One Last Look at the Defenses

January 8, 2009

The relative value of the two defenses in this BCS title game has been the most pervasive and contentious debate. It’s what both teams have been mouthing off about the most, and it also is perhaps what has inflamed message boards the most (other than the generic Conference Wars woofing).

Something I’ve see brought up a lot in recent days is that one reason why Oklahoma gives up more points and yards than Florida does is because of the fast pace of its games. More plays per game means more points and yards allowed, you see. Another thing I’ve heard is that Oklahoma tends to give up a lot of points when the game is out of hand, skewing their numbers.

I went through the play-by-play of each teams’ games (throwing out each’s game against a I-AA opponent) to see how much this was true.

I counted up how many full drives each faced. I threw out any drives that ended halves with something other than a score or punt from the drive count totals.

I also counted up how many yards and points each defense surrendered. Defensive penalty yards were included in the yardage count because it would have taken too long to pull them out. Plus those are yards the defense allows the offense to move, so they are relevant in that sense.

The twist is that I recorded what the point margin in the game was at the time the yards and points were given up. That way, I could draw some sort of conclusion on the part about Oklahoma giving up a lot of points when the game was out of hand. For points, I recorded the margin before they were scored. So for example, if a touchdown was allowed when the game was 14-0 in favor of OU or UF, the recorded margin goes down as 14.

What makes a competitive game is subjective of course. However, in my casual observation I have noticed that teams generally don’t change their strategy until the opponent’s lead is more than 14 points. That can change as the course of the game goes on, but they certainly do change strategy when the lead is more than 21. Those became the two benchmarks for the “out of hand” analysis.

Here is a handy table organizing my findings:

Defense, Oklahoma and Florida
Oklahoma Florida
Drives 156 136
Points 301 153
% Drives Scor 29.5% 18.4%
% Drives TD 24.4% 9.6%
Yards/Drive 31.27 23.29
Points/Drive 1.93 1.13
% Pts, 14 & under 45.8% 45.8%
% Pts, 21 & under 52.8% 56.9%

So it was true that Oklahoma had to defend more drives than Florida did. Twenty more, to be precise. You can see in the yards and points per drive what happens when you smooth out the difference in drive count. The yardage difference is there but not great, but the Sooners allow almost a full point per drive more.

We can also see that Oklahoma allowed its opponents to score on almost 30% of their drives, as compared to Florida’s defense allowing opponents to score on just 18% of their drives. You can also see in the next row that OU allows touchdowns quite a bit more often than Florida does. That fact is something that can be attributed to the Gators’ incredible red zone defense and its propensity to hold teams to field goal attempts.

The real juicy stuff comes on the last two rows. Each team allows the same proportion of its points when they lead by 14 or fewer points, and the difference when the margin was 21 or less is only very slight.

So while Oklahoma gives up a good number of its points when the game is out of hand, Florida basically gives up the same percentage of its points when the game is out of hand too. Because of that fact, you then have to go back to the chicken-or-egg fight about offensive and defensive strength in the two conferences to settle this one once and for all. That battle is not something I intend to get into here, because there is no ultimate, satisfying answer.

The Sooner players have done an admirable job at defending their defense, and some others have brought up some interesting points about game pace and the timing of when points
are given up.

However, those arguments don’t cut it when it comes to explaining why Oklahoma gave up more points than Florida did this season.

Appendix

If you prefer graphics and pretty colors, here are pie charts for what the margin is when these two teams give up their points.

ou-points

florida-points


A Preview of the Game

January 8, 2009

I volunteered to write a few bowl previews for Bleacher Report, and the final one for tonight’s game is here.


Time for the DEs to Step Up

January 8, 2009

Watch these highlights of Texas DE Brian Orakpo against Oklahoma:

The left tackle he’s often going against is Phil Loadholt, a 6-8, 337 lb man/mountain. Even with Orakpo’s freakish strength, going through Loadholt is not something that is going to happen consistently.

