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Monday
Jun202005

Fiutak Unhinged

More madness from CFN, quickly aspiring to become permanent Resource whipping boy if they keep this up...

From yesterday's "Ask CFN"---

  • Which team will be overhyped as the year goes on? It might be a good team, but it’ll have a huge season because of a lousy schedule and really be overrated? - Lee, Miami

A: California … again. The Bears only beat one team of note last year, Arizona State, and they don’t have to face the loaded Sun Devils this season. Your 2005 Cal schedule (be prepared to get honked off SEC fans): Sacramento State, at Washington, Illinois, at New Mexico State, Arizona, at UCLA, Oregon State, Washington State, at Oregon, USC, at Stanford. Obviously the USC game is the big one, but that’s in Berkeley. But the time the November 12 showdown comes around, Cal might be a top four team with inflated stats and too much hype. The only possible blips are at UCLA and at Oregon. Cal is good, but it's top 20 good and not top five good.

Exsqueeze me?

First off, California isn't highly rated this year.  If they somehow finish in the top four at the end of the year, that means that many other teams basically lost a bunch of games while California remained undefeated or with one loss, probably to USC.  I agree Cal's OOC schedule this year (Sacramento State, Illinois, New Mexico State) is ridiculous.  But Pete's Fiutak's setting up some funny straw man here.

So, California's schedule is weak and somehow they'll cruise to #4 or better by getting through the "weak" Pac-10 and having a better record than his SEC superheroes?  Isn't that the same scenario that USC follows every year, according to the SEC apologists?  Basically what is being said is that anyone who plays in a "lesser" conference (read: not Big Twelve or SEC), no matter their schedule, is automatically overrated and gets there with inflated statistics and feasting on weak conference opponents.

Has anyone ever taken a look at how the SEC and Big Twelve build their schedules?  Right off they split the conference into two divisions, allocating a mix of strong and weak teams to each division.  Then each major program (the Nebraskas, Auburns, etc. out there) builds a cupcake highway of light OOCs, for their first three wins, followed by a healthy diet of in-conference never-has-beens such as Baylor, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Oklahoma State, Kansas, teams that have rarely or never won a conference championship and likely never will.  So that usually pushes the win total up, so that the conference big boys have 6-8 automatic wins, unnoticed.  Then in any given year, most divisions have perhaps 1-2 really good teams, and so a so-so Nebraska might win one of those two, say splitting Kansas State and Colorado.  That's 7 wins, and all that's left are two random games against a foe from the other division.

Chances are, for the big program like Nebraska or Tennessee, another easy win or two is in place, since the odds are in favor of drawing the numerically higher weak teams than the numerically lower strong teams.

The end-result, most seasons, is a 12-team conference with four to six teams having nine or ten wins.  It's simple stuff, and because college football fans and pundits aren't paying attention, these conferences, by virtue of having big-name programs and this scheduling scheme, get credited for having six top 25 teams year after year ad nauseum.

As one of my smart football friends said, it's all an algorithm.  The superconferences are at huge built-in advantages and its up to the fans and pundits to sort out whether some of these supposed great teams are really so great or just feasting off a funny schedule gimmick that gives them an automatic 9-10 wins.

One of the lessons we'll be teaching here at Resource as the season rolls along is this---what really matters to be an elite team, is sophistication and style of play.  Look, I worshipped at the altar of talent, team speed, and other measures for a long time.  But I was in the dark.  That's not to say talented teams can't beat sophisticated (we'll define that further as we roll along here) teams, only that sophistication and advanced style of play will win out in general.  It's only in the absence of a sophisticated team (quite often in college football, because many of the good coaches end up in the NFL, plus the college football schedules are much less difficult and rigid) that you have the pure talents winning titles and hovering among the elite.  Think back to 2001.  USC was not quite at its current level that year, and thus the vacuum was created for two majorly talented teams in Ohio State and Miami to play in the Fiesta Bowl.

Now, there is no such opportunity.  If USC falters, it will probably be within its own conference (much similar to what almost happened last year against UCLA and Stanford and Oregon State).  But in USC's absence, we still have sophisticated programs like Louisville, Boise State, Utah and California, and now Florida.  When a supremely talented but low sophistication team goes up against high sophistication, high talent, you get USC 55, Oklahoma 19.  When you face off two highly talented but rudimentary teams you have LSU 21, Oklahoma 14.  When you match up a highly talented, moderately sophisticated team against a low to moderately talented but highly sophisticated team, you get Miami/Louisville from last year.  Roughly.  See how this works?

Not dismissing talent, because it also matters---a lot---but out of nowhere this party of six (USC, Louisville, Boise State, California, Utah, Florida) has appeared on the college football landscape and they will be the ones writing the 2005-2006 script, in all likelihood.

