Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Random Thoughts on the College Football Weekend

1. I'm not a huge playoff advocate, but can anyone tell if the pollsters who determine which teams will play for the national title are making any effort beyond ranking teams according to record? The three teams in contention right now are the three major one-loss teams: Missouri, West Virginia, and Ohio State. (Kansas is the fourth one-loss team, but they violate another irrationally sacred rule of pollsters: don't lose late.) The message is clear: regardless of your strength of schedule, we the pollsters group teams based on their record. The "nightmare scenario" regarding West Virginia and Missouri losing this weekend is only a nightmare scenario because it would break pollsters out of their "one loss = contender; two-loss = untouchable" stupor and force them to consider LSU, Georgia, and USC. Why is it so unthinkable that LSU (10-2, SOS of 26 [and likely to go up if they beat Tennessee this weekend]) or Georgia (10-2, SOS of 22) should play for the title ahead of Ohio State (11-1, SOS of 56)?

1a. And after bagging on Ohio State, I think it deserves mentioning that the "they sucked against Florida" argument against the Bucks playing in the title game is ludicrous. Unless the Fiesta Bowl against Miami been erased from the collective memory, Ohio State has typically played very well in bowl games under Jim Tressel. He's one of the better big-game coaches in the country. Ohio State has an excellent defense and a match-up against Missouri or West Virginia's spread offenses would be a football nerd's delight. Ohio State did lay an egg against Florida last year for a variety of reasons, but that doesn't change the fact that Bucks have been better-than-average in bowl games this decade and have enough speed to play with the big boys.

2. You would think that I would enjoy a Gregg Easterbrook screed that starts with a dig at Ohio State's abysmal academic record for its football players and then continues with shots of comely women in various barely there outfits, but then Gregg has to go and screw it up by opining on Les Miles:

When You Hire a Coach Who's Only in It for Himself, You Get a Coach Who's Only in It for Himself: Lloyd Carr retired at Michigan, and early last week, Les Miles of LSU refused to say whether he would return to LSU or
seek the Michigan job. A few days later, LSU lost to Arkansas, surrendering its
pole position for the BCS title game. True, Miles can't control that Carr
stepped down in November or that columnists are linking him to the job. But he
didn't deny interest in the job, either, nor did he emphatically embrace LSU,
which sure seemed to indicate he already was thinking ahead about the Michigan
post, which he has long been believed to be seeking.

This brings up a point Tuesday Morning Quarterback perennially makes about coaches campaigning for other jobs when their current seasons are not complete, or halfheartedly pretending they are not campaigning. My point: When you hire a coach who's only in it for himself, you get a coach who's only in it for himself. Dennis
Franchione, Mike Price, Bill Parcells (when the mid-'90s Patriots were close to
the Super Bowl), Chuck Fairbanks, Herm "I Honor My Contract When I'm In The
Mood" Edwards and Little Nicky Saban are all examples of coaches who either
officially quit on their teams with a season still in progress or halfheartedly
denied doing so. All of them, after arriving at their new gigs, had bad years.
If a player openly angled to leave for another team, late in a season that was
still in progress, we'd be outraged. Why is it OK for coaches to do this,
shafting their entire team, not just causing a one-man problem like when a
player drops his loyalty? Michigan, should you hire Miles, bear in mind you're
getting the sort of person who sure seemed to place his own career goals ahead
of a national championship run last week.

First of all, what exactly is Les Miles supposed to say? He's obviously interested in returning to his alma mater, but he doesn't want to screw his existing team at the end of the season. He can either: (a) take the Nick Saban approach of denying any interest in the new job (and thus lie and earn the enmity of all of the Easterbrooks of the world when he takes the Michigan job in December); or (b) say nice things about Michigan and LSU while refusing to answer questions about his future, which is exactly what Miles has done. How in the world does Easterbrook suggest that Miles handle the questions?

Second, Easterbrook is getting up on his high horse regarding Miles being "only in it for himself," while ignoring the fact that Miles is interested in the Michigan job for non-monetary reasons. If he wanted to cash in and keep getting cracks at the national title, then he would take an extension at LSU and continue to profit from that school's incredible recruiting base. Instead, he apparently wants to coach at an institution about which he feels strong affection. Shouldn't the guy who wrote The Progress Paradox, a book about how we all make more money and have more cool possessions, but are still less happy, approve of that sort of thinking?

