September 30

2014 NFL Preview The AFC South Cant Be Any Worse Than It

Last season was a disaster for Jacksonville, mitigated by a semi-competent second half. Through eight games, the Jaguars were 0-8 and had been outscored by a remarkable 178 points (more than 22 points per game). To compare, the 2008 Detroit Lions — the only team to go 0-16 — were outscored by “just” 102 points through eight, and the 1976 Buccaneers — the worst NFL team ever4The 1976 Buccaneers ended the season even worse than they started it, finishing with an 0-14 record and a -287 point differential (20.5 points per game). The 2008 Lions were only outscored by 249 points in their 0-16 season (15.6 points per game). — were outscored by 109.Unfortunately for rubberneckers, Jacksonville finished the season 4-12.5The Jaguars weren’t eliminated from playoff contention until Week 15, a remarkable feat given that they spent half the season on pace to become the worst team of all time. The team hopes to improve on that win total this season, but it must do so without bowling-ball-shaped running back Maurice Jones-Drew, the best player the franchise has had in the last decade. He’ll be replaced by Tobinbo Gunnar Gerhart, who’s spent his four-year career backing up Adrian Peterson in Minnesota. Will Gerhart be any good?From 2010 through 2013, Gerhart had 276 rushing attempts for the Vikings, and gained 1,305 yards. That works out to 4.73 yards per attempt, and if that sounds good, well, it is. The table below ranks running backs by yards per attempt through age 26 (post-merger, minimum four seasons played and 250 attempts). Gerhart is certainly worse than Peterson, but he still makes the top 30 out of 351 qualifying backs.There are a couple red flags on this list — Mercury Morris and DeAngelo Williams dropped off pretty sharply after age 26 — but Gerhart also compares favorably to LeSean McCoy and a young Frank Gore.Gerhart isn’t just racking up yards on tired fourth-quarter defenses. In nine games where’s he’s seen a heavier load (10 or more carries), he’s run for 697 yards on 148 attempts, or 4.71 yards per attempt. He also hasn’t gotten an enormous lift from his Minnesota teammates. By Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards statistic — which measures the offensive line’s contribution to the running game — the Vikings’ line placed 11th, 18th, 10th and 10th in the league since 2010; generally above average but by no means dominant.The Jaguars’ line, during the same span, placed second, 13th, 17th and 31st — meaning it’s yet another element of the game that has gone to hell in Jacksonville the last few years.6The only 2013 team worse than the Jaguars in this stat? The Baltimore Ravens, with Michael Oher at right tackle. Expectations are low in 2014, but if the offensive line can get it together, Gerhart just might be a pleasant surprise.Read more of FiveThirtyEight’s NFL season previews. Vegas is bullish on the Texans in 2014 (45 percent chance to make the playoffs!), despite a 2-14 record last year, 14 straight losses, and a last-place finish. Houston clearly underperformed, but it’s not like the Texans revamped much in the off-season: Andre Johnson and Arian Foster are both a year older, Owen Daniels and Ben Tate are gone, and the quarterback du jour is Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has been cut by both the Tennessee Titans and the Buffalo Bills.But who cares about the offense? The Texans’ hopes this season lie in the enormous hands of two enormous men: 2012 Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt and rookie Jadeveon Clowney. Both defensive linemen saw regular double-teams last season. Now they get to combine their powers.Watt is an outstanding lineman in every regard, but his signature move is the batted pass. According to ESPN Stats & info, Watt had four batted passes his rookie year, while Jason Pierre-Paul and Calais Campbell led the league with eight. The next season, Watt had 16. This defensive focus was a pretty brilliant innovation, considering the steps that go into a successful NFL completion:Step 1: The quarterback does some stuff, throws the ball;Step 2: The ball travels through the air;Step 3: The receiver, having done some stuff, catches the ball.Recent NFL rule changes have made it much harder for defenders to disrupt Steps 1 and 3 (and stopping receivers may be even harder in 2014). So why not take a shot at Step 2?The Texans aren’t the only defensive line to focus on blocking passes, but they’re by far the most successful. The chart below shows the number of batted passes for each team in the league, since 2011.The Texans have had 21 more batted passes than the next closest team. Watt alone has had more batted passes than the New York Jets and the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Texans’ offense could get ugly in 2014, but there might not be a more exciting defensive line in football.Tennessee TitansExpected wins: 7.1Playoff probability: 28 percent (19 percent to win the AFC South)Super Bowl win probability: 1 percent From 2004 to 2008, he was second in the league in EPA (82.0), then fifth (64.7), first (82.1), fifth (63.6), and fifth again (64.3). From 2003 to 2010, he never fell out of the top 20, and from 2002 to 2012 he never fell out of the top 40. Even with an injury in 2013, Wayne posted a 19.4 EPA in less than half a year, and finished 55th overall.Houston TexansExpected wins: 8.4Playoff probability: 45 percent (34 percent to win the AFC South)Super Bowl win probability: 2 percent FiveThirtyEight is running a series of eight