Mailbag: Mariota, Zumwalt & math

Welcome to the mailbag. Can't wait for games … this week … er … drat.

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To the notes!

James from In the swamp lands of the Oregon Coast writes: Riddle me this, Ted. 20 of 35, 237 yards, 2 TDs, 1 lost fumble. 20 of 34, 250 yards, 2 TDs, 1 lost fumble. One statline knocked a man out of the Heisman Race, the other was an MVP statline for the 2014 BCS national championship game. I get that Winston was on the winning side of the BCSNCG, but somehow his stats are MVP caliber just because he was on the winning team? I'm not an insider to the sports media thought process, help me out in understanding the thinking here.

Ted Miller: It is interesting that you correctly note that Florida State QB Jameis Winston's numbers in the BCS national title game are comparable to Oregon QB Marcus Mariota's numbers in the Ducks' loss to Stanford.

And I was on-board with criticizing how quickly Mariota fell out of the Heisman Trophy race after the Stanford loss, at least until the Ducks fell flat at Arizona.

But, really, do I have to explain this?

  1. After a really, really slow start, Winston showed mental toughness on a big stage and helped his team overcome an 18-point second-quarter deficit to win the national title.

  2. Winston threw both of his touchdown passes in the fourth quarter (so did Mariota, but his circumstances were pretty hopeless).

  3. Winston was 6-for-7 for 77 yards on the game-winning 80-yard drive, including a 2-yard TD pass for the winning points with 13 seconds remaining.

It's also notable that Winston's heroics ended the SEC's seven-year national championship winning streak.

Context matters. Winning matters. And epic game-winning drives that will become permanent parts of college football lore matter.

It is notable, however, who ended up as the nation's highest rated QB.

Robin from Irvine, Calif., writes: How did Jordan Zumwalt not make your All-Pac12 Bowl list? Did you watch the game? I mean this is a legitimate query, not a flame.I enjoy your writing and opinions (most of the time).

Ted Miller: Yes, I watched the Hyundai Sun Bowl. Zumwalt played really well.

Zumwalt shared game MVP honors with QB Brett Hundley in UCLA's 42-12 win over Virginia Tech. He finished with 10 tackles, a 43-yard interception return and the knockout hit on Hokies QB Logan Thomas. He obviously impressed Ivan Maisel, who put him on ESPN.com's All-Bowl team.

First off, here are the linebackers who I put on the Pac-12 blog's All-Bowl team.

LB Shayne Skov, Stanford: Skov had nine tackles, three tackles for a loss, a sack and a forced fumble in Stanford's 24-20 loss to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl.

LB Jake Fischer, Arizona: Fischer had a game-high 14 tackles in the Wildcats' win over Boston College. He also had a sack and 1.5 tackles for a loss. Arizona held Doak Walker Award winner Andre Williams to only 75 yards on 26 carries.

LB John Timu, Washington: Timu had a game-high 14 tackles, a sack and an interception in the Huskies' win over BYU.

LB Jabral Johnson, Oregon State: Johnson had a game-high 12 tackles, a sack and a quarterback hurry in the Beavers' win over Boise State.

I had Zumwalt on my list, but I don't think his numbers are clearly better than the four I selected. In fact, UCLA LB Myles Jack (five tackle, two tackles for a loss, a sack, an interception returned 24 yards and a QB hurry) might have had as strong a case as Zumwalt. Further, Virginia Tech has a woeful offense, one that then was forced to play without its starting QB the entire second half.

And that last part, at the risk of making defensive Bruins fans mad at me, played a role in Zumwalt not making my team. I don't give Zumwalt extra points for knocking the opposing QB out of the game. And, yes, I think it was a dirty hit, even though many believe otherwise

Did it play a part in my thinking that Zumwalt has a reputation as a dirty player? Maybe. Probably.

To those who insist it wasn't a dirty hit, including CBS color man Gary Danielson, I would simply counter with two questions: 1. Has any coach in the history of football taught a player to tackle like Zumwalt hit Thomas? 2. Would you feel the hit was clean if Virginia Tech defensive tackle Luther Maddy had knocked Hundley out of the game in the second quarter with the same technique -- and then Hundley a week later cited injury concerns as his reason for entering the NFL draft?

