Paterno: Anti-Playoff Arguments are “Bogus”

May 28, 2008

Joe Paterno has come out in favor of a college football playoff, calling the reasons why one does not exist “bogus.” He rejects the academics-based arguments against a playoff, like players missing class and that having a two semester sport is bad thing, by noting the length of the basketball season. That carries some weight coming from perhaps the only active major college football coach who has endowed a library at his university. He also says the champion “should be decided on the field.”

Knows what’s going on.

This is not really breaking news, considering that Paterno has apparently been in favor of a playoff for some time. It is relevant right now though, since this off season the playoff debate has raged on more so than in past years as more and more people speak out.

The BCS has been criticized since its inception for not providing a satisfying finish to the season. Then last year, we had UF President Bernie Machen’s short-lived playoff proposal that got shot down at conference meetings. This year, we’ve had university presidents, congressmen, and the SEC and ACC commissioners come out in favor of a playoff. FSU President T.K. Wetherell has gone so far as to call a playoff inevitable and has further debunked some anti-playoff arguments himself.

The Big Ten, Pac 10, and Rose Bowl are generally targeted as the villains who are obstructing progress towards a playoff, though Big 12 President Dan Beebe has been just as consistent in his opposition too.

Paterno reminding the world that he is in favor of a playoff is a crack in the unified façade that the Big Ten has tried to project. It’s not likely to change much though, since Paterno has held the belief for a long time without it making a difference, and Penn State is the newcomer to the conference anyway. Plus, Paterno will not be coaching the 10-15 years more that he joked he would.

Paterno’s belief also does something else: it proves that “old guys” aren’t all in favor of the bowl system. That idea is something that has been an unspoken undercurrent to many of the pro-playoff arguments I’ve seen: old guys clinging to old ways are blocking the flow of Progress*.

Paterno is older than every bowl except the Rose, and only 8 bowls that are currently still playing existed when he took over as head coach at Penn State: the Rose (first game in 1902), Orange (1935), Sugar (1935), Sun (1935), Cotton (1937), Gator (1947), Tangerine/Florida Citrus/Capital One (1947), and Liberty (1959). JoePa coaching in State College, PA is more of a tradition than the Peach Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, or any other bowl you can name are.

Paterno is also not in favor of the rule requiring coaches voting in the Coaches’ Poll to select the winner of the BCS championship game as #1. His frustration with that rule stems from 2004 when he wanted to vote for Auburn as national champion. I’ll let JoePa himself sum it all up:

“They said, ‘Well, you’ve got to vote or else you can’t participate.’ So I will not participate in the voting. Not that I’m against what other people want to do, it’s just that philosophically I think you ought to win it on the field. If I have to vote for somebody only because people have said these are the two teams that ought to be in the BCS championship game and I think they left somebody out that probably ought to be in it, that’s when I’ll feel a playoff ought to be appropriate. I’ve always been for a playoff.”

*Decidedly old guy Beano Cook is in favor of a plus one system, so it’s not just Paterno.


The Guys Who Follow College Football’s Coaching Legends

May 9, 2008

We’ve all heard it a million times: “You don’t want to be the guy who follows a legend; you want to be the guy who follows the guy who follows the legend.”

It makes intuitive sense, and it certainly would seem true. Urban Meyer is the guy who followed the guy who followed the legend at Florida, and things have worked out quite well for him so far. Then again, Bill Callahan was the same at Nebraska, and the fans were ready to run him out of town two years before he finally got the axe.

To see how true this adage is, I’ve looked at some coaching legends and the guys who followed them. They are as follows, in chronological order from when the legend was hired:

OKLAHOMA

Legend: Bud Wilkinson, 1947-63, 145-29-4 (.826); 3 national and 14 conference titles

Follower: Gomer Jones, 1964-65, 9-11-1 (.452); 0 national or conference titles

Next: Jim Mackenzie, 1966, 6-4 (.600); 0 national or conference titles

This is somewhat of a bad example to start off with, since Mackenzie sadly passed away due to a heart attack after his first season.

Jones definitely had a difficult time following Wilkinson though, having not been able to break even in his two years. Wilkinson is the coach who led Oklahoma to its famed 47-game winning streak, and he failed to win the Big 8 title in only three of his 17 years.

AUBURN

Legend: Shug Jordan, 1951-75, 175-83-7 (.674), 1 national and 1 conference title

Follower: Doug Barfield, 1976-80, 29-25-1 (.536), 0 national or conference titles

Next: Pat Dye, 1981-92, 99-39-4 (.711), 0 national and 4 conference titles

Jordan held the job for 25 years and the stadium is named after him, but his .674 winning percentage is lower than any of the other legends on this list. Barfield followed him up with 5 forgettable seasons, with 8-3 being the best record he posted.

Dye had the most success in his tenure of the three, though he was forced out of his coaching and AD position when it was revealed that assistant coaches and boosters had paid a player. He still is fondly remembered, though, as the field at Jordan-Hare stadium was named after him in 2005.

