1 Auburn 1
2 Oregon 3
3 Oklahoma 4
4 Florida St. 2
5 Georgia 5
6 Alabama 6
7 LSU 9
8 TX A&M 10
9 Va. Tech Ė
10 Notre Dame Ė
11 BYU Ė
12 Ole Miss 15
13 Clemson 13
14 USC 8
15 Louisville 20
16 Mich. St. 11
17 Stanford 14
18 S Carolina 16
19 Ohio St. 7
20 Arizona St. 17
21 Baylor 21
22 Florida 22
23 Duke 23
24 Penn St. 25
25 N. Illinois 24
Out of rankings: (12) UCLA, (18) Texas, (19) Michigan
It will take me a little while to think of and compose my next ďcolumnĒ to write, so Iím just going to do the rankings now even though itís only been a few days since I released the last rankings.
Auburn hasnít really played anyone, but I thought they had enough coming back to leave them in the top 2 in preseason, then I moved them into #1 last week and have no reason to make a change again.
I also donít like to rank a new team #1 for the first time lightly. Iíve never rankedOregon #1. If Auburn loses and Oregon keeps winning by convincing margins, they may earn that spot soon.
I moved Florida St. below both Oregon and Oklahoma. I was surprised that Louisiana Tech, whom the Sooners beat in Week 1, won on Saturday. Tulsa also beat an FBS opponent in its other playing week. Oklahoma dominated both teams. So the Sooners have been about as impressive as possible being that they have yet to play a major-conference opponent.
LSU and Texas A&M each moved up a couple spots. Itís not because it matters to me whether they won by 40 or 70 this week; but Ohio St. lost, and USC had probably the most pathetic win over a ranked opponent Iíve ever seen.
I couldnít justify keeping anyone else ahead of the three big winners, Virginia Tech,Notre Dame, and BYU. I may have been wrong about them being competitive, but I canít imagine Texas and Michigan are as bad as Rice and Connecticut (whom Notre Dame and BYU beat by similar margins in Week 1), but their opponents deserved credit for making them look that way. I was a lot more confident in Ohio St. being a deserving ranked team, so thatís why I put Virginia Tech highest of the three (and why the Buckeyes are still in the top 20). I put Notre Dame second because I considered them a lot more strongly for the top 25 going into the season, but it was a close call.
Ole Miss went up a few spots. They still havenít had a true home game, and they did all you could have asked them to do on the road against rival Vanderbilt, which has has some success against the Rebels in recent years.
South Carolina didnít really do anything wrong this week, but the three new teams had to push some winning teams down. Same goes for Arizona St.
I was able to keep the next three in place after easy wins.
I moved Penn St. up a spot because Iím skeptical Northern Illinois is a top-25 team after that Northwestern performance. But at least itís not two extremely questionable games, which is what happened to both Washington and UCLA, two other undefeated teams that I ranked in the preseason and have since removed. Iím open to bumping the Huskies if a team like Tennessee (which plays Oklahoma) wins, but Iím thinking thatís highly unlikely. East Carolina (could be a let-down for the Hokies) and maybe Virginia (not saying thatís any more likely than Tennessee) are the only others I see that could get themselves ranked by beating a ranked team.
The winner of Central Florida and Missouri will be a strong candidate next week.
That UCLA-Texas game lost its luster in a hurry, but maybe an impressive UCLA win could get them back in the top 25. An impressive Texas win probably would not be enough for the Horns to return.
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The blog is in two parts today (this was originally posted yesterday, and I wrote it all before any games took place if you're wondering about the title). The first is about more information Iíve learned about the college football playoff (CFP) and the rankings system, including information the committee will access and conference tiebreakers. The second part is a general response to the constant attacks on SEC schedules. I donít know how people forget about some of these games just because there is a Sun Belt or FCS team on the schedule in the same season, but Iíll talk more about that in that section.
New symbol for the new system , but no one is quite sure how it will work in practice.
Part I: CFP, tiebreakers, and statistical analysis
I was reading about how the CFP are going to work, and theyíre actually going to be over two days, so they wonít have results until Tuesday. Usually you at least had a good idea of the BCS on Sunday, so that will take an adjustment. Maybe more people will look at things like computer ratings while theyíre waiting. I was thinking computer ratings might decline drastically without the BCS, but now Iím not so sure. There is, after all, a lot of interest in various RPI and similar measures in college basketball.
