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Archive for November, 2008

Is head-to-head the right tiebreaker?

25th November 2008

It's been awhile since I utilized the Insane Ideas tag. This is one of those things that has zero chance of being even listened to, much less accepted, by any audience of football fans outside this board. I'm not sure it has much of a chance even here, but I'll give it a shot.

Ever since I can remember, the use of head-to-head as the first tiebreaker seemed a little funny to me. Not wrong, necessarily, just funny. And that's what I'm going to discuss here in this post.

Just to avoid unnecessary extraneous issues, let's fix the conversation on the cleanest possible case. Namely, we'll assume the conference in question plays a full round robin and no other games (that count in the standings). PAC 10 football is an example of this scheme, and a timely one, as they might be heading toward a potential USC / Oregon State tie at the top this season.

At least on a theoretical level, any tiebreaking rule involving only wins and losses --- including head-to-head --- has a flip-side that argues against itself. After all, these teams have the same record. That necessarily means that if one of them had a better record in a certain subset of games --- the one where the two played each other, for instance --- then the other one must necessarily have had a better record in the other subset. If Oregon State was 1-0 and USC 0-1 in games between Oregon State and USC, then that means that USC must have had a better record than Oregon State, against the exact same teams, in the other games. Why favor one set of games over the other?

I think the answer is that, to most people, it just seems morally right. The fact that USC beat Stanford and Oregon State didn't isn't as important as the fact that Oregon State beat USC. In other words, most people think that Oregon State is more deserving of the title than USC is. And I really can't argue with that.

But what I'm interested in is a somewhat more objective question: does the head-to-head tiebreaker do a good job of crowning the better team? Most people would agree that, if a tie should come to pass in the PAC 10 this year, the better team will not be the one wearing the crown.

I think most people are fine with that, and I'm not saying I'm not. I'm just wondering: is that typical? When two teams end up tied at the end of the year, which team is more likely to be the better team: the team that won the one-game subset of games between the two teams? Or the team that did better in the eight-game slate against the rest of the conference? The team that beat USC but lost to Stanford? Or the team that lost to Oregon State but beat Stanford?

Using real-life data is probably out of the question, as this kind of situation doesn't happen often enough to get a good sample, so I ran a simulation. I simulated a gajillion PAC 10 seasons using rules similar to (but not exactly the same as) those established in the Ten Thousand Seasons post from way back. Remember, in a simulation, we can be omniscient. In each of these gajillion fake seasons, unlike with real football seasons, we know who the better team is. The better team doesn't always win, of course (if it did, we wouldn't need tiebreakers at all), but at the end of the season, we can say definitively whether or not the best team won.

So every time there was a two-way tie for first, I gave the crown to the team with the head-to-head win, but I noted whether or not that team was the better team.

What do you think happened?

A. The conference champ (i.e. the head-to-head winner) was the better team more often than not

B. The conference champ was the worse team more often than not

C. The results were not statistically distinguishable from a 50/50 split.


Before running the study, my thoughts were exactly the same as those spelled out by commenter "Dead Cat Bounce":

I’m guessing (B). The other subset is bigger, 8 games, than the head-to-head subset of 1 game. Statistically, it would be tougher for the “worse” team to maintain their advantage over a longer series than just springing an upset in a single game.

[NOTE: he actually wrote (A), but I am pretty sure, based on the rest of his comment, that he meant (B). If not, I apologize.]

While the one game is direct evidence and the other eight are indirect, the other eight are more evidence and the one is less. A lot less. That's why I thought, like DCB, that (B) would be the answer.

But it wasn't. The actual answer is some combination of (A) and (C). In particular, the technically correct answer is (A): the head-to-head winner was in fact the better team more often than not and the margin was statistically significant. But (C) might be the more practically correct answer. Though statistically significant because of huge sample size, the margin was about 51/49 or 52/48 or something that, for practical purposes, is essentially 50/50.

So where did my and DCB's reasoning go wrong?

Here's where: if all you know is that one team did better than another team in an N-game season, then it definitely matters how big N is. But if you know, as we do in this case, that one team was EXACTLY ONE GAME better than another team in an N-game season, I don't think it matters much how big N is. In this example, while USC did better than Oregon State in the bigger 8-game part of the schedule, we know by virtue of the fact that the teams are tied overall, that they really didn't do better in the 8-game part of the schedule. They only did better in one of those games, the Stanford game in this case. So it's not an 8-vs-1 situation. It's really a 1-vs-1 situation with the other seven necessarily canceling out.

Posted in Insane ideas | 17 Comments »

How Unique is 11-10?

