All 2008 Picks In One Place

August 23, 2008

I don’t think I’m going to have time to write up the rest of my picks in as much detail as I did with the ACC and Big 12. Instead, I am just going to reveal them all now. I will also be showing you how my selections fit with the expected outcomes based on ten years of BCS games and my opinion of the upcoming season.

Before we dig into the picks, I have some numbers to share with you. Numbers aren’t as juicy as picks are, of course, but they form the basis of these predictions.

The first bit is about BCS at-large teams. Since 1998, the BCS has had 24 at-large teams. I’m fudging a bit; the BCS Busters (Utah, Boise State, and Hawaii) had auto-bids, as did Nebraska and Oklahoma when they made the championship game without winning the Big 12. Just humor me for now.

Of those 24 at-larges, 20 have had the opportunity to return to the BCS the next season. Six of them were able to do it; fourteen were not. Since only 30% of BCS at-larges return the next season and we had four at-larges in 2007, we should expect that only one of them comes back this season.

The other important set of stats comes from my analysis of the preseason consensus. Based on that, we would expect there to be four BCS teams that were picked to be first in their division/conference, two that were picked second, one that was picked third, and one from all the rest.

That only adds up to eight teams though, and there are ten BCS spots. I have already said that I think this is a “season of titans” as it were, so to fill in those final two spots I am using two more teams that were picked to finish in first place. That makes a total of six teams picked first in their division/conference in the BCS. Also to fit in with that theory, I expect there to be no BCS Busters in 2008.

The preseason consensus, which appears to be about final at this point, can be found here.

One final point to keep in mind is that only one team–the 2003 Oklahoma Sooners who got a championship game automatic bid–has lost its conference championship game and still made the BCS.

Onto the picks!

ACC

Championship Game: Clemson over Virginia Tech

At-Large: None

BIG 12

Championship Game: Oklahoma over Missouri

At-Large: Texas Tech

BIG EAST

Champion: West Virginia (over second-place Cincinnati, third-place USF)

At-Large: None

I see West Virginia this year in a similar situation as Miami in 2002-03. This is perhaps the last big hurrah for a while since it will be extremely tough to replace Pat White. White will make up for other shortcomings on offense, and DC Jeff Casteel returns from last year’s staff to field a defense that is always better than people think it is.

I really like Cincinnati’s chances to finish second. The Bearcats won ten games last season, and two of their three losses were by one score or less. Replacing Ben Mauk will be difficult, but Brian Kelly is a good coach and a good quarterback developer. The defense will carry them to second place.

USF has talent in key areas, but I just don’t think Matt Grothe is consistent enough to carry them to second place in the conference. There’s just something about him I don’t trust.

BIG TEN

Champion: Ohio State

At-Large: Michigan State

Ohio State should be the best team in the country. It has 19 starters coming back from a team that went to the national title game. The Buckeyes have considerably more talent and depth than anyone else in the conference.

Picking Michigan State is rather curious. If you remember though, I have to have someone who was picked beyond the top three of its conference. The Spartans are that team, having been picked sixth in the Big Ten.

All six of MSU’s losses were close last season, making them a prominent member of the potential risers club. They have a great senior tailback in Javon Ringer, and if there’s a conference where you can ride a senior tailback to success, it’s this one. The offensive line is big, QB Brian Hoyer is a veteran, and Mark Dantonio’s coaching will keep the defense solid.

Illinois will fall back to earth without Rashard Mendenhall, I have little faith that Jay Paterno’s “Spread HD” will amount to much, and Bret Bielema’s teams have played to the level of their opponents so much it scares me. The Rose Bowl will need someone to replace the Buckeyes, and I think the Spartans just might be the in best position to get the bid.

Plus, the Big Ten has put more teams predicted to finish below third in the conference into the BCS than any other league. It would stand to reason that the Big Ten would be the most likely conference to produce that surprise team this year.

PAC-10

Champion: USC

At-Large: Arizona State

USC looks more vulnerable to me this season than it has in years. The defense will still be great, believe you me. The offense just won’t be overwhelming as it was in the 2003-05 run, and that is what made those Trojan teams nearly invincible.

Mark Sanchez may be good, but he is no Carson Palmer or Matt Leinart. Just being John David Booty will be enough to win the conference, and I think he can be that. USC gets the benefit of the doubt until it falls.

Arizona State was a year early by winning ten games a season ago. Serious questions persist about the offensive line, and the schedule is tougher with Georgia coming to town. However, Dennis Erickson is still the second-best coach in the conference, and there’s enough continuity to think that the Sun Devils will enjoy another great season.

SEC

Championship Game: Florida over Auburn

At-Large: Georgia

Florida and Auburn were almost mirror images of each other last year. If Florida could only have had a defense to go with its offense, the Gators could have been contenders. If Auburn could only have had an offense to go with its defense, the Tigers could have been contenders.

The offseason of training should make Florida’s defense much improved, and Auburn’s offense showed a lot of promise in its bowl game under new OC Tony Franklin. LSU has so much talent everywhere that they cannot be dismissed, but I don’t think Andrew Hatch is as good as Matt Flynn was. That assumption is the main deciding factor for picking the Tigers from the Plains over the Tigers from the Bayou.

