I wrote this about 12 hours ago.† The committee pretty much did what I thought they should do, with the exception of choosing Georgia Tech over UCLA. I guess they went with the team that finished strong over the better "body of work".† After Oregon took the Rose and Arizona the Fiesta, there wasn't really a good bowl to put UCLA in anyway.† I also would have preferred Alabama play FSU in the Sugar Bowl and the traditional Rose Bowl match-up, but I guess they don't consider that.
I know this is early in the day for most of you, but Iím not the one who decided to make the selection show so early for west coasters like me. Iíll just have to find out the final verdict after I get up and have breakfast.
Iíll just do my regular top 25 blog later in the week, but for reference here are my ratingsresults. I use the numbers there below.
(Teams in my Top 7 apart from Boise St.; wins are limited to those over the top 60.)
Florida St. (3-0 vs. top 25, 5-0 vs. top 50):
Beat numbers 14, 21, 25, 41, 46, 55, 60
Alabama (3-1 vs. top 25, 8-1 vs. top 50):
Beat numbers 9, 16, 18, 26, 33, 40, 45, 47, 52
Lost to #8
Oregon (3-1 vs. top 25, 6-1 vs. top 50):
Beat numbers 10, 11, 13, 36, 39, 48
Lost to #10
Ohio St. (2-0 vs. top 25, 5-0 vs. top 50):
Beat numbers 13, 15, 28, 30, 43, 54
Lost to #74
TCU (1-1 vs. top 25, 4-1 vs. top 50):
Beat numbers 19, 29, 30, 45, 57, 60
Lost to #7
Baylor (2-0 vs. top 25, 3-1 vs. top 50):
Beat numbers 5, 19, 29, 57, 60
Lost to #45
There should be no serious doubt about Florida St., Alabama, and Oregon, so Iíll skip to talking about the fourth semifinal team.
Baylorís win wasnít really in doubt for the much of the second half, but I donít think it was anything like the kind of exclamation point Ohio St. had. I had Ohio St. in the top 4 to begin with, so I am still convinced Baylor does not belong. Virginia Tech is a worse team to lose to than WVU, but my feeling is the two additional wins over the top 50 make up for this.
I respect the opinion that TCU belongs ahead of Ohio St., although obviously I donít agree with the conclusion. I think Ohio St. just showed emphatically they can play like a top 4 team. Admittedly, they showed all those weeks ago they can also lose to a mediocre team at home by two touchdowns, but at some point, the other 12 games taken as a whole should be more important. One top-25 win vs. 2 and 5 top-50 wins vs. 4 make up for that. TCU played the best of any of these teams in their loss, but actually that might have been their best game. I just havenít seen them look like a top team often enough, particularly in light of their difficulties against West Virginia and Kansas in the month of November.
Transitioning out of the semifinal discussion, I donít think Marshall and Boise St. are getting the respect that previous ďgroup of fiveĒ teams with similar records have gotten in the past. Hawaii in 2007, for instance, was #11 after starting 11-0. Marshall, which has actually had a better schedule this season, was #19 after starting 11-0. I do think Marshall and Boise St. may each be a couple of spots too high in my ratings though.
I mentioned briefly last week why I had Boise St. ahead of Arizona, and now itís similarly problematic to have Boise St. ahead of Baylor. There is a higher depth to Boise St.ís wins, but ultimately beating top-20 teams should be valued more highly. I want to try to find a way where beating #5 and #19 counts for more points than beating #20, #49, and #69. Those arenít Boise St.ís three best wins (they beat two others in the top 60), but they just happened to combine for slightly more points than Baylorís two best wins.
One way I thought of was adding some kind of additional credit for beating teams that end up with positive ratings (which is usually approximately the top 40). I wonít alter the formula at this point this season though. I will tinker with it after the final results of this year to see how it turns out. I will also look to see how it would alter previous ratings.
Something else I want to note is Boise St. actually has more FBS wins than Baylor because they played an extra game and did not play an FCS opponent. So where usually a team with two losses has fewer wins than one with a single loss, the two-loss team in question has more wins.
In an average playing week, Baylor did accumulate more points than Boise St. did in an average week.
One reason I say Marshall may be a spot or two too high is that I think Michigan St.should be in a major bowl. Their only losses are to teams I believe should be in the top 4.Wisconsin was technically the Big Ten runner-up, but they lost an additional game, and they lost to LSU and Northwestern. LSU isnít a bad loss, but Northwestern is pretty bad. They donít even qualify for a bowl game. I mention those together because theyíre in the same conference.
I also think UCLA should be included in the top 6 bowls, while Georgia Tech should be excluded. The two teams finished with the same number of losses, and there were understandable losses by both and fairly weak losses by both. UCLAís non-conference slate of Virginia, Memphis, and Texas, combined with the strength of the Pac-12 South relative to the ACC Coastal, should put them ahead.