What you do see in that video is that you can go around him if you’ve got the speed to do it. Something that Kirk Herbstreit gets cut off from mentioning is that Loadholt doesn’t have the best lateral speed/quickness, an understandable condition for a guy his size.

Sam Bradford leaves games without once hitting the turf more often than not. If Florida is to get the pressure it craves, the ends are going to have to create it because clearly it’s possible.

Jermaine Cunningham, Justin Trattou, and Carlos Dunlap all need to have good games. The success of the defense as a whole could depend on getting some heat on Bradford, and they’re the guys who will need to do it.

(video via Dr. Saturday)


What I Learned From Watching an Oklahoma Game

January 7, 2009

Back in November I recorded the Oklahoma-Texas Tech game on my DVR both in hopes of capturing the career-defining win for Mike Leach (so much for that), and just in case Florida ended up playing either of them in a bowl. I figured it would be good to have a game in which both played another top team to get some good studying in.

As it turns out, Texas Tech’s threat to win the game was about as real as the cherry flavoring in Diet Mountain Dew Code Red. The entire team, and Graham Harrell especially, just plain had a bad game. As a result, it didn’t turn out to be that great of a game for study. I should have saved the Red River Shootout instead, but I forgot to record it that weekend. Such is life.

Despite that issue, I was still able to pull some nuggets of wisdom from the game after re-watching it yesterday evening after work.

The Fox telecast on Thursday might end up the worst sports broadcast ever.

The Fox cameras had trouble at times keeping up with the pace of the Texas-Ohio State Fiesta Bowl. With the up allegro tempo that the Sooners sometimes run their offense, the film crew could fall hopelessly behind. We might never see the Sooners’ formation for more than a second before the snap.

But seriously folks, the Sooners’ fast break is a variable speed machine.

The fast pace of the Sooners’ offense has enabled them to set a scoring record despite the new clock rules slightly reducing the number of plays per game over last season. They seldom snap the ball with less than 15 seconds to go on the play clock and often hike it with more than 20. By contrast, you almost never see Florida snap it with more than 15 seconds to go.

The fast paced OU machine is not a consistent thing though. The farther away from the opposing end zone they are, the generally longer they take in between plays. I guess the idea is to be more careful so as not to get any turnovers close to the opponents’ goal.

When they were within their own 35 or 40, they generally snapped it with 13-18 seconds to go. From about their own 40 to the Red Raiders’ 30, they hiked with about 19 to 25 seconds to go. From there in, the pace got up to a breakneck speed that’s faster than most teams run their hurry up, two minute offense.

So yes, they do go fast. Ricky Bobby fast, even. However, they do have more nuance to it than most give them credit for.

This Bradford guy looked awfully familiar…

It was bothering me for more than a quarter. You know what it’s like, when you see someone and you know they remind you of someone else but you can’t quite place it.

Eventually I got it. Sam Bradford reminded me a lot of Georgia’s Matthew Stafford. It wasn’t so much in his delivery, and he didn’t make as many bad decisions as Stafford generally does over the course of a game. However the way he stood in the pocket, handed off, and threw down field gave me flashbacks to watching the Bulldog signal caller play.

It is true that Florida’s defenders haven’t seen an offense as prolific as OU’s, but they have seen a pocket quarterback with an excellent arm. Bradford almost certainly won’t be gift wrapping any interceptions though, and that makes the task that much tougher.

Gresham will be a problem.

Jermaine Gresham is by far the best tight end Florida will have seen all season, and he’s the biggest pass-catching target too. The Gator secondary has seen a 6-6 receiver in FSU’s Greg Carr and it did just fine against him, but Gresham won’t be running jump ball routes all game as Carr does. Plus, the Sooner tight end outweighs Carr by 50 about pounds.

I can’t say enough about how well the Gator secondary has played. They surpassed all of my expectations. However no one is especially big, and bringing down Gresham in the open field one-on-one will be perhaps the toughest task they face.

Zone defense is choosing death against Oklahoma.

