Wednesday, August 09, 2006

New Twist on the College Football Preview

The most intriguing aspect of the 2006 college football season from my point of view is the good possibility that there are no dominant teams anywhere in the country. Ohio St., Texas, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, USC, and Auburn have all received a lot of publicity but those teams aren’t nearly as good as the best teams from last season. I don’t think there has ever been a bigger drop off in the relative strength of each spot in the rankings from one year to the next. For example, there is no doubt in my mind that 2005 Ohio St. would dominate 2006 Ohio St. Likewise, the drubbing that 2005 Texas would give to 2006 Texas would be shocking and humiliating for the 2006 squad. 2005 USC would obliterate 2006 USC. I don’t even think the Sooners are better this year considering they had to turn back to the QB that was the starter for the TCU loss last season. West Virginia might very well be the only team that’s better this season than last among the early National Championship contenders. With such mediocrity among the top teams, there is a good chance for a surprise team to jump into the spotlight like ’97 Michigan or ’05 Alabama.

With the college football season steadfastly approaching, I would like to give a bit of a preview for what to expect this season. I thought I’d try something new this year by doing something other than simply giving a pre-season top 25 based on how I view the best teams in the country. Ranking teams in the pre-season doesn’t really mean anything because nothing has happened yet. There isn’t any data to consider other than the previous year and “expected” performance. The objective of pre-season rankings is mostly to get people interested in the upcoming season. So, I’ll spurn the rankings for a less traditional list. I have gone through the schedules of each of the top 50 or so teams in college football and calculated the probability that each team will go undefeated before bowl games. Obviously, this is a subjective probability since the probabilities of each game were given by me. However, I do have a pretty good knowledge and understanding of college football so I think I came out with fairly respectable results.

Conferences like the Big Ten, Pac 10, and Big East have a much better chance in producing an undefeated team than the SEC, Big XII, and ACC and it has nothing to do with the strength of each conference. The latter conferences force their schools to play a championship game which reduces the already slim odds of that conference producing an undefeated team. Although the conference championship games have not kept LSU, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Texas from making it to the BCS Championship in recent years, each of those schools were significantly better than their respective opponents in the conference championship games. In those instances, the odds of going undefeated may only be reduced by 20% or so. However, the odds of going up against a “cupcake” in a conference championship game aren’t that great. For every 2005 Colorado “patsy”, there is an equally formidable opponent that has a good chance of winning. This is especially the case in the SEC.

For the most part, teams from the Big Ten, Pac 10 and Big East have the best chances of going undefeated. The SEC slate is so difficult that no team ever has a good shot at going undefeated. In recent years, Georgia, Auburn, and Alabama have had powerful teams that may have been good enough to go undefeated in most other conferences. Instead, they fell victim to the grueling SEC schedule and championship game. Texas and Oklahoma have some of the best probabilities of going undefeated despite having to play a conference championship game. This is largely due to the incredible weakness of the Big XII North Division.

I’m guessing that some people will be shocked and/or critical of the team that shows up first on the list but it’s important to remember that this isn’t a ranking of the best teams as I see them rather a ranking of the teams with the best probability of going undefeated heading into the bowl games. Since the rankings are based on the probability that each team will go undefeated entering the bowl games, you can also look at this list as a predictor for which teams have the best chance at making it to the BCS Championship game. It’s important to remember, however, that even if a team like Boise St., TCU, or Fresno St. goes undefeated, it is highly unlikely that it will be ranked high enough in the BCS standings to make the National Championship game. The jury is still out on teams like W. Virginia and Louisville since the Big East is in limbo between a major conference and mid-major conference. They may, in fact, force a precedent this season since both teams have some of the best chances of going undefeated. For each team, I’ll also show how winning the two toughest games on the schedule will affect their chances of going undefeated.

