Zach Rosenfield: AccuScore.com is a premium site that is designed to give fans or sports investors every bit of information they might need. We are a statistical game-forecasting company that uses past performances and statistical history to forecast games. We built a simulation engine that simulates games one play at a time under real game conditions (110-plus variables) and then re-simulate the game 10,000 times. With that, we are able to get a complete forecast of players’ stats, final scores and the probability of various outcomes and margins of victory. In straight-up winners, we had 79 percent accuracy in college football last year and 67 percent in the NFL, which made us champions of the ESPN NFL Expert Pick Em League.
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BH: With all the annual turnover in college football as opposed to pro sports, it seems like it would be harder to put together accurate forecasts. Do you find this to be the case? Why or why not?
ZR: This is a good question and very fair. Although it would seem harder to forecast college games, turnover is not as high as you would think. Most players play a full three years before they move on to the next level. Also, very few players are original. Because of that, we can do an analysis to see what a player’s expectation is. We match that up with players from the past who are identical. It’s also important to remember that this is our business; it is what we do year round.
With quarterbacks changes, it is more challenging in the early part of the season to put together a projection. Quarterbacks play such a vital role in a game. But, if you look at the rest of the position players, most running backs average in and around the same yards per carry. Elite wide receivers are all living in the same statistical neighborhood. Our biggest challenge is to consistently improve our projections with conferences like the MAC, where data are harder to come by.
BH: Let’s get to your forecasts for the upcoming season. You recently said Oklahoma and Texas are your two favorite bets among the national championship futures. What stands out about these two plays?
ZR: Although things rarely go according to plan, if you are going to play “futures,” you have to really spend time looking at the landscape. And in doing so, you have to take a look at each conference and how things will most likely play out within them.
I know everyone loves USC, but if there is a sucker bet this year, that’s it. ‘SC starts a guy named Aaron Corp at quarterback who is very similar to what Jason White was before his first knee injury. (I live in L.A. and am very familiar with Corp’s game.) The Trojans also bring in a completely new set of linebackers and have two games where that will be a big issue–Ohio State and Oregon. Younger players like to go for the highlight hit and often lose their assignment when a quarterback scrambles. (Think Travis Lewis 3rd and 4 late in the fourth quarter last year against Texas.) Moreover, they have a very tough schedule, with road games at Ohio State, Oregon, Cal, Notre Dame and Arizona State. Assuming the Trojans are 80 percent favorites in all of those games, their probability of going undefeated is under 30 percent.
The same can be said for the ACC, where mediocrity will once again rule the day. Alabama can do us all a favor by beating Virginia Tech on September 5th to eliminate the ACC from the race. I am not going to waste your, my or your readers time talking about them… or the Big East. They are out.
The Big 10 is once again going to annoy everyone, and with good reason. Behind only Florida, Penn State is the team with the highest probability of going undefeated, and it’s not because of they are talented. The Nittany Lions have a schedule that is just god awful, but if the giants start falling, there could be room for them in Pasadena. Personally, Penn State is not going to be that good, but neither are the majority of teams it plays. Ohio State poses the biggest threat.
Where does that leave us? SEC and Big 12. Although Sooner fans hold Tim Tebow in the same regard as Gordon Reese, we all must come to terms with the reality that Florida beat OU because Tebow was unflappable when it mattered most. Looking at 2009, the defense is back and even better. The Gators also got a gift on the schedule, not having to play Ole Miss or Alabama. Only a road game at LSU stands in their way, and we already project Florida as a 10-point favorite in that one. We think Ole Miss comes out of the West and could even be 12-0. The Rebels are winning our preliminary simulations against LSU and Alabama. By the way, Alabama is really going to struggle at quarterback.
So that leaves us with the Big 12. OU and Texas both control their own destiny, even though we are still in two-a-days. Take a look at UT’s schedule. If the Longhorns beat OU, then their game at OSU is their national semifinals. They get Tech early and have nothing late. Moreover, with the same cast of characters back in Austin this year, they are going to get a lot of PR. If Florida, Texas, USC and a Big 10 school go undefeated… Florida and Texas are in.