You can read this for the voting procedure, but I donít know how illuminating it is:http://www.collegefootballplayoff.com/press-releases/college-football-playoff-releases-details-of-selection-committee-procedures
One of those adjustments is the SEC will have to look for a different option to determine a divisional champion in the event of a three-way tie. The Mountain West is still apparently planning to use the CFP to determine home-field advantage for its championship, but Iím not sure about tie-breakers. Also, the Big XII will use the final rankings before the bowls to determine who gets the championship designation in the event of a tie. These procedures donít have to be in place at the start of the season; but if there has been a final decision, I have not seen it. The SEC first decided to use the BCS for a three-way tie in late October, early November one year.
One option the SEC is considering is to compare the strengths of the inter-divisional games. I think this would only be if there is a three-way tie where all three teams beat one of the other teams in the tie, and all three teams had the same divisional record. For instance, letís say LSU but beats Auburn and Alabama, Auburn loses to Ole Miss, and Alabama loses to Auburn, and all three finish 7-1 in conference. LSU would make the title game both for best divisional record and for winning head-to-head. If you make it so LSU beats Auburn, who beats Alabama, who beats LSU (which is what we had last year, except in this scenario LSU doesnít lose to anyone else), then they would remain tied through both of the steps I mentioned. So only then would you look at teams outside the division. I would hope they would look at divisional record of the better team first, but it may just be adding up the records of the two teams.
I read something else about things the committee could consider that I found interesting:
ďYou make more big plays than your opponent, you stay on schedule, you tilt the field, you finish drives, and you fall on the ball. Explosiveness, efficiency, field position, finishing drives, and turnovers are the five factors to winning football games.
ē If you win the explosiveness battle (using [points per possession]), you win 86 percent of the time.
ē If you win the efficiency battle (using Success Rate), you win 83 percent of the time.
ē If you win the drive-finishing battle (using points per trip inside the 40), you win 75 percent of the time.
ē If you win the field position battle (using average starting field position), you win 72 percent of the time.
ē If you win the turnover battle (using turnover margin), you win 73 percent of the time.Ē
Something worth reading from the Washington Post. Wonders never cease. Anyway, if you donít know, success rate is measured by how often you have a successful down. A typical team has about a 40% success rate. A success is getting 50% or more of the required yardage on first down (for instance, 5 yards on 1st and 10), 70% or more on second down (7 yards on 2nd and 10), and 100% on third and fourth down. Success rate stops counting success if a team is up by more than 28 in the first quarter, 24 in the second quarter, 21 in the third quarter, or 16 in the fourth quarter.
I got that information from here:http://www.footballstudyhall.com/2011/3/15/2050106/the-toolbox-offensive-success-rates
Thatís a really useful metric. Since teams usually alternate possessions, I donít think the first one is as helpful in analyzing teams even though itís a better predictor on average.
For another aside, I found it odd that when I was reading about the playoff, I came across this quote from Lloyd Carr: ďI would hope no conference would have two teams in the four.Ē
Interesting coming from the guy who was all irritated he didnít get a re-match in the BCS title game against the same team he had just lost to. Could you imagine having had Auburn replay Alabama last year? That would have been ridiculous. I even thought it was questionable when Alabama played LSU, and no, that wasnít because of the result. At least it wasnít the final game for either team though.
Four times in the past five years, the final BCS standings did have a second SEC team in the top four, just so you know. Not that Iím likely to complain much if another team (especially a conference champion) were selected over a borderline second team from the SEC though.
Part II: Recent SEC Non-conference Schedules
Also, I wanted to talk about SEC non-conference schedules. Why is it that if you play four teams out-of-conference and three of them go to bowl games, people pretend you didnít play anyone and just mention the fourth team? Something like, ďtypical SEC, lol, Charleston Southern.Ē
I also noticed that last year, for instance, SEC teams played 1.5 games out of conference against BCS opponents (the automatic-bid conferences + Notre Dame) to the Pac-12ís 1.25. Granted, the SEC has an additional non-conference slot, but thatís part of the point I brought up last week. Even if you schedule well with your three games, you necessarily hurt competition between conferences and reduce the interesting non-conference games by increasing the conference schedule from 8 games to 9 games. I wonder if thatís part of the reason other conferences want the SEC to do that. There would then be a fewer sample of games to justify the SEC being superior to other conferences, and that assertion would be more subjective.
