Who cares about Tennessee-Martin?

Let’s see… Tommy Tuberville sits three starters against Tennessee-Martin, defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks, defensive end Antonio Coleman and noseguard Tez Doolittle, presumably so they would be rested and better healed for the game this Saturday.   So riddle me this:  would Tuberville have done something like that in 2004, when his team was in the MNC hunt and had to protect its undefeated record?

My guess is no.  Sure, he may have yanked those guys out of action as soon as there was a comfortable margin, but sit them from the get go?  Doubtful.  There was too much at stake to take that kind of chance, regardless of the opponent.

But in the context of a 2008 season that’s gone south, where there are two meaningful games left on the regular season slate, the calculus becomes quite different.  Auburn has bigger fish to fry than Tennessee-Martin.  Given that Auburn’s bowl opportunities don’t seem very attractive at present, Tuberville’s elected to treat the Georgia and Alabama meetings as – dare I say it? – a sort of in season playoff for Auburn.

Which leads to my real question here.  Would it be unreasonable to expect coaches to engage in the same sort of calculations if we entered into an era of extended playoffs?  Wouldn’t it be prudent in some cases for coaches to preserve their resources in the regular season so that they could maximize their contributions in the postseason?  And if it is, is that the sort of balancing act we college football fans want to see?

Just asking…

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UPDATE: Maybe this is the flip side of the coin.

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12 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs

12 responses to “Who cares about Tennessee-Martin?

  1. I don’t see it as much of an issue for two reasons…
    First, we don’t see it much, if at all, in college basketball. With seeding more or less arbitrary (vs. a professional league where seeds are known and locked in based on record), there is an incentive to play your best guys and finish strong because you’re being evaluated right up through your last game. Sure, you might be in the playoff, but do you want to play Utah or Southern Cal in the first round? So long as a college football playoff is seeded either by a committee or a ranking formula, the aversion to that late loss will be nearly as great as it is now.

    Second is the irrational fan factor. So many of the later games are rivalry games. Even though it might make sense to rest starters once a playoff bid is locked up, no Alabama fan is going to put up with a B squad taking the field in the Iron Bowl.

  2. Groo:

    (1) What if the playoff formula is akin to the NFL’s, where seedings are based strictly on won-loss records?
    (2) Doesn’t the fan factor lessen as the postseason gains more import in the eyes of fans? Maybe not it all cases, but in most? How many fanatical college basketball regular season rivalries are left these days, besides North Carolina-Duke?

  3. dean

    If you took the best of both worlds with the NFL and college basketball then it may not be an issue. If the seedings were not determined until after conference championships with home field advantage and first round byes at stake then it might not be an issue. But for some reason I doubt it would be done that way. The college game seems to want to emulate the pro game nowadays. So I’d imagine the playoffs we would see would be very similar to the NFL.

  4. Groo, here’s another scenario to consider: let’s say that only conference champs qualify for the D-1 football playoffs. Look at the SEC this year; both division champs are settled with two or three games remaining. In that situation, if you were coaching Florida or Alabama, why wouldn’t you try to get the troops healed during the regular season, since all that would matter at that point is winning the conference?

  5. Christian

    I’d lean towards the Senator on this one. You would definitely see the resting of players if there was a playoff for the same reason you used to see Jim Sorgi for Indianapolis for Week 17′s games.

    Now of course, if the team is still playing for either the championship game birth – or the real championship for conferences who don’t have a final game – you won’t see this.

    But, if I’m UGA, and I’ve got the SEC Championship game against LSU coming up in two weeks, with a chance to qualify for the Playoff – you bet your ass there would be some rest if needed. I love beating GT more than anyone – but I’d rather have the full squad for a chance to go to the dance.

    When you don’t have the playoff, beating GT can be as important as any other game because a loss might knock you out of the BCS Championship.

  6. I still think the fact that you’re playing for seeding trumps the concern. Given how much a single loss can mean in the CFB rankings, do you want to play Pitt at home or head to Norman in Round 1?

    It would change things if seeding were somehow locked in, but I don’t see how that would work in a sport where 12-0 can mean anything from you’re #1 or not in the discussion at all.

    It does seem that there are fewer rivalry games in college hoops. I have a few theories as to why but won’t go off on that tangent.

    Does anyone follow the 1-AA game? Does, say, Appy St. sit their starters before the playoffs? The physical demands of college football is unique and the money involved is different at the 1-A level, but surely we can look at the other college sports that do have a playoff to see how common a practice this is and see if it’s anything worth worrying about.

  7. Boz

    “if you were coaching Florida or Alabama, why wouldn’t you try to get the troops healed during the regular season, since all that would matter at that point is winning the conference?”

    If you consider the 8 team playoff with an at large bid at stake, I’d bet you’d see people with incentive to finish strong. This year as an example, Alabama could lose to Florida in the SECCG and still get an at large bid if they ran the table up to the SECCG. Sure, players might be pulled once a lead is secure, but that’s already the case in both the beginning of the season against Georgia Southern et al, and at then when you’ve locked up a division title. If you lose end of season rivalry games, but still make it to championship game(s), you’re still in the hot seat (right Chan?)

  8. I’m more worried about what it means for Saturday.

    I’m ready for a game the other team hasn’t had circled for a year, and we don’t have one left.

  9. Why are anti-playoff folks so incredibly desperate in the way they try to defend their view? Their “defenses” always boil down to arcane, random, conjecture like “Hey, Team X did this random thing. I bet this is because there’s no playoff. Good thing we don’t have a playoff, huh?”

    Tuberville sat players because Tennessee Martin is a crap team. 4 years ago UGA didn’t bring all their starters to Lexington because KY was a crap team. And that was an SEC East game.

    Here is the thing the anti-playoff folks can never counter or defend against:

    A playoff determines the champion ON THE FIELD. That is always going to be better than this random crap with polls and computers and nonsense.

  10. Hackerdog

    All playoffs determine is who is the best team at the end of the year. The beginning of the year doesn’t count. Now this would have been great for UGA in 2007 when they started weak and finished strong. I would have put UGA up against any team in the country in December of last year. But then we would have had a national champion that didn’t win their conference because of two embarrassing losses. I’m fine that UGA was punished for those losses by being eliminated from the championship hunt. It makes the regular season mean something.

  11. Hackerdog

    Let’s look at the basketball side of the equation. Our SEC championship basketball team went 4-12 in conference play last year. They finished last in the SEC East and tied Auburn for the worst record in the conference.

    Then they got hot and won the SEC tournament. Now they get to claim the title of a conference that they weren’t even competitive in during the regular season.

    I guess that’s what the fans mean by “deciding it on the field”.

  12. Boz

    We’re not talking about a conference championship (and the SEC sucked last year).. we’re talking about national championship. Huge difference. And since you’re talking about basketball, when was the last time a team with a loosing record made it to the rounds of 16/8/4/2? But back to football, in an eight team playoff with all 6 conference champs (+ two ‘others’) contending, the worst case scenario would be for a team from the Big East (like Cincinnati or Pitt this year) being ranked outside the top-10 at year end and running the table and winning it all. And if they could, more power to them.