USC vs. Alabama: Preview and Historical Analysis

In what likely is the marquee matchup of the 2016 college football season’s opening week, no. 20 USC and #1 Alabama will face off in Jerryworld. The game is tomorrow at 8:00 on ABC. Southern Cal is searching for a post-Hollywood identity, while Alabama has yet to identify its starting quarterback.

For further analysis, this historical footage of the two schools’ 1980 tilt should prove illuminating:

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2015 College Football Playoff: Opening Rankings and Conflict Conflicts

Last night, for the first time in the 2015 season, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee released its rankings. The Committee ranks twenty-five teams, and their top ten teams are shown in the images below.

These initial rankings offer plenty to critique about the Committee’s decisions this week and its process in general. Continue reading

Even a broken clock is right sometimes: Michigan State to #2 in the AP Poll

I have to agree, because the man said what I’ve been saying for a week now: Michigan State looks like the best team in the country at this moment. Both teams in the Oregon-MSU game looked better than anything the SEC had to offer through the first two weeks of the season.

Week three saw the Spartans struggle against Air Force’s triple-option offense, but, one has reason to expect, that data point will have little meaning going forward. Meanwhile, Georgia dominated South Carolina in what easily was the Dawgs’ best game of the year, and Ole Miss made it two straight over Alabama.

The Black Bears’Rebels’ win certainly was exciting, and it’s led some to argue that they deserve the top AP spot. Their sixty-four points per game and undefeated record that includes a win in Tuscaloosa merit a top-tier ranking, but home wins over UT-Martin and Fresno State aren’t terribly revealing.

Terribly revealing? Missouri’s ugly win over UCONN is a strong indication that the two-time SEC East champions are unlikely to defend their consecutive division titles in Atlanta this December. Ohio State had a similarly weak victory over Northern Illinois, but those Huskies are better than the ones from New England, and the Buckeyes’ recent track record suggests they’ll be fine going forward.

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Related
The selfishness of Colin Cowherd’s critique of Dan Patrick
Online sports media critics: When Colin Cowherd starts to make sense, it’s time to reevaluate your approach

College Football Playoff Championship Preview

Oregon meets Ohio State tonight in the inaugural College Football Playoff finale, and I’m most excited about the ESPN Megacast, which, in addition to the above, includes an ESPN Radio play-by-play broadcast as well. ESPN gets knocked around plenty for doing things like bowing to the will of “partners” like the NFL at the expense of its own journalistic integrity or hosting a platform for grey-matter destroyers like Skip Bayless, Stephen A. Smith, and Colin Cowherd, but there are times when they leverage their resources to make significant improvements to the fan experience. ESPN introduced the Megacast concept for the final BCS championship game one year ago, and it was such a success that it’s back again this year, bigger and better than ever. In the interim period, other networks have experimented with the concept, loosely defined, in other sports, and I believe this is the way we will enjoy all major sporting events in the near future.

(If at this point you are wondering what ESPN Goal Line is, it appears to be a Briagdoon-like offering that will materialize on your TV sometime today, maybe. Anyway, you can find me tuning into ESPN Classic’s “sounds of the game.”)

Game Comments

As Sports Illustrated graphically illustrated in this week’s issue, Ohio State and Oregon actually were quite close to each other this year in statistical terms. Initially, there are two reasons to question that apparent parity, however: 1) Oregon plays in the stronger Pacific Twelve conference, while OSU spent much of the season feasting on relatively weaker conference opponents, and 2) Ohio State earned much of its production with quarterbacks not named and thought to be superior to Cardale Jones, the man who will be under center for the Buckeyes tonight. It is right to regard Oregon as the better team in this matchup.

