three games of the series, the winning team had a narrow lead (< 3 points) late; and the defense just barely held on.  When LSU went down by 7 in this one (after Florida received the second half kickoff), it was the (momentarily) trailing team that seemed invigorated. The Tigers gave up a ton of yards after that but no points.

The offense let its foot off the gas a little bit at times (a couple of first-down runs where a pass might have been a better option, a couple of snaps late into the play clock) in the second half; but LSU scored 21 in both halves, so it didn’t hurt scoring. Being more methodical, which LSU rightly emphasized against Utah St., may have allowed the defense to have just enough of a reserve to close the deal in those fourth-quarter drives.

LSU did better penetrating into the backfield in the second half.  It was also partly the defensive backs making interceptions (one of which was wrongly called back) instead of tipping the ball and Florida completing it.  There was also a crucial (incorrect) interference call against the Tigers that helped Florida to score at the end of the first half.  Late in the second half there was some good coverage by the Tigers that did not result in flags though. 

If the linebackers or even blitzing backs left someone open during some of those plays where LSU sent pressure, the Florida quarterbacks didn’t have time to get it to them.  The only blitz I noticed that really backfired in the second half was a screen pass on third and 16 during Florida’s last drive.  I think the better strategy would have been to force the quarterback to throw short or try to scramble. LSU got only two sacks, but there were a lot more hurries and there were five tackles for a loss as well as several for very short gains.

LSU definitely needs better defense on third and medium-to-long overall though.  I got so frustrated at one point I turned on Iowa/Penn St. to see some defense when the Gators had the ball.  When you’re a couple of yards away though, they make it very difficult to score a touchdown.  It reminded me of the two goal-line stands against Texas that I think ultimately won the game. There was a similar defensive showing against Utah St. after a turnover at the 7. Even on the third and goal from the two that the Gators scored on (the only score of the second half), it was lucky for the Gators the ball wasn’t intercepted. 

One area that pleasantly surprised me was running the ball.  I knew we had better backs than people said, but I didn’t expect over 200 yards against a good defense.  I don’t think many predicted LSU would have 70 more rushing yards (on 16 fewer carries) than Florida and fewer passing yards.  LSU had the same exact number of throwing plays as running plays.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who ran for 134 yards on 13 carries, scores a 57-yard touchdown in the first half. The Tigers gained 218 rushing yards for the game.

I hesitated to predict that this would be the highest-scoring LSU/Florida game ever, and it just barely fell short.  If LSU had hit the field goal in the first quarter or if Florida had scored when they were a few yards away either time in the fourth quarter, this game would have set the record.  The 51-21 2008 runaway (also known as running up the score) with Tebow in Gainesville is still in first. 

In 1996, Florida won 56-13 on the way to an earlier national championship (Spurrier also tried to score 50 every game regardless of the other team), so this game beat that one by one point.  LSU doesn’t have that kind of margin of victory of course, but maybe winning a high-scoring game like this is a good omen. This is the highest-scoring game that LSU won.  The Tigers had won 35-28 in 2015.  LSU did score more (48) in a victory in 1971, but the Tigers held a winless Florida team to only 7.

Since Ed Orgeron took over at LSU, the Tigers have seven wins over the AP top 10.  Only Nick Saban and Urban Meyer (with nine apiece) have more over that time span.  Clemson’s Dabo Swinner has six.

Who’s #1 (and Who’s Going To Be #1)?

I still want to see what happens with Ohio St. and Wisconsin before I make either team #1.  There is a very good chance the winner will be #1 regardless, but I don’t want to promise that.  Sometimes there can be a combination of good results by prior opponents of one team and bad results by prior opponents of another team, and it yields unexpected results.

Mike Maskalunas and the Wisconsin defense shut out Michigan St. 38-0 Saturday, the Badgers’ fourth shutout of the season and first against a Big Ten opponent.

I’m only moving Clemson two extra spots to accomplish this, so it’s not anything crazy.  The orange-and-purple Tigers are third in the weighted system behind LSU and Oklahoma, so at least they’re ahead of Ohio St. by some objective measure to introduce ambiguity.

On November 2, Ohio St., Wisconsin, Alabama, and LSU have byes and Clemson plays Wofford.  So given that, I think it’s appropriate that after the games of October 26, I go with the computer unless there is something really close or what I consider a scheduling quirk. 

