Sunday, December 03, 2006

Rematch 201

Wow. I didn’t see that coming. I give all the credit in the world to UCLA for sticking it to the Trojans. I don’t necessarily think that there are any worthy contenders for Ohio State in the BCS Championship game but I am glad UCLA won because the hype-train that came out of nowhere for USC was ridiculous. Remember, after Michigan lost by only three points at Ohio State, Michigan did not drop in the BCS standings. Michigan was still second in the AP poll and a very close third just behind USC in both the Harris and Coach’s poll. It wasn’t until USC went out and beat an overrated Notre Dame team (Michigan had already beaten ND by 26 points on the road) that all the “love” for USC came to the forefront. USC was ranked ahead of ND in the polls. USC was playing at home. What did everyone think was going to happen in that game? Obviously everyone already thought that USC would beat Notre Dame at home or the Trojans wouldn’t have been ranked higher than the Irish to begin with. Michigan had already killed Notre Dame so seeing USC beat Notre Dame shouldn’t have provided any additional information that people didn’t already know. Yet, USC became the “it” team simply because it did what it was supposed to do. Now, it is possible that USC would have stayed ahead of Michigan even if nobody in either poll switched their vote because of the computers. I’m not sure how that would have turned out. Thanks to UCLA, we don’t have to talk about the Trojans anymore.

One thing I can’t stand in all of the BCS talk is when analysts try to use selective reasoning to make their case for one team over another. For instance, ESPN’s Lou Holtz and Mark May pick between the accomplishments of two teams without knowing the identity of either team. The information they choose to scrutinize these teams on generally includes strength of schedule and record. Never mind how the teams performed in each game or who the teams lost to. They treat every win the same and every loss the same. That would make sense if each team played more than 11% of the teams in college football. When the schedule only features a small percentage of the teams in the country, victory margin plays a vital role in the ability to adequately judge a team’s resume.

That brings me to something that Gary Danielson did during the SEC Championship game. He ranked the wins in order of perceived value for both Michigan and Florida. I actually liked the concept but at no point did Danielson include the scores for any of the games. Apparently Florida’s one-point win over South Carolina that featured three blocked SC kicks is as impressive as Michigan’s domination of Minnesota. Likewise, Florida’s ten point loss to Auburn is as impressive as Michigan’s three point loss at Ohio State. At least that’s how Danielson made it appear.

Here is what Danielson showed on CBS (or a similar version):


Losses:----1)@ Ohio State --------------1)@Auburn

Wins:------1) @ Notre Dame------------1)LSU
------------2) ----Wisconsin--------------2)Arkansas
------------3)-@ Penn State--------------3)@ Tennessee
------------4) -----Iowa-------------------4) @ Georgia
------------5)@ Minnesota---------------5) Kentucky
------------6) Michigan State------------6) Alabama
------------7)----Vanderbilt--------------7) Florida State
------------8)----Central Michigan------8) S. Carolina
------------9)@ Indiana-------------------9) Southern Mississippi
-----------10)---Northwestern------------10) UCF
-----------11)---Ball St.---------------------11) Western Carolina


Losses:-----1) @ Ohio State-----------39-42-------1)@Auburn-------------------17-27

Wins:-----1) @ Notre Dame-----------47-21-------1)LSU-----------------------23-10
------------2) ----Wisconsin-------------27-13------2)Arkansas------------------38-28
------------3)-@ Penn State-------------17-10------3)@ Tennessee--------------21-20
------------4) -----Iowa-------------------20-6------4) @ Georgia----------------21-14
------------5)@ Minnesota--------------28-14------5) Kentucky------------------26-7
------------6) Michigan State--------31-13--------- 6) Alabama------------------28-13
------------7)----Vanderbilt-------------27-7--------7) @ Florida State--------------21-14
------------8)----Central Michigan—--41-17--------8) S. Carolina---------------17-16
------------9)@ Indiana-----------------34-3--------9) @ Vanderbilt----------------25-19
-----------10)---Northwestern----------17-3--------10)Southern Mississippi-----34-7
-----------11)---Ball St.-----------------34-26-------11) UCF------------------------42-0
----------------------------------------------------------12) Western Carolina---------62-0