Anyway, to get to the specific teams, this season is a little unusual in some regards. Vanderbilt and Mississippi St. are both teams that typically have a decent opponent, but they donít this year. It might be in part to try to ensure bowl eligibility. The Bulldogs had to upset Ole Miss to get it last year.
Since 2002 (just seemed like a good spot, the last dozen seasons), Vanderbilt has played @Michigan, Navy (home and home), Gerogia Tech (home and home), Northwestern (home and home), @TCU, and Wake Forest (seven times, mix of home and away). Since 2002, Mississippi St. has played Oregon (home and home), Houston (three times), @West Virginia, Georgia Tech (home and home), and Oklahoma St. (neutral).
Going forward, Iím going to mention this season, followed by major games since 2002. There might be a couple of sentences after that, which Iím not claiming are great scheduling, but some of them only turned out not to be good due to luck.
Alabama plays West Virginia this year. The Tide has been having an easy time of things outside the division, but either Florida or Tennessee might have a good year. Since 2002, Alabama has played Oklahoma (home and home), South Florida, Northern Illinois (normally wouldnít count MAC teams, but that might be an exception), Penn St. (home and home), Clemson (neutral), Virginia Tech (twice, both neutral), Michigan (neutral), and Houston. They also played a really good Hawaii team and a couple of winning Southern Miss teams in that stretch, although the Golden Eagles and the Warriors were two of the worst teams last season.
Ole Miss plays Boise St. and ULL, which I normally wouldnít mention, but theyíve been good the last couple of years. Since 2002, Ole Miss has played Texas Tech (home and home). Texas (home and home), Missouri (home and home), Fresno St. (home and home), @Wake Forest, and BYU.
LSUís only big non-conference game this year is the opener against Wisconsin in Houston. Since 2002, LSU has played Virginia Tech (home and home), Arizona (home and home), Oregon St., @Arizona St., West Virginia (home and home), Washington (home and home), Oregon (neutral), North Carolina (neutral), and TCU (neutral). They also played Fresno St., but that was a bad year for the Bulldogs in 2006.
As an aside, someone mentioned LSU played ďeveryoneĒ one year. Iím not sure what season he had in mind. When they won the SEC in 2007, they didnít play either of the top SEC East teams during the regular season, but they did play Virginia Tech out of conference and three SEC East teams who went to bowl games. In 2011, they beat Oregon and West Virginia, but they didnít play Georgia until the championship game. Florida was the best regular-season SEC East opponent, but the Gators only went 7-6 that season.
Arkansas has been rightly criticized for some of its schedules lately, but this year they travel to Texas Tech and host Northern Illinois. Since 2002, Arkansas has played Boise St., South Florida, Texas (three times, two on the road), Tulsa (twice), USC (home and home), Texas A&M (home and home), and Rutgers (home and home).
Auburn travels to Kansas St. this year. Since 2002, the plains Tigers have played Syracuse, Georgia Tech (home and home). USC (home and home), Washington St. (twice), South Florida, West Virginia (home and home), Clemson (home and home and a third, neutral game), and the other leg of the Kansas St. home and home.
Since there is one in each division, Iíll address the two new teams in the transition between the divisions.Texas A&M isnít playing anyone to speak of, but they did recently schedule Arkansas when they were in the Big XII. Also, I think theyíve been more than willing to continue their series with Texas, so I donít completely blame them. But I will leave out their other recent opponents since they werenít SEC at the time. Missouriís game against Central Florida could be very interesting. The black and gold Tigers didnít really play anyone last season, but they did play Arizona St., Central Florida, and Syracuse in 2012, their first year in the SEC.
Tennessee travels to Oklahoma, and they shouldnít be expected to do much else, although their Utah St. (the opener) hasnít been bad. Since 2002, the Vols have played Miami (home and home), Fresno St., Notre Dame (home and home), Cal (home and home), UCLA (home and home), Oregon (home and home), Cincinnati, and North Carolina St. (neutral).
