Danny Kanell, Does ESPN Ask You To Do Critical Thinking?

ESPN analyst Danny Kanell thinks the College Football Playoff committee’s decision to rank Ohio State No. 3 and Penn State No. 5 had as much to do with the schools’ reputations as their resumes.


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The Buckeyes will play in the playoff while the Nittany Lions head to the Rose Bowl, despite Penn State having beaten Ohio State head-to-head and having won the Big Ten Championship.

Where do I begin. PSU beat OSU by 3 points at Happy Valley earlier this year to give the Buckeyes their only loss in ’16. Let’s do some critical thinking and add some context to the game. First, PSU had two weeks to prepare for OSU. Not to mention, OSU had played the Badgers in Madison the prior Saturday who also had two weeks to prepare for the Buckeyes. Second, they played at Happy Valley. Third, the weather played a factor as it did the year prior when OSU lost their only game in ’15 to MSU at home during rainy and windy conditions. It’s interesting that weather will rarely play a role in the SEC regular season but I digress. Four, OSU dominated most stats from the game.

I’ll admit one thing, PSU won the game and OSU lost one game all season by 3 points. However, many BCS analysts will also look at how they won the game — on a blocked field goal that was returned for 6 points. Analysts will also look at SOS, Strength of Records, won loss record, etc.

So when Danny states reputation got OSU in? Of course the OSU brand plays a role but in this instance, OSU achieved the final 4 on overall performance regardless whether they won the Big Ten Championship.

Kanell said before the playoff field was revealed that he thought Penn State should get in over Ohio State, and once the committee left out the Nittany Lions, he suggested the Buckeyes’ brand had been the difference.

Does Danny Kanell really believe that or is he just trying to be a provocateur? He said this a number of times for days leading up to Selection Sunday. Will he run for political office at some point because he certainly acted like one with his talking points?

Let’s get back to the stats of the game. Was PSU the best team that day? OSU led time of possession 37.19 to 22.41, first downs 19 to 13, total yards 413 to 276, and total plays 83 to 60. After crunching some numbers, OSU had 38% more plays and outgained PSU by 50% but all we hear from Danny is PSU beat OSU during the regular season and won the Big Ten Championship and they should represent the Big 10 in the BCS final 4 (without getting into details or providing a more objective context of what really occurred).

So was PSU the best team that day? Did PSU win the game on a spectacular play? Yes. How much should the win count against OSU? Not much as I said, the wind was blowing in the PSU’s direction — 2 weeks to prepare, played at home and were dominated in the key statistical categories. I will give PSU some kudos, they only had 1 penalty for 5 yards and OSU had 8 penalties for 45 yards. Maybe OSU is a much more undisciplined team.

“The thing that bothers me about all this process is I think having a brand matters as well,” Kanell said. “If you flipped the jerseys and took Penn State and Ohio State and flipped those jerseys around, I think you’re not even having this discussion.”


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All I know is if OSU had two losses and lost to PSU and didn’t play in the Big Ten Championship, they would not have made the final 4. They had a good SOS and lost only one game when a field goal attempt was blocked and returned for a touchdown.

Other analysts on the ESPN panel disagreed with Kanell. David Pollack pointed out that Washington, which made the playoff as the No. 4 seed, is not known as a college football power, and Kirk Herbstreit and Joey Galloway said that Penn State in fact does have a strong brand name.

“They are a brand that is coming back,” Galloway said. “And they have done a terrific job building from a situation where they didn’t have scholarships.”

Before this year, Penn State had not had a double-digit-win season since 2009. The Nittany Lions have faced sanctions relating to the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal since 2012.

Ohio State, on the other hand, has won 10 or more game for five straight seasons, and in 2014 won the inaugural College Football Playoff.

This may sound biased but maybe the selection committee got it right by choosing OSU in ’16. They weren’t chosen in ’15 as they lost to the eventual Big Ten champs Michigan State during the regular season and with one loss, earned them a 4th place finish last year in final college ranking. Does Danny remember how well the Buckeyes did last year? And one can’t forget how well OSU did in ’14, they just squeaked in and eventually won the National Championship. Perhaps the voters know OSU will show up in ’16 regardless of who they play.

If you factor in how well OSU has played in the last 3 years, it’s all about performance. Of course they have a strong brand but back it up by improving their non-conference schedule this year and performing well.

Danny, a few more things about advanced numbers, ESPN ranks Ohio State 11 spots ahead of PSU in its SOS metric and No. 2 in the country in Strength of Record (which aims to guess how much better a team did against its schedule than an average team would’ve). Sagarin ranks OSU’s schedule nine spots ahead of PSU’s.

Also, Penn State has by far the two worst losses of any of these three teams, having that huge Michigan loss and losing at current No. 25 Pitt by three. So by Kanell continuing to spew those talking points about winning the Big Ten tournament and defeating OSU during the regular season shows he’s one of two things: either lacking critical thinking or just a troll or provocateur.