Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Big Twelve Illusions, Revisited


And Why the SEC is Far Superior

Or “Saved by Houston!”

I wrote a piece on the last day of July this year in which I exposed the scheduling trick the Big Twelve was utilizing and forecasted that the conference would unfairly regarded as a top conference come this point (after week 5) of the season.

It turns out I was wrong on some aspects of my predictions, but very much correct on the theme.

One prediction I made was that, because the Big Twelve essentially had not began conference play by this point in time, six conference teams would be ranked in the top 25. Why? Because by affording themselves the opportunity to feed on subpar opponents their records would look better than the other conference’s teams. If there are two things that are totally predictable about poll voters EARLY on they are this –

1. Anybody with an undefeated record gets in the top 25 by week five, regardless of who they have faced, and,

2. Teams with a “pedigree” get top 25 billing even with losses.

In the case of the Big Twelve and the Week 5 Coaches Poll, I was correct in my prediction – 6 teams are top 25 ranked, with most of said ranking only attributable to the reasons cited above.

Ranked Big Twelve teams include (with ranking and record)–

2. Texas 4-0
13. Oklahoma State 3-1
15. Kansas 4-0
18. Missouri 4-0
21. Oklahoma 2-2
22. Nebraska 3-1

With 6 teams the Big Twelve has the most of any conference. The SEC is second with 5 and the Big 10 has 4, while the ACC and Pac Ten have 3 and 2, respectively. (I was right in my preseason prediction that at this point that Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas and Nebraska would be top 25. I guessed Texas Tech would be the 6th, but it ended up being Missouri).

I’m actually somewhat surprised my prediction of the rankings of the Big Twelve teams was so close to correct when my prediction of their actual records was pretty far off the mark. I predicted the Big Twelve would be 40-11 at this point in time, when they have actually ended up 36-15 (I'll show you in a moment why this matters so much). The fact that 6 Big Twelve are ranked in the top 25 at this point DESPITE their overall records really is a damming incrimination of the entire system of polling, and further proof of the inertia that so permeates the the most popular polls (teams tend not to move far from their previous spots – Oklahoma is a prime example).

Why the SEC is Much Better than the Big Twelve – Ridiculously So

I referred in my earlier piece to the mathematical trick the Big Twelve is using to try to falsely bolster their early season records. Essentially it goes like this – since the Big Twelve doesn’t schedule conference games until after week 5, they have the POSSIBILITY of looking better than any other conference, especially when most of their early games are against highly inferior non-conference opponents.

The Big Twelve has played 51 games to date, with a record of 36-15. However, by avoiding conference games early on, their possible record at this juncture was 49-2 (the only conference games thus far were Texas-Texas Tech and Iowa State-Kansas State). Sure they had some quality non-conference opponents (like Oklahoma at Miami), and that result was unlikely. But it was possible.

Take the SEC on the other hand. The SEC has played 56 games to date. However by the end of week 5, the SEC has played 14 total intraconference games. Thus, the BEST record the SEC could have as a conference at this point is 42-14, as someone in the conference would necessarily have to lose those games.

The SEC’s current record?

39-17

In other words, of the SEC’s 42 non-conference games they have lost merely 3 – Georgia at Oklahoma State, Tennessee to UCLA, and Mississippi State to Georgia Tech.

The Big Twelve on the other hand has managed to blow 13 non-conference games at this point in the season. Losses include BYU, Miami, Virginia Tech, UCLA, Arkansas, Iowa, Colorado State, Connecticut, West Virginia, Toledo, Louisiana Lafayette and Houston, twice.

Now this is not an argument about non-conference opponent strength. Rather it is an argument about what was mathematically possible. The SEC, at 39-17, has won every game that it possibly could with the exception of 3, while the Big Twelve lost 13 such contests.

Yet they find themselves with six teams ranked in the top 25, including two (Texas and Kansas) who have yet to play a non-conference opponent from a BCS conference not named Duke.

Thank Houston!

Despite their six top 25 rankings, there doesn’t seem to be the aura of Big Twelve media love we saw last year, and we can credit that to Houston, who singlehandedly brought down Big Twelve teams Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. Yet, somehow, Oklahoma State is ranked 13th by the Coaches, while Houston not at all, with the same loss record.

Nevertheless, Houston has done the college football world a service.

