Monday, October 13, 2008

Why was Ohio State ranked #1?

The college football season is halfway over. Predictions have proven worthless. Upsets have occurred. We are gaining clarity about the relative strength of teams.

And the question is: why are we so bad at pre-season rankings? Why are we so bad at determining the strength of a team without seeing them at least a half dozen teams.

The first reason is the method of rankings. Lose one game and the team drops about eight spots. Lose badly and you drop about double the spots. Its an elaborate dance done by the coaches and voters determined to provide stability and a small measure of job stability.

But why was Ohio State the pre-season #1? They had just been blown out the second consecutive time by a physical SEC team. That has proven definitely that a top-tier Big-Ten team will not have the physicality to compete with a top-tier SEC team.

Nearly all their starters were returning. Which is not necessarily a good thing. A fourth-year junior will not suddenly leap as a fifth-year Senior into a dominant player. They are essentially a known quality by the time they are twenty-two.

So this Ohio State team we saw was a known quantity: well coached, disciplined, veteran, knowledgeable. Not overly physical. So it shouldn't have been a suprise when they lost to USC. USC was fast and slippery on offense, physical and well coached on offense. They only time Ohio State looked good was with Terrelle Pryor in the game because he was fast enough to stretch USC's defense.

And as we saw in the Rose Bowl (Texas) and against the Ducks last season, USC struggles against running quarterbacks. Meaning Pete Carroll struggles against running quarterbacks.

To conclude, Ohio State will get pounded the next time they play a really physical team. And it will happen all season. Might Penn State put a hurtin' on OSU?

Three cognitive biases are seen here:

1) Tendency to assume that players who return will be better than they were last season. They will be more knowledgeable about the schemes but likely won't make a jump in physicality. This helps returning starters for complex offenses (Urban Meyer 2005) or coaches with undisciplined teams with tons of physicality (Mark Richt this season).

2) Ranking system that works incrementally. To use a systems engineering term, college football needs to pump up the gain. Their system simply works to slow. It is accurate but must work faster. This can be exploited in sports betting, when a weak or strong team will take weeks to get the valuation it deserves.

3) Can't remember the third.

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