Saturday, July 07, 2012

2014 World Cup Update: Assessing the Landscape

It's time for another survey of the landscape of World Cup qualifying. First, let's have a look at the map (courtesy Wikipedia):
Since we last left off, we've had a whole mess of qualifying. I've fully updated the massive table of all the teams, as well as the AFC and CONCACAF pages. New is the massive, poorly drawn-out image that attempts to capture the entire process. I think it provides a good visual idea of why I almost like qualifying as much as the World Cup itself. Since we last talked, 8 teams have been eliminated, so let's focus on those ten.

Four of the eliminated teams were from the last day of the AFC Third Round. Bahrain had the most interesting day, by which I mean that a lot of folks thought there were some shenanigans as they were awarded two penalties en route to a 10-0 rout of Indonesia, which coincidentally was the number of goals they needed to score to make up their goal differential issues. It ended up not mattering, though, as Iran and Qatar drew 2-2, eliminating Bahrain anyway. Kuwait, meanwhile, failed to beat South Korea and were so eliminated. Saudi Arabia lost 4-2 to Australia and Oman beat Thailand 2-0, settling second place in their group in Oman's favor and eliminating the Saudis and Thailand.

The other four were at the OFC Nations Cup, which doubled as the OFC's second round of qualifying. Samoa, Vanuatu, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea were all eliminated. Probably the most surprising result from that tournament is that in the playoff rounds New Zealand actually lost to New Caledonia, allowing Tahiti to win the tournament and thus represent the OFC at the 2013 Confederations Cup. The Kiwis will have a shot at revenge when the OFC Third Round begins in September.

So what do we have to look forward to in September? Well, almost everything except for African qualifying. However, at this time no one is poised to be eliminated. In fact, the only confederation whose current round will wrap up this year is CONCACAF, which will have its third round wrapped up by the end of October.

That's about it for now. Hopefully I'll have time to update after the action in September but before the games in October.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

If I Were on the Selection Committee

Editor's note: So I had this big long post in process when I realized that I was handily beaten to the punch by several people with a better idea of they're talking about. So I'll link to one such example here: and then just post what I originally wrote below.

So everyone and their brother by now knows that college football will, in two years, begin using a 4-team, seeded playoff with teams and seeds chosen by a selection committee. The committee will prioritize won-loss record, strength of schedule, head-to-head records, and whether a team is a conference champion.

We don't currently know who is going to be on the committee. But if they asked me, I would've picked the following teams.

Let's start with this past year. LSU, Oklahoma State, and Oregon are all locks to be in. But we're already at our first conundrum. Using last year's BCS standings as a guide, we have to go all the way to the 10th place team, Wisconsin, to get another conference champion. Within the top 5, we even have three teams that already lost to other teams in the top 5 (Alabama, Oregon, and Stanford). Likely overwhelming conventional wisdom would favor Alabama once again. I would tweak the matchups slightly to avoid rematches, so LSU would face Oklahoma State and Alabama would play Oregon in the first round.
On the outside looking in: also known as "if they had more than four teams, who would be next?" Really, I sort of feel this field is weak as is, since LSU already beat two of the other teams in the playoff. I would probably extend Wisconsin an invite as Big Ten champion. Outside of that, it's hard to say without including other teams that lost to teams that are already in, like Stanford and Arkansas. Does Boise sneak in? If they hadn't lost to TCU, they would've been right on the bubble, but as-is it's hard to even say they're in the next four due to their schedule.

In 2010, Auburn and Oregon are obvious choices. TCU's undefeated romp is also rewarded, however. Again, who's the fourth? The Big Ten had a 3-way tie between Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Michigan State. Wisconsin rose highest in the rankings, likely due to them having the foresight to lose before the other two teams. But with only four teams, that's the system we have, and so the Badgers get the coveted fourth spot.
On the outside looking in: Where to start? Stanford was pretty good that year and 5th in the polls, so they would likely be strong candidates. Then there's the other two teams in the Big Ten tie - if you include one, then at that point you pretty much have to include the other.

There were five undefeated teams in 2009: Alabama, Texas, Cincinnati, TCU, and Boise State. With won-loss records the #1 priority for the committee, surely the couldn't leave an undefeated out in this scenario, could they? Even though they lack a signature victory, the Bearcats's strength of schedule is probably slightly better than TCU's or Boise's, so they get in. From there, Boise's signature win against Oregon pays-off in terms of four-seed.
On the outside looking in: Boise, for starters. Florida then as the only major conference 1-loss team. Then there's a succession of 2-loss major conference champions: Oregon, Ohio State, and Georgia Tech. The last of which makes me even more retroactively depressed about those losses to Miami and UGA. Oh, well, and the fact that I guess in retrospect none of it would've matter anyway due to having to vacate our ACC title. Whoops.

The apocalypse, basically. Utah and Boise State were the only undefeated teams, parked all the way at #6 and #9 in the BCS standings. There were 8 other teams in the top 10 with 1-loss records, including that wacky 3-way tie in the Big 12 South between Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Tech. At this point, I'm nearly tempted to just say "screw it" and take the top four conference champions: Oklahoma, Florida, USC, and Utah.
On the outside looking in: Screw 8 teams, we probably would've needed 16 to settle all the arguments 2008 would've generated. Texas and Alabama are almost certainly in, as well as Penn State. Do we eschew/screw over Texas Tech, or go with Boise State at this point?

Remember Bizarro Year? You know, the year that started with Michigan playing a DI-AA team for the first time ever and then losing? The top 10 is a bloodbath, with only two major conference 1-loss teams (Ohio State and Kansas - yes, Kansas, like I said, it was Bizarro Year). That said, we have 4 major conference champions right at the top, so we'll go with Ohio State, LSU, Virginia Tech, and Oklahoma.
On the outside looking in: Remember Hawaii? Yeah, they were undefeated in 2007. There are bunch of other major conference teams with two losses (and, yes, Kansas) but frankly I don't feel like any of them had any really strong arguments for inclusion this year over the top 4.