Georgia returns most everyone important from last season. I have some concerns about the team though. Can Mark Richt really keep up the special motivational tactics all season long? If he doesn’t, can the team find the fire inside? The ’Dawgs certainly couldn’t at the beginning of last season.

Will Matthew Stafford really make the leap everyone is expecting? Can another patchwork offensive line come together to have great results? Most of these questions are probably “yes” answers, but I still have UGA finishing second in the SEC East because I think Florida will beat them. I will get into that more around the time of the game, but for now just know I am assuming a Gator win on November 1.

BCS BOWL APPEARANCES

I will use the BCS selection process that I outlined recently to explain why I have everyone going to the bowls they’re listed in.

BCS National Championship Game: Ohio State over Oklahoma

These are the two teams I think have the best shot at going undefeated. Ohio State has the better team, something it didn’t have in 2007, and it will have the motivation of needing to prove the world wrong, something it didn’t have in 2006.

Oklahoma sleepwalked through its two recent BCS games, but it won’t this time. The Sooners don’t have quite the same depth that OSU has though, and the waves of fresh Buckeye players will help decide the game.

For the first time since 2005, we should have a close, entertaining national title game.

Rose Bowl: USC over Michigan State

USC comes in as the tie-in Pac-10 champion. To replace the No. 1 Buckeyes, the Rose Bowl will select Michigan State (ranked between 12 and 14 in the BCS) and get its traditional matchup. The result will be similar to last year’s game as the nation once again howls for the Rose to forget its historical matchup and set up a good game.

Fiesta Bowl: Texas Tech over Arizona State

To replace the No. 2 Sooners, the Fiesta Bowl will take the hometown Sun Devils. It was not able to take them last season because of the Orange taking Kansas; that left the Fiesta with the choice of auto-bid West Virginia or auto-bid Hawai’i.

The Fiesta gets the next choice as well, being first in the rotation this season, so it will take the nearby Red Raiders for the excitement factor. It also will not want a rematch, which is the result of taking Georgia, and it will not want to take West Virginia two years in a row.

The game will be a shootout, and I will take Tech since Mike Leach always seems to do well in bowl games.

Sugar Bowl: Florida over West Virginia

Florida comes as the tie-in SEC champion. The Sugar will take West Virginia so as not to set up a rematch of the Florida-Georgia game.

This should be an exciting game as the poster boys of the spread option, Pat White and Tim Tebow, battle it out in the Superdome. Both offenses will give the defenses fits, but Florida’s stable of playmakers is so much deeper than West Virginia’s is that I have no choice but to take the Gators.

This would be a really, really fun game though.

Orange Bowl: Georgia over Clemson

Clemson comes as the tie-in ACC champion. The Orange Bowl cannot believe its luck that it gets to take Georgia as its at-large team. Both teams are regional powers that will snap up tickets as fast as the bowl can print them.

This is also a historic rivalry game for the schools, though one that hasn’t been played regularly in a while. For that reason, it will be a very hard-fought game with a lot on the line for the fans. Georgia simply has the better team though, so I expect the ’Dawgs to take it in the second half.

In Summary

I have six teams that were picked as first place finishers in the preseason consensus: Clemson, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Ohio State, USC, and Georgia. I have two teams that were picked as second place finishers in the preseason consensus: Florida and Arizona State. I have one team that was picked as a third place finisher in the preseason consensus, Texas Tech, and one from below that, Michigan State. Georgia is the one returning at-large from last season.

All of the BCS games look good except for the Rose Bowl. Most even have an enticing storyline to go along with a good matchup. I feel really bad for leaving Missouri out, but I can’t ignore the history on teams that have lost their conference title games. Subbing the Tigers in for the Red Raiders is still plausible and could also make for a great game.

For what it’s worth, I also expect Ohio State’s Chris Wells to win the Heisman, followed by Chase Daniel, Tim Tebow, and Pat White.

That is over 1,900 words of predicting up there. That’s way more than enough. It’s about time that we actually had some games in what looks to be another outstanding college football season.


Can Paul Johnson Succeed at Georgia Tech?

August 9, 2008

When I wrote out my ACC picks for this year, I noticed there was a high level of interest in Paul Johnson, the new Georgia Tech head coach. The question of whether his offense will work in the ACC has been a topic of discussion this offseason since it’s been a few years since we saw someone run the option exclusively in a BCS conference school.

The simple answer is: of course you can run an option offense in a BCS conference. I know it’s easy to forget after watching the Callahan experiment, but Nebraska won three national titles running the option out of the I formation in the 1990s. The 1995 Nebraska team is even considered to be one of the best ever. That wasn’t that long ago.

At this point, only smaller schools run exclusively option-based offenses. They don’t require the precision of passing offenses, and that helps when you don’t have top-flight quarterbacks and receivers coming in. However if you get top flight runners at quarterback and running back like the Huskers did, it can be very powerful.

There of course are differences between Tom Osborne’s option-I offense and Paul Johnson’s triple option from the flexbone. The basic concept though is basically the same: make the defense have to make one-on-one tackles.

That’s also the point of many of the spread offenses that are all the rage right now, and the spread option varieties often incorporate triple option from the flexbone in the base offense. If you have guys who can make people miss, it’s a tremendous advantage to force the one-on-one tackling scenarios. We’ve seen the power of that in recent years with players like Pat White and Percy Harvin.

