Sunday, September 27, 2009
Chaos abounded this week, as 6 of the 23 ranked teams that played falling prey to the upset bug. Or the flu bug perhaps. Or maybe even more accurately, they fell victim to the #1 cause of early season upsets; Preseason-itis.
To understand what Preseason-itis is, you must first comprehend what an upset is. On its most basic level in college football, an upset is when a game occurs wherein a ranked team loses to either a lower ranked team or an unranked team. Well, duh. You see, I have to elucidate this point because otherwise some people may not comprehend why a game like Ole' Miss losing to South Carolina was a huge upset. The #4 team in the country losing to an unranked team that had already lost once this season? Huge upset, right?
Two pesky things get in the way of calling the Ole' Miss loss an upset; facts and logic. These two teams played last year, returned all of the same core players (minus Ole' Miss losing two first round NFL draft picks), and the result was exactly the same as it was last year; a one score South Carolina victory. So if this same Ole' Miss team lost to this same South Carolina team, why was there such a huge disparity in their rankings?
My number one pet peeve in college football is early season polls. With the presence of these polls, voters will fall victim to one of three basic human instincts in their voting, which completely skew having an accurate poll early in the season:
1. The Desire to be Right: Filling out a ballot is a significant investment of time and reputation for a voter. So when someone goes out and puts a team like Florida #1 on their ballot in the preseason, naturally they will want to keep them there until they lose. Even if after 4 weeks it is obvious to everyone in the country that this is not the same Florida team as last year, and that Alabama is going to steamroll them by four TDs in the SEC Championship Game. (Purely hypothetical of course) This is the same kind of thinking that is occurring right now to fantasy football owners; I am certain that there are those of you out there that are holding on to LT right now, even though every logical bone in your body is telling you he is not going to do anything this year, because dammit, you spent a 3rd round pick on him and you don't want to look like an idiot.
The symptom that arises from this aspect of Preseason-itis, is the gradual creep of unworthy teams up the polls, sometimes to absurd heights. This year has seen three such instances already. Ole' Miss had ZERO reason for being ranked #4 in the country, Penn State had no business being #5, and LSU has no business being #7, much less getting moved up one or two spots this week because the two aforementioned impostors were exposed ahead of them this week. All three of these teams were able to attain these heights though, because for voters to drop them while they were winning would be to admit the one thing nobody likes to admit; that they were wrong.
2. Pack Mentality: There is a certain magic to poll voting in college football. Somehow the AP Poll, the Coaches Poll, the Harris Poll, and heck, even the "Blogger Poll" on CBS Sportsline, look stunningly alike. Why is that? Did all of these diverse groups of people make the same mistake of putting faith in Ole Miss? In Oklahoma State? In Penn State? In some ways yes, put in one big way, no. They made a different mistake; they wanted to be like everyone else. So they look at the other polls from the week before and they slot winners up (even if they looked bad) and slot winners down (even if they looked good), because that is what the group-think decrees. The reason for this is because going out on a limb is scary, and people tend to point and laugh when you do. For example, Doug Lesmerises was killed in the media this week because he casts a daring, reactive ballot in the AP poll. He committed such acts of blasphemy as ranking Florida #5 (gasp!) and ranking USC as #25 (the horror!). Funny thing is though...want to know two of the teams Doug had ranked lower than almost anyone? Penn State and Ole' Miss, who coincidentally both got "upset" this week. Mr. Lesmerises isn't looking so dumb now, is he?
3. Voting for the Story: Ah, now we are on to the big elephant in the room. Everyone sees it. Everyone knows it. Nobody wants to admit they are going it though. Why is Boise State ranked 8th in the country? Why was a garbage Notre Dame team ranked 18th earlier this year? Why was USC ranked 3rd earlier this year, after losing their starting QB, top 2 two WRs, and almost their entire linebacking corps from last year? Simply put, voters vote for the story many times, not for the teams. Non-BCS team making noise? That's a story. Perennial power rising in the rankings coming off a bad year (Notre Dame, Michigan)? That's a story.
