30 September 2007

A Brave New World

(From BCS Guru)

After Bloody Saturday, the BCS standings have been transformed as it's never been before. Honestly, who'd thought Boston College, South Florida and Kentucky would be in the Top 10 in the Week 5 unofficial BCS standings?

But that's exactly where we are, even if the top of the standings remains unchanged. LSU, for a second consecutive week, held onto the top spot. USC stays at No. 2, even though the Trojans are still No. 1 in both polls. Cal made a quantum leap from No. 8 to No. 3, and will be itching for its shot at USC on Nov. 10 in Strawberry Canyon.

The biggest jump, though, belongs to South Florida. This program was born just 11 years ago, and made the big time, sort of, by joining the Big East. But today, the Bulls, at No. 7, is the top ranked team in the State of Florida. Yes, ahead of Florida State, ahead of Miami, and ahead of defending national champion Florida.

While the Gators stayed in the Top 10 after losing to Auburn, West Virginia dropped to No. 11 after the loss to South Florida. Oklahoma's last-second loss to Colorado dropped the Sooners to No. 13; and fellow Big 12 South member Texas fell from No. 7 to No. 19. Next week's Red River Shootout at the Cotton Bowl is suddenly just another game between two one-loss teams.

Some luster also came off next Saturday's showdown between LSU and Florida. The Gators now must win to keep their slim repeat hopes alive. A loss will ensure that the football Gators will not duplicate the feat accomplished by the basketball Gators the last two seasons.

And finally, don't look now, but Hawai'i is creeping up to No. 18. With five of their final seven games at home, the Warriors will claim a BCS bowl spot if they can stay undefeated.

29 September 2007

Any Given Saturday

(From BCS Guru)

In college football, every Saturday (or Thursday and Friday, for that matter) is the playoffs, whether it's in September or December. This Saturday, five of the top 10 teams in the AP poll lost. Gone (probably) are the championship hopes of Oklahoma, Florida, West Virginia, Texas and Rutgers ... and you can also add Oregon and Clemson to that mix.

This, of course, leads to quite a shakeup for the BCS standings. More than half (seven) of the top 13 teams in last week's unofficial BCS standings lost. And the survivors didn't exactly do it in scintillating fashion. USC overcame over 150 yards of penalties to barely edge Washington. LSU had an incredibly sloppy first half against Tulane. Wisconsin and Cal both won close games against unbeaten foes.

From here it looks as though LSU will keep its top ranking in the new unofficial BCS standings. USC will lose points in the polls after its narrow escape against the Huskies. And the Tigers still maintain an advantage in the computer ratings. In fact, I project that the Tigers will be ranked No. 1 when the first official BCS standings come out on Oct. 14 -- that is, unless they lose to Florida next week.

And in college football, anything is possible. Every game is a playoff game.

25 September 2007

Weis Guys Finish Last

(From BCS Guru)

When Charlie Weis showed up on the Notre Dame campus in 2005, one of the first things he told his new charges was that they would have "a schematic advantage" over every opponent, no matter the talent level.

Schematic, Shchematic.

Three years hence, that schematic advantage seems as elusive as offensive touchdowns by the Irish.

After the latest Notre Dame beatdown, this time at the hands of Michigan State, Weis insisted that he "didn't become a crummy coach overnight."

Well, it took about three years. Or more accurately, the other guys are just Weising up.

At 0-4, and fast going on 0-8, Notre Dame is at a crossroads. Some of the Irish Kool-Aid drinkers insist that the worst is behind them and that 2008 will surely return Notre Dame to glory. That 2007 was truly a rebuilding year, even if Weis himself didn't want to use the "R" word. That this is really all Tyrone Willingham's fault.

But is it?

After going 19-10 in his first two-plus seasons, it's time to take a hard look at what Weis has done. And upon further review, you really have to wonder how the Notre Dame brass feels about that 10-year contract it gave to Weis after he went 5-2 in his first seven games.