There are a number of factors that cut against Oregon’s edge, however:   Continue reading

The BCS is dead they say: Long live the BCS

cfp

When the BCS died a year ago, I wrote an introduction to the College Football Playoff that, in essence, contended that we were going to miss the BCS:

With the College Football Playoff ©, we will have one thing we asked for and one thing we did not. A semifinal playoff round will precede, and determine the participants in, the national championship game. That is good, and it was a structural shortcoming of the BCS. For some reason, though, the College Football Playoff © scrapped the BCS’s rankings system in favor of a Byzantine (Soviet? Orwellian?) black box: the PolitburoSelection Committee.

Participating in the BCS is like paying your income taxes: there’s a lot of math and fine print involved, you probably can’t quite find all of the information you need to calculate the precisely correct result, and there’s that guy down the block who hollers that the thing’s unconstitutional, but you generally have a pretty good idea of your expected outcome.

On the other hand, the new playoff’s Selection Committee recalls the Supreme Court: members deliberate behind closed doors, apply any criteria of their choosing in reaching decisions, and announce those decisions under their own terms.

On Sunday, the Selection Committee spoke for the last time in its inaugural season to announce the four playoff participants: Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, and Ohio State. Two days later, everyone outside of Texas generally seems to agree that this is the right result.

The only reason the results were or remain controversial has to do with what the Selection Committee did prior to Sunday. Their flipping and flopping of TCU, with seemingly connected treatments of Baylor and Minnesota, was the genesis of the confusion, surprise, and, in Fort Worth and Waco, disappointment, that arrived with the final playoff announcement. On one hand, those confused, surprised, and disappointed feelings were unwarranted: the Committee reached the correct result. On the other hand, however, they were unnecessary and likely would not have arisen absent the lack of transparency that now characterizes the college football ranking process.

If the BCS could speak from the grave, what would it say about the CFP Selection Committee’s final result? The answer, Continue reading

Book Review: Paul Finebaum’s Conference has Beaten Your Conference (Probably)

IMG-20140814-00138For someone who spends twenty hours a week on national airwaves as the host of an eponymous radio show, now simulcast on cable television, and makes regular television appearances on a major network, Paul Finebaum sure does manage to keep himself hidden.

I am not a longtime listener of Finebaum’s show by any means. I first remember hearing about him when I moved back to SEC country during the 2012 football season and he was still broadcasting on Birmingham’s WJOX. Due largely to my own preconceived misconceptions, I was surprised when I first heard the show following its move to ESPN Radio in 2013 to find that it was an extremely caller-driven show, to the point where Finebaum rarely asserted his own voice for purposes other than briefly sparring with or otherwise egging on his admittedly bombastic callers. At that time, the majority of those callers remained Alabama-based, and the Alabama-Auburn football rivalry served as nearly every item on the host’s go-to menu.

While a lot of this struck me as fairly standard cheap talk radio tactics, I remained intrigued by this person, who had risen to such prominence and reported influence, despite, I thought, hardly taking active steps to exert much in the way of influence. I therefore read the then-recent and still-surprising long feature on Finebaum in The New Yorker with great interest and anticipation. I found the piece to be more an introduction for Manhattanites to the other SEC and its attendant culture than a deep dive on Finebaum himself. Finebaum as access point, rather than Finebaum as subject. (A long Deadspin feature from the same year had a similar effect.) It’s a worthwhile read if you like college football. Still, I did not feel like I knew or understood this man, though, or why he was so widely regarded.

Fast forward (the lazy blogger wrote) to August 14, 2014. The SEC Network, an ESPN entity, launches (on Tim Tebow’s birthday, naturally), and Finebaum’s book, My Conference Can Beat Your Conference: Why the SEC Still Rules College Football, arrived in my mailbox.

Continue reading

Football scores

Football has kind of weird scores. Even though it is common to most readers of this blog, a sport where scoring 3 or 7 is common while 2 is rare is kind of weird in the scheme of sports (most other sports are strictly one point at a time other than basketball where 1, 2, 3 are each fairly common).

