Monday, December 1, 2008

Why Everything You've Heard About The Big 12 South Is Wrong

Texas would be a more formidable opponent than Oklahoma, for Florida.

But Oklahoma most deserves to represent the Big 12 South this Saturday.

I will start with the latter point first. You have certainly heard, or may have even argued yourself, that head-to-head is a better measure than BCS rankings when deciding which team should represent the South in the Big 12 Championship game, so Texas should be Big South Champions. Sounds simple, right? But what is being (unintentionally) concealed here? This argument is either already relying on the rankings, or it is being supported by Oklahoma's dominance against Texas Tech to set the parameters of their judgment (which is something the polls are also relying on). If this latter point is true, then Oklahoma is being (theoretically) punished by people using the head-to-head argument because they beat Texas Tech so thoroughly and so late in the year.

Here's how. To make the head-to-head argument, you have to find a way to reduce three teams to two teams. How is that being done? Rankings. Not rankings? Subjective judgment (Texas Tech seems weaker)? Date of loss (Tech lost later)? So, if rankings are not the reason, then the reason is because Oklahoma so thoroughly, and so recently, embarrassed Texas Tech, dropping Tech in rankings, making Tech look weaker, and giving Tech the latest loss of the three teams. So either the head-to-head advocates are relying on polls, or they relying on Oklahoma's dominance (or both), to make their case.

Here's what is being said, effectively, albeit, unconsciously: Texas should represent the South since Oklahoma just beat Tech so badly.

One might add that their real reasoning for reducing their decision down to 2, and then choosing Texas, is the "neutral field" argument. Let's examine. The advocate of this argument will say that of the three teams, only Oklahoma lost a non-road game (Texas and Texas Tech lost in other teams' stadiums). This gets you down to Tech vs Texas. I have yet to hear anyone argue Tech should represent the South, so I guess the head-to-head claim is one more of convenience. Maybe they cite the reasons I cited above, but again, you get into the same problems of defending a poll when you are trying to say the polls are not the right standard, or you are justifying a position by using Oklahoma's recent, devastating win over Tech. You might notice another problem, you are granting an a priori advantage to Texas and Oklahoma since these two teams often play one another on a "neutral field" (it is at the TEXAS State Fair). It would be like saying, before the season, "if there is a 3-way tie between Tennessee, Florida, and Georgia, the tie should be broken by the winner of the Florida-Georgia game in Jacksonville. In these cases, Tech and Tennessee would never have a shot to gain advantage in that tiebreaker (not that anyone 'round these parts would shed any tears for Tennessee)--and such a system would also eliminate the loser of Florida-Georgia automatically, no matter what kind of margin of victories or non-divisional wins were at hand.

Even if one were to give some stock to the neutral-field theory, no matter how strained that logic is, it is Oklahoma's non-conference schedule, and their impressiveness of victory over Tech (which unconsciously caused many to magically abandon a 3-way tie for a 2-way tie), and a few other teams (like Florida, Oklahoma lost 1 and dominated the rest), that makes me think Oklahoma is the right team to win the South. Also, I don't object to the BCS tiebreaker out of principle, since doing so would undermine anything I might say about strength of schedule, etc. Think about that. Can we say much of anything about how good teams are without citing some kind of ranking, even if tacitly, and even if we don't rely on a crude determination of polls? Sure, we can talk about division and conference championships as measurements, but this is precisely our problem--conventional determinations of conference measures are not fit to answer who is the champion of the Big 12 South.

Quickly, the best team Texas beat that Oklahoma did not play was Missouri. Missouri lost 3 games, and their best win was against Illinois, when they gave up about 45 points. Illinois was ranked, but not anymore. Oklahoma beat two very good teams that Texas didn't play, TCU and Cincinnati. TCU lost 2 games, one to UTAH, a team that will be going to their second BCS Bowl game in 4 years(!), by 3, on the road, and they were blown out by OK on the road. Also, TCU blew out BYU when BYU was ranked in the top 10. Cincy won the Big East--a BCS conference! Cincy beat 3 ranked teams in one month (USF, West Virginia, and Pitt--all ranked when Cincy beat them). OK blew Cincy out. Tech has no big wins against a team the others didn't face. The best candidate is Nevada. To be fair, Texas did face Arkansas, whom they blew out, and FAU, a team that did win their conference, albeit, not a good conference. But Oklahoma, based on ranking, based on their win over Tech which silently reduced 3 to 2, and based on non-conference, or non-common opponents, comes out with a clear advantage by my judgment.

I know that some may claim schedule is out of these teams' hands, so its unfair for me to cite that standard since I thought the neutral field standard is unfair. But, the analogy is weak (since the strength of teams is not an, a priori, advantage the way that the neutral field is because we don't know how good teams will turn out, and OK underwent greater risk playing that schedule, a risk that Texas and OK did not have to endure by simply playing on a neutral field, since doing so gives them a better shot than Tech if all 3 teams are tied), and I'm not committed to just non-conference-schedule as a standard (I use several criteria), and so its not necessary the way that the head-to-head argument needs everything to fall together in a way that it simply doesn't (it claims it avoids rankings--it doesn't, it claims neutral field is a neutral standard--it isn't to Tech, and it claims there are 2 when there are really 3--a fact that exists because of OK's dominance).

Okay, so after all of this, why is it that I think Texas would be a tougher match-up for Florida, at least theoretically? Colt McCoy and defense. Texas gives up an average of 1 fewer TDs per game, and 20 fewer yards per game than Oklahoma. And McCoy is more dynamic than Bradford, running and throwing well, and showing that he may be a bit better against a rush than Bradford. But my case is far from convincing, even to me, since these stats are conditioned by the fact that OK played a tougher schedule, as I argue above. Also, now that OK is playing in the Big 12 Championship game, they will, unlike Texas, have an experience playing, and winning (since they will have to win it to face Florida), a high-pressure championship game. But that effect is overrated, and Texas has played under plenty of pressure this season. Moreover, Texas has played better defense, overall, against opponents that are common with Oklahoma. Wildcard? Oklahoma has a much better turnover ratio than Texas.

This last bit of speculation is moot (and so is this entire post). Oklahoma will beat Missouri. Florida will beat Alabama. Both will meet in the Orange Bowl (actually, Dolphin Stadium, for the BCS Championship Bowl), January 8th.