Monday, December 5, 2011

Analyzing the 12/4/2011 Harris Poll

With the final Harris poll, we can finally do an analysis as along with the final poll they disclose the individual ballots.  They only make it available in a PDF it appears, so kind of a pain to get the data into a more analysis friendly format, but once done, I can now unveil my analysis.

As always, we start with the summary chart.


Compared to the AP poll chart, there is a lot more lack of consistency.  We see this early with Alabama being as low as #4, Oklahoma State being as low as #6, and then teams like Kansas State (#4 to #22), Michigan (#7 to #25) and Houston (#5 to #25) having huge ranges.  With nearly twice the number of voters, this is somewhat to be expected but the number of teams with these large ranges and the size of some is a bit surprising.

Let's dive in a bit deeper where all the discussion is.  How did Alabama and Oklahoma State compare?

Alabama was #2 on 80 of the 115 ballots, #3 on 33, and 2 voters elected to place them #4.  Oklahoma Sate on the other hand had 35 votes at #2, 64 at #3, 9 at #4, 4 at #5, and a surprising 3 at #6.

Head to head Alabama was ahead 80 times with an average gap of 1.325 back to Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma State was ahead 35 times with an average gap of 1.057.

Who voted Alabama #4?  Jim Walden and Todd Husak did having Stanford at #3 between them and Oklahoma State.  Who are they?

  • Jim Walden was the coach at WSU and Iowa State and went to school at Wyoming.  It is easy to see how he might have a Stanford/Oklahoma State bias.
  • Todd Husak played at Stanford so easy to see that bias too.
But one can make an argument, although IMHO a weak one, that Stanford is actually better than Alabama so this isn't too fishy.

With the number of voters who seem to discount Oklahoma State (voting them #4 or lower) totaling 16, I won't go through them all by name, but there are a few key observations:

  • All 9 of the ballots with Oklahoma State #4 had Stanford #3.  They appear to take the position that Stanford's loss to Oregon State was better than Oklahoma State's loss to Iowa State, a defendable position.
  • The voters with Oklahoma State #5 all had Oregon ahead of them:
    • Craig Morton went Stanford #3, Oregon #4
    • Jeff Van Note went Wisconsin (!) #3, Oregon #4
    • Rick Wright went Oregon #3, Stanford #4
    • Scott Johnson went Oregon #3, Boise State #4
  • The voters with Oklahoma State #6 were:
    • Bob Wagner went Stanford #3, Boise State #4, Oregon #5
    • Derrick Mayes went Stanford #3, Boise State #4, Oregon #5
    • George Wine went Stanford #3, Boise State #4, Houston #5
Ok, some of this may be defendable, but some just clearly isn't.  Maybe, just maybe, you can make a case that Oregon is a better team, being very explosive and having lost to only LSU and a hot USC team due to a missed field goal.  Yes, Oklahoma State's loss was a bad one, but considering the circumstances and the strength of their schedule and wins they had, saying Oregon is better is a pretty big stretch.

But where does ranking Wisconsin ahead of Oklahoma State come from, let alone ranking them #3?  Yes, one of their losses was to a good Michigan State on a Hail Mary, but then they turn around and lose to a 6-6 Ohio State team, arguably similar to Oklahoma State's one loss.  Hard to figure.

And how can one figure that Boise State is better than Oklahoma State?  Four of these voters thought so, apparently because Boise's one loss to TCU was "better" than Oklahoma State's one loss.  While that may be true, that ignores that Oklahoma State played a far far tougher schedule and their best win over Oklahoma was better than Boise's best win over Georgia.

Last, Houston is better than Oklahoma State?  This clearly has to be a joke or someone trying to make sure Alabama stayed at #2 in the BCS.  Houston played a powderpuff schedule, only beating 3 teams with winning records (vs Oklahoma State's 7), and even those teams had winning records due to weak schedules.

Now, was any of this enough to cause Oklahoma State to lose out on the BCS title game?  No, but everything was close enough that other smaller biases or oddities in the Harris or Coaches poll coupled with these might have.

What about other observations?  I already mentioned Houston being as high as #5 being questionable, but TCU was #5 on a ballot as well.  That would be Gary Sanders who did have Oklahoma State #2, but having 2-loss TCU ahead of other 2-loss teams with much stronger schedules like Kansas State, Arkansas, USC, Oregon, and South Carolina seems questionable.

There are other oddities in the ballots, but time and keeping this post a readable length don't allow going on so I'll close for now.  But I guess we should all be thankful that Sagarin and Wolfe kept Oklahoma State #3, as if they had been #2 in just one of those, the BCS totals would have been close enough that all of this strange voting would have been the difference.