Thursday, December 07, 2006

At least we won't wake up in Ybor City

If they say we partied,
then I'm pretty sure we partied.

It may be tres speedy and throw killer parties, but we don't need the Outback Bowl. We get the Rose Bowl, which is great. A few days of monkish meditation have led me to the following conclusions.

This is a pro-Michigan case for Florida playing in the national championship game.

Observation 1: There is no meaningful way to distinguish these teams' strengths of schedule. A win over Notre Dame, a perennial toothless tiger, contributed something to conference strength -- a nonconference opponent who'll finish at 10-3 in the 15-20 ranking range is nothing to scoff at -- but let's not exaggerate. Wisconsin, 11-1, was tested only once all season, by Michigan. We won't know about them until they play Arkansas. The biggest bonus point goes to playing a close game toward Ohio State, on turf that resembled a sinkhole. There's no point in braying about the closeness of that game, but it was hard-fought, manful and mildly flukey. Any schedule-strength reservations implicit in the fact of a loss are outweighed by Ohio State's overall quality and its unwieldy facilities. Wasn't exactly going up against the Miz and Abe in a Real World-Road Rules Inferno, but the schedule strength was solid.

Florida? The best win was against LSU. Respect the Arkansas win, but Arkansas clearly is an idiot savant: its running game can perform complex string theory calculations but the rest of the team spills Kool-Aid on its trousers and carries a druel cup. It had the inglorious loss to 10-2 Auburn, but there was the win on the road against Tennessee early in the season, just after Tennessee crushed Cal and looked like it might be a hegemon.

LSU (10-2), Tennessee (9-3) and Auburn (10-2) were tougher as a trio than Notre Dame (10-2), Wisconsin (11-1) and Ohio State (12-0). Michigan made up the margin because the second-tier Big 10 teams -- Penn State (8-4), Iowa (6-6) and Minnesota (6-6, but worse) -- are a hair better than this year's second-tier SEC teams -- Georgia (8-4), South Carolina (7-5) and 'Bama (6-6, but worse). (Disagree? Fair enough. I'm not being absolute. We'll have better answers once bowl season wraps.) As my friend the Watchman pointed out, one of Michigan's non-conference creampuffs, Central Michigan, went on to win its conference. Yes, it was the MAC, and there's no point in exaggerating the merit to that, but it's not hot garbage, either.

Point being, Florida's best opponents were overall a little better than Michigan's, which were solid overall, but Michigan's second-tier opponents were a little better than Florida's, which were solid overall, and while you can argue along the margins, there isn't a clear-cut case to be made for either side. More numbers: As pointed out by commentor Tommy O, Florida's 12 Division I-A opponents had a combined record of 89-57. Michigan's 12 opponents had a combined record of 84-61. Difference: Marginal. Sagarin strength of schedule rankings: Michigan 13, Florida 19. Difference: Marginal.

You don't have to buy my argument in full. Maybe you think one team had a slightly harder schedule, but I suspect that, after an honest, detached assessment, you have a hard time arriving to a strong conclusion either way. If it's not on one hand, it's on the other, and this is not the stuff to make for a convincing fight.

Observation 2: There is something to be said for style points. They don't tell you everything and they're not absolute, either. OSU in 2002 didn't have style points, they just won a lot of close games. That doesn't denigrate that team's legacy. Likewise, if Florida somehow beats Ohio State, no one's going to care about what happened against South Carolina. People will just remember Florida as the team that beat Ohio State.

Urban Meyer spent time arguing against the consideration of "style points." That was a nifty piece of Frank Luntz-like wordsmithing that downgraded the concept of quality wins into a beauty pageant category. The issue isn't style points, it's quality of wins. Meyer's framing invites you to conclude that a one-point win arising out of an opponent's missed field goal equals a 26-point win on the road against a team then ranked No. 2 in the country. Or, to draw from a different sport, to conclude that a pitcher who throws a perfect game is no different from one who allows seven runs but has an offense that scores 12.

There's a reason that most pro-Michigan arguments arise under this framework: Michigan dominates it, the way it dominated every non-Ohio State team this season. Before Ohio State, no Michigan game in 2006 was ever close, ever. Penn State scored a fourth-quarter touchdown on a fluke, after Michigan administered concussions to its first- and second-string quarterbacks. The 34-26 Ball State score has been a source of cheap shots looking to knock the Michigan team, all of which neglect to recognize that Michigan -- playing a season without a single bye week -- elected to pull its starting defense in order to save its reserve and give the second- and third-stringers some playing time. It was, at worse, a risky human resources decision. Michigan's full season record is here.

