Though the Blog Poll in its third year found a flashy new home at CBSSports.com, it is unfortunately not yet a component of the BCS. Translation: My vote means jack.
That's never stopped me before, though--nor will it today. My draft ballot after the jump, followed by substantive commentary, almost entirely devoted to my final take on Texas-vs-OU.
Dropped Out: California (#21).
- I noted last week that I didn't feel good about Alabama #1/Utah #8 and would have to tackle the issue this week. I have, ultimately deciding to drop Bama down a few slots, while nudging Utah up a few. Though in the real BCS world the Tide have the world in their palms, their regular season resume is "only" very good. Nothing wrong with being undefeated, of course, and the Tide can stamp the top spot with a win over Florida on Saturday. This week, however, they drop--Georgia and Clemson's worse than expected seasons holding them back.
- Sliding up to #1 is... Texas. Though I'm fine conceding that there exist rational arguments for ranking OU ahead of Texas and there's no Absolute Right answer, the pro-OU arguments don't work for me. Below is an exhausting-but-not-exhaustive look at the critical factors:
Non-Con Strength of Schedule: Voters favoring Oklahoma frequently cite the Sooners' non-conference Top 20 double dip against Cincinnati and TCU--those top two OOC foes handily trumping Texas' top two (Rice and Arkansas). With that said, Oklahoma also played UT-Chattanooga (1-AA) and 0-11 Washington (#150 Sagarin). Though Rice wound up having quite a nice year in the WAC, Florida Atlantic crashed out of the gates, Arkansas was non-competitive the first half of the season in a transition year, and UTEP... well, they never should have been scheduled. That one's on Mack Brown and Deloss Dodds. All told, even with the Sooners' two non-contests, the wins over TCU and Cincinnati provide ammo for the pro-Oklahoma argument.
Conference Schedule: Here's where the pro-OU arguments lose me, and why in my view Texas is really unfortunate not to be playing in Kansas City next week. Obviously, both OU and Texas faced each Big 12 South team, but the North rotations differed. Texas drew two of the North's competitive teams--Missouri in Austin, Kansas on the road; the Sooners hosted in Norman both of their North opponents with a pulse (Kansas, Nebraska). Missouri (52-17 blowout winners over the Huskers) provided for Texas a tougher row to hoe, and not only is this beginning point for where the pro-OU arguments unravel for me, it's also where Texas' (mis)fortunes were decided on Saturday. Had Missouri held off Kansas, Texas would have held their ground at #2 in the BCS.
(While we're on weekend misfortunes, a quick parenthetical on how misaligned the stars were for Texas. The Missouri loss was catastrophic, but the bad omens really began on Friday, when Colorado lost a one-point lead in Lincoln with two minutes left in the game, thanks to a 4th and 25 hail mary 57-yard field goal. Not only would a Buffs upset have helped the 'Horns and dinged the Sooners (decisively so, looking at the final BCS numbers), but as if to torture Longhorns fans, Colorado's final chance to answer the Huskers ended when a Cody Hawkins tipped pass was intercepted and ran to the end zone by a 320 pound defensive tackle.)
With their loss Saturday, Missouri has proven to be a good-not-great team this year, making the North schedule a Texas advantage, but no more a trump card than Oklahoma's non-conference advantage. It's in turning to the 'Horns and Sooners' Big 12 South schedules where my inability to buy the pro-Oklahoma arguments begins to take shape.
Head-To-Head: Neutral field in Dallas, Texas wins 45-35. If that result can't decide this thing all by itself, in my analysis it presents a high hurdle for the loser to overcome. Some clearly thought OU did just that, but I struggle to agree in part, I think, because of how closely I watch Big 12 football. I've seen all Texas' games and 10 of the Sooners', and my pre-season feeling about these teams (Sooners would win 7 or 8 out of 10 against Texas) is reversed. The 'Horns victory was no fluke, and if the two teams played over and over, I'm convinced more games than not would wind up just like the actual one in Dallas: Fast OU start, patient and steady attacks/adjustments from Muschamp, Mike Venables mediocrity stopping the pass, and a 4th quarter romp for the deeper, steadier Longhorns. That's my opinion, with which folks may feel free to disagree. But it is a highly informed one. (Read: I'm not just speaking as a Texas fan.)
