Saturday, October 09, 2010

Alabama Football and Top 25 Inanity

Regular readers of this blog know that if there's one thing I consistently harp on it's the idiocy of Top 25 polls. The voters are completely irrational about how they rank teams - contradicting themselves constantly. I've talked about this over and over again. But I've been watching college football all day today, and for those that are living in a cave you might not have heard that #1 Alabama lost on the road at #19 South Carolina. And we're repeating the idiocy we go through every single year, and I'm going to try to not repeat what I said almost four years ago to the day about a very similar situation.

To recap the conventional wisdom you will hear from every "expert" on television today, Alabama "deserves to drop" somewhere near the back of the Top Ten, because they have to be dropped behind the top undefeated teams. And the debate is now whether a one-loss SEC champion (should Alabama win out) win a National Title game spot over an undefeated team from another conference (analysts will talk about two Pac-10 teams, two Big Ten teams and a Big 12 team all with a good chance to go undefeated).

Let's talk about these points one after the other, and reveal the idiocy and hypocrisy:

Alabama should be moved below some undefeated teams, but not others:

There's this bizarre obsession in college football with the number of losses a team has - that a one-loss team should be behind an undefeated team. This, of course, encourages teams to play cupcake schedules - which most of them do. I have a weird idea that teams should be ranked by how good they are. And basically everybody agrees that Alabama is the best team in the country. Even after the loss today, many of the computer polls will still have Alabama #1. So shouldn't Alabama stay #1? If you truly believe that one or two other teams are better than Alabama, then go ahead and rank those teams ahead, but Alabama shouldn't drop some arbitrary number of spots just because of the mere fact that they lost a game.

If the argument is that we should have a NASCAR or ATP/WTA style points system, rather than just ranking teams by how good they are, then fine. But if you're going to do that then you have to rank every undefeated team ahead of Alabama. Voters will tell you that they will keep Alabama ranked ahead of undefeated Michigan State because Alabama "is the better team" - yet they'll simutaneously rank Alabama behind Boise State, even though Alabama would be at least a five point favorite on a neutral field against Boise State and almost none of those "experts" would pick Boise State to win that hypothetical game. Pick something and be consistent, guys. You can't rank Alabama ahead of Michigan State but behind Boise State if you think Alabama is better than both of them.

Can a one-loss SEC Champion make the National Title game over an undefeated team from another conference?

Again, I have the wild-eyed theory that we should have the two best teams in the National Title game. If Alabama wins every remaining game (including the SEC Championship Game) I'll bet you dollars to donuts that they are by far the #1 team in every computer rating (and I'm talking about real computer rating systems, not the lame ones used by the BCS which do not take into account the scores of games, inevitably leading them to overrate undefeated teams and to punish teams that have hard schedules and lose to good opponents). So if you're putting teams into the title game by how good they are, then of course Alabama should get in.

If we want to go to the NASCAR/ATP/WTA points system, and want to put undefeated teams ahead of one-loss teams just because they're undefeated, then you have to be consistent with that. Every undefeated team has to get in over one-loss Alabama. The voters will put a 12-1 Alabama over a 12-0 Boise State, and tell us it's because Alabama is better and their loss was just due to a tougher schedule. Yet simultaneously they'll tell us that an undefeated Oregon team has to get in over a one-loss Alabama team because they went undefeated and did everything they could, and you can't put a one-loss team in over them. It's pure contradiction.

Of course, this is a stupid discussion to begin with:

I've talked about this in the past, but every October college football analysts freak out about the possibility of five or six undefeated teams at the end of the season fighting for National Title game spots. We always have a bunch of teams that start at 5-0 or 6-0, and we all look at the schedules of those teams and say "Gosh darnit, those teams could go the distance! They don't have any tough teams left!" And what happens every year? Those teams lose. Only once in the entire BCS era have we had even three major conference undefeated. More often than not we have zero undefeated BCS conference teams at the end of the season. So there's no reason to panic that Oregon, Ohio State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Michigan State and a slew of SEC teams are still undefeated. The odds are that they'll all lose at least one game apiece.

Why do so many teams get upset? It's basic statistics. An elite team playing a middle-of-the-pack team in conference generally has at most an 80% chance of winning a game. That's a huge gap. Even the best NFL teams only beat an average NFL team about 75% of the time. In Major League Baseball it's about 60%. So if you have a team that has six games left where they have an 80% chance of winning each game, you intuitively expect that team to win each game, because a loss in any of those games would be a pretty shocking upset. Yet if that team has six games remaining, even with an 80% chance of winning each game, they only have a 26% chance of going undefeated. It's not intuitive, but it's reality.

If you have seven undefeated teams that each have six games remaining, and all of them have an 80% chance of winning each game, the odds of all seven going undefeated is 0.0085%. That's less than a one-in-10,000. So why are we spending hours wasting our time debating such a remote possibility?

So the next time you see somebody on television debating whether an undefeated Nebraska and Ohio State will earn a National Title spot over a 12-1 Alabama team when all of them have at least six games left to play, put the mute button on. Don't waste your brain power thinking about such an inane and unlikely scenario.

No comments: