Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post “Why should we have to beat all the one-loss teams?”

Wednesday May 7, 2008

It’s a strange question given the win-or-lose nature of sports: is the team with the best record the best team? In the context of a conference or league where teams play all or most of the others, that conclusion is more than reasonable. But in a division of hundreds of teams with at most 14 games for any one team the record becomes a less reliable indicator.

I ask this question in response to a question raised by Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops (hat tip as always to Get the Picture) about undefeated teams in a plus-one scenario.

"(The ‘plus-one’ is) a good scenario when there’s an odd number of teams with no losses or one loss," Stoops said last fall. "It doesn’t make sense in years like 2000 when we won a national championship and were the only team with no losses. Why should we have to beat all the one-loss teams?"

Stoops’ meaning is obvious: the record defines the quality of the team. Your first instinct is to agree with him. Oklahoma won all of their games, so why should some one-loss team get a pass for losing? And then you remember Utah or Hawaii. Both were undefeated (in the regular season anyway), but it’s hard to imagine June Jones or Urban Meyer making the case that they were above playing any of those inferior one-loss teams.

So record, even for teams playing at the same classification, can’t be an absolute indicator of superiority. Fine. It’s still accepted in our system that in most cases record trumps any other metric. Without an improbable Pittsburgh win over West Virginia, last year’s national champion would have never had the opportunity to play for the title. Why? LSU had two losses while Ohio State and West Virginia would have had just one. It didn’t matter that both LSU losses came in overtime to bowl-bound conference opponents. 1 is less than 2 or, in this case, greater than 2.

I don’t necessarily consider this reality a flaw in college football; after all, the point is to win games. Record is as close as we have to an objective measure for so many teams with relatively few points of comparison between them, but it isn’t a perfect indicator. We’ve tried to take that reality into account in the BCS whether it was the overt strength of schedule adjustment early on or the current built-in adjustments of the computer polls. Even human pollsters (consciously or otherwise) sometimes consider schedule in some rough form.

That brings us to Dennis Dodd who unfortunately captures a meme we’re going to hear a lot this preseason. One, Ohio State is good enough and has a favorable enough schedule to skate through a weak Big 10 and remain in the national title picture even with a loss to Southern Cal. Two, Georgia might be a great team, but their schedule is just too tough to expect them to come through unscathed. Agree or disagree with his analysis, but his conclusion makes sense when you look at things in the context of the pursuit of the unblemished record.

Ohio State could lose three games and be irrelevant in the title discussion, but that hasn’t been the way to bet lately. And if they do beat Southern Cal and run the table, I’ll be the first to welcome them to the BCS championship. The thing of it is that Dodd seems to be setting up his apology in advance for having to rank Ohio State near the top if they sweep the Big 10 schedule but lose to the Trojans. Given the way we decide things in college football, it’s an entirely reasonable approach.

If this all sounds vaguely familiar, it should. Les Miles stuck his neck out last summer and made some pretty bold comments about LSU’s schedule relative to Southern Cal’s. But you know what? It worked. LSU was just one of a number of two-loss teams, but there they were at the end. Mark Richt hasn’t had to say a word about Georgia’s schedule; pundits like Dodd are doing the work for him. If Georgia survives its gauntlet, how can anyone using Dodd’s logic deny them a shot at the national title?

In a regular season of 162, 82, or even 30 games, the difference of one loss between two teams is insignificant. In a 12-game season, it’s a chasm. Not to turn everything into the scheduling debate (here we go again…), I’m left with this question: is it rational for a contender from a major conference to schedule challenging non-conference games? Why is Ohio State playing Southern Cal when a diet of mid-major schools from the state of Ohio would get the job done with less risk?

One Response to '“Why should we have to beat all the one-loss teams?”'

Subscribe to comments with RSS

  • The problem with Dodd’s commentary is narrative related. We assume Ohio St will be good, but we don’t know that. If they stumble hard, it’s irrelevant. But a one loss OSU team could very easily be unworthy of a title shot. We shouldn’t decide now that they’re worth a look. We should decide after we have some meaningful data points (and note that the same holds true in evaluating UGA’s schedule).