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Friday, November 30, 2007

Some minor changes

Couple of notes.

First, I've launched Da Countdown. Now you can actually watch the countdown to the selection show for my college football playoff. (Note that it counts down to Sunday at 4 PM regardless of time zone. Ideally it would count down to 4 PM PST specifically, but I don't know of any such countdowns out there on the Internet that are any good.)

I've also done some reorganizing of the sidebar, moving "About Me" to the top. I may have a new Da Blog Poll in the future on whether Da Countdown and Da Blog Poll should be above the Archive or below it.

The Case for a Playoff

Over the past week, I've been working on hammering out the at-large bids to my simulated college football playoff. As I've detailed here before, if you want a playoff, the most logical way for it to work is a full 16-team field with all 11 conference champions and 5 at-large bids. Currently, I haven't made any seedings and none of the at-larges are set in stone, so that I can react to this weekend's slate of games.

I've been treating that as a bare minimum, and when I originally conceived of it I saw it as a logical limitation on a playoff. If you wanted the NCAA to institute a playoff, that's the bare minimum they were likely to accept - no 8-team garbage. Most 8-team layouts I've seen have all six BCS conference champions, which is just as disenfranchising as before - to potential second-best teams from BCS conferences as well as non-BCS conference champions. Partly because of these concerns, and because I saw even five at larges as too limiting, I've been toying with the idea of a 24-team playoff with 8 byes to the second round.

But looking over this idea, I find that, far from being a creation of expediency and compromise, this might actually be the ideal tournament format and the one most likely to stand up to the scrutiny of the BCS backers. Here are the most common arguments leveled against the idea of a playoff and my responses:

The regular season, which is part of what makes college football special, will become meaningless. Big upsets will mean less if the losers are going to get into a playoff anyway. Not under my system. With such Darwinian competition for five at-large spots, the only truly sure way to get into the playoffs is to win your conference. It's not like basketball where the Big Six conference tournaments are a big joke because everyone who gets semi-far is getting into the NCAAs anyway. If you slip, and it costs you the conference title, you have to be absolutely perfect the rest of the way to battle it out for position for an at-large. USC probably is not getting into my tournament if they lose to UCLA, Michigan almost certainly is not getting an at-large and the loss to Appalachian State is no small part of it, and there is a scenario in which LSU doesn't get into my tournament either. Those upsets are still meaningful, as is Illinois' upset over Ohio State, and as do many more games on the schedule besides - under my system, every conference championship takes on profound importance every year (the ACC and SEC Title Games are important parts of my waiting game to fill at-larges, but in reality they're sideshows to the national title race). Every team wants to run the table and go undefeated (I'll explain why, and why OSU's upset still matters, in a moment), but you never know when someone will come up and ruin your shot at a conference title (see this season). So you have to be sure that, just in case something wrong happens, you can sufficiently impress the Powers that Be that are choosing the at-larges that your team is worthy. What does this mean? It means that TEAMS WOULD ACTUALLY HAVE AN INCENTIVE TO SCHEDULE TOUGH OPPONENTS! Do you think Michigan would have passed up that game against Hawaii under my system? Hell no; they couldn't pass up the strength of schedule boost it would provide should they lose to Ohio State (again) and lose the Big 10 Title. Losing to Hawaii would cost Michigan an undefeated season, but it wouldn't affect their chances of winning the Big 10. Beating Hawaii, on the other hand, would make a big statement that would shore up their case for getting in, their seeding once in, and their case for a 1 seed should they go undefeated.

