Monday, October 23, 2006

Please Accept my Apologies in Advance as a Michigan Grad for the Coming Month of Excessive Hype

1 Ohio State --
2 Michigan --
3 Southern Cal --
4 Texas --
5 Florida --
6 Auburn 1
7 Tennessee 1
8 Clemson 2
9 California 1
10 Louisville 1
11 West Virginia --
12 LSU --
13 Arkansas 3
14 Boston College 11
15 Nebraska 6
16 Notre Dame 2
17 Rutgers 3
18 Missouri --
19 Oklahoma 2
20 Boise State 1
21 Wisconsin 2
22 Wake Forest --
23 Washington State 3
24 Texas A&M 2
25 Oregon 12

Dropped Out: Georgia Tech (#15), Pittsburgh (#24).

A few thoughts:

1. Do you think that John Swofford, when he was putting together his ACC with greater Lebensraum, envisioned that in year two of his new and improved conference, his three ranked teams in late October would be Clemson, Boston College, and Wake Forest? And on the subject of conference title games, a year after Florida State won the ACC despite being the third-best team in the league, at best, and having a 5-3 conference record, this year in the ACC could end with Clemson not playing for the ACC Title despite the fact that they are obviously the best team in the league. Although conference title games are exciting, they do present the potential for an NFL scenario of the most deserving team not winning and the ACC might illustrate that again.

2. Poll question: when C.J. Spiller went into hyperspace on his two touchdowns against Georgia Tech, you thought of _______. For me, Reggie Bush was too obvious, so I went with Devin Hester's punt return against Louisville in 2004 during Miami's epic comeback. That was the last time I saw a football player move that fast on a field, certainly in relation to the other players out there. Honorable mention goes to Michael Vick's overtime touchdown run in Minnesota in 2002 and Raghib Ismail's punt return against Colorado in the January 1, 1991 Orange Bowl.

3. I appreciate the constants in the world. Reggie Ball melting down. Michigan State stringing together inexplicable performances. Notre Dame improbably coming from behind to obscure their weaknesses. Tennessee and Alabama playing a tight, defensive thriller, no matter the location of the game. (Could someone explain to me why we've never had a Tennessee-Alabama, LSU-Florida, or Georgia-Auburn SEC Championship Game? Those are the three best inter-divisional rivalries in the SEC, those six teams have taken every single Title Game spot other than three [two appearances for Arkansas and one for Mississippi State], and yet they've never met. Who wouldn't love a Tennessee-Alabama sequel?)

4. Speaking of Mssr. Ball, my affection for Todd Blackledge as an analyst grows. He was on the ball on Saturday night in ripping Reggie a new one for missing Calvin Johnson over and over again. I appreciate an analyst who is actually willing to say what's going on on the field as opposed to making excuses for every player out there. I know that these are only college athletes and they aren't getting paid (outside of the free education and room and board), but when 85,000 people cram into stadia to watch them play and millions sit at home to watch the game, it's naive to think that criticism of a player's performance is going to be out of bounds.

5. Given ESPN's ability to beat subjects into the ground, I am shuddering to think about what the next several weeks are going to be like in the lead up to the Michigan-Ohio State game. ESPN is in love with the Big Ten to begin with and it's fairly rare that a Big Ten team makes the national title game, so now, with one of the conference's two marquee teams virtually assured of a spot in Glendale, the hype machine is going to kick into overdrive.

In a way, this is a game that will deserve it. Michigan and Ohio State have shown themselves to be the two most complete teams in the country. Michigan can be somewhat pedestrian on offense, especially without Mario Manningham, but they're in the top ten in scoring defense, total defense, run defense, sacks, and turnover margin. Ohio State is in the top 30 in every major category and they're in the top ten in scoring defense, turnover margin, sacks, and pass efficiency. Both teams have played challenging schedules. (Michigan is #7 and Ohio State is #22, according to Jeff Sagarin, although those rankings will drop as the teams make their way through the sisters of the poor over the next three weeks.) The confluence of the two teams' merits, along with the facts that they have a great rivalry, the conference title will be at stake, and they play at the end of the season make this a legitimately enormous game. My trepidation comes from the fact that ESPN already overhypes stories that aren't especially important, so G-d knows what they're going to do with this one.

