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31 Oct 2005

Confessions of a Football Junkie: L.A. Story

by Russell Levine

The USC Trojans get most of the attention from football followers in their home city of Los Angeles, and deservedly so. Saturday's rout of Washington State pushed USC's winning streak to 30 games, a span that includes last year's Bowl Championship Series crown and the AP national title in 2003. The Trojans are quarterbacked by the college game's biggest star in defending Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart, who turned down NFL millions to lead the good life in college for another year.

And a good life it is. Without an NFL franchise in Los Angeles, the Trojans are the biggest thing going in a city that craves luminaries the way a drowning man craves a life jacket. Leinart has become an A-list celebrity and gossip-column regular. When tailback LenDale White scored a touchdown against Washington State, he tossed the ball to a fan wearing his no. 21 standing behind the end zone -- a routine occurrence except that the fan was Snoop Dogg.

But while coach Pete Carroll's band barnstorms the college football world as perhaps the most celebrated unit in team sports, there is another college football program right in USC's backyard making plenty of noise this year as it improbably heads towards a season-ending battle of unbeatens against the Trojans.

A few miles up the road from USC sits Westwood, home to the UCLA campus and the undefeated Bruins, another team that is a perfect fit for Tinseltown. What the Bruins lack in celebrity wattage they make up for in spades in Hollywood endings. UCLA improved to 8-0 Saturday with their most improbable comeback yet -- a 30-27 overtime victory at Stanford in which the Bruins scored 21 unanswered points in the final 7:04 just to force the extra session.

It was the Bruins' fourth win this month in which they had trailed by at least 10 points in the fourth quarter. That sentence almost has to be read twice to truly appreciate the magnitude of the accomplishment. Some programs go years without a single comeback of that extent, yet the Bruins are authoring one nearly every week. As a result, UCLA finds itself tied atop the Pac-10 with their more famous citymates.

With winnable games remaining at Arizona and at home against Arizona State (combined record: 5-10), UCLA could easily be 10-0 heading into its showdown at USC on December 3 -- a contest the Bruins will have three weeks to prepare for. If both teams are undefeated, UCLA may finally steal some of the media attention USC has been enjoying all season. UCLA has hovered under the radar all year after being unranked in the preseason polls, a result of a 6-6 record last season. But a closer look at the two programs reveals more similarities than differences.

Both schools feature explosive offenses led by standout quarterbacks and running backs, and question marks on defense. And there's a shared history of come-from-behind wins, too. USC faced significant deficits at both Oregon and Arizona State before rallying to win, though not in quite as dramatic a fashion as UCLA's October exploits. And then there was the last-second win at Notre Dame on October 15, a game you might have heard a thing or two about.

If Leinart fails to repeat as the Heisman winner this season, it may well be because the award goes to his backfield mate, Reggie Bush. But if not for that pair, UCLA's tandem of Drews, quarter Drew Olson and tailback Maurice Jones-Drew, might well be getting fitted for tuxedos for a December trip to New York.

The similarities are eerie. Leinart is third in the nation in passing efficiency, having thrown for 2,512 yards with 19 touchdowns and six interceptions. Olson is fifth, with 2,167 yards, 23 touchdowns, and just three interceptions. Bush leads the nation with 197 all-purpose yards per game and has scored 13 touchdowns. Jones-Drew is fifth at 184 yards per contest and has reached the end zone 18 times. The net result is that USC is first in scoring offense; UCLA is fifth.

Jones-Drew has a Hollywood-worthy story of his own. At the beginning of the season, he was known simply as Maurice Drew before adding the "Jones" to honor his late grandfather, who suffered a heart attack while attending his grandson's game on September 10 and died shortly thereafter. Jones-Drew asked the UCLA trainers to add his grandfather's name to his jersey as a tribute to the man who was largely responsible for raising him.

While USC is statistically better on defense than the Bruins, allowing 339 yards per game versus 415 for the Bruins, the Trojans have been more vulnerable to the pass. Taken together, all of the stats suggest that when the Trojans and Bruins take the field together in five weeks, the scoreboard operator will earn his day's wage.

It's fitting that this year's game will be contested at the L.A. Coliseum. In the heyday of this rivalry, both teams played their home games at the grand old stadium, and both would wear their home uniforms when they faced each other. UCLA moved its home games to Pasadena's Rose Bowl in 1982 after the Raiders moved to Los Angeles and took up residence at the Coliseum.

While USC has the richer football history and tradition, it didn't always enjoy its current status as the toast of L.A. USC had a losing record as recently as 2000, before Carroll arrived to rescue the legendary program. UCLA was a serious national-title contender in 1998 before losing its last two games to finish 10-2 for the second straight year. But the Bruins have lost 34 games since then, making this season's rise under third-year head coach Karl Dorrell all the more surprising.

All this is occurring amid swirling rumors that the NFL is considering shoehorning the hurricane-displaced New Orleans Saints into the Los Angeles market for next season. One might reasonably consider the wisdom of that move during the current L.A. football revival; with two celebrated programs sporting undefeated records and rankings at or near the top of the polls, the nation's second-largest media market seems to be getting along just fine without the NFL, thank you.

Perhaps the USC and UCLA players should arrive for their game on December 3 via the red carpet. After all, in this Hollywood story, USC is the big-budget blockbuster, while UCLA is the independent film hoping to sweep in and steal the Oscar, or at least the Pac-10 title. If it does, perhaps Snoop Dogg and the celebrity set will make their way to Westwood next fall.

