Coastal elitism in college football

Or, The case against USC as #1.
You can blame the following on my friend Francisco, who got me started earlier this evening during an instant messaging chat.
Looking around college football, I continue to be amazed at how USC can be consistently ranked as the number-one football team in the country, given the conference they play in. It is very similar to the 1980s and 1990s, when Miami and Florida State were consistently picked as the #1 team any given year. I have deduced it is a form of coastal elitism on the part of the poll voters, much like the coastal elitism one has found recently in national elections and politics.
The majority of your sports media are concentrated on either coast of the nation. Their attention, therefore, is drawn to the teams likewise concentrated on either coast, to the detriment of the quality teams in the quality conferences in between the two coasts, a la “flyover country.” These quality conferences are the SEC, the Big 10, and the Big 12.
It’s very easy to go undefeated in the Big East when you’re playing against such powerhouses as Rutgers or Temple. Viz: Florida State K.O.’ed Duke today, and that’s worthy of their #11 ranking. At least now we have FSU, Miami, and Virginia Tech all in the same conference, the ACC. Too bad they are the only quality teams in the ACC, which means one of these three will, for the foreseeable future, always win the conference championship and contend for a national title. Miami’s presence was the only reason the Big East was ever in the BCS, since they were the only team from the Big East ever contending for the national championship. Now that Miami is in the ACC, the BCS needs to dump the Big East as an automatic BCS bowl-eligible conference.
USC is to the 2000s what FSU and Miami were to the ’80s and ’90s. They are the lone dominate team in their conference, so they go undefeated while beating up on the likes of Washington and Arizona. Then they have to worry about a single tough game at the end of the year, and having been built up by their success over mediocre teams and by the national sports media, they prevail.
Looking back at the 2003 season, it is a complete joke that USC, and the national sports media which backs it, should insist on a shared national title with LSU. (Disclaimer: I grew up in Baton Rouge and am a LSU alum, so yes, I’m biased. At least I admit it.) I agree that it was a travesty that USC did not get to play against LSU in the Sugar Bowl. I believe the same national sports media which lauds and supports USC today was also blinded by a declining Oklahoma program, and gave that team more votes than it deserved. Be that as it may, the BCS determined that LSU and Oklahoma would square off for the national title. The BCS used the same polls the national sports media voted in to make this determination. LSU won the Sugar Bowl, and was crowned college football’s national champion.
But the AP and USA Today poll voters rebelled against the BCS, and anointed Rose Bowl winner USC the number one spot. USC, and the national sports media which voted for them, thus claims a shared national title with LSU, the very thing the BCS was created to prevent.
This is despite, counting their respective bowl game opponents, that LSU beat four Top 20 teams during the course of the year while USC only beat two. You can make the argument LSU beat five Top 20 teams, but the BCS doesn’t credit LSU’s SEC championship victory over Georgia, since that was the second time that year the Tigers were victorious over the Bulldogs. This is despite the fact that Georgia was ranked higher at the time of the SEC championship than they were earlier in the year when they first lost to LSU. Using the BCS’s strength of schedule statistic, Georgia was a tougher opponent the second time around, and LSU beat them by a larger margin of victory. LSU also played one more game (the conference championship) in 2003 than USC did.
Statistically, LSU was the superior team. They played in the BCS championship game, and they prevailed. The Fighting Tigers of LSU are the sole national champions of college football for 2003.
Let us allow, for a moment, that there is a shared title for 2003 between LSU and USC. I, for one, would then like USC and the national sports media to acknowledge a shared national title for 2004 between USC and Auburn. Each team went 13-0. Including their bowl game opponents, Auburn beat five Top 20 teams to USC’s three. Again, the SEC team has the strength of schedule argument firmly in its camp. Auburn was denied the BCS shot, just as USC was the year before, by a national sports media still enamored with Oklahoma. You would think USC would have some empathy for Auburn, but no.
USC worshippers’ argument against a shared title for 2004 is that USC both won the BCS championship game and got the poll votes. My contention is that the poll votes are only useful as part of determining who is in the BCS championship game. After that particular game is over, who cares what else happened in the other bowl games? Hence, my contention that USC has no claim to a shared title in 2003.
That brings us to the 2005 season, and the end of week 9. USC is still #1, with Texas #2. (Disclaimer: I am a resident of the state of Texas, though I have no personal affiliation with the University of Texas, other than I would like to see the schools of my home state do well. Again, at least I admit to bias, little though it may be.) Up to this stage of the season, both teams have played the same number of Top 20 teams: three. However, Texas’s opponents have been higher ranked, and given those opponents, the wins more impressive. I look at Texas’s win over Ohio State as more impressive than USC’s win over Notre Dame. Certainly, the win by the Longhorns over Texas Tech today was more impressive than USC’s victory over Washington.
This is not to say that I think USC is a mediocre football team. I think they are a very good football team. A very good football team in a mediocre conference.
If I were voting, and in control of college football rankings, I could easily see a two-way tie for first. USC is neither of those teams. My two-way tie would be Texas-Georgia. USC comes in at #3, with Virgina Tech trailing them, not at their current #3 spot.
Looking at the history of college football over the past 30 years, it is consistently harder for an undefeated team to emerge from the SEC, the Big 10, or the Big 12, because a majority of the teams in those conferences are quality teams. Conversely, in the PAC 10, ACC, and Big East, in the past 30 years, a minority of teams in those conferences have been quality teams. Yet there is a disproportionate amount of these minority teams claiming the national title.
The PAC 10 is a stronger conference in 2005 than it was in 2003 or 2004. California and UCLA have both stepped up their game, and UCLA holds the same record as the Trojans of USC. (Yet they’re ranked down at #9; what does this say about the Trojans’ ranking at #1? That it’s overrated and undeserved, that’s what.) Yet saying the PAC 10 is a stronger conference in 2005 is like saying the ACC is a stronger conference in 2004, when Miami joined to form the championship triumvirate with FSU and Virginia Tech. As conferences, these two are not in the same league as the SEC, Big 10, and Big 12. And that fact should carry some weight when it comes to poll voting.
The BCS isn’t a perfect system for determining a national champion, and I have admitted as much in the past. Nick Saban, who led LSU to their championship for the 2003 season, stated he would like to see something on the order of “BCS plus one.” That would have eliminated the debate over a shared title with USC. (What would have eliminated the debate over a shared title is if the poll voters and the BCS would have gotten it right and put USC against LSU in the first place.) Auburn coach Tommy Tupperville echoed Saban’s sentiment a year later, when his team was denied a shot at USC. What is hinted at in this statement is something I have long contended: it’s time for a playoff system in college football, the only major sport without one. Rankings can be used to determine seeds, and you can use the bowls as the setting for the playoff games, continuing to rotate which bowl is the championship game.
In the end, you have a single team standing, and no one making a claim for a split title.

