What are the Odds?

Everyone's doing it! Predicting the upcoming football season, that is. In this article, we look at the barrage of preseason predictions.

Preseason prognosticating is favorite hobby for most of us, mainly because, well, it fills the void left when there are no college sports going on. You can't be wrong, and the topic of the upcoming season makes for lively debate. Every team has the same record and with hard work and improvement a team can make great strides during the offseason. So predicting the future is a pastime for football fans everywhere--some people even get paid for it. They are usually no more accurate than anybody else, which just adds to the discussion.

 

So what do these people that make their living following college football say about Boise State and Georgia?

 

• Brent Musburger, ABC: "I can't see Boise State upsetting the Dogs. No team from Idaho stands a chance in the September humidity. But I give Tech a solid shot because of the talent drain at Auburn, not to mention the loss of a very good defensive coordinator [Gene Chizik]."

• Trev Alberts, ESPN: "Georgia should be able to line the ball up, run it 45 times and win the game 55-17. But you just don't know. This is going to be an interesting year for Georgia with all the great players and all the great leaders that they lost. If they get behind, you don't know what's going to happen. Boise State will be ready to play when they come to Athens."

• Jim Donnan, ESPN: "I've seen Boise State in person, and while their offense is talented, their defense is very small. I think they will have a tough time against Georgia's size. That, and the heat, is going to be a real problem for them. Georgia Tech's advantage at Auburn is that they are going against an unproven quarterback [Brandon Cox]. If Georgia Tech's quarterback [Reggie Ball] plays well, they've got a shot."

• Terry Bowden, ABC: "I think Georgia Tech has the better chance [for an upset] because of the quality of the two teams and the traditions in that rivalry. Georgia Tech has kids on their team who know what it's like to beat Auburn, and I think that will give them a lot of confidence. Could be a low-scoring game because there's going to be two great defenses on the field."

• Tim Brando, CBS: "Boise State. I think they made believers out of a lot of people when they hung with Louisville [but lost 44-40] in the Liberty Bowl. People assumed that Louisville's athletes were so superior that the game would not be close. They didn't stop Louisville, but they did play physical football. I think this is a red-flag game for Georgia. If they make too many first-game mistakes and give Boise State some momentum, then the Bulldogs could be in trouble."

• Dennis Dodd, CBS SportsLine: "Definitely Boise. This is Boise State's biggest game ever. They've got a lot of guys back, and they can play with Georgia, definitely. Can they win? I don't know. But with all of Georgia's suspensions and that being the opener, you never know. I know this. Boise will play as loose as coach Dan Hawkins."

• Mike Tirico, ESPN/ABC: "The mix of [Auburn] replacing a first-round backfield all at once and how strong Tech ended 2004 gives them a better chance than Boise, who could only win if it is a road shootout — not likely."

 

The people mentioned above have the broadcast experience and get all the attention. They were quoted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution with their thoughts. Then you have all the preseason college football magazines, which release a yearly issue breaking down each college football team; it's strengths, weaknesses, returning starters, etc.

Street & Smith's has released such a magazine for years, and rated Boise State #16, which by the way is the highest that the Broncos have ever been ranked in the preseason. Sports Illustrated also ranked the Broncos 16th with Georgia #10 and another 2005 opponent, Bowling Green, coming in at #23. Other magazines are comparable, with Athlon's #23??????ranking and #20 in The Sporting News. NBC Sports got into the fray, selecting Georgia #20 and Boise State right behind in 21st.

 

So the talking heads and the preseason magazines have had their say. But the business of rating football teams goes far beyond that. Now you have people with degrees in statistics that have created a new industry that has run rampant. This was popularized when the national newspaper USA Today began featuring a ratings index compiled by Jeff Sagarin. All of a sudden, everyone wanted to put out his or her own computer ratings as well. The good thing about these is that, unlike the rankings referred to above, the ratings are not the result of someone arbitrarily expressing their opinion, but rather use complex formulas to arrive at their numerical ratings. Sagarin is one of six computers used by the Bowl Championship Series to determine its BCS Standings, which decide the two teams that will meet in the national championship game. Richard Billingsley is another of those six computer ratings used by the BCS, and his preseason rating shows Georgia at #6 and Boise State #9. Still another is Massey, which rates Georgia #10 and the Broncos 17th.

