Monday, August 21, 2006

Blog Polling The Square Table

The Blog Poll is here. Yea! As you've probably seen, Ohio State checks in at the top spot. Along with the release of the Blog Poll comes the first Blog Poll Roundtable which is presented by arguably my favorite ND blogger, House Rock Built. A couple of days ago he put together a NCAA Presidential Decision Maker which had me laughing for about a half an hour. This time he's posed some great questions which I will endeavour to answer. Several people have provided some informative answers: Dawg Sports, Sunday Morning Quarterback, Burnt Orange Nation, The Cover Two, and others.

Here are mine.

1. What's the biggest ripoff in this preseason poll? Either pick a team that's offensively over or underrated, or you can rag on a particular voter's bad pick (hey, we're all adults here, we can handle it).

West Virginia. The only reason this team is in the top ten in the Coaches and AP is their high school/nursing home schedule. 5th in the AP and 7th in the Coaches? Their schedule is a joke. Playing the entire "eastern block", East Carolina and Eastern Washington, should not be rewarded by the voters. Yes their offense is back nearly intact, but it racked up its yards against some suspect defenses. Additionally, I simply think Louisville is a better team in that conference and there's only room for 1 Big East team in the top ten. Not because of my mid-west bias, but because its not a good conference.

I also don't buy the "Look what WV did to Georgia" line of reasoning. If Georgia doesn't take a giant dump on the first quarter, they win that game. During the game, despite playing three quarters, Georgia racked up 501 total yards of offense, including well over 200 on the ground. Its important to note WV had trouble against thegood teams they faced. Remember the Mountaineers got doubled-up by Virginia Tech.

Like last year, the biggest problem for WV will be defense. While a majority of the DLine returns they're replacing almost all of their defensive backfield. While I think this is a good team, its second best in the weakest BCS conference. WV will win 10 or 11 games, but the voters shouldn't reward success against a terrible schedule.

As a result of this post I have hidden every couch I own and the couches of everyone I care about.

2. What should a preseason poll measure? Specifically, should it be a predictor of end-of-season standing (meaning that a team's schedule should be taken into account when determining a ranking), or should it merely be a barometer of talent/hype/expectations?

The preseason polls drive me nuts. In the end they are highly irrelevant and based on pure speculation. Armed only with preseason magazines and last year's film, everyone attempts to predict the unpredicable. The biggest problem with the AP and Coaches Polls is they reward teams based on reputation rather than their potential results. This tends to skew the year end rankings. Michigan's #3 ranking last year was a perfect example.

Another problem is very good teams, like the Oregon's of the world, tend to be completely disadvantaged because they start unranked and have to battle against their presupposed reputations regardless of their performance. Big name potential two loss teams remain in the top 10 when smaller name (but major conference schools) with no or one loss potential sit below them despite tougher schedules.

In my humble opinion the preseason polls should judge where the voters believe those teams will finish at the end of the year.

I'd propose the following measure for preseason polling:

(Overall talent/coaching/etc.) + (surrounding hype) +/- (schedule*) = School's Rank
*[if a hard schedule they can win its a plus/if a hard schedule they can lose its a minus/if a easy schedule they can win its a minus)

I think you should be evaluated on your chances of success against a quality schedule, not how good you look in a uniform. If you've got a buttload of talent but a killer schedule, somewhere in the teens so you can sort it all out. If you're a Major Program with a joke of a schedule it should count heavily against you. Once everyone's on the same playing field the polls can go back to talent and expectations alone. Until then I believe that a team's schedule should count against them in that equation.

Examples: Michigan plays ND/MSU/PSU/Iowa/OSU but also CMU and Ball State. Against what is arguably a good schedule they should go between 9-3 and 11-1. So somewhere between 8-14 is an appropriate ranking. West Virginia, as discussed above should go between 10-2 and 12-0, but plays only two good teams all year. With schedule counting against them, they should rank similarly to Michigan. USC and Texas, teams with difficult OOC schedules and tougher in conference schedules, who legitimately can run the table get higher rankings. Between 1 and 7.

By penalizing schedule padding like this we encourage teams to play difficult opponents but also allow them the flexibility of a cream puff or two. The idea is to keep it at two crappy non-confs a year, and if you're in a crappy league to schedule harder non-conf opponents. My reasoning is flawed. I admit. But its a thought on preseason rankings.

