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Ranking the conferences in the bowl games

Well now that the college football season is officially over with the predictably easy (although unpredictably starting) victory for LSU in the BCS championship game, let’s take a moment to review each conferences (BCS) performance and what it says about them. In order in which I think their performance leaves them:

  1. SEC: 7-2
    (in order of impressiveness)
    • LSU handled Ohio St. 38-24
    • Tennessee beat Wisconson 21-17 in a mistake prone game that wasn’t as close as the score
    • Alabama beat Colorado 30-24 holding off a 2nd half charge
    • Auburn beat Clemson in an overtime thriller 23-20
    • Georgia creamed Hawaii, the most undeserving BCS team in history, 41-10
    • Kentucky beat a slipping from grace Florida St. 35-28 in a back and forth game
    • Miss St. beat a weak UCF 10-3 in a defensive yawner
    • Arkansas got blown out by a potent Missouri team 38-7
    • Florida lost to Michigan in a disgustingly mediocre game 41-35

    Overall, it’s hard to rank lowly a conference that wins 2 BCS games, even though one was a weak win at best, but also beats the 3rd place team in both the ACC and Big-10 as well as traditional powerhouse Florida St.. The biggest caveat to their successes is Florida’s abysmal performace against a weak Michigan team. However, one stinker in 9 games is to be expected.

  2. Big-12: 5-3
    (in order of impressiveness)
    • Kansas beat Virginia Tech 24-21 in a game more in control than the final score
    • Missouri destroyed an outmanned Arkansas 38-7
    • Texas over-powered ASU 52-34
    • Texas Tech squeeked out a 31-28 come from behind win over Virginia
    • Oklahoma St. whipped Indiana 49-33 in a game that was worse than the score
    • Texas A&M collapsed after being spotted 14 by Penn St., losing 24-17
    • Colorado lost 24-30 to Alabama unable to pull of the comeback
    • Oklahoma lost to West Virginia 48-28, seemingly complete unprepared for the spread

    I was a Big-12 doubter before the season started but the immergence of Missouri and Kansas in addition to the traditional powers made the conference a great deal stronger. If it weren’t for the Oklahoma collapse against West Virginia there would be a case to make the Big-12 out-performed the SEC, although the weak level of competition in their middle teir bowls (particularly Indiana and Virginia) hurts that cause significantly. As it stands, Kansas, Missouri and Texas carried the Big-12 to the number 2 spot.

  3. Pac-10: 4-2
    (in order of impressiveness)
    • USC easily dismantled an un-BCS worthy Illinois 49-17
    • Oregon demolished South Florida 56-21, teaching them how the spread actually works
    • Cal beat Air Force by dominating after spotting them 21 points
    • Oregon St. got over their early jitters to beat Maryland 21-14
    • UCLA lost to BYU 16-17 unable to convert a last second field-goal
    • ASU got creamed by Texas 34-52

    If ASU had been able to hang with Texas, there might be a claim to leap-frog the Big-12 in these bowl rankings. Without it, the Pac-10 is marred by the weak competition across the board with the exception of Texas. Nevertheless, the 4-2 record along with USC, Oregon and to a lesser degree Cal carrying the Pac-10 to a respectable performance in their bowl games.

  4. Big-10: 3-5
    (in order of impressiveness)
    • Michigan upset an absent Florida team, 41-35
    • Penn St. rebounded from their horrible 1st quarter to beat Texas A&M 24-17
    • Purdue won a shootout 51-48 over Central Michigan
    • Wisconson lost to Tennessee worse than the 17-21 score indicated
    • Michigan St. lost a tough one to Boston College, 21-24
    • Indiana was completely outmanned against Oklahoma St., 33-49
    • Ohio St. was a repeat BCS champ. punching bag losing 24-38 to LSU
    • Illinois lost 17-49 to USC in a game without hope

    The only thing saving the Big-10 is the toughness of their bowl schedule. Facing USC, LSU, Tennessee, Florida and to a lesser degree Boston College and Oklahoma State, gave the Big-10 probably the toughest bowl line-up. Nevertheless, if it weren’t for the Michigan upset of Florida, the Big-10 would be contending for the basement with their only to victories being against Central Michigan and Texas A&M.

