McMurphy's Law: Coaches Show Inflated Opinions of Their Teams
Once a year, the curtain is pulled back and the coaches' final ballots in the USA Today/Coaches poll are revealed.
What did we discover this year? Nothing too surprising, except the obvious: most coaches rank their teams too high. Shocking, I know. But the fact that coaches are even allowed to be involved in the voting process to determine which teams play in the BCS bowls already is a huge conflict of interest.
Let's see: if I vote my team higher than it should be, my school can earn a better bowl berth, which will result in several thousand dollars worth of contract incentives. Then, who knows, with a few calls to the right people, I'm rumored in line for a better job and -- presto -- I've got a raise and contract extension.
Wait maybe it's a surprise that every coach doesn't abuse the voting system even more.
In this year's final USA Today/Coaches poll, 17 of the 59 coaches voted for their own teams with 16 of those teams finishing in the Top 25.
Of those 17, only four – Wisconsin's Bret Bielema, Boise State's Chris Petersen, Utah's Kyle Whittingham and South Carolina's Steve Spurrier – gave their teams the same ranking that they received in the poll.
The other 13 coaches all rated their school higher than the ranking it received and no one ranked their school lower than it was ranked. Those 13 coaches rated their teams 3.46 spots higher than their actual ranking.
The biggest culprit was Nebraska's Bo Pelini, who ranked his Cornhuskers eight spots higher than their actual No. 16 ranking. Pelini ranked two-loss Nebraska ahead of Arkansas, Boise State and Michigan State. Pelini's No. 11 ranking of Michigan State was the lowest of any coach -- good luck explaining that next year when the Huskers are in the Big Ten.
Other examples of the biggest voting discrepancies: Dan Mullen had Mississippi State six spots higher than its actual rank, Tom O'Brien voted N.C. State six spots higher than its ranking, George O'Leary voted UCF five spots higher and Jimbo Fisher voted Florida State four spots higher.
While USA Today has a pretty cool interactive graphic of the coaches' ballot online, pollspeak.com analyzes the coaches – and the writers' votes in the Associated Press poll – in greater detail.
Pollspeak.com highlights on each ballot votes that are considered extreme (either the highest or lowest vote for a team AND less than 10 percent of the voters agreed on) or near extreme (less than 10 percent of the voters agreed, but not the absolute highest or lowest vote). These are basically not the norm of the other voters.
There's obviously nothing wrong with having a different ballot or different opinion of certain teams, I certainly have my share on my AP ballot, but when there are a large number of extreme or near extreme votes, it does raise questions to the voter's motive.
According to pollspeak.com, Stanford's Jim Harbaugh had the most "unique" ballot as 11 of Harbaugh's 25 teams he voted for were considered extreme or near extreme rankings. Mullen was next with his ranking of 10 extreme/near extreme teams, followed by Idaho's Robb Akey (nine), Bielema (seven), Illinois' Ron Zook (seven), Petersen (six), Notre Dame's Brian Kelly (five), Missouri's Gary Pinkel (five), O'Leary (five) and Georgia's Mark Richt (five).
Harbaugh's and Bielema's ballots were easily the most, well, interesting.
Harbaugh gave Stanford (No. 3), Oklahoma (No. 5) and Virginia Tech (No. 6) its highest rankings. Oklahoma and Virginia Tech lost two games each and were ranked eighth and 11th in the coaches poll.
Harbaugh, a Michigan alum, also gave Ohio State (No. 7), Wisconsin (No. 8) and Texas A&M (No. 19) their lowest rankings, while giving Oklahoma State (No. 11) and West Virginia (No. 18) their highest rankings.
In all, Harbaugh gave eight teams their highest or lowest rankings.
Bielema's ballot revealed he gave Miami, Ohio (No. 23) its highest ranking of any coach, ranked Virginia Tech (No. 8) higher than 56 coaches, Hawaii (No. 20) higher than 56 coaches and Northern Illinois (No. 24) higher than 55 coaches. He also ranked Stanford (No. 7) lower than 54 coaches, Arkansas (No. 12) lower than 54 coaches, South Carolina (No. 25) lower than 54 coaches and was one of five coaches not to rank Mississippi State.
So, Harbaugh gave Wisconsin its lowest ranking and Bielema gave Stanford its lowest ranking? Too bad the Cardinal and Badgers aren't meeting in the Rose Bowl. It might have been a blood bath.
While the ballots of Harbaugh and Bielema were the extreme, there were actually 14 coaches who had no extreme/near extreme ballots: Cincinnati's Butch Jones, Louisville's Charlie Strong, Central Michigan's Dan Enos, Wyoming's Dave Christensen, Syracuse's Doug Marrone, Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer, Wake Forest's Jim Grobe, Ohio State's Jim Tressel, Virginia's Mike London, Texas A&M's Mike Sherman, Arizona's Mike Stoops, Texas Tech's Tommy Tuberville, Spurrier and former Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill.
