Monday Rewind: A better way to determine conference champions
Welcome back to the Monday Rewind. Hope the weekend was good. Let’s dive in.
A big week for pods
Last week we got news that the NCAA Division I Council would soon vote on eliminating the requirement that conferences have divisions set up to hold conference championship games. Present NCAA rules require a football conference with 12 or more members to hold a championship game and split teams into divisions with round-robin seasons for divisional opponents. An exception was made for the 10-member Big 12 to hold its own championship game in 2016.
If that rule is struck down, and it seems likely, the path will be cleared for conferences to eliminate divisions altogether and start restructuring their schedules.
The ACC recently made headlines after reports emerged that the league was considering doing exactly that, making it so each team would have two or three “permanent” opponents and then would rotate through the remaining teams each season. If the ACC made such a change, each team would host every conference opponent at least once every four years.
The motives behind the move are pretty transparent. But that doesn’t mean it’s not an excellent idea.
The Big Ten would much rather have Ohio State play Michigan in its conference title game than see the Wolverines curb stomp an Iowa team no one cares about. In the ACC, each of the seven Coastal division teams have won the division while Clemson has won the Atlantic in five of the last six years. In the Pac-12, each team in the South has won the division while three in the North have yet to win theirs.
It is a much cleaner way to decide each league’s champion. If USC and Utah are the Pac-12’s two best teams next season, there will be some angst in the league office come December.
As administrators also reckon with declining attendance numbers, it makes more sense to juice up league schedules a bit, giving fans the opportunity to see teams they normally don’t get to. Alabama and Georgia have played each other seven times since 2008. Only two of those meetings have come during the regular season. Surely Nick Saban appreciates only having to see Kirby Smart when the outcome doesn’t impact his ability to play for a national title, but what a rivalry that could become if it was a yearly regular-season occurrence.
The model the ACC is considering is a 3-5 one, meaning three permanent opponents and five rotating teams.
And the nation rejoices.
In the Pac-12, a schedule setup that included three protected annual meetings and then six rotating opponents makes a ton of sense. Specifically in the Pacific Northwest and along the coast, geography is working for commissioner George Kliavkoff, not against.
This is what the set-up should be:
- Pod 1: Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State
- Pod 2: USC, UCLA, Stanford, California
- Pod 3: Utah, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado
Oregon would guarantee that it plays each of Oregon State, Washington, and Washington State every year. Then, on a rotating basis, it would play three of the four teams from the other two pods.
The rest of the schedule could look like this:
- 2023: USC, UCLA, Cal, Utah, Colorado, Arizona State
- 2024: UCLA, Cal, Stanford, Colorado, Arizona State, Arizona
- 2025: Cal, Stanford, USC, Arizona State, Arizona, Utah
- 2026: Stanford, USC, UCLA, Arizona, Utah, Colorado
- 2027: USC, UCLA, Cal, Utah, Colorado, Arizona State
The calendar would guarantee a team would only stay off the schedule of one of its out-of-pod peers for only one season. USC and Oregon—one regular-season meeting since 2016—would play each other three times every four years. That’s a better product for the Pac-12 to sell to its television partners.
Some opening lines from Vegas
FanDuel dropped a whole host of individual game spreads for the upcoming 2022 season last week. They included both notable out-of-conference games and marquee league games next fall. Washington opened as a two-point dog to Michigan State in their early-season matchup but that number has risen to Michigan State (-3) in the days since it was released. Oregon is a 16.5-point dog in its cross-country meeting with Georgia in Week 1. Washington State is currently a 14.5-point dog against Wisconsin.
The most interesting number of perhaps the entire lot—not just specific to the Pac-12—was the USC-Utah line for the Pac-12 South clash on Oct. 15.
At its open, USC was a three-point favorite.
As of publication, the Trojans are now just a one-point favorite, so you know everyone reacted the same way. A team one year removed from a 4-8 campaign during which it looked pretty checked out at the end is a three-point favorite over a team one year removed from winning the Pac-12? On the road?
