LSU has now won 12 consecutive season openers. The last loss was in Blacksburg to start the 2002 campaign. That’s not remarkable for some teams, but LSU hasn’t 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 didn’t 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, it’s slated for 2022, but who knows? The Tigers are now actually supposed to travel to UCLA before then.
I don’t know if I’m 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 LSU’s streaks after all. LSU also won its record 46th straight non conference regular-season game. I don’t want to count on it of course, but if there isn’t 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 didn’t exactly have an easy time of things this year, but I was surprised by a couple of things.
I didn’t 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 didn’t 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. That’s why I’m 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 hasn’t learned that if you don’t have a throw and it’s 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 doesn’t have to be part of the play call. Also, if there are no good downfield options and you’re outside the tackles, throw the ball to a buddy or your favorite coach on the sidelines.
Otherwise, I wasn’t too terribly unhappy with anything except for the 19-yard punt. I’ll 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 that’s 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). He’s 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 Wisconsin’s 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 Badgers’ 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. That’s less than three yards per play.
LSU, on the other hand, couldn’t 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 didn’t 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 manœuver.
While passing didn’t 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 weren’t 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 didn’t do nearly enough to exploit the questionable front 7 of Wisconsin until the second half.
I don’t 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 it’s 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 doesn’t always mean much, but it does when both offense’s 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.
What up Gabbers!!! Irish Shu is back with my annual preview/game predictions on the just-started season for my beloved Notre Dame Fighting Irish…sorry for the delay, I’ll try to keep it shortish, but you know me…
Head Coach Brian Kelly has now started his fifth year 2 years removed from a National Championship Game appearance and is looking to improve upon last year’s 9-4 record. He’ll have to try and make the improvement with new Offensive and Defensive coordinators as the ones he had last year bolted for head coaching jobs of their own.
The Irish will also be facing yet another tough schedule, but that’s nothing new. Five of this year’s opponents start the season ranked in the AP top 25 and top-ranked and defending national champ Florida State is among the lot. The Irish also face Michigan – a team which I feel is better than the lack of rank they start with, and the Wolverines will be motivated to beat the Irish since they will no longer be on the schedule after this year due to ND’s obligation to play 5 ACC teams a year from here-on due to their all-but-football commitment to that conference which starts next year.
What is working against Notre Dame more than the gauntlet of a schedule are some key personnel losses and lack of experience on defense. The defensive interior was already hard-hit with: DE Stephon Tuitt (Steelers) and nose guard Louis Nix (Texans) along with several linebackers and a couple secondary players departing for the NFL. Now add to that: their defensive captain in Austin Collinsworth suffering a knee injury just before the Rice game and being out for a few games, a valuable D-lineman in Tony Springmann retiring from the team due to a chronic back problem, and linebacker Jarrett Grace still recovering from a severely-broken leg he suffered last year and not playing yet, and you have the Irish D looking VERY green…several true freshmen saw playing time against Rice because of these losses.
Then, of course, there is the still-pending academic fraud investigation which has resulted in the suspension of 5 players from the team, including 2 starters and 2 reserves on defense and 1 starter on offense. Maybe the investigation will be completed soon and all 5 players will be back on the team in the next week or 2, or maybe all 5 will be kicked off the team and out of school altogether. My take on that? There are few colleges and universities where student athletes do not cheat sometimes…that does NOT make it okay for any of them to do so, but Notre Dame is holding their alleged cheaters accountable, at least, and rightfully so…that’s all I have to stay about that. Point is, it SUCKS!...and the resulting lack of experienced players on defense could result in a few “shoot-out” games in which the Irish offense will have to put up a lot of points and pull out some wins with some close, basketball-like final scores…
There IS some good news, though…it seems that in spite of some key NFL losses, namely a great Tackle in Zach Martin (went to the Dallas Cowboys in the first round) receiver TJ Jones (Lions) and tight end Troy Niklas (Cardinals), this year’s Irish Offense has the players to put up that amount of points.
