Pollings Rankings and Spreads: Oh My
So Dan Steinberg of the DC Sports Bog -- no, that's not a typo, and yes, I am somewhat upset at Mr. Steinberg that I have to explain this, but no, as the proprietor of something called "MGoBlog" I have little room to complain and yes, this is a long aside indeed, isn't it -- has posted an "Oddsmaker's Top 25" the past couple weeks. (Note to anyone wishing to deploy the "Vegas sets lines for action, not based on who they think will win" argument:
Also bear in mind that these guys don't set the lines; they advise sports books. The sports books will then take into account things like popularity and fan base, but these LVSC guys are going strictly based on their analysis, as I understand it.
That's from the comments of the above link, if you're searching from it.) He debuted it with the OMG controversial(!) assertion that maybe we should use the wiseguys to determine the composition of the BCS:
I don't see how you could argue with this. If the oddsmakers say West Virginia is the 13th-best team in the country (as they do), how can they possibly be considered for the national championship game? And if the oddsmakers say Texas is the second-best team (as they do), well, get ready for a Ohio State-Texas rematch.
Texas blogs, noticing Texas is #2 in the Oddsmaker's poll, think this is just brilliant:
Now this is interesting. And about the sexiest idea I've heard in well over a year.
(OMG Justin Timberlake is sooooo going to PWN you, BON.) In related news, CFR spanks the BCS for placing the unimpressive-to-date Trojans #2, in the process succinctly stating the criteria he and many others would like to see employed:
And yet, that's not really what should be considered when humans (through the AP and Coaches polls) rank a team.
Who is best? Put them No. 1. Who is next best? Put them No. 2. Continue until you're at No. 25. Repeat the next week.
This is the principle that is theoretically the basis for all BlogPoll rankings. It is a useful an interesting thing to see deployed by a team of experts who make their living at this. Its earthly avatar is the Oddsmaker's Top 25.
And it must never, ever be suffered to determine a matchup as piddling as that of the Motor City Bowl. The proof of this lies before your eyes. The most recent top ten:
1. Ohio State (7-0) (1)
2. Texas (6-1) (9)
3. Michigan (7-0) (3)
4. California (6-1) (10)
5. Louisiana State (5-2) (18)
6. Southern Cal (6-0) (2)
7. Florida (6-1) (6)
8. Tennessee (5-1) (11)
9. Louisville (6-0) (7)
10. Notre Dame (5-1) (8)
Guess who LSU lost to? Florida and Auburn. Guess who's in front of Florida and Auburn? LSU. It may be true that LSU outplayed both teams in their games and was struck down by ill-fortune. I have no doubt that the men who assemble this poll are serious indeed and have better analysis chops than I do. It may well be true that if you put LSU and Florida in an empty stadium and had them play 100 times, LSU would win 54 of those. But in this universe they play once and Florida won by 13. In an alternate universe similar to this one where Dan Steinberg is the absolute despot of everything and Cal, Michigan, and Texas suck, LSU and their impressive wins over nobody and their impressive losses to anybody who isn't nobody is #2 and in line for a national championship slot.
Once we go through the looking glass and judge teams solely based on how neato we think they are (and seriously, folks: Texas racked up 200 yards offense versus OU and rode a fortuitous turnover blizzard to the win... they aren't the #2 team in the country or anywhere close), we traipse down the road to figure skating. In this poll, you can see that the madness at the end of the Oregon-Oklahoma game matters not one bit (last week UO and OU were 12 and 14, respectively) but an injury to Adrian Peterson (which dropped OU down to 17) does. If Michigan were to walk into Ohio Stadium at the end of the year, get dominated, and win, they would not move up, and in Steinbergland they would enjoy their Rose Bowl bid as a team they defeated played for "the national championship." While I have no doubt a universe ruled with an iron fist by a man with the good nature and wit of Mr. Steinberg would be far preferable than this one in which Joe Theismann is allowed to run amok, tongue intact*, college football would be a poorer, more fanciful sport favored only by men who like nothing more than a good cry and really fashionable belts.
Striking a balance between style-point madness and rote you-win-you-stay is a delicate thing. While you can very plausibly argue the latter holds too much sway in the BCS selection process, the oddsmakers are the communism to our current fascism: yeah, they're diametrically opposed, but neither is a good idea. Steinbergland is a place where Doug Flutie's Hail Mary doesn't matter one damn bit. And that's not a universe I want to live in, tongueless Joe Theismann or no.
*(Assertion that Steinberg would mandate the painful removal of Theismann's tongue on national television purely speculative. But I'm pretty sure he would.)