This is what I consider a scheduling quirk.  Let’s say I make Ohio St. #1, and after Ohio St. beats Rutgers on 11/16, they fall only slightly behind Clemson.  I would keep Ohio St. #1 because they would have Penn St. next and Clemson would have a bye.  I don’t like switching up #1 in my personal list without a loss (the computer formula does what it does and I don’t interfere).  I will at some point, but I don’t consider a team with a good schedule no longer number one because they play a couple of weak teams in a row before they play two pretty good teams in a row (in Ohio St.’s case, Penn St. and Michigan).

If it turns out Ohio St. is the best team, what would be optimal from my perspective is Clemson stays #1 until Ohio St. takes over, and then there are no further changes. Alabama has a terrible schedule the next two weeks (Tennessee and Arkansas), so even if they beat LSU on November 9, it might not be enough. I don’t want to give Clemson a boost for that long anyway.

It’s fairly likely that whoever is #1 October 27 will stay that way on November 3.  The only big game in the interim is Florida/Georgia (which is obviously less big on the national stage since both have a loss now), and I hopefully won’t have to agonize over anything. 

If LSU goes undefeated through November 9, maybe the Tigers would have a chance at that point. Then the next week, Oklahoma might have a chance if Baylor keeps winning until they meet the Sooners.

Anyway, I don’t like to do a back-and-forth horse race at #1 for the reasons explained, but I almost never make any changes to the rest of the rankings after October for my personal rankings.  I put what I think is most important into my system, and once we’ve played 2/3 of the season or more, I let that guide me.  The reason I made a computer system in the first place is it’s too hard to look at 30+ schedules late in the season and consistently give pluses and minuses for every win and loss.  It’s easier to do for 2 or 3 teams who have arguments for #1.

How the Sausage is Made

I’m not going to say anything else about the results last week or upcoming games until later this week, but I do have a bit to say about my rankings today and going forward.  I think some people call this “inside baseball,” so feel free to skip to the rankings below if you don’t want the gory details (or click here if you only want the purely objective ratings).

Seven weeks into the season, I think we can start giving extra credit for quality opponents.  If you played someone above zero, which is a team in the top 68 right now that’s the first bonus tier.  The next one is 0.15, which is the top 39 right now.  The highest tier is 0.3, which is the highest 19 teams right now.  There are a couple of higher tiers, but those only come into play later in the season. Those decimal numbers are from the “traditional” unweighted system.  So the unweighted system is the base, and the bonus tiers go on top of that to create the weighted system.  So if you beat someone who’s 15th in the weighted system, it’s possible that they’re not in the top 19 in the unweighted system.

I think the best result is to average the weighted and unweighted systems.  This is a little tricky because the numbers are so different, but the range from #1 to #130 in the unweighted system is almost exactly 1/50 the range in the weighted system.  So I zero out the worst teams and then I average weighted score with unweighted score times 50.

I’m still giving myself leeway to move the teams three spots this week.    The only exceptions are the top spot, which I treat a little differently, and Notre Dame, whom I wanted to move behind Georgia (Georgia is only two spots higher than the computer rank).  Georgia lost to one USC and Notre Dame beat the other, but they both looked bad. So I thought the Bulldogs should remain ahead of the Irish team they beat.

Top 25

rankteamlast
1Clemson1
2Ohio St.2
3LSU3
4Alabama4
5Wisconsin7
6Penn St.11
7Auburn6
8Boise St.10
9Oklahoma17
10Florida5
11Oregon14
12SMU8
13Baylor19
14Arizona St.15
15Michigan20
16Appalachian22
17Minnesota23
18Georgia9
19Notre Dame16
20Cincinnati24
21Washington
22Navy
23Hawaii21
24Wake Forest12
25Memphis13

Out of Top 25: (18) Texas, (25) Michigan St.

Week 6 Rankings and Comments

In College Football, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on October 6, 2019 at 1:43 PM

I didn’t get around to posting a mid-week blog last week, but I may have a couple of them this week. I forgot to link them last week, but I’ve published my computer ratings for the second time this season. Maybe it’s good that I didn’t link them, because I had made a couple of mistakes that I’ve since caught.

It wasn’t the most eventful week.  Thirty-four teams had the week off.  There were a couple of losses by mid-range top-25 teams, but they were conference road games.  None were particularly shocking.  There was also the Auburn-Florida game.  Most people I saw picked Auburn, but I don’t think anyone was too shocked Florida won. 