OHIO STATE

Legend: Woody Hayes, 1951-78, 205-61-10 (.761), 5 national and 13 conference titles

Follower: Earle Bruce, 1979-87, 81-26-1 (.755), 0 national and 4 conference titles

Next: John Cooper, 1988-2000, 111-43-4 (.715), 0 national and 4 conference titles

Earle Bruce did an admirable job in following Woody Hayes after Hayes’ unexpected meltdown and firing. He did not see the same success however, though he nearly won the national title in his first year.

John Cooper is a goat in OSU annals, having posted a 2-10-1 record against Michigan and having presided over numerous academic and discipline problems.

TEXAS

Legend: Darrell Royal, 1957-76, 167-47-5 (.774), 3 national and 11 conference titles

Follower: Fred Akers, 1977-86, 86-31-2 (.731), 0 national and 2 conference titles

Next: David McWilliams, 1987-91, 31-26 (.544), 0 national and 1 conference title

Akers did a much better job than McWilliams did. Akers caught flak though for losing bowl games and in his final few years having bad records against Oklahoma and Texas A&M.

McWilliams’s 1990 SWC championship year looks like a fluke in light of the rest of his seasons, with the 7-5 record in his first year being the second-best record he had.

ALABAMA

Legend: Paul Bryant, 1958-82, 232-46-9 (.824), 6 national and 13 conference titles

Follower: Ray Perkins, 1983-86, 32-15-1 (.677), 0 national or conference titles

Next: Bill Curry, 1987-89, 26-10 (.722), 0 national and 1 conference title

Perkins left the New York Giants to coach at his alma mater, and he left four years later to take a rich contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. An incident where a former player that he had recruited claimed he was paid led to the school being placed on probation in 1995.

Curry was doing well in his three years, though he was 0-3 against Auburn. He didn’t like the contract offered to him in 1990, so he left to coach Kentucky.

GEORGIA

Legend: Vince Dooley, 1964-88, 201-77-10 (.715), 1 national and 6 conference titles

Follower: Ray Goff, 1989-95, 46-34-1 (.574), 0 national or conference titles

Next: Jim Donnan, 1996-2000, 40-19 (.678), 0 national or conference titles

Neither Goff nor Donnan panned out for the Bulldogs. They both failed to win even an SEC East title, and both were used as Florida’s whipping boy. Goff is perhaps most famous for being called “Ray Goof” by Steve Spurrier.

MICHIGAN

Legend: Bo Schembechler, 1969-89, 194-48-5 (.796), 0 national and 13 conference titles

Follower: Gary Moeller, 1990-94, 44-13-3 (.758), 0 national and 3 conference titles

Next: Lloyd Carr, 1995-07, 122-40 (.753), 1 national and 5 conference titles

Moeller is a controversial figure for Wolverines due to his messy departure following a drunken altercation at a restaurant. Some argue his best years were already behind him; some argue that he was trying to modernize the program and that Carr won his national title with Moeller’s players.

Carr is one of the few followed-the-guy-who-followed-the-legend guys who actually won a national title. His legacy will remain mixed due to his futility against Jim Tressel and the loss to Appalachian State.

BYU

Legend: LaVell Edwards, 1972-2000, 257-101-3 (.716), 1 national and 19 conference titles

Follower: Gary Crowton, 2001-04, 26-23 (.531), 0 national and 1 conference title

Next: Bronco Mendenhall, 2005-present, 28-10 (.737), 0 national and 2 conference titles

Crowton won the MWC his first year with Edwards’ players, but failed to reach .500 in his remaining three years. Mendenhall has put together consecutive 11-win seasons, winning the MWC title each year. His 2008 team is expected to contend for a BCS bowl.

NEBRASKA

Legend: Tom Osborne, 1973-97, 255-49-3 (.836), 3 national and 13 conference titles

Follower: Frank Solich, 1998-03, 58-19 (.753), 0 national and 1 conference title

Next: Bill Callahan, 2004-07, 27-22 (.551), 0 national or conference titles

Solich is probably the source of the modern “You don’t want to be the guy who follows a legend” movement, having been fired after a 9-win season. Callahan ended up being a disaster, and will probably be despised by Husker fans forever.

FLORIDA

Legend: Steve Spurrier, 1990-2001, 122-27-1 (.817), 1 national and 6 conference titles

Follower: Ron Zook, 2002-04, 23-14 (.622), 0 national and conference titles

Next: Urban Meyer, 2005-present, 31-8 (.795), 1 national and 1 conference title

Zook was doomed from the beginning, having been a fallback choice for the coaching position and having never been a head coach before. He won games he shouldn’t have, but lost games he shouldn’t have too. He also presided over an explosion of off-field issues, including Zook himself being involved in a fight at a frat house. Some Florida fans still defend him, but the overall sentiment is that his hiring was a mistake.

After doubts about his offense abounded in his first year, Meyer solidified his position in his second by winning a national title. Some fans are uncomfortable with his highly aggressive recruiting tactics, which have drawn scrutiny from other coaches and the NCAA, but otherwise Gators are more than happy with his job so far.

*   *   *

Following a legend, regardless of place in line, is not easy. Only Pat Dye clearly surpassed his legendary predecessor’s accomplishments, but his departure was not the stuff of legends.

None of the followers distinguished himself after leaving, though Earle Bruce had a nice run with Iowa State before coaching the Buckeyes. Ron Zook still has time to carve out his legacy at Illinois.