Challenge Density: I'm sort of making this term up, but it's absolutely relevant to me that Texas played n-OU, vs-Missouri, vs-Oklahoma State, at-Texas Tech in successive weeks. The Sooners toughest stretches were a pair of two-week tests: n-Texas, vs-Kansas and vs-Tech, at-OSU.
A few points related to this. First, Texas faced a daunting, not at all insignificant schedule challenge that should be considered in evaluating their season performance. Second, if this seems a little tough to do in the abstract, go grab the four game tapes and compare the Texas team that played in Dallas versus the battered, bruised, and mentally exhausted team that played (half a game) in Lubbock. Third, Texas' only loss of the year came on the road in Lubbock, at the back end of this stretch, after a wild, nightmare of a first quarter put Texas deep in the hole. Texas regrouped and assumed control in the second half, held Tech out of the end zone until the final play, and were a dropped gimme-INT away from the win. Fourth, the Sooners enjoyed a related advantage when Texas Tech arrived in Norman having to play a comparable-to-Texas third straight huge game. Oklahoma? Had played at home versus Nebraska two weeks prior, then in College Station against the woeful Aggies. Like Texas' disastrous first-half performance in the finale of their brutal stretch (ending in road defeat), the Sooners handily won a wild, fan-crazed first half over a worn-looking Tech squad.
Can I quantify all this that I just discussed? Not even close, but I again offer an informed opinion when I insist it was a legitimate scheduling disadvantage for the Longhorns, a contributing factor to Texas' sole loss, and, on the flip side, an advantage for OU, which after the RRS drew its only two moderate tests (Kansas, Nebraska) at home, enjoying easier road weeks in Manhattan and College Station before greeting the Red Raiders again in Norman--with Tech playing its third straight "biggest game in program history."
Venue: Doc Saturday doesn't think much of home field advantage, and across a big enough sample, I'm in agreement that the advantage isn't an enormous one. But sitting here today, after watching this particular season in the Big 12, I can't even begin to figure out how I could justify ignoring its importance in this year's South Division, loaded with four very, very strong teams. And while we're here, the top three teams from the clearly weaker North Division were Top 35 teams in Sagarin's final ratings (Missouri #13, Nebraska #30, Kansas #35). The Big 12 as a whole was loaded with strong teams this year; the Big 12 South was just silly.
One week into the Big 12 season, Texas, OU, Tech, and OSU were each 5-0 with perfect non-con slates and an opening week conference win (including OSU over Mizzou). Big 12 fans anticipating an unusually strong and competitive conference realized the top teams--especially in the South--were even stronger than anticipated, the competition to get to Kansas City would be more hyper-competitive than imagined, and in all likelihood the accompanying prize for the conference champion was a trip to Miami.
All I'm saying is this: Lubbock night games are the Bermuda Triangle of college football during a normal year; it was out in the Twilight Zone for the '08 title run. Drawing a worn down Texas squad and then Oklahoma State to West Texas was a significant advantage for Tech. Elsewhere, Norman is always an advantage for Oklahoma, but drawing a worn down Tech squad there with the Sooners back banging on the door to contention was a recipe for redneck pandemonium. Which it was--they were square dancing in the stands like it was the national title game itself. And finally, even Austin got rowdy this year, the post-OU Missouri crowd fueled what was by far the most aggressively loud home game in years.
Add it all up and it's another slight advantage for OU: They drew Texas Tech in Norman, with the Red Raiders at the back end of a tough stretch and the Sooners rejuvenated from a nutritious meal of fresh collie meat. Meanwhile, their road test was against the #4 team in the conference and their North Division opponents with a pulse (KU, NU) came to Norman. By contrast, the Longhorns had to tackle Texas Tech in Lubbock at the end of their insane four-week stretch and were forced to take on one of their North challengers (Kansas) on the road.
