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Ragnarok's Random Ramblings

A rundown of several unconnected thoughts that occurred to me while spending a Saturday watching football.

We're Bowl-Eligible, Bears!

I know, I know, Cal has now participated in 5 consecutive bowl games, and pretty much every student currently at Cal has no idea what a losing season of Cal football looks like.  The Bears are still very much in the conference race, and have our sights currently set much higher than simply making the postseason.

Still, I would imagine we would only have to look as far as Ann Arbor, Michigan, for a little perspective.  The Wolverines have played in 33 consecutive bowl games, and I'd imagine that much of their fanbase has long taken winning seasons and bowl eligibility for granted.  Now, November is only a couple days old, and Michigan fans already know that, win or lose (most likely lose), their season ends with Ohio State later this month.

So, whatever happens over the next month, the Bears will be getting a chance to play in the postseason, and I think that should always be cause for some celebration.  Plenty of season left to go, sure, and our team's goals are by no means accomplished, but that's no reason not to raise a glass in celebration now.

An Interception Bonanza!

With two more picks against the Ducks last Saturday, the Bears are now tied with North Carolina for the most interceptions in the nation with 17.  And this hasn't been a fluke built up against excessively soft competition; the Bears have picked off a pass in every game but one (@ Maryland, who ran all over the Bears and only attempted 20 passes).  Arizona has only thrown 4 interceptions all year, but the Bears picked Willie Tuitama.  Michigan State has only thrown 5 picks, but the Bears got to Brian Hoyer, too.  Cal has 3 of Colorado State's 9 interception, and 4 of UCLA's 11.

More impressively, the Bears interceptions haven't been the result of one star player; this is a total team effort.  11 different Bears have picked off passes this year, yet Syd'Quan Thompson and Sean Cattouse lead the team with just 3 interceptions.  In 2006, the Bears picked 21 passes, 8 by Dante Hughes, and teams, for the most part, stopped throwing his direction.  But these Bears?  Who do you throw away from?  Everyone's getting in on the action.  Don't look now, but Cal might have its best defense since at least 2004.

The end of Texas @ Texas Tech

I've got a minor strategy quibble with Mike Leach of Texas Tech.  When the Red Raiders, trailing Texas by 1, scored a go-ahead touchdown with one second left in the game, it put Tech up by 5.  Leach then sent out the kicking unit to attempt the extra point for a 6-point lead.  This puzzled me, and despite trying to find a good reason not to, I'm still convinced Texas Tech should have attempted a 2-point conversion.

The difference between 5 points and 6 at the end of the game is negligible.  6 is useful only if Texas runs back the ensuing kickoff, but fails the extra point, a result hardly worth counting on.  However, if you go for 2 and get it, you're now up by 7 and protected from losing in regulation should Texas somehow score a touchdown (unless Texas then goes for 2 to try and win it; but if they do that, it doesn't matter whether you got 0, 1, or 2 points on the extra try).  Even if disaster strikes on the 2-point conversion, and the ball is turned over and run back for a 2-point conversion the other way, the Red Raiders would still have been up by 3.  With only one second left on the clock, there is no way Texas could have gotten the ball back, stopped the clock, and STILL had time for a a field goal try; with just a second left, it was touchdown or bust for the Longhorns.

Basically, the 2-point conversion was about as risk-free as these things get, but could have provided additional security should Texas have pulled off a miracle.  That such security was ultimately unnecessary doesn't mean it wasn't the right call to have made at the time.

Time of Possession

I've never been a big fan of the 'time of possession' stat, showing the relative amount of clock time for which an offense has held the ball.  It purports to show how well an offense holds onto the ball, and thus winning the time of possession battle can indicate that the offense was working well, and the defense didn't get tired because they were on the field too much. However, you can come up with plenty of examples of teams that don't win the time of possession battle, but still handle their opponents easily.

USC, for example, has long had an offense so explosive that many of their touchdown drives last only a few plays, taking less than a minute off the play clock.  Sure, their opponent many have held the ball much longer than they did, but the object of the game is to score the most points; simply holding onto the ball doesn't win you any consolation prizes.

Still, the basic premise can be useful; the best defense is often a good offense, inasmuch as it is very difficult for an opposing offense to score if they're on the sideline.  However, I've recently realized that the 'time of possession' statistic doesn't even reflect this concept with much accurately.  The reason?  The game clock doesn't always reflect how much time a team actually possesses the ball.

A complete pass takes just as much effort as an incomplete one, and a successful running play keeps the ball out of the other team's hands equally well whether the clock stops due to an out-of-bounds or a first down or not at all.  Point is, if we really want to see which team was successful in possessing the ball and sustaining long and successful drives, we should look only at the number of plays run.  A defense will get worn down by the number of times the opposing offense snaps the ball, not by the amount of clock time they use up before they snap it.  It's not a perfect statistic, but it's a darn sight better than 'time of possession'.