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Monday, March 1, 2010

From the Mailbag: Clearing Up the Confusion

If you missed Part I of our mailbag, you can read it HERE.

Now, here's another lengthy response to reader questions to help you kill your Monday...

Glenn writes: You should have been an accountant or math teacher. There is good reason why journalist should not write about numbers. When is the last time you read a story on the national debt? I thought so. It’s not because it’s not an important story, but only fantasy geeks and math teachers are interested in numbers.

David:
Well, Glenn, I'm going to have to disagree with you here. You see, my stats-to-blog ratio was right in line with what you might expect during an offseason in which few interview opportunities presented themselves.

Check out this chart for evidence:

Blog
Total
Words
Pie Charts,
Tables &
Graphs
Use of the Phrase
"Regression
to the Mean"
Overall
Math-to-
Non-math Ratio
Bulldogs Blog
83,124 14 0 1.64:1
AJC 75,222 12 0 2.09:1
Get the Picture
69,055 18 106 4.43:1
Bernie 43,841 11 0 1.14:1
All About Beanie Babies
21,653 608 12 23.7:1

So, you see, clearly you've overstated my excessive use of numbers.

Seriously though, let's clear up a few of the questions and critiques of my numbers-related posts from the last few weeks -- which included posts on recruiting HERE and HERE and posts on non-conference success HERE, HERE and HERE.

(Oh, and I'm going to seriously disagree about the notion that journalists shouldn't write about numbers. I think if journalists knew a bit more about accounting, economics and simple math we might have been spared some of the absurdities of the business world -- from Enron to Fanny & Freddie -- that have absolutely destroyed our economy. The problem is that journalists aren't writing enough about numbers, and when they do, they fail to properly put them in a context that readers can understand and take seriously.)

(Oh, and one other side note: I have an economics degree, too. I worked in accounting for three long years before going back to school for journalism. Next up, I'm thinking of becoming a lumberjack.)

Just the Facts writes: Your data is incorrect in this post. You have included bowl games in your totals, which are not scheduled, regular season non-conference games. Remember that PAC-10 teams play 9 conference games per year. For instance, USC has only played 11 regular season non-conference games in the last 5 years. 7 of those 11 were against foes from BCS conferences. They are 7-0 in those games. … In & of itself, these figures are interesting, but the premise of the post seems to be "who has the cajones to schedule x, y, & z?" so you should only count scheduled games.

David:
Actually, if you scroll down past the first chart in the post, I did count BCS regular-season games only, and USC does, indeed, show up better than any other school.

Where your stats and mine differ is that, as I stated in the post, I included games against Notre Dame as a BCS opponent.

Chad writes: I notice that Arizona only played 3 games against non-conf BCS teams in the past three years...boy that seems low. Considering many teams have at least one annual rival from another conference (Georgia/GT, USC/Clemson, Michigan/ND, Florida/FSU, etc.) and many others have regular home-and-away series (Texas/OSU, OSU/SoCal, OklaSt/UGA, etc) it just seems odd that in five years the Wildcats have only 3 games recorded in the past five years. Are there other teams that have this kind of deficit? Is 'Zona the worst in that category, too?

David:
Those rivalry games help boost the non-conference games against BCS foes for a lot of SEC and ACC teams, because geographically they are pretty similar, so there are more regional rivalries. Out in the Pac-10, that doesn't happen as often. Many of their non-conference rivals are in the MWC or WAC, which aren't BCS foes. Same is true with a lot of Big 12 teams, which play annual games against Houston and TCU, for example.

But to answer your latter question, no Arizona is not the worst. If you look at the third table down in the post, I rank each of the teams with the fewest non-conference games against BCS teams, and it's actually Texas Tech that has the most embarrassing resume -- having failed to play a single BCS team out of conference in the regular season since 2005.

Anonymous writes: I would hope the SEC has more non-conference BCS wins than the Pac-10. They have 12 teams and the Pac-10 has 10. The SEC also only plays 8 SEC teams a year, while the Pac-10 plays 9 Pac-10 game.

David:
Since my posts about non-conference performance ended up linked in a lot of different places (including Chris Low's ESPN blog and message boards from Louisville and USC to name a few) I got a pretty hefty number of complaints from non-SEC folks who wanted to dismiss the stats without actually reading what I wrote. (Although one actually said I was an "SEC homer who claimed to be a Syracuse fan." Seriously, who claims to be a Syracuse fan that doesn't have to? That's like claiming to be a Nickleback fan when you're not actually related to someone in the band.)