Late in the season, if a team has no or 1 loss, and has already locked up their conference or at least a spot in the playoff, they will rest starters and begin to coast, like in the NFL. Not if they want to beat their rival they won't. More importantly, such a strategy can be suicidal. My plan has an element that looks like a weakness at first. Why, the 8-team proponents say, should I award spots in the tournament to every mid-major conference champion? No way are they better than potential at-large teams that would make for a true top 16. But this is actually a strength. Sure, the MAC, C-USA, and Sun Belt champions might not be real threats to win the national championship. But you can't tell me it's not incredibly valuable to pick up a top 3 seed and, basically, a free pass to the second round. The four seed, on the other hand, might be at risk of an upset against one of the better mid-major champions, or if it's a really strong year for mid-majors, an at-large. The five and six seeds get stuck with either the lower-rated at-larges or the "BCS Buster" du jour. Ohio State likely would have gotten a top two seed had they run the table. Now, however, Ohio State might fall behind some at-large teams and pick up a four or worse. Last year, I've heard it said that Michigan-Ohio State would have been nowhere near as special without a playoff. See this year's Patriots-Cowboys, Patriots-Colts, and Cowboys-Packers matchups and get back to me on that. Ignoring how huge the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry is, the fact is that Michigan-Ohio State likely would have been for a No. 1 seed on the line, and thus a worse first-round opponent, and the loser could have easily slipped below No. 2 - Michigan could have easily slipped to #4 behind Florida and Louisville. If you manage to get a 1 seed, the Sun Belt (or quite frankly, the MAC or C-USA; Troy is a pretty good team this year) is probably going to feed you a team so crappy, you might as well rest your starters and coast then, as a reward for your stellar regular-season performance.

Protect the sanctity of the bowls! Oh please. I once agreed with this point, until I realized that 90% of the bowls are crap. No one gives a shit about most of these meaningless bowls that semi-randomly pair teams together and lets them loose to play a game, and generally we learn absolutely nothing from it and there's no reason to watch. Who cares about the Meineke Car Care Bowl or the New Orleans Bowl? The BCS has ruined the sanctity of the bowls already (just ask the Cotton Bowl), with the result that the Rose Bowl is the only bowl that still has a "tradition" worth saving. That's easy enough to keep. Seed the field so that the Pac-10 and Big 10 champion would always meet in a semifinal. Make that semifinal the Rose Bowl. Bingo, problem solved, at least for the most part.

But the beautiful thing about the bowls is that we have 32 winners, not 1. There's a reason college basketball has the NIT. I'm only selecting 16 teams for my tournament. All the other teams can still go to the bowls, including early-round tournament losers. There's even the possibility of a third-place game. What's that? You say those bowls would be meaningless? Hell, they're meaningless now. The BCS bowls are the only non-national championship bowls worth watching (with some exceptions like that year when Louisville and Boise State played in the Liberty Bowl when BSU was undefeated and Louisville came within a play of doing the same). Teams that don't make the tournament can still get an ego boost from the bowls, and the tournament-loser "consolation bowls" can be used to partially settle certain arguments not covered in the tournament itself.

You have to protect the integrity of academics! Oh please. These people are probably the same people that added a 12th game purely for the money. College football sold out on academics long ago, and the Division I-AA, II, and III football tournaments don't seem to have grossly negative effects on academics. If you're concerned about players not being able to participate in finals week, you can insert a one-week gap into the tournament. That would result in the semifinals being played around New Year's Day and the national championship being played about when it is now.

The fans can't possibly attend all these games! They seem to have no problem moving from site to site in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. You can alleviate the problem if need be by playing at least the first round at campus sites.

You're not getting rid of controversy. There'll just be controversy as to who gets in from the at-large pool. At least we won't have any more undefeated teams with NO chance of playing for a national championship. By the point we get to the edge of the at-large pool we're talking about two, three, or even four-loss teams that probably don't have a real shot at winning the whole thing anyway. Does anyone really think that the teams on the bubble of the NCAA basketball tournament ever have any real shot at winning the national championship, George Mason notwithstanding?

Will someone please think of the children! This is often an argument that college football players are very young and often don't have their feelings considered - never mind that the players themselves overwhelmingly support a playoff. According to this, we shouldn't be overworking the poor little kids and leaving them at risk to injury in so many added games. It certainly doesn't seem to hurt those kids in I-AA, II, and III to have a football playoff, does it?

