140031-51In the lottery 150041-41Average 180067-15All-time great 120015-67Historically awful You can sort the teams in several ways: by their season-ending Elo rating, by their peak rating or by their average rating throughout the season.5Peak ratings and average ratings exclude the first 20 games of each team’s season, when they reflect a substantial amount of carry-over from the prior year. A team’s composite Elo rating is a simple average of these three.For the very best teams — and I already mentioned some of Elo’s favorites, like the Jordan-era Bulls and the 1985-86 Celtics — the ratings are high across the board. The ’82-83 Sixers are another of these, ranking as the 10th-best team all-time.But in other cases, there’s a pretty big difference between peak, year-end and average ratings. The 1999-2000 Los Angeles Lakers achieved the 11th-highest peak rating ever (1779). But their year-end rating is a pedestrian 1690 because they coasted down the stretch and then struggled (relatively speaking) in the playoffs, getting outscored by both the Portland Trail Blazers and Indiana Pacers despite winning those series. Conversely, the 1988-89 Detroit Pistons got better and better as the season went on, going 35-6 in the second half of the regular season and then 15-2 in the playoffs against opponents that included the Lakers, Celtics and Bulls.The list might seem to be biased toward relatively recent teams: Among the top 50 seasons all-time, only six from before 1980 make the list. This is mostly a consequence of there being more teams than there once were. Simply put, it’s much more impressive to be the best team in a 30-team league than in a 10-team league.But it’s also hard to say the NBA is watered down, at least right now. In fact, it’s barely expanded in recent years, adding just one franchise since 1995. That makes recent teams’ performances more impressive than those from, for example, the early 1970s, when the NBA almost doubled in size over a few seasons. When Elo ranks a team higher or lower than you might expect intuitively, it’s usually because it perceives the team’s competition to be especially strong or especially weak.Some teams, meanwhile, do their damage over the long run instead of having any one standout season. The best team from the Celtics dynasty of the 1960s ranks only 47th all-time. But the Celtics of that era were incredibly consistent, with a composite Elo rating falling somewhere between 1627 and 1704 over 11 consecutive seasons. The San Antonio Spurs, meanwhile, have placed 13 teams in the all-time top 100 since 1994-95, but their highest-ranked individual season (2013-14) is only 12th.And what about this season’s Warriors ranking as the fourth-best team of all time? Obviously, that’s a provisional score: They may rise or fall a couple of slots depending on how the rest of the playoffs go (although they almost certainly won’t pull ahead of the 1995-96 Bulls). But even though the conventional wisdom has been skeptical about the Warriors at times, we think Elo’s case is pretty easy to defend.Here’s how it goes. As we’ve said, Elo is all about accounting for the strength of a team’s competition, and the Western Conference over the past dozen or so years has featured about the toughest basketball competition imaginable. The Warriors’ 67-15 regular-season record is as good as any other Western Conference team from this era, and their regular-season point differential (+10.2 points per game) is better than anyone else’s. If they follow that up with a title, there really won’t be much to find fault with. Whether they’re a one-year wonder or will prove to be a perennial contender is another question, of course. We hope you’ll enjoy exploring the interactive and tracking their progress. 160051-31Playoff bound 170060-22Title contender 130022-60LOL The stakes in the NBA are incredibly high. Superstar players so dominate the league that decisions on trades, draft picks and free-agent signings could gut a franchise for years or make it a perennial contender. But unlike in sports like baseball and hockey, where luck plays a larger role, in the NBA, the best team usually wins. There’s little forgiveness when a star player gets hurt, and when a team misses its first chance at a title, it may not get another.We wanted a way to visualize each team’s ups and downs. You can find that in the form of our new interactive graphic, “The Complete History Of The NBA,” which tracks each franchise through all 63,145 games (and counting) in NBA and ABA history.1The principal source for game-by-game scores is the always-amazing Basketball-Reference.com.Elo ratings, the basis for the interactive, should be familiar to regular readers of FiveThirtyEight. We introduced them for the NFL last year, and they proved to be a popular feature.2In part, perhaps, because of a flukishly good performance against Las Vegas point spreads. But we didn’t invent the idea: Elo ratings were originally developed to rate chess players and have also been used in soccer, baseball and other sports.Elo is like the iPad of sports power ratings: Their design is quite