The college football playoff committee didn’t make much news when it released its new rankings Tuesday: The top seven teams remained the same. The biggest shift was for Mississippi, which lost badly last week and fell from No. 8 to No. 19.This was in line with what our college football forecast model expected. Because the model is based mostly on a historic analysis of the Coaches Poll, this means the committee behaved in the same boring way the coaches usually do — keeping the teams in the same order except when one drops a game and loses its place in line. So, our national championship and playoff odds look very much like they did Sunday.Here’s the more comprehensive version of that chart, which includes the entire Top 25 as they might appear when the committee releases its final standings Dec. 7.The lack of movement may also have been because last weekend was a sleepy one on the college football calendar. This upcoming weekend features much higher stakes, with the top teams facing more formidable opponents and entries into the conference title games on the line.I’m going to run through the top 11 teams in the committee’s rankings as the model sees their chances. In each case, we’ll look at how much a win or loss this weekend would affect the team’s playoff odds along with some more complex scenarios: for instance, if the team loses this week but wins its conference championship next week. Some of the more involved scenarios will expose potential blind spots in the model; we hope it’s still a helpful tool for thinking through the various possibilities.No. 1. Alabama Crimson TideOpponent: No. 15 Auburn on Saturday night. Alabama is a 70 percent favorite according to the model; win probabilities are derived from a simplified version of ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI).Overall chance of making playoff: 75 percentChance of making playoff with a win: 87 percentChance with a win but a loss in SEC Championship: 60 percentChance with a loss against Auburn: 48 percentChance with a loss but a win in SEC Championship: 75 percentChance with a loss and Mississippi State win (Alabama misses SEC Championship): 40 percentYou might expect the No. 1 team’s path to be straightforward. But Alabama’s is one of the more complex cases. That’s because there are really five scenarios to analyze. Two are straightforward: If Alabama defeats Auburn and wins the SEC Championship game, it’s in the playoff, very likely as the No. 1 seed. And if it loses twice, it’s probably out — unless there’s a ton of chaos behind it.The other three are trickier. Alabama could win this week then lose in the SEC Championship. It could lose this week and win the championship. Or it could lose this week and fail to make the championship, which will happen if Mississippi State wins.Failing to make the championship at all is the most dangerous for Alabama; their chances of reaching the playoff would be just 40 percent in that scenario. But the ranking of the other two is debatable.It’s hard to imagine Alabama would be left out if it lost to Auburn but made the SEC title game and won it. The model puts their chances at 75 percent in this case. And that seems too conservative — the alternative would probably entail no SEC team making the playoff at all. Sure, it’s technically possible. If Oregon, Florida State, Ohio State and either Baylor or TCU all win out, the committee would have to bump a zero- or one-loss conference champion for two-loss Alabama. That would be a predicament. But anything short of that exact scenario, and SEC fans from Gainesville to College Station would put aside their differences and come at the committee with pitchforks.A more acute danger might be a win against Auburn followed by a loss to Georgia in the SEC Championship. That way, the committee might get an SEC team into the playoff by choosing Georgia. Georgia needs some help to get into this position. The Bulldogs need Missouri to lose this weekend (Missouri probably doesn’t have the resume to make the playoff even if it wins out) and probably to defeat nonconference foe Georgia Tech on Saturday (otherwise, Georgia’s case will be too weak also).A lot of these questions boil down to how much the committee will emphasize conference championships as opposed to everything else. We don’t have much data on that yet, and neither do the folks in Tuscaloosa. Until we learn more, the only totally safe course for Alabama is simply to win twice.No. 2. Oregon DucksOpponent: At Oregon State on Saturday night (Oregon is a 90 percent favorite)Overall chance of making playoff: 76 percentChance with a win: 81 percentChance with a win but a loss in Pac-12 Championship: 42 percentChance with a loss: 32 percentChance with a loss but a win in Pac-12 Championship: 49 percentWe might ask the same question for Oregon: If it must lose again, is a loss this week or in the Pac-12 Championship better? This case is simpler because Oregon is already assured of making its championship game.The model’s answer is that it’s slightly better for Oregon to lose this week — even against unranked Oregon State — and come back to win the Pac-12 title. The danger of losing the Pac-12 Championship is that Oregon’s Pac-12 opponent could possibly get in ahead of them, especially if it’s UCLA.No. 3. Florida State SeminolesOpponent: vs Florida on Saturday afternoon (Florida State is a 74 percent favorite)Overall chance of making playoff: 59 percentChance with a win: 75 percentChance with a win but a loss in ACC Championship: 18 percentChance with a loss: 15 percentChance with a loss but a win in ACC Championship: 22 percentFlorida State isn’t at risk of being overtaken by anyone in its conference. (It’s clinched a spot in the ACC Championship and its opponent in that game, No. 16 Georgia Tech, almost certainly won’t make the playoff even if it wins out.) But the committee seems to be down enough on FSU that it probably can’t afford a loss at all. Some of FSU’s problem is strength of schedule, as it has been all year. Neither Florida nor Georgia Tech is likely to impress the committee as an acceptable loss for the Seminoles, even if it wins the other game.No. 4. Mississippi State BulldogsOpponent: at No. 19 Mississippi on Saturday afternoon (Mississippi State is the underdog; it has a 41 percent chance to win)Overall chance of making playoff: 33 percentChance with a win: 74 percentChance with a win and an Alabama win (Mississippi State misses SEC Championship): 77 percentChance with a win and an Alabama loss (Mississippi State advances to SEC Championship): 65 percentChance with a loss: 4 percentMississippi State has to win this week against Mississippi. FPI has them as underdogs to do so. But the Bulldogs’ chances of making the playoff will more than double to 74 percent if they do.But now we’re going to get a little crazy. Surely, things would be even better for Mississippi State if it won while Alabama lost, which would get them into the SEC Championship game?The model says no: Instead, the Bulldogs should be rooting for Alabama!Here’s why: If Mississippi State wins this week and completes its regular season, that’s probably good enough. It’s already No. 4 and will have