Florida St. was actually two possessions ahead of Georgia Tech going into the last couple of minutes, which is a gigantic lead for the Seminoles, so the final score being two points doesnít sway me. Also, I give them credit for the one strong out-of-conference win (albeit an extremely lucky one) against Georgia, but the others were Wofford, Tulane, andGeorgia Southern.
I havenít exactly made the case why UCLA should go ahead of Wisconsin or Michigan St. should go ahead of Georgia Tech, but hopefully you can fill in the blanks there.
The only other thing in the top 25 worth commenting on is a team that hadnít been there since my (subjective) preseason rankingÖ.
We can also add Northern Illinois to the list of ďgroup of fiveĒ teams that may be a spot or two too high. After Arkansasís games against LSU and Ole Miss made that blowout loss more understandable, that only leaves one other loss for the Huskies against 11 wins. Like Boise St., Northern Illinois goes up an extra spot for playing an extra game. If I averaged by playing week, they would have stayed behind Louisville.
In addition to my blog linked to above, I also have a page on Facebook and am on twitter @TheBayouBlogger.
SEC teams on the map and the 12 likely SEC bowl locations. The gold stars are CFP bowls. An SEC team in such a bowl could also go to Miami (off the map).
I donít like to post something on the same day as a major game, but the Pac-12 championship doesnít really affect what Iím talking about here. I do think the Pac-12 is pretty strongly the second-best conference, and I believe a 2-loss champion (if Arizona wins) is probably good enough to be in the top four, as I mentioned in my rankings blog. Anyway, my feeling on the conference does not change based on the outcome of that game.
I donít think last weekís SEC losses (all by the East) indicated the SEC West wasnít dominant. As mentioned, Georgia should have won anyway and Georgia Tech will be playing for the ACC title, so thatís not so bad of a result. Florida, Kentucky, and South Carolina registered a combined 0 wins over the SEC West and were playing the other top 4 teams of the ACC. Given their relative position in the SEC, Georgiaís loss was the only one that I felt damaged the SEC overall.
Although it doesnít help in the overall record, I thought it was an encouraging sign that Kentucky, one of only two SEC teams who failed to make a bowl game, got close to beating a very good Louisville team on the road. Had the Wildcats won, they would have qualified for a bowl game as well.
The top three SEC West teams (Alabama, Mississippi St., and Ole Miss) did not lose any games to the SEC East this season. LSU finished tied for fourth (with Auburn) and also did not lose any. The only SEC West teams that lost games outside of the SEC West were the other three teams, and Georgia and Missouri were the only teams in college football to beat any of them.
There were a few really strong out-of-conference wins too. LSU beat Wisconsin, the top team of the Big Ten West (and it wouldnít shock me if the Badgers beat Ohio St.). Auburn, the other team who tied for fourth, beat Kansas St., which could tie for the Big XII by beating Baylor this weekend. Otherwise, they could be used as an argument to put Baylor in the top 4. West Virginia, losers to Alabama, beat Baylor and lost to TCU (another top-4 possibility) by one point. I also donít dismiss Ole Missís win over Boise St.
I still canít explain Missouriís loss to Indiana except that apparently when they play badly they really play badly. They also lost to Georgia 34-0. Thatís a very unusual result for two teams that compete with one another for a division title all year, especially being that the loser of that game won the division and lost no other conference games.
Georgia and Missouri will probably occupy the top two non-CFP Bowls for the SEC, which are the Outback and CapitalOne Bowls.
Most predictions Iíve seen place LSU against an ACC opponent in the Belk Bowl (in Charlotte), the TaxSlayer Bowl (known as the Gator Bowl), or the Music City Bowl. We could have a nice reunion with former SEC West head coaches Bobby Petrino or David Cutcliffe, for instance. Not sure if ďniceĒ and ďPetrinoĒ belong in the same sentence, except in the sense that competitive teams are nice to watch.
The Big XII or Big Ten could also provide an opponent for LSU.
Mark Schlabach of ESPN changed his prediction of the Texas Bowl from Texas vs. Texas A&M (which has been widely predicted) to Texas vs. LSU. I wouldnít have a problem with that as an LSU fan; but as a general fan of the sport, I want to see that Texas/Texas A&M game. Iíd rather have a chance to beat a slightly better team than the Longhorns though. A Longhorn site is saying the SEC wonít allow such a game, but Iíve also heard from many neutral sources over the last couple of years it was Texas putting a stop to any game against the Aggies, so Iím skeptical.
Itís also possible the Gator Bowl could have a Big Ten team. Iíve seen Maryland and Minnesota suggested as possibilities within the last couple of weeks. Notre Dame was listed for that game at one point, but that was before they dropped the last two games.