simple, and they do a lot with a little, depending only on the final score of each game and where it was played. Teams always gain Elo points after winning games — although more for upset wins and for winning by wider margins — and lose ground after losing them. They account for both regular-season and playoff games. If you want (much, much) more detail, see here. For the rest of you, here’s a quick guide on how to interpret different Elo ratings and about how many wins they’d translate into over the course of an 82-game regular season. Elo ratings above 1800, which imply a team would be able to sustain at least a 67-15 record over the long term, are extremely rare. Only three teams have achieved them: the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls (whose 1853 Elo rating from June 9, 1996, is the all-time record), the 1996-97 Chicago Bulls and the 1985-86 Boston Celtics. This year’s Golden State Warriors have a chance at an 1800-plus rating, depending on how the rest of the playoffs go.A 1700 rating is more typical for a title contender. The Cleveland Cavaliers, with a 1689, are currently somewhere near that mark, for example. A 1600 rating represents a playoff team that’s likely to lose in the first or second round. And Elo ratings can go way lower, of course. The all-time NBA low, 1111, belongs to the Dallas Mavericks after they went 4-57 to open the 1992-93 NBA season.3The ABA’s Oakland Oaks achieved an even lower rating, 1086, at the nadir of their 1967-68 season, but that’s partly because it was the ABA’s inaugural year, which Elo treats very skeptically.So where do, say, the 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers rank? Here are Elo’s ratings of all seasons in NBA and ABA history:4The table excludes teams that played fewer than 21 games in a season (for reasons such as being disbanded midway through the season). ELOEQUIVALENT RECORDTEAM DESCRIPTION
VIDEO: The greatness of LeBron James Pre-injury, non-playoff opponents44.8%56.5%24.361-789.7% GAMES3 POINT PERC.2 POINT PERC.GAME SCORERECORDWIN PERC. Pre-injury, playoff opponents49.656.625.811-191.7 Post-injury39.348.517.110-758.8 Post-injury Steph played worse, won less Game Score is an imperfect metric for combining box score stats, but in this case, it gets the job done. Pre-injury, Curry performed better against his playoff opponents this season than he did against a typical team.1“Pre-injury, playoff opponents” includes regular-season games against the Rockets, Blazers, Thunder and Cavaliers and Game 1 of the Warriors’ playoff series against the Rockets. “Post-injury” includes Game 4 against the Rockets and beyond. Moreover, he performed similarly against all four squads.Looking at the bottom line: The Warriors went 10-7 with Curry playing after his first injury. Again, although that doesn’t look dramatic, the likelihood of it happening by chance alone can be quite slim: For a team that wins 90 percent of games, the chances of losing seven of 17 are around 1 in 10,000. At 80 percent, they’re around 1 in 100, and at 70 percent, they’re around 1 in 10.2Based on a binomial calculation assuming that the Warriors were as good as their record, that their odds of winning were the same in each game, and that each game’s outcome is independent of the others. Note that these would not be great assumptions for making a precise calculation but are fine for a first cut, particularly with a Warriors team that for most of the season — did I mention? — didn’t seem to care much who they were playing.Also, when the Warriors lost three games to the Thunder (before going on to win the series), it seemed unremarkable — in part because it was in line with the tendency of teams that are good at winning also being good at winning playoff series. But now that the Warriors have lost four games to the Cavs, those results corroborate each other, suggesting that the Warriors weren’t just running badly, but that there was something systematically awry.3By Game 7 of the Finals, sportsbooks appeared to have this pegged, with most putting Golden State around -180, which would be absurdly low under normal circumstances.A 1-in-10 phenomenon is well within the range of stuff that happens in sports every day, and even 1-in-10,000 phenomena still happen. But the question isn’t whether the Warriors’ dreary finish was unlikely, but, given its unlikeliness, what is the most likely explanation. Did the Warriors just get unlucky? Are they — gasp — anti-clutch? Did two teams suddenly figure them out? Or was Curry’s injury a bigger factor than he let on?As usual, when something crazy happens, there can be many causes. A few Warriors may have performed poorly in the clutch. Teams may have “figured them out” to some degree. And they may have gotten a little unlucky. But those are the sorts of things that all teams have had to deal with historically, and teams as good as the Warriors haven’t broken overnight. More importantly, for the Warriors to pin this on fortune alone would require luck so profoundly bad that they’d be dodging falling pianos. That’s good news for Warriors’ fans. It means