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Statistically Speaking

Sunday, June 28, 2015

10-Year Anniversary: Dominance Points in the Mountain West and MAC

The 10-year anniversary celebrations continue. Any monetary contributions you would like to make to ensure this blog continues ad infinitum are greatly appreciated. In this episode, we’ll examine the Mountain West and the Sun Belt.

The Mountain West teams are sorted below by dominance points. The core teams (nine) that made up the Mountain West for the majority of the time since 2005 are listed first with their interloping brethren listed separately.
The dominance that TCU, BYU, and to a lesser extent Utah exerted over the Mountain West can still be seen. Despite playing in the Big 12 for three seasons, TCU ranks first among Mountain West members in terms of dominance points. BYU has been an independent since 2011, and yet they still rank fourth overall (and tied with TCU for the best per season average of the nine core teams). TCU, BYU, and Utah won each of the Mountain West championships during the seven seasons beginning in 2005 during which at least one was a member of the Mountain West. The only other member of the nine core teams to win the conference title was San Diego State. The Aztecs shared the 2012 title with Boise State and Fresno State.

The Sun Belt teams are sorted below by dominance points. The core teams (eight) that made up the Sun Belt for the majority of the time since 2005 are listed first with the newcomers listed separately.
The theme for the Sun Belt in the last decade has been one of sharing. Five of the league’s ten championships have been shared, including a three-way tie atop the standings in 2005. Only three teams, Troy, Arkansas State, and Georgia Southern this past season have won an outright conference title. Arkansas State ranks as the most dominant team of the last decade despite employing five different coaches. A few years ago, Troy would appear to have the dominance part locked up, but the Trojans have fallen on (relative) hard times in the past four seasons after winning five consecutive titles (three shared) from 2006-2010. Former Southern Conference powers Georgia Southern and Appalachian State enjoyed auspicious debuts in Sun Belt play, winning a combined 14 of their 16 league games and finishing first and third respectively. At the other end of the success spectrum, Georgia State is still looking for their first conference win after two seasons in the league.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

10-Year Anniversary: Dominance Points in Conference USA and the MAC

As I noted in the last post, this blog is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this summer. In that last post, I introduced the concept of ‘Dominance Points’ to determine who has dominated their respective conferences. This system is not designed to compare across conferences (say the Big 12 against the Big 10), but it is designed to compare within conferences (the Big 12 in 2005 versus the Big 12 in 2011). In the last post, we looked at two leagues that no longer exist. In this post we’ll examine a pair of extant conferences.

We'll begin with Conference USA. The Dominance Points for Conference USA teams from 2005-2014 are listed below. The core 12 teams that made up the conference for the majority of that time period are listed first with the eight new members listed separately.
Conference USA still exists, but it has undergone quite the makeover in the last decade. Seven of the twelve teams that populated the conference in 2005 (East Carolina, Houston, Memphis, SMU, Tulane, Tulsa, and UCF) have moved on to the American Athletic Conference and one team has ceased playing Division I football altogether (at least temporarily). To replace the octet, Conference USA has called up teams from the Sun Belt, WAC, FCS, and in direct opposition to the laws of thermodynamics, from nothingness. While the teams that departed were of varying quality, with the four most dominant teams (East Carolina, Tulsa, UCF, and Houston) being joined by a pair of second division squads (Memphis and Tulane), the heft the league lost was significant. From 2005-2012, 14 of the 16 berths in the Conference USA Championship game were held by teams that are now members of the American Athletic Conference with Southern Miss (2006 and 2011) being the lone holdover who appeared in the title game in that span. And recently, the Eagles have gone through a bit of a dry spell. It is entirely too early to get a handle on how the neophytes will perform in the conference, but Middle Tennessee has finished as a runner-up in the East division during both of their campaigns.