  5. Big East: 3-2
    (in order of impressiveness)
    • West Virginia handily upset Oklahoma, 48-28
    • Cincinnati beat Southern Miss. 31-21 in a game they mostly controlled
    • Rutgers owned Ball St., 50-32
    • Connecticut was shutdown my Wake Forest 10-24
    • South Florida was owned by Oregon, 21-56

    The Big East played a pretty weak schedule outside of the beat-down of Oklahoma and did mediocre in their victories and horrible in their loses. The only upside to the conference was West Virginia. One-trick ponies don’t do well in my rankings.

  6. ACC: 2-6
    (in order of impressiveness)
    • Boston College won a tough fought victory over Michigan St.
    • Wake Forest shutdown Connecticut, 24-10
    • Virginia Tech was outplayed by Kansas 21-24 in a game that wasn’t as close as the score
    • Clemson lost an overtime nailbiter to Auburn, 20-23
    • Virginia lost a close one to Texas Tech., 28-31
    • Maryland lost 14-21 to Oregon St. despite being handed 14 early points
    • Florida State lost to Kentucky 28-35
    • Georgia Tech was beat 28-40 by a in control Fresno St.

    A conference can’t go 2-6 in their bowl games and expect to be well regarded. Both of the victories were over middle-teir programs in other weak conferences (based on bowl ranking). If there is a saving grace, it is that the ACC lost a lot of close ones, the Georgia Tech loss being the only one that really stinks. Nevertheless, there’s not a single marque victory nor a terribly difficult list of opponents to pull the ACC out of the BCS conference basement.

Looking at the overall picture, it seems there was a stark dividing line between the top 3 conferences and the bottom 3. While there is no doubt that the SEC was the best conference this year, at least based on bowl performance, both the Big-12 and the Pac-10 can definitely play competitively with the SEC. The Big-12 is definitely the positive surprise of the year, taking the number two spot away from the Pac-10, much higher than the number 4 or 5 spot I would have pegged them with at the beginning of the season.

As for the bottom half, the Big-10 is the most over-rated conference in the land. Everyone doesn’t expect much from the Big East and the ACC these days. Somehow the Ohio State/Michigan/Wisconson illusion continues to fool people. The fact that Illinois was able to rise to near the top of the conference and was obviously not in the same league as the big boys is proof enough to just how over-ranked the Big-10 is. Finally, as much as the Big East didn’t impress on it’s own, graded on a curve for expectations, they continue to rise. I expect in another 5 years for them to be much more respected as their young but talented programs continue to mature.

Reviewing the Pac-10 bowl performances

Well all 6 Pac-10 bowl games are now finished and I thought it would be appropriate to review the conferences performance. Overall the conference was 4-2 with UCLA losing to BYU on a last minute blocked field-goal and ASU losing to Texas rather handily in the Holiday Bowl. Two of the wins were blowouts, USC over Illinois and Oregon over South Florida. Finally, both Cal and Oregon St. spotted their opponent an early lead before taking control of the game in the 2nd half.

I think that speaks very well of the Pac-10 and re-enforces what I thought the relative quality of each of the bowl teams was. ASU, although they had an impressive season, was more consistent than they were good. They could beat a mediocre team every time, but they never showed the ability to beat a good team like USC or Oregon at their prime. It was no surprise that they fell short against a strong Texas team. UCLA was the worst of the bowl teams without question and it was a miracle they were 6-6. The only reason they managed that was because they were gifted a number of victories they didn’t deserve. Fate finally bit them back when a game they probably deserved to win didn’t go their way at the last minute. Nevertheless, the fact that they were in a close game against a on-again, off-again Mountain West team says volumes.

