Alabama Finishes atop AP Poll for Record Ninth Time; Oregon No. 2 (Where Analytics Said Ducks Were Before the BCS Game)

After decimating Notre Dame 42-21 to win back-to-back national championships on Monday, Alabama finished atop the final Associated Press poll for the ninth time, which is a new record. Alabama was a unanimous No.1. 

Prior to the game analytics showed Oregon was by far the No. 2 team in the country.

Alabama and Notre Dame had each finished eight times atop the poll coming into the year. 

Oregon was followed by Ohio State, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Georgia, Stanford, South Carolina, Florida, and Florida State. 

Oregon's selection as the No. 2 team in the country by the AP tonight was well earned.  What it is hard to believe is that Notre Dame was really No. 4 in light of the two teams below them - Texas A&M and Georgia - having both been every bit the equal of an Alabama team that crushed Notre Dame.  The Irish are no better than the sixth best team in the country, but even before the game analytics showed they were not in the top two.

Several years ago the BCS required that computer ratings dropped margins of victory from formulas, a change which this year resulted in Notre Dame being ranked higher than an Oregon team that was almost a touchdown better than Notre Dame when true analytics were used.  On the human side, voters almost always take an undefeated team over a one-loss team, and have been known to like the Irish (see Paul Hornig’s Heisman over Jim Brown and others after his 1956 Irish went 2-8).
But let's be serious - after Alabama jumped in front, which of these quarterbacks would have had a better chance at being competitive



 
 
Oregon quarterbackCMPATTYDSCMP%YDS/ATDINTRAT
Marcus Mariota (Ore)230336267768.57.97326163.2
Everett Golson (ND)166282213558.97.57115131.8
Particularly with Mariota having more than twice as many yards running and much better options with him in the backfield:



 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
NAMECARYDSAVGTD
Kenjon Barner (Ore)27817676.421
Marcus Mariota (Ore QB)1067527.15
De'Anthony Thomas (Ore)927017.611
Byron Marshall (Ore)874475.14
Top 4 Ducks runners56336676.541
Theo Riddick (ND)1808804.95
Cierre Wood (ND)1107406.74
George Atkinson III (ND)513617.15
Everett Golson (ND QB)893053.45
Top 4 Irish runners43022865.319

If the semifinals slated to start in 2015 were already in place, a #4 Oregon would have very likely exposed Notre Dame before an audience was subjected to the title game mismatch.  But even if analytics were allowed to pick the top two teams in an unbiased manner, it would have been a likely much better Oregon vs. Alabama matchup.

Oregon came the closest to interrupting the SEC title run, and Marcus Mariota’s ability to run and pass and give three other explosive players the ball would have certainly posed more of a threat to Alabama and kept TV sets on longer than a Notre Dame team that had lost by the time it was 21-0 early in the second quarter in route to a fourth straight BCS bowl loss by a combined score of 158-57.

You can see why Oregon’s average score was 51-22 this year BEFORE destroying Kansas State in what was almost the title game.

1. Why official computer ratings had Notre Dame ahead of Oregon even though analytics actually rated Oregon higher

The problem is the computers must remove margins of victory from their calculations, so Notre Dame is not penalized for beating a 6-7 Purdue team by three at home, a Michigan team that was out of the game by the first quarter against Alabama by only at 13-6 score, BYU by three at home and a .500 Pitt team in overtime thanks to a very friendly interference call.

In order to be politically correct, the computer rankings are forced to remove margin of victory from calculation so Notre Dame simply beat Michigan just like Alabama did.

Oregon’s 23-point win over a 9-3 Arkansas State team, 17-point win over an excellent Fresno State team, 49-point win over a very good Arizona team and 24-point win at an Oregon State team that threatened the top 10 are the same as 1-point wins.  True, ND survived Stanford on two close calls on the goal line and Oregon did not, but overall the body of work showed Oregon was much better.

2. Voters love of undefeated teams and sometimes Notre Dame

As for the human element, voters tend strongly to go for undefeated teams over 1-loss teams.  Perhaps the worst example was in 1984, when voters chose BYU for the title for a 13-0 mark even though their only wins against BCS teams were by 6 points against 3-7-1 Pitt team and a 7-point win against a 6-6 Michigan team.  Washington dominated teams that would have beaten BYU that year but had one narrow loss at USC.

While they have a great history, Notre Dame does occasionally get the benefit of the vote.  In 1956, Jim Brown led Syracuse to a 7-1 mark while gaining more yards rushing in just eight games (986) than Paul Horning  had PASSING (917) while leading Notre Dame to a 2-8 mark, but Horning was given the Heisman Trophy.

As a sophomore at Syracuse University, Brown was the second leading rusher on the team. As a junior, he rushed for 666 yards (5.2 per carry). In his senior year, Brown was a unanimous first-team All-American. He finished 5th in the Heisman Trophy voting, and set school records for highest rush average (6.2) and most rushing touchdowns (6). He ran for 986 yards—third most in the country despite Syracuse playing only eight games—and scored 14 touchdowns. In the regular-season finale, a 61–7 rout of Colgate, he rushed for 197 yards, scored six touchdowns and kicked seven extra points for 43 points (another school record). Then in the Cotton Bowl, he rushed for 132 yards, scored three touchdowns and kicked three extra points. But a blocked extra point after Syracuse's third touchdown was the difference as TCU won 28–27:



 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Syracuse 1956Notre Dame 1956
at Maryland 26-12at SMU 13-19
at Pittsburgh 7-14Indiana 20-6
West Virginia 27-20Purdue 14-28
Army 7-0Michigan St. 14-47
at Boston U 21-7Oklahoma 0-40
Penn State 13-9Navy 7-33
Holy Cross 41-20at Pitt 13-26
Colgate 61-7UNC 21-7
TCU (Cotton) 27-28at Iowa 8-48
 at USC 20-28
Average 26-13, 7-2Average 13-29, 2-8
Best player: Jim BrownHeisman: Paul Horning
So while many more fans tuned into watch Notre Dame initially, an Oregon-Alabama National Championship would have been much more in doubt.  Oregon’s dominance of #5 Kansas State should land them #2 in the final polls with some combination of a Stanford team that barely survived a .500 Wisconsin team, and Georgia and Texas A&M, whose epic battles against Alabama this year look very good in light of the official national championship.  Voters tend to leave National Championship losers near the top of the ratings, but it’s hard to believe that ND is a better team than Oregon, Georgia or Texas A&M, and even Stanford fans will have trouble conceding a spot after believing they made it into the end zone on two of the last three plays at Notre Dame this year.

Hopefully in 2014 fans will see the top two teams in the country play for the National Title, and in 2015 we look forward to a semifinals to give us a better chance at the top two teams being on the field.


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