Tuesday, November 01, 2005
ONE MAN'S TRASH...
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SMQ mocked and derided the New Mexico State-Idaho game's mere existence as "insensitive" to fans last week; Pete Fiutak called the double overtime Sun Belt slugfest the best game of the weekend.
Fiutak also trots out a Top 10 column with the headline "Human Polls Will Determine Matchup," in reference, apparently (Fiutak hardly elaborates) to quelling mass outrage by purist fans who cannot tolerate some dumb machine that can't even watch the games making choices about who plays for a championship - Aaron Taylor and Craig James, for example, living antitheses of the term "egghead," predictably scoffed at an ABC report on Jeff Sagarin and computer polls during halftime of the Minnesota-Ohio State game Saturday, dismissing the idea that a computer - any computer, using any methods - can better determine the strengths and fates of hulking and colliding brutes than can, say, certain former hulking and colliding brutes.
SMQ used to be among this luddite group, which naturally went along with the fervent support for a playoff he still holds, but not no more. SMQ, in fact, fully embraces the idea of sabermetrics and computer analysis, which can tell us much more objectively what's going on based on data than humans can from limited information and skewed perceptions.
Computers look at actual production, whereas style points can count disproportionately for humans dazzled by feats that do not necessarily add up to the ultimate goal of winning. SMQ is consistently amazed by Michael Vick, for instance, but notices how often his incredible jukes, spins, starts and stops and speed bursts result in about three yards. Often after he escapes from a tackler to throw an incomplete pass, announcers say "Only Michael Vick can do that!" But any quarterback can throw an incomplete pass - an incomplete pass is an incomplete pass is an incomplete pass; one who reads defenses better than Vick, though, might be able to get the ball off for a completion without having to escape or throw the ball away - this looks ordinary, though, and although it results in better production, it doesn't garner as much praise from fans or pundits.
That is not a foolproof example (Vick's record shows that he does produce wins; Barry Sanders may be a better fit for this argument) but it does serve to say: our eyes lie to us. We are easily swayed by dazzle and the opinions of others, overly wooed by stylishness, sometimes at the expense of noting less spectacular traits that might better lead to winning. This is why "explosive" USC and Texas are garnering more hype than also undefeated but more plodding teams Alabama and Virginia Tech; it's why Auburn was left out in the cold last year, and Ohio State was given no shot to beat Miami in 2002.
Not so with computers - IF they have good data. This is why SMQ said he's on board with the idea of using computers to pick championship participants - or, preferably, wildcard playoff participants - but not necessarily with the current computer models in use for doing so, which may not take every relevant amount of data into account, or weight them disproportionately.
This is the upshot of what SMQ has been going for in his preseason methodology for ranking teams and his recent effort to expel skewed perception from his Top 25 in favor of more data-based, objective analysis. As far as such measures go, these methods are extremely limited and unreliable - SMQ does not have time nor access to a supercomputer (other than his brain) that can gather, sort and analyze information according to a sensible formula. But he is willing to trust humans who do have such technology with the task of deciphering what our ordinary minds may only think we know. The trick is the formula, which is, after all, the human element here, and deciding what it is, exactly, that makes a team "good," when strength of schedule variances makes mere win-loss records inadequate for doing so.
When SMQ gets around to hosting a roundtable, he'll put the computer and formula question to the rest of the inimitable and wise (and crunk, beeyotch!) CFB blog community.
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