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2015 Pre-Bowl Conference Report

In College Football, Conference Reports on December 18, 2015 at 6:21 PM

1. SEC
2. Pac-12
3. Big Ten
4. Big XII
5. AAC
6. ACC
7. MAC
8. MWC
9. CUSA
10. Sun Belt

If anyone is interested in my blogger top 10 poll on MacApp, click here.

Before I begin, I just wanted to reiterate that I believe the correct way to evaluate conferences is to look at the games between conferences. I don’t think any result within a conference weakens it. So when I talk about wins, assume I mean non-conference.

Also, I will refer a lot to P5 and G5. P5 are the traditional Power 5 conferences: ACC, Big Ten, Big XII, Pac-12, and SEC. Notre Dame is included in this group since it primarily plays a major-conference schedule and is given special privileges in bowl consideration.

G5 are the other conferences: AAC (American), CUSA, MAC, MWC (Mountain West), and SBC (Sun Belt). Discussion of these will include BYU and Army.

WHY THE SEC REMAINS THE TOP CONFERENCE

I opted just to do one for the season overall rather than trying to evaluate everything that happened since the last conference report separately.

ACC-SEC Rivalry games

The ACC won three games against the SEC on the final week of the regular season; but with the relative weakness of the SEC East in recent years, this wasn’t that surprising. Any negative implications were overcome by earlier games between the two conferences.

South Carolina kept North Carolina's offense wrapped up to open the season, although the two teams went in drastically different directions since.

South Carolina kept North Carolina’s offense wrapped up to open the season, although the two teams went in drastically different directions since.

In hindsight, one of the best non-conference wins was by an SEC team that didn’t even make a bowl game when South Carolina beat eventual ACC Coastal champions North Carolina in the opening week. I don’t hold it against the Gamecocks that they later (in the final week of the regular season) lost to eventual ACC Champions Clemson by 5. The Gamecocks also suffered the worst loss of an SEC team by losing to the Citadel in controversial fashion, but you expect non-bowl teams to lose such games from time to time.

The two bowl teams who were playing non-bowl teams, Louisville and Georgia, both won their rivalry games. Louisville only went 1-1 against the bottom half of the SEC though, as the Cardinals had lost to Auburn early in the season. On the other hand, Georgia had no non-conference losses.

The only game that on paper should have been competitive—Florida St.’s win over Florida—is a credit to the ACC, although the Gators were showing major signs of weakness against such opponents as Vanderbilt (won by 2) and Florida Atlantic (won by 6 in overtime) in prior weeks. The Gators would have likely finished much worse in conference than 7-1 had they not played 6 SEC games by the end of October and had the remaining two games not come against two of the worst SEC teams.

Why the SEC Led before Rivalry Week

Watch-SEC-Football-Online-e1374758489890

To talk a little more about why the SEC had a significant enough lead to remain #1 despite the final week, we can look at another of the worst SEC teams, Missouri. The Tigers beat Connecticut, not a good opponent by any means; but the Huskies were the only team to beat Houston, so they certainly had the talent to beat Mizzou. The Tigers also had a really quality non-conference win over BYU.

I do give credit to the fact that teams like South Carolina and Missouri were even able to compete and in some cases win against good competition out of conference.

Vanderbilt only went 1-2 against FBS opponents out of conference, but they got a road win over a Middle Tennessee team that will finish with a winning record. They also were a late two-point attempt away from tying Western Kentucky in regulation.

This is why SEC teams have such good schedules in my formula. They are guaranteed eight games against tough teams at a minimum. It happens there were three teams in the SEC who went 2-6 in conference and one that went 1-7, but I think the results I discussed indicate they might beat some of the best teams in other conferences and would have a shot at some of the mediocre teams.

If before the season you took the top 14 teams in the preseason poll and had them play 8 games against one another, there may well have been some that finished 2-6 or 1-7. As you might remember, Auburn was in the top 10 in most preseason projections and was actually #3 according to the ESPN power rankings.

The numbers

You can accuse me of trying to spin the results in these arguments, but I really don’t need to.