The book is still open for Mendenhall and Meyer, but both appear to be in good shape. Despite their records, most of the coaches in that coveted “guy who followed the guy who followed the legend” role didn’t fare much better than the guy who did follow the legend.

There is some truth to the adage, but in the end good coaches will succeed in good situations regardless of who came before.


BCS Plus One Proposal Fails, but Why?

May 1, 2008

Unsurprisingly, there will be no plus one system added to the BCS for the 2010 season. It always was a non-issue since the Rose Bowl contract with ABC goes through 2014. Any big changes like a plus one system will have to come when all of the TV rights expire in the same year.

Beyond that though, the Big Ten and Pac 10 were never going to allow it to happen. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney loves being the playoff villain. He has stated on the record that a playoff could be good for college football as a whole, but adds, “I don’t work for college football at large.” His goal is to advance the Big Ten brand, and he sees tradition, the Rose Bowl, and a TV network as the way to do that.

Pac 10 Commissioner Tom Hansen has also said that the Pac 10 would rather secede from the BCS than have a plus one system. The ACC, Big 12, Big East, and SEC were willing to discuss the matter at the BCS meetings this week, but the Big Ten and Pac 10 had no plans for giving it a fair chance. Only the SEC and ACC were fully committed to the plan.

I keep hearing the same arguments over and over about why there shouldn’t be a plus one system. I will now address them one by one.

A Plus One system will inevitably grow

Not necessarily. Major League Baseball, having had playoffs since 1903, kept a four team playoff up until 1994. The only reason it expanded was because of expansion of the league. It stands at 8 teams currently, and there are no plans for the foreseeable future to change that.

Compare that with the hallowed bowl system, which has now expanded to 34 in total. That means 68 teams, or about 57%, of the 120 Division I-A teams will be going bowling. In the two years that wins over I-AA teams have counted towards being bowl eligible, 73 and 71 teams have made the 6-6 threshold. That’s cutting it awfully close.

Also, thanks to 6-6 teams losing bowls, we now have bowl teams finishing under .500 for the year. Is that really what people want? And what if there aren’t 68 bowl eligible teams in a season?

The arrangement only encourages more I-A teams playing I-AA teams, which weakens the regular season. I thought that’s what we were preserving…

A playoff dilutes the regular season

No, extra-long regular seasons dilute a regular season. Let’s go back to baseball. When only 4 teams made the playoffs every year, did anyone care about May baseball games? Of course not. There were a million other ones leading up to October. I also hear about how March Madness killed the college basketball regular season. It didn’t; everyone playing 30+ games before March killed the college basketball regular season.

Before there was a national title game in college football and teams just played to get to bowls, college football had a great regular season. Once a national title game was established, it made it even better because the competition suddenly expanded beyond conference borders.

Somehow, these BCS proponents think that everyone competing for 4 spots instead of 2 will instantly kill the regular season. That it will make Florida and FSU fans suddenly get along because who needs a rivalry now that four teams have a shot at winning it all at the end of the year instead of two? That Sooners and Longhorns will do the same, or that a September match up of USC and Ohio State will be not be as exciting.

You know how much a difference there is between two teams and four playing for the national title at the end of the year? It’s 1.67% of all I-A teams, or 3% of all BCS conference teams. No, giving four teams a chance to win it all doesn’t devalue the regular season because the scarcity of regular season games will still be there, and an very small percentage of teams will actually be playing for the title.

A playoff devalues the Rose Bowl

Here’s a hint: when the Rose Bowl joined the BCS, it gave up all claims to tradition. The only thing that makes it special over the other BCS bowls anymore is that it’s older than them. That’s it and that’s all.

The final ship to sail in this argument shoved off when Texas beat USC in the 2005 Rose Bowl to win the national championship. It should have become clear right then and there that the Rose Bowl is a great site to hold a game, but it’s the meeting of two great teams that make the game great.

This year’s Rose Bowl just further illustrates the point. We had a Big Ten/Pac 10 meeting, and it was a horrible game. Ohio State’s performance against LSU indicated that had OSU met USC instead of Illinois playing the Trojans, it wouldn’t have been much different. Great games are made by great teams, not stadiums. What happens on the field is what matters, not what occurs on Colorado Boulevard.

Ratings and revenues are up; the BCS must be what fans want

People like college football. That is what people want. They will pay to watch it in person regardless of the postseason format. They will watch it on TV regardless of the postseason format.

Let me tell you a story. The iPod mini was once the best-selling iPod of all time. It was even the best-selling portable audio device in the world in its day. In September 2005, Apple made a bold move and replaced it with the iPod nano. It was a risk because of the enormous popularity and revenue stream the mini had. The nano ended up being even more popular, selling a million units in just 17 days.

In short, this argument is a non sequitur. Correlation does not equal causation, and the BCS format isn’t driving the rise in ratings and revenues. The popularity of football as a whole is.

A playoff would make football a two semester sport

With spring practice, football already is a two semester sport.

Ignoring that for a moment, I don’t see how a plus one makes the postseason any longer. The 1-4 and 2-3 games would happen on New Years, and the title game would happen a week later. That’s the same timing that we have with the current BCS bowl arrangement, so this one is nothing but hot air.