Florida? There was the November 11, 18-17 win against South Carolina that arose only because South Carolina kicker Ryan Succop missed a field goal. Or three. September 16: A 21-20 win on the road against Tennessee. October 15: a 27-17 loss at Auburn. November 4: An anemic 25-19 win against Vanderbilt, which outgained Florida and happened to be a team that Michigan throttled on Labor Day weekend. November 25: a lackluster 21-14 win against a craptacular Florida State team, in a game that was tied 14-14 going into the fourth quarter.

There is certainly nothing wrong or disturbing about these wins. I watched the South Carolina, Tennessee, Auburn and Florida State games. Only in the Florida State game did it occur to me that Florida fields a wobbly team, but it wasn't a revelation, just more of a murmur. These games often turn on tight margins and are dictated by unpredictable variables. Observing that Florida often won ugly, while Michigan played roughly comparable teams and dominated them, isn't a bash on Florida. The only obvious yardstick is Vanderbilt, a team so shaky that it's unfair to use it as a platform for drawing comparisons.

For all we know, Michigan could have struggled against these teams. But the point is that they didn't struggle. Once. All season. They arm-wrestled 12-0 Ohio State through the final possession. Florida arm-wrestled through the final possession against 6-6 Florida State and 7-5 South Carolina.

Observation 3: Despite Observations 1 and 2, Michigan did, in fact, have its shot, and it failed. I don't know why this argument doesn't have more salience for my fellow Michigan fans. Any re-match would be a fluke, not a birthright. If the shoe were on the other foot, we'd be arguing that we defeated an extremely talented team, and that it's substantively unfair and procedurally incorrect to be forced into a rematch. See also Double Jeopardy.

I know the BCS rules don't forbid rematches, but that's not the point. The rules don't forbid a 5-7 team from being voted number one, either. As much as I think Michigan trounces Florida in a "style points" debate, the broad Michigan-Florida parity and the fact that Michigan had, in fact, lost to its prospective national champinoship opponent are enough to justify voting for Florida.

Most Michigan fans tend to be highly critical of their team -- when something goes wrong, the first impulse is to blame yourself. Here, we can't complain about injustice when we didn't win the first time. The outcome was under Michigan's control, and, by the thinnest of margins, it went the other way. Good night and sleep tight.

Observation 4: Ultimately, Florida was the least-painful alternative. So, I understand why a detached voter would choose Florida above Michigan. The standard reply to my argument so far would be, "The BCS is supposed to pit the number one team against the number two team. Your position relies too much on aversion to a re-match."

A.) See Observation 5, below.

B.) How many times have you voted against a candidate, as opposed to voting for one? How many times have you watched a Thursday night MAC game because it's better than Friends? People make choices based on many variables. When two teams are as relatively close on paper as Michigan and Florida, avoiding a rematch between the Big 10 teams (or, as Meyer would phrase it, giving Florida its chance) strikes me as a perfectly fair and equitable consideration. This would not be the case if we were talking about two-loss LSU, or mid-major Boise State. But that's not what we're talking about. And for the reasons set forth at Observation 5, it's not just because of some ineffable notion of justice.

Observation 5: There are strong merits behind a final non-conference test. I don't understand why the key argument for Florida supporters isn't the following: Sure, it's tough to decide between these two teams, but for the sake of the integrity of the title determination, isn't it important that both Michigan and Ohio State are tested by a non-conference opponent? It isn't so much that a rematch is per se bad or somehow violative of competitive spirit. (Consider a rematch in a conference title game. Team B beat Team A in early October. In the conference championship, Team A beats Team B. No one should contest that Team A is the conference champ.) The problem is that you'd have two teams who haven't been tested by elite non-conference opponents since September. Without a test from a non-Big 10 team, you have no clear way of judging that Michigan and Ohio State are superior to this year's other elite teams. Instead, you have a somewhat incestuous scenario where Michigan ranks number two because it played a close game against its own intraconference rival.

If Ohio State beats Florida, it helps Michigan's legacy as a quality team. If Michigan beats USC and Ohio State somehow loses, the result strengthen's Ohio State's legacy. If, as I suspect will happen, both Michigan and Ohio State roll over their opponents, we can be confident that they were the two best teams all along. But if they merely re-play each other, there will be a slight hollowness to the final outcome, regardless of the result. We simply would not have any outside calibration for their quality.

In conclusion, rematch avoidance is the right thing for both Michigan and Ohio State.

