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Miles Set for Success - Or Final Failure
Everything's falling into line for LSU to have an excellent year on the gridiron in 2016.
  • 18 starters return, including several who were expected to head to the NFL.
  • A new D coordinator whose Wisconsin defense yielded the fewest yards in the BCS over the last three years. Several Tigers who spurned the NFL to return for another year cited playing for Dave Aranda as a major reason.
  • An outstanding 2016 recruiting class despite the turmoil at the end of last season when it appeared certain that Miles would be fired. The Tigers bagged the consensus #3 set of recruits despite losing QB Felipe Franks to Florida.
  • A starting QB who now has an entire season of experience under his belt. Also, Brandon Harris may have some competition from a transfer from Purdue who sat out this past season - Danny Etling, a four-star recruit who started the first five games for the Boilermakers in 2014.
  • A 2016 schedule that brings two of the three teams that beat the Tigers in '15 to Baton Rouge: Ole Miss October 22 and Alabama November 5, with an open date in between. (The Tide is off October 29 also.)
  • But the even year schedule, as it has since 1992, sends the Tigers to both Auburn and Florida.
    FAST FACT: LSU has NEVER won at both Auburn and Florida in the same season.
    The Tigers also go to Arkansas and Texas A&M. But based on what they have coming back - particularly at QB - all four of those SEC road foes look beatable if LSU fields a truly outstanding D in 2016.

But the same factors that have Les Miles set up for possibly his most successful season in his soon-to-be 12 years in Baton Rouge have also placed his neck on the guillotine. Here's what Miles MUST do, in order of importance, to keep his job for 2017.

  1. Beat Alabama at home November 5.
    The Tigers came oh so close the last two times they played the Tide in Baton Rouge, losing 21-17 in 2012 on a TD with 51 seconds left and 20-13 in OT in 2014 after giving up the tying FG at the end of regulation. Since the Tigers seem to have a more talented team than in either of those seasons, victory will be EXPECTED over a Bama team with a new QB and no Heisman Trophy RB.
  2. Win the SEC West.
    Doing #1 will go a long way toward achieving this goal.
  3. Depending on how strong the East champion is, win the SEC.
  4. Earn a spot in the College Football Playoff.
    If the Tigers do 1, 2, and 3, they would have a high probability of making the playoff. Of course, that presumes t hey don't lose any of their non-conference games, with the most challenging being the opener against Wisconsin at Lambeau Field.

Les got a last-minute reprive from the Governor - er, Chancellor - during the final regular season game against A&M last year. But not win the SEC West and we'll be back in the same place after the A&M game in '16, except that the Chancellor probably won't chicken out again.

Of course, the Preseason Football Magazines will essentially print the same previews of LSU in 2016 that they carried in 2015 - a talented team that can go far if they get consistent play at QB. But the 2011 Tigers, who compiled the greatest regular season in school history (13-0) - and many commentators called it the greatest in NCAA history - weren't great at QB with Jarrett Lee and, the latter part of the season, Jordan Jefferson. That was also the last LSU team to defeat Alabama.

Interesting Quote

With Peyton Manning's retirement imminent, here's a recent quote from New Orleanian and Pro Football Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk with an idea for what Peyton might do now.

Does the Manning family try to buy a team? How about the Saints? Their owners, the Bensons, are fighting over ownership. I'm sure between Eli, Archie, and Peyton there's enough there for them to acquire one.

I presume Eli couldn't get on board as long as he's playing. But Archie and Peyton could head a syndicate, with Eli joining them when he retires.

