Late on Saturday afternoon, you meet him outside to shoot the breeze. You ask him how his team did.
"We gave up 29 first downs and 621 total yards," he said. "Vanderbilt's offense rushed the ball 30 times for 175 yards, 28 for 190 not counting quarterback sacks. Vandy's quarterback completed 23 of 37 passes for 446 yards; that's 12.1 yards per pass attempt for cryin' out loud! They had a receiver that could catch the ball with two of our guys climbing on his back; he caught 11 passes for 220 yards. Another receiver swiped six balls for 121 yards, and a third receiver grabbed three for 79. That's 20 receptions for 420 yards by golly."
"So, how bad did your team lose?" you ask your poor buddy. "Oh, we were playing Vanderbilt," he shouts back. "You know, they're the team that finds five different ways to lose every year. We won by 12 points, and that included giving up a ‘Hail Mary' 41-yard pass on the final play of the game."
You respond by telling him you can remember when your Aztecs regularly passed for 400 passing yards per game every week, but they hardly ever lost when Don Coryell was the coach and Dennis Shaw was the quarterback. He laughs and goes inside to call his regional manager (a Vanderbilt Owen Management School MBA) at the investment company where he is employed, to gloat about how the game.
Same Song, Different Verse
So, for the 24th year in a row in the Music City, the reality of yet another losing season rains down on the black and gold part of town. Vanderbilt simply ran out of gas on defense as injuries and the fatigue of having no off weeks allowed Andre Woodson to pick the Commodore secondary apart. At the end of the game, Vandy was forced to use injured players who should have been on the sidelines with their helmet and shoulder pads removed. The harsh reality of playing without a bye week with less depth than the 11 public schools has reared its ugly head.
Turnovers and special teams play once again played a big factor in this game, but not in the way one would normally think. This time, the Commodores had a chance to capitalize on a blocked punt; they came away empty, and it cost them the effective services of Dalron Spead. Kentucky had a long kick return for a touchdown that was called back. These plays countered each other to some extent.
Kentucky came up with the big plays two more times than Vanderbilt, and that's what decided the outcome. The interception of Nickson in the goal line with a return back across midfield put the game out of reach.
This season is much like many other seasons since 1982; the Commodores showed signs of being competitive and looked to be just one or two plays in a couple of games away from being bowl eligible. The Commodores just cannot get that perfect, catch-all-the-breaks season that turns all those close losses into close wins.
This year, Ole Miss and Kentucky looked winnable but were not. That's the difference between 4-7 and 6-5. For those who haven't played this game before, here is a list of the seasons between 1982 and this year, showing just how close bowl-eligibility was:
1984: A close, upset loss to winless Tulane prevented a 5-0 start and would have turned a 5-6 season into a 6-5 season.
1988: Four close losses (Duke, Kentucky, Army, and Tennessee) were the difference between 3-8 and 7-4.
1991: A fumble in the end zone snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory. Close losses to Duke and Auburn followed. A 5-6 season could have been 8-3.
1992: Close losses to South Carolina and Tennessee separated a 6-5 season from the actual 4-7 season.
1994: Ole Miss and South Carolina escaped with fortunate wins. Vandy could have been 7-4 instead of 5-6.
1999: Driving for the winning field goal that would have been win number six, a Commodore fumble cost them the Kentucky game a week after Florida gave Vandy four chances to beat them. The season ended 5-6, when it could have been 7-4.
2000: Narrow losses to Miami (O), Ole Miss, and Tennessee turned what could have been a 6-5 season into 3-8.
2001: Even in Woody Widenhofer's final season, the Commodores botched enough plays and dropped enough wide open passes to turn a 2-9 season into what could have been a 6-5 season. The MTSU loss at the beginning of the year served as a dose of reality to thousands of fans. Vandy followed that up with memorable losing performances against Alabama, Auburn, and Ole Miss, blowing chances to win all three.
2005: Jay Cutler gave Vandy its best chance to end the bowl drought with an All-American-type season. Vandy lost to MTSU on a blocked field goal on the final play of the game. They lost to Florida on a couple of disputed referee's decisions, and failed to show up until halftime of the Kentucky game. A 5-6 season could have been 8-3.
These 12 near-miss seasons showcase one glaring problem. Vanderbilt's margin of error is so tiny that the odds are forever stacked against them in the Southeastern Conference. Remember that the four times since 1960 when the Commodores finished the season with a winning record, they only had to play six conference games. Actually in 1968, they only played five conference games, but Tulane was designated as a conference game. If many of these near-miss black and gold teams had been able to benefit by having five out-of-conference games and six conference games (or six and six in a 12-game schedule), they would have finished with a winning record.
Until then, there's always next year, but consider this statistic and keep it in your thoughts prior to next year. Oregon State currently holds the all-time Division 1-A record for most consecutive losing seasons at 28 (1971-1998). Vanderbilt must have a winning season by 2010, or they will tie that record.
