Contra Mozilla

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Seven Quick Takes Friday (vol. 6)--Lots About Football

Since I've been talking about college football-related stuff anyway, here's my thoughts on the play-off for next year: it's not necessarily going to be an improvement. Sure, we move to 4 teams rather than 2, but there have been some years during which those four teams were (arguably) not the best 4 in the country. If we went based on BCS ranking, more often than not, the four picked are certainly not the best four: see, for example, 2008 when the BCS ranking would have given us Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, and Alabama but left out USC (which finished 12-1 and ranked #3), Penn State (which finished 11-2, with one loss being the blowout loss to USC in the bowl game), and Utah (finished undefeated, included a sound beating of...Alabama in the bowl game), not to mention the Texas Teach team which at that point was also part of the 3-way tie in the Big 12. Another year which stands out is 2007, in which we would have had (presumably) Ohio State, LSU, Oklahoma, and Virginia Tech, but not the West Virginia team which drubbed OU, nor the Kansas team which beat Virginia Tech in its bowl game, nor the USC team which was left out of the championship (against LSU, which most of the country wanted to see anyway) thanks to a loss to Stanford, nor the Missouri team whose two losses both came to OU but which beat Kansas, nor the Georgia team which ended up ranked second.
Unbeaten? Check. Beat several ranked opponents? Check. No unbeaten teams from power conferences? Check. Played for or split the national championship that year? No check.

One might argue that this is a relatively anomalous pair of years, but I think these would be the rule rather than the exceptions. For example, does the committee take 11-1 Oregon or the 11-2 Stanford team which beat them, or both (leaving out 11-1 Kansas State, plus 10-2 LSU/A&M/Florida/Georgia, or the Lousville Team which beat that Florida team)? Or after the 2000 season, in which Washington, Oklahoma (the eventual champion), Miami, Florida State, and Oregon State, and arguably Virginia Tech all have a strong case for playing in the play-offs.

The counter-argument is that in even these cases I named, it's better to have 4 teams than 2, and besides, there are years like 2003 and 2004 (USC-Oklahoma-LSU/Auburn). Why go to 8 teams when most years there aren't 8 "worthy teams?" Indeed, there are the occasional years like this when 4 is better than 2--but can we really claim that 6-8 would not be better than 4? In 2004, for example, we'd have both Texas and Call in the playoffs with 6. In 2007 and 2008 we'd get all of the realistic contenders. As for having "unworthy teams" make it into the mix: I'd rather a quick out in round 1 in which #1 destroys #8 * than watch as #5 gets left out, given that more often than not, #5 has as strong a case as #4 or even #'s1-3 (that 2008 USC team probably would have mauled either Florida or Oklahoma, and the Utah team of that same year did maul Alabama).
A split national championship--just like every other year before the BCS.

The problem with the BCS is that it promised us the 2 tops teams would play, but then failed to convince many fans that the two teams playing really were the top 2 (sometimes, that either team was in the top 2). Yet, everybody mostly accepts the outcome that the winner of the BCS championship game is the national champion, case closed (the sole real exception is the AP/BCS split championship between USC and LSU). Adding two more teams give the illusion of closing the case, when in fact it will tend to make more teams feel more strongly about being "left out" in a given year. In essence, it leaves us in the same place as the BCS leaves us: picking a champion the same way as before (we've just changed whose vote counts in the polls), albeit with games between the "top" 4 teams rather than 2.

*As is the BCS championship game has been close year after year. More often than not, we get games like last year's and not games like USC-Texas.

Which brings up a third take on this subject: how would I have set up a play-off? If we're going to stick to 4 teams, I would have placed the explicit requirement that only conference champions are eligible. Yes, this leaves out a handful of "worthy" teams (Texas 2008, Oregon State 2000, Oklahoma 2003...), but it is at least somewhat objective. At least we don't ever get stuck with 4 teams from 2 conferences, or worse, 3 from the same conference. The committee then decides which 4 conferences likely produce the best team.

But 4 teams is not actually my favored schedule. My actual favorite version of a play-off, and one which has I think 0% chance of ever occurring, would be a variable teams play-off. The committee is allowed to pick between 4-8 teams, with 2-3 rounds as necessary. The pairing would be as usual (1 vs 8, 2 vs 7, 3 vs 6, etc), but any unpaired team gets a by (so, if 7 teams play, # 1 gets a bye, if 6 then so does #2... and if 4, then only need 2 rounds). In a three-round playoff, the first round is hosted by the higher seeded teams.  This means that no really deserving teams get left out (#9 has a much weaker case than #5 in any given year), but also maintains the best teams in any given year. Thus, if there are four clear favorites (e.g. 2011's LSU-Alabama-Stanford-Oklahoma State), then there is no need to add in teams 5-8. On the other hand, if we have a year in which seemingly every team loses once, there is room for 8. Of course, the drawback comes in years when there are 3 clear favorites--do we play 8 teams to give no unfair advantages, or 4 because that's the minimum, and then hope that the #4 seed loses early?

Since I didn't get these off on Friday and have therefore seen a few scores, and since we're on football anyway: how about those upsets? Auburn* over A&M will make a lot of folks round these parts feel sad, but now that A&M has two losses, fans of other leagues should start to root for them to win (especially against now 6-0 Mizzou). Also, that Oregon win over Tennessee is looking better and better as the Vols dispatched South Carolina and played Georgia close. Louisville is now officially out of the mix (barring a rash of upsets--I think they get passed by 1-loss teams from any major conference). And there are a few potential BCS-busters still standing: Fresno, N. Illinois, and Houston, though Fresno hasn't kicked off as of the time of my writing this. Those who are suffering SEC-fatigue should root first for your own team, and then for Oregon, or (for the Huskies and Beavers fans) for Florida Sate/Miami/Clemson. Sorry Baylor, but I don't think you have a very good shot of winning the whole thing--though stranger things have happened.

*Speaking of which, suddenly the PAC-12 looks even strong against the SEC: Washington State lost a close one at Auburn, but is sitting second from the bottom of the Pac-12 North. Auburn is now in second in the SEC West.

Technically, as an Oregon State fan, I should be rooting against the ducks, and as a Texas fan, I should also be rooting for Baylor to lose at least one game (to UT). Actually, the game I most want to see is Oregon vs Baylor. I think that the best chance for this to happen would be either Stanford's running the table or an upset in the PAc-12 championship game, and either a 1-loss Baylor team's winning the Big 12 or two teams from power conferences' (Ohio State, Clemson/FSU/Miami, Alabama/Missouri) going undefeated to play in the national championship with an undefeated Baylor team. Suffice to say that I find the former more likely than the latter. Unfortunately, the college football gods hate the fans, so much as we want either Oregon/Alabama or Oregon/Baylor, my more cynical self suspects that we will get neither (e.g. an Oregon-FSU national championship, or FSU/Alabama with Baylor suffering two upsets, etc).

Advice to my young assistant, who has a frustrating roommate: surviving a bad roommate makes you a better person. Someday, if you get married, you will have to learn to put up with all of the annoying habits of your spouse. Your children may add a few habits of their own, and they probably won't leave you alone to do your own thing, either. Moreover, you will be a happier person for it.


Meanwhile, in Russia:


Seven Quick Takes Friday is hosted by Mrs Jennifer Fulwiler at her Conversion Diary blog.

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