Tuesday, January 31, 2006

I Feel Lucky

After spending a few days in Las Vegas, I thought it would be interesting to look at which BCS football teams were the 'luckiest' and 'unluckiest' last season. To do this, I will examine which teams performed substantially different in conference play based on their expected record from their points scored and allowed. I am only using data in conference games because some blowouts over non-conference cupcakes can distort a team's point differential and prevent us from getting a true view of their abilities. A previous post explains the Pythagorean Theorem in detail (it should be noted that I am using 2.37 as the exponent now instead of 2 as it is more accurate with a smaller sample size of data).

First up, here are the teams that were 'luckiest' last season based on difference in actual and expected conference record, as well as brief commentary on each team.

UCLA went: 6-2, expected record: 3.43-4.57, difference +2.57 wins
UCLA was actually outscored in conference play, but went 4-0 in conference games decided by 4 points or less. They also added a a close 10 point win over Arizona State to their ledger. In their 2 conference losses, they were beaten by 38 (Arizona) and 47 (Southern Cal). Karl Dorrell may have coached one of the worst 10 win teams of all time. With Maurice Drew (early entry) and Drew Olson (graduation) leaving, the 2006 incarnation of the Bruins may fall on hard times.

South Carolina went: 5-3, expected record: 3.54-4.46, difference +1.46 wins
Another team with a winning conference record that was actually outscored in conference play. To be sure, Spurrier's first season was a success, but the Cocks were far from a dominant team. Like UCLA they had a good record in close games (4-1 in conference games decided by 8 points or less) and got thumped twice (by 23 to Alabama and 41 to Auburn). South Carolina was downright lucky in 2005, and any change for the worse in their fortuitiveness could mean the difference in a bowl bid and another losing season. On a side note, if Brad Scott had gotten outcoached by Gary Pinkel like that, he would've been hung in effigy. Why has Spurrier gotten off scott-free?

Oregon went: 7-1, expected: 5.71-2.29, difference + 1.29 wins
The term lucky may not be apropos for Oregon. The Ducks did slip by several teams late in the year (Arizona by 7, Cal by 7, and Washington State by 3), but that was only after quarterback Kellen Clemens was injured and lost for the year in the Arizona game. With Clemens, the Ducks were a legitimate top-10 team, and deserved a BCS bid. Without him, they were top-15, maybe top-20 (remember, they only lost to Oklahoma by 3).

Georgia Tech went: 5-3, expected: 3.76-4.24, difference +1.24 wins
The Jackets were one of the most sporadic teams in college football in 2005, winning at Auburn and Miami, and losing to Utah in their bowl game. Like their predecesors on this list, the Jackets had a good record in close conference games (3-1 in games decided by 7 points or less), and they were also blown out at least once (by 44 to Virginia Tech). Tech has 4 straight seasons of exactly 7 wins and between 5 and 6 losses. Expect more of the same in 2006.

Kansas went: 3-5, expected: 1.86-6.14, difference +1.14 wins
The Jayhakws are anomally on this list. They went only 1-0 in conference games decided by 7 points or less. Their disparity in actual and expected wins stems from two blowouts, one to Colorado (31 points) and one to Texas (52 points). They were relatively competitive in their other losses, and if the defense continues to remain solid could contend for the Big 12 North title next season.

North Carolina went: 4-4, expected: 2.90-5.1, difference +1.10 wins
The Heels went 4-2 in conference games decided by 7 points or less. Their other 2 losses were pretty convincing, but hardly thumpings (18 to Miami and 27 to Virginia Tech). The Heels rough non-conference slate (Wisconsin, Utah, and Louisville) kept them from being bowl eligible where they would made a solid representative.

Northwestern went: 5-3, expected: 3.98-4.02, difference +1.02 wins
As usual, when the 'Cats go bowling, they win a lot of close games. They were 3-1 in conference games decided by 7 points or less. In their other recent bowl years of 2000, 1996, and 1995, the 'Cats were a combined 10-0 in conference games decided by 7 points or less. Northwestern did return to a bowl after their magical 1995 season, but following their luck-induced 1996 and 2000 seasons, they slipped back to 5-7 and 4-7 respectively. Expect a repeat of this backsliding in 2006.

Now here are the Frank Grimes of the BCS conferences, the most unlucky teams of 2005.

Arkansas went: 2-6, expected: 4.11-3.89, difference -2.11 wins
The Hogs were 0-4 in conference games decided by 7 points or less. With returning quarterback Casey Dick and running back Darren McFadden only sophomores, the Hogs could be surprise contenders in the SEC West next year.

Washington State went: 1-7, expected: 2.84-5.16, difference -1.84 wins
The Cougars were 1-5 in conference games decided by 7 points or less. Washington State will be an interesting team to watch next season. They lose 1900 yard rusher Jerome Harrison, but quarterback Alex Brink, who improved as the conference season wore on could have the Cougars on the brink of a bowl bid next season.

Michigan State went: 2-6, expected: 3.80-5.20, difference -1.80 wins
If a season truly can turn on one play, then it happened to Michigan State last season. The blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown by Ohio State turned that game around, and possibly destroyed Michigan State's season. The Spartans were 0-2 in conference games decided by 7 points or less. They whipped Illinois and Indiana, and were whipped by Northwestern and Minnesota. The future for the Spartans, as always, is very cloudy. Always one of the more inconsistent teams, don't expect a truly breakout season, until it happens.