In the late game, Stanford beat Washington.  I found out that Stanford’s kicker is named Jet Toner, which sounds like printer ink.  Anyone can beat anyone in the Pac-12 it seems, but Oregon is still probably the best bet to compete for a playoff spot since the Ducks have no conference losses.  The Rose Bowl is not a semifinal this year, so the Pac-12 champion is guaranteed at least that.

Anyway, the main tricky team I got in the computer was Auburn, and that was largely because the Florida loss barely damages the Tigers right now.  As an opponent, Florida is overrated in my system at the moment because their two games against FCS opponents don’t damage the strength of schedule.  As a team, they don’t get much credit for those two games though.  That’s why the computer doesn’t put the Gators ahead of Auburn even though they’re one of the “best losses” possible.  It will be fairer if Florida loses because then the Gators will be harmed in winning percentage (4-1 is a lower percentage than 6-1, but 5-0 isn’t a lower percentage than 7-0).

LB Jonathan Greenard and the Gators defense had an easier time than expected keeping Auburn quarterback Bo Nix from doing a lot of damage (in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday). We will see how they do against LSU QB Joe Burrow in Baton Rouge next Saturday night.

I tinkered with a few different ideas of addressing this before deciding that I would just move Auburn down the normal variation I allowed myself for this week, which is four spots.  There were more undefeated teams I wanted to put ahead of Auburn, but I don’t think numbers 7 to 10 would beat Auburn anyway. 

Clemson is still in the top 3 in the computer formula with three wins against the top 60, so I still don’t think it makes sense to make a change.  Ohio St. has more impressive wins so far, but there isn’t the kind of signature win that justifies becoming #1 in my mind. Maybe Wisconsin in a couple of weeks will do it, depending on how the SEC sorts itself out by then.

Although I tried to stay within the four spots, I did make a few exceptions based on losses (or lack thereof).  

I liked that there was a group of undefeated teams followed by a group of one-loss teams (with Oklahoma thrown in… see below), so I didn’t think it made sense to put Oregon ahead of more undefeated teams, especially now that the team they lost to has a loss itself. So I moved the Ducks one extra spot down.

I moved Oklahoma one extra spot up because I think the Sooners should be ahead of Texas since they’re undefeated.  If the Longhorns are better, they don’t have to wait long to prove it on the field.  Switching them before the game doesn’t accomplish anything. 

Third, I excluded Washington from the top 25 despite a computer rank of 20th.  If you’ve lost 40% of the FBS games you’ve played (to teams with 3 losses combined), that’s not top-25-worthy even with a good schedule.  Again, it’s a problem that can be easily rectified on Saturday. If they beat Arizona (#27 in the computer formula), they’ll be in.  If not, they won’t be.

Stanford K Jet Toner was responsible for 11 of the Cardinal’s 23 points against Washington Saturday night. Stanford dominated in both time of possession total yards largely due to the success of RB Cameron Scarlett (not pictured).

Michigan St. did take the last spot despite two losses, but I think 4-2 vs. FBS (which is what Washington would be with a win on Saturday) is easier to justify than 3-2 with an FCS win.  Also, one of the Spartans’ losses is to the computer #1.  The Huskies’ better loss is to #31.

As for undefeated teams, Memphis, Baylor, and Minnesota all joined the top 25 by virtue of being undefeated.  All the teams who fell out of the top 25 lost on Saturday.  Colorado fell the most spots, but that was partly due to Air Force’s loss to Navy. Michigan and Cincinnati moved back into the top 25 despite earlier losses.  Ohio St. and Wisconsin are two of the top four teams in the computer formula though, so I didn’t see those respective losses as a reason to keep the Wolverines or Bearcats out.  Both had decent wins over the weekend.  Michigan beat Iowa; and Cincinnati beat Central Florida.

A few teams have been seesawing, such as LSU (from 4th to 14th and back up to 3rd) and Notre Dame (from 25th to 7th and back down to 16th), but that’s part of the volatility that takes place in the first weeks of the transition to the computer system.  It’s also partly mistakes on my part in anticipating what the computer formula will do.

LSU gained from beating Utah St., which isn’t a bad team; but Georgia Southern finally won a game, so that gives the Tigers more credit for that win (so it was like two wins in one week).  The Tigers also benefited from the rule changes I made to my top 25.  Georgia and Alabama were too far back in the computer formula, and Auburn lost, so that accounts for all three spots that I moved the Tigers from the computer formula.  This had minimal affect on the ranking, but I also feel like LSU addressed some of its issues in the way it played against Utah St.  I’m less impressed by some of the other undefeateds.  I’ll write more about LSU later in the week.

