Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Staying On Message Doesn't Mean Playing Loose With Facts

Brian Grummell writes about college football for AOL Fanhouse and created the excellent link aggregator/blog College Football Resource. Unfortunately, it appears he didn't use the tools on his own site, and instead relied on stale and untrue opinions, such as that the SEC doesn't play anyone and teams from out west always do. On his Monday Hangover column he brings this chestnut out:

I realize the little guys are having a ball this year in scaring major powers (Appalachian State, The Citadel, Furman, etc.), but these games are still ridiculous. It's not fun for the players, coaches and fans to see good teams sleepwalk through the first third of the season, particularly with supposed SEC powers.

Two points on this:

1. The 1-AA/FCS concept of beating/scaring 1-A/FBS opponents isn't new, and the three games cited aren't the only ones this year.

  • Six 1-AA/FCS teams have wins over 1-A/FBS teams: Appalachian State over Michigan, Nicholls State over Rice, Northern Iowa over Iowa State, Southern Illinois over Northern Illinois, New Hampshire over Marshall, and McNeese State over Louisiana-Lafayette.
  • 1-AA/FCS teams currently have more wins against 1-A/FBS opponents than the Sun Belt Conference, the Mid-American Conference, Conference USA or the WAC have nonconference wins against the rest of 1-A.
  • Aside from the cited Citadel game, Rhode Island put a scare into Army (took them to OT), Cal Poly scared Idaho, and Texas State scared Baylor. Point is that these lower division schools have talent, just not depth because of the scholarship limitation difference. You have to suit up for every game.
  • The concept of 1-AA/FCS teams defeating 1-A/FBS teams did not start with Appalachian State. Just last year, seven 1-AA/FCS teams defeated 1-A/FBS opponents: Richmond over Duke, Southern Illinois over Indiana (which cost the Hoosiers a bowl bid), New Hampshire over Northwestern (two years in a row now that UNH has beaten 1-A teams), Montana State over Colorado, North Dakota State over Ball State, Portland State over New Mexico, and Cal Poly over San Diego State.
2. What support is there for the slam against "supposed SEC powers"? At the time this was written, SEC schools had played a total of 5 games against 1-AA/FCS opponents. This is exactly the same number as teams from the Big XII and ACC, and fewer games than the smaller Big Ten (7) and Big East (6) conferences. Why was the SEC singled out? Also, I would love for Grummell to specify exactly which supposed SEC powers have been able to sleepwalk through the first third of the season? Just point to one below:

Alabama: just played a ranked Arkansas team
Arkansas: just played at now-ranked Alabama, played no 1-AA opponents.
Auburn: played 2 OOC games against BCS-conference opponents and a conference game.
Florida: just played a formerly-ranked Tennessee team, played no 1-AA opponents.
Georgia: played a ranked conference game and an OOC game against a BCS-conference opponent.
Kentucky: just played top-10 ranked Louisville.
LSU: played ranked Virginia Tech and a conference game.
Mississippi: played an OOC game against a BCS-conference opponent and a conference game
Miss State: played two conference games and an OOC game on the road.
South Carolina: played road conference game against ranked opponent.
Tennessee: "Three weeks in, they may have the nation's toughest schedule having gone on the road to face legitimate top 10 teams with ridiculous offenses in California and Florida." says Grummell himself
Vanderbilt: played 2 conference games, including one against a now-ranked opponent.

Which one of those teams has been able to sleepwalk so far? From my reading, every single one of them has had to be up for at least one game and usually a couple. Compare that to the schedules of these unbeaten teams in other conferences: Connecticut, Rutgers, Indiana, Purdue, Penn State, Kansas, Missouri, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Arizona State. There surely are paper tigers out there. But none of them plays in the SEC.

Continuing in Grummell's column:

Quality football teams out west tend to go unnoticed. Too bad, because little Wyoming has held its ground against big boys like Virginia and Boise State this year. If it's not Wyoming, someone else from the MWC or WAC (Utah!) is always pushing a bigger team around. The SEC could afford to go on the road and face those guys and get a taste of the medicine the Pac-10 and Big 12 see annually. No more layups against Nicholls State, please!

Some more points:

1. Yes, western teams get far too little exposure because of the time zone differences and the fact that the Mountain West Conference and the WAC have atrocious TV contracts. That's the reason, not because the SEC is ducking them.

