Podcast: Interim college football coaches, the Oakland Raiders and match ups in college football

This week’s episode of The Football Analytics Show dives into the first week of bowl season and a stand out game from week 15 of the NFL. I discuss the following:

  • Do interim coaches matter in predicting bowl games?
  • The NFL game that made me do a double take
  • The source that I double check my NFL prediction with
  • The match up that might allow Central Michigan to beat Tulsa

To listen on iTunes, click here.

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3 overrated college football teams for 2016

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 4.23.39 PMLast week, I wrote about a few overrated teams by preseason analytics over at Football Study Hall of SB Nation.

How did these teams do week 1?

Houston pulled off the upset of Oklahoma, so I’ve gotten some flack for including them in the ranks of overrated. However, we have much football left to play this season.

Michigan State struggled against Furman, as they beat their FCS opponent by 15 points at home.

Iowa did what they were supposed to do and beat Miami of Ohio by 24.

We’ll see how these predictions pan out by the end of the season.

LSU and Oklahoma State have a 38% chance to play in National Championship game

One need not worry
Ten unbeatens down to three
Thirty eight percent

Four weeks ago, there were 10 undefeated teams in college football, and everyone speculated how the slew of unbeaten teams might impact the BCS. Andy Staples of SI.com predicted that Wisconsin and Stanford as well as an SEC and Big 12 school would all go undefeated, wreaking havoc on the system. After this weekend, Wisconsin, Stanford and host of others have all lost, leaving only three unbeaten teams. The Power Rank gives these teams the following chance to remain undefeated.

LSU: 77%
Oklahoma State: 49%
Houston: 31%

In the national championship picture, Houston doesn’t matter, as their schedule is softer than my 6 month old son’s tummy. (Happy month day, Miles.) Then the BCS boils down to LSU and Oklahoma State, and The Power Rank gives a 38% chance that both these teams win the remainder of their games and meet in the national championship game. Brash, Conceited and Smug, the BCS would work for the second year in a row in the sense that the national championship game would feature two undefeated teams from elite conferences. For those who hate the system, The Power Rank forecasts a 11% chance that LSU and Oklahoma State both lose, leaving a mess of one loss teams to argue about who should play. The talking heads on ESPN might explode.

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.

Forecasting the College Football National Championship Game

And then there were six
Who will play in the big game?
Behold their chances

The Power Rank, College Football, Week 9, 2011

On the last Saturday in October, college football offered some huge conference match ups. In the Big Ten, Wisconsin traveled to Ohio State to face the Buckeyes at The Horseshoe. Down south, the SEC pitted Georgia against Florida amidst The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. But the most important game on Saturday, as validated by the presence of ESPN’s College Gameday, was Stanford at USC. It wouldn’t be surprising if USC were attracting all the media attention given their success this decade. But times have changed. Gameday showed up in Los Angeles because of an undefeated Stanford team. The Cardinal are one of a few teams in contention to play the SEC champion in the national championship game.

Before the game, USC coach Lane Kiffin won the media BS award of the week by calling Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck perfect and asking his interviewer for any ideas about how to stop Stanford’s offense. Kiffin didn’t need to consult his dad, USC’s defensive coordinator, to know that slowing down Stanford’s running game and getting pressure on Luck would mitigate Stanford’s offense. Or maybe he did. Either way, USC held Stanford to 3.9 yards per carry (186 total), much lower than their 5.6 yard average for the season. USC also sacked Luck twice. While this sack total might not sound impressive, Stanford’s offensive line, which features 2 potential first round picks, has allowed only 2 sacks all season. Despite this defensive performance, Stanford escaped with a 56-48 win when Ben Gardner’s right arm swatted the ball away from USC’s Curtis McNeal to end the third overtime.

Stanford remains undefeated with the win, but Kansas State and Clemson dropped out of the national championship picture with losses to Oklahoma and Georgia Tech respectively. With only 6 undefeated teams remaining, The Power Rank can update the projections that each of these teams remain undefeated. However, this week, we make the transition to rankings that only use games from this year. Up to this point, the rankings included all games in a one year window, with this year’s games counted twice. This drastically overrated teams like Auburn, who had a huge 56-17 win over South Carolina (19) and a 3 point win over Oregon (5) at the end of last year. With the loss of key players, coach Gene Chizik has found this season much more difficult. This change drops Auburn’s rating by 8 points, moving them from 12th to 38th. Perhaps this lower ranking isn’t a surprise given Chizik’s 5-19 record at Iowa State before becoming Auburn’s coach. Moreover, this change also improves Oregon’s rating by 2 points. These changes affect our forecast since Alabama plays Auburn while Oregon travels to Stanford. Here are the chances that each of 6 teams remains undefeated.

Boise State: 66.6%
Stanford: 41.7%
Alabama: 39.8%
Oklahoma State: 39.7%
LSU: 34.3%
Houston: 32.2%

With these changes, Alabama’s likelihood of going undefeated gets closer to Stanford’s than in our previous analysis. Alabama has the toughest remaining game, a 58.7% chance of beating LSU, but Stanford still faces Oregon with a 67.6% chance of winning. The changes in the rankings also recognize Houston as a completely different team with the return of quarterback Case Keenum this year. The Cougars move from 45th to 23rd and have a 32.2% chance to remain undefeated, much higher than the 8.7% we predicted earlier. This analysis includes a Conference USA championship game against Southern Miss.

The Power Rank can also estimate the likelihood that LSU and Alabama have a rematch in the national championship game. For this to happen, the remaining 4 unbeaten teams must each lose at least one gamen and the winner of the Tuscaloosa Tussle must go undefeated while the loser ends the season with only that one loss. The new rankings give this a 15.3% chance, quite a bit higher than the 4.9% chance we forecasted last week. Of course, these conditions do not ensure a rematch, since Oklahoma reenters the picture if they beat Oklahoma State and finish the season with one loss.

A more interesting scenario arises if we tweak the last situation so that Boise State goes undefeated. The winner of Alabama LSU and Boise State would be the only unbeaten teams, while the loser of the Tuscaloosa Tussle finishes the season with one loss. This is my personal favorite scenario since the SEC would secede from college football if an undefeated Boise State made the national championship game over a one loss Alabama or LSU team. The Power Rank gives this a 10.1% likelihood, about a one in ten chance for chaos.

Our analysis also produces some surprising numbers. As dominant as Alabama and LSU have been all season, there is a 30.4% chance that they both lose at least one game. While this number might seem absurdly high, consider that one of these two teams will lose on Saturday when they play each other. So 30.4% is the probability that the winner loses one of three remaining regular season games or the SEC championship game. The Power Rank suggests taking up a friend who will pay 10 to 1 if LSU and Alabama will both lose at least one game. Of course, no undefeated SEC teams greatly helps Boise State make the national championship game. The chance that Boise State remains the only undefeated team at the end of the regular season is 5.5%. They might make the championship game in other scenarios, but the system won’t lock them out as the only undefeated team.

Have a scenario of which you’d like to have the probability? Leave us a comment, please. Thanks for reading.