So... yeah. the unholy hell that is USC > Ark > Auburn > Florida > Tennessee > Cal has finally blown this poll wide open. There is no semblance of sanity left, this I warn you.
- Oklahoma is an oversight and will be inserted in the high teens.
- Yes, you can point to any number of teams and go !!!! same number of losses and X beat Y, but at this point in the season the quality of the rest of the schedule and their performances versus the rest of their schedules have a major influence on me. So Arkansas, stomped at the hands of USC and possessors of the squeakiest of wins versus Vandy and Bama, is ranked below Auburn, etc. Likewise Florida is above Auburn, as their loss was more competitive and their win over LSU more decisive, and Tennessee is above Florida, as their loss was the most competitive-est and their thumping of Cal progressively more impressive. Does this make me seem less retarded now?
- Yeah, I do think Wisconsin is that good. They're WVU except they've played Michigan.
Games Seen: Auburn-UF, BC-VT, and Michigan-PSU.
Note: I hardly saw anything this weekend due to a road trip and hate the ballot above; help is requested.
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.)
I am off to State College by way of Cleveland soon. I will avoid Paternoville, bundle up against the cold, and hopefully witness glorious victory. I may or may not be able to check in here in the meantime.
Update: Back. Tired. Ate at Waffle House. Cat:
Note that it's not a kitten, because requests like "really old kitten," "amazingly old kitten," and "really amazingly old kitten with occasional embarrassing bouts of incontinence" confuse Google Image Search, somewhat understandably. This picture was titled "The Million Year Old Cat": good enough for me.
Bullets @ The Fanhouse. Left this one out but want to relate it here:
With that [the overwhelmingly positive impresson of PSU fans I got from the trip] in mind, please file this under "scattered asshole" and don't use it to impugn the Penn State fanbase as a whole... but a story to relate: I acquired my tickets from a blog reader and hero amongst men, who offered tickets for face, beer, a place to warm up from time to time, and food. They sat in the row in front of us, hero's father on the very edge of the Michigan section. An old woman was waving her pom-pom in such a way that her arm was repeatedly banging into him. I didn't see exactly what happened, but the next thing I knew the elderly woman's immensely obese son was yelling at hero's father something about not touching his mom. Now, this is a 50-some year old man. Not exactly a confrontational guy. There's a verbal altercation, immensely obese man makes some threats, and an usher calms things down. This happens on the first drive of the game.
Fast forward to game over. Michigan kneels down, Michigan fans celebrate. Hero's father isn't even looking at the Penn State section, let alone doing anything. This time I am watching as immensely obese man makes a grab for hero's father's arm with evil intent. He escapes, and suddenly there are many pissed Michigan fans, including me, stepping in between. More verbal altercation; called a pussy; challenged to a fight; etc. Eventually dude withdraws, no doubt to scurry off to BWI and post something about classless Michigan fans.
There was also an incident in which a Michigan fan was sarcastically screaming for a late hit after yet another Michigan sack, prompting a pissed off Penn State fan to turn around and scream at him to shut up and let him "enjoy the game" (good luck with that). So... yeah, certain Penn State fans have totally flipped out. But you knew that, you read the Internet.
- JAMES KAMOKU: I'm over it.
- "SWAGGER": Another broadcasting annoyance has clearly taken precedence.
- THE NATION: They've been notified and have taken heed.
- MARIO'S TRAITOROUS KNEE: is the new grand champion of Hated Wolverine body parts. With Antonio Bass down for the count, another wideout injury can only be the doing of Angry Michigan Wide Receiver Hating God.
- BRIAN HOYER: Drew Stanton lifetime versus Michigan: 0-5. Hoyer now stands at 0-2. You're next, kid.
- TIME OF POSSESSION: Obviously.
Run Offense vs. Penn State
This could go either way. Minnesota chose to run up the middle against Penn State instead of using their pull-crazy perimeter game and had disappointing (but not awful) results. Amir Pinnix had 76 yards at just under three yards per carry. Ohio State, however, got Antonio Pittman to the edge frequently (or he got himself to said edge -- guy loves, loves, loves to bounce it outside) and was rewarded with 5.5 YPC and a win on a day where Troy Smith was awful except one play where he was magnificent. The clear implication is that you should get it outside as often as possible versus Penn State to take advantage of their weak defensive ends and stay away from Ed Johnson and Jay Alford as much as possible.