Anyway, let's start by proving why this Pac-10 fan isn't so bright…

In math, we have these things called percentages. A percentage is essentially a ratio, and a ratio takes away the bias of a dissimilar denominator in an equation. So while the SEC has played more non-conference games, that doesn't matter when we're talking about winning percentage, which what I based my findings on. So yes, the SEC has played more non-conference games. And they've also won a far higher percentage of those games than the Pac-10 has. But what do I know… I only claim to have a degree from Syracuse, not one of them fancy Pac-10 schools.

ConnGator writes: In addition to beating FSU every year Florida beat Miami in '08 and plays USF this year. I would say Florida's non-conf schedule is better than Georgia's this year.

David:
You mean the same Miami team that finished 4-4 in the dreadful ACC in 2008? And where was that game again? Oh, right, Gainesville.

That said, I'd agree with ConnGator wholeheartedly about this year. After playing a ruthless schedule a year ago, Georgia gets a pretty easy ride in 2010. Florida, on the other hand? The out-of-conference slate includes USF and FSU, and they also get stuck with Bama and LSU out West.

As I said before, I don't doubt Urban Meyer's abilities as a coach, but he's got his work cut out for him this season.

OK, couple questions about my posts on recruiting rankings vs. actual production of the players...

Anonymous writes: Will you release your list of how you ranked the players (or did I miss that somewhere)?

David:
Absolutely. I meant to do this with the original post, but it must have slipped my mind. As I said, many weren't exactly cut-and-dry, but I did the best approximation I could, and generally tried to err on the side of being generous with the stars. (And note, if you want a run down of what I considered to be the standards for each category, you can consult the original post. And again, keep in mind I tried not to project too much with the younger guys, but rather base their status mostly on what they'd done so far or were expected to do in the 2010 season.)

Five-star players: Geno Atkins, Rennie Curran, Clint Boling, Matthew Stafford, Knowshon Moreno, Mohamed Massaquoi and A.J. Green.

Four-star players: Asher Allen, Prince Miller, Brandon Boykin, Reshad Jones, Charles Johnson, Justin Houston, Jeff Owens, Corvey Irvin, Brannan Southerland, Dannell Ellerbe, Ben Jones, Cordy Glenn and Thomas Brown.

Three-star players: Kelin Johnson, Vance Cuff, Bacarri Rambo, Ramarcus Brown, CJ Byrd, Bryan Evans, DeMarcus Dobbs, Jarius Wynn, Cornelius Washington, Brandon Miller, Kade Weston, DeAngelo Tyson, Shaun Chapas, Darryl Gamble, Akeem Dent, Marcus Dowtin, Christian Robinson, Nick Williams, Chester Adams, Chris Davis, Josh Davis, Trinton Sturdivant, Joe Cox, Caleb King, Danny Ware, Tripp Chandler, Aron White, AJ Bryant and Tavarres King.

Two-star players: Sanders Commings, Makiri Pugh, Quintin Banks, Jeremy Lomax, Rod Battle, Kiante Tripp, Brandon Wood, Fred Munzenmaier, Charles White, Darius Dewberry, Marcus Washington, Vince Vance, Justin Anderson, A.J. Harmon, Logan Gray, Richard Samuel, Dontavius Jackson, Carlton Thomas, Bruce Figgins, Kenneth Harris, Demiko Goodman, Kris Durham, Mike Moore and Israel Troupe.

One-star players: Antonio Simms, Donovan Baldwin, Antavious Coates, John Knox, Michael Lemon, Jeremy Longo, Neland Ball, Ricardo Crawford, Tavares Kearney, Josh Johnson, Akeem Hebron, Randall Swoopes, Ian Smith, Ben Harden, John Miller, Kevin Perez, Scott Haverkamp, Tanner Strickland, Jonathan Owens, Seth Watts, Chris Little, Blake Barnes, Bryce Ros, NeDerris Ward, Walter Hill and Tony Wilson.

Again, certainly not perfect, and definitely not scientific, but I think it was close enough that we could make some overall generalizations about the results. Remind me after next season and I'll go through and update them with revised production grades for some of the younger players who may have stepped up with another year under their belts.

Anonymous writes: I think that it doesn't make much sense to lump together guys like Kevin Perez, who was never injured but never grew or developed and so was a recruiting whiff, and Tony Wilson, who showed a lot of promise but never got over his severe ankle injuries and had to leave the program, so was not a recruiting mistake. Seems this analysis could use quite a bit more nuance.