Pre-season Top 25

(based on probability of going undefeated):

1). W. Virginia --9.16%
2). USC ---------6.78%
3). Ohio St. -----6.08%
4). Notre Dame 4.69%
5). Texas -------4.57%
6). Oklahoma --3.86%
7). Louisville ---3.10%
8) Florida St. ---2.87%
9) Va. Tech -----2.72%
10) Miami FL ---2.61%
11) Iowa ---------2.54%
12) Boise St. ----2.47%
13). TCU --------2.10%
14). Georgia ----1.91%
15). LSU --------1.59%
16). Auburn ----1.34%
17). Penn St. ----1.07%
18). Michigan --0.85%
19). Cal ---------0.63%
20). Alabama ---0.60%
21). Florida -----0.57%
22). Tennessee- 0.53%
23). Fresno St. --0.37%
24). Arizona St. -0.37%
25). Purdue -----0.35%

The odds add up to roughly 66%. In other words, if you take the field, you’ll likely end up with one undefeated team. In most seasons, I would expect the odds to add up to 150% or something close to it. For instance, last season, I was pretty sure that USC would win all of its regular season games. They had a higher probability of going undefeated last year than W. Virginia does this year. As I mentioned earlier, college football is devoid of dominating teams like USC, Texas and Ohio St. from last year. Whereas in years past, USC would have a 90% chance of beating every Pac-10 team (with the exception of Cal), this year, USC is probably closer to 4/5 against Arizona St., Washington St., Oregon St., Oregon and Stanford. The same goes for Texas. Once Texas got past Ohio St. last year, it was smooth sailing. So, the 66% merely reflects the weaker than normal teams among the top 10.

It’s also important to remember that the odds for each game were based on how I view the teams coming into the season. If I did this same thing last year, I would have severely underrated Alabama’s chances of winning against the rest of the SEC elite. The Tide were much better than I anticipated. If a team like Alabama comes out of nowhere as a viable National Championship contender this season, then the chances of their being two undefeated teams probably go up. However, 66% is pretty low so it would take a significant change in the college football landscape for my results to predict two undefeated teams. It sounds a little strange to think that there will only be one undefeated team but when I look at the top teams, it seems to make sense. However, it only takes one team to gel unexpectedly to change everything. It’s possible that a mystery team like LSU or Auburn is poised to be so much better than the rest of the SEC that I slighted their chances by 50% or more. That’s the beauty of sports and college football in general. Some teams come together out of nowhere (a la the 2006 Detroit Tigers) to become an unbeatable force. However, without the luxury of hindsight, I can only go with my expectations sans unforeseen gelling of said mystery school.

Here are some notes on each of the teams on the list:

#1) West Virginia

I have no problem admitting that I was shocked that W. Virginia beat Georgia last year in the Sugar Bowl. In fact, I’m still shocked. However, I also have no problem admitting that the Mountaineers were much better than I thought they were last year and have a shot at going undefeated this year. Part of that has to do with the talent on the roster and the other part has to do with the fact that they play in the Big East. I’m not sure that going undefeated in the Big East would result in an invitation to the National Championship game but I do know that if anyone is going to do it, it’ll have to be a team ranked high to start the season. W. Virginia fits the bill.

The Mountaineers have two tests this year (three if Pittsburgh decides to show up this season) against Maryland and @ Louisville. In my opinion, Louisville was better than W. Virginia last year. W. Virginia squeaked out a victory against Louisville last season but that was at home and featured an unbelievable comeback after Louisville had seemingly put the game away. The Cardinals are not getting any worse so WVU will have its work cut out for it. The Mountaineers probably have a 50/50 chance of winning that game. If they do, they could easily end up undefeated.

