Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Rating the 2011 Non-Conference Slate: Big Ten

And this time I was right! This is totally not the Big 12. See, for starters, there are twelve teams, so it's obviously the Big Ten. Sheesh.
  1. Ohio State (1.25 legit, 0 DI-AA): Akron, Toledo, @Miami, Colorado. You have to feel for the Buckeyes, and their back-and-forth saga over the past few weeks. When the massive scandal at Miami broke, surely OSU partisans gave themselves a chance against a depleted Hurricane squad. Well, not any more, as most of the current players involved have been suspended for only one game while the Ohio 5 Minus One will still be on the bench. Even so, they should still beat the other three OOC teams.
  2. Michigan (1, 0): Western Michigan, Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan, San Diego State. Here by virtue of not playing any DI-AA teams, pretty much.
  3. Pennsylvania State (1, 1): Indiana State, Alabama, @Temple, Eastern Michigan. If it weren't for the Sycamores (a.k.a, "Hey, remember when Larry Bird went here?" State University) this would probably be the best schedule in the Big Ten, despite the rating. It may well still be. I'll touch on this throughout the season, but I think Alabama will be back in a big way this year.
  4. Minnesota (1, 1): @Southern California, New Mexico State, Miami, North Dakota State. The rating isn't wrong - that's the Miami in Oxford, OH. Unfortunately for the Gophers, a sign of progress will probably be solidly beating NMSU and NDSU, much less this particular Miami (not to mention USC).
  5. Michigan State (1, 1): Youngstown State, Florida Atlantic, @Notre Dame, Central Michigan. Well, CMU just isn't the same with Dan "Rust Belt Tebow" LeFevour, so pretty much all to get excited about here is the road trip to South Bend.
  6. Purdue (1, 1): Middle Tennessee State, @Rice, Southeast Missouri State, Notre Dame. Rated below Michigan State because they get the Irish at home.
  7. Wisconsin (0.75, 1): Nevada-Las Vegas, Oregon State, N-Northern Illinois, South Dakota. I think the only way to get a team more opposite of Wisconsin matched up is if they played Oregon itself, but this will have to do.
  8. Iowa (0.75, 1): Tennessee Tech, @Iowa State, Pittsburgh, Louisiana-Monroe. I have a feeling we underrated Pitt this year, but years of mediocrity of under the Wannstache can do that.
  9. Illinois (0.5, 1): Arkansas State, South Dakota State, Arizona State, Western Michigan. Did you know that Ron Zook is still actually the head coach at Illinois? Yeah, I know! I'm as surprised as you are. Well, suffice it to say that if UIUC managed to drop any of these games beside Arizona State he might finally get canned. And what happened to that matchup against Mizzou? That was fun.
  10. Northwestern (0.5, 1): @Boston College, Eastern Illinois, @Army, Rice. Well, they're Northwestern. Can you blame them?
  11. Nebraska (0.5, 1): Tennessee-Chattanooga, Fresno State, Washington, @Wyoming. I think the most wrong I was about anything all of last season was the damn Holiday Bowl, when Washington stomped on Nebraska. But seriously, I still don't see how the Huskers won't end up 4-0 against this schedule. Well, unless the Wyoming home brown unis simply beat them into submission with ugliness. (Note: they are objectively ugly. I like them, personally, but I also enjoyed using pink/purple/green as a motif in my Create-A-School teams in old versions of NCAA football.)
  12. Indiana (0.5, 1): N-Ball State, Virginia, South Carolina State, @North Texas. The game with Ball State is in Indianapolis, which is understandable. Less so is the road trip to Denton, which I hope was a 2-for-1.
And next, at long last, the Big 12. Provided it still exists tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Rating the 2011 Non-Conference Slate: Big East

I accidentally said that the Big 12 would be next. What I actually meant was that the Big East would be next. Whoops! Let's get this out of the way then.

