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Friday, September 14, 2012

Schedule and title odds: Charting the best route to the MNC

The three keys to maximizing your probability of playing for the MNC are 1) be really, really good, 2) play enough tough games to set your team apart from the competition, and 3) don't play a schedule that is so tough you have little chance of getting through without a few blemishes on the resume. The better your team, the tougher your schedule can be and, therefore, the bigger your scheduling window between too soft and too tough.

To get a better idea of what ideal scheduling windows look like I ran two teams, one really, really good team (Alabama, power rank #1) and one really good team (Georgia, #5) through 20 other team's schedules 1,000 times (40,000 total simulated seasons) to see how many times they ended up in one of the two top spots in the national rankings.

Looking at the table, UD (undefeated) and BE (bowl eligible) are two ways of measuring the strength of a schedule. A team's UD will be relatively high if they face one or two elite opponents. Ole Miss, Auburn, Mississippi St and Texas A&M have the top 4 UD schedules nationally. A team's BE is relatively high if it plays a number of solid opponents. Kansas, Texas A&M (two FCS opponents means A&M must win 7), Iowa St, Oklahoma and Baylor take up the top 5 spots. (Teams with 9 conference games tend to score high on BE.)

This is what Georgia fans see when they look at FSU's schedule
PR is the relatively probability Alabama or Georgia would play for the MNC in that other schedule versus their own schedule. For example, Georgia would be 3.94 times more likely to play for the title in Cincinnati's schedule than in their own. They would be almost half as likely in Ole Miss's schedule (though I assume this is not seriously capping Ole Miss's national title aspirations). If Cincinnati and Ole Miss were as good as Georgia (and they are not), Cincinnati would be more than 7x more likely to play for the MNC than Ole Miss. That's a big deal.

Of the leading contenders in the list (Alabama, USC, Oklahoma, Florida St, Georgia), Florida St has by far the best path to the MNC. Both Alabama and Georgia would significantly improve their chances in Florida St's schedule. Georgia would also be significantly better off in USC's or Oklahoma's schedule (or even Michigan St's schedule). So, the argument that Georgia is ranked high because they have a relatively nice path this season is a bunch of bunk (even if they do have a pretty nice schedule compared to the rest of the SEC).

In general, a team's title chances are highest when the BE is high relatively to the UD. Both Georgia's and Alabama's MNC game odds were negatively correlated with UD - the higher the UD the less favorable the schedule - and Alabama had a strong positive correlation with BE/UD, so that the higher the BE relative to the UD the better Alabama's title game chances.

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