Thursday, September 06, 2007

I feel like the guy who keeps giving money to a carnie.

Stewart Mandel, in between using his mailbag space to select questions that allow him to promote his own book (apparently with the blessing of his editors), has unleashed the single dumbest answer to a mailbag question. And seriously, this is a really hard thing to do.

The question:

I am so tired of hearing SEC fans say that "the second-best Pac-10 team beat the fourth-best SEC team" when Cal beat Tennessee. Is that all they got?--Joe, Sacramento

My initial response to reading this was: Well, it was a good win for the Cal program, but because Cal was ranked higher, favored by a touchdown and playing at home, the result doesn't tell us all that much. We know Cal is better than Tennessee this year, but the polls and members of the media already thought that. Move on. Unfortunately, that's not what Stewart Mandel thought:

Joe, Joe, Joe. So blissfully naïve. If there's two things I've learned during my time on this beat, it's that the SEC is positively, indisputably the greatest conference in the history of mankind, and little things like logic, facts and common sense have no bearing whatsoever on this distinction.

Here we go. When Stewart Mandel uses the words "logic, facts and common sense", you just know he's about to break out something hilariously stupid.

Tennessee beats Cal last year? Yet another feather in the SEC's cap. Cal beats Tennessee this year? Completely irrelevant.

Well, let's look at the circumstances regarding both. Tennessee was ranked 14 spots below Cal last year entering the matchup, and oddsmakers thought it was about an even matchup. Tennessee finished with the 5th best record in the SEC last year, while Cal shared the conference title with USC. When the team that people thought would be worse wins (and wins big), and when Team A finishes far below Team B in their respective conferences, but Team A pounds Team B, that provides some circumstantial evidence of the varying strengths of conferences. This year (and not that a national college football writer needs to be told this, but rosters turn over from year to year, meaning one team one year might be better than another, but the next year the comparison between the two could be reversed), the team that was favored and predicted to be better won. We can follow things the rest of the year. If Tennessee ends up winning the SEC and Cal ends up finishing 5th in the Pac-10, then this game might say something, but as of now, we can't tell much.

USC beats Auburn 23-0 in 2003? That wasn't one of Auburn's better teams. Auburn goes 12-0 the next year and gets left out of the BCS title game? A crime against humanity, seeing as the Tigers obviously would have beaten the Trojans.

Ahem, I guess a national college football writer does need to be told this, so I'll take it slowly. Because of things like "graduation" or "attrition" or "injuries" or "jumping to the pros" or "added experience" or "new talent", a team's roster in one year does not look exactly like a team's roster the next year. It is for this reason that teams play an entirely new schedule of teams each year, competing for conference and national titles each year, rather than just relying on what happened in the previous year. Team A can be much worse than Team B in one year, but the reverse can be true the following year. And is the first sarcastic response not actually true? In 2003, Auburn went 8-5, their worst record in the last 5 years. That actually wasn't one of Auburn's better teams, in terms of on-field performance. As for the response to the second question, it's a strawman argument I've not heard. The complaint Auburn fans had in 2004 wasn't so much as that they'd have beaten the Trojans, but that they deserved a chance to play in the national title game. A much more charitable view would be that "the Tigers obviously were more deserving than the Oklahoma team that crapped the bed in the Orange Bowl".

Big East champion Louisville comes within an offsides call of edging SEC champ Florida out of last year's BCS title game? Exhibit A why the whole system needs to be blown up.

I seriously have not heard a single person EVER make the argument Mandel makes regarding Louisville. Not once, and I live in the epicenter of the SEC. If people don't like the BCS system, Exhibit A in SEC land is that Oklahoma and not Auburn played in the title game in 2004-5. Exhibit B would have been if Michigan had been given a rematch with Ohio State over Florida. Nobody I've ever heard of has made an argument as to Louisville. And really, would anyone have made the argument that an unbeaten, #2 ranked team shouldn't have had a chance at a title because a 1-loss, #3 (or worse) ranked team should? Give us a name. Who made this argument?

The fact that Big East champion West Virginia beat SEC champion Georgia in the Sugar Bowl just a year earlier? Eh -- the Dawgs weren't up for that game.