Weis went 9-3 in 2005, with two good wins (over Michigan in Ann Arbor and over Tennessee at home), a memorable loss (to No. 1 USC in South Bend with the Trojans pulling out a thriller in the final minute), a bad loss (to Michigan State) and a bowl blowout (to Ohio State in the Fiesta). After going 6-6 in Willingham's final season, this was an improvement, but hardly monumental since ND still couldn't beat SC or win a bowl game.

In 2006, it was more of the same in a 10-3 season. The Irish had one good win (over Penn State), two comeback wins over underdogs (Michigan State and UCLA) and three blowout losses (to Michigan, USC and LSU in the Sugar), that extended their losing streaks to USC (five games) and in bowl games (nine).

This year, Notre Dame has been blown out in four straight games, by teams with an overall record of 11-5 (or 7-5 after removing games against ND). Its next four games will be, at Purdue, at UCLA, at home to Boston College and USC, four teams with a combined record of 15-1. For good measure, the final quartet on Notre Dame's schedule might not be as much a pushover as first thought, as it's possible for the Irish to go 2-2 against Navy, Air Force, Duke and Stanford.

Dare we say it, 2-10?

Whatever happened to the "schematic advantage?"

Well, as Bear Bryant once said, it's still up to the players to play the games. You can blame Willingham's weak recruiting all you want, but Weis a) hasn't "coached them up" to be better than they are; b) hasn't shown that he's made much hay with his own recruits. And as far as the X's and O's stuff, college coaches might not be the rubes that Weis thought they were. Michigan's Lloyd Carr, for example, couldn't beat Appalachian State but has "out-coached" Weis to the tune of 85-21 over the last two years.

And it simply may be that Weis is ill-suited for the college game. He's no longer dealing with seasoned pros like when he was with the New England Patriots. Motivation at the college level, when paychecks are not part of the equation, is a very different thing. In his two-plus seasons with Notre Dame, Weis' best game as a coach was a near win, the 34-31 loss to USC in '05. He didn't beat a Top 10 team and lost big to those in the Top 10.

In other words, he won the games he's supposed to win. That might be an improvement over Willingham. But that isn't good enough -- not at a program with its own TV network.

Notre Dame will improve next year. One, there's no place to go but up after this season. Two, the schedule is considerably softer, with Pittsburgh, Syracuse and San Diego State replacing Penn State, Georgia Tech and Air Force. Three, Weis and his staff can really concentrate on recruiting this winter, without worrying about another annoying bowl blowout.

For the rest of the college football universe, it's time to rejoice. No BCS berth will go to the undeserving Irish this year. Baseless rumors of Weis going to the NFL will not clutter up the sports pages. Best of all, that "Clausen for Heisman" campaign will have to wait another year.

Let's not wake up the echoes for awhile longer.

24 September 2007

Harris Poll Out; LSU Back on Top

(From BCS Guru)

The Harris Interactive Poll made its season debut today and LSU regained the top spot over USC in the Week 4 unofficial BCS standings. It marked the third straight week that those two teams have swapped the top two positions. The Trojans have a significant lead on No. 3 Florida, with Oklahoma and Ohio State rounding out the Top 5.

West Virginia, Texas, California, Wisconsin and Boston College fill out the rest of the Top 10.

Despite receiving 91 first-place votes in the Harris poll, out of 114 voters, far ahead of LSU's 19, USC dropped to No. 2 because of the Bayou Tigers' superior computer rankings. Having played a tougher schedule than the Trojans thus far, LSU is No. 1 on three computer ratings and No. 2 on another. USC is ranked first, third, fourth and sixth on the four computers that have published their ratings.

The standings this week have taken on much greater authenticity. Because of the release of the Harris poll, and also the Colley Matrix computer ratings, more than 85 percent of the components that form the actual BCS standings are available. Previously, the AP poll was used in place of the Harris poll and only three computer ratings were available prior to this weekend.

Also starting this week, the Guru has incorporated a new feature in the standings: Now every team that received any votes or earned any computer points will be included in the standings. This information is important since several conferences use the BCS standings as a tiebreaker for bowl berths.