David:
I agree if we were simply comparing Perez and Wilson, but that's not what I was doing in my original post. I was comparing groups of players at each position, and those groups included some washouts like Perez and some injured players like Wilson (who, I might remind you, had a whopping 15 career receptions before he got hurt).

By lumping all players from a group together, we can -- for the most part -- have variables cancel each other out, because a group of offensive linemen is about as likely to have a guy get hurt or transfer or simply flame out as a group of wide receivers. That obviously isn't perfectly accurate, but it's close enough that we can say with some certainty that the biggest variable when comparing those groups by position is the coaching they've had. The odds of injury or transfer or off-field problems are roughly the same from one group to the next, but the coaching is different. Again, it's the difference between comparing groups and individuals.

Which leads to the next question, which hints at essentially the same problem...

Left to Right writes: I think it skewed the results to assign a 1 star ranking to player who suffered a career-ending injury or who was dismissed from the team. This methodology, which turns these "washout wildcards" from 4 and 5 star rated recruits to 1 star rated players, would seemingly significantly pull down the final player ratings by position.

And to me, this overly penalizes the Georgia coaching staff. It is difficult for a coach to project which recruits are going to engage in behavior meriting dismissal, and it is impossible for a coach to project which recruits are going to suffer career-ending injuries. Including such "washout wildcards", lowers the overall player rankings and makes the Georgia coaching staff look worse than is warranted. (Although granted, each UGA coach was being judged by the same standards, and thus the relative underperformace of certain assistants holds true.)

David:
Again, this is where comparing individuals differs from comparing groups of individuals. You're correct in assuming that no coach can gauge with any degree of accuracy which players will get hurt or get into trouble, but by that same token, all coaches face pretty much the same level of uncertainty, so those cases essentially cancel each other out.

The point I tried to make in the post was that there are all kinds of variables that determine whether a recruit turns his potential into production, but when we're comparing somewhat sizable groups of players at the same school, the biggest variable that isn't consistent through each group is their coaching. And at Georgia, using the data from the past five years, some coaches did a much better job -- on average -- of turning that promise into production.

Now, what would be a more valid argument in dismissing those numbers is that the same sizes simply aren't big enough. When you only have nine or 10 players in each group, the standard deviation between groups will be larger than if you had groups of, say, 100 each. So I'll readily admit that the numbers aren't perfect, but I think they do at least add further evidence onto a narrative that we already suspected might be true.

OK, let's get to some fresh questions that don't revolve around my heavy-handed number crunching...

Anonymous writes: in my opinion, having one day of practice before a two week break seems like a wasted day. Why didn't they start after spring break?

David:
It has to do with taking advantage of some loopholes in the NCAA rules.

During the offseason, players are limited to just eight hours of time with coaches per week and must have at least two days off completely. During spring practice, those numbers go up to 20 hours per week and only one day required off.

"You gain a lot more meeting time and time with the guys to do it this way," Richt said.

Anonymous writes: Any news on Justin Anderson being moved to NG? He seems such a natural fit physically and isn't challenging to start on offense.

David: Right now it will be mostly DeAngelo Tyson and Kwame Geathers working at the nose position (which, by the way, is going to be called "nose" rather than "nose tackle" or "nose guard"). Anderson will be limited this spring with a shoulder injury anyway, which means it wouldn't be particularly productive to move him regardless.

Anderson could fairly be classified as a disappointment so far in his career, but there's still plenty of time left for him to secure a starting job on the O line. He could certainly beat out Chris Davis, who has battled his own share of injuries, and he'll likely be counted on to step in when three of Georgia's starting linemen -- Davis, Josh Davis and Clint Boling -- depart after the 2010 season.

Mike writes: When is the football staff completed in regards to the "quality control" positions and graduate assistants? If it has already taken place, would your provide the details?

David:
This is sort of a floating deadline. Most of the student assistants work from semester to semester, so those changes have already been made. The grad assistants work, generally, until they get other jobs. Mitch Doolittle and Todd Hartley, who helped coach Georgia's defense to an Independence Bowl win last year, are still on staff. When those grad assistants head elsewhere, another student assistant may step into the role or they may hire a fresh face. For now though, most of the more significant GA roles have carried over from the end of the 2009 season.

