Tuesday, August 28, 2007

You Disappoint me, Danny

I expect parochialism from Kirk "My alma mater has the best gameday atmosphere, the best band, the best new running back, the second best linebacker, and the third best corner in the country" Herbstreit, but not from a grizzled gambler like Danny Sheridan. I like reading opinions from gamblers because they have accountability in ways that talking heads do not. (Can anyone imagine the fallout if Mark May and Lou Holtz actually put their money where their mouths are?) So that's why I was a little disappointed in Danny Sheridan's take on the SEC.

As an initial matter, Sheridan deserves credit because he predicted Georgia's downfall last year. At the time, I thought he sounded like Jim Donnan's old high school sweetheart for claiming that Richt had only won with Donnan's players, but he was right and those of us who picked the Dawgs fourth in the country were wrong. That said, he has a couple picks this year that don't make sense to me. The most perplexing is that he's high on Tennessee, whom he has winning the East. On a certain level, I can't really criticize any pick of a victor in the East this year because there is precious little separating the four contenders (and not as much as usual separating those four from Vandy and Kentucky). However, I just don't see what Tennessee brings to the table. The great myth remaining in Southern football is that Tennessee is a great blocking and tackling team. They haven't a dominant running game since the Travises left Knoxville. (Florida fans are piping in right now to reference Jimmy Ray Stephens's time on Rocky Top.) They had an excellent passing game last year, but how much of that was Erik Ainge and how much was it the result of having three experienced, blue-chip receivers? Their defense was alright, but nothing special and their secondary is quite green this year. I just don't see anything especially good about this Tennessee team, but Sheridan has them winning the East.

What's more inexplicable to me is that Sheridan has Phil Fulmer tied for the second best coach in the conference and Urban Meyer seventh. How many Big Orange fans would agree with this statement? How many SEC fans with IQs over 80 would agree with this statement? How many programs, if confronted with a choice of Meyer or Fulmer for a head coaching spot, would take Fulmer? In two years in the SEC, Meyer has won more SEC titles than Fulmer has this decade. He's 22-4 over two years and that record is not a surprise after his success at Bowling Green and Utah. In other words, the usual defense of Fulmer - he's a consistent winner - pales when compared to Meyer.

And then this paragraph really irked me:

Q: What do you think of the BCS and who do you like to win?

A: It's all political. To get there, it certainly helps to have a good team but it's more important to have a good schedule and no conference playoffs. This gives the Pac-10, Big Ten and the Big East a huge advantage. Florida getting in last year was a fluke. If UCLA, a two-touchdown underdog, doesn't upset Southern Cal in the last game, Ohio State would have played Southern Cal. Bottom line: Southern Cal has a one-game schedule (eight-point favorite over California) and double-digit favorite over everyone else and no conference playoff game. West Virginia from the Big East will be favored over everyone they play and has no playoff game. Michigan, from the Big Ten, has a two-game schedule. At Wisconsin and home against Ohio State and that's it. No conference title game. Hawaii figures to go undefeated and will beat Boise State. But who cares? Because the SEC is the toughest conference from top to bottom, and has a playoff game, and its two top teams could meet twice this year, it will not place a team in the BCS this year.

I really expect better for someone who thinks rationally (and not in sound bites) like Sheridan. Florida was ranked behind USC and Michigan going into the SEC Championship Game. The Gators' win over Arkansas propelled them over Michigan into the title game after USC lost. The SEC Title Game was clearly a benefit to the Gators. Conversely, the absence of a Big Ten title game was a negative for Michigan, as it deprived the Wolverines a neutral-field shot at the Buckeyes on a surface that didn't resemble that of the Mistake by the Lake in the 80s, assuming that Michigan and Ohio State would be in different divisions. (If Michigan and Ohio State were in the same division, then Michigan would have been aided because Ohio State might have lost the title game, thus opening another spot in the BCS title game.) SEC fans in general and Sheridan in particular really need to get over this notion that the SEC Championship Game is some sort of colossal negative. It can be a great asset to SEC teams because it gives them a chance to make the closing argument to poll voters. In practice, it has only deprived one SEC team (2001 Tennessee) of a spot in the national title game, while it has been a springboard for five SEC national champions. SEC fans also need to get over the notion that USC plays a bunch of nobodies. I'm certainly not in the camp that thinks that the Pac Ten has the same depth of quality that the SEC does, but it isn't as if USC plays cupcakes for every game. Given their results against the SEC under Pete Carroll (4-0 against Auburn and Arkansas; only one of the games was competitive), we don't need to be making statements like "they have a one-game schedule." That would be news to the '06 Trojans, who lost two games, and even Sheridan's statement was true, it would only be as a testament to Pete Carroll accumulating a ridiculous amount of talent.


