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Another Thursday…

Posted by Doug on November 9, 2006

...another Big East game with major national championship implications.

Last week I predicted that Louisville would be playing for the championship if they win out, and I still think that's the case. That's the "will they?" side of the equation. I hadn't really thought about the "should they?" question. So I'll do that now.

Let's assume Louisville wins out and compare them to a top one-loss team. There is a possibility that the Ohio State - Michigan loser could be Louisville's main challenger, but my guess is that Florida will be the team with the most support from the public. If the Gators win out, they'll go to the SEC championship game. Let's assume that's against Arkansas and that they win that too.

I am a well-known SEC-hater, but I will try to be as objective as possible. Well, OK, I actually won't try to be objective. But, like Bart Simpson, I will try to try. Anyway, nothing is more objective than a mathematical algorithm, so I'll use that as my main basis of comparison. Jeff Sagarin's ratings are probably the most famous and most well-respected ratings out there, so I'll go with those.

There is a segment of the population that believes the SEC is head and shoulders above all other conferences every year because, well, I guess because it's the SEC. I really have never been given any other reason. If you're one of those people, then this analysis won't appeal to you. If, however, you're willing to regard Alabama as a team that lost to Mississippi State last week instead of as a team that is great because they're Alabama --- Alabama --- then you might find this of interest.

Here are the current Sagarin rankings for Florida's and Louisville's opponents:

Florida Louisville

opp rank opp rank
LSU 7 West Virginia 9
Auburn 11 Rutgers 15
Tennessee 14 Pitt 34
Arkansas 16 Kentucky 46
South Carolina 36 Cincy 51
Florida State 42 Kansas State 54
Kentucky 46 South Florida 55
Alabama 47 Miami 57
Georgia 48 Middle TN St. 65
Southern Miss 66 Syracuse 67
Vanderbilt 73 Connecticut 74
Central Florida 118 Temple 158
West. Carolina 214

Let's pair them up into roughly equivalent games:

  • They both beat Kentucky - so we cross that one off the list.
  • Louisville over West Virginia - Florida over Tennessee
  • Louisville over Rutgers - Florida over Arkansas
  • Louisville over Pitt - Florida over South Carolina
  • Louisville over Cincy - Florida over Southern Miss
  • Louisville over MTSU - Florida over Vanderbilt
  • Louisville over Temple - Florida over Western Carolina

In all the above cases, the two opponents are equivalent according to the Sagarin rankings. Louisville's opponents actually have a very slight advantage in all the above pairs, but I'm trying to try to be objective, so I'm calling it a wash.

Now, the thing that kills me about talking to SEC fans is that they are constantly saying things like this:

Man, there's just no off weeks in the SEC. It's brutal to have to play Alabama, LSU, Auburn, then Georgia.

LSU and Auburn are very good teams, no doubt. But even when Alabama loses at home to Mississippi State and Georgia loses to Vanderbilt and Kentucky, they still try to slip Georgia and Alabama into the conversation about how tough the SEC is. Alabama and Georgia rank 47 and 48 in the Sagarin rankings. Kansas State (who has won more games in the last several years than either Georgia or Alabama, if that's relevant) and South Florida rank 54 and 55. Those pairs are basically equivalent. I think it's fair to say that Miami and Florida State are a match given their histories and the fact that they played a very close game earlier this year.

So we've stripped out the parts of their schedules that are equivalent. What does that leave?

Louisville vs. Syracuse

Florida vs. Auburn and LSU

Beating Syracuse doesn't count for much. Beating LSU does. If Florida were undefeated, we wouldn't be having this conversation. The problem is that they have a loss.

After working through all this, I'm actually a little more sympathetic to Florida's case. If you want to make the case that a 10-0 record plus a 1-1 record against Auburn and LSU is more championship-worthy than an equivalent 10-0 record plus win over Syracuse, then I don't really have a problem with that. My objection is to the notion that the Georgia / Alabama / South Carolina part of the schedule is so much tougher than Cincy / Pittsburgh / Kansas State.

Of course, all these rankings will change --- in some cases drastically --- between now and the end of the season. But at that point I suspect that the relevant analysis will turn out similarly.