Everett Golson is back as the starting QB after his year-long suspension and he has a good line to block for him, great receivers and another great tight end in Ben Koyak to throw to, and a solid stable of running backs to hand off to. Golson looked awesome in the opener against Rice…yeah, it was only Rice but still, I liked what I saw. Should Golson suffer an injury (and he very-well could if he keeps the ball and runs one time too many) his backup in redshirt sophomore Malik Zaire has looked VERY good both in the Spring game and in the last minutes of the Rice game when he got to play. Methinks that despite Zaire’s lack of experience, the O will be in good hands should he need to come in for Golson.
Other than that, I was disappointed to hear that one receiver in sophomore Torii Hunter Jr., who has already suffered a couple injuries before he’s had a chance to see any playing time, was injured again as he suffered a groin tear during practice last month. He may be back in the coming weeks. I am VERY anxious to see how this son of a major league baseball player can play once he’s at full strength. He was rated as one of the nation’s top receivers in his class and I want to see him do well. Let’s hope he heals well, again.
Moving to special teams: it is reassuring that senior kicker/punter Kyle Brindza is back. He has had a very solid career as the Irish kicker and has once again been named to the Lou Groza Award watch list as one of the nation’s outstanding kickers. Looking to improve upon the Irish return game, Coach Kelly added Florida grad transfer Cody Riggs who plays cornerback, but also wanted to return punts and kicks…both he and sophomore running back Greg Bryant looked good doing so against Rice, so hopefully we’ll see the overall improvement Kelly and staff are after. So far, so good.
Finally, there’s something else new this year – the football stadium having field turf for the first time.
Change is inevitable, I know. And while the traditionalist in me prefers grass, I understand why it was done – the grass field just hadn’t been holding-up. It had to be re-sodded 3 times last year and was slowing and tripping-up players from both sides. It is what it is and it seems to be a well-proven surface to play on, so let’s just roll with it now that it’s done.
With that, let’s get to my game-by-game predictions for this year:
8/30 vs. Rice: Defending C-USA champs won 10 last year in all, but they lost too many players from then, so we did see them fall.
Irish won 48-17
9/6 vs. Michigan: this battle is the last with the meat chicken Wolverines, who say the Irish “chickened out”, but I say IN YOUR DREAMS!
Irish win...will be close, if so.
9/13 vs. Purdue@Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis: the “Shamrock Series” goes to Indy, cool looking digs to wear,
The Boilers played us tough last year, but this year have no prayer.
9/27 vs. Syracuse@Metlife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ: the second “neutral site” game in a row, this time against the Orange of ‘Cuse. Will Coach Scott Shafer’s team have a chance?...it will be no use.
10/4 vs. #11 Stanford: Coach David Shaw has Stanford’s team on an impressive tear. ND may have a chance at home, but this year it’s not quite there:
10/11 vs. #23 North Carolina: Tar Heels arrive from ACC as Notre Dame rebounds. The Irish will bounce back and win as the triumphant Victory March sounds.
10/18 @ #1 Florida State: Unless the Noles have lost a game, and Jameis Winston chokes, this game in Tallahassee will upset us Irish folks.
Semen Holes win…will LOVE it if I turn out to be wrong on this, but I don’t think I will be.
11/1 @ Navy: The Middies have played a few close games against ND of late, but their run first, cut-blocking ways won’t get a win on this date
Irish win..hopefully without any knee injuries to the D-line this time.
11/8 @#19 Arizona State: Last year the Sun Devils put up a good fight, and lost close to N.D.. This year I think the tough Pac-12 sched. will wear them down, indeed.
11/15 vs. Northwestern: The Wildcats are really not the cream of the Big Ten crop. When the Irish O gets cranking, their D won’t be able to stop.
11/22 vs. Louisville: The Cardinals were great last year and did finish 12 and 1, but without Teddy Bridgewater and in South Bend, the Cards won’t get it done.
11/29 @#15 USC: what pisses me off about SC is this: ahead of ND in rank, even though the Irish beat them 2 years in a row. This year, the Irish will SPANK!
