Mountain Pique: WVU Geek Turns to Computers to Prove Schedule Strength

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Mountain Pique: WVU Geek Turns to Computers to Prove Schedule Strength

Writers like me have been reciting by rote the lack of value West Virginia can assess from its football schedule. Cupcakes, they are. Delectable eclairs, we write when we're trying, and failing, to get in the Los Angeles Times.

Q: Have you heard of this year's headliner show at Mountaineer Field? 

A: Is that FCS and the Bottom-Fishers?

In the name of calling it what I think it is, I have argued as recently as last week that West Virginia needs to bolster its out-of-conference schedule to account for the four Big East also-rans the Mountaineers must play.

You can check my comments, especially last year's, and easily say my postulations have largely vexed the Mountaineer fans out there.

Mountain pique.

However, another case has emerged from this perpetual West Virginia schedule row.

Upon serious examination, the BCS computers indicate that it may not be so bad out there in Morgantown.

Before I continue, I should inform you the reader that I'm an engineer, complete with my mechanical engineering degree from West Virginia. I've lived in Geekdom and survived to tell about it. Therefore, have a working knowledge of what Jeff Anderson, Chris Hester, Richard Billingsley, Wes Colley, Ken Massey, Jeff Sagarin, and Peter Wolfe are trying to do.

Nothing wrong with a geek.

*****

Let's look at Jeff Anderson and Chris Hester, one of the six BCS computer services.

With regard to strength of schedule in 2009, Anderson and Hester ranked WVU 32nd out of the 120 FBS teams. Not too bad.

It gets a little better. Considering only the A & H overall Top 25 teams as ranked at 2009 end of season, West Virginia pulled up in the 12th spot in the schedule strength rankings.

In 2009, the Mountaineers played A & H's overall No. 5 Cincinnati, No. 15 Pittsburgh, and No. 26 Auburn. Even Florida State at No. 42 and South Florida at 43 got into the act.

Furthermore, when you factor in where these opponents were on game day, such as Cincinnati at No. 3 and Pittsburgh at No. 10, the teams West Virginia lined up in 2009 were more challenging than it originally appeared to me.

Can you say counterintuitive?

Can you say I'd better turn my schedule analysis cupcake campaign back a couple of notches?

*****

It gets more interesting for me.

Jeff Sagarin also ranks his 245 college football teams with regard to strength of schedule. According to Sagarin's web site (which, by the way, opens with a powerful excerpt from Colin Powell's autobiography My American Journey), a schedule difficulty is assigned for each game. This rating takes into account the rating of the opponent and the location of the game.

In 2009, the Mountaineers' final ranking on Jeff Sagarin's computer ratings was 32nd overall with a strength of schedule ranking of 31. This compares with the Anderson and Hester overall ranking of 20 with schedule strength holding at 32.

I'd call them similar enough to make me think.

Look at the teams WVU beat with regard to schedule strength, listing the team and its (Sagarin, Anderson) overall ratings for comparison:

Texas (3, 4); Boise State (5, 3); TCU (4, 6); Penn State! (10, 10); BYU (15, 11); Nebraska (14, 19); Pittsburgh! (16, 15); and Mississippi (19, 25).

Cincinnati (8, 5) and West Virginia (32, 20) had comparable strength of schedule ratings.

Counting Cincinnati, the Mountaineers had tougher schedules than five of the Sagarin and Anderson final overall Top 10!

All of my eclair articles could force me to re-examine why I have been pouring some sugar on me. By the power of the Internet, you can run, but you can't hide.

I visited the web sites of each of the six BCS computer services and encourage you to get on Google and do the same. As well, I also ask you to comment to this article if I misstated anything as fact concerning these services.

I want to get it right. Below is a brief executive summary of the computer services' schedule strength philosophies.

As I examine these theories, I know that we are getting very close to my mea culpa.

Richard Billingsley: looks at the rank of the opponent instead of the opponent's hard win/loss numbers.

Ken Massey: quality of the opponent adjusted for home field advantage.

Wes Colley: has a "strong" influence on final ranking, since "padding" the schedule "wins you very little."

Peter Wolfe: strong rating on quality of opponent and win/loss record.

You can see that an executive summary of these gentlemen doesn't really tell you that much. They play it close to the vest.

Consider a Popular Mechanics article for which the author interviewed Richard Billingsley on the eve of the 2007 season's BCS Championship Game. When asked if the Super Six have met, Billingsley gave a frank "no, we haven't," stating that "we all have an ego factor because we feel like (our) system is best."

Nothing more American than that answer.

Now, even after considering the strength of schedule philosophies of the six BCS computer services and arriving at the conclusion that they are in that regard similar enough, I still hold to the belief that the West Virginia schedule could use some work. 

Certainly, an FCS team should not be allowed to cross the county line. Mountaineer men just don't burn any sofas when WVU beats Coastal Carolina, Liberty, or Villanova.

It would be nice to pick up one more school from a BCS conference, making it LSU or Michigan State, Maryland, and another. Playing teams in the same boat would prepare WVU for the BCS bowls. 

May be it would be okay to get a Mountain West team in place of the FCS school. Keep Marshall too. It's easier to play The Herd than have to argue and argue why West Virginia is not playing The Herd.

I have to admit, the 2009 Big East results with A & H's No. 5 Cincinnati, No. 15 Pittsburgh, and No. 20 West Virginia look good, similar to league results in 2006.

It's difficult to argue with Big East football right now, especially with the same three in the running in 2010. Factor in Connecticut, and who knows what's going to happen?

This is nothing but good for WVU. If the Big East keeps it up, West Virginia could have that elusive national championship slate. An undefeated season at WVU could plow into a decent WVU schedule ranking, making the computers happy and the pollsters think.

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