notched another big win, on the road, against a ranked rival. Sure, it could eventually be surpassed by a team like TCU, but it could also see a team like Florida State ahead of it lose. It’s a reasonably sound position.But now imagine that Mississippi State wins this week and makes the SEC Championship but loses that game. Instead of a one-loss non-champion, it’s a two-loss non-champion — not so attractive. Furthermore, Alabama would also be a two-loss non-champion in this scenario and one that beat Mississippi State head-to-head late in the regular season. The risk-reward ratio would be poor for the Bulldogs.No. 5. TCU Horned FrogsOpponent: at Texas on Thursday night (TCU is a 65 percent favorite)Overall chance of making playoff: 53 percentChance with a win: 79 percentChance with a win if current top four also win this weekend: 50 percentChance with a loss: 5 percentTCU was helped by the committee this week, which left it at No. 5 even though it was idle. Indeed, the committee’s affection for TCU is a bit bizarre. TCU lost to No. 7 Baylor in October and the more sophisticated computer systems like FPI also have Baylor ranked higher. There’s some thought that Baylor will suddenly jump ahead of TCU if both teams win out. But if the committee has been placing TCU ahead of Baylor for weeks now despite its head-to-head loss, why would it suddenly shift gears?In any event, the model now has TCU’s chances of making the playoff at slightly better than even — and their chances will jump to 79 percent with a win against Texas. However, some of that possibility is contingent on one of the teams ahead of them losing. If the top five teams all win out, TCU’s playoff chances will be stuck at about 50 percent.No. 6. Ohio State BuckeyesOpponent: vs. Michigan on Saturday afternoon (Ohio State is an 89 percent favorite)Overall chance of making playoff: 42 percentChance with a win: 47 percentChance with a win and a win in Big Ten Championship: 73 percentChance with a win and a loss in Big Ten Championship: 6 percentChance with a loss: 2 percentThis is one of the simpler cases. Ohio State isn’t assured much of anything, but the team has about a 3-in-4 chance of making the playoff if it wins out, mostly because there’s likely to be some attrition ahead of it.One question is whether the Buckeyes will be ranked ahead of teams like Alabama, Oregon and Florida State if any of the three do lose this week. Those could be close calls for the committee. Not that it needs extra motivation against the Wolverines, but Ohio State might be helped by turning up with a dominant performance against Michigan instead of just getting by.No. 7. Baylor BearsOpponent: at Texas Tech on Saturday afternoon (Baylor is a 94 percent favorite)Overall chance of making playoff: 29 percentChance with a win: 31 percentChance with a win and a win against Kansas State next week: 40 percentChance with a loss: 1 percentThis is a low-stakes weekend for Baylor as compared with the rest of the top teams. The Bears are huge favorites against Texas Tech, and that probable win is already priced into their playoff odds. They have a bigger game against Kansas State next week.Unlike the six teams ahead of it, however, Baylor would be under 50 percent to make the playoff even if it wins out, according to the model.No. 8. UCLA BruinsOpponent: at Stanford on Friday afternoon (UCLA is a 69 percent favorite)Overall chance of making playoff: 13 percentChance with a win: 18 percentChance with a win and a win in Pac-12 Championship: 47 percentUCLA is about even-money to make the playoff if it wins out and has almost no chance otherwise.No. 9. Georgia BulldogsOpponent: vs. No. 16 Georgia Tech on Saturday afternoon (Georgia is an 81 percent favorite)Overall chance of making playoff: 13 percentChance with a win: 16 percentChance with a loss: 1 percentChance with a win and a Missouri loss (Georgia advances to SEC Championship): 22 percentChance with a win and win in SEC Championship: 44 percentOur model thought Georgia might be at some risk of ranking worse than No. 9 in this week’s committee standings; it played a Division I-AA opponent last week, Charleston Southern, while several of the teams ranked just behind them won against (slightly) better competition.The reaffirmation from the committee helps keep Georgia dangerous. The Bulldogs have one more hurdle than UCLA — they need Missouri to lose to make their conference title game while UCLA is in with a win. But if they make the SEC championship and win it, their odds of making the playoff will be close to even.No. 10. Michigan State SpartansOpponent: at Penn State on Saturday afternoon (Michigan State is a 78 percent favorite)Overall chance of making playoff: 1 percentChance with a win: Still about 1 percentChance with a win, if at least 3 teams ranked ahead of it lose this weekend: 3 percentChance with a win, if at least 6 teams ranked ahead of it lose this weekend: 16 percentI list this case to demonstrate that when you’re on the outside looking in, you’d rather take a high-stakes path (like the one Georgia has). As I mentioned last week, Michigan State — locked out of its conference title game and with a middling opponent this week — just can’t do enough to impress the committee to jump into the top four. Even if there’s total and utter chaos ahead of Michigan State, its best-case scenario is probably finishing at No. 5 or No. 6.No. 11. Arizona WildcatsOpponent: vs. No. 13 Arizona State on Friday afternoon (Arizona is a 64 percent favorite)Overall chance of making playoff: 2 percentChance with a win: 3 percentChance with a win and a UCLA loss (Arizona advances to Pac-12 Championship): 7 percentChance with a win and a win in Pac-12 Championship: 24 percentArizona, like Georgia, at least has a specific path to follow: It’ll need to beat Arizona State, hope UCLA loses so it can make the Pac-12 title game, then beat Oregon there, then hope that one or two teams lose ahead of it. It’s not likely. But the committee might want to find a spot for the Pac-12 champion; it seems to like the conference; the committee ranks Oregon, UCLA and Arizona higher than the AP poll has them.There are a few other teams with a snowball’s-chance-in-hell. Arizona State’s case isn’t fundamentally that different than Arizona’s. Kansas State has an outside chance to finish as the Big 12 champion — again, without the benefit or risk of playing in a championship game — and could be more attractive than the likes of Michigan State if the committee is desperate. Wisconsin could also be a two-loss conference champion if it beats both Minnesota and Ohio State. The model says there’s almost no chance Missouri will get in even with an SEC title, but if the SEC goes haywire and the committee is struggling to represent it, who knows.In any event, here is the model’s probabilistic take on how the standings might look a week from now, accounting for both the uncertainty in this weekend’s games and in how the committee will react to them.CORRECTION (Nov. 30, 11:31 a.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly claimed that the Big 12 uses head-to-head records as a tiebreaker to determine its conference champion. It does not.