If W. Virginia beats Louisville: 18.32%
If W. Virginia beats Louisville and Pittsburgh: 24.42%

#2) USC

You can attribute USC’s generous pre-season rankings to the one-man recruiting machine that is Pete Carroll. USC lost about as much as a team can lose in one season. Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, LenDale White, Winston Justice, Fred Matua, Deuce Latui, Frostee Rucker and Darnell Bing just to name a few. Replacing all of those players is a bunch of questions marks—albeit highly rated question marks. While I have no problem admitting that the USC coaching staff has played a large part in USC’s offensive explosion over the last five years, I remind everybody once again of the 2005 Oklahoma Sooners and the 2005 Georgia Bulldogs. Without a proven, stable presence at QB, even the most talented rosters can struggle on offense. Despite Joe Tereshinski’s underdog story of a backup being thrust into the spotlight, Georgia’s season was derailed in 2005 by mediocrity from the most important position on the field when its starter went down late in the season. If Leinart’s heir apparent (John David Booty or Mark Sanchez) struggles, the Trojans will struggle too. Either way, I fully expect a big drop-off in offensive production from USC considering the attrition from last season. The coaching staff will get the most out of the roster but that’s not going to be enough to outscore everyone like recent years. Fortunately, I think USC’s defense will be as good as it has been under Carroll.

USC plays a deceptively difficult non-conference schedule. Arkansas is not going to be a big threat this year. However, this will not be an easy road game for a young team especially with the 70 points they gave up to USC last season fresh on the Razorbacks’ minds. I would still take USC -21 if I had to bet on the game but I would do it with a bit of doubt. The next game provides an interesting match-up against a team much like USC. Nebraska has raked in big-time recruiting classes under Bill Callahan. They took a big step forward last year and look to be even better this year. I would not take USC -21 in this game. The Trojans also play Notre Dame in a rematch of one of the best games I’ve ever seen. If they played right now on a neutral field, I would take Notre Dame’s high octane offense over a young USC team. I haven’t brought up the Pac-10 yet but there is a reason for that. The Pac-10 is terrible. In the past when USC could simply outscore even the best offenses in the Pac-10, things were dandy for the Trojans. This year, USC will not be able to simply outscore everyone because Arizona St., California, Arizona, Oregon, and Washington St. might all have similar firepower.

If USC beats Notre Dame: 13.56%
If USC beat Notre Dame and California: 18.08%

#3) Ohio St.

I was down in Columbus a few months back visiting my family. I asked a friend of the family (who happens to be a ginormous Buckeye fan) if he’s buying all of the Ohio St. hyperbole for 2006. I fully expected him to chuckle and say, “no.” When he said, “you better watch out because the Bucks are going to be tough this year and clearly should be the #1 team”, I just about passed out. I thought to myself, has there ever been a team in college football history to lose three starting linebackers, four starters from the secondary, two NFL-caliber offensive linemen, and the best wide receiver on the team and not only be considered better than the year before, but ranked #1 in the country?

Cleary my friend is not the unbiased sort but Jim Tressell has set the bar so high in Columbus that Bucknuts expect to be the best team every year. The Buckeyes will have a difficult match-up to start off the season @ Texas but that game looks much more manageable than last year’s close encounter of the Vince Young kind. While Ohio St. outplayed Texas for the majority of the game in 2005, Young was able to single handily dispatch of the Buckeyes. The Longhorns won’t have that luxury this year. Ohio St. also has the bonus of playing in an uncharacteristically weak Big Ten this year. Ohio St. only plays three “lose-able” games in the Big Ten this season. Two of them, Penn St. and Iowa, are the first two games of the Big Ten slate. The only other test will be Michigan in Columbus.

While the Buckeyes are probably overrated heading into the season and nowhere near the caliber of last year’s team, Ohio St. has a chance to win every game this season. Texas is down. Michigan has been down. Ohio St. could lead wire to wire without really facing much of a challenge.

If Ohio St. beats Texas: 12.15%
If Ohio St. beats Texas and Michigan: 18.23%

#4) Notre Dame

I’ve read a lot of articles/posts online that question Notre Dame’s defense going into the ’06 season. In fact, there has even been a mini-revolt by some people that has put Notre Dame outside of the top ten. While the Irish defense might be weak this year, people must remember that the relative strength of college football this season is as about as low as it has ever been. Notre Dame will be able to outscore just about every team in America. Defense won’t even be a factor in 90% of their games. Brady Quinn could be the most proficient quarterback in the country. The passing game was unstoppable in year one under Charlie Weiss. Imagine what it’ll be like in year two.

