CanesTime: Thank you for taking time out of what I know is your busiest times of the year to speak with us about the state of College Football in 2004, the bowl championship series, and the Miami Hurricanes in Particular.
Jerry Palm: Happy to do it. You were one of my first subscribers back when collegebcs.com was still a free service with a handful of subscribers that I was able to run in my free time! Here we are now -- just four seasons later – and I have gone from somebody who would not be able to reach the ESPN college football brass for any reason to a person that they (ESPN) keep on speed dial so that they can have my rankings – which are calculated immediately and in exactly the same manner as the official BCS rankings using all of the same services and computers which release their information on their own schedule between Sunday mornings through Monday afternoon – so that they can project what the BCS rankings for a given week are going to be hours before the NCAA officially releases them.
CanesTime: What do you think of the changes implemented by the BCS this season?
Jerry Palm: I think they are a step in the right direction, but ultimately the changes are again reactionary as opposed to proactive, and ultimately the changes do not address the root of the problem.
CanesTime: Which is what?
Jerry Palm: That the BCS is nowhere near adding an "and one" game at the end of the bowl season.
CanesTime: What is an "and one" game and how would it help to solve the major problems facing the Bowl Championship Series?
Jerry Palm: An "and one" game, sometimes referred to in the debate surrounding the controversy as the "plus one" game, would be used in situations like last year wherein the consensus among sports journalists and Coaches was that by the end of the season Southern Cal was clearly the best team in the nation but do to the lack of emphasis on the human polls last season combined with some of the redundancy and minutia of the computerized points of emphasis there was no way that USC was going to play for the National Championship. So in the event that there are three or four schools that have a legitimate claim to at least half the title should the stated team win its bowl game, then you would have the winners of each of those bowl games – using last season as an example – the week after the bowls were complete Southern Cal would have played Louisiana State and you would have had one National Champion, which has been one of the stated goals of the BCS. The problem is, although the scenario has tremendous popularity with coaches, fans, and the student-athletes; the trifecta of the Bowl Committees, the NCAA, and the Division One University Presidents are steadfast in their solidarity against the "and one/plus one" idea. According to my sources, we are years away from even serious discussions of the topic.
CanesTime: So what is the step in the right direction that you do like that was implemented this year?
Jerry Palm: First and foremost, I am glad that they did away with the Quality Wins Component. It didn't make any sense from the very beginning when they first instituted it and it became less scientific and more arbitrary the more the BCS tweaked with it. The fact that - for the sake of an example without having the luxury of a 2004 schedule herein front of me -- a Kansas could beat an early season top five team like an Oklahoma on the road and initially be credited with somewhere between 1 and 1.5 points is completely meaningless, especially if the opponent went on to lose a tight road game against a traditional rival and perhaps a conference title game would effect the projected Top Five team's ranking so much that with three losses they would be out of the top fifteen and thus the upstart with the huge upset at the beginning of the season winds up with a total of zero quality wins points. Similarly, I am also happy to see strength of schedule eliminated as a category in and of itself because most computer rankings already factor it in and the voters are smart enough to know which schools play the tough schedules and which ones do not, so counting it as its own category in addition to the emphasis put on it by the computers allowed for Strength Of Schedule (SOS) to have to much of an impact. It was a much-needed change.
CanesTime: What about the calculation of the BCS standings is still most in need of change?
Jerry Palm: Two things. One is formulaic and the other is in regards to the process. As far as the formula goes, it is ludicrous that only one of the what is now four computers – there used to be six – even considers whether a game is played home or away. For Tennessee to go into The Swamp and escape with a victory should certainly be worth more than beating the Gators at Knoxville. Only Sagarin even takes venue into consideration when calculating his computer ratings. That far and away is my biggest complaint about the calculations. And in theory, there is a pragmatic issue as well as a philosophical one. The voters and computers have to get it drilled into their heads and hard drives that an early season loss is no more acceptable to a voter than a late season loss and head to head competition needs to be looked at when teams have otherwise similar records. Look at the fiasco when Miami lost early to Washington followed by young Kenny Dorsey and Miami's win over Florida State at Miami and The Canes went on to run the table. Typically the history of the BCS has been that if a team with one loss makes it to the title game, it is usually the team that loses their game earliest in the season. They typically drop five or more places and every time a top-flight team loses after that the voters generally slot that team immediately behind the top one loss team in the nation. Therefore the unspoken mantra has always been if you are going to lose, lose early and you still have a shot at making the National Title game. But in the season when Miami lost early and started there winning streak that lasted nearly three seasons they played FSU at home midway through the season and handed The Seminoles their only loss, yet the computers were unable to put Miami ahead of FSU, which is one of the reasons the now defunct quality win aspect was given such emphasis in the formula the next season, because most experts felt that both Miami and FSU were going to handle Big Twelve representative Oklahoma in the title game