Slant Pattern Odds and Ends

* I write this about half an hour after the United States men's national soccer team beat Iran 1-0 to advance to the knockout round of the World Cup.

Getting out of the group stage is something the United States has done pretty reliably of late. They have now qualified for the knockout round in four of the last five World Cups they have qualified for. So it's worth asking when just getting out of the group stage will no longer be enough, and deep runs in the "playoffs" will be the goal. They've only won their round-of-16 game once, in 2002, and have never gone any further than the quarterfinals.

I submit, however, that this year is not the year to demand a deep run; what this team has accomplished to get to this point is, by itself, worth celebrating.

And what has this team accomplished? A return to the knockout round just one cycle after not even qualifying for the last World Cup. A successful group stage campaign despite having the second youngest team in the tournament. And, really going toe-to-toe with England in their group stage draw.

It's that last part that I'm giddiest about. In their other two group stage matches, England had at least 65% of the possession. Against the U.S, it was just 55%, and the U.S. actually out-shot England 10-8.

Is the U.S. team as good as England? Not quite. But they were clearly second-best in a group that includes Asia's highest ranked team, and a European squad in Wales — any European country that manages to qualifies for the World Cup has to be considered de facto good.

In most World Cups, it seems to me, the U.S. is much further behind any European heavyweights in their group, and basically even with everyone else (and, to be honest, they were pretty even with Wales, and turned on the turbo boosters after that opening match).

All this, once again, is coming from a very young team that will have eight players still 30 or younger two World Cups from now. So in 2026 and 2030, we should be demanding a real, legitimate World Cup run. This year, I consider what the U.S. has done to already be a win, and I hope they play loose and have fun against the Netherlands on Saturday.

* If you have been following the World Cup, you have seen a marked difference in the officiating than in past World Cups and indeed a marked difference in officiating from any recent tournament or league. I'm speaking specifically of the directive for officials to account for every last second of dead ball play in the game and add it in extra time.

I'm used to seeing one minute or so of extra time at the end of the first half and 3-4 at the end of the match. This World Cup, it's been more like 3-4 at the end of the first half, and 8-9 at the end of the second half.

To this, I say: hooray! It's about time!

Up to this point, it seems like extra time added was considered more of an abstract art than a science. The only thing for the officials to consider is, as long as there were no lengthy injuries or game interruptions, was whether to put 3 minutes or 4 of extra time on the clock.

In reality, however, the dead ball time has always exceeded those amounts, so we haven't really gotten true 90 minute games. What's worse, however, is this has allowed players to stall their asses off with fake injuries, slow throw-ins, and slow goal kicks. Players were comfortable in the knowledge that the referee, even if carding them for slow play, would not add all of the time of the stall to the end of the match. In other words, stalling works. I can only hope, then, that this World Cup proves to be influential in the top leagues across the world in this regard.

* No matter how much ESPN wants to gin up controversy and intrigue over the college football playoff, things seem pretty clear right now: Georgia and Michigan are in no matter what, and TCU and USC are in if they win their conference championship games.

I would go on to say that, if either TCU or USC falters, Ohio State is in, and if they both do, well, then we do have a real controversy on our hands as to whether to give the last spot to TCU or a two-loss Alabama team.

At least, all of this was my perspective when I woke up this morning. I am given pause, however, by Nicole Auerbach's piece in The Athletic, where she asks, "Is TCU in the four-team field regardless of the Big 12 title game outcome?" and then answers, "I think so. Or, at least, I would hope so. The Horned Frogs should have two top-25 wins when the new rankings comes out, they will have five wins over FBS teams .500 or better, and they rank No. 1 in the nation in Strength of Record. Their strength of schedule is in line with that of Michigan and Georgia, who also appear locked in to the four-team field regardless of their conference championship game results."

TCU has the top strength of record and a strength of schedule equal to Michigan and Georgia? That does not seem intuitive to me. RPI has the Big Ten ahead of Big 12, but every other conference ranking I see at (counting only models, not pundits off-the-cuff rankings) has the Big 12 ahead of the Big Ten. I guess the Big 12 only seems down because Oklahoma is down.

Two things, however, that Ohio State (caveat: I'm an OSU alum and fan) will be able to boast that TCU cannot is 1) they have the best win going by CFP rankings, i.e., their win over Penn State. Penn State is currently one ahead of Kansas State in the CFP rankings, but I have to wonder if TCU's win over Kansas State will end up being devalued if it ends up being a series split (which would be the case if Kansas State beats TCU in the Big 12 Championship game).

The second thing Ohio State has going for it is that all of its wins are by 11 or more. TCU has 5 wins by a score or less, and if we want to add games where they won by 10, that number goes up to 8.

In the 85 analytical models tracked at, 38 still Ohio State ahead of TCU now, and while there is not necessarily a correlation between the composite Massey Ratings and the brains of the college football committee, I think Ohio State should and will overtake TCU if the Frogs lose to Kansas State.

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