Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Just a Thought on Strength of Schedule Ratings

I've often thought that the best way to evaluate the strength of a national championship contender's schedule is not to average the rankings of the team's opponents, but rather to evaluate based on the following questions: how many teams did the team in question play that could legitimately beat it and where did it play those games? This measure illustrates why Florida faced a more difficult schedule than USC, or at least it has so far, despite the fact that Southern Cal has a higher-rated schedule, such as by Jeff Sagarin.

Florida has played road games against Sagarin's #6 and #7 teams, the most likely games to produce a loss for a title contender. Southern Cal, on the other hand, hasn't played a team higher than #20 Nebraska and that was at home. By the end of the season, they will have played Sagarin's #3 (Cal), #14 (Oregon), and #18 (Notre Dame) teams, all at home, so they will have a good argument by that point, but now, they have a top strength of schedule not because they've played teams that were likely to beat them, but rather because they didn't play #112 Central Florida.

By either measure, Tommy Tuberville needs to stop complaining, since he has a schedule that is both laden with cupcakes AND is bereft of road tests. It isn't his fault that Alabama and Georgia are down this year, but this isn't the right year for him to complain, especially in light of the fact that Auburn is heading into the Tulane-Ole Miss-Arkansas State portion of the schedule. Or should I mention that, according to Sagarin's ratings (which, as I said above, are not perfect, but they aren't too shabby), Auburn has played the weakest schedule of any of the top seven teams. If Tuberville is preemptively complaining about an unbeaten Big East champion, then I'm willing to listen, but otherwise, he should have learned his lesson during the Arkansas game.


Anonymous said...

Regarding your Tuberville comments.....instead of being a hater saying he should stop complaining about the BCS, maybe you should stop being so die-hard for your team and backing his comments up. I know if Mark Richt, Urban Cryer, Les Miles, etc. had said the same comments, I would agree with them. We NEED a plus-one game as hard as the SEC schedule is. Hell, even an 8 team playoff wouldnt be the worst thing. But don't just hate on Tuberville for saying the things that everyone is thinking. And it's not like Tuberville can help it that UGA and BAMA suck this year, so don't rip the Auburn schedule. Yes, we have a couple cupcake teams every year, but tell me an SEC team that doesn't do the same! We beat each other up week after week in by far the toughest conference. Stop hating, queer.

Anonymous said...

At what point did Tuberville beat you up, steal your lunch box, and shit on your dinner table?

You have harped on one comment that the guy made for three weeks now. Are you that old school that you believe all coaches should mutter the same damn lines all the time? I'm glad there is a coach who actually says what he is thinking even if I don't agree with it.

Auburn has played 9 (or maybe 10 now) Top 10 teams (at the time of the game) in the last 3 years. They are 8-1 in those games. I would be willing to bet that is more than 90% of Division 1 teams.

Looking at Auburns pre-season schedule next to Michigan's.

Auburn - Very Losable - LSU, Florida, UGA

Michigan - Very Losable - Notre Dame, Ohio State

Auburn - Potential Upsets - Wash St, Arkansas, Alabama

Michigan - Potential Upsets - Penn St, Wisconsin, Iowa, Mich St (stretch in the preseason)

Auburn - Cupcakes - Buffalo, Ole Miss, Miss St, Tulane, Ark St.

Michigan - Cupcakes - Vandy, C Mich, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ball State, Indiana

I would say those are pretty even schedules (remember you have to look at it from a pre-season perspective). True, Michigan scheduled a great out of conference opponent in ND and Auburn scheduled only a decent game in WSU - but why should they be forced to schedule Texas every year when they know they are going to be playing just as many "losable" games as most in the country (sans UF, that is just a brutal schedule).

Michael said...

Anonymous 1 - I agree that we need a Plus One game, but the reason why we need one is not because the SEC is some sort of behemoth unlike the rest of college football. On average, the SEC is a little better, but Tuberville acts as if it's miles and miles better. The fact that Bama and Georgia are mediocre this year directly impacts his argument, since he claims it's impossible to run the table in the SEC, but Auburn is going to end up playing three top 20 teams, all at home. There's nothing especially uniquely challenging about that. You're right that I'd agree more if Urban Meyer said the same thing, since his schedule is significantly tougher than Auburn's this year.

Anonymous #2 - I chose to rip Tuberville again because he went and whined again after the Florida game about how the conference is too tough to navigate (an empirically false statement, as his own '04 team illustrates). I like some honesty from head coaches. That's why I adore Spurrier even though I have no love for Florida. However, there's a difference between whiny politicking and actually having the balls to say something interesting. Tuberville is firmly in the former camp.

Also, your methodology is wrong on a number of levels. First, Auburn averages out to playing about three very good opponents per season, which is not that uncommon. Their schedule is particularly favorable this season, which makes the timing of Tuberville's remarks silly. In fact, Auburn got a bounce in the pre-season because of a favorable schedule, just as WVU did.

Your comparison of Michigan and Auburn's schedules pre-season is dumb because you list Wazzu at home as a potential upset, but at Minny as a cupcake. Newsflash: Wazzu is 9-13 the last two years, while Minny is 14-10. Furthermore, you can't just measure a schedule based on pre-season rankings, since schedules are set years in advance. If you want to take a long view, Michigan plays three of the top ten all-time programs this year, all on the road. Auburn plays one.

Finally, Tuberville's 0-4 mark against USC and Georgia Tech (with all but one game decided by more than one score) combined with his good marks in the SEC indicates that SEC competition isn't a huge leap up from other conferences.