Here are the Dominance Points for MAC teams. Once again, the core teams are listed first, with a pair of teams that have been members at different times in the last decade listed separately.
Northern Illinois has dominated the MAC, particularly in the recent past. The Huskies have an active streak of five consecutive West division titles (six overall) and three championships. Central Michigan has also captured three MAC championships, emerging victorious in each of their championship game appearances. In the East division, things have been a little different. Four teams have won the MAC from the East (Akron, Bowling Green, Buffalo, and Miami). Each winner also engineered a mild to massive upset in the MAC Championship Game. Ohio has reached the limits of how dominant a team can be without ever quite reaching the mountaintop. The Bobcats have been consistent winners under coach Frank Solich since his second season in 2006, owning three East division titles. However, the Bobcats have never been able to break through and win the MAC Championship Game, losing twice to Central Michigan and once to Northern Illinois. Bowling Green is the only school from the East division to win consecutive division titles. Temple enjoyed a brief productive period in the MAC, first under Al Golden and then under Steve Addazio before returning to the Big East and later the American Athletic Conference. The Owls never played in the MAC Championship Game, but they did tie for the East division crown in 2009 (with Ohio) and finish a strong second to the Bobcats in 2011.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

10-Year Anniversary: Dominance Points in the Big East and WAC

It’s hard to believe, but at the end of July, this blog will be celebrating its 10-year anniversary. As someone who starts a lot of things and rarely finishes them, I am quite surprised I have been able to keep this up for a solid decade. If you’re into nostalgia, or simply a Tennessee hater, here’s a link to my first post (it proved quite clairvoyant). In the interest of celebrating the anniversary, I wanted to come up with a theme I could post about over the course of the summer. I decided to look at each conference and determine which team dominated that conference over the past decade. One way to do this would be to simply look at won/loss record or championships or divisions won. However, I have a lot of free time, so I decided on something a little different. We’ll call them ‘Dominance Points’ and here is how they are calculated. For a conference without divisions, take the number of teams in the conference and award the champion(s) that many points. The larger a conference is, the more points that champion receives as it is ostensibly harder to win an 11-team conference that it is an eight-team conference. Take the second place team and award them the number of teams minus one. Take the third place team and award them the number of teams minus two. Continue on. For example, TCU and Baylor tied for the Big 12 title in 2014. Since the Big 12 had ten teams, both Baylor and TCU receive ten points apiece. Kansas State finished third (there was no second place team since Baylor and TCU tied) so they receive eight points. At the other end of the standings, last place Iowa State gets credit for participating and receives a single point. But what about conferences that have divisions? Give the division champion(s) points equal to the number of teams in the division. So in a six-team division, first gets six, second gets five, third get four, etc. However, if that division champion also wins the conference, give them points equal to the total number of teams in the conference. No double-booking though. Northern Illinois, the 2014 MAC champion, gets 13 points for winning the conference, not 19 for winning their division and the conference. Bowling Green on the other hand, receives 7 for winning their division against six other teams. No attempt is made to break conference or division ties. If three teams tie for a division title, each receives the max number of points, regardless of the team that actually appeared in the conference title game.

With that out of the way, let’s delve into a pair of conferences that did not survive realignment, the Big East and the WAC. Both these conferences ceased to exist following the 2012 season. However, they both live on in my memories and as a pair of basketball leagues.

We'll start with the Big East. Here are the Dominance Points for Big East teams for the period 2005-2012. The eight teams that formed the Big East for the majority of this time period are grouped together, with Temple (a former conference member) listed separately as they were only a member for one season.
West Virginia easily accrued the most dominance points despite leaving the conference following the 2011 season. The Mountaineers never finished lower than second place in seven seasons during this time period. The Mountaineers and Bearcats tied for the most conference titles in this span with four (some shares) apiece. The final season of the Big East featured the always exciting four-way tie at the top of the standings, meaning that of the eight core Big East members, each except South Florida earned at least one share of a conference title from 2005-2012.

Moving on to the WAC. Once again, I have listed the nine core members separately from the Lone Star neophytes who were present for just a single season.
Amazingly, Boise State did not accrue the most Dominance Points, primarily because they were only in the WAC for six seasons. Nevada enjoyed an extra year in the conference and still only edged the Broncos by a single point. After the heavy hitters departed, leaving the WAC a shell of itself in 2012, the Aggies from Utah State won their first conference title since the sharing the Big West championship in 1997 (interestingly, that was also a micro-conference).

