Just as Sunday Morning Quarterback's stats relevance watch is confirming arithmetically what most college football fans have understood intuitively (namely, that defense wins games), so, too, have LD's final 2007 Lebowski rankings verified what many of us suspected.
These are the strength of schedule rankings for the five Division I-A college football teams that finished last season with 11-2 records:
West Virginia - 43rd
Southern California - 51st
Ohio State - 60th
Brigham Young - 70th
I solicited feedback on my final BlogPoll ballot and I am glad to know that the sequence in which I ranked the Bulldogs, the Mountaineers, and the Trojans was the correct one. However, despite my best efforts to judge fairly non-B.C.S. conference teams generally and Brigham Young specifically, I may owe the Cougars an apology, as, in retrospect, there is no way to justify ranking the Buckeyes fifteen spots higher than B.Y.U. based upon their identical records against similar schedules.
Here is what Ohio State accomplished in 2007:
W 20-2 v. Akron (4-8)
W 33-14 at Washington (4-9)
W 58-7 v. Northwestern (6-6)
W 30-7 at Minnesota (1-11)
W 23-7 at Purdue (8-5)
W 48-3 v. Kent State (3-9)
W 24-17 v. Michigan State (7-6)
W 37-17 at Penn State (9-4)
W 38-17 v. Wisconsin (9-4)
L 28-21 v. Illinois (9-4)
W 14-3 at Michigan (9-4)
L 38-24 v. Louisiana State (12-2)
Here, by contrast, is what Brigham Young achieved last season:
L 27-17 at U.C.L.A. (6-7)
L 55-47 at Tulsa (10-4)
W 31-6 v. Air Force (9-4)
W 31-24 at New Mexico (9-4)
W 24-14 at U.N.L.V. (2-10)
W 42-7 v. Division I-AA Eastern Washington
W 35-16 v. Colorado State (3-9)
W 27-22 v. Texas Christian (8-5)
W 35-10 at Wyoming (5-7)
W 17-10 v. Utah (9-4)
W 48-27 at San Diego State (4-8)
W 17-16 v. U.C.L.A. (6-7)
Even though I knew the Buckeyes didn't deserve a spot in the national championship game, I still gave Ohio State too much credit. It isn't just that Jim Tressel's squad doesn't belong in a bowl game against an S.E.C. team---the 0-9 record speaks for itself---it's that the Buckeyes are very nearly as comparable to the Mountain West champion as they are to the Pac-10 champion.
Admittedly, there is a disparity---not all nine-win teams are created equal; hence, the ten-spot differential in schedule strength---but LD's numbers tell us that B.Y.U. took on a slate not altogether dissimilar to the one O.S.U. faced. The Buckeyes ran up against five Division I-A teams that finished with nine or more wins, beating three of them; the Cougars crossed paths with four Division I-A teams that finished with nine or more wins, beating three of them. Five of Ohio State's wins came against either Division I-AA teams or Division I-A teams with four or fewer victories; four of Brigham Young's wins were over similarly suspect competition.
I'm not saying B.Y.U. should have been ranked above, or even particularly near, the Buckeyes. (For one thing, Ohio State's losses were considerably more forgivable than Brigham Young's, despite the Cougars' season-ending ten-game winning streak.) However, LD's Lebowski rankings indicate that the Big Ten champions compiled an 11-2 ledger that represented a level of achievement approximately equidistant between the identical records of U.S.C. and B.Y.U., yet I ranked Ohio State two spots behind Southern California and fifteen spots ahead of Brigham Young.
That conclusion cannot be justified. I may have given the Cougars too little credit for their season and I certainly gave the Buckeyes too much---much too much---credit for theirs.