I’ll have more analysis of the actual strength of each conference after the last of the bowls are completed, but for the moment I’ll go so far to say that the Pac-10, although not the best, was one of the better BCS conferences in 2007, both during the season and in their bowl games.

Big news!

Two big pieces of news came in through the beat-writers for Cal yesterday:

  1. “First and foremost, coach Jeff Tedford announced that wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Robert Jordan, as well as free safety Thomas DeCoud, will not start today’s Armed Forces Bowl against Air Force because they violated team rules.”
  2. “backup quarterback Kevin Riley will see some limited playing time today. Tedford said Riley will probably play a series or two, because he wants to get him some experience in a bowl game.”

The first item I doubt will have a substantial impact on the game outside of a series or two. I suspect Tedford will put them back in pretty quickly as the infraction was “minor” according to Tedford. The more important aspect of this news is that it reinforces the idea that the 2007 Bears had crushing team chemistry and leadership problems down the stretch. I’m sorry, on teams that have good team leaders, you don’t get players breaking team rules enough so that the coach pulls them as a starter in their bowl game. That’s a sign of a coach and players not being on the same page.

The second news falls into the “Too little too late category”. While I haven’t been one to say that Longshore should be benched, I have been one to say that in the last few games of the season, Tedford should have been getting Riley playing time so that he’d be in a far better position to compete for the starting job in 2008. It sounds like Tedford is figuring that out now.

Bowl game preview

While I haven’t been blogging due to the birth of my third son, it doesn’t mean that I haven’t been thinking about the Bears, their collapse and the upcoming bowl game. The more I thought about it, the more I realized a singular truth: The Bear’s success and failure have nothing to do with their opposition and everything to do with themselves and their own effort.

I could spend a ton of paragraphs talking about the triple option, but Ragnarok did a great job of it here. I could go over the Bears struggles against it in 2002 and their success against it in 2004. I could talk about the new aspects of Air Force’s attack including a more balanced attack. I could talk about Air Force’s mediocre to good defense and their weak schedule. But all of that, while usually important in previewing a game, is pretty much meaningless for the bowl game.


Because everything important is about the Bears getting their mojo back. The Bears have the potential to be great on both sides of the ball. If you’re worried that the Bears can’t play assignment defense, I’ve got some game film from the Oregon game to show you. If you’re worried the Bears can’t play the physical ball needed to beat a disciplined defense, I’ve got more game film from the Tennessee game to show you. But the problem is the team that beat both Tennessee and Oregon is the same team that more recently stunk it up against Washington who’s usually pathetic defense looked world class against the Bears and Stanford in a game that was as depressingly mediocre as the bowl the Bears have sunk to.

So, do the Bears get their mojo back? I think the honest answer is that I have no idea. That said, here’s my list of reasons why they may:

  • The report from beat writers like Jonathan Okanes is that the Bears practices have gotten back to the fun yet intense mode they were in fall practice.
  • The month break can heal a lot of emotional wounds
  • The month break can heal a lot of physical wounds
  • The time off gave Tedford and staff to focus on the lack of team chemistry that is hard to spend time on when practices are focused on game-planning.
  • Seniors want to go out on a good note
  • It’s the Bears last chance to prove themselves
  • The Bears seem to play better when they’re the underdog, something they’ve rarely been despite the tumble

On the other hand, there’s a few reasons that it may not happen:

  • Team chemistry is a difficult thing to repair no matter how much time is allowed
  • Almost nothing has changed since the Big Game (like injured players who are now available)
  • Lack of confidence can be masked for a while, but often re-appears at the first sign of adversity

So which Bears will show up tomorrow?

I’d like to believe that whatever has been wrong with the Bears will have been patched during the break but after listening to myself and my Big Game podcast it may just be that the passing of time helps one to forget just how bad the collapse has been. Add in that having a baby makes everything in the world look more rosy and I don’t trust my desire to be confident. Maybe it’s best summed up by the phrase…

The Bear will not quit, the Bear will not die… but the Bear does worry.

Road Trip to Fort Worth! Who’s With Me?