Schlagdawg writes: Hey David, I think Rambo was responding to his original Facebook status when he said his 'bad quote': "[it] is messed up how all of UGA high school commitments back out on us but I’m telling you now that when I catch you on the field I’m going to knock fire from you.”

So technically less directed at Rogers, although Rogers took it personally and tweeted back "Who is Baccari Rambo?" and the war of words began.

David:
Well, fair enough, but keep in mind what the original post on signing day said that started the whole back-and-forth...

Anonymous Suckup writes: So Rambo is trying to make me believe his saying "when I catch YOU on the field I’m going to knock fire from YOU" "wasn't directed at him". In fact, he asserts that he "wasn't directly talking to him", and "it was directed to no one".

Wow. I'm as big of a Dawg fan as anyone here. I'm also a huge fan of Rambo's play on the field. The fact that Bryan Evans played ahead of him was a travesty in my opinion. But why does he need to lie? Either say nothing or tell the truth - which is that he just got carried away and said some things he shouldn't have said. That would've been fine. So, again, I ask...why lie?

David:
Sure, Rambo doesn't call Rogers out by name here, but since all of UGA's other defectors were on the defensive side of the ball, there's really only one guy he would have caught on the field.

But again… I'm not criticizing. I love a little smack talk during the offseason. Quite frankly, I think this is probably exactly the kind of fire Georgia needs, especially from its hard-hitting safeties. And especially from one named Rambo.

Mike writes: You've made a few comments lately about your LOST commentary annoying your readers. I just wanted to let you know that you have at least one reader who loves getting Bulldog and Lost commentary in one place. Keep it up!

David:
I like to think of myself as the Walmart of bloggers -- everything you want in the same place at a low, low price… only here we don't clean the bathrooms as often.

Anyway, let's talk episode 4...

Hobnail Boot writes: Couldn't disagree more w/ you regarding Hurley. They're treating the audience like morons, and wasting time to boot.

I don't need Hurley to be the voice of the 18 year old "omg kate jack sawyer" female fan. I just need him to make funny comments and throw hot pockets.

David:
OK, agreed on the hot pockets, which might crack my 10 favorite moments in "Lost" history list.

But I do like Hurley's commentary, because he often represents the counter to the one thing that annoys me most about the show -- the fact that no one ever seems all that perplexed or inquisitive about the fact that the world their living in is utterly absurd. It's a point that the brilliant Alan Sepinwall brings up in his recap of last week's episode, too.

"Watching Jack smash the lighthouse's mirrors, and recognizing that this is exactly what Jacob must have intended when he told Hurley to bring Jack along, reminded me once again of Ben's overly-convoluted plan to get Jack into performing spinal surgery on him. Back in the middle of season 3, I asked Lindelof why Ben required such a ridiculous scheme when he could have walked up to the castaways' beach on, like, day 5 and offered them shelter and food (let alone a trip home on the Dharma sub) in exchange for some tumor removal. Lindelof countered that "that version is considerably less intriguing for a mystery show." The problem is that if that's the only reason things are vague and overly-complicated - if it doesn't come from the characters, or the needs of the story, but from an external need to maintain an air of mystery - then it doesn't work. It's obvious and distracting and irritating, especially this late in the game, when there's no damn excuse for it."

I realize that certain questions needed to remain unanswered in order for the show to continue, but at some point it become hard to like characters who are too stupid or ignorant to ask even the most basic of inquiries about the situations they find themselves in. It becomes frustrating to continually see the "heroes" allow the others to say, "I cannot tell you this, but you must do as I say anyway" because that's essentially what the producers are telling us, and it drives me nuts.

So I like that Hurley routinely gives a nod to us, as viewers, that he, too, is a bit annoyed and confused and baffled by the way the people around him act.

I assume that the skeletons aren't our Losties, left over following a time travel back to the stone ages, but I like the fact that Hurley at least asks the question. As for the rest of the episode, there was a lot more I didn't like...

-- I'm OK with the flash sideways sequences, but it's hard to invest too much in something you don't understand and have no backstory for. It's a huge leap of faith that the producers are asking us to take, and if there isn't more exposition given to it in the near future, I'm not so sure how much farther I'm willing to wander.

-- That said, I think the fact that Jack didn't recognize his appendix scar tells us something valuable about those flash sideways. There is a clear link between what's happing on the island and what's happened off of it… we just don't know what it is yet.

