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Is Oregon Overrated?

Jtlight's diary reminded me of an issue that I have wanted to write about for awhile.  One of the most common criticisms that I hear of the Oregon football program is that we are overrated.  Why is Oregon, a team that hasn't won a bowl game in six year, regarded as among the better college football programs in the country?  Its something that I've wanted to analyze for awhile, but I keep coming up with the same problem:  what exactly constitutes an overrated football team?  And how can we quantitatively measure such a subjective phenomenon?

There are various ways that people identify over- and underratedness.  We'll analyze them as follows:

In terms of national rankings:

The AP and Coaches Polls drive much of the debate in college football.  Is SC really number one?  Is Boise State ranked too low?  Is Hawaii too high?  Etc.  Given that this drives a lot of discussion in college football, it makes a good place to start.  However, how do we observe overratedness in regards to national polls?

ESPN has provided us with a place to start.  ESPN has measured rankings accuracy by comparing pre- and postseason rankings for each season.  If a team finishes lower in the post season than they had in the preseason, then that team is said to be overrated.  If they finish higher in the final poll, then they are said to be underrated.

ESPN analyzed rankings over the past ten years.  They found that the Pac-10 was the most underrated conference, finishing 60 ½ points higher in the postseason polls than the preseason polls (and it wasn't even close, Big East was #2 at nine points higher).  So much for the Pac-10 bashers.  In regards to Oregon, the Ducks were found to be the third most underrated team in the country, finishing 32 ½ points higher in the postseason poll.  What would be my pick for most overrated team in the country, Notre Dame, didn't finish in the top ten for most overrated teams, but Ohio State, Florida, Michigan, and Texas--all perennial national championship contenders--did.

Hmmm, so Texas and Ohio State are overrated?  I applaud ESPN for trying to measure this using objective standards.  However, Ohio State, Florida, Michigan, and Texas are all perennial national title contenders.  They have all won national titles in the last decade, and have been oh so close to many more.  To prove that, lets take a look at average win-loss records over the last ten years:

Florida  9.1 wins to 3.2 losses
Ohio State 9.7 wins to 2.8 losses
Michigan 9.6 wins to 2.8 losses
Texas 9.6 wins to 2.9 losses

(It is also worth noting that this methodology doesn't even take into account mid-season polls, what about last year where Oregon was ranked #12 at one point and completely bottomed out.  At least at some point last season, Oregon was vastly overrated).

In any case, lets gets back to Florida, Michigan, Texas, and tOSU.  These teams are perennial national title contenders, and are perceived as such.  They cannot be overrated if we see them as they are.  Yet, once we make that claim, we're adding another variable into the mix.  Now we're measuring

In terms of perception:

Do we perceive teams as being what they really are?  Let me give you an example of how I perceive teams.  I have tiers that I usually put them into:

Perennial Championship Contenders:  This would be the top tier.  Michigan, Florida, Ohio State, Texas, Oklahoma, LSU, USC would be examples of schools I would put in there.

Second Tier Schools:  Schools that are usually pretty good, will compete for a national championship every few years, but also have a down year every few years, examples:  Wisconsin, Oregon, Georgia, Penn State, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame would be examples that I would put in that group.

Average Schools:  These are probably top 25 teams about a half to a third the time, and are average the other seasons with the occasional really bad year.  Examples:  Oregon State, Washington State, Colorado, Pitt.

The Irrelevant:  This is basically everybody else.  The teams who are NEVER a player on the national scene.

I group teams this way in my head.  That being said, I don't know that these are really fair.  For example, we know that Oregon and Oregon State have eerily similar records over the last decade yet, I, like most college fans, have Oregon has a better program.  I look at the teams that I lump Oregon with:  Penn State and Georgia?  Is Oregon really on that level?  Lets look at the wins/losses over the last ten years:

Oregon:  8.0 wins to 4.0 losses
Penn State:  7.4 wins to 4.7 losses
Georgia:  9.0 wins to 2.6 losses

Statistically, Oregon is a better program than Penn State, although I bet many people perceive Penn State as the better program.  Georgia, at least in terms of wins and losses, is on the same level as the Floridas and Ohio States, yet a low of people perceive them as being lower.

But the problem with perception is that not all people perceive things the same way.  A segment of SEC fans perceive the Pac-10 as the worst of the BCS conferences when statistically, it isn't true.  A certain segment of Pac-10 fans try to say it's the best conference.  Well, statistically, that's not true, either.  And hence is the problem with perception.  You can't concretely measure it.  Its not the same for any two people, and people tend to overvalue their teams and undervalue others.

Given the problems with these two variables, introducing other variables is even trickier.  Are we going to incorporate TV coverage?  Bowl victories?  Even what analysis we did do assumed that all wins are the same.  But Oregon plays a lot of marquee teams in non-conference.  Oregon State generally doesn't play as many.  That's another factor you have to consider in analysis.

In most years, over the course of a year, we can usually tell what teams are better.  But college football isn't really set up for comparing programs in absolute terms.  I want to say that Notre Dame is overrated because they haven't won a bowl game in a zillion years.  Some want to say that Oregon is overrated because they haven't won a conference championship in six years.  But for all these arguments, there is an argument in reverse, depending on what variables and criteria are important to you.

And, to be quite honest, that's what makes college football so great.  The debates don't end with the games, and conclusions are so hard to come by that you don't easily give in.  And while we can do our best to present our case, we aren't terribly likely to change someone else's philosophies.

Sorry for the ramble, and I'm not even sure if it really makes any sense whatsoever.  But from now on, when I hear the question "Is Oregon Overrated?"  I'm going to reply "Yes and no, just like every other team in the country.