Robert Griffin III looked forward to playing opposite the Philadelphia Eagles’ Michael Vick on Sunday. But a concussion kept Philly’s quarterback sidelined. Vick had to be impressed with what he saw in Griffin, though, who played virtually a perfect game in leading the Washington Redskins to a rare easy win, 31-6.Griffin was 14-f0r-15 passing for 200 yards and a career-high four touchdowns for a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating. Griffin also rushed for 84 yards.The newly appointed rookie captain had touchdown passes to of 6 yards to fullback Darrel Young, 49 yards to wide receiver Aldrick Robinson, 61 yards to wideout Santana Moss and 17 yards to tight end Logan Paulsen.The Redskins, coming off their bye week, ended their losing streak at three games and improved their record to 4-6. In the oh-so-forgiving NFC East, that’s good enough for them to be two games behind the idle New York Giants and a game behind the Dallas Cowboys. The Redskins play a Thanksgiving Day game at Dallas.It was the Redskins’ largest margin of victory under their third-year coach, Mike Shanahan. Their most lopsided win under Shanahan previously had been 14 points.The last-place Eagles (3-7) extended to six the longest losing streak of coach Andy Reid’s 16-year tenure in Philadelphia. With Vick concussed, rookie starter Foles did nothing to secure the position. He looked lost most of the time and threw a pair of early interceptions and led the Eagles to only a pair of field goals. Tailback LeSean McCoy lost a fumble in the final seconds of the first half to set up a Redskins a field goal that gave Washington a 17-3 halftime lead.Cornerback DeAngelo Hall and safety Brandon Meriweather had the Redskins’ interceptions, but Meriweather, playing his first game this season, also suffered what the team called a sprained right knee.The Redskins go to Dallas for a Thanksgiving Day match that pits bitter rivals trying to move up the NFC East and earn a playoff spot.
It’s not just Seager that has Dodgers fans drooling. Twenty-two-year-old rookie sensation Cody Bellinger launched 39 home runs and knocked 97 RBIs in 2017 to lead the Dodgers in both categories, and is a frontrunner for the NL Rookie of the Year award. LA also has 21-year-old left-handed starting pitcher Julio Urias, who missed much of 2017 with a shoulder injury, but is still one of baseball’s most promising talents. And there’s more. LA has one of the top-ranked minor-league systems in the game, so there are even more talented Dodgers to come. Which is likely why they opened the offseason as 2018 World Series favorites.Houston Astros (88.6 wins per season)2017 Elo Rating: 1575.0 (15th)2017 batting WAR: 36.5 (5th)2017 pitching WAR: 17.0 (42nd)2017 average age, batters: 28.8 (21st-youngest)2017 average age, pitchers: 28.5 (17th-youngest)For Houston, it’s been a completely different journey to the top. The Astros were really bad for more than half a decade, when they averaged an MLB-worst 69 wins between 2006 and 2014. But while the organization floundered at the major-league level, the Astros’ front office steadily stockpiled the organization’s minor-league system with high-ceiling talent through the draft and international free agency.In 2006, Houston signed a 16-year-old named Jose Altuve for just $15,000 — Altuve is now a three-time reigning AL batting champion. In 2009, they drafted Dallas Keuchel in the 7th round of the draft, and he went onto win the AL Cy Young award in 2015. Two years after that they drafted George Springer out of Connecticut, who this week was crowned World Series MVP. Then in 2012, the Astros selected shortstop Carlos Correa with the No.1 pick in the draft — this year Correa had the team’s second-highest Wins Above Replacement in the regular season.Put that all together and Houston had the largest WAR of any team in MLB from their homegrown players in 2017. They’ve done their time at the bottom, and now with their star trio leading the way, it’s Houston’s time to shine. Baseball’s best young shortstopsIn a player’s first three MLB seasons, most wins above replacement (WAR) while playing at least half of games at shortstop 21Phillies1470.926.526.622.214.171.124 20Braves1466.528.629.615.09.079.3 10Cardinals1514.628.028.124.114.682.8 5Yankees1570.728.727.628.824.085.8 11Brewers1510.527.3126.96.36.1992.7 1Arky Vaughan1932-3442917.3 10Cal Ripken, Jr.1981-8326812.5 7Nomar Garciaparra1996-9831813.8 4Cubs1546.026.630.826.915.587.5 Sources: Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs 1Dodgers1581.627.729.729.921.390.0 TEAMELO RATINGBATTERSPITCHERSBATTERSPITCHERSPREDICTED WINS/SEASON WAR is an average of the metrics found at FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.Sources: Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs Which MLB teams have the brightest futures?Most predicted wins over the next five seasons, based on 2017 team characteristics 14Rangers1497.128.428.9188.8.131.52 2Indians1596.7184.108.40.2062.589.2 9Charlie Hollocher1918-2032612.6 25Orioles1474.228.628.015.47.378.0 17Angels1512.829.929.217.412.679.9 15Royals1477.328.930.312.914.380.3 19Mariners1506.629.627.922.410.479.8 6Corey Seager2015-1731414.1 3Francisco Lindor2015-1741116.2 7Red Sox1549.927.328.419.222.884.8 12Rays1505.628.327.624.012.081.5 9Twins1509.827.129.726.58.484.1 29Giants1465.829.629.07.112.176.8 8Diamondbacks1534.428.328.319.425.884.1 5Rogers Hornsby1915-1720714.5 13Marlins14220.127.116.117.12.581.0 18White Sox1463.926.728.915.15.879.9 16Rockies1506.428.526.614.920.380.0 AVERAGE AGEWAR Of course, it’s also worth noting that although the Dodgers currently project for the most future wins of any current MLB team, the Astros rank third. Sandwiched in second place between the two World Series participants are the Cleveland Indians, who were upset in the ALDS by the New York Yankees but still had one of the most impressive seasons of any team in recent history. Across their entire roster, Cleveland was a little younger than either the Dodgers or Astros, so they should be a force to reckon with for the foreseeable future. Add in other up-and-coming teams (such as the Yankees) and old standbys (such as the Cubs), and 2017’s glut of good teams should continue into next season and beyond. 