Football Fashion Report

In 1995, Michigan played the first game of the football season, opening at home against Virginia in the now-defunct Pigskin Classic. The big news that day was Michigan's comeback. Trailing 17-0 after a long touchdown run by Tiki Barber, Michigan staged an epic rally, winning on a fourth-down, last-play touchdown pass to Mercury Hayes.

But the lasting impact of that game did not come from Barber's run or Hayes's catch. No, that was the day that Michigan took the field with a large Nike swoosh attached to the shoulder of its jerseys. The site is so common now, that we forget that just 10 years ago, Michigan's decision to "sell out to the swoosh" was headline-worthy news. Of course, when the season got into full swing the following week and lots of other teams had the same emblem on their jerseys, the furor died down a bit.

But when I saw the jerseys that day I turned to a friend in Michigan Stadium and remarked that I sometimes wondered if Nike would be satisfied, until Michigan had a swoosh on either side of its helmets and a giant one in the end zone.

Thankfully, that hasn't come to pass, but now I sometimes wonder if Nike won't stop until it has ruined college football uniforms forever. Witness this week's unveiling of specialized "court jester" Nike jerseys for Virginia Tech and Florida. Supposedly, Nike made the same alternating sleeve-color jersey for USC, but Pete Carroll politely declined to have his troops wear them. For that move alone, Carroll should be the college coach of the year. I mean, is there a single football fan in America that actually liked those Florida and Virginia Tech unis? If so, I want to hear from you. Look for Nike's personal test laboratory, Oregon, to unveil a similar jersey this week. Of course, given the state of Oregon's current Nike-designed togs, the court-jester look might be an improvement.

Nike has also suitably ruined the uniforms of Miami, Arizona, Oregon State and others with excess piping and stripes across the mid-backs of jerseys. Even Michigan's road jersey has a subtle yellow piping across the back. The Arizona uniform is a particular abomination, with "ARIZONA" in large type across the back, just below the numbers. Truly horrific.

At the risk of sounding like an old-fart traditionalist, would it kill Nike to not suck the life and soul out of the sport with these designs? It's bad enough to mess with the Arizonas and Oregon States of the college football world, but when you go defacing uniforms at traditional powers like Michigan and Florida, you've gone too far. How long before we see Penn State with one blue sleeve, one white? I think I'd prefer the swoosh across the end zone.

John L. Smith Trophy

One of the readers in the Seventh Day Adventure thread this week came up with the perfect analogy for UCLA's comeback against Stanford. Peachy said "The Stanford-UCLA game seems like one of those first-round NCAA games where the underdog is leading late, and finally the favorite is like -- oh, right, this is a real game we're playing here, and then things turn around in a hurry."

Nothing comes apart faster than an underdog hanging on against a big favorite when things start to turn. Players, coaches and fans all get caught up and end up feeding the collapse like oxygen feeds an open flame. Such was the case for Stanford coach Walt Harris, this week's JLS Trophy winner. Harris failed to do anything to change the tempo of the game as UCLA began its rally with a quick touchdown drive to pull to 24-10. Once the game got within a touchdown at 24-17, Harris finally went to the pass, with predictable results. Incompletions stopped the clock, giving UCLA plenty of time to tack on the tying touchdown. Harris's mistake was in failing to realize what was occurring until it was too late. A few short passes right after the first UCLA touchdown might have helped Stanford chew some more time off the clock. Instead, the run-run-punt strategy only helped hand the momentum to UCLA.

BlogPoll Ballot

Here's my latest ballot in MGoBlog's BlogPoll. Last week's ranking in parentheses.

1. Southern Cal (1): Separated themselves a little bit this week.
2. Texas (2): I'll give them a first-half mulligan vs. Oklahoma State, but the margin between 2-3 is now razor thin.
3. Virginia Tech (3): Got my first extended look at Marcus Vick and I was impressed.
4. Notre Dame (4): During the bye week, Charlie Weis called his NFL rumor-starting friends to say thanks.
5. Miami (Florida) (7): Nice rally after a slow start vs. North Carolina.
6. Alabama (6): 35 points vs. Utah State doesn't mean the offense is back.
7. UCLA (8): These comebacks are getting ridiculous, but the defense is a real concern.
8. LSU (9): It's now November, and I still don't feel like I have a read on this team.
9. Penn State (10): Controls its own destiny in the Big Ten.
10. Georgia (5): Couldn't overcome loss of Shockley vs. Florida.
11. Ohio State (13): Ted Ginn sightings the last couple weeks.
12. Florida (19): Nice job by Urban scrapping the option vs. Georgia.
13. Oregon (14): DNP.
14. Florida State (12): Not real impressive in win over Maryland.
15. Auburn (15): Still waiting for them to beat a quality opponent.
16. Wisconsin (17): Calhoun for Heisman, anyone?
17. Boston College (11): Good enough to play with anyone, not good enough to win.
18. West Virginia (20): DNP.
19. Michigan (23): Finally, a non-heart attack inducing game.
20. Fresno State (22): Avoided the distractions of a Hawaii road trip.
21. Texas Tech (25): Got over Texas hangover in time to shut out Baylor.
22. TCU (18): A little too close vs. San Diego State.
23. Cal (24): DNP.
24. Georgia Tech (NR): I'm really reaching here.
25. Rutgers (NR): Strictly some Jersey love.

Dropped out: Northwestern (16), Minnesota (21).

Games I watched: Boston College-Virginia Tech, Michigan-Northwestern, parts of Florida-Georgia, Florida State-Maryland, UCLA-Stanford, Washington State-USC, South Carolina-Tennessee.