The question right now is about Johnson’s offense specifically and not the option in general. It’s tricky to project what happened at Navy to a BCS conference because Navy doesn’t get BCS-level players. What we can do is take a look at how Johnson’s Midshipmen teams did against BCS conference teams and see how it compares to the averages those opponents allowed during the seasons in which they played.

The Numbers

In Johnson’s six seasons in Annapolis, he played 30 games against BCS opponents. They were about evenly split between teams that finished the seasons in which they played below .500 and at .500 or above. Just to be clear, “BCS opponents” refers to teams in a BCS conference at the time they played and Notre Dame.

Overall, his teams averaged 27.93 points and 400.33 yards of total offense against BCS opponents. Those opponents on average allowed 26.6 points per game and 371.5 yards per game. That suggests that Johnson’s offense was effective because despite being a mid-major, he averaged a point a game more and 29 yards more per game than the average opponent for those teams.

His squads scored more than the opponents gave up on average in 17 of the 30 games. They also gained more yards than the opponents gave up on average in 16 of the 30 games. Slightly more than half the time, they outperformed expectations.

Now, let’s look at the splits between home and away:

Paul Johnson at Navy
Site Wins Losses Totals
Home 4 10 14
Away 7 7 14
Bowls 0 2 2
Totals 11 19 30

This is not what one would expect, but remember that the rules are different when talking about a mid-major playing BCS opponents. The slate of teams that Navy played at home was more difficult, which gets magnified due to the divide in talent.

Now let’s take a look at the record by tier of opponent. As always, first-tier opponents are teams that had a winning percentage of .750 or better, second tier were .500 to .749, third tier opponents were .250 to .499, and fourth tier opponents were .249 and below.

Paul Johnson at Navy
Tier Wins Losses Pct.
First 0 6 .000
Second 0 7 .000
Third 4 5 .444
Fourth 7 1 .875

As we can see, none of his Navy teams beat a BCS opponent that finished the year at .500 or above. He was about 50-50 against the third tier, and nearly flawless against the bottom tier. The one loss to a fourth tier team was in his first year when his 2-10 Navy team lost to 2-10 Duke.

If you project the overall numbers into an eight-game conference schedule, that comes out to two or three conference wins a year. If you then win three or four non-conference games, that’s a five to seven win season and a bowl more often than not. Keep in mind that we’re talking about doing this with Navy’s players.

Here’s what his offense did against those tiers:

Paul Johnson at Navy
Tier Scored Expected Yards Expected
First 16.83 18.83 289.33 316.67
Second 20.00 24.71 350.71 370.00
Third 37.56 29.22 478.44 383.78
Fourth 32.38 31.13 439.13 400.13

It is somewhat odd that he did slightly better against the first tier than the second. Part of that discrepancy is skewed somewhat by a 14-point, 367-yard flop in Johnson’s first bowl game against second tier Texas Tech (who gave up 34 points and 453 yards a game) in 2003.

We also see that he did better against the third tier than the fourth. Part of that discrepancy is skewed somewhat by a couple of overtime games against third tier teams and a 605-yard explosion against third tier UConn (who gave up 358 yards a game) in 2006.

I don’t know enough about Navy to give you a complete answer on why it happened, so it’s just noted for being interested. Overall, his teams missed the averages given up by opponents that finished above .500 by 2.5 points and 23 yards a game. That shows that at least offensively, his Navy teams were competitive.

What about the other side of the ball?

You’ll notice that this discussion has entirely been about Paul Johnson’s offense. The question of whether it will work in a BCS conference was the issue on everyone’s minds. It’s worth it to mention defense though if we’re going to assess his overall prospects at Georgia Tech.

The defenses on Johnson’s teams were very inconsistent. That is not surprising since he can only get players who are able to get into the Naval Academy academically and are willing to join the Navy immediately after school. Add to that the fact that defense doesn’t have a scheme that equalizes things to the same degree that the option does for offense, and the lack of constancy is understandable.

They finished anywhere from the 20s to the triple digits in scoring defense during his time there. Despite the uncertainty he tied the school record for wins with ten in 2004, and in ’04 and ’05 he delivered the fifth and sixth bowl wins in school history.

To be honest I don’t know a thing about his new defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech, Dave Wommack. As we can see from his bio though, he has not held a I-A defensive coordinator job for more than three years in a row in his 28 years of experience. Each time he left such a position he dropped back to being a position coach.

It’s possible that he’s now ready to be a top flight DC, but I don’t know how likely it is to suddenly happen after 28 years of coaching. It may just be that he wasn’t in the right situation in the past and now he’s where he needs to be. The pressure will be on him to get good results if Johnson’s offense really takes off.

Since the ACC is the most offensively anemic conference among the BCS leagues, it may not matter if Wommack doesn’t turn out to be as good as the exiting DC, John Tenuta. Georgia Tech is in a talent rich state and right next to an even more fertile recruiting ground, Florida. A dynamic offense at GT could probably outscore a lot of the teams in the conference even if it’s backed by a merely good defense.

