Sunday, October 10, 2010

blogpoll ballot, week 6: the DAMMIT edition

It's ballot time. In the interest of furthering transparency of this thing, today you get some insight into the process behind this thing. After the ballot, read on to find out what goes on behind the scenes to produce the ballot on a weekly basis.

LSU on top, eh? Yup. They don't get a single first-place vote in the mainstream media polls and they probably won't get any others in the Blogpoll either. Even more surprising is that LSU has traditionally been my whipping boy on my ballot: the last two years I always ranked them well below where they ended up in both the Blogpoll and the MSM ones, because their resume was really weak and I felt they were getting advanced on their name alone. They went 8-5 in 2008, so I was very justified in my skepticism. This year, they're getting bashed for sliding past opponents in ugly fashion, but this isn't a beauty contest.

This year, they're the only team on that ballot who hasn't played a patsy. (They're coming up, to be sure: McNeese State is next week.) But they haven't even gone outside the BCS, for chrissake. The worst team on their schedule is Tennessee. Think about that. Tennessee is really bad, yes, but that's a relative term: they're not New Mexico Bad. And LSU just won at Florida. Undefeated and zero cupcakes: that's a #1 recipe.

Edit: 2nd iteration here which flip-flops FSU and Michigan.

Now for that look into the process. This is very scientific, believe it or not.

Step 1: Identify the 30-35 teams in contention for a ranking. This is subjective, but still pretty obvious. If there's a hint of an idea that I might rank a team, I include them. There are (currently) 15 other teams on a wait list of sorts that I know would never pass muster but might in the future if they continue to win. Some teams (UCLA, Texas) dropped out of the rankings onto the wait list, some played their way on (Syracuse, Mississippi State.) If they're at least 4-2, they're on there, waiting.

Step 2: Take the teams in contention (this week there were 30, and for the record, the teams that didn't make it are - in order - West Virginia, Miami, Air Force, Kansas State, and USC) and scan their resumes. I rank their games from 1 to X (six, this week) from most impressive to least impressive. Here, losses always rank below wins, no matter how bad the win or good the loss. Teams with byes have those placed in the middle on odd weeks and one below halfway on even weeks (so, 4th this week.)

Step 3: This is the longest. Take all the 1st-ranked games from each of the 30 teams and rank them 1-30. 1 point for the best win, 30 for the worst. This week, #1 is South Carolina's win over Alabama and #30 is Air Force's 14-6 win over Navy last week. Most teams by now have at least one pretty good skin on their wall. Repeat this process for each set of games from 1 through 6.

To give you an idea how I look at these, here are these rankings for the 5th- and 6th-most (that is, least) impressive games for the 30 teams.

A few guidelines I follow when I'm ranking these:

- Here, you'll note, losses don't always come after wins. Crummy wins, like South Carolina's ugliness against Furman or Nebraska's lame attempt against South Dakota State don't rank as high as, say, Arkansas's near-miss against Alabama.

- It seems silly to try and decide whether it's more impressive to beat Western Carolina 48-7 or Northwestern State 65-21. I do, however, consider it better to blow out a I-A team than a I-AA team, except in rare cases. And defense is appreciated. Also, once above about 45-50 points, there isn't much consideration to getting even more points. If Team A and Team B both play Cupcake C, and Team A wins 42-0 and Team B wins 69-17, Team A's win is the more impressive in my book because of defense.

- This low in the game rankings, any win against an even slightly respectable opponent (Vandy and Cincy, as you'll note) ranks higher than blowing out a cupcake.

- I always look very, very poorly on being the cupcake, even if to a top-five opponent. FSU's hideous loss to Oklahoma (and I don't care that it was on the road) has cost them several spots on my ballot. They could be as high as 12th or 11th had they put up a decent fight like Air Force did.

This can be a subjective step, and it usually takes some shuffling before I'm happy with the rankings. But the advantage is that I don't know who played about three-quarters of the games on there. So while it's ultimately kind of a subjective way to come up with an objective ballot, it's also mostly anonymous. When I'm ranking those games, I honestly don't very often think, "OK, that's Arkansas who played that game." I have no idea which team came in first or second or anything until I take the next step. LSU was honestly a complete surprise, because I expected it would be Oklahoma or Oregon.

- Step 4: Just tally up the points. You get 1 point for having the best game of the 30, 2 points for the next, etc. I just add these up, and the lowest total is #1 on the ballot. Easy.

- Step 5: What I call divine intervention. Sometimes the science turns up wacky results and I have to move teams up or down because their end ranking is basically indefensible. Maybe because of inconsistencies in ranking the games, but for whatever reason, it ain't perfect. If I can justify where a team is, I leave them, but this week, Michigan State ended up 3rd. That's insane. They deserve a high ranking (barf barf barf) but I had to drop them far enough to get below Stanford, on account of their respective handling of their common opponent, Notre Dame.

There you have it. Better transparency than even the AP poll. Far better. Are you ever going to get Pete DiPrimio to explain why he has been the only #1 vote for Boise State for the whole season? Going to see Jon Wilner's reasoning behind the absolute insanity of his Oregon-State-at-10th vote? No, you are not. (I'll tell you about Wilner: the AP poll study has not found a strong indication or pattern of regional bias, except on the West Coast, where the writers upvote the local teams like crazy motherfuckers. Fresno State knocks off Cincinnati and suddenly they're top-20 stuff, when the rest of the country knew Cincy was a paper tiger. Just wait til the end of the season - I think the results will be interesting, if they keep going the way they're going.)

Anyway. Ballot. Comment. Do it. Also, a note on programming: things are bumped back a bit - tomorrow you'll finally see my take on the GT game (sneak peek: I didn't like it) and then the normal Monday weekend review post will run on Tuesday.


Brandon said...

Think you should've stuck with the science on michigan state. Yes, if you just look at the notre dame game it seems obvious that stanford's the better team, and they might well be... but beyond that one game I don't think their resumes stack up particularly well. Stanford's trio of legit wins all feel pretty equal to me, and I'm tempted to look at their lack of D against USC in largely the same light as Michigan State's squeaker against Notre Dame. UCLA just confuses me at this point. But then MSU has two wins against teams you have ranked, and neither was exactly a squeaker. They're undefeated and I think that's a pretty solid tie breaker when you're talking about top 10 teams.

Also can't see putting FSU below michigan. Yes, the one loss is pretty horrific, but they've absolutely PASTED everyone else on their schedule. They may not all have been great teams, but neither were Indiana or UMass... that road thrashing of Miami is just by far and away the most impressive statement here.

And then I don't get NC State. They've got 3 ok wins, but none of them are anything more than ok. They might should've beaten Va Tech, but they didn't, and at home. Nevada's got the best win between them, and is undefeated... Arizona might have the _two_ best wins between them, and a similar loss... Nebraska just obliterated what I thought heading in was a pretty good Kansas State team, and is undefeated... and while I'd probably put their wins slightly ahead of Michigan's, a loss to a top 10 team seems a bit more palatable, this being a Michigan team I already argued against.

Anyway, sorry for the novel here. In general, really like your process... I don't tend to have teams in the same order as you, but the reasoning behind it always feels sound, unlike many ballots. You might can tell I find team ranking fairly interesting. As always, feel free to ignore my ramblings :D

Brendan said...

You hit on a few things I was considering once I got done adding things up, actually. NC State especially. Thought about moving them down, but couldn't justify it as far as Nevada was concerned. They might have the best win between the two, but NC State has the three next best.

As far as Nebraska, I guess I just really hate that SDSU game, and to a lesser extent the Idaho game. But FSU....yeah, they need to be ahead of Michigan. I'll definitely make that switch.