Ed. Note: Portions of this article appeared in Monday's New York Sun

Posted by: Russell Levine on 31 Oct 2005

53 comments, Last at 02 Nov 2005, 9:40pm by Pat

Comments

1
by Tim Gerheim :: Mon, 10/31/2005 - 9:03pm

As a Longhorn who's desperately afraid of getting Auburned, I have a problem with the logic of discrediting Texas with a "mulligan" against Ok State, but moving Miami and UCLA up for big comebacks after they played equally poorly against equally mediocre competition.

2
by GatorGriff (not verified) :: Mon, 10/31/2005 - 9:20pm

Re #1: Russ would have to give you the real answer to your query, but it looks to me like UCLA moved up one spot b/c Georgia lost (and thus fell to #10), and Miami moved up one spot b/c Georgia lost, and leapfrogged Alabama b/c the Tide has looked poor since pounding an overrated Florida team. Russ?

On another topic, are there any Tennessee fans who read this column? I'm wondering if Fulmer is in any danger of being canned, or in the alternative, does Vol Fan want him canned?

3
by Domer (not verified) :: Mon, 10/31/2005 - 9:27pm

I liked Miami's look this weekend, but those UF and VaTech jerseys were just awful. Do the fans from those schools like them?

Russell, I agree with your rankings (especially ND's), but get ready for Pat's onslaught. I thought VaTech looked good - not having watched them much up to this point, I'll be interested to see how they do the rest of the way. They are well-coached and have good balance. It's no news flash that no other program seems to come close to VT when it comes to overall special teams performance.

4
by Richie (not verified) :: Mon, 10/31/2005 - 9:35pm

I live in the LA suburbs. I really don't hear many people talk about the Trojans. There's still more Raider talk than anything this time of year.

I don't hear much Trojan talk on sports talk radio. It's usually Lakers.

5
by GatorGriff (not verified) :: Mon, 10/31/2005 - 9:36pm

About the Florida Gator Unis, no, I wasn't thrilled about them, but I don't think they were as bad as I've heard people speak of them. At first glance, I thought they were ugly, but they kind of grew on me (although to be clear, if I never see them again, that's fine with me). I thought Miami's unis were just awful. Green and Gold? Gold is not even part of Miami's color scheme. Those unis were more suited to Notre Dame. And those helmets, are you kidding me? At least Florida didn't change the logo on their helmets.

6
by Richie (not verified) :: Mon, 10/31/2005 - 9:44pm

Is there a website with pictures of these ugly uniforms?

7
by David S. (not verified) :: Mon, 10/31/2005 - 9:59pm

While I agree the extra-ciricular piping is not aesthetically pleasing, I do like Arizona's new color scheme. Back in the day they were like Auburn clones, then they went the monochromatic route, which was awful. I think the red jersey-blue helmet combo is one of the better color combinations in football. When looking for a crumby non-BCS conference team to be in NCAA 2006 I settled on SMU over San Jose State because of their uniform. Of course the game doesn't reflect their new updated unis which now have all that extra-ciricular crap on it. I like the Texans and Giants use of it too, and of course Ole Miss.

As for the comment about Texas, I agree with you. Virginia Tech has not fallen behind large to a team of Ok-State's calibre this season. From what I can tell they have maybe had trouble breaking away from a Maryland in the first half, but not actually fallen behind double digits. Things will be getting really interesting this next month. I have this feeling that Cal will beat USC. Which makes no sense because Cal is, in a sense, in a "rebuilding" year of sorts. They have brand new underclassmen in most of the offensive skill positions (senior o-line though), and they haven't shown me anything that would indicate they could hang. But that 2003 Cal team wasn't as good as this year and they were the last team to beat them so who knows. Also, this is a fun time to try to think of as many scenarios that completely screw up a nice clean BCS National Championship game like:

UCLA loses to ASU but then beats USC for their only loss. Texas runs the table and wins the Big 12 championship game which effectively puts them in the championship game. Then VaTech loses to FSU in the ACC Championship Game, Alabama also loses to Georgia in the ACC Championship game. Penn State and West Virginia wins out. Now you have 5 one loss conference champions in UCLA, UGA, FSU, WVU and PSU. Then three BCS eligable one loss teams in USC, VaTech and Bama. Who the heck goes where? I really hope something like this happens.

8
by Russell Levine :: Mon, 10/31/2005 - 10:09pm

Re: 1/2, Griff, you did a good job reading my mind. If I had to pick today, I'd still say USC/Texas are Rose Bowl deserving with VaTech trailing by a hair. But VaTech has the best chance of the three to impress down the stretch because of the schedule. I'm going to keep an open mind about it.

Re: 5, Griff those were Miami throwbacks, those were the school colors and uniforms in the 1960s I believe.

9
by young curmudgeon (not verified) :: Mon, 10/31/2005 - 10:19pm

Thanks for the uniform comments--I bounced by the UFla and Miami games and wondered what the heck was going on. After years of laughing at Penn State's look, it's looking better every time I see some other team's "innovation." By the way, I thought the USC at Ariz State game was one of the best looking games in years in terms of the uniforms. The sort of reverse contrast effect was really pleasant to look at.

10
by David S. (not verified) :: Mon, 10/31/2005 - 10:24pm

Of course I met that Bama loses to UGA in the SEC Championship game. Although I'm sure having both VaTech lose to FSU while Bama loses to UGA in the ACC Championship Game would make the ACC Championship Game itself extremely interesting, confusing but nevertheless action packed.