I like Florida’s defensive line, but it is not the 2006 unit. Oklahoma has a monstrous offensive line, and I have a feeling the Gators up front will have even more trouble getting pressure than they did against Alabama. Any pressure will probably come from the ends or blitzers, but it won’t come as often as it did in Glendale against Troy Smith. The result is that Bradford will have some time to go shopping for receivers.

Texas Tech played a lot of zone, and Bradford picked them apart. Given the protection he had, there was always time for someone to get open in a hole in the zone.

Fortunately, Florida doesn’t play much zone. They don’t play strict man coverage, something that allows guys like Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins some freedom, but they cannot stray too far. If Florida is to get many sacks, they are going to have to be coverage sacks.

Oklahoma will miss DeMarco Murray.

I know the guys behind Murray are great backs and they’ll be productive. Neither of them appeared to be able to bring as much to the table as Murray does however.

The more things a single player can do, the more dangerous he is. If you have to use more than one guy to replicate someone you’re missing, then you’re going to be under your peak potential. That’s just the way it works.

The Sooners will need to embrace the blitz.

In general, Texas Tech’s offensive line did a good job of protecting when OU only rushed four players. Far more often than not, no blitz meant that Harrell had time to set his feet and throw. The problem was that he just plain missed his receivers too often to mount a credible counterstrike to the Sooners’ offensive onslaught.

The trouble came whenever an extra defender or three went after the quarterback. The Tech blockers often became confused with the creative blitzing schemes and that is usually what got Harrell into hot water.

Florida’s offensive line has been a huge part of the post-Ole Miss turnaround, even to the point that Urban Meyer says its the main thing that makes the offense go. From what I saw in this one game, I’d say that the Gator O-line will be able to handle the Sooners’ front four well enough to allow Tebow’s Flying Circus to do almost anything they want to.

I have no doubt that Brent Venables has been cooking up some new wrinkles for bringing some extra heat. His crew is going to need it because Florida has a great O-line this season.

There are some possibilities for running against them.

It’s one thing to look at numbers all the time, and something else entirely to see a team play. It may have something to do with how pass-heavy the Red Raiders are, but the Oklahoma run defense didn’t appear to be that fearsome. They missed some open field tackles that I would have expected them to make.

The Sooners did a good job of stopping the screen pass game, which Tech often uses in place of a traditional run game. On the other hand, the Red Raiders enjoyed some success in traditional rushing with RBs Shannon Woods and Barron Batch going for 4.9 and 5.9 yards per carry respectively.

Woods and Batch are nice backs, but they do not have the speed or explosiveness of Percy Harvin, Chris Rainey, or Jeff Demps. Emmanuel Moody is probably an upgrade too. Florida will have a lot a success running the ball if Oklahoma hasn’t shored up its rush defense in the time since.

The best defense is a good offense.

You’ve heard this phrase a million times, but in this game it was true. Texas Tech didn’t score until the second quarter, but it moved the ball well enough to have it for a little over half of the first quarter. With the Sooners’ offense on the sideline more often than not, it was only able to manage a single touchdown.

When the second quarter came around, the Red Raiders ended up having the ball for only about a third of it. Thanks to some turnovers and a downturn for the offense, Oklahoma exploded for 35 points in that second period alone. It was the knockout blow.

This may seem like a cliche (because it is) and fairly obvious (because it is), but it is relevant because Florida’s offense can chew up clock with the best of them. UF is understandably known for long runs and big plays, but the power running and short passing game can grind out yards too.

Don’t be surprised to see the Gators come out and try to run between the tackles early and not just because the mini Woody Hayes in the back of Urban Meyer’s mind tells him he must at the beginning of nearly every game. It will also be to keep the offensive Sooner Schooner parked in neutral.

Conclusion

Watching for details in a 65-21 blowout reveals all kinds of things you would normally miss as you dismiss the game as not worth watching anymore. I have an even greater appreciation for how effortless Oklahoma can make offensive football look, and it can do it to a degree not even this year’s Florida team can match.

I cannot wait for this game to come to see how everything turns out.


