One of the great flaws of college football is that perception often governs reality. That is, what we think about teams often dictates what they’re capable of actually doing. In no other sport does our collective wisdom — or lack thereof — matter as much in truly determining a champion. Every other sport settles its champion on the field, court, or rink. Not college football. We decide who we think should play and then let those teams play for the title. So our lazy biases truly matter when it comes to finding a football champion.
In particular, those biases often dictate outcomes.
Which brings me to two biases that have gotten a ton of attention lately. Both are lazy.
First, the national consensus has been that Alabama and LSU shouldn’t rematch because the 9-6 game was so boring. Seriously, that’s an argument. One of the stupidest arguments that anyone of moderate intelligence could make, but an argument regardless.
Second, Arkansas is the red-headed stepchild of the SEC West’s trio. Even ranked number three in the country, no one — myself included — has been willing to give the Razorbacks much of a shot at the national title. Even if, mind you, Arkansas wins at LSU. This got me wondering, what if Alabama was in Arkansas’s cleats? Would the national opinion be so clear cut on the Razorbacks lack of realistic contention?
Assuming LSU beats Arkansas — which I think will happen — some members of the media and the public will go out of their way to find a non-SEC team to slingshot into the title game — hello Oklahoma State — so we can avoid the rematch of LSU-Alabama. Most will cite the “boring” nature of the 9-6 game as evidence of why the two teams shouldn’t play again. That this idea has taken root in the national consciousness is beyond stupid because it relies on a fault premise — the idea that Alabama and LSU have bad offenses.
Do you know what point totals LSU and Alabama have averaged against the other ten teams they’ve played? LSU has averaged 40.8 and Alabama has averaged 38.4. That would place LSU at number 11 and Alabama at number 14 in the country in points per game.
Yep, Alabama and LSU are nearly top ten offenses too.
Even with a 9-6 game on the books LSU and Alabama still have the 14th and 20th best offenses in the country.
Yet the idea has been imprinted in the national consciousness that both teams have bad offenses. Why? Because most of the nation hasn’t watched Alabama or LSU play very many games. They just watched one big game and made their decisions based on those results.
Granted, the two teams didn’t score very many points against each other. But that’s not because the offenses are bad, it’s because the defenses are so damn good. How good? Alabama and LSU are the number one and number two scoring defenses in the country. Alabama gives up just 8.36 points per game while LSU gives up 10.0. The next closest team gives up 13 per game. That’s an amazing gap. In fact, you can give up 17 points a game, a full touchdown more than either team, and still be a top ten college football defense.
So we’re not just talking about good defenses, we’re talking about two of the most dominant defenses in college football history.
In particular, Alabama’s numbers are staggering. The Crimson Tide has the number one rush defense, pass defense, total defense, scoring defense, and pass efficiency defense. Alabama has also allowed the fewest first downs in the country and has the number one 3rd down defense in the country. Reread that list. Do you really think with a month to prepare for an opponent Alabama is going to allow anyone to score many points against it? Meanwhile LSU has the number four rush defense, number five passing defense, number two total defense, and number two scoring defense. Its pass efficiency is number two in the nation and its first downs allowed is number three.
(For the third and Chavis contingent, it is worth noting that LSU is number 21 on third down defense, the only flaw in an otherwise glittering resume).
How have top ten caliber offenses fared against these two teams?
Oregon, the nation’s number three offense averaging 46 points a game, scored just 27 points against LSU. (Seven of which came in garbage time).
Arkansas, the nation’s number 13 total offense, has scored 39 points against the rest of the country. It scored 14 against Alabama.
Neither of these teams is offensively futile, they’re just defensively amazing. So, guess what, both of these teams are likely to stifle their opponent in the national title game no matter who it is. Arguing against a rematch because the first game wasn’t pretty enough for you is like being upset at an anaconda for slowly strangling its victim to death. It ain’t flashy, but the anaconda gets the job done too.
None of this even changes the fact that if this game had ended 31-28 in overtime, the national media and fans would have been ecstatic over the possibility of a rematch. Yet have the same margin in an overtime game with less touchdowns and the game isn’t good enough?
The fact that this idea has even taken root is just a testament to how lazy many of our opinions are.
Which brings me to my second point, is Arkansas being penalized for being Arkansas?
Remember when the national consensus was that if Oklahoma beat an undefeated Oklahoma State team it would “slingshot” in to the title game? I do. You could hear that opinion everywhere. So why isn’t anyone saying the same about Arkansas? If the Razorbacks went on the road and beat the number one team in the nation, why wouldn’t they slingshot in to the title game? Especially when you consider that Arkansas’s resume is better than Oklahoma’s. Yes, the Razorbacks lost in September to the number one team in the country on the road. But isn’t that better than losing to a .500 team at home in October when you were a thirty point favorite?
So why would Oklahoma sling shot in to the title game with a road win over the number two team in the nation, but Arkansas wouldn’t with a road win over the number one team in the nation?
Put simply, you can’t argue one way and not the other.
Are we guilty of not giving Arkansas credit because, well, they’re Arkansas, a team without a legitimate national profile for most of the last thirty years?
I think so.
Think I’m wrong? Put it this way, would the conversation be different if you switched Alabama and Arkansas’s resumes?
What if Alabama was going to Baton Rouge Friday? What if Alabama had lost to Arkansas on the road back in September? Would everyone discount Alabama’s chances of vaulting in to the title game if it beat the number one team on the road? I don’t think so. Yet everyone, myself included, has said that about Arkansas. How much of that has to do with the national perception of the Arkansas program as opposed to the on-field results? If Arkansas beats LSU could we really argue with Arkansas at 1, LSU at 2 and Alabama at 3 in the polls? In a three-way split, where all the teams have beaten all the other teams, logic is out the door. Someone has to be ranked higher than someone else it beat.
Why do we all assume that the lowest ranked team would be Arkansas?
If Arkansas beats LSU on the road here are its top victories: Texas A&M at a neutral site, South Carolina, LSU on the road.
Here are Alabama’s top victories: Penn State on the road, Arkansas, Florida?
As a total resume, isn’t Arkansas’s as good as Alabama’s?
Whew, it’s pretty damn close.
Are we all guilty of penalizing Arkansas for the past thirty years of Arkansas football? It sure looks like it.