A playoff won't give us the best team at the end of the season, only the hottest or the one best able to avoid - or pull off - upsets. By the same token, this is also a problem with our current "regular season playoff". Everyone knows USC was better than Cal in 2003, and thus better than all the teams they played, but losing to Cal cost USC a trip to the national championship game. It's a dirty little secret: the team that goes undefeated isn't necessarily the best, just the luckiest at avoiding potential upsets. Similarly, it's a problem no matter what type of system exists, including the current BCS. Ohio State in all likelihood was better than Florida last year but the Gators got hot at the right time, so they became national champions.

We already have a playoff - the regular season! Oh please. For the love of God. Tell that to Auburn in 2004, Boise State last year, or - especially - Hawaii this year. And try to keep spewing that argument if we get a team with two losses in this "playoff" still playing in the national championship game. Most of the arguments attatched to this meaningless blanket statement have been covered above.

The controversy the current system creates is one reason why college football is second in popularity right now only to the NFL. And a playoff would give it a shot to rectify that problem. Before you call that far-fetched, look at college basketball - it's more popular than the NBA, even comparing their respective regular seasons, and the college regular season is supposedly meaningless. Texas-USC in 2006 produced gerbonkers ratings. That was a controversy-free year, so I doubt it would have gotten lower ratings if it had come at the end of a playoff. If anything, the ratings would have been even higher because the playoff would provide a way to guide and nurture the ascending hype. And a championship game in years that the BCS created controversy would likely be more popular as well. The more people accept a game as a championship, the more popular it is - what a concept!

College football loses money. Ultimately, this is what's killing the idea of a playoff. The schools would lose money compared to the bowls, the conferences would lose money, the bowls would lose money, the networks would lose money. The current system produces 5 bowls worth watching. My system would produce 15 games worth watching and increase the importance of every one, which helps everyone except the bowls - unless the bowls were made part of the tournament. That's before we consider how lucrative a TV deal would be associated with this playoff. Just look at the success of the Basketball Tournament. But the real killer? The BCS conferences would have to share more of the pie. Even if they would still, individually, get more nominally, they don't want to have to share with the little guys.

Well, the little guys have already pressured them to open up the BCS - it's now almost certain for an undefeated non-BCS conference team to get into the BCS bowls. They can do it again. I guarantee that we will have a plus-one system within the next 16 years, and I would be willing to bet that we will get a full-fledged playoff of at least 8 teams within my lifetime. There are many more advantages besides the ones presented here, and this is perhaps the best idea I'm likely to see, with one of the few others coming close being basically an adaptation of this idea with only one at-large and a 12-team field.

A version that's essentially what I've laid out previously is making the rounds from here, with the difference that the bowl games would be cut out until the national championship, with all rounds through the semifinals on campus sites, on the grounds that bowls put money in the hands of people outside the system, and are played in more sterile environments (as of next year, three of the four BCS bowls will be played on NFL fields, two of which I don't believe host a BCS conference team, and the fourth won't be in an NFL market, with the most storied non-BCS bowl soon to move to an NFL field as well) than the home fields of college football's most storied programs. The truth is probably some sort of compromise, if only as a practicality to appease bowl directors and traditionalists, with the main battleground in my system likely to be the quarterfinals. The main advantage of bowl sites is to make things more fair by mostly cutting out the home-field advantage. On the other hand, there's a reason why I'm keeping campus sites for the first round: among other things, it provides yet another incentive for competing for seeding, by way of fighting for a lucrative top-eight seed, which not only provides competitive advantage but also sends money flowing into the coffers of the school for hosting the game.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 12

NBC's Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

Last year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. CBS and Fox were able to protect one game every week each but had to leave one week each unprotected and had to submit their protections after only four weeks.