What Miles is doing is no different that what Bear Bryant did when he left Texas A&M, right down to the fact that the Aggies fell out of title contention with an upset loss to Rice when rumors of Bryant returning to his alma mater began to swirl. How did Alabama's hiring of an "only in it for himself" guy like the Bear work out? If you prefer a more recent example, Urban Meyer took the Florida job at the end of Utah's 2004 regular season after he had been rumored for a variety of positions in the weeks leading up to his departure. How has that hire worked out for Florida?

3. And speaking of my LesCrush, I'm still waiting to hear all the people who ripped on Miles for going for the win against Auburn instead of settling for a field goal acknowledge that there is risk in playing for a field goal. Exhibit QQ: the Kentucky-Tennessee game. Kentucky picked off a pass on Tennessee's possession starting the second overtime. At this stage, the Cats are completely in the driver's seat. Kentucky has an outstanding quarterback and a passing game that has run roughshod over the Tennessee defense ever since halftime. Tennessee will obviously be playing aggressively on defense to push the Cats back as far as possible. So what does Rich Brooks do? Three runs to set up a field goal attempt that the Vols block. Is there any criticism of Brooks the way there was of Miles? No. Why? Because the conventional wisdom overrates certain unlikely risks (turning the ball over or a simple one-read pass play taking eight seconds) and underrates certain far more likely risks (a missed or blocked field goal).

4. Steve Beuerlein, Georgia is coached by Mark Richt. Mark. Not Mike. Mark. Seems like something an SEC announcer should know.

5. I wish I had something interesting to say about the Georgia-Georgia Tech game, but I don't. Mark Richt showed why it's important to have two quality running backs, as his hot hand turned out to be Thomas Brown and not the freshman who had been setting the world on fire. Georgia Tech shot themselves in the foot on numerous occasions, which indicates that Reggie Ball isn't the only Jacket who lost his cool when he sees silver britches. Ultimately, Georgia Tech was done in by their dreadful passing game, a fitting coda to the Chan Gailey era. Gailey came in with the reputation as a sharp offensive mind who worked very well with quarterbacks, but his teams were almost uniformly good on defense and spotty on offense.

6. I thoroughly enjoyed the Missouri-Kansas game. The neutral site environment added a great deal to the atmosphere, as there was a roaring crowd reaction to just about every play. College football could use more neutral site games like that. Here are some impractical ideas that will never come true, but are fun to bounce around:

Michigan-Notre Dame rotating between Chicago and Detroit
West Virginia-Penn State in Pittsburgh
Maryland-Penn State in Philadelphia
South Florida-Florida in Orlando
Louisville-Ohio State in Cincinnati
LSU-Texas in Houston
Auburn-Virginia Tech in Charlotte

Of course, part of what makes most of these games unrealistic is the fact that pollsters are so slavish in their reliance on record that there is little or no benefit to playing difficult out-of-conference games if the sole focus of a program is on winning the national title.


Unknown said...

1. How can you not be pushing for a playoff? That seems to fly in the face of your one man fight against subjectivity. That makes me so angry. There are NO valid arguments against a playoff system.

1a. Ohio State may have a decent bowl record, but I believe they have never beat an SEC team in a bowl game. That is a pretty strong statement.

Michael said...

Yes, there is a valid argument against a playoff and it goes like this: college football's regular season is better than the regular season of any other sport because there is no reset button after the regular season. USC's loss to Stanford mattered so much because it virtually knocked USC out of title contention. No losses in the NFL matter in that way. Personally, I like the idea of a four- or eight-team playoff, but I have concerns that it would eventually turn into some sort of gaudy 16-team monstrosity that would make college football just like every other sport.

Does beating a Miami team that had won 30-something in a row not impress you? Could Miami have won the SEC in 2002? Did Miami have speed?

Anonymous said...

Very good point on #3. I'd add that people (probably as a consequence of watching too many NFL games) always seem to assume a FG attempt for a college placekicker is a sure thing. It's not the pros. They miss all the time.

Fox said...

Michael, Did you really make it through your post without mentioning the whupping the Hokies put on our Wahoos? Or have you just come to expect it?

Unknown said...

A +1 format would be perfect to me.

