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Post Playing the unbeaten game

Tuesday October 23, 2007

What a weekend of football. Even Maryland – Virginia was interesting. If you haven’t followed the ACC (and I don’t blame you if that’s the case), Virginia has ripped off a program-record seven straight wins since losing the season opener to…Wyoming. Most of those wins have been decided in the last minute, and the comeback at Maryland was no exception. They are definitely in possession of the golden horseshoe right now.

If you’re a basketball fan, this point in the football season is like the Sweet 16. Everyone dwells on the Cinderellas that made it out of the first round and how this might be the year of Southern Illinois or whoever. But almost always the Sweet 16 weekend brings those dreams to an abrupt end, and the real contenders emerge. There’s no question that the college football scene is muddled this year, but that’s only because the presence of a loss or two is making us think a little beyond the default undefeated=best rule.

There are still several unbeaten football teams – most as a result of schedule. That’s not to say that teams like Boston College or Kansas aren’t good; by this point in the season you have to have beaten someone to remain undefeated, and they have. Who knows – one of them just might survive the rest of the season. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that a relative lightweight survives their schedule without a blemish. It’s reasonable though that most, if not all, of these teams will lose and end up with nice but irrelevant seasons.

Meanwhile, teams like LSU, Oklahoma, and, yes, even Southern Cal (has a premature obituary for a program ever been written more quickly?) are right there hanging around, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see things shake out over the next month to see these familiar names separate themselves a little. Until then, we’ll continue to fantasize and fret over a Kansas – Arizona St. title game.

It is interesting to see the issue of being undefeated vs. strength of schedule come up. We live by the bogus "every game is a playoff" mantra, yet it doesn’t seem quite right that LSU’s triple-overtime loss automatically makes them drop below Boston College. It’s good to see people discussing this problem. Obviously there’s a line somewhere; sooner or later you have to actually win regardless of the strength of your schedule. Still, is it heresy to suggest that the best team at the end of the season might have two losses? Or is it time to throw up our hands and say that trying to determine the "best" team is a quixotic pursuit?

It’s this pursuit of the perfect record that leads us to less-than-desirable scheduling. We can debate the merits of a strong schedule, but as it is now, schedule is secondary and a status symbol. Winning is paramount. As long as a single loss continues to carry such a heavy penalty, it remains in the best interests of major programs to schedule accordingly.

One Response to 'Playing the unbeaten game'

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  • Other than win/loss record, Strength of schedule should be the 2nd most important factor in the computers. That would weed out a lot of the weak-scheduling undefeated teams