Saturday, December 3, 2011

Alabama or Oklahoma State, the analysis

The best case scenario for Oklahoma State nearly happened.  They needed to win and win big, they did.  They needed a Virginia Tech loss, and they got it.  The Houston loss helped.  But they didn't get an LSU loss.

They should move ahead of Alabama in the majority of the BCS computers, but they have a lot of ground to make up to get close enough in the polls.  But what does my computer think?

My computer attempts to look at the entire picture, using the scores, opponents, locations of games, and gives more weight to meaningful games, but doesn't reward running up the score.  But that still isn't necessarily the whole picture.  But we can still use the data to do an analysis.

My regular and more accurate predicting algorithm likes Alabama better by a significant margin.  In fact, on a neutral field it would pick Alabama by over 4 points.  How does it arrive at that?  Here are the performance charts.

The charts look similar.  A lot of good results, a few very good results, but the key difference is Oklahoma State's one loss was worse from a ratings standpoint then Alabama's.

However, my BCS algorithm, that only looks at wins and losses, not the score, likes Oklahoma State over Alabama by nearly 2 ratings points.

Based on history, and if you are looking for a prediction, my regular algorithm wins and I'd go with Alabama.  But what might a voter looking to decide what direction to go be considering?

First, we can look at records.  Both teams are 11-1 so that is a wash.

Second, we can look at schedule strength.  Both played tough schedules, both in the top-20 in FBS according to my computer.  But my computer likes Oklahoma State's more having them #9 at 72.7 while Alabama is #18 at 71.5.  Slight edge to Oklahoma State.

Third, we can look at who they lost to.  Alabama lost at home to undefeated LSU, and in OT no less.  Not a lot to be embarrassed about there.  Oklahoma State on the other hand lost on the road to 6-6 Iowa State which my computer ranks #46.  Clear advantage to Alabama.

Fourth, we can look at who they beat of note.

Alabama's best win was over Arkansas, 10-2 and #5 in my latest rankings.  That is clearly a feather in their cap.  However, after that there isn't another standout win with Vanderbilt (6-6, 74.3, #26), Penn State (9-3, 74.0, #28), Mississippi State (6-6, 73.7, #30), Florida (6-6, 73.2, #32), and Auburn (7-5, 72.4, #35) all being solid and in my top-35, but none in the top-25.  All of these games were fairly convincing wins however, the smallest margin be 16 points at Penn State.

Oklahoma State's best win was their last against Oklahoma, #7 in my latest rankings.  And they did this in convincing fashion.  Their other key wins were over Texas A&M (6-6, 78.8, #14), Baylor (9-3, 78.8, #15), Missouri (7-5, 77.4, #18), Kansas State (10-2, 77.3, #19), Texas (7-5, 75.8, #24), and Tulsa (8-4, 72.2, #36).  A few of these were close though, a 1 point win over Texas A&M and a 12 point win over Texas, but both on the road, and a 7 point win over Kansas State at home.

With 7 teams ranked #36 or better for Oklahoma State, and 6 of those in the top-25, versus 6 teams ranked #35 or better but only 1 in the top-25, the advantage goes to Oklahoma State, even with a few close wins.

Fifth, we can look at the conference they played in.  Perception is that the SEC is the toughest conference, but according to my rankings, and this can be seen in the last set of stats, the Big-12 is very tough this year too.  The average rating by SEC teams is 77.0 while it is 76.0 for the Big-12.  However, if I treat a conference as a team and look at just out of conference games, the Big-12 went 27-3 and rates 74.8 versus the SEC going 42-6 and rating 74.1.  The Big-12's schedule strength in these games was slightly higher too at 62.4 versus 61.0.  Ever so slight advantage to the Big-12.

Sixth and last, we can look at intangibles.  The big point here is that Oklahoma State lost the same day they learned of the tragedy with the women's basketball team coaching staff.  Do they get a pass for the loss because of this?  No, but some may give it some consideration.

In the end, for me, who the teams lost to is the key metric and there Alabama wins.  Yes, Oklahoma State played more top teams, but some of those games were closer, and unless you are going to give them a pass, losing to a 6-6 team is too much to be offset by other factors and I'd say Alabama is the second best team on any ballot I'd submit.

Having said that, I'd rather see LSU play Oklahoma State, and not just because playing Alabama would be a rematch.  I just think the contrast in styles would make for a more interesting game.

What do you think?  Vote in the poll to the right or leave a comment or contact me @computerratings on Twiter.