3Astros1575.028.828.536.517.088.6 26Padres1447.826.028.08.55.378.0 23Athletics1491.528.727.617.110.378.9 PLAYERYEARSGAMES AT SHORTSTOPWAR 22Reds1418.104.22.1682.81.279.2 6Nationals1550.729.029.923.223.485.4 24Pirates1486.528.322.214.171.1248.1 4Carlos Correa2015-1736015.0 8Glenn Wright1924-2642213.3 27Mets1460.329.127.318.67.777.6 2Johnny Pesky1942-4743316.8 30Tigers1442.929.728.413.69.876.8 28Blue Jays1496.6126.96.36.1997.577.5 Hope you didn’t get sick of the Astros and Dodgers, because you’re going to be stuck with them for a lot of Octobers to come. Based on our analysis of all MLB teams since 1988,1That’s when free agency truly began to reshape the way teams build following a period of collusion between owners. this year’s Astros and Dodgers each appear to have two of the brightest futures for any pair of World Series teams ever.Here’s how we figured that out. We gathered data on all MLB teams from 1988 to 2012 and tried to see which factors best predicted their win totals over the following five seasons. After testing different combinations,2Specifically, variable selection was performed using the Lasso. we found that five metrics emerged as significant predictors of a team’s future record: A team’s Elo rating through the end of the World Series (which contributed about 33 percent to a team’s future win projection); its batting wins above replacement (WAR)3Averaging together the versions found at Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com. (29 percent); its pitching WAR (13 percent); and the average ages — weighted by playing time — of its batters (6 percent) and pitchers (12 percent) — plus a bonus for making the World Series (7 percent).4Winning the World Series, while all sorts of fun, didn’t predict much for the years to come, after accounting for all this other stuff.Unsurprisingly, having a talented young core (especially on the hitting side) is a good ticket for a return trip to the World Series. After running the numbers for the final two teams standing this year, here’s how the Dodgers and Astros stack up against the other 56 World Series teams in our data set:Los Angeles Dodgers (90.0 wins per season)2017 Elo Rating: 1581.6 (11th)2017 batting WAR: 29.9 (18th)2017 pitching WAR: 21.3 (21st)2017 average age, batters: 27.7 (5th-youngest)2017 average age, pitchers: 29.7 (33rd-youngest)Despite losing to the Astros in Game 7 on Wednesday, LA appears to have the brighter future of this year’s World Series teams, albeit only just. The Dodgers are projected to win about 90 games per season for the next five years, but that’s nothing new to them. Since 2013, the Dodgers have averaged an MLB-best 95 wins per season and were twice denied a shot at the World Series. The bulk of this year’s production for the Dodgers has come from a mix of young phenoms and veteran stars. Turner, Clayton Kershaw and 23-year-old Corey Seager were the top three WAR contributors to the Dodgers. Seager has emerged as one of the premier players in the league and, with just three years of MLB experience to date, he ranks sixth all-time for the most WAR among shortstops in their first three seasons. Although he was up and down during the playoffs — he missed the NLCS with a back injury and hit just .237 in the postseason — Seager is one of the biggest reasons LA’s future looks so bright.
At a recent practice in Mons, Belgium, the country’s former leading man and its current top tennis player traded missiles from the baseline. Olivier Rochus grunted as he leapt into his classical one-handed backhand, while David Goffin quietly parried with groundstrokes into the corners. Goffin won most of the exchanges, and all 10 of the games.Rochus showed his frustration after it was done by sending a ball into the stands at the Lotto Mons Expo, where Belgium’s biggest men’s tennis tournament is taking place this week. But in a court-side interview afterwards, Rochus, who is 33 and retiring after this tournament, pointed out that he is in good company. “When my opponent is way better, what can you say? … It’s not only tough for me, it’s tough for everybody. I’m not the only one losing,” he said.Just about everyone is losing to the 23-year-old Goffin these days. From the start of July to the start of this tournament, Goffin won 34 of 36 matches, including the first 25, improving his ranking from 106th in the world to No. 31. In his 34 wins, he lost just four sets, and has been forced into just five tiebreakers. The rest of the sets he won decisively, seven by 6-0 and 11 by 6-1.Goffin’s glorious two and a half months had yielded nearly as much success as he had achieved in his prior four years as a pro. He’s won 17 tour-level matches and roughly $340,000 in earnings, increasing his career totals by about a half and a third, respectively.Goffin’s winning run is only matched in the last decade by the players who have been No. 1 during that time: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. No one else since 2004 has won 25 straight matches at tour, tour qualifying or challenger events, according to ATP World Tour stats guru Greg Sharko.Evidently, there are two ways to pull off a 25-match winning streak in tennis today: Be one of the best players of all time, or do what Goffin has done — set yourself an easy schedule and combine it with luck and improved play. Tennis players, unlike, say, NFL teams, can decide which events they play. Goffin and his coach chose ones with relatively weak fields — just nine of Goffin’s 34 wins were against players ranked above him — and now the young Belgian is on a winning run usually only experienced by the game’s very best.Winning brings ranking points, which means easier draws. It also brings money, which can be invested in coaches, physical trainers and more comfortable travel. The downside of winning is that it leaves little time for rest and for major work in practice. And if it comes against easy opponents, it may not provide useful preparation for tougher ones.But there are psychological advantages to winning. “You don’t doubt, you just attack every ball and then you are sure the ball will be in the court. It’s a great feeling,” Goffin said.Before his recent run, Goffin had been most famous for his losses. He made his Grand Slam debut as a lucky loser, snagging a spot in the draw despite losing in the last round of qualifying. He parlayed that berth in the 2012 French Open into a fourth-round loss to Federer, his childhood idol, and attained fame for smiling through an on-court interview afterward with the man whose face adorned posters on Goffin’s childhood bedroom walls. Goffin’s later Grand Slam losses also were to top players: Six of nine came to players seeded in the Top 10, four of those in the first round. The lucky loser had become an unlucky loser.Goffin sensed he was improving before his results did. In March of this year he started working with his current coach, Thierry van Cleemput, and began enjoying tennis again, shedding the defensiveness and doubtfulness that had plagued his game. But he kept running into tough competition, culminating with what van Cleemput called a “nightmare” of a draw in Wimbledon, against defending champion Andy Murray in the first round.Goffin and his coach decided it was time to step down a level. As most of the tour’s top players either rested after Wimbledon or moved to hard courts to prepare for the U.S. Open, Goffin stayed in Europe, on clay, entering a tournament in each week of July: three challengers — a rung below tour level — and one at the bottom level of the tour. He won all four tournaments. (Up until then, he had never won more than eight straight matches.) Then he came to the U.S. and won seven of nine matches — taking a set 6-0 off No. 8 Grigor Dimitrov. Back in Europe, he won seven straight matches, to send Belgium back to the top level of the Davis Cup and to win his second career title, again at the bottom level of the tour.