Friday, December 07, 2007

The SEC’s Out-of-Conference Schedule – Still Irrelevant

In our last post on this topic, many commentators didn’t seem to get the point that I was trying to make. So, let’s try yet again.

The SEC doesn’t have to play challenging out-of-conference opponents to have a credible schedule because it’s conference opponents alone make the SEC’s schedule harder than anyone else’s.

Or, put another way other conferences NEED to schedule out-of-conference opponents just to make their own schedules credible.

Do we have it now?

The best way to illustrate this is graphically. The charts below show the conference opponents of Florida, Ohio State and USC by final rankings. For the top 25 we used the BCS. Since human voters don’t go beyond 25, we used an average of the computer polls (Sagarin, Coffey, Colley) for rankings below 25. (By using Sagarin we actually helped the Pac Ten).

The shaded area shows rankings 1 standard deviation from the mean (average). This represents the “typical” level of challenge faced by each team.

What we see is that neither Ohio State nor Southern Cal faced anyone nearly as challenging as LSU or Georgia on their schedules this year. Arizona State and Illinois were roughly equal for OSU and USC, while supposedly “top flight” opponents Wisconsin and Oregon were about the same as UF’s opponent Tennessee.

The average final rankings in conference for each team were –

Florida – 32
Ohio State – 47
USC – 45

When you add in Florida’s oft criticized out-of-conference opponents (WKU, Troy, FAU and FSU), UF’s schedule falls to an average 42, still better than either Ohio State or USC’s conference opponents.

Once again, it is the other conferences that need to schedule decent out-of-conference games just to make their overall schedules credible.

To USC’s credit they seemingly tried to add Nebraska to bulk up their schedule. Alas, it didn’t work with Nebraska ending up ranked 62nd. Ohio State in scheduling Washington, Youngstown State, Akron and Kent State didn’t even try to make their schedule more credible, which apparently worked to their favor.

Now say that Ohio State and USC, with the benefit of perfect hindsight, could go back and schedule out-of-conference teams of their choosing so that they would have had as tough a schedule as Florida did this year. The average opponent’s rank of each team before this little exercise in fantasy –

Florida – 42
Ohio State – 63
USC - 58

(For Ohio State, since only Sagarin rates the lower division teams, we used his rating of 99 for Youngstown State. Which is actually higher than Sagarin rates Akron, Minnesota, or Kent State; or USC opponent Idaho)

Continuing our little time-travel, rescheduling fantasy, for USC to get to Florida’s overall SOS with an average of 42, they could have started by dropped Idaho (138) and added Virginia Tech (3) to get them to a 46. Then by dropping Nebraska and adding, say Georgia (5), USC would have nearly exactly the same average opponent as Florida (41.66).

For Ohio State it is a little harder. Let’s start by dropping Kent State (120) and adding Oklahoma (4), which brings OSU down to a 53 average. Now let’s drop Akron (we can’t drop conference mate Minnesota), and add LSU (2) (we have to be aggressive here). That brings us to a 45 average. Well, toss Youngstown State then (99) and add another SEC opponent in Vanderbilt (61), which would bring the Buckeyes to nearly exactly UF’s average opponent of 42.

To recap, to get the same average opponent Florida had this year, Ohio State’s and USC’s out-of-conference opponents would have to have looked like –

Ohio State Out-of Conference


USC’s Out-of Conference

Virginia Tech
Notre Dame

The disturbing part is that both of those teams, by merit of winning their conferences, would still be in BCS games having played the schedules above. But neither would be in the title game.


Anonymous said...

" Southern Cal didn't face anyone as nearly challenging as LSU or Georgia."
( LOL and spill my coffee all over my laptop) That's hilarious, what a bunch of crap, anybody who saw that horrible and poorly played SEC Championship game knows the SEC is overrated. Let me illustrate, look Tennesse gave LSU all they could handle and then gave them the game.
You gotta look at the intangebles of traveling OOC for a meaningful comparison. What happened to Tennesse when they traveled out to Califonia, they got drilled by a pathetic Pac-10 team. What would happen to Georgia, Florida, LSU if they traveled to the west coast? Besides being culturally shocked they'd get drilled by a USC 45-15 out there. Now imagine them playing a bowl game up north in 30 degree weather, quit whining and thank the Lord Bowls are played on SEC turf.

Anonymous said...

Since you didn't answer the question that made you laugh, who did USC face that was as good as LSU or GA?

This will probably go over Anon's head, but if anyone wants to pick up his cause, I have a challenge for you: It would help your case to use some sort of metrics or stats to back up your argument that the PAC-10 is tougher than the SEC, rather than using one interconference game as your only defense. I could point to ND (clearly one of the worst teams in D-I) beating Stanford (who beat USC) and UCLA (who was one game away from winning the PAC-10), but that would be using a small piece of "anecdotal evidence" to attempt to solve a question that ultimately involves 120 teams who each played 12-13 games this year. Try finding (or creating) a SOS rating system that shows the PAC-10 teams gave USC a tougher schedule than the SEC teams gave to UF, LSU, or GA. I'd like to see it if you can prove it...