Cal will be playing in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl in the ancestral homeland of Justin Forsett on New Year’s Eve. And who doesn’t love a helicopter?

The guy who sits behind me at Cal games is from Dallas, works for American Airlines, and flies in to all the home games. I suspect he’ll be cheering the Bears on, along with Forsett’s entire family.

Any guesses about how many other Cal fans will actually take the trip? I’d do it if you paid me… paid me large sums of money. But otherwise, um, I don’t think so.

Update on Bears in Bowl

Well the Thanksgiving weekend didn’t do any favors to Cal fans hoping for a good bowl. Although only two of the four criteria that would prevent the Bears from going to a bowl were even “in play” neither of them went the way of the Bears. Oregon’s loss to UCLA both hurt the likelihood that two teams make it to the BCS by effectively eliminating Oregon from consideration and ensured that UCLA would be bowl eligible since they now have 6 wins. It also means that UCLA still has a shot at 7 wins, which means they could still go to a higher bowl than the Bears, even if the Bears beat Stanford.

In fact, the only thing that went the Bears way was USC beating ASU as that ensured that both ASU and USC are still candidates for BCS bowls. The likely scenario at this point, assuming they both win their last game, is USC in the Rose and ASU in the Fiesta, particularly if Missouri beats Oklahoma in the Big-12 championship game giving the Fiesta bowl two at-large spots since Missouri will go to the BCS championship game.

What this all means is that if the Bears collapse continues in the Big Game, the Bears bowl fate rests in the hands of the Arizona State Sun Devils. If they can beat Arizona, they’ll ensure Cal goes to a bowl by keeping Arizona from bowl eligibility. They’ll also bump the Bears up to either the Las Vegas Bowl or the Emerald “San Francisco Nut” Bowl by winning convincingly enough to ensure a Fiesta Bowl birth for themselves (otherwise it is the Armed Services Bowl in Forth Worth-“less”, TX for the Bears).

But lets not forget that all the Bears need to do is beat Stanford to go to a bowl. If the Bears win, the outcome of the Arizona-Arizona State game is only about positioning within the bowl line-up. Additionally, again assuming the Bears win, the outcome of the USC-UCLA game matters as well for positioning as a UCLA loss would mean the Bears go to a higher bowl than UCLA.

So those are your rooting orders for next Saturday:

  1. Root for Cal over Stanford (duh)
  2. Root for ASU over Arizona
  3. Root for USC over UCLA (I know it’s hard, but try anyway)

Will the Bears be bowl-less?

Ragnarok over at California Golden Blogs has been doing a great series on the probabilities of which bowl Cal ends up in. One of the possibilities is “no bowl”. The point of this post is to re-phrase the good work he has done in scenarios instead of percentages.

UPDATE at 7:30 AM on 11/20/07: I’ve been unsure about a rule that I heard about 7-5 vs. 6-6 teams and so I didn’t include it. Ragnarok found it and it can be located here on page 9 (although for 2006, one has to believe it applies to 2007). As such, it adds another criteria to avoid missin a bowl:

For Cal to end up not going to a bowl game, ALL of the following must happen:

  1. Arizona must be bowl eligible
  2. Cal must lose the Big Game (added on update)
  3. UCLA must be bowl eligible
  4. The Pac-10 must send only one team to a BCS bowl game

Breaking those down, Arizona has one game left against Arizona State that they must win to be bowl-eligible. They’ll of course be the underdog. Computers and others who don’t know the subtle details might think that Arizona, although an underdog, has a good shot at beating ASU, particularly after Oregon lost to Arizona having previously beat ASU. What that fails to consider is that Oregon lost their star QB during the Arizona game and their team completely fell apart. Also, ASU was in Oregon and Arizona was in Tuscon. Finally, the game is at ASU’s home stadium, so I don’t give Arizona much of a chance. In any case, whatever the odds, if ASU wins that game, the Bears are in a bowl no matter what.

