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Making Sense of Predictions

OK, that’s probably folly to begin with. We are talking about preseason predictions after all, and there is no science to them and more than anything they help bridge the gap to the actual start of the season and they are fun to look back on and reconcile against in January.

When I compile my own rankings, it helps me do a lot of homework on teams from across the country, so I enjoy that.

Before I begin here, let me clearly state my bias: I am one that prefers to make preseason rankings based upon my projections of where I think the teams will finish. That puts me in the minority, but it’s just how I like to do things.

Others like to make their predictions based upon how they think teams are right now.

How do they do that, anyway? How can you judge how a team is to start the year when the last time you have seen them was in December or January and their roster is different? There typically isn’t a lot of stability from year to year on college football rosters, however the teams that have traditionally fared well are a good bet to fare well again.

Yet in making that assumption, aren’t you PROJECTING? If it’s a clear case of the here and now, things should be void of projections, right?

Most folks don’t really define what they do, with one clear exception.

CollegeFootballNews.com is a popular portal for the sport on the Scout.com network. I served a brief stint with them as a panel guest last spring and summer. The primary publisher is Pete Fiutak, someone I have had on my radio show in the past. Pete built himself a great site and then took it to Scout where I am sure he stills sees a great deal of traffic.

CFN, as it’s also called, publishes a few different rankings during the calendar year. They have their preseason rankings online right now, with this caveat at the top:

There’s one very important distinction in the CFN preseason rankings: these are based on how good the teams are going into the season and NOT how they’re going to finish. Some teams have easier schedules than others, some get tougher road games and some will need a little bit of time to jell meaning they might be better than their final record might indicate. Going into the year, these are how good the teams appear to be from No. 1 through 120.

Now, the part I have put in bold above is not something I did to manipulate the content for my own ends…CFN actually put that exact passage in bold on their site.

Yikes…and I only say yikes based on what you will find in their rankings, if we are to take the emphasized sentence as their gospel. Here are some examples of what I am talking about.

#20: Nebraska While I don’t think the Huskers are a national title contender, they are clearly a contender for a BCS bowl game. CFN also posts their record projections, and they have the Huskers going 10-2. If you are 10-2, you are closer to #10 than #20. But, they are saying these are how they feel the teams are right now.

They have Iowa at #14, and I am not going to dance on anybody’s desk about that ranking, especially since they project Iowa at 9-3. If you are 9-3, being ranked somewhere around #14 is about right. However, they state this poll is about how good teams are right now.

If Penn State, Michigan or Ohio State had 8 of 11 starters returning from a defense that was among the best in the nation last year, including the entire front four, nearly every skill position of note and a third year starting quarterback with a record of 18-4 from a team that won a BCS bowl game and finished 11-2, they’d be Top Five. Still, if they think Iowa will be 9-3, that’s OK and #14 fits. BUT they have stated this is not about projections, this is about the here and now.

So here are some teams they have rated above Iowa, allegedly based on the here and now:

#13 North Carolina: The Tar Heels have an amazing defense, as long as they are all eligible. They don’t have a great one at quarterback and their offense was anemic from a year ago when they went 8-5. I think a strong case could be made to have Iowa ranked higher than UNC…and while they are steadfast that their rankings are based on the here and now and not projections, how can you say they should be ranked ahead of Iowa based upon the criteria laid out above? Not to mention they pick the Heels to go 6-6.

#6 Wisconsin: As my on air partner Steve Deace has said numerous times, the Iowa Hawkeyes have flat stolen Wisconsin’s manhood the past two years. Wisconsin has big time question marks on defense, too. Iowa beat the Badgers 20-10 in Madison last year and the game is in Kinnick this time around.

#5 Oklahoma: This team went 8-5 last year, saw three of the first four picks in the 2010 NFL draft come from their roster, they return just five starters on defense, yet RIGHT NOW, they are the #5 team in the nation? It’s OK to think that, but if you do, you are doing a great deal of PROJECTING…just as you are with…

#4 Florida: A team that lost the house on both sides of the ball and arguably one of the greatest players in college football history who was also a quarterback. To say that Florida, right now, is the 4th best team in the nation has everything to do with projections and historical performance and very little to do with the here and now. Then there is this…

#3 Georgia: What? When I hit Deace with this live on the air on 8/11, you should have seen the shocked look on his face. He got up and walked out of the studio for a few minutes to collect his thoughts and not break any FCC rules. No joke.

Few programs have had as many off the field issues this off season than the Bulldogs. Then there is this line from their Georgia preview: Key to the Season: Turnover margin. Georgia, with enough talent and speed to hang around with anyone in the SEC, forced two fumbles and picked off ten passes, while the offense gave it away 28 times. Alright, so takeaways aren’t necessarily indicative of success.

How in the world can you say that? Turnovers are arguably the most important factor in football at any level. Of the six BCS conference teams that finished in the Top 10 nationally in takeaways last year, four of them were in BCS bowl games and three were winners in those games (Ohio State, Alabama, Boise State, Texas) with two of them playing for the national championship. Takeaways are very much indicative of success. Nothing is an absolute rule, but if your defense produces a high number of turnovers, the odds are very likely you are going to have a successful season. Success can be a relative term, too.

Northwestern was one of the best teams in the nation at producing takeaways, and they played in the Outback Bowl and won 8 games. Relative to their history, that was a very successful season. Iowa was in the Top 20, and they won 11 games, a great year.

Some may think this is sour grapes, but I can assure you it’s not. I don’t begrudge Fuitak and his gang for doing what they love to do, and in the end it’s just another preseason poll no better or worse than the rest because they are all just fun fodder this time of year.

But a lot of people read that website and I find it intellectual dishonest to construct a poll like that with such caveats of it being about the here and now and not based on projections, when most of the teams ranked in the Top 20 in your poll have quite a bit of projecting going on. It’s like waving in a crowd and saying look at me, and once they do, they see you’re wearing a 30 year old Skynard concert t-shirt to Sunday mass.

That, and I guess the real football season can’t get here soon enough.

  • Chickenlounge

    “It’s like waving in a crowd and saying look at me, and once they do, they see you’re wearing a 30 year old Skynard concert t-shirt to Sunday mass.”

    That line is genius. I’m going to have to figure out a way to work that analogy into some conversation in the near future.

  • xlakehawk

    Thats the second time you’ve mocked Lynyrd Skynyrd today. Blasphemy! At least learn how to spell it. Go HAWKS! FREEBIRD!

  • kuhntz

    CFN has always had an incredible SEC bias…long before ABC and ESPN decided to join as league PR officials. The homework, or lack thereof, for their analysis of teams and leagues is horrible.

  • Trojanhawk83

    I’m REALLY EXCITED for the coming FB season, although I’m always a bit wary of super high expectations for my beloved Hawkeyes. Can this coaching staff and this group of young men ignore their press clippings and just get better each week? Can this group of Hawks put away more teams before the last quarter? If they can’t put them away early, can they win the close ones like they did (most of the time) last season? Stay tuned, it should be another very exciting ride. Go Hawks!

  • Trojanhawk83

    I would not be too surprised if Wegher ends up taking his red-shirt year this season. With all three of our top RB’s classified as sophs, what do you think of this prospect? Go Hawks!

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