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Bring Back the Big West

In Bowls, College Football, Realignment on December 8, 2012 at 10:04 AM

Even though this could have been the promising first year of a reorganized respectable second-tier conference, the WAC as we used to know it seems pretty much dead. All the football members have left or are leaving apart from Idaho and New Mexico St.

As recently as 1995, the top three WAC teams of this year, Louisiana Tech, Utah St., and San Jose St., all competed in the Big West. Nevada, UNLV, and New Mexico St. were also in that conference, and Boise St. joined (along with Idaho) in 1996.

Which got me thinking… since there won’t be a WAC, why can’t there be a Big West in football again? I can’t think of a good reason. In football, the Big East is doing so much expanding from the area near the Mississippi River all the way to Boise and San Diego, so that can incorporate these teams while the rest of the conference can keep operating as it is already, with some possible quality expansion in other sports.

These were the teams in the WAC in 1995:
Air Force
BYU
Colorado St.
Fresno St.
Hawaii
New Mexico
San Diego St.
Utah
UTEP
Wyoming

Boise St. and San Diego St. are actually going to be in the Big West in other sports, and Hawaii is already there. I imagine Utah St. and San Jose St. (which appear to be headed to the Mountain West) could be brought back with just the foundation I’ve mentioned so far. BYU left the Mountain West to become independent in football (WCC in other sports, which makes less sense than the Big West would), but no currently AQ-conference has offered them a spot, and they’re naturals to be playing the likes of Boise St. and Utah St., both of which they’ve played this season.

The East-West alliance along the lines of the previously-discussed MWC-CUSA idea didn’t work out because of all the existing obligations (essentially schools could then leave without buyout fees and without paying the conference shares of post-season revenue), but all those problems aren’t here since administratively, it would still really be the Big East.

Louisiana Tech is a definite for the Conference USA, but that’s fine because they were too far to the East for the WAC anyway. The Big West football conference did extend into Arkansas and Louisiana briefly (inlcluding Louisiana Tech and UL-Lafayette, then known as the University of Southwestern Louisiana). There is a bit of a central region in the Big East as well that could provide the anticipated mega-conference some flexibility, so they’re not completely out of the question later.

The Big East has already announced plans to include Memphis, Tulane, SMU, and Houston. With the quality Western teams available, I would think Memphis and Tulane would be playing in the true Big East (by which I mean teams that would be in the Big East in other sports and in the Eastern division in football), but SMU and Houston would be good opponents for them as well. If only one of the four goes out West (in the even both Cincinnati and Connecticut find other conferences), then SMU and Houston could still be permanent opponents.

The only teams left from a couple of years ago (to make up the core of the true Big East) will be Connecticut, Cincinnati, and South Florida.

So this is what I’m thinking as a possible alignment…

Big East Big West
Central Florida Boise St.
Cincinnati BYU
Connecticut Hawaii
East Carolina Houston
Memphis Nevada
South Florida San Diego St.
Temple SMU
Tulane UNLV
Future possibilities Future possibilities
Army Air Force
Louisiana Tech San Jose St.
Navy* Utah St.

*-Navy is already set to join in 2015.

Apart from Navy, the Western future possibilities are more likely in the event of more shuffling of the Eastern teams. The ACC or Big Ten could take teams from the East if they want to go to 16. If the SEC goes to 16, they would likely come from the ACC, which will probably want to replace those two. So if two teams are lost from the Eastern division, they could be replaced by SMU and Houston, whose spots in the Western division could be taken by San Jose St. and Utah St. I could also see SMU and Houston joining the Big XII to make it… wait for it, 12 teams. Then you could simply replace them with San Jose St. and Utah St. Air Force (who could of course be a permanent opponent of Navy) seems like another reasonable possibility

To balance out possible unfairness from permanent opponents, I would be in favor of only counting divisional play toward picking the contestants for the championship game, but this would not rule out one or two games against teams from the other side during the season. If Air Force and Navy were in different divisions, they would still need to play one another. I don’ t know if Army is a possibility, but just for instance, it might be that if all the Commander-in-Chief teams are in this conference, two permanent opponents would be needed. That can’t really be done if it counts as an equal conference game. Other programs may not prefer to play any inter-divisional games.

