Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Iowa Lacks Style ... Does It Lack Substance?

After the 2001 season, the BCS forced the computers remaining in the BCS formula to remove margin of victory (MOV) as an element in their respective algorithms. The reason, ostensibly, is that it discourages teams from running up the score since they wouldn't benefit from it.

Well, they should've asked all the pollsters to remove their eyeballs so they can only check the scores in Braille.

We're more than halfway done in the 2009 season, and the BCS Standings provides a clear picture: Style points matter. Why else would Iowa be ranked fourth despite being the near-unanimous choice as the top team by the computers?

The Hawkeyes may be 8-0, but they got to 8-0 in the ugliest fashion imaginable. They had to block two field goals against I-AA Northern Iowa (5-3, ranked 14th in the I-AA poll). They looked listless against Arkansas State (2-4, sixth in the Sun Belt). They escaped against Michigan, thanks to five Wolverines turnovers, including a game-killing interception in the final minute. And they needed the very last second to beat Michigan State last week.

The computers may love Iowa, but clearly the voters don't. The Hawkeyes are ranked eighth in both the Harris and Coaches polls, the lowest among the seven remaining unbeaten teams and also behind one-loss USC.

The less-than-stylish victories may ultimately cost Iowa a shot at the BCS national championship. There is a pretty wide gulf between the Hawkeyes and No. 3 Texas, the team poised to face the SEC winner (between Florida and Alabama) in the BCS title game. Iowa's computer points have maxed out, meaning it could only lose ground in this department against all other contenders.

The question is: Will they gain on the competition in the two polls? (I've been admonished by a reader for using the redundant "human polls," so I'm honoring his wish.)

They have one chance, and one chance only, to do that. The Hawkeyes have four games remaining, three at home against mediocre Big Ten foes (Indiana, Northwestern, Minnesota, combined 13-11) - they can only be hurt by not winning these games impressively. Their only road game, at Ohio State on Nov. 14, appears to be only road block to an undefeated season.

A resounding win over the Buckeyes will do wonders for Iowa. It will all but guarantee that the Hawkeyes will stay ahead of the Trojans, who eeked out an 18-15 win at Columbus earlier in the season. That also will pave the way for them to stay clear of all other unbeaten teams. It might even give them enough of a boost to jump Texas.

Toward the end of each season, the BCS becomes all about the polls, and therefore all about style. For the judges in this beauty pagaent, ugly victories count for about as much as moral victories.


Clark said...

I've long thought that it would make sense to reintroduce MOV into the computer calculations, but stipulate that it has to be capped at something like 21 points. Even if you win by 50 points, the computers still value it as a 21 point win. That should still discourage running up the score, or at least not reward teams that do, but also allow the computers to differentiate between teams that are barely sneaking by and those that are winning by healthy margins.

I'd also be interested to see an analysis done of scores at the end of the 3rd quarter. Many times we've seen a 42-14 game at the end of the 3rd quarter turn into a 45-31 game after the leading team puts in all of their 2nd and 3rd string. The larger margin at the end of the 3rd is really more indicative of the game. Of course, there are legitimate comebacks, etc, etc. Lots of work would need to be done to look at things like that, but it feels to me like it could be a useful statistic.

Anonymous said...

This is a fantastic presentation of style is all about. Very nice write up. Easy to understand and straight to the point.Thank you for sharing and may you have much thought provoking conversations!

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Nick said...

I've always said that I agree with a 1 loss team being ahead of an undefeated team that doesn't look strong. (As long as the 1 loss is absolutely amazing)

But since this year, it MIGHT happen to one of my teams, it makes me want a playoff even more.

I don't think we'll have 4 undefeated teams at the end of the season, but if we do.....Arguments can be made for all 4 teams AND USC if they win out....

In a society that wants a national champion....the BCS can't give that.

I've never been so into CF then ever because of all this.....we will never know the true NC if things continue like this.

Cincy will win out, and so will 1 SEC team. Texas will likely win out also. Iowa has the biggest challenge and if they run the table, they will likely be left out, I agree.

Boise St. is never going to be in the NC, so I won't even talk about them.

But at the end of the season, we are likely to have FIVE teams that deserve to be in the can you solve that? You can't.

Nick said...

The only thing that would put Iowa in the NC is if Arizona and PSU win out....that would give 3 Teams that would have have a legit shot at the NC game... (SEC/Texas/Iowa)

I've learned before not to talk about NC teams this early, but its more interesting this year with so many undefeated teams.

And with Alabama with a bye week, Iowa would be the only team in FB to be 9-0 if they win, and even then they wont get respect.

Oregon will jump them if they beat USC, so they won't gain in any polls

Nick said...

Iowa fans can no longer say UNI is an amazing team, as they now I have lost 3 games (I believe)

But of any of the top 10 teams, how many of them can you say with confidence that they could walk into happy valley, night game, in a hostile white out, angry upset loud fans, and walk away with a W? A Few

Same goes for UNI and Arky State though, how many teams in the top 10 would only win by 1 or 3 points in their home stadium...NONE.

It's fun to see analysts downplay Iowa's opponents when they get a win. (Guru saying he has doubts on PSU being good)

You can say that about any team and when that team loses WEEKS down the road, you can say 'oh well i told you they were bad'. Its bullshit.

Some say USC's signature win was AT OSU, but the same people say the Big Ten is awful, HOW CAN THAT BE SO GOOD FOR USC.....we'll see this weekend if they make a new signature win

Anonymous said...

With the human polls being so heavily subjective, educated and knowledgeable, but subjective, removing the MOV from the computers is not all that bad. The human polls are saying that BSU CIN and TCU are all better than all of the Big Ten. MOV only works when the teams are all playing the same level of competition. BSU TCU and CIN would never remain unbeaten in the Big TEN, ugly or not. At some point the humans will have to accept that or lose credibility. It we were talking Iowa vs USC or LSU, then there is a point. Using the MOV point versus BSU, TCU, and Cin is has a false note.

mike said...

Problem with margin of victory is that you can't get your opponent to score negative points. So it automatically favors good offensive teams while punishing good defensive teams. Also, the polls let victory margin enter into play. Iowa is being punished for low margin of victory against mediocre teams.

The coaches already have some pressure to "win impressively" by continuing to push the score when ahead. I don't want to see more coaches feel pressured to be throwing the ball in the 4th quarter of a game that's not in doubt.

Jonathan said...

I know I'm late to the game for this thread, but I wanted to throw in a point on MOV that I didn't see addressed directly (although some great points have been raised). We have to remember that winning big simply isn't the point of the game. The point is winning.

Anonymous said...

Fuck you, We're Iowa.