Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Big 12 midseason power rankings

ESPN's FPI rankings have Baylor, Oklahoma, and TCU as the top three teams in the nation, in that order. The rankings' defenders, who incidentally are virtually all either ESPN employees or fans of those programs, note that the rankings are meant to indicate which teams have the best chance of finishing out the year with the most wins, not which teams are the best.

Of course, this is equally ridiculous, because those three teams all have yet to play each other. After they do so, there is virtually no chance of them finishing in that order.

Statistics can be useful for explaining what has happened, but they can't tell you "why?" something happened. Similarly, using stats to build predictive models is a methodology that often has the appearance of validity and authority but isn't necessarily so.

Trying to predict the behaviors of 18-22 year olds who play a sport where 22 different people interact in 150+ different events is pretty hard and processing all the available stats to make sense of it all is an intensely difficult task. If you think stats are telling you that Oklahoma is better than Alabama this season it might be time to take a step back and re-evaluate your process.

With all that said, here's a totally subjective ranking of the Big 12 based on my own opinions as someone who knows all the teams reasonably well (except Kansas) and watches a lot of Big 12 games. Take it as you will:

1. TCU

The Boykin + Patterson magic show is the best in the league now that Seth Russell is out for the year. The Horned Frogs are vulnerable on defense, but they're difficult to just blow away since their DL is quite good, and Boykin and the offense can score on any defense in the league. You have to beat them in a shootout and I don't trust any combination in a shootout more than Boykin+Patterson.

2. Baylor

Even with their leader out, the Bears are still a loaded football team with possibly the best player in the league in Corey Coleman. I would have had them safely over TCU with Russell and Billings both healthy (I know, Billings should return) but with a freshman QB at the helm I suspect Baylor will become too limited and mistake-prone to maintain that edge.

If Billings is limited against a team like TCU or OU than the Bears become very vulnerable.

3. Oklahoma State

Oklahoma St is a running game away from being the best team in the Big 12. What they do have is a potent passing offense, particularly when Rudolph's hand isn't numb, and a strong red-zone package that makes them pretty dang good at converting drives into touchdowns.

The defense might be the league's best and they have quality or star players at every position as well as a variety of different packages. There's an outside chance that OSU comes through the late season purge as the top team in the league. They're use of different packages makes them great at situational football, which is how winning is done.

4. Oklahoma

The Sooners are no longer the more physical and aggressive team in the Red River Shootout, but they're still one of the better teams in the league. Their new found 3-3-5 package has done a great job of replacing Devante Bond with nickel corner Will Johnson and freeing up Striker to wreak havoc near the line of scrimmage.

Their run game is also improving thanks to Riley's abandonment of the gap schemes he brought from ECU and embrace of the zone blocking that OL coach Bill Bedenbaugh excels at teaching.

5. Texas

Texas may end up climbing even higher on this list as they are getting better with each passing week. This is the most physical team in the league now and the defense features several freshman that are still learning on the job. They're almost like a bizarro Bill Snyder Kansas State team.

6. West Virginia

I'm not going to punish Holgorsen's team for the sin of having a tougher opening schedule than much of the rest of the league. They're 0-3 in league play, yes, but they played @Baylor, @OU, and home against OSU as their only B12 games thus far.

They may finish near the bottom of the league but I believe this is a stronger team than the ones below them.

7. Texas Tech

It's brutal watching Tech play run defense. Their offense is fantastic, as always, but they cannot control the tempo of a game and aren't up for a fist fight playing away from Lubbock. I'm still curious to see what happens with the David Gibbs experiment on defense but you have to wonder at some point if Kingsbury knows how to oversee a culture that can produce real defense.

8. Iowa State

After watching more Cyclone film I can understand why Rhoads insisted on Lanning and a more run-centric approach to the point where he was willing to fire Mangino. Rhoads is coaching for his job right now and Iowa State finally has an OL and RB that can run the dang ball...all that he's ever wanted.

On the downside, they run a 3-4 defense and none of their four LBs are very good.

9. Kansas State

The Wildcats are basically in a free fall at this point. They've lost Danzel McDaniel for the year and may never get Dante Barnett back, which means two of their three returning starters that were supposed to make their 2015 secondary special are just gone. Poof!

Meanwhile, their offense can't function because their QB can't throw. I won't be shocked if they just end up starting Alex Delton at some point and preparing him for the future. If that happens, they could end up climbing the list.

Also, I'm intrigued by the possibility of a 2016 KSU D that returns Wood, Geary, Davis, Lee, Barnett, Prewett, Newlan, Shelley, and Starks. Wildcat fan, step back from the ledge! You still have so much to live for...

10. Kansas

Has Kansas won a game yet? No? My only interest in that team is seeing whether they can go defeated all season. Heck, I wonder if they could go defeated next season as well. It'd be a challenge, as their pre-conference slate is Rhode Island, Ohio, and Memphis, a schedule scarcely tougher than Baylor's.

Speaking of Memphis...

11. Memphis

I figure the Tigers are near the front of the pack for teams warranting inclusion into the Big 12 if the conference determines to get back to 12 teams again and add a championship game. Adding Houston or SMU makes zero sense as neither team expands the geographic footprint of the league into new TV markets, but Memphis is a real program that brings in new TV sets.

12. BYU

The stormin' Mormons are always on the radar and would also bring in new TV sets as well as a legitimate AQ-caliber program. The problem is that BYU and Memphis would make for poor companions in joining the league as they'd stretch it across multiple time zones.

The better solution would be to add BYU plus another non-AQ in the west, such as Wyoming or Boise State. Memphis could be paired with someone like UCF, offer West Virginia a companion out east, and get the Big 12 into Florida. The former solution would make for some fun football while the latter solution is more likely because of the TV-money component.

There's also a solid chance that the Big 12 dissolves, or loses Texas and Oklahoma to the ACC and adds teams like the ones mentioned above, becoming a non-AQ conference. That'd be terrible for the league's not at all out of the realm of possibility.

1 comment:

  1. Lol.. I like your inclusion of the 2 teams at the bottom. Currently, that's who I'd take as well.