Hective

Parents can relate:

My favorite portmanteau came from our two-year-old daughter, whose response to the question “How was your day [at daycare]?” was: “Oh, hective, very hective.” We assume that it was a combination of hectic and active, but whatever the source in her mind, it remains a wonderfully descriptive word for busy family life.
From Anne Beer, on the AWAD mail Issue 183, October 22, 2005.
My wife thought this perfectly appropriate to our lives with a two year-old.

Apple’s new iron and bits

So yesterday was the latest in a slew of product announcements from Apple. In just over a month, we’ve seen the iPod nano, the iPod with Video, the new iTunes Music Store from whence you can download videos and television shows for your video iPod, and now new Power Macs, PowerBooks, and a new piece of pro software.
Power Macs
The new Power Macs are slower than the ones they replace–from a clock-speed perspective, anyway. And let’s be honest: most people don’t understand how a dual-core 2.5 GHz processor is faster than a non-dual-core 2.7 or 3 GHz processor. They see numbers. They understand numbers. The higher the number, the faster it must be. So Apple has a bit of education to do for users, who aren’t as hip and in-the-know as you or I when it comes to the technobabble, contemplating new Power Macs. Then again, maybe those sorts of people are just better off with an iMac or a Mac mini.
Every gearhead, yours truly included, of course is lusting after the dual-core, dual-processor 2.5 GHz Power Mac. This means there are four cores on two chips, and is why Apple refers to this beast as the “Quad.” Should you care to shell out as much money for two video cards–the NVIDIA Quadro FX 4500, with 512 MB of SDRAM–as the Quad costs, you can drive four 30-inch Cinema Displays from a single box. Every gearhead, yours truly included, is also lusting after the funds to accomplish this. I can barely fathom having two of those 30-inch monsters on my desk, much less four, and I would be in happy-happy dream land with only one.
PowerBooks
While it’s fun to have fantasies about high-end desktop hardware, I was realistically focused on the new PowerBooks. The missus mentioned the possibility of new mobile iron after the first of the year, so I was hoping to see some improvements, given that this may be the last revision of PowerPC-based ‘Books before Intel-based hardware ships.
I was disappointed that the line-up didn’t see a speed bump. It would have been nice to get a 1.8 GHz PowerBook. The added pixels in the 15- and 17-inch models are indeed welcome, though the 15-inch’s resolution is now higher than the 19-inch LCD I would normally hook it up to. Right now, my 12-inch PowerBook–with a resolution of 1024×768–drives the 19-inch panel, with its resolution of 1280 x 1024. My normal habit is to run the PowerBook closed, given the extra real estate on the 19-inch LCD. With one of the new PowerBook models, I’m looking at the prospect of reordering my workspace, so the PowerBook could be run in extended-desktop mode with the LCD. This is certainly not a bad thing.
John notes the simplified line-up of the PowerBook models, and I concur this is a good thing. I wonder, though, if the simplified product line-up isn’t so much a result of Apple’s desire for simplification, but rather the aforementioned fact that there are no speed-bumps. Historically, when you saw the different versions of a PowerBook, other than screen size, there was a processor speed difference as well. With yesterday’s announcement, Apple killed the slower-speed model for the 15- and 17-inch PowerBooks.That notwithstanding, again, I agree; the simplified line-up is much better. When I went to price a new 15-inch, I only made one change, the hard drive. (I’ll buy my 2 gigs of RAM elsewhere and save a few hundred bucks, Apple, thanks.)
Aperture
Likely the main reason I’m gear-lusting after a Power Mac G5 Quad is because I’m also lusting after Apple’s latest piece of pro software, Aperture. Think Final Cut Pro for digital photographers. (I know I read that phrase somewhere, but haven’t been able to recall where yet.) I wasn’t crazy about the name at first, thinking Tom had come up with a much better one, but it’s growing on me.
Aperture is a one-stop shop of digital photo post-production, and while it is geared toward–and priced for–professional photographers, as a burgeoning “prosumer,” I can see how much I would gain from Aperture’s abilities. Alas, none of my current hardware can handle the app, and while I know I will begin pushing the limits of iPhoto in the near future, I’m not there yet.
Many see Aperture as a shot across Adobe’s bow, and while I’m sure it will steal some screen time from Photoshop, I see the two applications working in complement with one another rather than competition. Given what Aperture brings to the table, Adobe is going to have to look at something other than just workflow solutions for Photoshop. Their flagship application is already suffering from featuritis, with no real room to grow except through the implementation of workflow solutions, so future development should be interesting to watch.
Regarding the new Apple hardware, Leander Kahney remarked, “I actually don’t like product announcements like this. It makes my 18-month-old PowerBook and G5 look feeble and decrepit.” Leander, I’m plugging along on a 4.5-year old Cube and 2-year old 12-inch PowerBook. How do you think I feel?

