Conference Comparison: Category 1

July 31, 2007

This is the first part of a four part series to find a quantitative answer as to which conference is the best in college football right now. The explanation of how this works is here. See also Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

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EDIT: In creating these figures, somehow I missed Louisville’s bowl win over Wake Forest in the Big East numbers, though not on the ACC numbers. I am not going to rerun numbers since Louisville finished with a better record and so was expected to win that game. As a result, no points are awarded.

The first category in the Conference Comparison is previous year’s performance against BCS teams. As a quick reminder, a “BCS team” is not a team that went to a BCS bowl, but any team from a BCS conference plus Notre Dame. The idea of looking at this particular stat is that since we’re looking at which conference is best right now, it makes sense to inspect the goings on of the previous year. By restricting it to BCS teams, we miss teams the best of the mid-majors, like Boise State and Hawaii, but it constricts the study to the relevant conferences, and makes the research a whole lot easier, to be perfectly honest.

In any event, on to the good stuff:

Wins and Losses

In my post about the ACC that started this whole process, I mentioned that the ACC had a 6-16 record against BCS teams. For comparison, here’s how all of the conferences fared:

The ACC did end up tied with the Big 12 for the worst win percentage, but to its credit the ACC also played the most inter-sectional games in 2006. I find this interesting since the ACC, which played the most games, and the Big 12, which played the fewest games, ended up with the same win percentage. The SEC, which receives lots of complaints of poor scheduling every year, ended up playing one less game than the ACC did, and it also lead in wins. To be fair, this does count bowl games.

This kind of comparison isn’t enough, because most, ahem, discussions of the topic of best conference cite these kinds of stats and include nebulous arguments about who schedules the tougher opponents with no number to back them up. That’s where Strength Ratio and Performance Points come in.

Strength Ratio and Performance Points

As you might expect, the ACC and Big 12 had good reason to have the lowest win percentages – they played the toughest slates of non-conference games.

The Big 12 had the highest strength ratio and the ACC’s wasn’t too far behind. The Big Ten and Pac-10 had roughly the same ratios that were slightly above 1, the Big East played competition noticeably lower than its level, and the SEC’s non-conference games were basically evenly matched.

The performance points were where the ACC really took its hit. Virginia Tech (10-3) lost to Georgia (9-4), and Clemson (8-5) lost to both Kentucky (8-5) and South Carolina (8-5) for a 4 point deduction in total. FSU’s bowl win over UCLA (both 7-6) got the ACC a point back, but the damage was already done. All other games played out as expected. A full listing of games played, their results, and won loss records for the ACC’s games, and for all other conferences, can be found at the end of this post.

The Big East joined the ACC in negative territory here. UConn (4-8) winning over Indiana (5-7) scored the conference two points (still important and relevant since the bottoms of conferences count too), but that was squandered away by USF (9-4) losing to Kansas (6-6) and Pittsburgh (6-6) losing to Michigan State (4-8). The Big East was not involved in any push games.

The Big 12 and Pac-10 both came out even. Kansas’ victory over USF was negated by Oklahoma (11-3) losing to Oregon (7-6). I know Oklahoma didn’t really lose to Oregon, but that’s what the record books say. That’s all for the Big 12. Oregon’s win counts for two for the Pac-10, but the Cal Bears (10-3) losing at Tennessee (9-4) negated it. UCLA’s loss in a push game was canceled out USC’s Rose Bowl win over Michigan (both 11-2).

The Big Ten started off strong by snagging two points here in the first category. Together, Indiana’s loss to UConn and Michigan’s loss to USC cost the Big Ten 3 points. However, Michigan State defeating Pitt, Penn State (9-4) defeating Notre Dame (10-3), and Penn State’s bowl win over Tennessee (both 9-4) netted the conference five in the positive column to end up with a net of two.

The top point-getter was the SEC, with three. Tennessee’s loss to Penn State cost the conference a point, but Kentucky and South Carolina beating Clemson gave the SEC two more from push games. Tennessee’s upset of Cal added another two points, giving the SEC three in total.