A couple other notes: Oregon was ranked in the top two on all 59 ballots. Auburn was in the top two on 56 of 59 ballots with Akey, New Mexico's Locksley and Utah's Kyle Whittingham voting the nation's No. 1 ranked team third.
TCU's lone No. 1 vote came from Akey. But the Idaho coach also voted rival Boise State No. 14 – only Arkansas' Bobby Petrino (No. 15) and Locksley (No. 16) had the Broncos ranked lower.
Here's a look at the coaches who voted for their own team. Listed first is their school's actual ranking in the USA Today/Coaches poll, followed by how they voted for their team:
4-4 Bret Bielema, Wisconsin
5-3 Jim Harbaugh, Stanford
6-5 Jim Tressel, Ohio State
7-4 Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
8-7 Bobby Petrino, Arkansas
10-10 Chris Petersen, Boise State
11-10 Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
14-11 Gary Pinkel, Missouri
16-8 Bo Pelini, Nebraska
17-15 Mike Sherman, Texas A&M
18-15 Nick Saban, Alabama
19-19 Kyle Whittingham, Utah
20-20 Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
22-16 Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
23-19 Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
24-19 George O'Leary, UCF
30-24 Tom O'Brien, NC State
Terps, Huskers Bowl Bound -- And Bummed
Most college football teams are thrilled about receiving a bowl bid. And then there are Maryland and Nebraska.
The Terps and Cornhuskers are likely the most disappointed of the 70 bowl-bound teams and both have valid reasons.
On Selection Sunday, the Terps, despite finishing in a second-place tie with N.C. State in the ACC Atlantic, kept waiting. And waiting. And waiting for a bowl berth. Finally, the Terps were selected by the Military Bowl, which has the eighth pick of ACC bowl-eligible teams.
The free fall down the ACC's pecking order to the Washington D.C. bowl was not well received by Maryland's players, who took to Twitter voicing their frustrations.
"Why do we even play the games?" wrote Terps senior linebacker Andrew Moten. "Let's just pick the teams that travel the best and send them to bowls.".
Added Maryland sophomore defensive lineman A.J. Francis: "I just hope our fans fill up RFK (at the Military Bowl) because if they don't next year we might be the first BCS Conference Champion not to be invited to a bowl game."
Nebraska lost to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game, but slipped all the way to the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl, which owns the league's fifth pick.
The Cornhuskers will play Washington. It will be a rematch of the Sept. 18 game, won by Nebraska 56-21. They're also playing next season, meaning the teams will play three times in a 12-month span.
"San Diego... against Washington? Are you serious?" Nebraska senior kicker Adi Kunalic posted on his Twitter account. "We will go to San Diego ... because they want us too. But we will destroy Washington ... because we want to. See you there Dec. 30th."
Huskies Could Be Biggest Dogs of All
Not surprisingly, UConn is a prohibitive underdog against Oklahoma in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. And by the Jan. 1 kickoff, the Huskies could be the biggest bowl underdog in the past 20 years.
UConn is currently between a 17-18 point underdog against the Sooners. That would rank among the five biggest point spreads in bowl games since 1992, according to research provided by Steve Makinen, formerly of StatFox.
However, just because the Huskies are a big dog doesn't necessarily mean it will be a blowout. Three of the four previous teams that were 17-point or more underdogs kept it within a touchdown with Idaho upsetting 17 1/2-point favorite Southern Miss in 1998.
The four biggest bowl favorites since 1992:
Southern Miss (17 1/2-point favorite) lost to Idaho 42-35, 1998 Humanitarian Bowl
Kansas State (17-point favorite) defeated Arizona State 34-27, 2002 Holiday Bowl
Syracuse (17-point favorite) defeated Houston 34-27, 1996 Liberty Bowl
Penn State (17-point favorite) defeated Oregon 38-20, 1995 Rose Bowl
Besides Oklahoma and UConn, there are five other bowl games this year with double-digit favorites, including Boise State, which is favored by 16 against Utah, and could join OU as one of the biggest favorites in the past 20 years.
Refs Love N.C. State, Hate Nebraska
This probably has absolutely nothing – nod, nod, wink, wink; you know what I mean? – to do with Nebraska leaving the Big 12 for the Big Ten, but ... the Cornhuskers were the nation's only team that ranked among the 10 most penalized teams in allowing first downs and ranked among the 10 teams awarded the fewest first downs by penalty.
