Monday, January 09, 2012

A season's worth of data means something

At some point on some website (I can't remember which one) some number of years ago in a galaxy far, far away, somebody wrote a piece about the pointlessness of trying to determine the relative quality of two teams based on one game. The premise was that every team has a season's worth of data that demonstrates a range of possible performances. Here's an uber-simplistic visual interpretation:

Obviously a good team can play well and beat a great team that plays poorly; that doesn't necessarily mean the good team is better than the great team. This seems stupidly simple but has an important takeaway: A single game is not nearly as important in the big picture as the cumulative data, which is obviously modified by each game but is based on the season as a whole.

LSU is the national champion of this season. LSU has beaten Alabama (in Tuscaloosa), Oregon (on a neutral field), Arkansas, West Virginia (in Morgantown), Auburn and Georgia (on a neutral field). Only one of those games was within two touchdowns. Even if there were a playoff, there'd still be no way for any team to put together a more impressive resume. As it stands now, the best Alabama can do is finish 12-1 with a a split against LSU and a remaining group of wins that don't compare. Based on an entire season's worth of data, there's basically nothing Alabama can do tonight to earn a true national championship.

The "basically" qualifier is necessary because there's about a 0.1 percent chance that Alabama wins by several touchdowns, which would pretty convincingly swing Alabama ahead of LSU from a head-to-head standpoint and, by proxy, an overall standpoint. Assuming it's a competitive game and nothing forces me to believe that Bama is definitely better, LSU wins by virtue of ... like ... everything.

This is not a totally novel opinion. The AP published a pretty interesting survey of its voters last week on the chances of a split national championship, and among the interesting quotes was this from Erik Gee of KNML-Am in Albuquerque:
"I will vote for LSU no matter what happens in the National Championship game. How in the world can they be the SEC west champ, the outright SEC champ, and lose to Alabama in a neutral-site game (I guess you can debate the Superdome being a neutral site) after they have already beaten them in Tuscaloosa, have the series split 1-1 and not at least have a share of the National Title?"
There's also this from Joe Giglio of The News & Observer in Raleigh:
"Unless Alabama absolutely dominates LSU and leaves no doubt that it is a superior football team, I will be voting for LSU. I am voting for the No. 1 team in the country for the 2011 season, not the result of one game. In the case of this rematch presented by the BCS, you have to consider the scope of the entire season, not the timing of one loss."
BOOM LOGIC'D. Joe Giglio's ideas are intriguing to me, and I wish to subscribe to his newsletter.

There's apparently a third option that I hadn't really considered (I'll explain why momentarily). This is from Kyle Ringo of the Daily Camera in Boulder:
"If Alabama and Oklahoma State both win, I'll have a hard time deciding between the two. Guess margin of victory might be the deciding factor. I'd probably lean toward OSU in that case because of its superior overall body of work."
Ehhh ... I dunno. The "superior overall body of work" thing makes sense except for the part about ignoring LSU, which will have the most superior overall body of work no matter what. You could easily make an argument that Oklahoma State had a better season than a hypothetically 12-1 Alabama; you couldn't make that argument intelligently without realizing that LSU was better than both. The only way LSU won't be better than both is with a convincing loss that would, by definition, be a convincing win for Alabama, at which point No. 2a's convincing win over No. 1 would be far more meaningful than No. 2b's miraculous win over No. 4. I'd love to see Oklahoma State play LSU or Alabama but will never get that chance and can't manifest it by voting illogically.

None of this matters at all to the BCS, of course. The coaches' poll will reflect that whoever wins the championship game is the Undisputed Champion of the World (with T-shirts!), which means the supposedly ginormous value of the regular season is reduced to zero. That might be fine in most instances, but a rematch is not most instances.

LSU has already earned it. Whatever happens tonight is postscript and not conclusion unless LSU wins, which would render this moot and therefore is exactly what I'm rooting for.


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