It kills the tradition of the bowls

Too late. By segmenting off the BCS games, we already have tiers in the postseason. Besides, once we got bowls in Shreveport, Detroit, and especially Toronto, they no longer were about giving teams a reward for a good season by getting to play a game in nice locale.

Besides, not one playoff proposal I’ve seen, Mike Slive’s included, has proposed killing off all of the bowl games in favor of keeping only a playoff. No one is suggesting that, and having a plus one system will not diminish the prestige of the Papajohns.com bowl. It never had any in the first place.

*   *   *

I welcome any comments/discussions on the topic. If there are any other objections about a having a plus one system in college football, I’d love to hear them. It just infuriates me to no end to know that the people in charge of the system are getting rich off of fan dollars while not delivering what the fans want.


Coaches’ Contracts: Overrated?

April 14, 2008

In my world, there’s a scent of irony floating through that just as I begin a series on coach contracts, we come to find out that not everyone thinks they’re necessary.

Penn State and Joe Paterno have decided after weeks of hand wringing over him having just one year left on his contract that he doesn’t need one. PSU’s position is that his seniority is supposed to speak for itself, a contract is “not necessary or practical,” and not having a contract doesn’t imply a retirement date. Paterno, for his part, says that he doesn’t need a contract, trusts the university to do the right thing, and that if he needed a contract in order to keep his job then he’s in the wrong place.

Whether it speaks for itself or not, his seniority is certainly self-evident.

Across the border in West Virginia, neither Bill Stewart nor Bob Huggins has a contract with WVU. Apparently both have handshake and verbal agreements with AD Ed Pastilong that they won’t leave, and they are only bound by term sheets that outline their pay. Granted, term sheets can be binding legal contracts (and are in this case), but they don’t cover nearly as many legal contingencies as contracts do. They’re just bullet point outlines, after all.

Stewart and Huggins are West Virginia natives and each has known Pastilong for more than 30 years. Perhaps this is a special case in which contracts are not needed. Given Stewart’s coaching history and age, it’s unlikely that a school like a Michigan will come to poach him, and he doesn’t even have an agent. They’re probably fine with him. Huggins is a more difficult case; it’s not so much that he’d leave for greener pastures soon, but his history of misconduct should raise red flags to anyone with a proper risk management policy regardless of personal histories.

West Virginia should know better, given the messy departures of both John Beilein and another West Virginia native, Rich Rodriguez. Rodriguez’s contract clearly states beginning on page 22 the terms of his buyout. The only way he could take another coaching job before August 31, 2008 and not have to pay the buyout is if WVU breached the contract. The agreement has no room for ambiguity there. Yet, thanks to an alleged verbal agreement with Pastilong that the buyout wouldn’t be enforced, the university is now trapped in court and no doubt spending quite a bit on legal fees trying to get the money that Rodriguez is contractually obliged to pay. Rodriguez said the school didn’t fulfill promises it has made to him over the years, but without them being in writing, I doubt he’ll win his case in court.

Rich Rodriguez: willing to fight in court to save Michigan boosters $4 million that they likely are more than willing to pay. Image CC by Flickr user CA2.

The proceedings with Beilein and Rodriguez should be enough evidence for the school that having all agreements be in writing is by far the best way to go. As I said, I don’t anticipate Stewart leaving for another job, but what if T. Boone Pickens throws a mountain of cash at Huggins after the guy who replaces Sean Sutton gets fired? Huggins’ term sheet has a $1 million buyout, but no one knows what handshakes and verbal agreements might be on the side.

The rumblings up at Penn State say that a movement to get Paterno out is building steam. The only thing allowing him to coach as long as he wants at this point is the desire of Penn State not to look bad for pushing a legend out the door. Based on how shameless big time college football powers have become lately, that may not be enough. At least the school hasn’t gone so far as to try to silence critics of Paterno.

In this day and age where legal ninjas roam the countryside, the importance of written contracts should be self-evident. The potential for ugliness is greater at Penn State, but I hope WVU doesn’t make a habit of this, or we’ll probably end up with more never-ending coach litigation sagas, and no one wants that.

A legal ninja (artist’s conception).


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.


Welcome to the Big Leagues, Colt

January 2, 2008

Last night’s Sugar Bowl was immensely satisfying. I have been sick and tired of the Colt Brennan hype machine since, oh, about last year’s bowl season. It got even worse when Hawaii plundered the bakery that is the WAC and somehow played an even worse non-conference schedule to finish the season undefeated. I didn’t want to see him get injured (although Georgia’s defense appeared to be trying to accomplish just that with as many fearsome hits as it delivered), but to see him humbled on the national stage was great, and possibly even good for him as he heads into draft workouts.

I found an article at Foxsports.com with some quotes of his, and I’d like to share them with you now:

  • “When you play against a team like this, you can’t miss a beat. We didn’t do that.”

No joke, Colt. When your whole team has 4 guys who might in a dream scenario play in the NFL, you have to absolutely perfect because every mistake becomes a sack, turnover, or touchdown for the other team.

  • “We knew coming in this was probably the best defense we’d ever faced. We really wanted to do something special here tonight, but we just couldn’t get any momentum going. We have a lot of drives that didn’t go anywhere. It wasn’t so much a question of X’s and O’s. They just won the battles all night.”