Other than Clemson, South Carolinaplays East Carolina this year. Since 2002, the Gamecocks have played Clemson (every year), Virginia (home and home; they werenít so bad 12 years ago), Central Florida (home and home), North Carolina (home and home), North Carolina St. (home and home), Navy, and East Carolina.
Kentuckyís only big non-conference game is Louisville, whom they have played every year. I think theyíre another program that doesnít want to miss out if they do have a shot at bowl eligibility. Since 2002, the Wildcats have only played Indiana (three times) to go along with the Cardinals. The Wildcats did draw a couple good ďGroup of FiveĒ teams, Kent in 2012 (finished with 11 wins), Central Michigan (finished with 10 wins in 2006), and Western Kentucky (finished with 8 wins in 2013 and with 7 in 2011).
Georgiaís big games out of conference are the opener against Clemson and Georgia Tech to end the regular season. Since 2002, in addition to Georgia Tech every year, they have played Clemson (three times), Boise St. (twice), and Oklahoma St. (home and home). They played four Pac-12 teams that finished with losing records: a pair of games (home and home) with both Arizona St. and Colorado. They also played two teams I notice that finished with 8 wins, Central Michigan and Troy.
This year, Floridaís only meaningful game is against Florida St., whom theyíve played every year as long as I remember. But I donít really blame the Gators, being that they have to play the SEC East, Alabama, and LSU. Alabama might be overrated and LSU might just be a regular top 25 sort of team, but I doubt Alabama, LSU, and Florida St. will all be disappointing. Thatís not to mention Georgia, South Carolina, and Missouri.
Since 2002 (in addition to Florida St.), Florida has played Miami (four times, not counting the bowl game of course, two home and homes), South Florida, and Bowling Green. In almost every year, Florida also ends up playing another winning team. Iíll give a few examples. Louisiana Tech went 7-4 in 2005, Southern Miss went 9-5 in 2006, Troy went 8-4 in 2007 (and 9-4 in 2009), Hawaii went 7-7 in 2008, and ULL went 9-4 in 2012.
Some of those lists are pretty impressive, some arenít so much; but I think the four teams who have annual rivalry games out of conference (South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, and Kentucky) deserve a little bit of slack. Also, Iíll admit that even the teams that have scheduled well will still typically have a couple easy wins per year. But the idea that the SEC is en masse avoiding all competition is mostly based on people trying to brush aside how strong the SEC is from year to year.
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I meant to post this here on Wednesday.† Sorry about that.†
The AP and coaches poll each put 5 SEC teams in the top 13 (Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina, and LSU). I donít happen to think teams with 11 starters or fewer (such as Stanford, Michigan St., or Baylor) belong ahead of any of the five, so Iím putting all 5 in the top 10. Iíd expect one or two of them not to finish in the top 10, maybe not even the top 25, but it wonít be because of a big difference in talent.
I should probably mention a couple other things. If I expect a team to have a significant drop-off, I ranked them accordingly. I didnít decide not to rank Wisconsin because I think LSU will beat them easily (I donítÖ I didnít expect LSU to beat Ole Miss easily last year even though Ole Miss wasnít ranked before the game, for instance). But I didnít have Wisconsin ranked after last season, and itís hard to improve when less than half of your team comes back. Itís not hard for a team like LSU to lose to a team that might be 30th or 40th if they have a bad game though. Even Florida St. could very well lose such a game.
I consider Missouri to be in about the same category as Florida last season (which I didnít drop nearly far enough, although I did get criticized by many for ranking them third in the East) or Cincinnati a few years ago after the Bearcats finished in the top 5. I just donít see the makings of a ranked team coming back. The other teams that fell out werenít near the top and donít seem to have a lot coming back. Fresno St. is an exception, but they have a lot coming back on a porous defensive unit, so Iím not too confident in them doing particularly well. I suppose they may be a candidate in the Mountain West though.
When in doubt, I kept teams in. I find it interesting that teams like Texas, Michigan, and Florida will soar in the rankings if they win a couple of games, but people donít want to rank them preseason. I will show the previous rankings below. I have some other comments about things that Iíve read and discussed in the last week, but I will post those on Thursday or Friday.
1. Florida St. Ė I donít think the Seminoles are likely to repeat, to be honest; but they are the defending champions, and there is no other strong candidate for preseason #1.