BCS or New Year’s Bowl, the Irish will then play. Whether Big Ten, Big 12, or other foe, it will be an Irish Day.
I guess you might say I’m being overly-optimistic at predicting a 10-2 regular season given the youth and inexperience on defense, and, indeed, it wouldn’t surprise me if either ASU or USC and perhaps one other team may beat them in an upset special, but I’m thinking that with BOTH Everett Golson and Malik Zaire being explosive QB’s that should thrive in the offense this year, I think that will offset whatever points the D gives up just enough for them to get the 10 wins. If Tommy Rees was still in there, I’d predict otherwise. We shall see.
Montana Grizzlies: The Griz bounced back a year ago, 10 wins and playoffs made. This year I think they will repeat, and No Dak State will fade.
Nebraska: The Huskers have been “hit and miss” since joining the Big Ten. Will “Blackshirt D” ever return? If not, sub-par, again.
Colorado State: An improved last year for CSU saw Rams go bowling and win it. Will they improve upon that feat? If the era is new, let’s begin it!
WELCOME BACK COLLEGE FOOTBALL! I MISSED YOU!!!
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 I’ve 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 don’t 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 I’ll 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 they’re actually going to be over two days, so they won’t 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 they’re waiting. I was thinking computer ratings might decline drastically without the BCS, but now I’m 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 don’t 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 I’m 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 don’t 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, let’s 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 doesn’t 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:
“You 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.
• If you win the explosiveness battle (using [points per possession]), you win 86 percent of the time.
• If you win the efficiency battle (using Success Rate), you win 83 percent of the time.
• If you win the drive-finishing battle (using points per trip inside the 40), you win 75 percent of the time.
• If you win the field position battle (using average starting field position), you win 72 percent of the time.
• If you win the turnover battle (using turnover margin), you win 73 percent of the time.”
Something worth reading from the Washington Post. Wonders never cease. Anyway, if you don’t 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
That’s a really useful metric. Since teams usually alternate possessions, I don’t think the first one is as helpful in analyzing teams even though it’s 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: “I would hope no conference would have two teams in the four.”
Interesting coming from the guy who was all irritated he didn’t 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 wasn’t because of the result. At least it wasn’t 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 I’m 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 didn’t play anyone and just mention the fourth team? Something like, “typical SEC, lol, Charleston Southern.”
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-12’s 1.25. Granted, the SEC has an additional non-conference slot, but that’s 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 that’s 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 don’t 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, I’m going to mention this season, followed by major games since 2002. There might be a couple of sentences after that, which I’m 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 wouldn’t 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 wouldn’t mention, but they’ve 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.
LSU’s 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 “everyone” one year. I’m not sure what season he had in mind. When they won the SEC in 2007, they didn’t 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 didn’t 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, I’ll address the two new teams in the transition between the divisions.Texas A&M isn’t playing anyone to speak of, but they did recently schedule Arkansas when they were in the Big XII. Also, I think they’ve been more than willing to continue their series with Texas, so I don’t completely blame them. But I will leave out their other recent opponents since they weren’t SEC at the time. Missouri’s game against Central Florida could be very interesting. The black and gold Tigers didn’t 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 shouldn’t be expected to do much else, although their Utah St. (the opener) hasn’t 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 weren’t 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.
Kentucky’s only big non-conference game is Louisville, whom they have played every year. I think they’re another program that doesn’t 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 “Group of Five” 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).
Georgia’s 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, Florida’s only meaningful game is against Florida St., whom they’ve played every year as long as I remember. But I don’t 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. That’s 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. I’ll 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 aren’t 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, I’ll 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 don’t happen to think teams with 11 starters or fewer (such as Stanford, Michigan St., or Baylor) belong ahead of any of the five, so I’m putting all 5 in the top 10. I’d expect one or two of them not to finish in the top 10, maybe not even the top 25, but it won’t 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 didn’t decide not to rank Wisconsin because I think LSU will beat them easily (I don’t… I didn’t expect LSU to beat Ole Miss easily last year even though Ole Miss wasn’t ranked before the game, for instance). But I didn’t have Wisconsin ranked after last season, and it’s hard to improve when less than half of your team comes back. It’s 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 didn’t 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 don’t see the makings of a ranked team coming back. The other teams that fell out weren’t near the top and don’t 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 I’m 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 don’t want to rank them preseason. I will show the previous rankings below. I have some other comments about things that I’ve read and discussed in the last week, but I will post those on Thursday or Friday.