By my calculations, the SEC won 81.5% of its games out of conference. That’s 3.1% better than the Pac-12, which is second. To show how big of a gap that is, the Pac-12 was only 2.0% better than the #4 Big Ten.

Yet you can turn on ESPN any day of the week and probably listen to someone tell you it’s a down year for the SEC because it didn’t place a bunch of teams in the top 10.

To be fair, all but a couple of the SEC teams played an FCS opponent whereas in the Big Ten (for instance) only half of the teams did.

I would point out though that Big Ten teams played an average of exactly two games per team against either the bottom four conferences (being the MAC, CUSA, Sun Belt, or MWC) or 2-10 independent Army. The SEC played six fewer games against that latter group.

Regardless, the SEC was similarly better than the other conferences when you subtract out FCS opponents. SEC 78.6%, Pac-12 75.9%, Big Ten 72.9%, Big XII 72.7%.

Strength of schedule

You might also quibble about FBS strength of schedule, but further analysis only strengthens these numbers.

Other than the SEC, the only conference to win a majority of its games against the P5 (adding in Notre Dame) is the Big Ten. I think the SEC wins out in FBS strength of schedule because it played five games against the AAC while the Big Ten only played one, which it lost.

I believe Houston, Memphis, Temple, and Navy were the best four teams in the G5 conferences as a whole, so that’s why I treat that conference a little bit differently. The four teams I mentioned only lost two conference games that weren’t against one another (unfortunately for Memphis, they played and lost to all three of the others). Apart from those two, the only non-conference game any of that group lost were Notre Dame’s wins over Navy and Temple.

In that context, I think it’s understandable that Ole Miss and Vanderbilt both lost to teams from that group. Clearly, Ole Miss’s loss to Memphis was a negative for the SEC. It’s a negative for any conference to have one of its top teams lose a non-conference game, but that sure is better than a team like North Carolina losing to South Carolina or even a team like Stanford losing to Northwestern.

The only non-AAC team with a strong argument for being among the top four G5 teams was Bowling Green, which lost to Tennessee, the same Tennessee team that lost late (in overtime actually) to eventual playoff team Oklahoma. Yet the Vols only finished in a four-way tie for fourth in the SEC if you combine the two divisions (so actually a two-way tie for sixth if you give LSU and Arkansas credit for being in the better division).

Speaking of the MAC, I think that Tennessee win helps to balance out Arkansas’s loss to Toledo. The Rockets did not play in the MAC title game, but they were in a four-way tie for the MAC West title and went undefeated against a good non-conference slate.

So losing to Toledo was not as bad as it was made out to be when it happened. I also mentioned here how Arkansas was better statistically in the game. It’s pretty clear that they learned as the season went on to better translate yards into points as Brandon Allen’s passing improved.

I mentioned the other conferences a bit above, but I’ll mention some things I left out below.

OTHER P5 CONFERENCES

big10_logo_detail

The best Big Ten win was when Michigan St. beat Oregon, but to be fair, Michigan St. won its conference and Oregon didn’t win theirs. So that’s much less of a boost in my view than Northwestern’s win over Pac-12 champions Stanford.

pac-12

Utah’s win over Michigan was the best non-conference win by a Pac-12 team, followed closely by Stanford’s win over Notre Dame, but neither one was a lower-ranked team beating a top team of another conference. I think if Notre Dame had played a full ACC schedule, it would have finished second or third, so Stanford should have won that game. The Big Ten East was a good bit better than the Pac-12 South (don’t get me started on why they put Utah in the South), but I don’t know that third in the Big Ten East is much better than tied for first in the Pac-12 South.

big12logo

I haven’t talked much about the Big XII because it didn’t do much. Another part of Arkansas’s early-season struggles was a loss to Texas Tech. That seems to be the best non-conference win for the Big XII. The champion of the conference was supposed to beat Tennessee, so that’s not it. Minnesota is 5-7, and that was the best opponent that Baylor, TCU, or Oklahoma St. played out of conference. There were no good wins by the lower half of the conference, although West Virginia had a couple of borderline-decent wins over Maryland (which was had some bad luck in going 3-9 this year but made a bowl last year and is still a major-conference opponent) and Georgia Southern.

