How perceived conference strength impacts the polls; more Mailbag
As much as we love to criticize the pollsters, there's a valid argument to be made that voters are more "nuanced" today than, say, 10 years ago. It used to be, one team loses, the next team moves up a spot. Rinse and repeat. Today's voters tend to react more fluidly -- albeit not always to our liking -- based on context, schedule strength and other factors.
But are they putting too much emphasis on one particular concept?
Let's start with the disclaimer that THE most important factor in the rankings is not losing. Undefeated almost always trumps one-loss, one-loss almost always trumps two losses, etc., and while there are some exceptions now (undefeated Oklahoma State and Missouri, which have played weak schedules, are behind eight one-loss teams), those discrepancies will diminish by season's end.
But there's no denying the importance of perceived conference strength, in particular the SEC's, which has been deservedly built up over the past four years. To me, the single biggest turning points of the BCS era were Auburn's 2004 title-game snub and Florida's 2006 title-game rout of season-long No. 1 Ohio State. Prior to '04, the voters really didn't differentiate much between the major conferences, but Auburn's exclusion really started the "S-E-C, S-E-C" rallying cry from that league's constituents, who screamed to anyone and everyone about how much tougher their league was than the Pac-10 or Big 12. Two years later, 12-1 Florida got in over 11-1 Michigan due in part to that growing reputation, then bolstered it by throttling the Big Ten's much-hyped champ. LSU benefited from that enhanced reputation a year later to get into the game over several other two-loss teams, and so on and so on.
The problem, of course, is that relative conference strength is not static. It changes from year to year, and only now are the voters starting to recognize that maybe the SEC isn't all that this year, that the Pac-10, for one, may be stronger and deeper. But because Alabama started No. 1, and because Florida somehow stayed in the polls through last week, and because Arkansas inexplicably rose into the top 10 in September based on little besides conference affiliation, the perception is that Auburn, LSU and 'Bama play a tougher conference schedule than Arizona or Stanford, when really we have no idea if that's true.
I wish the voters would put more emphasis on nonconference results. If they did, Arizona, which beat Iowa, would be a lot higher than 18th in the BCS standings. But here's where the SEC is a bit crafty. It starts playing conference games as early as the second week of the season, so its teams get a boost in the polls simply by beating each other. In other leagues, it's inevitable that nonconference results from four games in September will eventually get trumped by eight conference games in October and November. So at this point, the Wildcats' more recent loss to Oregon State has a bigger impact than that Sept. 18 win over Iowa. Mind you, Alabama lost to South Carolina the same day Arizona lost to the Beavers, yet remains 10 spots higher. But the Tide's was an SEC loss, so clearly it's more forgivable.
I think the notion that a team can't run a passing offense in cold weather is a bit antiquated at this point. Is there any quantitative evidence to support it? With the possible exception of a monsoon or a blizzard, I think most players in this day and age are highly trained enough to handle the ball in adverse conditions. And as we saw last week at Nebraska, players can just as easily drop wide-open touchdowns when it's 70 degrees and sunny.
Recruiting is a more legitimate concern. At Tech, Leach coached in a state so deep with high school talent that even if Texas and Texas A&M signed better classes, Leach still had access to plenty of athletic but overlooked in-state kids, many of whom probably fit his system better than the four- or five-star guys. And spread-passing offenses are the norm across the state. At Minnesota, he'd have to recruit more regionally and nationally, going head-to-head with schools like Iowa and Wisconsin while playing against teams like Ohio State and Nebraska that, much like Oklahoma and Texas, will
I'm sure Meyer would love to have the 2010 version of Newton. A lot of teams would. But none of us know what kind of player Newton looked like on the practice field in 2008, nor do we know whether, given another year or two of development, he would have moved back ahead of Brantley on the Gators' depth chart. (Remember, he was ahead of Brantley when both were freshman before a 2008 injury.) It's also too simplistic to assume that Florida's offense would be cooking right now if the Gators simply subbed Newton for Brantley. Obviously, they'd have a more effective QB-run game, but that wouldn't solve everything. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Florida's offense stinks right now because it doesn't have enough good players.
It's time for Gators fans to stop living off the recruiting rankings and start accepting the fact that Florida is sorely lacking in offensive talent. In particular, its offensive line is atrocious. I'm puzzled, because it's a veteran unit full of players who helped win 26 games the past two years. But they're not controlling the line, which means Florida's average-to-begin-with running backs (with the exception of
Meyer has said that Florida will be making changes during the current bye week. He did the same thing in 2005, after a similarly sluggish start, and
I work on them between Florida touchdowns. It gives me a good two to three hours of uninterrupted work time.
When the conference's eighth- or ninth-best team, UCLA, is capable of beating Texas, the short answer is: It could happen any week. (Though I don't give the short-handed Bruins much of a chance Thursday night in Eugene.) From a pure X's and O's standpoint, the most worrisome foe is Arizona. The Wildcats are one of the few teams with the defensive speed to contain
Strange as it may sound, Oregon's most worrisome game may be Oct. 30 at USC. To be clear, the Ducks are the better team, but it will basically be USC's Super Bowl. With no championship or bowl aspirations of their own, the Trojans' greatest possible achievement this year would be to avenge last year's blowout in Eugene and crush Oregon's national-title hopes. I realize I may be wrong about all of this. It may be that the Ducks are just that much better than the rest of the Pac-10. Remember, I'm the guy who told you
As a matter of fact:
It's pretty baffling. I actually spoke on a panel at a Texas alumni event in New York right before the season, and as soon as I said the words "Greg Davis," people started booing. Are you kidding me? Are first impressions that hard to change? Davis was an understandable scapegoat when
Obviously, this year got off to a rough start, in part because the 'Horns got away from what they did so well the past eight years. But I had a feeling Davis would use the bye week and come back with some wrinkle against Nebraska, and he did. Using
I never said it had to be those particular teams. Where's your respect for 2-0 Purdue?
(Just kidding. You're right. I goofed.)
The former. Over the years, lots of coaches, ADs and presidents from lots of "snubbed" teams have cried out to their fellow colleagues, and all it's resulted in is more and more extensions of the current system. In fact, a Boise State or TCU appearance would help take the political heat off the BCS honchos, who could turn around and say, "Look, we told you, the system is perfectly fair." As I wrote on Twitter, every year, people try to dream up the most chaotic scenario possible in the hopes of blowing up the BCS. Folks, we've had 12 years of every mind-numbing scenario imaginable, from Nebraska (2001) and Oklahoma (2003) getting in despite blowout losses the week before, to Miami (2000) and Texas (2008) getting edged out by teams they beat on the field, to USC/Oklahoma/Auburn in '04 to the jumble of two-loss teams in '07, and none have caused any significant change besides tweaking the formula and adding a fifth BCS game.
The only "scenario" that will motivate presidents and commissioners to mess with the current system is if you, the fans, stop caring about college football -- and obviously that hasn't happened. Now, if TCU and Boise State BOTH made the game? The TV ratings might just be so embarrassingly low that ESPN would step in and demand a change. But for the same reasons that matchup would be so unappealing to fans, voters -- who themselves are fans at heart -- aren't going to let it happen.
Except, of course, for the fact that it's a 100-percent possibility
Rutgers fans, West Virginia fans and any other fans who read the awful news of LeGrand's paralysis can send him get-well wishes
We all love watching football, but with it comes the scary reality that all those 18- to 23-year-olds who provide us our Saturday entertainment are forever a play away from a potentially life-changing injury.
Get well, Eric. Our thoughts are with you.