  1. Pittsburgh (2.5 legit, 1 DI-AA): Buffalo, Maine, @Iowa, Notre Dame, Utah. There aren't very many strong schedules in college football this year. Sure, Buffalo and Maine are gimmes, but a road date with Iowa and home games with Notre Dame and Utah make this a worthy schedule. (I have to admit: I forgot Utah was in the Pac-12 this year when I first computed Pitt's rating.) If Pitt and WVU can get their acts together, each could go into the Backyard Brawl on November 25th with a shot at the national title on the line.
  2. South Florida (2, 1): @Notre Dame, Ball State, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical, Texas-El Paso, Mami. I wonder if Miami fans imagine having a rivalry with USF based on actually being in South Florida instead of Tampa. Anyway, between "da U" and a road date with Notre Dame, this is one of the stronger schedules in the Big East.
  3. West Virginia (1.5, 1): Marshall, Norfolk State, @Maryland, Louisiana State, Bowling Green State. West Virginia fans in Baton Rouge? I don't think I would want to be there personally, but I can imagine there will be some great stories from this mixture of two of the craziest fanbases in college football. If it's a night game (and by all rights, it should be), Baton Rogue may well be leveled by sunrise. The road game in College Park is just frosting on the crazy cake, but if WVU can sweep this schedule they will have a shot at a darkhorse national title run.
  4. Syracuse (1.25, 1): Wake Forest, Rhode Island, @Southern California, Toledo, @Tulane. At USC is obviously the highlight here. This is why I usually rank the schedules by their averages, because having five non-conference opponents really dilutes schedules in the Big East. Thankfully, TCU will remedy that next year.
  5. Cincinnati (1.25, 1): Austin Peay, @Tennessee, Akron, North Carolina State, @Miami. Yes, USC+Wake Forest beat out Tennessee+NC State. Sorry. Also, that is a road game in Oxford, Ohio. I would imagine there'll be a lot of Bearcat fans in attendance, though.
  6. Louisville (1, 1): Murray State, Florida International, @Kentucky, Marshall, @North Carolina. Sweet, I can make the "I wish this were a basketball game" joke twice this year for Louisville! Provided what I just said doesn't count, of course.
  7. Rutgers (0.5, 1): North Carolina Central, @North Carolina, Ohio, Navy, N-Army. Playing both service academies doesn't really seem patriotic so much as searching for two easy wins. Of course, considering how Rutgers is doing these days, the Navy game could be kind of dicey.
  8. Connecticut (0.5, 1): Fordham, @Vanderbilt, Iowa State, @Buffalo, Western Michigan. Vandy and Iowa State are about as low as you can go and still claim you play two BCS conference teams. I guess Duke wasn't available, or they would be on here as well.
Next time is still the not Big 12, as the Big Ten is rightfully next in alphabetical order. So, until then!

Rating the 2011 Non-Conference Slate: ACC

As a group this year, ACC teams have the 3rd most prestigious non-conference schedules in the country. Sadly, the ACC also has the only major conference school that plays two DI-AA (better known these days as DI-FCS) teams, North Carolina State.