Loeffler is Your New QBs Coach

January 7, 2009

The rumors are true: Scott Loeffler is the new quarterbacks coach at UF.

Urban Meyer has gone outside his normal network to tab the former Detroit Lions and Michigan Wolverines QB coach. The popular theory is that he did it in order to keep Tim Tebow around another year since Loeffler had a great relationship with Tebow during his recruiting. Loeffler was enough to make Michigan one of his top schools despite Tebow not having any ties to the Mitten State and his not fitting Lloyd Carr’s offense at all.

I don’t buy the idea that this was the only reason. After all, Tebow has at most one year left (and that’s not guaranteed) and you don’t generally hire guys for a year and then cut them loose. He’s going to be grooming John Brantley and all the quarterbacks who will come after him.

So much for the idea that Kerwin Bell would become the new guy. I still think position coach is too far of a step down from head coach, even if Bell is a lower-division head coach.

And yes, it does make me a bit queasy to think of anyone connected with this year’s winless Lions joining the staff, but then again quarterback of the winless ’76 Bucs did all right for himself in Gainesville.


No Need to Worry About Percy

January 6, 2009

Percy Harvin is at 90% right now, but he hasn’t done any contact drills since his injury back in November.

That sentence might be worrisome for some people. It certainly is for at least CBS’ Dennis Dodd. When you’re talking about a team’s best receiver and a prominent rushing threat, 90% and no contact drills in almost a month and a half is usually not good news.

This is Percy Harvin we’re talking about though. He’s been less than 100% more often than not when he plays, and he’s yet to play a full season. He has missed time in the spring, summer, fall and winter at times throughout his career. If there’s a day on the calendar, chances are Harvin has felt pain on it during the past three years.

That fact is why I am not concerned about 90% and no contact drills in over a month. It’s Harvin’ modus operandi, and he still has been one of college football’s most electrifying players during his stay in Gainesville. His performance makes me think he’s a bit like Peter Gibbons in Office Space: he misses practice, but he doesn’t really miss practice.

Quite a few pixels and a few gallons of ink have given their existences to describe the freshman speedsters Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps in Florida’s backfield, and for good reason. They are lightning quick and elusive, able to take it to the house from just about anywhere on the field.

Neither is Percy Harvin though, and No. 1 reminds you almost every time he touches the ball. Rainey and Demps can evade tackles, but Harvin can break them too. He has the best first step in the game, meaning he gets to his top speed (which is quite possibly higher than Rainey’s and Demps’) faster than the other two. Neither the Gators nor anyone else in the nation has another player exactly like him.

The second of these two runs is what happens when Harvin decides to issue a friendly reminder as to why he’s the best of the bunch.

Missouri has someone similar in Jeremy Maclin, though Maclin doesn’t carry the ball as often as Harvin does. Some Oklahoma players have tried to downplay Harvin’s threat as a player by saying they’ll be ready thanks to having seen Maclin.

I have seen him play too and believe me, Jeremy Maclin is a certified playmaker. He has a chance to go in the first round of the NFL draft, and if you ask me he’s as good or better than recent, similar early rounders Ted Ginn, Jr. and DeSean Jackson.

Maclin is not Harvin though. He doesn’t have Harvin’s first step, and he doesn’t have Harvin’s power. I’ll put it this way: both Steve Spurrier and Bobby Bowden made comments this season saying they would have loved to see what Harvin could do just as a running back in a conventional I-formation offense. I don’t think you’ll find anyone out there who would say the same thing about Maclin.

So no, I am not concerned about Harvin’s lack of playing time. It’s nothing new to him, so he knows how to deal with it by now. If he’s playing, and he will be, then he’ll be a difference maker. It’s what he does.

As a side note, have a look at all of the injuries UF has had to overcome this season. The Gators have collectively missed 103 games due to health issues by the Gainesville Sun‘s Pat Dooley’s count, and that’s not counting Jim Barrie (out for season: ACL) who likely would never had played anyway.

