Saturday, December 23, 2006

Why Oregon lost by so many points.

#1. Oregon was unmotivated. That much was obvious.

#2. At least one (and maybe more) of Oregon's coaching staff disrespected the opponent. Coach Bellotti has done some good things for the U of O, but before the game, he said that BYU couldn't compete with the better teams in the Pac-10, with the insinuation that his team was in that group. There's really no good time to say something like that about an opponent. Saying it beforehand motivates one's opponent, even if it's true. Saying it after a win is unsporting, and saying it after a loss is stupid. Incidentally, when asked about his words after the game, he said that he stood by his previous remarks. Sportswriters in Oregon did not approve.

#3. Quarterback controversy. It is possible to use more than one player at quarterback. Florida does it nicely with Leak (the passer) and Tebow (the runner). [Incidentally, it's worth remarking that the pocket passer is black and the athletic scrambler is white at Florida. Don't believe common stereotypes.] However, Oregon was switching between the two not because they believed in both, but because they believed in neither one. The coaching staff should have decided on a guy (probably Leaf) in advance, and given him as much confidence and first-team practice time as possible. Instead, both were playing with one eye at the sideline, wondering if they'd get pulled if that drive didn't go well. It usually didn't, and they usually did sit down again.

#4. Oregon's great pair of running backs couldn't get outside very easily against BYU's fast linebackers, and couldn't run inside, because of a slow-looking offensive line.

#5. BYU's patchwork secondary held up. During the Utah game, injuries to cornerbacks hurt the team's ability to slow down the Ute offense. Apparently, though, Miyahira was up to speed on his responsibilities at corner, and Robinson's shoulder was in good enough shape to intercept two passes. Perhaps he would have had that third one as well if he were at full strength.

#6. Curtis Brown did enough on the ground. In the past, Brown often struggled against tough defenses because he didn't always commit to his first cut. (Direction change, for the football novices.) Against fast defenses, that meant linebackers could quickly converge. This time, he read his blockers well, and didn't try to do it all himself. On his touchdown runs, he read the block ahead of him, and wasn't touched before he crossed the goal line either time. That trust in his blockers to make the right play motivates them to do it again the next time, because they know it's helping the team. When a runner is indecisive, blockers often recognize that what they do doesn't really matter, and they consequently make less effort.

#7. Jonny Harline knew what routes to run. in zone coverages, he read the seams (the spots between where different defenders are covering) well, making catches before defenders could reach him. When single covered, he ran deep routes, effectively using his size advantage against safeties or his speed advantage against linebackers to get open deep down the field.

#8. BYU's routine. They did the same things as had been planned on last year's trip to the same bowl game, staying at the same hotel, practicing the same amount, going to the same Blue Man Group show, etc. Routine brings familiarity, familiarity brings confidence. Perhaps this sense of familiarity helped calm them in a jittery first quarter, as...

#9. John Beck stayed calm early. On BYU's first three drives, receivers dropped balls, and he made a couple poor throws. He didn't try to force the issue, and stuck with what had worked all year. It started clicking on the last drive of the quarter, and BYU scored right after the second quarter began. In fact, he only threw one bad ball all night, even though he had two interceptions. The interception on the last play of the first half was not a bad decision on his part; he threw it down to the goal line without any time left. A BYU touchdown was overwhelmingly more likely than an interception returned 99 yards. Good decision, even if it didn't work out on that play. Even after Matt Allen's second drop, Beck kept looking to him, and Allen made a big catch late in the game when BYU was putting the Ducks away.

#10. The sea of blue. The fans in attendance were overwhelmingly Cougar faithful---at least 80%, and possibly 90%. That's a very real home-field advantage on a supposed neutral site. Reviewing BYU's performance at home this year is impressive; the closest games were blowouts--25 point wins against New Mexico and Tulsa. Road games were much tougher, including an overtime loss to Boston College, a last-play loss to Arizona, and a last-play win against Utah. In fact, every road game for BYU was closer than every home game. Not to say BYU was poor on the road---they were quite good. They were just dominating wire-to-wire in home games, and the Las Vegas Bowl was a home game. It's not Sam Boyd Stadium, it's South BYU Stadium.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Not to much to ask (not sports)

I would like a modicum of privacy in a restroom. I can't imagine that other guys don't have such a preference as well. Somehow, though, an unusual number of restrooms do not have dividers between urinals. Is this too much to ask?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

An autopsy of the BCS selection process, in case you wondered why teams ended up in specific places.

The BCS bowls have some automatic ties:
The Tournament of Roses has the champs from the Big 10 and Pac 10. (Ohio State and USC)
The Fiesta Bowl has the Big XII champ. (Oklahoma)
The Sugar Bowl has the SEC champ. (Florida)
The Orange Bowl has the ACC champ. (Wake Forest)
The Big East champ does an automatic bid, but not assigned to a specific bowl. (Louisville)

Michigan and LSU finished high enough this year that they automatically qualified, and Boise State finished high enough as an outside conference champion to also earn a bid.

That left one open spot. Other Big 10 and SEC teams were disqualified because there were already two teams from their conference. Only at-larges in the top 14 are eligible, so either #11 Notre Dame or #13 West Virginia could be invited to fill the final spot, but choosing one would eliminate the other from the selection pool.

The bowls that have their linked conference champions taken for the Championship pick first, so the Rose Bowl (since Ohio State is #1) could pick Michigan, LSU, Louisville, Boise State, Notre Dame, or West Virginia. They picked Michigan to replace OSU, which set their match-up as USC-Michigan, a traditional matchup for a game built on tradition. The Sugar could pick from next to replace Florida. They chose LSU, since LSU is nearby and would be a great storyline.