I was always interested as a kid in figuring out what possible scores can happen in a football game. Certainly multiples of seven are common: 7, 14, 21, 28, etc. along with one or two field goals thrown in for good measure. I wanted to know exactly which scores are possible and which are absolutely forbidden.

Each team’s score is independent of the other: how many points I can score doesn’t depend on how many the other team scores, so we need only look at a single team’s possible scores. For numbers less than seven, zero is clearly possible. Next, a safety gives two and a field goal three. Four, five, and six are made up of combinations of safeties and field goals. Then anything seven or greater can be scored by following simples rules (along with many other possible combinations): keep subtracting seven point touchdowns as long as possible. If the remaining score is zero, you are done. If it is one, switch one of the extra points to a two point conversion. Otherwise, if it is two through six, add safeties and field goals as necessary. For example, if a team had its heart set on scoring 43 points in a game, we would see that six touchdowns takes us to 42, one point short, so five regular touchdowns plus one with a two point conversion gets us there. (For the adventurous reader, this sort of math is known as modular arithmetic.)

This leaves us with any score accessible except for one. This was always a bit disappointing because that is infinitely many possible inaccessible scores. But so it goes.

Except, not. Actually this is not true at all. Continue reading

A note on rants

The substantial development of online social networks as a solidifying infrastructure for the movement of information online has reinforced on the web the tenets of the attention economy and turned the internet, as concerns the sharing of content, into the interactive, digital version of a supermarket checkout aisle magazine display or afternoons on cable news networks. Whether you’re hawking cat videos or the latest from Miley Cyrus, the internet is in a serious tabloid phase, and the clickbait semantics of TMZ, Gawker, and Buzzfeed pervades. In the unending drive to control attention, the currency of our present time, everything must be labeled “awesome,” “EPIC,” “incredible,” “the best X you’ll see today,” “spectacular,” “fabulous,” and so forth, even if it’s barely out of the ordinary. It’s increasingly difficult to describe anything in measured terms, and we’re losing perspective on the degree to which anything truly is extraordinary.

The latest example of this phenomenon comes in the treatment of comments in a postgame press conference by Southern Illinois University head men’s basketball coach Barry Hinson, who expressed open frustration with his young team after a loss. It wasn’t the handful of mumbled sports cliches we’ve come to expect in such settings, but neither was it, upon my eventual listen, an extreme outburst deserving of the extreme attention it received. “Epic Rant!”, numerous outlets exclaimed. “Amazing tirade.” “Must-see video.” “Epic postgame rant for the ages,” they said.

Please. I’ve heard Denny Green. I’ve heard Jim Mora. I’ve heard Mike Gundy. I’ve heard Mary Carillo. Barry Hinson doesn’t hold a candle to those artists.

If you wanted a true rant this week, you just needed to wait until Wednesday afternoon. Colin Cowherd came on the Paul Finebaum Show and said that he thought that Gus Malzahn has Auburn situated to give Nick Saban and Alabama stiff competition in the coming years, and Cowherd predicted that the Tigers would beat Alabama again next year on their way to back-to-back national titles. Some of Finebaum’s Alabama listeners did not appreciate Cowherd’s opinions, and they called in to say so. As I heard the call of one such fan, Phyllis, unfold while listening to the Cowherd segment this morning, I had the slow-dawning realization that I was experiencing true radio magic. Listen for yourself:

(The full segment is available here.)

2013 college football bowl schedule

Before getting to the 2013-14 college football bowl schedule and associated predictions and operations, a note on sponsored discourse. In this post-Musburger-for-all-the-Tostitos world, it is an unremarkable fact that the bowl games are not merely sponsored football contests but business entities in and of themselves, the sponsorship-style nomenclature– e.g., “the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl”– a mere reflection of the game’s less overtly monied past. Even the ostensible bastion of postseason intercollegiate purity now is known as “the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio.”