It’s pretty remarkable that they are where they are with all of those guys missing for so long.


Did the Fiesta Bowl Tell Us Anything About Thursday?

January 6, 2009

Once again, a Big 12 offense has underperformed its expected value based on its and its opposing defenses’ play all year. Texas projected to score 36.5 points, but ended up with only 24.

Kansas is still the only Big 12 offense to exceed its expected point value, and again, it was against a cratering Minnesota team. Oklahoma projects to get about 38 points, and I wouldn’t call it a stretch to think that Florida could hold the Sooners under that if they show up ready to play as a D.

Run defense was an early talking point in the game, as someone on Fox’s research staff pulled out the gem that the Longhorns had seen the fewest rushes of any defense. This tidbit was to point out how pass-heavy the Big 12 was this season.

I looked it up, and the NCAA stats that are currently available include all games through the Sugar Bowl. Even with everyone getting their bowls counted and Texas not, UT did indeed face the fewest rushes. They saw 317 runs against them, with second place being TCU who saw 355 rushes.

What about percentage though? Maybe Texas just didn’t see that many plays run against it thanks to its great offense being on the field a lot.

Well, Texas saw the lowest rush percentage too with opponents running just 40.5% of the time against them. The strong Texas D-line combined with a really young secondary was probably the reason behind this. The pass-happy Big 12 did help some, but it’s not the whole story.

Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Missouri all ended up in the bottom ten of opponents rush percentage along with Texas, and five teams in the bottom ten is a trend, not an outlier. Even so, Alabama and Iowa from the quarterback-challenged SEC and Big Ten were also in the bottom ten. Florida clocked in at 21st-lowest opposing run percentage.

The conference doesn’t explain it all. The fact these teams (Iowa excepted) got up big early and often meant that opponents were forced to pass more often. That’s a main reason why who finishes a game with the most passing yards is generally a poor predictor of who won the game, while the team that rushes for more yards is a much better one.

The fact that Texas’ players didn’t see a power rushing attack all season had more to do with Beanie Wells’ early success than a flat lack of running plays in general. Will Muschamp has seen plenty in his day, and he knows what to do against them, but it’s different when you experience it in a live game. Besides, the fact that Wells is simply a gifted back had something to do with it too.

So what about Thursday? The fact that Oklahoma saw a relatively low number of rushing plays probably means nothing either. Florida has actually seen fewer, at 411 to the Sooners’ 425. OU also saw a power-oriented rush attack against TCU and did fine, holding the Frogs to 2.9 yards per rush. TCU doesn’t use option the way Florida does and certainly doesn’t have a power-running quarterback like Tim Tebow, but the Oklahoma defense does get to go up against the monstrous Oklahoma offensive line in practice.

It’s basically a non-issue, even if it is a nice bit of trivia.

As has been reported, Florida’s defense is much higher in the national rankings than Oklahoma’s is. It is also considerably higher than Texas’ defense too, and the ‘Horns tied for holding OU to its lowest point output of the year.

Florida’s defense is practically even with where Ohio State was going into this game, and we saw that the Buckeyes held Texas to 17 points for more than 59 minutes.

Florida’s offense is considerably better in just about every quantifiable way than Ohio State’s is. Yes, that even includes rushing as the Gators rush for more yards a game and at 5.96 to 4.59, they get almost a yard and a half more per rush.

Throw all those together and mix them around and it points to a Florida win. In reality though, will it blend? We’ll find out.

In the game of Will it Blend, Tom always wins.


An Oklahoma DB Falls Into the Trap

January 5, 2009

One side effect of the circus that perpetually surrounds Tim Tebow is that he doesn’t get to lead a normal life, or even a normal one for a football player. I am fairly sure most of his teammates like John Brantley and Janoris Jenkins get to walk around without getting noticed. Tebow hasn’t been able to do that since he first got to campus in January 2006.

Another side effect is that opposing defenders hear about him. A lot. They hear about him to the point of frustration, as though every mention of Tebow’s name is a shot at their ability and pride.