ACC

Other than Clemson’s win over Notre Dame and the SEC wins mentioned, I didn’t go into details about the ACC’s other three wins. They were Purdue twice and Illinois. So I that FSU win over Florida was actually the conference’s best win.

G5 DISCUSSION AND BEST WINS

I mentioned the best wins by the MAC, CUSA, and AAC because they came against the SEC. That’s right, the best CUSA win was over Vandy.

The Sun Belt’s best win was San Diego St., which went undefeated in conference after losing to South Alabama.

The MWC’s best win was Boise St. over Washington. The Broncos finished in a four-way tie for second in the Mountain division. The Huskies finished with a losing record in conference, but you still don’t expect a loss in hindsight to a team like Boise.

The winning percentages tell you pretty well who belongs where.

One exception of sorts: I give the MWC the nod over the CUSA even though the CUSA had a slightly better FBS record because MWC teams also beat Virginia and Colorado. I know three wins, none of which were won by the conference champion or runner-up, weren’t against great teams. Colorado might not even qualify as mediocre. But I don’t think Vanderbilt by itself is really a comparison. I certainly can’t put Purdue or Central Florida ahead of any of those.

The AAC had a better FBS record than the ACC but not a better overall record. I sided with the AAC because it played only one fewer P5 opponent despite having two fewer teams, and it won more games against P5 opponents. It was very close though. Had Georgia Tech upset Georgia or had Army beaten Navy, for instance, that would have made the difference. This was the only change from the prior Conference Report.

Full blog

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2015 Pre-Bowl Rankings

In Bowls, College Football, Preview, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on December 13, 2015 at 6:46 PM

Top 25

Rank Team Previous

1 Alabama 1
2 Clemson 2
3 Mich. St. 3
4 Oklahoma 5
5 Ohio St. 6
6 Iowa 4
7 Stanford 7
8 Houston 11
9 Notre Dame 8
10 N’western 10
11 Florida 9
12 Okie St. 12
13 Ole Miss 13
14 TCU 14
15 WKU 23
16 LSU 16
17 Michigan 17
18 Navy 19
19 Oregon 18
20 N. Carolina 15
21 Utah 21
22 Florida St. 24
23 Toledo 25
24 Memphis —
25 Temple 20

Full list of 128 teams

Out of rankings: (22) Baylor

RANK CFP 2014 KNT 2014 CFP 2015 KNT 2015
#1 Alabama Florida St. Clemson Alabama
#2 Oregon Alabama Alabama Clemson
#3 Florida St. Ohio St. Michigan St. Michigan St.
#4 Ohio St. Oregon Oklahoma Oklahoma

I’m 2/2 in agreeing with the CFP committee on the top 4 even though I disagreed with the order again. Even though I didn’t do a rankings blog last week, the top 4 wasn’t changed by Army/Navy. I agree with Michigan St. being ahead of Oklahoma, but I don’t agree with Clemson being ahead of Alabama. I think the Tide just played too many top-40 teams not to be ahead.

Last January, my #3 (also of the Big Ten) beat my #4 for the CFP national championship.

Last January, my #3 (also of the Big Ten) beat my #4 for the CFP national championship.

Last blog I mentioned how I felt about Florida, but not surprisingly, they ended the season too badly for an “NY6” bowl (meaning one of the bowls that the committee selects even though the semifinal bowls are actually on New Year’s Eve).

I can’t hate on the committee too much though, because they’re not that far away from me. The rules forced them to put Houston in one of the NY6 bowls, but still, my first 9 teams all made the major bowls.

Florida St. made it in (I guess) because they lost to the committee-s #1 and only one other. Two of the top 4 also have losses to losing teams, so I guess they thought it made sense not to penalize that. The difference is Florida St. only had one good win, which was Florida at the end of the year. The whole reason Florida isn’t in an NY6 bowl is that “Florida at the end of the year” hasn’t been very good, but you can’t expect every team to make perfect sense.

