Monday, November 23, 2015

College Football: Conventional Wisdom vs. Truth

Last weekend provided a few important data points which upset the conventional wisdom in lieu of truth. (Note: I didn't say "fact" which has little place in football).  I thought I'd spend a minute discussing some of those here....

CW: There are a lot of undefeated teams this year.

Truth: Going undefeated is HARD.

When Ohio State and Houston fell simultaneously it served as a reminder that winning all 12 games on the season schedule is hard.  Injuries (in the case of Houston) and team deficiencies (in the case of Ohio State) led to the end of championship dreams for the Buckeyes, and a tougher road for Houston.

Ohio State now needs to beat Michigan (not a given) and hope that Penn State upsets Sparty in order to have a chance to play for the B1G championship.  That said, should these things happen, and the Buckeyes beat Iowa,  the Buckeyes would still be facing an uphill clime to the CFP.  They would need Notre Dame to lose to Stanford in order to have a shot.

Houston still controls their own destiny in terms of making one of the Big 6 bowl games. For the Cougars it's pretty simple, beat Navy, beat Temple.  If they can do those two things then I think they're in ahead of a Toledo team that I don't think is going to win the MAC, or even play in their championship game.

CW: The SEC is the dominant Conference in college football

Truth: Not so much.

Quick, name the SEC's best out of conference win.  I'll wait.

If you said "South Carolina over North Carolina" you'd be correct.  And that win was a week-one reminder that teams are neither as good, or as bad, as they appear right out of the gate. Supporters point to Alabama's win over Wisconsin, who just got beaten by, at home, by a mediocre Northwestern team.  "a-ha!" you might say, Texas aTm beat Arizona State."  OK, but that win has turned out to not be that good when you consider the team is 6-5 with losses to USC (back when the Trojans still had a reportedly drunk Sarkesian as their head coach).

The rest of the conferences OOC schedule is a travesty.  Last week Florida lost to barely escaped, with the help of SEC officials, from then 2-8 Florida Atlantic, this is after barely beating an awful Vanderbilt team 9-7 two weeks prior, and struggling in almost every game. (including a loss to suddenly awful LSU).  South Carolina lost to The Citadel, and Georgia was taken to the limit by Georgia Southern.

For all of the grief given the Big XII (and rightly so) for their pillow-soft OOC schedule, the SEC should be held to the same standard given that they play (and pay) a lot of money to have small-schools come to town.  The SEC's defense has always been that their "schedule is a grind" and that it makes up for them playing soft elsewhere.  When they were winning 10 consecutive titles in a B(C)S system designed to give them an advantage that was hard to argue. Now, in a CFP system that's still skewed in their favor due to the deference to perceived strength of schedule, it's getting harder and harder to justify.

CW: If a Big XII top team wins out, they're in.

Truth:  It's not that clear-cut.

The argument behind this line-of-thought is mostly predicated on the OU Sooners beating OSU in Bedlam and finishing the season 11-1. The thought is that their position in the blue-blood elite of College Football ensures they don't get left out.

The truth is that there are other blue-blood teams who will have a stronger claim than any Big XII team who wins out.  Notre Dame is the first problem, especially if they beat Stanford. They are the highest of royalty and will have the "best" loss with a close one to Clemson. Michigan State is the next problem, they beat Ohio State and Michigan, and should they beat Iowa will have a pretty strong resume entering the selection process. Yes, their loss to Nebraska is an issue, but I would argue a loss to a bowl-eligible Cornhusker's team is "better" than a loss to hapless Texas.  Should Sparty stumble and Ohio State runs the table then they are clearly superior than any of the Big XII contenders. If Iowa wins out there's no debate due to the undefeated nature of the Hawkeyes.

The Big XII's best hope for inclusion lies in Michigan State somehow being upset by Penn State,  Michigan beating Ohio State and then beating Iowa in the B1G Championship.  Either that or Notre Dame losing to Stanford, which opens up the path.

CW: The College Football Playoff is going to work out in the end.

Truth: Probably not.

IF you're a fan of chaos (as am I) then what you're hoping for is that the committee is forced, at the end, to have to choose to exclude either Notre Dame, Michigan State or OU.  Right now I think this is the most likely scenario.

It will be fun to watch Jeff Long stand in front of the cameras and talk about "best losses" and "game control" and "circumstances surrounding a loss" to keep 'Bama, Michigan State and Notre Dame in while, for example, leaving out Oklahoma.  That is college football Nirvana for people who want to see the system ultimately change with either an expanded playoff format or, my dream scenario, a transfer to 4 16-team super conferences in their own league that is independent from the NCAA.

CW: Oregon's days as a National power are over.

Truth: Now that they're healthy, they might be among the best teams in the country.

Just two weeks ago the Ducks were done. They were a team that barely beat an undermanned Washington team, struggled with ASU (which, in hindsight, was one of the most overrated teams in the country to start the season) and had lost (badly) to Utah and a Washington State team that wasn't considered top-tier.

What happened next is an object lesson in how a season plays out. Duck's QB Adams got healthy, and the top WR, Carrington, returned to the team from suspension and suddenly Oregon was starting to flex it's muscles.  They beat a Stanford team that was (incorrectly) considered to be the Pac-12's best, and they throttled USC. Suddenly pundits are realizing that the 8-3 Ducks might be the hottest team in the Country.