-- Every time I write the term "flash sideways" I'm reminded of the Chevy Chase movie "Funny Farm," where his character's novel is described as awful by his wife because it has "too many flashbacks, flash forwards and… I think there was even a flash sideways." And yes, I did just quote from a random Chevy Chase movie from the mid-80s. Now, if I could only work "Cops and Robersons" into this post somewhere.

-- Most of what I've read about this episode from fans and critics has concluded that the Claire scenes were the best, but I'm going to disagree. For one, Justin seemed so close to giving answers away earlier this season, but now, of course, Claire kills him before Jin bothers to ask any real questions. That said, at least there was finally an axe murder on the show. Can't believe it took six seasons.

-- I was also not a fan of the Norman Bates-like manner in which Claire seems to be handling the loss of her son. Isn't that a bit cliched at this point? I think we got the picture that she might be a bit off her rocker. We didn't actually need a skeleton in a rocker to figure it out.

-- I don't want to get too far into Jack's son, but there were several interesting points made in the Pop Candy discussion of the episode.

-- I think the closest thing I can compare this season of "Lost" to is the final season of "The Sopranos," in which fans also had high expectations, wanted answers to very specific questions, and the hype surrounding the eventual conclusion was excessive. But while "The Sopranos" was smart enough not to play into everyone's expectations and finished the show on its own accord, it did manage to do so by giving each significant character an appropriate send off, even if the episodes themselves weren't filled with the answers the fans were looking for.

I feel like that's the framework that "Lost" is trying to work within, but it's not working. I don't feel any sense of satisfaction at the end of any of these episodes, and I'm someone who is easily satisfied by the subtle internal developments rather than requiring any grand, sweeping gestures.

This season reminds me more of Season 3's early episodes, when things drug on for no explainable reason, and the direction seemed listless until the show set an end date the writers began taking us in new directions.

But Season 3 was resurrected by asking new and intriguing questions, culminating with the amazing finale in which we got our first flash forward.

Somehow, I feel like that episode set a bad tone for the series, where everything has to be a mystery, every story must have a twist, and the writers go to great -- and often absurd -- lengths to make sure we don't see what's coming around the corner. It sort of reminds me of what happened to M. Night Shyamalan's career after "The Sixth Sense."

I'm concerned that the questions were always bound to be more interesting than the answers, and I'm starting to lose a bit of patience with how this season is unfolding. I remain vigilant, but my expectations have definitely been lowered. And maybe that's a good thing.

Anonymous writes: Sooooo glad once Lost is in syndication and no one cares anymore

David
: Boy, you are not going to be a fan of my new "Cougar Town" posts then.

That's all for the mailbag for today, but fear not... there's even more yet to come. Stay tuned tomorrow for more answers to your burning UGA questions...

8 comments:

MikeInValdosta said...

By far the best chart yet. I hope the folks in Oslo read your blog!

That chart, Power Point and a good laptop and you are on your way!

Anonymous said...

Wondering if you caught Marshall Faulk on the NFL network last night. He was part of a discussion at the NFL combine. He basically threw Urban Meyer under the bus stating that he cannot develop QBs for the NFL. He stated that that one fact should be discussed in the living rooms of recruits by opposing coaches. He also rants that Florida got more from Tebow than Tebow received from Florida. I hope that Richt and Bobo heard about it. I am sure that they use that fact somewhere in there recruiting process, but to have Faulk say it on the NFL network speaks volumes. I kind of feel bad for Tebow........on second thought not so much. Meyer is a scoundrel and I hope his sickness continues.

ecdawg said...

I'm sick of all those charts. Let's see some graphs - X,Y axis, good ole linear algebra. You young-bloods don't know jack about writing a good sports column. You nedd to go harder in the mat(h) drills.

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dan9124 said...

why are your twitter links and links to past blog posts always directed to the Columbus blog aka the gray background blog? Just curious..

NCT said...

"You're correct in assuming that no coach can gauge with any degree of accuracy which players will get hurt or get into trouble"

It may be difficult, but I think this statement is too absolute. For example, I think one can say with some degree of accuracy that Chris Burnette will not get a DUI during his time in Athens.

South FL Dawg said...

Well I for one appreciate your numerical dissertations...but I'm a CPA so take that as you will. As always thanks for cranking out more info on the Dawgs than anybody else.

Husky Jeans said...

David--kudos for the Funny Farm reference. That movie is absolutely hysterical.
"I just can't get enough of these lamb fries! >>I think you might actually break the record of twenty eight! >>Well here goes! >>Twenty nine, Thirty! Wow! I've never seen someone eat so many testicles!"