NFL previews, one division at a time, to highlight the numbers that may influence each team’s season. America’s favorite weekly soap opera is about to begin; get prepped.Indianapolis ColtsExpected wins (using implied power ratings from Las Vegas point spreads): 8.8Playoff probability: 54 percent (42 percent to win the AFC South)Super Bowl win probability: 4 percent Over the last two seasons, Indianapolis has gone 22-10 and outscored its opponents by just 25 points. That’s a worse differential than the Pittsburgh Steelers (+31) and San Diego Chargers (+48), both of whom have gone exactly .500 over the same span. Winning close games may itself be a skill, but it’s pretty clear that the Colts are a relatively mediocre team as far as good teams go, and this makes them the perfect candidate to reign as champions of the terrible AFC South.In 2013, the teams in the AFC South tallied 24 wins and a .375 winning percentage overall, which is even worse when you remember that each of these teams plays the others twice, so the division is guaranteed 12 wins.1Assuming no ties. Here’s a list of divisions that were worse than the 2013 AFC South by winning percentage, since the NFL introduced divisions in 19662The 2009 NFC West was just as bad as the 2013 AFC South, with 24 wins.:The 2008 NFC West (22 wins, .344 winning percentage)The 2008 AFC West (23 wins, .359 winning percentage)That’s it. That’s the list. The Colts are the favorite to win the trash heap again in 2014, largely because everyone else is worse than them and Andrew Luck will probably improve.But don’t forget about Reggie Wayne! Until Wayne tore his ACL against the Denver Broncos in Week 7 last year, he had played in 189 consecutive Colts games. During that streak, which began in 2001, his rookie season, he quietly positioned himself as one of the most productive receivers in the modern era.We can see Wayne’s dominance through the stat Expected Points Added (EPA) from Advanced Football Analytics, which calculates the net impact a player has on his team’s likelihood of scoring. Sum up the EPA for a player’s snaps over a season or career — it’s an accumulating stat, not a rate stat — and you get a good sense of who’s making the biggest difference to his team. Advanced Football Analytics has EPA going back to 1999. Since then, 722 receivers have debuted in the NFL, and just seven of them have accumulated 400 career EPA during the regular season. Wayne has accumulated 606.Wayne’s progress is driven by remarkably consistent production.3Wayne’s 606 EPA is actually second in total EPA produced since 1999, behind Randy Moss (627). Unfortunately we don’t know Moss’s career EPA, since the stat isn’t available for 1998, his rookie year. Nevertheless, even a down year for Wayne in 2014 would put him ahead of Moss’s current cumulative figure.Other players who debuted before EPA is available but produced more than 400 EPA since 1999 are:Marvin Harrison (536);Derrick Mason (455);Terrell Owens (454);Hines Ward (441). With records of 9-7, 6-10 and 7-9 the last three seasons, Tennessee has fallen into a cycle of inescapable mediocrity. One reason the Titans have been in limbo — maybe the biggest reason — is that QB Jake Locker keeps getting injured, be it his foot, hip or shoulder (on top of injuries to his ribs, thumb and neck from his college career). Locker has been the Titans’ opening-day starter the last two seasons, but has started only 18 games.To help protect Locker, who is still their quarterback of the future, the Titans gave a four-year, $20 million contract ($9.5 million guaranteed) to right tackle Michael Oher, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens. The homecoming for Oher, a Tennessee native made famous by Michael Lewis’s “The Blind Side” and the subsequent movie, is a feel-good story for everyone involved, even if Oher no longer technically plays on the blind side. Except for one thing: Oher isn’t a particularly good NFL tackle.This isn’t to say he’s terrible — terrible players (usually) don’t keep getting snaps, and Oher’s taken over 5,000 at tackle during the regular season — but he’s certainly below average.Oher entered the league in 2009. Since then, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), 77 tackles have taken at least 1,000 snaps as pass blockers. The histogram below shows how often these pass-blocking tackles let their quarterbacks take a hit on the play.A player doesn’t want to be on the right side of that distribution. Lines with the median tackle allowed a QB hit on 2.0 percent of pass-blocking snaps. Lines with Michael Oher allowed hits on 2.5 percent of snaps, an additional hit every 200 snaps. He’s far from the worst in this metric — that would be David Diehl, whose lines allowed a hit on Eli Manning on 4 percent of snaps — but 58 of these 77 tackles had a better figure than Oher.What’s more, Oher commits a lot of penalties while trying to protect the quarterback. For the same 77 tackles as above, the histogram below shows the penalty yards received per 100 snaps (both rushing and passing):Oher has even worse marks here, averaging 6.2 penalty yards per 100 snaps against a median of 4.4 yards. Some 84 percent of the tackles in the data set did better, and only two — Jonathan Scott and J’Marcus Webb — had a worse penalty yard rate and QB hit rate than Oher. For a Titans squad that’s already floundering, this is not exactly an auspicious combination.Jacksonville JaguarsExpected wins: 5.0Playoff probability: 8 percent (5 percent to win the AFC South)Super Bowl win probability: *rolls eyes* read more

