Monday, October 30, 2006

Train Wreck .com

I know, I know. My life would be far less stressful if I stopped watching/reading ESPN. But, much like a horrific train wreck, I can't pry my eyes away from the computer screen.

Far another little glimpse into the bias of ESPN (which is even worse, believe it or not, than the bias at Fox News...), check out this little nugget from Ivan Maisel:

"...only No. 11 Notre Dame resembled a candidate for a national championship. The Irish did so because they played Navy, a team long on guts and precision and short and light in categories like height and weight."

Fill in the blank: __________ has 4 wins in Div. I-A, a win over a Div. I-AA opponent, and only one of their three losses was to an unranked team.

Choices: Navy, Oregon State

Actually, its a trick question. Either team could fill in that blank. However, Navy's lone loss was to 7-1 Tulsa, who is just barely unranked, clocking in as the highest vote getter outside the top 25 in both polls. Oregon State's unranked loss was to Washington State, who got no votes in the AP poll, and has only half the votes that Tulsa does in the ESPN poll.

But somehow, a loss to Oregon State looked better to the pollsters this week than a 24-point win over the Midshipmen.

Now, the media is also painting the Irish into a corner that they can't get out of, and it has nothing to do with their play on the field:

"Given that the Irish's three opponents in the interim -- North Carolina, Air Force and Army -- are a combined 7-17, a potential USC victory is all Notre Dame had going for it."

Now, I understand that strength of schedule is a great way to separate the wheat from the chaff among 1-loss teams, but the strength of schedule manipulation that is going on in the media is ridiculous. A loss to #11 Michigan is somehow bad because it is early in the season, but people are saying now that the Buckeyes could lose to the Wolverines and still be in the championship. Last week, the Irish were contenders to get into the championship with a big win over Southern Cal, but this week, through no fault of Notre Dame, beating the hell out of Southern Cal isn't going to be good enough. Forget that the pollsters still have them ranked #9. Also, strength of schedule wasn't even mentioned during the first half of the season, when the Irish played the toughest schedule in the country. But now, when the Irish are playing the weaker part of their schedule, it becomes a big issue.

Also, when the Irish put together this schedule, it looked like a tough schedule. Michigan, Penn State, Southern Cal, Georgia Tech, Michigan State, Purdue, and Stanford were all BCS teams that are often ranked - indeed, Michigan and Southern Cal are perennially expected to be top 10 teams. And in many ways, the schedule has lived up to its billing. Michigan is #2. USC is #9. Georgia Tech is currently #20, and had been ranked as high as #13. Penn State is hovering just outside the top 25, and had been ranked as high as #19. By the end of the year, we will have played 8 bowl teams, and probably 3 BCS participants. But because the next three weeks we play Army, North Carolina, and Air Force, our schedule is considered "weak." Forget that North Carolina is a BCS conference team, and that Air Force is leading the Mountain West conference. Only Army is clearly a weak team, but with three wins, they are doing better this year than many BCS conference teams, including Duke, Northwestern, Mississippi, and Mississipi State.

Here is another thing that bugs me. Somehow, conference games are considered to be tough, even against the lowly teams in the conference (see: Auburn - Ole Miss). But because Notre Dame doesn't have a conference per se, their annual opponents (Navy, Purdue, Michigan State, Southern Cal, Michigan, Stanford) aren't considered the same way that "tough" conference games are in the Big 12. When Southern Cal plays Stanford, that will be a tough conference game, but when we do, we are scheduling weak opponents. We play Stanford just as often, the familiarity is the same. And the pundits speak as if Notre Dame schedules them each year so they play a patsy. That just isn't true. For example, Notre Dame schedules Navy each year because Navy saved the University during World War II, and at the time the series was made permanent, the service academies were THE powers in college football. But in this day and age of "what have you done for me lately," the integrity displayed by both schools in the continuance of the tradition, Notre Dame takes a hit for "dumbing down" its schedule.

So, I'm conceding (reluctantly) our chance of playing in the Championship game. We could stomp all over Southern Cal, be the one-loss team with the toughest schedule in the country, having lost only to the top-ranked team, and some pansy from the SEC will get in because they had a "tough" conference schedule.


Sunday, October 29, 2006

Poll Hypocrisy

Last night, I was at C.J.'s pub hanging out with some law school friends (and a couple of players), and the conversation turned to the polls. Auburn barely adged out a BAD 2-7 Ole Miss team, Texas needed last minute heroics by the refs to keep 5-3 Texas Tech from winning, and Tennessee was trailing going into the 4th quarter, and only a Spurrier implosion allowed them to survive the week.