5a. OK, and I also have a few concerns about Michigan going into the game and that contributes to my uneasy feeling. My pessimism about Michigan at the start of the season came out of the fact that Lloyd Carr had elected to solve his team's offensive woes by elevating Mike DeBord to offensive coordinator. DeBord was Michigan's offensive coordinator from 1997-9, when the team was extremely successful (32-5 over three years with a national title, two major bowl wins, and three top ten finishes) but the offense underachieved, given the amount of offensive talent on hand. DeBord was then a failure at Central Michigan, which isn't so bad in and of itself, but the fact that CMU didn't have decent offenses with an allegedly offensive coach was further concern. Flash forward to this year, where most of the criticism has died down because Michigan is unbeaten and playing very well. The offense was not a concern until the past two weeks. Scoring 17 points at Penn State with Manningham out was acceptable, especially since Michigan didn't turn the ball over against a good defense in an insane road atmosphere. Scoring 20 points against an Iowa team that just allowed 31 to Indiana? Not so good. And what made Michigan's offensive performance worse was the way they went about trying to score. On the first two possessions of the game, Michigan predictably ran their stretch plays into Iowa's massed fronts and went nowhere. The rational response would be to then throw the ball and Michigan indeed did this, but the way they did it was idiotic because UM passed from obvious passing formations, especially a four-wide set with Mike Hart offset in a blocking/receiving position. Thus, Iowa could comfortably remove their phalanx of players from six inches away from the line of scrimmage and defend Michigan's pass plays while knowing what was coming. Maybe Michigan was employing the "I only pulled out enough to win" approach, knowing that Iowa couldn't move the ball on them and that style points are not important at this stage. Anyway, thanks for indulging my kvetching about 8-0 Michigan. (Incidentally, I'm bitching about their performance even though Michigan covered the spread. I'm hard to please.)

6. Another sign that the human polls suck: how does Nebraska drop from 17 to 20 in the AP and from 16 to 20 in the Coaches Poll after losing to #5 Texas by two points on a last-second field goal? Isn't the expected result that the #5 team will beat the #17 team? And when the #17 team almost beats the #5 team before fumbling the game away (literally), doesn't that confirm that the #17 team is pretty good (or that the #5 team is not that good)? Nebraska's loss to Texas did more to confirm for me that the Huskers are a good team than any of their wins have this year.

7. A thought on the rankings: Jeff Sagarin has two sets of rankings, one with margin of victory included (the Predictor ranking) and one without (the BCS ranking). Sagarin swears that the margin of victory rankings are empirically more accurate and he only has the second set because the BCS requires him to do so. (There are a few great analogies to the Bush Administration and its oversight on research done by the EPA and NASA, but I'm going to leave that one alone.) Anyway, there were a few games this week that illustrated why margin of victory is important:

a. Michigan was a huge favorite over Iowa in Sagarin's BCS rankings, but only an 11-point favorite using the Predictor ranking. UM's 14-point win was exactly what the predictor foresaw.

b. Notre Dame was a large favorite over UCLA using the BCS ranking, but the Predictor had the teams even. Anyone want to argue that the teams aren't even after Saturday?

c. Clemson was a slight favorite over Georgia Tech in the BCS ranking, but a large favorite over Georgia Tech using the Predictor. Uh, score one against the BCS.

Anyway, I think it will be interesting for the rest of the season to chart the teams that have significant disparities between their BCS and Predictor rankings. The teams in Sagarin's top 50 that the BCS rankings like more (by at least seven points) and are therefore more likely to be overvalued are:

Southern Cal
Notre Dame
Georgia Tech

(Tech's very low ranking in Sagarin's best set of rankings is what caused me to drop them from my Top 25 altogether.)

The teams in Sagarin's top 50 that the Predictor rankings like more (by at least seven points) and are therefore more likely to be undervalued are:

Oklahoma (although the rankings don't know about Adrian Peterson's injury)
Florida State

Let's see how these teams do for the rest of the year.

8. And before we conclude, how about a shout out for Florida State. What more confirmation do we need that the Noles are fully in the toilet (at least in a relative sense) than the fact that they broke out all-black uniforms for a home game against Boston College...and they still lost the game. What's worse, the fact that they needed uniform excitement to get up for mighty BC or the fact that even the uniform excitement wasn't enough to prevent Drew Weatherford from throwing an especially idiotic pick six at the end of the first half?


Fox said...

Nice analysis, Mikey. I was astounded at how bad Reggie Ball was, and I've watched him play a decent number of times. Of course, I was especially disappointed since I tuned in largely to see Calvin work his magic against someone other than VT. At least I watched him completely steam-roll some poor safety on a run. I wish I could draft him for my NFL fantasy team now.

Anonymous said...

"Messr" is not a proper abbreviation. Messrs is the plural of Mister (and in French, Monsieur), but there is no such term as "Messr."

Anonymous said...

I think the all-black uniforms were part of an agreement FSU had with Nike, sort of like those weird ones Florida wore a season or two ago because of a Nike deal.

Astronaut Mike Dexter said...

Black uniforms hardly ever work. Just ask South Carolina. I think they've busted out the black unis for both of their last two home games against Georgia, and have failed both times (in 2004 they folded after building a 16-0 lead; this year they lost 18-0 and were never in it to begin with).