September 30

Roundtable All Of Baseball History Should Get An Asterisk

It always comes back to the use of performance-enhancing drugs. The “steroid era” may be over, but Major League Baseball is still dealing with its consequences. At the National Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony over the weekend, Craig Biggio was the only batter among the four new inductees. Although some of the greatest hitting records in the history of the sport occurred in the past 20 years, many position players can’t catch a break with Hall voters.So we ran a SurveyMonkey Audience poll asking Americans how they feel about steroids, amphetamines and the pre-integration era and then gathered FiveThirtyEight’s baseball fans to talk about the results (the following transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity):Walt Hickey: It’s pretty clear the vast majority of people — even baseball fans — are not comfortable with just letting the records stand. Of everyone surveyed, 88 percent thought the records should be struck down entirely or have an indicator that there was some funny business going on.Neil Paine: I’m not surprised the majority of those polled want something — anything — to be done about the numbers compiled during the steroid era. Baseball is the most statistical of all the major sports, and it has always loved to foster the notion that you could compare, say, Honus Wagner’s stats to those of Alex Rodriguez side by side, without any adjustment, and still make a meaningful comparison. Sabermetricians have long acknowledged this as naive; between park effects and era adjustments, there are plenty of ways baseball stats need to be tweaked to level the playing field between different generations of players. But even for the lay fan, the age of PEDs [performance-enhancing drugs] destroyed any pretense that unadjusted numbers could be freely compared between eras, and I think that fact alone upset traditionalists as much as anything else.Harry Enten: I must admit that steroids to me is a highly emotional issue. Many of the players we associate with steroids are people we also associate with being jerks — people like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and A-Rod. But the real question is: Where does it end? Is it that stats are changed? Are champions changed? There can be no doubt that many, if not all, of the champions for a period in the 1990s and 2000s had steroid users. We’re not going to go back and change winners. In a lot of this polling, people are making an emotional argument.Walt: I, on the other hand, could not care less about steroid use. I feel like this notion of the game as some platonic ideal that existed prior to the big bad performance enhancers showed up is patently false. Every era had its own competitive advantages, as we’ll talk about in a second, but it’s only the steroid issue — and not, you know, the players who had the competitive advantages of rampant stimulant use and not having to compete with black players — that seems to make people think The Game is not somehow Pure.Rob Arthur: I’m under no illusions the game of baseball is Pure (nor will it ever be), but I also don’t know if it was ever dirtier than it was during the steroid era. Cheating is and has always been rampant, both on and off the field, but with steroids, we have a means of cheating that seems particularly effective. You can see that both in the scientific literature, where steroids seem to improve strength by as much as 20 percent, but also on the baseball field, where we had some notable steroid users like Bonds smashing records left and right.Harry: But what about during the “deadball era” — specifically between 1912 (I think) and 1920, when you had the spitball among other things? Offensive numbers took a dive. There is clear physical evidence that a spitball (or scuffing the ball) is a big deal. Now using that wasn’t illegal when it first started, but neither were steroids. They are now, yet people look at them so much differently than the pitching statistics that were occurring in the 1910s.Rob: Harry, you definitely have a point. But I think one of the reasons steroids are so objectionable is because of the asymmetry they created between players: Some players who used them seemed to become almost inhumanly effective, others didn’t use them at all and gained no benefit, and still others used but didn’t improve substantially. When the spitball was legal, it was available to all pitchers, and I doubt that any pitcher’s spit was 50 percent more effective at decreasing offense than any other pitcher’s spit. (I am aware that once the spitball was banned, some players were grandfathered in and still allowed to use it. Obviously, that wouldn’t fly in the modern era.)Neil: And don’t even get me started debating whether Lasik surgery counts as “unnatural” and “performance-enhancing.”Walt: Yeah, Tommy John called — he wants his pitching speed back. We will get back to the 1920s era of baseball soon enough, Enten. For now: My favorite part of this was comparing how different fan bases cared about steroids based on how much their teams gained from steroid use.Editor’s Note: On Friday, we introduced the idea of a steroid “discount” — a penalty in percentage terms that would be deducted from players’ individual statistics if they were found to be using PEDs. Our poll asked respondents to recommend said discount, which we can also break down by team fandom.The following table is color-coded by how much (red) or how little (white) each team’s fans would penalize steroid-using players.1Specifically, players who were suspended for PED offenses, were linked to the Biogenesis scandal, were named in the Mitchell Report or whose failed drug tests were leaked to the media. Because some teams had far more fans respond than others — and some teams’ fans hardly voted at all — the columns have been color-coded to represent a combination of average response and the number of respondents. In other words, results have been regressed to the mean based on sample size. Likewise, the correlations at the bottom of the table were weighted by the number of respondents from each fan base.Walt: Hot damn, Giants.Neil: It’s interesting that, as fandom intensifies, a relationship does begin to materialize between how much the voter’s favorite team relied on steroid users and how much tolerance he or she has for steroid users’ stats.If we look at all of our survey’s respondents — including those who were and were not self-professed baseball fans — there’s essentially no relationship between team steroid reliance and how much steroid-tainted stats the voter would recommend taking away. But when you throw out non-fans, a small2Correlation: -0.2 relationship emerges. Fan bases whose stars used steroids to generate more wins, whether on a per-season basis or as a percentage of the team’s total, tended to want steroid users to be punished less.Then again, it’s a slight relationship at best. While San Francisco Giants fans — hello Barry Bonds! — wanted juicers dinged much less than the average fan base, fans of the Oakland Athletics and Chicago Cubs (who rank fourth and fifth in the degree to which they were helped by steroid-using batters) asked for some of the highest penalties of any group of rooters.But that’s not the only way to measure the cognitive dissonance between a fan’s acceptance of steroids and the degree to which his or her team benefited from them.Walt: I whipped this up really quickly: It’s the scatterplot of teams, with that “how much did