Perhaps, but your X’s and O’s guru on the sidelines also had a hard time not calling slow-developing pass plays despite the fact you became intimately familiar with the inner workings of the “Sportexe Momentum 41” playing surface of the Superdome.

  • “Everybody knows the SEC is the fastest league in the country. We just couldn’t simulate that in practice with our scout team.”

Self-explanatory. It’s similar to Billy Donovan’s comments about Marresse Speights and Alex Tyus – they’re suffering in practice because there’s no one else on the team like them to hone their skills against. Okay, back to football.

  • “We had never played in this type of element before. We tried as hard as we could to keep everything the same as we have all season long, but it just seemed like we weren’t used to the venue as big the Super Dome. Georgia plays in this kind of environment in the SEC every week all season.”

If anyone has questioned whether playing on big stages every week helps teams of the major conferences, here’s your proof that it does make a difference. Hawaii started 1st and 20 on its opening drive due to penalties, and it was all downhill from there. Before you bring up Boise State last year, remember that the Broncos had a similar harrowing experience at the hands of Georgia in Sanford Stadium in 2006, and BSU regularly plays at Pac 10 venues.

  • “We have done a good job most of the year protecting Colt,” [Head Coach June] Jones said. “But they had eight sacks and a couple of times we didn’t touch anybody. They just blew in and whacked him.”

Well said, June. That about sums up the 2008 Sugar Bowl.

If last year’s Fiesta Bowl set up this season’s craziness from week to week, this year’s Sugar Bowl most likely sets up next year as a season of juggernauts. Florida, Georgia, and maybe LSU in the SEC, Ohio State in the Big Ten, Oklahoma, Missouri, and maybe Texas in the Big 12, and USC in the Pac 10 all appear set to dominate next season.

West Virginia in the Big East would have counted if Rich Rodriguez had stayed, and then Pat White and Steve Slaton would have stayed as well. If WVU hires former Rodriguez assistant and spread option fan Butch Jones away from Central Michigan, and Jones can convince White and Slaton to stay, they might yet have a chance. After all, Jones molded Dan LeFevour into only the second guy to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a season, Vince Young being the first.

Virginia Tech will likely be the titan of the ACC, but the rest of that conference save Boston College is so bad, it’d be difficult to tell if the Hokies are really that good. BC won’t qualify as a juggernaut because it wasn’t one this year and is losing its senior starting QB Matt Ryan. No one else in the conference will clock in as better than “surprisingly good.”


Capital One Bowl Wrapup

January 1, 2008

The Capital One Bowl – What’s left in your wallet?

After last year’s national title game, many people attributed Florida’s win to the Gators having “SEC speed.” While that was true to a degree, Florida was the more physical and aggressive team. I just watched most of the game DVD last week, and that fact was easy to see.

I bring this point up because Michigan dominated Florida on both sides of the ball today. Florida’s defensive line, which punished Ohio State last year, looked like a collection of linebackers going up against the Wolverine offensive line. Florida’s offense couldn’t figure out a way to pick up the blitz. The secondary played terribly as usual, but you knew that was coming. The physicality of Michigan won them this game. It’s rare to see a team completely push the other around and lose.

Urban Meyer gave some very accurate analysis in the postgame press conference. According to the AP, he covered the basics: “Florida didn’t give Tebow much time to throw, couldn’t get pressure on Henne and failed to cover Michigan’s receivers.” It’s just what I was mentioning – Florida couldn’t pick up blitzes all year, Florida never got any push up the middle all year on defense, and the defensive secodary was a sieve all year.

He was quoted as saying, “I don’t think we coached very well in certain areas,” and that’s for sure. The answer to the blitz on offense was to have usually Louis Murphy (who’s a twig compared to most linebackers) come back and block and still run slow-developing pass plays. Kestahn Moore is a much better blocker, but more often then not he was lined up way out by the sideline when he was in the game.

We also saw a return to the Tebow-Harvin tunnel vision offense. Only two rushes in the game were by someone other than those two guys (Moore, 2 rushes for 9 yards). Harvin also had as many receptions as the rest of the receiving corps combined, and more if you throw out Chas Henry’s completion to Aaron Hernandez. I realize that those guys are the two best players on the offense, but there’s more than enough talent on the offense for the ball to get spread around more than that. On defense, we constantly saw a linebacker on the slot receiver, which makes no sense in any situation.

Michigan for its part appeared to go with Auburn’s game plan. Florida’s defense this year was one of the worst open-field tackling squads in the country, so Chad Henne spent most of the game throwing slants and screens. When you know that the first guy is going to miss and the second guy might not arrive until 20 yards later, there’s no reason to try anything riskier. On defense, it was blitz on any 4 or 5 wide receiver set on second or third down. With the Gators never doing anything to make them pay for sending an extra guy or two, it made for a great strategy.

In some ways, Florida was fortunate that it was such a close game. After all, Mike Hart lost two fumbles just short of the goal line, and he had lost only one fumble in the rest of his four year career. Those would have been touchdowns in any other game. Now, some Florida fans might counter with complaints about questionable officiating, but that’s a red herring. The Gators had a four point lead with 5:36 to go. In those final five and a half minutes, Michigan outscored Florida 10-0, and the Gators could only muster 4 yards on 8 downs.

