The Inflation Equation: Why Georgia Is Overrated and Ohio State Is the Best Bet

cfb360 .comSenior Analyst IAugust 7, 2008

( - Two years ago, many magazine prognosticators, reporters, and coaches picked Notre Dame and Ohio State to battle for the still-mythical national championship.  It seemed likely on the surface, based on the previous year's results, but they fell into the preseason inflation trap, as Notre Dame had no business being ranked number one or close to it.

Early predictors put too much weight on two important factors: talent at glamour positions (the Halo Effect) and previous year's performance exceeding previous year's expectations (the Hangover Effect.)

The roots of the inflation equation usually go back two years.  For example, in 2005 some predicted a 1-5 start for ND, which was a bit silly given that talent was cresting in South Bend from Willingham and Davie's "good" recruiting years.  Notre Dame greatly exceeded expectations that year, reaching the BCS.

That created a massive Hangover effect for Weis and Notre Dame heading into 2006.  When coupled with the Halo Effect, where the presence of stars at glamour positions makes the whole team seem better, Notre Dame was set up for a fall.

These two factors tend to gloss over major deficiencies or key talent losses, as they did for many when evaluating Notre Dame heading into 2006.

The problem?  Notre Dame returned Brady Quinn but lost his best receiver in Maurice Stovall, and his other top receiver was already thinking baseball.  That was bad enough, but the offensive line couldn't protect, and the Notre Dame defense, while talented, was caught in a coaching conundrum.

Result: Notre Dame finished the year barely ranked in the top 20. 

In 2007, it was a similar story with Michigan (see" Why Michigan was overrated in 2007.")  Because Michigan disappointed in 2005, they started 2006 ranked far lower than they should have been and became a "surprise" team.  Thus, despite some important losses on defense, these factors—along with star talent at the glamour positions—pushed Michigan up in the rankings for 2007.

They fit the inflation equation: They returned glamour players in Henne, Hart, and Manningham and exceeded the previous year's expectations, but had they major talent holes to fill.

That hangover effect creates the illusion of a rising program, but because talent is turning over every four years, teams that fit the inflation equation need to come with a warning level: Past performance does not guarantee future results.

It's so easy to get caught up in the hype.  Phil Steele does a nice job stripping out the noise of the halo and hangover effects by focusing on experience and talent.

Of course, the reverse is also true.  Predictors tend to be blinded by poor performance in a previous year and ignore rapidly maturing talent.  Traditionally, freshmen have little impact.  Sophomores have some impact, but it isn't until their junior years that most athletes start maturing into difference makers.

For instance, Michigan was far underrated going into 2005 because the Wolverines had accumulated an impressive talent base that was just maturing.

Florida started last year at No. 3 in the coaches' poll despite losing a ton of talent on defense.  Why?  They far exceeded expectations in 2006 and returned Tebow and Harvin.

Louisville was in a triple whammy position.  They exceeded expectations and returned Brohm, but lost their head coach and bottomed out in 2007.

Meanwhile, Boston College had quietly accumulated an impressive cast of senior and fifth-year players and was in a strong position to take advantage of the talents of Matt Ryan.

Give me a team with dominant senior lines over one with glamour boys any day.  You can't run or pass without blocking, but even an average back can get yards behind a good offensive line.

All things being equal, I'll take an experienced player who may not have had star recruiting accolades, but who has physically matured, over a player with star potential.

Who fits the overrated mold in 2008?  Surprisingly, Georgia.

The Bulldogs are a preseason No. 1 according to the Coaches' Poll, Lindys, and The Sporting News, and they return Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno at the glamour positions after exceeding expectations last year.

The Bulldogs return three of five starters on the offensive line, but only one will start at the same position he played last year and four of the five starters will likely be sophomores.  This is not a good situation as offensive linemen don't usually become truly effective until their junior years, and often don't hit their potential until their senior years.

As Athlon noted:

"...Bobo is quick to point out that Georgia really only has one player returning to the position he played last year, sophomore left tackle Trinton Sturdivant. The two other returning starters have swapped spots, with Clint Boling moving from left guard to right guard and Chris Davis moving from guard to center. The starting right tackle will be sophomore Kiante Tripp, who started his career as a defensive lineman. There is no real experience on the line. The only upperclassman, junior Vince Vance, is a junior college transfer who has only been in the program for one season."

Against the Dawgs' schedule, that's not a recipe for a national championship run.  You can win with underclass offensive linemen, but usually only if they're surrounded by  upperclassmen.  Counterbalancing that deficit, Georgia returns a deep and talented defensive unit to complement Stafford and Moreno — but the sexy pick isn't always the sensible pick.  Georgia has a great team, but schedule and inexperience on the offensive line make them a longer shot than most think to make the title game.

Halo and Hangover effects aside, if you look at experience and talent together, four teams stick out.  No one's accumulated more talent recently than Florida and USC, and they are both returning experience as well as glamour players.  Both also underperformed against high expectations last year.

Oklahoma's great classes from years ago are now maturing, and the Sooners now have the talent and depth of a number one team.

One team that many in the South will discount this year because of their recent BCS performances is Ohio State.

However, the Buckeyes are returning almost their entire team (with one notable loss,) will have a tested senior quarterback, and most importantly, will have four of five returning starters (four of whom are seniors) blocking for glamour back Beanie Wells (who has as much talent as any running back in football).  Wells, now a junior, will likely reach his full potential this year.

After opening with their usual cupcakes (which I've written about , the Buckeyes will have a much-anticipated clash against USC.  If they win, they'll be a heavy favorite to win out in a suspect Big Ten—but even if they lose, they still have a great shot at making the title game this year.  Experience and schedule look to be on the Buckeyes side in 2008.


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