they gain from PEDs” metric plotted against the percentage of their fan base that said they thought the records of steroid users should be struck. What an interesting relationship:Walt: It’s a small sample size, but I really love that fans of teams that didn’t gain a lot from PEDs seem more likely to desire retribution against players who did.Rob: The relationship between steroid contribution and desire for retribution is really fascinating and upholds a long-held suspicion of mine. It also suggests (again) that these attitudes are largely driven by emotions: If my team benefited, then steroids were OK, but if not, steroids were terrible! It shows that fans, in particular, have a hard time divorcing their own fandom from the questions about how much steroids benefited particular players and how much we should care as a result.Walt: So then the question becomes where do we draw the line when it comes to performance-enhancing things in each era? I personally think it’s bullshit that people get so riled up about steroids and not, for instance, the widespread amphetamine use in MLB in the era prior to it.It turns out America agrees!Walt: So, Neil, who would this affect?Neil: Like you said, it’s pretty widely acknowledged that amphetamine use was prevalent in MLB throughout much of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. During a 1985 drug trial, former Mets and Pirates first baseman John Milner testified that he had received “greenies” (amphetamines) from Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Willie Stargell at various times during his career, and Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt said the substance was “widely available in major-league clubhouses” when he played.So it’s at least possible — if not probable — that some of that era’s greatest superstars used a now-banned substance to sharpen their focus and boost their energy levels. (Even if the evidence is mixed over whether greenies actually even help athletic performance.)Walt: I feel like higher focus and higher energy is probably a nice thing for batters to have. I imagine their record collections were remarkably well-organized as well.I’m pretty happy to see some consistency here. I compared how people answered the steroid question with how they answered the stimulant question, and 88 percent of respondents (and 86 percent of fans) stuck to their guns and replied with the same answer they gave for steroid policy. It seems like at least among the general population there’s a lot more consistency with how to handle the policy than there is in the league.Still, it’s surprising that at the end of the day, 44 percent of Americans would strip away statistical accomplishments from amphetamine users in the era of Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Mickey Mantle.Neil: Agreed. The general attitude among sportswriters — even if it doesn’t necessarily make sense — is that there’s a distinction to be drawn between the supposedly widespread amphetamine use of the 1970s and the supposedly widespread steroid use of the 1990s. But according to those surveyed, there shouldn’t be. The moral judgment of the people appears to fall on both groups with equal fury.Harry: I really do wonder whether most people know that Mays may have used greenies. I tend to think not. If they did, there is no way that the polling numbers would look the way they do. I also tend to think that there is nothing ridiculous that Mays did in the sense that he looked normal, unlike Bonds who looked like someone shoved some orthopedic pillows in his arms. Not to mention that his head grew bigger than Donald Trump’s ego. It seemed natural. We tend to think of unnatural in how someone looks, not how they think.Neil: Right, and the bulked-up players and shifting head sizes gave fans and analysts a smoking gun of sorts. It added to the theatrical nature of the steroid hysteria. With a pill that doesn’t change appearance, you’re reduced to poring over stats and wondering whether a player’s out-of-the-blue power spike is just a career year or something much more sinister.Walt: But enough with the pharmaceutical advantages. What about the bigoted regime that kept black players out of the leagues? What about the competitive advantage conferred by excluding athletes based on the color of their skin?Walt: Kind of odd that baseball fans are nowhere near as mortified with pre-integration records standing than they are with stimulants. Neil, what’s the word on the effect that segregation had on baseball?Neil: One of the biggest tragedies of baseball’s color line is that we can’t know precisely how much the game’s pre-1947 stars benefited from only playing against white opponents. But we can certainly estimate how much more shallow the pool of available players was before the game was integrated. (As well as before the rise of Latin America and, now, Asia as a source of baseball talent.)As FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief Nate Silver notes in “Baseball Between the Numbers,” MLB was only drawing from a population of about 300,000 people per player in 1930. By 1960, when baseball was finally fully integrated, that number had more than doubled to 625,000, and it was a whopping 900,000 when Nate crunched the numbers in 2005. The bigger the talent pool, the tougher the competition, so it’s clear that pre-integration players had a major advantage in terms of the relative caliber of talent they played against.(A related note: Baseball’s level of talent is steadily increasing anyway as humans push the boundaries of athletic performance, which is another great reason statistics from the past can’t be compared to modern numbers straight-up.)Harry: My opinion on this is fairly simple: You can’t penalize players for things they didn’t control. Babe Ruth couldn’t play against a black player in the MLB even if he wanted to. It’s a tragedy that we were robbed of seeing Josh Gibson against Carl Hubbell, but we can’t go back and readjust the records.Walt: I don’t think it’s so much about penalizing players for things beyond their control as it’s about knocking down the idea that baseball was somehow defiled by pharmaceuticals. This nostalgia for baseball is wholly misguided — the Boston Red Sox integrated after Southern public schools! In 1959! — it’s not like this was an antiquated part of baseball history.Baseball’s commitment to some idyllic game that never existed — something that also manifests itself in a knee-jerk opposition to potential ways to improve the game, like the DH, speedier play and other experimentation — by now constitutes what I think is (on a long enough timespan) an existential threat for the league. The fact that more people aren’t more willing to look back in anger is a symptom of a much larger problem.Not to mention that at least the other two advantages at least made the game more interesting to watch. Segregation, if anything, made the game less interesting for fans out of mere spite. My main line? If you’re going to get indignant about steroids — something that unambiguously made the game more interesting — at least have the decency to be just as indignant about letting those segregated records stand un-asteriskedBut guys! We’re missing the point here. About 10 percent of Americans would strip Babe Ruth of his records! Including 8 percent of baseball fans. That’s awesome.Harry: What percentage of people believe we didn’t land on the moon?Walt: I mean Kubrick basically admitted as much in “The Shining,” man — learn how to read subtext. read more