HAPPY! HAPPY! HAPPY!
The great Denver defense - and I don't use the word "great" loosely - won the championship!
  • The 34 combined points were the fewest since 2008 when the Giants beat the Patriots 17-14.
  • Both QBs were stymied.
    Newton: 18/41, 265y, 0 TD, 1 INT, 6 sacks
    Manning: 13/23, 141y, 0 TD, 1 INT, 5 sacks
  • Cam ran for 45y but almost all of that came in the first half. Wade Phillips, one of the best D-coordinators in NFL history, made adjustments and kept Newton bottled up.
  • It was a strange game in that Denver didn't win because its offense was better than Carolina's but rather because the Bronco D scored one TD and created another with a fumble recovery inside the 10.
  • It was gratifying to see Cam frowning instead of smiling. He didn't get a chance to run to the stands behind the EZ and preen for the fans. It was good to see him eat some humiliation pudding.
Last Minute Prediction
5 PM Sunday - half hour before kickoff
  • The Broncos can win but they'll need help from the Panthers. CAROLINA HAD 12 PENALTIES FOR 102Y, INCLUDING A NUMBER OF FALSE STARTS THAT MADE THEIR OFFENSIVE CHALLENGE EVEN GREATER.
  • They need the Panthers to somehow be awed by the Big Stage and start poorly - directly the opposite of their last two playoff games. IT WASN'T SO MUCH CAROLINA WAS AWED AS THEY WERE PAWED - BY THE DENVER D.
  • Reports say the Broncos have been amazingly cool as if all the pressure is on the Panthers. But will they be that way come kickoff? DENVER WAS MORE READY TO PLAY AT THE OPENING WHISTLE AND ESTABLISHED THE EDGE FROM THE BEGINNING.
  • If Newton is off in the beginning so that the Broncos can hang around, Peyton & Company will have a chance to pull an upset in Q4.
  • I don't think the other scenario - which played out against Seattle in Carolina's first playoff game, namely, jumping out to a 31-0 halftime lead and going scoreless the second half to hang on 31-24 - is likely since Denver's D is better than Seattle's but also their offense is not as strong.
  • I still see Carolina winning but not by the 49-15 margin of their rumble over Arizona. Say, 27-17. HAPPY I WAS WRONG! AT LEAST I WAS RIGHT IN SAYING THAT DENVER'S D WOULD HAVE TO WIN THE GAME FOR THEM.
First Place Tigers
Those three words have a good ring to them, don't they?
  • I'm referring, of course, to Johnny Jones's team taking over sole posses­sion of first place in the SEC with their 88-77 victory over Mississippi State Saturday.
  • The most interesting aspect of the game was the fact that the Tigers won despite Tim Quarterman not having a particularly good game: 7 points, 4 rebounds. But he had 4 assists and only 1 turnover, a good ratio.
  • Nor did Craig Victor have a good day: 3-for-7 shooting for 8 points with just 4 rebounds.
  • Freshman Antonio Blakeney (31) and senior Keith Hornsby (25) scored 56 points between them to take up the slack. When those two are hitting from outside, LSU can play with anybody in the country.
  • But they must still improve their defense. The Bulldogs got too many un­contested drives to the basket.
  • The next two games will go a long way toward determining LSU's fate in conference play: @South Carolina Wednesday night and Texas A&M at home Saturday (a game I'm very much looking forward to attending). The Tigers must at least split those two to continue in the hunt for the regular season crown. Win both and you take a giant step toward the champion­ship because you gained a game on your nearest pursuers.
  • Joe Lunardi has LSU at #39 on his NCAA Tournament list.
Super Bowl
My head and my heart are split on the Big Game.
  • The Golden NFL Rankings proclaim the Panthers the winners as they led the Broncos by about two points per game in average score, which is a whopping margin the way my rankings are calculated.
  • Passion-wise, though, I'm strongly for Denver. Not only are the Panthers a hated divisional rival of my Saints, but their QB is an arrogant, obnoxious brat who loves to draw attention to himself apart from his team. (And, no, I'm not racist because I say that since I would use the same adjectives for Johnny Manziel and would not apply them to Russell Wilson or Teddy Bridgewater.)
  • Throw in the fact that this is probably the last game for one of the classiest guys ever to play any sport, Peyton Manning from New Orleans, and you understand how strongly I want Denver to win.
  • Most pundits expected New England to beat Denver in the AFC Title Game, but that was in Denver. Still, it gives some hope that the Broncos D can play well enough to win.

But taking a more objective approach, here's some key points from Chris Korman's preview of the game USA Today Sports Weekly.

