30 December 2011

The Anti-Title Game

Did you see last night's Baylor win over Washington in the Valero Alamo Bowl?  Click here for the box score.  Some may hate an LSU/Alabama game for its lack of offense.  Last night's Washington/Baylor game was the antithesis of an LSU/Alabama game.  Maybe it was more fun, but after awhile the game just got silly.  I actually wondered if it would have mattered if I had suited up and played corner for Baylor or linebacker for Washington?

Imagine the following.  You go up to Steve Sarkisian, Washington's head coach, before the game and offer him a deal.  You ask him if he would like to play the game or take the scenario described next.  Washington will amass 620 yards of total offense, go 9 for 16 on 3rd-down conversions and 3 for 4 on 4th-down conversions, commit just one penalty to Baylor's eight penalties, and score 56 points in a regulation game.  Do Sarkisian's eyes bug out while he takes the scenario and gambles that what I described would win the game?

If Sarkisian takes the nutty scenario, you then have to tell him that his team lost by 11 points and that Baylor had 157 yards more offense!  That's right, 123 total points and 1397 yards in total offense in a regulation game -- a tad better than a safety per minute in scoring and nearly 80% of a mile in total offense.  Can you even do that in a video game?

17 December 2011


I love college sports, especially football and basketball.  Taking degrees from Vanderbilt and Indiana gave me the opportunity to experience some fantastic basketball moments.  My first year at Vandy was Barry Goheen's senior year.  What a shot to beat Georgia that year!  My first year at Indiana was Calbert Cheaney's senior year and Bob Knight's last truly great team (if not for Alan Henderson's knee, we win the title in 1993).

College football was not stressed as much as basketball at my schools, but I loved watching SEC and Big Ten teams play my schools.  We actually beat Florida in my freshman year -- our 3rd and final win of the year.  I saw Penn State's great 1994 team play at Indiana (Ki-Jana Carter ran for 192 yards that day -- 80 on his last carry).  In my last year at Indiana, I saw Ron Dayne run all over us (130 yards in beating us 24-20) the year before his Heisman Trophy season.

As much as I love college football, I'm bothered by the way the champion is determined -- and I'm not alone!  There are cries for a playoff, or, at the very least, a "plus one" to determine the champion.  What is the purpose of a playoff?  Does it determine the year's best team, or the best team at the end of the year?  Nobody will argue with the fact that LSU had the best season this year.  No other team is in the discussion.  Why not call LSU the champion this year?

We don't call LSU the champion because not every year sees just one team as the regular-season standout.  Last year, Auburn and Oregon both had a claim for the top spot, and it's really unfair of me to leave TCU out of the discussion.  Because we usually don't get a single team that's a clear regular-season winner, we need a bowl game or playoff to decide the champion on the field.

A "plus one" idea does not work for me.  Four teams as national semifinalists are not enough.  Each team picked is just one win from the title game.  My question is this:  who gets the #4 slot this year if we had a "plus one" system?  There is debate this year over who plays LSU for the title, but that debate has been limited to two teams (Alabama and Oklahoma State).

Imagine if we had a "plus one" in which the four semifinalists were chosen before the bowls (some have the idea of choosing two teams after the bowls, but that seems strange to me -- more on that in a moment).  LSU, Alabama, and Oklahoma State get the top three spots.  For the #4 spot, do we pick the BCS #4 Stanford?  Oregon will have a good argument as Pac-12 champs (and 23-point victory over Stanford) for a spot ahead of Stanford.  Arkansas (better two losses than Oregon's two losses), Boise State (one loss by one point to BCS #18 TCU), and Kansas State (two losses in this year's best conference) have cases, too.  Even Big Ten champ Wisconsin and one-loss Houston might make noise, though their cases are not as good.  One team (Oklahoma State) feels like it got left out of the title game.  Imagine the complaining if we had a "plus one" system this year.

I mentioned picking two teams after the bowls as a strange way to do a "plus one" system.  Why?  What if Alabama beats LSU in a close game?  Do voters pick those two teams to play a THIRD time?  If LSU wins, and Oregon and Stanford win their bowl games, who plays LSU in the "plus one after the bowls" system?