The SEC ended up with the highest score for the category at 2.9871 since it had the most points and its strength ratio was almost 1. The Big Ten picked up a little bit of ground, moving to 2.1216. The Big 12 and Pac-10 sit a zero, since their games ended up on the whole going the way they should have. This is not a penalty for these conferences, the system just doesn’t reward them for doing what they were supposed to do. The power of the strength ratio to adjust for scheduling shows with the ACC and Big East – the gap was narrowed from a full point down to .1 between the conferences (-2.5722 for the ACC to -2.4799 for the Big East) thanks to the ACC scheduling much better teams than the Big East did.

With one third of the formula down, things are playing out as I had expected – the SEC and Big Ten are on top, the Big 12 and Pac-10 are in the middle, and the ACC and Big East are on the bottom. Will they stay that way? Find out tomorrow as we go on to Category 2: performance versus top-10 opponents since 2002.

Click to link to read the rest of this post if you want to see the complete charts for each conference, which include margin of victory stats along with the ones described above. Read the rest of this entry »

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Conference Comparison

July 28, 2007

I was doing some thinking today, and I realized that my post about the ACC earlier this week was a bit unfair. I threw out a bunch of stats that seemed to put the conference in a negative light without giving comparative stats for the other BCS leagues. I mean, it makes sense that a conference would have a terrible record against out of conference top-10 teams; after all, meetings of two out of conference top-10 teams are rare outside bowl season, and that skews that stat heavily in favor of the top-10 opponents. That just didn’t feel right today, although it certainly did feel good to put that post together at the time.

I decided to sit down and come up with a fair way to judge how good the conferences are right now that accounts for differences in game scheduling. After all, if the worst ACC teams play the majority of the league’s out of conference games against other BCS teams* or top 10 teams, then there would be an awfully good reason for the stats to be as they were. I pondered whether to use different stats than in the original ACC post or not, but the more I thought about it, the more those three categories made sense.

  1. Category 1: Performance vs. BCS Teams in Prior Year: This category gives a measure of the immediate past and includes performance against any BCS team, from Duke up to USC. Everyone seems to agree that when ranking conferences right now (at whatever point in time “right now” is for the discussion), you must include the results of the previous year. Well, done and done. This stat moves the fastest, because it changes year by year.
  2. Category 2: Performance vs. Top-10 Opponents since 2002: This category gives an intermediate time frame and narrows the scope to performance against the best teams of each year. When ranking conferences, knocking off top-10 teams out of conference consistently should definitely give a league a boost, and while there can be flukes, this category of win should still be considered. This stat moves a little slower year to year, since it includes several year’s worth of games.
  3. Category 3: Performance in BCS Bowls: This category gives a longer-term scope and focuses solely on a conference’s very best against the very best of that year. Conference champions are usually (no, not always) the best team in a conference, and if there’s another significantly good team in a conference it usually gets an at-large bid. This is plain and simple: when it comes to elite vs. elite, whose is better? This stat moves the slowest since no conference can play more than two games a year in this category, per BCS rules.

In order to keep score, I devised a system that gives you three things:

  1. It accounts for the quality the conference’s teams that are playing the games in question compared to the opponents they are facing in those games. I do that by calculating what I call the Strength Ratio, which is aggregate win percentage of opponents divided by aggregate win percentage of the conference’s teams. A score of 1 means all games were evenly matched; a score above 1 means the opponents overall were better than the conference’s teams; a score below 1 means the opponents overall were lesser than the conference’s teams. To calculate the aggregate win percentage, every time a team plays a game its record is used. This is because I’m counting by games, not by team. For example, in counting the ACC’s aggregate win percentage in Category 1, Duke’s two games means its 0-12 record is factored twice, but Wake Forest’s four games means its 11-3 record counts four times. This ratio does not account for number of games played.
  2. Next, I award Performance Points. These are based on looking at whether the outcome of a game was what it should have been. It uses record at the end of the year to determine if a team is better, lesser, or a push** in its game against a given opponent. This may be overly simplistic, as it doesn’t differentiate between a 13-0 record in the SEC (like 2004 Auburn) and a 13-0 record in the WAC (like 2006 Boise State). However, it does even things out, and it is a useful and easy to understand rubric. If a better team wins or a lesser team loses, zero points are awarded. That is the expected outcome of the game, so there’s no reason to penalize the lesser team for scheduling above its head or rewarding the better team for winning a game it should have won. For a lesser team winning, three two points are awarded; for a better team losing three two points are deducted. In a game with two pushes, the winner gains and the loser loses one point. If a team finishes with zero performance points for a category it’s not bad, it just means that overall, its games played out the way they should have. Having negative points would be bad. This, by the way, is the metric that accounts for number of games played but not overall strength (like strength ratio does).
  3. Finally, I use the strength ratio and performance points to create a Score for the category. If the conference has positive performance points, then the points are multiplied by the strength ratio. This rewards teams for having positive points while facing tougher competition (as signaled by a strength ratio over 1) and adjusts downward the scores of teams that have positive points against weaker competition (as signaled by a strength ratio less than 1). On the other side, if the team has negative performance points, then the points are divided by the strength ratio. This lessens the blow for a conference that has negative points while facing tougher competition (because dividing a negative number by a positive number that’s greater than one moves it upward closer to zero) and heavily penalizes conferences that rack up negative points against weaker competition (because dividing a negative number by a positive number that’s less than one moves it downward away from zero).