Now here is a story nobody is talking about; for all intents and purposes, as a result of Preseason-itis, Boise State has already clinched a BCS berth. What? Boise is already solidly within the top 12, and does not have a single scary opponent left on their schedule. So on the strength of beating one ranked team (at home mind you), Boise is going to go to a BCS Bowl. The only worse case of this phenomenon was in 2007, when Hawaii went to a BCS bowl in a year when their best non-conference win was against a 4-9 PAC-10 team. Yes, that actually happened.
You see, voting on Boise this year has exhibited all three symptoms of Preseason-itis. They were ranked 14th going into the season, so they have moved up because people want to be right. They are staying in the top ten because of the pack mentality. And they are most clearly a result of voting for the story (you don't think voters aren't thinking of that Orange Bowl upset every-time they vote for Boise?), because their ranking falls victim to one huge logical flaw; they should be ranked behind TCU. Why? Well, TCU was ranked higher than Boise at the end of last year, and in fact BEAT Boise just 9 months ago in a bowl game. Yet somehow both teams are undefeated, but Boise is ranked 7 spots higher. Why? They are a better story than a TCU team that the country is not familiar with, that's why. The real problem is that if TCU does go undefeated, they would have a much stronger resume than Boise (@UVA, @Clemson, @BYU, and vs. Utah), but would fail to get a BCS bid due to poor voting habits. And that would be a true shame.
Unranked Victims of Preseason-itis:
To stay on the theme, here are four teams that should be ranked, but are being held out of the polls:
1. Iowa: While Iowa will probably be ranked by the end of the day due to their upset of Penn State, they should have already been ranked, and ranked highly. Why? Take a look at their schedule. They are 4-0, with wins over Penn State, Iowa State, and Arizona. Ok, who cares about Iowa State and Arizona? Voters should; the four teams that Iowa has beat this season are a combined 12-0 this year against teams not named Iowa. Now there is some food for thought.
2. Auburn: Auburn is 4-0, with a trip to Tennessee this week that should be another easy victory. So far this season they have defeated two BCS teams (Miss. State and West Va.), and have shown an explosive offense that has gone for totals of 37, 41, 49, and 54 points so far this season. You are telling me this team isn't better than Nebraska or UNC?
3. Wisconsin: Wisconsin always plays ugly football. They play defense, and grind it out on the ground on offense. As a result, voters never think of them as a sexy pick. The Badgers stand at 4-0 this year, playing their typical brand of un-sexy football while beating Michigan State and Fresno State already this year.
4. South Carolina: The other USC's only sin this season has been a 4 point loss on the road to a pretty good Georgia team. Other than that, they have beat a better than you think NC State team on the road, as well as "upset" #4 Ole' Miss. How are they not ranked?
On the Field Heisman Rankings:
Oh how the mighty have fallen. A big shakeup in the rankings this week, as Jacory Harris and Jahvid Best both had disastrous days in upset losses to fall out of the rankings. The real story in the Heisman race however, is that there is no story. Nobody seems to want the darn thing this year. Colt McCoy keeps throwing Interceptions. Tim Tebow has not had a single Heisman worthy game. Sam Bradford has missed to much time already to even be considered. So who is left? Tony Pike actually, the only man in the country that has looked like a Heisman winner every week thus far:
1. Tony Pike, Cincy: Pike's resume gets stronger and stronger every week. Adding to his 300+ yard, 3 TD performances over Rutgers and Oregon State earlier this season, Pike put in another outstanding performance against Fresno State. Pike passed for 300 yards and 3 TDs and added another 22 yards on the ground.