Auburn's Loss and the Domino Effect
While the Kentucky fans celebrated the bowl-eligible-creating win Saturday, Georgia was putting the conference's chances for getting nine bowl bids in jeopardy. The Tigers are no longer in the hunt for a BCS at-large bowl bid, and it appears that no other SEC teams can hope for one either, since the best any runner-up can finish is 11-2. Notre Dame will get a BCS bid if they finish 10-2. Boise State is a win over Nevada from getting one of the bids. The Michigan-Ohio State loser will still get a BCS at-large bid and possibly get an invitation to a rematch. Either Louisville, Rutgers, or West Virginia should get the fourth at-large bid.
That means the standard eight bids will be available. Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, and Tennessee are already bowl eligible, while South Carolina should become bowl eligible this weekend. That adds up to nine teams, so one team will be left out of the mix unless another bowl needs to find an at-large team. The current bowl rules state a team with a 6-6 record cannot be invited to become an at-large bowl participant if there are bowl eligible teams with better records still available.
South Carolina and Alabama are liable to finish with 6-6 record, meaning one of these teams could be forced to stay at home for the holidays. Here's where the math hurts them. It looks like just two bowls will need to seek an at-large team this year. The Poinsettia Bowl knows it must find a team, since Army will not be bowl eligible. Rumors out West are that San Jose State is at the top of their list. The Spartans are 6-3 with two winnable games left on their schedule.
The Motor City Bowl might need to find an at-large team unless Purdue beats Indiana and Minnesota beats Iowa. If both the Hoosiers and Gophers lose, then the Insight Bowl will need to find an at-large team as well. There will be at least one extra bowl eligible team from the Mountain West, and they would be a top choice for the Insight Bowl. The Motor City Bowl might like to have an SEC team fill-in for the Big 10, as Ole Miss did just that one season. The Rebels and Marshall hooked up in an exciting game.
Personally, I think Kentucky would be the best choice to come to Nashville and the Music City Bowl. The Blue Mist would settle over L.P. Field just like they did in 1999, the last time the Cats went bowling. Of Course, if Kentucky beats Louisiana Monroe and Tennessee, they could be headed to Tampa and the Outback Bowl.
The Mechanical Picking Method Was Right
Friday, in my game preview, I told you why I had experienced a change of heart (or brain) and selected Kentucky to win the game by more points than they had been picked to win. I mentioned that I had discovered a mechanical method that was proving to be quite accurate.
Let's explain what I mean by a mechanical method. Many of you have probably heard about mechanical stock picking. The most famous mechanical method is the old "Dogs of the Dow" method. You take the 30 Dow Jones Industrial components and write down their current dividend yields. From this list, you take the highest 10 yielding stocks and then find the five lowest priced of these 10. If you buy and hold those five stocks for a year plus a day, or 18 months, your return will beat the DJIA by several percentage points on average. This has held up for dozens of years.
Well, I spend a lot of time investigating other mechanical investing formulas. It is easy to beat the Dogs of the Dow approach by factoring in relative strength, timeliness, and several other factors available in Investor's Business Daily and Value Line Investment Survey.
It is very easy to equate stock picking and football game picking. A few weeks ago, I began back-testing several pieces of information trying to find something that might beat the experts, my PiRate ratings, and the other computer ratings. I noticed that six computer rating services this year are picking games with more accuracy than other computer ratings, including my PiRates. So, I back-tested these six computer ratings for the entire 2006 season. When all six have agreed on the winner, that team has won about 95% of the time. Okay, if all six believe Ohio State will beat Slippery Rock, that's a no-brainer. But, what about games where the favorite is supposed to win by single digits? These six computers are accurately picking the winner about 85% of the time. My fellow Vandymaniacs, that's quite impressive. The six computers all agreed that Kentucky would beat the Commodores on Saturday, by an average of 6.5 points (4.5 more points than the experts who set the point spreads).
Of course, like many mechanical stock picking methods, there is no guarantee these six computers will continue to be accurate in the future. There was a stock picking method that averaged an annual return of better than 40% during the 1980's and 1990's. In the 21st Century it lags the DJIA and S&P 500 Indices by 5% or more and has lost money three years out of six.
I'll include this rating this week for some of the games where it applies, and then do the same with the bowl games. If it works, then maybe it will be time to go public with it. That would be real PiRating at its best.
The Four-Digit Man
What more can you say about Earl Bennett? Mr. November keeps coming up with one spectacular game after another. Kentucky tried to shadow him all day, and he beat them on short, intermediate, long, and even impossible pass routes. He now has 78 receptions for 1130 yards. He needs 84 yards against Tennessee to break the Commodore single season receiving yardage record set by Boo Mitchell in 1988. Two receptions will give him 80; only tailback Keith Edwards has topped that wearing a black and gold jersey (he had 97 in 1983). After two seasons, he is already number five in Commodore career receiving yardage and number four in career receptions. When he leaves here to go to the NFL, he should own both the career reception and yardage marks.