A side by side comparison of the scores of each game reveals a lot more than simply looking at wins and losses. Since the schedules are ranked based on perceived value, I think it’s at least somewhat informative to compare the results of each of the values. Michigan, by an overwhelming margin, took care of its schedule more impressively than Florida did. Florida beat Tennessee and South Carolina by one point. It beat Vanderbilt by six points. It beat Florida State and Georgia by seven points. Michigan had no victories by less than seven points. South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Florida State, and Georgia had a combined record of 25-22. Florida won those four games by a total of 21 points. Florida struggled mightily against the average teams on its schedule. This is not meant to be an attempt to further Michigan’s case for the BCS Championship game. The main objective of this is to put a halt to the pro-Florida bandwagon that is surely going to flare up as powerful as the USC bandwagon that came out of nowhere last week. Florida was anything but impressive in its victories this season. A 12-1 record is a fine accomplishment. But, I don’t want to hear how Florida’s schedule was so much harder than Michigan’s. That is simply not true. What is true, though, is that Florida was far less impressive than Michigan.

Debunking Florida’s Supposed Advantages

I know it’s cliché to say that the SEC is the toughest conference in America. In many years, that is true. This year, it is not true. Florida, LSU, Arkansas, and Auburn are all very good teams. Tennessee was OK. Alabama, South Carolina, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Mississippi, and Georgia are not even close to good teams. Georgia lost to Kentucky and Vanderbilt.

The whole argument that a team that doesn’t win its conference championship should not be eligible for the BCS Championship is only an argument you would hear in D-1A college football. I guess the Cleveland Indians, San Francisco Giants, New York Yankees, and St. Louis Cardinals should be presented with championship rings for the 1997, 2002, 2003 and 2004 World Series respectively because they lost in the Series to teams that didn’t even win their own division. Similarly, I suppose the New York Giants should be awarded de facto Super Bowl rings for their loss to the non-division winning Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV. All of the “Michigan didn’t even win its conference” talk is just a poorly designed ploy by people who don’t want to see a rematch for personal enjoyment. Is it not possible for the two best teams in college football to come from the same conference? I don’t think there is anyone who would actually argue that it’s not possible. Isn’t it also true that the BCS is designed to pit the two best teams against each other? I don’t think there is anyone who would argue against that either. So, all of the “Michigan didn’t win its own conference” arguments should either be prefaced with a “you are about to hear unsound reasoning” disclaimer, or thrown out all together.

The “Michigan already had its chance” argument is also devoid of sound reasoning. If people don’t want to see a rematch because they don’t follow the Big Ten and think it would be boring, then that’s a reasonable opinion. But, to say that Michigan somehow lost its chance at a spot in the BCS Championship game by losing a regular season game on the road is ignoring the reality of sports. Name a sport that says a regular season game on the road constitutes a “true National Championship game”. Has there ever been a Super Bowl or BCS Championship game that wasn’t played at a supposed “neutral site”? Of course there hasn’t. There is a reason for that. Home games give an edge to the home team. There isn’t supposed to be an edge in a National Championship game. Name a sport that doesn’t permit rematches in its championship games. The New England Patriots won Super Bowl XXXIV over the St. Louis Rams. According to a number of college football analysts/fans, the Patriots should not have been able to win the Super Bowl that year since they lost to the Rams in the regular season. Only in college football do bogus reasons masquerade as sound reasoning.

Another reason for Florida's inclusion being bantered around is the fact that it had to play a conference championship game. For the longest time, I have not been able to figure out whether it is incredibly stupid, or extremely brave to play a conference championship game. No conference has to play a conference championship. A conference championship makes it increasingly harder to put a team in the BCS Championship. Many conferences have lost representatives in the BCS Championship because of their conference championship game. The tradeoff is a big payday for having a “championship” game of its own. My opinion is that it’s not worth the tradeoff. I know a lot of people complain that every conference should have a conference championship. Most of the people that make those complaints are fans of a team that plays in a conference that has a championship game. The “conference championship” is just a creation by greedy Presidents and AD’s to bring in more money. I don’t know how they parlayed their greed into a knock on other conferences that don’t choose to follow suit. If I were the Big Ten or Pac-10 commissioner, I would be laughing at the other conferences for being stupid enough to handicap their teams’ chances of winning a National Championship. So, I guess I can’t really fault Michigan because the Big Ten neglects to play a championship game when there are no rules mandating it. In fact, the conference championship seems unnecessary since a team plays almost every team in the conference during the regular season anyway. After talking (or typing) this out, I don’t see the fact that the SEC plays a championship game as a compelling argument against Michigan. (An interesting side note--for years and years there was no such thing as a “National Championship game”. In fact, the first true National Championship game didn’t take place until 1995. Yet, the first “Conference Championship game” was the SEC Championship in 1992. The conferences got their act together before the NCAA did. That should shed some light on the obstacles fans have to deal with for a playoff to become a reality. I also find it interesting that many Presidents and AD’s have argued that there doesn’t need to be a playoff because the regular season is the playoff. If that is the case, then why do conferences need a conference championship game to begin with?)