September 30

Purple Heart Recipient Daniel Rodriguez Joins Clemsons Football Team

When Daniel Rodriguez puts on No. 83 and runs onto the field for Clemson’s football practice on Friday, he will accomplish something more meaningful than most any other player in college football.You see, Rodriguez is a former soldier in the Army, and he and a comrade stationed in Afghanistan, Pfc. Kevin Thompson, talked about what they would do with their lives when they returned to the United States. A former high school football player in Virginia, Rodriguez promised Thompson he would pursue playing football.A few days later, Rodriguez and Thompson were among nearly 40 U.S. troops attacked by about 400 Taliban. Eight were killed, including Thompson.Rodriguez left Kamdesh with shrapnel in his leg and neck, and a bullet fragment through his shoulder. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal of Valor. He also received a Purple Heart and was promoted to staff sergeant before an honorable discharge in 2010.With Thompson’s words etched in his heart, Rodriguez began his football journey with a committed workout regimen. His workouts went viral on YouTube recorded them and put posted them on the video site. Rodriguez received inquiries from about 50 schools, including Clemson and coach Dabo Swinney.Swinney, a former walk-on at Alabama who eventually became a scholarship receiver, related to Rodriguez and was eager to give him a chance. His grades were not good enough to get into Virginia and Virginia Tech was not willing to get the waivers from the NCAA and ACC for him to play. Swinney said the Tigers were committed.“He is getting the opportunity to follow his dream,” Swinney said. “We are excited to have him join our program. I have no doubt that he will become a great leader for us.”“I’m using the hardships, the horrors, the killing, the friends that I’ve lost as my fuel to (get) where I want to be,” Rodriguez said. “So I think if you can turn and manipulate anything negative in your life and use it as something good, that’s what I’ve taken into my life.” read more

September 29

Were Hiring An MLB Writer

FiveThirtyEight is seeking a reporter to lead our coverage of Major League Baseball. As the original data-friendly sport, baseball is core to our sports coverage — both during the season and throughout the offseason.We’re looking for a creative writer with a passion for baseball and a firm grasp of the sport’s statistics. This includes traditional sabermetrics, newer metrics like those generated by Statcast and historical data. The ideal candidate has experience covering the sport or an MLB team for a newspaper, magazine, website or major media outlet.This writer will anchor our MLB coverage with insightful analysis of the game. This will entail writing posts off the news or current trends and producing deeply reported, enterprise projects that contain original research. Most importantly, we want candidates who can pose interesting questions about the current state of baseball and answer them using data. An interest in, or experience covering, other major sports is a plus but not required.If interested, send inquiries to contact@fivethirtyeight.com with the phrase “MLB Writer” in the subject line. read more

September 28

Notre Dame Continues To Hold On To A Playoff Spot — But

LSU 7-21524100%<1% ▲ 21<1% RankingProbability of … Michigan 8-212181714%9% ▲ 211% Ohio State 10-032445%62% ▲ 2118% Notre Dame 9-1478—a26% ▲ 216% Same old, same old. The college football playoff committee had it easy this week. After a week of games where all their top teams won, they didn’t have to shake things up in their rankings much. The top five remain the same: Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Iowa. After suffering crushing losses last week, Baylor and Stanford fell back in the rankings. Meanwhile, the Sooner state made headway: Oklahoma State and Oklahoma rose up to the No. 6 and No. 7 spots, respectively. But while the Big 12 looks ascendant, they both can’t stay there long: they play each other Thanksgiving weekend.The FiveThirtyEight model has bad news for Notre Dame fans: last week it was Baylor that was projected to elbow out the Irish by season’s end; this week it’s Oklahoma. The model continues to think an undefeated or one-loss Big 12 champion will most likely surpass Notre Dame. Our model simulations — which predict where the committee will land in its final rankings on Dec. 6 — are shown in the following table: College Football Playoff (CFP) rankings as of Nov. 17. Oklahoma might eventually edge out Notre Dame, but they have two awfully tough games remaining: against TCU this Saturday and on the road versus Oklahoma State. While the Sooners are our favorite for the fourth slot, the model still only gives them a 45 percent chance of making it in.Lurking at the edges are a slew of hopefuls: Oklahoma State and Iowa, though each doesn’t have a loss, stand but a 25 percent and 22 percent chance to make it; one-loss stalwarts Florida, Baylor, and Michigan State — along with two-loss Stanford — all have above a 10 percent shot.For those of you who want more nitty-gritty about our projections, check out our original methodology manifesto, as well as last week’s methodology update. Oklahoma St. 10-0641335%25% ▲ 215% Northwestern 8-22029610%<1% ▲ 21<1% Oregon 7-32310284%<1% ▲ 21<1% Florida 9-1881435%23% ▲ 214% Michigan St. 9-1962211%12% ▲ 211% Iowa 10-05132928%22% ▲ 212% Alabama 9-121361%63% ▲ 2119% TCU 9-1181265%5% ▲ 212% Wisconsin 8-22520241%<1% ▲ 21<1% Utah 8-213262312%1% ▲ 21<1% Baylor 8-11022214%16% ▲ 216% Houston 10-019143739%1% ▲ 21<1% Mississippi 7-3222894%<1% ▲ 21<1% Florida State 8-21419160%<1% ▲ 21<1% Navy 8-116164422%<1% ▲ 21<1% Stanford 8-211111144%11% ▲ 212% Oklahoma 9-175146%45% ▲ 2118% USC 7-32417734%1% ▲ 21<1% North Carolina 9-11791536%9% ▲ 211% Memphis 8-22136430%<1% ▲ 21<1% Clemson 10-013562%68% ▲ 2115% TeamCFPEloFPIConf. TitlePlayoffNat. Title read more