I would imagine right now that Tech fans are hungering for three things: consistent contention in the ACC, a break of Georgia’s seven-game winning streak, and a product on the field that is not boring like Chan Gailey’s teams were. I fully expect to see the first and third happen within two years, but the second could be tough given how good the Bulldogs are right now.

Paul Johnson’s track record indicates he should do better than the 7-5 records that Chan Gailey put up seemingly every year. For that reason alone, it was a good move for Georgia Tech to replace the old coach with the new.

Further reading, with videos

Navy vs. Notre Dame 2007

Flexbonin’


How Good is the Preseason Consensus at Picking BCS Teams?

August 1, 2008

If you’ve never looked at football.stassen.com, you ought to take a look. It has a lot of great resources for college football research.

One of the best things on the site is the compilation of the preseason consensus. It allows you to see what everyone was thinking before the season starts, and it goes back to 1993.

I decided to go back and look to see how good the preseason consensus was at predicting BCS participants.

By Preseason Conference Rankings

I first looked to see where the BCS conference participants were ranked in the preseason standings.

As it turns out, there’s almost always one wild card in the BCS. Every year except two – 1998 and 2003 – had a team ranked fifth or below in its conference/division make the BCS. The 2003 season was anomalous in that the BCS had six first place picks and two second place picks in it. The 1998 season had five first place picks, two second place picks, and one third place pick.

The lowest-picked teams to make the BCS were 1999 Stanford and 2002 Iowa who both were picked eighth in their conferences.

Only three seasons had more than four first place conference/division picks make the BCS. I’ve already mentioned ’98 and ’03, and the third was 2001 with five. However rather than being totally orderly, ’01 also had two seventh place picks make it in Maryland and Illinois.

Here is a table showing the frequency of making the BCS for each preseason conference/division ranking.

Frequency of BCS Appearances
Conf./Div. Ranking Teams in BCS Teams per Year
1 41 4.1
2 16 1.6
3 10 1.0
4 2 0.2
5 2 0.2
6 1 0.1
7 4 0.4
8 2 0.2

First Place Picks

Here is a table of how well the teams that were picked first in their conferences or divisions did at getting into the BCS.

“1s in BCS” refers to how many first place picks from the conference made the BCS. “BCS Teams” tells how many total BCS teams the conference has fielded. “Tot. 1 Picks” tells how many total first place picks the conference had in the BCS era. For conferences without divisions, it’s one a year; for conferences with divisions, it’s two a year.

First Place Picks in the BCS
Conference 1s in BCS BCS Teams Pct. Tot. 1 Picks Pct. in BCS
ACC 7 10 70% 13 53.8%
Big 12 9 14 64.3% 20 45%
Big East 6 10 60% 10 60%
Big Ten 5 17 29.4% 10 50%
Pac-10 8 12 66.7% 10 80%
SEC 6 15 40% 20 30%

We see a couple things in this.

The Big Ten’s first place picks make a very small percentage of its total BCS participants, thanks to having the smallest number of first place picks make the BCS but the largest number of BCS teams.

The Big 12 and especially the SEC had trouble putting their preseason first place picks in the BCS. In the case of the Big 12, part of it was guessing incorrectly as to whether OU or Texas would win the South. The SEC was a little messier, and I’ll explain more about that later.

Consensus Teams

I finally took a look at consensus teams. In this case, I defined a “consensus team” as a team that received three or fewer rankings of below first for its conference/division.

Surprisingly, only 29 of the 47 (61.7%) consensus teams made the BCS. Here is the number of consensus teams by year:

Consensus Teams by Season
Season Consensus Teams
1998 4
1999 5
2000 4
2001 3
2002 4
2003 4
2004 6
2005 6
2006 8
2007 4

It’s interesting that from 1998 to 2003, there were never more than five consensus teams, and that only happened once. During that time, 69.57% of the consensus teams made the BCS.

In 2004 and 2005, there were six consensus teams, and in 2006 there were eight consensus teams. During those years where everyone suddenly agreed more often, just 45% of consensus teams made the BCS. Things toned down a bit in 2007, when all four consensus teams got to BCS bowls.

The Big Ten has only had five consensus teams, but all five have made the BCS. It appears that when everyone agrees on the Big Ten, its preseason champ makes the BCS; when everyone doesn’t necessarily agree, it’s preseason champ doesn’t make the BCS.

The Pac-10 has also had just five consensus teams. Only 1999 Arizona failed to make the BCS; the other four were USC from 2003-07. That’s an 80% success rate.

Next up in accuracy was the Big 12, which had nine consensus division winners in the BCS era. Seven of them made the BCS for a 77.8% accuracy rate. The two that missed it were 1999 Texas A&M and 2006 Nebraska.

After the Big 12 came the ACC. It had ten conference/division consensus teams, and six of them made the BCS (60%). Three of the failed four were divisional picks – VT in 2005 and both FSU and Miami in 2006 – with only 2001 FSU falling short among pre-divisional play consensus teams (all of which were of course FSU as well).

We fall below .500 in accuracy with consensus Big East picks. Only two of the five consensus teams made the BCS, but interestingly the misses came from 2004-06. It shows that people were pretty sure they knew what was going to happen post-ACC raid, but we can see in hindsight that really no one knew what was going to happen on many levels.

Finally, we see that the SEC was the most difficult to predict. It had 13 consensus teams and at least one a year, but only five of them made the BCS. That’s a 38.5% success rate.

