IA) Why Nine Games and Why Talk about It Now
The main reason for writing this is discussion of who should play whom in the event the SEC does adopt a nine-game schedule, but I feel like I would be remiss if I did not have a full discussion of the issues involved in this. But in a fit of preseason enthusiasm, I wrote about some more global issues. †So if you're not interested in the SEC specifically, you still might be interested in this discussion.
As a preview, I expect to release the second part sometime this weekend (as early as Friday), and sometime early next week (as early as Sunday), I will release my preseason rankings. I believe there is some kind of MAC game a week from today, and then there are some games of real interest next Thursday, so I definitely plan to post by then. I think I know what my top 25 will be, but I want to try to have a somewhat presentable introduction to the season.
Iíve read in some places that itís inevitable that the SEC schedule will eventually move to 9 games. Iím not sure if thatís true though. That would mean an SEC champion who makes the national championship would play 10 games against SEC teams as well as two (additional) games against the top four teams in the country. With three additional games, thatís almost an NFL season. Others expect yet another game to be added since many anticipate itís inevitable for the four-team playoff to expand to eight.
So thatís one argument against. Another is the SEC teams place a high premium (literally) on home games. Thatís a lot of revenue lost if you take just one away. Teams like Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Florida have longstanding home and home series with in-state rivals. I suppose those could be made so that theyíre home games in the years where there are 5 road SEC games, but some programs want to try to get eight home games.
Another part of the argument against five road games is those teams are at a distinct disadvantage. Vanderbilt and Mississippi St. have been less than intimidating at times in recent years, but I wouldnít expect an easy win in either place anymore. Kentucky may be the closest thing to an easy win in the SEC now, but they seem to get good crowds that show up and influence the games in the seasons when the Wildcats are competitive.
There were good arguments against the SEC expanding to 14 teams though, and of course that happened anyway. So I wanted to consider some options the conference would have in that case.
The SEC has stated that a change if made will not take place until 2016, but the conversation should begin now about what to do in either scenario. Since adding Texas A&M and Missouri, this will be the first season where the intended rivalries will start taking place. For instance, it will be the first year Arkansas will play nearby Missouri rather than South Carolina, which never made any sense except to make Lou Holtz face his former team when Holtz coached the Gamecocks. The last two seasons maintained the existing rivalries and scheduled other game on an ad hoc basis.
I donít feel this is appropriate for a number of reasons. One is teams should be able to schedule out-of-conference opponents in advance. Part of the problem with the number of games played against FCS and bottom-rung FBS opponents is the result of such contracts being cancelled at the last moment. So one school pays the other a cancellation fee, which is then payed to a third school to come in for usually just one game that season.
Competitive FBS teams are rarely willing to do this, and other teams expect to be paid for the expected humiliation (which doesnít always pan out, of course, but they still get to keep the money). Sometimes the team that cancelled simply wanted to play another home game, so that might not result in a good match-up for them either. I think this is one of the reasons LSU started accepting these neutral-site games. Some recent last-minute attempts to land an opponent did not go well.
Another reason is recruiting. Letís say an SEC East team is recruiting a player from Texas. He might want to know how many games his family can travel to, so he would want to know how many times in the next four or five years that team might play at Texas A&M, at LSU, and at Arkansas. In some cases, the parents might care even more than the player. They might want to go to a certain number of games regardless; but in deciding between schools, how much travel to expect is a valid question.
To simplify matters, Iím going to explain three numbers for a scheduling format. The SEC currently operates a 6-1-1 format. This means there are six divisional games, one permanent interdivisional opponent, and one rotating interdivisional opponent. Under the current system, this means that for those opponents who are not permanent, they will only play a given team in the other division once every six years.
The Pac-12 has a nine-game schedule with fewer teams, so there are only two teams in the conference each year that a given team will not play. The format in the Pac-12, at least for the California teams, is 5-2-2. The format for the rest is 5-4, although due to the California teams all playing each other every year, this means that the four inland teams (Arizona, Arizona St., Colorado, and Utah) will play one Northern California team and three Pacific Northwest teams each year. The four Pacific Northwest teams will play three inland teams and one Southern California team each year.