11
by TheJosher (not verified) :: Mon, 10/31/2005 - 10:26pm

I am a very disgruntled Tennessee fan. Many of us in the Big Orange Nation want Fulmer canned in light of the horrific performance of this team ever since the 1998 National Champs squad, which was the worst BCS champion ever! They did, however, get a ton of lucky plays over the course of that season.
This being said, Fulmer still has one of the largest contracts in D-I football. There is really no way the University would ever fire Fulmer even if he goes 6-5 this year. Fulmer really needs a sharp, young offensive coordinator to revamp the stagnant orange offense, and the team discipline needs to step up immediately. More than the record, the offseason woes the past few years have been more of a concern--it seems that the coaches have no control over their players.

12
by Russell Levine :: Mon, 10/31/2005 - 10:46pm

Click here for this week's Uni Watch column from Page 2. Paul Lukas has a complete rundown of the hideousness. And wait til you see what Oregon has planned.

13
by GatorGriff (not verified) :: Mon, 10/31/2005 - 10:47pm

RE#6: Click here for Florida Gator Unis and scroll down.

Click here for Virginia Tech Unis and go to picture #12 or #30.

Click here for U of Miami Unis. Russ is correct, these are throwback unis from the mid-60s.

14
by GatorGriff (not verified) :: Mon, 10/31/2005 - 10:52pm

For post #13, when clicking on the VaTech link, you have to click on the VaTech/Boston College link, then go to photos 12 or 30.

15
by Trogdor (not verified) :: Mon, 10/31/2005 - 11:19pm

I just read that Uni Watch before coming here, and laughed the whole way through it. I think the funniest thing is the Nike guy claiming they've gotten mostly positive feedback from fans. Come on. I realize it's a PR guy's job to lie when necessary, but at least try to make it somewhat plausible.

The thing I always wonder about when I see these hideous new designs is, who is buying them? Is there really a demand for this kind of crap? There must be, or else they wouldn't be marketing them, right? So for uglifying the game, I blame you, the consumer, who buys this garbage.

16
by Tarrant (not verified) :: Mon, 10/31/2005 - 11:34pm

You never know, though. I guess no one bought those Oregon ones (which Nike was equally "We got tons of great feedback!" about) since they pretty much stopped using them.

T.

17
by Harris (not verified) :: Mon, 10/31/2005 - 11:43pm

I didn't think it would be possible for Oregon's uniforms to look worse. Boy was I wrong. I wonder if NIke is softening us up for paid ads on the jerseys? How long before Miami has a patch reading "Chico's Bail Bonds?"

18
by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Mon, 10/31/2005 - 11:52pm

I wrote Nike and told them that their new color schemes are awful. Not that it'll make much difference, but I can always dream.

If Purdue ever tries that crap, I'm done buying their stuff. (Yes, I did buy a jersey this year, for some reason. Hey, they were unbeaten at the time.) Don't know what else I can do ...

19
by peachy (not verified) :: Tue, 11/01/2005 - 12:44am

Like Griff, I found that the UF unis got better with time - I thought the shoulder panel was actually kinda neat. The two-colour undershirts are another matter however - is this a football game or a renaissance fair? What's next, two-colour hose and enormous padded codpieces? (Trolling Nike reps - that's a joke, not a suggestion.)

20
by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Tue, 11/01/2005 - 1:15am

How come voters don't give 3 #1 votes to USC, Texas, and Va Tech? None have a claim to #1. Or split the 2nd place vote between Va Tech and Texas.

21
by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 11/01/2005 - 3:34am

How long before we see Penn State with one blue sleeve, one white?

Russell:

Penn State hasn't changed its uniform since 1973. 1973. And all they did then was remove the numbers from the helmets. (That's right, they made them simpler). My guess is we won't see this until 2185, when every other school has uniforms that look like NASCAR driver's uniforms.

22
by Tom (not verified) :: Tue, 11/01/2005 - 3:40am

I, for one, didn't find the VaTech uniforms to be that awful, though maybe I'm just a traditionalist; teams that were good when I first started watching college football aren't allowed to change their uniforms (see my criticism of Miami's c. 1966 throwback in Saturday's thread), while teams with less history, like VaTech, can do something different.

And I thought to be ranked no. 4, you had to have beaten somebody, or at least won all your games. ND, by contrast, has (1) lost a close game to USC at home, (2) lost at home to a now-unranked team that later lost at home by 35 points to another now-unranked team, and (3) beaten one team currently in the Top 25, when said team was without their most important offensive player for almost the entire game. I commend them for their 4-0 road record, but aside from Michigan, they beat a Pitt team that lost its next game to Ohio (note the absence of "State") and is now 4-4 with no marquee wins (South Florida, maybe), and Washington (1-7, W v. Idaho) and Purdue (2-6, W v. Akron, Arizona). They're good, but I'm not sure they belong more at 4 than they do at 14.

23
by Russell Levine :: Tue, 11/01/2005 - 8:27am

Re: 21 Pat, that was a sarcastic remark on my part about PSU, although I do find it ironic that they refused to add the college football 125th anniversary patch that all teams wore in 1994 because it upset the simplicity of the uniforms, but had no problems adding the Nike swoosh a year later.

24
by MadPenguin (not verified) :: Tue, 11/01/2005 - 10:39am

As a hokie alum, I wasn't overly fond of the new orange shoulder uniforms. In fact, I didn't like all the piping that was added a couple years ago. I'm a big fan of the maroon top and white pants unis. And I was actually liking the orange one arm sleeve they were wearing this year as a team thing (it looked like they cut one of the orange sleeves off). I think thats where Nike got the idea wrong (that is an opinion not based in fact).

In regards to the whole bcs fiasco, I would love a playoff, but I'll be content if my hokies win out. Its a tough road, Miami, @Va, UNC, and then hopefully an acc championship game.

I'm just happy to have consistent winning seasons and a team based on defense, special teams, and the run.