And finally, the Guru's loyal readers might want to take advantage of the RSS feed now available through this site. Anyone interested in signing up for a reader service or receiving e-mail notification of new postings can do so by clicking on the RSS button on the right-hand bar, or here. By signing up, you'll be the first to find out about the new BCS standings, official or unofficial, from the Guru.

Later this week, the Guru will begin dissecting various aspects of this year's conference races as we head toward the unveiling of the first official BCS standings, due out on Oct. 14.

20 September 2007

UN Rejects Taiwan, Again

As predicted, Taiwan's bid to join the United Nations failed during the 62nd Session of the General Assembly. It's the 15th consecutive time that the island nation has submitted a bid and failed.

I've had a couple of readers blasting me for the previous post about this issue. But let me clarify my position on this: 1) Do I think Taiwan should have a seat in the United Nations? Answer: Absolutely. 2) Do I think Taiwan should keep trying? Yes, but only if the conditions are ripe.

Let's face it, Taiwan has a very weak hand to play here. China is one of the five permanent members of the Security Council. Besides a veto power, China also holds a lot of sway over other member nations, including the United States. As long as China is adamantly opposed to Taiwan's membership, then it's just not going to happen.

Part of politics is dealing with reality. Chen Shui-bian knows what the reality is, but he wants to recklessly play with the emotions and hopes of the Taiwanese people. By whipping up this non-starter issue, Chen basically showed that he has nothing else better (or more constructive) to do, then to antagonize China and continue his "de-Sinization" efforts. And by extension, he's ticking off the United States, too.

Taiwan's UN membership will continue to be just a dream as long as Chen, or any DDP politician holds the presidency of Taiwan. The only chance, and a remote one at that, of Taiwan actually gaining membership in the UN is if the island achieves some normalization of relations with China. That would entail high-level bilateral talks that lead to a more open relationship between the sides.

Until then, Taiwan should stop wasting all this emotional capital on a sure loser. Taiwan has very few allies (24 nations with diplomatic ties, out of 192 UN members) to help its cause, and the U.S. has already shown its displeasure in this latest go-around.

Besides, a UN membership means nothing but paying dues -- and with Taiwan having the world's 16th largest economy, that means a lot of dues. So all that money can go to the pockets of some third-world despot. Taiwan should just be thankful that it's not part of that worthless mess anyway.

18 September 2007

The Ultimate Political Hack

Some say Chen Shui-bian is a brilliant politician. That may be true in that he has managed time and again to survive one political crisis after another. But ultimately politicians are judged on their leadership abilities, of which Chen has none.

His latest political trickery is a referendum on whether "Taiwan" belongs in the United Nations. He has managed to whip the island nation into a frenzy with this call of "basic democracy." But as a political comedy, this is absurd, but not funny.

Taiwan has no chance of becoming a member of the United Nations. It's not going to happen as long as the People's Republic of China is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. It doesn't make things right, but that's the reality. China particularly will not tolerate the blatant challenge to its own absurd "One China" policy by allowing an entity called "Taiwan" -- not the legal name of the Republic of China -- into the U.N.

Chen knows this, but just as everything he's done in his seven years of utter failure as the president, he is more interested in preserving his own power via political gamesmanship than doing anything useful for the island's 23 million inhabitants. His approval ratings are in the low 20s or high teens, which make George W. Bush's numbers look robust. The island's economy has remained stagnant since he took office in 2000. And relations with China continue to deteriorate while he's in office.

But he knows how to put his rival Kuomintang (KMT) on the defensive. A rather feckless lot, the KMT leadership constantly is playing catch-up and never seems to be able to take advantage of the recent troubles experienced by Chen and his Democratic Progressive Party. Chen's U.N. gambit of course took the KMT by surprise, as the party is now scrambling to find the right message to connect with the voters, who are suddenly deluded by Chen's rhetoric.

Getting a whole country to act delusional may be a political master stroke, but it's a dangerous game with deadly consequences. Taiwan will not get into the U.N., period, so it's a zero-sum game. This move has already peeved off the United States so much that Taiwan's latest fighter jet purchase to replace the aging F-5s has hit the skids. And of course, China is seething.