Similar to Arizona being bowl eligible is Cal losing the Big Game. If Cal wins the Big Game, they’ll go to a bowl over any 6-6 team because of the above noted rule. Since the best Arizona could do is 6-6, if Cal wins the Big Game, they have to be selected before Arizona and therefore will go to a bowl game. This logic also applies to UCLA if they are 6-6. (Paragraph added on update)

UCLA has two games left and is 5-5 making them less clear cut than Arizona. With two games left they only have to win one to be bowl eligible at 6-6. However those games are against what have been the toughest teams in the Pac-10, Oregon and USC. I give UCLA almost zero chance against USC in the Coliseum, but the big catch here is that Oregon, who I’d normally say would blow away UCLA, has lost Dixon, their star QB. This is the big variable that is nearly impossible to predict. It’s definitely the “risky” of the two games. In any case, if UCLA loses both of these, which is definitely within the realm of possibility, Cal goes to a bowl.

As for the BCS bowls, this is the biggest unknown of the three criteria. Of course the Pac-10 gets one for sure, the Rose Bowl. Assuming ASU can’t win out and leapfrog enough teams to get into the championship game, what we’re talking about is the winner of the Pac-10 going to the Rose Bowl and likely the Fiesta Bowl liking a second Pac-10 team for their at-large berth(s). There are too many different scenarios to play out here and be comprehensive but the way I see it, if there are two 2-loss Pac-10 teams, the Pac-10 will get two BCS berths. The three candidates for that are Oregon, who has games left against UCLA and OSU, USC, who has games against ASU and UCLA and ASU, who has games against USC and Arizona. If you want to root for the scenario with the most opportunities for two 2-loss teams, root for USC to beat ASU who is currently a 1-loss team to date and then for those three teams to win the rest of their games. In that scenario Oregon ends up in the Rose Bowl because they win the Pac-10 tie-breakers and ASU is a VERY tempting opportunity for the Fiesta and USC is always a favorite for every BCS game. I could see them getting an offer from any of the four. (Please note that the BCS can only take two teams from each conferences, so all 3 can’t go.)

You’ll notice that both Arizona and UCLA factor into how many 2-loss or better teams there are. Because of this it’s tempting to view the first two criteria as mutually exclusive to the third. While there is definitely a lot of overlap, it is possible for the Pac-10 to have two 2-loss teams with both UCLA and Arizona being bowl eligible. The scenario is a USC meltdown: USC loses to both ASU and UCLA. That way ASU still has a game to lose be a 2-loss team (Arizona’s needed win) and Oregon can wins out (thus beating UCLA) without preventing UCLA from being bowl eligible. While it’s a bit odd, it’s not out of the realm of possibility and is a wonderful scenario for USC haters.

Whatever the scenario, if the Pac-10 gets two BCS bowls, even if both Arizona and UCLA are bowl eligible, Cal will get a bowl.

As for the scenarios where Cal doesn’t end up in the Armed Services Bowl in Fort Worth, TX, basically if two or three of the above criteria work out the way of Cal it’ll bump Cal up to either the Vegas or the Emerald “San Francisco Nut” Bowl depending on how the chips fall. Since the scenarios where only one of the three criteria come true seem to be small because of the BCS bid overlap, it seems likely that Cal will be in either the Las Vegas or Nut Bowl or sitting at home by my counting.

Rose Bowl selection rules

The more I read people’s comments, the more surprised I am about how little so many people know about the Rose Bowl selection process. So here goes:

