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Saturday, January 10, 2009

College Football 2008

Now that the season's over, it's time to review and rank.

The Matrix offers us rankings based on three basic ideas-efficiency, performance, and win/loss record. Efficiency is based on yards per play. the efficiency ratings presented here are adjusted for the strength of a team's competition and weighted appropriately. Performance is a team's capacity to score or prevent the scoring of points. Finally, the Elo rating is based exclusively on the win/loss record of a team and of its opponents. I use a hybrid rating that combines these three to rank all 120 D-IA college football teams.

Florida comes in at #1. USC, Oklahoma, Texas and Penn State fill out the top 5. Utah and TCU then represent the MWC at 6 and 7 despite having weak schedules (71 and 55, respectively).

Oklahoma scores the nation's best offense (with Florida coming in second) and USC the nation's best defense (TCU at number 2). Oklahoma had the best passing offense and Oregon the most effective run offense (just ask Oklahoma State about that offense).

Oklahoma also had the toughest schedule (playing in the Big 12 and national championship games bulked a schedule that already included the rest of the Big 12 South, TCU and the Big East champ). Washington had the second toughest schedule, but navigated it less well than OU.

The Apple Cup was everythign we thought it would be, including the two worst BCS conference teams in the country. Despite winning the game, Washington State still managed to wrestle the title of worst BCS conference team from Washington.

But is was a team in Texas that wrote the book on futility. North Texas had the nation's worst defense (again) and a really bad offense measured both in terms of scoring and efficiency.

Bowl Results

Things were going very well until I went 0 for 4 the last four bowl games. Still, the Matrix was 53% against the spread. It correctly predicted 67% of winners, which isn't too impressive until you recognize that the Vegas line only picked the winner 53% of the time. At times, the Matrix seemed prophetic, picking Utah over Alabama and hitting the Boise State/TCU game on the nose. But then it estimated that Oregon State and Pitt would combine for 56 points. All in all, it was a topsy turvy bowl season, but the Matrix weathered it relatively well.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Time for a Change-the MWC and the BCS

I asked at the beginning of the year how many wins the MWC could pull off against BCS conference teams. The answer was 9. They finished 9-5 against the BCS with wins over almost every team in the Pac-10 and traditional powerhouses Michigan and Alabama. And San Diego State, easily the worst team in the conference, almost pulled out a W against the Domers.

If we include Boise State (and the Mountain West should be working hard to net Boise as its 10th team), the MWC+Boise State would have wins over every team in the Pac-10 except Washington State (lack of opportunity), Cal (the only Pac-10 team to pull out a regular season victory against the Mountain West), and USC (lack of opportunity?).

And we should note that Utah beat Alabama not with trick plays or 8 Alabama turnovers, but because they were honestly the better team. All but 3 of Alabama's points came off Utah mistakes. Alabama's offense looked like, well, an SEC offense, racking up 200 yards while giving up 8 sacks. Utah moved the ball in the air and on the ground, picking up first downs from the wildcat formation late in the game. Utah was every bit as athletic as Alabama.

And why is this all important--because Utah won their conference by the hair on their chinny-chin-chins. They cashed in on some powerful karma against both TCU and BYU. The MWC was very good this year,

and that wasn't a fluke.

TCU is structurally advantaged compared to, say, Texas Tech. It's not a big school, but it's in the heart of the most dense football talent in the country, and they have been playing football well for quite some time. The true loyalists might be few in number, but they are rabid about their team (see Miami).

BYU can recruit nationally (and internationally). It is a large school with large numbers in attendance at the games-better than any team in the Big East. The Cougars won a title 25 years ago (more recently than just about every team in any of the major conferences). It has a long, strong tradition of potent offenses that quarterbacks and possession recievers want to be a part of and can now draw in Tongans/Samoans (who, except for Manti Te'o, seem to be criminally ignored by the major recruiting services) using the Mormon connection.

Utah draws on the same Tongan/Samoan population and many of the top notch athletes in the region that are not interested in the lifestyle at BYU. They, like BYU, can also nip players from California. Utah, along with BYU and TCU, have sent many notable athletes to the NFL.

Conclusion-the top three teams of the MWC are more legitimate than the top three teams of the Big East. The bottom six of the MWC are every bit as legitimate as the rest of the Big East. There is no rational explanation why the Big East has an automatic spot and the MWC does not.

I propose two solutions. First, the MWC should steal Boise State. Boise State has been succesful everywhere, regardless of the coach and despite the Mickey Mouse field, and they have a BCS bowl win. That top four has been as successful as the top four in any other conference over the last few years. The MWC could then demand inclusion in the BCS.

Second, the MWC champ and the WAC champ play for the bi-conference championship and an automatic spot in the BCS. I have been championing this idea for years. The conferences do not now have championship games, and there is a natural rivalry between the two. If this had been in practice last year, BYU and not Hawaii would have played Georgia and we would have had a better game. If this had been in practice this year, and Utah had beat Boise State, they would have as legitimate a claim as anyone else to the national championship.

Friday, January 2, 2009

2008 Bowl Picks

This is a little bit late, but my computer doesn't know the difference. Winners against the spread are in bold. It's currently running at 50% against the spread and has a slightly higher correlation with the margin than the spread.