For Sooner CB Dominique Franks, the boiling point has come and gone:

“If you look at the three best quarterbacks in the country, they came from the Big 12…

With us being in Florida and playing against Florida, everybody’s going to think Tebow should have won the Heisman. But the right person won the Heisman, and we’re going to go out there and show everybody the reason why he won it…

Going into a game and knowing a quarterback’s going to throw the ball 40 times a game versus coming into a game and knowing he’s probably only going to throw it about 15 or 20… It makes it a lot harder to prepare for those [Big 12] guys…

Hopefully, he’ll throw me the ball a couple of times, and I can get my hands on it.

Oklahoma DT Gerald McCoy also decided to say that Tebow “really knows what he’s doing, but I think we’re prepared enough that we’ll know what they’re doing as well as they know it.”

OU defensive coordinator Bret Venables did a nice job of backtracking, saying that Franks hasn’t watched enough tape yet, that Franks is confident in his teammates, and that the team as a whole is confident in their process.

That’s all well and good, but this bowl season hasn’t been kind on Big 12 offenses so far. Bowl games are never good enough evidence to outweigh a regular season’s lot of games, but Kansas has the only offense from the conference that has outperformed what would be expected given theirs and their opponent’s season averages (see calculation method here). Not only that, but KU did it against a reeling Minnesota team that was nowhere near as good as its stats would have you believe.

That fact would at least a little bit cast some doubt on the value of the Big 12 quarterbacks’ stats that Franks was touting. While I agree that Sam Bradford was worthy of winning the Heisman, I have a feeling the Florida team as a whole would take exception with how he stated that notion.

As for the part about preparing for pass numbers, he is quite a bit off. The way that Florida does its run/pass option plays is different than how anyone he’s seen does it, and Florida has probably the best set of run blocking receivers in the country. On top of that no quarterback in the country (much less the Big 12) matches Tebow’s power running game, so his unique usage by the Florida offensive staff would indicate he requires more preparation from opposing defenses, not less.

I also appreciate that Gerald McCoy believes his team will be ready. I’m sure they will be since Oklahoma has a great defensive staff. However FSU DC Mickey Andrews knew what was coming in his second attempt at stopping the Tebow-led offense, and UF put up 45 points. Georgia’s DC Willie Martinez in his second crack at it gave up 49 points. South Carolina’s Ellis Johnson, a widely-respected defensive coordinator in his own right, gave up 49 in his first attempt.

Knowing what’s coming and stopping it are two different things. Everyone knew what Alabama was going to do on offense all year, and only two teams stopped it well enough to pull out wins.

Finally, Franks probably doesn’t understand what he did in falling into the trap of publicly trash talking Tim Tebow. Big No. 15 and his teammates don’t take it lightly. Here are a few examples of what happens when people publicly run their mouths about him:

  1. In November 2007, LB Geno Hayes said before the UF-FSU game that Tebow was “going down,” and “the bigger they are the harder they fall.” Florida won the game 45-12.
  2. At Tennessee’s media day prior to this season, DT Demonte Bolden said, “Man, I don’t care about Tebow. Yeah, he’s an All-American, but he’s a regular player. Get him back on the field. You know what I’m saying. I made hits on him last year. This year, I’m going to get back to him a lot quicker.” Florida won the game 30-6, and only the two teams’ run-heavy offenses and the new clock rules kept it from being worse as Florida scored on six of its seven non-garbage time drives.
  3. No one from Miami called out Tebow by name that I could find, but the Hurricanes talked plenty of trash. C Xavier Shannon (head coach Randy’s son) said he wanted “to show [the Gators] the University of Miami still rules the state of Florida,” and S Anthony Reddick wondered, “[a]re they going to be able to match up with our defense?” Florida won the game 26-3, and Miami was fortunate to get the three.
  4. LSU DT Ricky Jean-Francois said this season that if he and his fellow linemen got a good look at Tebow, “we’re going to try our best to take him out of the game.” Florida won the contest 51-21 and Jean-Francois didn’t even travel to Gainesville for the game due to injury.
  5. South Carolina LB Eric Norwood promised Florida would not score 40 on his defense. He also predicted he’d get a sack and that it was “definitely going to hurt.” Norwood did get a sack, but it was his Gamecocks who got a hurting to the tune of 56-6.