Iowa State went: 4-4, expected: 5.70-2.30, difference -1.70 wins
For the second season in a row, the Cyclones blew their chance at a Big 12 North Division title by losing in their final regular season game. In 2004, it was a 3 point home loss to Missouri. In 2005, it was a 3 point road loss at Kansas. Overall, Iowa State was 0-3 in conference games decided by 7 points or less. After beginning conference play 0-3, the Cyclones reeled off 4 straight double-digit victories and were poised to be the sacrificial lamb for Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game. The finale against Kansas ended those hopes, but Iowa State played well in their bowl game (another close loss) against a top-15 TCU team. Iowa State will return their top passer (Bret Meyer), rusher (Stevie Hicks), and receiver (Todd Blythe), so another shot at the Big 12 North is within reach.

Clemson went: 4-4, expected: 5.45-2.55, difference -1.45 wins
The Tigers went 1-4 in conference games decided by 7 points or less. As they are want to do, they got hot at the end of the season, concluding with a 4 game winning streak. Clemson does lose quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, and the road schedule is pretty brutal (BC, Florida State, and Virginia Tech), but if they can win the majority of their home games, they could have a special season.

Tennessee went: 3-5, expected: 4.30-3.70, difference -1.30 wins
Tennessee went from being one of the luckiest teams in 2004 (6-0 in conference games decided by 7 points or less) to one of the unluckiest teams in 2005 (1-3 in conference games decided by 7 points or less). Did they forget how to 'win' close games? Probably not. More than likely, a few bounces that went their way in 2004, went the other way in 2005. The Vols will be back in a bowl game in 2006.

Purdue went: 3-5, expected: 4.22-3.78, difference -1.22 wins
Purdue was 1-2 in conference games decided by 7 points or less. Their disparity between actual and expected record can be explained by the fact that 2 of their conference wins were blowouts, and none of their conference losses was by more than 18 points. Surprisingly, Purdue had 3 players from their 5-6 squad opt for early entry into the NFL draft. Were I a betting man, I'd say Joe Tiller rights the Boiler's ship.

Cal went: 4-4, expected: 5.13-2.87, difference -1.13 wins
Cal went 1-3 in conference games decided by 7 points or less. In their other 4 games, they blew out Washington, Arizona, and Stanford, and were dismantled by Southern Cal. Jeff Tedford's team had a solid season despite losing starting quarterback Nathan Longshore for the entire season in the first game against Sacramento State. They should return to the upper-eschelon of the Pac 10 next season.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Greatest of All Time

It's good to see the Illinois General Assembly is hard at work.


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A Closer Look at the Gophers

After looking at the Minnesota Golden Gophers track record of schizo home and road performance the last few years, I decided to delve deeper and determine what facets of their game change so dramatically on the road. To conduct this endeavor, I looked at all 16 of the Gopher's box scores for 2004 and 2005. In this period, the Gophers are 5-3 at home and 2-6 on the road. Just to dispense with the idea that their home schedule has been much easier than their road schedule, here is the combined conference winning percentage of their conference home and road opponents.

Home: 32-32 .500
Road: 36-28 .563

Minnesota has played a slightly tougher road schedule, but it is clear they are much tougher at home. 2 of their home losses include a fluke 4 point loss to Wisconsin in 2005 on a blocked punt and a 2 point loss to a 10-2 Iowa team in 2004. The other loss was a 14 point setback to a top-5 Ohio State team in 2005. On the road, they own a 3 point win over Michigan in 2005 and a 21 shellacking over 4-7 Indiana, but they also lost to a bad Indiana (3-8) in 2004.

Let's start with offense because thats where this team is built. Here are the cummalative offensive data for home and road games the past 2 years.

447 attempts for 2416 yards, 5.4 yards per rush
Pass: 105 completions in 182 attempts (57.7%) for 1576 yards, 8.7 yards per pass, 8 interceptions (4.4% interception percentage).

299 attempts for 1386 yards, 4.6 yards per rush
Pass: 116 completions in 242 attempts (47.9%) for 1660 yards, 6.9 yards per pass, 6 interceptions (2.5% interception percentage)

The Gophers do what they were built to do, run the ball, at home. They also run the ball reasonably well on the road (with a solid 4.6 average). However, the number of rush attempts should tell us something. On the road, Minnesota falls behind very often and therefore must forego running the ball. They average about 56 rushes per game at home and only 37 per game on the road. Part of the Gopher's road struggles appears to be falling behind and making the running game obsolete. The passing number also jump off the page. At home Gopher's quarterbacks complete a solid 57.7% of their passes. On the road this number drops below 50%. Of course, they still are very careful when they pass, actually throwing fewer total interceptions and having a lower interception percentage on the road. Why is the passing so much worse on the road? One reason could be the quarterbacks have to throw in many obvious passing situations on the road. At home, the running game is still a threat, but after falling behind on the road, the quarterbacks deficiencies are magnified when everyone knows he must pass.

Now for defense.

238 attempts for 911 yards, 3.8 yards per rush
Pass: 154 completions in 270 attempts (57%) for 1895 yards, 7 yards per pass, 5 interceptions (1.9% interception percentage).