In the end a senior-laden, hugely physical team beat a very young, smaller team. Last season, Urban Meyer preached that he wanted to have the most physical team in college football, and he just may have had it based on the national title game. That toughness was missing this year for a lot of reasons. It’s now time for everyone to learn some lessons, have the young players to get some bulk and technique in the offseason, and get ready to come back ready to blow the doors off Hawaii on Labor Day weekend.


A Brief History of the Post-Season in America

December 18, 2007

I am going to be doing a haphazardly-published series on playoffs and college football. I would prefer to see a playoff decide a champion rather than polls,  for the record. This is the first in the series.

The longest-running post-season event in major American professional sports is baseball’s World Series. The first one was in 1903, when the National League and American League, then two completely separate entities, organized under the mantle of Major League Baseball. Each league’s champion played a best-of-9 series to determine the overall champion. The necessity for this playoff was the fact that AL and NL teams didn’t play each other during the regular season. After a dispute canceled the series in 1904, it returned in 1905 and would be played every year since except the strike-shortened 1994 season.

The next-oldest professional post-season event is the NHL Playoffs, as the league has had some sort of playoff determining a champion every year since its inception in 1917. The lone except is 1920, when the Ottawa Senators won both halves of the regular season and the league decided a playoff would be unnecessary. The league’s regular season system was strange up until that point; read the Wikipedia page linked to above for details.

After that, you have the NFL playoffs. The NFL was founded in 1920, but from its founding until 1932, no playoffs were held. From 1920 to 1923, the champion was selected by the owners voting at the annual owners meeting. From 1924 to 1932, the team with the highest winning percentage won the championship as the teams all played different numbers of games. In 1932, the Chicago Bears and Portsmouth Spartans tied for the lead in winning percentage, so a one game playoff was thrown together hastily to determine a champion.

Responding to fan interest in the game, the NFL split itself into two divisions (East and West) in 1933. From then on, playoff games were held if necessary as tiebreakers and then the east and west division winners played in a championship game. A consistent tournament to determine who got to play in the NFL title game was not held until 1967 when the league expanded to 16 teams. The first Super Bowl was played in 1967 as a championship game between the NFL and AFL winners, and it became the NFL championship game after the AFL/NFL merger in 1970.

The NBA playoffs have occurred every year since the precursor BAA league was founded in 1947. The league had east and west divisions from the start, and at least the top three teams from each division have appeared in the playoffs every year. Perhaps the relatively late founding of the NBA allowed it to observe the other leagues and set up a proper playoff tournament from the start.

The NCAA

The precursor to what we know as the NCAA was the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (IAAUS). It was founded by Teddy Roosevelt after his son broke his collarbone playing football at Harvard while running the offense known as the flying wedge. The idea was to have a governing body setting rules for collegiate sports to cut back on the injuries and yes, deaths, being experienced by college athletes. The organization took the name NCAA in 1910.

The NCAA at first was a a discussion group and rule-setting club until 1921, when the first NCAA championship was officially recognized: the National Collegiate Track and Field Championships won by Illinios. In the years since, it has come to sponsor 44 women’s, 41 men’s, and 3 coed championships.

The only sanctioned sport without a recognized champion is Division I-A football, a.k.a. the Football Bowl Subdivision. Only in the sport of football is a relevant distinction made between multiple parts of Division I.

Bowl Games

As we all know, I-A football uses a system of bowl games as its post-season fare. They were originally a method of attracting tourists for the areas in which they were played, and they were scheduled around the new year to give fans time to plan trips and travel to the site.

The first bowl game was the “Rose Bowl” of 1902. I put it in quotes because while it was put on by the  Tournament of Roses, it was called the “Tournament East-West Football Game.” It featured a dominant Michigan team versus a decent Stanford team, and it ended in the third quarter when Stanford quit while trailing 49-0. The Tournament of Roses was so scarred by the blowout, it wouldn’t sponsor a football game again until 1916. The game wouldn’t take on the name “Rose Bowl” until 1923 when the stadium known as the Rose Bowl was completed and hosted the game. Fun fact: it wasn’t actually a bowl stadium at the time, but a horseshoe stadium.

The Rose Bowl pitted a team from the Pacific Coast Conference (the predecessor to the Pac 10) and an eastern US team up until 1947, when the champions of what are now the Pac 10 and Big Ten became the annual contestants. It was the only major bowl until 1930, and the oldest surviving bowl games besides the Rose are the Sugar, Orange, and Sun Bowls, all founded in 1935. Besides those, the Cotton (1937), Gator (1946), and Florida Citrus (1947) are the only bowls that have been held consistently for more than 50 years. The first major bowl with a title sponsor was the (in)famous Poulan Weed-Eater Independence Bowl, operating under that name from 1990-1996.

Football Playoffs

Up until 1973, the NCAA had two divisions – the University Division, roughly football’s Division I, and the College Division, roughly football’s Divisions II and III. In 1973, the I-II-III system was set up, and Divisions II and III immediately began holding playoff tournaments for football. Division I did not, however, set up a playoff tournament thanks to the tradition of the bowls and polls.