The bowls with open spots rotate selection order each year. This year, the Sugar Bowl picked first. The choices now were Louisville, Boise State, Notre Dame, and West Virginia. They chose Notre Dame, because even though LSU will probably cream them, because Notre Dame draws well on TV. (Thus, West Virginia is out of luck.)

The Orange Bowl had the next pick, and could select either Boise State or Louisville to play Wake Forest. Quite reasonably, they believed Louisville would draw better in Florida than Boise State would. This meant the Fiesta Bowl was required to take Boise State.

In summary,
Championship: Ohio State vs. Florida
Rose: USC vs. Michigan
Fiesta: Oklahoma vs. Boise State
Sugar: LSU vs. Notre Dame
Orange: Wake Forest vs. Louisville

Saturday, December 02, 2006

In case you wonder why I've been talking so much about sports and not about work or life:

I resigned from my soul-crushing job at NASA. It wasn't the right job for me, and I wasn't the right person for the job. I've got nothing against the people I worked with--some of them could have done more to help me be more at home. Even then, it wouldn't have been right for me in the long run, and expecting people to always live up to my needs and expectations is a good way to be disappointed most of the time, so I'm not too wound up about it.

Being in Houston also limits my "life," too. I'm not really attached to very many people out here, as I've noted before.

This means I have little reason to stay here in Houston, so I've decided to move--probably to Salt Lake City, where the person I care about most is, and many of my other friends are nearby. I like that idea quite a bit.

The last week of regular-season college football

Firstly, congratulations to Central Michigan. The Chippewas looked great against the Miami Bobcats as they won the Mid-American Conference title game. Second, congratulations to the local (for the moment) Houston Cougars, who beat Southern Mississippi in the Conference USA title match. Additionally, the most well-known college football rivalry game was held this week; the Midshipmen of the U.S. Naval Academy were victorious against the Cadets. Now, for the games with greater financial impact:

Louisville easily dispatched UConn, and if the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers slip up against the West Virginia Mountaineers, the one-loss Cardinals will be in a BCS game. (And maybe even if they don't.)

In the ACC title game, which was the weakest of the BCS conferences this year, Wake Forest got three field goals to Georgia Tech's two. Thus, the Demon Deacons of Wake Forest will be competing in the Orange Bowl. There was another outcome of the game as well, though--the losses this week and last will likely knock Georgia Tech out of the top 25. This doesn't seem like a big deal, but it is to another team--the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. Notre Dame lost big to Michigan and USC, the two top teams they've played. Their best wins are against Penn State, Navy, and Georgia Tech, who will probably all be in the "Also Receiving Votes" category. Ths may be enough to convince a BCS game to invite Louisville instead of Notre Dame.

Who am I kidding? Notre Dame not deserving to get a spot doesn't matter. They'll have one anyway, but it will seem much more defensible if Rutgers loses and there's only one single-loss Big East team.

USC lost to UCLA when a late drive to win was stopped at the ten by an intercepted pass. USC will be in the Rose Bowl. Rivalry games have a tendency to be close, because players on struggling teams often look to that single game as a chance to redeem their unimpressive seasons. (E.g. BYU-Utah was also quite close, Georgia Tech lost to Georgia, Stanford threatened Cal, Army was not totally dominated by Navy, A&M edged out Texas.)

Florida is up on Arkansas at the half, and Rutgers @ West Virginia is just underway; Florida may have a chance at the championship with a win tonight, and Rutgers will be in a BCS game with a win, but Louisville is cheering for West Virginia. Also almost underway is the Big 12 championship between Nebraska and Oklahoma... can I cheer for both of them to lose?

I'll post again later tonight after the important games have ended.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Non-Conference Opponents: Why USC is a better pick for the Championship game than Florida or Michigan

USC won solidly against Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Arkansas. Those are some very good opponents; each of them could legitimately be playing in BCS bowls.

Michigan won solidly against Notre Dame, Central Michigan, and Vanderbilt. This set of teams is not as impressive. Don't underestimate Central Michigan; the Chippewas were the MAC champs this year, but even so, they're not in the same class as Nebraska or Arkansas. Vanderbilt is not a good team--sure, they're in the SEC, but they're historically the worst team in that conference. They also had a game against the Ball State University Cardinals that was much closer than it ought to have been--Michigan beat a not-very-good MAC team visiting their stadium by only a touchdown.

Florida dominated against I-AA Western Carolina, but they're not even a good team at that level of play. Wins against Southern Miss (an above-average Conference USA team) and Central Florida (a below-average C-USA team) were also by convincing margins, but the game against Florida State was quite close. This usually would be a good thing, but Florida State is not very good this year.

When those non-conference games are considered in light of current conference strengths--the Pac-10 is slightly better than the SEC this year, and the Big 10 is quite a bit behind either one. (And Michigan is hurt in conference, too; they did not face Wisconsin, their conference's third-best team, or Purdue, who finished fifth.)

As a whole, USC has beaten six teams with winning records, two from Sagarin's top ten and all in the top thirty. Michigan has beaten only three winning teams, none from the top ten and only two in the top thirty. Florida has drawn a tough SEC schedule--the only teams they don't face are the two worst in the conference--and like USC, they have half a dozen wins thus far, and two from the top ten--but two of them are not top thirty teams.