378 attempts for 1786 yards, 4.7 yards per rush
Pass: 159 completions in 271 attempts (58.7%) for 2058 yards, 7.6 yards per pass, 6 interceptions (2.2% interception percentage)

Here the difference in rushing numbers is significant. Minnesota allows almost a yard more per carry on the road versus at home. Confirming our suspicions from the offensive side, the defensive numbers also suggest Minnesota spends much of their road games coming from behind. At home, Minnesota's opponents only average about 30 rushing attempts, but on the road, this number jumps to 47. This means their opponents are ahead and are grinding the clock by running the ball. The passing numbers are pretty consistent for home and road games. However, this is does not mean they are particularlygood. Minnesota allows opposing quarterbacks to complete a reasonable high percentage of their passes (57% at home and 58.7% on the road), and they rarely intercept the ball (1.9 per 100 attempts at home and 2.2 per 100 attempts on the road).

Summing up these results, it appears the passing game is the Gopher's achilles heal. They are not very good at stopping the pass, either at home or on the road. In addition to this, they are extremely poor at forcing turnovers out of the passing game. They have only intercepted 11 passes in 16 conference games the past 2 seasons. Glen Mason's gameplan since he arrived at Minnesota has been to integrate a power running game and solid defense in order to compete in the Big 10. He has half the formula down. Minnesota runs the ball well both at home and on the road. However, the defense consistently fails them on the road and they are forced to abandon the running game. When this happens, they are forced to win games by passing the ball. Their quarterbacks, who appear solid when they have the threat of a running game, are forced to pass more often and are shown to be extremely flawed. Until Mason is able to fix his pass defense, the Minnesota Golden Gophers will be burrowed a notch below the Big 10's elite.

Monday, January 23, 2006


Despite the fact that my beloved Panthers went down in defeat last night, I can take solace in the fact that they lost to a team coached by notorious mad scientist and evil-doer extraordinaire, Dr. Robotnik. Let's face facts, if he can only be stopped by a super-human blue hedgehog, winning the Lombardi Trophy should be a piece of cake.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Championship Game Previews

Last Week: 3-1
Playoffs: 6-2


Pittsburgh at Denver
Pittsburgh, the AFC's 6th seed has won two road playoff games to advance to the AFC Championship Game against the Denver Broncos. While Pittsburgh was very impressive in their win at Super Bowl favorite Indianapolis, most feel the Broncos are fortunate to be here thanks to their uneven performance against New England. The Patriots turned the ball over 5 times and played very un-Patriot-like football. But, don't forget what team was on the other side of that field; the team that forced those turnovers. The Broncos have flown under the radar, but after their Week 1 loss to Miami, they have been one of, if not the, top team in the NFL. The Broncos are undefeated at home, and this afternoon they will make their first Super Bowl appearance since John Elway retired.
Winner: Denver


Carolina at Seattle
One of the most inconsistent teams in the NFL continued their inconsistency last week. The offense played extremely well against the best defense in the NFL, scoring 29 points against the Chicago Bears. However, for all they did offensively to the Bears, the fact that they gave up 21 points to one of the worst offenses in the league has gotten scarcely any mention. That does not bode well going against a top 5 offense in the Seattle Seahawks. Even if Shaun Alexander is held in check, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and the deep receiving corps can lead the team down the field. Bobby Engram, Joe Jurevicius, Darrell Jackson, and DJ Hackett are a formidable if relatively unknown set of receivers. Seattle, like Denver, is also undefeated at home. Around 9:45 EST, the Hawks will clinch their first Super Bowl berth.
Winner: Seattle

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Homefield Advantage in the Big 10

Sometime ago, I posted an entry on NCAA teams that played in domes and their collective struggles away from home. I had been meaning to do some more research on the subject, but got sidetracked by other obligations. Since only one dome team (Minnesota) plays in a major conference that has not been radically altered by teams shifting to and from other conferences, I decided to look at the cummulative Big 10 conference record of every team since 2000. I chose only conference records because each team has different non-conference schedules (both in quality and quantity). The sample size of 6 seasons gives us 48 total games (24 home and 24 road) for each team and helps eliminate some of the volatility of a conference season that does not include every opponent. First up, the home record of each Big 10 team since 2000 from best to worst.
  1. Iowa 20-4
  2. Michigan 20-4
  3. Ohio St. 19-5
  4. Purdue 17-7
  5. Minnesota 14-10
  6. Northwestern 14-10
  7. Penn St. 14-10
  8. Michigan St. 12-12
  9. Wisconsin 12-12
  10. Illinois 9-15
  11. Indiana 8-16

Now the road warriors.

  1. Michigan 17-7
  2. Ohio St. 16-8
  3. Iowa 12-12
  4. Wisconsin 12-12
  5. Purdue 10-14
  6. Northwestern 9-15
  7. Penn State 9-15
  8. Minnesota 7-17
  9. Michigan State 6-18
  10. Illinois 5-19
  11. Indiana 2-22

Here are the leaders in delta points at home. Delta points are net points. Michigans +348 means they have outscored their home opponents by 348 points (roughly 14.5 per game).

  1. Michigan 348
  2. Ohio St. 324
  3. Iowa 311
  4. Penn St. 238
  5. Purdue 218
  6. Minnesota 165
  7. Michigan St. 76
  8. Wisconsin 67
  9. Northwestern -66
  10. Illinois -181
  11. Indiana -200

Now the leaders in road delta points.

