Discover more from Bald Faced Truth by John Canzano
Canzano: Lies, damned lies... and the College Football Playoff
Also... do football coaches tell the truth?
Dave Bartoo runs Matrix Analytics, a consulting firm that works with a number of college conferences and schools. As a hobby, he likes to crunch numbers on the College Football Playoff front because, as he put it, “we’re a bunch of data nerds.”
Bartoo isn’t on the playoff selection committee. He hasn’t spoken with any of the 13 members of the panel. But what Bartoo does do is appear to read their minds with deft accuracy.
“In the last decade, if you give me 25 teams and remove the names of the schools and just label them ‘A’ and ‘B’ and ‘C’ and ‘D… E… F… G…’ and if that’s all you gave us we would nail the playoff rankings every year — dead on.”
There are seven variables involved in the ranking, Bartoo said. They are: championship wins, quality wins (above-.500 team), Top-25 wins, margin of victory, margin of loss, bad loss (sub-.500 team), and strength of schedule.
“That’s the whole formula,” Bartoo said. “The secret is in knowing how to weigh it. For example, USC’s 48-20 loss to Notre Dame last weekend came by too many points. That margin of defeat eliminates the Trojans the same way Oregon’s 49-3 loss to Georgia in 2022 knocked the Ducks out before the season even really began.”
I asked Bartoo to examine the current college football season and tell me how the selection committee would rank the teams. Not in two weeks when the initial CFP ranking comes out — but here and now.
His current top four:
“If the regular season ended today,” Bartoo said, “there’s no question in my mind that Georgia and Michigan are not in the top four.”
Georgia and Michigan will have opportunities to play their way up the ranking and into the playoff. Also, if Ohio State beats Penn State on Saturday, Bartoo said that the Buckeyes would move in front of the Sooners and assume the No. 1 spot.
Other interesting observations by Bartoo:
• ON THE ‘EYE TEST’: “There is no ‘eye test.’ People always talk about the ‘eye test.’ It’s a bunch of crap. Look at these people on the committee. How many of them have the football IQ? They don’t. I don’t. Barry Alvarez might. I’ll buy that. But most of the others just don’t. The other thing is, the committee members don’t have the time to watch 50 hours of football every week. There is no ‘eye test.’”
• ON TWO PAC-12 TEAMS IN THE PLAYOFF: “Washington is No. 3 on my list right now and if they win out they’re in the playoff. Everyone is asking could the Pac-12 get two teams in? I don’t think so, particularly if that second candidate is Washington. The Huskies got a Top-25 win and a quality win against Oregon. Their margin of victory is good. The Huskies have the No. 2 offensive scoring efficiency in the country. But what’s hurting Washington is the non-conference schedule. Boise State (3-4) is freaking killing them. Boise State is the No. 1 recruiter in the Mountain West. That should be a Top 25 team annually and it’s teetering on not being a quality win. If you’re a Washington fan you need Oregon, Oregon State, and Washington State to keep winning. Beyond that, one of the big ones is Boise State. Boise State needs to win some games for Washington. That is a quality win the Huskies can not lose.”
• ON OREGON’S PATH TO THE PLAYOFF: “If Oregon wins out, they’re in the playoff. There’s not even a question. Absolutely are in. Oregon’s only loss would be on the road to Washington by three points in a game that it should have kicked field goals. The committee has told you in prior years that it will recognize that and value the conference championship game. If Oregon beats Washington on a neutral field for the Pac-12 championship, Oregon is in. Win out and the loss to last weekend at Washington is a nothing-burger.”
• ON OREGON STATE: “Right now, if the College Football Playoff committee met we think Oregon State would be ranked ahead of Oregon. We’d have Oregon State at No. 9 and Oregon at No. 13 if the rankings came out now. The Ducks have one quality win and no Top-25 wins. Oregon State has two Top-25 wins as of now. That could change. But if they were ranked today, we believe the committee would put the Beavers in front of Oregon.”
Portland State beat Northern Arizona 45-21 last weekend in Flagstaff, Ariz. The Vikings will host Idaho State on Saturday at Hillsboro Stadium. I asked PSU coach Bruce Barnum how he recruits while playing home games at a stadium located 13.9 miles from campus.
Barnum told me: “Yeah, I don’t have the stadium (on campus), but I have other things. I’ve got a great staff, a great football team. We have a venue. They see our basketball arena and our weight room. I push for a lot of investment in our weight room. I’d compare it to anybody in the conference.
“You sell what you have. You sell your people. You find your market. There are thousands of kids out there who want to play college football, you can’t take them all.”