Funnily enough, every time Florida has been a consensus team (’98, ’01, and ’06), it has made the BCS. The other two hits were ’99 Tennessee and ’07 LSU. Eastern division consensus teams were 4-2 in making the BCS; Western division consensus teams were 1-6 in making the BCS. This seems to further confirm the fact that the SEC West is generally more wide open than the SEC East, which has only ever been won by Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee.

What about 2008?

As of writing this, only eight preseason rankings have been included for 2008. For comparison, Stassen.com used 18 in 2007.

What is amazing is the uniformity of the picks. Clemson and VT are unanimous in the ACC. Missouri and Oklahoma are unanimous in the Big 12. West Virginia is unanimous in the Big East (and USF is the only pick for second in the conference). Ohio State is the only one picked to win the Big Ten so far, just like USC is the only one picked to win the Pac-10.

Everyone is in complete agreement about the selection of seven of the nine conference/divisional top dogs. The only discrepancy? That fickle old SEC, where Florida and Georgia are split even in the East and LSU has a five picks to three advantage over Auburn.

We haven’t seen this much agreement since 2006 when only the Big 12 South was disputed. The success rate in that year was only three out of eight correct.

There is still time left and many more rankings to go, so we may not end up with quite this much consensus when the season starts. Just remember that if your BCS picks all fit with the conventional wisdom, history says you’ll only be about half right.


Six Potential Trap Games in 2008

June 2, 2008

Trap games. They happen when a good team finds itself in way more of a competitive game than should be expected against a lesser opponent. They come before, after, or between big games, when a superior team thinks it could rest easy. During them, the most common refrain for these teams’ fans is, “This can’t be happening…”

Everyone hates them, because you usually can’t see them coming until you’re in them. After going through the schedules of the six BCS conferences, I now give you a potential trap game for each league. If you see your team here, beware.

The Game: Virginia Tech at UNC, September 20

Before and After: Georgia Tech before, at Nebraska after

Why It Will Be a Trap Game: While no one expects Georgia Tech to compete for an ACC title this year, Virginia Tech will need all the time it can get to prepare for Paul Johnson’s unconventional offense. The Hokies also will probably be looking forward to making a statement against Nebraska, since when they went on the road to a BCS school last year, they were sent home from Baton Rouge with a 48-7 loss. They will want to show they can win big road games out of conference, even if these Huskers aren’t as good as last year’s champs were.

In the middle of those contests sits UNC, in year two of the Butch Davis era. The Tar Heels were a mostly harmless 4-8 in 2007, and their recruiting and player development have not progressed far enough in to turn them into a conference title contender just yet. Still, UNC lost by just seven in Blacksburg last year, and could very well pull the upset if the Hokies are distracted.

Why It May Not Matter: Virginia Tech has Furman the week before playing Georgia Tech, so the Jackets may not be much of a factor. Plus, UNC has received a lot of preseason love already, so it might be difficult for the Heels to truly sneak up on the Hokies.

The Game: Texas vs. Oklahoma State, October 25

Before and After: Missouri before, at Texas Tech after

Why It Will Be a Trap Game: Did you know that Texas’ pass defense was ranked 109th in 2007? Did you also know that Texas will be starting two redshirt freshmen at safety in 2008? Both are true, and they could spell trouble when the Cowboys come to town.

Oklahoma State QB Zac Robinson finished 12th in the nation in passing efficiency in his sophomore year, and he could be even better as a junior in 2008 without any Bobby Reid-related distractions hanging over the team. OSU only lost by three in Stillwater last year, so we know they can hang with Texas.

With the Longhorns having to deal with a presumed national title contender in Missouri the week before and an absolutely loaded Texas Tech team the week after, they very well could overlook this game and give Oklahoma State a chance to steal one in Austin.

Why It May Not Matter: Oklahoma State’s pass defense in 2007 was even worse—112th in the nation. Texas also has a rising junior quarterback in Colt McCoy who managed to finish 24th in passer efficiency last season, despite a more than shaky offensive line.

UT is a young team that figures to get better as the year goes on, so this game might be happening after everything clicks for the Longhorns. Plus, Texas hasn’t lost to Oklahoma State since its 4-7 campaign in 1997, and it hasn’t lost at home to the Cowboys since 1944.

The Game: West Virginia at UConn, November 1

Before: Auburn

Why it Will be a Trap Game: The Mountaineers’ trip to Storrs comes a week after what could be a titanic matchup with Auburn in Morgantown. West Virginia will doubtless be amped from the game against the Tigers, wanting to prove the school made the right choice by sticking with Bill Stewart as head coach.

The national feeling is that the bowl win over Oklahoma was a nice story, but Stewart may not be the right guy for the job. Defeating Auburn is probably the one chance the team has to stand up and make a statement on the national stage in favor of its beloved head coach.

The contest the week after has “classic letdown game” written all over it. After what will be an emotionally draining contest with Auburn win or lose, West Virginia must travel up north to face the well-disciplined Huskies.

UConn doesn’t play highly entertaining football, but last season it found a way to win ugly with ruthless efficiency. The bottom fell out of their season late last year, and the Huskies lost three of their last four. But in 2008, UConn will want to prove that they were not a one year wonder. Beating West Virginia would be the best way to do that.

