Sunday, November 26, 2006

The problem with Florida's schedule

I've been having an ongoing email debate with the BCS Guru about where Florida stands vis-a-vis USC and strength of schedule. In his last email he said:

The reality is, the computers rank USC's schedule strength ahead of Florida's. Four of the five computers rank the Pac-10 ahead of the SEC. And five Pac-10 teams, including USC, have among the 11 toughest schedules in the country. That's the argument that USC's schedule is harder than Florida's: USC has a tougher non-conference schedule and plays in a tougher conference.
As a die hard SEC fan I could not accept the idea that Southern Cal's schedule could be judged as superior to that of Florida's so I set out to prove the BCS Guru wrong. But what I found in my analysis was hardly conclusive.

It turns out that Florida has beaten better teams than USC and lost to a better team than USC did. The problem is that the lower echelon teams Florida played weren't as good as the lower echelon teams USC played.

Here's how I reached that conclusion. I sorted Florida's and USC's opponents in descending order by their Sagarin rank.

Florida Opponent, Sagarin Rank:
LSU, 4
Arkansas, 8
Tenn, 9
Auburn, 12
S. Carolina, 24
Georgia, 30
Kentucky, 43
Alabama, 44
FSU, 51
Southern Miss, 57
Vandy, 65
UCF, 110

USC Opponent, Sagarin Rank:
California, 7
Arkansas, 8
Notre Dame, 11
Oregon State, 19
Oregon, 21
UCLA, 23
Arizona State, 27
Nebraska, 29
Washington State, 31
Arizona, 37
Washington, 40
Stanford, 100

As you can see Florida has one common opponent with USC among its top 4 opponents. Florida's other top 3 oppponents are better (harder) than USC's. But the remaining 8 opponents on USC's schedule are better when matched up head to head with Florida's remaining 8 opponents.

I also looked at Sagarin's "Predictor" ratings for the opponents of both schools. These Predictor ratings are supposed to help predict the winner and margin of victory between any two opponents. That margin of victory is supposed to be the difference between the two opponent's "Predictor" ratings. Normally you would add another 3 points to the home team. In my analysis I do not add 3 points because the match-ups are hypothetical and are therefore played on a neutral site.

I sorted the opponents of both teams in descending order of their Predictor ratings and matched up Florida's top opponent with USC's and Florida's second opponent with USC's second opponent and so forth.

It turns out that Florida's opponents are 3-9 when matched up head to head with USC's. This doesn't help to make a case for Florida's schedule, but it should be noted that in a lot of cases the differences in predictor rankings are less than 2 points so you could say it's very very close. In fact the average Predictor rating for USC opponents is 78.96 compared with 77.22 for Florida's opponents. It's not hands down that USC's schedule is harder than Florida's.

ALSO, NOTE that I took Western Carolina out of the mix because Florida will have played 13 games at season's end while USC only plays 12. But Western Carolina affects Florida's strength of schedule because as far I can tell those are based on averages and they bring Florida's average way down (Western Carolina is ranked 212 by Sagarin, out of 241).

My analysis also assumes UF beats Arkansas and USC beats UCLA. Those two games will affect the strength of schedule for each school respectively, since Sagarin's strength of schedule only takes games played into account not games scheduled.

Among the reasons why Florida's strength of schedule is lower than USC's is that UCF and FSU didn't live up to pre-season expectations (not UF's fault) and because they scheduled Div. 1AA Western Carolina (UF's fault).

As Gators we have to live with it. Let's hope our athletic department can find another Div. 1A school to replace UCF (which is trying to pull out of the match-up) next year instead of WKU (who is being talked about as a replacement), a transitioning program that would count as a Division 1AA opponent. Otherwise we end up in the same predicament next year.

Some final thoughts. As I said Florida has beaten better top teams than USC and lost to a better team than USC did but USC's schedule was better top to bottom. It would be an interesting match-up to say the least (between Florida and USC) but we will never see it because of the ridiculous BCS and the bowls. I'm glad that both the UF and FSU presidents are getting together to propose a playoff system.

1 comment:

Mergz said...

I totally concur with your final assessment - that we need a playoff.

If they way the "national championship" game is being decided is based remotely on the things you describe, it is a farce.