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West Virginia Football: Computer Software Reveals WVU's Soft Schedule

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West Virginia Football: Computer Software Reveals WVU's Soft Schedule
West Virginia featured columnist imagines this upon reading BCS computer rankings.

West Virginia had an interesting week with 2010's inaugural Bowl Championship Series standings.

But, first let's look at the standings overall. 

Oklahoma was fourth in the Harris Interactive poll of experts, third in the USA Today coaches' poll, but aced four of the six computer services.  That's a rather good argument for a number one BCS ranking.

Oregon and Boise State were one and two, respectively, in the Harris and the coaches' polls, but were punished by the computers.  The Ducks and the Broncos tallied rankings of eighth and seventh in the computer composite, one-third of the BCS equation.

How did the coaches and other experts, almost all of whom actually played the college game, get rolled by the nerds?

Reviewing each of the six computer models owned and operated by a) Jeff Anderson and Chris Hester of the Seattle Times, b) Richard Billingsley, c) Wes Colley, d) Kenneth Massey, e) Jeff Sagarin, and f) Peter Wolfe, the problems started when Oregon and Boise State finished the week of October 16 sixth through eleventh in the computer services.

Compare those computer rankings with the tallies from the human polls where the the Ducks and the Broncos came in one and two.

How did Oklahoma leap the two in the BCS overall ranking?

It begins with the stipulation by the BCS that each computer service factor out margin of victory and factor in strength of schedule. 

Since the coaches' and the other experts' polls can't help but use points scored and points not scored as a consideration, it stands to reason why the BCS wants that out for at least one-third of the formula.

There are six computer services.  Now, you and I don't want algebra and calculus spilled all over your computer screen, and we don't have all day, so I have decided to use one service as the representative of the methods used in handling the data generated by studying each school's schedule strength.

For those reasons, this article will use Jeff Sagarin's strength of schedule factor, comparing the schedules of the 245 Football Bowl Subdivision and the Football Championship Subdivision for an accurate analysis.

The philosophy and results of Sagarin's schedule factor are well-known by his long-time presence with USA Today.  The data is also readily available on USATODAY.com.  Sagarin's ideas that are the basis for his strength of schedule factor represent the BCS well.  It also makes the most sense to me.

First, we establish a baseline which is derived from the October 17, 2010, Bowl Championship Series Top Ten rankings

Oklahoma

Oregon

Boise State

Auburn

TCU

LSU

Michigan State

Alabama

Utah

Ohio State

These Top Ten teams are the most likely to duke it out for the two Championship spots. 

A closer inspection of the rankings involves examining the numerical average for each team.  This data can be obtained from the BCS web site. For example, I've found that No. 3 Boise State is close to No. 2 Oregon, but No. 4 Auburn has some catching up to do on the Broncos.

Two things stand to reason: a) a Boise State move could be decisive if Oregon loses soon, b) Boise State is vulnerable to its future Krispy Kreme schedule, c) an Auburn that continues winning will certainly pass the Broncos and the Ducks, and d) this should be interesting.

Now, the BCS Computer Composite for October 17, 2010

Oklahoma

LSU

Auburn

Michigan State

TCU

Missouri

Boise State

Oregon

Oklahoma State

Stanford

At this point in the season, the computer composite is somewhat strength of schedule driven.  That's  not good for Boise State, whose toughest teams coming up are Nevada and Hawai'i.

That's good for Stanford.  Ranked 10th in the computer composite rankings poll and sitting at 12th in the BCS rankings, the Cardinal is there somewhat by way of their schedule.  As you'll see soon in this article, the Tree has the same wallop as do the Ducks.  Regardless, if things play out right for Stanford and Oregon, we'll see Oregon at Glendale and Stanford in the Rose Bowl.

That's also good for Southeastern Conference stalwarts LSU and Auburn.  Ranked sixth and fourth, respectively, the two schools from the most powerful of the power conferences will gain strength of schedule as the season progresses. 

