Sunday, November 28, 2010

To Dare Is To Do: Stanford And The Future

All we have now is the pure, sweet bliss of an unexpectedly nice future. With the BCS ranking Stanford as the number four team in the country, this would seem to guarantee all of the good things we were thinking about—no Alamo Bowl for us…instead, the Orange Bowl? The Fiesta Bowl? Yes, and yes except, improbably: feel free to dream bigger.

I mean more than the Pasadena Bowl; think the unthinkable. Yes, I am referring to the national championship. As Walter Sobchak advised the Dude, “If you will it, Dude, it is no dream.” You can sense the possible nascent argument in the talking head panel ESPN uses to puff up what should be a very bare-bones event (from “here are your rankings, good bye.” to “here are your rankings, LOUD NOISES ABOUT WHO’S GETTING SCREWED, good bye.”): notably, several people were arguing that, in fact, TCU was not the number three team in the country; in fact, Stanford was. And even the seed of the idea being planted in the national consciousness is enough of a start to take advantage of a radical happening: more than if Auburn loses—what if Auburn and Oregon loses? Sheer madness, I know, but contemplate it: the rules of BCS inertia mean—Stanford! TCU! Luck! Dalton! Your national championship, on ABC!

Of course, this radical happening is so crazy that it seems foolish to handicap how, exactly, things would play out in the minds of voters, who are the relevant people at work here. So I’ll just handicap the odds of the on-the-field stuff.

Auburn loses, Oregon wins, Then What?:
I have Auburn as 65% to win: all we learned about Auburn yesterday is that they are frustratingly, incredibly lucky, and that Alabama can’t finish off a game. As we learned with LSU, eventually, finally, lucky teams get their comeuppenance. The opening line for Auburn-South Carolina is Auburn (-5.5), which I believe implies approximately a 70% chance of winning for Auburn. Sagarin’s PREDICTOR ratings actually believe South Carolina is better than Auburn, intriguingly. I think a South Carolina win is fairly possible: they nearly beat Auburn the first time around at Auburn, and surely Atlanta, Georgia is friendlier confines than Plains, Alabama. On the other hand, Cam Newton, like a great basketball player, singlehandedly distorts reality—whomever has him on their team starts with the advantage? Anyway, I give Oregon an 85% chance of winning, meaning this scenario happens 29.75% of the time.

OK, then what? We’ve been focusing on the Pasadena Bowl in this scenario, presuming a TCU-Oregon matchup. But the voters are fickle. As I said earlier, the talking heads seemed to be hinting at being amenable to a non-TCU national championship, which would open the door to the improbable Oregon! Stanford! It’s the national championship on ABC! I don’t rate this probability, because it seems unlikely that the voters would rematch a regular-season game—though I think it would be interesting, and were both teams healthy, would provide a high-quality, entertaining matchup. The other possibility, in the event of TCU being excluded from the national championship, is a Oregon-Wisconsin matchup, which seems more likely, because the people who win in chaos are the politically connected—didn’t we learn this from the financial crisis?—and I doubt Stanford’s political chops in football are enough.

Auburn loses, Oregon loses, Then What?
Take the 15% that Oregon doesn’t win, with the 35% Auburn doesn’t win, and you get a 5.25% chance of pure chaos. The odds are perhaps a bit more favorable for a national championship appearance, since both spots in the game will be vacated, but again, chaos favors the connected—you might see Wisconsin! TCU! It’s the national championship game on ABC! (and no Stanford in the Pasadena Bowl.)

65% of the time, by the way, everything goes as planned. Boring, huh?

This post is just a detailed way of explaining all the ways we don’t know. Because we don’t. But, since Stanford has a fairly secure grip on the number four spot, it makes sense—give in to rooting for chaos.

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