“We decided to play some challengers to try to win some matches and to get some confidence,” Goffin said. “The level was there in practice and against Murray, but what I needed was to win some matches and to play a lot of matches.” He added, “I didn’t expect to win so many matches.” After all, he hadn’t made it past the quarterfinals of the four prior challengers he’d played this year.Van Cleemput said he and his young charge have been “lucky.” The coach is setting expectations low, despite Goffin’s recent run. Van Cleemput said Goffin’s target is for a career like that of No. 23 Alexandr Dolgopolov, a player from Ukraine who has never reached a Grand Slam semifinal or been ranked in the Top 10. Goffin has earned more ranking points since Wimbledon than five members of the Top 10, but van Cleemput isn’t expecting him to join that group any time soon. “The first objective now is to confirm the level of top 40, and to come near the level of the top 30,” he said. “The reality is important, not to dream all the time.”Recent tennis history supports the coach’s caution. Federer, Nadal and Djokovic didn’t play any challengers during their 25-match winning streaks. Much less familiar names precede Goffin’s on the list of players to win three straight challengers in the past 10 years. None has ever been ranked in the Top 30.It’s not only luck and easy opposition that has propelled Goffin to new heights. It’s also his serve. He hit aces on more than one in nine service points in eight of his 14 tour-level matches on hard courts this summer. He’d done that in just three of 50 prior hard-court matches at that level. It’s a remarkable feat for a player who is 5’11.” Height translates into the ability to hit at a sharper downward angle without the net getting in the way, which makes it easier to hit serves that are both fast and in the box. No one under 6′ has won a Grand Slam title in the past decade.Dolgopolov, the tour’s best sub-6-foot server, raises his contact point by leaping into the air. Goffin’s service motion is striking for how little he gets off the ground. Van Cleemput said his main intervention was to change Goffin’s toss and to emphasize the follow-through.Van Cleemput wants to get Goffin leaping higher on his serve, and to improve his strength and fitness. But when his player keeps playing events late into each week, he doesn’t get much time to work with him. For now, most of Goffin’s practice sessions are live matches.Goffin is confident he’ll have plenty of chances to work on his game and to keep getting better. “I have a lot of years in the future to do some good things,” he said — though he may never do anything as good as his unbeaten late-summer run.
For his day job, James Curley, 36, is an assistant professor of psychology at Columbia University, working on the neuroendocrinological basis of social behavior. But in his downtime he tries to answer different kinds of mysteries: What was the first soccer game he ever went to? (He remembered the vague details, but not the specifics.) How often have his two favorite teams played each other over the last century? And is soccer really as dull as some people say?The answers to those questions were surprisingly difficult to find. But Curley used the same approach he uses in his academic career: data, lots and lots of data. By cobbling together game results from several different sources, he has compiled what is almost certainly the world’s biggest compendium of English football scores. Sitting on his GitHub page, devoid of any fanfare whatsoever, are the scores of nearly 200,000 English soccer games played in the top four leagues since 1888, the days of Jack the Ripper and Queen Victoria.1These games are from the English football “league” system. Currently, this encompasses the top four tiers of the English football pyramid, or 92 teams. These 14 megabytes can tell remarkable stories, dating back more than 125 years to the founding of the English football league.Take the most common final score, for example. In 188,060 league games,2For context, this is very similar to the total number of major league baseball games played since 1900. the final tally was most often 1-0, proof, for Curley, that soccer was as low-scoring as he suspected. This result has occurred in more than 30,000 games — 16 percent of the total. Other common scores: 2-1 (about 27,000 games), 2-0 (about 22,000) and 1-1 (about 22,000).In 85,694 games — dangerously close to half the total — at least one of the teams forgot to score at all. That led Curley to an answer for one of his questions: “Soccer is a bit dull,” he told me.Here is the distribution of home and away teams’ goal-scoring throughout history:Scores are likely to be low. In more than 85 percent of all games, neither team scored more than three goals.Those low scores help lead to thousands of draws — 47,412 since the foundation of the league system, to be exact. That’s more than a quarter of all games. And 7 percent of games overall have ended with no one scoring, and no one winning — there have been 13,475 nil-nil draws.In another testament to the sport’s “dullness,” draws have become more common over football’s long history. (Last season, 27 percent of games ended without a winner. ) This chart shows the prevalence of drawn games3Throughout, the year refers to the start of the season, e.g. 1950 refers to the 1950-1951 football season.:In 1890, just 12 percent of games were drawn, and in 1977, 626 games out of 2,028, or 31 percent, were draws. While this number is down slightly today, we’re near the historical high.That’s partly because of a decrease in scoring generally. As English soccer has wound its way through the decades, its scoring has withered. Here are the historical averages of goals scored per game, by league level: The average number of goals per game has at times wildly fluctuated, particularly with the sudden spikes and subsequent declines in the two postwar eras. In 1925, FIFA amended the offside rule. Prior to the change, three players had to be between an attacker and the goal when the ball was passed to him. The new rule changed this to two players (typically a defender and the goalkeeper), giving more leeway to attackers, and led to a dramatic, instant increase in scoring.The reasons for the other big shifts are less clear. Rule changes — the kinds of things that would usually explain variation in goals — are quite rare in soccer’s history.In 1958, substitutions were allowed for the first time, but only for an injured player. This roughly corresponds with the beginning of a steep decline in scoring in the 1960s. This could make for a plausible causal explanation: Perhaps playing with an injured player left teams extremely vulnerable on defense, leading to many goals. The addition of the substitute may have mitigated these effects.Other rules changes — the introduction of red and