To give you a hint as to Part II of this blog, Iím going to suggest a 6-2-1 format for the SEC (in the event it goes to nine games), so if you want, you can let me know what your favorite inter-divisional match-ups are.
IB) ďThe Same RulesĒ and Alternative Approaches
The head coach of Stanford, David Shaw, criticized the SEC for playing†cupcakes in November, presumably referring to the non-rivalry games played in SEC off-weeks. I donít understand why thatís a problem and having a late bye week isnít, but we donít have to go into that now.
To be fair, his team has every right to play a tough schedule, but thatís the only reason Stanford would have belonged in the conversation for the top four last year. Their loss to Utah would have taken a lot more to overcome than Alabamaís loss to Auburn after time expired. So if the SEC played the same number of conference games as the Pac-12, particularly if they are compared to a team with a competitive non-conference schedule (Alabama didnít really have one, apart from the opening game against Virginia Tech, but the Hokies were not very good last season), there goes Stanfordís argument. I doubt Shaw would see it as ďthe same rulesĒ if he actually got what he wanted and as a result two SEC teams made it ahead of a Stanford team who won the conference despite a loss.
It also annoys me that not playing nine conference games is considered backing down now. It used to be that you played 10 games in the whole regular season. So if we still stuck to that, it would mean that a team that went to a conference championship would play 0 games outside of conference before a bowl. Historically (until about 1970), a normal amount of games against your conference was six.
Before the SEC became the first team to expand to two divisions in 1992, it still only had seven conference games per team. The Pac-12 (then the Pac-10 of course) had some teams with only seven conference games as recently as 1985. Some teams in the ACC played only six conference games as recently as 1987.
So a more traditional balance between in-conference (8 with a possible 9th is still a lot more than 6 or 7) and out-of-conference is ďbacking downĒ now.
I think itís actually problematic to have fewer and fewer games that we can use to judge one conference against another, which can only fairly be done by looking at such games. Doing that, the SEC has typically done better than the Pac-12, including out-of-conference winning percentage overall, winning percentage against FCS teams, and winning percentage against BCS teams. This is including in years that were supposedly bad for the SEC but when the SEC had a lot of depth. I remember one year when Ed Oregon was the head coach of Ole Miss, the Rebels went undefeated out of conference and lost every game in conference.
Frankly, I would be happy if only the divisional games counted toward the race for the divisional title and six other games were at the discretion of the school. Maybe they should be encouraged to play at least two games against the other division, but if Florida were to play Florida St. and Miami in the same year, maybe even two additional SEC games wouldnít be necessary. On the other hand, if the Gators wanted to play LSU and Auburn every single year, their two most traditional SEC West rivals, they could. They would not necessarily have to rotate in Arkansas and Texas A&M, and the Aggies and Hogs might be just fine with that.
Then a team like LSU would have less of a problem with playing Florida every year. As strong as both teams have been in the last decade or so, they have never made the SEC title in the same year. The same is true with Auburn and Georgia. More often than not, only the winner of the game has a decent chance to win their respective division.
Itís probably best LSU didnít have to play Florida again in 2006, just because they probably would not have made the title game even if they had won the SEC, but itís still a good example of what can happen. Arkansas lost one game in the division. LSU lost one game in the division. LSU beat Arkansas. Who made the title game? Arkansas. What? Well, that year, LSU had to play a Florida team that would go on to win the national championship, on the road I might add. Arkansas didnít play any particularly good team from the SEC East, but it didnít matter. One fewer conference loss meant the Hogs went.
For an example from the SEC East, Iíll go back to 1997, when LSU got its only victory against Spurrier when he was at Florida (the game was in Baton Rouge). LSU did not win the SEC West, but they lost to Auburn due to the head-to-head tiebreaker. Even though Florida beat Tennessee (which of course didnít have to play LSU or Auburn) and Auburn for good measure, the Volunteers went to the SEC title game instead and narrowly defeated Auburn before losing to Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. Despite what should have been an SEC East (if not SEC) title and despite handing Florida St. its only loss of the season for the second year in a row, Florida was relegated to the dreaded Citrus Bowl.
