The BCS Playoffs Are Laughing In the Face of your Common Knowledge


Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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84 Responses

  1. Avatar Trumwill says:

    With all of the debates over who should have been left out of the four team playoff, who would have guessed that the answer was “Alabama”?Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Trumwill says:

      I didn’t see the Alabama-OSU game, but

      * Alabama jumped out to a 21-6 lead
      * There were five total turnovers
      * Alabama was down only 6 at the end of 3 and 7 when the game ended

      which makes it sounds more like either side’s game for the taking than a sound beating.

      FSU, on the other hand, did not belong in the same stadium as the Ducks.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        The 4th quarter was fugly by both teams. Weird play calls, lots of failure, stupid plays. Either team could have won but neither looked really good. Unless OSU plays a lot better we’ll need protective eyewear to watch the final.

        Gotta love some Duck fans chanting “No means No” to Winston.Report

      • Yeah, the game could have gone either way. But, Ohio State won. Oregon won. You don’t leave out a then- undefeated P5 team (even if they actually did look weak and their loss was predictable). So that leaves TCU and Alabama. TCU destroyed the team that beat Alabama.

        So it’s Alabama that should have been the odd team out. They rode in on the assumption that they survived in a really strong conference (or at least conference division) and it turned out maybe they didn’t. Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        You don’t leave out a then- undefeated P5 team

        I’m just wondering if that’s really true, as a predictive not normative matter. I’m thinking about my Big Ten. It’s really conceivable for a Wisconsin or a Minnesota or a Nebraska to go undefeated in any given year, especially when they’re not drawing the best of the West division. But that doesn’t absolutely mean they’re one of there four strongest teams in the country in any year that might happen. Had, say Minnesota done it this year, and they could have, I just don’t at all trust that they’d have been in. I don’t hear it in the way commentators talk about teams that aren’t in that group of programs that get all the respect. Whereas it’s clear how people feel about an Ohio State – even if they’re NOT undefeated. At the very least, in that year when a team without much national profile with an easy schedule puts it all together, I feel like there are going to be some really annoyed people when Minnesota is taking the place of a powerful SEC 1-loss team.

        I’m just not convinced that the P5 undefeated thing is going to be an absolute automatic case under the four-team format in absolutely any year it happens. The year could come when it doesn’t work (though it won’t because, we won;t stay at four teams long enough). Certainly the committee seemed to be flirting with the possibility that it wasn’t automatic even this year.

        Of course, if you went to eight teams and enforced some basic uniformity in scheduling and format (number of games played plus all P5s with a CCG), this simply wouldn’t be a problem at all. You get all your P5 Conf. Champions, which by dint of the uniformity of CCGs will include any undefeated teams after CCG day, and then you pick up the three strongest team in the country not accounted for with those five slots (notice I didn’t say “there three next strongest teams,” as the big advantage is that it’s no biggie that there will be a team or two or three that are stronger, more impressive teams than their conference champions (there really should;t be more than one or two at most in any year).Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        …sorry, when they’re not drawing the best of the East. They play all/most of the West every year, being in the West themselves. Which is what makes an undefeated season for one of them so plausible in any even year. The same for weak divisions of P5 conferences all over the country. Yeah, it doesn’t happen much, but that exactly because it down;t really mean that much when it does. It;s a game this way or that way; the difference between 12-0 and 11-1 should;t trump the differences between schedules more than the difference between 11-1 and 10-2 does. It’s just one more win on the schedule. FSU was righty ranked below two one-loss teams, so it pretty much follows that in another year there could easily be two more (four) one-loss teams that were stronger based on whom they played than the undefeated team.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        any given year, not just any even year.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Ugh, the “No means no” chant, which wasn’t just used by fans, but by players as well, was in serious bad taste. Rape as a taunt? Even of the rapist. I mean, how would you feel if you were the victim and a team was using your rape as a taunt of your rapist after a game?Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Not only that, they’re not using the correct chant. That’s, like, the phrase folks are trying to move away from of late. It’s “Yes means yes!” now, people.Report

      • Drew, mine was more of a normative statement than a predictive one. It’s too early to have predictive ones. I can imagine scenarios wherein an undefeated team does get left out. I have a harder time imagining scenarios where an undefeated team gets left out in favor of four teams that lost, though, as would have been the case this year. Not unless they were trying to create the loudest calls possible for 8.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        I certainly think that in most instances an undefeated team would deserve to be in the top four. But I also think that four is too low a number for it to be seen as necessarily a normative axiom for selecting the best four teams playoff from seventy-some or more schools, divided in conferences so that cross-competition os restricted, that if there is one but only one undefeated team in the power five, that team must be one of the best four. There are too many other variables relating to disparate levels of competition in different conferences, and just on different schedules.

