Saturday, September 11, 2010

Week 2: Saturday Matchups

Here at TFG we're committed to bringing our readers a slightly different perspective on college football.  In light of that, we're working on our own metric to predict which games will be the most "interesting" in any given week. Ladies and gentlemen, we give you the Games You Gotta See (GUGS) system. This was inspired by Ken Pomeroy's FanMatch system, the exact inner workings of which are a bit of a mystery. We previewed this during our bowl coverage last year when we attempted to rank all 34 bowl games from least to most interesting.

The major factors that make a game "interesting", in our opinion, are the combined quality of the teams and the predicted closeness of the game. Pomeroy's FanMatch also gives weight to how high-scoring the game will be; we haven't included that, but probably will at some point.  For now we give some weight to team quality, and more weight to predicted closeness. Our view of what's interesting might not always match up with what the rest of the sports world sees as interesting. For example, most sports pundits are talking up Penn State-Alabama and Ohio State-Miami (FL) this weekend; we can't deny that these games have national title implications and include four of the most storied teams in college football history. However, our system is less impressed with these games for one simple reason: they aren't expected to be close.

Let's look at the TFG Games of the Week, and then we'll come back to a few big games this weekend that failed to twiddle our bits.

Georgia Bulldogs at South Carolina Gamecocks.
GUGS Score: 85.7

Eddie:  RBA ranks (12) Georgia higher than (15) South Carolina, so you'd expect them to be favored in this matchup.  However, the game is in Columbia, so add (approximately) three points to South Carolina.  Georgia looked very impressive last week against Louisiana-Lafayette, but that only serves to verify their tendency to whip up on weak competition (expected 36.1 PPH against LA-Lafayette).  Historically, Georgia struggles against higher quality opponents.  Their offensive efficiency is expected to drop by 56% to 15.9 PPH.  South Carolina exploded on Southern Miss last week but trend at 11.2 PPH versus teams of Georgia's strength.  The real issue in this game is the defensive battle -- Georgia should yield 19.2 PPH versus South Carolina's 14.9 PPH.  If everything holds true to form, expect a Gamecock victory:  27-24 with 56.6% confidence.
Justin: TFG is much more positive on (16) Georgia than they are on (29) South Carolina, although this early in the season we heavily weight home field advantage. Georgia's offense on a neutral field is equivalent to that of Virginia Tech, but their defense still needs some work, ranking on par with East Carolina. For a Steve Spurrier-coached team, South Carolina's offense is surprisingly anemic, tallying a mere 18.1 PPH. That's not a horrible rating, but it's tied with Air Force for the least efficient offense in the TFG top 40. The Gamecocks make up for it on the other side of the ball, claiming the 15th-most efficient defense in Division I-A. This game will come down to how well the Gamecocks can harness home field advantage and ride the momentum to victory. TFG says yes, but only with 55.0% confidence.

Brigham Young Cougars at Air Force Falcons.
GUGS Score: 79.2

Justin: Both BYU and Air Force are coming off excellent seasons that culminated in eerily similar bowl wins: the (21) Cougars demolished Oregon State 44-20, while the (34) Falcons were the brick wall that slowed down Houston's high-powered offense, 47-20. This is a rematch of last year's November game at BYU, but this time the Falcons have the home field advantage. Both teams thrive on defense, allowing 14.2 PPH or less. The bad news for the Falcons is that BYU's offense has a 3.4 PPH advantage; the good news is this is a home game for the Falcons, and TFG gives them the slightest of nods: 30-29, with 56.1% confidence.
Eddie:  Despite the ranking separation between (21) BYU and (40) Air Force, this matchup is surprisingly balanced.  BYU's defense and Air Force's offense are surprisingly consistent, so expect Air Force to put up numbers pretty close to their expected 13.7 PPH.  The deciding factor will be if Air Force can stop BYU's offense.  Traditionally, both struggle against better opposition.  Home field advantage keeps it a little too close for BYU's comfort, but the Cougars should come away with a victory:  28-27 with 62.8% confidence.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Kansas Jayhawks.
GUGS Score: 75.2

Eddie:  Just looking at the algorithm's output, I should file a bug report -- not because RBA chooses (16) Georgia Tech to win, rather that they should beat (47) Kansas by only one touchdown.  However, the pick seems reasonable when you look at how Georgia Tech has actually played under Paul Johnson.  The Yellow Jacket offense should roll at 21.6 PPH, but their running game tends to result in fewer plays per game than other teams, meaning that they don't exploit that disparity as much as other teams.  Kansas gets the three point bump for playing at home, but their 14.8 PPH worth of offense just isn't going to get it done.  RBA picks the Ramblin' Wreck 35-28 with 68.4% confidence.
Justin: The conventional wisdom about this game is that (20) Georgia Tech is going to stomp all over the (48) Jayhawks. TFG doesn't dispute the Yellow Jackets as the favorite, merely that the home field advantage for Kansas will let them hang around for a while and have a shot at the upset. Kansas will have to establish their defense early and stay close throughout; Tech has the fourth highest-rated offense in D-1A, behind only Florida, Texas, and Alabama. What really hurts the Yellow Jackets is their defense, which maybe one day will be as good as Maryland's. Or -- if they work really hard -- as efficient as UVa's. A lack of defense and home field advantage lets the Jayhawks hang around longer than they should, but ultimately they fall short, 37-35.

North Carolina State at University of Central Florida Knights.
GUGS Score: 69.0

Justin: You're probably thinking "where they hell did GUGS pull this game from?" If so, stop spying on me when I run GUGS and look at the output for the first time. The quick answer is that this is the most interesting game between a team in a BCS conference and one not in a BCS conference (other candidates this week include Michigan-Notre Dame, LA Tech-Texas A&M, and Buffalo-Baylor). This game rates poorly on the "quality" scale, but rates highly on the closeness metric. The (73) Wolfpack visit the (68) Knights in a game that TFG is not too hot on -- UCF is a 2-to-1 favorite -- but between TFG and RBA is pegged to be the fifth-closest game of the week. So if NCSU doesn't manage to make this a bit closer than the 34-29 UCF victory that TFG predicts, blame Eddie.
Eddie:  RBA isn't really a fan of either (68) NC State or (74) UCF, but it expects this one to be tight.  The Wolfpack offense is highly erratic with a 29.4 PPH variance between the strongest and weakest teams.  UCF isn't particularly stable on either side of the ball, wavering 27.5 PPH on both offense and defense.  This leaves us with the Wolfpack defense, which isn't particularly good against anybody, surrendering 16.8 PPH on average.  On a neutral site, this game is a toss-up, but home field advantage tilts the game for the Knights:  31-28 with 54.6% confidence.

Games you probably wanted us to preview:

Penn State Nittany Lions at Alabama Crimson Tide.
GUGS Score: 56.3
This game features of pair of excellent teams, weighing in with the highest quality score of the week. Unfortunately we only give Penn State a 1-in-5 shot of winning this one, so it rates low in the more-heavily-weighted "closeness" factor. Sorry, Penn State fans.

Miami Hurricanes at Ohio State Buckeyes.
GUGS Score: 39.0
This games has the second-highest quality rating, but it's entirely due to Ohio State's ranking. RBA says the Hurricanes have a 2-in-9 shot of pulling off the upset, and that's the optimistic prediction; TFG says 1-in-10.