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Rankings are BS

I don’t particularly think the Bears deserve to be ranked yet, but (as is always the case) these rankings just don’t make sense:

  • Notre Dame (virtual) 33, despite being 1-2, including losing to Texas
  • Texas 21, despite losing to Cal
  • SDSU 22, who beat Cal who beat Texas
  • Cal (virtual) 31, who beat #21 Texas

And there are no meaningful “circles” or other things that make it so these teams shouldn’t be ranked in order something like SDSU ~21, Cal ~28, Texas ~30, Notre Dame ~35 (or lower).

Shouldn’t the Bears ranking go up today?

Cal was 25 yards from beating a team ranked 18 spots higher than it.

Cal’s previous victory over “not very good” Washington looks a whole lot better now that they upset #17 USC.

Cal’s previous victory over “not very good” Texas looks a WHOLE lot better now that they upset #10 Oklahoma.

Cal’s previous victory over “not very good” WSU looks better now that they upset “#26” Oregon.

Cal is still 5-1, as good as at least 8 teams (even more if you count the losses from this week) ranked above them.

Doesn’t that all add up to a team that should be ranked around #20 or so?

Great post over at CGB regarding strength of schedule

I recently read this article over at CGB: Mythbusting: How the Pac-12’s 9-Game Conference Schedule Actually Hurts Its Teams’ Strength of Schedule Ratings.

It’s basic premise is that the supposed thing that gets better when you have extra conference games (strength of schedule) actually gets worse, at least when using the standard NCAA strength of schedule formula (so this wouldn’t affect the complex computer algorithm based strength of schedule metrics).

The reason is because the NCAA formula only cares about opponents records (and their opponents records). In an open loop system, that might work, but in a closed conference, since you impose your own loses on each other, every extra game you add, worsens the conferences overall strength of schedule.

Said another way, if there were no non-conference games and we played a full round robin, the strength of schedule of the conference would always be the same (0.5). Since a good strength of schedule number is higher than that (0.7 is very strong), every conference game you add moves you closer to 0.5 as a conference.

In any case, great and enlightening analysis by Berkelium97 over at CGB.

Preseason ranking methodology

I’ve written about this before, but the whole “I’m ranking this team lower because they have a tough schedule” thing really bugs me and Ted Miller recently brought it up in his mailbag post:

Paul from San Carlos, California, writes: Indulge a pet peeve: Those who downgrade a team in rankings for having a tough schedule. Rankings should be solely about which team is better. Which team has the easiest path to a good record should play no role.

Ted Miller: Fair point. So do we need a distinction?

Are we making predictions with rankings? If so, then schedule plays a role. If you were looking for a reason to worry about UCLA, schedule would be a good place to start. Conversely then, I’d rate Iowa a top-15 team.

Or are we ranking teams only based on how good we believe they are? If so, that methodology shouldn’t consider the schedule ahead, arduous or easy.

That said, most folks who do top-25 rankings based on their perception of how good a team is and what it has accomplished wouldn’t take their list to Vegas and use it religiously. Sometimes a team “deserves” a ranking, even if you wouldn’t bet your hard earned money that it would beat a team you rank a few notches lower.

Here’s what I think Ted Miller misses (most people do frankly): The only reason this is an issue is because everybody knows that the end of season rankings overly penalize losses and don’t look at qualitative factors. They don’t think about it directly, but it’s true. What they’re saying is, they’re expected that this “tough schedule” team to lose a couple not because they’re not good but because of their tough schedule, and they just know that at the end of the season the rankings won’t take that into account, so they’ll be ranked lower than they should.

That’s why it’s doubly infuriating to me. It appears there are two things that determine the end of season ranking: Initial seeding (if you started #1 and you don’t lose, you’ll end #1) and number of loses.

So if the end of season ranking is going to over emphasize number of loses, it’s quite a double whammy to also lower their initial seeding (aka their preseason ranking). If anything we should be giving them a bump at the beginning of the season.

Of course the real solution is to have the end of the season ranking appropriately reflect strength of schedule, but until then, let’s not further cripple teams with tough schedules by ranking them lower to start the season.

Pre-season ranking metholodogy

Preseason rankings are a real challenge. If nothing else, it’s all based on opinion since no games have been played. But additionally one has to decide how to rank them. Does one rank them based on how good they think they are right now, i.e. if they were to play every possible team in the first season of the week, you’d expect all teams above them to beat them, and all teams below them to lose to them, or do you rank them where you expect them to land at the end of the season?

