Friday, July 27, 2007

ESPN Ranks the Teams,

OK, I didn't end up caring that much.

To recap, as we are languishing in the doldrums of summer,’s college football section decided to consult a panel of “experts” to rank the 119 Division I-A football teams from first to worst based on “the last 10 years of performance on the field, in the classroom and with NCAA compliance.”

I’m sure glad they got that compliance criterion in there.

I was reasonably sure that USC would come in first, seeing as ESPN seems recently hard-wired to stroke Trojan eqo, and they didn’t disappoint. Whether that was a fair rating or not we will address in a second.

Florida comes in at 4th, which I will also discuss in a moment. The SEC overall does very well, with LSU (9th), Tennessee (10th), Georgia (11th) and Auburn (15th) joining Florida as the 5 SEC schools in the top 20 for the decade, more than any other conference.

The panel of “experts” includes –

David Albright ( senior deputy editor)
Bill Curry (ESPN analyst)
Bob Davie (ESPN analyst)
Jim Donnan (ESPN analyst)
David Duffey ( college football editor)
Brad Edwards (ESPN college football researcher)
Chirs Fallica (ESPN college football researcher)
Bruce Feldman (ESPN the Magazine)
Pat Forde ( senior writer)
Brian Kelly ( college sports editor)
Todd McShay (Scouts.Inc)
Ian Maisel ( senior writer)
Lauren Reynolds ( college sports editor)
Joe Schad (ESPN college football reporter)
Mark Schlabach ( college sports writer)

Good thing they got Mr. McShay in there for balance.

Most of the “experts” did choose USC as number 1, but Curry chose Texas, Brad Edwards and Brian Kelley took Ohio State, while Chris Fallica took Miami and Pat Forde took FSU.

Florida was no higher than 4th on any ballot (Donnan and Fallica), and as low as 8th on one (Brad Edwards, who had OSU 1st – hmmmmmm).

The full list of voters choices for the top 25 can be found here.

Fully realizing that the voting was based on criteria other than merely winning, a glance at the top 25 teams by winning percentage over the past decade opens some interesting discussions into what bias the various voters might harbor.

The following are the top 25 teams by winning percentage from 1997-2006, how that compares to the ESPN ranking, and some commentary.

1 Texas – Texas is 3rd in ESPN’s rankings, with 1 BCS title, and a 6-3 bowl record. If anything, they are under ranked by ESPN.

2 (tie) Boise State – That’s right – Boise State. Boise comes in at 16th in the ESPN rankings. Their bowl record is 5-2 for the period, but since they play in a mid-major conference, 16 sounds just about right.

2 (tie) Ohio State – Yeah, the Gators turned the Bucks into simpering pansies on January 8th, but with the 2nd best overall record, 1 BCS title, and a 5-4 bowl record, number 2 in the ESPN poll is about right.

4 Michigan – Michigan finishes 6th per ESPN. At 5-5 in bowls that sounds about right.

5 Miami-Florida –Lo the mighty have (are) falling. ESPN puts them 8th, and they do have a BCS title and an impressive 7-2 bowl record, but recent history isn’t too bright. 8th sounds right, but it would have been much higher shortly ago.

6 Georgia – The Dawgs are 11th in the ESPN poll, and despite a 8-2 bowl record and 6th overall winning percentage, they have but 2 conference titles and no BCS titles for the decade. They are the highest ranked ESPN team NOT to have some sort of “national title”, so 11th works for me.

7 Florida State – 7th also in the ESPN rankings, with 1 BCS title. No argument here.

8 Virginia Tech – The Hokies rank 12th according to ESPN. Despite being the 8th most winning team of the decade, Virginia Tech has a 4-6 bowl record, and no national titles. 12th seems a bit of an over ranking.

9 (tie) Florida – Yeah, I love my Gators, and that shiny BCS title was nice last year. ESPN puts us 4th in their rankings. Yet, we are 9th in overall winning percentage, with a 5-5 bowl record, and but 2 conference titles. If 1996 were in the equation (11 years), 4th would be right. But we are over ranked at 4th when the Zook years are taken into account.

9 (tie) Tennessee – ESPN puts UT at 10th. They have 1 BCS title, but a 3-6 bowl record. 10th is a tad generous, but close enough.

11 Nebraska – Tied for 13th in the ESPN poll, the Huskers and their 5-4 bowl record seem about rightly placed.

12 Oklahoma – ESPN has Oklahoma 5th, which is an over ranking in my opinion. With a 4-4 bowl record and that single quickly fading BCS title, around 10th would seem more appropriate.