        It would be defensible in my view to make it not a normative axiom but simply a guarantee of process by changing the definition of what the playoff is from the four best teams to the champions of THE four major conference champions. So that the P5 conferences would become four, eligibility for the playoff would get restricted to teams in those conferences (non-aligned contenders would have to join up somewhere), all eligible conferences would play a CCG between division winners, and the final four is simply the conference champions by definition. The result of that would as a necessary result include any undefeated team from among eligible teams. Beyond that, with the playoff at four teams certainly times when an undefeated team doesn’t belong in the top four, with conferences restricting cross-competition the way they do, are clearly conceivable.

        The arrangement I describe is really the only way that continuing with four teams would be acceptable to me.

        The last name thing. Seems to be happening to me lately. Is that a… thing? Or meaningless?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Meaningless. Half my friends call me Hanley. And there are at least three Mikes/Michaels here while there’s only one Drew.Report

        • That’s good to know. I wondered because that’s been the case for a long time but it hasn’t really happened (with me at least) until now.

          I see myself doing it with Schilling there; I’m not a fan. I think it’s a little different when referring to someone than when addressing them, but I’ve never been a fan of it in general. Reminds of frats, a scene I’ve never wanted any part of.

          But anyway, so long as there’s no subtext to it I’m missing, I guess I’m fine with whatever people want to call me.Report

      • My view is that once you lose a game, I lose a lot of sympathy for your claims that the system has wronged you by not allowing you a chance at the title. The slim margin of error is one of the things I love about college football.Report

      • The last name thing is a product of their being so many Michaels. I’ve also increasingly called James Hanley by his last name.Report

      • I’d actually started going with MD but then Dwyer started commenting more.Report

      • I’m not a fan of the one-loss-has-huge consequences thing myself. Mostly because it doesn’t, really. Most years everyone has a loss, so the issue (as it always mostly is) is who you played. When someone’s undefeated I’m inclined to see that as a bit of a fluke – not that it doesn’t give you a big leg up over one-loss teams, but only as much as as one less loss does between one- and two-loss teams.

        As far as claims to have been wronged go, that’s really not the way I look at it. tThe undefeated team who gets left will certainly have an argument to have been wronged, and that’s fair. But the issue is not how teams feel about being excluded. It’s that the CFB community is able to select truly the four (or however many) best teams if that is indeed what they want to do – and that is what they say they want to do right now. If they want to set out a different aim, that’s fine, but right now they’re selecting the four best. If there is an undefeated P5 team(s), they’re likely to be selected. But I don’t think it serves the community to have the axiom that an (only) undefeated P5 team will absolutely be included without fail as long as there are only four slots. It’s conceivable there could be four better teams given restricted cross-competition.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        My view is that once you lose a game, I lose a lot of sympathy for your claims that the system has wronged you by not allowing you a chance at the title.

        I’m not convinced, Will. Take Oregon’s loss to Arizona. IIRC, three offensive line starters were injured, and Mariota was playing through an injury, too. Not to knock Arizona, because a lesser team might not have been able to take advantage of that opportunity. But if you look at the score, Arizona put up about as many points as the Ducks tended to give up–they got 31 and Oregon gave up 27 or more 6 times–but it was the offense’ slowest scoring output of the season by two touchdowns.

        This wasn’t like the two years Stanford just flat out beat the Ducks by shutting them down. Those years, yes, just too bad for Oregon, no complaints. But this year that loss said nothing about what kind of team they really are (as they had a chance to show in the Pac-12 championship game). Ohio State’s and ‘Bama’s losses I know nothing about, so as far as I know they are equally unrepresentative of those teams’ quality this year.Report

      • According to the Social Security Administration, from 1953 through 2010, “Michael” was one of the three most common names for baby boys in each year, and was number one in the vast majority of those years.Report

      • Hanley, a playoff loss can also be unrepresentative of a season. The difference between a foul-up early and a foul-up late isn’t clear to me. If TCU, Oregon, Baylor, Alabama, or Ohio State didn’t want to be vulnerable, what they need to do is clear.Report

      • The difference is that you’re simply designating a set of late games as more important, and making the early part of the season a contest to get to them. If we’re not stipulating the greater importance of a set of games designated as more important (“playoffs”) by virtue of having to earn the right to play them, then, yeah, it’s going to be hard to show why any playoffs in any sports shows who the rightful winners of the season-long contest is better thn just crowning the regular-season wins leader, and playing a one-game tiebreaker in the case of exact ties.

