Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Vegas: USC and Florida best in the nation

It’s no secret that Las Vegas oddsmakers will often contradict positions in college polls. You’ll see that difference of opinion each time the Vegas favorite is lower ranked than the opponent. I can’t say that one determination is more precise than the other, because even those in Sin City will underestimate opponents. This is always evident in Pac 10 spreads, where USC is often a heavy favorite against conference brethren, but shows a lesser spread versus out of conference foes. The truth is revealed annually, with the Trojans having more of a struggle within the 10, but for some reason the gamblers still can’t see or believe it to be a fluke. In an interesting article by Matt Hayes of the Sporting News, he points out that Vegas has USC and Florida as the nation’s best programs. I’m certainly not one to disagree. He also calls the Big 12 “overrated”, thoughts I’ve often had of my own. And when you break it down by the numbers, you can see why such a claim can be made.

Defense wins championships. And as I’ve said several times, and Hayes points out, the Big 12 doesn’t have any. Here is the list he gives of the past national champions and their defensive rankings:

2007: LSU (3rd)
2006: Florida (6th)
2005: Texas (10th)
2004: USC (6th)
2003: LSU (1st)
2002: Ohio State (23rd)
2001: Miami (6th)
2000: Oklahoma (8th)

Think back to 2005, when USC had one of the most explosive offenses college football had ever seen. Now think about the championship game against Texas, and what led to the end results. All season long, the defense was the Achilles heel. Even before the Trojans reached that game it was already said that if USC pulled off the victory, it would be the lowest ranked defense ever to win the BCS championship. I believe that USC defense ranked somewhere in the 30s. ESPN may have ran a segment trying to proclaim the 2005 Trojans the “best college football team ever”, but anyone who has followed enough to compare would tell you the 2004 squad was better, because of the defense.

Haye’s then paints today’s picture in this comment:

"Only once this decade has a national champion finished lower than 10th in the nation in total defense, and that team (Ohio State, 2002) was No. 2 in scoring defense.
Now, a look at the Big 12's big five in total defense this season: Texas (53rd), Oklahoma (56th), Texas Tech (74th), Oklahoma State (76th), Missouri (89th).

And now, the four other major players in the race for the BCS championship game: Alabama (3rd), Florida (9th), USC (2nd) and Penn State (4th).

Something ain't right, people. That's all I'm saying.

And for those who say the offense is limited on the other side, we give you these national scoring offense rankings: Florida (3rd), Penn State (10th), USC (12th), Alabama (30th).

The hype of the Big 12 is all about offense, but is it really that great? Their success may be a reflection of the conference’s poor defenses. Oklahoma’s lowest output of the season was 35 points, which they achieved twice (Texas, TCU). The rest of their games are all 40 plus, including 4 consecutive performances of 50 points or more against their Big 12 mates. In September, they defeated Washington 55-14, a team the Trojans defeated 56-0. Texas scored 56 points on Missouri, and their offense was said to be “rolling”. I guess people forgot that even a bad Illinois team hung 42 on the Tigers defense in the season opener, as they also forgot Texas Tech only leading 35-24 after three quarters with FCS Eastern Washington.

I’m not going to say the Big 12 is completely overrated, but I’m pretty sure the offenses are. How can I not be skeptical? In 2004, it was supposed to be the “explosive” offense of the Jason White and Adrian Peterson led Sooners against the defense of Southern Cal. Defense wins championships. Final score…Trojans 55, Sooners 19.

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