Chen doesn't care. He never stops scheming, whether it's bashing Chiang Kai-shek's statues or changing all entities with the name of "China" to "Taiwan," it's just a game for him. As long as the electorate is willing to be suckered, he will continue to invent new games.

Taiwan has languished over the last eight years under Chen's "leadership." While engaging in these political shenanigans, Chen has neglected to make a real pitch for Taiwan to gain actual political clout and international respect. And he has unnecessarily inflamed an already volatile situation across the Taiwan Strait by endlessly antagonizing China and testing the patience of its only patron, the United States.

China's leadership, on the other hand, has been rather shrewd in dealing with Chen. Unlike his predecessor Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao has kept his saber rattling to a minimum, knowing that he can better affect Taiwan's elections by keeping mum. He is hoping that the KMT and its presumed candidate Ma Ying-jeou will win the presidential election next March. Such an outcome would serve China's interests better because the KMT is far more likely to seek accommodations and normalize relations with China than the DDP.

But if the DDP pulls the upset -- and why wouldn't it, Chen already did it twice -- then all bets are off. China will rapidly seek a political endgame if it feels Taiwan is drifting further away. Since the Beijing Olympics is of monumental importance to the regime, China isn't likely to pursue any militarily aggressive stance until the Games are over. But after August 2008, things could get hot.

And when the missiles start flying across the Taiwan Strait, the Taiwanese people will have only one guy to blame. Not the brilliant politician, but the ultimate political hack.

16 September 2007

Trojans Back in Front

(From BCS Guru)

A convincing victory at Nebraska did the trick, but barely. By regaining some of the lost No. 1 votes in the Coaches and AP polls, USC took back the top ranking in the Week 3 unofficial BCS standings, with a razor-thin edge over No. 2 LSU.

Both USC and LSU are safely ahead of the rest of the pack, led by Florida, which took over the No. 3 spot on the strength of its computer ratings. West Virginia and Texas round up the top 5.

Oklahoma, Ohio State, California, Wisconsin and Boston College are ranked Nos. 6-10. The Eagles landed in the top 10 after placing No. 22 last week.

Next week, the unofficial standings will take on an even clearer picture as the Harris Interactive Poll, which accounts for one-third of the official standings, makes its 2007 season debut.

09 September 2007

The Last FedEx Cup Post

Since just about all of the golf fans are watching the NFL now, the Tour Championship really should be played from Tuesday to Friday, making way for the weekend of football. But of course that's not gonna happen, so I digress.

OK, for a refresher for my recommendation on how to improve the FedEx Cup, see here and here. Basically the "Zoo Points" represent a far superior system to the convoluted setup currently in use. And it's much more fair.

Let's take a look:

There are five players mathematically alive for the FedEx Cup under the current system, but only three that can really win it.

1. Tiger Woods (112753 points) will win the Cup with a win at the Tour Championship, or if Steve Stricker finishes fourth or worse, or if Phil Mickelson finishes third or worse.
2. Stricker (109600) will win the Cup with a win, or by outgaining Woods by 3,200 points.
3. Mickelson (108613) will win the Cup with a win and if Woods finishes no better than third.

That's the abbreviated breakdown, but you still need to crunch more numbers and require a chart as big as the ones that football coaches carry on the sidelines to figure out all the scenarios.

Under the "Zoo Points" system, it's simple:

1. Woods (153.2 points) will win the Cup if he finishes no worse than 12th place (tied or otherwise).
2. Stricker (118.1) will win the Cup if he wins the Tour Championship and if Woods finishes 13th or lower.
3. Mickelson (112.0 points) will win the Cup if he wins and if Woods finishes 19th or worse.

That's it.

You don't need a chart. You don't need a calculator. It's all there.

Tim Finchem: It's time to use the Zoo Points to save your FedEx Cup.

A New No. 1: LSU Edges USC

(From BCS Guru)

After Saturday night's thumping of Virginia Tech, LSU has leapfrogged USC to take over the No. 1 ranking in the Week 2 unofficial BCS standings. Both teams are comfortably ahead of the field, though.