  • Under BRONCOS - THINGS TO SUSTAIN
    An insane level of pressure: Denver hit Tom Brady 20 times in its AFC Championship Game win. That was the most QB hits since 2006, and Brady wilted. He threw two interceptions and completed 48.2% of his passes. Of course, it is difficult to quantify just how superior Newton is as an athlete compared to Brady. He'll escape far more often than Brady did. But the Broncos will need to disrupt the pocket and push the line regardless, and they are in good position to do so. They badgered Brady thoroughly despite blitzing on only 17% of plays ... As long as Denver's starting safeties - Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward - return from injuries, the Broncos should be able to limit openings for Newton to exploit and force him to make difficult timing throws, which has been one of his few weaknesses.
  • Under BRONCOS - THINGS TO OBTAIN
    A completion or two down the field: Manning is still taking his shots. Largely because his recewivers manage to get open quite often. Carolina's secondary is average beyond Josh Norman, and an arm injury to LB Thomas Davis is likely to leave the Panthers vulnerable over the middle. If Manning can hit a deep pass early, the way this game is played could tilt in Denver's favor.
    The ability to tackle Newton: At 6-5 and 245 pounds, Newton has the size of a college defensive end. But he's also surprisingly nimble. ... He frequently spins forward for extra yards ... He's particularly difficult to stop in the red zone ...
  • Under PANTHERS - THINGS TO SUSTAIN
    The Creation of turnovers:
    Though not made up of the fastest or most athletic players, the [Carolina D] reads plays well and could cause Manning problems if he misses his targets as frequently as he has recently.
  • Under PANTHERS - THINGS TO OBTAIN
    An even more complicated run scheme: Part of what makes Carolina so successful is that it can run plays no other team would attempt, thanks to Newton's physicality and durability. There's simply no corollary for this offense in the NFL. And Denver, which hasn't faced Carolina since 2012, is hardly familiar with it.
    A solution for Cortland Finnegan: The Panthers were forced to bring in new defensive backs late in the season. ... Cortland Finnegan ... has been a major liability at nickel back, and Denver will do everything it can to exploit him ...
Intriguing Numbers - Super Bowl
70% Carolina's league-best TD rate in the red zone.
7 Turnovers by the Panthers D agains Arizona in the NFC Championship Game
17
Turnovers by Peyton Manning in his 10 regular season games
39 Manning's age, making him the oldest starting QB in Super Bowl history
13 Difference in years (plus 48 days) between the ages of the starting QBs in Super Bowl 50 - the largest difference in history
37 Mile radius of Levi's Stadium in which airspace is off-limits from 2 PM to midnight on game day
8 Number of appearances by Denver in the Super Bowl, tying them with the Patriots, Steelers, and Cowboys for most ever
13 Number of active franchises, including Carolina, that have never won the Super Bowl
7 Different teams that have won the Super Bowl the previous seven seasons - a streak guaranteed to reach 8 since neither Carolina nor Denver has won during that time
0 QBs that have won the Heisman Trophy, NCAA championship, MVP award, and Super Bowl - a number that Newton can change with a win Sunday
199 Career wins by Manning, tying him with Brett Favre for most all-time (regular season and postseason combined)
184-1 Odds against a Broncos-Panthers Super Bowl matchup before the season started

Other interesting facts

  • Five years ago, these two teams held the top two picks in the NFL Draft. Carolina selected Cam Newton while the Broncos took Von Miller. Both players remain key components of their team's success. This will be the first time the #1 overall pick faces the #2 pick in the Super Bowl.
  • Both teams made the Super Bowl with the coach they hired after firing John Fox.
  • This is the first Super Bowl featuring opposing starting QBs who both were selected #1 overall in the draft.
  • The Broncos have gone to seven Super Bowls with QBs drafted by the Colts. The Colts have done so twice.
  • Carolina is the 8th team in the Super Bowl era to win its conference championship game by 30 or more points. Only two of the previous seven won the Super Bowl.
QUICK QUIZ
Six QBs selected first overall in the NFL draft have won the Super Bowl. How many can you name and do you know which one has won the most Super Bowls?

Panthers coach Ron Rivera is the third individual to participate in Super Bowls as a player, assistant coach, and head coach. Identify the other two.

LHSAA in Turmoil
The main sports talk in my small world this week has not been the Super Bowl but rather the actions taken by the LHSAA principals last Friday.
  • Despite the efforts of new Commissioner Eddie Bonine to unify the organi­zation, the public school principals not only didn't rescind the split playoff concept in football but instead extended the split playoffs to boys' and girls' basketball as well as baseball and softball.
  • Some principals wanted to amend the proposal to extend the split to all sports but were ruled out of order because the proposal was submitted too late to be reviewed by the Executive Committee before the meeting.
  • I stumbled across an article on the meeting in the Shreveport Times. The quotes from participants from schools in the Northern part of the state give a different viewpoint from what he know in South Louisiana.
  • As background to read the excerpts below, you should know:
    • Loyola College Prep is a class 3A Catholic school in Shreveport that boasts that it has won at least one district championship in each of the last 21 school years.
    • Byrd is a 5A school in Shreveport that was put in the "Select" cate­gory for the 2013 football playoffs because the Magnet School - along with Scotlandville Magnet just north of Baton Rouge - draws more than 25% of its students from beyond its normal attendance zone. In 2014, the principals voted to make the civil parish each school's attendance zone for athletics, which moved Byrd and Scotland­ville back to the "Non-Select" (public school) playoffs. Then last Friday, the principals returned to the 25% rule and put Byrd and Scotlandville back in the Select playoffs.
    • Parkway is a 5A public school in Bossier City.
    • Evangel Christian is a private school in Shreveport that has a 2A enrollment but plays quite competitively at the 5A level in sports.
    • John Curtis is a private school in Jefferson Parish that is always lumped with Evangel as a small school that can compete at a much higher level in sports.
    • Calvary Baptist is a 2A private school in Shreveport.
  • In the article, I have bold and italicized what I think are the key lines that "let the cat out of the bag" in terms of the real motivation of the public school principals in this endeavor.
Shreveport Times
Friday, January 29, 2016