TJ said...

My only thing is: if the SEC teams don't play anyone OOC, how do you know anything about the strength of the conference? How do you get the rankings of which teams are tough opponents if SEC teams only play each other? I just don't get it.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

You don't that's the whole point. The current system discourages playing good teams OOC if you are in one of the power conferences. Playing and beating good out of conference teams only helps if you are in a non-power conference. That's why Michigan chose App. State over Hawaii. They are wishing they hadn't now. Also games are scheduled years in Advance. Let's say the Gators had scheduled Iowa for this year then people would have said that it's not a fair comparison since Iowa is down. As long as schools make their own OOC schedules you are going to have this fraud scenario,

TJ said...

Oh, you mean credible as in "people will buy it and send you to a BCS bowl"? Because I was thinking credible as in "should convince me this is a tougher schedule than anyone else faces." Without playing good OOC teams, it's hard to prove the second thing.

Anonymous said...

UGA: Oklahoma State, GT
Florida: FSU
Auburn: Kansas State
Kentucky: Louisville

UT: Cal
Auburn: USF
Bama: FSU
USC: Clemson
Vandy: Wake
Ole Miss: Missouri

Record: 7-7

32-1 against the non-BCS, though.
Maybe the SEC is the best conference (I think it may be), but I suspect the gap between them and the rest may be smaller than you think.

Anonymous said...

The SEC is the best conference. There's no reason to try to prove it with numbers when our eyes tell us the truth.

I do wish that there were more interconference games between power programs. The Big 10 was shameful this year in that respect. At least LSU beat the living hell out of Virginia Tech, but overall the SEC is just as guilty of soft scheduling.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

Oh, you mean credible as in "people will buy it and send you to a BCS bowl"? Because I was thinking credible as in "should convince me this is a tougher schedule than anyone else faces." Without playing good OOC teams, it's hard to prove the second thing.

Troy, do you honestly think the A.D.s care about what Troy or Henry or Mergz thinks. They only care about attendance, winning and making it to the big show (BCS Bowls and BCS Championship). Jeremy Foley doesn't care what you think of the Gators OOC schedule. It doesn't matter. If we had simply won one more game we'd probably be in the BCS right now despite playing the patsies we had on our schedule.

As long as the bowls and polls system is in play there is absolutely ZERO incentive for big teams to play big OOC games.

Change the system to something that rewards you for doing so and we might see meaningful OOC games during the regular season.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

And Anon,

Yes 7-7. But you are talking about only 14 games between the SEC's 12 teams and the remaining BCS D1A schools. The match ups are not made on the basis of competitive balance. For example Ole Miss was the worst team in the SEC this year and they played against Mizzou which was number 1 as recently as 10 days ago. Is that a measure of the SEC against the Big 10? Now Mizzou is the runner up of the Big 12 a match up I'd like to see is them against Georgia. Why not LSU against Oklahoma?

Anonymous said...

UGA-GT/OkSt: Top SEC > Mid ACC/Mid B12
Auburn-KSU: Mid SEC > Mid B12
UK-UL: Mid SEC > Low BEast

UT-Cal: Top SEC < Mid Pac-10
Auburn-USF: Mid SEC < Mid BEast
Bama-FSU: Mid SEC < Mid ACC
SC-Clem: Mid SEC < Mid ACC
MSU-WVU: Mis SEC < Top BEast
Vandy-Wake: Low SEC < Mid ACC
Ole Miss-Mizzou: Low SEC < Top B12

The games really don't present THAT much of a favorable profile for the SEC, to me. The big test will be the bowl season... although that will mainly matchup the SEC against what has almost undeniably been a weak B10.

TJ said...

Troy, do you honestly think the A.D.s care about what Troy or Henry or Mergz thinks?

Of course not. I just didn't realize that was your point. I thought you were trying to convince people that the SEC has proven itself the actual best regardless of the OOC schedules. Your actual point is dead on: the SEC has enough perceived strength on its own--from the voters and the computers--to send its best teams to BCS bowl games over the best teams of other conferences.

Of course, when the fans get together to debate college football (which is always fun) that's when it'd be nice to be able to point to some OOC matchups to determine for purposes of fan debate just how good these SEC teams are.

This year, UF stomping FSU is good, but of course Bama losing to FSU... and Auburn losing to USF, and Tenn losing to Cal, make me think the SEC may not be quite the powerhouse it's made out to be.

Anonymous said...

"Your actual point is dead on: the SEC has enough perceived strength on its own--from the voters and the computers--to send its best teams to BCS bowl games over the best teams of other conferences."

Yeah, because that worked so well for Auburn in '04. Oh wait...

In fact the only conference which in the BCS Era (Error) has consistently sent its teams to BCS bowl games and national title games over the best teams from other conferences is the Big 12.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

There's a difference between the BCS and the BCS Championship game. And you point out the one exception while ignoring the 3 times out of 9 that SEC teams have played in and won that game in the 9 year history of the current format. LSU has a chance to make it 4 out of 10.