The Sports Report

A Statistical Take on Sports and Politics

Outside of Ohio Version of The Boots (October 7, 2008)

Boot Up: Mountain West Conference – This past Thursday night, the #13 team in the nation (according to the Harris Poll) Utah Utes defeated the Oregon State Beavers by the score of 31-28. Senior placekicker Louie Sakoda hit a 37-yard field goal, his third field goal of the night, just as time expired to give Utah the win. Utah managed to come back in this game despite trailing Oregon State, who defeated Southern Cal at home last week, by the score of 28-20 with only 2:18 remaining, and despite producing only 30 yards of offense in the third quarter. After the game, senior quarterback Brian Johnson, in his third full year as the starter, said that, “hands-down, the biggest win of my career.” Jacquizz Rodgers, the outstanding 5-6, 180 pound freshman out of Richmond, TX who punished Southern Cal just last week for 186 yards and two touchdowns was able to gather another 177 yards of total offense with a touchdown, but it was not enough for the Beavers who fell to 2-3 on the season while Utah improved to 6-0.

Why does this game matter in the world of college football? The most obvious connection is that Utah, who will certainly move up in the polls this week because upsets always happen, is right now the second most logical BCS buster. They are flying high at 6-0 with wins over Michigan, UNLV and now Oregon State, but all of their hard work must go into their season finale on November 22 against current #9, and Mountain West leading BYU. In addition to the strength of these two teams, it is important to note that the Mountain West improved to 6-1 this season against the Pac-10. That is not a misprint. Here is the proof:

Saturday, September 6, Brigham Young won on the road at Washington 28-27.

Saturday, September 13, Brigham Young won at home against UCLA by the score of 59-0.

Saturday September 13, TCU defeated Stanford at home by the score of 31-14.

Saturday September 13, UNLV upset then #15 Arizona State in Tempe by the score of 23-20 in overtime.

Saturday, September 13, New Mexico won at home by the score of 36-28 against New Mexico.

Saturday, September 27, California demolished Colorado State by the final count of 42-7 in Berkeley.

The Mountain West certainly will not be ahead of the Pac-10 in conference rankings, and I am not trying to say that they should be, but all of the teams in this conference have really impressed me thus far this season. BYU has two big wins against Pac-10 schools, along with the longest current winning streak in the nation at 15 games, and Utah just beat a team that defeated Southern Cal last week. I cannot wait for their match up later this season, as it will most likely decide which team gets the opportunity to play in a BCS bowl game.

Boot Up: NFC East – On my radio show a week ago from this past Saturday, my co-host Ron Zeszut and I declared that the Dallas Cowboys were the best team in the NFL. They were looking unbeatable after convincing wins against Cleveland, Philadelphia and Green Bay. With New England out of the greater Super Bowl picture, it seemed like the coast would be clear for Tony Romo and company to march on to the Super Bowl and bring Jerry Jones a championship…. Until Washington led by Santana Moss came to town and took down their throne. In stunning fashion a week ago from Sunday evening, the Redskins beat Dallas by the finals core of 26-24 to disrupt the status quo in the NFC. After Philadelphia (2-3) had put on a decent performance against the Cowboys (now 4-1), and beaten the Pittsburgh Steelers, everyone assumed they were in the playoff picture. The New York Giants (4-0) are the defending Super Bowl champions, and now the Redskins (4-1) join a very complicated picture in the NFC East.

So the question of the hour is which team has the highest percent chance of making it to the playoffs as the league stands right now? The answer to that question may surprise you, as I discovered that it is first-year head Coach Jim Zorn and the Redskins. The reason why I say that is that Washington will almost assuredly advance to at least 6-2 or better as their next three games are against St. Louis, Cleveland and Detroit. From there on, the Redskins will also have relatively easy games against Seattle, Cincinnati and San Francisco. Here is a look at my statistical work that combines winning percentages from last year and this year to test which of these four teams has the easiest remaining strength of schedule. In parentheses are the team’s record now, remaining strength of schedule, and easy games remaining against teams with aggregate winning percentages of under 0.4:

New York Giants (4-0  .555 SOS, 2)

Dallas Cowboys (4-1, .529 SOS, 3

Washington Redskins (4-1, .460 SOS, 5)

Philadelphia Eagles (2-3, .537 SOS, 3)

Assuming Washington is playing at the same level as Dallas and the Giants, and then one can only consider them the most logical nine-win team from this division. I am taking a couple of liberties with this assumption, especially when you consider I did not adjust my strength of schedule numbers for road/home differences, and for the fact Washington does not really have as significant of a record at playing at this level, but the analysis is striking nonetheless.

