Sunday, November 21, 2010

Reassessing Stanford's Future Part Twelve of Many

This would seem to be an awfully short post given past ground rules, but I’ve expanded its ambit to prognosticating all things future for Stanford football. So there.

Week One, Sacramento State, Home: WIN, 1.
Week Two, UCLA, Away: WIN, 2.
Week Three, Wake Forest, Home: WIN, 3.
Week Four, Notre Dame, Away: WIN, 4.
Week Five, Oregon, Away: LOSS, 1.
Week Six, USC, Home: WIN, 5.
Week Seven, Washington State, Home: WIN, 6.
Week Eight, Washington, Away: WIN, 7.
Week Nine, Arizona, Home: WIN, 8.
Week Ten, Arizona State, Away: WIN, 9.
Week Eleven, Cal, Away: WIN, 10.

Week Twelve, Oregon State, Home: The team that went out and lost in consecutive weeks to UCLA and Washington State turned around and reduced USC to a wet smear beneath its spiked boots, which should be a cause for confusion and concern among Stanford fans and focus for Stanford players and coaches. Finishing the season 11-1 and securing one of the best records in Stanford history, and status as perhaps the best team in Stanford history is no given. (Better records included the immortal 1905 team’s 8-0 mark and the 1940 team’s 10-0 mark, though whether these teams are actually better is a question for the historians and nona- and octogenarians among us.)

So: Oregon State. Jacquizz Rodgers—quite the player! The rest of their pieces range from nondescript to “nice”, and I’m still not quite sure about their quarterback, of whom something doesn’t quite seem right. Still, they did destroy USC, on both sides of the ball. It’s no large achievement to score tons of points against USC’s offense—let this space remind you that Hawai’i, Minnesota, Washington, Arizona State, and Oregon all found the USC uncommonly friendly, congenial, and accommodative—but it is an achievement to shut down USC’s offense, which they did. (Matt Barkley was hurt in the second quarter, but the offense was not doing much until then, and I’m not sure it ever would’ve.) The reason for this was Oregon State’s monstrous DT Stephen Pa’ea, reminding everyone of the scary what-if of last year, i.e. “What if Ndamukong Suh transferred to Oregon State as he had threatened to do?” Anyway, USC’s offensive line is very good and seeing them bossed so thoroughly raises worries that Stanford, too, might find it difficult to get itself going. The past two weeks have not exactly been master classes in offensive line playe; against Arizona State it couldn’t block in the run or pass game; against Cal it was excellent in pass protection but only so-so in opening holes for the runners (both Taylor and Wilkerson finished under 4 yards/carry, though part of this was due to Stanford’s late-game predictability on offense as it ran the ball all the time in the interests of sportsmanship.) So I’m somewhat-to-vaguely concerned about this game, but I think we should be fine.
Chances of Victory: 70%
Previously-Assessed Chances of Victory: 80%

Expected Wins: 10.70
Previously-Assessed Expected Wins: 10.47 (DELTA: +.23)

But What Else About the Future?
I’m glad you asked. Start off with the near future (“What bowl are we going to?”), then we’ll take a tour of the navel-x-raying territory of the far future (“When will it all end?”)

What Are The Chances Of Going To The Pasadena Bowl?

Random ESPN commentator Rod Gilmore said, just now, that he heard that the Pasadena Bowl would pick TCU over Stanford, even if it didn’t have to. This exploded the parts of the internet that house Stanford people, and while I can’t completely dismiss the assertion, it seems kind of crazy. For one, for all the criticism about Stanford not selling out its stadium, it seems the citizenry of the Dallas-Ft. Worth area are equally cool to TCU—here’s the Google search for “TCU attendance”, which amusingly only returns results of people grousing about TCU’s attendance rather than actually including statistics of TCU’s attendance. You’d think, furthermore, that Stanford fans would be much closer to and much more excited about going to the Pasadena Bowl. The final little fact I’ll offer is that the Pasadena Bowl is very attached to the Big Ten-Pac-10 traditional matchup, so much so that it took a 9-3 Illinois team coached by Ron Zook. Surely a Stanford team coached by Jim Harbaugh and quarterbacked by the Andrew Luck is far more marketable than TCU. On the other hand, the little rule about the Pasadena Bowl picking the top non-AQ team only applies once until 2014; if they pick TCU this year they’re off the hook until 2014. It may be—assuming Rod Gimore’s uncited source is accurate (he didn’t even give the “SOURCES CLOSE TO THE PASADENA BOWL” thing)—that the Pasadena Bowl is thinking they might as well bite the proverbial bullet and pick an undefeated non-AQ team which would be much more marketable/likable than the riffraff it might, maybe have to pick if conditions repeated themselves again. I doubt it, but still, you have to give it some percentage of it happening: I’d guess the Pasadena Bowl picks us over TCU 80% of the time.