Once the category scores have been calculated, a Final Score for the conference is determined. It is a simple average of the three category scores. Ideally, comparing the six final scores should give an indication as to which conference is best right now. Of course, I do reserve the right to adjust the scoring if I get any results that don’t pass the smell test. The most obvious example is that I might adjust the +/- 3 point situations down to 2. We’ll see, but I’m satisfied with this scale for now. EDIT: The scale has been adjusted down to +/- two points to keep the scores closer to each other. I ended up with essentially two outliers, and I don’t want any. Now, the results seem much more realistic.

Throughout all of this explanation, I have accounted for performance against good competition over time while adjusting for differences in schedules, level of competition, number of games played against good competition, and quality differences in individual matchups. I think that’s not too bad for a first try at setting up a mathematical model to rank the six conferences. At this time of this writing, I have completed only the ACC and Big 12, so I don’t know how this will end up or where these numbers will lead.

My expectation is that three tiers will emerge: the top shelf consisting of the SEC and Big Ten, the middle area with the Big 12 and Pac 10, and the bottom rung with the ACC and Big East. I could be absolutely wrong though, and that’s part of what makes all of this fun.

*A BCS Team is defined as any team in a BCS conference plus Notre Dame. This applies to specific years, so for example 2002-2003 Miami is a Big East team, and 2004-2006 Miami is an ACC team; also, pre-2005 Cincinnati is not a BCS team.

**A push is when two teams in a game have identical end of year records. The better and lesser titles are determined by win percentage in order to differentiate between teams that played different numbers of games in the same year.


Bear Hunting with Sylvester Croom

July 27, 2007

Al.com has been leading the pack when it comes to SEC media day coverage, and I’ve been sifting through some of the videos. One that I thought might be a little bland was that of Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom, since he’s not really the excitable type, and isn’t known for shooting his mouth off like Steve Spurrier.

As it turns out, it was a pretty entertaining video. First of all, it may be your only chance to hear someone with an Alabama accent speak with humility. Beyond that though, his first great line came when he was asked about playing LSU the first game of the year. Instead of making excuses, he said that if MSU plans on ever competing for the SEC title (one of his goals, eventually) it would have beat the top SEC teams both whether at the beginning or end of the year. He summed it up with, “August 30 is as good a time as any” to play the Tigers. I really like that line.

He continued talking about LSU, and praised it for being such a good team. He also got in a dig at Notre Dame, saying that the Sugar Bowl  last year went exactly how he thought it would. Well, I can definitely say I’m for anyone who takes shots at overrated teams, especially when that overrated team is Notre Dame.

Finally, the press conference ends with this exchange:

Reporter: Did you say you’re more excited going into this season than any year so far here in Starkville?

Croom: You ever gone bear hunting without a switch? I mean, bear hunting with a switch? Well that’s what we’ve been doing for three years, bear hunting with a switch. This time we got a gun.

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s officially welcome Sylvester Croom into the official SEC Quote Machine club. I’m going to have to start paying more attention to what he says and see if any more chestnuts like this come out. I really hope Miss State officials and fans don’t lose their perspective, forget how bad things were when Jackie Sherrill left, and fire Sly after he misses a bowl again this year. Not only has he cleaned up the program (not one Bulldog had an off-the-field issue this summer for the first time in a long, long time), but by now he’s joined the rich tradition of SEC coaches saying interesting things. Those are both things to be proud of.