Notre Dame has a surprisingly easy schedule this season. In past years, Notre Dame has played an impossible schedule with little chance for success. This year, the Irish play four difficult games including; @ Ga. Tech, Penn St., Michigan, and USC. I can honestly say that I expect Notre Dame to be favored in all four of those games. Ga. Tech and Penn St. don’t have the offensive firepower to keep up with ND. Michigan does but when has Michigan ever beaten a highly ranked Notre Dame team on the road? USC is nowhere near the 2005 team that Notre Dame barely lost to last season. While I don’t think the Irish match-up in terms of all-time great teams or even some of the best teams of past years, I think the Irish are easily one of the best teams for 2006.

If Notre Dame beats USC: 9.38%
If Notre Dame beats USC and Michigan: 14.07%

#5) Texas

My guess is that for every Ohio St. fan (like my friend) who thinks Ohio St. will be even better this season, there is a Texas fan that thinks the same thing. Texas always has good athletes at every position. The defense will be very good as usual. The problem is that while Vince Young was a one-man, unstoppable offense, his replacement is an unproven newbie. Whereas an above average defense would’ve been as effective as paper against Young and Co. last year, an above average defense this year will probably be enough to give Texas problems. Remember, OU underwent a similar change last year and they paid the price dearly. Rhett Bomar never looked comfortable and the Sooners struggled as a result.

The thing that Texas has going for it is similar to what Ohio St. has in its favor. The Longhorns don’t play a particularly difficult schedule. The winner of the Texas/Ohio St. game will undoubtedly be a favorite to finish the season undefeated. Oklahoma just took a step backwards (literally) when they had to re-name Paul Thompson the starting quarterback after Rhett Bomar’s dismissal.

While Texas will play its most difficult game of the season in September against OSU, they do have a three out of four game patch that could derail their season. Texas plays @ Oklahoma, @ Nebraska, and @ Texas Tech. All three of those teams should be equalt to or better than their 2005 teams. I would be surprised if Texas had enough to win the National Championship this year. There are enough mine fields on their schedule to trip them up once or twice. However, considering how weak the state of college football is in 2006, Texas is still among the best teams even if it’s by default.

If Texas beats Ohio St.: 9.14%
If Texas beats Ohio St. and Oklahoma: 18.29%

#6) Oklahoma

In my opinion, Oklahoma is severely overrated going into the 2006 season. And no, it’s not because Bomar was sent packing. Bob Stoops will always have a talented roster in Norman. However, the offense was not good enough to win big games last year and the offense is virtually the same going into this season. A year of being average doesn’t mean a QB will all of a sudden become good. The defense will be talented per usual but what did that get the Sooners last year?

Oklahoma’s schedule isn’t all bad with the big games against Texas, @ Oregon, and Texas Tech. I would not be surprised if Oklahoma won all three or lost all three. Oklahoma lost two of those games last season and barely beat Oregon in the Holiday Bowl. Oklahoma could back its way into a good ranking by beating up on a lousy schedule and pulling out wins over good teams with question marks. If Oklahoma had Florida’s schedule, I would predict five losses for Stoops.

If Oklahoma beats Texas: 7.72%
If Oklahoma beats Texas and Oregon: 12.87%

#7) Louisville

The Cardinals have a very similar outlook to W. Virginia. They play two difficult games this year against W. Virginia and Miami (FL). As I mentioned above, if a team is going to make it to the National Championship game from the Big East, it’ll have to go undefeated and start the season ranked high. Louisville is ranked just high enough at #13 to be within striking distance by the end of the season. Brian Brohm and Michael Bush are back and badder than ever. I got a chance to watch a number of drubbings that they handed out to decent teams last year. Louisville’s offensive approach is second to none. The only thing keeping them from competing for a National Championship every year is the caliber of recruit that comes to Louisville. Even still, this program is on the rise as long as Bobby Petrino sticks around.