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Iím not doing specific rankings of the teams, but I do think the winner of the LSU/Alabama game will be the most likely SEC West champion. After that, they go in order of teams I think are most likely to win the division.
Since 2003, the top three teams of the SEC West, Alabama, Auburn and LSU, combined for 6 national championships, 3 national runners-up (including Auburnís undefeated campaign in 2004), and 8 conference championships, including the last five in a row.† Only once in that time (Arkansas in 2006) did another team win the division.† In that year, LSU beat Arkansas; but the loss to SEC East (and eventual BCS) Champions Florida kept the Tigers from winning the division.
The Tigers have some rebuilding to do on offense, as I mentioned†in January, but there is a strong foundation. Despite the loss of two of their three best running backs from last season, Kenny Hilliard will probably resume his #2 role from 2012 if not challenge Terrence Magee for the top spot. The offensive line should be strong again with only one significant loss, guard Trai Turner. There are five returning starters on offense, all in blocking positions, but there are twelve other lettermen returning and a strong recruiting class.
The question marks are at quarterback (where the Tigers lose veteran Zach Mettenberger) and wide receiver (three WRís were drafted, including the two top receivers; the third receiver was a running back not among those returning).
Admittedly, the opening game against Wisconsin (Aug. 30 in Houston) could be an ugly, boring game; but at least by October, the Tigers will likely have developed a passing game successful in keeping opposing defenses off-balance.
No defense in college football is going to be perfect, but the Tigers only had two defenders taken in the draft and will have seven returning starters, so the defense should be much more experienced than last season. 3/4 of the defensive lettermen return from last season, so there should be some depth as well. This will likely be an LSU team more in the mold of 2010-12, but I wouldnít expect it to have to win a game with 6 offensive points again.
All three LSU kickers return from last season.
Like LSU, the Tide returns 12 starters and does not return its quarterback. So why are they ranked so much higher?
To put it simply, TJ Yeldon and Amari Cooper. I suppose it also helps that offense always gets more attention in preseason rankings, and Alabama has still won three national championships since the last time LSU won one.
LSU may end up with more rushing yards and a better quarterback, but you get more attention if you have one go-to running back even though LSU has done pretty well in rotating running backs in the past.
I do think Alabama may be the better team in SeptemberĖit helps for a new quarterback to start out with a reliable targetĖ but of course what will really matter is which team is better in November.
You might have forgotten, but this team was one play away from winning the national championship.
On offense, three of the four leading ball handlers return from last season among 8 returning offensive starters. There are some more significant losses on defense (6 returning starters), but the offense is used to having to pick up some slack from time to time anyway.
I donít factor this into my rankings, but the schedule may be the biggest obstacle in repeating for the SEC West title. Auburn has to play Georgia (on the road) and South Carolina in inter-divisional play and also has to go on the road to play Alabama, Ole Miss, and Mississippi st. It does get LSU, Texas A&M, and Arkansas at home.
I donít think the Rebels will go to their first SEC Championship game this season, but no one expected Missouri to make their first last season, so I guess itís possible if LSU, auburn, and Alabama beat each other up enough (and possibly lose to lower teams or SEC East teams).
Other than Donte Moncrief, the top players statistically on offense return, although there will be some starters to replace. The defense will return 9 starters.
After being one of the top teams in the SEC West in 2012, the Aggies will probably continue to slide down the list. ďJohnny FootballĒ is gone (have I mentioned I hate that nickname?), as are Mike Evans and Ben Melena.
The Aggies do return 14 starters, but most of them on the defensive side of the ball, which has been underwhelming of late.
Mississippi St.†returns 16 starters from a bowl-winning team last year, so they may surpass the Aggies.
Arkansas†may be bringing up the rear in the SEC West again as the Hogs return 14 starters from a fairly poor performance last season.
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First off, there needs to be a better way to describe this. The ďplayoffĒ is four teams, but there was a championship game under the BCS and you could describe the other major bowls as ďBCS bowlsĒ without confusion. CFP (college football playoff) bowls maybe? I guess Iíll call them that.
If youíre not aware, there is a three-year rotation for the semifinals. Year 1: Rose and Sugar. Year 2: Orange and Cotton. Year 3: Fiesta and Peach. So Iím going to go through all three possibilities using last yearís pre-bowl rankings.
