A Word on SEC Championship Game Rematches

The conventional “wisdom,” if you can call it that, from the ESPN pundits is that Auburn so thoroughly dominated Georgia the first time around, that there isn’t much Georgia can do if they play again. If you watched the game, and I did, that is certainly the way it looked. Auburn’s defensive line dominated, their offensive line won the battle, Auburn moved the ball, Georgia didn’t, and they led the game 40-10 before a meaningless late touchdown. So… case closed right?

Well, that’s an interesting theory, or, uh… hypothesis, if you will. How does it hold up to further analysis, or, uh… data. Yes, data. Let’s see. Like many things in college football, the data is limited. Small sample size yada yada yada. The sample size is 7. But here they are. All of the SEC Championship game rematches in history (plus LSU-Bama in 2011, rematching in the national title game):

Year Teams Regular Season Postseason Difference
1999 Florida/Alabama Alabama by 1 Alabama by 27 26
2000 Florida/Auburn Florida by 31 Florida by 22 9
2001 LSU/Tenn Tenn by 8 LSU by 11 19
2003 LSU/UGA LSU by 7 LSU by 21 14
2004 Auburn/Tenn Auburn by 24 Auburn by 10 14
2010 Auburn/S.Car. Auburn by 8 Auburn by 39 31
2011 LSU/Alabama LSU by 3 Bama by 21 24

First things first, only 2 times in 7 rematches has the result changed, in that the loser of the regular season matchup won the postseason game. Those occurred in 2001 and 2011. However, perhaps the biggest takeaway is that 6 times out of 7, the game changed significantly. Only in 2000 was the result basically the same – that being a comfortable win for Florida both times. The other 6 games all went from a close game to a blowout, or vice versa. The average difference in score is over 19 points. Maybe the first game is not a very strong predictor of the second game?

Well, hold on you say. This is only 7 games. And you’d be right, it is a small sample size, but you work with the data you’ve got. Here, I can also add this list of bowl games that have been regular season rematches. Going back to the same starting point (1992, beginning of the SEC title game), there have been 14 such games, and only 4 of these 14 bowl games were won by the team that won the regular season game (excluding the 1995 Sugar Bowl, the “Fifth Quarter in the French Quarter,” because the two teams tied the regular season game).

So, still a small sample size. But the data certainly suggest the first game is not a good predictor of the second game. Not at all. Stated differently, the hypothesis that the first game played between two teams will be a reasonable predictor of a hypothetical rematch has very little support. Thus, when two teams play twice in the same season, the first game is not a good predictor of the second game. That is the “what.”

The “why” is just speculation. We don’t have any data that goes to the cause. However, I can guess as to some reasons. First of all, I’d simply say that the logic is wrong in the first place. Most fans seem to think that a football game is good evidence of something. It shows you who the better team is. I’d argue that’s wrong. Maybe a team’s 12 or 13 game record is good evidence (maybe it’s only so-so evidence). But I’d argue that one game isn’t good evidence of anything. Too many variables, too much luck. In other words, the first game might be a poor predictor of the second game because the first game has a significant luck factor, and so does the second game.

Other possible explanations for this phenomenon are psychological. The players and coaches from the winning team feel like all they have to do is not make any mistakes, and they’ll win again the same way they won the first time. They may have a hard time getting up for the game. The coaches may feel pressure not to change their scheme. After all, it worked the first time. Meanwhile, the second team is adjusting. Its players are angry, and out to prove the first game was a fluke. The opposite can also happen. Consider 2010 – Auburn may not have thought it was a great team during the first matchup, early in the year, when they beat South Carolina by 8. But after finishing the year unbeaten, Auburn was in a different mental state, and out to prove they actually were much better than a 3 loss South Carolina team.

Those are my two best guesses, but there are other conceivable explanations. However, the facts are what they are. And the facts suggest that if Auburn and Georgia play in the SEC Championship game, Auburn may not be as big of a sure thing as the media thinks. In fact, Auburn did get a number of apparently lucky breaks the first time around (fumbled punt, the “leaping” personal foul) which resulted in extra possessions. For whatever its worth, the computers mostly think Auburn would be favored by about a field goal and would have perhaps a 55-60% chance to win. That doesn’t sound very much like the first game. Based on the above, that probably means its exactly right.

Perhaps UGA fans should be cheering for Auburn to win this weekend, so they get a rematch, rather than playing Alabama for the first time.

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Vanderbilt vs. UGA: A day to be reckoned with

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As promised, we were in Athens last Saturday for Vanderbilt-Georgia, a game in which the homecoming Dawgs were favored by more than two touchdowns. Instead, the Commodores eked out a one-point victory on the road. Although it probably wasn’t too exciting on television, this was an entertainingly tense game to attend in person.