Why it May Not Matter: For starters, West Virginia smoked UConn 66-21 last year. It was a tour de force for Mountaineers’ QB Pat White, and he’s back in 2008. He won’t be running exactly the same offense, but there’s something about him that UConn couldn’t handle. If the Huskies don’t figure White out, it’s over because they won’t have the firepower to win a shootout.

In addition, UConn might end up contending for a conference title again, in which case any trap potential goes out the window.

The Game: Ohio State vs. Troy, September 20

Before: at USC

Why it Will be a Trap Game: Principally, this could be a trap game because it comes the week after Ohio State plays the USC Trojans in Los Angeles. That is a critical game on many levels for the Buckeyes, mainly in restoring credibility to itself and to its conference. The ESPN College GameDay crew will be there, it will receive endless hype, and it may end up being the best regular season game.

The week after that circus, the feisty Trojans from Troy, Alabama come to town. They are well known throughout the South for near misses against good ACC and SEC teams. Troy runs the spread offense that gives OSU fits, and though former offensive coordinator and spread guru Tony Franklin has left for Auburn, his protégé Neal Brown is taking over and keeping complete continuity.

In a similar trap game scenario, Troy played Georgia to within 10 points the week after the Bulldogs played Florida. If Ohio State comes home fat and happy after a win in L.A., this game could be a lot closer of a contest than anyone thinks.

Why it May Not Matter: If Ohio State loses to USC, they will probably take it out on Troy in ugly fashion. While it’s true that the Trojans played Georgia to within 10 points, it took a touchdown with five seconds left to keep that from being 17. Troy also lost senior QB Omar Haugabrook to graduation and star CB Leodis McKelvin to the NFL draft this offseason.

Ohio State is absolutely loaded on both sides of the ball, so it’s a bit much to expect a Sun Belt Conference team to win in the Horseshoe no matter the circumstances.

The Game: USC at Washington State, October 18

Before: Arizona State

Why it Will be a Trap Game: Arizona State appears to be main contender in 2008 to end USC’s hegemony in the Pac-10. QB Rudy Carpenter will be in his senior year, it’s the second season under turnaround specialist Dennis Erickson, and the Sun Devils have seven returning starters on both sides of the ball. Given what Oregon has lost, ASU is the clear No. 2 in the conference this fall.

The week after that crucial game for USC comes a road match in Pullman, Washington. Washington State’s team is a bit thin in the first year of the Paul Wulff regime, and he is installing a new offense and defense there. His no-huddle spread offense could be dangerous against USC if the Trojans are napping the week after a big game.

Plus USC, won by only six the last time it played at Washington State, and if they can lose to Stanford last year they can lose to anyone. If things click for the Cougars by mid-October, they could be dangerous in this game.

Why it May Not Matter: Did I mention Washington State’s team is thin? It is, and it lost scholarships to Academic Progress Report-related penalties. Plus, there has been a rash of disciplinary and academic problems there. If injuries strike at all, they could torpedo the Cougars’ season entirely. Besides, the new schemes may not have gelled by this point, severely limiting Washington State’s chances in this game.

The Game: Florida at Arkansas, October 4

After: LSU

Why it Will be a Trap Game: Sandwiched for Florida between a road match at Tennessee and a home game with LSU sit two SEC West teams, each breaking in new coaches—Ole Miss with Houston Nutt and Arkansas with Bobby Petrino. It will be very tempting for the Gators to lump the two together as future threats, but nothing to speak of this season.

While that’s true for Ole Miss, Arkansas is an intriguing team. Petrino immediately brings credibility as a coach who has won a BCS bowl game, and senior QB Casey Dick will finally get a chance to play in an offense that treats the pass as more than a novelty. Dick had a nice spring for the Hogs too, and they get a week off before hosting the Gators.

Florida’s secondary was a disaster last year. Though Urban Meyer said it’s the most improved part of the team, even if it’s twice as good as 2007 it still won’t be elite. Petrino’s scheme gives Arkansas’s passing game immediate credibility, and Dick won’t have to play like an all-SEC quarterback to cause trouble if Florida is looking ahead to LSU

Why it May Not Matter: It’s not clear that Dick will have anyone to throw to, as every receiver on the Hogs’ roster is a question mark. The player with the most receptions in 2007 coming back is TE Andrew Davie with 14.

There’s also no guarantee that Dick can repeat his spring success against real defenses in game situations this fall. Florida’s defense will be better, and its offense should better too. If UF takes this one seriously, the disparity of talent and skill on offense should allow the Gators to win, even if the defense doesn’t show up.


More Academic Trouble at FSU

May 8, 2008

It is somewhat ironic that on the day the NCAA’s Academic Progress Report was released, FSU announced its former starting left tackle will be transferring to a JUCO after being declared academically ineligible.

Daron Rose started 11 games for the Semis last year, but was suspended in the academic scandal that hit the FSU athletics program last December. It’s a case of “when it rains, it pours” for a program that lost projected starting linebacker Marcus Bell when he was released from his scholarship on Monday and still is without WR/RB Preston Parker who by school rules cannot participate in athletics due to an outstanding felony charge.