Now, NBC lists the game it "tentatively" schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site:

  • Begins Sunday of Week 11
  • In effect during Weeks 11-17
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in "flex" weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Two other rules were established earlier: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks, and can't protect any games Week 17 this year.
  • Three teams can appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five; the Pats and Cowboys already have six) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC.
Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:

Week 11 (November 18):

  • Selected game: New England @ Buffalo.

Week 12 (November 25):

  • Selected game: Philadelphia @ New England.

Week 13 (December 2):

  • Selected game: Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh.

Week 14 (December 9):

  • Selected game: Indianapolis @ Baltimore.

Week 15 (December 16):

  • Tentative game: Washington @ NY Giants
  • Prospects: At 5-6 v. 7-4, this looks vulnerable. Being in the same division as the Cowboys hurts as well, but these are both teams that have legit shots at the playoffs and the thrilling finish of their last meeting will help write the storyline.
  • Protected games according to Awful Announcing: Jags-Steelers (CBS), Lions-Chargers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Seahawks-Panthers still has a chance but it pits 7-4 vs. 4-7. It needs help. Titans-Chiefs is probably out, looking even worse. Browns-Bills has the exact same pair of records as Redskins-Giants.
  • Prediction: I see no way the Redskins and Giants don't make it four straight tentative games kept.
  • Final prediction: Washington Redskins @ New York Giants (no change).

Week 16 (December 23):

  • Tentative game: Tampa Bay @ San Francisco
  • Prospects: Very problematic, even with the Bucs' success, which just makes it look lopsided.
  • Protected games according to AA: Texans-Colts (CBS) and Packers-Bears (FOX).
  • Other possible games: There aren't a lot of attractive matchups this week. Lions-Chiefs is in trouble, and as the Bills fall back to reality Giants-Bills is having problems. Ravens-Seahawks? Please. Skins-Vikings might be the favorite now, but that means you can't count out Eagles-Saints either. At this point even Browns-Bengals has an outside shot - the Bengals have a better record than the Niners and the Browns' is the same as the Bucs'.

Week 17 (December 30):

  • Tentative game: Kansas City @ NY Jets
  • Prospects: Awful. This has the best chance of losing its spot.
  • Other possible games/Playoff Positioning Watch:
    • AFC East: Patriots clinched.
    • AFC North: Every team is theoretically in it. The Steelers are leading but the Browns are just a game back. The Browns can push Steelers-Ravens to primetime if they keep it close - but it depends a lot more on what the ex-Browns do. Right now, this game isn't looking great.
    • AFC South: The Colts are now just a game ahead of the Jaguars and three ahead of the Titans. Titans-Colts can still excite (see below) but is now vulnerable to an NFC game.
    • AFC West: Chargers a game ahead of the Broncos and two ahead of the Chiefs. The Chargers are playing the Raiders; the Broncos, the Vikings. Not looking likely. But the Raiders are mathematically still in it.
    • AFC Wild Card: The Jags and Browns would get the nod if the season ended today, with the Titans a game back. The Bills, Texans, and Broncos are two back, adding some luster to Bills-Eagles, but the Eagles need to hold up their end of the bargain. Note the Jags-Texans matchup, probably the only serious competitor to Titans-Colts in the AFC. As the Ravens fade, Steelers-Ravens is probably out. Dolphins cannot make the playoffs and the Jets would come down to a tiebreaker.
    • NFC East: Cowboys opening a big lead on the Giants. The Giants are on NFL Network and Dallas has too many primetime appearances. Philly and Washington are down to a tiebreaker. Both lost the first game but still have one to play against them Cowboys.
    • NFC North: Same as the East, except the Pack have another game's lead over the Lions. Vikings out on tiebreak. Bears are down to tiebreak but won the first game and still have one to play.
    • NFC South: Bucs up two on Saints, three on Panthers. The Saints play the Bears, and Bucs-Panthers is fading. Falcons still mathematically in it.
    • NFC West: Seahawks opens up a two-game lead over the Cardinals. The former plays the Falcons while the latter plays the Rams. Niners still mathematically in it. Rams out on tiebreak.
    • NFC Wild Card: Giants and Lions would get the nod if the season ended today. Wild-card implications could lend enough credence to Packers-Lions for the Favre factor to take over from there and make it the favorite. Redskins, Eagles, Vikings, Bears, Saints, and Cardinals are all a game back at 5-6, which means all but four teams in the NFC are within a game of the playoffs (!), lending a little credence to Bills-Eagles, Saints-Bears, and Vikings-Broncos. Panthers still waiting in the wings as well.