Scott Frost is NOT in the House

Since I am a Michigan fan and I have spent the majority of this post rejecting reasons why Florida should be in the BCS Championship game, it probably seems as though I am pulling a Scott Frost whine-job for Michigan. While it might look that way, my intention is to give an unbiased as possible look at the situation. I am not rejecting Florida’s inclusion in the BCS Championship game, rather I’m rejecting certain reasons that are being used to support Florida’s claim. If people think Florida would beat Michigan head to head, then by all means, vote them in. Most of the arguments for Florida are bunk. Michigan has the edge in almost every comparison. It has the better computer ratings (at least as of now). It is ranked higher in the polls. It has the best loss. It has the most impressive margin of victories. In fact, most analysts/fans openly admit that Michigan would probably beat Florida head to head. I just don’t think there is a compelling reason for Florida other than for variety. Based on the “rules” of the BCS, variety has nothing to do with it so that is certainly not a compelling argument.

Should Florida be able play for the National Championship? Definitely. I feel bad for whichever team gets left out. Unfortunately, there is an arcane system in place that prevents all but two deserving teams from playing for a championship. Since there is only one spot open, I can only compare the resumes of the two teams. Based on what I have seen, I would expect Michigan to beat Florida. I would expect both to lose to Ohio State.

People have simply forgotten how good Michigan was this year

I don’t necessarily take pride in the fact that Michigan could lose to Ohio State twice in the same season. That makes me nauseous just thinking about it. But, Ohio State needs to play somebody. That somebody should be the most qualified team. Had Michigan’s season not ended two weeks ago, this wouldn’t even be an argument. In fact, had Michigan’s season not ended two weeks ago, there might not have even been an argument for USC over Michigan. A lot of opinions have changed over the last two weeks since Michigan last played. Voters obviously forgot how good Michigan was because Michigan never dropped in the polls after wins over Ball St., Indiana and Northwestern. Yet, it dropped after not playing at all. Sure, USC beat Notre Dame but who actually thought Notre Dame would win that game?

The Verdict

The interesting, and often maddening, thing about college football is that public opinion is swayed so much by so little. There is no doubt in my mind that the fact that Florida was playing after USC caused some voters to go with the “win and in” mentality. There is also no doubt in my mind that, like the whole USC situation, the idea of “Michigan already having its chance” will start to creep into the minds of voters who had previously dismissed that notion. It is for that reason that I cannot say for certain how the human polls will turn out. Going into this week, Michigan’s lead over Florida in the polls was fairly substantial. I don’t have the breakdown of all the voters but it looks like the vast majority of pollsters had Michigan ranked ahead of Florida. It would take a sizeable amount of pollsters to change their minds for Florida to move up to #2 in the BCS Standings. If Florida jumps Michigan in even one poll, there is a very good chance that the Gators will be headed to Tempe to play Ohio State. Florida is already ahead of Michigan in two of the computers. Judging from the way USC leaped over Michigan in the computers after beating Notre Dame, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Florida do the same. So, the fate of both Michigan and Florida are in the hands of the voters. If even one poll has Florida second, then Florida will probably go. If neither poll has Florida second, then the rematch is on.

I will be fine with whatever the outcome is. As I said earlier, I am not thrilled with the idea of Michigan losing to Ohio State again. I don’t think there are any teams that are at the same level as Ohio State. My only complaint is with shady arguments. If you want Florida in the BCS Championship game because that game would interest you more, then just admit it. If you simply think Florida would beat Michigan, then that’s fine too. Just avoid any of the faux arguments that I mentioned earlier. May the better team lose to Ohio State.

