Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Random Thoughts from the Weekend

Boo Head-to-head Tiebreakers!

If you're looking for a good argument against head-to-head as a tie-breaker, take a gander at the ACC Coastal. Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech finished tied at 5-3. Georgia Tech has:

  • A better overall record;

  • A higher ranking using all three of Sagarin's measures (the Jackets would be a two-point favorite on a neutral field, per the Sagarin Predictor);

  • A better yards per play on offense (6.12 to 4.6) and defense (4.78 to 4.89). In fact, Virginia Tech is that rarest of "champions" to be outgained on a per-play basis; and

  • A better per-game scoring differential (7.3 to 3.7).

I can't see any measure that would lead one to conclude that Virginia Tech is better than Georgia Tech this year. Nevertheless, the Hokies are going to the ACC Title Game on the strength of a three-point win in Blacksburg in which the Hokies were outgained by 140 yards. The love affair with head-to-head tiebreakers reminds me a little of NFL fans' blithe acceptance of the notion of a six-loss team being declared "champion" over a one-loss team: it requires submission to an arbitrary rule that elevates the small sample size over the larger one.

Boo Dabo Swinney!

So Clemson has hired Dabo Swinney on the basis of a sterling 4-2 finish for the Tigers, despite the fact that he's never been a coordinator. Am I pointing out the obvious when I mention the following three names: Ray Goff, Bobby Williams, and Bill Stewart? I suppose it's possible that all of Clemson's ills were caused by Tommy Bowden and Rob Spence and that Swinney will assemble a good staff, recruit well, and turn out just fine. That said, that's an awfully thin resume for a head coach at one of the ACC's premier programs.

Boo Lane Kiffin!

I also hate the Lane Kiffin hire. (And no, I'm not intentionally trying to be Statler & Waldorf here.) Kiffin's resume is certainly fuller than Swinney's, but I still don't like what's on it. I'm willing to overlook Kiffin's time with the Raiders because that toxic waste dump of a franchise can destroy anyone's ability to look good. I'm more focused on Kiffin's time at USC. He was co-coordinator in 2005 when USC had ludicrous offensive talent and was only one year removed from Norm Chow. The USC offense took a serious step back in 2006 when those two conditions no longer existed. Kiffin is touted as a great recruiter at USC, but it's not as if the Trojans' recruiting has suffered since he left. Something tells me that Pete Carroll's personality and the fact that USC is the NFL franchise for the nation's second-largest market have more to do with the annual parade of five-star players who sign with the Trojans. As with Swinney, the only compelling case to be made for Kiffin is the fact that he'll bring in his dad to coach the defense and the Orgeron to coach the defensive line. What does it say about a head coach when the best thing that can be said about him is that he'll bring in assistants who are better than he is? I'm frustrated that Tennessee didn't hire Brian Kelly, mainly because I wanted them to keep him away from Notre Dame.

Boo Tony Barnhart!

And while we're on the subject of the Vols' coaching search, how about Tony Barnhart letting out his inner neanderthal:

Tennessee fans might want to rethink Mike Leach: Don’t get me wrong. I like to watch Leach’s Texas Tech teams play. And the Red Raiders have had a wonderful season. But Saturday night at Oklahoma it was time to play big boy football on the road and the Sooners destroyed Texas Tech 65-21. Understand that in the SEC you have to play three or four of these types of games every season. These are physical football games where finesse tends to get overwhelmed by brute strength. Alabama will be that kind of team as long as Nick Saban is there. Leach is a good coach but not a fit for Tennessee or the SEC.
I don't know where to begin with this. Maybe with the fact that Oklahoma apparently plays big boy football this year, but not last year when the Red Raiders beat them. And Oklahoma plays big boy football, but Texas does not. And there's no acknowledgment that maybe Leach has accomplished something by getting good, but not great talent to 11-1, or that Leach might be able to accomplish really big things if he had Tennessee talent instead of Texas Tech talent. And wasn't brute strength supposed to overwhelm finesse and prevent Urban Meyer's offense from succeeding in the SEC? If Mike Leach isn't a fit for the SEC, then that's an indictment of the SEC. Barnhart is one of the best college football writers out there, but he occasionally lets loose a bad General Neyland impression. He ends up sounding like the Japanese generals in World War II who swore that Japan did not need to develop radar because their eyes could see just fine.


Anonymous said...

Many are poo-pooing the Kiffin hire, but as a Vol fan I think it is a huge upgrade. What Tennessee needs and hasn't had in the last 16 years is a coach that understands his weaknesses and knows how to surround himself with a top notch staff. Would you rather have Martinez or Monte Kiffin as your DC?