If Louisville beats Miami (FL): 9.30%
If Louisville beats Miami (FL) and W. Virginia: 18.61%

#8) Florida St.

If the 2005 Seminoles performed on the field as well as their players fared in the NFL Draft, they would’ve won the National Championship easily. FSU lost Ernie Sims, Brodrick Bunkley, Kamerion Wimbley, Antonio Cromartie, Willie Reid, Pat Watkins, and A.J. Nicholson on the defensive side alone. The ‘Noles will have little problem replacing those players with highly rated prospects but it’s impossible to imagine there not being a drop off on the defensive side of the ball. The offense has fallen off a long way from the high-scoring offenses from the 90’s. Florida St. and Miami used to dominate the average teams on their schedules. Now, teams like Clemson, NC State, Virginia, Maryland, and Ga. Tech play them tough. Florida St. is still one of the premier programs in college football but the mid-tier ACC teams play with more confidence against the Seminoles than they did in the 90’s.

Florida St. has a decent schedule. Nobody will mistake it for an easy one but considering Miami (FL) and Florida show up, it isn’t half bad. Florida St. should be the favorite in every other game meaning those two games are what stand between them and a shot at the BCS National Championship game. The winner of the FSU/Miami (FL) game will have one of the better chances at going undefeated out of all the major powers in college football.

If Florida St. beats Miami (FL): 5.74%
If Florida St. beats Miami (FL) and Florida: 11.47%

#9) Va. Tech

If Va. Tech wins at Miami (FL), it will have a decent shot at heading to the ACC Championship game with an undefeated record. The problem is that Va. Tech probably won’t be as good as they have been recently. I still expect the Hokies to make it to a major bowl game and go be unbeatable at home but games against Ga. Tech, BC, Clemson, and Virginia are more “lose-able” than ever. Plus, if Va. Tech does make it to the ACC Championship game, they will likely have to contend with a very good Florida St. team.

If Va. Tech beats Miami (FL): 6.80%
If Va. Tech beats Miami (FL) and BC: 10.20%

#10) Miami (FL)

The odds of Miami going undefeated are slightly less than that of FSU and Va. Tech because Miami has to play both FSU and Va. Tech while the Noles and Hokies don’t play each other. Even still, the odds are almost identical. The chances obviously aren’t very good considering that even if a team does make it through the regular season undefeated, it will have to win the ACC title game.

If Miami beats Florida St.: 5.22%
If Miami beats Florida St. and Va. Tech: 8.69%

#11) Iowa

Iowa will likely be favored in every game with the exception of Ohio St. and Michigan. If they can win those two games, the Hawkeyes will have an opportunity to go undefeated. Games against Iowa St., Purdue, N. Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota won’t beat easy but they are all winnable. Iowa has been reeling in excellent recruiting classes over the past few years meaning Kirk Ferentz doesn’t have to get by on out-coaching and out-executing the opposition alone. With big-time recruits in the trenches, he can play smash mouth football with Ohio St. and Michigan. With the talent differential between Iowa and the two perennial Big Ten powers being virtually erased, Iowa has to be considered an elite program as long as Ferentz is at the helm.

If Iowa beats Ohio St.: 7.62%
If Iowa beats Ohio St. and Michigan: 15.23%

#12) Boise St.

Boise St. had its chance to prove it could play with the big boys last year against Georgia. The result was a butt-kicking that won’t soon be forgotten. The Smurfs did the smartest thing possible by getting back to a cupcake-laden schedule. Boise St. may not be the underdog in any game they play. The home game against Oregon St. could go either way. The September 30th game at Utah could also be a tough one considering Boise St. does most of its damage at home. If Boise St. manages to win those two games, it could set up a make or break game against Fresno St for an undefeated season and/or conference title. It’s also important to remember that Dan Hawkins is no longer coaching the Blue Turf Boys. It’s easy to assume that the program will pick off where he left it but time will tell if that’s the case.