Where it Goes From Here

The Big Twelve will continue to benefit from its scheduling trick and unfairly top 25 ranked teams. Just take a look at the current week’s schedule on ESPN –

Thursday is No.21 Nebraska at No. 24 Missouri, what will be billed as a battle of ranked Big Twelve teams, no doubt. And, barring further upset, next week will see ranked Oklahoma v. Texas, and Missouri v. Oklahoma State, all "ranked" match ups.

The impression of top flight, ranked teams in the Big Twelve has already been set in the public mind. Just see if it doesn’t carry a couple of them beyond where they deserve to be.

UPDATE 10/9: Headline seen on ESPN.com this morning - "Nebrasksa tops 1st ranked opponent since '06".

In other words, it's working.

8 comments:

Floridan said...

"However, by avoiding non-conference games early on . . ."

I think you meant conference games.

" . . . SEC has played 14 total interconference games . . . "

intraconference games

Mergz said...

Floridian - Thanks. Sometimes these things get me crosseyed.

Ally said...

While i agree w/ most of your post, i'm finding it a bit hypocritical seeing as how your Floriduh team faced such worldbeaters as Charleston Southern, Troy, Kentucky & UT, followed up with a bye week. But if anyone knows anything about soft scheduling its certainly a gator fan ;-)

We're struggling mightily this season after replacing the #1 & #12 draft picks but at least we had the balls to face ALL bcs teams & start the season on the road at a Big 12 school.

Rob said...

I think calling this a "scheduling trick" is unfair. The Big11 does the same thing, preferring to play non-conference then conference games. I wish the ACC would do the same. Not, in order to get higher rankings, but to use non-conference games as a warmup for the important games.

GT played 3 conference games in the first 4. 2 more the next 2 weekends. After 7 weeks, we will have played 5 conference games and only 2 non-conference. This is stupid (and done because ESPN wants Thursday night matchups).

I would prefer the following: Start with 3 non-conference games (UGA game is Thanksgiving, so GT cant start with 4).
Then play 3 cross-divisional games. (this keeps any possible rematches in the ACCCG from being too close)
Finish with 5 divisional games.
(Then UGA).

The SEC should adopt similar schedules.

What I want to see, and what you should have called the B12 out on, is playing cupcakes OOC. Like Florida does. I hate to say anthing nice about ugag, but they are the only SEC team with balls (okay Bama played VT, but thats just 1 game).

Mergz said...

What I was trying to point out was not the strength of the teams played by the Big 12, but the fact they avoid conference play for so long, and by doing so set themselves up nicely to be highly ranked by week 5. And it's not that playing conference opponents in itself is challenging (we have Vandy in the SEC), its that by doing so someone in the conference itself must lose. The SEC can't have a bunch of 4-0 teams by week 4 because the SEC plays itself. Georgia is perfect example - they played 3 conference games in 5 weeks. Accordingly, there will be 3 conference losses from those games.

And while Florida's first two games were admittedly lame, by week 5 we have played 2 SEC games - giving 2 SEC teams losses. All this intraconference play so early makes the conference appear weak by W-L records.

Rob said...

Mergz,

My problem is with your choice of words:

"scheduling tricks" "avoiding conference play"

The SEC (and ACC) is screwing themselves by scheduling conference games early. Dont blame the B12 for the SEC's stupidity.

Gator KGB said...

Very interesting points, Mergz. The question, I suppose, is whether or not the Big 12 had this in mind when choosing the commencement of the conference schedules.

Assuming it was intentional, does the "front-end load" result in more ranked teams/better bowls and more conference $$$ at season's end.

Oh, and your grammar sucks....hire the blog an editor, will ya?

It was also nice to see your old nemesis Ally back. If I recall correctly you torched her so badly a couple of years ago she swore she'd never read sauriansagacity again. Based on her response, as per usual, she appears to have missed the point.

Mergz said...

This one was fired out as the result of a tired mind – admittedly not my best grammatical efforts. However if you would like to start a “red pen” exchange of blog entries, you’re on.

I first noticed the Big 12 phenomena last season when they had several teams undefeated by Week 5 and no teams with losing records (if memory serves). At the same time the SEC looked dreadful by record. I wondered why, and found out the Big 12 hadn’t played and conference games.

Hello again to Ally. As I recall I condescendingly called her “honey”, so she retorted by calling me “fat”. Good times!