 

Massey put together an index of indexes (see, this is big business!) Either that, or they are getting much too carried away! Massey averaged 23 ratings services to come up with the mean rating for each team--http://www.masseyratings.com/cf/compare.htm. In it, Georgia is 7th and Boise State 13th. The USA Today poll of college football coaches, which is another component of the BCS Standings, also recently released its top 25, showing Georgia 13th and the Broncos 19th. And, the Associated Press came out with its preseason rankings Saturday, placing Georgia 13th and Boise State 18th.

 

So you have a whole host of media people, preseason magazines and coaches saying Georgia is the better team. The official Las Vegas odds for the game, made by Danny Sheridan, started out favoring Georgia by 6; that spread has since moved to 7 points. With all of that, you have this Internet company, collegefootballresource.com, which somewhat bucks the odds. They offer pretty interesting insight that I haven't seen elsewhere, and their basic point is that if Boise State truly believes they are the better team, the game will be annihilation in their favor. Yeah, that's what we want to hear!

 

GEORGIA (-6.5) 2 over Boise State - The Bulldogs have five players suspended from the opener with Boise State and the Broncos have suspended two. As it is, Mark Richt's team is only favored by 2 based on a full-strength contingent of players. If Georgia blows out the Broncos with less than a full deck, we will know that Boise was over-rated. But a close Georgia win, or even a close Bulldog loss, won't offer the respect BSU is looking for. If Boise State is to climb to the next level, they must win this game. The computer is perfect straight up on Boise State games over the past three seasons and 44-4 over the past 4 years.

 

Collegefootballresource.com--Imagine, for a moment, that at the last minute Dan Hawkins' Boise State Broncos opted out of this game and substituted the USC Trojans in their place. Without a doubt the USC Trojans would be huge favorites to win such a game. And we all know why---the Trojans have both talent and a sophisticated style of play that trumps anything Georgia can do. Much like Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, Georgia would be flustered by the Trojans' various formations, substitutions, and use of personnel and play design.

That is because Georgia is a fairly low-tech outfit, but one blessed with outstanding athletic and talented personnel.

Similarly, Boise State is a program that does things much like the Trojans, if not better in many ways. Their offense is out of this world and flusters its conference peers, of which many such programs are used to witnessing difficult to defend offenses. Outpost programs sometimes are the breeding grounds of bright young coaches, so what happens out in Boise or Moscow may be reflected nationally a few years later. That said, Boise State doesn't have the overall talent to match the Trojans, or the Bulldogs---in terms of pure talent. But Boise is a talented team. They have a supremely confident and accurate quarterback who has that offense down pat, and he can run a little. They always have a thousand-yard back or a handful of backs that can do just as much damage. Their linebackers are small but fleet. They're basically a lite beer version of USC or Tennessee or whoever.

As evidenced in the Orange Bowl and soon to be many games down the road, the high-tech stuff works, and often brilliantly against teams loaded with talent. Enter Georgia.

In this game, Boise State is more or less going to work Georgia at times, flustering their defense and making them look stupid at times. But this is football and the game isn't played in a vacuum. Georgia will make its stops; their coaches are paid well because they are in fact bright coaches and can find ways to make games of ones like this. But the advantage is all Boise's.

The real questions as to outcome are these---does Georgia have that much more talent than Boise State that it can overwhelm the visiting Broncos? Along that same vein, is Boise State truly confident it can win this game? Although we haven't written much about it, the concept of Belief is important for situations like these where brand name teams can sometimes intimidate a superior but lightly regarded foe. Look at last year's LSU/Oregon State game. Running a scheme far less sophisticated and also displaying far less confidence, the visiting Beavers let a nice lead slip away to the home Tigers, missing some crucial extra points but also blowing some key plays late in the game. The Beavers let the crowd take control and their confidence slipped, giving the Tigers the necessary breathing room to escape.

If Boise truly believes it's the better team here, this game will be an annihilation in their favor.

Georgia basically has to follow the LSU model here, and hope that Boise doesn't quite have it all together this early in the season. That said, compared to Oregon State, the Broncos are a true balanced squad, running and passing the ball with equal effectiveness.

As fans we tend to look at games in a vacuum, using our rudimentary models to explain outcomes. Team A was more talented than team B, but B was gutsy and thus put up a valiant but unfulfilled effort. Team A's better. Than kind of linear thinking is what's going to trip up a lot of analysts here. Every outcome, every game played, has a logical and rational explanation for what happened that becomes all too evident after said game is played, but not so much before it happens. But the more we know about teams within the less linear models and concepts such as sophistication and style of play, the more these games reveal themselves beforehand.