Boot Up: Portland Trail Blazers – This team will not be one to ignore in the Western Conference this upcoming season. Since the Phoenix Suns (Shaquille O’Neal and Steve Nash), and Dallas Mavericks (Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd) are not getting any younger, this team will certainly be one looking to benefit in the stronger conference in the NBA. Portland, and Coach Nate McMillan, has a ton of talented young players this season. Just look at this list of highly touted players on their current roster:

C Greg Oden (7-0, 250 pounds out of Ohio State, #1 selection in 2007 draft, 20 years old)

PF LaMarcus Aldridge (6-11, 240 pounds out of Texas, #2 selection in 2006 draft, 23 years old)

PF Channing Frye (6-11, 245 pounds out of Arizona, #8 selection in 2005 draft, 25 years old)

PF Ike Diogu (6-8, 255 pounds out of Arizona State, #9 selection in 2005 draft, 25 years old)

SF Nicolas Batum (6-9, 190 pounds out of France, #25 selection in 2008 draft, 19 years old)

SF Martell Webster (6-7, 229 pounds out of Seattle Prep H.S., #6 selection in 2005 draft, 21 years old)

SG Brandon Roy (6-6, 229 pounds out of Washington, #6 selection in 2006 draft, 24 years old)

SG Rudy Fernandez (6-5, 185 pounds out of Spain, #24 selection in 2007 draft, 23 years old)

PG Jerryd Bayless (6-3, 199 pounds of Arizona, #11 selection in 2008 draft, 20 years old)

PG Sergio Rodriguez (6-3, 168 pounds out of Spain, #27 selection in 2006 draft, 22 years old)

This is the benefit of making so many draft day deals over the last few years: the Blazers have ten first round selections from the last four years that are still 25 years of age or younger. (In addition, recently signed Luke Jackson was the #9 pick in 2004, and SF Travis Outlaw was the #23 pick in 2003.) Sure, your average first rounder will not always turn out to be that good, but I would definitely take the chances on probably two of their six top-nine selections to be a regular All-Star (Brandon Roy and Greg Oden.) All of the rest should mature into an entirely decent team at the NBA level, regardless of the help of any other players in the organization. Do not understate the effect a returning Greg Oden will have on this team. His style of play coming into the league seems very similar to that of David Robinson, or Tim Duncan and he could very well emerge to become a leader instantly.

Last year, despite having practically no veterans at all, and starting Steve Blake the entire year at point guard, this team managed to finish 41-41 in an extremely difficult Western Conference. They showed spurts of greatness, and now with Bayless, Batum, and Oden joining in on the mix, they should continue to develop and mature as a team. They should be right in the thick of the playoff race all season long, and I would certainly not be surprised to see them do some damage come April 2009.

Boot Down: American Football Conference (except Tennessee) – To understand this Boot Down look at what has happened to the three best teams from the AFC in 2007:

New England Patriots (16-0 in 2007, lost in Super Bowl, 3-1 in 2008) – Since Tom Brady fell victim to a year-ending injury in week one, things have been too great for the Patriots. Matt Cassel is producing at an average level (70-104, 707 yards, 3 touchdowns and 3 interceptions) and they have not looked too great thus far, despite the easy schedule. They lost big to Miami 38-13 two weeks ago, before an extra week off for the bye enabled them to win 30-21 over San Francisco. Those two results are not at all reminiscent of the most dominant team in NFL history that trounced through the regular season in 2007. San Diego, Denver, and Indianapolis all are on the schedule soon, and if the Patriots can still hang over .500 through those games, then they should be in a somewhat decent position to make the playoffs at least.