1. Florida St. – I don’t 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. Auburn—similar 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 doesn’t mean they’re not among the best teams.
3. Oregon—The 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. We’ve gotten used to the Ducks being a top 5 team, so I would expect better than another mid-top-25 season.
4. Alabama—This is another team that we’ve gotten used to competing for the top spot no matter what you say about returning starters, so that’s why even with 12 returning starters, the Tide still have a place in the conversation. We don’t know how the quarterback and defense will come along, but it’s safe to say a Saban defense will be more than adequate in most games.
5. Oklahoma—I hate picking Oklahoma to be in the top 5 because that never seems to be what happens (at least not since 2008), but again, it’s hard to pick someone else here. The Sooners do return 14 starters, most of them on defense.
6. Georgia—The 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. UCLA—The Bruins have a ton of returning starters, but they haven’t been quite able to turn the corner into being a nationally competitive team. Could this finally be the year? They could even be this year’s Florida St., although I remember Florida St. winning national championships before.
8. South Carolina—It 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.—The Buckeyes should still be hanging around with another strong chance to win the conference. It wasn’t long ago that they won 24 games in a row, so 12 returning starters still seems formidable.
10. LSU—As 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. USC—I don’t think the Trojans have lagged all that far behind the major teams in recent years. They’ve 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. Clemson—The 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.—Sticking 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 Spartans’ strong suit. The Spartans will now be in the same division as the Buckeyes, by the way, so I’d say the chances of making the Big Ten title game are reduced.
14. Central Florida—I’ll throw in one more to make it three in a row. It’s difficult to be the best mid-major/“Group of Five” 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, they’re 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. Stanford—The 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 Miss—Going back to the SEC, the Rebels may actually play a role in the SEC West this season. They’re 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. Washington—The 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 season’s starter, “off-the-field issues” notwithstanding.
18. Arizona St.—Staying 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. Texas—The 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 don’t see Texas staying down and out for long. The Horns may not challenge Oklahoma, but they did beat the Sooners last season. I’ll mention Baylor, but I don’t see another strong competitor in conference.
20. Michigan—I’m surprised the Wolverines haven’t 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 “good” losses. One point to Ohio St., three points to Iowa, four points to Nebraska, and three points (in four overtimes) to Penn St. They didn’t really show up to the bowl game, but the only other loss that wasn’t close was to that Spartan team I mentioned. The increase in experience (15 returning starters) may help turn many close losses into wins.
21. Louisville—The Cardinals’ 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. Baylor—You may wonder why they’re 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 haven’t 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. Florida—I 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. I’m not picking them for the top 5, but I think top 25 is a good bet.
24. Duke—Another team with 14 returning starters (I guess that’s 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 I’m not seeing a strong reason to keep them out of the preseason top 25.
25. Northern Illinois—Two 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, “why not”? 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 –
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 –
17 Washington 24
18 Arizona St. 15
19 Texas –
20 Michigan –
21 Louisville 14
22 Baylor 10
23 Florida –
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 don’t want to rehash all those arguments again, but I’ll 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 doesn’t count all the turn of the (20th) century games, but that’s 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 they’re 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 didn’t 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 they’ve 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 Arkansas’s 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 they’re 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 other’s list. Ole Miss’s second is Tennessee, and Georgia’s 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 don’t have the energy to make another chart like the one above, and it’s after 10 on the east coast, so I’m 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 don’t think they’d have too much right to complain. All four teams that have recently won BCS titles would be in the South.
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