And my final thought is this: As fun as it would have been to see Michigan beat Ohio State in Glendale, imagine the asterisk that would be against that title. History would not treat it as legitimate and unambiguous, and for good reason. We have virtue and fact on our side in the 1997 debate. We wouldn't have them this time.

Observation 6: Playoffs are for pussies. Every word of this column is fucking correct.

Observation 7: Michigan doesn't beg. Similarly, every word of this post is correct. Do you know what would disturb me more than Michigan going to the Rose Bowl? Having a coach who acts like Bill O'Reilly. Having a coach who feels the need to lobby aggressively for his team instead of seeing it judged for its play on the field. Urban Meyer embarrassed his program. He acted like a politico at an 1890s party convention. It was an appalling spectacle, and if that's the price of admission to Glendale, I'd be just as happy to shut down Michigan football, sell all the assets, and dump that money into the endowment fund.

Hopefully, Meyer will get the comeuppance he deserves. For 3 1/2 hours, I'll be pulling for Tressel like he's one of my own.

Epilogue. I now have a new hierarchy of hated programs.
1.) Notre Dame. All of the traits that some people hate about Michigan, plus 1.) it's a private university, 2.) me hate the weekly NBC jizzfest, 3.) the sports media spreads lies about its quality, and 4.) wow, I just hate that program so bad.
2.) Any program infected by Urban Meyer. Fuck you, you fucking fuck.
3.) Ohio State. I hate them far less than other Michigan fans. I think of them as a worthy rival in a deathmatch that will last until the end of time. In my ideal season, Ohio State is undefeated until they play Michigan, and Notre Dame never wins a game.
4.) Tennessee. My 1997 grudge against Phil Fulmer and the Peyton-for-Heisman campaign runs deep.

22 comments:

Brit said...

Ybor City is most certainly not the best of places to wake up. I love the title. :)

This is one of the best blogs I've read about the entire Michigan-Florida-Ohio State debate. You make a lot of great points. Much better than most Florida fans ;). I get to hear them every day, go on and on about how Urban Meyer is a god and how he just stood up for his team and if you can't stand up for your team then the system is flawed. Oh to go to school further away from Gainesville than 1.5 hours. Anyway, as much as I dislike Michigan (I wouldn't go as far as hating them), their team and their coach have more class than most Div I-A teams out there. I was glad to see Carr took the high road and let the polls decide without any campaigning. If Urban Meyer had just kept his mouth shut, his team still may have been in the title game, just without all of the controversy. I wish Michigan the best of luck in the Rose Bowl, which isn't too bad of a consolation game, and hope that they trounce USC. And hopefully Wisconsin will beat up on Arkansas as well.

CrimeNotes said...

Thanks man. The title and intro were lifted from a song by The Hold Steady -- "Killer Parties."

And Urban Meyer is just a disgrace. Something that I learned from this is neatly summarized in the second line of the mgoblog post I linked to: "One thing this Recent Event Not Involving Florida has done is reveal the deep-seated weirdness of Michigan in relation to the rest of the world."

voidoid said...

Now at least somebody besides Notre Dame fans hate fucking Urban Meyer.

22280 said...

"Disgrace" is a bit strong.

Urban Meyer didn't invent the system. He played the system. That's all.

CrimeNotes said...

The system itself disturbs me less than his manipulation of it. I hope that he burns in hell.

22280 said...

Is it also wrong for presidential election candidates to campaign?

CrimeNotes said...

That is a strange and unhelpful analogy. I certainly think that if a presidential candidate said that he wouldn't recognize the winner of the Electoral College as a legitimate victor if it was someone other than himself, he would correctly be viewed as a menace.

22280 said...

The analogy is as follows: In order to win a college football championship, you first have to win an election. And when human beings have to win elections, they campaign.

Lloyd is a notable exception. His ability to stay above the fray doesn't make everyone else the villain. I could see demonizing Meyer if he'd suddenly decided the system worked fine after his team benefited from it - but he didn't. Meyer (and his school president) are still calling for a playoff this week. His stance existed before he arrived at Florida and hasn't changed.

CrimeNotes said...

So basically, you can say whatever you want so long as you have a longstanding disagreement with the rules.

22280 said...

Do YOU think the current system works fine?

If not, what's wrong with coaches speaking out against it?

Flop said...

I had a somewhat detailed comment here about why the "they had their chance" argument does not hold a drop of water. This is my second crack at it

The BCS has no prohibition, and probably would decline to impose one because of a hypothetical situation in which the two best teams in the country happened to play each other. Sure, it might be reasonable if the BCS had such a prohibition, but it does not.

Either the BCS prohibits rematches or it doesn't. If it does, then any team that "had its chance" but is better than the third best team is arbitrarily subject to the "they had their chance" exclusion.

