2012-09-13

Week Three FBS Preview - The problems with rankings ...

When I started this blog, I knew it would be tough to cover every week the whole college FBS world.

There are A LOT of team out there and it's tough to keep track on all those games and teams.

I think, the main reason most people outside the USA are NOT interested in college Football, even if they like the NFL, is: The system is too big and too complicated to get in the first few steps.
Over a hundred teams on the highest level, over 10 different conferences playing out their own champions only to play no playoffs and at the end of the season half of the teams go to an extra game called BOWL and that's it.
The Press and the Coaches do name the national champion and hopefully they agree on him.
Additionally those teams play other teams from lower levels and there seems to be an endless pool of teams to come in as training partners.
How can this make sense?

It can and it does in some kind of way. But it takes time to GET it

Yes it looks chaotic and weird, and most of the time I get questions like "Why don't they do some system with relegation and promotions?" like the common german/european guy is used to it in soccer/football or other sports?
They (and maybe you) don't understand the long history of the college sport, which is older than most of the relegation/promotion-league-systems establish today in europe.

The bottom line from my point of view is, the system is different and in some ways, human beings always do fear different systems.
Funny thing is, even if I try to explain the system, from small (conferences) to big (national championship) it seams the people do except it, but still can't make it "OK" in their sports universe. It stays in the weird corner and most of the time the asking person does forget about it in short time.

Right over my table at work I have a colleague doing coaching on a football team in cologne. He loves football and he even loves seeing college football on TV. He went to the states and did visit the Longhorns Campus in Texas and the Trojans Campus in California. STILL he does not get the system and I think he doesn’t want to, because it seems to complicated to get.

So here is your chance to GET it a little bit more than before, since I'm only putting spotlights on certain situations.

I don't expect you to understand everything, hell this will take more than a small blog with a few words, but if you like to know some stuff I did not cover, ask for it!

We are still not in full season mode, since most conferences did not start playing against each other. This will start at week 5 to 6. Why is that?

Good question. Most teams try to get in gear for their "real" season in the conference games, by playing non-conference teams.
It's not 100% true for all teams, having 4 non-conference games in the first 4 weeks, but the amount of conference games is dramatically increasing in week 5 and stays in this figures until the regular season ends.

But don't underestimate the played games or coming games in the next 2 weeks as pre-season.

No, the do count for bowl-eligibility (you need at least 6 wins to be that) and do also count for the TOP25 rankings. And believe it, this TOP25 ranking is worth a lot.

At the end of the season it determines the bowl pairings in some kind of way and these are worth a lot of money. It also has an impact on recruiting and probably on money gifts from graduated students and companies.

Yes, the rankings are done by some journalists in the AP-List and another version is done by coaches, but they do put two things together, which are essential:

How did teams perform and how did they perform in perspective of our expectations?

Why is that so important?

Because some teams do play bad teams ... all season long. And some teams play tough teams, all season long.

How do you value such wins?

Is a team like Notre Dame with a supposed toughest schedule of all teams this year worth more with a 7-5 record, than an unbeaten Ohio team at 12-0 from the MAC which had as toughest opponent on paper Penn State?

The simple mathematical compare between the wins and losses would give Ohio the edge, of course, but would this be right?

If Ohio would play Notre Dame, who would win? Whom do you expect to win? I think not many would pick Ohio.

So Ohio should be ranked lower than Notre Dame?
That might be right or that might be wrong. It depends on the deserved ranking. What it should show. Should it show the potential strength or the accomplished results?

Should Notre Dame be ranked higher, since we expect them to be the better team, or lower, since the lost against some teams, and Ohio did win all of them?

Everyone has an answer for that, for sure, but both perspectives DO make sense.

That's where these Polls come into the game. If 60 Journalists do vote their TOP 25 each week, do you get a fair ranking, if you compile them all together in one list?

If 59 coaches of FBS-Programs do list their TOP 25 each week, do you get a good ranking if you do add them all together each week?

Well, since ages these Polls are in discussion, with no real solution for that.

Main problem is, to determine the real value / power of a program as in "let these two teams play 100 times against each other, which one would win more?" to rank them up one by one. You can't do that.

There are some computer models based on hard mathematical formulas to compare all those teams, by analyzing all played games in a season and they do also deliver rankings. But they also deliver different results and a funny thing is, they often do not have many differences to the main Polls, AP and Coaches.

So those damn journalist and coaches might be as good or bad as the smartest computer algorithm.

The BCS (Bowl Championship Series) did know about this shortcomings and tried to do a sort of meta poll, by fusing some polls together in ONE ranking.

Teams ranked no. 1 and no. 2 would play for the BCS-Championship-Game, and the winner would get most likely the votes of AP and the coaches (which make that team the national champion! Not winning the game itself!).
It is agreed by the coaches to vote the winner of the BCS-Championship-Game as No. 1 in their Poll, but the AP-Poll is no longer part of the BCS-Formula and the members of the press are free to vote different, which happened in some situation since developing this system in the late 90s.

So, with all this said and done, is it worth to play such crazy system?

Yes and No!

Let's start with the No!
No, because the teams which would be at places No. 3 to let's say No. 6 most of the time also have good cause of playing in the national championship game.
Some years, there are more teams worth a look, some years less.
Most of the time, there are more than two teams to consider, but only two can be chosen and the rest has almost no chance winning the championship by being voted No 1. in the AP Poll at the end of the season.
Also, every Non-BCS-Conference team has basically almost zero chance ever getting into the BCS-Championship game, since they always get fewer votes than BCS-Conference teams.
After playing 12 games, you can't determine a fair final match that way.