Iím thinking what makes the most sense geographically would be Arkansas for the Independence Bowl, Tennessee for the Liberty Bowl, and South Carolina for the Music City Bowl. The Birmingham Bowl or Music City Bowl would also make sense for Tennessee, but then the Liberty Bowl or Independence Bowl could have less geographically favorable teams. LSU (I hope and most expect) will be a more highly-regarded team, as will the other top four teams on the SEC West, so it makes more sense for SEC East teams to travel slightly to the West.
I also mentioned in the previous blog that there may be three SEC West teams in the six major bowls (not counting the national-championship game).
If LSU does not go to the Belk Bowl, that would also be a good one for South Carolina, and maybe one of the others could grab Florida.
Speaking of LSU, I also wanted to mention Iím excited about the basketball team, but I might go into that more when there is a lag with the football games.
My current top 4
My Top 25
1 ( 2 ) Florida St. 1
2 ( 1 ) Alabama 2
3 ( 5 ) Ohio St. 3
4 ( 3 ) Oregon 4
5 ( 4 ) TCU 8
6 ( 22 ) Boise St. 12
7 ( 7 ) Arizona 10
8 ( 11 ) Ole Miss 14
9 ( 8 ) Miss. St. 5
10 ( 12 ) Ga. Tech 15
11 ( 15 ) UCLA 6
12 ( 9 ) Mich. St. 17
13 ( 13 ) Wisconsin 18
14 ( 6 ) Baylor 13
15 ( 14 ) Missouri 20
16 ( 30 ) Marshall 7
17 ( 10 ) Kansas St. 19
18 ( 16 ) Georgia 9
19 ( 19 ) Auburn 11
20 ( 31 ) Colo. St. 16
21 ( 20 ) Clemson 23
22 ( 24 ) Nebraska 24
23 ( 18 ) Arizona St. 21
24 ( 17 ) Oklahoma 22
25 ( 21 ) Louisville Ė
(USC and LSU are the two Mock BCS top 25 teams who are not in my top 25.)
Full Rankings 1-128
Out of top 25: (25) Minnesota
There are a total of 39* teams that got some level of points in the Mock BCS standings linked to above. (I list 40 teams since Texas A&M was in the top 25 of one of the computer rankings, but they got no points since the highest rating is dropped)
Earlier top-25 blogs:
I didnít do a post-game blog about LSU/A&M, but I updated the Rivalry Series entry, and I will write a bit about the Tigers in my second blog this week. I also plan to write about relative conference strength and lower bowl possibilities. I think the new committee rankings will be relevant to that discussion.
What Iíll discuss below is the current state of my rankings and how I think that SHOULD translate into what the committee does with the major bowls at the end. I canít speculate with any accuracy what they will do, especially being that I donít know how the rankings for this week will look.
Because Florida St. has been accumulating a reasonable amount of points whileAlabama has recently had a bye and played Western Carolina, the Seminoles are still on top, although I would agree with probably most people in the conclusion that Alabama looks like the better team at the moment.
Georgia has also thrown a wrench into things by beating Auburn, losing to Georgia Tech, and failing to win the East. If Alabama were playing a two-loss Georgia team next week and Florida St. were playing a three-loss team, Alabama would have a good chance to move back into #1, but unless the Yellowjackets beat Florida St., I donít see that happening now.
By the way, Iíve never experienced such a disappointing day of college football in my life. I watched about 10 games that went down the final couple of minutes, and every last one of them went the way I didnít want them to. Georgia choking was just the beginning of a long day. Also, I donít know why on Earth Auburn thought they could win with field goals.
Alabama should have at least three losses, but then how would they torture me? One thing they did was allow LSU to move into first place in the SEC in total defense, so I guess we can say we got first place in something.
Despite the SEC Eastís troubles with the ACC (although letís not forget Georgia beatClemson earlier this year), I think itís justified to have three SEC WEST teams in the top 10 and all seven in the top 40. By the way, the Mock BCS agrees with the latter assessment. Texas A&M got no points, but they were ranked in one of the formerly BCS computers, so I think that makes them #40. It merely has three SEC West teams in the top 11 instead of the top 10 though.
Anyway, there are two more slots to fill out in the semifinals, so Iíll now talk about that.
I have no hesitation in supporting Oregon if they beat Arizona. They will have vindicated their one loss of the year. Even though they play in the weaker Pac-12 division, they still beat UCLA, who tied for second in the Pac-12 South. Of course, Michigan St.counts as a decent win as well. So thatís two of the top 3 teams in the Pac-12 South. (Technically, USC tied with ASU and UCLA in the South, but theyíre clearly #4 in my view.)
That last spot is going to be tricky. I do have Ohio St. there right now (actually ahead of Oregon at the moment), and I canít imagine that if the Buckeyes beat Wisconsin, that either the formula or my mind will change. However, I do understand the argument that maybe losing to Virginia Tech at home could be a disqualifying factor.
As I discussed last week, I firmly believe the best alternative to Ohio St. in that instance isTCU, whose only blemish is a 3-point loss to Baylor about 6 weeks ago.