If the BCS does not prohibit rematches, but the pollsters vote to deny the title game to a team that "had its chance" then the pollsters have imposed an arbitrary standard out of vapor.

It'd be like if a jury disregarded a judge's instructions because, hey, the defendant had his chance.

I will accept no rebuttals to this comment, because you all had your chance in the comments following my post.

22280 said...

I agree with you there, and disagree with Meyer's rationale for arguing against Michigan on the basis of chances had.

Doesn't make him any less right about removing the human element from this all together.

CrimeNotes said...

"I had a somewhat detailed comment here about why the "they had their chance" argument does not hold a drop of water. This is my second crack at it

The BCS has no prohibition, and probably would decline to impose one because of a hypothetical situation in which the two best teams in the country happened to play each other. Sure, it might be reasonable if the BCS had such a prohibition, but it does not."


Argh ... This argument drives me nuts. The absence of a prohibition doesn't mean that a course of action is correct. So, okay, if you walk around in a T-shirt that says, "Fuck you you fucking fuck" (as a former roommate once did) or drinking a thing of mustard and eating a flower (as I once did) but neither are especially good ideas. I can't think of another situation where there was such widespread support for the idea that because something isn't banned, it's therefore a good idea. Why is it a good idea?

CrimeNotes said...

22280: As far as what's wrong with coaches speaking out mid-season, to paraphrase Hyman Roth: "Someone put a bullet through my team's eye. No one knows who gave the order, but we suspect it was Gary Danielson. When I heard it, I wasn't angry. I knew my team. I knew it was head-strong, never talking loud, never saying stupid things. So when it turned up dead - I let it go. And I said to myself, 'This is the business we've chosen.'" You know the rules at the start of the season. Rules are necessary. You can't change the rules mid-stream, and attacking their legitimacy when it suits your self-interest is akin to placing yourself above the rules. I have no respect for that.

Whether I agree with the system: I'm sick of the fetish about crowning a national champion, which I attribute largely to ESPN/ABC ratingslust and sports talk radio. For decades undefeated teams weren't given the national title and there wasn't this kind of caterwauling. Other things matter more -- regional rivalries, conference champions, etc. I swear to God, I'm about to the point where i'm willing to toss polls and rankings altogether, use conference rankings, and let committees pick bowl match-ups without the pretension of naming a national champ or devising a final national ranking. The BCS seems like the least-evil remedy when contrasted with a playoff, but in terms of whether the system works, I think the whole thing is an interesting sideshow and not much more. I care that Michigan lost to Ohio State. I'm glad that Michigan gets to play in the Rose Bowl. I don't like the current system and I don't hate the current system. It works as much as any aspirationally definitive system can possibly work.

CrimeNotes said...

Flop -- I'm going to drop a deuce in your sink at your New Year's Eve party. And when people are disgusted and horrified, my response will be, "What? There's no rule against it. How can it possibly be bad when there's no explicit rule against it?"

(Actually, I'm quite sure that you'd love it if I did this ... which I never will.)

Flop said...

CrimeNotes, that argument only drives you nuts because you made it up yourself. You're either misrepresenting what I said or you misunderstand.

This is possibly because the original comment explicitly stated that I was responding to only Observation No. 3, i.e. the "they had their chance" argument.

I never have once said that a rematch was my preferred outcome. Only that Michigan was denied based on arbitrary standards. The "they had their chance" argument is one such false standard applied by voters.

CrimeNotes said...

But ... but ... they did have their chance! It's hard to feel oppressed by poll voters when the team didn't finish the job.

(And I wasn't trying to misrepresent what you wrote, so maybe I actually didn't understand the nuances.)

22280 said...

Flop,

Agreed - that is the only part of this mess that I find enjoyable is pointing out the fallicies in just about every argument, no matter what team it's in favor of.

They are ALL arbitrary.

22280 said...

Crimenotes, I agree with your second paragraph (except for the last sentence) but I don't think it's realistic.

If we could all just agree that there is no national champion - like in high school - than I have no problem with whatever system people want. We can go back to the old way when the Big Ten/Pac-10 went to the Rose Bowl and Notre Dame signed on with either the Sugar or Orange as long as it went at least 6-5, usually receiving the invite in mid-October.

But let's not kid each other. People DO care about who the national champion is. It's not an ESPN creation, it's the nature of competition. When you're the best in the city, you want to see who's best in the state. When you're the best in the state, you want to see who's best in the conference. When you're best in the conference, you want to see who's best in the country.