The Bayou Tigers closed the gap on USC, who was idle this week, in both the coaches poll and the Associated Press poll. LSU also took over the top spot in both computer rankings available at this time. Florida, the previous week's No. 2, dropped to No. 5. Oklahoma jumped from No. 6 to No. 3 after an impressive victory over Miami (Fla.), while Texas moved up to No. 4

Wisconsin, West Virginia, California, UCLA and Ohio State round out the top 10 in the new standings.

These standings are a close facsimile to the actual BCS standings, using the same methodology, with minor alterations necessitated by circumstances. First, the AP poll is used in the standings in place of the Harris Interactive Poll, which will debut in late September. Second, Peter Wolfe and Anderson & Hester, who do not release their rankings until later in the season, are excluded from the computer ratings. Finally, Colley Matrix is also excluded because its data is unavailable.

05 September 2007

Fix the Fed Cup II

Before we get to the points system, Phil Mickelson's decision to skip this week's BMW Championship once again underscored the need to modify the "Playoff" format. Forcing top players to play six tournaments in seven weeks, including four consecutive, just isn't going to fly. Mickelson's snub marked the second time in three weeks that the top player in the FedEx Cup standings decided to sit out. And yet, Mickelson and Tiger Woods are still going to be the favorites should they both play in the Tour Championship in two weeks.

One way to make the setup a bit more attractive is to shorten the "Playoff" to three weeks, giving the top players two weeks off after the PGA Championship. And limit the field to the first event to 100. To play one week just to weed out 24 players (from 144 to 120) as it is arranged now is just plain silly and unnecessary. The second event should have just 50 players and 30 for the Tour Championship.

And of course, adopt the Zoo Points as first proposed here a week ago. The FedEx Cup system right now is both confusing and hard to calculate. While the Zoo Points deal with simple numbers that anybody on his couch can figure out.

Here's the top 10 in the FedEx standings:

1. Phil Mickelson 108613
2. Steve Stricker 106200
3. Tiger Woods 103733
4. K.J. Choi 102900
5. Rory Sabbatini 102388
6. Vijay Singh 99108
7. Jim Furyk 98963
8. Geoff Ogilvy 97954
9. Adam Scott 97827
10. Zach Johnson 97623

Here's the top 10 according to Zoo Points:

1. Mickelson 112.0
2. Woods 103.2
3. Stricker 94.1
4. Sabbatini 79.6
5. Ogilvy 66.6
6. Choi 61.7
7. Scott 50.4
8. Aaron Baddeley 46.3
9. Singh 45.7
10. Ernie Els 45.1

Besides its simplicity and user-friendliness, the Zoo Points are also more fair in this sense: Currently, the FedEx Cup system gives too much credit for somebody finishing second and third. Also, instead of divvying up the points for a tie like the FedEx Cup system, the Zoo Points simply award the same total to all ties. Again more fair and easier to calculate.

I'll be back next week with another update ... if anybody is still awake.

04 September 2007

USC, Florida Top First Standings

(From BCS Guru)

The BCS Guru has released the 2007 season's first unofficial BCS Standings, which finds USC a comfortable No. 1 and Florida barely edging out LSU for the second spot. These standings are a close facsimile to the actual BCS standings, using the same methodology, with a few minor alterations necessitated by circumstances.

First, the AP poll is used in the standings in place of the Harris Interactive Poll, which will debut in late September. Second, Dr. Peter Wolfe, who operates one of the computer models, does not release his rankings until Oct. 14, the first weekend of the official BCS standings. Finally, at this time, two other computers (Anderson & Hester and Colley Matrix) have not released its rankings, therefore those results are excluded.

But we have at least a framework of what the BCS standings would look like if it were released today. USC, with a commanding lead in both polls, also enjoys a robust rating from the three computers that released its rankings. As the preseason poll favorite -- for the third time in four years -- the Trojans at the moment are the clear No. 1 team in the BCS as well.

Two SEC rivals, Florida and LSU are running neck-and-neck at Nos. 2 and 3. with West Virginia and Wisconsin rounding up the top five. The Gators and Tigers will meet Oct. 6 in Baton Rouge, so if everything follows form, that game should temporarily determine the No. 2 spot.

