Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The (Lack of A) Champion

The Big XII might be going overboard trying to declare “One True Champion.” After last year’s snub of Baylor and TCU in the CFB Playoffs, the conference seems determined to make sure that we don’t have a repeat. And while nothing is guaranteed, the best thing the conference can do is to present a clear conference champion. An undefeated one.

It wasn’t until the Texas game against OSU that I began to take notice. Clearly, I have a bias – but I think the refs were absolute garbage in that game. On the other hand, while I enjoy booing the referees with the rest of them, I rarely truly believe that bad officiating changes the game outcome. Did our special teams put the final nail in the coffin? Absolutely. But it will be extraordinarily difficult to convince me that the refs didn’t do their damnedest to make sure undefeated Oklahoma State won that game.

Texas racked up 320% more penalties for 298% more yardage than their 2015 season average in a single game. 

The critics said “bad teams make more penalties” and, of course, Texas is a bad team, right? Then why do Iowa State and Kansas lead the league in fewest penalties, edging out even Bill Snyder’s Kansas State team, who averaged 4.6 penalties for 51.6 yards from 2010-2014.

Even if the sentiment were true, Texas had been bad all year – why would penalties so drastically increase in one game?

My homerisim aside, we can all agree that Big XII officiating is plain embarrassing. No, I don’t think that the refs are out to get the Longhorns. But I do think they’re out to get an undisputed, undefeated conference champion. 

The week after the complete cluster that was Texas/OSU, Baylor rolled into Lubbock to put the smack down on a one-loss Texas Tech team. Baylor is notorious for penalties, having both the most penalties in the league in 2014 (127-1149) and the highest average of penalties (10-70). And, again, no one even comes close to them in 2015, as they average 143% more penalties for 136% yards than the rest of the Big XII. 

Yet in this particular game, Baylor was penalized 38% of their normal average. And Tech was penalized at 340% of their average. 

On a wider scale, Baylor has been penalized 54% less in Big XII play than in the OOC games they played this year (averaging 13 penalties per game OOC vs averaging six penalties per game in the Big XII). Texas Tech, since entering Big XII play is penalized 150% more, with an average of six penalties per game OOC vs an average of nine penalties per game in conference.

A study by professors at several schools across the NCAA found that Big XII and ACC refs through 2014 threw eight to seven fewer penalty yards per home team in conference play than any other conference. There seems to be a shift in 2015 in the Big XII as to which team gets fewer penalty yards. In this observer’s opinion, it’s the team with a better chance a running the table. 

Honestly, I don’t have the time or the resources to back up my theory absolutely by watching each play of each conference game, so I’m having to look topically at penalties as a whole – I’m not analyzing where the ball is being spotted, I’m not looking at betting-lines or total plays, I’m not watching each game to look for variances or patterns in the types of penalties being called, all of which I’m sure factor in to some extent. But I did review each box score and penalty count for each team played by Big XII schools this season as well as overall total and average penalties for each team from 2010-2014.

I will say, in the same week that Baylor inexplicably learned how to play a game without cheating, OSU beat K-State in a total squeaker. On possibly one of the worst calls I’ve ever seen, OSU (down by 16) was awarded a first down so short I could not believe my eyes. The drive led to a touchdown. Still, in that game, the penalties were fairly evenly spread across both teams and both teams had 2 penalties more than their season average. Not surprisingly, both teams going into this game were undefeated. And neither team was poised for the playoffs with a top five ranking. Sometimes a bad call is just a bad call. 

The same can be said for the undefeated West Virginia & Oklahoma matchup. Both teams were 4 penalties over their season average, and in that game penalties were spread evenly across both teams. But when a one loss WVU played an undefeated Oklahoma State the next week, they accrued four more penalties than average, as opposed to OSU’s one, and amassed double the yardage in penalties than OSU. 

It’s something to think about after a year when it was declared that “The Big XII has only itself to blame” for not landing a team in the playoffs. I am certain the conference will go to great lengths to see an undefeated, undisputed champion. With the Big XII still two teams short of qualifying for a conference championship game, it is clear that the only way to guarantee that the Big XII has a shot at making a playoff appearance is to have a school go undefeated. 

Do I think Bob Bowlsby sat down the conference referees and told them to make it happen by hell or high-water? No. Do I think it’s understood that the Big XII needs an undefeated champion? Yes. Whether conscious or unconscious, a bias is happening. I’m curious to see what happens in the next few weeks as Oklahoma State, Baylor & TCU all will have to play each other. Because only one can come away undefeated.

One True Champion.

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