And now to the Yes!
It's true that most of the time teams get ignored playing for the big game, and get a BCS-ranking of No 3 or less, which would probably deserve a deeper look.
But those teams all know the rules and they had 12 games to play by the rules to maximize their chances.
My main passion for this system is that it makes every playing week exciting, since every week the spot for being ranked No 1 or No 2 is at grab and the teams playing tougher opponents have to be very careful.
Losing ONE of these games is almost certainly the end of all championship hopes.
First week, Alabama - Michigan? Had Alabama lost, their season quest for repeat would be probably over, at least it would make the pressure much stronger.
Week 2, Nebraska - UCLA? Well, it could be that UCLA will win a lot more games in season and it might be that THIS win against Nebraska will count huge at the end of the season, if Nebraska for example becomes the Big Ten champion.
THAT's what I like about this System. Every game counts. From my point of view the losses do weight more to let you sink in the rankings than the wins do let you rise up, but that's also cool, because that makes every game important.
Ask Wisconsin, or Arkansas ....

The system is not perfect and most likely we will see a small playoff addition to that system in some time.
Models discussed are a 4 team or 8 team playoffs, and by that I think most teams would get a shot, a decent shot, for the national championship game.
I like that idea, even if it would pamper those loss-effects of the current system a bit. But still ... last season, the TOP 8 teams had maximum 2 losses and even a Non-BCS-Team was in that area, so it would be a nice take, I think.

You might ask, why not bring in a 16 team or 32 team or even 64 team playoffs?

Because this would make the regular season almost worthless. In my opinion, a playoff system does NOT support finding the best team. Yes, every team which is the winner did win several games in the row, sure. But getting into the playoffs is not that hard anymore. At the moment there are 2 spots for over a hundred teams, soon there will be 4 or 8. It’s just pure mathematics to see, that the more you put into the playoffs, the less you have to do in the regular season.
And in the playoffs, the chances are the same for all team. And the supposed best team only needs one bad day to be eliminated. All other remaining team are then lucky to never meet that team on their path to the final.

I like the 4 team approach, and I could live with 8 teams making it to the playoffs. I would not like to have more of them.

OK, let's move forward to the BLOCK OF GRANITE TOP GAMES FOR WEEK 3

Rutgers @ South Florida
Neither of those teams is ranked, but the winner of this game probably will be in the next version.
Still, this game could be one of the crucial ones for the Big East Championship.
Both teams did not do well in their first games, still they won and matchup as two unbeaten teams.
I don't think the Scarlet Knights will win against the Bulls, but I'm expecting a close game and a tough game as well.
I think Coach Skip Holtz of South Florida will have a nice season.

#18 Florida @ #22 Tennessee
When Lane Kiffin left to Coach USC after one year at Knoxville, he left the Volunteers in worse shape than when he got their to turn the program around.
It's not the players pool, I'm talking about, it's the respect of the Tennessee program.
Kiffin did act like a jerk and that did have an impact.
Derek Dooley took over and it seems he got the program on the rise again.
If I were a Gator this year, I would at least respect the program this week.
I think Florida is not quite ready for the SEC games. That A&M game was from my point of view to close.
They still have QB-issues and this can be very dangerous in the SEC.
I'm leaning towards Tennessee in this one.

#2 USC @ #22 Stanford
OK, the Trojans are a 95% favourite in this game, for sure.
The team is destined to play for the national championship game and any loss during the season probably will eliminate them from the contenders list.
Stanford on the other hand does still live on the Andrew Luck Area votes, they did barely beat San Jose State and did crash Duke, still they are ranked #22.
I also think that USC will win here easily.
But I can't help to hope for an upset, not because I hate USC much (just a bit) or I like Stanford that much (I liked them more, before the got successful and dropped their academical standard to become that), no it's because I love underdogs and upsets 8as I mentioned before ...).

#20 Notre Dame @ 10 Michigan State
There was a time, this game would be a schedule filler and the winner was clear, the Irish.
But this is different since 20 years.
The Spartans are a good team and the Irish do look good again also, so good conditions for a nice matchup.
Last year, the Irish won at home, and the last time they won back to back was 93 and 94.
Every series does end, so there is no guarantee for Irish loss in this away game, still the Spartans are favourites in this game and this has to be respected.
But, you what? I think this year is upset year and the Irish get their first one here.
Play like a champion and remember Rudy! LOL.

#25 BYU @ Utah
The next State-rivalry in the state of Utah. It's called "The Holy War".
It's one of the oldest if not THE oldest rivalry in the USA.
It's much to complicate to describe the rivalry in a few sentences, but it refers to the fact that Utah is a state university (biggest in Utah) and BYU is a private school of the Mormon Church (largest in that organisation).
Religion is of course a part of that mixture, but there are several more ingredients in this.
Utah is leading by a mile overall, but since years this is a very even matchup. Still, Utah won the last 7 of 10 meetings.
The Utes did loose last week against Utah State and BYU seems to be on the rise.
I wouldn't count the Utes out, since this is a home game, a rivalry and the probably got some nice words during the week, because of that loss against the Aggies.
Most people think the Utes will loose.
Guess what? I think they will come back and win. LOL.

So, some risky picks this week.
If Arkansas had won against Louisiana Monroe, that game against Alabama would be on the list, but I think they will be washed away by the Crimson Tide now, so they dropped from my list.

‘Til next time
Jack6 on BLOCK OF GRANITE

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