Indianapolis Colts (13-3 in 2007, lost in Divisional Playoffs, 2-2 in 2008) – Praise this time all you want for their historic comeback on Sunday; they still have not looked very good this season. The fact that they needed 21 points in the final 5 minutes to bury a winless Houston Texans team shows a lot about how unimpressive they have been this year. With losses to Chicago and Jacksonville, and another win over Minnesota, it is hard to truly measure where this team lands in the AFC playoff race. The most important aspect of their remaining schedule is their two games with the Tennessee Titans. The Colts have maintained their dominance in the AFC South over the past few years because they always managed to win the important divisional games. The Colts still have a chance this year, but it all depends upon those games later in the season.

San Diego Chargers (11-5 in 2007, lost in AFC Championship, 2-3 in 2008) – My preseason pick to advance to the Super Bowl from the AFC has had a similarly slow start to their regular season, and the reason for that is their inability to stop the pass. With losses to Carolina, Denver and Miami, San Diego has proven that their defense is not the same as it used to be when Shawne Merriman was healthy. LaDanian Tomlinson has not been 100% either this season, as he has amassed only 331 yards and four touchdowns in five games. They have the worst record out of these three teams, and because of their most recent struggles (lost to Miami 17-10 in week five) they seem to be the most likely team of these three to miss the playoffs.

Boot Down: Washington Wizards – Antawn Jamison signed a four-year, $50 million extension to stay. Gilbert Arenas signed a six-year, $111 million extension to stay after opting out of his old contract. Excuse my political pun, but I simply do not think that more of the same will work in Washington. There is a reason why the Wizards have failed to advance past the first round of the playoffs the past three seasons. Yes, I understand that the Cleveland Cavaliers are simply better because of LeBron James, but it goes much deeper than that for Coach Eddie Jordan and company. It is the fact that Jamison (now 32 years old), Caron Butler (who just had a career season), and Arenas (out until December or January after another knee surgery) are not enough to seriously compete in the weak Eastern Conference. It is incredible how this team, with those three superstars, managed to finish with only a 43-39 record last season. Over the last four seasons, this Wizards team has totaled 45, 42, 41 and 43 wins, and its highest scoring differential came in 2005-2006 when they outscored their opponents by a meager 1.9 points per game.

When the exact same core of players returns to a team that has won no more than 45 games in the last four seasons, I do not understand why many writers still believe this team is a solid contender in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics, Magic and 76ers are clearly better, while I believe the Cavaliers and Raptors made significant changes to their rosters in the off-season that should make them more competitive during this regular season. This makes the Wizards, on their best day, probably about the sixth best team in the Eastern Conference. The minor additions of Linton Johnson, DeMarr Johnson, and rookie JaVale McGee will do absolutely nothing for this team this year as they try to break their recent postseason slide. Since they have kept so many of the same players for all this time, they are not getting any younger any time soon, and I believe that the Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Bobcats within their own division have serious potential to breakthrough this coming season and seriously contend for the playoffs. Watch out Wizards fans, a playoff spot will not be a guarantee in the Eastern Conference for you this year.

Boot Down: Atlantic Coastal Conference – Clemson was the preseason favorite to win the ACC this season. Since then, the Tigers have suffered crushing losses to Alabama and Maryland, pushing to 3-2 overall and 1-1 already in conference play. Moving away from them in the conference outlook, there are currently six teams that have one loss in this conference. I will quickly analyze all of these teams to give the full taste of how pathetic this conference has become:

Boston College lost to Georgia Tech 19-16 on September 6

Florida State lost to Wake Forest 12-3 on September 20

Georgia Tech lost to Virginia Tech 20-17 on September 13

North Carolina lost to Virginia Tech 20-17 on September 20

Virginia Tech lost to East Carolina 27-22 on August 30

Wake Forest lost to Navy 24-17 on September 27

It is one thing for the conference leader to lose embarrassingly to one of the top teams in the country, or even for them to lose to a somewhat respectable team within their own conference. However, for the two top teams in the conference to each lose to decent mid-major teams in East Carolina and Navy is almost inexcusable. East Carolina was a fluke, and they had no business being in the top twenty teams in the early AP polls. Navy, on the other hand, may be a pretty decent team for remaining independent, but I would absolutely love to see how they would fare week in and week out against a Big Ten or even Big East schedule. The ACC is cooked. They have been the worst major conference in the BCS era, and this year is looking like no exception.

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October 6, 2008 - Posted by | The Boots | , ,

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