2. Case Keenum, Houston: Things didn't look too good for Case, down 28-23 to Texas Tech in the 4th quarter last night. Keenum didn't crack under pressure though, leading the Cougars on a game winning drive late in the 4th to pull ahead 29-28 against the Red Raiders. Keenum put up his typical video game numbers (457 total yards, 2 total TDs) and now has two big time performances against Big 12 teams on his resume.
3. Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech: You might be shocked to see Williams here, but the numbers don't lie; in three games against ranked opponents so far this year he has put up 412 total yards and 5 TDs. Pretty good for a Freshman that only got the job due to an injury to the incumbent.
4. Greg McElroy, Alabama: McElroy is ranked 3rd in the country in QB rating (first amongst BCS QBs) and has looked deadly for what I believe is the best team in the country. With wins against Virginia Tech and Arkansas on his resume, he is looking as good as any QB in the country.
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Sunday, September 20, 2009
So this was Revenge Week eh? You know, the week where Urban Meyer was supposed to pound Lane Kiffin, Pete Carroll was supposed to trash Steve Sarkisian, and Texas was supposed to show Texas Tech the pain of missing out on a national title shot last year. That was this week right?
Revenge Week (you have to love ESPN for those monikers right?) evidently didn't get the invitation to the party, and at the last second another guest arrived; Reveal Week. You see, the casual fan was stunned by this week's developments. USC losing to a Washington team that was 0-11 last year? BYU getting thrashed by a Florida State squad that looked horrible against a I-AA school last week (I will never use FC$ by the way)? Florida having a much tighter game than expected? All shockers. The truth though, is that all of these results merely revealed truths that were already evident to people willing to look at the play on the field this season rather than the names on the jerseys (I'm looking at you poll voters).
First off, USC is not an elite team; not even close. After watching the USC-OSU game last week I texted a friend of mine that is a huge OSU fan to let him know what I got out of watching the game; neither team has any business being in a BCS bowl. This year's incarnation of USC is not a good offensive team. Period. They lost two of their best WRs from last year (one to injury) along with a QB that was a top 10 draft pick, and replaced that trio with a true freshman at QB and two WRs that combined for six catches last year. Why exactly were they expected to be a great offensive team this year? Oh yeah, I forgot, this is USC, and they are always good. Silly me.
And lest I forget, Matt Barkley is the next Joe Montana. I mean, he played so great in that OSU game, and led them to victory on a last second drive!
Except...that never happened.
You see, a ruse was perpetrated on the American public last week. The sports media collectively took a dead cat and tried to sell us a mink coat. The ruse: Matt Barkley had a great game, showed great poise, and was the hero of the comeback drive against OSU. The reality: Barkley had a bad game, and Joe McKnight was the hero of the winning drive. Seriously, did anyone watch that game? Just as a refresher, here are Barkley's stats:
15-31, 195 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT
Just look at those for a second, and I think you'll see what I see. Under 50% passing? Check. Under 200 yards? Check. Negative TD/INT ratio? Check. Color me confused, but I do not understand how this performance was being billed as a breakout performance for Barkley. The numbers don't lie; he played poorly. In the wake of USC's loss to Washington, almost every story on the game has noted that the 13 points and 110 passing yards are historic lows for the Trojans. Not a single story noted that those numbers were only slightly worse than last week's performance of 18 points and 195 passing yards. What that tells me (sorry Trojan fans) is that USC's passing offense is not going to get much better once Barkley returns. USC has five tough games left on their schedule (@Cal, @Notre Dame, Oregon State, @Oregon, UCLA), and it would be no surprise if they lost more than one of them.
Now that we have seen why USC losing should not have been totally unexpected, why exactly did Florida have so much trouble with Tennessee? Same song, second verse my friends. Just as voters seemed to ignore that USC lost Mark Sanchez and Patrick Turner and had little to replace them, they have also ignored the fact that Florida lost play-makers. In Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy, the Gators lost their top two receivers from a year ago, along with their top rusher not named Tebow. And the guy that was supposed to step in and be Percy Harvin 2.0, Andre Debose? Season ending surgery without playing a down. Still curious about why the Gators didn't throw 50 on the Vols? Short answer; they couldn't. This Gators team is all Tebow, all the time. Do you think SEC teams are really scared of Riley Cooper and David Nelson? Nah, me either.