that, should they be able to heal what’s ailing them — such as a lingering injury to the league MVP — winning more championships still depends on fairly predictable outcomes rather than cruel turns of chance.At the very least, revolutionaries have good reasons to be hopeful that next season will continue where this season seemed destined to go rather than where it ended up. Source: basketball-reference.com There can be no diminishing the accomplishments of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who came back from a 3-1 series deficit to end the Golden State Warriors’ reign as NBA champions. King James deserves every accolade he receives — and I’m sure he’ll have words for the doubters who didn’t think this was possible. Like me.I’ve been bullish on the Warriors for a while now. Early in the season, I wrote about Stephen Curry’s ability to handle virtually any shooting burden before I even knew that he was a legitimate threat from 30 feet. My operating theory was that Curry should take more and more and more 3-pointers. In the final game of the season, he had 14 attempts (yay!) but made only four (oops).Teams with recent championship experience tend to be money in the playoffs, and this Warriors squad seemed not to be affected much by the strength of their opponents — both of which should have made the team bigger favorites than even our models suggested. So when the winningest team in NBA history needed to win only two of five (and then one of three) games against a team it had beaten all four times they played this season — by an average of 22 points — I felt pretty good about my position. I was wrong.The Warriors ended up losing as many games in the playoffs as they did in the regular season, finishing with a particularly un-GOATish 7-7 stretch against Oklahoma City and Cleveland. Although a 14-game break-even stretch doesn’t sound horrible, it would be highly improbable for a team that won 90 percent of its games, as the Warriors had with Curry playing. Of course, the Thunder and Cavaliers were stronger than the Warriors’ typical opponents (the Warriors did go 5-0 against them during the regular season, and remember they crushed strong opponents as easily as weak ones throughout the season), though this is partly offset by the Warriors’ home-court advantage.A result like that 7-7 raises questions: Have the Warriors been solved? Is Curry unable to carry an offense single-handedly after all, or was his run of bad form because of something else, like a lingering injury? From an empirical standpoint, this bizarre end to the season doesn’t tell us as much as we would like, but it does hold a few insights.Although Curry’s performance in the playoffs clearly regressed from his in the regular season, why that happened is unclear. There are, however, reasons to believe it was more than simply a run of bad shooting luck, but not something as dim as the Golden State model succumbing to playoff basketball. Since his first injury, in Game 1 against the Houston Rockets, Curry hasn’t really been Curry. He’s struggled to turn the corner on defenders on his way to the rim, and he’s had a troubling turnover rate, which may have happened (in part) because he found himself with unfamiliar passing lanes after being unable to create his usual space. Curry’s dropoff was also evident in his shooting weeks ago, and it hasn’t improved. Since his return, Curry has been worse in virtually every significant metric — even compared to his pre-injury performance against the same opponents:
Olympic gold medalists Ashton Eaton and Allyson Felix were honored as the top American track male and female athletes, respectively, earning the 2012 Jesse Owens Award.Eaton holds the world record in the decathlon after eclipsing Roman Sebrle’s long-standing mark of 9,000 points at the U.S. Olympic trials before taking gold in the London Olympics this summer.Felix, won the 200 meters at the London Games for her first individual Olympic gold, and added victories in the 4 X100 and 4 X 400 relays.She previously earned the silver medal in the 200-meter event in 2004 and 2008 before claiming gold in London.She is now debating entering the individual 400-meter race going into the 2016 Rio Olympics.“I’m definitely open to it more,” said the 26-year-old Felix, who won the award for the fourth time. “As I get older, the 400 may suit me more.”Before Felix makes that decision she will head to Africa for 10 days with an organization that uses sports to promote development.As for Eaton, he is humbled by the accolades he has garnered, but still motivated to achieve more, he said.“I can improve in all of my events,” Eaton told the Associated Press. “And I don’t know by how much… the discus is something I haven’t figured out yet. The javelin is something I haven’t figured out yet. The pole vault — there still is a steep learning curve. Maybe the hurdles, as well.”Eaton, the 12th American to win Olympic gold in the decathlon, said he also has aspirations of joining the 4 x 400 meter relay team.USA Track and Field will present Eaton and Felix their awards Dec. 1 in Dayton Beach, Fla.
Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Josh Brent was indicted by a Texas grand jury Wednesday and formally charged with intoxication manslaughter in the one-car crash on December 8 that resulted in the death of friend Jerry Brown, who was on the team’s practice squad.The indictment says that Brent was speeding and had two times the legal alcohol limit in his system when he lost control of his vehicle in Irving, near Dallas. Brent has been out of jail on $100,000 bond.Brent faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for intoxication manslaughter charges. He also Brent could be eligible for probation.District attorney Debbie Denmon says no court dates have been scheduled.Brent has received support from the team and Brown’s mother, Stacey Jackson, has been at the forefront of the Cowboys’ support of Brent. She asked the players at a memorial service for her son to do as much as they could to keep Brent involved with the team.Meanwhile, the Cowboys have said it will support Brent, while, at the same time, emphasizing that they do not condone drinking and driving.Brent was on the sidelines for most of the Dallas Cowboys-Pittsburgh Steelers game a few weeks ago, but left in the third quarter because he didn’t want to be a distraction, Garrett said. The Cowboys were criticized during the broadcast of the game for allowing Brent on the sidelines.“It becomes a real sensitive topic to a lot of people when you’re in a public place like the game,” Garrett said. “There were no bad intentions other than to support Josh as part of our football team. This is a game and you need to be here. That’s what our players wanted to convey to him and they really encouraged him to come to the game. I thought Josh handled it beautifully the way that he came and then when he felt like there were some issues he felt the right thing to do was to leave. But we’re going to support him in every way that we can. We also will be sensitive to this kind of issue.”
With the bone in his broken right leg sticking through his skin–a sight that moved his teammates, fans and coach Rick Pitino to tears, Louisville’s Kevin Ware called over his devastated teammates and delivered a message while laying on his back on the court in Sunday’s battle for a Final Four berth.“Just go win the game,” Ware is said to have instructed his teammates as a medical crew worked on his broken leg. Just go win the game.”With his words spurring them, the Cardinals wiped their tears and then wiped the floor with the Duke Blue Devils, exploding on a 13-2 run midway through the second half that rendered the ACC powerhouse feeble. Louisville went on to take an 85-63 conquest to make its second straight appearance in the Final Four.The mercurial guard tandem of Peyton Siva (16 points) and Russ Smith (23) devastated the Blue Devils with, speed, tenacity and determination, and the Cardinals’ depth and unrelenting defense finished them off. Louisville will face NCAA Tournament surprise Wichita State in the first game of the Final Four at the Georgia Dome on Saturday. Michigan, which pummeled Florida by 20 points Sunday, will face Syracuse in the other tourney semifinal.They will play in Atlanta, the home of Ware, who attended Rockdale County High near the city. He landed awkwardly while contesting a jump shot in front of the Louisville bench with 6:33 left in the first half and his leg snapped, horrifying those who witnessed it. Pitino said it was gruesome he almost threw up. Players lay on the floor grief-stricken, crying. Fans wept. The arena fell silent.“Basically, the bone popped out of the skin. It broke in two spots,” Pitino said. “Remember the bone is six inches out of his leg, and all he’s yelling is ‘Win the game, win the game.’ I’ve never seen anything like that.”Added Siva, “I don’t know how he did it. I don’t know how he got strength to do it, but he told us to go out there and win.”“I don’t think we could have gathered ourselves — I know I couldn’t have — if Kevin didn’t say over and over again, ‘Just go win the game,” Pitino said. “I don’t think we could have gone in the locker room with a loss after seeing that. We had to gather ourselves. We couldn’t lose this game for him.”Chane Behanan, Ware’s closest friend on the team, wore the guard’s No. 5 jersey on the bench in the final moments as he and the huge Cardinals contingent chanted, “Kevin Ware! Kevin Ware!””“We talked about it every timeout, ‘Get Kevin home,” Pitino said.Ware tweeted a photo of himself in a Texas hospital bed. “He said, ‘Don’t worry about me, I’m good, I’ll have my surgery tonight,’” Behanan said. “‘Go win it for me.’”Ware was recovering Sunday night following successful surgery. School officials said the sophomore had the bone reset and a rod inserted into his right tibia.“I don’t think we could have gone in that locker room with a loss,” Pitino said, “after seeing that.”“I think that would have hurt him more than the actual injury,” Siva added.