LSU, another team that didn’t finish well, ends up behind two teams it beat, but Western Kentucky won three more games than LSU did despite only one fewer loss. Florida also played a couple more games. LSU’s average score per playing week is still better than both Western Kentucky and Florida.

Ole Miss and Oklahoma St. were mostly deserving even though they finished behind Florida and Northwestern. I would have liked to have seen Florida play Northwestern, but that would have made the Citrus Bowl less money. To be fair, Michigan did beat Northwestern fairly easily and also had the freak loss to Michigan St. The Wolverines probably did play better overall than the Wildcats did. With my system, if the rules say you won, you won. Apart from one minor situation (home team winning by a field goal or less or in overtime), there isn’t even a slight change to the point value you gain or lose.

The main difficulty I had in producing the formula I use was balancing record with strength of schedule. I could value strength of schedule higher, and then teams like Houston and Western Kentucky would be lower. The reason I haven’t changed it is it should be very difficult for someone to be ranked ahead of a team like Clemson, an undefeated major-conference team. They’re only 0.01 ahead of Michigan St. So if I valued record just a little bit less, Western Kentucky or Houston might fall a spot, but so would Clemson.

I’d rather focus on getting the right teams at the top than giving three- and four-loss teams more representation in the top 10 or top 25 even though they would likely beat some of the teams with one or two losses.

What Should Happen in the Major Bowls

In Bowls, College Football on December 6, 2015 at 12:06 AM

Here are my full ratings after the games on Saturday.

I want to get this out there, so I may add pictures later. I’m not going to guess what the committee is going to do. I’ll just start with my top four and why it’s correct. Then I’ll talk about the other major bowls.

Semifinals
1. Alabama
2. Clemson
3. Michigan St.
4. Oklahoma

semifinals

According to my 100% objective ratings, Alabama has beaten 11, 16, 28, 31, 32, 34, 35, and 39. Their loss was to 13.

It’s extremely difficult to have that many top 40 opponents and only lose to one of them. The only team I can think of that went undefeated before the bowls against such a list was LSU in 2011.

You might say top 40 isn’t that good, but teams like Washington St. (a late field goal from beating Stanford), Pittsburgh, and Wisconsin (the last two barely lost to Iowa) are in that #30-40 group that you can’t afford not to play well when they’re you’re opponent. Even if a top 10 team should have an 80% chance against a team in that range, Alabama played 5 teams in that range and by that logic should have lost to one of them and didn’t.

The Tide going 3-1 against the top 30 is also very respectable. So the only team that beat them is in the top 20 and it was a close game despite 5 Alabama turnovers. Also, since it was so long ago, the chance of a repeat performance by Alabama is almost 0.

Clemson beat 9, 20, 22, and 38. They blew out #38, but they barely survived the other three games. They didn’t happen to lose any, but I believe that had the Tigers played 9 top 40 opponents instead of four their luck would have failed in one of those games.

cfp

I do think Clemson will look better than last year’s undefeated ACC champion Florida St. looked in the playoff, but I sincerely believe they are not the best team in the country.

Doesn’t Michigan St. have better wins too? Yes, but I think losing to a team like Nebraska toward the end of the season is much more concerning than the loss to Ole Miss. Ohio St. lost to a mediocre team last year, but (1) it was the first game of the season, and (2) at least that team went on to qualify for a bowl game with six wins. Also, just because a team ended up winning doesn’t mean that being seeded low was unjustified. I thought it was completely justified that the Buckeyes had to overcome being the #4 team last time.

Just for the sake of comparison, I’ll give the other losses and top 40 wins.

Michigan St. beat 5, 6, 17, and 18. They lost to 80. I think that just further bolsters my argument that a team does prove something by playing a series of top 40 teams if even a team nowhere near the top 40 can play well enough to beat a team like the Spartans. So they also suffer a bit for the lack of quantity of top-40 opponents.

Oklahoma beat 12, 14, 30, and 34. They lost to 75. I don’t think I need to further explain why I think they should be fourth in the playoff.

