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.
- Only thing I saw was Michigan-OSU so please... any help is appreciated.
- Carnage at the bottom. I think I might still be underrating BC based on their resume, which is full of dangerous teams that have been mostly defeated. Everyone down there has issues -- losing to NC State is an issue -- but few have the wide array of scalps BC does.
- Evidently I can't decide whether I hate Nebraska or not.
Again, help please. I'm off to the Bo memorial. Will post about it whenever I get back.
Sometime last week a dude got booted from the AP poll. His offense: dropping Oklahoma because he thought they lost. Naturally, as the operator of a similar enterprise a few people asked me my opinion. It's similar to everyone else's -- boy, is that guy dumb! We'd like to introduce him to this interwebs thing! -- with one bonus thought: it's the structure of the poll and these people's lives that's at fault for the regular stupidities.
This case is made for me by the Good Witch in an extensive article on the snafu (from Oklahoma, natch):
As a voter in the Associated Press Top 25 college football poll, John Hoover takes his job seriously. This past week, Hoover, the OU beat writer for the Tulsa World, filled out his ballot at 2 a.m. after getting home from the OU game.
"I watched a couple of games on TiVo. I looked on the Internet for about an hour. I read a couple of school reports; game reports and watched a highlight show. I then spent another hour just moving teams around on my ballot," Hoover said.
An hour? Filling out a ballot? Hoover's either helplessly OCD or a filthy liar, but at least he manages to pay enough attention to college football to keep Louisville in front of West Virginia. Later in the article Hoover makes some displeased noises about the carelessness of this other guy's ballot, but if you accept WVU-UL as an acid test the AP poll as a whole fails by placing West Virginia behind the Cardinals. That's inane. It can't be explained by anything in either team's schedule or play and requires you to ignore a 10-point UL victory like three weeks ago. It is the product of carelessness. That carelessness is caused by the unholy demands on beat writers' time and newspaper's foolish devotion to having everything as quickly as possible because it's NEWS, dammit.
(Rutgers? Well, Louisville can be placed ahead of them now because they've played a tougher schedule, won by greater margins, and lost narrowly to a good team instead of getting hammered by a meh one. Head to head is important but not so much that it outweighs a team's resume. But when you're ranking teams and you judge that two teams that played each other are basically equal, you'd better rank the head-to-head winner first unless you've got a good reason. Pat White meowing doesn't count.)
I, of course, love this story. I love it for many reasons, but foremost among them is the newspaper man (as archetype) and his state of mind. There's a software saying: "Fast. Cheap. Good. Pick two." Newspapers -- in comparison to the internet -- only get to pick one, since "cheap" is right out the window. They went with fast. The AP poll comes out on Sunday. Game stories hit the wire minutes after the game ends. Columnists rip off 600 words on a game and move on. And the deeply ironic thing is that all this is in service to a flagging print beast that shows up in the morning, hours after anyone who actually cares about speed has already seen the box score, six minutes of highlights, and immediate reaction from internet folks. Nobody picks up the paper to find out the score of the game last night. But along the dilapidated beast rolls, its momentum making it impossible to stop or even divert.
If I ran a poll I would probably back the voting deadline off a couple days so the participants could, you know, find out what happened. Even then, certain people would freak out and rush ballots in at the last moment every week, but by in large everyone would have some time to digest, discuss, and evaluate what happened. Then they would keep Louisville in front of West Virginia.
Newspapers have slowly morphed from the fastest communication medium available to the slowest. They have not adjusted their coverage. They have gone from monopolies on information dissemination to a sea of competition. They have not shed their belief that attention is their birthright. They are beset on all sides by people who have not come out the other end of a sports journalism meat-grinder bitter, twisted, and devoid of all human feeling. The Free Press still employs Drew Sharp.
Circulation dropping, you say? That's strictly dog bites man stuff.