The Top Four
Going by the BCS standings, this is how the semifinal would have looked last year:
Rose: Florida St. vs. Michigan St.
Sugar: Auburn vs. Alabama
However, I donít think it would have happened that way. I think given that Alabama did not have a particularly strong non-divisional schedule (Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia Tech, Colorado St., Georgia St., Chattanooga), did not win the conference, and lost its final game, they would have been seeded no higher than 4th. When the loss takes place isnít stated as a criteria, but I canít imagine that wouldnít influence the results.
I donít think Stanford, which had the toughest schedule according to many and which won its conference, would have gone ahead of Alabama, but thatís another possibility. I would have picked Stanford myself.
Iíll just go with Alabama though for this exercise. I think making them #4 instead of #3 would have been a significant enough departure from all the major polls.
Year 1: Semifinal
So this is what I think the semifinal actually would have been:
Rose: Auburn vs. Michigan St.
Sugar: Florida St. vs. Alabama
Year 1: Other CFP Bowls†(those bowls in the rotation but not semifinals in Years 1, 4, 7, etc.)
The Orange Bowl is the only one where we have any guidance really since the ACC #1 goes to the Orange Bowl if itís a year where the Orange Bowl is not a semifinal. In this case, itís actually the ACC #2 since the ACC #1 obviously would have made the semifinal. I think with a fairly highly-ranked alternate of the same conference, the Orange Bowl still would have picked Clemson. The other Orange Bowl spot is for and SEC or Big Ten #2 or Notre Dame. I donít think they would have fought the Cotton Bowl over Missouri, and Ohio St. was a very attractive pick, so actually, thatís the one relevant bowl that I donít think would have changed.
Orange: Clemson vs. Ohio St. (actual match-up)
Cotton: South Carolina vs. Oklahoma
Fiesta: Stanford vs. Baylor
Peach: Central Florida vs. Missouri
Year 2: Semifinal
Cotton: Auburn vs. Michigan St.
Orange: Florida St. vs. Alabama
Year 2: Other CFP Bowls†(those bowls in the rotation but not semifinals in Years 2, 5, 8, etc.)
Itís a little more straightforward not to have the Rose and Sugar as part of the semifinals. My understanding is that in Years 2 and 3, the SEC takes the highest non-semifinal Big XII and SEC teams no matter what, and the Rose Bowl takes the highest Big Ten and Pac-12 teams no matter what.
To editorialize for a moment, I donít know why the Rose and Sugar would be paired as semifinals. It should be like Sugar Fiesta one year, Rose Peach the next, and Orange Cotton the next. That way youíre only disrupting one major bowl arrangement at a time. In the years that the Pac-12/Big Ten game doesnít take place, there should still be the SEC/Big XII game and vice versa.
Sugar: South Carolina vs. Baylor
Rose: Stanford vs. Ohio St.
Orange: Clemson vs. Missouri
Fiesta: Oklahoma vs. Central Florida
Year 3: Semifinal
Fiesta: Auburn vs. Michigan St.
Peach: Florida St. vs. Alabama
Year 3: Other ďPlayoffĒ Bowls†(those bowls in the rotation but not semifinals in Years 3, 6, 9, etc.)
These years will be the most restrictive since there are three bowls with pretty specific formulas.
Sugar: South Carolina vs. Baylor
Rose: Stanford vs. Ohio St.
Orange: Clemson vs. Missouri
Cotton: Oklahoma vs. Central Florida
All years: Other Bowls (rough guess)
I looked at the anticipated bowl lineup and used my best guess as to how it would have worked had next yearís bowls all been in place last year. Keep in mind that there were two more bowl slots among the major bowls since last season, there was a national championship game made up of two separate teams, but this season it will be made up of winners of bowl games. Oklahoma St. would have been bumped in my estimation so it would not have played in the Cotton Bowl. The Peach Bowl will be very different, so neither Duke nor Texas A&M would have been under consideration for the new CFP bowls. In the case of Texas A&M, however, I think their spot in what will be a major bowl would have been taken by another SEC team: in this case South Carolina. So that would leave the Big XII and the ACC with another team for the remaining bowls, pushing the other teams of that conference down the ladder.