September 28

The Brewers Pitcher Switcheroo May Be Coming Soon To A Game Near

The Milwaukee Brewers challenged traditional position labels all season. They’ve helped push bullpenning forward in the postseason. They’ve been the most forward-thinking club this October in part out of necessity, entering the playoffs with one of the weaker starting rotations in the field.But they’ve never been more radical than they were early in Wednesday afternoon’s Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell stepped out of the visiting dugout at Dodger Stadium and pulled left-handed Brewers starter Wade Miley after he had faced only one Los Angeles batter, the left-handed-hitting Cody Bellinger. Miley was replaced by right-hander Brandon Woodruff, who has limited right-handed batters to a .199 average over the course of his career. It was a premeditated plan, something of a surprise attack, against one of the heaviest platoon teams in the league. While the short-term results did not work in the Brewers’ favor — the Dodgers won 5-2 to take a 3-2 lead in the series — the strategy’s long-term ramifications could be far-reaching. In a season of openers and bullpenning, managers might now have to think more deeply about how much they want to bet on that day’s listed opposing starting pitcher working deep into the game. (Especially if that listed starting pitcher isn’t an ace.) Platoon-heavy lineups are more vulnerable. And game-planning might become more complicated as starting pitcher designations become increasingly less relevant.“Look, they’re trying to get matchups, we’re trying to get matchups,” Counsell said after the game. “They’re a very tough team to get matchups against.”When he takes the mound Friday as the Game 6 starter, Miley will become the first pitcher to start consecutive postseason games since 1930, according to MLB.“It’s not my job to question it. We’re trying to get to the World Series,” Miley told reporters. “This is the strategic side of it. I was in. Everybody bought in.”The Brewers have thrown 75⅔ innings this postseason, but only 26⅔ (35 percent) have been logged by their starting pitchers, distressing traditionalists. Milwaukee’s upside-down approach became extreme Wednesday.It is baseball tradition that teams announce their starting pitching assignments days in advance, even in the playoffs. (Imagine an NFL team announcing its personnel plans in advance of a game.) And because the starting pitcher is typically expected to absorb the lion’s share of innings in any particular game — well, at least until this season of “the opener” — opposing managers often try to create as many favorable matchups as possible within their lineup cards.What has become a common part of daily game-planning — trying to gain platoon advantage against a starting pitcher — might be in jeopardy, particularly in high-stakes games.Because of the angle pitches travel toward home plate and the way pitches break, batters tend to perform better against opposite-handed pitchers. That is, right-handed batters typically perform better against left-handed pitchers and vice versa, gaining what’s known as a platoon advantage. The Dodgers ranked ninth out of 30 Major League teams in platoon advantage, owning it in 57.3 percent of plate appearances.Consider how differently the Dodgers constructed their lineups in this series based on the handedness of the opposing starting pitcher. In Game 3 against right-handed Brewers starter Jhoulys Chacin, Dodger manager Dave Roberts penciled in Yasmani Grandal, Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig as right-handed-pitching mashers. They were replaced in the lineup Wednesday against the left-handed Miley with David Freese, Chris Taylor and Austin Barnes.The Dodgers were weaker this season facing left-handed pitching than right-handed pitching. They produced .324 on-base and .409 slugging marks against left-handed starters with 101 weighted runs created plus1Weighted runs created plus, or wRC+, adjusts for park and league scoring environments. A mark of 100 is league average. compared with .337 on-base and .458 slugging marks against righties with a 117 wRC+, which ranked second in the game .By starting a left-hander, the Brewers were able to keep some of the Dodgers’ strongest bats against right-handed pitchers out of the game temporarily — though Puig and Pederson eventually entered and combined for four at-bats.Moreover, against the left-handed Miley, the Dodgers featured a weaker defensive lineup. Max Muncy switched from first (where he most often plays) to second base to accommodate Freese at first, forcing Enrique Hernandez from second base to right field, where he replaced Puig. Puig is credited with 24 defensive runs saved over the past two years in right field, ranking second only to Boston’s Mookie Betts.The Dodgers responded with a number of in-game substitutions.In the top of the fourth, Pederson replaced Freese and went to left field. Bellinger switched from center to right, Muncy moved from second to first, and Taylor moved from left to center. Hernandez switched from right to second before he was replaced by a pinch-hitting Puig in the sixth inning, sending Bellinger back to center and Taylor to second. After Brian Dozier pinch-hit for Pederson in the seventh, he took over second, and Taylor went back to left field.Ultimately, Dodger lefty Clayton Kershaw pitched so well — one run allowed over seven innings — and the Dodgers did enough damage off Woodruff (three runs, two earned in 5⅓ innings) that the plan did not yield a win. But in a season of radical strategies, Milwaukee’s move could have a lasting impact. The Brewers are rethinking everything — and baseball just might follow.Check out our latest MLB predictions. read more