Kiffin could certainly turn out to be a bust, but the staff is looking dramatically better. Teams like UGA, Bama and Florida will now have to prepare for Tennessee as opposed to simply showing up and systematically picking apart the the antiquated and poorly coached "schemes".

As far as recruiting is concerned, it will be interesting to see if you hypothesis (Anybody can recruit at USC) is correct or if Tennessee will begin to immediately upgrade its talent level. The talent (aside from QB) isn't that bad now, it just needs some competent coaching.

Anonymous said...

Sample size is not a cure all. The Cubs were probably a better team than the Dodgers, and the Rays were probably a better team than the Phillies.

But to argue that we need to use a myriad of statistics to determine the BETTER TEAM, which is ultimately a subjective determination, when we have the results of a head-to-head matchup sitting right in front of us, is like using a slegdehammer to crack a nut.

It's only arbitrary to the extent that the results of any single game are somewhat arbitrary, as in the better team doesn't always win. But if this bothers you so much, I don't know how you can actually watch any sport. There is an inherent arbitrariness and fortuitousness in sports that makes them what they are. You're embracing those aspects with one hand while pushing it away with the other.

It sounds like your beef is with any kind of postseason matchup AT ALL. The only resolution that would seem to appease you is for teams to play 12 regular season games and then simply determine the champion based on a statistical examination of those 12 games.

Jeff said...

I tend to agree with most of what you write but your idea that comparing team's stats is more important than head-to-head results puzzles me. If we took your argument to a logical conclusion, we should just ignore W-L record, let teams play a bunch of games and compare the stats, then anoint the team with the best numbers #1.

Also, your argument about GT and VT highlights the key difference with the OU-Texas dispute. They played on a neutral field and Texas played at Texas Tech while OU hosted Texas Tech. If home field advantage is worth 7 points, that makes Texas's loss to Texas Tech less damning.

In any event, you seem to be focusing on offensive stats a bit too much. Frankly, I don't care that Oklahoma's been putting up 60 and Texas has only been putting up 45 because Texas actually plays some D. I fail to see how winning games 61-41 is a good thing. I mean offense is great but shouldn't voters care that OU doesn't stop anyone?

Michael said...

Anon, do you really want to count on Monte Kiffin being around for a long period of time? He's 69. How long is he going to be the DC in Knoxville? Once he's gone, what is there to recommend his son? Saying that he's better than Fulmer is damning with faint praise.

Not a VT Fan, you make some good points. My point is that I like the idea of BCS rankings being the tie-breaker over head to head because the former at least attempts (however imperfectly) to take the whole season into account. The problem with the ACC's tie-breaker is that VT's win over GT is that every other measure shows that GT is a better team. As for your first paragraph, you've illustrated what is so dumb about baseball. The teams play 162 games and then elevate a five-game series in importance over a six-month season.

Jeff, I agree with you that homefield comes into play with Texas-OU. As I've said, I think the position that Texas should get the nod is quite reasonable. I disagree with you on the defenses. Read my statistical comparison again. OU allows fewer yards per play and forced almost twice as many turovers. OU gives up more points because they play at a fast pace and score so quickly, so their opponents end up with more possessions and plays than Texas's do.

Anonymous said...


RE: Kiffin. He doesn't have significantly less experience that several other guys that were given their first shot with ZERO head coaching experience. Stoops and Richt come to mind.

I can't get a straight answer on the USC stuff. Some seem to think that it was all chow and it all went to hell once Kiffin was involved. Others speak highly of Kiffin.

In Kiffin's first year USC went 6-6 and lost to Utah in a no-name bowl. Its not like they had an assembly line of 5-star recruits rolling in at that time. He was recruiting coordinator, was responsible for 49 states at USC, and brought in numerous 5-star recruits from NJ, Tennessee, etc.

I don't mind if his primary focus is recruiting, as long as he surrounds himself with top shelf assistants. Look at LSU. Look at PSU. The figure head/CEO model can work.

Jeff said...

I see the numbers re Oklahoma's D but just don't buy it--every time I turn around, it looks like they've given up 30-40 to another average team. It's like they're in the old WAC. Maybe I just don't think this kind of statistical analysis works in a sport where half the games are blow-outs against inferior teams. (To be clear, I think margin of victory is absolutely essential to any legitimate valuation but once you get past a few scores, it's all gravy IMHO.)

And by the way, if your point was to show that VT sucked this year, you succeeded admirably. But you do have to give that D some credit for playing as well as it has while on the field for the vast majority of each game.

Anonymous said...

