Well, we're 8 weeks into the season, just past the halfway point. The BCS standings are out (not that Cal fans have any reason to care about them; either the Bears win out and get the Rose Bowl, or don't and can forget about the BCS), but for the rest of the country, various teams' standing in the polls are of great interest. Part of what I love about the BlogPoll is that in participating in this polling exercise, we really get a chance to challenge how college football polls work (what weight to we give to various factors? what criteria should we use to rank one team above another?) and offer suggestions regarding how we think they should work. Our voting behaviour is both relatively transparent and easily challenged by our readers, much moreso than those who participate in the traditional polls.
This seems as good a time as any to bring up something that was passed my way all the way back in Februrary by reader Hiro Hiraiwa. I always meant to write a long analysis of it, but it never seemed as timely as other things I could be working on. The item in question is a working paper (warning, PDF) from an economics professor at Ohio State (with Master's degrees in Demography and Economics from Cal, no less). The paper purports to test some of the conventional wisdom surrounding how poll voters behave. The Abstract of that paper:
College football fans, coaches, and observers have adopted a set of beliefs about how college football poll voters behave. I document three pieces of conventional wisdom in college football regarding the timing of wins and losses, the value of playing strong opponents, and the value of winning by wide margins. Using a unique data set with 25 years of AP poll results, I test college football's conventional wisdom. In particular, I test (1) whether it is better to lose early or late in the season, (2) whether teams benefit from playing stronger opponents, and (3) whether teams are rewarded for winning by large margins. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I find that (1) it is better to lose later in the season than earlier, (2) AP voters do not pay attention to the strength of a defeated opponent, and (3) the benefit of winning by a large margin is negligible. I conclude by noting how these results inform debates about a potential playoff in college football.
It's an interesting piece of work. Though I have some reservations about some of his findings (in particular, I'm skeptical that he was always testing the hypothosis he thought he was), there's some compelling ideas contained in there. The idea that a team would benefit more from a late loss because, even with less time to make up ground, they would fall a lot less later in the year in particularly interesting to me.
I could now begin a long essay summarizing the paper and telling you what I think you should think about it, but instead, I'm going to leave it as an open exercise. Read the paper, or at least skim the non-mathematical parts. Discuss in the comments. I'll read and respond, and come back next week with some ideas of my own.
For now, though, here's our Top 25 for the week:
No changes at the top here; Texas rolled over Missouri, Oklahoma bounced back to solidly take down Kansas, Penn State started slow before blowing out Michigan, and USC had no difficulty in covering a 43-point spread in dumping Wazzu, 69-0. Only Alabama struggled this past weekend, needing some defense to hold off Ole Miss. Honestly, I did consider switching Penn State and Alabama, but the Tide's destruction of Georgia a few weeks back still lingers in my mind. Maybe next week.
Meanwhile, Ohio State finally got a good win on their résumé, scoring 21 in the first quarter and never letting Michigan State in the game. They get a visit from Penn State this weekend; winner gets at least a trip to the Rose Bowl. OK State and Texas Tech? They each take care of business, beating Baylor and Texas A&M, respectively, though neither win impresses me, and I remain skeptical of both. In fact, take a look at Texas Tech's résumé, and compare it to Tulsa's. Unless an overtime win at home vs. Nebraska impresses you a lot, there's very little to distinguish one from the other.
Last week, we had a spirited discussion about how LSU really hasn't proven very much this year, was blown out by Florida, and is really overrated. Fair enough. I asked "well, who would you rate above them?" to which I was offered 4 teams, and solid reasons for doing so. Unfortuntely, Cal, Michigan State, and Virginia Tech all lost last weekend, so of the 4, only Utah jumps above them this week. LSU gets a big chance to prove themselves this weekend, however, when they host Georgia.
Elsewhere, our two biggest jumps this week belong to TCU, who dumped BYU and basically took their spot in the poll, and Pitt, who went out and hammered Navy. That loss to Bowling Green sure seems like a long way back in their rear-view mirror.
Missouri follows up their home loss to Oklahoma State by emphatically proving that they don't belong on the same field as Texas. Yes, both losses are to teams currently in the top 10, bu with their one good win (over Illinois) looking less and less valuable, I'm starting to think Missouri might be overrated even this far down.
After threatening to do so the last couple weeks, Georgia Tech finally makes our poll by beating up on Clemson, an accomplishment that, admittedly, is becoming less and less impressive. In fact, I think all of the teams this far down are seriously suspect, and it's just a matter of examining who's warts look best. Perhaps next week's light will show us something different.
Hey, Ball State, welcome to the poll! Are we late to the party in finally ranking them? Perhaps. I still haven't seen them play, though, and am really going on the recommendation of several readers from last week.
Also, I made my skepticism of BYU known last week, and it looks like I was ahead of my time. BYU gets beat badly by Texas Christian (well, at least now we know which religion is correct!), and I honestly don't see any reason to rank them anymore at all. CBKWit and Yellow Fever disagree, however, and so here we are. Am I wrong? Should 59-0 still carry some weight?
Out of my ballot, losers! Begone with you and your disappointing ways! I'm pretty sure one or two of these teams will work their way back into our top 25 at some point, though I couldn't say for sure who. Forced to guess, I'd go with Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, because at least they still have some good wins, and a good shot at picking up one or two more.