Thursday, August 24, 2006

Charles Rogers will have his vengeance, in this life or the next: the 2006 Charles Rogers Theorem

Wouldn’t you have liked to have known before last season that Iowa, Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Tennessee were all going to lose 5+ games and finish significantly below their pre-season rankings? Wouldn’t that have been a great chance to impress the girl of your dreams after she just finished a blistering set for Crucial Taunt? (Yes, I just finished watching Wayne’s World.) Well, here’s your chance at enlightenment: the 2006 application of the Charles Rogers Theorem.

(For your reading enjoyment, here are the 2005 and 2004 versions. Other than labeling Cal and Auburn as overrated in 2004, I’m not embarrassed by these columns at all, and isn’t that what we all strive for in writing?)

The Theorem is named after the Detroit Lions’ oft-injured wide receiver because his 2002 Michigan State team illustrated the two parts of the Theorem perfectly:

1. The team played better at the end of the season than they did over the first 10 games. It’s a basic precept of psychology that human beings overrate the importance of the most recent evidence in making evaluations. Think about how many previews mention a team’s late season results specifically. Think about how many times a bowl victory is referred to as a “springboard” for a team for the following season. Think about how few times the bowl victory actually acts as a springboard. For instance, LSU, Ohio State, Florida State, Tennessee, Michigan, and Florida have all won national titles in the past decade without the mystical power of a bowl win as a springboard. Did West Virginia’s pounding at the hands of Florida State in the 1/1/05 Gator Bowl stop them from having arguably the best season in school history the following season? What was Penn State’s big springboard for the 2005 season? Conversely, how much did Tennessee’s big Cotton Bowl win over Texas A&M mean? Or Iowa’s dramatic win over LSU in the Citrus Bowl?

You may think that bowl wins are like this, but they aren't.

2. The team has an imbalance between their skill position players and their offensive and defensive lines and/or an imbalance between a great offense and a poor defense. Most college football fans and writers watch the ball on just about every play. As a result, they tend to think almost exclusively about skill position players, especially offensive skill position players, when evaluating teams in the summer. When was the last time you read a write-up of a team that mentioned its dominant lines? Just look at this year’s pre-season #1, Ohio State. Do you see any mention of the fact that they have to replace their front seven? (OK, people do mention it, but then they rank OSU #1 anyway, which shows you how seriously defense is actually taken.) Or take West Virginia, which has been the subject of numerous heavy pettings from the media because of Pat White and Steve Slaton, ignoring new tackles and many new faces on a defense that was not so great to begin with.
So which teams are certain to take a big dive this year? I’m glad you asked…

More important than ESPN lets on.

Category One – Red Flag – won last two games (at least) and an imbalance between skill position and lines or between offense and defense:

Florida – I was fantasizing about writing this paragraph during the Outback Bowl last year. (That’s what marriage will do to you.) The theorem was invented to handle teams like the Gators. Imbalance between offensive skill positions and line? How about dreamy-eyed Chris Leak, freshstud (homoerotic term used tongue in cheek...I feel so much more comedic on a second beer) Tim Tebow, and some fancy receivers on the one hand, with four new starters on the offensive line on the other. And then add in the fact that they played their two best games in the finale against Florida State (a truly misleading 34-7 score, since the Gators were outgained in the game) and then the bowl win over Iowa, covering their cover-your-eyes performances against Alabama, LSU, Vandy, and South Carolina in the meat of the schedule. The only factors saving them from true Charles Rogers oblivion are a great defensive line and Urban Meyer’s track record in year twos. I’ll go on record as saying that no one will remember that track record (with a statistically insignificant sample size of two) come November.

You know I'm right.

Category Two – Yellow Flag – went 1-1 in final two games with an imbalance between skill positions and lines or between offense and defense:

Auburn – I’m a stuck record on the Tigers, or at least I have been since Brian at MGoBlog rated them #1. (I see Auburn at #1 pre-season and I immediately think of 1984, the first year I was rooting for El Tigres after moving to Macon, a year in which the Tigers went 0-2 out of the gate and finished 9-4. And then I think of ’85, when I was still an Auburn fanatic after having been teased like the red-headed child I was, and the Tigers parlayed a pre-season #1 ranking into an 8-4 season. My favorite memory from that season is my Dad buying me a sweet Auburn hat, me wearing it to school the following Monday, and the other kids stealing it and tearing the brim, leading me to come home awash in tears. And where the hell was I, anyway?) Auburn seems overrated because they definitely have the imbalance – returning QB and star TB, but new tackles and defensive line – and the only factor preventing a full-on Auburn orgy in the media is that pesky loss to Wisconsin in the Citrus Bowl.

Why, Bo, why?

LSU – I guess no one is going to win the West this year, because the theorem flags LSU, as well. The stable of quarterbacks and running backs return, as well as the criminally underused receivers, but LSU has three new starters on each of its lines this year. Their final two games confuse and frighten the “my memory extends for two games” knuckle-draggers in the media: “They lost 34-14 to Georgia…and then beat Miami the same stadium? Keyrock is very confused!!!” A top ten ranking seems a little much for a team replacing so much on the lines.

My primitive mind can't grasp these concepts. But there is one thing I do know - if a team wins their bowl game 40-3, they must be great!!!

Louisville – I was surprised to see the Cards pop up on the Theorem’s radar this year, since I have joined the Phil Steele-led revanchist backlash against West Virginia by tabbing Louisville as a team to watch, but lo and behold, the Cards return Brian Brohm (flashy quarterback!) and Michael Bush (thunderous running back!), but replace three offensive linemen and three of four defensive linemen. Maybe the Big East is just going to suck this year, like they were supposed to last year (and actually did, other than one night in Atlanta).