The ACC

July 26, 2007

People are finally catching on to just how mediocre the ACC is, and by “people,” I mean sports writers. Many will tell you that the ACC is not the conference that the SEC is, but “take a look at how [insert a couple random ACC teams] are looking this year. They’ll be great!” There have been many excuses and short-sighted comparisons between the ACC and other conferences, but the simple fact is that it has never been that great of a football conference, especially not lately.

Back when FSU left the independent ranks to join the ACC, the theory was that by adding a serious football school it would make the other ACC teams better, and the ACC name would help make FSU’s basketball team better. In actuality, what it led to was a fraudulent streak of FSU finishing in the top-4 for 14 consecutive years during which Florida was the only elite school it faced every year – remember those were Miami’s down and probation years. FSU feasted on the weaker ACC programs that lacked (and largely still lack) complete commitment to football. Neither aspect of that plan worked, even after adding BC, Miami, and Virginia Tech. VT has been the only consistent national power since the expansion.

So back to the writers. I ran across these links somewhere on the GatorSports.com message board (I think) and now I can’t find them, so thanks to whoever that was who put them together. SI.com’s Stewart Mandel and the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Bob Lipper are the two writers. They both document how bad the ACC has been of late. I will now go over the important stats.

ACC teams went 6-16 against other BCS-level teams last year.

ACC teams ended up losing by an average of just a field goal, but that hides the real story. In each victory, the ACC team won by at least 10 points. In all but one case, it absolutely should have been a 10-point margin of victory. Of the ACC’s 6 wins, three were by Wake Forest playing the dregs of the Big East and SEC in Syracuse, UConn, and Ole Miss. Another was VT playing another mediocre Big East team, Cincinnati. Another was FSU demolishing an unmotivated UCLA team that basically had already played its bowl game when it beat USC. That leaves Maryland beating Purdue in a bowl, and those teams were roughly even. So, you’ve got one win in a relatively evenly-matched game. In those wins, the average score was 28-14.

Of the losses, the only real mismatches were Duke’s two losses, Maryland’s loss to West Virginia, Miami’s loss to Louisville, and UNC’s loss to Notre Dame. That leaves 11 games where the ACC team had a reasonable shot at winning and failed to do so. In all, the ACC teams were beat on average by 11 points, 30-19, in the losses. Basically, the ACC just plain got beat up by the other conferences.

ACC teams are 3-31 (!) against top-10 opponents since 2000.

I was only able to find schedule/results with rankings at the time on ESPN.com, and it only goes back to 2002. I believe they use the coaches’ poll for rankings. I’ll save you the counting – there’s 25 games listed, with the ACC 1-24 in them. Two games I know are not on this list are the 2002 Orange Bowl when Florida destroyed Maryland in Steve Spurrier’s last game as Gators coach, and the national title game in 2000 where FSU did absolutely nothing in losing to Oklahoma 13-2.

Now, there’s all kinds of problems when you look at how teams were ranked at the time they played. I mean, if the Devil Rays sweep the Royals in the first series of the season, then the Yankees beat the Rays in the next game, does New York boast that it beat a first-place team? Of course not. The only thing that really matters is looking at end of the year ranks, and diligently searching for special cases (like USC beating Arkansas last year before the Pigs knew what they were doing).

An example in this case would be that Notre Dame was a top-10 ranked team when it played Georgia Tech last year, and Notre Dame most definitely was not one of the 10 best teams in 2006. Still, ND was No. 2 at the time, so GT’s loss in that game gets counted towards this stat. However, by having that be the case, the ACC comes out looking even worse because it couldn’t find success against even the false top-10 teams. The games on average haven’t been close either, with the the average final score being 29-17. That’s really bad.

The ACC has won only one BCS game.

The writers put this one as “The ACC champion has lost its last seven bowl games,” but why stop at seven? The ACC’s 1-8 record in BCS games is by far the worst of any conference, leaving it with the same number of BCS wins as the Mountain West Conference and WAC. The Big 12 is the only other conference under .500 (5-7). In addition, the ACC has never sent more than one team to the BCS, with the Big East the only other Big 6 conference to have failed to do so as well. The Big Ten has done it 6 times, the SEC has done it 4 times, the Big 12 has done it 3 times, and the Pac-10 has done it twice. The best winning percentage goes to the SEC (9-4, .692), followed by the Pac-10 (7-4, .637), Big East (5-4, .556), and Big Ten (8-7, .533).