There seems to be a movement towards taking the 2nd strategy and I couldn’t disagree more. It creates all the wrong incentives and pre-biases the teams the wrong way. What it all comes down to is schedule. Teams with hard schedules will get ranked lower because the ranker “doesn’t see how they can get through that schedule unscathed” (or something like that). Teams with weak schedules but who by the ranker’s own admission aren’t as good, who have a shot at being undefeated will likely end the season higher ranked based on the benefit of the doubt and their record, they’ll put higher.

The result, since pre-season rankings only affect “seeding”, is that the team who most needs some early season ranking support when the ranking drops after they lose one or more of those tough games, is least likely to get it. The team that is weak and needs to do something to earn it, doesn’t have to because they start at the top.

There’s already far too many powerful incentives to schedule weak. We don’t need another.

Pre-season rankings should be based on how good the team is in the opinion of the ranker as they exit training camp without any biasing towards the ease or difficulty of the schedule. I understand why the pundits want to talk about it, and in concept I’ve got no problem with that, but when they put their rankings down on paper, they need to forget it.

Biggest pre/early season ranking complaint

It’s that time of year when all the meaningful pre-season polls come out. They’ve always bugged me for a number of reasons, although I fully admit they can’t be stopped, but there’s one explanation for where various teams are ranked that really bothers me:

“I ranked team X below team Y because of their difficult schedule”

Wait a minute… why should that matter?

I don’t think anyone would debate that a team that has a harder schedule might lose more games than a team that plays an easy schedule. However, at the end of the season, we hear left and right how team X should be ranked above team Y, even though they have a worse record, because they played a far tougher schedule.”

Point being, team X is however good team X is. How tough their schedule is, doesn’t change how good team X is. Theoretically, the end of season rankings take into account how tough team X’s schedule was and is supposed to measure just how good the team actually was.

What I think this troublesome trend indicates is an implicit admission that the end of season rankings DON’T appropriately account for strength of schedule and thus teams who play tough schedules will NOT have it properly accounted for, thus when predicting how the teams will be ranked at the end of the season, we’ve got to give them a hit.

To make it worse, since they all implicitly admit that, the LAST thing team X needs is to start the season with a disadvantage. Where one starts ranked can affect where one ends up at the end of the season. If 2 teams go 10-2, all other things being equal, the one who was ranked higher at the beginning of the season will still be higher at the end of the season.

So what do we have for team X? We have a system where they won’t be properly credited in the end of season polls for their tough schedule, starting out with a lower ranking merely because of that tough schedule, something that puts them at yet another disadvantage, when what they really need is a pre-season benefit to do something to try and offset the lack of credit they get for a tough schedule.

And we wonder why so many teams schedule so softly…

Garbage from ESPN

OK, this is one of those things that getting too worked up about is stupid, but nevertheless, it’s ridiculous:

Check out ESPN’s bottom-10 worst teams in the nation and who comes in at #5. Cal.

BULLSH… (Oops, family safe site)

Look at all the other teams on the list. Not a single one has a win, much less two. Heck, not a single team on the “waiting list” has two wins. Notice that the FBS team we beat soundly, Colorado, is not on the list, nor even in the “Waiting list” (of course the FCS team wouldn’t be on the list, so that’s why they’re not relevant). It’s just stupid. There’s no way to objectively justify their being on the list nor have a reasonable reply to my above objections.

It’s nothing more than this bozo Mark Schlabum just not liking that Cal was ranked and picking on them because he doesn’t like that Cal occasionally gets respect he thinks we don’t deserve. It’s the pinnacle of a lack of objectivity.

The reality is quite different. Cal is still a top-50 team who lost a shootout to another top-50 team. There’s no way they belong in the bottom-10 (teams “ranked” 110 to 119).

Bogus move Mark Schlabach.

Update at 5:00 PM: Reading the comments on the Bottom-10 article, the #5 spot on the list is reserved for teams that didn’t live up to expectations that week. In that case, I change my objection. He’s not an idiot for thinking too little of Cal. He’s an idiot for not knowing how to make a list. If he wants to have a “team that most under performed” item or list, that should be, you know, outside the bottom-10 now shouldn’t it?

Again, nothing to get too worked up about in either case.