Getting back to Fiutak's response, he used California's loss against Texas Tech as justification for their apparent status as overrated.  That game in fact was a perfect illustration of what we've been talking about.  Texas Tech has been playing one style of ball for about five years, and for a while it was a hit inside the Big Twelve.  Because it was unfamiliar, it tripped up a lot of opponents despite Tech's lower levels of talent and depth.  But as the seasons rolled along, the novelty wore off, because its offense is so gimmicky, and most of the better Big Twelve programs found ways to compensate for it and win games against the Red Raiders.

But, when Tech takes its show on the road, it becomes much more effective.  Most college football teams simply have never faced such an offense, at least regularly.  A good analogy is if you were to be on a basketball team, one that is talented and plays great man defense.  Its a smart man defense, but all you ever play is man defense opponents.  Eventually, you become very sharp against the man and running it, but one day you go up against a lesser talented but ridiculously skilled zone squad.  You get crushed.

That's the concept of familiarity.  California in this case was the man team, and although it could simulate what Tech was doing in practice, there was no real experience against that kind of offense and they got blitzed.

But, if, for example, California had gone up against the Texas longhorns, they very likely would have crushed Texas.  Texas plays in a conference full of teams with finesse offensive lines and low-tech passing offenses (TT's gimmicky offense aside).  Meanwhile, California plays in a conference full of balanced, high-tech pass teams, and itself has a crafty run defense.  California would have been far more familiar with Texas' one-dimensional run attack than Texas with California's varied offense that can both run and pass with all kinds of looks and options.

Now, the real question should be where do we believe Cal will end up this year?  I have a hunch they'll be borderline top 10.  It's a lot to ask to replace an entire defense as well as a superstar quarterback.  Their system remains but a quarterback is critical in making it run and it appears that their two options right now are having some difficulties.  So they are a bit of a paper tiger this year, but there's the potential to be a real tiger if the players are still on board with Tedford's system.  They're probably looking at 1-4 losses, but will continue to be a step above most of the Pac-10 outside of USC and perhaps (this year) Arizona State and Oregon.

Amazingly, there's more, so let's get to it---

  • Outside of your own, which preseason previews do you like the most, and which are the best? If you could only buy one, which would it be? - Joe B.
A: As far as the print annuals, there’s The Sporting News annual, and then there’s everyone else and is the gold standard. Athlon’s isn’t bad. For the first time, I almost bought the Phil Steele mag from my local Barnes & Noble, but I unfocused my eyes while trying to read one of the two-point font previews and freaked out when I saw a pony. Street and Smith’s doesn’t do it for me at all. The problem inherent in the system is that they’re all out of date when you get them since half of the post spring depth charts haven’t even been created yet when all the annuals go to press.

Phil Steele's preseason magazine is the only halfway intelligent one out there with some semblance of a consistent and accurate methodology and one of CFN's lead guys isn't reading it because it hurts his eyes?

  • I am currently deployed in Iraq and have a hard time keeping up with my beloved UGA DAWGS. I have been a die hard fan my whole life. My home base in the states is Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. I live about 30 minutes from Boise. Since Idaho does not have any pro teams all I hear about is how great Boise State is. I have tried to explain to everyone that when the Broncos get into Athens there will be 92,000 SEC fans waiting to greet them. Not quite the blue turf back home. Evan though they do sometimes play Oregon St., Georgia is not Oregon St. I would like to hear what you think about a mid major team experiencing the SEC and all its wonder. If you could also give your predictions and analysis of the game, that would be great. Thanks. – B.J. USAF
A: My normal belief is that if you’re going to pull off an upset, your best chance is to do it in the opener. Without four preseason games like you have in the NFL, a lesser team with a ton of experience can hang with, or beat, a better team if there are kinks to be worked out. However, Georgia is a veteran team and will be jacked up for week one in the D.J. Shockley era and after hearing all off-season about how Boise State is going to come in looking to pull off the upset. Look for the Dawg line to steamroll over the Bronco front seven in a double-digit win. Stay safe!

We agree, stay safe, soldier. But your Dawgs are very likely to go down. Pete actually gets part of this right, openers are great for upsets. Good teams get better as the season rolls along, and are vulnerable early because they're required to do more early on to meet their expectations and ofter suffer early upset losses as a result. Boise State is a good team, and they may take a while to get that offensive machine rolling. Georgia, on the other hand, is a pedestrian team, one that will be about as good during week one as they will during week twelve, relative to someone like Boise. Heresy, we know.

I doubt, at the end of the season, many Georgia fans will be happy with the D.J. Shockley era.