        The point of regular seasons is to figure out what are the best set of teams. The point of playoffs is to play a tournament that has a winner by virtue of both fitness and the vagaries of a few games’ results. Which, I get, you’re skeptical of in college football. But are skeptical of it in the NFL? That’s a problem with playoffs in general, and college football seems like a worse candidate for essentially eliminating a post-season tournament, since cross-competition is so limited so comparison is hard, and the schedule is so short, so records converge. It cries out among sports to just cut off the top X teams at the end, have them play a tourney and call the winner the winner.Report

      • I consider the NFL playoffs to be something of a cautionary tale. Some people don’t have a problem with a 10-6 Giants team that placed third in its division being champions, but I do. My view of what the regular (college football) season should be and your view differ. Nothing competes with the college football in terms of intensity. The more mulligans we give teams, the less true that becomes.

        I’m undecided whether the four-team setup is better or worse than the two-team. I’m inclined to say “worse” because it contains neither the exclusivity of the two-team (where one season loss is likely to be devastating) nor the advantages of an 8-team setup (allowing G5 entrances, at least under the right circumstances).Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        True, which is why “best of X” series are preferable. But obviously not workable for football. But if you want to crown a national champion that people will really buy as a national champion, a playoff is needed.

        Sure, if ‘Bama’s QB had gone out early, their top running back couldn’t play because of illness, their coach inexplicably calls a run up the middle on 4th and 20 from their on 15, then people can argue that they really had the best team that season, but they can’t argue that they didn’t win the playoffs to be the champion.

        It’s a subtly different definition–tournament champion, as opposed to best team–but one that matters. Nobody believes NC State was the best basketball team in 1983, or the US the best hockey team in the 1980 Olympics, but nobody doubts they were the champions. Anyway, “best team” may not even be an objective reality in most years, whereas a tournament winner almost always is.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling says:


        However I do in general agree about the early-loss v. late-loss thing. It’s weird in college football that an early season loss matters less than a late season loss.Report

      • I agree about the best team being not-an-objective-reality. I am actually totally cool with playoffs for a lot of things. I actually think March Madness is pretty cool. Different models for different systems. Except almost every league in existence but college football has a tournament-based model (wherein the tournament includes more teams than it should). I like college football in part because of what makes it different.

        I might be willing to sacrifice the lack-of-mulligans for an 8-team playoff, if it didn’t lead to more structural changes (the idea that we should organize things to produce the best playoff possible), and more importantly if I thought it would stop at eight. I fear that once the tournament mentality starts, the original purpose will morph.Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumbers in reply to Mike Schilling says:


        Some people don’t have a problem with a 10-6 Giants team that placed third in its division being champions, but I do.

        I don’t know why you have a problem with it, considering that it has literally never happened in NFL history. #NiceTryReport

      • My bad, you are correct. They went 9-7, not 10-6. They did place above the other three teams in their division, though, so there’s that.Report

      • Avatar Mo in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        One of those Alabama turnovers was during a last second desperation heave. INT = incomplete at that point. Also, Alabama jumped out to an early lead because of two OSU turnovers. The MVP for Alabama was their punter. If he didn’t keep dropping the ball inside the 10, OSU likely would have been able to pour on more points. The game was not as close as the final score indicated.Report

      • I agree there’s a problem that late-regular season losses in CFB can be so much worse than early season ones. But playoffs are something else – that’s what they’re designed to be. They have higher stakes and you have to do something to even get to play in them. You can reject the idea of playoffs, but if you don’t I don’t see how you can have a problem that a playoff loss (which happens late in the season overall) is more significant than an early-season loss. That’s what they’re there for: to be more significant.

        And the quote that raised the issue of late versus early wins went like this: “Hanley, a playoff loss can also be unrepresentative of a season. The difference between a foul-up early and a foul-up late isn’t clear to me.” It seemed clear to me that the comparison between late and early losses was also between playoff losses and early regular-season losses respectively. If we’re talking college football’s problem with late losses influencing voters’ opinions more than early ones, yeah, that’s problem. but it’s more of problem the more significant you make the voters’/deliberators’ determination. If they’re deciding who is the fifth best team overall and the best to have its title chase ended, that’s more significant than if they’re deciding who is the ninth best overall and the best to be done. So make it the latter – or, get rid of deliberators all together, and make conference championships into races for slots in a playoff. Then early/late won’t matter any more than it does in baseball or the NFL.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        If we’re talking college football’s problem with late losses influencing voters’ opinions more than early ones, yeah, that’s problem.