Michigan's zone game is poised to do that. Over the last two weeks Mike Hart has picked up dozens of yards when he bounces outside of a properly sealed defensive end. Penn State's linebackers might have better luck containing Hart after he gets the corner -- Minnesota's lack of pitch sweeps still puzzles -- but good play at that point is damage control. Also of note is last year's Penn State game, when Mike Hart ran a ton of draws for good yardage against essentially the same defensive front with a markedly worse offensive line. Alford loves to penetrate, but that tendency works against him in both Michigan rushing scenarios: get upfield the wrong way against either a draw or the zone and you've taken yourself out of the play and opened up a huge hole for the opponent.
It's doubtful Penn State can control the Michigan running game without drawing an extra defender into the box regularly and having him contain the perimeter. The defensive ends have proven themselves wildly subpar and Michigan is poised to attack them. I think there's a chance excellent play from Connor, Poz, Johnson, and Alford does the same thing to the Michigan running game they did to Minnesota, but I think another 120 yards for Hart at 4 per is more likely.
Key Matchup: DeBord versus Alford. Weird, but hear me out: he's Penn State's best defender, bar none, but has exploitable tendencies. Keeping him off-balance -- running when he thinks pass, passing when he thinks run -- will keep his first step a tentative one and do much to neutralize his impressive penetration.
Pass Offense vs. Penn State
Apparently some guy is injured or something, but I forget his name.
Right, right: Mario Manningham will be a huge loss for the Michigan passing attack. Much is being made of his nine touchdowns in comparison to the 13 the rest of the team has. He'll obviously be missed by everyone not named "Justin King," but the Penn State secondary has taken on three actual teams and been torched by two. They were spared from a third by heavy rain and an off day from Troy Smith. My constant harping on the lack of Penn State pass rush seems odd given that they have more sacks than Michigan does, but all I can say is that've watched Penn State's games versus Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Minnesota and the image of a quarterback surveying the field seemingly forever has burned itself into the cathode ray tube of my mind.
The loss of Manningham reduces the chances of the long bomb touchdowns that have featured in every Michigan game since The New Math's coming out party versus Notre Dame but it doesn't eliminate them entirely. Adrian Arrington has been open deep twice in the past two weeks, catching one touchdown and watching one underthrown pass bounce off a beaten Spartan defender's helmet. A hyped recruit coming out of high school and a secondary breakout star in the receiving corps, his combination of height and speed makes him a dangerous person to single up. Steve Breaston's contributions to date have been mostly chain-moving third-down conversions and the occasional dropped slant, but putting him in man coverage against a secondary that's proven itself to be a missed tackle factory also seems... unwise.
Key Matchup: Bihl/Mitchell/Kraus versus blitzers and DTs. Without pressure up the middle, there will be little pressure at all from Penn State, and Henne's proven himself accurate enough this year to replicate Brady Quinn's slice-and-dice performance versus the Nittany Lions. If Henne has time, game over.
Run Defense vs. Penn State
Tony Hunt is a good back who is about to get Dayned by the Michigan defense. He's powerful but not particularly elusive or fast and he's running behind an inexperienced offensive line featuring four new starters and a potentially banged-up Levi Brown, who missed the Minnesota game. Even with a fully healthy Brown, the Penn State run game is a near duplicate of Wisconsin's, featuring a huge, powerful back with some burst, one top-ten NFL draft pick on the offensive line, and a bunch of question marks elsewhere, two future stars and two dodgy at best. Penn State does feature a smattering of ISQDs, predictable end-arounds to AJ Wallace, and ineffective pitch sweeps to Derrick Williams, but those are window dressing on the main course: Hunt left, Hunt right, Hunt up the middle.
After some initial shakiness, the Michigan defense swallowed PJ Hill whole by getting penetration into the backfield and forcing him to cut. One can't move that much beef fast enough to make a backfield cut and outrun Crable, Burgess, and Harris.
I foresee doom for PSU here. Penn State fans will point out his 60-some-yard run against Michigan last year, but that was mostly due to a terrible angle taken by a freshman safety, Brandon Harrison, in his first-ever start. Also, that was the worst Michigan run D in recent memory. This... uh... is not. Hunt's been great at powering through tacklers and reliably picking up big hunks of yards by running north-south. Meanwhile, David Harris and Prescott Burgess have spent the year thumping guys bigger than Hunt and the defensive line has put a lot of unexpected east-west in the opponent's game plan. Michigan matches up perfectly.