Two game notes, and then I’ll turn it over to the Vandy football video crew:

  1. The Vanderbilt defense is excellent against the run, which happens to be Georgia’s offensive strength, but they were helpless against the pass. UGA should’ve called nothing but pass plays until VU forced them to do something else.
  2. This was Vandy head coach Derek Mason’s first conference win, which is nice, but it probably should have come sooner. Like, maybe the week before in Lexington? Neither Georgia nor Vanderbilt are making much football sense in 2016.

ALDLAND goes live to the Battle of Athens

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We will be in Sanford Stadium tomorrow when Vanderbilt, based in Nashville (i.e., the Athens of the South), faces Georgia, based in Athens, in a game that will decide which city will retain its Southern Athenian identity and, maybe, third place in the SEC East.

Thus far, this season has been a disappointment for both schools, but tomorrow’s game should at least allow fans a nice look at each team’s stars. For Georgia, that means the return of the combined running attack of Nick Chubb and Sony Michele. For Vanderbilt, it means the return of the SEC rushing leader, Ralph Webb, who, I am told, will play tomorrow after suffering an injury during last week’s loss at Kentucky.

The star power of Webb distracts from the Black & Gold’s numerous deficiencies and, in some sense, Webb reminds me of Earl Bennett, a Vandy wide receiver who, ten years ago, became the SEC all-time reception leader. Following the exciting and brief James Franklin era, the Commodores have regressed under Derek Mason to a team reminiscent of those overseen by Bobby Johnson: above-average defense that worked hard to keep the team in games while the offense, with its lone leader (then Bennett, now Webb) tried to keep pace on the scoreboard until the overworked defense eventually gave out and the opposing team ran away with the game. Mason and his assistants have better resumes than Johnson and his assistants did, but the results have been the same.

During the last ten years, though, Vanderbilt has played Georgia close and even stolen a few wins. Those have tended to come in home games for the Commodores, though; the Dawgs typically have routed them in Athens. Vanderbilt nevertheless goes on the road tomorrow in search of its first conference win of 2016. Kickoff is at noon on SEC Network, and we’ll be there. Follow along here for live updates.

Reading the Richter Scale: Week Nine

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After entering yet another season with high hopes, the Georgia Bulldogs have limped to a 5-3 start, with all three losses coming against SEC opponents. Like last year, they lost their star running back to serious injury and Florida embarrassed them in Jacksonville. Matching last year’s 10-3 record will require the Dawgs to win out– they’ve already equaled 2014’s loss total. With remaining games against Kentucky, Auburn, Georgia Southern, and Georgia Tech, as well as a presumptive bowl opponent, that’s not an impossible task, but without Nick Chubb or any coherence at quarterback, it is far from guaranteed, especially without a bailout defense. In terms of end-of-season incentives, that bowl-game appearance is all the team has to play for, though, the Florida loss having eliminated UGA from contention for the SEC championship. Before the season started, Georgia’s representation of the SEC East in that game was a foregone conclusion.

Now, a groundswell seems to be building against Richt, with demands for a change coming from across the spectrum: Finebaum callers, the beat writers, and “major” boosters. It’s the last group that really moves the meter in situations like these. Richt is under contract through 2018 thanks to an extension he signed in January. If the school wants him gone before then, a buyout, likely funded with booster money, would be necessary.   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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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 wrapup: 2014-15

The 2014 college football season is in the books, and Ohio State is the first school to win a national championship determined by a postseason playoff system.

Beyond the usual discussion of champions and coaching legacies (quickly: Urban Meyer– three national championships at two different schools, evil; Nick Saban– four national championships at two different schools, merely soulless), one of the central season-in-review topics of conversation, at least in these parts, is whether the SEC is over. Surprisingly but also not surprisingly, Paul Finebaum, voice of the SEC, answers the question implied in the previous sentence in the affirmative. (UPDATE: PFT Commenter emphatically concurs.) Although he’s been developing his position over the course of his daily radio show since roughly the first of the year, he summed up the general point in his appearance on Keith Olbermann’s show just before the national championship game:

In short: “It was a pretty bad year for the SEC.”

Although I contemplated the notion of Peak SEC at least as early as December 2012 and later pegged the possible date somewhat more recently, I’m not sure I agree that the SEC is over.

