theknightswhosay

Final Preseason Thoughts: College Football Playoff and SEC scheduling

In College Football, Preview on August 29, 2014 at 1:44 PM

The blog is in two parts today. The first is about more information I’ve learned about the college football playoff (CFP) and the rankings system, including information the committee will access and conference tiebreakers. The second part is a general response to the constant attacks on SEC schedules. I don’t know how people forget about some of these games just because there is a Sun Belt or FCS team on the schedule in the same season, but I’ll talk more about that in that section.

New symbol for the new system , but no one is quite sure how it will work in practice.

New symbol for the new system , but no one is quite sure how it will work in practice.

Part I: CFP, tiebreakers, and statistical analysis

I was reading about how the CFP are going to work, and they’re actually going to be over two days, so they won’t have results until Tuesday. Usually you at least had a good idea of the BCS on Sunday, so that will take an adjustment. Maybe more people will look at things like computer ratings while they’re waiting. I was thinking computer ratings might decline drastically without the BCS, but now I’m not so sure. There is, after all, a lot of interest in various RPI and similar measures in college basketball.

You can read this for the voting procedure, but I don’t know how illuminating it is: http://www.collegefootballplayoff.com/press-releases/college-football-playoff-releases-details-of-selection-committee-procedures
One of those adjustments is the SEC will have to look for a different option to determine a divisional champion in the event of a three-way tie. The Mountain West is still apparently planning to use the CFP to determine home-field advantage for its championship, but I’m not sure about tie-breakers. Also, the Big XII will use the final rankings before the bowls to determine who gets the championship designation in the event of a tie. These procedures don’t have to be in place at the start of the season; but if there has been a final decision, I have not seen it. The SEC first decided to use the BCS for a three-way tie in late October, early November one year.

One option the SEC is considering is to compare the strengths of the inter-divisional games. I think this would only be if there is a three-way tie where all three teams beat one of the other teams in the tie, and all three teams had the same divisional record. For instance, let’s say LSU but beats Auburn and Alabama, Auburn loses to Ole Miss, and Alabama loses to Auburn, and all three finish 7-1 in conference. LSU would make the title game both for best divisional record and for winning head-to-head. If you make it so LSU beats Auburn, who beats Alabama, who beats LSU (which is what we had last year, except in this scenario LSU doesn’t lose to anyone else), then they would remain tied through both of the steps I mentioned. So only then would you look at teams outside the division. I would hope they would look at divisional record of the better team first, but it may just be adding up the records of the two teams.

I read something else about things the committee could consider that I found interesting:
“You make more big plays than your opponent, you stay on schedule, you tilt the field, you finish drives, and you fall on the ball. Explosiveness, efficiency, field position, finishing drives, and turnovers are the five factors to winning football games.
• If you win the explosiveness battle (using [points per possession]), you win 86 percent of the time.
• If you win the efficiency battle (using Success Rate), you win 83 percent of the time.
• If you win the drive-finishing battle (using points per trip inside the 40), you win 75 percent of the time.
• If you win the field position battle (using average starting field position), you win 72 percent of the time.
• If you win the turnover battle (using turnover margin), you win 73 percent of the time.”
Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fancy-stats/wp/2014/07/22/the-role-analytics-will-play-in-choosing-the-college-football-playoffs/

Something worth reading from the Washington Post. Wonders never cease. Anyway, if you don’t know, success rate is measured by how often you have a successful down. A typical team has about a 40% success rate. A success is getting 50% or more of the required yardage on first down (for instance, 5 yards on 1st and 10), 70% or more on second down (7 yards on 2nd and 10), and 100% on third and fourth down. Success rate stops counting success if a team is up by more than 28 in the first quarter, 24 in the second quarter, 21 in the third quarter, or 16 in the fourth quarter.

I got that information from here: http://www.footballstudyhall.com/2011/3/15/2050106/the-toolbox-offensive-success-rates

That’s a really useful metric. Since teams usually alternate possessions, I don’t think the first one is as helpful in analyzing teams even though it’s a better predictor on average.