So I would have Alabama against Oklahoma in the Cotton and Clemson against Michigan St. in the Orange. It might happen anyway, but I doubt the committee agrees with my order.

Other “New Years Six” (NY6) Bowls

NY6

The first step is to replace any “displaced” champions. This would be the Big Ten champion, the SEC champion, and the Big XII champion. The ACC champion isn’t really displaced because the Orange Bowl is one of the semifinal bowls, so there is no special consideration for a secondary ACC team. The Pac-12 champion goes to its natural spot of the Rose Bowl.

If it were up to me, Ohio St. would play in the Rose Bowl ahead of Iowa. Both lost to Michigan St., but the Buckeyes played in a division that included Michigan, Penn St., and Indiana along with the Spartans and Buckeyes. Apart from Iowa, there were only two teams who finished at .500 or better overall in the Big Ten West.

I think Florida should play Oklahoma St. in the Sugar Bowl. I don’t think it’s right to penalize a team for having to play Alabama at the end of the season. I don’t rely on head to head, but it’s not a bad way to consider comparable teams.

I’ll go over why they’re comparable, and if anything Florida would have a slight edge even without looking at head to head. Both Florida and Ole Miss lost a game out of conference, but Florida St. is a more understandable loss than Memphis. Florida played two of the best three teams in the SEC West looking at their overall records, but of course they lost to LSU. Ole Miss’ only win against the SEC East was over Vanderbilt.

Oklahoma St. and TCU had almost identical schedules (they each had one OK bowl-eligible out of conference opponent apiece {although Minnesota is eligible as a 5-win team} and the nine-game conference schedule), so I’ll once again defer to head to head there. Both teams played three of their best opponents in the last four games, losing two. TCU won in overtime against Baylor, and Oklahoma St. beat TCU by 20.

I know in both cases, the team I’m arguing for has lost two in a row, but I think “body of work” as they call it should beat last impressions as a general rule.

The next step is to locate the Group of Five team that automatically makes an NY6. I don’t think anyone would argue that should be the AAC Champion Houston Cougars, who finish with only one loss. The Cougars won what was clearly the best conference that isn’t a traditional “Power 5” conference. So now we just need three more teams.

I have Iowa, Notre Dame, and Ole Miss. Notre Dame has only lost to Stanford and Clemson.

Northwestern has a good argument, but I don’t think a fourth Big Ten team should be in one of the major bowls. Stanford was a good win, but a distant second in the weaker of the two Big Ten divisions is pretty questionable.

Ole Miss has lost three games, to (11) Florida, (24) Memphis, and (39) Arkansas. Arkansas beat the Rebels by 1 in overtime after converting a freak fourth and 25 with an over-the-back lateral. Ole Miss is also the only team to beat Alabama, as mentioned. To give their win list (because I think some would be skeptical of this selection), it is: 1, 16, 28, 35.

I’ll take 4-3 against the top 40 over TCU’s 1-2 or Northwestern’s . That would be an easy choice in basketball, so it should be an easy choice here.

So for the two remaining bowls, the committee is instructed to:
• Create competitive matchups.
• Attempt to avoid rematches of regular-season games and repeat appearances in specific bowls.
• Consider geography.

Ole Miss went to the Peach Bowl last year (which I’m sure their fans would like to forget) and were also in Atlanta last year to play Boise St. So it would seem they should be sent to the Fiesta Bowl even though that isn’t particularly close. The Rebels make more geographic sense than Notre Dame or Northwestern though. Houston makes even more sense geographically.

The committee also wants to create competitive matchups. I think Ole Miss and Houston would be interesting. The Rebels would have a chance to redeem their earlier loss to an AAC opponent, and I think it would be an entertaining game.

Notre Dame and Iowa should be a good game, and I see no reason that wouldn’t be a competitive (though probably a more defensive) game. They should play in Chicago or Indianapolis or somewhere like that, but their fans might like to get out of the cold. Atlanta can be cool in January but is usually much more moderate than the Midwest. It will be nice and warm inside regardless.