It is not a trap that the Florida players or coaches set, but it’s a trap that Franks fell into. His temperament couldn’t take hearing about Tebow anymore, and he ran his mouth promising doom for the Gators’ signal caller.

We’ll see if he and his fellow defenders can back it up, but history is not on his side.


Best or Most Deserving?

January 3, 2009

After eight years of practice of arguing over the BCS, the ninth season’s controversy finally boiled it down to two options. Do you vote for who is the best team by the eyeball test, or who is most deserving based on everyone’s resumes?

The ninth season was 2006, and Michigan represented the “best” team, while Florida was the “most deserving.” The Gators were helped out by two other factors, namely that voters didn’t want to see a rematch and wanted to honor the value of winning a conference championship. Anyway, that year the “most deserving” team barely won out and got to go to the national title game.

In 2007, LSU jumped from seventh to second in the final ballots because of the “most deserving” argument. However in 2004 undefeated Auburn was the “most deserving” team (having won the toughest conference), but the Tigers lost out to the two “best” teams in USC and Oklahoma.

Since human votes dominate the system, it should be no surprise that the choice of best or most deserving hasn’t been applied evenly. Oklahoma passed Texas in the second to last BCS rankings thanks to being the “best” of the two despite the “most deserving” Longhorns having beaten the Sooners in the regular season.

The fact that “best” won out over “most deserving” this year makes me feel better about the possibility of Florida winning the national title on Thursday. The reason? I have a hard time saying that Utah is not the most deserving.

By the BCS’s own criteria for determining which leagues get automatic bids, the Mountain West was the fifth-best conference, ahead of the sixth-place Big East and seventh-place Pac-10. Utah has defeated four teams that will finish the year ranked in Oregon State, TCU, BYU, and Alabama. Florida has defeated only two that will be for sure in Georgia and Alabama, and maybe a third in FSU (the third-highest in also receiving votes). However, the SEC rated as the second-best conference.

A lot of football is about timing, which is why season-long stats don’t predict the outcomes of bowl games precisely. If Alabama had played Utah the way it played Florida, the Sugar Bowl could have ended much differently. The Tide did not however, and here we sit with a 13-0 Utah team with probably the best resume of anyone.

If you’re going by the eyeball test, then I still say Florida, Oklahoma, and Texas are better. They have better players almost across the board, and on a neutral field I’d take them. There’s a reason all of them finished ahead of Alabama in the final poll, and right now I’d give USC an edge over the Utes as well. None of them had close scrapes with teams as bad as Michigan and New Mexico, two teams that Utah beat by a field goal or less.

We’ll never know, of course, who would win for sure since the university presidents and conference commissioners who run Div. I-A football think that a two-team playoff is adequate. The Coaches’ Poll has no choice about its national champion, but if the AP Poll was to vote Utah No. 1 at the end, I would have a hard time being upset with it. They’ve earned it.

I doubt it will happen, though, since people’s memories are increasingly short these days. Some people who were ready to give USC the national title after the Rose Bowl are ready to give it to Utah now, and they might give it to Texas after the Fiesta Bowl just before crowning either Florida or Oklahoma after the BCS Championship Game.

When history looks back at this year however, it will always remember this Utah team. When the system of determining the champion is such a joke, being remembered forever isn’t a bad consolation prize.


Cotton Bowl Time…

January 2, 2009

It’s 2:00 pm, which means it’s Cotton Bowl time. Your bizzarro stat of the day: in Ole Miss’ nine games against BCS conference teams, six times the team that outgained the other lost.

Texas Tech will almost certainly outgain the Rebels today, so maybe that bodes well for their cause. It projects as a 36-28 Texas Tech win, but we saw how much that matters in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.


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