But I digress. The ACC’s streak of futility in bowls is Notre Dame-ian, to coin a term, and it is mainly caused by the decline of FSU since 2000. With FSU falling back to the pack as a result of its top assistant coaches leaving for head coaching jobs, there suddenly was nothing special about the ACC champion. Another factor though is the league’s champions have often been put in some tough spots.

In 2000, FSU never really should have been in that national title game with Oklahoma, and the 11 point margin doesn’t really tell the story of how much better Oklahoma was. In 2001, Maryland ran into the Spurrier-Grossman buzz saw, and the rest is history. The 2002 Georgia team that FSU met would have played for the national title had it not lost to Florida. That 2003 bowl game was a rematch between the champions of the two worst BCS conferences. In 2004, Virginia Tech met an Auburn team that was unhappy about not being in the national title game (which almost always leads to the team in VT’s situation to victory) and still lost. The 2005 FSU team quite possibly is the worst major conference champion in history. The 2006 Wake Forest team got lucky throughout the regular season, and then got humbled by a much better Louisville team.

Long story short, being the ACC champion means absolutely nothing in bowl games, except possibly that you’re going to lose. While the ACC champion has faced some truly tough spots (2000 – 2002, 2006), it also should be noted that the ACC team in question in those years was not really an elite team.

Conclusion

The ACC is at the bottom of the BCS. It has more quality teams than the Big East, but it also has four more teams than the Big East has. At least the Big East has some legit powers in Louisville, West Virginia, and probably Rutgers at the top. Only Virginia Tech probably fits that mold right now in the ACC.

Why is that? Well, for one, it’s a basketball conference and always will be. Second, it just doesn’t have the coaching that other conferences do. Bobby Bowden is the only head coach in the league with a national title, and probably the best head coach in the league, Butch Davis, hasn’t even coached his first game at UNC. Also, it’s in the same region as the SEC, which has more money, bigger stadiums, more tradition, and better coaches taking a lot of the best recruits in the region. The ACC has the funds, facilities, and fans to make sure that any ideas of the ACC falling behind a mid-major conference like the WAC are laughably implausible, but they probably won’t push the SEC, Big Ten, or Big 12/Pac-10 (depending on the year) out of the top-3 of the BCS leagues.

Keep the above figures in mind as you peruse the pre-season picks and analysis on TV and around the web. If someone talks about the ACC as being the same caliber as the SEC or Big Ten, it should set off a warning flag. The results on the field show the ACC as being a clearly inferior league compared to other top conferences, and don’t accept any other conclusion. These numbers don’t lie.

EDIT: SportsLine’s Dennis Dodd has joined in, but he offers a new stat that should really hit home with the conference. The ACC Championship Game in Jacksonville did not sell out, and the Gator Bowl Association (the committee who put on the game) lost $300,000 on the game. That’s unfathomable, especially considering that Georgia Tech was in the game, and Jacksonville is right next to Georgia.

The SEC Championship Game definitely would never have empty seats, even if it was Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. The Big 12 Championship Game would probably never have empty seats, even if it was Iowa State and Baylor. Yes, Alltel Stadium (ACC title game site) is larger than the Georgia Dome (SEC) and Arrowhead Stadium (Big 12), but not by that much. The whole point of expansion was to make money, and have a championship game to make even more money. Well done, boys.


LSU Loses a Back

July 24, 2007

Alley Broussard is leaving LSU. Well, the football team specifically, not the whole school. He says it’s to focus on his degree since he’s graduating in December. I say good for him, since he’s played what seems like about 10 injury-plagued seasons for LSU. As a fellow December graduate, I salute you Alley, and respect your decision. And, I see this as the first step in a long and disappointing season for LSU. I’ll get into more of that later.


Ratings Machine

July 24, 2007

For my first post of the new season, instead of doing something for myself or my Gators, I’m doing something for you. I found some use for my business school spreadsheet-fu in the realm of college football other comparing BCS title game offenses. I have created, for lack of a better term, a ratings machine that you can use for rating teams. You drag and drop teams into five customizable categories, and it will automatically give you stats by rating and by conference. Note that this is for ratings, not rankings, so while this can help you with your top-25 lists, it’s not designed for creating them. You can download it from this link: Ratings Machine

It should be self-explanatory, since there is some guidance on each sheet of what you should and should not do. However if you want instructions, I will now give you a tour of it, how to use it, and what it can offer you.