This isn’t part of what the committee looks at, but I think it’s also good for the teams playing each other to be from similar areas, provided that the teams don’t normally play one another.

I’m not even going to try to address all the other bowls, although I did mention the SEC bowl affiliations briefly here.

SEC Final Comments and Championship Week

In Blogger Poll, Bowls, College Football, Post-game, Preview, SEC Wednesdays on December 4, 2015 at 10:10 PM

Obviously I missed Wednesday for SEC Wednesdays, but it’s not a full week coming up anyway. I thought I should give people something to read for the morning even if you don’t stay up this late wherever you are.

There are no moral victories, or so we’re told. But I’m going to claim some anyway.

I have no idea why in the world Alabama couldn’t run out the clock instead of scoring an extra touchdown with 26 seconds left against Auburn. Saban, Kiffin, Malzahn, and Muschamp have got to be making enough money that they don’t need to be shaving points. It was a nine-point game or less almost the entire night apart from a 47-second period in the third quarter. It’s just so bizarre how the universe keeps conspiring to make me look bad whatever I pick Auburn to do or not do.

I read some commentary later that maybe it was to build the Heisman resume, but that’s still cheap in my book.

Including the point spread, Kentucky led 28-7 at the half, well beyond my wildest expectations for the team; but the Wildcats were outscored 31-0 in the second half. And I thought LSU had some bad halves this month.

LSU was only beating the spread by half a point until their late touchdown.

I was only far off in two of them.

I really got Tennessee/Vandy wrong. I’m really surprised the Vols managed 53 points against such a good defense. The Vols had averaged just 23 points per game over the last three games against powerhouses South Carolina, Missouri, and North Texas.

Florida/Florida St. was pretty far off. The Gators usually play better for that game even in a mediocre season, but maybe they’re just no good at this point.

I made the correct against the spread picks with South Carolina (who was pretty good against the spread this season despite all the losses), Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Georgia. Georgia was only correct by a couple of points, so I’m grateful not to lose all the close ones.

I finish 28-43 against the spread. It was generally positive the last few weeks, but the 1-7 mark two weeks ago killed me. If it weren’t for that, I would have finished a respectable 43%. That erased all my gains over the last month, so I basically stayed at 40%.

I improved to 55-22 in picking winners. The only one I got wrong was Florida. I guess I should have known, but Florida St. wasn’t inspiring confidence either.

Hard to believe, but it's actually been 6 years since Alabama last played Florida for the SEC Championship.  The #2 Tide beat the #1 Gators 32-13 to get revenge for losing in the reverse situation in 2008.

Hard to believe, but it’s actually been 6 years since Alabama last played Florida for the SEC Championship. The #2 Tide beat the #1 Gators 32-13 to get revenge for losing in the reverse situation in 2008.

Tomorrow, Alabama is favored by 17.5. The Tide beat a similar team by 29 when it beat Missouri to win the SEC last year. Picking the Gators hasn’t been a good bet in a while, so I’ll pick Alabama minus the points.

Alabama likes to score points that don’t matter too. In addition to the end of the Auburn game I mentioned above, they also poured it on in the championship last year, winning the fourth quarter 21-0.

I decided against picking the bowl games. I like to judge teams on what they’ve done and what kind of seasons they’re having, but a lot of times that goes out the window for bowls. Some very good teams have the ball bounce the wrong way a couple of times, and then they don’t care when it’s time for bowl prep because they’re not playing for a championship. Whereas other teams who aren’t very good are thrilled to be in a given bowl (or any bowl) and anxious to prove themselves. I’ve had good seasons picking bowl teams in the past, but I just don’t think it’s in keeping with this series.

I’m not sure what exact format this will take next year. I might just concentrate on games within the conference and keep it going the whole season.

Just to comment on the playoff briefly, if there is an upset of either Clemson or Alabama, I’ll be very interested to see whether Stanford (assuming they win) or Ohio St. finishes higher. It seems like the winner of the Big Ten and Oklahoma have their spots already.

I also did a top 10 poll on another site with some other bloggers. You can check that out here.