If Boise St. beats Fresno St.: 4.94%
If Boise St. beats Fresno St. and Utah: 9.87%

#13) TCU

The big win over Oklahoma last year was huge for the image of TCU football. The Horned Frogs aren’t going to sneak up on anyone this year as they are firmly entrenched in various pre-season top 25’s. TCU has some tough conference games against Utah, Colorado St., Air Force, and BYU but the biggest game of the year will be a home game against Texas Tech. It remains to be seen if TCU has the offense to keep up with Mike Leach’s high scoring Red Raiders. My bet is no but if they do pull off the upset, TCU will likely be favored in every game the rest of the way.

If TCU beats Texas Tech: 8.42%
If TCU beats Texas Tech and Utah: 12.63%

#14) Georgia

Georgia is a perennial power but without an experienced quarterback, things don’t look all that promising in the SEC. The good news is that Georgia doesn’t have to play LSU, Alabama, or Arkansas. The bad news is that they have to play at S. Carolina, at Florida, at Auburn and then play Georgia Tech and Colorado at home. Georgia could very well have a Michigan 2005 type season this year with five or more losses. Georgia was smoking teams last year until D.J. Shockley went down. They were exposed in the two games that he missed and that cost them a shot at the National Championship. Having said that, Georgia does have going for it the fact that it plays the four worst teams in the SEC in Ole Miss, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Mississippi St. Throw in the fact that the Bulldogs should go undefeated in non-conference play and you’ve got seven wins. Time will tell how they do in the five big games starting on October 7 against Fat Fulmer.

If Georgia beats Florida: 3.82%
If Georgia beats Florida and Auburn: 7.64%

#15) LSU

LSU, Georgia, and Auburn all have pretty much the same chance of going undefeated. Even though the odds put Georgia slightly ahead, if I had to bet on one of these teams going undefeated, I’d put money on LSU. They have the type of team that can gel into a powerhouse while Georgia’s lack of experience and talent at the QB position will likely prevent the possibility of the Bulldogs developing into an elite team.

If LSU beats Auburn: 3.18%
If LSU beats Auburn and Florida: 6.36%

#16) Auburn

I expect Auburn to be better than Georgia, too. The Tigers have to play LSU, @ S. Carolina, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, and @ Alabama not to mention a non-conference affair against Washington St. It would be a miracle if Auburn managed to win all of those games and then win the SEC Championship. That is the reason why I’ve got Auburn at a 1.34% chance of going undefeated.

If Auburn beats LSU: 2.69%
If Auburn beats LSU and Georgia: 5.37%

#17) Penn St.

In my opinion, Penn St. isn’t yet among the elite teams. I think they are a half-step behind the top teams in the country. I think Penn St. will likely be slight underdogs when they travel to Notre Dame and Ohio St. I expect them to lose both games. Having said that, I don’t think Penn St. will be the underdog in any other game this year. The Michigan game is pretty much a 50/50 proposition and they don’t have to play Iowa. If Penn St. beats Notre Dame and Ohio St., the Michigan game becomes the biggest game played in Happy Valley in ages. The Nittany Lions are two upsets away from being at the top of the National Championship contenders list.

If Penn St. beats Notre Dame: 3.22%
If Penn St. beats Notre Dame and Ohio St.: 9.67%

#18) Michigan

If you take away the games against Notre Dame, Ohio St., Iowa and Penn St., Michigan has one of the easiest schedules around. However, that’s usually the case every year. Michigan only plays 3-4 “lose-able” games in most years and it’s just up to Wolverines to win them. In fact, if Michigan beats Notre Dame, Ohio St., Iowa, and Penn St., they have a 30%+ chance of going undefeated.