Also, if circumstances change (which seems to happen every couple of months), maybe there could be too much interest in the East and not enough in the West. Then, you could easily have Memphis and/or Tulane move to the West.

I guess we can expect the Mountain West to have a number of members suitable for a round-robin format, which is sort of why it was created around the turn of the 21st century. So in addition to the three programs mentioned as future possibilities for the Big West, the Mountain West membership includes Wyoming, Colorado St., Fresno St., and New Mexico. I started this off by mentioning Idaho and New Mexico St. They could fit right in if some of the defections take place. Another possibility would be UTEP, which is less than an hour away from New Mexico St. West Texas might be a place to make recruiting inroads. Of course, the Big East is already going to be in East Texas.

Idaho isn’t quite as great of a fit for either conference, but another possibility for Idaho is to go back to the Big Sky, which may also house future FBS programs, by the way.

Anyway, there are definitely suitable teams for an 8-10-team Mountain West as well as an 8-team Big West to be part of the football Big East.

The bowl policies are interesting here. The Fiesta Bowl currently is the Big XII champion’s default destination, but that is going to be the Sugar under the SEC-Big XII contract, so that will open up. Maybe the winner of the football Big East could play there, even if the winner were from the East. An Eastern team might be good enough for the Orange Bowl in some years, but nothing would rule out a Pac-12 or Big XII #2 team playing the MWC champions in the Fiesta Bowl if it worked out that way. I don’t think the MWC under what I’m envisioning would be a fixture in the major bowls, but there may be some years where that would be appropriate. The Cotton Bowl also seems to be taking on increasing importance, but one would think that would be a common location of the SEC-Big XII bowl in the years where the Sugar is a semifinal bowl. In other years, the football Big East might be a good fit as well, regardless of which division the winner comes from.

The Big East doesn’t have to be an unmitigated coast-to-coast disaster, but I’m afraid that is a possibility without the kind of clear direction I would like to see it have with the Western teams. Funny that just a could years ago, many (myself included) were thinking the solution might just be to make the MWC an AQ in lieu of the Big East or simply to remove the Big East from AQ status to make room for more MWC or WAC teams. Now I’m talking about a lot of the teams in question being in the same conference somehow.

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Top Bowls to Watch and Other Reactions

In Bowls, College Football, General LSU on December 6, 2012 at 6:38 AM

(Please note that my links are red and not underlined; advertising links are red and underlined.)

There are many more reminders of why this system needs to be put out of its misery than there are positives in the bowl match-ups, but there are four games I’m looking forward to.

Bowls To Watch

The only BCS game I’m even somewhat excited about is Kansas St. vs. Oregon (though the runaway offenses will probably become tiresome). Neither Texas/Texas A&M nor the Backyard Brawl worked out as bowl games. Oklahoma vs. Texas A&M should be a good substitute for the former though. That gets top billing in my mind for best non-BCS contest. The second and third choices are probably Georgia-Nebraska (CapitalOne [which you might remember as the Florida Citrus Bowl]) and LSU-Clemson (Chik-fil-A, aka Peach). But I’m still going to complain about LSU’s treatment shortly.

A brief aside about the Cotton. Maybe it’s because I’m not Texan, but I really don’t understand why someone was going to veto Texas/Texas A&M. I get that Texas had its schedule set, and the non-conference schedule is also curtailed by the fact that the Big XII schedule is now 9 games, and they weren’t going to bend over backwards to accommodate a rival who decided to go to the SEC instead. But how is any of that a reason not to play that rival in a bowl game, especially one with such historic ties to both programs? Just for spite someone had to put a stop to it?

I know the non-BCS bowls I mention all involve SEC teams, but the SEC has the best non-BCS teams. Clemson and Nebraska are two of the best non-champions. Nebraska would have easily been regular-season champions of a combined Big Ten (but got creamed by a Wisconsin team that didn’t even really belong in the title game), and Clemson tied in the ACC Atlantic (the one with the only ACC teams worth a whole lot) with Florida St. but lost the head-to-head tie-breaker. Oklahoma actually tied for the Big XII championship but didn’t get the Fiesta invite for losing head-to-head (not to mention out of conference to Notre Dame).

