The Sweep: Week 1

As always, we begin the Sweep with a Top 25. These are our best guess as to where all the teams will end up ranked, not power rankings that attempt to actually rank said teams on strength, as there are plenty of preexisting sources for that. This week, Oklahoma's face-plant means that Texas jumps up to No. 1, as the Horns should now be touchdown-plus favorites for the rest of the season...

2009 Week 1 Top 25
1. Texas (+1)
2. Florida (-1)
3. USC (0)
4. Penn State (+1)
5. Notre Dame (+2)
6. Ohio State (0)
7. BYU (+8)
8. Mississippi (0)
9. Boise State (0)
10. Oklahoma State (+8)
11. TCU (0)
12. California (0)
13. Alabama (+10)
14. LSU (-1)
15. Georgia Tech (-1)
16. Oklahoma (-12)
17. West Virginia (-1)
18. Pittsburgh (-1)
19. Oregon State (+1)
20. Virginia Tech (-10)
21. Boston College (0)
22. Michigan State (+4)
23. Wisconsin (+1)
24. Utah (+2)
25. Georgia (-3)

Just missed: Michigan, North Carolina
Dropped: Iowa, Illinois
Added: Michigan State, Utah

Questions, comments, concerns? Dannovi on this site or dannovi@gmail.com.

Demographic shifts

Before we get caught up in the nitty gritty of the season, I wanted to focus this week's Sweep on a major trend I see beginning to influence national college football, and one that will only become more pronounced in the years to come. Namely, everyone in the eastern half of this fine country of ours is moving south.

I realize this isn't exactly scientific hypothesis testing, but I pulled into a parking garage here in Atlanta, and literally 80 percent of the plates were out-of-state. Something like Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan, Michigan, Illinois, New York, New Hampshire, Georgia if I had to guess. Now Atlanta is the major city with the highest proportion of its residents from somewhere else (one reason why no one cares about the local pro teams) and the garage was a parking garage for grad students, who are disproportionately likely to be out-of-state, so this isn't exactly scientific hypothesis testing here. Still, the experience got me thinking about the undeniable demographic shift which, coming from Michigan, I felt my friends at Stanford never fully appreciated: Everyone, and I mean everyone, from the Midwest is moving out of the region.

According to a study I found on electionlawblog.org, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, and Utah would each gain a seat and Texas two seats if 2007 population figures were used to recalculate Congressional seats. These decidedly Sun Belt seats would come at the expense of a decidedly Midwest slate of states: Iowa, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, with the outlier of Louisiana on the list because of Hurricane Katrina. Given that another three years of population shifts will pass before the 2010 Census and the current economic crisis has only further exacerbated the Midwest's woes, I would expect more seats yet to trade hands (and I haven't done the math myself, but I'd be shocked if Michigan doesn't lose a seat).

The relevance is that, obviously, the House of Representatives isn't the only place where shifting populations will shift the power balance. With the majority of recruits signing with schools close to their hometowns, talent and, ultimately, on-field success, figure to move decidedly South as well. (Adding to the imbalance: state governments in afflicted states have been cutting back hard on university funding and affected colleges, in turn, are often slashing Athletic Department budgets hard.)

I'm not a demographer, but given their working-aged parents, I'd expect high-school aged children to be more likely than most to move. Indeed, the numbers bear out that this trend is already starting to affect the gridiron. Sports Illustrated, God bless them, ran the numbers recently: over a recent five-year period, six of the ten states which produced the most Division I-A football recruits were in the Deep South. Indeed, twelve of the top 20 talent-producing states were Southern, with landlocked, relatively small Arkansas the only Dixieland state not to crack the Top 20 on the prospect production list.

Not only that, but Southern states have always been more efficient at producing football talent than their Northern counterparts. Whether the reason is meteorological (Southern players can train outside year-round), cultural (football is simply more important in the South) or socioeconomic (Southern states are among the nation's poorest and so there are fewer available paths to success to compete with football) or a combination of all the above is beside the point: the numbers lay out starkly what an uphill battle Northern colleges face in filling out their recruiting classes.

New York, for example, produced one Division I football player per 174,000 citizens. If one were making a model to predict the number of Division I prospects to emerge from a state, I'd think the state's population, the number of Division I schools in the state, the percent of the population which is African-American and Pacific Islander, the mean January temperature and the state's football history (say, the number of active NFL players today who were born in that state) would all have predictive value, and New York fares as well on those metrics as most Northern states, if not better. Nonetheless, the Empire State's ratio of 174,000 to 1 is among the nation's worse, with Mississippi and Alabama, for example, checking in almost ten-fold better, each at 19,000 to 1.

As a school neither in the Midwest or South, but instead in an area about as well protected from the economic crisis as any, and as a program which recruits uniquely nationally, Stanford figures to be affected by this population shift less than, say, Big Ten or SEC schools. Still, given the scope of this demographic shift, it will surely have some effect on our Cardinal.

The good news is that Midwest recruiting has always stunk, while, for whatever reason, Georgia and the South have proven to be the new pipeline for this coaching staff. The more Southern recruits the better. I think Stanford also benefits as population continues to from the Midwest to the West, and as recruits become increasingly likely to have moved in their lives. A fourth-generation Georgia kid is a much tougher sell for the Card than a military brat who has seemingly lived in 12 different states and only now happens to be in Atlanta. (Indeed, this transient nature of metro-Atlanta citizens is the best reason I can give for Stanford's recruiting success here.) Plus, of course, the stability a Stanford degree looks all the more attractive in this economic mess, so, upon reflection, I think the US' population shift is all upside for the Card.

Nationally, meanwhile, this population shift accelerates trends already in play for awhile. If you think they're insufferable now, just wait ten years: the SEC, already head-and-shoulders above any other conference only figures to get better in the years to come, as do Big 12 powerhouses Texas and Oklahoma. (When Tennessee and Auburn are predicted to finish in the bottom three, as some are calling for this season, you know your conference is stacked.) The Big 10 and Big East (save for those directional schools in Florida) only figure to accelerate their slides toward irrelevance, and, throughout all of this, the Pac-10 should continue to remain squarely outside the national focus.

Perhaps the hidden winner in all of this is the ACC, whose Northern schools are coastal and thus outside the Midwest, but whose Southern schools are truly Southern. (Visited my cousin at Clemson two weeks ago and was asked in all seriousness to go cow tipping.) The ACC right now is the nation's most underrated conference, for my money, checking in on Sagarin at third only to the SEC and Big 12, and not by much. They may be suffering a bit from NFL syndrome (everyone is so good that no program can stand out, if the Yogi Berra-ism makes sense), but a resurgent Virginia Tech or Florida State or Miami can cure that in a season, and such a season is only a matter of time.


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