Friday, October 3

Sagarin Check

To the people I met on the road last year, I would imagine it would come as a surprise that I'm a statistician. Yes, it's true. I'm a total nerd, and have been for most of my adult life. When I would hear complaints from fans about those sinister "computer polls," I'd have to cringe a bit. Computer rankings are not perfect, but they do serve a purpose. They take the emotion and "conventional wisdom" out of the decision-making process. That can have its own flaws, to be sure. By the end of the season, maybe everything is clear anyway, but soulless (and bias-less) computers can be a ballast to our beliefs or at times alter our convictions for the better.

Of all the computer systems, the Sagarin ratings are my favorite (until I find the time to create my own). The methodology is sensible, and founded in proper statistical analysis. I won't get into all the gory details, just take my word for it. It's probably still a bit early in the season for this, but with everyone's heads spinning from last week's rash of upsets, let's see what the poll has to offer. Note - even Sagarin himself thinks it's a bit early so he incorporates Bayesian Shrinkage which, in effect ties the rankings back to a pre-season assignment. But we're far enough along in the season, that its impact is lessened. So let's dive in and take a look at some of the more interesting points.

Roll Tide - Alabama tops the rankings, disagreeing with the AP, Coaches, and Blogpoll rankings, though many bloggers have outlined their reasons that Bama should be on top. However, when it comes to "pure points" without regard for wins and losses, they're only in 5th, suggesting that they're vulnerable.

They'll Have to Fight On - USC shows up at #3. This is where that whole lack of emotion comes in, but also the fact that the Trojans have only played three games. Remember, early in the year, blowouts are going to matter, and their two wins were stompings. But they're still #6 going solely on wins and losses without regard to points. Don't write this team off yet.

Mid-Major Love - BYU's getting all the press, but Boise St. is even higher at #6. And going just on wins and losses, Utah is #2! Note that "just wins and losses" is the version that gets used in the BCS (and comprises roughly 5% of the total outcome, so relax). There are four mid-majors in the top 12. In general, the strength of schedule for these teams will decline as everyone plays more conference games, but at this point, it looks like the computers won't prevent a mid-major from gaining a BCS bid.

Don't Believe the Hype? - Gameday may be coming to Vanderbilt this week, and the Commodores are ranked 16 in the blogpoll, but on "pure points", they're way down at 28. Sagarin thinks this means they're gonna lose some games, but I've long felt there's something to be said for teams that know how to eke out victories, no matter the score. If they keep it rolling this week against Auburn (and you know it won't be a blowout), consider me on board.

Forgotten, But Not Gone - Virginia Tech shows up at #16. They're all the way down at #24 in the coaches poll. Written off after that loss to East Carolina, they're still hanging around and are #10 in the BCS sumbission. Oregon is in a similar situation (#17).

Lions and Tigers, Oh My - Penn State and Missouri have both played Illinois, and in all conventional polls, the Tigers are well in front. But Penn State is #4 here and Mizzou is alllll the way down at #30. They have 142nd worst schedule. You'd think with the high-powered offense they'd be in good shape, but "pure points" has them even lower at 35. How all the pollsters can put Missouri above Penn State at this point is baffling to me. PSU performed better against their common opponent and have a shellacking of Trojan-killers, Oregon State. Similarly, Kansas is way down at #42.

In the Middle of Seven Sad Forests - Washington, 0-4 after losing to Stanford (and losing their QB), has played the nation's toughest schedule. They've lost to Oregon, BYU, Oklahoma. We can safely say that they're the best 0-4 team the country. Well, at least the one with the best excuses.

Some Kind Glitch? - McNeese State has the #2 rated schedule. They've only played one team in the FBS - North Carolina. Uhhh... wtf?

At the Bottom - The nation's worst team is Army, who just lost to Texas A+M. So I can't imagine anyone is going to argue with that.

Conference Call - When it comes to ranking conferences, the computers can be that much more useful. It's hard enough to keep 119 teams straight, but you can at least examine a team's entire schedule. But our emotions may put too much into a game between, say, Illinois and Missouri. According to Sagarin, Big Ten is the second best conference in the country. Hard to believe, ain't it? Incidentally, SI's - Bill Trocci at least mentions that fact and actually appears to take it under advisement in his weekly conference rankings. The Big 12 is just behind them, and the SEC is way out in front. The Mountain West remains back at #7 even though they claim three teams in the top 12. Let's keep that in mind, 'kay?

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