1. It would have almost no adverse effect on the regular season, there would still be extreme ramifications for every game - especially late.
2. The bowls could stay in place, keeping the President's and Bowl officials happy
3. The money from a (closer to)true NC game would be huge boon to NCAA and the ratings would be out of this world.
4. It would create controversy for the last spot, most likely every year. But many people argue that controversy is good for the game and instead of leaving out an '04 Auburn who is undefeated (and previous examples), you are likely leaving out a 1-2 loss team, still controversial but easier for everyone to swallow.
5. Its wrapped up one week later than current schedule, all the people who bogusly claim "student-athletes" season shouldn't be extended have no footing, and we're done with plenty of time for the meat of NFL playoffs and Super Bowl.

Robert said...

Ohio State has never beaten an SEC team in a bowl game, I believe that is correct (0-7?). As noted, however, they beat Miami in the championship game, and they beat Texas last year in Austin. That makes me think that the "Big 10 teams are slow" theory is an easy excuse. I'm more inclined to believe that they lost to UF last year because UF had a great gameplan, played wonderfully, and OSU came in overconfident.

And to bang on the OSU-Miami game one more time, it is a perfect example of why the +1 system wouldn't work every time. There would have been no reason to play a +1 game in that year. And I'm not sure that a +1 game this year would solve much either. I'm starting to like this whole 4 or 8 team playoff idea, which still gives some meaning to the regular season.

Unknown said...

I would consider a 4 Team playoff and a Plus 1 system the same thing.

4 teams play, the winners then play each other (that's the plus 1).

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Unknown said...

No playoff makes college regular season better than other regular seasons? C'mon. Youre better than that. I don't know if that is the stance Colin Cowherd takes on the subject, but Im guessing it is. You don't want to be like that dude.

And it wasnt USC's loss to Stanford that cost them a national championship shot. It was their second loss to Oregon. Therefor, had USC not lost for a second time, they would probably be penciled into the NC game right now. So that important regular season is not so important when you can take a loss to a 41 point underdog, and still be one of two teams RANDOMLY selected to play. That's a pretty big reset button.

jim said...


Entertaining as usual.

BUT...it was nearly a year ago that you promised to start being more objective about Michigan football after the Big 10's Fiesta Bowl disaster (you had forcefully advocated for a Mich-OSU rematch).

This year your "LesCrush" has destroyed your usual impeccable logic. You have to admit that it was a stupid move by the percentages. I would say, quite generously, that a 25-30 yard touchdown pass attempt stands about a 25% chance of being completed. I don't know Colt David's numbers for the year, but I would bet he's no worse than 60% from that range. Realistically, he's 2-3 times more likely to kick a successful field goal than Flynn is to complete a TD pass in that situation. Shooting from the hip only works every so often.

Anonymous said...

But the point is it wasn't an either/or proposition.

There was very little chance LSU wouldn't have time for the FG attempt any way. There was :04 left on the clock when he caught it, and a delay for the official to make sure it was caught. An incomplete probably leaves a :02 or :03 for the FGA.

Also, if attempted and good, the 39yarder would have been David's longest of the season to date. He was then 0-3 on FGA of 40 or more, following a SO season of 3-7. That means Miles was taking a 25% + 30% shot rather than limiting his team to a single 30% FGA.

South Carolina had an experience similar to UK's over the weekend. Spurrier decided to run the ball into the line three times to milk clock rather than pass for the 1st. Things ended badly.

Michael said...

What CHG said. I blogged about the decision at the end of the Auburn-LSU game. Miles called a play that was the logical call against the defense that he knew Auburn would deploy. There was no way the clock was going to run out on that play. The WR caught the ball with four seconds remaining and only an overly excited Cajun timekeeper made the margin look smaller than it was by letting the clock run down to one second.

Unknown said...

I am still a little on the fence regarding that call, if the clock had been stopped and Miles knew that there were 9-10 seconds when the ball was snapped I think its a pretty smart decision.

But that is a scary scary move to break the huddle with 15 seconds on a moving clock, a lot of factors could effect that play (WR lines up on wrong side and has to run across, AU has better defense set up and Flynn has to flip the field at LOS, etc) - anything like that would have made it the last play.

But I agree that a FG is never a sure thing, although you would hope a 40-42 yarder would have good percentages. All in all, one of my favorite debates and plays of the season, you have to love watching games the Mad Hatter coaches. Although I have a hard time seeing his style go over as well in Ann Arbor.

Robert said...

kennybanya, my understanding is that +1 simply means one game after all the bowls, 1 v. 2. A four team playoff is different from that, no? A four team playoff is 1 v. 4, 2 v. 3, then the winners play. A +1 game format to me is 1 v. 2, then 1 v. new 2.