So how do the individual schools rank? Below I provide their "legit" average and number of DI-AA teams played. Ties are broken by number of DI-AA teams played and then arbitrarily.
  1. Florida State (2 legit, 1 DI-AA): Louisiana-Monroe, Charleston Southern, Oklahoma, @Florida. Florida is a rivalry game of course, but the main reason FSU comes out on top two years in a row is the conclusion of the series with Oklahoma. It doesn't hurt that the Sooners are also the pre-season consensus number one team. I don't generally put a lot of stock in the pre-season polls (other than examining their undue influence on the polls later in the season), but remember this is more about prestige than any real objective criteria.
  2. Maryland (2, 1): West Virginia, Temple, Towson, N-Notre Dame. I just spent 20 minutes trying to figure out whether the Notre Dame game at Landover, MD is a true neutral site game. I think it is. I also just realized I don't really have anything else to say about this schedule.
  3. Clemson (1.75, 1): Troy, Wofford, Auburn, @South Carolina. We get Tigers-Tigers once again, and this time at Clemson. I was tempted just now to refer to Clemson as the "purple" tigers to distinguish them from Auburn, but then I realized it's not really unique because LSU uses purple as well. Go figure.
  4. Miami (1.75, 1): Ohio State, Kansas State, Bethun-Cookman, @South Florida. Most folks figure the kickoff of the season will put an end to the "here's a list of everything that is wrong with college athletics and why" articles that have dominated the off-season. That'll all be back for one last gasp during the week leading up to Miami-Ohio State, I'll bet.
  5. Wake Forest (1.5, 1): @Syracuse, Gardner-Webb, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt. Technically, Wake Forest plays more BCS conference teams than any other team in the ACC. Technically.
  6. Boston College (1.25, 1): Northwestern, @Central Florida, Massachusetts, @Notre Dame. Yes, the tiebreaker here really was Northwestern over Kansas. I'm not proud of that, but I'd say Notre Dame and Georgia are a push for neutral fans. Unless UGA actually lives up to the hype this year. Well, same goes for Notre Dame I suppose.
  7. Georgia Tech (1.25, 1): Western Carolina, @Middle Tennessee State, Kansas, Georgia. I'm not excited about this non-conference slate. For those of you scoring at home, the game in Murfeesboro is part of a 2-for-1 deal. Man, I hope we beat Kansas this year.
  8. Duke (0.75, 1): Richmond, Stanford, Tulane, @Florida International. If Duke can manage to win three of these games (I'll leave it to the viewers at home to determine which of the three are even possible) they'll be halfway to bowl eligibility! Though that would still require some massive upsets in at least one or two of their conference games (also left as an exercise to the viewer).
  9. North Carolina (0.5, 1): James Madison, Rutgers, @East Carolina, Louisville. I keep thinking ECU is in the Big East. Remember, folks, when TCU joins next year they could instantly be the best team in the Big East.
  10. North Carolina State (0.5, 2): Liberty, South Alabama, @Cincinnati, Central Michigan. This sure is a schedule all right. This is USA's (U-S-A! U-S-A!) first ever year of college football. Liberty is also a gimme. Though thanks to the two DI-AA games, NCSU will need 7 wins to be bowl eligible (with the 2 DI-AA games a given, that is), which they should end up with. If not, Tom O'Brien should be fired.
  11. Virginia (0.25, 1): William & Mary, @Indiana, Southern Miss, Idaho. UVA is, unfortunately, not traveling to the Kibbie Dome this year. I just like saying that. KIBBIE DOME. The other parts of this schedule are really boring.
  12. Virginia Tech (0, 1): Appalachian State, @East Carolina, Arkansas State, Marshall. Nothing like kicking off your darkhorse national title run with a signature win over... oh, wait. There aren't any signature wins here. There aren't any games to be excited about. And yet, VPI could well beat Appy State and ECU by a combined total of 8 points the way they tend to play down to these kind of teams sometimes. An embarrassing schedule for the only ranked ACC team.
That's a wrap, finally. Up next, what remains of the Big 12. Stay tuned!

    Wednesday, August 17, 2011

    Rating the 2011 Non-Conference Slate: Prologue

    The rules from 2008 still apply, so let's do this.

    As per usual, let's run down the list of "1"s, that is, the teams we feel are the most desirable to play this year: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Miami (whoops), Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State (double whoops), Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Penn State, TCU, Texas, Texas A&M, Southern Cal, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

    By conference, that's 3 for the ACC, 4 for the Big 12, 1 for the Big East, 5 for the Big Ten, 1 for the Mountain West, 2 for the Pac-12, and 5 for the SEC.

    Taking the entire set of teams for each conference into account, you get the follow averages:
    1. SEC (0.771 average)
    2. Big 12 (0.65)
    3. Big Ten (0.64583)
    4. ACC (0.625)
    5. Pac-12 (0.604)
    6. Big East (0.4375)
    The Big 12 seemed to benefit in a big way from gaining another "1" and also losing some dead weight in the form of Colorado, it appears. The Pac-12 didn't get worse so much as everyone else got a little better, well, except for the Big East, which is hurt by having UConn, Louisville, Rutgers, and Syracuse getting 0.25's this year (the lowest possible rating for a BCS conference team).

    We'll spend the next seven posts or so examining each conference individually and wrapping things up, as per usual, hopefully in time for the start of the season. First, as usual, is the Atlantic Coast Conference.

    Monday, August 15, 2011

    Boy, Some Things Sure Did Happen in Baseball Tonight

    First off, the Dodgers managed to hit and run themselves into the first 4-6-3-2 triple play since 1972 (h/t: Rob Neyer):

    Jim Thome blasted two homers for the Twins in their 9-5 win over the Tigers. Oh, the second one was his 600th:

    And it would be remiss to not mention the one nearest to my heart, Freddie Freeman's walk-off single to put the Braves over the Giants, 6-5:

    Tuesday, August 09, 2011

    2014 World Cup Update: Taking a Look at the Draws

    Last week, the draw for the qualifiers of the 2014 World Cup took place. This was after some regions held initial qualifying rounds among their minnows. Thanks mostly to action in Asia, the potential pool of teams is now down to 175 nations (from 207). For more details on the overall qualification process, see this post. You can also see the results for these rounds on my pages for Asia and North America.