3. What is your biggest stretch in your preseason ballot? That is to say, which team has the best chance of making you look like an idiot for overrating them?

Two possibilities. #6 Miami and #14 Tennessee.

Miami is suspect on the O-line and is breaking in new coaches all over the board. Coaches in transition combined with a shakey O-line is not a good way to start a season. Nor is it a good way to start a season when two starters and two backups get suspended for the FSU game. Throw in the Willie Williams mess and you've got yourself a problem under the surface. It's possible this team could implode.

Tennesse also could come back to bite me in the ass. The Vols were terrible last year. Add in the fact that they're replacing six of their front seven on defense and the majority of their offensive line and this could be another long season for Rocky Top. Last year's defense wasn't that good and the guys replacing them couldn't get on the field last year. Anytime you're replacing linemen, well, that's bad. I still think they'll be fine and finish in the top 25, but if there's a stretch with the potential to make me cry, its them.

4. What do you see as the biggest flaw in the polling system (both wire service and blogpolling)? Is polling an integral part of the great game of college football, or is it an outdated system that needs to be replaced? If you say the latter, enlighten us with your new plan.

My biggest problem with polling in general is that everyone plays by their own rules. There is no uniform standard by which to evaluate teams, seasons, and on-field results. This results endless arguments over who got screwed when USC faced OU and who should've gone to the Citrus Bowl rather than the Alamo Bowl. All of these arguments are valid, totally irrelevant, and a load of fun.

Despite its flaws I think the poll system is the best method we have for determining a champion. Beside Auburn fans, does anyone really think they would've beaten USC? The system as it exists allows for infinite debate between friends, rivals, media, and schools. It lets us keep the conversation going well past the end of the season and long before the next one begins. How many of you almost wet yourselves with giddiness when the first polls were released just so you could critize them?

The system is set up in such a way that it engenders a certain excitement that is far more palpable than the opening of the NFL preseason. Debate begins because there is something to debate. Judgments have been made and it is up to us, the individual fans, to tell everyone in earshot how right or wrong those judgments are. Frankly, it's a hell of a lot of fun. Because of the interaction, the debate, and the anticipation we get every week when the polls come out, I think they are an irreplaceable part of college football that. While they're in need of a tweaking, they help to make college football what it is.

Regarding a possible replacement, no one has come up with a better methods to accurately judge the on field accomplishments of college football players. The BCS is as close as we've come, but it has its well documented problems. There are plenty of people calling for a playoff as a fool proof means of crowning a champion, but even that has its flaws. How do the seeds work? Who gets in? What if you have two identical teams at the bottom, who gets screwed and gets in? How do the payouts work? What happens to those mid level teams that count count on a small bowl payout, but a payout none the less?

Like Kyle, I deplore the idea of a college football playoff. There are too many teams for a fair playoff system to ever be devised. I like the bowl system. I like having college football games that are the final game to their players. I like the idea of rewarding the kids for a positive season, no matter what their alumni think.

One of the best things about College Football, is the orgy of football that takes place leading up to the new year with it culimating with Football equivalent of "Boogey Nights" on New Year's Day. Its awesome. Every channel has a game on. You can flip between games during commercials and never run out of football. Compared to the NFL playoffs which peter out within two weeks and then give us a meaningless build up to a single game. (Which unfortunately what we have now in college football with the post season spanning over a week after New Years). Still, we get a full month of "last games" between college teams, with each new game building toward the eventual championship game. To me that's pretty special.

Finally, I think the Blog Poll does what it sets out to do. Look at the records. Look at the talent. Judge the teams as if they were in the Kumate, single elimination, who's still standing. I like it for what it is. The layman's view of college football. It makes for endless debate and amusing crossfire. No matter how hard we try, even within our little cabal people will adjudge things differently than the rules dictate and the results might be somewhat skewed. That's what makes it fun.

5. You're Scott Bakula, and you have the opportunity to "Quantum Leap" back in time and change any single moment in your team's history. It can be a play on the field, a hiring decision, or your school's founders deciding to build the campus in Northern Indiana, of all godforsaken places. What do you do?

I would go back in time and prevent the hiring of Mike Gittleson. Here is why.

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