September 28

Ohio States offense pulls through in 4928 win over Maryland

When it hasn’t been the offense looking shaky this season for the No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes, it has been the defense. Despite allowing 253 rushing yards to Maryland on Saturday, OSU still came away with a 49-28 win to improve to 6-0 overall and 2-0 in Big Ten play.Still, OSU coach Urban Meyer was more than happy with his team’s effort.“It was a good win,” Meyer said. “As a matter of fact, it was a great win. We’re going to enjoy that one and get back to work next week.”The afternoon did not get off to a great start for the Buckeyes, as a quick three-and-out on offense gave Maryland (2-4, 0-2) the ball at its own 18-yard line. After a pair of third-down conversions, Maryland redshirt junior Perry Hills found freshman wide receiver D.J. Moore wide open after a play-action fake for 52 yards and an early 7-0 lead.On the ensuing possession for OSU, redshirt junior quarterback Cardale Jones drove the ball 50 yards to Maryland’s 25-yard line. From there, redshirt sophomore J.T. Barrett came in — something Meyer alluded to considering earlier in the week.“J.T. is just a very good player,” Meyer said after the game. “We’ve been having some red zone issues … he provided an obvious spark for us in there.”Barrett brought the Buckeyes the rest of the way in six plays, capping the drive with a three-yard run up the middle to tie the game at 7-7.Meyer stuck with the same strategy on OSU’s next drive, putting Barrett in the game after Jones and redshirt senior H-back Braxton Miller combined to get the ball to the 5-yard line.“J.T.’s one of our team leaders, and he always has a great attitude, so it’s just good to see him go out there, compete and have a good game,” junior running back Ezekiel Elliott said. “I’m happy for him, and it’s good to see him get some playing time now.”OSU stuck to the ground in the short-yardage situation, as two runs Elliott and a carry by Barrett led to Elliott punching in his ninth touchdown of the year from two yards away to make the score 14-7 early in the second quarter.After a three-and-out from each team, OSU extended its lead to 21-7 with the help of Miller.Miller, who had not scored since he had two touchdowns in OSU’s opening game at Virginia Tech, grabbed consecutive passes of 33 and 19 yards, with the latter resulting in a touchdown from Jones.The score was the 87th one that Miller either caught, ran or threw for in his collegiate career, extending his OSU record.“It was great to see him smiling,” redshirt junior receiver Michael Thomas said. “He scored that touchdown and he made that great catch over the middle. He’s been able to showcase his ability in front of everyone, and that’s all he wants to do.”After a missed kick by redshirt senior Jack Willoughby, the game seemed primed to enter the half with a 21-7 score. However, Hills changed that presumption.After a false start moved the Terrapins to their own 22-yard line, Hills scrambled up the middle and got in open field for 75 yards. He kept the ball again on the next play, falling into the end zone to make it 21-14.“We had a bad taste in our mouth going to the locker room, but we were motivated to not let anything come of it, not give anything up,” redshirt freshman defensive end Sam Hubbard said.Jones finished the half 15-of-20 for 195 yards and a touchdown, while his counterpart Hills was just 2-of-11 for 62 yards, but ran nine times for 97 yards. Both of Hills’ completions came on the opening drive. Barrett was 1-of-1 for 20 yards in the first half, and gained seven yards and a score in four carries.Miller and Thomas combined for 11 of OSU’s 16 first-half completions for 174 yards.The passing game reopened for the Terrapins to open the second half, as Hills used three completions to help move the ball 69 yards. The drive was capped by another touchdown run by Hills from four yards out to tie the game.“That’s probably the most difficult thing, keeping a person like that in the pocket,” redshirt sophomore defensive end Tyquan Lewis said about Hills.Maryland coach Randy Edsall opted not to name a starting quarterback until the first snap, something Lewis said made defensive adjustments more difficult.With the announced crowd of 107,869 getting uneasy in the tie game, the OSU offense kicked into gear midway through the third quarter, as Jones found redshirt sophomore H-back Jalin Marshall for a 48-yard score on OSU’s first play following a punt.Jones waited in the pocket and found Marshall uncovered in the middle of the field for the Middletown, Ohio, native’s second touchdown grab of the year.After a defensive stop, the OSU offense kept its foot on the gas pedal, moving 66 yards in nine plays, capped off by Barrett’s second touchdown run of the day from a yard out to make it 35-21.At Indiana, the Buckeyes did not score a touchdown in three red zone trips. That turned around on Saturday, as they got into the end zone on all six trips — five led by Barrett and one by Jones.With the game safely in hand, the Buckeyes began padding their lead late in the fourth quarter. Barrett started the drive for the first time and called five consecutive runs, the last of which was a 16-yard touchdown run by Elliott.Jones started OSU’s next drive following an interception by redshirt junior safety Tyvis Powell, but was pulled after one play in which he found Thomas for 12 yards. Barrett came back in with OSU in the red zone, and quickly scrambled 18 yards for his third rushing touchdown of the game to make it 49-21.“I think the red-zone package they put in for J.T. was perfect, and I think they complemented each other perfectly,” Elliott said. “They both were able to get into a rhythm, and it worked out pretty well for us.”Elliott’s touchdown put him over 100 yards rushing for the 11th consecutive game. He finished with 106 yards on 21 carries and two scores.A late rushing touchdown made the final score more pleasant for the Terrapins, but OSU still walked away with the 21-point victory.“That was easily our best game,” Elliott said. “We played a complete offense, moved the ball around, everyone made plays and we have good momentum going into next week.”Hills completed just 10 of 27 passes but picked up 170 yards on the ground — the most an opposing player has had against OSU this season by 72 yards.Jones finished the game 21-of-28 for 291 yards, setting a new career high in passing yards in the process.“I think he was great,” Meyer said of Jones. “He played his best game since last year.”Barrett only threw two passes, completing both for 26 yards, but ran for 62 yards and three scores on 12 carries.OSU is next set to remain in Columbus to host Penn State on Oct. 17. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. OSU redshirt senior H-back Braxton Miller (1) high-fives fans before a games against Maryland on Oct. 10 at Ohio Stadium. OSU won 49-28. Credit: Samantha Hollingshead / Photo Editor read more