Eric from Seattle writes: I have a question about the new College Football Playoff. One of the semifinal games is scheduled for 1/1/15 at the Rose Bowl. If the Pac-12 winner (or B1G winner, for that matter) is not one of the semifinal teams, what does that mean for the Pac-12 winner and their Rose Bowl berth?

Ted Miller: In the new four-team playoff, the Rose Bowl will be a semifinal host next Jan. 1, so it's unlikely it will end up with a traditional Pac-12-Big Ten matchup. That will be the case every three years as the playoff rotates among the six major bowls.

The bad news is the further erosion of one of college football's great traditions, though years the Rose Bowl doesn't host a semifinal it typically will go with the traditional conference matchup.

The good news, if you're a half-full sort, is the Pac-12 champion -- or eligible runner-up if the champion is in the playoff -- will have a greater chance for a diverse postseason destination, such as the Fiesta, Orange, Cotton and Chick-fil-A bowls

Tony Barnhart has a nice primer on the new format here.

Dan from Spokane writes: You must have flunked arithmetic. You say 1:55 left in the [New Mexico Bowl between Washington State and Colorado State], and 20 seconds on the play clock with second-and-10. 115 seconds -15, -40 and -40 = 15 seconds left. You can't just take a knee. You might want to take a knee on writing about simple math or clock management.

Ted Miller: I expected someone to write in and do pure subtraction and say, "See! There would have been time left! Dummy!"

But, Dan, this isn't a straight subtraction issue. For one, there's the fudge factor for one of Washington State's QBs taking a few steps back before taking a knee, therefore burning three to five more seconds while risking nothing.

Here's a good explanation of how the Cougars could have run out the clock, a process that should have started on first down, not second.

Dan, I know you are trying to fight back for your team -- the ol' "My team wrong or right!" deal. But this isn't a debate. It's a pointing out of something that was strategically wrong.

John from Cincinnati writes: Hey Teddy, nice pre-Rose Bowl analysis on why Stanford was going to whip MSU. The final result of the game demonstrates the futility of superficial analysis. You failed to dig into the contexts of the points of your argument. For example, you did not consider the trajectory of MSU QB Cook when comparing him to Hogan. You just considered the core stats and did not dig under the sheets. This is what happens when one already is predisposed and is gravely biased. Nice work.

Ted Miller: This is obviously not a new note, but I got several of these from Michigan State fans. I've been doing this long enough to understand that this is something a subset of fans love to do: After-the-fact gloating about pregame analysis that proves mostly or entirely incorrect.

Further, I realize the futility of providing a defense. But my hope in doing so quickly here is that perhaps I will reach, oh, 10 percent of the folks who react this way so they can understand the basics of the sportswriting enterprise.

It was an assigned story that each ESPN.com conference insider did for his or her conference's BCS bowl games. Here's Adam Rittenberg's 10 reasons for Michigan State, even though he picked Stanford to win. Lookie here -- 10 reasons Alabama will win the Sugar Bowl. And 10 reasons Oklahoma will win the Sugar Bowl.

But what was noteworthy about this note was John's quibble with my first point:

  1. Stanford has the better quarterback: Stanford QB Kevin Hogan is 15th in the nation in total QBR (80.2). Michigan State's Connor Cook is 59th (61.9). And Hogan put up those numbers against a much tougher schedule.

John notes my "superficial analysis." Then types, "you did not consider the trajectory of MSU QB Cook when comparing him to Hogan."

First off, I'm not sure how noting that Hogan had a superior season based on his efficiency rating against a much tougher schedule is "superficial." But let's go ahead and look at the "trajectory" of Hogan and Cook at season's end.

Hogan's opponent adjusted QBR in his last three games before the Rose Bowl was 98.0 (California), 61.2 (Notre Dame) and 96.7 (Arizona State). Cook's opponent adjusted QBR in his last three before the Rose Bowl was: 92.3 (Northwestern), 27.1 (Minnesota) and 83.9 (Ohio State).

So, Hogan had superior numbers in each of the three games leading up to the Rose Bowl.

Ergo, we pull up the sheets and find … statistics, not "gravely biased" analysis.