Former Detroit Pistons star Rasheed Wallace. Photo by Paul Sancya/Associated Press.In the past year, the public health disaster that became known as the Flint Water Crisis has all but disappeared from the daily news cycle. Major media outlets rarely mention it.But former Detroit Pistons star Rasheed Wallace is making sure America doesn’t forget about the people of Flint, reminding the nation that the crippling health crisis is ongoing — and far from being over.In a sharply worded letter published in the Players’ Tribune, Wallace expressed frustration at the conditions in Flint, noting how the city’s residents have been forced to rely on bottled or boiled water to drink and bathe over the last two years.The former basketball star began his letter by emphasizing the importance of having clean water for simple, everyday tasks like brushing your teeth, washing your hands or rinsing off that apple you took for lunch. Unfortunately, these “luxuries” are no longer afforded to the people of Flint.“When you woke up this morning, what’s the first thing you did?” Wallace wrote. “Took a piss and flushed the toilet? Brushed your teeth? Took a shower? Whatever you did, I’m guessing you used water.”“That’s all normal, part of our everyday lives,” he continued. “Unless you live in Flint, Michigan.”Wallace, who’s been visiting the impaired city over the last year, said he first learned of the water crisis when it was on every news station, in every headline. That’s when he decided it was time to help. On his first visit to the city, however, the retired basketball player said Flint reminded him of a “third-world country in the United States.”“I’m not a water expert or anything like that, but I don’t need to be to know when something is f–cked up,” he wrote. “I just saw the horrible news, about how the government had put people at risk for the sake of saving money, and I knew I needed to help.”“So I went,” Wallace continued. “I flew to Detroit with some friends and family members, rented a moving truck, loaded it up with as much bottled water as it could hold and drove to Flint.”Former Tar Heel All-America & Piston Rasheed Wallace is driving a truck filled w/cases of water from NC to Flint, Michigan tonight #GoHeels— Carolina Basketball (@UNC_Basketball) February 4, 2016Wallace said he went door-to-door delivering water in the city’s low-income communities. He noted that many of Flint’s residents were already living in poverty, and now they were being forced to suffer the brunt of this public health crisis.“… People missing clumps of hair, rashes on adults and children alike — all because of poisoned water,” the basketballer said of the affected residents he met. “Imagine that: The poorest people paying the heaviest price.”While in Flint, Wallace said he met up with another former NBA player (and Flint native), Mo Peterson. Peterson had also decided to take action to help the people of Flint. The two former athletes met up for lunch downtown, but Wallace said he noticed a sign at the restaurant that infuriated him: “OUR WATER IS SAFE,” it read.“Hold up, I thought. How is it that downtown water is cool, but three blocks over, the water is making children sick?,” he wrote. “I couldn’t believe it.”Wallace went on to express disgust at the fact that the government tried to cover up a crisis that sickened thousands of residents, including young children. Wallace said he would continue returning to Flint and encouraging others — even his former teammates — to join him. Letting the people of Flint know there are still people are out there who care about them is of the utmost importance to the retired basketball star.“They supported me when I was playing with the Pistons,” Wallace wrote. “There were a lot of people from Flint who maybe couldn’t really afford a ticket to a game, but they bought one anyway, or came down for the parade when we won the title.”“Handing out water is the very least I can do,” he added. “I didn’t partner with any organization or agency. I just went on my own because that was the right thing to do. Every time I go, I’m amazed by the people, but I’m sickened by the lack of help.”Wallace asserted that although the crisis is no longer in the headlines, the problem is still ongoing and nothing has been done to fix the water. He called the crisis a “long-term fix,” but bashed the government for taking nearly two years to approve funding to remedy the issue. He also pointed out that the city is still billing residents for their water — essentially forcing them to pay for water that is “still unsafe and contaminated.”“That’s right. They still want those people to pay their m—–f—— water bills,” Wallace concluded.“You can read this and ignore it,” he wrote. “You can say I don’t know what I’m talking about. But I’ve been to Flint. I’ve seen what’s happening. The cameras are gone, but the people are still there, and they still need our help.”