    So what to make of the draw? Let's break it down, region-by-region.


    The Asian Football Confederation started with 43 teams and is now, after two rounds of competition, down to 20. None of the teams from the first round advanced to the third, and the only thing that could really be termed an "upset" is Indonesia defeating Turkmenistan.

    Broadly speaking, a "group of death" is unlikely to occur even in the third round of this competition. There are 5 groups, and all the highest ranked teams remaining were therefore drawn into separate groups. However, there are potentials for surprises. The 2010 World Cup teams received byes to the third round, however, they were seeded according to their current FIFA Ranking. Japan, Australia, and South Korea retain their top spots as the highest ranked teams in the region, but Bahrain and North Korea each ended up in pots 3 and 4. (Taking their place in the top 5 seeds were Iran and China.)

    The top two of each group advance to the fourth round, and all the top seeds will be sure bets to advance. The most interesting draw is probably Group E, with Iran, controversial 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar, and 2010 qualifier Bahrain, along with Indonesia.

    In the fourth round, the remaining 10 teams are divided into two pools of 5. This seeding has not occurred yet, but whichever group only gets one of the top three teams will be much easier for the remaining teams to qualify out of. The top two teams from each group qualifies for the World Cup Final, and the 3rd place teams playoff for the right to advance to the Inter-Confederation Playoff. In contrast to 2010, the draw for the Inter-Confederation Playoffs already took place, and so in November 2013 the AFC will face off against the 5th place South American team. Generally, this is not a desirable matchup, but lots can change between now and 2013.


    The Confederation of African Football has not begun qualifying yet. 52 nations will compete, with the teams ranked 29th to 52nd playing the first round. This first round begins in November, and features 12 home-and-away matches.

    The winners of the first round advance to the second round, where all 40 remaining teams are divided up in to 10 groups of 4. The winner of each of these groups advances to the third round, where the 10 teams will be paired in 5 home-and-away matches. The winners advance directly to the World Cup.

    I personally think this format is, well, not that great. It sounds more exciting I'm sure but I generally like table-based systems that reward the top teams over a longer period of time.

    A quick overview of the groups shows the other problems with 10 groups of 4. For reasons I'm not sure I completely understand, Burkina Faso is the 4th ranked team in CAF, higher than Nigeria, Senegal, and Algeria. I have a hard time believing this, resulting in Group E likely being the most volatile group, with the other seeded teams being Gabon, Niger, and the winner of a first round matchup involving Sao Tome and Pricipe versus the Congo. Group A may also be tight, due to South Africa likely being vastly overrated.


    Europe has 53 teams competing for 53 bids. The qualifying format is simple. There are eight groups of six teams and one group of five teams. The nine winners advance directly to the world cup, and the eight best second place teams playoff for the remaining spots. (You may recall France's controversial win over Ireland in 2009, which took place in one of these playoffs.)

    A quick rundown of each group:
    • Group A: Croatia and Serbia duke it out for the top spot. Belgium and Scotland may make threatening noises. The minnows here are Macedonia and Wales, though at least the Wales-Scotland games may be interesting for a rare competitive match between the Home Nations.
    • Group B: If Italy has regained any of their former mojo this group is theirs to lose. If not, Denmark, the Czech Republic, and Bulgaria all figure to make things interesting. Armenia and Malta (as in, the tiny island) round out the group.
    • Group C: Zee Germans are probably locks to win this one, resulting in a knife-fight between Sweden and Ireland for second place. Austria is also a possibility. The Faroe Islands and Kazakhstan, not so much.
    • Group D: 2010 runner-up, the Netherlands, should be able to take care of business, as should Turkey for second place. Hungary and Romania are the other two teams worth mentioning, but for the sake of completeness let's also point out the other two teams are Estonia and Andorra.
    • Group E: This may be the tightest group on paper. Norway is the highest ranked team, but both Slovenia and Switzerland played in the 2010 World Cup. Three teams that could easily qualify, but again there are only two slots. The real victims here are probably Albania, Cyprus, and Iceland.
    • Group F: Portugal and 2018 hosts Russia will finish in the top two, the only question is in what order. Israel is also in this group, probably sailing to a comfortable third over Northern Ireland, Azerbaijan, and Luxembourg.
    • Group G: I wouldn't be surprised to see this one go according to seed. This has to be a dream draw for the Greeks, as they'll face Slovakia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lithunia, Latvia, and Liectenstein.
    • Group H: Tell you what: England had better win this group. However, there are some plucky teams vying for second and a possible upset in the forms of Montenegro, the Ukraine, and Poland. Also here is Moldova, and the national team from one of the world's smallest countries, San Marino.
    • Group I: The current World Champions, Spain, are here. France is also, but luckily for them, the rest of the group is Belarus, Georgia, and Finland. 
    You may've noticed that one group has one less team than all the others, so matches against the last place teams in the other groups don't count in determining the best group runner-up.


