So much of what is said and published about who should go to the national title game is political. In my world, this is what "political" means:
political. adj. fancy pronunciation thing
- willfully ignorant of the whole picture.
- an argument that cherry-picks only the facts beneficial to your argument and discards those that are harmful.
The only way to determine who should go to the national championship game is to look at the resumes of the contending teams top to bottom. No whining about "unfair" or "deserves" or blah blah rematch. If Michigan had the best season, it goes to the BCS championship game. Did it?
|#1||ND, 37-17||@ ND, 47-21||LSU, 23-10|
|Advantage: Michigan's win over Notre Dame was 34-7 in the first half and 34-14 at the half. At the end of the third quarter it was 40-14; Michigan also was on the road instead of at home. Florida was at home, outgained by LSU and benefited from five Tiger turnovers and a safety on the second-half kickoff. (Note that Michigan also ended up +4 in turnover margin, but was only plus one by the time the game was out of reach. They also dominated in terms of yardage.) LSU's a better team than Notre Dame, but I think Michigan's performance was the most impressive.|
|#2||@ Ark, 50-14||UW, 27-13||(neutral site)Ark, ???|
|(Note that this scenario assumes a Florida victory over Arkansas, though a relatively narrow one.) Advantage: USC. If you assume that Arkansas and Wisconsin are approximately equal -- or even if you assume UW is the better team -- a 50-14 road stomping trumps a solid home victory that was close into the second half. It should be noted that there were a lot of mitigating factors on the USC blowout. Arkansas, more than any other team in the country, has improved since their opener. Human swiss army knife Darren McFadden was dinged. Casey Dick was unavailable. But... uh... 50-14. On the road. If Florida wins the SECCG by 21 that'll be a better victory given Arkansas' improvement, but that isn't likely. To put it mildly.|
|#3||Cal, 23-9||@ PSU, 17-10||@ Tenn, 21-20|
|Advantage: Comparative scoring is always a dangerous exercise, but Cal bombed Minnesota while Penn State needed a fortunate pass interference call in overtime to win. The polls also suggest that Cal and Tennessee are better than Penn State. I believe them in this instance. So PSU is out. We're left with a two-touchdown victory over Cal at home versus a one-point victory over UT on the road. UT bombed Cal. Call it a tie, and that's being generous to Florida.|
|#4||Nebraska, 28-10||@ Minnesota, 28-14||Georgia, 21-14|
|Advantage: This is where the bottom drops out for Michigan. Minnesota is 6-6, got waxed by Cal, and generally impressed no one in an off year. Neither Nebraska or Georgia is a powerhouse but Nebraska's 9-3 and heading to the Big 12 championship game and Georgia is 8-4. Advantage Trojans here, as Nebraska was really never in the game while Florida allowed a late Georgia comeback to make it interesting.|
|#5||Oregon, 35-10||Iowa, 20-6||SoCar, 17-16|
|Advantage: These are all equally mediocre opponents, though both Oregon and South Carolina are 7-5 instead of Iowa's 6-6. USC hammered the Ducks, while Michigan struggled all game and Florida needed a miraculous three blocked kicks to scrape by the other USC. Two points Trojans.|
|OTHERS||UCLA, Arizona State, Washington State, Washington, Arizona||CMU, Indiana||Kentucky, So Miss, 'Bama|
|Advantage: USC. None of the above teams are exactly world-beaters but all are at least half-decent. USC has five of them, Michigan two, and Florida three. Two points Trojans.|
|JUNK||Stanford||Ball State, Michigan State, Northwestern, Vanderbilt||Western Carolina, Vanderbilt, Central Florida|
|Advantage: One team USC played is worse than 5-7. One team! While most big time universities have three or four automatic wins built into their schedule, USC had one. No late-season Ball State or Western Carolina. Two points Trojans.|
|LOSS||@ Oregon State, 33-31||@ Ohio State, 42-39||@ Auburn, 27-17|
|Advantage: Michigan, obviously. But the gap here is not quite as severe as it seems. Oregon State ended up 8-4 and USC had a chance to tie with a two point conversion, where Michigan and Florida needed a miracle to come back in their losses.|
Well... there you have it. Michigan has a narrow advantage in "best win" but after that it's all Trojans until you get to the loss category. They clearly lost to the least intimidating opponent, but unlike their competition they battled back and had a chance to tie at the death. Also, OSU benefited from a panoply of freak plays: a punt return touchdown, USC turnovers, etc. I think the most astounding thing about USC is this: they played one team worse than 5-7. When they rolled on to the field this year, all but one of their opponents was capable of beating them.