        I disagree. The beauty of the college football season is that once you get past the third or so week, every game is a playoff game. The fact that late season losses are magnified is a feature, not a bug.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mike Schilling says:


        Tbh I’m actually being a little go-alongish there. I’m fairly agnostic on the point. Looking at it from the perspective of a fan of a team, I think I actually agree with you. If an early loss is just as bad as a late one, then you fun is very much diminished if a loss comes early, whereas if your team goes through the season unblemished, then those lates game that are so high stakes are that much more significant for you. That seems like a huge upside overall. The problem is that it’s unfair to teams whoface their toughest tests late. And those are the teams in the best conferences, so in a sense it punishes you for being in a good conference. But being in a good conference is just going to be punishing – that’s the way it is. Also, programs have control over who they play early. So they can try to frontload to get losses out of the way early. But still, if they;re in a tough conference they;re going to have tough games late.

        It is what it is. It’s a product of the human element of choosing teams. Get rid of that, andi t goes away. And I’m okay with other ways to minimize it. But I also don;t have too much of a big problem with it. It’s just a bit of a warping of the competition.

        Late losses *in a playoff* being more significant remains a completely different issue, however.Report

  2. Avatar greginak says:

    Yeah one of the good things about a playoff is it dampens a wee bit of the champion = reputation stuff that college fball is full of. To many people would just award the SEC or Notre Dame in the old days a championship based to much on rep.

    Holy Moly….just saw Jamies Winston, on ESPN, saying something along the lines of ” be real….just be real….that game could have gone either way….we beat ourselves….” Wow. Ummm JW, you play the Ducks again and maybe you only get beat by 20 or maybe they beat you by 60.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to greginak says:

      I like Football Greg.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to greginak says:


      This is why I was one of the few people that preferred the computers to the humans (even though the computers are still prone to human bias, especially when humans insist on certain rules for the computers that further enforce human bias). And why I hate preseason polls. Or even early season polls. Inertia is a powerful beast.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Kazzy says:

        It’s why a de facto full-season tournament based on four conferences as I lay out in conversation with Will above would be probably the best of all worlds. Four conferences; eight divisions; functionally the playoff starts on Conference Championship week; the playoff semis proper have the four conference champions from those CCGs (which could be hyped as playoffs); winners of the semis for all the marbles. You just gotta get the Notre Dames et al (anyone you think should be contending for championships) into conferences, get them all divided into divisions, and playing CCGs. Simple as pie. Or not.Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to greginak says:

      At least he went out on the field after the game and shook some of the Ducks’ hands. Looked like about two-thirds of the Florida State players walked straight from the sidelines to the tunnel — the announcers seemed upset about it. My guess is Winston has already decided to declare for the NFL draft, and knew this was his last college football game.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to greginak says:

      It’s true–much as I hate to say it–that most of the time Winston moved the ball too easily against the Ducks. But those weren’t unforced turnovers. Even his fumble came because he was being chased around by a three man rush and couldn’t find a receiver. And earlier in the game, FSU was held to a field goal, given a new first down by a Ducks penalty, and still held to a field goal. So Winston’s the kind of guy who can’t give his opponents credit? Color me shocked.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

        Also, the play where Winston fumbled was a 4th and 5 play. If the Duck defense wasn’t doing anything, why was it 4th down And 5 to go?Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to James Hanley says:

        Yeah JW came off really petulant and immature. All the fumble state u turnovers came from the ball being stripped, hard hits or jw running for his life. O certainly had some luck to be able to pick up his goof ball fumble and run it back, but the turnover was very much caused by the D.

        JW didn’t really seem to handle the adversity well. That does not bode well for an NFL career.Report

  3. Avatar Kazzy says:


    Do we know for sure that it would have been ‘Bama and Florida State? The BCS formula was somewhat black box so I don’t know we can say for certainty those would have been the teams, even if they were ranked 1-2 in the major polls. The computers would NOT have been kind to Florida State.

    And while I agree with the general sentiment of the piece, you and I both know that a single game played with 4+ weeks of prep is hardly representative of the relative talent of two teams. I’m sure someone can run an advanced statistical analysis that will tell us more, but my hunch is that the odds of the prior system and the current system leaving us with the 3rd or 4th best team in the country as our national champion are roughly similar.