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Kevin Wilson's War

Full disclosure, I have been pulling for Kevin Wilson ever since he became the head coach of Indiana prior to the 2011 season. I remembered him from such coordinating duties as North by Northwestern and Sam Bradford and the Fortress of Solitude. I had hopes that his brand of offense could bring a consistent winner to Indiana for the first time in nearly two decades. In four seasons, Wilson has gotten the offense humming, nearly pulled off bowl eligibility, and helped Tevin Coleman put up ridiculous video game rushing numbers. Alas, despite those successes, the Hoosiers have yet to have a winning season or qualify for a bowl. With that in mind, did it make sense to bring Wilson back for a fifth season? To answer this question, I looked at coaches from Power 5 (formerly BCS) conferences who did not post a winning season in their first four years and were brought back for a fifth season. I examined how long they lasted at their respective school after the fourth season and what record they produced. I went back and looked at any coach who was coaching during the BCS era (since 1998) because as far as arbitrary dates go, this gives us a decent sample of coaches. In all, twelve coaches in addition to Mr. Wilson, were able to coach four seasons without posting a winning record and were allowed back for a fifth season. The table featuring the twelve coaches is listed below sorted by winning percentage in the first four seasons. In depth analysis to follow.
I’ll start with what I think is the biggest takeaway. Among coaches with losing records in their first four seasons, winning percentage appears to have no impact on how long they stayed at the school or the success they enjoyed. The winningest coach among the cohort, Terry Allen (no, not that Terry Allen) lasted just one additional season at Kansas. In addition, the coaches with the longest tenure, Schiano and McCarney, ranked ninth and tied for eleventh respectively in terms of winning percentage. For me, the second biggest takeaway is that half of the coaches on this list qualified for at least one bowl, with four (one third of the sample) qualifying for multiple postseason appearances. And finally, and this takeaway should be obvious, is that with the exception of Colorado (and that is arguable now), none of these schools is a traditional power. That makes perfect sense. At a school like Alabama or Ohio State, you won’t keep your job for four seasons if you fail to produce a winning record. Meanwhile, at a school like Duke, you are afforded a little more leeway. Other interesting (to me) statistical minutia follows below.

Who is Tom Holmoe? I have been obsessively following college football for a decade now and was more than a casual observer for about twelve years before that, but I have to say, I didn’t recognize his name. Anyway, under his watch, the Cal program cratered before Jeff Tedford revived it.

Dan Hawkins actually got Colorado to a bowl game in his second season, but the Buffs lost that game to finish with a losing record (hence the asterisk). He probably would have been fired before his fifth season, but the school didn’t have the money.

My alma mater actually had the most patience, letting Jim Caldwell get away with six losing seasons before bringing him back for a seventh. Caldwell rewarded the patience with a bowl win, but was fired after another losing campaign in 2000. The move was good for both parties as Wake would go on to hire arguably the best coach in school history, while Caldwell would enjoy considerable success in the NFL. Granted he was asleep at the wheel in Super Bowl XLIV and proved himself to be a coward or slave to conventional wisdom this past January, but he won a bowl game at Wake Forest, a claim only three other men can make.

Another coach from this list (and from Indiana) also got to lead an NFL team. He did not have quite as much success.

So, in summary, if (relatively) recent history is any guide, bringing back a coach with four losing seasons to begin his career is not necessarily a bad move. With a Las Vegas over/under of six wins, statistical projections expect Indiana to be in the mix for a bowl bid in 2015. Waiting another year or two instead of blowing the whole thing up is probably a prudent decision.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Second Year Stagnation

In the last post we looked at what to expect after teams experience a ‘Second-Year Surge’. Now I want to examine the aftermath of the opposite—the ‘Second-Year Stagnation’. Sometimes a coach steps into a great situation in his first year on campus. Perhaps the previous coach left the cupboard fully stocked, maybe the schedule was unusually easy, or maybe the team just experienced a great deal of good fortune. Then, in Year 2, when fans and administrators expect continued success, the team regresses. Perhaps star players graduated, maybe the team experienced an influx of injuries, or the new coach didn’t recruit very well. Whatever the reason, the team stagnated, and now the coach finds himself in need of a rebound to keep his job. In the macro sense, what are his prospects for a rebound? To answer this question, I looked at the results of all FBS coaches who debuted at a school from 2005-2012 and set the arbitrary definition of ‘stagnation’ to a decrease of at least three regular season wins. If you recall, I used four wins as the baseline for a ‘surge’, but frankly, if we use four wins as the baseline for stagnation, we won’t have very many teams to examine. Using three wins as the baseline yielded nine teams. They are listed chronologically in the table below. The table includes the record in the coaches’ first year, second year or Stagnation Year, and third year or Follow-Up Year. The Dif column is the difference in the Stagnation Year and the Follow-Up Year. Stanford and Temple are color-coded differently because their coaches left after the stagnation (Walt Harris was fired and Steve Addazio took a better job), so they are actually coached by a different guy in the Follow-Up Year.
You’re an adult. You can view the table and judge for yourself, but I will throw out some averages for you. In the ‘Follow-Up Year’, the nine teams that ‘Stagnated’ improved by an average of 1.5 wins in the regular season. However, if we remove the two teams that changed coaches (which we probably should since coaching change represents a great deal of upheaval), the seven remaining teams improved by an average of 1.86 regular season wins. So we know the average team improved by around 1.9 wins, but what if we look at a different kind of average? Yes, I am talking about one of the most unappreciated averages, the mode.