This is especially true since the two Tigers will meet this Saturday in Auburn in a game that may decide which school will have the honor of leapfrogging Oregon and Boise State.

******

Giving consideration to Jeff Sagarin's strength of schedule algorithm, here's essentially how it works:  The schedule difficulty takes into account the Sagarin rating of the opponent as well as the location of the game.  Sagarin's schedule difficulty is computed as a raw number but is most significant as a ranking. 

Going back to the current BCS overall standings, the Sagarin strength of schedule ranking is listed with the school:

Oklahoma  15th

Oregon  50th

Boise State:  55th

Auburn  38th

TCU  64th

LSU  36th

Michigan State  76th

Alabama  46th

Utah  110th

Ohio State  81st

Comparing Sagarin's Top Ten below and strength of schedule ranking factor to the current BCS rankings, seven out of ten of the Sagarin Top Ten resemble the BCs rankings:

@ not in BCS Top Ten rankings

Oklahoma  15th

Oregon  50th

Michigan State 76th

Auburn  38th

Stanford  13th @ 

Boise State  55th

TCU  64th

LSU  36th

Missouri  47th @

Wisconsin  88th @

And, finally, look at Jeff Sagarin's Top Ten strength of schedules compared with the school's Sagarin overall ranking:

Oregon State  18th

San Jose State  129th

Washington State  87th

BYU  66th

Wyoming  82nd

Arizona State  19th

UCLA  45th

Washington  43rd

California  23rd

Iowa State  55th

Ignore for now the fact that these Top Ten schools with regard to schedule strength are all west of the Mississippi River.

The moral of the story? The important issue is this: strength of schedule alone does not rank your school high, but weakness of schedule will keep your team down, even in good years.

Ask West Virginia.

******

The Mountaineers are at the midpoint of the season, sporting a 5-1 record.  A drowning Big East is flailing madly, going down for the second time. 

The 2010 edition of West Virginia football is considered the strength of the league.

Many agree, including conference officials who just may be secretly lighting candles at the cathedral.

WVU has more than a good chance to take an 11-1 record to the Orange Bowl, perhaps, saving the seven lost souls to fight another day by defeating the Atlantic Coast Conference champion, presently looking like Florida State.

Fans can see that 11-1 happen.  Looking at Jeff Sagarin's overall rankings, it's a safe bet.  Pathetic, but safe.

Here are the Sagarin overall rankings for West Virginia's opponents compared to the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams and the 125 Football Championship Subdivision teams;

Coastal Carolina  227

Marshall  138

Maryland  66

LSU  6

UNLV  136

South Florida  155

Syracuse  92

Connecticut  90

Cincinnati  57

Louisville  119

Pittsburgh  65

Rutgers  91

Judging by Sagarin's rankings alone, West Virginia with a surprisingly semi-favorable ranking of 44 should roll.

Finally, compare WVU's strength of schedule with those of its opponents.  Warning: it's not pretty:

West Virginia  135

Coastal Carolina  192

Marshall  35

Maryland  101

LSU  8

UNLV  17

South Florida  142

Syracuse  130

Connecticut  91

Cincinnati 32

Louisville  102

Pittsburgh  26

Rutgers  128 

West Virginia's opponents do not necessarily have a time-honored tradition of scheduling games with teams resembling doughy half-baked bread.  Lately, however, West Virginia does. 

Looking at the baker's dozen listed above, WVU's schedule according to Jeff Sagarin is 11th of the 13, barely beating South Florida and thankfully FCS Coastal Carolina.

That has to be fixed.

I know, I know.  There is money to be made with guarantees to FCS schools and other teams such as the University of Nevada - Las Vegas.  And, the governor makes West Virginia play Marshall.  That leaves Maryland and LSU or  Florida State or Michigan State.

I'm closing with two things here:

a) make your money, West Virginia University, but one day you're going to be in a position for the national championship game and you're going to need a good Sagarin strength of schedule ranking, and

b) if you didn't understand a) you'd better beat LSU and Florida State and Michigan State.

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