Oh, Stewart, you had been doing so well. You were writing Mailbags full of logical and interesting thoughts. You weren’t contradicting yourself. I was looking for grist for the mill and finding none. And now this. So here we are again, pasting your prose to show a massive inconsistency. Here is Mandel explaining why he picked Alabama #1:
My preseason favorite is Alabama, and the reason is pretty simple: The Crimson Tide have the most talent in the country, period. As much as some like to dismiss them, there's actually a pretty strong correlation between recruiting rankings and on-field performance. To that end, Rivals.com has ranked Nick Saban's last four classes as follows: No. 1 (2008), No. 1 ('09), No. 5 ('10) and No. 1 ('11). That's the type of dominance we last saw from Pete Carroll at USC (five straight classes ranked No. 1 by at least one major service) and Urban Meyer at Florida (four top-three classes in five years), and both men parlayed those hauls into multiple national titles. Saban (whose classes look even better after some of his patented oversigning and roster purging) is in prime position to do the same.
The problem with this reasoning is that Meyer and Carroll both won their first national titles and then hauled in their #1 classes. However, I agree with Mandel that there is a definite correlation between recruiting success and wins on the field. That’s not the problem with Mandel’s Mailbag.
Here is Mandel describing why he thinks that LSU is overrated:
This is a team that caught every imaginable break en route to 11 wins last season -- the last-second mulligan against Tennessee, the fake field goal that bounced just right against Florida, the remarkable Les Miles fourth-down reverse against Alabama. I know many feel Miles is immune from typical football karma, but generally speaking, teams that eke out so many close wins one year tend to go the other way the next.
For example, Iowa, which went 11-2 in 2009 with a slew of comebacks and last-second miracles, then, with mostly the same core of players, reverted to 8-5 last year with several last-minute losses.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with this reasoning. I wrote last November that LSU might not be lucky based on the number of close games that they had won over Miles’s tenure. Bill Connelly noted the same phenomenon this summer and put together numbers showing that most major programs have a winning record in close games, which shows that they aren’t entirely random. LSU is particularly good in close games, whereas Iowa is not, so Mandel’s comparison doesn’t work. Les Miles is either a much smarter tactician than Kirk Ferentz or his teams are far more talented and when their coaches finally call the go-to plays when the Tigers’ backs are against the wall, they succeed whereas the less talented Hawkeyes fail. But that’s not the big problem with Mandel’s post.
This is the big problem:
Beyond the absurdity of Georgia being ranked coming off a 6-7 season and Florida being ranked coming off a mediocre season followed by a drastic coaching change, the most remarkable aspect of the SEC having eight teams ranked in a poll is that Tennessee is not one of them.
Let’s see. Mandel has already extolled the importance of recruiting rankings in predicting success. Here are Georgia’s recent recruiting ranks according to Rivals:
2011 – 5th
2010 – 15th
2009 – 6th
2008 – 7th
2007 - 9th
That ought to be enough talent to finish in the Top 25, don’t you think? Mandel has also advanced the theory that close games tend to even out from year to year. Georgia finished 6-7 in 2010, but they were 1-4 in close games and that does not include the South Carolina and Mississippi State games that were close and finished as two-score results. Using Mandel’s Alabama and LSU rationales, Georgia is positioned for a significant bounce-back in 2011.
Moreover, Mandel complains about Georgia being ranked in the preseason coaches poll, but says nary a word about Texas being ranked. Texas finished 5-7 last year and didn’t have any of the bad luck that Georgia experienced. Rather, Texas was simply a bad team, as evidenced by the home thrashing they took from UCLA followed by a home loss to Iowa State. What’s the reasoning for Texas being in the poll, but not Georgia? Recent success? Both teams have it, although Georgia’s is a smidge more dated. Recruiting rankings? Both teams evidently have talent. Star freshmen running back to fill a major hole? Both teams have that. Renown with Montana ranch hands? Now we’re on to something. OK, this is a little unfair because Mandel is also skeptical of Florida and Penn State – two programs that made his cut for being national – being ranked, but how else do we explain the remarks about Georgia in light of the arguments that came before them?