Rose Bowl consolation and an Alabama LSU rematch

LSU on top
Rose Bowl saves the BCS
Bama still in hunt

College Football Rankings, Week 10, 2011

Down 3-0 heading towards halftime, LSU had a 1st and goal at the Alabama 8 yard line. On first down, they ran the ball, picking up 4 yards. Tick, tick, tick, the clock went from 1:15 to 0:35 before LSU ran another play. They ended up kicking a field goal on 3rd down from the 2 yard line. In a game in which the Tigers hadn’t scored against one of the nation’s best defenses, LSU coach Les Miles failed to use his last timeout to give his offense another shot at the endzone. Poor clock management has plagued Miles in the past, particularly against Mississippi in 2009. It’s one reason why there have been questions about Miles’ job security as recently as last year.

Fast forwarding to the 4th quarter, the game was tied 6-6 with Alabama threatening deep in LSU territory. Receiver Marquis Maze took a direct snap and threw a pass that Alabama tight end Michael Williams seemed to snare at the 2 yard line. But LSU safety Eric Reid came away from the play with the ball, and the official signaled for an LSU first down. The replay (see 1:07 of this clip for the best angle) suggests that Reid had two hands on the ball while Williams hung on with only one as his body hit the ground. The play would have never gone LSU’s way if the officials had ruled in favor of Alabama on the field.

There is such a fine line between winning and losing when two great teams play. LSU ended up winning 9-6 over Alabama in overtime, and Les Miles won’t have to worry about job security until next year. The Tigers move to number one in The Power Rank with a 32.7 rating. No team in the last decade has ended the year with a rating that high except for Texas in 2005. And no matter how life threatening this loss might seem to Alabama fans, there’s really no shame in losing by 3 to the top ranked team, even at home. Alabama lands at 2nd in The Power Rank with a 29.2 rating, strength that will still have them in contention for the national championship game.

Now that the Tuscaloosa Tussle has given us a winner, the national championship picture becomes more clear. Only 5 undefeated teams remain, and The Power Rank gives the following chance that each end the season undefeated.

LSU: 76.5%
Boise State: 66.9%
Stanford: 44.2%
Oklahoma State: 37.8%
Houston: 29.2%

With Alabama behind them, LSU has the highest chance to run the table. The Power Rank thinks so highly of the Tigers that we only give 11th ranked Arkansas a 10.5% chance of upsetting LSU in Baton Rouge. But there are two ways to look at these numbers. Our analytics also imply a 23.5% chance that LSU loses at least one game. If they lose to Georgia in the SEC championship game, it sets up the awkward situation in which neither of the two best teams in the country win their conference. So let’s not hand LSU the national championship just yet.

Oklahoma State is first in line to play LSU in the big game, with a 37.8% chance to win their remaining 3 games. Then Stanford comes next, and their 44.2% chance to remain undefeated includes a game against Arizona State in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game. (Stanford might be behind Alabama in the rankings that determine who plays in the national championship game, but they are ahead of Alabama in the two human polls, and a win over Oregon almost surely gives them the strength in computer rankings to jump over Alabama.) The path for the Cardinal to the national championship game is simple: win the rest of their games and watch Oklahoma State lose. The Power Rank gives this a 27.5% chance.

But what if LSU, Oklahoma State and Stanford all remain undefeated? One of these 3 big conference champions will not play in the national championship game, which should shake the system at its core, much like when it left Auburn hanging in 2003. However, the Rose Bowl complicates matters. “The Granddaddy of Them All” has a special place in college football, and every August, Stanford fans dream about a trip to Pasadena. Last year, TCU got the Rose Bowl as a consolation prize for being an undefeated team left out of the national championship game. Their win over Wisconsin in Pasadena made the BCS seem far away, something the Fiesta or Orange Bowl just can’t do. This year, in the 12.8% chance that LSU, Oklahoma State and Stanford all remain undefeated, Stanford fans will raise hell and try to find someone in the law school to sue the system. But then, they’ll pour another glass of wine, return to innovating in technology and reluctantly remember the historical prestige of playing in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day. Chaos will melt into a lack of will to fight the system.

Things get more interesting for the BCS if Oklahoma State and Stanford both lose. Alabama and Boise State would be next in line to face LSU in New Orleans for the national championship. In the 16.6% chance that Oklahoma State and Stanford both lose while Alabama and Boise State win the rest of their games, who knows what the system will give us? Alabama, who has a 71.5% chance to win their remaining 3 games, and Boise State are incredibly close in the most recent BCS standings. For Alabama, the likelihood of a rematch with LSU all depends on how many other teams matter. If all the remaining undefeated teams must lose, then there’s a 5.8% chance of a rematch. However, Houston and their weak Conference USA schedule really don’t matter, which increases the chances to 8.2%. If Boise State doesn’t matter and only Oklahoma State and Stanford need to lose, then The Power Rank gives a 24.8% chance of a rematch. Alabama is far from out of the picture.

Comments

  1. Very interesting analysis. I have a comment relating to your last paragraph above. Regarding whether an undefeated Boise overtakes a one-loss Alabama in the BCS standings, there is another consideration, namely, how both the human and computer elements of the BCS standings take into account Alabama’s strength of schedule (“SOS”). We all know the affect Boise’s SOS has on its ranking. Consider if Penn State (which still plays Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin), Florida (which still plays South Carolina and Florida State) and Arkansas (which still plays LSU) lose all (which is unlikely) or most of those remaining games. In such event, I believe Boise “matters” and very possibly overtakes Alabama in the final BCS standings.

    • Richard, thanks for reading. I agree that the jury is still out as to whether Boise State can jump Alabama. The scenario you present is certainly one way this could happen. So if Boise State matters, then the likelihood of an LSU Alabama rematch goes down since Alabama needs Boise State to lose, which is 33.1% likely.

  2. What are your thoughts on Oklahoma playing in the Championship game if LSU wins out, Oklahoma win out and Stanford loses? With the win on the road at OK State, they are likely to pass Boise State in the computer rankings. Then it comes down to do pollsters want an SEC rematch, LSU-Boise State or LSU-Oklahoma?

    • That’s a very interesting scenario. Oklahoma has a 34.0% chance to win their remaining 3 games, a number lowered by that road date at Oklahoma State. If they win at Stillwater, they would almost certainly jump Boise State in the computer polls. However, Boise State is two positions ahead of Oklahoma in both human polls. We don’t forecast how humans will irrationally act towards the two teams. Another aspect that complicates this situation is Oregon. They’re ahead of Oklahoma in the human polls and would probably have priority over the Sooners if they beat Stanford.

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