We will know more about a lot of teams this weekend, not just LSU.  Hopefully that will clarify things and help limit the erratic movements from week to week. 

rankteamlast
1Clemson1
2Ohio St.5
3LSU14
4Alabama2
5Florida15
6Auburn4
7Wisconsin9
8SMU11
9Georgia3
10Boise St.6
11Penn St.17
12Wake Forest8
13Memphis
14Oregon18
15Arizona St.10
16Notre Dame7
17Oklahoma21
18Texas25
19Baylor
20Michigan
21Hawaii24
22Appalachian19
23Minnesota
24Cincinnati
25Michigan St.13

Out of top 25: (12) Colorado, (16) Washington, (20) UC-Berkeley, (22) Oklahoma St., (23) Iowa

Week 4 Top 25 and Summary

In College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 22, 2019 at 4:47 PM

I had too many tangents in addition to my rankings blog, so I’ll publish those separately along with my normal blog during the week.  LSU doesn’t play next week, so I have something special planned.

LSU

To get the main LSU coverage out of the way, the Vandy game wasn’t interesting enough to go into elaborate detail.  I did update the series blog. / (I also just remembered to update the Texas one too.)  The LSU defense wasn’t good but wasn’t nearly as bad as the score made it look.  The offense actually gave up two touchdowns (both after LSU had a big lead), so that reduces the 38 points to 24.  When there were 1 to 5 plays for some of the early LSU drives, it’s hot and humid on an artificial surface, and a number of good players weren’t playing, I don’t think 24 is embarrassing.  As Coach O pointed out though, there being too many quick offensive drives doesn’t make you miss your assignment, which happened multiple times and which Vandy exploited.  They aren’t as talented as LSU for sure; but at least their first team could generally have some role had they gone to LSU, and they have coaches who can get a lot out of their generally intelligent players.  So when you mess up, you aren’t getting away with it easily.

As I expected, LSU didn’t come close to the passing yards record; but Burrow did set the team passing touchdown record with 6.   This was the most points in regulation for LSU since 1977. One other note for Burrow: if you’re going to throw the ball away, make sure it goes clearly out of bounds (luckily the Vandy player he threw it to was ineligible for having stepped out).  I’ll have a slight rant about the inconsistent targeting rulings. 

LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase caught 4 touchdown passes to set the team receiving record. His 229 receiving yards are fourth all-time and most in an SEC game in LSU history.

It wasn’t related to the injuries, defense, or turnovers; but I had to lower LSU in the rankings.  The main reason was that apart from Texas there is almost no basis for the computer to give any points, and I’m beginning to remove subjectivity.  The three other teams LSU beat are a combined 0-6 against FBS, 1-3 against FCS, and 0-1 against Division II. Georgia Southern nearly beat Minnesota, but that doesn’t help much.  It may be a rare bye week that actually helps a team in my computer since both Vandy and GSoU play winnable games (Northern Illinois and ULL). 

Rankings and Playoff Race

LSU is still better on paper than Oklahoma at least.  The Sooners are the only undefeated team I ranked with fewer points than the Tigers, but they’ve already had a bye week.  I don’t think any of the teams I moved up would beat Oklahoma or LSU (or that any outside of the top 6 would beat Notre Dame), but that’s just a reminder that this is about accomplishments to date.  Even if you look good and put up good numbers, you don’t really accomplish much by beating a team with no FBS wins, at least not until they prove they can get those wins.

That should answer any questions about why the rankings look so different compared to a couple of weeks ago.  Moving on, there are finally some interesting games between ranked teams to discuss this week; and that’s not to mention the upsets.

Michigan is back to Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke levels of disappointment.   I’ll rank them in the future if they recover, but I think it would be an insult to dozens of other teams to leave them in right now.  I really don’t understand how you make so much talent look so mediocre, and people used to think Jim Harbaugh was a great coach.  Maybe something in the water.  I still think there is reason to be skeptical of Wisconsin, because I don’t think beating a team as close to Middle Tennessee and Army as Michigan was means the Badgers are back.  They won solidly enough and are undefeated though.

Wisconsin QB Jack Coan runs for a 25-yard touchdown against Michigan Saturday. Coan went 13 of 16 passing, but the big story was the 359 rushing yards by the Badgers.

