How does one respond to people who say "ignore the stats?" Or, even better: as a stats guy, when do you yourself ignore stats?
"Ignore the stats" typically means "The stats don't say what I feel, and I'm not really in the market for a new opinion, therefore they mean nothing to me." Someone uttering such a sentence either isn't interested in numbers, played the game (and therefore knows everything he needs to know about football, you big damn nerd), or is just not looking at the right stats. I can help those in the latter category. The others don't want help, and that's fine.
As for when I ignore stats ... I'm not going to lie. I don't exactly keep track of success rates and points per play in my head as a game is unfolding in front of me, especially not a game to which I have emotional ties (i.e. a Missouri game). Stats tell me what to look for during a game -- which, for what it is worth, is incredibly worthwhile -- but they have a much larger impact on me from Sunday through Friday. When the game is on, I just let the football wash over me. Stats are the mise en place, but the game is still the game.
Texas' rushing attack: legitimately great, or the product of bad opposition (or I guess both, but pick a side, fence sitter)?
They're getting somewhere, but "legitimately great" is certainly a bit overboard.
Let's put it this way: as you are probably aware, for each category of full-season ratings that are tracked through the S&P+ ratings process, there is a single-game rating. The same general rules apply: a score of 100.0 in a given category is average, anything above is good, anything below is bad. Here are the single-game "+" scores for Texas' running game thus far:
vs Rice: 125.0
vs BYU: 101.3
vs UCLA: 124.2
vs Iowa State: 92.1
vs Oklahoma: 80.9
vs Oklahoma State: 115.1
vs Kansas: 99.9
vs Texas Tech: 175.6
So basically, they have been average to slightly below average four times (BYU, ISU, OU, KU), rock solid three times (Rice, UCLA, OSU) and spectacular once (Tech). Just because the best game was the last one -- and make no mistake, the combination of Joe Bergeron (29 carries, 191 yards, three touchdowns) and Fozzy Whittaker (10 carries, 83 yards, two touchdowns) was simply incredible last weekend -- doesn't necessarily mean they have broken through. You break through by doing it again, then doing it again.
The trend for the Texas running game before the Texas Tech game was actually downward; they were simply unbelievable against Tech, but one game does not a trend make. Their four remaining games are all against teams with Top 50 Rushing S&P+ defenses -- Texas A&M (14th), Kansas State (33rd), Missouri (34th) and Baylor (48th). If they've truly broken through, we'll know soon enough.
Can you tell me why Arkansas ranks so low in the F/+ rankings???
-- via e-mail
This has certainly been a source of confusion for both me and some readers. In the current F/+ rankings, you'll see that most of the top of the AP and F/+ lists are rather similar -- the top seven in the AP poll are all among the F/+ top eight (the only major difference: Wisconsin is 18th in the AP after two devastating, last-second losses; they still rank a healthy sixth in F/+). But after those seven teams, things get weird. No. 20 Auburn (6-3) is No. 57 in F/+. No. 14 Kansas State (7-2): 43rd. No. 11 Houston (9-0): 30th.
But perhaps it gets no stranger than Arkansas, an SEC team with a stellar 8-1 record, ranking just 27th in F/+, below three-loss teams like Notre Dame, Florida State, Arizona State and Ohio State, and below even 5-4 Toledo (for now, at least -- with their defensive performances of the last two weeks, Toledo is probably not long for the Top 40, much less the Top 25). How does this happen?
As you'll see, this is due primarily to my measure, S&P+. The Hogs rank a healthy 11th in Brian Fremeau's drive-based FEI, but they are just 41st in S&P+. Why?
Basically, because on a play-by-play basis, their defense just isn't very good. They have pulled off the bend-don't-break routine for the most part, ranking 41st in DFEI (how well they shut down drives) but just 65th in Def. S&P+ (how well they shut down every play), and as South Carolina learned this past weekend, if you can't pass, then you will find it very difficult to move the ball against Arkansas (though that goes for most teams). But aside from the back-to-back games versus Alabama and Texas A&M (games that saw them allow 1,025 yards and 76 points), the Hogs have benefited from playing mostly terrible offense.
How bad? Auburn's (Off. F/+ ranking: 48th) is the third-best offense they've faced. South Carolina (53rd) is fading fast, Vanderbilt's (76th) is improving, but only so much, and the other three FBS offenses on the schedule are just brutal: Ole Miss (110th), Troy (111th) and New Mexico (119th). They should continue to get by against Tennessee (47th) and Mississippi State (57th), but they have shown no indication that they are capable of slowing down LSU (fifth) enough to give themselves any chance of an upset in Baton Rouge.
The SEC is the SEC; it is great, and if you go 10-2 or so in that conference, you've probably earned it. But let's just say that the current set of offenses in that conference is somewhere between mediocre and pathetic (along with the teams above, Kentucky ranks 108th in Off. F/+, once-explosive Florida 65th), and Arkansas has had very good timing with their strong offense, average D and some close-games luck (they are 3-0 in games decided by a touchdown or less).
Will Boise State ever appear in a BCS national championship game without a postseason playoff system?
Technically, yes, there is a scenario that sees Boise State advance to the title game, but it would require both an undefeated record (obviously) and 2007-level chaos. The Broncos have built enough of a reputation that they wouldn't be (justifiably) ignored like Hawaii was in 2007, but it is pretty clear at this point that we will continue to talk ourselves out of Boise as a legitimate title option as long as there are undefeated major conference teams on the board ... and, most likely, one-loss teams from a conference like the SEC or Big 12. They have hit their glass ceiling of sorts; just through the simple act of playing conference opponents like Colorado State and UNLV, their perceptions take a hit, as if they are choosing to remain in a non-BCS conference and choosing not to play somebody more worthwhile.
The Big East move could help a little. I am still a bit convinced that, with rules as blurry as they are for losing your BCS automatic-qualifying status, the Big East could maintain its status as a BCS conference (deservedly or not) despite losing West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Syracuse. But even if that doesn't happen, the simple fact is that the dregs of the Big East are infinitely better than those of the Mountain West (though that does depend, somewhat, on who else the Big East ends up adding). By playing another major conference team or two in non-conference, then 'only' having to play the likes of Central Florida, Air Force or Navy, they are saving themselves from watching their strength of schedule take epic hits as the season progresses. Only minor hits.
Can you talk generally about your impressions of our wonderful tarp in Waco?
Best tarp I've seen since they used to cover up the upper deck, for purposes of coziness (of course -- no other reason!), at Three Rivers Stadium during Pittsburgh Pirates games. Waco is, after all, Bear Country. It's nice to make sure visitors know what they are getting into when they see a game at a packed Floyd-Casey Stadium.