Key Matchup: Linebackers versus Hunt. Hunt's main asset as a back is a Hart-like ability to carry a tackler three yards forward before going down. If he turns one yard into four consistently Penn State will have a semblance of a run game and thus an offense.
Pass Defense vs. Penn State
There is a point at which Anthony Morelli might suddenly become damn good. This is not the week. He had the best day of his career against Minnesota, but still threw three balls that should have been intercepted. That's a neat trick against a Gopher secondary court-ordered to stay ten feet away from wide receivers at all times. Season-to-date, Morelli is completing 56% of his passes, has 6 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions. For reference, Michigan fans were very upset when Chad Henne completed 58% of his passes with a 23-8 TD-INT ratio in 2005. The kicker: the only defense Morelli has played that people would describe as "not utterly crapulent" was Ohio State, against whom Morelli was 16 of 25 for 106 yards with three interceptions.
It's safe to project a better performance than that with a more experienced Morelli at home, but how much better? And how much better when Michigan projects to do much better versus Tony Hunt, forcing the Lions into obvious passing downs? Probably not much.
Meanwhile, over the last two games Michigan's struggled to get as much pressure as they did in dominating wins over Wisconsin and Notre Dame. Both Minnesota and Michigan State found that they did have time to throw in certain situations, though Minnesota went with a lot of three-step drops and Michigan State rolled the pocket all day, limiting their offense in an attempt to keep their quarterbacks whole. Both managed that trick but couldn't manage more than seven points before garbage time.
Morelli isn't mobile, so rolling the pocket is out, and his accuracy and decision-making are iffy, making a three-step West Coast game unlikely to not run into a third-and-long eventually.
He does have a wide array of tiny bastards at WR well-suited to wide receiver screens. With Morgan Trent still sporting a soft cast and Michigan vulnerable to middle screens versus Wisconsin and Michigan State, I expect a ton of screens of all varieties.
Key Matchup: Morelli versus Various Coverages. Penn State can't win this game if they lose the turnover battle, and if Morelli throws three or four balls that should be intercepted, one or two will likely will be. That's curtains. Without a "0" in the interceptions column, Penn State loses.
Kevin Kelly, like Garret Rivas, is generally reliable but will flake out on short field goals occasionally. He's 12/17 so far. Derrick Williams has been all right in the punt return game; Rodney Kinlaw hasn't done much with kick returns. Their punter, Kapinos is good.
Slight advantage Michigan here in the form of Steve Breaston.
Key Matchup: Punters versus Common Sense. Kapinos is the kind of guy who might outkick a coverage or two, and you know Zoltan has that ability.
I've been ragging on Penn State all year, but I'll give them the respect their program and crazy stadium demands by breaking out a kitten photo. Though it is a kitten photo that reflects the way the series has gone over the past decade.
- Penn State sells out on the run and we are stubborn.
- Morelli looks magically more competent at home.
- I'm totally wrong about Hunt.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Adrian Arrington lopes downfield, behind the defense.
- Their defensive ends crumble like girly cookie.
- The DL resumes its perforatin' ways.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 5 out of 10. (Baseline 5; -1 for Hunt == Dayne, -1 for Morelli == Not Good, +1 for They Really Hates Us, Precious, +1 for It Will Be Damn Loud, +1 for Wither The New Math?, -1 for Their Defensive Ends Are In No Position To Argue).
Desperate need to win level: 10 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +5 for Eff It, We Must Go To Columbus Undefeated)
Loss will cause me to... experience the worst drive home of my life.
Win will cause me to... omigod omigod omigod. Beat Iowa. Please beat Iowa.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict: Like the Wisconsin game, I have a hard time believing Penn State's offense is capable of driving the field even once versus the Michigan defense. An unfortunate interception and a David Harris bust proved me wrong about the Wisconsin game, though, and Michigan seems to have one major breakdown due to excessive aggression or just plain stupidity per game. I expect Penn State will claw together a couple drives here and there, get one big play and end up with around 10 or 13 points unless they get a huge turnover or return.
Michigan goes up against a tough defense but one they match up well against. Their weakness at defensive end will have to be either endured or compensated for. Of all the teams we've played so far the Lions are least capable of taking advantage of Rueben Riley's weaknesses in pass protection. I don't think Manningham's loss is as big as it might have been versus other teams, as I do expect Penn State to lay back like they have in every game they've played against real competition. Henne will have to be on and Breaston will have to make those hands behave for Michigan to drive down the field. It'll be a struggle, but I figure Michigan gets its share of short fields and chunks of yardage... enough to score in the mid-twenties.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Hart outrushes Hunt by 60-70 yards.