Using the mode, we see the average team improved by one game the following season. However, the mode for this sample is only two teams. This low number should set off a sample size alert. If we look at it another way, five of the seven teams improved by at least one game, six of the seven teams won just as many games the following season, and only one team continued their descent. Here is a visual look at what I just wrote about.
So the most likely expectation after a ‘Stagnation’ is for a modest improvement the following year. With this in mind, which teams from 2014 ‘Stagnated’? Glad you asked.
These four teams declined by an average of three wins in 2013, and Auburn was the lone squad to play in the postseason both years. The good news for this quartet and their head coaches is that they are likely to see modest improvement in 2015. Of course, modest improvement would impact each team differently. An extra two wins would put Auburn in contention for the SEC West title, while modest improvement for the other three teams would get them closer to bowl eligibility.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

The Second Year Surge

What images come to mind when I mention the word ‘Surge’? Perhaps the word conjures images of a strategy in the most recent Iraq War. Or perhaps a mid-90s soda. Or perhaps it brings to mind an awkward seven foot basketball player. Unfortunately, this is neither a political, soda connoisseur, nor college basketball blog, so when I speak of surges, I am referring to dramatic increases in win totals for college football teams. Of particular interest here is the ‘Second-Year Surge’. Sometimes when a coach takes over a team, his first season is a lost cause as he must deploy players who were recruited for a different system and likely had a different skill set, or in some cases were just plain bad. With his own system in place for a year and some of his own recruits, the team can sometimes make a dramatic leap forward in his second season. Hence the name, ‘Second-Year Surge’. Well, what happens in the third season or the afterglow if you will? After the team improves, does the arrow keep pointing up, does the team plateau, or do they decline? To answer this question, I looked at the results of all FBS coaches who debuted at a school from 2005-2012 and set the arbitrary definition of a ‘surge’ to an increase of at least four regular season wins. This research yielded 22 teams that surged. They are included with the two tables below listed chronologically (I split the table in two so it would be easier to view). The tables include the record in the coaches’ first year, second year or Surge Year, and third year or Follow-Up Year. The Dif column is the difference in the Surge Year and Follow-Up Year. Kent State, Miami, and San Diego State are color-coded differently because their coaches left after their surge, so they were actually coached by a different guy in the Follow-Up Year.

You’re an adult. You can view the table and judge for yourself, but I will throw out some averages for you. In the ‘Follow-Up Year’, the 22 teams that ‘Surged’ declined by an average of 1.98 wins in the regular season. However, if we remove the three teams that actually changed coaches (which we probably should since coaching change represents a great deal of upheaval), the 19 remaining teams declined by an average of 1.71 regular season wins. So we know the average team declined by around 1.7 wins, but what if we look at a different kind of average? Yes, I am talking about one of the most unappreciated averages, the mode.

Using the mode, we see the average team stayed the same the following season. Seven of the 19 teams finished with the same regular season record in the ‘Follow-Up Year’. Three teams declined by either a half or a whole game (a negligible decline in the grand scheme of things). One team declined by two games, two declined by three games, two declined by four games, one declined by five games, two teams declined by an astounding seven games, and only one team improved (but by an amazing five games). Here is a visual look at what I just wrote about.
So the most likely expectation after a ‘Surge’ is for either a similar record the following year or a slight decline. With this in mind, which teams from 2014 ‘Surged’? Glad you asked.
These six teams improved by an average of almost five wins in 2014, with four playing in postseason games. While it may be tempting to pencil them in for even more success in 2015, recent history suggests we should pump the breaks when projecting their 2015 win total.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

So You Want to Get Fired?