I do think some of the bowls would have been the same due to regional interests. It made sense to have two Louisiana teams in the New Orleans Bowl, for instance. It made sense to have Maryland playing in Maryland and North Carolina playing in North Carolina. The†bolded†teams are those who were bowl-eligible but did not actually play in bowls last season. There were a record number of bowl-eligible teams last year, so Iím not entirely sure there will even be enough bowl-eligible teams next year. I guess the NCAA will cross that bridge when it comes to it.
This is just an informal sort of exercise, so donít make a big deal out of it. Iím going by what Iím told the rules will be next year as far as the preferred conferences, etc. Most conferences do not fill all their contractual slots though. I wasnít always sure which bowls would have gotten the #8 team from a given conference and which would have had to find another team.
New Orleans: Tulane vs. ULL
New Mexico: Washington St. vs. Colorado St.
Las Vegas: USC vs. Fresno St.
Idaho Potato: San Diego St. vs. Buffalo
Camelia (new; Montgomery, AL): Ohio vs.†Troy
St. Petersburg: Middle Tennessee vs.†South Alabama
Boca Raton:†Toledo†vs.†Florida Atlantic
Miami Beach (new): BYU vs.†Texas St.
Poinsettia (San Diego): Utah St. vs. Navy
Bahamas (new): Northern Illinois vs. Boston College
Hawaii: Oregon St. vs. Boise St.
Russell Athletic (Orlando): U. Miami vs. Ball St.
Armed Forces (Ft. Worth, TX): East Carolina vs. Louisville
Heart of Dallas: North Texas vs. UNLV
Military (Annapolis, MD): Marshall vs. Maryland
Pinstripe: Notre Dame vs. Rutgers
Sun (El Paso): UCLA vs. Texas
Holiday (San Diego): Nebraska vs. Arizona St.
Liberty (Memphis): Rice vs.†Western Kentucky
Texas: Texas Tech vs. Mississippi St.
Detroit: Pittsburgh vs. Minnesota
Independence (Shreveport, LA): Arizona vs.†ULM
Music City: Ole Miss vs. Georgia Tech
Belk (Charlotte): North Carolina vs. Cincinnati
San Francisco: Washington vs.†San Jose St.
Outback (Tampa, FL): Iowa vs. Georgia
CapitalOne (Orlando): LSU vs. Wisconsin*
Tax Slayer (formerly Gator; Jacksonville): Duke vs. Texas A&M
Alamo: Oklahoma St. vs. Oregon
Valley of the Sun (Tucson, AZ): Michigan vs. Kansas St.
Birmingham (formerly BBVA Compass): Vanderbilt vs. Houston
GoDaddy (Mobile, AL): Bowling Green vs. Arkansas St.
*It may have been the case that due to the fact that LSU plays Wisconsin to start this season, this match-up would not have been made. Itís possible that Georgia would have leapfrogged LSU, leaving the Tigers playing Iowa anyway. But as I said at the top of the section, itís just sort of a rough guess. I left LSU there because they were apparently seen as the more desirable team. Also, some may recall Miami played Florida St. in a bowl game in 2003 only to play them again at the start of the 2004 season.
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I know itís been a while, but often in the summer Iím too busy watching sports to blog much about them. College football is just the perfect sport for me to blog about since you have all your games finishing up on Saturday night, and (even with the national semifinal system) each game is much more important than an NFL game. Then, aside from the mostly irrelevant early-week games, there are a good few days at least to ponder the results and the upcoming week with no new results coming in.
Anyway, what Iíve mostly been doing lately in my spare time is watching the World Cup and the College World Series (Iím about to replace the latter with Wimbledon). Iíll probably have something to say about the World Cup when itís over, but for now I just want to sort of sum up the academic sports year, which ended with Vanderbilt winning its first ever national title in a menís sport, and (surprise surprise) talk about the SEC.
In some respects, you could consider the year a disappointment for the SEC. Obviously, the SECís streak of BCS titles came to an end at 7 after Auburnís loss to Florida St. in January. When Oregon won the menís outdoor track title a couple of weeks ago, it marked the fourth consecutive major menís sports title (Iíll just call them the four sports from now on) NOT won by the SEC. Had Virginia won the CWS, this would have matched the drought from January 2004 (LSUís first BCS title) to June 2005 (when Arkansas last won the national title in track).