Loyola athletic director Johnny LeBlanc expressed disappointment with the vote, noting he'd like the Flyers to be able to compete against all of their traditional opponents. He said the momentum for Friday's big decision began quite a few years ago, when the LHSAA failed to adequately address both public and private schools who didn't follow rules for recruiting and eligibility, leading to a large competitive disparity in some areas.
"The bottom line is that in and of itself, that handbook is part of the difficulty," LeBlanc said. "There's so many rules that contradict other rules that it's hard to tell what's going on."
Byrd coach Mike Suggs agreed it's difficult to keep up with all the rule changes, and said it's not always clear when a new rule cancels out an old one. Before a successful appeal, the Yellow Jackets got banned from the football playoffs last fall when they violated the LHSAA's policy limiting athletic participation during the school day.
They likely won't play in the Class 5A bracket next fall, thanks to a vote Friday to go back to traditional attendance zones rather than parish boundaries. If Byrd enrolls more than 25 percent of its student body outside those zones, it will return to Division I, just like in 2013.
"We believe in the association, but I totally disagree with the part that puts us and Scotlandville over there," Suggs said. "They did that so it wouldn't say public and private."
Parkway coach David Feaster said Byrd's move shouldn't affect the intense rivalry the two football programs have developed in recent years, and he noted the Yellow Jackets' route to the Dome will be much tougher now that schools such as Evangel and John Curtis have been allowed to play up in class. In fact, Feaster said it could mean even more to beat Byrd and prove the non-select schools can be just as competitive.
Legal objections concerning the constitutionality of the split nearly derailed it before principals even got a chance to vote, but Feaster said it should be final now that those issues were exposed as "bogus." He believes the momentum should lead principals to create a split in all sports next year, and they would have voted for it Friday if not for constitutional concerns.
He credited principals for overcoming a powerful executive committee, but LeBlanc argued it's unfair for the majority public schools to dictate the rules for private schools. He said if the LHSAA votes to extend the split to all sports private schools would move to leave the LHSAA, something Feaster said would be difficult since schools such as Loyola, Evangel and Calvary don't have enough potential opponents in the area.
"I would say that would be best-case scenario," Feaster said of the private schools leaving LHSAA. "There's very little chance of that."

I'll have more to say about this whole matter in the days to come.

Golden NFL Rankings - Final Regular Season
Golden NFL Top Ten
Pos.
Team
Record
Average Opp. wins Last
Week
1 Carolina
15-1
20.02
106 1
2
Arizona
13-3
19.17
95 2
3
Denver
12-4
18.06
92 3
4
Seattle 10-6
17.99
69 9
5
Minnesota
11-5
17.85
78 7
6
Cincinnati
12-4
17.84
78 6
7
New England
12-4
17.69
85 4
8 Green Bay 10-6 17.57 72 5
8
Kansas City
11-5
17.56
76 8
10
Pittsburgh
10-6
17.06
74 10
"Opponent wins" means the total number of wins
by the teams the ranked team defeated.

Saints finish #22.

Complete Golden NFL rankings

Division Rankings
Rank Division Average Last Week
1 NFC West 16.735 1
2 NFC North 16.582 2
3 NFC South 16.473 3
4 AFC West 16.305 4
5 AFC East 16.102 5
6 AFC North 15.711 6
7 AFC South 14.859 7
8 NFC East 14.813 8

Overall: NFC 16.151, AFC 15.744

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This site is devoted primarily but not exclusively to college and pro football. The unique feature of this site is the publication each fall of the author's rankings of all FBS college football teams and similar rankings for the NFL. I live in New Orleans and am a graduate of LSU and FSU. So I present a Southern and particularly an SEC point of view but one that is reasonably objective. I also publish a monthly Football Magazine with stories from the past and a monthly Baseball Magazine with a similar format. During the winter and spring, there's a monthly Basketball Magazine.

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