I partly thought of some of the points of discussion below based on reading a blog from B.O.B. here.† There is a group of FCS teams that deserves respect. He singled out one of them in his blog, but I elaborate on a few more examples.† LSU used to avoid playing any FCS opponents, and I'm certainly in favor of avoiding the mediocre or bad ones, but I think it can be a really good experience to play ones that are among the best of their subdivision. So that's what I meant in the comments about the teams being better to play than the likes of Southern and Grambling.† I wasn't talking about seeking out some recruting edge.† LSU has routinely played in-state FBS opponents (they play one on Saturday, in fact), so I really don't think they're more worried about Southern and Grambling.† The better FCS teams give different looks and expose weaknesses.† I think they're more difficult to plan for in some ways.† In LSU's case, there is usually not a serious risk of losing, but all it takes is a bad game and for the FCS team to be particularly good and it could happen.† Michigan was a program in much better shape than it is now and had an otherwise successful year when it lost to Appalachian St.
Before I post my other thoughts on that topic, I gave some more thought to his divisions there.† Most of them are good, but I wouldn't put the Texas teams with the Southern California teams.† That doesn't make sense tradtionally or geographically.† The traditional teams to group together are the Pac-8.† So that's the Pac-12 minus Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and Arizona St., all of whom are much closer to Texas than the Southern California teams are. Utah is the only one that comes within a couple hundred miles of being as far.† The four relatively new Pac-12 teams also in general have more experience playing the relevant Texas teams.† I can also tell you that the Southern California teams want it the way I'm suggesting as well because they would not agree to the Pac-12 divisional alignment unless it was guaranteed they would both play all three of the other California teams every year.† I don't think they really care whether they play Arizona or Washington teams, but it even seems to me (at least if you talk to USC fans) that the Oregon opponents are a bigger deal than the Arizona ones.† Anyway, here's my regularly scheduled blog...
This isnít the main thing Iím going to write about, but I heard it after I published my blog about the LSU-Wisconsin game. Since Les Miles took over at LSU, the Tigers are 22-21 when trailing in the fourth quarter, the only team in the FBS to have a winning record during that span (apparently, they donít count the last-second loss to Clemson as ďtrailing in the fourth quarterĒ; but no one else comes close regardless). Miles is also back above the 80% mark as head coach of the Tigers. After winning 85% in his first three seasons, Milesí winning percentage had fallen to 77.3% after the 2009 season. The Tigers are attempting to finish with double-digit wins for the fifth consecutive year since then. It would be Milesí 8th overall in 10 seasons.
By comparison, Nick Saban won 75% of his games at LSU and had two double-digit-win seasons in five years, falling just short of a third on the last play of his stint at LSU. I understand Saban didnít take over a program in the same shape; but he was still considered a strong success overall, so building on his tenure is still something to be proud of. Not many coaches can step into a situation like that and improve it, so Miles deserves a good deal of credit.
I donít have too much to say about the Sam Houston St. game itself, but although LSU won extremely easily, that was not necessarily the expected result.
Ameer Abdullahís great run with 20 seconds left saved Nebraska from potential embarrassment.
After the Nebraska-McNeese St. game (if you missed it, Nebraska scored the winning touchdown with 20 seconds left with the Cowboys essentially one tackle away from forcing overtime), I want to talk a bit about FCS opponents. They really vary. A number of the scores were pretty close. Of course, you also have your 70-point wins against such opponents as well.
Sam Houston St. went to the FCS championship game in the 2012 season, so they could have been among the best teams this season. I was looking at the margins Sam Houston St. won by that season. They won seven games by 35 points or more and beat Southeast Louisiana, 70-0. I think there is as much of a gap between the top and bottom of FCS as there is of FBS. Maybe Sam Houston isnít as high on the scale this season; but the team they lost to in that championship game, North Dakota St., seems to be about the same after the Bisonís 34-14 win over Iowa St. So I donít think there is a real appreciation of that.
Most people dismiss the opposition right off the bat. I know a Kansas St. fan who just assumed North Dakota St. was nothing to worry about last year, for instance. There is a general lack of appreciation of the fact that if you play a playoff-level FCS team, there is a good chance that team will be clearly better than a low-level FBS team.
One of those teams that is routinely toward the bottom of the FCS is Nicholls St. (which just lost to Arkansas , 73-7), but even they have a recent win over an FBS school. They beat Western Michigan last year, but when they played would-be bowl teams, the results were more predicable: losses to Oregon, 66-3, and to ULL, 70-7.