There are 5 tabs, and the first is called Rating Names:

rating-names-cor.png

Here you decide two things: your rating values and the names for them. The values will be used later for determining the average rating of teams in a conference, so you can choose to use a linear scale, a logarithmic scale, or whatever else you choose. The rating names are also set to bland names, but you can make them whatever you want.

***IMPORTANT NOTE: this is the only place you can change the rating names. They will update automatically everywhere else.

Tab 2 is Team Names. All 119 teams are arranged by conference in columns:

team-names.png

Only the BCS conferences are shown here, but all teams really are included. This is where you determine the names of teams. For instance, the University of Pittsburgh is listed as Pitt. If you want the full Pittsburgh, this is where you change it. Also, Southern Cal is listed as USC; if you want South Carolina to be USC, you change it here. ***IMPORTANT NOTE: Do not change team names anywhere else, because it will cause links to break all throughout the spreadsheet and you’ll end up having to redo everything. You also cannot change the order of the columns. Sorry if you want the conferences alphabetized.

Tab 3 is Team Ratings. This is where you actually categorize teams into the 5 ratings.

team-ratings.png

In Excel you can drag and drop cells by highlighting a cell or range of cells and then using the border around them to move them around. You use this technique to move teams into into rating columns. If you’ve got OpenOffice.org (yup, it works there too), you have to cut and paste cells. There is a table of stats for quick reference while you’re doing your ratings.

***IMPORTANT NOTE: You don’t have to rate every team in every conference for this to work (in fact, you can erase conferences you don’t care about if you want), but to get the most out of it, you should rate every team in at least two conferences.

Here is a screencast on how to use it. It’s a little rough and for some reason Google Video sped it up after I uploaded it so you may need to pause it to read the text boxes, but you should be able to get the idea:

Tab 4 is Stats by Conference. This is where you get a look at how strong conferences are comparatively.

Stats by Conference

In this screenshot, you can see that I have completely rated the BCS conferences and added in a couple important mid-majors*. This is where you can see what I meant above about rating complete conferences. This tab tells you about the strength of conferences and how strong the average team in a conference is. The average rating tells you how strong any given team in a conference is, but I included the number of total accumulated points to account for the difference in conference sizes. This was mostly necessitated by the difficulty in comparing the 8-team Big East with the 12-team ACC, Big 12, and SEC. Independents are included for the sake of completion only; with only three of them left, comparing them as a group doesn’t make much sense.

***IMPORTANT NOTE: You cannot make changes to this sheet. Everything automatically calculates for you, unless you have changed something elsewhere you should not have, in which case this page will be all messed up.

Tab 5 is Stats by Rating. This tells you about the strength of college football, or at least what part you rated, as a whole.

Stats by Rating

You should see that my ratings mostly follow a bell curve, indicating that the major college football landscape is basically random. I find that interesting, since I did not try to get that result. If I included all 119 teams, it would look like a half parabola, with the number of teams in a ranking increasing exponentially as you go from one rating to the next worse ranking (I know, I’ve tried it). That indicates that the NCAA has let too many teams into Division I-A. But you knew that already.

***IMPORTANT NOTE: You cannot make changes to this sheet. Everything automatically calculates for you, unless you have changed something elsewhere you should not have, in which case this page will be all messed up.

So, that’s it. If you get some use out of it or have ideas on how to improve it, leave a comment or shoot me an email. Happy rating!

*Specifically Hawaii, TCU, Boise State, and Notre Dame. More on these ratings to come.


New Content

July 10, 2007

Hello out there to anyone who has stumbled upon the site here. There will be new content coming later this summer, and then another season (my last) of coverage of the Gators from the perspective of a UF student. There will be more than just football this time, but I’m still in the planning phases so nothing to report on yet. It was a lot of fun chronicling the Gators last year with no clue really as to how it would end up, and I’m looking forward to doing precisely that once again.

Thanks for stopping by, and don’t forget to bookmark the site or grab the RSS feed if anything here interests you.