There are currently 23 FBS programs that play home games in off-campus football stadiums. The Rose Bowl is 17 miles from UCLA’s campus, for example — but it’s the Rose Bowl.
The closest major college football comparisons for PSU is probably UConn. Connecticut plays 19 miles from its campus at 40,000-seat Pratt & Whitney Stadium.
The Vikings were systematically squeezed out of Providence Park by the Timbers several years ago. The City of Portland owns the venue, but Peregrine Sports, LLC is the building operator.
That holding company owns Portland’s MLS franchise. It got control of Providence Park, invested in an expansion, then limited the windows in which PSU could schedule home games and raised the rent. It priced the Vikings out. The moves put the Big Sky team that first played a football game in the stadium in 1949 on the streets. It was an orchestrated takeover of a stadium that taxpayers built.
The biggest slap in the face from the Timbers came last football season. It leased Portland State’s old home stadium to Oregon State for a game vs. Montana State. The Beavers were renovating Reser Stadium and needed a site. PSU suffered the indignity of having to watch another Big Sky program play a game at Providence Park.
Barnum told me at the time: “That pisses me off, I mean come on. Are you kidding me?”
PSU has explored a number of stadium options, but building a new football stadium with Providence Park located adjacent to the PSU campus is silly. Also, downtown real estate isn’t cheap. Maybe some interested city commissioner will take up the fight on Portland State’s behalf. Or maybe the Timbers will come to their senses, gain some good will, and invite the Vikings to become a tenant again. It’s a new era for the MLS franchise, right? The Timbers promised it would do the right thing. All that. Yeah. Yeah.
Listen to my full interview on Tuesday with Barnum:
What’s up with Washington State?
Washington State’s football team looks distracted. I can’t put my finger on it, but something isn’t quite right with the Cougars. They were 4-0 to start the season, but have now lost back-to-back games to UCLA and Arizona.
WSU travels to Autzen Stadium on Saturday to play Oregon.
I asked Cougars football coach Jake Dickert whether he had contact with Michigan State or any other school in recent weeks. One of the prevailing theories is that the Spartans are sniffing around Dickert and that players in the WSU locker room caught wind of it and are distracted.
Did Dickert meet with or talk with Michigan State? Or have contact with any other school? Is that the problem?
Dickert told me: “I have not talked to a single person, not just in the bye week, but any week, John. I love being here. I don’t need to defend my position here at Washington State. This is a job that I’m here to do and move our program forward and into the future. We’re excited about that, that’s been our only focus the whole time.”
I asked again.
Not part of the distraction? Not happening right now?
“I haven’t talked to any schools, ever John,” Dickert said. “I’m excited about this opportunity this week against a really good Oregon team.”
I posted the audio of my interview. It was greeted with two main responses: A) wild skepticism and a belief that Dickert is gone; and B) criticism that I didn’t follow up with a third question on the subject and ask if Dickert’s agent had contact with other schools.
It’s an impossible position for Dickert. If he (or his agent) has had contact with another school, the coach can’t reasonably be honest about it. Can you imagine how that would be received publicly? And if Dickert is telling the truth and hasn’t had contact, nobody will believe him anyway.
As my friend and colleague Jason Puckett of KJR in Seattle told me on Tuesday: “I’m skeptical in nature when coaches go on the record with anything. They are paid liars. They have to be.”
Listen to my full interview on Tuesday with Dickert:
Picking things up
I went 4-1-1 against the spread last week on my college football picks. I tied the Oregon-Washington game and missed on USC’s dismal loss to Notre Dame. I went 2-4 picking winners straight up.
My 2023 season record vs. the spread: 25-20-1 (56 percent)
My 2023 straight-up record: 46-9 (85 percent)
I’ll make this week’s picks in print on Thursday. The game I’m currently wrestling hardest with is USC’s home game vs. Utah on Saturday. Not sure what to do with it.
The Trojans are a 6.5-point favorite. Home favorites have a 30-3 record this season, straight up. But those favored teams lost twice last week (Colorado/WSU). And USC has been terrible on defense. Tell me in the comment section what you think happens in the Utah-USC game.
A careful reminder for fans
Finally… I posted the above photo in a video on Twitter and Instagram and TikTok on Tuesday. The picture was snapped by one of my photographers, Kai Eiselein, on Sept. 23 when Washington State beat Oregon State by a score of 38-35 in Pullman.
I’ve looked at the photo a few times. But only ever really looked closely at WSU receiver Josh Kelly, scoring on a 44-yard touchdown reception. A careful observer on social media called my attention to the delight of the fans on the sideline in Pullman, particularly the gentleman in uniform in the blue shirt.
Take a close look at him.
It’s a reminder — college football is supposed to be joyful, damnit.
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