Who's Out, Who's In
It has been a weakness of mine over the years to give people second chances, and sometimes third chances. That may be admirable, but it is not good for your reputation, if one is keeping track of your winning percentage. Some second chances work out, third chances hardly ever. Nevertheless, I will probably not change. For fifteen years, I have been publishing my “Top 40” college pre-season football teams. It’s kind of like drawing to an inside straight in another game of chance. If you want to be really embarrassed and harassed, try picking the top forty college football teams in August each year. Most people don’t even remember it, but some of my “friends” never seem to forget it. No matter how much data you can find on each team, each year it is a crap shoot. If I can’t get compliments, I will take criticism. You will notice me either way.
Three times I have picked Oklahoma to play for the National Championship. Oklahoma is coached by Bob Stoops, one of the highest paid coaches in the country, and one who has an excellent record during his time at Oklahoma, During those three years, Oklahoma not only didn’t win the championship, they finished 8-4, 9-3, 8-4. Twice I have picked LSU during the reign of the “Baron of Baton Rouge”, Coach Les Miles. In all five of those years, the indicators were clear that Oklahoma and LSU had the best talent accompanied by the best schedule to go undefeated. Not so. My propensity to overlook the fact that these two “successful” coaches have an unexplainable talent to cause their teams to underperform when they have the most talent. Even though we are a long way from the end of the season, my new year’s resolution in 2017 is to never pick LSU or Oklahoma to even play for the national championship.
What are these indicators that were mentioned in the above paragraph? In each conference, and with independents, there will be two or three teams that are obviously going to be good. This is because of their history, their coach, their recruiting which provides perpetual talent. But, going even further into their potential, there are many other factors to consider.
We will use LSU as an example. Les Miles’ record at home at LSU is 69-10. Guess who plays them in Baton Rouge this year? The only team that they could possibly lose to, Alabama. LSU has lost to Alabama five straight times since the 9-6 win in Tuscaloosa in 2011. The odds are in favor of LSU this year because their talent level matches up well with Alabama. Going further, LSU returns eight starters on offense and nine on defense. This is double strong compared to Alabama with six on offense and five on defense. LSU returns fifty-two lettermen from a team that was 9-3, undefeated until the game with Alabama last year. The home crowd at LSU is fanatical. Les Miles was almost fired at the end of last year but survived. The players love to play for him. Generally when a popular coach is on the hot seat, his players will always fight harder to keep their coach.
However the number one indicator that LSU had a good chance to go undefeated was their schedule. With all the other factors considered, the only team that could be as good or better than LSU was Alabama. They play in the ninth game. Wisconsin, Auburn, Florida, Ole Miss, Arkansas and Texas A&M were inferior to LSU in talent and potential. So what did the embattled “goofy grass eating” head coach do? His decisions on the sidelines helped LSU lose the opener to Wisconsin and the fourth game to an Auburn team trying to stay relevant in college football. This gave LSU a 2-2 record for September, definitely out of the national race, and not looking so good in the SEC West. I won’t have to contend with Les Miles again. He was appropriately fired after losing to Auburn 18-13 on September 24. Coach Ed Orgeron, his defensive line coach, was immediately named interim head coach. Orgeron had been head coach at Ole Miss and interim head coach at USC after the firing of Lane Kiffin.
Without going into great detail about Oklahoma, the same picture developed in Norman; another great team made average by Coach Bob Stoops. Stoops was once called “Big Game Bob”. No more. Oklahoma only had to dispatch Houston, a young struggling Ohio State team in Norman, a weaker TCU, Texas and Baylor in transition. So what does “Big Game Bob” do? He does not have his team ready for Houston or Ohio State, both losses. Coach Stoops has an outside chance of winning the Big 12 Conference because his two losses were non-conference losses. But, being in the National Playoff is definitely off the table.
On this page you will find a reprint of my top-forty, only for your fun and amazement. My third team, Alabama is looking really good, and if they take care of business in Baton Rouge on November the 5th, could surely make the top four in December. Even with that horrible loss to Louisville, my number four team Florida State still has a chance to be in the final four. Only Miami and Clemson stand in the way. By the way, keep your eyes on Louisville. Bobby Petrino, who should have been hired at Auburn in 2012, is the most underrated coach in America. However, they will never again play as well as they did when they dispensed with Florida State. Amazing!
After one third of the season is over, the following teams have a chance to make the playoff:
Alabama • Florida State • Michigan • Ohio State • Houston • Louisville • Clemson
Louisville plays Clemson at Clemson on October 1st. The winner will stay in contention. The loser may finish with only one loss, so they would have a mathematical chance. Louisville must also play Houston in Houston on Thursday night, November 17th. If both are undefeated, the loser will probably be out because a late season loss is more damaging to the playoff committee.
After two thirds of the season is gone, we will take another look at the playoff picture. Only seven teams look like they have a chance now as we end September. On November the 1st, you will here from me again. In the meantime, if your team is not doing well, remember; bad football is better than no football.