And as long as we're going to crown one team as the national champion, it should be done in a sensible way. The current way is not sensible.

Flop said...

No they didn't. Not at the national championship (set aside for now how arbitrary the whole of the BCS process is). Michigan was ruled out of the BCS title game by one loss to the best team in the country while other teams were not ruled out by their one loss to demonstrably less-able teams. Why? Because that game was recent and it would result in a rematch.

The BCS, however agreed to consider a rematch (or a conference also-ran) implicitly by not ruling those things out, which it clearly could have done. But much hoopla was made of the simplicity of 1-vs-2.

Voters applied the false standard of "they had their chance", making a rule where there was none.

In the platonic ideal of the BCS, the voters choose the best teams and then the BCS's formula leans on an honest assessment to determine a matchup. In this case, the poll voters' decision was not about which team was actually better, but which matchup would be more palatable (and make the BCS look less bad). The system by which a championship matchup is determined was abandoned by voters when it became clear that an unsightly result would be produced. Michigan's players, along with those of every other player in the country was made a promise: Be one of the best two teams in the country, and you'll get a title shot. Then that promise was betrayed when the matchup looked potentially ugly. Even if Michigan objectively was the second best team in the nation, it's clear they weren't going to get a fair look.

Just because the result is palatable does not excuse the silliness and arbitrariness used to achieve it.

As for whether the BCS works as well as any system like that could: It does not work at all and the events of the last couple weeks have made that clear. The BCS, had it worked as it sets out to, was set to produce a title matchup that could have produced a deeply controversial champion. They had to be saved by the coaches poll and the parade of morons that comprise the Harris poll.

Crunk Raconteur said...

My favorite part of this is Flop's anti-Michigan conspiracy. Those crafty coaches and Harris poll voters banded together to impose a made-up restriction that keeps Michigan from getting a fair shot!

The BCS system places a lot of emphasis on human voters. And, agreeing with a comment about 15 comments ago, to think that those voters are going to sit back an soberly decide, on the merits, who the two best teams are is, to put it mildly, hilariously naive.

Should they do that? Of course, but we're talking about PEOPLE here. They don't even choose the leader of the free world that way. They just decide who seems steelier and more resolute or who they'd rather have a beer with.

It's not pretty, but this is the business we've chosen.

So, Michigan fans can all pat themselves on the back over the fact that classy Coach Grampa Simpson ("Florida said mean things about me!") decided to take the high road and not engage in the kind of shameless campaigning that, er, wins elections.

If he had done otherwise, would Michigan be in the championship game against Ohio State? Who knows. Maybe the voters would have still decided they didn't want a rematch. Not "created a new standard" but instead "decided what they wanted".

Did Urban Meyer shamelessly pimp his team? Sure. Is it unseemly? You bet. Why did he? Money is a factor, I'm sure, but he's the coach, and those are his players, and he got them an opportunity to play for a championship.

On the other hand, didn't Michigan's players deserve their own champion?

So, again, we can all pat ourselves on the back for the statesmanlike refusal of Lloyd to stoop to that level and engage the dirty business of campaigning, and feel good and self-righteous about ourselves.

But in politics, we have a word for a guy who refuses to engage his opponent because he feels it is unworthy of him to do so.

The word is "loser"

Flop said...

Crunk, you've helped make my point for me. The poll voters "decided what they wanted." That's absolutely correct. It's also how this worked before the BCS. Which is fine, but it's not how this was supposed to work this season. Hence, the BCS is broken, and the voters found a viable workaround and went with that instead. Should they have voted for the second-best team instead of gaming the system? Of course, even you said they should.

Someone was always going to get screwed. It's how the BCS works, and why the BCS is faulty and flawed. If thinking that it sucks is hilariously naive, enjoy your world-weary snickers.

As for the conspiracy theory, I think that idea is laughable on its face. I've said that the end result of Florida playing in the championship game is acceptable. It was the first thing I wrote about all this. My issue is, of course, with a flawed and fundamentally stupid process.

Would it make you feel better if I restated that, had the BCS worked as designed and Michigan gone, it would have been stupid, too, but for different reasons? I've said it twice, but I'm happy to repeat myself.

If the national championship were an election, your churlish comments about Lloyd might have some merit. (Please feel free to expound on the reasons that men who allow their work to speak for itself might be considered losers.) It's not anymore. The BCS was supposed to fix that. But the system that's meant to replace it is fundamentally silly, flawed and not anywhere close to being as fair as it could be.

What's the word for people who look at a situation and determine that it's flawed and stupid, but can't be bothered to even care enough to make it better because it hasn't caused them any harm yet?