yellow cards in 1970, another tweak to the offside rule in 1990, banning goalkeepers’ handling of back-passes in 1992 — don’t seem to correlate with any major changes in scoring. In particular, the decline after 1930, and the rise after 1950, aren’t well explained. Some of these changes may be due to the evolution of football tactics, something that is laid out, for example, in Jonathan Wilson’s “Inverting the Pyramid.” In the early days, soccer featured a large number of forwards, but tactical changes led to a larger number of defensive and midfield players. The shifts in the game, and in the game theory of its tactics, may well have led to shifts in overall scoring.In 1981 there was a rule change of another type: To calculate standings, teams were given three points for a win and one point for a draw. Before 1981, only two points were awarded for a win. This change gave teams less incentive, generally, to settle for a draw. This could have led to more aggressive play, and more goals. However, the effect may not operate in just one direction. Once a team does score, that team has all the more incentive to shut the game down and hold out to win having scored just a goal. 1981 did indeed see a small jump in goals, and goal-scoring was elevated for a few years after.However, the change was not large and has not persisted. Goal-scoring seems to have reached something of an equilibrium in the past 30 years or so, corresponding with some of the lowest levels of scoring of the past 125 years.Curley’s reticent about how long his mammoth database took to put together. “I’m not sure I want to tell you, actually,” he joked, “Because then my wife would find out.”Curley is also quick to add that the data did exist elsewhere — although it’s typically scattered, proprietary, or hard to access. He assembled it from the webpages of the Rec.Sports.Soccer Statistics Foundation, from other compilers and GitHub users, from ESPN’s own database, and elsewhere, and made it freely available.“Because I believe in open access to data — I’m a strong advocate of that in science — I just generally have a view that if data is out there, and as long as it’s not owned by someone, then it’s good to have it out in the public,” he said. “I knew there were people who would enjoy it, so I thought, ‘Well, why not give it to them?’”Curley’s academic work and soccer work overlap. Much of his academic work, for example, is concerned with pairwise contest models — contests where two entities compete at a time — and social hierarchies. These issues are often tackled with formulae like the Elo system, which calculates soccer rankings. The parallel to his soccer hobby is obvious. Soccer games, after all, are pairwise contests.Other psychological concepts infused our discussion of soccer. Unlike most fans of English football, Curley roots for two teams. Aston Villa is nature — Curley’s father, and his father’s father, back 100 years, were season ticket-holders — York City is nurture. Conveniently, using the data set of his own creation, he can chart his two teams’ shared history, answering one of his questions. (“Fortunately, they’ve barely ever even crossed paths. So I’ve never had to choose.”)And like the academic he is, he’s performed a sort of peer review of other sources’ soccer data. Case in point, on Nov. 26, 1983, Doncaster Rovers played Chester to a 0-0 draw, in a fourth-tier match. This game is unknown even to ESPN’s database. But not to James Curley’s.“An appropriately completely dull game,” he said. And just one of 188,060.CORRECTION (Oct. 4, 5:30 p.m.): A footnote in an earlier version of this story misstated the number of teams in the top four tiers of the English football league system; there are 92 such teams, not 94.
We’re two weeks into the NFL season, and nine teams are 0-2. But these winless squads are not created equal: The Seattle Seahawks, last season’s NFC champion, are clearly in better shape than the terrible Chicago Bears. Still, two games is an eighth of the season, and two early losses can wipe out even the best teams’ margin of error for the rest of the season.So, how bad is it to start 0-2? And which of these nine teams have already screwed up their playoff chances? Watch the video below to find out; you can see the chart we discuss at the bottom of the post.If you’re into this kind of statistical banter, subscribe to FiveThirtyEight’s sports podcast, Hot Takedown. Check out our NFL predictions for odds on every game this season.
4Michael Vick2002679218330 27Greg Landry1971861113200 9Steve Young19921,737142263 20Kordell Stewart2001610132217 5Michael Vick2010860202327 23Colin Kaepernick2013803125216 Embed Code 10Greg Landry1972547167256 26Donovan McNabb2000232178201 In the latest installment in our documentary podcast series Ahead Of Their Time, we examine how Cunningham frustrated defenses not only with his speed and agility but also with his ability to throw the ball. It was a combination of skills that no quarterback had ever really possessed before, and it helped Cunningham transform the way people thought about the game’s most glamorous position. 3Russell Wilson2014659225335 2Robert Griffin III2012847218347 8Cam Newton2015633169266 28Russell Wilson2012952111199 Scan a list of the NFL’s best quarterbacks nowadays, and you’ll find names such as Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Tyrod Taylor and even that of rookie sensation Dak Prescott — dynamic passers who can run the ball, too. The question of whether a team can succeed with that kind of dual threat under center has basically been settled in today’s game; such a QB has led his team to the Super Bowl in each of the past four seasons.1Colin Kaepernick did it in 2012; ditto Wilson in 2013 and 2014, and Newton in 2015. And no five-year period in modern NFL history2Going back to the start of the Super Bowl in the 1966 season. has seen quarterbacks gain more rushing yards per game than they have over the past five seasons. The golden age for mobile passers is right now.In the not-too-distant past, a quarterback was supposed to stay in the pocket, survey the field and make the throw — not take off and run. Not only was rushing mostly absent from the job description, it was often seen as a bad habit that needed to be discouraged. But Randall Cunningham helped change all that when he took the NFL by storm in the mid-1980s. 17Steve Grogan1978484146224 16Michael Vick2011593140226 Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com 12Daunte Culpepper20001,558129239 Greatest dual-threat QB seasons, 1966-2016 13Kordell Stewart1997422159231 14Rich Gannon2000947129227 1Randall Cunningham1990750249374 6Cam Newton2011512224311 7Cam Newton2012608195295 18Steve McNair1998450149224 25Donovan McNabb2002419141211 YARDS ABOVE BACKUP 21Randall Cunningham1992445144217 22Tyrod Taylor2015682129217 More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed By Neil Paine After flashing abilities as a passer, runner and punter at UNLV, Cunningham was selected in the second round of the 1985 NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. And almost immediately, his unique skill set grabbed his teammates’ attention.