The art of frontloading

ESPN.com’s Ted Miller launched a screed against the Big XII’s pathetic early schedules, mainly  to argue that the Pac-10 should give up the good schedule fight and join the party.

… Scheduling matters.

And it’s become clear that teams are not penalized for scheduling weak opponents in order to pad their record, nor do teams — or conferences — get credit for ambitious scheduling.

He scores a telling point about Oregon State:

… How many times have you heard or read that USC lost to a “mediocre” Oregon State squad?

If Oregon State, winners of four consecutive bowl games and 19 games the previous two seasons, had played Texas Tech’s schedule, the Beavers would be unbeaten, too.

Without changing any players or coaches they’d transform from “mediocre” to a ranked team.

Instead, they played at No. 3 Penn State and at No. 11 Utah and went 0-2 and became mediocre, even though no other team in the nation has played two top-11 foes on the road.

It’s not worth it.

Since his column is more about the Pac-10’s choice of scheduling (although it looks like Arizona’s Stoops has learned from his brother), I think Miller missed making a strong point about the consequences of the Big XII’s actions, but over at Saurian Sagacity, Mergz gets it.  It’s not just who a school’s non-conference opponents are, but when they’re scheduled.

… I’m not making a statement about the relative conference strengths here, just that by week 5 the SEC and other conferences WERE playing conference opponents. Because in conference play, as the Big 12 knew well that almost anyone can beat anyone. So they avoided it.

However the Big 12 had a built in advantage by week 5 – the firm knowledge that in college football impressions linger. Even now, after week 8, most of the Big 12 teams listed have a solid image of strength in the minds of voters and fans, regardless of whether they deserve it.

Moreover, the impression of strength has played to the Big 12’s advantage since it was mathematically certain someone from the conference would end up number one by now, the way the schedule was set up. To see how this worked, follow the odds. The 6 teams mentioned were virtual slam-dunks to be 4-0 by week 5 when they began conference play. Since a few of them would play each other, and there had to be a winner, that winner would be favorably disposed to be ranked 1st, based on the impression they had beaten a high-quality team.

One thing that governs voters in these polls is inertia – at least for BCS conference schools.  Even after that first loss in week six or week seven, a voter is still looking at a team that’s 5-1 or 6-1.  He or she is invested in that record, regardless of which schools it’s been compiled against.  It’s hard to choose to knock that record down behind a 4-2 or 5-2 team, even if those two losses may be to other ranked teams.

So what should you do if you’re in charge of SEC schedules and you want to counteract this?  Mergz knows:

… Were I in charge of Florida or other SEC school’s scheduling I would move the non-conference schedule immediately to the front. UF could have very well started the year 5-0 if Citadel and FSU got moved up, and the same with other SEC schools.

Nobody is saying that there aren’t some quality teams in the Big XII.  But the deference in the polls given to schools like Texas Tech, questionable resume and all, should tell us that something ain’t quite right.  At a minimum, the powers that be running the BCS need to make sure that a heavy dash of strength of schedule gets added to the mixture that ranks the teams in the running for the title game.

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UPDATE: The AJ-C’s Tim Tucker throws out some stats that suggests Ted Miller may be overstating his case about Pac-10 scheduling.

… The average margin in the 25 SEC games this season is 10.36 points.

The only conference with a lower average margin is the Big East, which has played eight intra-league games. The average margin in those games is 9.38 points.

Rivaling the SEC in competitiveness is the ACC, where 13 of 19 intra-conference games — 68 percent — have been decided by 10 points or less. The average margin in ACC games is 10.95 points.

At the other extreme, the average margin in Pac-10 games is a whopping 25 points.

In other words, the teams at the bottom of that conference suck.  Really suck.

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6 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs, College Football

6 responses to “The art of frontloading

  1. Hobnail_Boot

    FURTHER STRENGHTENING MERGZ’S POINT IS THE FACT THAT LAST YEAR DISPELLED THE MYTH THAT IT’S BETTER TO LOSE EARLY THAN LATE.

  2. AND A HAPPY ICL DAY TO YOU, TOO! ;)

  3. peacedog

    That’s a pretty sharp point by Mergz.

  4. Of course, there’s an easy way to solve this problem: Mumme Poll in midseason.

  5. FDB

    I think the Pac 10 is still USC and the 9 dwarfs. However, in their defense, the average margin of victory is radically skewed when Washington State is losing all their conference games by over 60 points.

  6. Wolfman

    Compelling point comparing the Big XII and Pac-10, but look at the Big 10 — they do the same thing (as far as frontloading the non-conference schedule), and yet they’re not rewarded the same way (this year). Why? Texas Tech receives that high ranking, IMO, not just because of that easy schedule, but because of the WAY they’ve been beating people — with points. When Wisconsin and Ohio State struggle to put up 20 points against Marshall and Troy (Troy??? TROY?????), they look bad. Texas Tech didn’t struggle that much. It’s an offensive team, and that’s attractive to voters.

    Plus, I almost guarantee that the level of play in the Texas-Oklahoma game with far surpass this week’s tilt with the top two Big Ten teams. Far be it for me to pat poll voters on the back, but maybe Big XII teams are ranked higher because they’re better. They surely look better to me.

    And, yeah, as I write, I feel guilty comparing the Big XII to the Big 10 (small 11). It’s not a comparison. Maybe the voters are, in this case, rewarding the better conference. Would a Pac-10 team still be in the Top 15 if they had been beaten by 30 points in conference? Personally, I doubt it. And on that note, the Oregon St. point is valid, but does anybody remember the score on that game? I bet that stuck in some voters minds.