While Florida should easily win the SEC East, they won't escape a schedule with LSU, Georgia, Arkansas, South Carolina, and Florida State without a loss, and I doubt they have the firepower to beat Alabama in an SEC title game match-up. This Florida team looks a lot more like the 9-4 team of two years ago than the 13-1 squad of last year. At some point the voters will recognize that fact.
What You Weren't Watching:
I must confess, I have a guilty pleasure when it comes to college football. I love watching the bottom of the Top 25 throughout the season. The overachievers. The underachievers. The comeback kids. Most years, teams 21-25 are exponentially more entertaining than teams 1-5. And this week featured one of my favorite types of games; a Top 25 play-in game. Didn't see it on the schedule? Oh, it was there. Auburn-West Virgina. Two BCS conference teams in similar states of transition that found themselves at 2-0, coming off disappointing seasons and featuring question marks at key positions. For WVU; can Jarrett Brown be the next Pat White? For Auburn; can Gus Malzahn work his wizardy as offensive coordinator on an offense that was putrid last year? The winner would find themselves at 3-0, and most likely comfortably nestled into the 24th or 25th spot in the polls, after Nebraska, Utah, Georgia Tech, and Oregon State lost earlier in the day.
(Side-note: Why are people pretending Mizzou is a ranked team? They lost the two best players off a 10-4 team that lost to almost every good team they played, and have a three game stretch coming up of Nebraska-Oklahoma State-Texas. They are going 0-3 in those games, take it to the bank.)
Auburn prevailed in a shootout 41-30, a third straight impressive offensive performance for the Mighty Malzahns of Auburn Land. With a horrible Ball State team coming to town next week followed by a trip to offensively crippled Tennessee (do you think Jonathan Crompton is going to lead the Vols to 30-40 points in a single SEC game this season?), the Tigers are poised to be 5-0 heading into mid-October. Pretty good for a team that went 5-7 last year.
On the Field Heisman Rankings:
So what exactly do I mean by "on the field"? Simply put, these rankings don't factor in last year, two years ago, who you play for, or what people expected before the season. The obvious difference between these rankings and most out right now, is that you are going to see a distinct lack of Tebow and McCoy. Both QBs had their first marquee chances of the season this week, and both disappointed. Tebow had under 200 total yards against Tennessee with no passing TDs and an interception. McCoy only had 210 total yards while also posting a negative TD/INT ratio against Texas Tech. You won't see either of these guys in my rankings until they earn it on the field. Now, on to the rankings:
1. Jacory Harris, Miami (Fl.): This one is a no brainer. Two nationally televised games against ranked conference opponents. Two upset wins. Two 3 TD games by the precocious sophomore Harris. And guess what? Harris has his third straight chance this week, with another national TV shot against a ranked conference opponent in Virginia Tech.
2. Jahvid Best, Cal: In each of his first three games this year, Best has gone for 140+ yards from scrimmage and multiple TDs, highlighted by his scoring of all 5 TDs against Minnesota this weekend. Three straight big games, including two non-conference wins against BCS conference opponents, means Best is having the er...best start by any running back in the country.
3. Tony Pike, Cincy: While nobody has been watching, Pike has orchestrated two big road wins for the Bearcats, trashing Big East favorite Rutgers in Week 1 and topping a ranked Oregon State team this weekend, going for 330+ yards and 3 TDs in both contests. The only QB with a more impressive set of victories is Harris, and that is why he is #1.
4. Case Keenum, Houston: The rest of the Heisman conversation belongs to the stat kings, and Keenum has the advantage of being the only big number passer with a marquee victory this season, going for 366 yards and 4 total TDs in upsetting Oklahoma State last week.
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