“You knew there was something special about Randall,” former Eagles defensive back Eric Allen said. “[He was] extremely athletic, played with a great sense of self, understood that he was good, understood that he could do a lot of things that other quarterbacks in the game could not do, and he had a great deal of confidence.”Despite his talent, Cunningham sat behind Ron Jaworski, a more traditional dropback passer, for most of his first two NFL seasons. But he became Philly’s starter after Jaworski was hurt late in the 1986 season — and the Eagles’ iconoclastic coach, Buddy Ryan, soon let Cunningham loose as the game’s first true dual-threat QB.“Buddy Ryan allowed me to be the player he believed I could be,” Cunningham told me. “He saw something in me and gave me an opportunity to flourish as an athlete, and not just a quarterback, but to really take it to a whole other level.”Cunningham wasn’t the first mobile QB in NFL history. Before 1986, six quarterbacks had put up 500 or more rushing yards in a season; in 1972 alone, two of them — Bobby Douglass of the Chicago Bears and Greg Landry of the Detroit Lions — combined for a whopping 1,492 rushing yards and 17 rushing touchdowns. Those were the two best pre-Randall QB rushing seasons according to my yards above backup QB (YABQ) metric, which assigns a value to a quarterback’s passing and rushing statistics in a way similar to Football Outsiders’ yards above replacement (and can also be calculated throughout history).3Specifically, YABQ converts Chase Stuart’s calculations for a QB’s passing and rushing value above average into a measurement of total value that uses as its baseline a backup-level quarterback, a la Football Outsiders’ YAR metric. But Landry’s days as a scrambler were limited — he only had a couple more 200-yard rushing seasons in his 15-year NFL career — and Douglass, as great as he was running the ball, couldn’t throw.4Douglass generated fewer passing yards that season than a backup-level QB would have in the same number of attempts. There was the occasional outlier, like Minnesota’s Fran Tarkenton, who was a strong passer and able scrambler, but before Cunningham, those players were seen as unicorns more than archetypes.Cunningham ushered in the age of the running QB. In 1987, his first full season as Philadelphia’s starter, he passed for 349 more adjusted net yards than a backup-level QB (16th best in the NFL that year) and rushed for an additional 125 yards above backup (which easily led the league). It was the third time in history a quarterback had hit both of those benchmarks in the same season, after Landry in 1972 and Steve Grogan with the New England Patriots in 1978.5Along with Landry and Douglass, Grogan was another of the few pre-Cunningham QBs who could run; in 1976, he scored 12 touchdowns on the ground, a record for QBs until Cam Newton scored 14 in 2011. And Cunningham was just getting warmed up.In 1988, he piled up 336 YABQ through the air and 171 on the ground, the first time in league history that combination had ever been achieved. In a “down” 1989 season, he notched 248/147, a combo that had only been reached twice before (by Landry in ’72 and Cunningham himself in 1988). And in 1990, Cunningham set a standard for dual-threat seasons that has yet to be eclipsed in the 26 years since. That year, he was 750 yards better than a backup through the air, and he tacked on another 249 YABQ on the ground; if we take the harmonic mean of those two numbers (a particular kind of average that emphasizes high values in all numbers being averaged, in order to capture seasons when a player produced a lot of passing and rushing value), it’s the single best combined passing-rushing season by a QB in the Super Bowl era: PLAYERYEARPASSINGRUSHINGHARMONIC MEAN 19Daunte Culpepper2002288181222 11Steve Young19981,474133244 29Steve Young19911,030110199 30Steve McNair20011,102109198 24Cam Newton2013423143213 15Randall Cunningham1988336171226 There have been better pure passing seasons by mobile QBs; Steve Young had more than a few of them. As Cunningham told me, “People cannot forget about Steve Young, because [he] and I were battling out every single year to be the No. 1 rushing quarterback.” There have also been better QB rushing seasons; in 2006, Michael Vick became the first quarterback to break the 1,000-yard barrier in a season, though his passing was below the backup level that year. But nobody combined the two aspects of quarterbacking in a more prolific way than Cunningham did during that magical 1990 season, one which earned him league MVP honors from the Pro Football Writers of America.Alas, Cunningham would injure his knee in the Eagles’ 1991 opener, and miss the entire season. He returned in 1992 to produce what was, at the time, the sixth-best dual-threat season in modern history (according to my method above),6It ranks 21st now. but ongoing battles with injury and inconsistent play eventually paved Cunningham’s way out of Philly in 1995. After a year away from football entirely,7He spent the season running a granite company. a rejuvenated Cunningham joined the Minnesota Vikings and, in 1998, he enjoyed the 25th-best passing season of the Super Bowl era, according to YABQ — a testament to his skills as a pocket passer after his athleticism had eroded with age and wear.Cunningham finished his 16-year NFL career with the 40th-most total YABQ of any quarterback since 1966 and the second-most rushing YABQ — trailing only Vick. (He also generated about twice as much value through the air as Vick did.) But Cunningham’s biggest football legacy might be in the number of dual-threat QBs that followed in his footsteps. Before Cunningham’s 1987 season, only four quarterbacks had produced at least 200 passing and 100 rushing YABQ in the same season: Tarkenton, Landry (twice), Grogan and Doug Williams. Afterwards, 16 different quarterbacks pulled off the feat in 36 seasons, not including Cunningham himself. And 21 of the 25 best dual-threat seasons in modern history have taken place since Cunningham’s banner 1990 campaign.There are still quarterbacks in today’s NFL who play like the traditional archetype of the drop-back passer. But there are also a number of top QBs whose playing styles resemble that of Randall Cunningham. By proving that a quarterback could dominate the game with both his arm and his legs, Cunningham opened up a new path to success for subsequent generations of signal callers. So anytime a passer rolls out and fires a dart to a receiver who broke free because the defense was worried about the QB running, remember that in some small way, that play was made possible by the influence of a Philadelphia Eagle who changed the game three decades ago.This is part of our new podcast series “Ahead Of Their Time,” profiling players and managers in various sports who were underappreciated in their era.