    None of which should be read as a knock on Oregon or Ohio State. At the very least, Oregon seemed like a vastly superior team to Florida State, both yesterday and over the course of the year. Ohio State and ‘Bama seem a much closer call, again, based on both yesterday and the season as a whole.Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Kazzy says:

      The only black-box piece about the BCS formulas were the computer picks — how the computer vote and the two human polls were combined was explicitly clear. This site has a proxy BCS calculation — certain substitutions had to be made because the Harris poll is no more, and a couple of the computer rating systems had dropped the “special” versions they used for the BCS (eg, the BCS forbid the computers from using margin of victory as a variable). The proxy would have Alabama and Florida State playing for the title. Even if they had used the tournament selection committee’s final ordering as the substitute for the Harris — which is probably a closer match to the Harris make-up than the AP sportswriters — it looks to me like it would still have been Alabama and Florida State. The computers gave Florida State a big push over Oregon.Report

      • Shows you what computers know about football.Report

      • I’m still not sold on playoffs, but that it helped demolish the SEC’s exceedingly generous benefit of the doubt when the BCS wouldn’t have is definitely a point in its favor.Report

      • Or as I used to say, what hamstrung computers know about football. Margin of victory, at least up to about 17 points, matters statistically. After the BCS took that away from the computers, there was a significant drop-off in the computers’ accuracy in predicting results. Some of the computer rating groups resigned their BCS position after margin of victory was banned; some built special versions of their models w/o margin of victory, but made public statements that it affected the accuracy of the model.

        IIRC, the computer groups that dropped out, or that ran special models just for the BCS, tended to be groups who had originally made their money selling point-spread betting tips.Report

      • In my view, looking at “margin of victory” isn’t the way to assess games. A better way is looking at the latest point in the game that the loser was within 3 points, within 7, within 14, and within 21. When the losing team was last within two touchdowns tells you more about the game than how much they won by.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Michael Cain says:


        The individual computer formulas is what I meant by “black box”. And I agree that the elimination of margin-of-victory was the death knell for the computers and that system (especially since voters could still take it into account, whether or not it was explicitly allowed/forbidden). I don’t think the computers were ever perfect. But I tend to trust an objective system (even one with subjective components) than a subjective system. I never liked that the BCS weighted the computer rankings so weakly relative to the human polls.

        All that said, I think my broader point still stands: we simply don’t know enough about the college playoff system to say that it is an objectively better measure than any prior system for determining the best college football team in the nation. It is probably better, but pointing to yesterday’s result as proof positive of that is wrong.

        But I am pretty sure Tod knows that and this article is at least partly tongue-in-cheek.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Michael Cain says:


        Given a large enough dataset, I’m pretty sure all the math backs up margin of victory (or formulas based on margin of victory and/or point differential e.g., Pythagorean record in MLB) as the best predictor of relative strength. The problem with college football is that even a season’s worth of games is probably insufficient in terms of set size. And an individual game certainly isn’t.

        From what I’ve read, most stat-heads don’t look at such numbers until the 25 game mark in the NBA or the 50-ish game mark in MLB (about 1/3 of the season). Now, those sports tend to be higher variance (in terms of producing ‘upsets’) than football in general and college football more specifically (with baseball being much higher than basketball), so I don’t know where that line is for football/CFB.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Michael Cain says:

        @kazzy If I recall, the reason they junked margin of victory was to not punish teams that didn’t run up the score, rather than a question of accuracy.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Michael Cain says:


        Well, that is because the BCS (and whatever other oversight organizations) were trying to serve multiple masters. AND were engaging in a rather futile task. Regarding the former, they were trying to simultaneously identify the best college football team that year (in which case, margin-of-victory — including those inflated by ‘running up the score’ — would have been important data) AND promote a certain level of amateur sportsmanship (in which case, ‘running up the score’ is quite problematic. Regarding the latter, well, they were trying to determine which of some 100+ programs — most of which never play each other — was the best based on a data set that typically maxed out at 14 games.

        So, if they were trying to most accurately rank teams, they absolutely NEED to include margin-of-victory. But if they want to discourage running up the score in the name of sportsmanship, they probably need to exclude it. But you can’t do both those things.Report

  4. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    As I wrote elsewhere, I usually restrict my weekly football consumption to one or two NFL games but this week hung out with a buddy, who is a huge Oregon fan, and watched both of the bowl games referenced in the OP. I was hugely well entertained by both of these games. And while I was sympathetically rooting for Oregon during the Rose Bowl because of my friend, at some point it had become very obvious that the wheels had come off for Florida State and nothing short of the players revealing super powers would make the game competitive again.