Seeing Red

I’m still annoyed that Northern Illinois was forced into a BCS game, but they still may be better than Louisville. I have never understood why they made it top 16 rather than top 12. Any undefeated team is almost guaranteed to be in the top 12, as will many strong one-loss non-major-conference teams. But Northern Illinois has played probably the easiest schedule in FBS. They’re in 2007 Hawaii vicinity with how bad it was, and we all remember how that turned out. And that was an undefeated Hawaii team. As mentioned, at least there is some solace in the fact that this system will be replaced.

Not that NIU is sure to be embarrassed. If North Carolina St. can beat Florida St., why not the Huskies? I’ve already mentioned Wisconsin winning a game it didn’t belong in (and actually doing the embarrassing in the process).

And Wisconsin is still an example of why you don’t put the wrong team in a match-up, they can always win. I’m not saying the Big Ten had a choice here (I understand the probations of both Ohio St. and Penn St.), but it just didn’t work out well for neutral fans here.

Louisiana Teams Slighted

It’s nice that LSU and two of the lesser Louisiana teams made bowl games, but I’m disappointed that Louisiana Tech isn’t one of them. All the weak bowl teams around, and they couldn’t find a place for a 9-win team with three respectable losses?

The AD explained that they were hoping the Liberty Bowl (which he would later say misled him into believing there would be an invite regardless) would invite the team and had simply asked the Independence Bowl to await the outcome of other invitations. It seems that Oklahoma being in a non-BCS bowl trickled all the way down to Iowa St. getting the Liberty invite instead. (9 of the 10 Big XII teams got invites.) I know in hindsight this was a terribly unfortunate decision, but Louisiana Tech deserved better than playing in its own back yard against a local team, so I don’t blame him for thinking that was a strong possibility.

I don’t think it was hostility for the potential opposition at all. I can almost assure you there is more excitement in that area for the average Ruston-West Monroe high school football game than there would have been for La. Tech vs. UL-Monroe, but it would have been better than nothing. Speaking of high school football, it would have been good for recruiting in the area for players and their families to be able to watch both teams at the same time. It also would have probably been a better business decision for the Independence Bowl. I doubt the Ohio Bobcat faithful will travel to Shreveport in droves, nor was that a team that needed to be secured with any urgency. It seems like they would want good will with a team that sometimes plays at Independence Stadium (including this year against Texas A&M) and will likely be a team of interest in the bowl in the future.

I had said in comments elsewhere that the WAC had terrible bowl tie-ins, but now that I’ve read up on it, I guess the WAC didn’t have any bowl tie-ins. Furthermore, we may have seen the last down of WAC football, but I’ll get into the conference cluster**ck with my next blog.

A few hours to the South, LSU’s placement in the Peach Bowl provoked a Rodney Dangerfield headline in the Baton Rouge Advocate.

I’m also not happy LSU took what is supposed to be the sixth SEC slot with the Peach bowl (the fifth spot if there aren’t two SEC teams in BCS bowls). How many times will South Carolina go to the Outback Bowl? I thought they might want to mix it up for once. LSU vs. Michigan would have been a great match-up, and LSU hasn’t been to Tampa since 1988. I have read that LSU may have been preferred to Georgia by the CapitalOne Bowl, but the SEC insisted that as the runners-up Georgia should be given the spot.

Funny that I don’t remember LSU receiving similar consideration when it ended up in the Peach Bowl after losing to Georgia in the SEC title game in 2005. Just like Georgia this year, that LSU team suffered only its second loss in the title game in question.

Unlike Scott Rabalais (who wrote the article linked to above), I don’t begrudge the Cotton its pick of Texas A&M, but it doesn’t seem like someone was looking out for LSU like the SEC was looking out for Georgia, and someone should have been. LSU lost a bitterly close game to Alabama, as did Georgia, but LSU’s other loss was a respectable 8-point road loss to Florida. No comparison to a 35-7 humiliation at the hands of South Carolina. While of course Georgia’s big win was over Florida, that doesn’t trump LSU’s wins over South Carolina AND Texas A&M.