- Morelli throws at least one interception.
- 24-10, Michigan.
Over the last few weeks, broadcasters covering Michigan games have noted a couple things with awe and reverence: Michigan's run defense, which is #1 in the nation, and Michigan's ranking in time of possession, also #1. One of these things is meaningful. The other is an effect, not a cause, and should never be spoken about again. As you've probably discerned from the title, the latter is "time of possession," the most fradulent stat available for the sports media professional and paradoxically one of the most revered.
Time of possession is revered because it's really easy to look back at past years, check the TOP charts, and see that the top performers there are also the top performers in win-loss. Because a lot of craggy old coaches swear by the thing. Because football broadcasters are specifically prohibited from saying anything that hasn't been said since the 1940s, they will approvingly cite a teams massive first-half advantage in time of possession, say something about "keeping the ball away from your opponent," and then cut to the studio. Meanwhile, my fists clench and unclench spasmically as I restrain myself from doing something rash and stat-related.
Time of possession is a fraud. It is a fraud for these reasons:
- You cannot "keep the ball away from your opponent" any more than a basketball team can keep the ball away from their opponent. When you score or turn the ball over, they get the ball back, no exceptions. Unless you attempt an onside kick, your opponent is getting the ball back after you're done with it. They will have the exact same number of possessions you do, plus or minus one depending on end-of-half and end-of-game hijinks.
- It describes the actions of teams after they acquire a big lead and not what they do to get said lead. One of the primary reasons Michigan is #1 in time of possession: they've jumped out to massive leads in many games and cruised home. Opponents like Michigan State and Notre Dame have spent entire halves in a spread hurry-up emphasizing quick movement of the ball. Meanwhile, Michigan leisurely pounds the ball into the line until the game is over. Result: in the second half Michigan three-and-outs can take more time than 80-yard touchdown drives by the opponent. This is hugely distorting and tells us nothing more than "Michigan has a big lead."
- It places undue emphasis on the run game. Michigan features a crushing ground game and a crushing run defense. Result: lots of Michigan runs and very few opponent runs. This naturally helps TOP, but the reason Michigan is good isn't because they possess the ball for relatively large amounts of time but rather those crushing units. Time of possession obscures the real reasons for Michigan's success.
The reason TOP is historically significant is that before, passing was losing. The game was on the ground and even Anthony Carter was a freakish sideshow to the real meat of the game in the trenches. As passing attacks have gotten more efficient, the relative importance of running has come down.
There is still a kernel of truth in TOP: if you have a dominant run game and a dominant run defense you're going to be a good team because you'll hardly ever find yourself in third and long and your opponents will with frequency. Passing is fundamentally higher variance (more incompletions, more 15 yard gains, fewer three yard gains) than rushing and if you are very good at something low variance you will be very good -- consistently good -- indeed. But the amount of time you have the ball doesn't matter. It's what you do with it when you have it.
Basketball is slowly moving away from raw numbers in favor of rates. John Hollinger, Ken Pomeroy, Big Ten Wonk, Dean Oliver, and others have brought forth a Moneyball style statistical revolution, producing stats that encompass more of the game and reflect it more accurately. The fundamental theorem of basketball, as I understand it, is this:
If you score more points per possession than your opponent, you win.
That's obvious, right? It's a tautology. The possession is the atom of basketball. But why, then, are people so often judged by what they do per game when one game may have 60 possessions and another 80? When stat wonks changed the focus from the game to the possession, stats became more illuminating.
Football is a much more complex game, but this is the fundamental theorem of football just as it is for basketball:
If you score more points per possession than your opponent, you win.
The possession is the atom of football, as well, and they can vary even more wildly than they can in a basketball game. Michigan and Minnesota had eight meaningful possessions in their recent game; last year against Northwestern they had more than double that number. And yet the yardage totals ceded were added up in a raw state and presented plainly even though Michigan's defense had twice the opportunities to fail and bend and cede points. And no one ever notices this. In football, the play's the thing, but it's just an electron or a proton or whatever. The possession is the atom.
Wow... uh. Right, this went somewhere far away from TOP. But there you go.