I'm still relatively new to the above concepts, but I have a firm enough grasp of them to feel fairly confident in what's expressed here.

Here are some other thoughts on the game-

Georgia under coach Mark Richt has never really been exposed to the kind of offense Boise State plays. Nobody in the SEC plays that kind of ball, not even close. Florida will sometime towards the end of this season or the beginning of next one, but until then, nope. The thing about the Boise type, USC type, Utah type offenses is not that they're fancy or high-octane, but that they're effective. They can do so many things, moving players all over the field, disguising tendencies, and keeping opponents off balance. It's a hell of a lot to prepare for.

Now, has Boise been adequately prepared for Georgia's talent? I'm not sure, but I do know they had a decently talented foe in their last game, a wild 44-40
loss to Louisville. The Cardinal, one of our Big Six, had two star quarterbacks in Stefan LeFors and Brian Brohm, as well as backs Michael Bush, Eric Shelton and Lionel Gates, plus a fleet group of receivers, and an athletic secondary and group of defensive linemen. They also crushed Oregon State last year 53-34, a week after they took LSU to the wire.

As for the Georgia offense---despite his acclaim as a quarterback and offensive guru, Mark Richt's only been so-so offensively at Georgia. His squads have put up decent but unexplosive averages of 27.6PPG, 32.1PPG, 26.5PPG and 27.9PPG. In four seasons the Bulldogs have cracked the 30 PPG barrier just once! Yet this outfit is annually regarded as one of the nation's elite offenses. The talent is there, but the production less so. But look at Boise State in that same time period-- 34.3PPG, 45.6 PPG, 43.0 PPG and 48.9 PPG. Mind you, many would argue those points came against inferior defensive opposition, but two valid counter-arguments are that their league mates are also more accustomed to facing some kind of sophisticated offense in any given season, thus making them more prepared to face such an offense (yet judging by Boise's totals remaining high, completely incapable of stopping said offense). The other argument is that regardless of conference, any team that has a truly balanced offense (Hawai'i need not apply) and is putting up those kinds of numbers should reasonably be expected to put up similar totals in any other conference.

That goes back to the style of play argument---what works in one place, can work in another. Smart offense and smart defenses are exactly that---smart. They can function reasonably well no matter the opponent or condition. Norm Chow's offenses still thrived when the BYU Cougars traveled outside the WAC, right? And they continued to work at NC State and USC. That's what separates a truly sophisticated offense from a gimmick one, for what it's worth. Gimmicks are usually too one-dimensional and lack the durability to sustain themselves against sound foes.

One interesting thought came to mind when writing this---Florida's fun n' gun offense was alright on the sophistication scale, but it was also a bit gimmicky. Yet it worked for well over a decade in the SEC! So imagine an offense better than that one (such as Boise's), albeit run with a less talented squad. Boise could very well destroy most of the SEC, if it were a conference member, in theory.

Lastly, there might be something good happening on the other side of the ball for Boise State. I've been talking this entire time about their offense, but their defense isn't too shabby either. The last four seasons, the Broncos surrendered 23.3PPG, 18.5 PPG, 17.1 PPG and then 25.7 PPG, all within an offensive conference. Two years out of four allowing less than 20 PPG in the WAC is pretty good if you ask me. Also, given last year's unusually high total, one can reasonably expect that seasonal output to go down a bit, probably closer to that 20-23 level. In other words, their defense will have improved upon last year's version.

This is getting lengthy so we'll call it a night for now, hopefully you've enjoyed our take on the sure to be hyped Boise State/Georgia game (Saturday, Sept 3).

 

Finally! Someone that gets it right! That's a far different take than ESPN's Trev Alberts, for example. So with all of those predictions, ratings and rankings all over the map, I'll leave you with my favorite, which is EA Sport's NCAA Football software. In addition to being a video game which can be played by opposing players, it also can be played as simply a computer simulation. By running this simulation several teams, it is easy to obtain an average score. It has been amazingly accurate over the years and is always a good source to check. That said, I must add two comments: 1) NCAA Football has not missed a regular season Boise State game in three years and 2) because relevant data can be adjusted based on the results of the first game, the simulation gets much more accurate after the first game, so if it's going to miss, it will usually be the first game. So what does the guru of preseason prognosticating say? I simulated the Boise State Georgia game 28 times with Georgia winning 16 and Boise State winning 12. The average score was…Georgia 33, Boise State 30.

 


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