In 1978, the NCAA partitioned Division I into three divisions: I-A for the principal football schools, I-AA for the lesser football schools, and I-AAA for the Division I schools that did not play football. Division I-AA from its inception has had some sort of playoff tournament, probably because none of its participating schools would be bowl material. This fact confirms that the real reason I-A has no playoffs is due to the bowls; every other excuse given (demands on players, the sanctity of the regular season, etc.) is secondary to the bowl games. The NCAA must have realized in the late ’70s that teams with no hope of making a bowl were playing meaningless seasons, so a separate division with playoffs included was created. No other reason for the existence of Division I subdivisions makes sense.

The Polls

The absence of an officially recognized champion of major college football naturally created a power vacuum of sorts that many organizations have been eager to fill in. The NCAA on its website keeps a record of every major poll service’s pick for national champion dating back to 1869. No polls existed at that time, but poll services such as Richard Billingsley, the National Championship Foundation, and Parke Davis have gone back and somehow come up with champs for all those years.

The two oldest surviving polls are the AP poll and the Coaches’ Poll, the latter initially being published by UPI before being taken over by the USA Today in 1991. The AP poll began in 1936, but it didn’t release a post-bowl season poll until 1965, and it wouldn’t do so on a consistent basis until 1968. The Coaches’ poll, for its part, began in 1950 and didn’t release post-bowl season polls until 1974.

Over time, mathematicians began taking cracks at making polls since human-based opinion polls can be influenced by bias, ignorance, and misinformation. The BCS has used a variety of them over its decade of existence, but the ones used today are Jeff Sagarin’s ELO-CHESS, Richard Billingsley, Anderson and Hester, Kenneth Massey, Peter Wolfe, and the Wes Colley Matrix. This group was chosen because they all do not rely on margin of victory.

One final human poll has come to prominence, the Harris Interactive Poll, after the AP pulled out of the BCS formula in 2005. The poll is made of former players, coaches, administrators, and current and former media members selected at random from a pool of candidates. Harris Interactive is a market research firm that specializes in opinion polls.

A National Title Game

For the most part, national champions for Division I/I-A football since 1950 are recognized to be the final #1 in the AP and Coaches’ Polls. That’s fine when they agree with each other, but what if they disagreed? You’d get two teams with equally legitimate claims at a title. How could one convince both
to vote for the same #1? Why, by having a national title game, of course.

The first attempt at creating a national title game was the formation of the Bowl Coalition. It consisted of the SEC, Big 8, SWC, ACC, and Big East partnering with the Orange, Sugar, Fiesta, and Cotton Bowls. The idea was that the site of the national title game would rotate among the four bowls, and it’d take the #1 and #2-ranked teams from the AP and play them against each other. This setup might require the breaking of tie-ins of conference champions to their traditional bowls, but the Coalition agreement made that possible. It lasted from 1992-94.

You may notice the absence of the Pac 10, Big Ten, and Rose Bowl. They did not participate in the Coalition, and they kept their traditional arrangements with each other. This resulted in 1994 of  #1 Nebraska playing #3 Miami in the “national title game” while #2 Penn State played in the Rose Bowl.

Following the formation of the Big 12, the Bowl Coalition was replaced by the Bowl Alliance. It consisted of the SEC, Big 12, ACC, and Big East along with the Orange, Sugar, and Fiesta Bowls. The purpose and goal was the same as the Coalition’s, but the absence of the Pac 10, Big Ten, and Rose Bowl created the same problem. Twice a #1 vs. #3 game was forced to occur in the so-called national title game. It lasted from 1995-97.

In 1998, the three stubborn laggards finally came aboard to form the Bowl Championship Series. The goal was the same – have #1 and #2 play each other – only this time it would use the AP poll, Coaches’ Poll, and an index of computer polls to determine #1 and #2. Initially, strength of schedule and losses were their own categories, and in 2002 a quality win category was included as well.

By 2002, the BCS purged all computer models that included margin of victory to discourage teams from running up the score. However, it’s impossible to keep the human element from considering it, and margin of victory definitely plays a part in the human-generated polls. In 2004, it was streamlined to include just the human and computer polls with no other categories. In 2005, the Harris Poll replaced the AP poll. In 2006, the system was tweaked to deemphasize the computers, and the result has been that the human polls control the BCS formula almost completely. Only a huge anomaly in the computer element could override a unanimous human selection. That situation creates a Catch-22, since such an anomaly would likely cause an outrage, probably leading to further deemphasizing of the computers.