If you really think that Michigan's Notre Dame win was superlative enough to override USC's season of wins against solid opposition and that their Oregon State loss was an unforgivable sin, you can make a case for Michigan. But let's give it up, guys. USC's tiebreaker is Arkansas and Nebraska versus our Vanderbilt, Central Michigan, and Ball State. They took on two above-average BCS teams. We took on the worst team in the SEC and two MAC teams, though one of them happens to be okay this year. Set aside the Michigan fandom and look at the big picture: if USC has this season and does not make the NC game, no one will ever schedule anyone again. It's time to take the bullet.
Let's go Bruins!
(Side note: how excellent does a four-team playoff look this year? Way.)
Saw a lot this weekend: A&M-Texas, Arkansas-LSU, USC-ND, bits of Wake-Maryland, WVU-USF once it was clear WVU was in trouble, Florida-FSU, Clemson-South Carolina, BC-Miami. Let's hear it for spreading games out over three days.
- I've decided Wisconsin goes no further forward than the tail end of the top ten until their bowl game. Their best win is Penn State. After that... Purdue? Thanks to their embarrassing nonconference schedule and missing OSU, we have desperately few data points on Wisconsin and it would be the height of conveyor-belt mania to stick them above Arkansas or Notre Dame just because they happen to play more than one good team in a year.
- Wooo LSU! Okay: I've been a skeptic all year, but with everyone else losing and LSU claiming a couple quality wins, they bounce way up.
- The rest seems pretty standard to me, except maybe the PSU vote at #25. But whatever.
I'm out until Monday. There will be some posts on the Fanhouse, but I make no guarantees as to their Michigan relevance.
Guest post from Jon Chait here on the field conditions, which I overlooked in the game recap. They were pretty awful in person, where you could see the downfield coverage try not to fall over. I neither endorse or un-endorse Jon's viewpoint.
It's astonishing to me that all the commentary about the Michigan-Ohio State game has missed what seems clearly to be the dominant factor of the game: the shoddy field conditions, which crippled both defenses.
Before anybody accuses me of simple Michigan homer-ism, let me concede a couple points:
1. Ohio State made its best effort to create a playable field
2. Ohio State outplayed Michigan and won fairly
3. There are plenty of good reasons to avoid a rematch in the title game - for one, it's impossible to know with any precision which two teams are best, so providing an interesting match-up ought to be an important consideration, and rematches are generally less interesting.
Nonetheless, the most popular argument against a rematch is that Michigan "had its chance." That argument loses much of its force if you consider just how badly the field distorted the game November 18.
For those who don't know, Ohio State had had to completely re-sod its field twice this year, including once in November. The latest re-sodding obviously did not take root, which should not be a surprise for the Midwest in November, and the result was a loose carpet of grass that provided very little traction. It was a lot like running on a rug that sits on a hardwood floor. You can run straight pretty well, but if you try to change direction quickly you're likely to fall.
Why did this hurt the defense? Because offensive players know when they're going to cut, and they can get their bodies under control before planting. Defensive players, who have to react instantaneously, can't keep up. The result was a farce. Neither team could cover anybody. Neither defensive line could get any penetration against the run, or generate any pass rush. (If neither lineman can move quickly, the result is a stalemate, which benefits the offense.)
Most sports reporters and fans missed the full extent of this distortion for a simple reason; it produced lots of scoring, and most sports fans think high scoring means a great game. But the results make it pretty clear that the scoring was grotesquely inflated by the field. These were pretty universally regarded as the two best defenses in college football. Yet Ohio State scored more points against Michigan than it did against all but three opponents. Michigan scored more offensive points against Ohio State than it did against anybody. Mike Hart averaged more per carry against OSU than he did against all but two opponents. And so on. That wasn't a football game, it was a video game.
There were some ways in which offensive players were hurt. Chad Henne overthrew a sure touchdown pass to Mario Manningham because Manningham couldn't get out of his break at normal speed. It's probably no coincidence that the shifty Anthony Gonzalez, OSU's leading receiver, had less yardage than straight-line speed demon Ted Ginn.
Did the field benefit Ohio State vis a vis Michigan? I think it probably did, though you could argue the point. The Buckeyes had more experience playing on a shoddy field (and Michigan's 11 point second half margin would suggest that getting used to the field helped.) Turning the game into a shootout probably suited OSU's style more comfortably than Michigan's.
But the point is not which team benefited over the other. The point is that the game itself was massively distorted by the field conditions. For a comparison, in 1950 Michigan and Ohio State played a famous game in a blizzard, and Michigan won 9-3, with a blocked punt for a touchdown, despite not gaining a first down. As Ohio State's alumni magazine recalled, "The snow, wind, and insecure footing made the game a mockery - an imitation of football only by a stretch of the imagination."
Now, the terrible Ohio State field last Saturday did not distort the game as much as the 1950 blizzard did, but it distorted it quite a bit. The fact was simply obscured because it was the defenses rather than the offenses that primarily suffered. Michigan certainly deserved to win the Snow Bowl in 1950, but you can't say the game proved a lot about its superiority to Ohio State.