  1. Michigan 145
  2. Ohio St. 115
  3. Iowa 29
  4. Wisconsin -15
  5. Purdue -36
  6. Penn St. -74
  7. Minnesota -189
  8. Michigan St. -193
  9. Northwestern -218
  10. Illinois -379
  11. Indiana -487

Next up is a ranking of 'relative homefield advantage' by difference in home/road winning percentage. Iowa has the largest discrepancy in home and road play in this category, winning at an .833 clip at home (20-4) versus .500 on the road (12-12) for a difference of .333.

  1. Iowa .333
  2. Minnesota .292
  3. Purdue .292
  4. Indiana .25
  5. Michigan St. .25
  6. Northwestern .208
  7. Penn St. .208
  8. Illinois .167
  9. Michigan .125
  10. Ohio St. .125
  11. Wisconsin 0

Some observations. While Iowa has the greatest discrepancy in home and road winning percentage, Minnesota is still a close second, tied with Purdue. The 2 best teams in the conference in the decade of the 2000's Michigan and Ohio State, are nearly as capable of winning on the road as they are of winning at home. Of course, this does not mean they have only a small homefield advantage. On the contrary, it is only relatively smaller because they win so many road contests. I wonder if this fact is true in other conferences, do the elite teams have the smallest relative homefield advantage because they win so often on the road as well? Finally, in a surprising twist, Wisconsin has not enjoyed much of an advantage in Camp Randall Stadium as they have won the same amount of games away from home as well. Wisconsin does not fall into this 'elite' category as they are only 12-12 at home and on the road.

Finally, here is a ranking of 'relative homefield advantage' by difference in delta points at home and on the road. Minnesota has the largest discrepancy in home and road play in this category. They have 165 delta points at home and -189 on the road for a difference of 354 delta points.

  1. Minnesota 354
  2. Penn St. 312
  3. Indiana 287
  4. Iowa 282
  5. Michigan St. 269
  6. Purdue 254
  7. Ohio St. 209
  8. Michigan 203
  9. Illinois 198
  10. Northwestern 152
  11. Wisconsin 82

From this second set of data, Minnesota has arguably the top discrepancy in home and road play. While Iowa is a respectable 12-12 on the road, they are a remarkable 20-4 at home. Minnesota on the other hand is above average at home (14-10), but quite below average on the road (7-17). Again, Wisconsin does not appear to have enjoyed a significant advantage playing at home in the past 6 years. I plan on looking at other conferences in the near future as well. As usual, any comments and questions are welcome.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Why Kickers Suck: A Sociological Perspective

Kickers, like offensive linemen, usually toil in anonymity until they do something wrong. Most casual observers of football do not notice when a linemen makes a good block, but you can bet they will be all over him when he false starts, holds, or gets beat by a speed rushing defensive end. Kickers get some glory when they make kicks to win championships (Vinatieri) and are vituperated when they have a historic miss (Norwood), but most fans only remember them as 'that little european guy, ya you know he used to kick, what was his name?'

In the old days of the NFL, position players often handled the kicking duties (and many players played offense and defense). George Blanda was an All-Pro quarterback as well as a part-time kicker, punter, and linebacker. Even players who played only offense also played multiple positions. Charley Trippi played halfback (running back) and quarterback. But lo, what hath Adam Smith wrought? In his seminal work An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Smith speculated that specialization, or the division of labor, was the dynamic engine of economic progress. The concentration of workers on their singular or limited subtasks should lead to greater skill and greater productivity on their particular subtasks than would be achieved by the same number of workers each carrying out the original broad task. The example Smith used was the manufacturing of pins. However, this theory can easily be expanded to include both more modern manufacturing (Henry Ford's assembly line) and the game of football. When the NFL allowed rosters to expand in the late 1950's, specialization quickly followed. As with most changes, it was slow but steady. By the mid-1970's kickers had become what they are today; specialists who perform come in for 10 or fewer plays per game. Of course, specialization also allowed for other players to focus on one position too. Sometimes specialization is so great that some kickers only kick field goals. Yesterday's hero Mike Vanderjagt, doesn't even kickoff. He just kicks field goals. Specialization allowed linebackers to play linebacker, running backs to play running back, and so on. Of course, some players also play special teams, but the days of 'iron man' or 2-way football is over. Offensive players were also classified into a certain position. Long gone are the days where offensive players spend significant time at several positions. Antwaan Randle-El will occasionally line up in the backfield for Pittsburgh, but this is primarily on trick-plays, and is not a regular routinized occurrence. Since kickers are now specialists and free to practice only one facet of the game, kicking should improve. It has. In 1970, kickers made 59.4% of their field goals and 96.9% of their extra points. In 2004, kickers made 80.8% of their field goals and 99.2% of their extra points. Thats a pretty marked improvement. However, when the fortunes of 53 men come down to one kick by a guy who plays 10 or fewer plays per game, my heart goes out (as much as it possibly can to millionaires playing a game) when he -stoinks- the kick. You have one job. Kick the ball. Yeah, I know its hard. I couldn't do it. But, do you think that blocking lightning-quick 250 pound defensive ends is easy? Or how about reading coverages and throwing pinpoint passes, is that easy? What about covering guys man-to-man downfield all by yourself, is that easy? Football is not an easy game to play at the professional level. If it was, I'd be playing. So when those guys put you in position to win, how about knocking down the kick?

Here's some random games I've noted this season where kickers have brought it real weak:

Week 12: New York Giants at Seattle: Jay Feely missed 3 field goals, a 40 yarder, a 54 yarder, and a 45 yarder that would have won the game for Big Blue.