2. Auburnósimilar logic here. I did mention that the Tigers of the plains have a difficult schedule in my SEC West preview (they will have to play all four of the other highly-ranked SEC teams), but that doesnít mean theyíre not among the best teams.
3. OregonóThe Ducks have one more returning starter than Auburn has, which gives them among the highest numbers of returning starters among teams that finished ranked last season. Weíve gotten used to the Ducks being a top 5 team, so I would expect better than another mid-top-25 season.
4. AlabamaóThis is another team that weíve gotten used to competing for the top spot no matter what you say about returning starters, so thatís why even with 12 returning starters, the Tide still have a place in the conversation. We donít know how the quarterback and defense will come along, but itís safe to say a Saban defense will be more than adequate in most games.
5. OklahomaóI hate picking Oklahoma to be in the top 5 because that never seems to be what happens (at least not since 2008), but again, itís hard to pick someone else here. The Sooners do return 14 starters, most of them on defense.
6. GeorgiaóThe Bulldogs were rather mercurial last season, scoring wins over LSU and South Carolina, then coming so close to beating Auburn. Two mid-season losses in a row in the division were devastating though. By the standards of this season, 15 returning starters is a lot, and although the quarterback is not a returning season starter, he seems ready to go based on his play last year.
7. UCLAóThe Bruins have a ton of returning starters, but they havenít been quite able to turn the corner into being a nationally competitive team. Could this finally be the year? They could even be this yearís Florida St., although I remember Florida St. winning national championships before.
8. South CarolinaóIt could be interesting outside of the division for the Gamecocks as they will face Auburn and Clemson, but Georgia will have to do the same, so with 14 starters, this is a team with a respectable chance to win the SEC. They may have to do it with a loss or two though.
9. Ohio St.óThe Buckeyes should still be hanging around with another strong chance to win the conference. It wasnít long ago that they won 24 games in a row, so 12 returning starters still seems formidable.
10. LSUóAs I said in the SEC West preview, I do think the winner of the LSU/Alabama game is the most likely SEC West champion. I expect Alabama to be favored of course, but like with South Carolina, that still leaves a reasonable chance for the Bayou Bengals.
11. USCóI donít think the Trojans have lagged all that far behind the major teams in recent years. Theyíve just had some difficulty in striving for consistency at times. Maybe a stable head coaching position and 14 returning starters will provide just that.
12. ClemsonóThe other ACC team and the other South Carolina team is tempting to overlook, but these Tigers did beat every team they played apart from the Gamecocks and Seminoles on their way to an Orange Bowl win, their second appearance in a BCS bowl in three seasons.
13. Michigan St.óSticking with BCS bowl winners from last season, Michigan St. should compete for a spot in the Big Ten title game again; but it might be just a bit more challenging with 11 returning starters, only four of whom will be on defense, the Spartansí strong suit. The Spartans will now be in the same division as the Buckeyes, by the way, so Iíd say the chances of making the Big Ten title game are reduced.
14. Central FloridaóIíll throw in one more to make it three in a row. Itís difficult to be the best mid-major/ďGroup of FiveĒ team two years in a row, but the Knights appear to be in good shape coming off the Fiesta Bowl win last season. In fact, theyíre the only team from my top 10 last season to return 15 starters or more. The Knights have only lost three games since September 2012, very close ones at that.
15. StanfordóThe Cardinal have earned a top-10 spot four seasons in a row, but I think that may come to an end this season. USC and UCLA both seem to be getting stronger, and it will be difficult to get past Oregon in the Pac-12 North. Eleven returning starters may not be enough.
16. Ole MissóGoing back to the SEC, the Rebels may actually play a role in the SEC West this season. Theyíre most likely to try to be spoilers, but if LSU, Auburn, and Alabama all beat each other (or maybe if Auburn loses to Ole Miss and wins the rest in the division), that may provide an opening. Fifteen starters return from last season, which saw the Rebels in the top 25 before losses to eventual SEC East champion Missouri and rival Mississippi St. (in overtime) to end the regular season.
17. WashingtonóThe Huskies are an improving team with 12 returning starters. They may not win the Pac-12 North, but a strong second would not be a surprising result. The Huskies should be in good hands with former Boise St. head coach Chris Petersen. Like Georgia and a couple of other teams, there is an experienced quarterback, just not last seasonís starter, ďoff-the-field issuesĒ notwithstanding.