Oklahoma, California, Texas, Ohio State and Virginia Tech round out the Top 10. Louisville, ranked No. 8 in both polls, is 12th in the BCS rankings. The computers seem to be shunning the Cardinals right now, but it's still way too early to detect a trend.

Finally, Texas Christian (No. 20), Hawaii (No. 23) and Boise State (No. 24) are three non-BCS conference teams that made it into the top 25. TCU plays at Texas this weekend, and a victory will provide a huge boost to the Horned Frogs' hopes of reaching a BCS bowl. Boise State will visit Hawaii on Nov. 23 to decide the WAC championship, and perhaps a BCS berth.

02 September 2007

Revenge of the Body Baggers

(From BCS Guru)

The expression is quite expressive, yet so apt.

The Body Bag Games.

That's how it was for Gene Murphy, coach of the woebegone Cal State Fullerton football program until its bitter end in 1992. The Titans were a Division I-A team all right, to this day the proud owner of two NCAA D-IA records: Most fumbles (73) in a single season, and most fumbles lost (41).

I should know because I was part of that traveling circus from 1987-91. We still have bruise marks after receiving beatdowns in places like Gainesville, Auburn, Baton Rouge and Morgantown. And on occasion, the Titans would bus to the Rose Bowl to get a neighborhood spanking.

All for a glorious $250,000 check.

Before Saturday, I was going to eviscerate the continued existence of those Body Bag Games, 15 years after Fullerton's football program joined the dearly departed. I was on a mission to rid this dastardly concoction, a collusion of the Haves' desire to fill up their stadiums by showcasing live tackling dummies and the Have Nots' need for cash flow.

Until this happened: Appalachian State 34, Michigan 32.

If you don't recognize this game as the biggest upset in the history of college football, may I recommend a copy of "Football for Dummies?"

Never mind that the Mountaineers are the two-time defending Division I-AA champion, this is unprecedented. No D-IAA team has ever beaten a ranked D-IA team during the entire existence of the AP poll ... let along one ranked No. 5, with national championship aspirations ... in the biggest stadium in the country ... against the winningest program (in both wins and by percentage) in college football history.

This is Meeeechigan we're talking about.

Now Michigan has big problems. Michigan's defense had no answer for APU's fleet-footed quarterback Armanti Edwards. Michigan's offense had no rhythm and no pause. Michigan's special teams had no organization to keep field goals from being blocked. Michigan's coaches had no clue.

Michigan's administration also didn't do its homework, either. The Wolverines had the pick of the litter for this Body Bag Game, with a $400,000 payout dangling from the gates of the Big House. The Mountaineers practically begged for this game -- that right there should've aroused some suspicion.

Mercifully, this public humiliation was not televised -- not unless you had DirecTV and therefore access to the 3-day-old Big Ten Network. The highlights, which will burn into the minds of the Maize and Blue faithful for eternity, didn't do the game justice, for Appalachian State actually dominated most of the game.

The outcome of this cautionary tale should affect the future of Body Bag Games. Big schools will now more carefully vet out potential Body Bag applicants for fear of another season-killing, reputation-tarnishing loss. Little schools will have a harder time going out of its region in search of a big paycheck. Rest assured, Appalachian State is not coming anywhere near Big Ten country in the next 10 years.

Yep, the repercussions will be most keenly felt by the Big Ten. In many ways, this entire conference needs to get into the 21st century. Bo and Woody have moved on, and so should Big Ten football. There's a reason why that, aside from Ohio State's lone (and fluky) 2002 national title, the Big Ten has not been a factor in the BCS Era.

The Big Ten has fallen far behind the SEC and Pac-10 in terms of coaching and talent development. The staid conservatism that has served the conference well in the past is no longer working when it gets outside of the Midwest. The Big Ten has to improve on its speed, skill, aggression and creativity to stay relevant.

But before we get too much of the big-picture stuff, Saturday's upset for the ages was for the little guys. For all the kids on the wrong side of a 65-0 wipeout. For good ol' Murph and all the coaches who needed the check to fund the next recruiting trip and fix broken shoulder pads.

Hail to the Body Baggers.