A Brief Timeline of the Post-Season in America

1902: The Tournament East-West Football Game

1903: The first World Series

1916: First annual Rose Bowl game

1917: NHL formed; first NHL playoffs

1921: First officially recognized NCAA championship

1932: First NFL Championship Game

1935: First annual Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, and Sun Bowl

1936: First AP Football Poll

1937: First annual Cotton Bowl

1939: First NCAA men’s basketball tournament, consisted of 8 teams

1946: First annual Gator Bowl

1947: First annual Florida Citrus Bowl

1947: Advent of NBA precursor; first annual NBA basketball playoffs

1950: First Football Coaches’ Poll

1965: First post-bowl season AP poll

1967: First Super Bowl

1968: First annual post-bowl season AP poll

1971: First annual Fiesta Bowl

1973: NCAA creates Divisions I, II, III; first annual D-II and D-III football playoffs

1974: First annual post-bowl season Coaches’ Poll

1978: NCAA creates Div. I-AA; first annual I-AA football playoffs

1984: NBA playoffs expands to current 16-team format

1985: NCAA men’s basketball tournament expands to 64 teams

1990: NFL playoffs expands to current amount of 12 teams

1992: Bowl Coalition formed

1992: SEC expands to 12 teams, plays first ever football conference championship game

1993: NHL playoffs expand to current format

1994: MLB institutes the wild card; World Series canceled due to strike

1995: Bowl Alliance formed

1996: Big 12 formed; first Big 12 Championship Game

1998: BCS formed

2001: NCAA men’s basketball tournament adds 65th team, play-in game

2002: NFL reorganizes to 8 divisions, drops one wild card per conference to keep playoffs at 12

2003: Split national title between LSU and USC; BCS formula completely rewritten

2004: NASCAR implements its “Chase for the Cup” quasi-playoff system

2005: ACC expands to 12 teams; first ACC Championship Game

2005: AP Poll drops out of BCS formula, Harris Poll is formed to replace it


SSOS Awards

December 7, 2007

Statistical Strength of Schedule (SSOS) has become a weekly feature of mine, and you can read the rationale and about how it’s calculated here.

I’ve got the final SSOS calculated, but I’m not done with the writeup and charts and all. In the meantime, enjoy these awards I just made up last night on an airplane. They’re based on the final numbers, which should be up sometime before Ragnarok.

The SSOS Champion: Best overall SSOS

WINNERS: Nebraska (team): 48.52 SSOS score; SEC (conference): 29.75 average rank

Huskers, even though you got torched constantly on defense, had a wildly inconsistent offense, and got your coach fired, at least you did it all against the nation’s toughest schedule.

The SEC showed just how tough it is by overcoming 10 games against I-AA opposition to win the conference battle comfortably over the Pac 10. No more whining about the SEC having weak out of conference opponents – the teams still graded out as having played the strongest schedules among the BCS conferences.

The SSOS Goat: Worst overall SSOS

WINNERS: Hawaii (team): 81.44 SSOS score; ACC (conference): 59.33 average rank

Hawaii, you’re a nice story and all with your BCS bid, but I hope you know it’s fraudulent with as easy of a schedule as you played. I know Michigan State pulled out of its game with you, but playing two teams below I-A will get you this award nearly every time. At least you play Florida next year.

ACC, by now you know that no one cares about your conference when FSU and Miami are having bad years. The attendance in Jacksonville a week ago proved that. However, your attempt to look better by playing the weakest overall schedule by far didn’t work because your teams really are that bad and that boring. Please try to play a real slate in the future, which means finding strength in your non-conference games because you sure won’t find it inside your conference.

Mr. Bland Award: For scheduling mediocrity

WINNERS: Wisconsin (team): ranked 60th; Big Ten (conference)

Wisconsin, you finished exactly in the middle. There were 59 teams ahead of you, and 59 teams behind you. That is the perfect embodiment of middle-of-the-road. It makes sense considering your conference.

Big Ten, you finished with all of your teams in the second and third quintiles. No one particularly exerted itself, but no one took it easy either. It’s an interesting strategy, albeit one that gets you ranked second-to-last among the BCS conferences. Ohio State dropping Youngstown State picking up USC certainly helps, but don’t let the Buckeyes’ ambition steer you away from your dream of blandness. It suits you well.

Go Getter Award: Largest gap between the conference’s first and second place

WINNER: Syracuse

Syracuse, you win this one for having the toughest schedule in your conference and for finishing with the biggest gap between you and the second place team (Pitt) at 16 spots. Way to put the rest of your conference to shame. Perhaps this is why Greg Robinson still has a job.

Deadweight Award: Worst schedules in each conference

WINNERS: Georgia Tech, Kansas, UConn, Northwestern, USC, Arkansas

If not for you all, your conference’s scheduling marks would look a lot better. I hope you’re happy. Readers, please note that there are two teams here that made BCS bowls. I’m just saying.

Anchor Award: Worst schedule for a team in a BCS conference

WINNER: Kansas (112 rank, 74.92 score)

Kansas, you’re the only team in the country that played in a BCS conference and still managed to have a schedule in the bottom 20%. That’s not easy to do. Sure, it just so happened you missed Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Tech in your conference rotation, but few teams went to the bakery for bigger cupcakes than you did non-conference. Put it this way: throw out your numbers and the Big 12 has the toughest overall schedule for a conference; with them, it drops to third. Of course, that schedule is probably the main reason Kansas is in a BCS bowl, so the Jayhawks will probably make this a habit.

Deposed Nigerian Prince with an Email Account Award: Most fraudulent records

WINNERS: Boise State, Boston College, BYU, Hawaii, Kansas, UCF 

These are the teams who won at least 10 games with a schedule in the bottom two quintiles. Try to play some more notable teams in the future, will ya? Readers, please note that there are two teams here that made BCS bowls. I’m just saying.


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