To say we know nothing about what the 2022 version of the Trojans will look like is an understatement.
To say we know Utah is going to once again be among the country’s toughest teams is easily defensible.
If USC is a favorite against Utah, it would seem the Trojans are going to be favored in every game on their schedule. And, sure enough, as FanDuel released more game lines, the Trojans were once again on the right side of things.
A 21-point favorite against Colorado. OK.
A six-point favorite at UCLA. Uh, OK.
A 2.5-point favorite against Notre Dame. Now, we’ve got questions.
Contrast the USC lines to Oregon. FPI-constructed spreads were almost spot-on with the Ducks. The projected spreads based on FPI ratings were within 1.5 points of the FanDuel lines on five of the six games released. The same exercise for USC shows lines within 1.5 points of each other in none of the five games released.
What we have so far from FanDuel:
- USC (-11.5) at Stanford, Sept. 10
- USC (-1) at Utah, Oct. 15
- Colorado at USC (-21), Nov. 11
- USC (-6) at UCLA, Nov. 19
- Notre Dame at USC (-2.5), Nov. 26
- Stanford: USC by 4.2 points
- Utah: Utah by 7.6 points
- Colorado: USC by 14.4 points
- UCLA: UCLA by 3.2 points
- Notre Dame: Notre Dame by 7.4 points
It feels like the market is over-inflating the Trojans a bit right now. They’ve been listed as a more likely Pac-12 champion than Utah. There is definitely going to be some money to be had betting on USC games.
A wild Chip Kelly admission
Oregon in the late 2000s/early 2010s was the birthplace of college football offense as we see it now. Chip Kelly did things with the Ducks few major college coaches were doing. Now, seemingly everyone runs some type of zone read system or RPO-based attack or tempo-pushing outfit. Kelly’s influence is everywhere.
One other area of innovation: the oversized, seemingly nonsensical sideline play cards. They need no introduction or explanation. Everyone uses them now, even on down to the high school level.
And, as it turns out, the originals were a complete smokescreen.
“The truth is, the cards meant nothing,” former Oregon wideout Keanon Lowe said in an interview this week with John Canzano. “It was all hand signals and verbal. The cards were just a diversion. You gotta give it to Chip. He thought of that. Who thinks of that? Everyone was looking at the different photos on the cards that were held up, trying to figure out what it meant. It was just a distraction, like a magician.”
Kelly even had one specific signal that meant, according to Lowe, “‘Line up and run the same play we just ran, as fast as you can.’ We destroyed defenses with that. The code was not easy to learn. It was sort of like learning sign language but once you learned it, you knew it.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise. So much of Kelly’s stuff—and the Kelly disciples who have taken his base and modified it to their style—has pre-snap window dressing baked in. It’s all designed to get the defense thinking about everything all at once and then the speed of the only thing you should actually be thinking about has overwhelmed you.
Kelly certainly hasn’t had the kind of success many envisioned he’d have once he left Eugene, but there is one thing no one can deny: when it comes to scheming up offense, there are few like him.
NCAA Softball Tournament begins
UCLA, Arizona State, and Washington all earned national seeds for the 2022 NCAA Division I Softball Tournament. The Bruins (43-8) earned the fifth overall seed in the field of 64 teams while the Sun Devils (39-9) earned the No. 8 overall seed and the Huskies (35-15) grabbed the No. 13 overall seed. As such, each gets to host their own regional this upcoming weekend. Action begins on Friday.
In all, seven Pac-12 teams earned bids to the tournament: UCLA, Arizona State, Washington, Arizona (Columbia Regional), Oregon (Fayetteville Regional), Oregon State (Knoxville Regional), and Stanford (Tuscaloosa Regional).
Historically, Pac-12 softball has dominated the NCAA Tournament, winning 24 of a possible 39 championships. The 24 total titles are 19 more than any other conference in the nation. The Women’s College World Series begins on June 2.