Ctrl-V... Ahem, I guess a national college football writer does need to be told this, so I'll take it slowly. Because of things like "graduation" or "attrition" or "injuries" or "jumping to the pros" or "added experience" or "new talent", a team's roster in one year does not look exactly like a team's roster the next year. It is for this reason that teams play an entirely new schedule of teams each year, competing for conference and national titles each year, rather than just relying on what happened in the previous year. Team A can be much worse than Team B in one year, but the reverse can be true the following year. And further, just because Team A was better than Team B in one year, doesn't exactly mean that Team C is better than Team D in the next year. And finally, can we put the UGA-WVU game to rest? West Virginia entered the game ranked higher and with a much better record, and it still took a 3-0 turnover advantage (which WVU scored 14 points upon) to eke out a 3 point win. EDIT: I appear to have been wrong about the rankings for that game. WVU was underrated in that game and Georgia was favored, so this whole thing doesn't really work. Still, I don't see how it has anything to do with the relative merits of Florida and Louisville the next year.

Les Miles calls out USC's "soft" Pac-10 schedule? Well ... duh. But wouldn't that make SEC divisional champion Arkansas -- whom the Trojans beat 50-14 just a year earlier -- even softer? No, because Darren McFadden wasn't healthy, and he's obviously capable of producing 36 points on his own.

A few questions on this bit...

(A) How many SEC fans have to disavow Michigan grad, Ohio-bred, 3 years experience in the conference out of a 27 year career Les Miles before national writers stop tarring the SEC with his words?

(B) How, exactly is Arkansas part of USC's Pac-10 schedule?

(C) Again, you do realize that one year is different from the next, right?

(D) Do you honestly believe that the second best player in college football (according to voters for a silly trophy) wouldn't have affected the final score of a game?

(E) How little do you respect the brains of your readers?

Florida beating Ohio State like a rented mule in last year's title game? Indisputable confirmation that the Big Ten can't hold a candle to the SEC. The fact SEC teams lost their other two bowl games against Big Ten foes? Never happened.

Who made the argument that the Big Ten can't hold a candle to the SEC? Who was that?

"Honestly, we played a lot better teams than Ohio State this year," said Moss. "I could name four to five teams out of the SEC that would play the same game against them."

There they go again with that SEC chest-thumping.

But after what transpired Monday night, who's to argue?

This man gets paid to tell you what he thinks about college football. CNNsi's editors should be ashamed of themselves.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I can't decide whether you completely missed the sarcasm in Mandel's post or whether this is 18 different levels of satire that I just don't get.

LD said...

You don't get it.

Mandel's sarcasm is intended as a shot at the SEC. Mandel's sarcasm also is an argument that is completely illogical and fact-free.

Anonymous said...

2006 Sugar Bowl:

#11 WVU vs. #7 UGA. And that might be the first time I've seen turnover advantage used against a team.

Otherwise, great article, great site.

Anonymous said...

Oh, one more about the '06 Sugar Bowl. Records entering the game:

UGA 10-2

WVU 10-1

Not quite a "much better record."

--Anonymous, again

LD said...

Have I become illiterate, or does this say "WVU (5) vs UGA (10)"?

http://sports.espn.go.com/ncf/boxscore?gameId=260020061

Point taken on the "much better record" part.

Feel free to leave a name, anonymous. You can even make one up.

LD said...

I've looked around, and I can't tell whether the espn game report shows the rankings after the game or beforehand.

If the rankings are after the fact, my bad.

Kyle W. said...

The Dawgs were ranked eighth in the AP and coaches' polls, and seventh in the BCS, before the bowl game. WVU was 11th.

http://sports.espn.go.com/ncf/rankingsindex?pollId=null&weekNumber=15&seasonYear=2005

(Sorry if that doesn't show up in hypertext...Blogger's instructions show up in Dutch over here...)

Anon., a.k.a., Feisty WVU Fan said...

LD,

I found the pre-game rankings and the respective records from a youtube vid of that Sugar Bowl. Figured a captured television broadcast would be good enough evidence:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3Grf2XJKPg

(HTML illiterate)

WVU fans tend to be rather indignant when their team is dissed. I still love the site.