18. Arizona St.óStaying in the Pac-12, the Sun Devils won 10 games against a very tough schedule last season but return only 10 starters in what should be a challenging Pac-12 season. The offense should be strong, but the defense will remain a question mark until conference play begins.
19. TexasóThe Longhorns return 13 starters, not even including David Ash, who played well in two out of three games last year before injury and very respectably in 2012. I just donít see Texas staying down and out for long. The Horns may not challenge Oklahoma, but they did beat the Sooners last season. Iíll mention Baylor, but I donít see another strong competitor in conference.
20. MichiganóIím surprised the Wolverines havenít shown up in more top 25s. I see them similar to how I saw their rivals from East Lansing going into last season. They had a high loss total last season, but upon closer inspection, most were very ďgoodĒ losses. One point to Ohio St., three points to Iowa, four points to Nebraska, and three points (in four overtimes) to Penn St. They didnít really show up to the bowl game, but the only other loss that wasnít close was to that Spartan team I mentioned. The increase in experience (15 returning starters) may help turn many close losses into wins.
21. LouisvilleóThe Cardinalsí main problem is being put into the same division as Florida St. and Clemson, but they should still have another solid season. They won all but one game last year (a three-point contest against Central Florida) and will have 13 returning starters.
22. BayloróYou may wonder why theyíre so low (at least before I explained above), but with 9 returning starters, I debated taking the Bears out entirely. At least they have a returning starter at quarterback and the other returning starters are evenly distributed on both sides of the ball. Still, the Bears havenít been big enough players on the national scene of late for one to expect an abundance of talent just waiting to move into key positions.
23. FloridaóI thought at least one more SEC team might be appropriate. Florida appeared out of nowhere two seasons ago to compete for a national championship, although they ultimately fell short of even making the SEC championship game. But then the Gators disappeared just as fast last season. It might be another quick turnaround with 14 returning starters though. Iím not picking them for the top 5, but I think top 25 is a good bet.
24. DukeóAnother team with 14 returning starters (I guess thatís down to 13 now) that used to be led by a certain be-visored ball coach. Duke had an outstanding year by its standards last year though. I had them in my final top 25, so Iím not seeing a strong reason to keep them out of the preseason top 25.
25. Northern IllinoisóTwo teams that would fall outside of the original BCS contract in the top 25 (Louisville is in the ACC now) seems like a realistic expectation, and as I said, a lot of the big programs seem a little thin, so I thought, ďwhy notĒ? Of course the Huskies won the MAC a couple of years ago, followed up by winning the first 12 games of last season; and they return just about everyone but the quarterback on offense and approximately half of their defense.
I will show all the top 25 relative to the previous one below. I put symbols for the teams that were previously unranked. I tried to make them similar sizes to one another.
1 Florida St. 1
2 Auburn 2
3 Oregon 13
4 Alabama 11
5 Oklahoma 8
6 Georgia Ė
7 UCLA 16
8 S Carolina 7
9 Ohio St. 9
10 LSU 17
11 USC 19
12 Clemson 12
13 Mich. St. 3
14 UCF 5
15 Stanford 6
16 Ole Miss Ė
17 Washington 24
18 Arizona St. 15
19 Texas Ė
20 Michigan Ė
21 Louisville 14
22 Baylor 10
23 Florida Ė
24 Duke 25
25 N. Illinois 20
Out of rankings: (4) Missouri, (18) Okie St., (21) Fresno St., (22) TX A&M, (23) Notre Dame
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So in Part I, I talked about the arguments and some reasons why the SEC could be moving to a nine-game schedule. My reason for coming up with scenarios is because I would hope that the additional games would be the most compelling and logical ones possible. This is why in this scenario I would want the SEC to move to two permanent opponents rather than one permanent opponent with two in rotation.
My first group of proposals is based upon the divisions as they are. I talked about potential realignment last May, so I donít want to rehash all those arguments again, but Iíll add a few possibilities for match=ups in a realigned SEC at the end.
The first is what I believe to be the most traditional approach. Under each team is listed my two proposed permanent opponents. I relied on this site for most-common opponents:http://football.stassen.com/records/all-opponent.html. It doesnít count all the turn of the (20th) century games, but thatís not really important to this analysis.