Oklahoma sets up perfectly, though. A non-conference schedule just tough enough to get attention, but not tough enough to bring a loss. OU and Texas will most likely be undefeated in Dallas, and the winner is a firm number two in both the human and computer polls. If OU wins, then we will once again be grateful that Mike Gundy has done a great job in Stillwater, because OSU will be a top-10 team–no matter the outcome against Texas. A win against OSU will propel OU in the BCS rankings in the exact same way it did in 2008.
BH: Are the Sooners going to go undefeated this year?
ZR: I can’t stress how hard it is to go undefeated mathematically with 13 games on the schedule, factoring in the Big 12 championship. However, behind Florida and Penn State, the Sooners have the best chance in our simulations to do so. This is where the math and the eye test collide. The reason why Texas is not higher is because both their games against OU and OSU are virtual toss-ups, give or take a percentage point either way. Two 50-50 games really hurt UT’s chances from a mathematical point of view. Our preliminary simulations show OU as an 81 percent favorite at home against OSU, thus bolstering their probability to third best among BCS conference teams.
BH: Any idea how this year’s OU team will perform statistically compared with last season?
ZR: It’s kind of fun to go back to the 2008 stat sheet and get misty eyed over the numbers Sam put up. I am not sure you will see numbers like that again for a long time. What was great about it was that the visuals matched the stat sheet. It’s important for Sooner fans to understand the reality of three new offensive linemen and a new wide receiving corps. It is going to take time to gel, and I imagine Kevin Wilson is going to use a lot of Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray to offset those growing pains.
For OU to have a real chance to play for it all, Brown and Murray must show up for all 12 games, not just the Saturday night games in early November. It is imperative that they run against Texas if they want to win in Dallas. As we saw last year, Sam can’t do it himself.
ZR: Regarding QB, the Sooners are all in with Bradford. Period. Lose Sam and it’s basketball season. We are posting modest number from the running game based on the new offensive line. They will have to show us they can: 1) protect Sam; 2) open holes for the running backs. If OU outperforms its projected rushing yards in the their first four games, it might be on to something.
BH: Looking at the rest of the country, did anything really surprise you–teams you’re projecting to be better or worse than the average person would expect?
ZR: Penn State is one team, based on schedule and schedule only. We love Boise State. Also, expect big things from TCU and Ole Miss. Especially Ole Miss.
Georgia and Clemson will both be down, and we are projecting Virginia Tech to go 8-4.
BH: Have any futures or plays out there caught your eye in terms of sucker bets?
ZR: This is a fun question. I feel like Clark in Clear and Present Danger telling Jack Ryan to “try the Lindo brand.”
If by “sucker bets” you mean the player is a fool for betting on it, as I mentioed before, I urge you to take USC at 8-1 to win the national championship. If you enjoy ripping your tickets mid-race and muttering, then you will just love that USC future.
I also think Florida at +175 is a lame bet designed to lighten your wallet. You might as well bet on a lightly raced three year old to win the Kentucky Derby at 2-to-1 while breaking from the 20 hole…. Oh, wait… Nevermind!
If you are talking about “Oh my God, that must be a mistake,” I would take a look at OU -125 for over 10 wins. Ten wins is a push! Basically, you are getting odds that the Sooners will go better than 9-3.
The other is Texas -150 for over 10 wins. I mean this has to be a mistake, right? But it’s not. Texas is not going 9-3, and I don’t mind laying the odds on this gimme.
For all of our sweet future over-under win total picks, we wrote a pretty detailed article. This is valuable AccuScore information, so you have to be a member to read it in its entirety.
BH: If you had to pick a team to make it to the championship game other than Florida, OU or Texas, who would it be?
ZR: Gee, thanks for mucking up my rhythm with this one. I was in a nice groove prior to that question…(long pause)…USC. They would be the most likely one-loss team to make it to Pasadena if Florida, OU or Texas work really hard to screw it up.