18th November 2008

Much has been made of the fact that the Steelers-Chargers game last Sunday was the first 11-10 game ever. Let's call this a singular game as there has been but one. Just how unique is a singular game? It turns out, not very.
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Posted in General | 31 Comments »

Which colleges produce the most NFL talent? Part II

18th November 2008

Yesterday I looked at what my algorithm thought were the ten top NCAA programs in terms of producing NFL talent. Today, we'll look at some other teams of interest.

Just missing the top 10 is my alma mater, a school which has had moderate success at various times, but isn't thought of as a football power:

Arizona St.

QB   Jake Plummer          76
RB   John Henry Johnson    57
RB   Gerald Riggs          54
RC   Charley Taylor        82
RC   Jerry Smith           71
RC   John Jefferson        54
RC   Larry Walton          42
T    Marvel Smith          45
T    Levi Jones            34
G    Randall McDaniel     103
G    David Dixon           51
C    Grey Ruegamer         10

DT   Curley Culp           92
DT   Dan Saleaumua         62
DE   Jim Jeffcoat          59
DE   Al Harris             47
ILB  Bob Breunig           65
ILB  Derek Smith           61
OLB  Larry Gordon          51
OLB  Derrick Rodgers       43
CB   Mike Haynes          108
CB   Eric Allen            98
S    Darren Woodson        78
S    David Fulcher         52

Whether you want to call him an end or a linebacker, Terrell Suggs will join the team within a year or two.

This team would likely have a quarterback controversy involving Plummer and Danny White, which is an interesting QB pair. I wasn't quite old enough to understand exactly what public opinion on White was (or maybe I'm too old to remember), but it seems to me like he was something of a Jake Plummer of his day. He had a fair amount of success, but it was always intermixed with disappointing inconsistency and a perceived failure to fulfill his promise.

Moving on...

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Posted in College, General, History | 14 Comments »

Which colleges produce the most NFL talent?

17th November 2008

First a plug: if you're an NBA fan, you should check out what Neil Paine (with assists from Justin Kubatko) has been doing with the blog. It's good hoops-related reading in the same spirit as this blog.

Neil recently did a couple of posts on which colleges have produced the most NBA talent. Inspired by that, and my NFL all-franchise team posts (AFC - NFC) from this summer, I've decided to create a "team" from the talent produced by each college, and rank them.

The rules are essentially the same as those for the NFL all-franchise team posts, but with a few college-related extras added:

1. If you haven't read about my Approximate Value (AV) method for rating players, you should read about it right here.

2. A player is only eligible to play for his final college, if he attended more than one. For example, Troy Aikman can be on the UCLA team, but not the Oklahoma team.

3. Keep in mind that these lists are ordered by NFL production. Archie Griffin was one of the best college football players of all time, but he loses his spot on the Ohio State team to the merely-very-good-in-college Robert Smith, who had a much more illustrious NFL career.

4. The AV systems gives a player a score for each player season. To combine these into a career number, I take 100% of the player’s best season, plus 95% of his second-best season, plus 90% of his third-best season, and so on.

5. I’m only comfortable (for now) applying the AV methodology to seasons 1950 and later. Players who debuted before 1950, however, are included if their post-1950 seasons alone merit inclusion. In this case, they have a ‘+’ after their AV score to remind you that their career AV is (probably) higher than the number shown.

6. To avoid 4-3/3-4/5-2 issues, I gave each defense 12 players, including two DT/NTs, two DEs, two OLBs, and two ILB/MLBs. I have also now lumped all safeties together instead of distinguishing between free and strong safeties.

7. Because of the slippery and changing nature of defining what a fullback is, I simply decided to go with two RB/FBs, instead of an RB and an FB.

8. What to do with players whose position was "End" in the 50s. Are they tight ends? Wide receivers? To deal with this problem, I've lumped TEs, WRs, and Es of all years into one category, which I've called 'RC' (ReCeiver), and I'm allowing four of them per team. After all, if the defense is playing with 12, I should allow the offense the same luxury.

With all that out of the way, here are the top ten colleges, ranked by the sum of the values of their 24 players:

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Posted in Approximate Value, College, History | 10 Comments »

A Month of Heartache

13th November 2008

I've had the joy of watching the team I root for, the Kansas City Chiefs, lose three games in a row in which they had a lead in the second half, and three games which they had a chance to win at the end of the game. It got me wondering what the longest streak of close losses was, and how close the Chiefs are.

As it turns out, there have been a total of 101 occasions since 1970 when a team has lost three consecutive games by 7 points or less in each game. However, there have only been 19 teams that have gone on to lose a fourth consecutive game in by 7 points or less. The Chiefs are one close loss away from joining some fairly, well, elite is not the word, let's say rare company. Here is the list of teams, sorted in alphabetical order by team:

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Posted in General | 12 Comments »