Most of this year’s NCAA bracket contests follow the same tired format: Millions of people fill out a 64-team bracket and get points for correct picks — more if those picks come in later rounds. But some contests have their own quirks and present their own incentives. Some pools award bonus points for correctly predicting upsets; others use an auction format to draft teams. FiveThirtyEight’s office pool will reward participants for choosing results no one else or few people in the pool do.Mark Glickman, a statistician and research professor of health policy and management at Boston University, has created a very different kind of March Madness competition. Participants won’t merely predict which team will win each game; they’ll specify how sure they are. Entrants will offer a probability for every game that could happen: 2,278 possible matchups.Glickman’s contest scores entrants by the product of the average probability they gave for each matchup’s winner. The setup is designed to push people to examine their assumptions and balance confidence with caution. If you ever thought you were 100 percent sure about a game — say, between a No. 1 seed and a No. 16 seed — think again: If you’re wrong and a team you gave no chance somehow wins, you will lose a lot of points. Call every game 50-50, and you’ll know your score before the tournament starts. But it won’t be a good one.The format also changes entrants’ incentives. A great upset pick helps, like in any pool, but a bad one could help sink a bracket. Participants can recover more easily from early misfires than in other contests, because they’re assessed on their probability estimates for every matchup — even ones they didn’t expect. On the other hand, in many other contests, including ESPN’s Tournament Challenge, points per game double in each round, so a correct title pick is worth 32 times an accurate round-of-64 pick. But in Glickman’s contest, later games don’t count more than earlier ones.“By forcing people to make probability predictions, we will help distinguish people who have pretty close predictions but not exactly the same,” Glickman said.His novel setup is one of many bracket contests to go against the grain. What kinds of contests have you participated in, and how would you design an office pool for quants that offers more interest than the typical format?
A Kansas firefighter rescued some World Series tickets from a burning house. A man was robbed at gunpoint outside Missouri’s Kauffman Stadium for his tickets. The Feds seized more than a hundred ersatz tickets, along with some “counterfeit panties” (don’t ask me). A Kansas City Royals fan was ready to sell his Mustang to get tickets for his family.Then again, Wade Davis’s wife tipped her waiter with a World Series ticket.How much are these things worth, anyway? This year, an average of $930 apiece.The New York Times reports that Game 1 of the World Series drew only 12.2 million television viewers — the worst Game 1 ratings on record. But though the television audience for 2014’s Series isn’t much interested, the fans trying to get into the stadiums certainly are. Ticket prices are up this year.Playoff tickets are a hot commodity in sports and, unsurprisingly, World Series tickets are baseball’s most expensive. Even still, the jump from the earlier playoff rounds is remarkable. This year, they’ve been nearly five times as expensive as any other playoff round.Using transactional data provided to me by SeatGeek — which gathers price data on a number of popular online ticket resellers — here are this year’s average ticket prices for all the playoff games, by round:(Note that chart this includes ticket transactions for unplayed, and potentially unnecessary, World Series games. Prices may have fluctuated. ) The average price for this year’s two wild card games was $169. For league division series games, it was a bit less: $129. For league championship series, it was $200.With the San Francisco Giants seeking to establish a sort of quasi-dynasty, and the Royals looking for their first championship since 1985, the fan bases seem eager. And though the fans’ demand to see their home teams has boosted in-person prices, the Royals’ small television market may be to blame for the low television ratings.Not only have prices jumped sharply going into the Royals-Giants matchup, but this year’s Series has also outpaced recent fall classics. The past few years’ World Series averages were $766, $634, $618 and $797. Not a single game of the 2014 Series averages a ticket price below $800.Here’s the spread of prices for recent World Series games:If the current price for Game 7 holds (and, of course, if that game is necessary), about $40 million will have been spent on the tickets to fill Kauffman Stadium. They’re averaging $1,078 a pop.The cheapest — if it can be called that — average ticket since 2010 was $488 for 2011’s Game 2, when the Texas Rangers visited St. Louis. Game 6 of that series seems, in retrospect, like the deal of the century, at an average of just $500.The outlying game in 2013 was Boston’s clinching Game 6 over the St. Louis Cardinals at Fenway — the first time the Red Sox had won the Series at home in 95 years. It’d have set you back an average of $1,175 to see that one — reportedly the most expensive baseball ticket in history.The going price for Saturday’s Game 4? A relatively affordable $987.