I watched the last quarter or so of Utah and USC on Friday.  Utah looked like the better team, but they just couldn’t score reliably in the red zone.  USC couldn’t run at all; but somehow the same receiver kept getting open, and Utah didn’t seem to change their defense accordingly.  That provided all the points and first downs the Trojans needed.  They scored the touchdown that put the game away based on a phantom pass interference, but they probably would have won anyway. 

I am beginning to doubt the ability of a Pac-12 team to make the playoff (the only undefeated Pac-12 team left is Cal), and this isn’t a bad time to start discussing such things; but I think it’s too soon to count out a team like Oregon.  If Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Ohio St. all go undefeated, then probably not; but people forget how extremely rare it’s been to go 13-0 in a major conference.  Even the Washington team who made the playoff a few years ago had a loss.  Oregon has a loss, but a 12-game winning streak and possibly several ranked opponents would be hard to pass up, especially if Auburn can beat a couple of the tough teams they play (let’s just say it’s a gauntlet) to make the Ducks’ one loss look better. 

One problem that may come in is Oregon won’t have beaten enough ranked teams, but it’s possible Clemson may have zero wins over ranked teams at the end of the year.  I would actually prefer a one-loss Pac-12 team (unless it’s Washington St., who just lost to UCLA and whose only non-conference win is over 3-loss Houston) to one-loss Clemson though. 

I think A&M will finish in the middle of the SEC West (they just lost to Auburn, who most consider third right now), but that’s the only currently ranked team Clemson has played or will play.  If the Aggies lose to LSU and to Georgia in the last two playing weeks to fall to 5 losses (in addition to the two they already have and Alabama), they may not be ranked at that point.  Clemson could play a ranked team in the ACC championship, but even that is questionable given that the top two teams in the other division are Virginia (who struggled against Old Dominion) and North Carolina (who now has two “non-conference” losses, although one is to an ACC team Wake Forest).  Duke is third in the ACC Coastal, but they haven’t played an ACC team yet.  The team Clemson beats could fall out of the rankings even if that team is ranked.

JaTarvious Whitlow, Auburn’s leading rusher, dives for a touchdown against Texas A&M in a key SEC West contest on Saturday. It was the Aggies’ second loss overall, first in SEC play.

It’s kind of unfortunate that Clemson doesn’t play Notre Dame every year, because that would possibly help either team overcome a loss (and finally do away with the other).  Notre Dame now has a loss if you didn’t notice.  Georgia almost gave me a heart attack by allowing the Irish a chance to take the lead in the final minute, but thankfully they succeeded in knocking the ball down on 4th and 9. 

To backtrack, it was 10 to 7 Notre Dame at the half, and Georgia dominated the third quarter defensively but had to settle for two field goals.  The Bulldogs broke through with a 15-yard TD pass early in the fourth quarter (to go up 20-10) and looked likely to score another TD about 7 minutes later, but Jake Fromm was rightly called down short of a firs after a third-and-long scramble, so that ended up giving the Irish the ball down 23-17, which ended up being the final score.

I wasn’t just for Georgia because of SEC favoritism.  The Bulldogs are my favorite SEC East team among those who have ever won the SEC East (I’ll cheer for Vandy and Kentucky against UGA since I like underdogs, but neither has ever won the division).  It also increases the chance that an SEC team apart from the champion could make it into the top 4.  Not only could it help remove Notre Dame as an impediment, but it makes it more likely that Georgia or Florida (who most likely would have to beat Georgia to stop the Bulldogs from winning the East) could register as really good wins.  As an LSU fan, I would like there to be another avenue besides winning the SEC championship.  The SEC now has several losses to other conferences, but Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Georgia, and Florida do not.  It’s difficult to conceive of another SEC team having any kind of chance even though I know it’s early.  I’ll talk about my general dislike for Notre Dame later in the week. 

Top 25

Rank TeamLast
1Clemson1
2Alabama2
3Georgia3
4Auburn7
5Ohio St.5
6Florida8
7Boise St.22
8UC-Berkeley24
9Wake Forest20
10LSU4
11SMU
12Virginia
13Wisconsin
14Penn St.16
15Texas14
16Appalachian17
17Kansas St.25
18Iowa19
19Oklahoma10
20Colorado
21Washington
22Arizona St.18
23Michigan St.
24Oregon23
25Notre Dame6

Out of top 25: (9) Wash. St., (11) Michigan, (12) Texas A&M, (13) Utah, (15) C. Florida, (21) Cincinnati

2019 Preseason Rankings Intro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.