If Michigan beats Notre Dame: 2.55%
If Michigan beats Notre Dame and Ohio St.: 7.64%

#19) California

If Cal beats USC: 2.53%
If Cal beats USC and Tennessee: 7.58%

Cal enters the 2006 season as one of the biggest mysteries. They could be really good or just average. Jeff Tedford generally has good teams so my bet is that they’ll be a competitive bunch. I have to admit that I didn’t realize Cal played Tennessee until recently. That game will be big for both schools. If Tennessee loses to Cal at home, Fulmer is going to be on the hot seat. Remember, Fulmer cleaned house last year on the coaching staff in an attempt to save face. On the other hand, Cal starts the season off with Tennessee and Minnesota which could put them in an 0-2 hole. My guess is they’ll beat Minnesota but lose to Tennessee. Cal benefits from playing in the Pac-10 where they should be the second best team behind USC. Considering this will be USC’s weakest team in five years, Cal has its best chance of winning the Pac-10 in a long time.

#20) Alabama

Alabama only plays five “lose-able” games on the season. Unfortunately, those games are very “lose-able”. Alabama has to play @ Arkansas, @ Florida, @ Tennessee, @ LSU, and Auburn. SEC schedules don’t get much harder than that. Still, Alabama will have a chance to start the season 10-0 if it can beat Florida in Gainesville and get by Arkansas. Alabama probably doesn’t have as much talent as the SEC’s top teams (Florida, LSU, Auburn, Georgia, and Tennessee) but they are very close. I expect Alabama to be the cream of the crop in the SEC within two years. Mike Shula is bringing the Tide back. I just don’t think this is the year that they’ll make their statement.

If Alabama beats Florida: 1.50%
If Alabama beats Florida and LSU: 3.76%

#21) Florida

If Urban Meyer’s influence on Florida’s offense is the same as his second year success in Utah and Bowling Green, then I have severely underrated Florida. However, I think that Meyer’s ceiling isn’t anywhere near as high as it was with those other programs because of the caliber of defenses in the SEC. That’s not to say that Florida won’t be good or Meyer isn’t an elite coach. I just think Florida is in the same boat as LSU, Auburn, Georgia, and Tennessee. On any given week, any of those teams can beat the other. Throw in the fact that Florida always plays the toughest non-conference game in the SEC (Florida St.) and Florida going undefeated looks sketchy at best.

If Florida beats LSU: 1.13%
If Florida beats LSU and Auburn: 2.27%

#22) Tennessee

Fatty McFulmer is on the hot seat and if things go right, he’ll be cooking like bacon by the end of the season. Tennessee has to play California, Florida, @ Georgia, Alabama, @ S. Carolina, LSU, @ Arkansas and the SEC Championship game if they should get through that slate without a loss. I’m guessing that Tennessee is in line for another 4-loss season which would put him into Lloyd Carr territory among the Tennessee fan base.

If Tennessee beats Georgia: 1.32%
If Tennessee beats Georgia and LSU: 2.63%

#23) Fresno St.

The chances of Fresno going undefeated are as slim as ever with the presence of LSU on the schedule. The Bulldogs have to go to LSU mid-season which will almost surely result in a loss. If that’s not enough, Fresno has to play Oregon and travel to Washington which should be better than expected in year two of the Willingham era. Pat Hill’s teams are always competitive but their overall lack of talent makes them vulnerable to losses against average teams. Fresno also has to play @ Boise St. which makes it highly unlikely that this team will come close to threatening the equilibrium of the BCS which it has done in previous years. Since it is unlikely that no mid-major will crash the BCS party this year, BCS officials can start their yearly ’72 Dolphins-esque victory celebration and self-love fest.

If Fresno St. beats LSU: 2.22%
If Fresno St. beats LSU and Oregon: 5.54%

#24) Arizona St.

Arizona St. is one of the most underachieving programs of the last ten years. They always start the season with high expectations and end up tanking by mid-season. This season won’t be any easier as they play @ Colorado, @ California, and @ USC. With teams like Washington St., Oregon, Oregon St., Stanford, UCLA and Nevada on the schedule, ASU will be lucky to finish the season with less than five losses.