Michael said:

"The problem with the ACC's tie-breaker is that VT's win over GT is that every other measure shows that GT is a better team."

This is just a victim-mentality. The ability to beat VT was within GT's hands. That loss didn't just HAPPEN to them; they had the ability and opportunity to beat VT. They didn't. This isn't a PROBLEM with the tie-breaker; it's a PROBLEM with GT not WINNING a game that turned out to be key. In fact, it's not a problem at all. It happens all the time.

As for your first paragraph, you've illustrated what is so dumb about baseball. The teams play 162 games and then elevate a five-game series in importance over a six-month season.

Putting aside my disagreement with the statement that baseball is dumb, this is true in EVERY sport. (See e.g. Giants v. Patriots). Name a sport where the postseason is longer than the regular season....

Got one? The NBA may be the closest. Again, it appears the only solution to the "problem" you mention (which, I believe, is merely a conjured problem) is for the teams to only play a regular season and then DEEM a champion without any postseason whatsoever. But that's not what you want, is it?

Again, the BETTER team doesn't always win. But that's why we keep watching. If the best team always won, then eventually NO ONE would agree to play against that team, and they'd be forced to scrimmage against themselves. That's just sad and pathetic, and likely to lead to gross acts of mischieviousness on the part of those bored, competitorless athletes.

Michael said...

Jeff, you're lying eyes deceive you. Oklahoma was the only team to shut down Texas Tech. They did well against Cincy and TCU. Their defense has been suspect in certain games (OSU and the two Kansas teams), but on the whole, they've been better than Texas.

Regarding VT, I do have respect for that defense, although I'd add that they didn't play a murderer's row of offenses. What annoys me about VT is that they prosper while continuing to totally ignore one side of the ball.

NaVTF, you're in my wheelhouse now.

1. Yes, GT had the power to beat VT head-to-head. VT also had the power not to lose more games than GT. My point is that we ought to use 12 games to compare two teams instead of one.

2. You want leagues that favor the big sample size over the small one? How about the English Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, the Bundesliga, the Portuguese Campeonato, the Eredivisie, and every other pro soccer league in the world (with the exception of MLS). They all determine their champion in a way that values the regular season: each team plays each other team home and away and the team with the best record is the champion. College football is not dissimilar in that it crowns its champion on the basis of the entire season, as opposed to hitting the reset button after the regular season. Thus, college football's regular season is much more interesting than the regular seasons of college basketball and the American pro sports.

Your citation of the Giants and Patriots just feeds my argument. The NFL (and every other American pro sport) eviscerates the word "champion" when they apply it to a team that lost six games over the team that lost one.

Anonymous said...

Dude, Kiffin is and will be an unmitigated disaster at Tenn.

WRT Barnhardt. Has he lost his damn mind? Has he not watched the Big 12 South this year, or has he been blinded by the mediocrity of this year's SEC? I mean really, what is this nonsense about playing 3-4 of "these types of games every season."

Am I missing something, or is he missing the fact that Texas played OU, Missouri, OSU, and TT, in consecutive weeks. Each of those teams was ranked in the top 12 at the time Texas played them. Meanwhile, TT played Texas, OSU, and OU consecutively, all ranked in top 5 when TT played them. Moreover, OU also played Texas, OSU, and TT, this year.

What in the world is Barnhardt talking about? UF and Ala didn't even play this year, and but for the SEC championship this year, wouldn't have otherwise met. None of this year's LSU, Tenn., Auburn, MSU, SC, UK, teams were any good (at all), Georgia was mediocre despite it's pre-season hype, and the only legitimate teams in this year's SEC were UF and Alabama (and I'll grudgingly throw Ole Miss in there as well since they had a winning season under the right reverend, but they had one or two really bad losses over the course of the season).

Please. Barnhardt couldn't be farther off this week.

Jeff said...

Mikey, maybe I'm misunderstanding your point but you seem to be suggesting that leagues should let teams play a certain period of time against one another, add up all the stats and then give a champ to the one with the best stats? (You know, like a fantasy baseball league.) But the whole point of sports is to play a game and win as many as you can. And, if two teams play (especially on a neutral field), the winner is, well, the winner. Basically, you're saying that anytime a playoff or championship game upset occurs, the winner should just hand over the trophy to the loser. Actually, they just shouldn't play the championship game in years when one participant is clearly better than the other. So we never should have had 2002 Fiesta Bowl or that 2005 Rose Bowl and should have ignored teh results of that 1992 Sugar Bowl and 1986 Orange Bowl in awarding teh National Champions). Becuase we know who was really better.

Sorry, I'm just not buying it.