The same is true, to a lesser but still very significant degree, of last weekend's Turf Bowl. If Michigan and Ohio State were to play on a decent field, the game would like nothing like the one that took place on November 18. Ohio State would have an even chance - perhaps a slightly better than even chance - of winning. But there would not be anything like 81 points or 900 yards of offense. It would be, in other words, a far more fair contest of which team is better.
Note: if you see last week's poll it's a cache thing, I think. Refresh should cure it.
Hurray, that's the poll hurray. If you're interested, you can see all the individual ballots here.
Momentary dissent about Ohio State is quashed, obvs. Michigan and Southern Cal are virtually tied for second place. Very little happens otherwise.
Risers: VaTech got a healthy bump by stoning Wake. Everyone else slid up conveyor-belt style.
Fallers: Wake and Rutgers were hammered for being hammered, Rutgers by an unranked (but decent!) Cincinnati team.
Wack Ballot Watchdog:
- Everyone is probably sick of hearing about WVU and UL, but I am at a loss how you can justify UL behind the Mountaineers, especially by huge margins. Frank McGrath has WVU #12, UL #18. Eagle In Atlanta has WVU #8, Louisville #17. Conquest Chronicles has WVU #7, UL #14. The Nittany Notebook has WVU #9, Louisville #13. Anyone care to explain the reasoning here?
- Is Georgia Tech a top ten team (EDSBS has them at nine) or #24 (Dawg Sports)? Probably neither.
- Bevo Sports really likes LSU. Lots: #3.
- Not exactly wack, but there's a remarkable amount of consensus on Notre Dame: about half the voters have them #6.
Now on to the extracurriculars. First up are the teams which spur the most and least disagreement between voters as measured by standard deviation. Note that the standard deviation charts halt at #25 when looking for the lowest, otherwise teams that everyone agreed were terrible (say, Eastern Michigan) would all be at the top.
Ballot math: First up are "Mr. Bold" and "Mr. Numb Existence." The former goes to the voter with the ballot most divergent from the poll at large. The number you see is the average difference between a person's opinion of a team and the poll's opinion.
Mr. Bold is Dawg Sports, who was extremely kind to Rutgers, leaving them in the top 10 at #8. Also standing out as desperately weird: Auburn #6. Please repeat after me, Kyle: the SEC is not that good. Four of the top ten teams in the country do not play in it. I will post more pictures of Scarlett Johansson.
There's also some foofery at the bottom (a vote for Navy over Wake? BC languishes at #25?) that makes no the sense to me.
Mr. Numb Existence is Dan Shanoff, who managed to hew the closest to the poll's overall opinion despite the indefensible notion of #6 WVU and #9 Louisville. The horror!
Next we have the Coulter/Krugman Award and the Straight Bangin' Award, which are again different sides of the same coin. The CKA and SBA go to the blogs with the highest and lowest bias rating, respectively. Bias rating is calculated by subtracting the blogger's vote for his own team from the poll-wide average. A high number indicates you are shameless homer. A low number indicates that you suffer from an abusive relationship with your football team.
The CK Award belongs to Rocky Top Talk for placing the Vols #13, inexplicably up seven after last week. Was beating Vanderbilt that impressive? Evidently, as our second Tennessee blogger checks in third on the list.
Straight Bangin' Award is Ramblin' Racket's. He placed Georgia Tech a point lower than the poll average -- better than last week's winner but not by much. Notable: RR won the first CK award by a wide margin for putting GT #7 in the preseason. As Gregg Easterbrook might say, this has a deep and abiding significance, if only we knew what it was.
Swing is the total change in each ballot from last week to this week (obviously voters who didn't submit a ballot last week are not included). A high number means you are easily distracted by shiny things. A low number means that you're damn sure you're right no matter what reality says.
Mr. Manic-Depressive is Eagle In Atlanta for a second consecutive week. When you bump Rutgers up to #3 and Wake up to #6 and they both lose dismally, this sort of thing happens to your ballot. Everyone else moves wildly, too. Wisconsin has leapt from the mid-20s to #7 in the course of two weeks. Louisville takes the pipe as well... but West Virginia doesn't? The Mountaineers are ranked nine spots ahead of UL?
Mr. Stubborn is Black Shoe Diaries. The inverse of the above: Rutgers and Wake already low and thus not punished extensively. Everyone else remains relatively static.
Pre-emptive apologies: the sound quality of this recording is wretched. During bits of it my mp3 player's hard drive kicks in and makes a deeply irritating whirring noise for a couple seconds. I wish it was better, but present it to you anyway because Lloyd Carr's speech at the Bo memorial was amazing.
This is why I tried to verbally choke anyone who so much as looked funny at Carr and his "hot seat" before the year, and judging from the reaction of the crowd today (and at the beginning of the season), I'm not alone.