and the majority of these experts felt that Miami got the shaft in not having a chance to win their fifth national title that season. If you remember Miami went on to beat SEC champion Florida by more than a couple of touchdowns in the Sugar Bowl that season whereas FSU, who were favored by nearly three touchdowns in the most conservative of sports books and whose players thought that all that they had to do is show up for that game, got shut down offensively and were thoroughly beaten by Oklahoma 11- 2 and Coach Stoops won his first National Title. The point I am trying to make here is that the BCS rankings, especially the computers, need to get rid of their proprietary ranking criteria so that a team knows what it is that a given computer is looking for in order to maximize its rating by accomplishing whatever it is – above and beyond wins and losses – that a computer takes into account when it calculates whether a team should be ranked as high as possible. Granted, this is not the way for a football team to enjoy the thrills of victory and it can also hurt a team in the long run because – if this information is to become public – then you won't see teams with comfortable leads taking out its first team players in the third quarter to get experience for the underclassmen, but at least then a coach knows what he is risking when he makes these decisions. For example, several of the computers have removed margin of victory as a criterion for this very reason, but have not removed rewards for shutouts nor penalties for first downs allowed – randomly examining two categories – from their proprietary databases. Ergo a team needs to understand the price it is potentially costing itself in the BCS calculations when they opt to play the second and third team players whether it be to gain experience for the back-ups, prevent a needless injury to a key player once the game is already in hand, or simply because there are some coaches out there who would rather risk dropping a spot in a computer's calculation and NOT run up a score so that he can walk across the field with his head held high and shake hands with the opposing coach after the game without feeling he needs to apologize for the way the game was played because his team conducted itself with class.
CanesTime: If I am not mistaken, there is another problem that you have with the way the polls are conducted and compiled, would you please share with us what your problem is with the polling system?
Jerry Palm: There needs to be immediate accountability in both the coaches' and the writers' polls so that there is full disclosure to ensure that the coaches and the writers take the task seriously and don't hand the responsibility off to a sports information director I.D. or a cub reporter. Especially now that the job of filling out the weekly poll comes with a huge responsibility in that the combination of the two polls -- now more than ever – are of a huge importance as they now count for two-thirds of the BCS calculation, the job of filling out the weekly rankings must carry the weight with the coaches and writers that something that is worth two-thirds of the BCS standings rightfully deserves and must not be taken lightly or handed to an assistant or an underling to do which was far too common a practice in recent years. To be clear, the import of the two human polls is such that the rankings must be filled out by whom the job was assigned to by either the coaches or the writers and not delegated to an assistant. Similarly, complete transparency is also needed so that if any writer or coach tries to manipulate the polls. For example, say a writer was a huge Southern Cal fan last year, he might rank USC number one and leave either LSU or Oklahoma completely off of his final Top Twenty-five regular season ballot hoping that he could get enough of his colleagues to follow suit, perhaps SC might then have leapfrogged over one of the two teams ranked ahead of The Trojans. This would be virtually impossible to do, but if there are voters out there who consistently vote with their heart instead of with their head. Also, there are still some voters who consistently vote significantly out of sync with the rest of the voters for no legitimate reason, not because he believes in his rankings but rather to either make some sort of political statement or simply to make a mockery of the ranking system. Regardless, complete transparency would flag any of the examples I just pointed out and – after a warning if said voter is still unwilling to participate within certain parameters -- he could have his voting privileges removed.
CanesTime: On the subject of manipulation of voting, do you think that some Big East Coaches will be inclined to penalize Miami and Va. Tech in particular after some of the inflammatory comments made by some coaches such as West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez directed towards Miami, Virginia Tech, and to some extent Boston College as all three have made it clear that they consider The ACC a superior football conference?
Jerry Palm: I do not think so, and even if the Big East coaches who vote do either consciously or subconsciously decide to try to keep Miami or any of the ACC schools down I don't think it will have a statistically significant effect as there are only three Big East Coaches with votes anyway. On that note, one of the biggest improvements that they instituted this season is that they are not simply looking at whether a team is voted #1 or #2 but instead they are looking at all of the votes so that -- in an attempt to keep this example as simple as possible -- if Team A receives all of the number one votes and Team B receives all of the number two votes their will be a much bigger gap between the two teams in a given poll then there would be if Team A receives a single number one vote more than the number two Team B, and Team A similarly receives one fewer number two vote than Team B, whereas Team B, the #2 ranked team, receives one fewer #1 vote and one more #2 vote than Team A, the #1 ranked team. In this case – UNLIKE PAST YEARS -- the number one ranked team, in this case Team A, will be ahead only by the tiniest of fractions over the number two ranked Team B and that number, and not simply the ranking which was the modus operandi in prior years, is what the BCS would use in calculating that poll's third of the BCS Rankings.