For a playoff, four teams are not enough.  Picking four means picking teams that are one win away from the title game.  There are more than four teams that have cases this year for the four slots (and probably in most other years, too).  With eight teams, there is no worry of leaving out the best team, even if there is an argument for the last slot.  Sixteen is too many for 120 schools playing 12-13 games.  With eight teams, a title-game school will have to play three playoff games, about the length of a quarter of the regular season.  Use the BCS, or some other system, to seed eight teams in the four big bowls.  Play the other bowls as usual.  As a Vandy alum, I'm happy that my 6-6 team gets to play in the Liberty Bowl this year.  Once the bowls are done, we have a Final Four in college football.  Little schools and schools with no big football aspirations (like my school) are happy with their little bowls; football powers decide the champ on the field; and, money would flow with a Final Four and three more games.

I've had this idea since the BCS came into existence.  This is the first time I've written it down publicly.  There are 70 teams playing in the 35 bowl games this year.  That means that 58.3% of all FBS schools are in bowl games, including a team with a losing record (6-7 UCLA).  There are 13 schools (like Vandy) with 6-6 records.  Clearly, the bowls are not for picking champions when 20% (14 of 70) of the teams don't even have winning records.  But, imagine the Rose, Sugar, Fiesta, and Orange Bowls used for the top eight schools.  How great would a Final Four in college football be after bowl season is finished?

College football could have its cake and eat it, too.  The pageantry of bowl season would be preserved, and the champion would be decided on the field.  With eight teams, nobody would ever claim the champion was left out of the title shot.

10 December 2011

Indiana takes down #1!!!

Indiana University beat the #1-ranked University of Kentucky in college basketball today by the score of 73-72.  Click here if you are interested in the story.  I'm not writing this post to reveal keen insights into the physics behind any special play.  This post is not about physics.  This post is about screaming your head off when your alma mater does something wonderful.  When Christian Watford's three-pointer went in as time expired, I jumped for joy and screamed for as long as my lungs would let me.

That's what college sports give you.  My alma maters (Vanderbilt University was my undergraduate school; Indiana University was my graduate school) permeate my life, especially in basketball season.  Unlike a professional team, a person's alma mater is a part of himself or herself in a personal and emotional way.  I loved seeing my fellow Hoosiers storm the court.  I loved seeing Tom Crean get his biggest win at Indiana.  We love our schools through good times and bad times.  We suffer the pain of each loss; our days are made with each win.  Watford's shot definitely made my day!

Physics will have to wait for another time.  Sports are meant to be savored first for those "I can't believe what I just saw!" moments.  I'll think about physics later.  For now, it's GO HOOSIERS!!!

06 December 2011

Tim Tebow and Sidearm Deliveries

I analyzed Tim Tebow's sidearm delivery and how it influences the range of his long passes.  This was done at the request of YAHOO! SPORTS.  Click here for the link to the article by Kristian Dyer.

05 December 2011

My dog loves soccer!

A traditional 32-panel soccer ball (association football) has 20 regular hexagonal faces and 12 regular pentagonal faces.  Because the faces are stitched together and the surface must hold a latex bladder that contains air above atmospheric pressure, the 32 geometrical faces are not flat.  They are curved outward a little, which is why a soccer ball is not the same thing as a truncated icosahedron, which is one of the 13 Archimedean solids loved by mathematicians and a few physicists (like me!).

The stitched faces that curve outward also serve another purpose, one completely new to me until just a few days ago.  The faces allow just enough gripping space for a dog to hold.  Click here for a YouTube video of my dog playing soccer.  At the very beginning of the video, you'll see my dog carrying the ball in her teeth.  I never thought a dog that size could carry a soccer ball!  The spacing of the pentagons and hexagons is just enough to allow my dog to sink her teeth into the gaps and hold the ball.

Later in the video, you will see my dog pushing the ball along with her nose.  My older daughter is trying to coax our dog into playing.  I've been happy that my daughters show an interest in learning soccer.  Now I know that my dog has an itch for the beautiful game as well!