For another aside, I found it odd that when I was reading about the playoff, I came across this quote from Lloyd Carr: “I would hope no conference would have two teams in the four.”

Interesting coming from the guy who was all irritated he didn’t get a re-match in the BCS title game against the same team he had just lost to. Could you imagine having had Auburn replay Alabama last year? That would have been ridiculous. I even thought it was questionable when Alabama played LSU, and no, that wasn’t because of the result. At least it wasn’t the final game for either team though.

Four times in the past five years, the final BCS standings did have a second SEC team in the top four, just so you know. Not that I’m likely to complain much if another team (especially a conference champion) were selected over a borderline second team from the SEC though.

Part II: Recent SEC Non-conference Schedules

Also, I wanted to talk about SEC non-conference schedules. Why is it that if you play four teams out-of-conference and three of them go to bowl games, people pretend you didn’t play anyone and just mention the fourth team? Something like, “typical SEC, lol, Charleston Southern.”

I also noticed that last year, for instance, SEC teams played 1.5 games out of conference against BCS opponents (the automatic-bid conferences + Notre Dame) to the Pac-12’s 1.25. Granted, the SEC has an additional non-conference slot, but that’s part of the point I brought up last week. Even if you schedule well with your three games, you necessarily hurt competition between conferences and reduce the interesting non-conference games by increasing the conference schedule from 8 games to 9 games. I wonder if that’s part of the reason other conferences want the SEC to do that. There would then be a fewer sample of games to justify the SEC being superior to other conferences, and that assertion would be more subjective.

Anyway, to get to the specific teams, this season is a little unusual in some regards. Vanderbilt and Mississippi St. are both teams that typically have a decent opponent, but they don’t this year. It might be in part to try to ensure bowl eligibility. The Bulldogs had to upset Ole Miss to get it last year.

Since 2002 (just seemed like a good spot, the last dozen seasons), Vanderbilt has played @Michigan, Navy (home and home), Gerogia Tech (home and home), Northwestern (home and home), @TCU, and Wake Forest (seven times, mix of home and away). Since 2002, Mississippi St. has played Oregon (home and home), Houston (three times), @West Virginia, Georgia Tech (home and home), and Oklahoma St. (neutral).

Going forward, I’m going to mention this season, followed by major games since 2002. There might be a couple of sentences after that, which I’m not claiming are great scheduling, but some of them only turned out not to be good due to luck.

Alabama plays West Virginia this year. The Tide has been having an easy time of things outside the division, but either Florida or Tennessee might have a good year. Since 2002, Alabama has played Oklahoma (home and home), South Florida, Northern Illinois (normally wouldn’t count MAC teams, but that might be an exception), Penn St. (home and home), Clemson (neutral), Virginia Tech (twice, both neutral), Michigan (neutral), and Houston. They also played a really good Hawaii team and a couple of winning Southern Miss teams in that stretch, although the Golden Eagles and the Warriors were two of the worst teams last season.

Ole Miss plays Boise St. and ULL, which I normally wouldn’t mention, but they’ve been good the last couple of years. Since 2002, Ole Miss has played Texas Tech (home and home). Texas (home and home), Missouri (home and home), Fresno St. (home and home), @Wake Forest, and BYU.

LSU’s only big non-conference game this year is the opener against Wisconsin in Houston. Since 2002, LSU has played Virginia Tech (home and home), Arizona (home and home), Oregon St., @Arizona St., West Virginia (home and home), Washington (home and home), Oregon (neutral), North Carolina (neutral), and TCU (neutral). They also played Fresno St., but that was a bad year for the Bulldogs in 2006.

As an aside, someone mentioned LSU played “everyone” one year. I’m not sure what season he had in mind. When they won the SEC in 2007, they didn’t play either of the top SEC East teams during the regular season, but they did play Virginia Tech out of conference and three SEC East teams who went to bowl games. In 2011, they beat Oregon and West Virginia, but they didn’t play Georgia until the championship game. Florida was the best regular-season SEC East opponent, but the Gators only went 7-6 that season.

