football Edit

Rose Bowl rant: Transitive property

Being an electrical engineer in my previous life, I have taken more than my share of math classes over the years. I never thought there would be much crossover between my two careers, but the Trojans rise to power has given me an opportunity to put some of my mathematical knowledge to work. In this Rose Bowl rant, I would like to show you how the transitive property of inequalities applies to college football.
I will keep this very simple for those of you that are not mathematically inclined. Even you communication majors who never once set foot in a classroom on a Friday will be able to follow this without a problem.
The basics of the property are simple. It states that if a > b (a is greater than b) and b > c, then by the transitive property of inequalities, a > c.
So assume you had a stocking that had "a" presents in it, your brother had a stocking with "b" presents and your little sister had a stocking with "c" presents. You also know the following facts:
You have more presents than your brother. "a > b"
Your brother has more presents than your sister (guess she was on Santa's naughty list). "b > c"
Then without knowing how many presents any of you had, you could still safely say that you had more presents than your sister. "a > c"
Make sense?
As simple as this property is, there are certainly unsound applications of it found every day in the sports world, especially during college football bowl season.
Basically it works like this: Michigan State beat Notre Dame. Purdue beat Michigan State. So Purdue would beat Notre Dame if they played.
Not likely.
Then during bowl season the media and fans like to use offshoots of this property to compare teams playing in bowl games in order to predict later bowl games. One of the most blatant misuses of this property occurred last year after the Holiday Bowl between Texas Tech and California.
California played USC tough and "should" have won. Texas Tech killed California. Oklahoma killed Texas Tech. That means that Oklahoma would beat USC.
Not bloody likely.
From there it gets much worse. People watch a few bowl games and decide that since Colorado barely broke the 100-yards of offense barrier in their bowl game, Big-12 offenses suck. Or they read that UCLA gave up over 400 passing yards in their bowl game and declare that Pac-10 defenses suck. From there they will deduce that the Texas defense is overrated or the USC offense is overrated.
As those characters on the Guinness commercials like to say: Brilliant!
While there may be some tendencies or partial conclusions you can draw from watching conference foes or common opponents, situations and match-ups change from game to game, especially during bowl season where teams have several weeks off between games.
The most important factors in these contests are simple, the two teams that will take the field that day. USC is playing Texas, not Fresno State, Oregon or Notre Dame. Texas is playing USC, not Rice, Texas A&M or Ohio State.
Maybe it is the inherent ambiguity of the college football postseason that leads otherwise intelligent analysts and fans to make these types of deductions. Usually people have a conclusion in mind, and then try to uncover any statistics that would showcase their conclusion in a favorable light, no matter how shaky of a foundation those facts are resting on.
So the next time someone tries to tell you that Oregon losing to Oklahoma can only mean that Texas will beat USC, you can confidently explain their unsound use of the transitive property of inequalities to them. Even if you never took a Friday class, you can at least sound like you did.