Several of my friends pointed at the close calls by one loss teams against crappy teams, and prognosticated that Notre Dame would move up in the polls after a big win, dropping other teams under the same logic that allowed pollsters to drop Notre Dame after close wins. They all agreed, nearly unanimously, that USC's loss to a crappy Oregon State team would drop them out of the top 10, allowing us to move up at least one spot.

I knew better. I told them that every other 1-loss team would move up a spot, Notre Dame would stay the same, and USC would drop down to the spot in front of Notre Dame.

I was too optimistic.

Notre Dame, the only 1-loss team this week to cover their spread, actually dropped a spot in the AP poll, being passed by Cal (who had a bye week), and USC dropped only six spots after losing to an unranked team, staying ahead of the Irish in both polls.

Here's what the media had to say about yesterday's games:
Auburn "slipped out of another SEC road trap" against "gritty Mississippi" and the Auburn "BCS title hopes [are] still alive."
Volunteers "hold strong against Gamecocks, stay in BCS title hunt," as they avoid "Spurrier's hex" and intercepted a "desperation heave," which they only had to do because "Ainge was out with a bad ankle on the [previous] series."
Texas "overcame four turnovers and erased the bad deficit" to win through "confidence and perseverance," and were only trailing because "Texas Tech played as well as [Mack Brown has] ever seen them play," and Texas Tech QB Harrell "had been nearly perfect in the first half" and even the big lead they overcame was "helped along by a fumble recovery."

Notice that nowhere in there does the media say that the 5-3 Red Raiders "struggled in the second half" or that 2-7 Ole Miss "made too many mistakes when it counted," or even that in their win over 5-2 South Carolina, Tennessee "didn't play well until the end." All of these things were said about Notre Dame's close wins over 3-0 Michigan State and 4-2 UCLA.

Even worse, the Irish dropped from #2 in the AP poll to #12 (10 spots) after losing to then #11, and currently undefeated #2 Michigan. However, after losing to unranked 4-3 Oregon State, USC drops only 6 spots, from #3 to #9. So, apparently, losing to the second best team in the country is somehow worse than losing to a Pac-10 also-ran.

This kind of blatant hypocrisy and bias is why college football needs a playoff. And at this point, the rankings are no longer defensible with vague "body of work" justifications.

Somebody please defend this for me, 'cause I just don't get it:

Notre Dame (7-1)
GAME: Close Win over 0-0 Georgia Tech 14-10 (currently leading ACC, ranked #20)
RESULT: Notre Dame drops in both polls
GAME: Big Win over 1-0 #19 (AP and ESPN) Penn State (currently 4th in Big Ten) 41-17
RESULT: Notre Dame moves back up to #2 in AP, up to #3 in ESPN
GAME: Big Loss to #11 AP/#13 ESPN Michigan (currently leading Big Ten, unanimous #2) 47-21
RESULT: Notre Dame drops 10 spots in both polls
GAME: Close Win over 3-0 Michigan State (has tanked since this game)
RESULT: Dropped one spot in ESPN poll, stayed same in AP poll
GAME: Big Win over 4-0 Purdue (has tanked since this game)
RESULT: Moved up two spots in ESPN poll, stayed same in AP poll
GAME: Big Win over 0-5 Stanford 31-10
RESULT: Moved up 3 spots in AP, 4 in ESPN
RESULT: Dropped one spot in AP poll
GAME: Close Win over 4-2 UCLA (top 10 defense) 20-17
RESULT: Dropped 2 spots in ESPN poll (passed by Florida, who had a bye, and Tennessee, who also had a close win)
GAME: Big Win over 5-2 Navy 38-14
RESULT: Dropped one spot in AP poll (passed by Cal, who had a bye)

Averaged drop after losses for the top 1-loss teams (week of the loss, and overall change in ranking since the loss):
Notre Dame by 26 to #11 Michigan: week of: -10 change since: -1
Auburn by 17 to unranked Arkansas: week of: -8 change since: +1
Texas by 17 to #1 Ohio State: week of: -6 change since: +4
USC by 2 to unranked Oregon State: week of: -6 change since: N/A
Tennessee by 1 to #7 Florida: week of: -2 change since: +11
California by 17 to #23 Tennessee: week of: -12 change since: +12

At this point, I'm willing to begin entertaining conspiracy theories, as Notre Dame is held to a double standard. Winning big over a bowl team in an away game drops us in the polls. But winning close games against bad teams allow other teams to move up. Taking a bye week makes us drop in the rankings compared to teams who win games that week. However, other teams' bye weeks allow them to pass us, even though we win a game that week.

Notre Dame should lead the charge to do away with the BCS and institute a playoff. And don't tell me it can't be done - Division I-AA, II, and III already do it.