Anyway, bolded opponents are the most commonly-played interdivisional games; italicized opponents are the second-most commonly played. What is true for one team is not always true of the other. For instance, South Carolina rarely played any SEC West teams before joining the SEC. They played Alabama and LSU the most, but theyíre nowhere near the top of most commonly-played SEC opponents of either LSU or Alabama.
There were a few spots, such as with the four newer teams (Arkansas, Missouri, Texas A&M, and South Carolina), where the match-up is based more on geography than history, but where I didnít think the connection was obvious, I put a mark next to the team with a note below. Some people might have an easier time looking at the map.
*Florida does have a longer series with Auburn, but Miss. St. is still a traditional series. The Gators have played Miss. St. more than theyíve played Vanderbilt, Tennessee, or South Carolina. Between 1955 and 1992 (when the SEC was first divided into two divisions), Florida actually played Mississippi St. more than it played LSU.
On the other side, Miss. St. has played no team of the SEC East more than it has played Florida.
#These two teams admittedly have not faced each other often. Before South Carolina joined the SEC, there were only 4 games played between the two.
Still, it makes a lot of sense geographically. This is better for South Carolina than either Mississippi St. or Arkansas, neither of whom have a reason to play the Gamecocks (other than recent custom).
LSU, Ole Miss, and Alabama were the only teams the Gamecocks had historical series against before South Carolina joined the SEC, but the Gamecocks are #6 in the SEC East for all three teams, ahead of only Missouri.
&Other than South Carolina, which Arkansas was forced to play when both joined the SEC, Tennessee is Arkansasís most-played opponent in the SEC East.
Tennessee is more accustomed to playing every other team in the SEC West, apart from Texas A&M, but again, this is a decent geographical pairing.
^There is no good reason for South Carolina to play Texas A&M other than the fact that theyíre both in the Southern part of their respective divisions and both are among the four newest SEC teams.
~Mississippi St. has only played Kentucky two fewer times than Ole Miss has. Mississippi St. has also only played Tennessee four more times than it has played Kentucky, but it has played Kentucky more in the last 60 years.
%Ole Miss and Georgia are each third on the otherís list. Ole Missís second is Tennessee, and Georgiaís second is Alabama. Since 1955, Ole Miss has actually played Georgia 16 more times than Alabama has. In the same period, Ole Miss has played Georgia two more times than it has played Tennessee.
I donít have the energy to make another chart like the one above, and itís after 10 on the east coast, so Iím just going to post two pictures for each arrangement below. One will be a screen-capped list similar to the above, and the other will be a map showing how the teams are matched.
The traditional proposal above does not try to take into account competitive balance. I have one more than also does not take into account competitive balance, but it works better for some teams and not as well for others:
The below was my first attempt to change some of the opponents so that it would try to have each two-team combination balance out competitively. For instance, in the last one I posted, I can see someone from Auburn being upset with having to play both Georgia and Florida every year while Alabama would be playing Tennessee and Vanderbilt instead (even though Vandy has had a couple good seasons lately).
The fourth one I did was more of a hybrid. Teams would be a little less happy with it due to where these programs are right now; but on the other hand, it makes a little more sense historically than the one I just posted.
The below was the only series of match-ups that made sense if the simplest realignment takes place, which would be switching Missouri and Auburn. As I mentioned before, Auburn is clearly to the East of Vanderbilt of the SEC East as well as all the other SEC West teams. Auburn is nearly as far East as Knoxville (Tennessee) and Lexington (Kentucky). Obviously, we would want to have a permanent series with Alabama, but two other major series for Auburn are Georgia and Florida, which would both become intra-divisional series. Missouri of course is among the three westernmost teams in the entire SEC. Not coincidentally, three of the most logical opponents, Arkansas, Texas A&M, and Ole Miss, are all in the SEC West.
The final maps are two variations of permanent opponents in a North/South alignment. The one that makes the most geographic sense is presented first, but I think there might be some griping especially by Florida and Auburn.
The second proposal would make things difficult for both South Carolina and Georgia, but being that they could both be expected to be in the title race every year and we would take Florida out of the mix (by moving them to the new SEC South, made up mostly of the current SEC West), I donít think theyíd have too much right to complain. All four teams that have recently won BCS titles would be in the South.
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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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