    This is why I generally elect professional rather than collegiate football: there are so many mismatches that it stops being interesting after the dominant team asserts its dominance. And the ranking system, now incorporated into the computer-assisted-invitational playoff system system that seems to prevail now incentivizes a dominant team in that position mercilessly continuing to assert its dominance: it’s not enough for a team like, say, Oklahoma to get ahead of Glassjaw Tech 57-3, because somewhere else Alabama is crushing the Correspondence College of Tampa 68-0 and somewhere else Idaho State is pulverizing Air Force 59-6 and so how else do you distinguish yourself within such a universe but by administering utterly one-sided beatdowns?

    I guess I’m saying that maybe there ought to be a mercy rule. The amazing thing of it was that Oregon-FSU was such a mismatch and that a team with the reputation of FSU was on the receiving end of it.

    I’m looking forward to the championship game next week. A fair amount of cleverness has gone in to both OSU and Oregon’s strategies. I haven’t seen the line yet but Oregon should be a solid favorite: its lightning-fast attack appears to be nothing so much as a football cognate of the “showtime” fast-break offense of the late-1980’s Los Angeles Lakers, to which there is very little possible response by a defense.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Oregon’s fast play doesn’t work as well in bowl games as in the regular season. In regular season games it wears down the defense until they’re utterly spent halfway through the third quarter. But bowl games have longer commercial breaks and a longer halftime, so the defense gets more chance to recuperate.

      It does still keep defenses off balance–the one short yardage touchdown against FSU came while their players were still trying to get into position–and can deny them substitutions they want, so it’s not useless in bowl games, just reduced in effectiveness. It might play a role against FSU–I hope so, but I’m not certain.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to James Hanley says:

        More common knowledge.

        In the Chip Kelly era (of which Helfrich is a continuation), Oregon has scored 19, 45, 35, 30, and 59 points — an average of 38 points — on the way to a 4-1 record.

        38 points. Average.

        “Not useless” indeed.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

        Agreed, Tod. I think the primary benefit of that really fast pace is during a drive: the defense never has time to set up, make adjustments, substitute players. The secondary benefit is to wear down opponents during the course of the game. But wearing down the defense can be accomplished by traditional, old school between-the-tackles running plays, as well.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:


        As a dedicated Duck watcher, I disagree. For Oregon, The primary benefit has been wearing down the D. Over And over Oregon’s game’s have been close in the first half, then they run away in late 3rd and early 4th quarter. They substitute a lot so their offensive guys are fresher despite how many plays they’ve run, while their opponents’ defenders are usually absolutely gassed by then. That’s when they win the game.

        Keeping the defense off-balance is the secondary effect, but not unimportant, obviously. I think my favorite moment of last night’s game was the short yardage touchdown when FSU wasn’t set, and the one defender shrugging like, WTF?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:


        I just pulled up the Ducks year end statistics (not including last night’s game):

        First half scoring: 350 pts.
        Second half scoring: 330 pts.

        I don’t know if those numbers mean all that much wrt to settling the issue we’re talking about since by, say, the third quarter Oregon has a pretty commanding lead and so they may call off the ducks.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

        Oops. I knew something wasn’t right. It’s actually

        350 first half,
        310 second half.

        Like I said, I don’t know that means your point isn’t valid, but if so, wouldn’t we expect to see higher scoring in the second half? Maybe not.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:


        They’ve really laid off in the 4th quarter, often after the first drive. I think to really pin it down you’d need to break the scoring down into 7 1/2 minute groupings. That could be done, but I’m not going to make the effort, so skeptics can fairly remain skeptical.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:


        I’ll concede that there are long term benefits for the super-hurry-up offense. Scoring rises in the second quarter relative to the first, for example. I just think the primary benefit is in the short term: the current scoring drive.

        So, yeah, plenty of room for disagreement. And plenty of room for agreement, too! The quick pace has a bunch of benefits that other teams have been slow to realize. Personally, I thought Saban’s switch to the Bama version of the hurry up this year showed one reason why he’s such a phenomenal coach. If you can do it well, it’s a winning strategy.Report

  5. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    Any time there’s a blowout in a game with teams of this caliber, I wonder how much of the blame should go to the coaching staff. One game that sticks out in my memory is the 1996 Fiesta Bowl, #1 Nebraska over #2 Florida 62-24. The betting spread was Nebraska by 3, but a lot of experts were picking Florida. Nebraska had enormous speed on defense that year, and had installed a defensive package with heavy man coverage and exotic blitzes. At the end of the first quarter, Florida was up 10-6 by playing ball control dink-and-dunk passing — an ideal strategy against the defense Nebraska was using. In the second quarter, coach Steve Spurrier appeared to say, “We’re Florida, and we can throw deep on anyone.” The result was a disaster, with Nebraska winning the quarter 29-0. I honestly thought that Spurrier was going to get Wuerrfel killed — the guy was just getting hammered on almost every play.