West Virginia is better than Virginia Tech, but they donít belong anywhere near the top 25. The Mountaineers beat Baylor by a couple of touchdowns.
Even if Oregon loses, I still donít see Baylor being #4. The committee might pick them ahead of Arizona in that instance, but I donít think I would.
That might not seem to make sense being that I have Boise St. ahead of Arizona right now, but the Broncos have the better schedule at the moment. I know thatís hard to believe, but Boise St.ís opponents have a winning record overall, and Arizonaís opponents have a losing record overall. The Mountain West simply is not leaps and bounds behind the power conferences, and Boise played a very competitive schedule out of conference (while Arizona didnít).
However, Fresno St. isnít going to help the Broncos very much. So with a win, Arizona should easily pass them up as well as TCU and Oregon (whom they would have to beat).
Using my formulaís current rankings, these are the potential resumes of relevant teams for the last spot or two (two if Oregon, Florida St., or Alabama lose):
Team 1: beat #6, 17, 24, 56; lost to #46
Team 2: beat #17, 24, 29, 46, 56; lost to #14
Team 3: beat #12, 13, 29, 32, 44, 45, 55; lost to #76
Team 4: beat #4, 4, 23, 36, 50, 53; lost to #11, 27
Iím going to assume Alabama would be out of the running with a loss despite whatever strength of resume they might have. It might be possible for a team to be #1 going into championship week and hang on with a loss at some point, but this is not the year.
I do want to acknowledge that Baylor may be much better than #14. They would close the gap considerably by beating Kansas St., but obviously Oregon would be a better win than Kansas St. Also, the Bears would not pass up TCU.
So the only teams that should be in the running from my perspective are Nos. 1 to 5 and #7 Arizona.
Arizona/Boise St. has prompted me to consider a slight modification to my system though. I have preliminary ratings of teams between 0 and about 7 (which would be if the team with the best schedule went undefeated, which is nearly impossible). Boise St. has only beaten one team (Colorado St.) with a preliminary rating higher than 4.0, while Arizona has beaten three (Oregon, Arizona St., and Utah). So my idea is to have those higher-rated opponents count for a bit more than they do already.
There are a total of 12 teams that will be in CFP bowls. I donít see any of the 6 mentioned above falling out, so here are 6 other teams I think should be make up the rest of the spots:
Boise St. (top ďgroup of fiveĒ team)
This would be assuming that Georgia Tech, Wisconsin, Missouri, and Kansas St. all lost. I believe a win by any of those (although Kansas St. might be debatable) should get them in. I have the teams above so they would be eliminated from the bottom right now. If Baylor beats Kansas St., I would want them to be given a safe spot though.
Boise St. should be assured the ďgroup of fiveĒ spot with a win, but if they lose and Marshall wins, I would want them replaced with Marshall. If both lose, I guess Colorado St. would take that slot.
In addition to my blog linked to above, I also have a page on Facebook and am on twitter @TheBayouBlogger.
Florida St. moves into #1 in the computer rankings for the first time this season.
My Top 25
1 ( 2 ) Florida St. 2
2 ( 1 ) Alabama 1
3 ( 7 ) Ohio St. 4
4 ( 3 ) Oregon 3
5 ( 4 ) Miss. St. 5
6 ( 8 ) UCLA 8
7 ( 19 ) Marshall 9
8 ( 5 ) TCU 7
9 ( 9 ) Georgia 10
10 ( 12 ) Arizona 15
11 ( 14 ) Auburn 11
12 ( 26 ) Boise St. 12
13 ( 6 ) Baylor 16
14 ( 17 ) Ole Miss 6
15 ( 18 ) Ga. Tech 13
16 ( 21 ) Colo. St. 14
17 ( 10 ) Mich. St. 17
18 ( 15 ) Wisconsin 20
19 ( 11 ) Kansas St. 21
20 ( 16 ) Missouri 22
21 ( 13 ) Arizona St. 18
22 ( 20 ) Oklahoma 23
23 ( 22 ) Clemson 24
24 ( 30 ) Nebraska 19
25 ( 23 ) Minnesota Ė
(Louisville and LSU are the two Mock BCS top 25 teams who are not in my top 25.)
Full Rankings 1-128
Out of top 25: (25) USC
There are a total of 44 teams that got some level of points in the Mock BCS standings linked to above.
Earlier top-25 blogs:
Florida St. moved into #1, although I think another reminder that I donít factor in margin of victory is in order. Alabama could move back into #1 by beating better opponents in the coming weeks, but something else to keep in mind is Florida St. isnít the only ACC team playing an SEC team this weekend. If the ACC does significantly better, thatís an even stronger argument in Florida St.ís favor, which my system is designed to recognize.
I thought some of the commentariat brought up some interesting points about the committeeís #4-7 teams.
I want to mention something Jeff Long, a member of the committee, said first though. He said they look at where a team was ranked when you played them. I hope thatís not true, but it would explain why LSU was seemingly penalized so much as compared to other two-loss teams before the Alabama game.