I do understand that South Carolina shouldn’t have have to play Clemson again though, and I guess the Gator is a second-rate SEC bowl now, so they didn’t want to send South Carolina there either. Still, I think they could have put that logic aside especially considering that’s a good SEC venue, it’s the most convenient to South Carolina apart from the Chik-fil-A, and it’s not a step down in terms of opponent from the Outback (Michigan beat Northwestern in overtime to finish one game ahead in the Big Ten standings, but Northwestern was undefeated out of conference including a win over Vanderbilt, so the Wildcats have a better record).

To go full circle back to what I mentioned early on here, Clemson is a better opponent than Northwestern or Michigan, so at least there’s that to be happy about if LSU wins. Also, this should be a game serious fans are interested in even though it’s not the flashiest bowl to be in.

Conclusion

Anyway, good thing there aren’t so many early bowl games, because I don’t see much else worth getting out of bed to watch. I may get a head start on watching college basketball this year. I may even blog about it.

Pre-Bowl (Week 14) Top 25 and Comments

In College Football, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on December 2, 2012 at 9:09 AM

Top 25

rank / team / prior

1 Notre Dame 1
2 Ohio St. 2
3 Florida 3
4 Alabama 5
5 Stanford 6
6 Oregon 4
7 Kansas St. 8
8 S Carolina 9
9 LSU 10
10 Georgia 7
11 Oklahoma 13
12 TX A&M 12
13 Nebraska 11
14 SJSU 15
15 Clemson 14
16 Florida St. 17
17 N. Illinois 19
18 Oregon St. 16
19 Utah St. 18
20 Boise St. 24
21 Louisville —
22 N’western 20
23 Michigan 23
24 Ball St. —
25 Ark. St. —

Out of rankings: (21) Texas, (22) Rutgers, (25) Kent St.

Full 124 permalink

Prior rankings:
Preseason
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Week 9
Week 10
Week 11
Week 12
Week 13

Comments
I know people aren’t going to be happy with this necessarily, but I really believe that at least the top 10 or so is exactly as it should be.

Notre Dame has the best collection of wins, followed by Florida. If Florida simply hadn’t played Georgia and played out the rest of the season, they would be ahead of Ohio St. despite having played one fewer game. Also, if you were to give Florida a win over Alabama (while still leaving off the Georgia loss), there is a good chance the Gators would be ahead of Notre Dame.

I do give Ohio St. a poor strength of schedule rating, but that doesn’t mean the Buckeyes were untested. They defeated a 10-win team, a 9-win team, and three 8-win teams. The only team in the top 8 of the Big Ten standings that the Buckeyes avoided playing was Northwestern. All but the most die-hard SEC supporters would not likely be complaining if the Buckeyes were not on probation and were set to play in the BCS championship game as the undefeated Big Ten champions.

As to Florida being ahead of Alabama, I simply think Florida has the better collection of wins.

Florida—LSU, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Florida St., Vanderbilt
Alabama—LSU, Georgia, Michigan, Mississippi St.

When you go much further below the top 40, I don’t think that’s especially relevant for conversations about how to rank the top 5, but even if we cover the top 60, Alabama is still 4-1 while Florida improves all the way to 7-1. Also see my chart in last week’s (actually Friday’s) comments.

I don’t regard Georgia as a worse loss than Texas A&M, but whether you do or not, I don’t think that overcomes the difference in quality wins.

If you think the BCS should have a rule that only conference champions should be considered, then I think many would agree with my ratings that the best two conference champions are Alabama and Stanford. If independents are exceptions to this rule, then this would give you Alabama and Notre Dame, exactly what is going to happen.

Kansas St. would take exception to being behind Stanford among champions, but the Wildcats didn’t beat anyone in my top 10 and only two teams in my top 40. Stanford does have two losses to one, but one of those losses was to Notre Dame, a team that happened to beat Oklahoma, Kansas St.’s best win by far.

Stanford lost to a fairly mediocre Washington team, but there isn’t a big gap between Washington and Baylor. Stanford won six games against my top 40 to Kansas St.’s two. I purposely make wins and losses count a lot here, but it only goes so far.