Anyway, Iíve noticed the quality of FCS opponents on LSUís schedule of late. The Tigers played Furman last year, and while thatís not typically one of the top FCS teams (although they are competitive in one of the top FCS conferences), they still did a decent job. LSU only led by four at halftime and didnít lead by more than 11 until less than 17 minutes remained in the game. The Paladin defense folded after that, and LSU ended up winning by 32; but that was still a better exercise than Kent St., whom LSU led 31-7 in the second quarter, or UAB, whom LSU led 35-7 in the second quarter last season. LSU let both teams back into the game a little bit before pulling away, but I donít think thatís the same kind of pressure.
In 2012, LSU blew out Idaho, 63-14, but then struggled to beat Towson, 38-22, two weeks later. Towson failed to make the playoffs that year despite only losing twice in FCS play, but they advanced to the FCS finals last year (they also lost to the Bison of NDSU) after again only losing two games in FCS play. They played no FBS opponents last season, however.
A similar combination of results took place in 2010 when LSU beat McNeese St., 32-10, after trailing in the second quarter and leading only 16-10 after halftime. The Tigers then went on to beat ULM, 51-0, later that season. LSU plays ULM next week, by the way.
LSU had only played an FCS opponent twice in the previous six seasons, both times being against Appalachian St. In the first meeting in 2005, the Tigers, who would win the SEC West, only led the Mountaineers 14-0 after three quarters before pulling away slightly in the fourth to win, 24-0. Appalachian St. at one point drove to the LSU 15 while it was still 14-0 (before missing a field goal), so the game was in doubt for a long time despite the lack of points. The Tigers had easier wins that season @Mississippi St., @Vanderbilt, @Ole Miss, and in the bowl game against Miami. LSU also blew out North Texas at home by more than twice that margin in that season.
So if I wanted to give LSU a test in a given year, Iíd pick a top-20 FCS team over a bottom-20 FBS team every time. Just something to keep in mind.
Also, McNeese wasnít the only team with a good result last week. Eastern Kentucky got the only win (over Miami U.), but there were some others that were in doubt fairly late. Stony Brook gave Connecticut all they could handle. Rutgers only beat Howard by 13. Eastern Washington was neck-and-neck with Washington the whole game, falling short by only 7 points. Southern Mississippi only beat Alcorn St. by 6, and UNLV only beat Northern Colorado by a single point.
Finally, I donít think Missouri St. made Oklahoma St. too nervous, but I thought it was interesting that the Bears only lost by 17 after the Cowboys were a touchdown short of beating Florida St. in Week 1.
By the way, LSU plays McNeese St. and Eastern Michigan next season. I would not be surprised if they had more trouble with McNeese St.
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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LSU has now won 12 consecutive season openers. The last loss was in Blacksburg to start the 2002 campaign. Thatís not remarkable for some teams, but LSU hasnít shied away from opening-game competition, although of course there were a few cupcakes as well: (home team listed second if applicable; 2010, 2011, 2013, and 2014 have all been neutral sites)
2003- ULM 7, LSU 49
2004- Oregon St. 21, LSU 22
2005- LSU 35, Arizona St. 31
2006- ULL 3, LSU 45
2007- LSU 45, Mississippi St. 0
2008- Appalachian St. 13, LSU 41
2009- LSU 31, Washington 23
2010- LSU 30, North Carolina 24
2011- LSU 40, Oregon 27
2012- North Texas 14, LSU 41
2013- LSU 37, TCU 27
2014- LSU 28, Wisconsin 24
I thought SEC teams didnít travel to PAC-10/12 teams, hmm. LSU is expected to go to back to Arizona St. some time, but the date keeps getting pushed back. Right now, itís slated for 2022, but who knows? The Tigers are now actually supposed to travel to UCLA before then.
I donít know if Iím even ready to count on next season just yet. As of right now, it seems LSU will be hosting McNeese to open next season (they travel to Syracuse later next season for the only non-home non-conference game) and will then have a rematch with Wisconsin to open 2016, this time in Green Bay.
So Wisconsin may end LSUís streaks after all. LSU also won its record 46th straight non conference regular-season game. I donít want to count on it of course, but if there isnít a non-conference loss this regular season or next, the streak would be 53 going into that 2016 opener in Green Bay. I mentioned more about that streak after the Tigers broke the record a couple years ago.
As I expected, LSU didnít exactly have an easy time of things this year, but I was surprised by a couple of things.
I didnít expect Wisconsin to get an early touchdown as a result of a defensive line mistake. Credit does go to the blockers and running backs for exploiting it of course, but I mean from the perspective of LSU. Also, there were some questionable defensive play calls. For instance, one play Wisconsin lined up with extra blockers to the left and no one filled the gaps. I guess they were really convinced the runner would go to the end. At least they didnít get a first done one that drive though.