I just donít think itís right if they donít consider that a loss to a top-five team. Itís not LSUís fault people didnít yet know they were going to be one of the top teams this season. If anything, the team who is the first to go down should get a break since theyíve had more time to recover from the loss. Also, later teams have more ability to anticipate problem areas and can possibly benefit from injuries. Of course, what they should do is consider how good the opponent is without the loss. For instance, had LSU won the last two games, it may be worth noting in the Bulldogsí favor that taking out their win over LSU, the Tigers would be in the conversation for the top 4.
I do think there are some unique challenges to beating a previously unbeaten team several weeks in, but I also hope Florida St. isnít being given credit for a top-five win when Notre Dame isnít even in the top 25 now. A top-25 win maybe, if you consider the Irish could well be in the top 25 had they simply not played the Seminoles. It is very important to consider those teams just outside of the top 25. Iíll talk more about them at the end.
There was some grumbling about Mississippi St., but I think if they beat Ole Miss, they have a good argument. I do think a one-loss Ohio St. team winning the Big Ten championship game (especially if itís over Wisconsin) should go ahead of an idle Mississippi St. team, assuming Alabama wins the SEC West anyway, though.
I penalize for bad losses and yet I still have Ohio St. in the top 4, so that tells me that Ohio St.ís 8-game conference schedule + Wisconsin (if the Badgers win) is going to be better than either TCUís or Baylorís, assuming weíre going to be comparing one-loss teams. Ohio St. also has respectable wins over Navy and Cincinnati.
Baylor didnít beat anyone worth mentioning out of conference, and TCU only beat one team, albeit a good one (Minnesota).
Obviously, if Minnesota beats Wisconsin, thatís going to be even better for the Horned Frogs and you could have an argument theyíre more deserving in that scenario.
I donít see any scenario, however, where one-loss Baylor should go ahead of one-loss TCU or one-loss Ohio St.
ďB-but head to headĒ isnít an argument.
Beating TCU is just a high-quality win.
I know the way tie-breakers work, they donít care how bad the loss is. For instance, if Alabama had lost to Arkansas or Texas A&M instead of Ole Miss, they still would win the tie-breaker over Mississippi St. if the two finish with the same SEC record.
I do care how bad the loss is. In fact, I think that should be the most important game to compare when you compare two one-loss teams.
So before we even get to Minnesota, I think TCU goes ahead of Baylor. Playing well enough to lose to Baylor by three (my system doesnít look at the margin, but that doesnít mean my arguments canít) is playing well enough to beat all but maybe 10 teams in college football. Playing at that level could be good enough to win a semifinal playoff game.
Itís hard to be complimentary about a 14-point loss to WVU though. It is tougher to play them on the road, but TCU did that and managed to win.
I know not everyone will credit Ohio St. for having a couple of mid-level non-conference wins instead of one good one like TCU, and thatís fine. I can accept that. I could not accept Baylor going ahead of either team though, assuming one loss apiece.
I think the Big Ten is slightly better than the Big XII, but even if theyíre equal, consider that when youíre in a 10-team conference you play the worst teams as well as the best. Ohio St. did not play Purdue, and thatís one of the two worst teams in the Big Ten. TCU played Kansas (barely beating them) and will play Iowa St. during championship week.
My hope is Ohio St. is given significant credit for beating a tougher opponent on that weekend. If they are and they come up short, thatís fine. I like TCU better anyway.
A lot of these conversations could become even more muddled if you add in a possible two-loss SEC team. I think Mississippi St. is out with two losses, but a two-loss SEC champion Georgia team, Iím not so sure. They would have wins over Auburn, Georgia Tech, Arkansas, and Missouri, not to mention whoever the SEC West champions will be (most likely Alabama but possibly Mississippi St.)
Also, unlike last year, a loss to Auburn doesnít necessarily knock Alabama out of the divisional race. Most people predicted Alabama to come out of Oxford with a win, and that didnít happen. The same thing could happen to Mississippi St.
Alabama beat that West Virginia team mentioned above. They also beat Mississippi St., LSU, and Florida and could possibly beat Georgia in the SEC Championship.
Georgia isnít guaranteed to win the East though. In fact, they need Arkansas to beat Missouri for that to happen. That may be the key to any two-loss SEC team being included.
Nothing down the list was too interesting. Minnesota actually jumped up 10 spots, so even though they beat Nebraska, they still got pretty significant credit for that even though it wasnít quite enough to most past the Huskers. When two teams are separated by 16 spots going into a game, itís not always enough for the lower team to get ahead in the ratings.
Also, it was nice to see Boise St. and Marshall finally get included in the committeeís top 25. Iím generally against ďmid-majorĒ teams being in the top 10, but the committee went too far in excluding them for so long.