4. Common opponents: Both teams dispatched of Baylor and Texas A&M with ease. Texas outperformed the Sooners against the Jayhawks (35-7 in Lawrence vs 45-31 in Norman). The Sooners outperformed the Longhorns against Tech (33-39 in Lubbock, 65-21 in Norman) and Oklahoma State (28-24 in Austin, 61-41 in Stillwater).
Three points from me here: (1) I'm all for looking at everything in an effort to be thorough and look for useful evidence that can help inform the decision. (2) I do consider MOV a potentially useful tool in the ranking toolbox. (3) MOV without context loses much of its instructive power.
For a refresher, let's put Texas' and OU's schedules side-by-side:
Texas MOV Oklahoma MOV FAU W, 52-10 +42 UT-Chat W, 57-2 +55 @ UTEP W, 42-13 +29 Cincy W, 52-26 +26 Rice W, 52-10 +42 @ Washington W, 55-14 +41 Arkansas W, 52-10 +42 TCU W, 35-10 +25 @ CU @, 38-14 +24 @ Baylor W, 49-17 +32 n-OU W, 45-35 +10 n-Texas L, 35-45 -10 Mizzou W, 56-31 +25 Kansas W, 45-31 +14 OSU W, 28-24 +4 @ KSU W, 58-35 +23 @ Tech L, 33-39 -6 Nebraska W, 66-28 +38 @ Kansas W, 35-7 +28 @ A&M W, 66-28 +38 Baylor W, 42-21 +21 Texas Tech W, 65-21 +44 A&M W, 49-9 +40 @ OSU W, 61-41 +20
- Head-To-Head: Neutral field in Dallas, Texas wins 45-35. If that result can't decide this thing all by itself, in my analysis it presents a high hurdle for the loser to overcome. Some clearly thought OU did just that, but I struggle to agree in part, I think, because of how closely I watch Big 12 football. I've seen all Texas' games and 10 of the Sooners', and my pre-season feeling about these teams (Sooners would win 7 or 8 out of 10 against Texas) is reversed. The 'Horns victory was no fluke, and if the two teams played over and over, I'm convinced more games than not would wind up just like the actual one in Dallas: Fast OU start, patient and steady attacks/adjustments from Muschamp, Mike Venables mediocrity stopping the pass, and a 4th quarter romp for the deeper, steadier Longhorns. That's my opinion, with which folks may feel free to disagree. But it is a highly informed one. (Read: I'm not just speaking as a Texas fan.)
When I look at the chart, I fail to see a silver bullet for Oklahoma. The Tech blowout was undeniably impressive and they won at Oklahoma State by roughly two scores, while Texas won close in Austin.
(Though some may be tempted to award OU points for beating TCU and Cincinnati by 20+, where not-shared opponents are concerned I think a fair analysis has to be careful to avoid double-rewarding the Sooners (see non-con analysis above). Where among common opponents MOV is more useful to help compare and contrast two teams, the analysis is less cut and dry when looking at performances against unique opponents. Here, Oklahoma deserves and receives credit for playing and defeating soundly at home both Cincinnati and TCU; however, the record more than supports the case that Texas could and would similarly handle both of those good-not-great teams in Austin. Giving Oklahoma an additional MOV boost for their performances is in a comparison of two teams like these, an unjust enrichment grounded too much in opportunity.)
On the other side, Texas wholly smothered Kansas in Lawrence, while OU's defense (the most overrated group in the country, by the way) flailed in Norman. And that's a nice segueway into my final point on this: the biggest difference in the two teams here is strengths and styles. I think it's absolutely fair to conclude that Oklahoma has one of--probably the--most explosive offense in the country. But as I just mentioned in passing, OU's defense isn't what it's cracked up to be, Mike Venables is (and has been since he took over) mediocre, the safeties are solid run stoppers laughably overrated as all-around defensive backs, and their defensive line is talented but inconsistent.