Arkansas has been rightly criticized for some of its schedules lately, but this year they travel to Texas Tech and host Northern Illinois. Since 2002, Arkansas has played Boise St., South Florida, Texas (three times, two on the road), Tulsa (twice), USC (home and home), Texas A&M (home and home), and Rutgers (home and home).

Auburn travels to Kansas St. this year. Since 2002, the plains Tigers have played Syracuse, Georgia Tech (home and home). USC (home and home), Washington St. (twice), South Florida, West Virginia (home and home), Clemson (home and home and a third, neutral game), and the other leg of the Kansas St. home and home.

Since there is one in each division, I’ll address the two new teams in the transition between the divisions. Texas A&M isn’t playing anyone to speak of, but they did recently schedule Arkansas when they were in the Big XII. Also, I think they’ve been more than willing to continue their series with Texas, so I don’t completely blame them. But I will leave out their other recent opponents since they weren’t SEC at the time. Missouri’s game against Central Florida could be very interesting. The black and gold Tigers didn’t really play anyone last season, but they did play Arizona St., Central Florida, and Syracuse in 2012, their first year in the SEC.

Tennessee travels to Oklahoma, and they shouldn’t be expected to do much else, although their Utah St. (the opener) hasn’t been bad. Since 2002, the Vols have played Miami (home and home), Fresno St., Notre Dame (home and home), Cal (home and home), UCLA (home and home), Oregon (home and home), Cincinnati, and North Carolina St. (neutral).

Other than Clemson, South Carolina plays East Carolina this year. Since 2002, the Gamecocks have played Clemson (every year), Virginia (home and home; they weren’t so bad 12 years ago), Central Florida (home and home), North Carolina (home and home), North Carolina St. (home and home), Navy, and East Carolina.

Kentucky’s only big non-conference game is Louisville, whom they have played every year. I think they’re another program that doesn’t want to miss out if they do have a shot at bowl eligibility. Since 2002, the Wildcats have only played Indiana (three times) to go along with the Cardinals. The Wildcats did draw a couple good “Group of Five” teams, Kent in 2012 (finished with 11 wins), Central Michigan (finished with 10 wins in 2006), and Western Kentucky (finished with 8 wins in 2013 and with 7 in 2011).

Georgia’s big games out of conference are the opener against Clemson and Georgia Tech to end the regular season. Since 2002, in addition to Georgia Tech every year, they have played Clemson (three times), Boise St. (twice), and Oklahoma St. (home and home). They played four Pac-12 teams that finished with losing records: a pair of games (home and home) with both Arizona St. and Colorado. They also played two teams I notice that finished with 8 wins, Central Michigan and Troy.

This year, Florida’s only meaningful game is against Florida St., whom they’ve played every year as long as I remember. But I don’t really blame the Gators, being that they have to play the SEC East, Alabama, and LSU. Alabama might be overrated and LSU might just be a regular top 25 sort of team, but I doubt Alabama, LSU, and Florida St. will all be disappointing. That’s not to mention Georgia, South Carolina, and Missouri.

Since 2002 (in addition to Florida St.), Florida has played Miami (four times, not counting the bowl game of course, two home and homes), South Florida, and Bowling Green. In almost every year, Florida also ends up playing another winning team. I’ll give a few examples. Louisiana Tech went 7-4 in 2005, Southern Miss went 9-5 in 2006, Troy went 8-4 in 2007 (and 9-4 in 2009), Hawaii went 7-7 in 2008, and ULL went 9-4 in 2012.

Some of those lists are pretty impressive, some aren’t so much; but I think the four teams who have annual rivalry games out of conference (South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, and Kentucky) deserve a little bit of slack. Also, I’ll admit that even the teams that have scheduled well will still typically have a couple easy wins per year. But the idea that the SEC is en masse avoiding all competition is mostly based on people trying to brush aside how strong the SEC is from year to year.

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