Friday, April 24, 2009

Schedule gibbering

So earlier this week Blutarsky posted a link to a page at Phil Steele's place ranking 2009 schedules by 2008 winning percentage. This approach (which gets a lot of play in NFL circles when their schedules are released) has a couple of gaping, obvious flaws, which is why Steele disavows it even as he offers up the info: first, last year's winning percentage is no guarantee of this year's winning percentage, and secondly going undefeated against, say, the Sun Belt is just a wee bit less difficult than doing it in the SEC or Big 12.

With all that said, it was still something of a shock to click over and see the following top 10:

1 Florida St
2 Oklahoma St
3 Syracuse
4 South Carolina
5 Auburn
6 Baylor
6 Mississippi St
8 Wyoming
9 Texas Tech
10 Miami, Fl

Those numbers, from left, are team's 2009 opponents' win-loss record, win percentage, and the number of teams on the 2009 slate with winning records in '08. If Auburn was playing their 2009 schedule in 2008, it would, without question, be one of the toughest schedules in the nation.

But what about playing their 2009 schedule in, you know, 2009? Is "fifth-toughest in the nation" at all accurate? That'll depend on whether Auburn's 2009 opponents live up to their 2008 pedigree. So while this is not a full-scale preview of Auburn's fall opponents and I reserve the right to change my mind four more times before the season actually starts, I figure it'll be worthwhile to provide a quickie guess as to whether Auburn's 2009 opponents will be better or worse than they were last season, in the effort to gauge how close to "fifth-toughest" the slate's actually going to be. Like so:

1. Louisiana Tech
2008 record: 8-5
Stock arrow: Up, unfortunately. Every time I remember the Gene Chizik era's kicking off with a well-coached team that's gotten progressively better every year under Dooley I kick the wall. The Bulldogs return nine offensive starters, including the entire offensive line, and seven on defense. Ugh.

2. Mississippi St.
2008 record: 4-8
Stock arrow: Up, slightly. Mullen will have them much better-coached on offense, and they'll be more experienced, but there's still so little talent here by SEC standards.

3. West Virginia
2008 record: 9-4
Stock arrow: Down. No Pat White, huge losses on the offensive line, Bill Stewart in charge. Don't see them winning 9 again.

4. Ball State.
2008 record: 12-2
Stock arrow: Down. Especially without the likes of Nate Davis and without the coach that put that team together, somehow I don't think Ball St. is going to interject itself into the "BCS wild card!" discussion two years in a row.

5. Tennessee.
2008 record: 5-7
Stock arrow: Neutral. On the one hand, you wouldn't think the Vols could help being a little better, but then again they've lost half the defense and of their seven returning guys on offense, one of them is Jonathan Crompton. The schedule also exchanges Mississippi St. for Ole Miss at the worst possible time.

6. Arkansas.
2008 record: 5-7
Stock arrow: Up. Hogs dramatically improved in the second half of the season and now Petrino has the same quality of quarterback he enjoyed at Louisville. This year's Ole Miss, if you ask me.

7. Kentucky.
2008 record: 7-6
Stock arrow: Down. Dr. Saturday: "My guess ... is stagnation for a roster that doesn't look very different from last year's in any notable way. That means another round of tight, low-scoring games, not all of which will fall the Wildcats' way again, leaving them just on the wrong side of .500." Sounds right to me.

8. LSU.
2008 record: 8-5
Stock arrow: Up. LSU's not going 8-5 again. I'm not sure Jordan Jefferson is a savior, but the main problem was on defense, and Chavis should fix that.

9. Ole Miss.
2008 record: 9-4
Stock arrow: Neutral. That Snead is back and that the Rebels lost a couple of games last year in which they were the better team suggests improvement; that it's a Houston Nutt team getting a media tongue bath in the offseason suggests disappointment. So it should balance right back out to 9-4.

10. Furman
2008 record: 7-5.
Stock arrow: I'm not putting the effort into finding that sort of thing out today. But this should help illustrate how flawed this method of determining strength-of-schedule: Furman's 7 wins do count towards the total of 96 used in the table above.

11. Georgia
2008 record: 10-3.
Stock arrow: Down. Ruthless schedule, new QB, same on-again off-again defensive coordinator.

12. Alabama.
2009 record: 12-2.
Stock arrow: Down. I'm already sweating 2010, but going undefeated in the SEC two years in a row--this time with a new quarterback and revamped offensive line is a hard--just isn't happening.

Final verdict: That's five downs, three ups, one "up slightly," two neutrals, and one TBD. Add it all together and you get: No, Auburn's schedule isn't nearly as bad as that No. 5 ranking would suggest.

It's easy to see how Auburn would rank so highly by this method: we're playing two different teams that won 12 games last year, our I-AA patsy won 7, all four nonconference teams finished with winning records, Kentucky piled up four wins against (almost) the worst non-league slate imaginable. The odds of both Ball State and Alabama winning 12 again are nil; the I-AA team's record is irrelevant unless they're winning championships; Kentucky was kind of a fraud. So, yeah, it's far from the easiest slate Auburn could have put together. (I really, really wish we'd found a different opener.) But from this vantage point, it's not murderer's row, either.


Bubba said...

Is it accurate to say UA went undefeated in the SEC if one excludes the championship game? Undefeated in the regular season, sure; in the SEC? Eh...

Either way, I stand to be corrected, but I think that, since 1998 and the start of the BCS, there have only been three SEC teams to run the gauntlet of a regular season and go undefeated: the '98 Vols, our '04 Tigers, and UA ('08).

With LSU rising and a dangerous Ole Miss, and with us and Tennessee building back our programs, it seems unlikely that UA will repeat that feat.

Walt said...

I just have to say that I'm hoping for a fantastic two week period when the Furman game roles around. As a life-long Georgia Southern fan and current Georgia Southern grad student, I can't stand the Purple Pansies (also known as Paladins). Furman and App State are GSU's two biggest rivals. And this year I get to see them get the crap kicked out of them by my undergrad alma mater the week before they come to the 'Boro and play my GSU Eagles. So I'm hoping for a double-dose of Paladin destruction this fall.