It will take some time to have four solid quarters where the play calling and execution syncs up better. Thatís why Iím so relieved LSU got past this game and will have what should be some somewhat comfortable home games to iron out those issues.
On offense, I was happy with the backs and the blockers, but Jennings still has some maturing to do. He hasnít learned that if you donít have a throw and itís third down with everyone expecting a pass, you can run, particularly with the match-up advantage the Tigers had against the Badger defensive line. It doesnít have to be part of the play call. Also, if there are no good downfield options and youíre outside the tackles, throw the ball to a buddy or your favorite coach on the sidelines.
Otherwise, I wasnít too terribly unhappy with anything except for the 19-yard punt. Iíll explain a little how the offensive strategy improved in the second half though.
I expected the final score to be more like 21-17, but thatís exactly what it would have been without the first touchdowns by either team. The first LSU touchdown was for 80 yards against the Wisconsin corner who started for the first time, so it was less surprising than the one LSU gave up. It reminded me of the Jennings touchdown throw that beat Arkansas last year (and that was before I realized it was the same receiver). Heís a reliable technical passer when he has time and is looking in the right place.
The easy narrative is Wisconsin went up 24-7, then LSU shut them down going forward; but I think there was a clear beginning, middle and end. LSU messed up a couple times, and those mistakes were the key to Wisconsinís 10-0 early lead.
Then it was a more even game. There was an exchange of touchdowns before the half and the Wisconsin touchdown was the only score in about a 23-minute stretch of the game. It so happened the following score was by Wisconsin, but that was answered by two field goals in the next 10 minutes. So in the 35 minutes between Wisconsin going up 10-0 and the start of the fourth quarter, Wisconsin only won that segment, 14-13. Then LSU took care of business in the fourth quarter, 15-0.
The defensive dominance did start midway through the third quarter though. The Badgersí last five drives were for a total of 42 yards. That includes a 23-yard drive after LSU took the lead, but that one took 8 plays. Thatís less than three yards per play.
LSU, on the other hand, couldnít maintain a drive early on. The Tigers got first downs (including the 80-yard touchdown) in five drives of their nine in the first half but never a second (except for the one that resulted from a penalty immediately following an offensive first down).
The fake punt was a turning point but not just some type of psychological boost. Apart from the first drive, the singular first downs in the first half had come from passing on the first play of the possession. The fake punt was the fourth running play in a row, which opened up the passing game. So Wisconsin didnít think the sky was falling because something went well for LSU, but they were starting to expect a run, and Jennings was allowed room to manúuver.
While passing didnít open up the running much, the reverse seems to have happened. LSU kept up this strategy in the second half and until they started to run out the clock, they kept tending to run, but they also started passing better when there was less pressure to do so. Thankfully, the necessary adjustments were made early enough. Otherwise, it might have been too late to start trying to commit to a running game.
I always wonder when I see a quarterback go 9-for-20-something and a running back average six yards per carry why there werenít a lot more runs by that person. I guess they wanted to give Jennings a chance to show what he could do, but at least get the lead first. LSU exploited the one member of the secondary they needed to exploit on the 80-yard play but didnít do nearly enough to exploit the questionable front 7 of Wisconsin until the second half.
I donít fault the coaches as much for giving other running backs a chance. Wisconsin was smart to give Reggie Love a chance on that first touchdown, for instance, although one could argue they maybe should have tried giving it to him again. The rest of the running-back carries were almost evenly split among two other players. Love got no further carries.
Most of you need no explanation on this point, but it also does wonders for your defense when you run the ball. If you get first downs, it often takes two or three plays. So even if itís an unsuccessful drive, you might have ten plays for two first downs, whereas an unsuccessful passing possession with two first downs could be just six plays. Also, running plays typically take longer to develop. This allows opposing defenses to be worn down while allowing your own defense a breather.
Jennings was only 5/13 in the first half, so 4/8 in the second was an improvement. 8/16 for the game would have meant one fewer completion against 5 fewer incompletions, i.e., opportunities for making or contributing to first downs. LSU ended up with 11.2 yards per pass, but apart from the 80-yard pass, there were just over 3 yards per pass in the first half.
Also, LSU won time of possession in the second half by almost eight minutes. That stat doesnít always mean much, but it does when both offenseís strong suits are their running backs and lines. Wisconsin had an even worse time of things trying to throw the ball, averaging only 2.1 yards per pass the entire game.
...For earlier access to my blogs, archives, etc., you can follow my†wordpress site†or my page on†facebook.† Hopefully I will resume a more regular schedule next week.† I usually like to get my rankings out first, but with the playing week ending on Monday, combined with my travels out of town, those will be posted some time later today (I hope) on my site and maybe some time on Thursday here.
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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