The Florida State Seminoles have not lost a football game in almost two years. After succumbing to Florida on Nov. 24, 2012, they recovered to win the ACC Championship Game and, on Jan. 1, 2013, the Orange Bowl. They went undefeated (14-0) in the 2013 season and won the national championship. And they’re 11-0 so far this year. That’s 27 wins in a row.But Florida State entered its game against Boston College on Saturday ranked just No. 3 in the playoff selection committee’s standings, behind Alabama and Oregon. The Seminoles’ narrow win over Boston College on Saturday – they won 20-17 on a last-minute field goal – probably won’t help their case much.Might the Seminoles’ position even fall further when the new committee standings come out on Tuesday night? On Friday, we debuted a college football playoff forecast model that seeks to answer these questions. The good news for Florida State is that none of the teams ranked immediately behind it did anything terribly impressive either. No. 4 Mississippi State won 51-0, but did so against 3-8 Vanderbilt. Fifth-ranked TCU did not play. No. 6 Ohio State also played a 3-8 team, Indiana, winning 42-27 in a game that was close until the fourth quarter.To find a school with a truly impressive win, you’ll need to scan down to No. 9 UCLA, which won easily against No. 19 USC, its crosstown rival. More about the Bruins in a moment. First, here’s the model’s probabilistic view of what the new committee standings might look like on Tuesday:The model says last week’s top four – Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Mississippi State — are likely to remain in the same order on Tuesday.However, since the committee is new, the model is mostly based on an analysis of how games have historically changed the standings in the Coaches Poll. Perhaps the playoff committee will view things differently. When it comes to Florida State, it already has a significant difference of opinion with the Coaches Poll, which has the Seminoles at No. 1.Florida State has won by narrower margins, and against a weaker schedule, than the other top teams this year. It’s hard to say which of those factors are producing the difference in the rankings. Perhaps the committee is looking at what it calls “game control” – a team’s ability to remain in a comfortable position from start to finish – and finding Florida State’s series of nail-biting wins faulty. Or perhaps, regardless of the scorelines, they don’t see enough big wins on Florida State’s resume. The Seminoles’ most impressive-seeming win of the season, against then 6-0 Notre Dame on Oct. 18, looks less so now that Notre Dame has lost four of its last five games.There’s also the issue of how much the polls and the committee are weighing preseason expectations. Our research has uncovered evidence that where a team starts the year in the Coaches Poll affects where it finishes, even after accounting for its performance during the current football season. Florida State started as the preseason No. 1 in the Coaches Poll. The committee, however, did not release its first rankings until Oct. 28, halfway into the season, and had Florida State second.If your goal is to forecast upcoming games, it’s not wrong — in fact, it’s helpful statistically — to consider results from previous seasons. College football teams play fewer games than those in any other major American sport. Looking at “old” data is better than not having enough data.But if you want to determine who “deserves” a place in the playoff, it’s more complicated. It might be politically incorrect for the committee to consider last year’s performance in determining eligibility for this year’s playoff.It’s going to take some time for us to make clear inferences about which factors the committee prioritizes. That’s why we’re treating this year as an experiment for the model rather than something you might bet a lot of money on.However, if Florida State were to fall to No. 4 or lower this week, it would be a sign the committee places a lot of emphasis on margin of victory and game control. At the other logical extreme – if the committee didn’t consider margin of victory at all — Florida State would have a case for moving up in the standings, since its opponent on Saturday, Boston College, was the best of a very weak lot (Western Carolina, Colorado, Vanderbilt) faced by the other teams in the top four.UCLA will be another interesting test case for the committee. The Bruins, No. 9 last week, will very likely move up at least one position. That’s because Mississippi, No. 8 last week, lost to Arkansas, taking its third loss and eliminating its hopes of title contention.But could UCLA move up to No. 6 or No. 7 instead? Historically, voters in the Coaches Poll have not rewarded teams much for “big wins” (instead, they’ve tended to punish them for losses). The committee, so far, has been a little more aggressive about promoting teams after they secure major victories, sometimes jumping them ahead of other teams that also won. USC might or might not qualify as a “big win” for UCLA — the Bruins were favored and playing at home — but it’s impressive compared to the middling opponents the other top teams faced.UCLA’s placement is relevant because it has a path, albeit a fraught one, into the playoff. The Bruins will need to beat Stanford on Friday and then Oregon in the Pac-12 title game on Dec. 5. If that happens, UCLA will presumably move ahead of Oregon in the committee’s pecking order. But even that will not be enough. Say that Alabama and Florida State also win out. UCLA might also need to jump ahead of potential