25
by Aaron Schatz :: Tue, 11/01/2005 - 11:39am

I'm sick and tired of getting angry hate mail comparing my FOX Power Rankings to the BCS, and some of these comments point to the reason why. Does anyone think that the problem with the BCS is that it uses a computer to help determine seeding? The problem with the BCS is that only the top two seeds get to play for the national championship. If there was no computer, and human polls decided that Texas was out and VaTech was in, would anybody be less pissed off? I can just see those happy Texas students: "Well, as long as they didn't use some computerized rating system, I guess it's OK, I guess we don't deserve a chance to win the national title. Let's try again next year."

26
by Duck in MA (not verified) :: Tue, 11/01/2005 - 11:52am

As an Oregon alum, well, is there anything we Ducks can really say? I apoligize on behalf of certain other alumni who are out to ensure that color-blindness becomes a prerequisite to watching a football game.

As for the rankings, I agree that ND is getting a LOT of love for their near-miss with USC. I thought the whole point of these polls was to take into account the body of work. Yes there will be some close games here and there by the top-5 teams, but over all they should be dominant. A two loss team ahead of two undefeated teams in November? If I recall correctly, you are what your record is.

Re #7: If UCLA loses to Arizona/ASU, then beats USC, there will be a three way-tie for the top of the Pac-10 between UCLA, USC and Oregon, and I don't know who (maybe more than one) would get the BCS nod. In 2000 there was a 3-way tie with each team holding a victory over one of the others. It ended with UW going to the Rose Bowl (win over Purdue), OSU going to the Fiesta Bowl (big win over extremely undeserving ND team), and Oregon in the Holiday Bowl (win over Texas). But in this case, Oregon and UCLA didn't play each other, so I don't know how it would work out.

27
by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 11/01/2005 - 11:56am

but had no problems adding the Nike swoosh a year later.

Well, from the fan/media/alumni perspective there was a ton of arguments about the Nike swoosh in 1995 (I was at Penn State in 95 and almost every week during the year there were articles about it). The only reason it was done was because of the money, of course, but the typical defense was that the swoosh isn't actually part of the uniform, it's just a label by the manufacturer. Talk about a lame excuse.

Russell, I agree with your rankings (especially ND’s), but get ready for Pat’s onslaught.

Well, I didn't expect ND to move, but it's still wrong, in my opinion. Here's a question: suppose ND loses to Tennessee. Where do they drop to? 20s? That's the main problem I have - at this point in the season, a 20-ranking drop should never happen. Even if one of the unbeatens fell, even to an unranked team, they wouldn't drop 20 places.

And I just can't see ND, if they lose, being ranked higher than 20. If ND loses, I don't see how their qualifications wouldn't be on a par with Michigan.

28
by Tarrant (not verified) :: Tue, 11/01/2005 - 12:16pm

Re: #26.

I believe the current Pac-10 rules state that in the absence of any head-to-head method of determining the winner, first the conference looks at other teams in the conference that all three tied teams have played - whichever beat the highest-ranked team (of the non-tied teams) gets the nod. In the case of the triangle, where each team has one loss and it's those three teams that have beaten each other, I believe the tiebreaker goes to the team ranked highest in the final BCS Standings.

After the BCS representative is chosen (or, in some cases, representatives), the other Pac-10 affiliated bowls choose freely from all other teams in the conference, in order of bowl priority.

Unlike other conferences, the bowls affiliated with the Pac-10 do not have to take the a given rank of team (i.e. the 2nd place team is not guaranteed the Holiday Bowl - the Holiday Bowl is simply guaranteed the second pick of teams, and they can pick any bowl-eligible Pac-10 team).

T.

29
by Duck in MA (not verified) :: Tue, 11/01/2005 - 12:28pm

Re 28: If I recall after the 3-way in 2000, it was first non-conference record (which eliminated Oregon with a loss to Wisconsin), then went head-to-head between UW/OSU - thus UW went to the Rose Bowl. It wasn't because UW was 3rd that year in the BCS.

I'm not sure if the Pac-10 uses the BCS rankings to determine tie-breakers. But no matter what they do use, if this particular scenario were to play out, at least one team will be the odd one out of the BCS (and probably two) which is always fun for debates. I just hope it's not Oregon...

30
by Tarrant (not verified) :: Tue, 11/01/2005 - 12:36pm

The Pac-10 no longer uses non-conference records for 3-way ties, save if those records resulted in the first condition I listed being triggered. They changed their 3-way tiebreakers in 2002 to use the BCS Standings after that condition if there's still a 3-way tie.

Two-way ties, however, use head-to-head, and especially starting next year, when the Pac-10 goes full round-robin (9 conference games), that will always be able to break a 2-way tie.

T.

31
by princeton73 (not verified) :: Tue, 11/01/2005 - 12:47pm

U of Miami Unis. Russ is correct, these are throwback unis from the mid-60s.

well, I was trying to find someone who actually REMEMBERS Miami green jerseys in the 60s, since I distinctly remember George Mira wearing a jersey essentially identical to ones worn by Bernie & Vinnie

but UM's own website (see link by my name) says they were worn in 1967 (Ted Hendrick's team)

32
by Ned Macey :: Tue, 11/01/2005 - 1:13pm

Is anyone else troubled by the Weis' extension? In his first year, Willingham started 8-0 including 4 wins over teams that finished in the top 25. Weis has one win over a team likely to finish in the top 25 and one great loss. I'm not saying that Weis isn't the real deal, but shouldn't ND have learned that early success is not a guarantee of long-term success? Has Weis achieved that much more in his first few games than Willingham? Wasn't Willingham getting mentioned as a possible NFL coach at the time? What is different about these situations? Willingham has experience recruiting and Weis doesn't? Obviously ND was right not to extend Willingham, but why did they need to extend Weis?