Unfortunately, they won't sniff the CFP, which is a travesty.  If the CFP played the same format as the FCS the Ducks would be in and considered a sleeper team for the eventual title.

CW: The CFP committee is getting "proven correct" by the results on the field.

Truth:  Nope.

Pundits are pointing to Baylor's loss to OU as proof the Bears did not "belong" in the top 4. Those same people refuse to call the committee to the carpet for overvaluing OSU, given the criteria they use.

It would be one thing for the CFP to say "undefeated" (as I do) is important. Then they could justify having Ohio State as 3 (Full disclosure: I had them at #1 because they were undefeated and the reigning champions).  But when they started bringing in bogus results such as "circumstances surrounding a loss" and (their perceived) "strength of schedule" they all but admitted that their rankings are no better than the old AP/UPI system that used to create so much controversy.

The simple fact is this:  Outside of Clemson, whose ranking at #1 no-one can, seriously, dispute, the rest of the top 10 is a crap-shoot which largely depends on which team passes the mythical 'eye-test'.  People will say that none of this "matters" until the final poll but it does.  Because the CFP Top 25 is used in the metrics to determine "good/bad" wins and losses.  If the entire SEC is overrated then the teams at the top get an artificial bump.  If the American is underrated then Houston gets unfairly punished. Navy Football, who has no good wins, other than Memphis, on their schedule appears to be artificially inflated to make Notre Dame look better, while Houston, who has wins over Louisville, Memphis and Cincinnati will more than likely be bounced out of the top 25 this week after falling to UConn, on the road, while fighting the injury bug.

The fact is, what the CFP committee values matters, and there's ample evidence to suggest that they don't value Group of 5 games or anything occurring on the West Coast. This places teams outside of the SEC, ACC and B1G at a disadvantage because the committee isn't basing their rankings on truth (not to be confused with fact, which is impossible to determine in college football at times since so many teams don't play like-schedules).

The problem that we have is, absent a full playoff system or 4 16-team super-conferences where the winners all get in, there's not fixing this.  It's also a problem that the solution to the B(C)S SEC-biased farce is to create a system that's even worse.

Now, some lists.....

Top 10 leading into the Thanksgiving weekend games: (with a note about why teams are ranked where they are)

1. Clemson - Undefeated and continuing to look like the best team in all the land
2. Iowa - I've said it before and I'll continue to say it: Undefeated should matter.
3. Notre Dame - Has the "best" loss of all the one-loss teams.
4. Alabama - While the Ole Miss loss is looking worse and worse, it's still (marginally) better.
5. Michigan State - See the "Big XII playoff summary" above. Loss to Nebraska > Loss to Texas
6. Oklahoma - See #5
7. Baylor - Good loss (to OU) but you can't rank them higher.
8. North Carolina - The loss to SC is horrible, but has some better wins than others
9. Oklahoma State - Just slightly under NC due to only having one quality win (TCU)
10. Ohio State - Lack of quality wins stings a lot.

Top 10 "Group of 5" rankings heading into Thanksgiving weekend games:

1. Navy - Hard to argue based on record.
2. Houston - Game against Navy should be a classic.
3. Temple - Losses to Notre Dame a better-than-you-think USF team.
4. Northern Illinois - Maybe the Best group of five team with multiple losses.
5. Toledo - Likely won't get a chance to play in conference title game.
6. Air Force - Quietly having a good season.
7. Western Kentucky - Plays in C-USA, which hurts them.
8. Bowling Green - Always hanging around.
9. Marshall - See Western Kentucky
10. San Diego State -  The best team in the Country that most know nothing about.
10 (tie) Arkansas State - Sneaky good, running rough-shod on the Sun-Belt.

Bottom 5 College Football teams this year: (With apologies to ESPN)

1. Central Florida - On the bright side free beer is still a thing.
2. Kansas - To say the future looks brighter means basketball season is here.
3. North Texas - Given the location, and resources, this team should not be this bad.
4. Eastern Michigan - Possibly the worst team in FBS history all-time.
5. Wyoming - At some point, you have to ask why?

Ranking the coaching openings:

1. Miami - A ton of resources and a history of winning. Downside: You have to talk to Michael Irvin.
2. Illinois - You can win there, quickly. Downside: You only get the easy schedule once occasionally.
3. Maryland - You can win there, quickly. Downside: Those uniforms.
4. Syracuse - New York provides a good recruiting base. Downside: Fans expectations too high.
5. Southern California: Tradition, resources, National Brand. Downside: Pat Haden.
6. Missouri: You can win in the awful SEC East. Downside: Have you been watching the news?
7. South Carolina: SEC school with recent winning history. Downside: Small fish/huge pond.
8. Central Florida: Better landing spot than most think. Downside: Group of 5 conference affiliation.
9. Iowa State: The Big XII can be had. Downside: Horrible facilities, no recruiting base.
10. North Texas: Good recruiting potential. Downside: The ass-end of Texas college football.
11. Hawai'i: The scenery. Downside: Program could be shuttering for good.
12. Louisiana-Monroe: Duck Dynasty crews visit. Downside: Replace "Texas" with "Louisiana".
13. Virginia Tech: Talent on the roster, tradition. Downside: You don't want to be the coach who replaces the legend, you want to be the coach who replaces the coach who replaces the legend.

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