The BS of SOS
An Excerpt from CFB #1 Digital Preview Magazine
The Contrarian SOS
Extra: SOS rankings by their results (click)
The buzz phrase that was hyped with the announcement of the new Playoff Committee was SOS. For some reason, as driven by a biased media wanting better games to televise to generate revenue to recoop their investment in major conferences networks, we are being lead to believe that tougher scheduling is going to be a major factor in the playoffs. I am not buying what they are selling. Decades of human and programmer behavior trends in the AP, BCS and other top 25 polls have already shown us the pattern of predictable selection of top teams in college football.
Instead of hundred or thousands of voters we now have 13. While the decision process is being streamlined, they will not be able to watch even a fraction of the games. They will be relying more on perception and stats they are given to consider their selections. Regardless, they are very likely to follow the general patterns of all voters before them. Wins are king and tie breakers go to the strongest conferences. To segment teams on anything but wins as a starting point is to admit that the conferences are unbalanced in talent and power. Undefeated teams take priority ranking. If your team is 13-0, it is in regardless of schedule. 12-1 conference champs will also be auto-bids in my opinion. The tricky seeds will be 11-1 Big 12 champs, 11-1 Notre Dame and 11-1 or 11-2 teams that did not win their conference title. Except in a rare event, 10 wins is not getting you into the playoff no matter how tough the schedule.
You are going to see a plethora of strength of schedule (SOS) stats and ranking systems. Each will be claiming to be the best in order to get recognition and use by the playoff committee. They are all biased and only as useful as the committee is told make them or allows them to be considered. With just the 65 major teams, there are 181,172,140 different ways they could schedule against each other in non-conference play. Of those 181+ million combinations, we 50-70 of these 65 teams head to head in out of conference scheduling. To create a valid and balanced SOS from such a tiny sample of games is nearly impossible. To get into the playoffs, I feel that playing SOS roulette is a huge risk.
The Risk Takers
A lot of programs are going to fall for this SOS mentality. As fans, we will get to see better match ups on TV in September and TV generated revenue will rise. However, those that fall for this trick are playing elimination games in weeks one through four. For some it is a macho kind of posturing in the belief to be the best you need to beat the best. I agree with that stance, in the playoffs. To win a national title your last three games are very likely going to be conference championship, semi-final, and final all against elite teams. You will be the best by beating the best in the last three games. Your odds of a national title are zero if you cannot get in the playoffs.
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The Double Standards
There are two double standards that have not been addressed in this so-called SOS mania. The first is the downside the top teams all face. They cannot play themselves. Look at Florida State. There is one elite team in the ACC and they never get to play them. Their SOS takes a hit simply by being at the top. This goes the same for any other elite team, especially those outside of the SEC that have fewer opportunities to prove themselves against more talented teams. The other is advanced scheduling problems. Ohio State is a perfect example and their head to head match up with Cal. When they put this schedule together years ago, this looked like a great out of conference game and a bump to the perceived strength of the Buckeyes SOS. Now that Cal has tanked to the bottom of the PAC-12, that is not the case. While the Buckeyes made an effort to be aggressive in non-conference scheduling, they could get penalized for doing what the media asked of them and schedule a tougher slate.
What They All Lack
Every SOS rank has some kind of combination of statistical analysis to justify the creators ranking system; however, they all lack a physical component in their rankings. As I showed in my national Pace of Play Summary Report, there is a strong indication that the size and speed of the players has a tremendous effect on injury rates. The SEC, with the largest overall size per play, yet runs the fewest plays per game, has the highest injury rate in the country. By contrast, the starts lost to injury in the mid-majors is nearly 70% less than the Power 5 conferences from 2009-2012. While it is fun to see mid-majors beat disinterested major conference teams in bowls and occasionally in out of conference games, the lack of emphasis on the physical wear and tear of games in SOS ranks needs to be addressed.
Example How It Hurts
In 2011, Oregon gave us a great example of what a tougher SOS schedule can do. They played LSU in Dallas and it very likely cost them a spot in the title game. They did go on to win their conference and finish 11-2. Losing to the SEC champ killed them. Had they played Louisiana Tech and won, they would have been 12-1 and having not lost to LSU already would have been the likely selection over 11-1 Alabama who just lost to LSU. I see teams already falling into the SOS trap. UCLA just announced several head to head games including LSU. They do not need the extra strength in their schedule. It adds additional odds to them losing a game and compounds the wear and tear on an already tough 12 game season. I have no doubt there will be an OOC game that cost a team, that chose to throw the dice in September, a spot in the national CFB playoffs.
The Tie Breakers
I do believe that the Playoff Committee will have to call the ball on the fourth spot when there are not four 12-1 or 13-0 conference champions. A 12-0 Big 12 team or undefeated Notre Dame is very likely an auto-bid but the lack of the 13th game makes them very vulnerable at 11-1 to getting picked of by 11-1 teams from the SEC and the PAC-12. This gets back to scheduling strategy. Every time a team schedules a tougher game the odds of a loss increase. With each loss a team places itself more in the hands of the playoff committee. An undefeated power 5 team is in the playoffs. Period.
The Mid Majors
If SOS matters in the slightest bit, you will never see a mid-major in the playoffs. Never. The toughest mid major schedule absolutely pales in the face of the major conference teams. You can point to UCF, Boise, Hawaii and Northern Illinois as teams with great mid-major seasons but they absolutely do not face the physical and emotional stress of a major conference team. As I have outlined in my National Pace of Play report, it is the size and speed that is a key element missing from all SOS rankings. The injury rates in the Major conferences are nearly three times higher than the mid-majors. In a time in which fans of major teams complain of weak out of conference scheduling, most mid-major schedules look like a giant weak OOC schedule.
We will all be told that there are no automatic bids. Technically, that is true and technically your doctor will tell you that you could die from a common cold. Undefeated major teams are automatically in the playoffs regardless of schedule. The SEC champion is also an auto bid. 12-1 PAC-12, Big Ten and ACC teams are auto bids too. It will get greasy for 11-1 teams especially those in the less talented conferences. The lean order will be by conference power and currently that is the SEC, PAC12, ACC, Big 12 and then the Big Ten. The one area I am most unsure of is Notre Dame and an 11-1 Big 12 champ. I feel both the Irish and the Big 12 teams, unless undefeated, will need to find a 13th game in the schedule to not be left out. I would like to say mid-majors will never get in over the next 12 years of the four team playoffs, but the committee will likely feel bad not giving a 13-0 team a shot so I will set the mid-major playoff appearances over/under at one. If this decades established ranking behavior changes, then there are other forces at work beyond our control to place the four teams selected by someone not on the committee but controlling it.
NOT enough? How about the SOS rankings by their results (click)