Week 14: Kansas City at Dallas: Down 3 with 10 seconds left, Trent Green hits Dante Hall for 34 yards and gets it down to the Dallas 24. Kansas City uses their last time out, and Lawrence Tynes -stoinks- a potential game-tying 41 yard field goal.

Houston at Tennessee: Kris Brown misses a a game-tying 31 yard field goal in the final minutes. Worst...miss...ever.

Week 17: Houston at San Francisco: With the game tied at 17, in a meaningless game (except for draft position), Texans kicker Kris Brown does what he does best, missing a 31 yard field goal. The 49ers go on to win in OT.

Divisional Playoffs: Pittsburgh at Indianapolis: The aforementioned Mr. Vanderjagt missed a 46 yard attempt that could have sent the game into OT. And it's not the first time he has screwed things up for Manning. Remember 2000?

These kicking shenanigans are not limited to the NFL by any means. I might have made it all the way through the Orange Bowl if either Penn State of Florida State's kickers had made some field goals. And speaking of Florida State, Bobby Bowden might have about 60 national titles if his kickers could make field goals against Miami. Anyway, to sum things up: you are either paid handsomely, or go to school for free (maybe both if you play for Ohio State) to do one thing and one thing only, so kick the damn ball through the uprights.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Divisonal Round Preview

Last Week: 3-1


New England at Denver
This game is the perfect fit for prime time Saturday night. It is highly likely that this will be the best game of the weekend and we may see something historic (Tom Brady's first playoff loss). Since their Week 12 loss to Kansas City, the Patriots have played like the Patriots of old, losing only to Miami in a meaningless regular season finale. However, this is the first time in their playoff run that they have had to play on the road in the Divisional Round. They also happen to be playing in one of the toughest environments in the NFL. The cold weather should not bother the Patriots who are used to playing in snow in early January, but the altitude should serve as a significant advantage for the Broncos. Even without the thin air, the Broncos are a formidable team. Since their opening day shocker to Miami, the Broncos have lost twice, at the New York Giants by a single point, and at the Kansas City Chiefs by 4 points. Don't buy into the New England playoff mystique and aura. As Curt Schilling famously opined, "Mystique and Aura are dancers at a club." Go with the home team.
Winner: Denver

Pittsburgh at Indianapolis
For the Steelers to win this game, Ben Roethlisberger will have to air it out. The Colts will be bringing an extra man to the line of scrimmage to stop the run. Roethlisberger will have to make them pay with deep throws in order to make the Colts defense ease up on the run. Of course, the Steelers must also hinder the Colts offense when they have the ball. Much easier said than done. Edgerrin James, who was slowing down as the season wore on (56 carries for 159 yards, a 2.8 yards per rush average in his last 3 games) has had 2 weeks off to rest up for the playoff run. The receivers are healthy, the Colts are playing at home, and lest we forget, the Colts have the best quarterback in the NFL, Peyton Manning. Don't be fooled by the 'he's not a playoff/clutch quarterback' talk. Remember, people said the same thing about Barry Bonds not being a 'postseason hitter' before the 2002 playoffs. A few bad games early in his career have sullied Manning's reputation, but he'll start to change some minds this week.
Winner: Indianapolis


Washington at Seattle
Of all the games on the board this week, this one is a mortal lock. If Washington wins this game, go ahead and enshrine Joe Gibbs in the Hall of Fame. Oh, nevermind. But seriously, Seattle is rested, Washington is hurting (Clinton Portis, Mark Brunell, Renaldo Wynn, Shawn Springs, Chris Samuels are all injured, though all but Wynn and Springs will play), and the 'Hawks are playing at home. Seattle hasn't won a playoff game in 21 years, but that will all change tomorrow afternoon.
Winner: Seattle

Carolina at Chicago
My dad's thoughts on the game per an email I received earlier in the week:

The latest forecast for Chicago on Sunday is partly cloundy and a high of42. That's more like Charlotte weather than Chicago. Bad news Bears. Carolina will shut down the run. Bad news Bears. The game will be in the hands of Rex Grossman. Bad news Bears. Jake Delhomme's QB rating for 5 playoff games is 104. Bad news Bears. Carolina has outscored its last 2opponents 67 - 11, both on the road. I'd say they're hitting theirstride. Bad news Bears.

Well, he's convinced me. If any road team is going to win this week, it will be the Panthers. This will be a defensive struggle that Carolina will win in the end thanks to their superior field goal kicking.
Winner: Carolina

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Baseball Hall of Fame Voting

The Baseball Hall of Fame voting has always perturbed me just a tad. It seems to me that these so called 'experts' have no idea why teams win and lose. For some reason, if a starting pitcher fails to win 300 games, he's gotta go through Hell to make it into Cooperstown. These writers also hold grudges against guys who may have been surly or aloof in the locker room. The Hall of Fame is not designed to be a place for athletes who gave great interviews. It is a place to honor the very best who played the game of baseball. That being said, the voters screwed up big time yesterday. Here's the complete voting rundown. As you probably already know, Bruce Sutter was the only player elected. While I am happy that a full time reliever has finally been elected (they have been ignored for far too long), the voters didn't even elect the best relief pitcher. By any metric you care to use, Rich 'Goose' Gossage is a better choice than Bruce Sutter.