    Thanks to the US being here, this is probably the region I know the most about. 35 teams entered the competition, however, 5 teams have already been eliminated in the first round. The five winners and the other 19 teams ranked 7th through 25th are now divvied up into six groups of 4. The only one of these groups that is likely to not go according to see is Group E. Grenada is higher in the FIFA rankings but Guatemala trounced them 4-0 at the Gold Cup, and I would say from a subjective viewpoint is better overall.

    The third round is where CONCACAF's big boys (Mexico and the US) enter, along with fellow 2010 World Cup qualifier Honduras, plus the next three highest ranked teams (Jamaica, Costa Rica, and Cuba). If everything goes according to seed (except for Group E), the three groups will look like this:
    • Group A: US, Jamaica, Group E winner (likely Guatemala), Group F winner (Haiti)
    • Group B: Mexico, Costa Rica, Group A winner (El Savador), Group B winner (Trinidad and Tobago)
    • Group C: Honduras, Cuba, Group C winner (Panama), Group D winner (Canada)
    Group C should be the most interesting of these three, unless the US or Mexico really screw up. The top two teams from each group then proceed to the fourth round, the a six team round-robin known as the Hexagonal. The top three teams automatically qualify for the World Cup finals, while the 4th place team plays a home-and-home playoff against the OFC qualifier (which will almost certainly be New Zealand).


    South America's qualification is as simple as it gets. Nine teams play a round-robin series of home-and-home matches. The top four teams qualify for the World Cup, and the 5th place team will face the playoff winner from the AFC. Brazil, as the hosts, are automatically qualified and will not participate. CONMEBOL did not lose any slots though, so this is a great opportunity some of the weaker teams in this region to get to the promised land. The remaining 9 are: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezual.


    Last, and frankly, least is Oceania.With the departure of Australia after the 2002 World Cup, this region is New Zealand and bunch of tiny Pacific islands. There are only 10 FIFA members in the region, and if New Zealand doesn't win the qualification tournament it would be a major upset. Anyway, the first round features the four lowest ranked teams (Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands, and American Somoa) facing off in a single round-robin tournament, with the winner advancing to Group A in the second round along with Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and Tahiti. Group B consists of Fiji, New Zealand, the Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea. This at the 2012 OFC Nations Cup, so this is also a single round-robin. Finally, in the third round the remaining 4 teams will be play a double-round robin with the winner playing the 4th place team from CONCACAF for a spot in the World Cup.

    And there you have it. There'll be more news later this fall as more qualification rounds get under way, but after I update the AFC and CONCACAF pages I'll be focusing my efforts on American football. So until then.

    Wednesday, August 03, 2011

    Humanitarian Bowl Brings Back the Roots of Bowl Game Sponsors

    The headline isn't a pun, I swear. Especially since potatoes are tubers, not roots.

    "What do potatoes have to do with anything?" you say. Well, I'll tell you. The Humanitarian Bowl is now the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Heck, I don't even like baked potatoes but this logo is delicious:
    Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is that one of the great traditions of bowl games is that most of the old ones were named after agricultural products. The Orange and Sugar date to 1934, and the Cotton to 1936. And of course, the bowl game in Atlanta on December 31st should still rightfully be the Peach Bowl. Also in the recent past were the Tangerine and Citrus Bowls.

    And with that kind of agricultural heritage, this annual WAC-MAC tilt is obviously destined for greatness.