The SEC’s bowl record was 7-5. (They were 7-3 last year.) The Pacific Twelve was 6-2 (exclusive of Oregon’s national championship loss), the Big Ten was 5-5 (exclusive of Ohio State’s national championship win), the Big XII was 2-5, and the ACC was 4-7. In other words, among the power five conferences, the SEC had the most teams playing in bowl games and notched the second-best winning percentage.

What seems to concern Finebaum, though, is a sudden lack of championships. That people think the SEC is done for because one of its members hasn’t played for a national championship in a whole year and hasn’t won one in a whole two years is a testament to the never-before-seen degree of dominance the conference produced during the BCS era. Prior to Ohio State’s inaugural CFP championship on Monday, the Big Ten had 1.5 national championships since 1970. The SEC had nine in the BCS era (i.e., since 1998) alone. The ACC had two BCS championships, the ACC had two, the (now-defunct for football purposes) Big East had one, and the then-Pac Ten had one, since vacated.

After the hunt for Mississippi October turned up empty and OSU knocked Alabama out in the semis, the SEC may need to do a little more to earn its seeds next year, but I’m not sure we can say the conference is measurably weaker simply because it failed to produce a national champion this year. If anything, the above suggests the conference is as deep as ever.

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Transitioning toward the offseason and the 2015 season, I’ll use this space to remind everyone that Michigan State’s only losses in 2014 were to Ohio State and Oregon. The Spartans face both teams again in 2015, albeit without the aid of their departed defensive coordinator, Pat Narduzzi. Continue reading

Judges Take Swings at The ‘Baseball Rule’ (via Fulton County Daily Report)

A panel of the Georgia Court of Appeals on Tuesday tested the Atlanta Braves’ argument that the team should be insulated from suits by fans hit by flying bats or balls.

The Braves’ lawyer, former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears, said the appeals court should adopt the so-called “baseball rule,” which says teams are immune if they provide enough seats behind home plate shielded by a net to meet demand.

Hearing the case with two colleagues, Judge Michael Boggs wondered why the baseball industry should get its own rule. “The concern being, of course, if you carve out a rule for baseball, if we adopt the baseball rule, next week we’ll be adopting the hockey rule, and the week after that we’ll be adopting another rule,” he said.

The case was filed against the Braves by a parent of a 6-year-old girl who was hit by a foul ball while attending a game at Turner Field in 2010. A Fulton County judge has refused to dismiss the case.

Backed by the commissioner of Major League Baseball, the Braves say the baseball rule is used in the majority of states that have adopted a rule around errant balls and bats at baseball venues.

On Tuesday, Sears told the judges that the Braves need to know exactly what their duties to spectators are. “The baseball rule is a clear rule,” she said, “and, quite frankly, its clarity is its virtue.”

Arguing for the girl and her family, Atlanta lawyer E. Michael Moran of Law & Moran said it didn’t make sense to adopt a rule created for baseball in another jurisdiction about 100 years ago. “The game has changed,” he said, noting high rates of speed of balls hit by players today. … Read More

(via Fulton County Daily Report)

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)

Dawg Upset: Vanderbilt defeats Georgia in Nashville, 31-27.

uga @ vandy 2013ALDLAND was out in force last weekend for a cool, damp morning (11:00 am kickoff!) of football in Nashville. Brendan and Marcus broke down the game, as well as Vanderbilt’s bowl chances, in this week’s podcast, so listen to that for full game analysis. The Commodores took the lead in the second quarter on a perfectly executed fake field goal attempt. Two almost certainly erroneous targeting calls against Georgia helped Vanderbilt as well, but Vandy’s surprisingly poised redshirt freshman backup quarterback, Patton Robinette, who came on in relief of injured starter Austyn Carta-Samuels, deserves mention as well. (A botched Georgia punt was reminiscent of the last time these schools met in Nashville. This time, though, the Commodores were able to capitalize on the special-teams error.) Despite reasonably ample scoring, the game developed slowly through the first three quarters before the home team posted seventeen points in an exciting fourth quarter, erasing a thirteen-point deficit to claim an upset victory. It was Vanderbilt’s first conference win of the year (after a heartbreaking loss to Ole Miss to start the season), and both teams moved to 4-3 overall.

While Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin said that either Carta-Samuels or Robinette would be available for this weekend’s game at Texas A&M, he said yesterday that Robinette would start the game and that Carta-Samuels would not be available this week.

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Previously
Michigan On Top
Walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death: Clemson outpoints Georgia 38-35

ALDLAND Podcast

The World Series is here and the ALDLAND Podcast is here to talk about it. Boston . . . St. Louis . . . playing baseball. What more could you want? College football, of course, and there’s plenty of that as your favorite cohosts preview all the interesting week 9 matchups.

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