It would be easy to take some cheap shots at the school over these matters, but it’s almost a case of old news since Rose and Bell both were suspended in the academic scandal. Plus, college football players being charged with felonies is nothing new. The real problem is the way the school dealt with the fact that some key players will be suspended for the first three games next year due to that academic scandal.

FSU chose to have its schedule begin with not just one, but two I-AA teams in Western Carolina and Chattanooga. And it’s not just that they’re I-AA teams – they’re bad I-AA teams. They went a combined 3-19 last year. FSU’s scout team could probably win those games.

It effectively turns the sanction into a one-game suspension, with the game against Wake Forest being the only team with a pulse that the penalized players will miss. It’s one thing to have a mid-season suspension conveniently line up with a game versus a bad team; everyone does that and if it’s not a coincidence, you can at least make up a plausible lie. There’s no way to frame structuring a schedule around a suspension without it being a completely overt weasel tactic.

The sad thing for a once-proud program is that it will need those wins. The Semis will probably lose to Wake Forest due to missing those suspended players, and the Deacons have had FSU’s number as of late anyway. Florida never wins easily in Tallahassee, but the Gators are a lot better and a lot deeper than FSU is and will almost certainly win.

Of the remaining schedule, Colorado, Miami, Virginia Tech, Clemson, and Boston College will be as good or better than FSU at full strength will be, so the Semis will need to 4-1 in those games to have a chance at the ACC championship game. A 3-2 mark would mean missing a January bowl yet again.

In the end, though, wins are a Pyrrhic victory if the academic side of things doesn’t get back in order. That’s not an impossible task considering plenty of schools keep their players in good academic standing without any shenanigans. Perhaps with new AD Randy Spetman and the eventual takeover of Jimbo Fisher, FSU can once again be a winner, only this time without any dark clouds of controversy.


Did the BCS Get it Right? Part II

January 9, 2008

Yesterday, I examined whether in hindsight the BCS got the national championship game participants right. As I have pointed out in the past though, that’s only half of the BCS’s mission:

The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) is a five-game arrangement for post-season college football that is designed to match the two top-rated teams in a national championship game and to create exciting and competitive matchups between eight other highly regarded teams in four other games.

So, did it get the second half correct?

The Sugar Bowl

Participants: 10-2 Georgia vs. 12-0 Hawaii

Result: Georgia 41 – Hawaii 10

This game sure set the tone for the 2008 rendition of the BCS. It was unwatchable unless you are a Dawg or you just liked seeing Hawaii get its comeuppance for actually thinking it belonged in the BCS and then daring to be sanctimonious about it. I feared for Colt Brennan’s life at times, and this game spooked June Jones so much that he actually willingly took the job at SMU.

The Rose Bowl

Participants: 9-3 Illinois vs. 10-2 USC

Result: USC 49 – Illinois 17

This game had the largest margin, and honestly USC could have made it even bigger if it wanted to. Illinois was overmatched from the start, and the Trojans just kept pouring it on as the Illini kept giving the ball away. From everything I’ve read, the nation wanted to see Georgia in this game, but that was kept from happening by two main things: 1) the BCS rules made it so the Sugar would’ve had to give permission to the Rose to take UGA, which it did not, and 2) the Rose Bowl officials think it’s 1960 and believe that there’s nothing better than a Big Ten/Pac 10 matchup.

Illinois had to be in a game somewhere since it finished in the top 14 and was the only eligible team left after you accounted for Hawaii’s auto bid and Georgia and Kansas’ selections. However, it should have been in a game versus someone around its talent level such as Hawaii, Kansas, or Virginia Tech. Note: it’s pretty sad if definite tiers can be seen within the BCS, but that’s the way it goes with the BCS.

The Fiesta Bowl

Participants: 10-2 West Virginia vs. 10-2 Oklahoma

Result: West Virginia 48 – Oklahoma 28

This game was probably not as close as the score indicates, though not nearly to the same degree as the Rose Bowl. The conventional wisdom said that OU had the better talent and was on a roll, as opposed to the poor old Mountaineers who had inexplicably lost to Pitt, keeping them out of the title game, and had lost head coach Rich Rodriguez. Instead, WVU rolled to a comfortable victory, and Bob Stoops’ bowl record now suddenly looks a lot like Larry Coker’s does.

The Orange Bowl

Participants: 10-2 Virginia Tech vs. 11-1 Kansas

Result: Kansas 24 – Virginia Tech 21

This one was the only actual close game, but it was the bad kind of close. Poor offensive execution by both sides hamstrung progress for these two defensive-minded teams, and yet each scored multiple touchdowns. This game proved that Kansas was good but not overwhelmingly so, and that VT (and by proxy, the ACC) probably just was not that good this year. That is all I have to say about the Orange Bowl.

The BCS National Championship Game

Participants: 11-2 LSU vs. 11-1 Ohio State

Result: LSU 38 – Ohio State 24

Ohio State got a garbage time TD late against an LSU prevent defense to keep within three scores, though the game really wasn’t that close after the first quarter. Again the SEC champion embarrassed Big Ten champ OSU in the biggest game of the year, turning the BCS’s experiment of having a special 5th game for the championship into a blowout-fest.

This game technically doesn’t fall under the second part of the BCS mandate, but the fact that it ended up a one-sided blowout reinforces the fact that the first part was botched.