    I place the outcome of that one squarely on Spurrier’s ego — we’ll win it our way or go down in flames.Report

    • Totally agreed. The month of time to prepare causes whatever the results of the schemes each coach draws up to be magnified. Overlooked mismatches and advantages are that much more consequential as attention flows more and more to the anticipated ones. Miscalculations wend their way that much deeper into the overall game plan. Often, lopsidedness results. When there’s a thriller (like Wisconsin-Auburn), it’s hard to know if the teams were really evenly matched, or a team that ought to have won overlooked something by focusing too much on a particular issue.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Michael Cain says:

      “Any time there’s a blowout in a game with teams of this caliber, I wonder how much of the blame should go to the coaching staff.”

      In this case, I’m not sure I agree. I think the more likely answer is that Florida State is not that good of a football team.

      Over at ESPN today, Ivan Maisel wrote that even though Oregon had a +20 turnover margin and had dominated in all but one game (against a team they would later embarrass in the P-12 championship), he was sure that Florida State had the edge because their victories against a weaker schedule had only been an average of less than 6 points.

      I think when you read stuff like that it becomes obvious that your brain has been been making excuses to overturn your eyeballs, and that maybe at the end of the day barely seeking out victories against creampuff teams isn’t actually a sign of dominance.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        I agree with you about Florida State not being very good. But they squeaked out games (and got plain lucky) against a respectable schedule.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        All they do is win.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        … and lose by 39 points.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        The, “they’ve won a lot of close games, so they’re stronger as a team” narrative is always absurd, but it’s particularly so when it’s used to promote the “strong” team over a team that’s blown away better opponents consistently.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Damn, my ignorance of NCAA football is revealed, I was thinking Tebow played at FSU.

        [Was in moderation, perhaps for the strong language]Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Also, the “they’re strong because they’ve won so many close games” narrative was belied by how early Florida State gave up in yesterday’s game. Really, before the JW fumble when he and the referee were blown over by Lance Stephenson, FSU still had a shot. Then that fumble, followed by another turnover, and 2/3 of the FSU players were already queuing up their flight home playlists.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Did anybody who isn’t in the bag for FSU actually argue that the closeness of their games was indicative of how good they are? That was always the weakest part of their argument, in my view.

        That they won every game – and the others D didn’t – was their selling point, but that would still have been stronger, in my view, if they had better margins.

        Really, all you can say is that their margins were all better than Bama’s against Ole Miss, Oregon’s against Arizona, etc.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        I don’t know that anyone made it about FSU, who was a pretty big underdog I think, but the “close games make you stronger” argument is one I hear a lot in general.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        It’s related to the “he’s a real battler” praise for the pitcher who put two men on every inning but got strikeouts and double plays at the right times to avoid disaster. The less manly man who merely has a WHIP below one never gets credit for that.

        [Moderation again. It must have thought I meant the other kind of whip.]Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        @mike-schilling oh lord that description brings back memories off Mitch Williams the former closer for the Phils in the 90’s. He would, far to often, come in throwing wildly walk one or two guys then barely work his way out of his own mess. He also served plenty of good ones to the Blue Jays when they won the series.Report

    • Avatar Mo in reply to Michael Cain says:

      Minus the two running back fumbles, the game stays close, FSU doesn’t give up and the final score looks decent. The game got out of hand because FSU just plain gave up (which can be laid at the feet of the coaching staff).Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Michael Cain says:

      It is important to remember that betting lines are just that: they are not handicaps or attempts to accurately assess the relative strength of two teams. They are generally designed to balance action on the two halves so that the house can take their cut and minimize their risk. It doesn’t always work out that way, but just because the spread made the game look evenly matched doesn’t mean anyone in Vegas actually thought that (they might have, they might not have). But other factors (e.g., FSU being more of a ‘national’ program than Oregon; FSU being undefeated; FSU ranking #1 in major polls; FSU being the reigning champ) likely contributed to the perception that FSU was better than they were amongst the betting public and, as such, needed to be factored into betting lines.