This complicates the rest of our math. The ideal scenario for Stanford, then, is for one and only one non-AQ team to go undefeated. Let’s break this down. TCU’s final opponent is New Mexico, which is now 1-10. Let’s say TCU has a 97% chance of going undefeated. Boise State’s next opponent is @Nevada, which is—as Cal fans will tell you—actually a pretty good team. I’ll guess Boise has a 70% chance to win that game and a 95% chance of beating Utah State, its final opponent. So Boise has a 66.5% of going undefeated, and TCU (obviously) has a 97% chance of going undefeated. So there’s about a 1.03% chance of both teams losing one game, a 64.5% chance of both teams going undefeated and a a 34.5% chance of one and only one going undefeated. So, given an 80% chance that the Pasadena Bowl takes Stanford over TCU when both Boise and TCU are undefeated, that means a 64.5% * 80% or a 51.6% chance that that happens; add that to the 34.5% chance and everything works out from the non-AQ perspective 86.1% of the time.

Oregon’s odds, by the way, remain basically the same of going undefeated: I think they beat Arizona 80% of the time and Oregon State 80% of the time. That means they’ve got a 64% chance of going undefeated.

The last team here is Auburn. They’ve got two teams left: Alabama and South Carolina. They’re playing Alabama in Tuscaloosa, which is a problem for them: I think Alabama beats them 55% of the time (NOTE: last week I had Auburn beating Alabama 51% of the time; my error: I didn’t realize they were playing in Tuscaloosa.). I think Auburn beats South Carolina 65% of the time. That means Auburn finishes the season undefeated 29.25% of the time, i.e. a 70.75% chance they don’t finish the season undefeated.



So. 70.75% * 64% * 86.1% * 70% = a 27.2% chance Stanford goes to the Pasadena Bowl
Last Week’s Percentage: 11.7%.

How iffy is my math?.

Navel X-Raying: The Far Future:

The suggestions have continued to roll in that Andrew Luck and Jim Harbaugh are just a little too good for Stanford and really should be doing bigger and better things. I suppose I somewhat agree, though the fact that they’ve led the team to a 10-1 record leads me to wonder how much better it can really get for this pair? Luck has to move on eventually; Harbaugh doesn’t. And whether or not you agree with the proposition, the real question is: why or (whether) now? The value of timing is unquantifiable but surely quite large. If both of them decide to leave, then it’s been a great ride; but still, why now?

For Luck the answer is very simple: he’s an athlete in a brutal game and any moment might cost him tens of millions of dollars. It’s a simple logic and why I expect him to leave. It’s possible he might not leave, but he’s clearly ready now.

Harbaugh is more complicated. The most important things to coaches, generally, are some combination of money, prestige and chance to win a championship. The NFL can always offer more money; other colleges offer more prestige and a better chance to win a championship. The real question is whether any of the jobs that might be offered bring more to the table.

Start with the NFL. It may offer more money, but because NFL teams do not have the same institutional advantages as elite colleges do, the jobs that open tend to be bad. Do you really want to coach the Buffalo Bills? I’m going to guess no, no matter how much money they bring in dump trucks. It’s too early to anticipate exactly which jobs will come open—besides the Cowboys, 49ers and (probably) Texans—and while not as much a hellish dystopia as the Bills or Lions, still aren’t particularly appealing. Cowboys-wise: You have to deal with Jerry Jones, Egomaniac GM, which means you won’t get an offensive line for years (literally: they haven’t drafted a offensive lineman in the first round for like a decade now). 49ers-wise: you get to deal with the Yorks, who are like Jerry Jones except not as smart. Texans-wise—well, I guess there’s no concrete reason to dislike.

So there aren’t any really great NFL jobs opening up, and at any rate it’s not clear any of them will fix upon Jim Harbaugh anyway. Some nontrivial number of NFL owners should remember that Nick Saban—who’s probably the best college coach working right now—failed in the NFL; why would Harbaugh succeed where Saban failed (not to say it couldn’t; merely to say that there’s not an obvious reason why.) Then there’s the deep bench of coaches: reputable former NFL coaches currently sitting around doing nothing include Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden, Brian Billick, Tony Dungy and Mike Holmgren. Every one of these guys has won a Super Bowl ring and are slightly better than “boring retread.” Add in the inevitable “hot NFL coordinators” category and it’s not at all clear Harbaugh is the hottest of the incandescent. This isn’t enough to rule anything out, but I think it makes things more unlikely.

Then there’s college. Harbaugh has made Stanford into a fairly good little job; there’s a fairly deep bunch of hand-picked talent, some of which looks excellent (Skov! Wilkerson! Ertz!). Since most jobs open up because the predecessor has done something wrong, that rules out schools that have approximately the same institutional advantages as Stanford (i.e.: Harbaugh isn’t going to Minnesota or Colorado.). I suspect if Harbaugh leaves Stanford for a college job, he only leaves it for a prestige college. The problem is—assuming, as the mutterers do—that if Harbaugh wants to leave right this moment, there aren’t a lot of appealing options out there. Michigan probably won’t fire Rodriguez, who has improved Michigan every year he’s been there while constructing one of the best offenses in college football. Georgia would’ve been appealing, but the FIRE MARK RICHT bandwagon appears to have stalled. There aren’t really any prestige school hot seats other than that. I’m neither sure that Harbaugh should nor will leave Stanford for another college.

All this navel x-raying is just conjecture, and fear is the default position of all Stanford fans. Logically, though, I’m not sure there’s anything to fear but…much later, folks.

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