Coincidence? Perhaps. But if you're into conspiracies (and who isn't?), it is interesting that Nebraska's opponents made 27 first downs off Nebraska penalties, while Nebraska only made nine first downs on its opponents' penalties, giving Nebraska's opponents 18 more first downs by penalty. That discrepancy is easily the nation's most lopsided, according to Marty Couvillon's great football statistical website cfbstats.com.
While the Cornhuskers benefited the least by number of first downs by penalties, the officials really, really loved N.C. State. The Wolfpack received 28 first downs by their opponent's penalties, but their opponents only got four first downs via N.C. State penalties – a whopping difference of 24 more first downs for N.C. State.
South Florida was the second-most liked, or fortunate, team by the officials. USF received 25 first downs by its opponent's penalties, while their opponents only received 11 first downs on USF penalties.
Ironically, the BCS' top two teams, Oregon and Auburn, were among the seven most penalized teams as far as awarding their opponents first downs. Oregon's opponents have made 27 first downs, courtesy of UO penalties, while Auburn's opponents received 26 first downs on Auburn penalties.
Here are the most fortunate and least fortunate teams based on first downs made or given to their opponent by penalty. Statistics from cfbstats.com.
Most offensive first downs made because of their opponent's penalty:
Kansas 31, Minnesota 28, N.C. State 28, BYU 27, Central Michigan 27, UTEP 27, Cincinnati 26, East Carolina 26, Marshall 26, South Florida 25, Troy 25, UNLV 25.
Fewest offensive first downs made because of their opponent's penalty:
Army 6, Air Force 8, Alabama 9, UConn 9, Georgia 9, Nebraska 9, TCU 9, LSU 10, Michigan 10, Kent State 11, Louisiana-Monroe 11, SMU 11, Vanderbilt 11.
Most first downs awarded to their opponents because of a penalty:
Southern Miss 37, Arizona State 33, Florida State 29, Maryland 29, Nebraska 27, Oregon 27, Auburn 26, FIU 26, Idaho 26, UCLA 26, Utah State 26.
Fewest first downs awarded to their opponents because of a penalty:
N.C. State 4, Navy 6, Wisconsin 7, Penn State 8, Air Force 10, Colorado State 10, Temple 10, Vanderbilt 10, Houston 11, South Florida 11, Arkansas State 12, UConn 12, Iowa State 12, South Carolina 12, Tennessee 12.
State of Champions
Of the 11 FBS conferences, there were 17 schools that either won or shared a conference title. Three states finished with at least a share of two conference titles: Alabama (Auburn, SEC; Troy, Sun Belt); Florida (UCF, C-USA; Florida International, Sun Belt); and Ohio (Ohio State, Big Ten; Miami, Ohio, MAC).
Does anyone else find it bizarre that the two conference champions from Florida were not Florida, Florida State or Miami?
This year's conference championships by state:
State Conf. Titles (Schools)
Alabama 2 (Auburn, Troy)
Florida 2 (UCF, Florida International)
Ohio 2 (Ohio State, Miami, Ohio)
Connecticut 1 (UConn)
Hawaii 1 (Hawaii)
Idaho 1 (Boise State)
Michigan 1 (Michigan State)
Nevada 1 (Nevada)
Oklahoma 1 (Oklahoma)
Oregon 1 (Oregon)
Texas 1 (TCU)
Pennsylvania 1 (Pittsburgh)
Virginia 1 (Virginia Tech)
West Virginia 1 (West Virginia)
Wisconsin 1 (Wisconsin)
What Caught My Eye
In two games against Cincinnati, Pittsburgh RB Dion Lewis has 89 carries for 455 yards -- and both games were played in the snow. Against Cincinnati, Lewis is averaging 227.5 yards per game; against everyone else, he's averaging 108 yards in 22 career games. ... On Saturday, the Lee Corso GameDay mascot head, used during ESPN's College GameDay, was stolen in Corvallis, Ore. The theft prompted this response, via Twitter, from former FanHouse colleague John Walters: "Apparently, ESPN's Game Day security is ... not so fast, my friend." Corso's head was found and two former Oregon students were arrested.
A Pac-10 school might very well end up winning the BCS national title, but the league only received four bowl bids -- or the same amount as the Mid-American and Western Athletic conferences. The 70 bowl bids by conference: SEC (10), ACC (9), Big Ten (8), Big 12 (8), Big East (6), Conference USA (6), Mountain West (5), Mid-American (4), Pac-10 (4), Western Athletic (4) and Sun Belt (3) plus all three independents -- Army, Navy and Notre Dame.
And Now for Steve Hill's View of the College Football World
Brett McMurphy is a national college football writer for FanHouse. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and please follow at Twitter.com/BrettmcmurphY