Ohio State football senior left tackle Mike Adams, who returns to the Buckeyes’ lineup on Saturday against No. 14 Nebraska, stands at 6-foot-8 and weighs in at 320-pounds, making him a sizeable asset to the team. With Adams set to make his first appearance for the team since the 2011 Sugar Bowl, suffice it to say that help is on the way for OSU’s beleaguered offensive line. Adams, along with DeVier Posey, Daniel “Boom” Herron and Solomon Thomas, were suspended for the Buckeyes’ first five games of the 2011 season for selling OSU football memorabilia in exchange for improper benefits in the form of tattoos. Posey and Herron will remain suspended for an additional violation, but Adams is listed on the Buckeyes’ depth chart as the starter for Saturday’s game at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb. Adams’ return couldn’t have come soon enough. After not allowing a single sack against Akron and Toledo in the Buckeyes’ first two games, the Scarlet and Gray offensive line has allowed 14 sacks against Miami (Fla.), Colorado and Michigan State. Quarterback play was scrutinized after last Saturday’s 10-7 loss to the Spartans, but the Buckeyes’ signal-callers were also sacked nine times. “Obviously, they (the offensive line) didn’t do a great job,” first-year OSU head coach Luke Fickell said after the game. “You don’t give your quarterback much of a chance when (they are) sacked nine times.” OSU linemen, including senior center Mike Brewster and redshirt sophomore Jack Mewhort, both said that Adams’ return is a relief. “It gives you a lot of motivation to come back tomorrow,” Mewhort said of Adams’ return. “We’re excited to have (him) back.” Excited could be an understatement. Adams, a three-year letter-winner and first team all-Big Ten selection in 2010, figures to help protect the freshman quarterback Braxton Miller and create a push for OSU’s running backs, who were held to 78 yards rushing against the Spartans. Brewster agreed with Mewhort. “I think it is really going to help us getting Mike back this week,” Brewster said. “He is going to be ready to go and had a great season last year for this team. I’m excited to see what he is going to be able to do against Nebraska.” Posey and Herron were originally scheduled to come off suspension with Adams in the game against the Cornhuskers. Offensive lineman Marcus Hall was also suspended along with Posey and Herron this week. Fickell said during a Tuesday press conference that while the new suspensions are a setback for the team, he won’t allow his players to complain or whine. “We have also got to look at the (players) we are getting,” he said. “So, you’ve got your Mike Adams and your Solomon Thomas, and you know, so, those are the things you’ve still got to focus on.” Based on comments Adams made during OSU football Media Day on Aug. 20, Adams is ready for action. “Everything that has happened has definitely left its stamp on the season, but we’re over that and I’m just ready to go out and play,” Adams said. “Personally, I’ve only got (seven) games left, so every time I come into the stadium, it puts chills down my back.” As for how Adams fits back into the offensive line, Brewster reiterated his return is a positive, saying the line will do whatever it takes to improve. “(Adams will) bring a lot of experience back,” Brewster said after Saturday’s loss. “(He’s a) great player. Really just going to look forward to Saturday.” Adams and the Buckeyes’ (3-2, 0-1) game against the No. 14 Cornhuskers (4-1, 0-1) will kick-off at 8 p.m. and be broadcast on ABC.
After a third-place finish at the Big Ten Championships in French Lick, Ind. April 27-29, the Ohio State women’s golf team will enter post-season play at the NCAA Central Regional Tournament. The NCAA Women’s Golf Committee announced the team’s bid on April 30, where the tournament’s sixth-seeded Buckeyes play host at the Scarlet Course Thursday through Saturday. The regional bid marks 18-consecutive under coach Therese Hession, and the team has appeared in the national tournament 12 times. Twenty-four teams will compete in the regional tournament along with six individuals. National Championship bids will be awarded to the top eight teams and top two individuals. The National Championship will be held at the Vanderbilt Legends Club in Franklin, Tenn. May 22-25. The Buckeyes finished sixth in the regional tournament at Warren Golf Course in Notre Dame, Ind. in 2011, qualifying for nationals, claiming the regions final spot. The squad went on to card a 905 and finish 21st. OSU is one of only three Big Ten schools competing in their region, along with Purdue and Michigan.
The OSU women’s tennis team currently has 4 international players occupying its roster in sophomore Ferny Angeles Paz (left), sophomore Miho Kowase, junior Grainne O’Neill and sophomore Gabriella De Santis.Credit: Whitney Wilson / Lantern reporterTraveling to America from a foreign country can be a big change, offering an unfamiliar culture with new languages and learning experiences for some international students.The Ohio State women’s tennis team (12-4, 5-0) has eight players on its roster. Only half of those players are from the United States. The other four have traveled thousands of miles from Peru, Japan, Ireland and Venezuela to become Buckeyes.Coach Melissa Schaub said she considers international players to be great assets for the team.“Tennis is a very international sport, so you see a lot of international players in college tennis,” Schaub said. “It is much more popular in other countries than it is here in the U.S. These girls have been traveling around the world since a young age playing tennis, which is something not every American gets to do.”She said it can be difficult selecting eight scholarship players who can easily adapt to the program.“Recruiting in general is probably one of the biggest aspects of our job,” Schaub said. “There are some really good international tournaments called the Orange Bowl and Eddie Herr where you get to see the international players but get to stay here in the U.S. Once you see what you’re looking for, then you will take a trip over there to meet their coach and their family before bringing them to the U.S. for a visit.”Schaub said the girls brought a lot of experience as far as tournaments and playing internationally. She said the four international players have been a great addition to the program as teammates who show support for one another.“We have a good mix of different players on our team, and the American kids get to have a little bit of culture,” Schaub said. “College athletics for any athlete is an amazing experience, but for the international players, it’s even more amazing in some ways because in most other countries it’s either you continue with school or you continue with tennis, and here they get to do both.”Sophomore Gabby De Santis from Venezuela said she would have been faced with that difficult decision in her home country. Santis added that one advantage of moving to America is learning about a new culture while continuing her tennis and academic careers.“It’s interesting to know different people that think in different ways,” Santis said. “It is much more competitive here than in Venezuela where I would not have had the opportunity to study and play at a collegiate level at the same time.”Sophomore Ferny Angeles Paz said her native country of Peru and the U.S. are different in many ways.“I’ve never played indoors in Peru. It is very different because we don’t have indoor courts,” Paz said. “It’s pretty tough here. Everyone is good, everyone practices hard, and every team is competitive, so it’s tough.”Japanese sophomore Miho Kowase said the opportunity to move to the U.S. has offered several difficulties and benefits beyond playing tennis.“It’s hard for me because my family is 13 hours time difference compared to America,” Kowase said. “My sister lives in Georgia, so that has really helped me adjust to living in America. Also, for me to learn English and being able to speak English is such a huge advantage in Japan.”Junior Grainne O’Neill from Ireland said Buckeye tradition is what has helped make her experience at OSU so gratifying.“It’s great, I feel like the whole Buckeye community really helped me out big time when I first moved here because I really did not know anything at all,” O’Neill said. “It’s just great to have people behind you. We have a whole team and our coaches and staff are great so they really have helped out big time. When we travel to different places you hear ‘O-H’ and ‘Go Bucks’ and that’s really nice.”With no seniors on the roster, all eight players are set to return next year for the 2015-16 season. In the meantime, the Buckeyes (12-4, 5-0) are set to take on Purdue on Friday in Columbus at 3 p.m.