Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Lies, damned lies, and Cornhusker statistics

image has a rather amusing and utterly pointless  analysis which attempts to use inferential statistics to compare the 1990’s Nebraska run with the most recent five year run by Alabama.

There are myriad ways to compare the five-year dynasties that Nebraska and Alabama have put together. Some indicate Nebraska's was more impressive, while others tend to favor Alabama. This is my attempt to compare the two using defensible statistical analysis. It is not the final word on this issue; I'm doing it simply to attempt to get at the question of who accomplished more during their five-year run.

I organized the analysis along offense, defense, margin of victory, win/ loss record, and strength of schedule.

Where I state that there is sufficient evidence to conclude ' X', the statement is based on standard hypothesis testing (t-tests) and evaluated at the alpha =.10 level of significance. The conclusions I draw regarding win/loss records and the overall conclusions are subjective and not based on hypothesis testing.

Such analyses are useful when the two phenomena you are comparing have many things in common and the things that are dissimilar are identified and controlled for. About the only thing in common between the Bama and NU runs are that the cover the same amount of time.

The game of college football has changed greatly since the mid-1990’s. The NCAA rulebook has also changed, and one of the changes made effectively ended a key to Nebraska’s dominance. The Huskers used a loophole that allowed the state to pay for scholarships in a state where there is no other Division I football power. That is no more—if you’re on the football team and you’re on a scholarship, you count against the 85-man limit.

No one disputes that Nebraska was the best team in college football during Tom Osborne’s reign as the Huskers head coach. They beat the stew out of almost everyone they played and were one field goal away from winning four national championships in a five year run of greatness. Husker fans should rightly be proud of that run, which ended with Osborne’s departure after sharing the 1997 National Championship with Michigan.They had an advantage and they used it masterfully until the NCAA changed the rules.

Another difference is the level of competition—both on the field and for prized recruits—between the two conferences. At the time of Nebraska’s run, the Big Eight was essentially the Big Two—Nebraska and Oklahoma and frankly, Oklahoma wasn’t very good in the 1990’s.

Four different schools have claimed the seven straight national titles won by the SEC. Anyone who doesn’t think that Alabama plays in a much more competitive league than Nebraska did doesn’t watch much football. Plus, Alabama has to recruit against the likes of Auburn, Georgia, Florida, Texas A&M and Tennessee for top flight prospects in an era where the rules favor parity.

But here’s why the comparison is so absurdly pointless—Nebraska’s dynasty ended in 1997.

For Alabama, there’s no end in sight. Two straight and three of the last four crystal balls are part of a work in progress. The Process is still running like a well tuned, well oiled juggernaut and there’s no reason to think more chances to claim additional titles aren’t ahead.

If Nick Saban had abruptly retired or left for greener pastures (chortle) after the 2012 season, then we might have a basis for debating which dynasty was better than the other. But, to chagrin of fans and competitors not wearing Crimson, Saban is as relentless and driven as he was when he started this glorious period in the glorious history that is Alabama football.

It ain’t over yet. Aight?

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