  1. The Rose Bowl selects the winner of Pac-10 and the winner of the Big-10.
  2. The Pac-10 champion is determined by whoever has the highest winning percentage in their Pac-10 conference games (or said another way whoever has the most Pac-10 wins (assuming everyone plays their full Pac-10 schedule)).
  3. If two teams are tied for the highest winning percentage, the winner of their matchup wins the tie-breaker.
  4. If three or more teams are tied, if one team has beat all of the others amongst the tied teams, it wins the tie-breaker.
  5. If three or more teams are tied and none of them has beat all of the other tied teams, the team with the best record against the tied teams wins the tie-breaker. If two or more teams are tied for the best record, the lower teams are eliminated and tie-breakers number three and four are re-tried. (BTW, this tie-breaker only really matters if 4 or more teams are tied (assuming everyone plays their full Pac-10 schedule) so it can likely be ignored).
  6. If the above tie-breakers still do not break the tie, whoever lost to the highest place team in the Pac-10 is eliminated and the above tie-breakers are re-tried. (This one is best explained by an example: If Cal, USC and Oregon are tied because Oregon beats USC but losses to Washington and Cal loses to USC, whichever of Stanford (USC’s loss), Oregon State (Cal’s loss) and Washington (Oregon’s loss) finished higher in the Pac-10 will determine who is eliminated from the tie-breaker. If Stanford was that team, USC would be eliminated and Cal would go to the Rose Bowl based on the head-to-head tie-breaker over Oregon.)
  7. If after all of the above tie-breakers are exhausted, the team with the highest BCS ranking goes to the Rose Bowl.

I have ignored who goes to the Rose Bowl in the case that the Rose Bowl has an at-large berth due to one or both of the Big-10 and Pac-10 champion going to the BCS championship game… perhaps I’ll do that in another post if it looks like it will at all be of issue down the road.

The key things to remember off the top of your head is that it is still the Pac-10 champion who goes irrelevant of low BCS rankings (although a top-2 ranking of course changes things) and the tie-breakers for the Pac-10 representative in the Rose Bowl when there are co-champions are the traditional ones (head to head matchups first). If you don’t remember all the complicated 3-way and beyond tie-breakers, I wouldn’t worry about it, but people need to know the simple stuff.

The final note, and the reason I felt the need to write this, is that assuming no Pac-10 team goes to the BCS title game, it’s very unlikely at this point that the BCS rankings will determine who from the Pac-10 is in the Rose Bowl at this point particularly since the teams expected to be on top at the end of the season have lost to different teams down in the Pac-10 standings.

(For those who are interested, the Pac-10’s document on how the Rose Bowl representative is picked can be found here.)

Cal still in top 10… #12 in BCS

OK, let me make one thing clear. I’m not going to get into a ranking debate with anyone:

  • I’m not going to discuss whether our loss is higher quality than other top 10 teams.
  • I’m not going to discuss whether our wins are higher quality than other top 10 teams.
  • I’m not goint to discuss why Cal is #14 in the computers.
  • I’m not going to mention how Cal should be in front of Oregon since we BEAT them and are both 5-1. (OK, maybe that one I’ll make my point just once, but that’s it)

Nope, consider this a ranking debate free zone. All I want to discuss is whether the Bears have what it takes to beat ASU and USC as well as take care of business versus UCLA, Washington, WSU and Stanford… because that’s all that matters for going to the Rose Bowl.

Stinking San Jose St.

I was channel surfing this evening when I came across the Hawaii at San Jose St. game on ESPN. It was early in the 4th quarter and SJ St. was up 35-21. Could this be the final nail in the coffin for the final non-BCS team that still has a shot at a BCS game? I mean, I’m fairly confident that Hawaii will trip up at some point this season and won’t be able to pull a Utah or Boise St. but it’s always nice to see that happen sooner rather than later.

So I got pretty excited.

Well I don’t know what SJ St. had done earlier in the game to be up in the 4th quarter (actually, I do: 4 Hawaii interceptions), but what I witnessed was one of the most pathetic yet predictable collapses in recent memory. How does 3 and out, give up a surprisingly easy TD, 2 and fumble, give up a surprisingly easy TD and then completely lack the ability to get in field goal range before going to OT where you give up another surprisingly easy TD and then throw a INT two plays later, sound to you?

I wish I hadn’t seen it at all because I hate getting my hopes up only to see them dashed in a, and sorry for lacking better vocabulary but these are the most appropriate words, pathetic yet surprisingly easy and predictable collapse.