College football gets underway in a few weeks, and the new Pac-10 Preseason Polls (Coaches and Sportswriters) are out. As usual, they pretty much mirror the last poll from last season. Almost everyone ranks USC number one in the Pac-10, and ASU is either number two or number three, with Cal and Oregon alternately sharing the other spots.
What if we tried a different ranking? Would it turn out any different?
Everyone's crystal ball is foggy, so just to remind anyone who doesn't recognize the obvious about Polls this time of year: Not a single poll is worth the paper on which it is written, including this one.
There are no fewer than 100 unforeseen factors that happen during the season, not the least of which are injuries. If only we could know now which teams will suffer the most injuries, or which key players will be injured, predicting in August who will be the Conference Champion in December would be a lot easier.
Over the years I've developed a theory that NCAA Division I-A football is 60 percent coaching and motivation, while team talent and execution is 40 percent. In recent years, I've come to believe that Game Speed is the single most important element to a team becoming a conference champion.
Game Speed starts with recruiting and raw talent, includes individual player strength and quickness, and culminates in the team's fast execution of the game plan. I believe it is the combination of these difficult to measure variables that determines a winning team.
While there are no team game speed statistics per se available, we can look at coaching experience and count the number of juniors and seniors on each team's roster.
Generally speaking, a freshman or sophomore player will make more "rookie" mistakes than will an upperclassman with more practice, conditioning, maturity, and experience. A team with a higher percentage of juniors and seniors is at least theoretically more likely to provide better leadership, anticipate each other's moves, and demonstrate faster Game Speed than a comparable younger team.
Coaching experience brings many variables to the table, starting with depth and breadth of an overall football knowledge as well as greater confidence in one's decision-making abilities. The confidence element become's a key factor when adjusting game strategies in the second half or when confronted with changes in basic game parameters.
There are three ways to measure years of coaching. First is the total years of experience a Head Coach has in coaching. Second is the number of years coaching in the Pac-10. Finally is the number of years as Head Coach with the current school.
Each of these provides a different set of experiences, and I assigned each one a value of 20 percent, and then 20 percent to the percentage of a team comprised of juniors and seniors. My last category was for the number of just seniors on a team, and I gave this area the final 20 percent.
Based on this set of coaching experience and student-athlete experience criteria for a preseason ranking, it's surprising at how close the end result comes to many of the other polls that use very different evaluation criteria.
Oregon naturally rises to the top of this list because HC Mike Bellotti has 35 years total coaching experience, 19 years in the Pac-10, and 13 as the Ducks Head Coach. Right behind Oregon, however, is USC, followed by Washington—exactly as many pundits are calling it.
Using these criteria to rank the Pac-10 Football Teams as they are comprised at the beginning of August 2008 provides the following ranking (numbers listed are values based on a percentage of that category; see methodology below).
No. School Total Coaching Pac-10 Total HD Coach/Sch. Jr/Sr.% Sr. Total
1 UO 14.5 22.4 25.5 10.4 9.7 82.5
2 USC 14.1 9.4 15.7 13.1 15.3 67.6
3 UW 12.9 16.5 7.8 9.1 12.0 58.3
4 OSU 13.7 11.8 15.7 7.2 9.3 57.7
5 CAL 6.6 11.8 13.7 7.4 8.8 48.3
6 ASU 10.8 9.4 3.9 11.5 7.9 43.5
7 UA 9.1 5.9 9.8 10.4 6.9 42.1
8 UCLA 9.1 5.9 2.0 10.2 9.3 36.5
9 WSU 7.5 4.7 2.0 10.4 8.8 33.4
10 STANFORD 1.7 2.4 3.9 10.4 12.0 30.4
Each element of the total poll is an individual ranking of the Head Coaches or Team as appropriate.
For example, for the Total Coaching Years category, the number of years coaching was determined for each Head Coach. The sum of the 10 coaches' total years of experience was 241 years. Mike Bellotti has a total of 35 years; divided by 241 provides a value of 14.5. At the other end, Jim Harbaugh has a total of four years coaching, and this has a value of 1.7.
This process was repeated across each of the five categories. The total of values for each school then provided the ranking as seen in the far right column above.