The Art of Prediction, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About the Ducks

I’m sitting in a car right now, heading south to my new home: Houston, Texas. This move is predicated on a number of things: family, taxes, a deep love of Texas barbeque, and work. With a certitude reserved for cult members and migrating gaggles of geese, I think that I will enjoy living in Texas as much as I’ve enjoyed living in Tianjin, China, or New Haven, Connecticut.  I imagine the Lone Star State welcoming me with warmth and a new 10-gallon hat.

The Shadow knows

From commons.wikimedia.org

The Shadow knows

Will this happen? No way, Jose. In fact, I have no idea what the future holds for me in Houston. I could love it. I could hate it. But I take my limited knowledge, and assume that I will love my new home and that I made the right choice. To pervert the words of Lamont Cranston, who knows what lies at the heart of my choices? Hopefully, it’s reason and good judgment. But do I know what will happen? Not at all. I know the future as much as the barbecued brisket awaiting me in Texas.

I have an inkling that the 2015 college football forecasts that populate sports media like weeds lack the same rational foundation. As our own Mike Merrell has pointed out, some prognostications have little to no logical connection to reality. However, sometimes the predictive process can lead to an accurate depiction of the future, provided that the fortune teller knows at least something about which he speaks.

The absence of any sort of connection to reality is present in most national discussion of Ducks football. The tired refrain about the nature of Oregon’s second-tiered success stands as the Maypole around which sports writers dance, each connected by the twin threads of sloth and ignorance. The brighter among this group have decided that discussing Nick Saban’s golf game is a better topic than an odious effort at crystal-ball gazing.

The Elusive Symbol of Success

From Wikimedia Commons

The Elusive Symbol of Success

Stewart Mandel’s recent response to a reader’s email typifies this type of groupthink. The reader asks Mandel to identify the missing ingredient in Oregon’s march to win the CFP Championship. Mandel runs out the rote answer that recruiting stands as the biggest hurdle to Oregon’s ascent. But Mandel takes this analysis to yet a deeper level, saying that the biggest hurdle to Oregon’s success is the opponent it faces. Yes, you read that right: Oregon can win a national championship if it is better than the other team it faces. Last time I checked, winning is a requirement to show that one team is better than another. The level of analysis present in these prognostications is usually reserved for solving basic arithmetic problems.

Now, Mandel couches it in terms of the relative quality of the eventual champions in 2010 and 2014, saying that Oregon must face a team more like Auburn than OSU in order to win. But his meaning is clear: that despite Oregon’s recent success and the way Oregon looks this spring, Oregon will always be an almost-not-quite team.

This brings us to the point of all of this. The importance of having some tangential connection to reality is the reason why FishDuck exists: we love to learn about the Ducks. In fact, I speak with great confidence that non-FishDuckian predictions on the upcoming season, of which Mr. Mandel’s is one of many, will exert the same impact on the Ducks upcoming season more like Nostradamus, and less like Zoltar.

Zoltar's Grandmother

from commons.wikimedia.org

Zoltar’s Grandmother

Here’s the truth: no one knows what will happen in the upcoming season. Ultimately, predictions are just another way of talking about the present. The future in college football, as in everything else, is unknowable. Unfortunately, the popular perception of the Ducks persists, regardless of what has happened, and discussions of the future are nothing but discussions of the present. But predictions are only as good as the understanding on which they stand. As Mr. Mandel has aptly shown us, no knowledge leads to opinions worth the paper on which they are printed. Remember this: Thursday’s child is Sunday’s clown. It’s all you, Nico and the Velvet Underground.


The Velvet Underground & Nico – All Tomorrows… by expensivedogfood

Top photo by Kevin Cline

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