Cal in the polls

I’m surprised how quick this happened, but the dominating performance of the Bears got the Bears into the Coaches poll at #24. We’re also a virtual #29 in the AP. That means that if the Bears can go to Nevada and win, there’s a good chance the trip to Arizona will be between two ranked teams.

The old Bear in me has only one thing to say about that: expectations are back and we’re doomed! DOOOOOOMed!

OTRH podcast coming soon…

Cal ranked #21

#21 in the AP and #22 in the USA Today. All the way up to #16 in the score-weighted Sangarin computer ranking (sadly #35 in the unweighted ranking which results in #20 total there).

UPDATE: 21 in the BCS

Cal back in the rankings

Cal is ranked 23rd in the AP and 25th in the Coaches poll, basically taking the place of UCLA who dropped just out of the polls once everyone realized that their win over Tennessee was not as great as it seemed when they handed in last week’s ballot, only hours after watching the upset.

Back in the top 25

Today’s rankings have Cal back in the top 25 after a single week just outside the limit. The Bears are 24 in the AP and 25 in the Harris. The remained at 27 in the always lagging coaches poll. The combination of 25, 27 and unranked in the computers puts them at 27 in the meaningless at this point BCS rankings.

Don’t under-estimate the importance of being in the AP top-25 however. From an exposure perspective it’s a big deal. For starters, a lot of websites and news services cover the games of the top-25. Many may have noticed nary a mention of the Cal vs. WSU game on ESPN in the last week, in big part because they key on the top-25 and neither Cal nor WSU were in it. Add in all of the pick-em leagues that pick winners of the top-25 games and one can see that being in the top-25 is huge from an exposure perspective.

Let’s hope that Cal shows up in Berkeley next Saturday and makes good on the exposure that comes with a still in the hunt for a BCS game and 14th ranked (AP poll) USC game comes to town.

USC loss good for Cal?

I said earlier that the USC loss was bad for the Pac-10. I still believe that. It’ll hurt, albeit slightly, the Pac-10’s reputation as we lose a marque program at the top of the rankings. The more marque teams we have towards the top of the rankings the better for our national reputation as a conference.

But national reputation is only a small aspect of what Cal fans should care about. Really we care about how the Bears do, not how the Pac-10 does. So, the question remains, is the USC loss good for Cal? Danzig points to an article at Addicted To Quack where the author suggests the loss is good for Oregon, is the same true for Cal?

While I wouldn’t have phrased it the same way they did, I think it’s mostly accurate, with a few glaring errors. Basically, there are two ways to get to a BCS bowl game: win the conference or get an at-large bid. Computing the at-large possibilities is nearly impossible because it’s a delicate balance between the BCS rankings and the specific bowls and what teams appeal to them, so I’ll ignore that aspect at first and come back to it.

The simple way to end up in a BCS bowl game is to win the Pac-10. Anyone with half a brain can tell you, every time your main competition for the title loses, it increases your chances of winning the crown. In that sense, there is no doubt: USC losing is good for Cal. It sets up two situations. 1. If Cal loses to USC, it only takes one other USC loss for Cal to still win the conference. 2. It ensures that with a USC victory, Cal could lose up to two other games and still beat USC for the title. There’s too many permeatations at this point to deliniate them all, but the short matter of it is that if Cal beats UCLA, ASU and USC, it seems pretty unlikely that Cal won’t win the conference. Those teams, along with Oregon, are likely to lose one more and I just don’t see Cal losing to OSU, UW AND Stanford, which is what it would take for our 4 competitors to beat us out in that scenario. So, every way around the block, a USC loss, is good for Cal.

Going back to the at-large bid, there are two scenarios that likely get Cal to a BCS game (note that undefeated means we win the conference, so isn’t included here):