A couple footnotes:

Does helmet to helmet only exist in the Midwest? Did anyone see USC’s Rey Maualuga pull a Shawn Crable on UCLA’s Patrick Cowan? That was ridiculous. It was the exact same play. You could even hear the helmet to helmet on the replay. The announcers were lauding it as if it were the best hit ever. Meanwhile, Brent Musberger and Bob Davie condemned Crable’s hit as an act of stupidity. It’s amazing how perspective’s change based on whether a ref misses a call or not.

Lou Ferrigno’s son plays for USC. I think the fact that his name is Lou Ferrigno Jr. gave it away.

Did anyone see UCLA’s Bruce Davis rip into Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit after the game? I love it when athletes from underachieving teams rip into people for picking against them. That is a first cousin of the “nobody thought we would win” proclamation. Maybe if UCLA didn’t lose to Washington State and WASHINGTON this year, people would have given the Bruins a chance. I know it was an emotional victory and all but I prefer to see humility whenever possible.

Percy Harvin is awesome.

Why do sideline reporters ask coaches if they are interested in other coaching jobs? I know their job is to ask juicy questions but at least ask something that has better than a 0% chance of being answered. I have never, ever seen a coach answer something other than “I am happy where I’m at” or “Now is not the time to discuss that”. All it does is annoy the coach and the viewer.

Did anyone hear Lloyd Carr’s appearance on Sportscenter late Saturday night in his supposed attempt to sway voters to pick Michigan? ESPN probably had in mind a heated debate between Carr and Urban Meyer but if they knew anything about Carr, they would have known that wasn’t going to happen. If Carr won’t reveal his true feelings when his response may help Michigan’s chances at playing in the BCS Championship game, then you know he won’t be revealing any inside info during his mid-season weekly press conferences anytime soon. It ain’t called The Fort for nothing.


Sports Bettor said...

I hate Michigan, but I agree withyou that they should go. I'm just rooting against it.

Anonymous said...

This is going to be another 2002 Rose Bowl. Ohio State is going to crush Florida, it won't even be a game at halftime.

Buckeyes 35 Florida 7 at the half.

Not that I think Michigan would beat Ohio State, but if Florida plays like it did last night they're going to get crushed. You won't see Ted Ginn call for a fair catch at the 4 then fumble it in the endzone.

Chris of Dangerous Logic said...

The upside for a conference championship game to give a team one last chance to leapfrog, say, a team that's been idle for a while should be obvious.

Never mind that Florida didn't exactly set the world on fire against Arkansas; they won and that was the last thing the voters saw.

Jake said...

Sports bettor, you are in the majority on that. There's nothing wrong with that viewpoint.

Anon, Reggie Fish will be a name remembered by Michigan fans for a long, long time. I watched the game and I honestly think that Arkansas had a better than 50/50 chance of winning had Fish not pulled that stunt. Florida can't score. The Buckeyes have the most unstoppable offense in football and one of the top defenses. It all adds up to an OSU romp.

Chris, there is no question that a conference championship game can help a team but as far as I can remember, that has happened once in nine years. The number of teams that have been knocked out of the BCS Championship because of a conference championship game is four or five times that. It sucks that Michigan had to be the team that it happened to but had the number one team in the country been any team other than Ohio State, I don't think Michigan would have been jumped. Like you mentioned, Florida didn't even look that good in beating Arkansas. Midway through the third, the whole Florida sideline looked like they had given up. The whole rematch thing made voters look for reasons to vote against Michigan. There were just a bunch of unique factors in this situation.

A little bit more about the conference championship game...(just for the heck of it) Like I mentioned in the post, the SEC came up with a conference championship on its own. It was a great source of revenue. Then other conference started following suit because they saw the financial gains that could be had. I just don't understand how the fact that the SEC was greedy a few years back should set the precedent that all conference must follow suit. I know a lot of people look down on the Big Ten for not having a conference championship. My question is, why should it? For every year a team in the Big Ten gets jumped (i.e. this season), there are a bunch of years where team gets knocked out because of a conference championship. Plus, a lot of conference championships end up being rematches anyways which nobody ever has a problem with. Not until this year anyways.

Quick question--do you think the Big Ten should have a conference championship?

Chris of Dangerous Logic said...

I don't know. I agree that the risks generally outweigh the rewards, so I'm inclined to oppose it. I guess.


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