Texas, meanwhile, is strong offensively--performing far, far beyond my most optimistic projections for this season--but without any developed game-breaking skill position players. The running game is only adequate because of McCoy, who is also, of course, the superfreak passer who makes Texas' offense so dangerous. In addition, the Longhorns lost their go-to tight end for the season during the Rice game, have relied on two outstanding (though not consistent deep ball threats) veteran receivers for most of the season, and are at times hamstrung by a coaching staff who, while improved this year, still very much plays things rather conservatively (at its worst, in the form of playing not to lose). On the other side of the ball, Texas' defense--loaded with underclassmen in starting and key reserve roles--showed promise and steady development through the first half of the season, have rounded into a group far, far superior to their Big 12-inflated statistics, and are led by the most impressive defensive coordinator ever to coach a team I follow closely.
All told, Saturday night's game in Stillwater pretty much sums up my feelings on this: Oklahoma was ridiculous on offense, mediocre on defense, and won by 20 in large part because its explosive offense picked up 7 points in the final minute of each half. Oklahoma is the King Fish of the typical 2008 Big 12 team: superior offense, inconsistent (or bad) defense. While they are ideally suited to feast on most of the Big 12, when twice the Sooners faced strong defenses this year, they were held to 35 in each game (losing to Texas, beating TCU). The Longhorns can't match Oklahoma in terms of offensive explosiveness, but the defense is superior. All told, though Oklahoma is probably better suited to rack up MOV points than the Longhorns, the aggregate data--aided with context--doesn't in my mind do much of anything for Oklahoma. If someone wants to double-count TCU/Cincy, a Texas supporter can just point to his Ace of Spades, -10 head-to-head in Dallas, happy to start allowing double-counting.
Final verdict: For me, these two teams have each had great seasons, featuring an overwhelming majority of excellent performances overshadowing one or two below-average efforts. Both teams beat weak teams easily, have proven their mettle against elite teams, and deserve to go BCS Bowling. And as I continue to say, I think there are rational pro-Oklahoma arguments that can be made.
But if I'm fine admitting the analyses undertaken are rational, from my perspective the conclusion doesn't follow from the points offered. Oklahoma enjoys a few advantages (e.g. two strong non-con teams, superior performances against Tech and OSU), but I'm unable to look at these two resumes outside the robust contextual investigation and weighting of factors I dove into above: I think home field is a minor but far from irrelevant factor; I consider Texas' conference scheduling challenge to be a significant one when compared with Oklahoma's (and, why it matters, a significant contributing factor in Texas' lone loss in Lubbock); and so on. All that stuff from above.
For me, if the final scorecard is as close as it is in my analysis, whether or not the Sooners are the ones who score slightly higher, the head-to-head hurdle has not been cleared. In this system, voters are of course wholly free to weight the variables differently than I have, but while I've seen plenty of pro-OU arguments that do just that in a rational way, I have yet to see one that either (A) demonstrates what I would call a sizable Oklahoma advantage on the scorecard, or (B) if it does, seems to me an analysis even remotely near the same ballpark as my own.
Finally, as a point of contrast, I do think Texas has enough of an overall scorecard advantage over Texas Tech to clear the head-to-head hurdle. It's not obvious--there's more than enough room to argue--but I think it's an absolutely fair conclusion to draw. Some may not--just as some may fairly argue for Oklahoma--but I see Texas and Oklahoma in the clubhouse with comparably strong scorecards, whileTexas Tech (worst non-con schedule of the three or perhaps of any D-1 school, Nebraska Overtime, blowout loss to OU, top two wins at home, Baylor squeaker in Lubbock) scores just far enough behind that I'm comfortable saying Texas has cleared the narrow head-to-head loss in Lubbock.
And that's that. I'll be reading Blog Poll voters' explanations over the coming days, and will try to share any pro-Oklahoma arguments I come across that seem both fair and compelling. In the meantime, this is just one man's opinion. Because I analyze this as I do--and quadruply so because I live and die for the 'Horns--today's fall in the BCS Standings hurts. I can be dignified in mourning, but I'm exceptionally disappointed. Texas should be in Kansas City.
If there's any justice, Missouri will redeem themselves for Saturday's failure. I suppose we're all Tigers fans for another week. Fill out your fan application here.
- Um, that was long. More on other teams in next week's effort, I suppose. As always, have at my ballot in the comment section below. I have until Wednesday to revise and always appreciate the suggestions.