conference champions like TCU, Baylor and Ohio State. Or imagine that Florida State loses. Would the committee take a two-loss UCLA team ahead of a one-loss Florida State team?The next chart represents the model’s attempt to sort out all these possibilities and forecast how the standings might look on Dec. 7, when the committee will release its final rankings:UCLA’s chances of making the playoff are 14 percent — up from 8 percent before its win against USC. That may undersell the Bruins’ chances, however. If they beat both Stanford and Oregon, their chances will be about 50 percent, according to the model.What about Florida State? The model has the Seminoles’ chances at 59 percent overall, not much changed from 60 percent last week. But it gives them just an 18 percent chance of making the playoff if they take a loss rather than finishing the season undefeated.We’ll rerun these numbers on Wednesday after the committee has released its new standings. Here’s how the national title odds look in the interim:There’s not much change from last week, other than for UCLA and Mississippi. If you’re looking for a real dark horse, however, you might find one in the Arizona Wildcats. Like UCLA, they’re 9-2 and they also scored an impressive victory Saturday, demolishing No. 17 Utah 42-10 in Salt Lake City. To make the playoff, they’ll probably need to beat Arizona State on Friday and hope that UCLA loses to Stanford (UCLA beat Arizona on Nov. 1 and so holds the tiebreaker against them if the teams finish with the same Pac-12 record). Then, Arizona would make the Pac-12 title game and have to beat Oregon. The Wildcats would probably also need other teams like Ohio State or Florida State to lose. This parlay is not at all likely — the model puts the chances at about 3 percent — but Arizona isn’t drawing totally dead.True college football geeks might also pay attention to what the committee does at the bottom end of its new top 25. With No. 17 Utah, No. 19 USC and No. 23 Nebraska all losing on Saturday, a couple of new positions should open up.The teams that enter the standings will have zero chance of making the playoff. But they may reveal something about the committee’s philosophy. What if Arkansas pops into the standings, for instance? The Razorbacks are just 6-5, but they’ve played the second-toughest schedule in the country according to Jeff Sagarin’s ratings, and they’re coming off shutout wins against LSU and Mississippi. If they enter the rankings, it would be a sign the committee is sympathetic to teams that play tough schedules. If a team like Marshall enters instead — it’s 11-0 but against a pathetic schedule — the committee would be giving a different signal.
Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman said Devin Smith is a question mark at times, but at the end of the Buckeyes’ game against California Saturday the sophomore receiver was the answer. With 3:26 left in the game and the score tied at 28, OSU was faced with a third and seven at their own 28-yard line. Coach Urban Meyer called a pass play designed for junior wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown that he hoped would extend the drive. Smith’s job on the play was “merely to clear out” according to Herman, but a coverage lapse from California left Brown double covered and Smith wide open down the right sideline. As the ball floated toward him, Smith said he heard his mom’s voice in the back of his head. “My mom tells me every time I catch the ball to run like a dog is catching you,” he said. “As soon as I caught the ball, that’s all I was thinking in my mind.” Whatever he was thinking, it worked because after he caught the ball, he sprinted untouched into the end zone for a 72-yard score to put the Buckeyes up for good. “We live for that,” Smith said of his big play. “I dreamed of being wide open and catching those balls. I had to make a big play and that’s what I did.” It’s not the first time Smith has made a big play. Smith’s game-winning 40-yard touchdown catch against Wisconsin in 2011 became the signature moment of last season and his one-handed grab against Miami the first game of the this season was nominated for play of the year. The tough plays aren’t what has plagued Smith, though. In the first quarter of Saturday’s game, Smith fended off a Bears defender and plucked a back shoulder throw out of the air for a 25-yard touchdown. Herman said the level of difficulty in that play was probably higher than the one that ended the game. But Smith also had two drops in the first half, at least one of which would have given OSU a first down and extended the drive. It’s that lack of consistency that has “frustrated” his coaches since training camp. “Devin was certainly a guy that was a question mark coming into camp, but has gotten much better. He is nowhere near a finished product,” Herman said. “He was a guy that hadn’t really studied his playbook or hadn’t been very trustworthy as far as being in the right place at the right time. He continues to improve on that.” Smith, who finished the game with 145 receiving yards and two touchdowns, said he’s still waiting on a compliment from Meyer. “(Meyer) told me I was going to have to make catches like that all the time. The catch I had today to win the game and he told me not to drop another ball,” Smith said. But despite the inconsistency, Meyer can’t keep Smith off the field because his big-play potential is too high to ignore. “Yeah, he dropped a couple, but we need a home-run hitter,” Meyer said. “When you take a really hard swing every once in a while, you’ve got to hit it out of the park.”