I can imagine some grumblings over South Carolina being ahead of LSU. LSU did beat the Gamecocks after all. There are a couple of very minor things that could have changed this.
One would have been LSU scoring a couple more points or allowing a couple fewer points against the Gamecocks. While margin of victory is not generally a relevant factor for me, home teams have a historical advantage of around 3 points per game, and home teams win about 5% more often.

Some compensate for this discrepancy by eliminating the point difference (this is done in ratings that include margin of victory of course, usually ones that have something to do with betting since it can be added or subtracted based on the location of a given game), and some compensate by uniformly counting home wins less and away wins more (and usually also home losses more and away losses less).

Since I think the advantage is generally in close games, I do a bit of a hybrid. If a game is decided by three points or fewer (which is also useful because it so happens to be a field goal… often a couple more first downs during the course of a game would have given a team a field goal where in a drive where it ended up with no points or even a touchdown rather than a field goal) or in overtime (obviously, one more point on either side would have avoided overtime in the first place), I only give the home team 90% of the win (not 95% because I don’t give it 5% of a loss), and I penalize the away team 10% less (not 5% because I don’t give it 5% of a win).

So while LSU has slightly better wins and a better second loss (both lost to Florida; Alabama is regarded as slightly better than LSU), it doesn’t show up that way. Lessening South Carolina’s penalty for losing to LSU makes the LSU loss seem to be a better loss than Alabama.

Another way LSU ends up ahead would have been if Washington had not blown an 18-point fourth-quarter lead and lost to Washington St. in overtime.

Maybe the bowl games will sort out this discrepancy anyway.

There may also be some unhappiness over Oklahoma staying ahead of Texas A&M, but this is another very close call. Texas A&M lost to my #3 and #9 while Oklahoma lost to my #1 and #7. As to the wins, while #4 is obviously a much better win than #28, don’t forget that Texas A&M played two fewer games against AQ-level opponents and one more game against an FCS opponent.

While the proper order of the teams beyond this point is not the objective of my ratings and I do not necessarily endorse this order, it does make some sense. If there were a 25-team playoff (god forbid), they would all have good arguments for inclusion.

San Jose St. does seem unusually high, but they were second for a conference championship behind Utah St. In this conference, Louisiana Tech finished 3rd even though the Bulldogs only fell a two-point conversion short of taking Texas A&M to overtime. San Jose St. itself only lost at Stanford by 3 points. San Jose St. may not beat Clemson or Florida St. on a neutral field, but I don’t think many expected them to win 10 games regardless of the opposition. As to Utah St. (San Jose St.’s other loss), the Aggies only lost to Wisconsin (Big Ten champions) by 2 points and to BYU (which San Jose St. beat) by 3 points. I would also note that BYU lost at Notre Dame by only 3 points.

Oregon St. beat Wisconsin and BYU (despite going on to lose three games overall), so it makes sense that the Beavers are ahead of the Aggies.

Florida St. won the ACC. They beat Clemson but had the worse conference loss, to North Carolina St., so they’re a very small distance behind the Tigers.

Northern Illinois won the MAC championship with only a single loss all season (to Iowa), and Boise St. was the best team in the three-way tie atop the Mountain West (with Fresno St. and San Diego St., both of whom finished just out of the top 25). Boise St. also lost to a mediocre Big Ten team in Michigan St., so this is another reminder to give Ohio St. a bit of credit.
Louisville of course wrapped up the Big East and won 10 games this season.

Northwestern and Michigan were also good enough against quality competition to make the top 25. Michigan of course played Ohio St. in inter-division play and Notre Dame and Alabama out of conference, so this helped make up for having one fewer win than Northwestern does, but still the Wildcats have a slight edge.

Ball St. has won six straight since losing to both MAC-title contestants in back-to-back weeks and the Cardinals’ only other loss was to Clemson. The Cardinals beat Indiana and South Florida. Granted, those aren’t great AQ opponents, but the AQ performance looks a lot better than that by either Northern Illinois or Kent St. (which lost to Kentucky). More impressive than that, they also defeated Toledo (which lost to Arizona in overtime and beat Cincinnati) to end the Rockets’ 8-game winning streak.

Arkansas St. won the Sun Belt and hasn’t lost since September. Along with the one in-conference slip-up against Western Kentucky, the Red Wolves’ only other losses were to Nebraska and Oregon.