New SuperPower Rankings

News and notes:
  • Don't overestimate the impact of the Lions' three-game losing streak. Two of those games came against teams considered the class of the NFC, and the third was on the road against a Cardinals team that's one of those "win against good teams, lose against bad ones" types this year. Arizona is 3-1 against teams above .500 but 2-5 against teams below .500. That's why they're favored at home against a good Browns team.
  • That said, although I'm picking the Lions over the Vikings, I do so with some trepidation. The Vikings are going to be impossible to pick against without a lot of thought the rest of the way. But I still believe in the 10-Win Guarantee.
  • Psst... the Chargers' only bad losses are against the Chiefs and Vikings, and the Chiefs were good early and the Vikings are good now. But in my Upset Special, if the Chiefs beat the Chargers on the road, they can do so at home.
  • Two of my patterns went by the wayside, but I'm still picking the Rams for the duration because that was a game they should have won. The Bears are coming off a win and their next game is against... the Giants. Right. I'm now picking the Saints to finish a two-game winning streak and then lose, win, and I don't know what after that.
  • Want another Upset Special? How about the Raiders, who came within a timeout of beating the Broncos at Mile High, at home? Or Houston beating Tennessee? You don't think the Texans will remind people of how they looked early with Andre Johnson against the ailing, Haynesworth-less Titans defense?


The SuperPower Rankings and the SNF Flex Scheduling Watch are forthcoming, but I'm only starting work on the SuperPower Rankings now, so they will be a while.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Week 13 College Football Rankings

The new rankings are here. And while I'm working on a simulated playoff, on Saturday Night I'll bring my picks on who SHOULD go to the bowls, based on the final regular-season rankings.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Programming note

Please tune in to Da Blog this Monday at 4 PM PST for the Golden Bowl Playoff Selection Show, where I will announce the bracket for our simulated playoff and open first-round voting.

All college lineal titles have been updated, as has the Chase for 19-0. However, due to "minor server issues" on Freehostia's end, the Week 13 College Football Rankings are delayed. Even though I told it to upload at the same time as the lineal titles... huh. Let's hope this doesn't become a trend...

Last-Minute Remarks on SNF Week 14 picks

Week 14 (December 9):

  • Tentative game: Indianapolis @ Baltimore
  • Prospects: Baltimore at 4-7 has to override the Colts at 9-2, right?
  • Protected games according to Hiestand: Steelers-Patriots (CBS) and Giants-Eagles (Fox)
  • Other possible games mentioned on Wednesday's Watch and their records: Chargers (6-5) v. Titans (6-5); Jags (8-3) v. Panthers (4-7); Chiefs (4-7) v. Broncos (5-6); Bucs (7-4) v. Texans (5-6); Cardinals (5-6) v. Seahawks (7-4).
  • Impact of Monday Night Football: None.
  • Analysis: The Chargers opened things up for another game to take over. The Texans and Cardinals both lost, potentially eliminating their games (even - or especially - with their opponents losing), and the Colts got back on the winning track. There's only one game I see with a shot at taking this one away. I think the right choice is to go with Chargers-Titans. But I'm not sure it's an overwhelming enough game to sway the selection. I won't be surprised if they change it but if they chose Steelers-Bengals for next week...
  • Final prediction: Indianapolis Colts @ Baltimore Ravens (no change).

(Although I don't have any firm information, the lack of information for a game with no MNF impact strongly suggests this prediction is correct.)