I donít know what theyíre thinking keeping Utah in there though. Losing to Washington St. is pretty bad. If you want to pick a team with four losses, here are some better suggestions: LSU, Texas A&M, Notre Dame, and USC. Apart from Notre Dame againstNorthwestern, none of the rest lost an embarrassing game like that. Since Notre Dame is playing USC and LSU is playing Texas A&M, hopefully the winners will get some strong consideration for that last spot. I would even take Arkansas as a five-loss team given their schedule (In addition to the SEC West, they will have played Georgia and Missouri, the best two teams in the East, as well as Northern Illinois and Texas Techout of conference).
I know this is long, but there are a few things I cover.† I give an overview of his time at both Michigan St. and LSU (with more detail for LSU of course) and then I talk about some things that went Alabama's favor that don't necessarily go in LSU's favor had Saban stayed all this time.
People talk about ghosts of Tiger Stadium (which turns 90 on Tuesday, by the way). Usually itís positives like Billy Cannonís Halloween Run in 1959, the 1988 Earthquake Game against Auburn, the five fourth-down conversions against Florida in 2007. There were a couple of other classics against those opponents and others.
There have also been negatives. One negative was when the Tigers went 30 years without a win against Alabama at home. Even though Bear was only there for about the first 1/3 of that time, it was like his ghost was still on the sidelines, pushing the Tide to victory in a way that it wasnít even present in the state of Alabama.
Other than the national championship, one of the main things Iím grateful for from Sabanís tenure is the fact that he had two home wins over Alabama, the first of which ended that long streak. Neither win came against a great Alabama team, but that wasnít important. Just like it wasnít important how young this LSU team was or how well Ole Miss had played in previous games this season.
In January, it will have been ten years since Nick Saban coached an LSU team.
Under Miles, things against Alabama started even better. After winning two games over Mike Shulaís teams (I also find it kind of funny that Miami is the team Saban came from due to that last name), Miles won three of his first five games against Saban. If Miles had left after 7 seasons, heíd be known the guy who (unlike Saban) actually beat a number of good Alabama teams at LSU. (In addition to the three wins over Saban, LSU beat a previously unbeaten, 4th-ranked Alabama team in 2005.)
The ghost of Bear might be gone now, but now there is a living ghost in the collective psyche of LSU fans by the name of Nick Saban. Some still openly regret the fact that heíd left and wanted him to come back. Iíve heard from multiple sources there was a group of boosters who thought they could get Saban back if Miles were to leave. Others bitterly resent what they see as his betrayal of LSU by going to Alabama.
I believe like most supposedly supernatural phenomena, this ghost is present in our minds only to the extent we allow it to be, but itís been really hard to shake since 1/9/12, that fateful day that ended what would have been LSUís first undefeated season since 1958 (although LSU still won two more games in 2011 than it had in 1958). It also prematurely ended what should have been at least 24 consecutive months of bragging rights over the Tide and gave Alabama another national championship to rub everyoneís noses in.
To backtrack a bit, I want to note that very few people mind the fact that he went to Miami. He had rejected many NFL offers out of respect for LSU, and he was still of the age that it made sense to give it a try. Also Wayne Huizenga, the owner of the Dolphins, had bent over backwards to accommodate Sabanís every contractual demand.
The betrayal was going to Alabama. Alabama may not have ever put too much emphasis on beating LSU, but the same could not be said of LSUís priorities. Of course, Alabama was not what it once was in 2007, but I think most LSU fans knew it would only be dormant for so long. For the catalyst of Alabamaís return to be Nick Saban was the ultimate slap in the face.
Both LSU and Michigan St. (his two stops before his brief experiment with NFL head coaching) fans took part in derogatory chants against Saban a couple of weeks ago. The Michigan St. fans did it when Chris Fowler interviewed Saban by satellite (if thatís even still the technology used), and the LSU fans did so in person when the Tide came to Tiger Stadium.
What annoys me more though is the perception by some that LSU and Michigan St. owe any success in the last few years to Saban. I wanted to set the record straight on some things, because Saban did not have anything close to the kind of improvement or level of consistency heís had at Alabama since 2008.
I could probably write a book about all the things I like and donít like about him and my observations of him as a person and a coach over the last 20 years (I clearly remember Michigan St. both before he took the job and during his time there), but I just want to focus on what exactly changed at Michigan St. and LSU when you look at the results on the field. I also want to consider the argument or suggestion that if heíd stayed at LSU, the LSU football team would be what Alabama has been over the last five seasons.
Sabanís last year at Michigan St. was a good one; but before that, his teams were just about as mediocre as they were under his predecessor there (although to be fair, 6-5-1 and 6-6 at least arenít losing seasons, which his predecessor had suffered a couple of times). Still, Sabanís second-best season there was only 7-5.