If Arizona St. beats USC: 1.84%
If Arizona beats USC and California: 4.60%

#25) Purdue

For the second year in a row, Purdue has the luxury of missing Michigan and Ohio St. on the Big Ten schedule. Purdue has three make or break games this year. Two of them are on the road @ Notre Dame and @ Iowa. The other game is a home contest against Penn St. I don’t think Purdue will win any of those games but should they miraculously win all three of them, they would be a thorn in the BCS side as that allows for the possibility of Purdue and Ohio St./Michigan to go undefeated. That’s not going to happen but we can dream!

If Purdue beats Notre Dame: 1.40%
If Purdue beats Notre Dame and Iowa: 4.20%

Teams that are good enough to be among the Top 25 in terms of the best teams but have virtually no chance of going undefeated because of their schedules (in other words, the best teams that didn’t show up on my list):

Ga. Tech
Texas Tech

Just for fun; here are the top 25 probabilities of going undefeated if every team wins their two toughest games of the season:

1) W. Virginia--24.42%
2) Louisville ---18.61%
3) Texas ------18.29%
4) Ohio St. ----18.23%
5) USC --------18.08%
6) Iowa -------15.23%
7) Notre Dame-14.07%
8) Oklahoma --12.87%
9) TCU --------12.63%
10) Florida St. -11.47%
11) Va. Tech----10.20%
12) Boise St.---- 9.87%
13) Penn St. -----9.67%
14) Miami (FL)---8.69%
15) Georgia ------7.64%
16) Michigan-----7.64%
17) Cal -----------7.58%
18) LSU ---------6.36%
19) Fresno St.----5.54%
20) Auburn ------5.37%
21) N. Illinois -----5.22%
22) Arizona St. ---4.60%
23) Purdue -------4.20%
24) Alabama -----3.76%
25) Nebraska ----3.33%

This list is probably more helpful in predicting the teams that will play in the National Championship. All you have to do is pick the teams that have the best chances of winning their two toughest games. West Virginia simply has to beat Louisville and Maryland. While I think Louisville is every bit as good as West Virginia, the Mountaineers have one major hurdle with a 50/50 chance of success. Believe it or not, that’s as good of an opportunity as any team will ever have at going undefeated. Louisville comes in at #2 but they have to play Miami so they aren’t a good candidate. Texas is #3 but they have to play Ohio St. and Oklahoma. With a new QB and a young team, Texas could have its hands full with those two games. Ohio St. has Texas and Michigan. Off the top of my head, I would expect Ohio St. to win both games. USC plays Notre Dame and California. Those are definitely both winnable. Iowa plays Ohio St. and Michigan. I don’t see them winning both of those games. Notre Dame plays Michigan and USC. I can see Notre Dame winning both of those games. The rest of the list features teams that have to play brutal schedules with the exception of TCU and Boise St. Texas Tech and Fresno St. seem to be the two teams keeping TCU and Boise St. from a run at an undefeated season. However, even if those two teams do go undefeated, I don’t think they’ll make the BCS Championship game over a one-loss big time school.

Here are my personal best bets to go undefeated despite the above probabilities:

W. Virginia
Notre Dame
Ohio St.

I’ll go out on a limb and predict USC to beat West Virginia in the BCS National Championship game.

Here are the teams that have the best chance of being the mystery team to gel and shock the college football world and my pre-season predictions like Alabama ’05:

Penn St.

Last but not least, I’ll leave you with the ten best teams, in my opinion, entering the 2006 season in no particular order:

Notre Dame
Ohio St.
W. Virginia
Penn St.


Anonymous said...

Very insightful as usual. I don't think there's much to say really. You're numbers and predictions are as good as anybody's especially this year.

It is just so wide open this year, this season is going to be a lot of fun.

If you're into BCS controversy there's gonna be a ton this year. What are the chances of 2 undefeated teams standing at years end? Next to nothing.

Jake said...

Thanks for the comment. As you probably know from reading the site, I love rooting for mayhem just to increase the odds that someone with power will say, "why do we continue this ridiculous process when every other sport worth a damn has a playoff."

This is the first year in a long, long time that any of 15+ teams has a chance to win it all. I would be shocked if there were two undefeated teams at the end of the year.

Take care,



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