CanesTime: Who do you like in the major six conferences this year?
Jerry Palm: As far as I am concerned, there are only five major conferences now and the Big East is just another mid-major.
CanesTime: Do you think that the Big East deserves a BCS game for their champion?
Jerry Palm: Absolutely not.
CanesTime: All right, who do you like in the five major conferences?
Jerry Palm: In the Pac Ten, I like USC (even without WR Mike Williams) a lot, with the only chance of a spoiler being California. The Big Ten is a two horse race between Ohio State and Michigan, with the possibility of Purdue sneaking in there. Another major sleeper from the Big Ten that have not been getting much pre-season ink is Wisconsin. I know they lost their star, but they have twenty players returning who have started games. LSU will run away with their division in the SEC, but don't be surprised to see Florida taking the SEC title, as I am not sold on Georgia. The Big Twelve is down this season and is basically a two-team race, but until Texas proves that they can beat Oklahoma I am going to stick with the Sooners.
CanesTime: And what about the ACC?
Jerry Palm: Look, I think the winner of the Florida State / Miami game is clearly the favorite to win the conference, and similar to how Oklahoma seems to be an insurmountable task for Texas, I will be watching the FSU / Miami game trying to figure out how FSU will manage to blow the game this year as well. For that reason, I am picking Miami. Whichever team does win the opener – looking at their schedules – should have the inside track on running the table. I would not be surprised at all if there are three majors with undefeated regular seasons this year. In that respect, Miami fans are lucky in that – using the old formula for calculating strength of schedule – Miami has a top ten schedule this year. Even though it is not officially a criterion anymore, it is certainly something that the voters and the computers take a look at. However, and I do not mean to speak ill of either of these players because each has won a lot of big games for his respective school, I am reluctant to say that either Miami or FSU will go undefeated, even though clearly one of the two should. My reluctance stems from the fact that while I think both Chris Rix and Brock Berlin are extremely talented football players, unless each worked on his respective weakness during the off-season to the point that neither longer has a glaring whole in his game, I think it is likely that both Berlin and Rix will each lose a game for their team where the team outplays the opponent in almost every facet but down the stretch I expect both Rix and Berlin to lose one game where the blame falls directly on bad decisions or bad execution by the Quarterback in the Second Half. With Rix it will likely be trying to do too much and taking an ill-advised hit trying to make the spectacular running play and fumbles; and with Berlin I would hazard a guess that he forces a ball across his body into traffic or lets the defense get a read on his eyes and jump a route and return an INT for a touchdown. I hope I am wrong, but it is my opinion that quarterback mistakes will cost each of these teams a game they should otherwise have won.
CanesTime: Anything worth mentioning regarding the mid-majors or the Independents?
Jerry Palm: Two things come quickly to mind. With the Big East still getting a BCS bowl, there has been a lot of talk about West Virginia but I have to see more before I am sold. As far as the Independents go, I think that Navy is a lock to be bowl eligible at around eight and three and I think if Notre Dame is going to be bowl eligible they will just sneak in with the minimum mandated six wins. Just as we were discussing before with Oklahoma having Texas's number and Miami having the same in regard to FSU. Similarly when our nation's two Catholic schools that still play Division One football meet Notre Dame almost always finds a way to give that game against Boston College away!
CanesTime: Any final words?
Jerry Palm: Yes. While there are some positive changes to the Bowl Championship Series, they have still yet to address the root of the problem and as long as they continue to make quick fixes in an effort to avoid the previous years mistakes, it will continue that way. Finally, I will give you my pick for the National Title – University of Southern California. I just don't see a team with the coaching or the depth of USC. In the past people have talked about the overall team speed of Miami, and I am sure it is great this year, but Southern Cal literally has Olympic-caliber speed at its skill positions, and their back-ups have back-ups that would be starting right now at other Top 25 programs. And if you want to visit my sight to see if it might be of interest to you, just go to www.collegebcs.com for the latest in rankings as well as news from my sources around the country. I think it is a great sight, but if you don't believe me just ask Scott …
CanesTime: It is indeed a great site and it is probably the one I visit most when I am trying to check on teams in relation to one another, as well as when I try to figure out which teams are slotting to which bowls weeks before it becomes officially released. You also are the only guy who had it right each of the past three years when Brad Edwards was on ESPN with you telling why his calculations said there was a slight chance for Southern Cal this past season and Oregon two seasons prior and your math was spot on saying that it was close but mathematically impossible for either team to make the final game in either situation despite pressure from ESPN for a tease; I respect your integrity.
Mr. Scott C. Martineau is a freelance contributor to CanesTime, among other periodicals, and he can be reached at SCMxRx@aol.com
Jerry Palm Q&A
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