In the last post, I looked at how coaches performed as underdogs and favorites, not Against the Spread (ATS), but in terms of actually winning or losing on the field. Feel free to read that post as a primer to this one. At the end of that post, I promised an additional post on the ‘portability’ of this ‘skill’. Instead I want to focus on a few other coaches in great detail. We’ll save the portability aspect for the next post.

How to Get Fired

In the previous post, I shared with you the bottom ten coaches in terms of wins below expectation according to the spread. Five of the coaches on the list were fired, forced to resign, or gently nudged out the door. Four others enter the 2015 season either under intense or moderate scrutiny based on their recent job performance. Thus, I theorize that coaches who vastly underperform according to the number of games they would have been expected to win based on the spread who are also lacking in the conference or national title department will be good candidates to be fired. To test this, I again calculated the most underperforming coaches in the ten-year period from 2005 through 2014 who also lacked either a conference or national title. If a coach tied for a conference title, I only gave him the benefit of the doubt if his team garnered the conference's automatic BCS bid. Those gentlemen are listed below.
Not to pat myself too hard on the back, this method is pretty accurate in determining who will be fired. Of the 13 coaches on this list, all save Kirk Ferentz (and his voodoo magic) and Kevin Sumlin have been fired (Ferentz did tie for the Big 10 title in 2002 and 2004 but did not lead Iowa to a championship from 2005-2014). I already gave brief overviews of Tedford, Zook, Ferentz, and Shannon in the last post, so I’ll move on to the other nine coaches.

Initially I was not a fan of Pelini’s firing by the Cornhuskers, but viewed in this light it is hard to argue with. In seven seasons, Pelini only sprung four outright upsets, and lost twelve times as a favorite. Despite winning at least eight games in the regular season during each year of his tenure, his firing was probably justified. Watson Brown (Mack’s brother, it runs in the family) coached UAB for just two seasons in this study, and lost nine times as a betting favorite. His 2005 team, led by quarterback Darrel Hackney was an underdog in an early season game to Tennessee and in two conference games, but was favored in each of their other contests…and finished only 5-6. Houston Nutt got Arkansas to the SEC Championship game in 2006 and engineered a huge turnaround in his first season at Ole Miss, but lost nine times in four seasons as a favorite in Oxford. Kevin Sumlin lead Houston to a pair of Conference USA Championship Game appearances in his four seasons at the school, but lost both times as a large favorite. Gregg Brandon took over for Urban Meyer at Bowling Green, and while he did lead the Falcons to a division title in his first season, he could not replicate that initial success. He was fired after six seasons despite a 44-30 record because according to the oddsmakers he should have won about 50 games. In just three and a half seasons, at a school not known for elite football teams (since the 1960s), Tim Brewster managed to lose nine times as a favorite. Lane Kiffin was famously fired on the tarmac after an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Arizona State. At least the Trojans were not favored in that game. Noted maniac John L. Smith lost nine times as a favorite in just three seasons. If we examine more of his career, I can only assume his resume would be even more egregious. Dave Wannstedt did return the Pitt program to respectability, but he was never able to win a conference title in the watered down Big East. Judging by the small margin by which Pitt lost the 2008, 2009, and 2010 races, his inability to close out games in which he was favored exacerbated his demise.

Before we go, I’ll discuss a few other coaches who did not make the list.

Bill Blankenship won Conference USA at Tulsa in just his second season, but lost six times over the next two years as a betting favorite and was let go.

Urban Meyer won just a single regular season game as a betting underdog at Florida (and lost ten times as a favorite). At Ohio State, he already has three times as many underdog wins, not counting the College Football Playoff.

Nick Saban has lost ten times as a betting favorite at Alabama. He has just four underdog wins, primarily because has only been an underdog once since the beginning of the 2009 season.

Rich Brooks pulled off ten underdog wins as Kentucky’s coach from 2005-2009 against just four defeats as a favorite.

That’s all for now. In the next post, I promise, we’ll cover portability.
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