2. Is Virginia really a "big boy"? Also, in terms of resources available to each, I'm not sure Boise State is that much bigger than Wyoming. They've been a better program in the last 6 years, but in the long run Wyoming has a better tradition.

3. As for MWC teams "pushing around" bigger teams... The MWC is 5-8 this year against BCS opponents. The 5 wins were over Arizona (twice), Baylor, Virginia, and UCLA. The best win by any of those teams currently is... UCLA's win over the MWC's BYU.

4. Current MWC teams have played SEC teams 13 times since 2000. The MWC is 5-8 against the SEC, with none of those MWC wins coming against an SEC team that had a winning record.

5. As for WAC teams "pushing around" bigger teams... The WAC is currently 0-12 against BCS conference opponents. Also, no conference has played as many 1-AA/FCS opponents as the WAC has - 7, tying them with the Big Ten. The WAC is most certainly not "always pushing a bigger team around" this season.

6. Current WAC teams have played SEC teams 26 times since 2000. The WAC is 1-25 against the SEC, the lone win by a 10-win Hawaii team by 5 points over a 4-9 Alabama team.

7. "Taste of the medicine...":

Since 2000, the Pac-10 is 100-27 against teams currently in the WAC and MWC (.787 winning %).
Since 2000, the Big XII is 47-18 against teams currently in the WAC and MWC (.723 winning %).
Since 2000, the SEC is 33-6 against teams currently the WAC and MWC (.846 winning %).

39 games is a decent sample size.

8. Nicholls State should not be the example of a "layup". Nicholls State just beat a 1-A opponent THIS YEAR. In 2006, they led another 1-A team at the half, putting a scare into Louisiana Tech. In 2005 Nicholls State put a huge scare into Indiana in Bloomington. In 2003, they led South Florida at the half. Nicholls State has a good history of scaring 1-A teams.

9. Nicholls State has never once in its history played a team in the SEC. NOT ONCE. Assuming Nicholls State is an embarrassing opponent, it's not the SEC's embarrassment. In fact, the conference that has played Nicholls State the most in recent years is... err... the "always-pushing-around-bigger-teams" WAC.

The point of all of this is that it's easy to hang on to conventional wisdom and repeat it like it's fact. The SEC doesn't play anybody. The SEC loads up on 1-AA opponents. If the SEC had to play teams from the west, they'd have it much tougher.

The truth is that this year, so far, every team in the SEC has had at least one tough game (usually 2) and not one has been able to sleepwalk. The SEC isn't the worst offender in playing 1-AA opponents (that'd be the Big Ten, the Big East and the WAC), and is exactly the same as the other 12-team conferences. In recent history, the SEC has played plenty of teams from the smaller conferences in the west - and has a better record against them than the Pac-10 and Big XII.

Or we could look at it another way, and say that Grummell is merely staying on message in support of his favored Pac-10 conference. The Pac-10's main competition right now for "toughest conference in the country" is the SEC, so it's smart to (a) insult the OOC opponents SEC teams beat (by claiming the SEC doesn't play anyone good) and (b) pump up the OOC opponents Pac-10 teams lose to (by acting like the WAC and MWC are better than they really are).

There's conventional wisdom. There's "staying on message". And then there are facts. It's a shame when the third conflicts with the first two.


peacedog said...

Also, the Pac-10 scheduled Idaho State like 12 times this year. Idaho State!

LD said...

That's not exactly true.

Of Pac-10 programs, only Oregon State has scheduled Idaho State this year.

The Pac-10 is by far the least offender of scheduling 1-AA/FCS opponents, with only Arizona's game against Northern Arizona and the aforementioned Oregon State-Idaho State game.

The Pac-10 does, however, load up on WAC and MWC opponents (which is why I think Grummell wrote some of this).

No disrespect to the Pac-10. Their round robin 9 game conference schedule is great, and this year they've sceduled some good OOC opponents.

But Grummell's post didn't mention this. It instead attacked the SEC for doing things the SEC hasn't done. I focused just on his words, and I wouldn't denigrate the Pac-10 schedule.

peacedog said...

I know it isn't true. I was offering up Grummell level analysis.

I'm reasonably well versed on all the issues (unlike Grummell).

LD said...

Gotcha. Sorry my bad reading it wrong.

peacedog said...

Not your bad. I didn't make the comment in a particularly obvious, funny, or witty fashion. It kinda just sucked as is. ;P