Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

“Prediction is very difficult ... especially about the future

A friend close to the Ashbrook Center writes to encourage me to elaborate on my preliminary prediction of a Florida win in the BCS Championship game: “I don’t mind that you say Florida might win (?!!?), but some readers do! . . . do what you have to do, let the logos lead you! Although I personally hope that the Buckeyes whip those Florida wimps like dogs!"

All right, then. I offered my unelaborated assessment on behalf of Florida after considerable hesitation -- and not only because I knew that many NLT readers would differ strongly. We are still more than a month away from the game itself. Ohio State will have been off for fifty-some days. Any firm prediction must wait until we see how the interregnum plays out. Predictions are stupid things anyway. As my Maine correspondent constantly tells me, anyone who predicts or bets on games for a living – especially with a point spread involved – is like a lawyer who has himself for a client. Did anyone seriously forecast a UCLA victory over USC? Peter Gammons is as good a baseball analyst as there is and yet I believe he missed on all but one of the major league baseball playoff series, including the World Series. Buckeye fans should take particular solace in my own near unblemished record of predictive failure – although the logic behind my erroneous picks is always impeccable.

The quote about predictions and the future, by the way is attributed variously to Niels Bohr . . . and Dan Quayle.

But I digress. My prediction, really a first impression, is this. When there is no glaring disparity in the level of talent – and I believe this is the case here – one looks to a first order to intangible factors, rather than to Xs and Os or match-ups. These factors weigh particularly heavy in the long layoff between the end of the regular season and a championship bowl game.

I believe Florida will come into the game with a serious chip on its shoulder. For the next five weeks its players will be asked constantly to justify their existence, to apologize for crashing the party. They will be told that at least half of the country thinks they are pretenders. Their scratchy performances and close wins will be hauled out on Sports Center and College Game Day as Exhibit A for the prosecution. Florida teams from the Spurrier era had to fight overconfidence and arrogance, internally (beginning with their coach) and from fans and alums. A different dynamic, that of righteous indignation against disrespect, may be at work this year. This anger manifests itself not only on game day but in the team’s focus during the weeks of preparation and especially the time after the teams arrive in Arizona. It’s more than the usual underdog factor. Mistake it not, Florida has talent. They players can call on their demonstrated resilience and ability to win close games, a sense that they command fortune having dodged so many potential disasters.

But this is only a first impression. Let me tell you why it may be wrong and must be kept open to revision. Ohio State is a well-balanced team without any major weakness that is easily exploited, except perhaps its run defense. It has explosive players on offense and special teams, a veteran QB, and an opportunistic defense. (Fred and the Unbiased Observer, in the Comments section, offer good succinct analyses.) Most important, the record says that Jim Tressel is a great, not just a good, big game coach. The too-tight Tresselball is usually not in evidence. This isn’t his first rodeo. He knows how to prepare as the favorite as well as the upstart.

On the other side of the equation, the early returns on Urban Meyer are not so clear. I liked Meyer a lot when he was at Utah. But this season, particularly in the last few weeks, he seemed wound too tight, too defensive, too whiny, too negative. That may be completely unfair. One doesn’t know how he relates to his players away from the cameras. But based on his public persona, one wonders how well Meyer will play the disrespect card with this team. And Xs and Os do enter the equation. After two years there still seems to be a serious mismatch between Meyer’s unusual (quirky?) hybrid offensive scheme and the skill set of his players, especially Chris Leak. As a result Florida suffers from too many turnovers and negative plays. I tend to think that the layoff will benefit Florida because Meyer will have time to work out a game plan that squares the circle. But that’s pure speculation. Ohio State’s defensive coaches will have time to think about schemes to blow up that offense and force turnovers when it gets too tricky for its own good.

Of course, all this will go on behind the scenes and will be perfectly obvious – to me – only after the fact.

So. If you don’t have a particular rooting interest, wait and watch. See how Urban Meyer and his team act as the game approaches. See how well the other Big 10 bowl teams fare relative to expectations. Use a pencil, not a pen. And don’t bet the rent on Ohio State if the spread is anything like 14 points.

Discussions - 5 Comments

It doesn’t help the Gators that they closed out the season by beating Western Carolina (who?) 63-0.

You schedule powerpuffs at the start not end of the season.

The serious, serious "Achilles heel" of FL is a terrible field goal kicker.

I disagree that you look at intangibles rather than match-ups when talent-levels are equal. Why not first consider coaching, strength of position, individual matchups, etc.? Just because an overall talent level may be equal does not mean that a position mismatch can’t be successfully exploited. I also disagree that the first "intangible" to look towards when talent-levels are equal is the collective chip on a team’s shoulder. It makes for nice drama, and allows the "take that!" of the underdog that we all love (UCLA safety after the game "Lee Korso, Kirk Herbstriet, what!?!"...Me after the Michigan game outside of GameDay "Oh Lee, what happened Lee? What happened? Hey Desmond (imagine drunken Heisman pose)"), but it doesn’t necessarily translate into a strong performance on the field.

Take, for example, Ashland University. My senior year, our defensive coordinator from the year before was to be the only familiar face on an otherwise completely new coaching staff. He had led our defense to among the best in the GLIAC. Shortly after returning to campus during summer break for conditioning, we discover he has left to take the defensive coordinator position at perenniel power and conference foe Grand Valley State University. To add insult to injury, he has also taken a couple of our recruits with him. We went into that game with every ounce of a "chip" on our shoulders and they came in with a cockiness that should have been a weakness. We got crushed. Our talent levels were probably not equal that year. However, last year they were much closer and most of the guys that I had played with under the aforementioned defensive coordinator returned. I imagine the "chip" would still be there. They lost. They lost again this year.

I think the first intangible to consider is leadership. I’ve seen that carry less talented teams over more talented ones. The second should be experience; having been in a similar situation with a similar period of time before the game (things like having been to Glendale 4 out of the last 5 years should be enough) and playing in a game on one of football’s biggest stages is very important for focus.

I think the Buckeyes have the advantage in both of these areas. The individual story of the year should be the transformation of Troy Smith. Beyond the extraordinary change in his game (he used to take off at the first sign of pressure, and when he had time to throw in the past, he would only look at one target), he has completely changed his (at least public) persona. He says all of the right things at all of the right times. He speaks forthrightly and clearly, and he’s become somewhat of a media darling. He cheers on the sideline when backup QB Justin Zwick does well. He credits his teammates. He credits his coaches. He talks about his belief in the team and the coaching staff. It’s been incredible when compared to his early years here (fights on campus, at bars during the season, money from a booster, publicly calling for the job during Zwick’s struggles in early 2004). Anyways, that’s it.

Hey, speaking of PREDICTIONS, is anyone, ever, going to fill in the "actual" column of the 2006 Election Predictions page?? A group of such manly men should face defeat better.

Yeah, someone needs to put up a list of the winners. You know, bin Laden, al-Sadr, and the rest of the terrorists.

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