We’ll accept help from everyone, except…

Jeff Jacoby:

[I]t was not until Oct. 14, six days after Israel had communicated its willingness to help the earthquake victims “in any way possible,” that it finally received a formal response. Yes, aid from Israel would be welcome, provided it was laundered through a third party. “We have established the president’s relief fund, and everyone is free to contribute to it,” a government spokeswoman coolly acknowledged. “If Israel was to contribute — that’s fine, we would accept it.” Israel could help save Pakistani lives, in other words, as long as it wasn’t too public about doing so. There mustn’t be any embarrassing images of planes with Israeli markings offloading relief supplies at Islamabad’s airport.

Go Astros!

Some time in the first year to year-and-a-half of my life, my parents moved to Houston. My dad had joined the Navy for a two-year stint, and would be spending nearly one of those on a Mediterranean cruise aboard the USS John F. Kennedy. My grandparents lived in Houston, and would help my mom look after their only grandchild.
My grandfather was a regional sales manager for a major tobacco company. He had season tickets to Houston Oiler football games and Houston Astro baseball games. He took clients to games. He gave the tickets away to clients, and if they didn’t want them, to friends. And once my dad’s time in the Navy was over, he took my dad.
And me.
I was only three or four, but there are two or three memories clanking around in my noggin of going to Astros games with my dad and grandfather. I remember the night they gave away baseballs. I remember hurling mine, still in the plastic bag, toward the field when the the team came out of the dugout. It was time to play ball, and I guess I wanted them to play with mine. Dad tells me I clonked someone on the head a few rows down, and cried because no one threw the ball back to me. My grandfather would sneak away and get me another one, but he didn’t let me know, and he hung on to it. My grandmother tells me it’s somewhere in a box in their house.
You can understand, then, why I may have a little affinity for the Major League club in the southern portion of the Lone Star State.
Someone–my grandmother or my parents–also has the orange Astros ball cap that I had during those years. I need to get that; it would be great for my son to wear.
For the first time in their 44-year history, the Houston Astros are going to the World Series. To meet a club that hasn’t been to the Series in 46 years. A historic Series, to be sure, and one that I hope is not one-sided in either team’s favor. (Okay, maybe a little one-sided in one club’s favor.) Biggio and Bagwell, among the last of the franchise players in Major League Baseball, are getting their shot at the championship title, and it’s been a long time coming. Eighteen years for Biggio. Eighteen years he’s been trying with the Houston Astros. Craig, your loyalty and hard work have been rewarded.
My grandfather severely injured his back and one of his legs around the time I was five. It badly disabled him, and I remember climbing the stairs of my grandparents’ house to go visit him in his bed. I don’t remember going to any baseball games after that. My grandfather retired, and when we moved to Baton Rouge in the summer of 1976, my grandparents followed shortly thereafter. Their other son and his new family were living there, too, and the entire extended family was in one location.
Houston is the closest city with a Major League team to Baton Rouge, and you’ll find Astros fans throughout Red Stick. We still followed the Astros, but it was mainly through the stories on the sports page than anything else. It took the move in 1998 that brought my wife and I to Dallas for me to discover a love for Major League baseball, but I’ll never forget the seed that was planted in the early 1970s by my dad and grandfather.
Granddaddy, I wish you were here to see the Astros now.