Monday, December 3, 2012

Big Ten football: It's not a "very, very down year"

Despite what seemingly all pundits have maintained since the start of the season, it's not a down year for the Big Ten

In the pantheon of major college sports conferences, with regard to football, the Big Ten is probably No. 2.

Or maybe No. 3, or 4.
It's debatable, of course, but considering recent success on the field, historical success, tradition, fan support, stability, resources, revenue, yada yada, the Big Ten is second behind the SEC, right?
Unless it's third. Or fourth. And what are the criteria exactly, anyway?
It's an endless barstool debate. It is, for sure, arguable.
But what isn't arguable is what 129 computer and polls, mashed together to create a master ranking, tell us about the respective accomplishments and strength/weakness of college football teams and conferences each season.

And that's exactly what the Massey College Football Ranking Comparison (MCFRC) does. (
It takes more than 100 computers, a handful of polls, averages them all together, to create a master ranking each week.
It is as good a measure of college football teams and conferences as any out there. And much better than what Joe Media College Football Expert - and there are a lot of Joe Media College Football Experts out there - claims to know.
The MCFRC eliminates almost all biases (polls of course have human bias but they're are only a handful of them factored into the MCFRC).
It minimizes computer programs that are weighted bizarrely. It minimizes computers that inexplicably don't factor in margin of victory, as if a 35-point win and a 1-point win should be counted the same.
Best of all, it eliminates the "eye test" from the equation. You know the "eye test" - it's Joe Media College Football Expert's way of saying, "my biased, prejudiced opinion regarding these teams is superior to your biased, prejudiced opinion, and I will pass along this amazing wisdom to you." Regardless of what the facts say.
Memo to the eye-testers: The computers factor in actual results from every game from every team. What percentage of Notre Dame, or Alabama, or Florida, or Kansas State football have you actually watched this season? 15 percent? 20? It's an insufficient sample size whatever it is, because you are one person and can only watch so much.
I'll take the collective output of 129 computers over inherently biased eyes that have watched 15 percent of a team's action. And you should too, if you want to be as close to the truth as possible.
Which brings us to our point: The wrongful bashing of the Big Ten this season.
It started in the first couple of weeks of the season when Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin, considered three of the league's best teams coming into the season, lost non-conference games, and when Ohio State was winning unimpressively, and when Penn State seemed to be in precipitous decline. It continued when Notre Dame ran the table against Big Ten teams Purdue, Michigan State and Michigan.
And that was it. Case closed, end of story. The "Big Ten is way down," became the season's mantra. It became the only narrative for the national media with regard to the conference.
It didn't matter what else happened. It didn't matter that the unbiased computers told a different story. It didn't matter that it was completely untrue.
Yet it continued all season and into Saturday night, during the conference championship games. Normally reasonable veteran college football writer Bruce Feldman, tweeting a comment about the Big Ten championship game rout by Wisconsin, described the league as "a very, very down Big Ten.''
This isn't meant to single out Feldman, since virtually all national media agree with him on this point. (And he's one of the best to follow on Twitter for college football insight.) But it's a total fallacy.
The truth is, it's an average year for the Big Ten. The MCFRC proves it.
According this week's early returns on MCFRC - 47 computers have calculated Saturday's results and checked in as Sunday afternoon -  the Big Ten is the 4th-best conference at the end of the 2012 the regular season, relatively close behind the Pac-12, well ahead of No. 5 Big East and No. 6 ACC. 
The Big Ten's average team ranking (mean ranking) this season is 48.6.
Last season, 2011, the Big Ten average (mean) was 47.6 at the end of the regular season, which was third among leagues, just ahead of the Pac-12.
In 2010, the Big Ten mean was 47.3, fourth behind No. 3 Pac-12.
In 2009, it was 51.6, which was sixth among conferences, with many tightly bunched.
In 2008, it was 48.3.
You get the picture. This is a totally average Big Ten season. Another in a long string of them. The league has been very consistent. It's a fact.
Then how could someone as knowledgeable and informed as Feldman, and everyone else, be so wrong?
Because like most, Feldman closed his brain off to the Big Ten after the first couple weeks of the season and completely missed the big picture. Also, many just look at the top of each conference. Without a team in the title discussion all season - Ohio State would have made that discussion, if not for the NCAA sanctions - the Big Ten is summarily dismissed as a collective.
Thus, it didn't matter to the media that some of those seemingly unimpressive results by Big Ten teams early on turned out to be against some very surprisingly good teams.
Nebraska's narrow loss at UCLA doesn't seem so bad now, does it? The Bruins were one play away from winning Pac-12 title this weekend.
Neither does Wisconsin's squeaker loss at Oregon State (9-3), or its squeaker win over now very highly regarded Utah State (10-2). Michigan's opening night debacle vs. Alabama? Well, it was Alabama. How many teams in the country wouldn't have gotten walloped that night? Maybe a dozen? 15?
Iowa's squeaker win over Northern Illinois (12-1) in Chicago? Pretty impressive now, actually - Northern Illinois is going to the Orange Bowl! Same with Northwestern's 23-13 win over Vanderbilt (8-4).
Penn State rebounded from an 0-2 start - which was clearly due in part to the team having to quickly adjust to the sudden lost of three key players who transferred - to win 8 of 10. And Notre Dame is unbeaten and ranked No. 1, making those Big Ten losses to the Irish respectable, especially the down-to-the-wire Purdue and Michigan games.
So, while the media's initial overreaction to the Big Ten, and its failure to look at the full picture and make the proper correction, and its biased "eye tests," are telling one story about the Big Ten, the facts are telling another:
Very very down year for the Big Ten? Just another media myth.
The truth: It's a normal, typical Big Ten season.
If there's a story about a conference that's "very, very down" this season, it has to be the ACC. It has two teams in the MCFRC Top 50. Two!
The Big Ten? It has six teams in the Top 30.
That's a fact, not a biased, "eye test" opinion, and not based primarily on games played 12-13 weeks ago.
And it's the same number of teams in the Top 30 as the mighty SEC has, though in fairness all six of those SEC teams also are in the Top 11.
Of note: The SEC isn't even No. 1 overall this season in the MCFRC. It's the Big 12. The bottom of the SEC is killing the league's average ranking much like Illinois is killing the Big Ten's.
In the NFL, as Bill Parcells made famous, they say you are what your record says you are.
In college football, you are what the Massey College Football Ranking Comparison says you are.
And the Big Ten is much better than the "experts" have been telling you, and pretty much the same as it has been for years.

For more insight, analysis and opinions about Penn State football, check, or follow Pete Young on Twitter @AllPSUfootball.

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