  1. The Pac-10 champ goes to the BCS championship game and Cal has two or less losses: People often bring up the 2004 season as why a two-loss team wouldn’t get an at-large bid. What those people forget is that we have an additional BCS bowl these days now that the BCS championship game is separate from the 4 BCS bowl games (originally it rotated between the 4). That additional bowl added two at-large spots. Additionally, 2004 was a year where there was a non-BCS team that qualified for a BCS spot. That doesn’t look to be the case this year clearing up a 3rd spot that was not available in 2004. Add in that Notre Dame is already not BCS eligible and I’m confident that a two-loss Cal will go to the Rose Bowl if the Pac-10 champ goes to the BCS championship game. Now that I’ve laid all the ground work, this is the lone scenario that the USC loss hurt. There’s probably only 3 teams with even a remote shot at the title game, Cal, USC and Oregon. Oregon is a long-shot although winning out, including beating USC, would do it with key losses from teams like Ohio State (and Cal). Since this scenario assumes it isn’t Cal in the BCS title game, a USC loss means the most likely candidate for a Pac-10 BCS title game just lost a good portion of their shot at it. Saying it again: this is the one area where USC’s lost was bad.
  2. No Pac-10 team in title game, Cal only has one loss: The reason to differentiate this one from above is because in this scenario, the Pac-10 champion will go to the Rose Bowl (since they didn’t go to the title game). This hurts Cal because the other three BCS bowls have a lot less interest in Cal than the Rose Bowl does. My thought is that it’ll likely take a one-loss Cal to get a bid to a non-Rose Bowl BCS game. This scenario didn’t take a hit, because it has nothing to do with USC. It has everything to do with Cal only losing one more game and somehow not winning the conference crown despite that.

So there we have it. 2 ways to get there that break down into 3 scenarios. One scenario just got better, one scenario just got a bit worse (although it should be noted that a one-loss USC was BCS title game bound before they lost to UCLA) and a last scenario that is unaffected. Personally I think the good scenario out-weighs the bad because more than anything, I want Cal to win the Pac-10 with out that stinking “co” to be at the front of the Champions part.

Final answer: yes, it was good for Cal.

Cal #2 in all 3 polls

Well, despite the massive fears of all involved, Cal held on to its lead over Ohio State, although the size shrunk dramatically, in the polls and moved up to the #2 spot with USC losing. Almost as notable is that Stanford got 4 votes (which is any combination of 4 25th place votes up to 1 22nd place vote that adds up to 4). While of course they don’t deserve a ranking based on their overall performance to date including blowout loses to ASU and UCLA, it just goes to show how big of a ripple the upset of USC sent through the rankings. For the last 4 years the closest Stanford ever got to a ranking was the opponent’s ranking next to them on the scoreboard.

Cal Ranked #3

In a first for my lifetime, Cal is ranked #3 in the AP and USA Today polls.

In other news, is it just me or is it weird to watch the Buffalo Bills offense, with Trent Edwards at QB and Marshawn Lynch in the backfield? That’s just wrong, people.

Cal holds at #6

Cal held their #6 ranking in the AP and leapfrogged Texas and Wisconson in the coaches poll (which is who they’d leapfrogged in the AP poll the week before) to get to #6 in that poll as well. Oregon moved up two spots to #11 in the AP poll and up one spot to #12 in the coaches poll. #6 versus #11… that’s huge. As a comparison point, in their last meeting they were ranked #16 and #11 respectively.

I haven’t heard explicit word yet but the rumor is that ESPN GameDay is going to Eugene next week for Cal’s game there. I’ll post as soon as I know for sure.

#6… wow!

I would not have thought this would be the case, but Cal leapfrogged both Texas and Wisconson in today’s AP poll. Texas won a close one against Central Florida, having to come from behind in the 4th quarter, and Wisconson won a close one against The Citidel. I’m not completely surprised by Wisconsin as Cal was fairly close, points wise to the formerly #7 team. Texas on the other hand was ‘a top 5 team’ that just happened to be #6 because there were 6 ‘top 5 teams’. They obviously lost a LOT of respect for that close call.

As a comparison point, Cal is still #8 behind both Wisconsin and Texas in the USA Today coaches poll… which tends to lag the AP poll because coaches have a lot less time to watch the out of town scoreboard on Saturdays than reporters do.

Cal up to #8 in both polls

Cal has moved up to #8 in both the AP and the USA Today Coaches polls. In both cases, the move up from #10 comes at the expense of Virginia Tech who lost handily to LSU and Louisville who won a shootout (aka didn’t have any defense) against Mid. Tenn. St.. While our win over Colorado State wasn’t compelling either, it seems the afterglow of Tennessee continues.

From here the upward mobility gets much more difficult as it is a bunch of good teams. Untested Texas and Wisconson seem the most likely to lose, giving Cal a shot at a higher spot. The other 5, USC, LSU, Florida, West Virginia and Oklahoma, who destroyed Miami this week, look to be strong enough to stay undefeated and keep their high poll spots for a long time.