Conventional Stats

Bruce Sutter 1042.3 innings pitched, 2.83 ERA, 861 strikeouts (7.4 per nine innings), 68 wins, 71 losses, 300 saves, 40+ saves once, 30+ saves 4 times, 20+ saves 9 times

Rich Gossage 1809.3 innings pitched, 3.01 ERA, 1502 strikeouts (7.5 per nine innings), 124 wins, 107 losses, 310 saves, 30+ saves twice, 20+ saves 10 times

By conventional stats, Gossage has more innings, more wins, a better winning percentage, and more saves. Sutter has a better ERA, and more 40+ and 30+ save seasons.

Esoteric 'Nerd' Stats
each stat is highlighted, click to read a brief synopsis of what they measure
WARP1, WARP3, Win Shares, PRAA, PRAR, ERA+

Bruce Sutter 54.5 WARP1, 55.2 WARP3, 168 Win Shares, 168 PRAA, 507 PRAR, 136 ERA+

Rich Gossage 83.8 WARP1, 84.0 WARP3, 223 Win Shares, 252 PRAA, 787 PRAR, 126 ERA +

When adjusting for season or all time, Gossage is worth about 30 more wins more than a 'replacement level' player is than Sutter. A replacement level player is the theoretical contribution of a marginal major league player. He saved his teams about 70 more runs than Sutter did over an average player and 280 more runs than Sutter over a replacement player. Sutter did have a better ERA (36% better than league average versus 26% for Gossage), but this is more than offset by the gap in innings pitched (767 more career innings for Gossage). Bruce Sutter was a fine reliever, and is a marginal Hall of Fame choice (there are certainly lesser candidates in Cooperstown-- Lloyd Waner, Dave Bancroft, and George Kelly to name a few), but if a full time reliever was to be elected this year, it should have been Rich Gossage.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Blog Poll Final Edition

1. Texas (13-0)-- Win over Southern Cal swung on two 4th downs. The one LenDale White didn't get, and the one Vince Young did. (LW 1)
2. Southern Cal (12-1)-- Rose Bowl did live up to the hype. (LW 2)
3. Penn State (11-1)-- I didn't make it all the way through the Orange Bowl. (LW 3)
4. Ohio State (10-2)-- Rolled over Notre Dame's pourous D. (LW 5)
5. Virginia Tech (11-2)-- Obviously, this rating does not take character into account. (LW 8)
6. Louisiana State (11-2)-- Waxed Miami in the Peach Bowl. (LW 10)
7. Alabama (10-2)-- Defense held Texas Tech to 1 touchdown. (LW 11)
8. West Virginia (11-1)-- Fake punt a great call by Rich Rodriguez. (LW 12)
9. Miami (9-3)-- Don't read too much into the blowout to LSU. The 'Canes will still be around next year. (LW 4)
10. Georgia (10-3)-- Probably a better team than West Virginia, but turnovers did them in. (LW 7)
11. TCU (11-1)-- Nice win over Iowa State. (LW 14)
12. Oregon (10-2)-- Tough loss to Oklahoma, but definitely a top 10 team with Kellen Clemens. (LW 9)
13. Wisconsin (10-3)-- Nice way to end things for Barry Alvarez. (LW 18)
14. Auburn (9-3)-- Came out flat against Wisconsin. (LW 6)
15. Oklahoma (8-4)-- Welcome back. (LW 21)
16. Notre Dame (9-3)-- Didn't deserve the BCS bid. (LW 11)
17. Florida (9-3)-- Offense will be clicking next year. (LW 19)
18. Louisville (9-3)-- Played Virginia Tech tough in the Gator Bowl. (LW 15)
19. Boston College (9-3)-- Almost blew the game to Boise. (LW 22)
20. UCLA (10-2)-- Not that impressed by the win over Northwestern. (LW 17)
21. Clemson (8-4)-- Curb your enthusiasm. The win over the Buffs was not that impressive. (LW 24)
22. Florida State (8-5)-- Good showing versus Penn State. (LW NR)
23. Texas Tech (9-3)-- Offense didn't do a thing in the Cotton Bowl. (LW 20)
24. Navy (8-4)-- Paul Johnson, one of the finest coaches in the country. (LW NR)
25. California (8-4)-- Pretty much picking teams at random at this point. (LW NR)

Friday, January 06, 2006

Wildcard Weekend Preview

Last Week: 11-5
Regular Season: 171-83


Jacksonville at New England
The Jaguars are probably the most lightly regarded 12-4 team in NFL history. Most lines I have seen for this game have them as a 7 to 7.5 point underdog to the defending champs. Although Jacksonville benefited from an easy schedule that included the 49ers, Browns, Cardinals, Jets, Ravens, Texans (*2), and Titans (*2), they also own victories over the NFC's top team (Seattle), the AFC North champs (Cincinnati), their fellow AFC Wildcard brethren (Pittsburgh), and close losses to Indianapolis. However, that won't be enough. Byron Leftwich will be starting for the first time in almost 2 months and the New England front seven will harrass him all night and prevent him from exploiting their weak secondary. Plus the game is in Foxboro. If it was in sunny, mild Jacksonville they may have a shot. Some analysts will make the claim after the game that inexperience doomed the Jaguars. That won't be true. The cold Massachusetts winter will doom the Jags. Although most conventional wisdom is wrong, the fact that dome and warm weather teams struggle outdoors in northern cities in the winter is absolutely true. Read this.
Winner: New England

