Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Few Thoughts on the Contenders

I was tempted to put Auburn in the top spot of my ballot based on their superior list of scalps and then I checked the Sagarin rankings and took a step back.  Sagarin's Predictor ranking - the one that accounts for margin-of-victory and is therefore a more sound ranking than the formula he uses for the BCS rankings - has Auburn all the way down at #17.  I found that number fairly shocking.  Yes, Auburn has had a number of close calls this season, but #17?  Right now, Sagarin would have the Tigers as a 6.5 point underdog to Alabama on a neutral field; at Tuscaloosa, the number would be ten.  How much money would be bet on Auburn as a ten-point dog in the Iron Bowl?  And would that money come from sharps or the general betting public seeing that huge number and viewing it as totally inconsistent with Auburn's reputation?  Sagarin's relatively low opinion of Auburn indicates to me that we might be getting swept up with excitement about Cam Newton and allowing his brilliance to obscure the fact that Auburn is allowing 5.0 yards per play, which is worse than all of the other major national title contenders.  Likewise, if we look at yards per play margin, the numbers back up Sagarin’s skepticism:

  YPP Gained YPP Allowed Margin
Oregon 7.3 4.5 2.8
Auburn 7.3 5.0 2.3
Missouri 5.9 4.7 2.2
TCU 6.7 4.1 2.6
Boise State 7.7 3.6 4.1
Alabama 7.3 4.7 2.6
Michigan State 7.0 4.7 2.3
Utah 7.4 4.0 3.4

Auburn is in a grouping with Missouri – a team that Sagarin does like, most likely because they have put up big numbers in several games – and Michigan State – a team that Sagarin dismisses in an even harsher manner than Auburn.  Brian Cook’s statement that "there's no way to justify Boise over Auburn" is just wrong.  There’s a very easy way: Boise is much better on a yardage per play basis.  Now, I seriously doubt that many voters in the Coaches or Harris Polls are taking yards per play into account when they put Boise ahead of Auburn; they’re just voting based on inertia and name recognition.  That said, one can still make a good case for Auburn being outside of the top two.  I’m not going to take that step because of the quality of Auburn’s scalps, as well as the fact that I’m an SEC homer much of the time, but it’s not unreasonable for someone to take that step.

The yards per play numbers also demonstrate the strength of the non-AQC contenders this year.  My test for teams from outside of the major conferences has always been this: did they dominate their opponents like I would expect from a major conference contender?  The answer right now is “yes” for both Boise State, TCU, and Utah.  Utah’s number is excellent, but it has to weighed against a schedule that has been cake so far.  TCU and Boise State have played decent schedules so far; their strength-of-schedule rankings are not far off of those of Oregon’s or Michigan State’s.  That will not remain true for Boise State as they move through the WAC.  TCU’s SOS should remain in its current range as they add games against Utah and San Diego State.  The Horned Frogs should be the most viable of the non-AQC title contenders, but their loss in Glendale against Boise State is holding them back.

Stepping away from the national title contenders and looking at the locals, Georgia is an impressive +1.0 (6.2 on offense; 5.2 on defense) and Georgia Tech is +.5 (5.8 on offense; 5.3 on defense).  Georgia has its good number despite playing a good schedule (#34 according to Sagarin), so maybe this season is going to turn out to be a junior version of 2007 all over again.  Despite the fact that Georgia has had a season that had Mark Richt on the firing line at one point and Auburn has had a season that has led to Gene Chizik getting coach of the year mentions, Sagarin would have Georgia as only a three-point dog on a neutral field against Auburn.  If Jordan-Hare is really homefield for Georgia (the Dawgs are 6-2-1 in their last nine trips to the Plains), isn’t that game a pick ‘em?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"There’s a very easy way: Boise is much better on a yardage per play basis."

Um, have you looked at Boise's schedule? It's a bunch of homecoming opponents. Compare their ypp to Auburn's against Arkansas State and Louisiana Monroe, and you'd be talking about a reasonable comparison. Last time I checked, Boise hasn't been playing (and shredding) LSU or South Carolina-ish defenses.