33
by David S. (not verified) :: Tue, 11/01/2005 - 1:15pm

I don't think we have to worry about a three-way tie because Oregon's losing to Cal. :)

34
by Dennis (not verified) :: Tue, 11/01/2005 - 1:24pm

Re #11: Actually Ohio State was the worst BCS champion.

35
by Tarrant (not verified) :: Tue, 11/01/2005 - 1:41pm

I'm surprised about the Weis extention as well. They didn't have to do it now, they could have waited a bit to see how the season bore out. If he really was truthful when he said he had no intention of leaving, then NFL teams coming to call in December wouldn't matter.

Willingham's 8-0 was far "luckier" than Weis' 5-2 - the team definitely was lacking in key areas, notably "offense". That said, the defense was outstanding, and they were starting to show offensive flashes before the season-ending losses.

That said, it seems odd to give a coach new to the college game a 10 year extension, and making them the highest paid coach in the game, before they've beaten a single meaningful opponent - the highest-ranked opponent they've beaten is Michigan, at #23, and that doesn't look to change until bowl time (Michigan may move up, but no other opponent is going to pass Michigan). The team's biggest accomplishment of the season so far is losing to the #1 team in a close game.

Is Weis worth more per year than Stoops, who has won a national title? Than Carroll, who has won two? Than Mack Brown, who has won, well, zero, but has Texas up there every year? It's really hard for me to say "Yes," when the signature win is over #23 Michigan. Even Willingham could beat Michigan (sorry, Russ/Vinny).

Now, I do think ND is a good team this year, and that Weis is a good coach and they probably should have given him an extension at the end of the season (although enthusiasm was just as high for Willingham before the end of the season and they didn't give him one). I don't think they're #4. #4 simply cannot lose to an unranked team, especially when there are multiple other unbeatens and 1-loss teams with better wins and not-as-bad losses, which is why their computer average is #22 (Oklahoma, for example, averages #21 in the computers!).

However, I will also mention that one major difference seems to be that Weis has charisma. Willingham had zero. Weis knows how to work the crowd. The t-shirts were there for Willingham. The NBC hype was there. The high ranking was there, his first year, with a better record to boot (until the end). Despite the fact that I like Weis, the schadenfreude part of me wants to see the team nosedive, if only for the hubris of giving someone a 10-year, highest-paid-in-the-game contract before they've even had 10 career games, or half a dozen wins.

T.

36
by Dennis (not verified) :: Tue, 11/01/2005 - 1:51pm

Re #25: Aaron, the problem (aside from the lack of a playoff) is that most people refuse to believe they are wrong no matter how much objective information you give them to show it. If someone thinks that Texas is better than Virginia Tech, no amount of data about schedule strength or anything else is going to change their minds.

My beef with the BCS is that they keep "tweaking" it to give less weight to the objective rankings and more weight to the polls. What they should do is come up with the objective criteria they want to use and develop a formula from that. Then run the formula against previous seasons to see how well it works and tweak it as needed. Then once the formula is set, that's it. Get rid of the subjective factor completely.

37
by Todd S. (not verified) :: Tue, 11/01/2005 - 2:00pm

#32 Ned, I'm very worried about the Weis extension, but then I'm a Purdue fan (and Notre Dame hater). History may prove me wrong, but Weis looks like the real deal. He had a top notch recruiting class before this good start, and he got started late. Is 10 years too long? Yes. But if you were going to sign anyone to it, I think Weis is the one.

And you don't know how much I hope I'm wrong about that. In fact, can I start lobbying for Vinny-Russell curse here? Let's see SDA sing praises about the Weis contract extension!

38
by Tarrant (not verified) :: Tue, 11/01/2005 - 2:13pm

Aaron,

I would say that, in general, the polls are considered by the generic fan of college football to be the key item, and something that goes against the polls is going to cause controversy with the average fan, even if the entire point of them being there is to balance the problems inherent in the polls (such as ranking inertia) - and particularly if it changes the result.

Part of this is because the polls have been used for, oh, a century (although not always the same polls) to determine the champion, and the two major polls today (AP and USA Today) have been used for at least 50 years. And no, people weren't thrilled when the polls didn't give them a championship (Penn State, 1994?), or split the championship when it probably shouldn't have been (right, Mr. Osborne?) but since that's "always the way it's been" it just went onward.

In the "old system", usually the top two seeds never played in a bowl, but still the polls were considered legitimate - but since there were bowl tie-ins, there weren't tons of issues with it.

But now that they have the BCS, and they do try to match up two teams, there's going to be issues if the top two teams are teams that the "average fan" doesn't believe are the top two. When your champions are chosen by popular vote, you have to make sure the candidates are teams that the populace believes in.

It doesn't help when the early weeks of computer rankings are usually weird (much like early DVOA), with top teams down in the 20s, and teams that you know aren't top-5 in the top-5, simply because there hasn't been enough data yet. The commentators harp on this relentlessly ("Look how stupid the computers are!"), reducing faith in the computer rankings even when they've settled.

I know of about 60 different computer rankings (there are sites that compile them all) from newspapers and statisticians across the country. 90% of them have Texas at #1. Do you see anyone in an official capacity referring to Texas as #1? No. Why? Because the polls say they're #2. Even last week, when Texas took over the #1 spot in the BCS Standings, if you watched the games on ABC/ESPN last week, it said #1 USC and #2 Texas (unless they were talking about the BCS) - and ABC runs the BCS! Yet they ignored their own rankings. Only watching a game on CBS did I see a commentator refer to Texas as #1.

