Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Meet the New Season, Same as the Old Season

So here’s what I don’t get.  Stewart Mandel thinks that this is going to be an open season, a la 2007.  His reasoning, which I think is correct, is that the usual contenders – Alabama, Florida, and Texas – are all replacing a lot of talent and USC has major problems of its own.  Thus, without a dominant team, we ought to expect an increase in upsets and one or more teams coming from nowhere to seriously contend for the national title. 

So when Sports Illustrated picks its top ten, what does it do?

Its top eight consists of eight teams that made BCS bowls last year.  The top ten is rounded out by two teams that were most impressive in major second tier bowl games.  In other words, SI is predicting stasis in a season in which it’s reasonable to expect upheaval.  (Note: I recognize that Mandel probably didn’t prepare the SI rankings by himself, so I’m not criticizing him specifically.  In fact, I think I’m saying that his magazine should listen to him more.  To quote Karl Stromberg from The Spy Who Loved Me, detente indeed.)

SI certainly isn’t stepping out on a limb with its picks.  Their top ten hews fairly close to the preseason consensus, with the exception that SI isn’t jumping on the Oklahoma bandwagon.  Is it bravery for other to pick Oklahoma in the top ten after an 8-5 season or is it unimaginative for one’s outsider to be a top five program that happened to have an injury-marred, disappointing season in 2009?  I could be swayed either way.  Still, shouldn’t they take a risk on somebody?  Stassen measures the rankings of ten different outfits.  Those ten outfits have collectively given their 100 top ten spots to 14 teams: the ten SI teams, plus Wisconsin, Penn State, USC, and Miami.  I don’t remember a season in which prognosticators have been so risk-averse.

Interestingly, SI has staked out the position that Florida will be a little down this year (by their standards), whereas the two pure numbers-based predictions in Stassen’s database – Football Outsiders and Compughter – both have the Gators at #2.  The humans probably put more importance on Urban Meyer’s “should I stay or should I go” dance, as well as the fact that Charlie Strong is now at Louisville.  The computers see a roster stacked with talent at a program that has been the best in the nation over the past four years and say “reload.”

It’s also interesting to me that Georgia Tech has not received a single top ten nod from a publication.  Of the ten BCS participants from 2009, SI ranks eight of then as its top eight.  Cincinnati doesn’t appear in anyone’s top twenty for the obvious reason that Brian Kelly moved on to Notre Dame.  The Jackets, on the other hand, return 14 starters from a team that won the ACC.  They have eight starters back on defense and upgraded the defensive coordinator.  They also have Paul Johnson running an offense that hasn’t yet been solved (except in bowl games).  So why are the Jackets treated differently than other, similarly situated teams?  I have a few potential explanations:

1. Despite its repeated success, national pundits still view the Johnson offense as being primitive.  (I don’t buy this one.  Numbers are numbers.)

2. Tech won a bunch of close games last year, so they weren’t as good as their record.  (I do buy this one, but most writers are fooled by a gaudy record.)

3. The ACC isn’t worthy of a top ranking.  (Probably not true because Virginia Tech is in a lot of top tens.)

4. The ACC Coastal is stacked this year, so Tech will have a hard time putting up a good record.  (Again, if this is true, then why all the love for Virginia Tech?)

5. Inertia.  Writers are used to seeing Virginia Tech win the ACC, so they reflexively put the Hokies in their top tens as the ACC representative.  Georgia Tech is a new participant on the scene, so they are waiting to see if last year proves to be a fluke, a la Wake Forest in 2006.  I suppose that this year will answer this question, but it seems close enough for me that someone should be putting the Jackets in a top ten.


Tommy said...

Re: Ga. Tech, I think it comes down to whether you think doing well against an ACC slate and no one else can push a team into the top 10. True, no one the ACC seems to have solved the triple option, but seemingly everyone outside of the ACC has -- even lame ducks Willie Martinez and LSU's co-DC tandem in 2008.

Plus, their anemic passing game can't be helped by Bebe Thomas' departure.

I personally don't see any reason this season won't be like the last two -- a strong run through a weak SEC followed by pummelings by any other non-ACC BCS schools they face. Doubt that keeps 'em in the top 10 at season's end.

Will said...

But at this stage in his career is Groh really an upgrade at DC?

His last UVA D was worse than Tech's D, and that was with guys recruited to play a 3-4.

Sure, he once coached LT...but former Vandy coach Woody Widdenoffer helped coach the Steel Curtain and that didn't help out years later.

Michael said...

Tommy, Willie Martinez's defense allowed 45 points to Tech at home in 2008. I don't think he exactly solved the Johnson offense.

Will, UVA allowed 5.0 yards per play; Tech allowed 6.1. Tech's defense was very bad and propped up by an offense that held the ball. Groh wasn't good at a lot at UVA, but his defenses were generally good. The three previous years, UVA allowed 4.9, 4.7, and 4.8 yards per play. Tech would take that in a minute.

Anonymous said...

Recency. GT looked bad in 2 of their last 3 games last year. VT looked awesome in their bowl game, against an SEC team.

Tommy said...

Michael, Martinez (deep breath before I type something in defense of Willie) held Tech to 24 points the following year. If moving from 45 points to 24 isn't solving the TO, it's certainly significant progress against the goal. When you can win with a QB line of 8/14 passing for 76 yards, it doesn't speak ill of the defense. Yes, I realize Georgia's success running the ball had a lot to do with that. But, in a game where time of possession was roughly equal, Martinez held Johnson's triple options to 340 yards, about 20% below Tech's season average. And, to recap, that was a Shreveport-bound, 8-5 defense whose coordinator probably already knew he was fired.

If every team on Tech's schedule held them to 340 yards, do you think they get anywhere close to a BCS bowl?

dawgy45 said...

Tommy, you beat me to the punch.

Martinez may not have exactly "solved" the TO, but in a year in which the Dogs D continued to slide downward, they went to Atlanta and held the Jackets below their season averages in yards, points, and time of posession. Dwyer was held to something like 43 yards. All steps in the right direction.

Why would 2009 be conveniently ignored?

Anonymous said...

Wasn't Nesbitt injured for much of this year's Tech-Georgia game?