When a bowl game is a business, and not merely a happening, there is an associated shift in the commercial advertising language referential to that business. The NFL’s decision to prohibit the use of “Super Bowl” by non-league advertisers, who now must offer you late-January deals on new televisions for watching “the big game,” provides a rough analogy.

I understand and accept the logic behind a business’ desire to control its portrayal in other business’ advertisements and insist on inclusion of a game’s full, sponsored title in that portrayal. What I do not understand is why the news media plays along. This week, I heard a local sports talk show talk about talking about Georgia’s appearance in “the Taxslayer dot com Gator Bowl,” and that’s far from the only example. I understand that some of the sponsors have integrated their names into the bowl games’ names in such a way that it’s difficult– or, where the sponsor’s name and the bowl’s name are one and the same, impossible– to say the bowl’s name without saying the sponsor’s name as well (e.g., the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl and the Capital One Bowl, respectively). “Taxslayer dot com” is a mouthful, though, and everybody already knows the Gator Bowl. “The Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio” is ridiculous to say, and things like “the Allstate Sugar Bowl,” “FedEx Orange Bowl,” and “Tostitos Fiesta Bowl” simply are superfluous. Why the sports news media feels obligated to append these sponsor names when discussing the bowls is beyond me, and you won’t find us doing it here, unless it’s something humorous like the Beef O’Brady Bowl or the RealOakFurniture.com Bowl.

Onto the bowl schedule, which begins this Saturday.   Continue reading

College Football Fan Guide: Championship Week Edition

Last week was one of the best football weeks in recent memory, and although our Tuesday Afternoon Inside Linebacker weekly feature has fallen by the wayside due to worldly obligations, this week and the week ahead deserve note.

The Lions started things off on Thanksgiving with a wonderful win over Green Bay. It was Detroit’s first win on Turkey Day in nine years, and it was the first time Matt Stafford beat the Pack. The Lions also avenged the career game Matt Flynn had the only previous time he quarterbacked Green Bay against Detroit.

Brendan and I were in the Big House for Michigan’s surprise one-point loss to Ohio State, and I made it out of Ann Arbor in time to see Georgia come back to defeat Georgia Tech in overtime, note Vandy’s comeback win over Wake Forest, and watch maybe the greatest one second of college football in Auburn’s regulation toppling of Alabama in the Iron Bowl.

Records of note:

  • Auburn: 11-1 (35-21 loss at LSU)
  • Michigan State: 11-1 (17-13 loss at Notre Dame)
  • Ohio State: 12-0
  • Vanderbilt: 8-4 (poised for second consecutive nine-win season)
  • Missouri: 11-1 (27-24 2OT loss against South Carolina)

Bowl outlook:

  • Rose Bowl: Barring a very bad loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game Saturday night, Michigan State seems set to ring in the new year in Pasadena. Here are the details on that situation.
  • Bowl projections keep waffling Vandy between the Music City and Liberty Bowls. Despite having a national championship in women’s bowling, they can’t seem to roll outside the Volunteer State. The former Independence Bowl in Shreveport might be a good alternative.

The BCS national championship: Right now, Florida State is set to play Ohio State, but that could change after this weekend. Each team needs to beat its conference championship opponent, Duke and Michigan State (more on basketball later!) respectively, of course. Auburn’s also in the mix here. If the Eagles/Tigers/Plainsmen beat Missouri in the SEC championship game, one-loss/SEC champ Auburn could leap an undefeated Ohio State. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Just ask Florida head coach Urban Meyer:

There are a lot of people making a lot of decisions out there, but this is a big one. We’re going to tell a group of young men, who just went 12-1 in a most difficult schedule against six ranked opponents, that they don’t have a chance to play for a national championship? I’m going to need help with that one.

That was back in 2006, though, and in 2013, Meyer finds himself singing a decidedly different tune as the head coach of Ohio State. 2006 Urban Meyer got his way, something 2013 Urban Meyer ought to keep in mind this week.

(HT: @DrunkAubie)