To whit, the generic college football fan is never going to accept strictly the use of computers, especially after 2003 - how can computers be trusted if they left the "#1 team" out of the championship? The fact that the BCS, or the computers, didn't have them as #1 meant zero. Note that all during that controversy, the BCS honchos said "It doesn't matter what the polls say, the BCS champion is the champion the BCS will acknowledge - if the AP gives a championship, we won't care." Go to the BCS homepage now, and see what it says - it says there was a split championship. The BCS couldn't survive without acknowledging the split, and changing the formula such that they could say "See? If this one was in place, that wouldn't have happened!" The BCS had to cave in or go away.

That's what they had to do. They had to change the numbers and formulas until it matched what the polls said should happen. The BCS tried to say, for weeks, "Hey, the whole point of the BCS is to take into account more factors than the polls!" They said it over and over, in interview after interview (and note - this is with Carroll taking the high road and not complaining about it publicly! He didn't have to do anything, 'college football' did it for him) It didn't matter. The BCS lost. The polls won.

T.

39
by MCS (not verified) :: Tue, 11/01/2005 - 2:36pm

I don't know if Weis is worth it until he does the Triple Lindy.

40
by Vinny (not verified) :: Tue, 11/01/2005 - 2:40pm

I actually loved the Miami unis, especially the helmets. Just had a 70's feel to them; I could almost hear an old NFL Films disco soundtrack playing in the background as I watched that game.

41
by Richie (not verified) :: Tue, 11/01/2005 - 3:29pm

I could swear that during the USC game on ABC Saturday, there was a #2 by USC's name when they showed the score.

42
by princeton73 (not verified) :: Tue, 11/01/2005 - 3:39pm

It doesn’t help when the early weeks of computer rankings are usually weird

as opposed to the early human polls, which had Tennessee in the top 5

yes, fans bitch(ed) about the stupidity of the polls, but then get incensed when the computers don't agree with the polls

cognitive dissonance?

43
by Tarrant (not verified) :: Tue, 11/01/2005 - 3:46pm

But people don't see those polls as "wrong". It's stupid, but they don't. At any given moment, the polls are "right" and the computers are "wrong" if they don't match. If a team then loses, it gets corrected in the polls.

Sure, at the end of the season (and even midway), you see columns saying "Wow look how wrong the polls were!" but the fact is those same 'experts' writing the columns were calling Tennessee #3 in week 1, and likely weren't writing about how odd that ranking seemed to be.

T.

44
by Michael David Smith :: Tue, 11/01/2005 - 4:12pm

I'd like to do some research to see which are really better, the polls or the computer rankings. The way I'd like to do it is take all the polls and computer rankings as they were before the bowl games for each of the last five years. I'd look at any bowl game where one team was ranked higher by the computers and the other was ranked higher by the poll voters, then I'd see which team was superior. Does anyone know where I could find the last five years' worth of computer rankings and polls from before the bowl games? (I know where to find them from after the bowl games, but that wouldn't work, since it would reflect the outcome of the games.)

45
by Tarrant (not verified) :: Tue, 11/01/2005 - 4:18pm

MDS,

The BCS homepage, bcsfootball.org, I believe will have the final BCS rankings for all previous BCS years, which should include the poll ranking and computer rankings.

That would be a fascinating thing to know.

The semi-problem with that analysis is only that some of the computer people (for example, Sagarin) freely admits that his BCS computer ranking is not indicative of potential performance, because the BCS disallows the use of many variables (margin of victory is one of them) that might improve the quality of the ranking. Sagarin releases two ratings every week, one "BCS rating" and one "Real rating", and they are sometimes quite different. Only the latter does he believe actually means anything.

T.

46
by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 11/01/2005 - 5:13pm

MDS:

I know that several of the computer rankings have historical rankings - here's the one for the Colley matrix. The nice thing is to use the actual numbers rather than the rankings, because in some cases the difference between spot 2 and spot 3 can be very large, whereas between spot 10 and spot 11 will be very small.

The Colley matrix method is really very, very simple - that'd be the interesting one to compare, as it's the stupidest way of doing a ranking mathematically you can imagine. If you read the description in the paper linked off of the ranking's homepage, you can realize that you could very easily write a program to do this yourself (Ignore the long section on getting the solution via matrix diagonalization - the iteration solution is much easier to understand and implement, and it's strictly identical to the matrix method).

The main problem here is that these methods can't really rank unbeatens at all. Take 2002, for instance, when Ohio State beat Miami. Both Ohio State and Miami were unbeaten, but Miami was ranked first because it had a stronger schedule. You then have to think of that ranking as a lower limit on the strength of the team: it says "this team has a theoretical win/loss percentage which is at least X".

So if you've got two unbeatens, the computer rankings (based on win/loss alone) really have no way of telling which unbeaten team is better than the other.

But for the "beaten" teams, that's much different.

47
by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 11/01/2005 - 5:17pm

Tarrant:

Sagarin has this utter fascination with margin of victory, which I don't understand. It clearly biases his results against defensive conferences as biases his results for offensive conferences. Yes, as a gross indicator, it is a good predictor of future success on the whole but it's easy to see that it's a "biasable" statistic. (Sports statisticians are really very prone to the mistake that just because a process may work on the average does not mean that it does not contain several biased subsamples which average out against the whole)

He also includes non-division IA teams, which, when a division IA team plays them, usually results in a gigantic margin of victory - which then shoves that team way up.