  • I get tired of hearing how weak the Pac-10. Pac-10 teams have been playing SC a lot closer than their non-conference foes the last 3 years. Cal should have beat them the last 2 years, Stanford played them tight, as has UCLA and Oregon State. They shutout Auborn of the mighty SEC, toyed with V-Tech, have routinely destroyed the Fighting Irish, crushed Big-Ten champs Michigan and Iowa, and of course how can you forget their perfomance against the Big 12's untouchable OU. Has anyone considered the Pac-10 does possibly prepare SC for their "easy" non-conference schedule?? – B.A.
A: Take a deep breath, and then take a closer examination of the Pac 10 teams you just reeled off. Cal got pantsed by Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl and didn’t beat anyone all year outside of Arizona State. Stanford was, well, Stanford. Oregon State wasn’t that great, and that game was played in a fog. UCLA lost to Wyoming in the Las Vegas Bowl. USC hardly toyed with Virginia Tech, and Notre Dame wasn’t that great. As USC has proven, the coaching staff is peerless when given a month to prepare for a bowl. Those close calls last year are a bit disturbing, and can't keep happening. Eventually, the breaks go the other way.
Did you know Stanford has won the Pac-10 crown recently in football? Now they're at the bottom. But cellar-dwellar Oregon State is now near the top. Elite conferences are like that, their best teams more or less change over a period of time. Of course you are going to have cupcakes, but every team is capable of winning the crown any given year. We see a little of this in the Big Ten, also, with Northwestern winning sometimes, as well as Iowa. So when someone says Stanford's Stanford... well Stanford has been in some Rose Bowls recently. When was the last time Vanderbilt went to a BCS bowl? Or Kentucky? How about Baylor?

I hate to seem like a Pac-10 apologist, but it really gets an undeserving horrible rap. Conference strength waxes and wanes every year within each conference. But because of the superconference setups and this weird anti-west perception, combined with the rabid enthusiasm of the sport's fans in the south, the Pac-10 earns pinata status. But in reality it is a conference of coaches, of fairly decent athletes and sophisticated offenses and defenses that have held their own on a national setting year after year.

Its time we get realistic and address some of the faulty perceptions of every conference, as well as the false glorifications of two in particular. Nobody's arguing the Pac-10 is the nation's elite conference, but it's by no means a whipping boy, and in reality conference performances are very much determined by style of play and familiarity.

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Reader Comments (7)

Wow, great stuff in response to the first question. I couldn't agree more. I'd throw the Maryland team pre-2004 as another example. Fridge has that same kind of offense and he had a solid defense with good athletes. Of course, last year it fell apart because of the unsettled position at QB. But overall, I think you nailed it when it comes to the sophistication vs talent argument. Al Groh said something great at a clinic once (and I'm sure others have said something similar): "The best team will always beat the team with the best players." I think there's something about that line that's inherent in all the teams you named.
June 21, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMichael
This is a phenomenal website. I'll be highlighting it and adding it to my blogroll.

Your discussion of scheduling got me thinking: Is there a more overrated conference than the Big XII? After Oklahoma and Texas, every team has been mediocre at best since Osborne left Nebraska. Kansas State is always a paper tiger; A&M is mercurial (although this will be Franchione's third year, and that's usually when the magiv happens); OSU seems to get up for Oklahoma but drop some games that it shouldn't; Missouri serially underachieves; and then there's everyone else. I mean, this is a "power conference" with two elite programs and a bunch of filler. I don't think that the Big XII is any better than the fourth-best conference, and it could easily be fifth. I'd rank them as: SEC; Big Ten; ACC; Big XII; Pac-10; Big Least.
June 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJoey
Michael and Joey,

Thank you for the praise. You both bring up good points. Maryland is a very astute example of the intelligence factor. Obviously you still need the athletes, and within the handful of bright offenses, there's a natural bell curve, so that ones like USC's and Utah's can get by easier and skirt some of the talent issues, whereas a Maryland has to really put the correct pieces in place.

I hadn't really considered the Big12 as an entity as overrated before, since I tend to narrow it down to the individual teams so often, but yeah, you're onto something there. You'll hear a lot more from us about the B12 and SEC as the season rolls along. The new-look ACC, too. The interesting thing is the ACC is primed to really move forward, since many of its offenses are in that middle pack of sophistication, below the Pac-10 and some of those mid-major conferences, and ahead of the precambrian SEC and Big12.

June 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterResource Admin
The Bottom Line:

Pac 10 all-time winning pct. verses:

Big 12 .437
Big 10 .482
SEC .392
D-1 Ind. .379
June 24, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterDawgy1
2002 was Ohio St. and Miami, not 2001.
June 28, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterTim
Also, your assessment of how powers like Nebraska and Tennessee rack up easy wins might work in the Big XII North, but it doesn't fly in the SEC East.
June 28, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterTim
SEC East=Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, 3 of the Big Six, and then 3 absolute craptacular teams---South Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky.

Now, down the road, that league will have a great Florida, a pretty good South Carolina, and then the rest can fight for scraps.

That's nothing a legitemate national title contender can't roll through. Watch Florida do that either this year or the next.
June 28, 2005 | Registered CommenterCFR

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