On the other hand, going into the CWS final, the SEC had been reigning runners-up in all four of those sports (thatís not really ďreigningĒ, but you get the idea). In three of those four sports, the SEC had at least one additional team in the top four. Also, I mentioned the BCS title streak that came to an end, but itís still 8 years in a row that the SEC had a team play in the championship game. In baseball, itís now 7 years in a row than an SEC team has been in the championship series (4-3). The SEC only had two finalist in the seven prior seasons. Both lost.
This is actually kind of incredible, but this academic year, the SEC had 10 different programs finish in the top four of the major sports: Auburn football, Alabama football (Iíll explain), Kentucky basketball, Florida basketball, Florida track, Texas A&M track, LSU track, South Carolina track, Vanderbilt baseball, and Ole Miss baseball. I would be very surprised if any conference had ever done that before in those sports.
I know most have said good riddance to the BCS already, but there is an important thing to clarify in the way it worked. In short, the number 3 and 4 teams in the final BCS standings are the closest approximation to semifinalists. Iíll elaborate in the next paragraph, but feel free to skip it if you understand.
It did not narrow down the field to two teams after the bowl games. So in basketball, for instance, you got eliminated from title contention when games were played and you lost to the title team. But you got eliminated from BCS title contention after championship week and before the bowl games. If Florida and Wisconsin went and lost some kind of exhibition after the basketball season, that would not alter their status as basketball semifinalists. For BCS purposes, the bowl games were exhibitions for all the other teams. I know the AP title was theoretically still in play, but the BCS was the only championship system. You donít have to remind me USC won the AP trophy after the 2003 season, but in the bowl game they were playing a team (Michigan) which was not vying for any kind of championship, so thatís not really a system where you must beat other teams that are trying to be champions. A team like Alabama last year made a really good run at the title and understandably only one team separated them from a berth in the championship game when it came time to decide who was to play in that game.
So while the SEC ONLY had one national championship in the four sports this year, the first time it hasnít had multiple championships since 2007-08, having ten programs that high is an impressive feat, arguably even more impressive than 2011-12 when the SEC had 3 national titles, 3 runners-up and a seventh top-four team. As mentioned, three of the relevant programs were also runners-up this academic year.
Below is the chart of all these top fours beginning with the 2006-07 academic year, the beginning of the BCS-championship streak. 2005-06 was a good year for LSU (Final Four in basketball [won by Florida] and national runner-up in track), but I had to cut it off somewhere. If someone wants to compile results for other conferences, feel free. The only reason a fifth track team is included for this year is there was a tie in points for fourth, which obviously isnít really possible for the other sports. The BCS has too many decimal places to tie, and in basketball and baseball, youíre only going to get four semifinalists no matter what you do. From now on, I will use the same format for football and just consider the losing semifinalists as tied for third.
Since my regular internet is out and I can't figure out another way to post it, here is the link to my blog where the chart I made is posted: http://theknightswhosay.wordpress.com/2014/06/27/vanderbilt-cws-win-caps-great-academic-year-for-sec/
I just realized I'd forgotten to post this here.
2013 Final Top 25
rank / team / prior
1 Florida St. 2
2 Auburn 1
3 Mich. St. 4
4 Missouri 7
5 UCF 10
6 Stanford 3
7 S Carolina 11
8 Oklahoma 12
9 Ohio St. 5
10 Baylor 6
11 Alabama 8
12 Clemson 17
13 Oregon 16
14 Louisville 18
15 Arizona St. 9
16 UCLA 19
17 LSU 20
18 Okie St. 15
19 USC 25
20 N. Illinois 13
21 Fresno St. 14
22 TX A&M Ė
23 Notre Dame 24
24 Washington Ė
25 Duke 21
Out of rankings:†(22) Wisconsin, (23) Georgia
Many of you probably†know where to find†my other blogs†(such as more detailed rankings discussion)†by now, but if you need specific directions, let me know. † Everything is published there first.