Category Three – Slightly Lighter Shade of Yellow Flag – went 2-0 in final two games, but no imbalance between skill positions and lines or between offense and defense:

Ohio State – It’s always easy to call the pre-season #1 overrated, since you can’t really be wrong, but I’ll do it anyway. The Bucks have a major offense/defense imbalance and their two best performances last year came in the last two games, against the two winningest programs in college football, no less, which helps in the overration (the new English!) process. What’s saving them from a fate worse than having to do number two at a bar at 1:45 a.m. is a great offensive line and some returning experience at defensive tackle. 10-2 seems to be about right for the Bucks.

Nebraska – No team better exemplified the second part of the Theorem last year than Nebraska. They were an exceedingly average football team last year until the final two games, when they destroyed Colorado in Boulder and then nipped a disinterested Michigan team in San Antonio. They are certainly not as good as the team that we flawed humans remember. They have three starters back on the offensive line and two on the defensive line, including the highly-competent Adam Carriker, who has restored Nebraska’s tradition of terrifying Caucasian defensive ends. They seem overrated to me, but they don’t quite scream it from the rooftops.

Thrilled by angry white guy coming from the edge.

Clemson – I don’t know why I’m doing this to myself, but I’m pretty high on the orange overalled freaks from the Upcountry this year. They did play much better in their final three games, as is their custom when the Tigers have to save their coach’s job so he doesn’t have too much time and Google on his hands to figure out where those rumors about his daughter started. (This and this [NSFW] will bring you up to speed if you don’t know about one of the best internet rumors ever.)

The most scrutinized picture in Clemson history.

However, they have a new quarterback, which holds down their overrated quotient, and they return the entire offensive line and both defensive ends. I feel a lot stronger that Nebraska is overrated as compared to Clemson.

West Virginia – They wouldn’t be nearly as highly ranked as they are if Georgia would have paid attention during the first quarter of the Sugar Bowl. That said, they do return three of five on the offensive line and two of three on the defensive line, so they don’t fit the theorem perfectly, although they are still being identified solely on the basis of the merits of Pat White and Steve Slaton who, last I checked, cannot block or tackle. My belief that they are overrated comes from the Sugar Bowl, combined with being unimpressed by their defense last year.

Category Four – Joseph and his Amazing Technicolored Flag – I don’t know what to make of this team:

Penn State – In favor of the conclusion that they’re overrated, we have the facts that they return their runners and receivers and they won their last two games. Against the conclusion that they’re overrated, we have the facts that they have a new quarterback (so they must not be any good) and they weren’t necessarily better in their last two games than they were for the rest of the year. And then you have further shades of gray because Penn State followed their last good season (accomplished with veteran offensive and defensive lines) with two years of craptastic performances, but on the other hand, JoePa seems to have finally accepted his own limitations and devolved the locus of decision-making to quality coordinators, just like his buddy Saint Bobby…before he replaced Mark Richt with Fredo Bowden. (If Jeff is Fredo, then who is Michael?)


Anonymous said...

Pointing out the exceptions to this theorem would be too labor-intensive to merit the effort. Suffice it to say that truly excellent skilled players have a way of making so-so offensive lines look pretty good to the layman. Like digital photography, OL play reaches a point of dramatically diminishing returns shortly after it becomes merely adequate.

Anonymous said...

PSU is overrated. New QB + New OL = offensive problems. New DL + New secondary = defensive problems. Maybe they'll have good special teams . . . I don't know.

Michael said...

The best exception I have found so far is the "great offensive mind can sometimes overcome losses on the lines," which explains Auburn and Cal in 2004. (Al Borges might not necessarily be great, but he was relative to the clowns running Auburn's offense in 2003.)

As for the rest of your argument, great skill position players can make an adequate line look great, just as a good offensive scheme can make average playres look better or put less pressure on a bad offensive line. I'm not saying that offensive line play is far more important than skill position players or scheme, but instead that offensive line play is important and typically overlooked, so teams with great skill position players and weak offensive lines are typically overrated.

There's also the defensive overlay to the theorem, namely that defense is typically overlooked relative to offense when ranking teams before the year, hence this year's #1 and #3 teams.

Anonymous said...

Bobby P says -

To call a 34 -7 victory misleading because the team that lost outgained the team that one is shoddy reasoning, and you know it. Florida got a decent lead at the half (17-0), and spent all of the second half handing the ball off and trying to eat clock, not pile up yards. But don't let that get in your way of running them down to match your theorem.

Yes, they may have some problems on the offensive side of the ball (their O-line is Nicole Ritchie thin), I don't dispute that. But you continually point out how defense is underrated, then neglect to accout for their very talented defense outside of a single blurb about their stellar D-line. Yes, I think they are a bit overrated, but would not be suprised to see them show up at Auburn undefeated, coming off of a victory over LSU.

Ohio State - yes, they lost a TON of talent on defense. But they also return 20 letter winners on that side of the ball. Included in that bunch is John Kerr, who had 114 tackles as a freshman for Indiana. If Tressell has demonstrated one ability as a recruiter, it's that he can restock a defense like no other.

Michael said...

Bobb, Florida had about 70 yards of offense at halftime of the game against FSU, but they led because of one good drive and a blocked FG return. That's anything but a strong offensive perfomance. Their run/pass balance in the game was about 50/50, so you can't blame conservative playcalling for their lack of offensive production, any more than you can blame it for 16 points against Tennessee, 3 against Alabama, 17 against LSU (with one defensive TD), or 14 against Georgia. Every good defense shut them down last year, and this year, they have a brand new offensive line.

Kyle King said...

Tommy is Michael.

Great minds think alike.

More Credible said...

I know it might be a bit late to point this out, but you were a tad bit wrong on Florida last season.

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