LD said...

A conference title game can be a boost, but it's also a risk. I don't think there are many fans who think otherwise. While the examples might be limited in the SEC, there are quite a few examples in other conferences of teams that would have gone to a better bowl had they not played in their conference title game (as in, if not for the title game their records would've been good enough to be conference champions): Alabama in 1994, Nebraska in 1996, Kansas State in 1998, Western Michigan in 2000, Tennessee in 2001, Marshall in 2001, Colorado in 2002, Virginia Tech in 2005, LSU (or Auburn, actually) in 2005, Central Florida in 2005, Northern Illinois in 2005, Georgia Tech in 2006. That's 13 instances where a team, had they been playing under Big Ten rules, would've been conference champion, but was not because of the title game. It can be a boost (outside the control of the particular teams), but it is a risk of having an additional loss. It's not a collossal negative (the money and attention always outweigh the negatives regardless), but for one of the teams playing in the game, it most certainly is a negative - and just as much for the lower ranked team than the higher-ranked team.

To use your Michigan-Ohio State example, had the two teams replayed in a title game, it very well might've cost Michigan an at-large BCS berth. Would the Rose Bowl have taken an 11-2 team that had just lost their last 2 games, or would they take an 11-1 Wisconsin team that had won their last 8? Losing in the title game is a big risk for not just the higher-ranked team, but also for the underdog in the game, as a 9-2, 10th ranked team that won their division and is on a hot streak looks like a good team for a bowl to pick. A 9-3, 17th ranked team that just lost is significantly less appetizing. Ask the 2002 Arkansas team that went from the SEC title game to the Music City Bowl (had they not played in the SEC title game, the Cotton Bowl would've been much more likely).

Also, while I'm sure there are plenty of SEC fans with low opinions of the Pac-10 and who might say USC plays a one game schedule, in this post it's actually Danny Sheridan who says that. Danny Sheridan doesn't speak for "SEC Fans".

peacedog said...

LD, I'd say it this way: A conference title game ups the degree of difficulty to a regular season. While that amount will vary from one year to the next, overall I'd call it significant.

Of course, because of that there are significant rewards to be reaped. The amount of those rewards can also vary, potentially based on rules (e.g. the whole quality win thing the BCS used to have), on stupidity (e.g. sports writers deciding "I don't want to give them more credit when I vote again"), and on solar flare activity.

Chg said...

My biggest problem with the Sheridan piece is that he copped out and had a three way tie for 2nd among conference coaches. With only 12 choices, that's not much of a ranking.

Until I followed your link, I didn't realize Herbstreit had wandered onto ClayNation turf by ranking the prettiest coeds in the SEC. Weirdly, he put Texas and FSU on his list.

Anonymous said...

Michigan plays a two-game schedule (Wisc and OSU)? What about PSU, which returns most of its starters from a 9-4 team?

OzzieVirgil said...

Is there anything worse than knowing there is no other viable option than watching Kirk Herbstreit on Saturday mornings? His homerism is putrid.

There has to be another network willing to make a play. Maybe TBS since they are showing more games? I would take Ernie and Chuck talking pigskin any day of the week.

Anonymous said...

Bobby P says:

As to Tennessee, as much as it pains me to say it, I think Cutcliff being back for the second season is going to play dividends.