I donít want to dwell on Michigan St. too much ó his last season there was 15 years ago ó but in his first season gone, they went right back to 5-6, which they had finished the year before Saban started there. That was a long-term impact of approximately 0. In fact, you can go out even further. In the five years before Saban, Michigan St. won 48% of its games. In the five years after he left, Michigan St. won 48% of its games. What are fans today supposed to thank him for again? Other than memories of the 1999 Citrus Bowl?
It doesnít take a great coach to have a single ten-win season in five years. I donít think any major programs are beating down the doors of Will Muschamp, Larry Coker, Gerry DiNardo (Sabanís full-time predecessor), or even Gene Chizik, who has a national championship to his credit. Another example from the SEC, David Cutcliffe, took a long time to get back into a head coaching job despite having led Ole Miss to its best season in decades in 2003.
Saban did step things up in his fourth and fifth years at LSU, but the Tigers had a combined 12 losses in his first three years. The conference championship in 2001 was a fluke. How often has the SEC champion had three conference losses? How often does the SEC champion have a loss by 29 points at home?
LSU had worse in the previous two seasons than Michigan St. had had immediately before Saban but had two season of the previous four with wins of 9 games or more, whereas the last time Michigan St. had won even 8 games was five seasons before Saban got there.
LSU likely had better athletes to start with. After being a dormant program for 6 seasons, DiNardo did have some initial success. In his first season, he led the Tigers to only their second bowl win in 16 years, and it was over Sabanís first Michigan St. team. This was followed by a 19-5 record over the next two seasons, which included a win over defending national champions Florida in 1997. Also, Louisiana is more fertile recruiting ground for recruiting than the state of Michigan, and LSU isnít ďlittle brotherĒ to anyone in the state of Louisiana.
It was not that difficult to have a spike in Louisiana recruiting. It also wasnít the case that DiNardo couldnít develop players, which he clearly did given some of the close results against good teams. He just lost the ability (partly due to turnover among his assistants) to manage the team to wins.
Iím sure that put a damper on recruiting in the 1998-99 offseason, but LSU would finish the 1999 campaign with a strong win over a ranked Arkansas team (with an interim coach), and the hope that the hire of Saban brought (probably as much as or more than Saban himself) kept the recruiting after the 1999 season from being a problem. If they could beat a ranked team with a no-name interim coach at the helm, the sky was the limit.
Nonetheless, Sabanís first three seasons were actually worse than DiNardoís first three by record, and there had been no winning seasons that preceded any of the recruiting classes DiNardo worked with in that time.
Sabanís 9 wins in his final season were good in the context of the 12 years before his arrival, but I donít remember Les Miles getting a ton of credit for following a national championship season with 8-win and 9-win seasons, respectively. Nor did he get a lot of credit for winning 33 games in the past three full seasons combined. Sabanís best three years at LSU together didnít account for that many wins.
One of the other coaches I mentioned likely could have coached Sabanís 2004 team to 9 wins or more. Also, the loss to Georgia that season was reminiscent of the handful of bad losses Miles has had. So there was really only one season at LSU that was better than what had taken place at LSU the five seasons before Sabanís arrival.
As he did at Michigan St., he did raise the floor at LSU. When things didnít go well, he went 8-5 and 8-4 instead of 4-7 and (starting) 2-8. That was an improvement, but just like with Michigan St., he only raised the ceiling in one year.
In both instances, those singular seasons caused his stock to go through the roof (continuing with the housing analogy), although he did decide to stick around at LSU another year anyway. Also, itís not just wins and losses on their own. There were baffling losses under Saban. In his first season, he lost to Florida by 32, he lost to UAB (with only 10 points scored), and he lost to an Arkansas team (which had gone into the game with a losing record), 14-3.
Itís not good if you have three games where you score 10 or fewer points and four games where you score 17 or fewer.
The next year, they had the opposite problem. The offense was only held under 20 twice, but they allowed 44 to Florida, 25 to a bad Kentucky team, 35 to Ole Miss, 38 to Arkansas, and 34 to Illinois.
2002 was all over the map. They scored 14 or fewer four times, but they scored over 30 seven times. They allowed over 25 points five times.
2003ís team only had a single loss, but it was an ugly one: 19-7 at home against Ron Zookís Gators. The Tigers struggled offensively at times against the better teams such as Georgia, Ole Miss, and Oklahoma. It helped that that team was able to play 6 teams with losing records and a I-AA opponent. Before the last four games of that season, LSU had not played two teams back-to-back that would finish with winning records. Contrast that with Milesí last couple of seasons.
The 2004 team did not have a stellar offense, and LSU actually hurt themselves by trying to start JaMarcus Russell too soon. They nearly lost to Florida before Marcus Randall came off the bench to lead a comeback. They also needed Oregon St. to miss a few extra points in order to win the opener by 1 point in overtime. I already mentioned the Georgia loss that year.
LSU scored over 40 points three times that year (against teams with a combined 11 wins), but their highest point output otherwise was 27 against an Ole Miss team that finished 4-7. They only managed to score 24 apiece against the likes of Troy and Vanderbilt.