September 28

Gallery Ohio State vs Wisconsin

The Ohio State Buckeyes prepare for their game against the Wisconsin Badgers on Oct. 15. The Buckeyes won 30-23 in overtime. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo Editor The Ohio State Buckeyes took on the Wisconsin Badgers on Oct. 15 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin. After a shaky first half, the Buckeyes beat the Badgers in overtime by a final score of 30-23.

September 28

Under new coach womens lacrosse faces tough season ahead

First-year women’s lacrosse coach Alexis Venechanos said she is still learning about her players and her young team is still trying to get better. “We have a lot to work on but we’re happy how it’s early in the season, and we have some time,” Venechanos said. The Buckeyes lost to No. 9 Stanford, 17-5, on Saturday. “Stanford is a tremendous team and you can tell they are the more experienced team right now,” Venechanos said. Venechanos, who was named coach in July 2010 following former coach Sue Stimmel’s resignation, said that being here since the fall has made the transition a little bit easier. “The fall was a smooth transition in getting to know the team,” she said. Venechanos has been a part of four national championship teams, two as a player at Maryland and two as an assistant coach at Northwestern. Having been in those positions, she said she isn’t worried about the tough loss to Stanford. “These tough games will get us in better situations toward the end of the season,” she said. Junior midfielder Alayna Markwordt agreed that having the new coach since the summer has made the change a little easier. “It’s been a good transition,” she said. “We’ve learned a lot this year.” The Buckeyes won their two previous games against American University and St. Bonaventure before the loss to Stanford. Markwordt said the team is looking to avoid these types of losses when it had played well the two games before. “We’re waiting for that moment where we put it all together,” Markwordt said. OSU (2-3) will look to bounce back as it hosts Canisius (1-1) at 1 p.m. Monday at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. read more

September 28

Blue Jackets fall to Blackhawks 43 in shootout

The Columbus Blue Jackets suffered their second loss in as many days Friday night at Nationwide Arena. The Blue Jackets got off to a slow start in the first period of their 4-3 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, allowing forward Patrick Kane and defenseman Brent Seabrook each to score a goal within the first six minutes. “We shot from the top,” Jackets coach Scott Arniel said. “A lot of good things happened, and some things went wrong.” But the Blue Jackets seemed to refocus following the goals, using a slow tempo to control the puck and hold it on offense, giving themselves time to set up a shot on goal. Once the offense settled down, the Blue Jackets answered the Blackhawks’ two goals with one of their own by forward Maksim Mayorov, his first ever in the NHL. “I was getting played,” Mayorov said, “but I just tried to tip it in.” The Blue Jackets’ second point came in the second period, with a power-play goal by center Derick Brassard, his 16th of the season. “It’s been 11 games since our last score on a power play,” Brassard said. He attributed the goal to what the team has been working on in practice. The game was close in the third period when a goal from Jackets center Samuel Pahlsson was answered almost immediately by the Blackhawks, tying the score at 3. The back-and-forth pace kept both teams moving throughout the third period, but failed to produce anymore points for either team, causing a tie and moving the game into overtime. Neither team was able to score in overtime, despite multiple shots on goal at both ends of the ice. This sent the game into a shootout to determine the winner. Both teams went through three shooters before Chicago was able to score a goal, taking a 4-3 lead and clinching the game. The Blue Jackets will be looking for a win at 5 p.m. Sunday in a home matchup against the St. Louis Blues. read more