Thursday, October 11, 2012
Slant Pattern Mailbag
It's time for another edition of the Slant Pattern mailbag. As usual, I do not get any letters asking me questions, so instead I'll be poaching the questions asked to other writers from around the web.
Kent Preston of Kelso, Washington, asked Stewart Mandel:
"What are the chances of a split national title this year? How appropriate, in the last years of the BCS, that Ohio State could go undefeated and everyone else could end up with a loss."
Well, there might be a split national championship this year, but if there is, it won't involve Ohio State. Even if they end the year undefeated, they will be kept behind one-loss teams. Even though they are eligible for the AP national championship, I think AP voters will be very, very reluctant to vote them into the No. 1 spot. The only time the voters seem willing to give top rankings to teams on probation or bowl bans is if they are clearly as good or better than any team in the nation. That cannot be clear for Ohio State because the Big Ten is way down (again) this year, and OSU neither played a strong non-conference schedule nor looked particularly impressive playing it.
Secondly, we got what we wanted: a playoff, starting next year. In years past, I rooted for train-wrecks in national championship conclusions in hopes of spurring a playoff. I was not alone in this. Now that we have it, it's only going to expand. That's the nature of all American playoff structures and college sports in particular. As a result, I think we will see less controversial votes from pundits because they no longer have an incentive to break the system.
Sticking with the Stewart Mandel mailbag, Bob Forrester writes:
"In the West Virginia/Texas game, there were 10 fourth downs. WVU punted once. Texas punted once. WVU went for it five times, and Texas three. Is this the sign that the punt is not long for the college game? Could abandoning the punt (like Mike Leach often does) be the next evolution in football?"
It depends on what you mean by "abandoning." Teams are never going to start regularly going for it at their own 20 at 4th-and-10 in the first quarter.
But I do think finally — finally! — teams are starting to catch on to the general concept of being aggressive on fourth down a lot more than the conventional wisdom would allow. Gregg Easterbrook, the ESPN writer, is a man who I don't often agree with, but he has this issue dead to rights. Each week in his column, he chronicles the chickenshit punting decisions teams make in the NFL, and his trope is to write after each wuss-out, "And I wrote, 'GAME OVER' in my notebook."
I've started noticing this myself, and you can try it too: Any time a team is losing in the second half, and makes a punting (or field goal) decision that makes you say, "Gee, that seems too conservative," that team will lose every. single. time.
On to the NFL. Michael Mezey asks:
"Deep in the fourth quarter, when the Dallas game already was decided, [Jay] Cutler came out to run a series. Why? Last year, we saw the consequence of an injury to Cutler. Bad things can happen on the football field, even when you're just running out the clock. If something had happened — he trips, someone accidentally falls on him — and he misses games, what would we be saying about the decision to leave him in a game that was already put away? Why not bring Jason Campbell in to run that last series?"
Good question. This has actually been a bugaboo of mine for several years: lots of starters, but particularly quarterbacks, staying in the game after it's well in hand. Besides the injury risk you cite, if you're up 28 with four minutes to go, it seems to me this would be a great time to give all the backups some much-needed experience.
The only reason I can think of, and it's not much of one, is your starters, and especially your quarterback, is your leader. Leaders get to play when they want, and they lead not just during the crucial moments, but in showing they can remain focused and energized just as much on the last play of scrimmage as they did on the first. Ever hear a booth commentator chuckle at a coach going ballistic when up by five touchdowns? "He's still coachin'!" they'll say. It's kinda like that. It's a theory, anyway.
Finally, soccer. Michael Rosey asks Grant Wahl:
"Assuming USA takes care of business in Antigua and Barbuda, what should we be rooting for in the Guatemala/Jamaica match?"
Guatemala. If you're unfamiliar with the USMNT's World Cup qualifying status, it's like this: the U.S. is in a group with Antigua & Barbuda, Guatemala, and Jamaica. The top two teams from those four go on to the final round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying. Currently, each team has two games left, and there's a three-way tie for first with the US, Guatemala, and Jamaica all at 2-1-1. Two of those teams will go through, and as it stands, Jamaica would be the odd team out as Guatemala and the US would go through on the first tiebreaker, goal differential. U.S. and Guatemala are currently +2, and Jamaica is +1.
That out of the way, I will indeed assume that the US beat Antigua Friday and examine the three possibilities of the Jamaica/Guatemala game and how they would affect the U.S.'s chances. I will also assume that Jamaica defeats Antigua as well, in their last game.
Jamaica and Guatemala Tie — This would put the U.S. two points clear of both of them. However, they would still need at least a tie in their final game against Guatemala, because Jamaica is probably going to beat Antigua. If the US beats Antigua and loses to Guatemala, and Jamaica beat Antigua, then the U.S. is out.
Guatemala Beats Jamaica — That would mean Guatemala and the U.S. would remain tied at the top of the standings, with Jamaica three points back. Jamaica then, would need to beat Antigua (and again, assume that they will) and they would need the Guatemala/U.S. match not to end in a draw. If Guatemala and the US do draw, they both go through. So we might see a real crummy, unsporting Guatemala-US game where neither team gives much of an effort, secure in the knowledge that they will both advance if they just show up and play to a 0-0 tie. However, even if Guatemala nips the U.S. by a goal, they would still go through unless Jamaica makes up the goal differential tiebreaker on the U.S. They're already one behind, and both the U.S and Jamaica have games left with Antigua.
Jamaica Beats Guatemala — This scenario would give the U.S. an outright lead in the group, via tiebreaker over Jamaica, unless Jamaica really hammers Guatemala, and surpasses the U.S. in goal differential, by at least two more goals than the U.S. beats Antigua by. This seems unlikely considering the match is in Guatemala. However, we can assume (for a third time) Jamaica will go on to beat Antigua, and that would vault them past the U.S. in the group. In this case, not even a draw with Guatemala would assure the US a spot in the final qualifying stage: the U.S. and Guatemala would be tied on points, goal differential, and goals scored. I don't believe there is an Away Goals tiebreaker, so it'd be settled by drawing of lots.
So sizing it up, it seems clear U.S. fans should be rooting for Guatemala on Friday. It's the only scenario where we can lose to Guatemala and still feasibly get in.