48
by Michael David Smith :: Tue, 11/01/2005 - 7:39pm

Taking a quick glance at last year's pre-bowl rankings, I'm not sure that the voters and the computers had big enough disagreements to make the study worthwhile. On the vast majority of games they agreed -- Auburn over VaTech, Utah over Pitt, Texas over Michigan, FSU over WVa -- and on the few where they disagreed it was a slight disagreement, like the polls having USC No. 1 and Oklahoma No. 2 and the computers having it the other way around.

49
by Tarrant (not verified) :: Tue, 11/01/2005 - 7:45pm

While this is completely unrelated, there was an article and interview with one of the BCS computer people a few years ago that I found fascinating, that just went over exactly how the various people doing computer rankings (not just for the BCS, but that also mentioned some computer rankings the BCS had previously used) could bias their rankings towards one result or another, while still being able to simply point "to the numbers" as coughing up a given result. Since the formulas are never made public (save for Colley),

The article was mentioning the Seattle Times and the amazing tendency (when its poll was used by the BCS) for its poll to way overrate Washington and Washington State. It also slightly favored the Pac-10 over other conferences, but not nearly as much as it did UW and WSU. All they had to do was 1. favor offense over defense (there's the Pac-10 leaning - note this was back when scores were allowed to be included in calculations) and 2. factor weather into the equation - since it rains so often in Washington, factoring in rainfall allowed a boost to those schools that went strictly by the numbers, and that boost favored UW and WSU much more since they were also Pac-10 "high-offense" teams. The New York Times computer used to really love Notre Dame, and it did so partially by considering "Independents" in a weird way (had they been good at the time, Army and Navy would have likely gotten love from the NYT computer too).

Sagarin's love of high point margins is a similar thing that can really skew things, since this season it would decimate many SEC team's rankings in favor of the Pac-10 and Big 12.

The BCS computers aren't allowed to use offensive or defensive numbers, nor scoring (anymore). However, even with that, they mentioned subtle ways someone that likes a certain conference could tip the scales in their systems. For example, after 2003, where you had OU, USC, and LSU, if they didn't like the result, they could have tweaked things...

They could increase the weight given to conference championship games (which USC doesn't have), and decrease the weight given to nonconference schedule strength (which LSU/Auburn didn't have). In 2004, this would have heavily favored Auburn.

Or, they could increase the weight given to nonconference schedules - that would have favored USC in 2003/04, and pushed LSU/Auburn down.

Or they could increase or decrease the weight on winning a conference championship - this would, of course, have affected Oklahoma in 2003.

Lots of little, subtle changes - even fractional percentage point changes - in calculating schedule strength, or in how home/away games are tabulated (some of the BCS computers right now don't take into account location home/away, others do), etc. could completely change the results.

Now, since you never know who is going to do well, you can't know that a certain team is going to be affected, but you can certainly guess what conferences might be helped or hurt by making these slight adjustments (the SEC is generally helped a lot if you reduce the weight of nonconference schedules, for example, and the Pac-10 is helped if you count conference championship games as "just another game", etc.).

Of course, this is why the BCS uses six rankings, not just one.

T.

50
by Joey (not verified) :: Wed, 11/02/2005 - 2:56am

From the Page 2 Uni Watch column, the upcoming Miami and Oregon uniforms both look like soccer jerseys. I guess Nike is trying to drive home the line from the Gatorade commercials: "Football is football, except when it's...football."

Questions:
Do the schools pay Nike for these designs or how exactly does it work? I don't really see what's in it for the school. Sure, they get a new look, but they could redesign their own uniforms and do that.

Also, does the NCAA control uniforms and regulate when third color jerseys can be worn the way the NFL does? Or could you wear a different jersey every game if you wanted?

51
by GatorGriff (not verified) :: Wed, 11/02/2005 - 1:37pm

Re#50: Someone with more knowledge might be able to correct me, but what's in for Nike is $$. If they design a third jersey that fans like, it will sell and they will make tons of money off it. Clearly the screwed up with the VaTech and Florida unis, but had they succeeded, they would be making a windfall this week.

As for what's in it for the school, Nike pays each school a HUGE sum of $$ in order to slap the Nike Checkmark on the jersey (or, to be fair, ALL OVER the jersey). In return, the Nike can market and sell said school's jersey. So if Nike can come up with three sucessful jersey from one school, instead of the existing two, it means more money for Nike.

As for your last question, I'm pretty sure that the NCAA does not control/regulate unis. If a team, say Oregon, wanted to, they could wear a different uni every game. Oh wait, Oregon basically already does that.

52
by Dennis (not verified) :: Wed, 11/02/2005 - 2:38pm

Re 45: The semi-problem with that analysis is only that some of the computer people (for example, Sagarin) freely admits that his BCS computer ranking is not indicative of potential performance

The rankings aren't supposed to predict future performance, they are supposed to rank actual performance.

53
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 11/02/2005 - 9:40pm

Here's the quick rundown of the computer rankings, and what they do:

Colley: Simple linear regression, only Division IA games.
Massey: Maximum likelihood, Bayesian for undefeated and zero win teams
Sagarin: Maximum likelihood with HFA.
Anderson/Hester: No information whatsoever. Based on the distribution, looks like maximum likelihood with HFA.
Wolfe: Maximum likelihood.
Billingsley: Bizarre. Looks like a custom tuned algorithm. Probably equivalent to linear regression with home field correction and season progression, and "bonuses" for holding a team to less than 7 points. Very hand crafted.

The main difference between the maximum likelihood models is "what is the chance of team A, with ranking X, beating team B, with ranking Y?" Wolfe, for instance, has this as "X/(X+Y)". Sagarin's is (I think) "1/1+10^(X-Y+/-h)/400".

Which means that the models aren't very different from a football point of view at all.