This was with Jimbo Fisher as the offensive coordinator. To apply the criticism Miles gets to Saban, he must have been holding the offensive coordinator back, right? It would seem to apply to Saban even more. In fact, Iím calling it right now: Cam Cameron is not going to be the head coach of a national-championship team in the next 10 years.
One could have also argued Saban only developed one ďrealĒ quarterback (Matt Mauck, whom he actually first recruited during his Michigan St. days) in those five years.
Saban was there when Russell came to LSU, but Iím sure that had more to do with Jimbo. Also, Russell didnít really come into his own until the middle of his last year, which had nothing to do with Saban.
Point being, if you start from the perspective of looking to blame the head coach for everything, Saban could have taken a lot of blame as well as credit during his time at LSU. I think people just donít realize how much their expectations have changed, which made every big win Saban had wonderful and every loss (or sometimes even close win) under Miles tragic.
So if weíre going to be assigning blame, we can blame Saban for causing LSU fans to forget what a losing season feels like. I still donít think we have him to thank for the 7 double-digit-win seasons since he left, although of course he was instrumental for at least the first couple of them.
The LSU fans who do have this pathetic sense of longing for Saban are misguided. Alabama has certain advantages that LSU just isnít going to have.
I donít buy into conspiracies, but I think there is a natural degree of deference they get from recruits, from referees, from the media, from conference officials (who, perhaps not coincidentally, are based in Alabama), etc. Notre Dame has not had a sustained presence atop college football in 20 years. For Nebraska, itís been about 15 years. So Alabama is the focal point of the historically great programs right now. There is just a different level of mystique for such programs. Nick Saban or not, that wasnít going to be LSU.
People canít accept that though. They just think that had Saban been here in 2009, 2011, and 2012, we would have had three national championships in those years rather than none. Maybe Saban wins in 2011 with either team (although even thatís arguable), but Iím doubtful about 2009 and 2012.
What if LSU (rather than Alabama) had been undefeated in 2009 and threw an interception on the game-clinching drive against Alabama. You think that gets ruled incomplete and LSU goes on to kick the field goal anyway?
LSU got some flak for winning in 2007 with two losses, but at least they won the conference, unlike Alabama in 2011.
Letís say LSU loses a home game to Alabama like they did this year and everything else plays out like 2011. Do you think LSU gets a re-match over a one-loss champion of another conference? I doubt it.
LSU hasnít gotten a soft touch at all in their slate against the SEC East even though their annual opponent (Florida) has been better than Alabamaís annual opponent (Tennessee).
The previous two seasons have had ďbridgeĒ schedules, temporary stop-gaps before they started off the new rotation, which was formalized before this season.
Alabama drew Missouri in 2012. Missouri played in the 2011 Independence Bowl, but they had an anticipated lull in adjusting to the SEC slate in 2012. In addition to the one good Muschamp team (which would only lose one SEC game), LSU had to play South Carolina, which had gone 11-2 in 2011. South Carolina would finish with the same record in 2012.
If you switch both SEC East opponents around, chances are LSU goes to the SEC Championship game instead of Alabama in 2012, even assuming Alabama still beats LSU in the closing seconds. Point being, I donít think had Saban coached LSU that year (even if he had players just as good as the ones he had at Alabama), he would have beaten both Florida and South Carolina.
In 2013, LSU got Georgia, which had nearly beaten Alabama in the 2012 championship game, while Alabama played Kentucky, fresh off another losing season. Again, that scenario does not get reversed if Saban coaches LSU instead of Alabama.
It was an extra advantage for Alabama because what turned out to be their top challenger, Auburn, had to play Georgia also. Auburn had a favorable bounce and there were some unfortunate injuries to Bulldogs players between playing LSU and Auburn, but that could have easily been another Alabama divisional win (even with the Iron Bowl loss) owing in significant part to the schedule.
A Saban team might have won another game last season at LSU, but if they donít end up winning two more, they donít win the championship anyway.
So all things considered, maybe Saban wins one more championship than Miles did over the last 10 years (thatís right, this is the 10th LSU season after Saban). On the other hand, maybe they donít win in 2007. You might blame Miles for the OT losses, but maybe Saban loses games to Florida and Auburn (there were some gutsy calls Saban may not have made) and they either lose a third somewhere along the way or someone else wins the division. So it could even be the same number of championships.
I donít mind the idea of looking at the unmatched level of success Alabama has had over the better part of the last seven seasons (the only time a program had done anything like that in my memory was Nebraska in the mid-1990s) and wanting to match that, but just get over the fact that the head coach there coached LSU 10 years ago. That goes for people who want to insult him and those who wish heíd stayed (or fantasize about his return) alike. For those who persist in being hung up on Saban, at least get your facts right.
This is my previous post here at the Gab. I included a picture of Saban with Jimbo Fisher, who was an assistant throughout Saban's time at LSU.