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati
The Cincinnati Bengals are limping into the playoffs for the first time since the elder Bush was in office. They have lost 2 straight including an embarrassing home loss to the Buffalo Bills (their only road win of the year). The Bengals defense is predicated on getting turnovers; they lead the league with 31 interceptions. However, since the midpoint of the season, the defense has been steadily declining. Over their first 8 games the Bengals allowed 15.6 points per game. Over their final 8 games the Bengals have allowed 28.1 points per game. Carson Palmer, Rudi Johnson, Chad Johnson, and TJ Houshmandzadeh will score some points on the Pittsburgh defense, but unless the Bengals emphatically win the turnover battle, their playoff trip will be a short one. Again some analysts will claim that lack of experience doomed the Bengals. That won't be true. Lack of a defense will prevent the Bengals from advancing.
Winner: Pittsburgh


Washington at Tampa Bay
This is how small the margin of error for NFL teams is. If Mike Alstott had been stopped on Tampa's 2 point try in Week 10 (or correctly ruled not to have gotten in), the Redskins would be the number 2 seed and resting at home this weekend. Tampa would have been the 6th seed and likely traveled to do battle with Chicago. As it stands now, Washington is hotter than a $2 pistol heading into the playoffs and the Bucs are NFC South champs. Don't let last weeks showing against New Orleans fool you. These aren't the 2002 Bucs. Their defense is good, but it is not in the same stratosphere as the 2002 version. Remember, they were blanked 28-0 by New England just 3 short weeks ago. Washington on the other hand, went a remarkable 10-2 against NFC teams this season and 0-4 against the AFC West. The 'Skins get a little revenge for earlier contest and Joe Gibbs wins his firt playoff game since 1992.
Winner: Washington

Carolina at New York Giants
As much as I want to go with my boys this weekend, I just can't rationalize them leaving the Meadowlands with a win. The Panthers did go 6-2 on the road, but the only team with a winning record they defeated was Tampa Bay. Since the Falcons defense isn't suiting up for New York, the running game will not be able to muster much running room. On the flip side, I also don't see Tiki Barber lighting up our defense for huge gains. This game will be low scoring and the outcome will hinge on whichever team makes a mistake. Considering erratic passers Jake Delhomme and Eli Manning are starting, I should say whichever team makes fewer mistakes. The Giants are 8-1 at home this season. The only game they lost occurred beacuse the Vikings returned a kickoff, punt, and an interception for a touchdown. If the Panthers get that hat trick, they will win.
Winner: New York Giants

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Predictive Powers of Bowl Game Blowouts: Can Momentum Really Last 9 Months?

College football may be the sport with the most passionate fans. And nothing gets those fans more fired up than a lopsided bowl win over a good opponent. But, how telling is a blowout bowl win when prospecting forward? To answer this question, I looked at bowl games after the 2002, 2003, and 2004 regular seasons. Any BCS team that beat another BCS team by 20 or more points was considered to have blown their opponent out. I then looked at their record the following year to determine if the good will generated by their bowl blowout had any effect on the following season.

There were 8 bowl games that fit the BCS blowout criteria:

Texas Tech over Clemson 55-15 in the Tangerine Bowl
Pittsburgh over Oregon State 38-13 in the Insight Bowl
Virginia over West Virginia 48-22 in the Tire Bowl
Wake Forest over Oregon 38-17 in the Seattle Bowl
Maryland over Tennessee 30-3 in the Peach Bowl
NC State over Notre Dame 28-6 in the Gator Bowl
Oklahoma over Washington State 34-14 in the Rose Bowl
Southern Cal over Iowa 38-17 in the Orange Bowl

In the 2002 season, these 8 blowout winners had a combined record of 79-30, good for a .725 winning percentage. The following season, these teams had a combined record of 71-33, good for a .683 winning percentage. Of the 8 teams, only 1, Southern Cal improved the following year. They went from 11-2 in 2002 to 12-1 and national champions in 2003. 3 teams declined, NC State from 11-3 in 2002 to 8-5 in 2003, Wake Forest from 7-6 in 2002 to 5-7 in 2003, and Pittsburgh from 9-4 in 2002 to 8-5 in 2003. Oklahoma finished 12-2 in both 2002 and 2003. Texas Tech, Virginia, and Maryland all declined by 1/2 a game (Texas Tech and Virginia from 9-5 in 2002 to 8-5 in 2003 and Maryland from 11-3 in 2002 to 10-3 in 2003), but that is particially because they played 1 fewer game the following season.

There were 3 bowl games that fit the BCS blowout criteria:

NC State over Kansas 56-26 in the Tangerine Bowl
Iowa over Florida 37-17 in the Outback Bowl
Maryland over West Virginia 47-7 in the Gator Bowl

In the 2003 season these 3 blowout winners had a combined record of 28-11, good for a .718 winning percentage. The following season these teams had a combined record of 20-14, good for a .588 winning percentage. Iowa improved the following year. They went 10-3 in 2003 and improved slightly to 10-2 in 2004. NC State declined from 8-5 in 2003 to 5-6 in 2004. Maryland had a similar fall from 10-3 in 2003 to 5-6 and no bowl in 2004.