Anonymous said...

While I believe you would find it reprehensible, it would have been terrific if you could have typed the exact measured response to Anon #2, followed by the simple one word paragraph: Queer.

Where I come from, the rational tone to that point, along with the juxtapostion of your semi-well known (at least not hidden) liberal/progressive beliefs with Anon 2's childish taunt would be just funny, I don't care who you are.

On-line Auburn fans are weird. Their on-line fans exhibit so little of the sportsmanship I've found IRL encounters with AU boosters, they seem to be from a different planet.

I agree with your main point BTW. It's like arguing over pre-2005 Vandy or Duke. Yes, Vandy was better and would probably "help" your SOS more than Duke, but they were really just slightly less awful.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't Tuberville have a right to lobby against a system that he believes is flawed? The three home games that you cite will all be road games next year. Do you believe that he needs to wait until next year when his schedule is less favorable before he can voice an opinion? I am not sure how that makes sense seeing as how his team's schedule has no bearing on the fundamental fairness of the way D-1A crowns its national champion.

Doesn't a plus one plan have the potential to benefit all teams on the outside looking in (regardless of conference)?

Anonymous said...

Chg - I'm not sure someone known for progressive/liberal views would throw out a homophobic taunt like queer. I'm also not sure where there was any lack of sportsmanship shown in the post? Is trying to defend one team's schedule against another bad sportsmanship? I could be confused, but I thought that the point of any blog is to incite discussion. A little sarcasm at the beginning of my post is not, in my opinion, over the line.

As for trying to look at the schedule from a pre-season perspective - you are right, Minnesota could be considered a potential upset. I looked at several on-line preseason rankings and WSU ended up averaging out to about #36 and Minnesota was roughly #52 (and predicted to go 5-7 this year). But the argument could definitely be made.

Actually, schedules are not always set up years in advance, that is a common misnomer. Schools will drop, cancel, and pick-up up within 1 year often. See Auburn 2004 with Bowling Green - they cancelled on our schedule 9 months before the season - who did they pick up? Oklahoma. We were left with The Citadel.

I am in complete agreement with you that a team should be measured by how many "loseable" games they play. I don't think it's fair that USC plays 1-2 loseable games per year (maybe 3 this year with Oregon being better) and most Big 10 and SEC schools typically play 3 within their conference. Yet USC's strength of schedule is through the roof because they play a lot of 30-50 ranked teams.

And finally, on Tuberville - if you don't think I can go back in the archives and find some of the whiniest quotes in the history of football from Steve Spurrier then you are wrong. I happen to love Spurrier as well - because he speaks his mind. When you do that sometimes you come off as a whiner. Big Deal.

Tuberville toed the line all of 2004, "things will work themselves out" is all he ever said. I guess he should have started whining a little earlier and maybe a few more voters would have recognized how strong his team was earlier.

Michael said...

The unresolved issues:

1. I think we're all in agreement that a Plus-One would be a welcome improvement over the current system. I applaud Tuberville for advocating for it. My only beef is with his reasoning. Complaining that your schedule is too tough to surmount is both empirically wrong and sends a weak message.

2. Yes, Tuberville's complaints will have more merit next year when Auburn plays every tough game on the road. They also might have more merit in a year when Georgia and Alabama are both down. Auburn's SOS is good, but not great this year (as evidenced by the fact that it's behind all of the other teams in the top six, including Florida and Tennessee) and the gap will increase as the season progresses.

Speaking of Florida and Tennessee, here's my major beef with Tuberville: he's whining about the schedule that he has to play, but Auburn plays a joke of an OOC slate. The whining seems to be a justification for playing no one OOC, but both Florida and Tennessee play excellent OOC opponents. They are the ones who have the most legitimate beefs, but you don't hear Fulmer complaining that no team can make it through the SEC unbeaten...because he remembers that he's done it before. I'd also be more willing to listen to Fulmer make the argument because Tennessee plays a marquee OOC game every year, so he's not making the argument from a place of weakness. He's not the one who canceled a series with Florida State because he was worried about Papa Bowden's wrath. (This dialogue is reminding me why I don't like Tuberville.)

3. Schedules are typically filled out in the last year or two, but the marquee match-ups are set years in advance. Tech-Auburn, for instance, was on the docket years before the games were actually played. (I forgot why the third game at the Georgia Dome was canceled, but if it was Auburn's doing, then Tuberville has even less room to complain. It might have been a function of ACC expansion.)

4. Maybe it's a matter of personal style, but Spurrier always came across as a straight shooter, while Tuberville always seems to be advancing some sort of agenda. This is totally a personal judgment on my part. If you want Spurrier whining, you can cite his complaints about late hits by FSU in the '96 game, which were entirely true, and complaints about Darnell Dockett injuring his players in '01, which were probably true. If Tuberville would have said these things, I might have ripped him for whining. I never claimed to be consistent or fair.

5. As I've said before, I genuinely feel bad for Auburn and Tuberville for '04. It sucks to play a tough schedule, win all your games, and not get a chance at the national title because pre-season nos. 1 and 2 don't lose. However, that's entirely distinct from his complaints that the SEC is too tough to navigate.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2, sorry about that. I meant to refer to Anon 1's post, not your's.

Your lunchbox comment close on the heels of Anon 1's entire post prompted my comment.

As for the specific word, I completely understand why Michael would not use it. Given the circumstances, it would have been funny though.

Back to the topic at hand, it reminds me of Boyd Nation's column on gaming the college baseball RPI.