13 Southern Cal – A massive case of over ranking by ESPN at 1st. USC has a single BCS title, and an AP “title”, but only a 4-3 bowl record. Why 4-3? Well that is because USC didn't go to bowl games in the early part of the decade being judged. Simply put they stunk. Take the following records –

1997 6-5
1998 8-5 (Bowl loss to TCU)
1999 6-6
2000 5-7
2001 6-6

If the poll was to rank the teams in the past 5 years, USC would and should get the nod. But for the past 10? No way.

ESPN is becoming an embarassing shill for Pete Carroll and USC.

14 Marshall – We are Marshall. ESPN however ranks us 42nd (?!). While the Herd plays a lesser talent level than the other teams here, they have a better bowl record at 5-2 than top ranked USC. 42nd is an unfair ranking for Marshall.

15 Wisconsin – ESPN puts Wisconsin as tied for 13th with Nebraska. Sure, why not?

16 Kansas State – K State hits the ESPN board at 20th. With a single conference title, that works.

17 Louisiana State – ESPN puts LSU a strong 9th, and with a 6-2 bowl record, and 1 BCS title, 9th is probably not too over ranked. Interestingly, LSU is much like USC in that they started the period weak, and gained strength more recently. In the last 10 years, they have only 4 less wins then USC. Apparently though they lack the glamour of Southern Cal, and a full time ESPN ass-kiss department.

18 Toledo – Like Marshall, Toledo simply doesn’t play the talent level of these others. But ranking them 52nd? Holy Toledo. But then again, who really cares?

19 Auburn – Auburn comes in 15th per ESPN, and has that undefeated-2004-maybe-should-have-got-some-hardware year. At 5-3 in bowls, 15th feels about right.

20 Louisville – 18th per ESPN, but with a 3-6 bowl record, and generally playing sub-par opponents, I would put Louisville as a mild over rank.

21 Oregon – 17th in the ESPN poll. 4-5 in bowl games. Boring.

22 Texas Christian – ESPN has them 24th, and this team does threaten the big boys at times. Sure, 24th works.

23 Utah – 28th per ESPN, and with the same level-of-opposition-talent problem as some of the others here. Meyer had that undefeated season, so I can’t argue with 28th.

24 Miami-Ohio – ESPN puts them 50th. Another slap at the little guy.

25 Southern Miss -39th in the ESPN rankings, this dangerous team with the 25th best record and a 6-3 bowl record should be higher than the late 30’s.

Not in the above list –

West Virginia – ESPN puts West Virginia 19th, and they are tied for 27th in winning percentage for the past 10 years. Yet they are a lousy 3-5 in bowl games. If WVU made my top 25, it would be right at the end.

Penn State – Sure, we all love Joe Pa. ESPN loves him enough to put the Lions at 21st. But PSU is 32nd is winning percentage for the past 10 years, with a 4-2 bowl record, and one conference title. Penn State shouldn’t be in the top 25.

Boston College – ESPN has them 22nd. They are tied for 27th in win percentage with WVU, but with a nice bowl record of 7-1, they would just make my top 25 list.

Notre Dame – The biggest joke of the entire enterprise, ESPN ranks ND 23rd because they “remain America’s team” (an exact quote). In reading the criteria once again, status as “America’s team” was not mentioned. Notre Dame is 31st in winning percentage since 1997, and is 0-7 in bowl games. That’s right – a decade without a bowl win. Fairly ranked, the Irish would be about 40th.

In law school I learned the theory of “primacy and recency”, or the practice of remembering what you heard first and last. While taking business classes I learned about “adaptive expectations”, or the human habit of believing that which occurred recently is apt to continue. In the case of the ESPN rankings poll, I think we have instances of all three.

For Notre Dame, I would say their past glory – their primacy – gives them more current credibility than they deserve.

In the case of USC and – yes – Florida, I think we have recency.. Since both teams have been good lately, or at least in the latter part of the relevant period of the poll, they were over ranked. And, in applying adaptive expectations, I think the ESPN experts are expecting them to be good in the near future, and letting that affect their judgment.

Finally, failing all that quasi-scientific explanation, it could be that all the so called experts merely have man crushes on Pete Carroll.

I think I'll put that as number one on my ESPN bias rankings...

1 comment:

machete said...

8th is not, by any means whatsoever, about right.