Conclusion

So did the BCS fulfill its mission of creating exciting and competitive matches in the non-championship games? Absolutely not. Only one game (Orange Bowl) was competitive, and none were terribly exciting. As a showcase for the sport, the BCS gets a rating of “EPIC FAIL” for the 2008 bowl season.

ICanHasCheezburger.com


Did the BCS Get it Right?

January 8, 2008

Now that LSU has defeated Ohio State for the BCS title, did the system set up the right championship game? I’ll do a quick rundown of the 1-loss and major conference 2-loss teams then make my case. After all, everything’s clearer with 20-20 hindsight. Teams are listed in alphabetical order, and the “Best Wins” category lists wins over .500 or better teams from major conferences (and Hawaii, if applicable, since the Warriors made a BCS game and had only one loss).

1 Loss Teams

Hawaii Warriors

Best Wins: Boise State, Fresno State

Loss: Georgia, 41-10

No wins over a major conference foe besides the Pac 10′s doormat, Washington. I feared for Colt Brennan’s life in the Sugar Bowl. No way, no how. I’m calling this one right now.

Kansas Jayhawks

Best Wins: Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech

Loss: Missouri, 36-28

While losing only once (and only by 8 points) is impressive, beating a perpetually suspect Virginia Tech team and a 7-6 Oklahoma State team is not, so Kansas is not helping itself much with the schedule.

2 Loss Teams

Georgia Bulldogs

Best Wins: Auburn, Florida, Georgia Tech, Hawaii, Kentucky, Oklahoma State

Losses: South Carolina, 16-12; Tennessee 35-14

The team was lost and listless until injuries forced Mark Richt to play Knowshown Moreno as a feature back. Uninspired play also forced Richt to pick a new motivational gimmick each week starting with the Florida game, all of which worked. This team was playing some of the best football in the country at the end of the year, but you must consider the season as a whole.

LSU Tigers

Best Wins: Auburn, Florida, Mississippi State, Ohio State, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia Tech

Losses: Kentucky, 43-37 (3OT); Arkansas, 50-48 (3OT)

It’s hard to accept a national champion who had two losses and gave up 50 points in a game during the season. Still, no one had a better array of wins, and as LSU fans will be quick to point out, the Tigers were undefeated in regulation and won the system everyone agreed upon.

Missouri Tigers

Best Wins: Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech

Losses: Oklahoma, 41-31; Oklahoma, 38-17

Missouri only lost to one team all year, except that it did so on two separate occasions. The Tigers did have wins over BCS participant Illinois and Arkansas, a team that beat LSU.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Best Wins: Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Purdue, Wisconsin

Losses: Illinois, 28-21; LSU, 38-24

Ohio State had the #1 rated defense in the regular season and was one of the most consistent teams all year. It did however play in the Big Ten, which dropped a stink bomb in bowl season and looks awful now. Plus, Illinois was thrashed by USC and the final score of the LSU game was closer than it should have been.

USC Trojans

Best Wins: Arizona State, Illinois, Oregon State

Losses: Stanford, 24-23; Oregon, 24-17

The Arizona State and Illinois wins were certainly impressive. However, it took until November 3 for the Trojans to beat a team that would finish above .500 for the year. The Stanford loss was unimaginably bad, and though USC had it’s backup QB playing the game, so did the Cardinal. Oregon with a healthy Dennis Dixon was probably the best team all year, and USC lost by just a touchdown.

West Virginia

Best Wins: Cincinnati, Mississippi State, Oklahoma, Rutgers, UConn

Losses: USF, 21-13; Pittsburgh, 13-9

The Fiesta Bowl win was a huge statement, the Miss State win was nearly as big as LSU’s, and the UConn win was overwhelming. Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, the Pitt loss was nearly as bad as USC’s loss to Stanford, and the team couldn’t get anything going against USF. In its defense, WVU lost Pat White for large stretched during the two losses.

As a side note, Pitt’s 13-9 win over WVU that sent LSU to the championship game was the same score as the UCLA win over USC last year that sent Florida to the championship game.

Conclusion

Who are the top two teams?

Hawaii is eliminated, period.

Kansas had just two wins over teams that finished above .500 for the year. You’re a nice story, Jayhawks, but you’re also eliminated.

USC, you only had 3 wins over above-.500 teams, and you still lost to Stanford. Total body of work counts, so you’re eliminated.

Ohio State had only 5 wins over winning teams, but it also played a pillow-soft non conference schedule and the Big Ten was deplorable this year.

West Virginia had also 5 wins over winning teams, but it was the weakest set of wins out of the teams with 5. WVU, you’re eliminated.

We’re now down to Georgia, LSU, and Missouri. LSU does belong in the top two because it had seven wins over .500 or above opponents and wins over two other BCS conference champions (ACC, Big Ten). Between Missouri and Georgia, the Bulldogs had more wins over teams .500 or better and beat a team (UK) that beat LSU. But, Missouri’s losses were better and the Tigers played just as well as UGA did in each’s bowl game.

For the moment, I have to pick the team with more quality wins, so I go with Georgia. That leaves an LSU/Georgia game. It might make people from the Midwest or West unhappy, but honestly those two deserved it more.

So no, the BCS didn’t get it right.


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