There were 4 bowl games that fit the BCS blowout criteria:

Georgia Tech over Syracuse 51-14 in the Champs Sports Bowl
Ohio State over Oklahoma State 33-7 in the Alamo Bowl
Tennessee over Texas A&M 38-7 in the Cotton Bowl
Southern Cal over Oklahoma 55-19 in the Orange Bowl

In the 2004 season these 4 blowout winners had a combined record of 38-12, good for a .760 winning percentage. In 2005, these 4 teams had a combined record of 34-14, good for a .708 winning percentage. Ohio State improved from 8-4 in 2004 to 10-2 and Fiesta Bowl champs in 2005. Tennessee declined from 10-3 in 2004 to 5-6 this season. Georgia Tech finished 7-5 in both 2004 and 2005. Southern Cal finished 13-0 in 2004 and 12-1 this season, a small decline considering they played for the national title.

Of the 15 teams in this study that romped over other BCS teams in their bowl games, only 3 improved the following year. 6 declined and 6 had the same record (pretty much) the following year.

What about the flip side of the blowout coin? Nothing can kill morale faster than a cross country drive to see the ole alma mater followed by a 3 and 1/2 hour long massacre. Now lets examine the what happens to teams after being routed in their bowl games.

In the 2002 season, these 8 bowl losers had a combined record of 70-34, good for a .673 winning percentage. The next season, they had a combined record of 68-35, for a winning percentage of .660. 3 teams improved the following season. Clemson went from 7-6 in 2002 to 9-4 in 2003. Oregon went from 7-6 in 2002 to 8-5 in 2003. Tennessee went from 8-5 in 2002 to 10-3 in 2003. 3 teams declined. West Virginia went from 9-4 in 2002 to 8-5 in 2003. Notre Dame went from 10-3 in 2002 to 5-7 and out of the bowl picture in 2003. Iowa went from 11-2 in 2002 to 10-3 in 2003. 2 teams posted the exact same record the following season. Oregon State went 8-5 both years and Washington State went 10-3 both years.

In the 2003 season, the 3 bowl losers had a combined record of 22-17, good for a .564 winning percentage. The next season, they combined for a 19-16 record, good for a .543 winning percentage. Neither of the 3 teams improved. Kansas declined from 6-7 in 2003 to 4-7 in 2004. Florida and West Virginia had relatively similar records. West Virginia went 8-5 in 2003 and 8-4 in 2004. Florida went 8-5 in 2003 and 7-5 in 2004.

In the 2004 season, the 4 bowl losers had a combined record of 32-17, good for a .653 winning percentage. The next season, they combined for an 18-27 record, good for a .400 winning percentage. All 4 teams declined. Syracuse went from 6-6 in 2004 to 1-10 this past season. Oklahoma State went from 7-5 in 2004 to 4-7 this past season. Texas A&M went from 7-5 in 2004 to 5-6 in 2005. Oklahoma went from 12-1 in 2004 to 8-4 this past season.

Of the 15 teams in this study that were routed in their bolw games, only 3 improved the following year. 8 declined and 4 posted the same or similar records the following year.

So what can we learn from this endeavor? For starters, a huge bowl win over a BCS opponent does not neccesarily portend a breakthrough season the next year. Several possible reasons exist for this. The loss of key senior contributors. For example, the 2003 NC State team that finished 8-5, lost star quarterback Philip Rivers and finished 5-6 th next year. Luck is another factor. Many people do not realize just how much of an impact random chance has in determining the outcome of a single football game. A fumble that bounced a fortuitous way or an interception that was dropped all influence the outcome of an individual game. Teams that win a lot of close games one year don't necessarily continue to do it the next year. In 2004, Tennessee finished 10-3 and was 5-1 in games decided by 7 points or less. In 2005, they finsihed 5-6 and were only 3-3 in such games. Perhaps even the plexiglass principle is a reason for this decline. Additionally, if a BCS team is blown out in their bowl game by another BCS team, they are more likely to decline than if they had blown the other team out. However, they appear to be just as likely to improve as their victorious brethren. The teams that decline drastically the next season seem to fit into several distinct categories. Fire/lose their coach (Syracuse and Oklahoma State in 2004). Lose a ton of talent to the NFL (Oklahoma in 2004). Extremely lucky (Notre Dame in 2002). Probably shouldn't be in a bowl anyway (Kansas 2003). In the 2005 bowl season, the only game that fits this criteria is the Peach Bowl. LSU handled Miami 40-3. LSU fans should not be printing those 2006 national champions or 2006 SEC champions T-shirts just yet if history is any indication. Similarly, Miami fans should not be hanging Larry Coker in effigy either. Miami certainly does not fit into any of the 4 previous categories for blowout losers, so a precipitous decline is unlikely.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A Fortnite of Football Frenzy and Fun Part IV

Record Thus Far: 16-10

January 3rd

Orange Bowl
Florida State Vs. Penn St.
Theme Song: 'Holding Back the Years' by Simply Red
2 old guys doing their thing in South Florida. When you think about it, its not really that unusual. This appears to be a real mismatch with 10-1 Penn State only one play away from an undefeated season and 8-4 Florida State only one game away (the win over VT) from playing in the Champs Sports Bowl. Get excited.
Winner: Penn State

January 4th

Rose Bowl
Southern Cal Vs. Texas
Theme Song: 'Please Don't Go' by KC and the Sunshine Band
Reggie Bush, LenDale White, and Vince Young-- all Jrs who may bolt to the pros after this game.
Winner: Texas