      I mean, what? No! I’m not a degenerate gambler!Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

        To be fair to Vegas, Oregon was favored to win. Not by that margin, of course.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        A quick perusal of some different lines (some offshore, some stateside) show that they almost all moved in FSU’s favor as the week progressed… generally by a half-point to a full point. This isn’t uncommon and given that they never crossed a key number (7 or 10, in this case), the number is a little more fluid and therefore susceptible to change. But that does suggest that the bettors (public or pro, though the hold was *huge* on these games indicating massive public action) believed FSU was not necessarily the better team, but was better relative to Oregon than they were being given credit for.

        Most books opened closer to 10 and closed closer to 7. And that 10 was probably somewhat depressed at the onset due to the FSU bias amongst the bettors.

        I mean… huh? What’s betting?!?!Report

  6. Avatar ScarletNumbers says:


  7. Avatar ScarletNumbers says:

    Just a heads up, the new system is no longer known as the BCS. It is now known as the CFP.

    The biggest loser in the new system is the AAC, which was a BCS conference, but is not one of the Power 5 CFP conferences.

    Even if it was, I have no idea who they would have sent to the New Year’s Six. There was a 3-way tie for 1st, and none of the teams were ranked in the top 25. FWIW, the Military Bowl (yes, really) had first dibs and they chose Cincinnati over Memphis and UCF. The conference has no tie-breaker, and each team only plays 8 conference games, which led to UCF not playing Cincinnati or Memphis this year.Report

  8. Avatar ScarletNumbers says:

    Two take aways from last night’s game…

    1) ESPN has the right to interview both coaches at halftime. The winning coach is interviewed going into the locker room, while the losing coach is interviewed coming out.

    Even though Alabama led at halftime, the momentum had shifted to Ohio State, and it was obvious from the look on Satan’s face that he agreed.

    2) I’m sure that Urban Meyer had a LONG talk with Tyvis Powell after the game that since the clock was at 0:00, he should have taken a knee after his interception on the last play.Report

  9. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    After all, Oregon plays in the Pac-12, and we all know that all Pac-12 teams are soft…

    Without a whole lot of attention before today, the Pac-12 is compiling an impressive bowl record compared to everyone this year. I put it in the category that has been the old Pac 10 embarrassing the Big 10, the Florida schools in the 1980s, Nebraska in the 1990s, and the SEC in the 2000s: speed kills; speed doesn’t have off days; or Charlie McBride at Nebraska in ~1990 after losing to one of the Florida schools again, “We’ve got to get us some of that.”

    It ought to be one of Cain’s Laws™: If your offensive line all the way down the depth chart is a step faster than the defensive line you’re playing against, you’re at least competitive.Report

    • Even before this year, the Pac-12 had a reputation in serious circles as one of the best conferences, if not the best, after the SEC. I have long maintained that they are the next best after the SEC and virtually nobody argues with me or expresses surprise the way they do with some of my other findings.

      I think Tod’s perception of the conference’s perception is either wrong or out of date.Report

      • I agreed with the broad thrust of Tod’s post – that the playoff upsets various biases and CWs in college football – but I likewise thought he got some of the particulars of the current CW wrong, or more precisely, that his understanding of them was out of date. When I looked closer though, it turned out it was really just his view of views of the Pac-12. Definitely not an underdog conference anymore, no seen that way. But it’s clear part of what motivates them is seeing themselves as being seen that way. So, okay that’s fine. But it’s not so anymore. I haven;t heard anyone talk about the Pac-12 being soft for… I don’t know when I ever did, tbh. I don’t think people called Pete Carroll’s Trojans soft.Report

      • There’s still some amount of the old, “the Pac-12 plays in the Pacific time zone and is little seen by the eastern media who set the framework for the discussion” around. Living in Colorado, it’s amazing how much more West Coast football I see now that CU has moved from the Big 12 to the Pac 12. How hard is it for you to see multiple West Coast football games there in the eastern time zone?

        Off on a complete tangent — too much wine at dinner tonight? — the teams departing the Big 12 were indicative of regional identities: Nebraska -> Big 10; Texas A&M and Missouri -> SEC; Colorado -> Pac 12.Report

      • @michael-cain

        Oh, there’s definitely still the overlooked thing going on, due to night games being so late, and due to general East & South media bias. But when it comes down to assessing the football, I don’t hear anybody remotely informed not saying the Pac-12 is the second best conference in CFB, and to be honest most of the analysts I heard front he start of tho season were saying they were clearly challenging the SEC for top status.Report