Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Revisiting Close Scrapes with FCS Teams

Three years ago in the summer of 2014, I imparted some gambling advice. Teams that struggled, but ultimately prevailed against FCS teams were pretty good value bets against the spread (ATS) in their next game. Specifically, teams that beat FCS teams by eight points or fewer (my definition of a close game) covered in their next game more than 63% of the time since 2005. Has that trend continued in the last three seasons? The short answer is ‘no’.
In a much shorter time frame and over a much smaller sample, the advantage appears to have disappeared. What if we further parse the ATS records by role?
When these teams that struggle with FCS teams are underdogs the next week, they have performed poorly ATS. Favorites have remained a positive value, but in a sample size of just ten games, a shift of one game in the other direction would wipe out all the value in backing these teams. Is this shift in value a sign that Las Vegas bookmakers have been anxiously following this blog and manually adjusting their numbers due to my advice (obviously) or is this just a random blip in an otherwise solid trend? Here are the ATS records for teams in their next game after winning a close game against an FCS team by year with a rolling three-year cover percentage thrown in.
In the past twelve seasons, teams in this situation have finished above the gambler’s break-even percentage (52.4% assuming -110) eight times. However, three of the four instances of teams not finishing with cumulative ATS records above the break-even percentage have occurred in the past three seasons. The rolling three-year cover percentage has also declined for four straight seasons and is the lowest it has been in this time period. The next two tables will break out the yearly cover percentage for teams in this situation by their role. We’ll start with underdogs.
Seven seasons of finishing above the break-even percentage are sandwiched around five seasons of falling below it (two in the beginning and three at the end). Overall, underdogs have still been slightly valuable over the past twelve seasons, but as in the aggregate, the rolling three-year cover percentage has declined for four consecutive seasons. What about favorites?
Favorites have finished above the break-even percentage in nine seasons, but there tend to be fewer teams in this role (about 3.7 per year versus 6.8 for underdogs). The rolling three-year cover percentage has never fallen below the break-even percentage. Finally, to provide a better visual representation, here is a graph of the overall, underdog, and favorite three year-rolling cover percentage. I also included the break-even percentage as a point of reference.
So what can we conclude from all this? A lot of data goes into creating the spread for football games. Casinos and bookmakers don’t typically lose money over the long run. This ‘trend’ of teams that struggle with FCS teams providing value in their next game could be a random blip. I did not look at an extremely large set of data. Even with twelve seasons worth, the number of observations is just 126. On the other hand, perhaps this three year period is the random blip in an otherwise solid trend. Or on a third hand, perhaps linemakers (without reading this blog) discovered this market inefficiency and have worked quietly over the past few years to correct it. Regardless, I am always fascinated by the point spread and this will be an area I follow closely not only in 2016, but for the rest of my football watching life.

Three years ago, I also included ATS information for teams that actually lose to FCS schools. Have those trends changed in the past three years? That’s what we in the business call a ‘tease’. Tune in next week to find out.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Summer of Polls Part IV: Under and Overrated Teams

Ever looked at the final AP Poll rankings for a particular year (say a year you don’t remember well thanks to drunken tailgate shenanigans) and thought: Man, [insert team name] was overrated. Or vice-versa. Have you ever scoured the final rankings and though: Man, [inserted team name] was ranked that low? I have. Many times. And, in the interests of being somewhat scientific, I wanted to quantify whether a team was ranked too high or too low in the final AP Poll. To do that I looked at the final AP Poll ranking of every Power 5 team since 2005. I then ran a regression analysis based on their record and final poll position. This regression spit out a formula. I used this formula to reverse-engineer the poll ranking of all the ranked Power 5 teams and determined which teams were the most over or underrated. If you want the results, skip on down, but I wanted to give some background and caveats before delving into them.

I only looked at teams that were in either the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-10/12, or SEC during the season in question. The Big East, with future Power 5 members Louisville, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, and West Virginia, was a BCS conference during this time frame, but I left those teams out when they were Big East members because I thought it would skew the results. Similarly, when Utah and TCU were Mountain West members, their final rankings were not included in this analysis. Other current mid-majors like Boise State, BYU, and Central Michigan were also left out. The regression analysis produced an R squared value of .7868 between winning percentage and final ranking with a regression formula of: -74.675*(win %) +71.347.

With that out of the way, here are the top-ten most overrated Power 5 teams since 2005.
In this analysis, teams tended to be overrated in bunches. The 2007 and 2016 seasons produced eight of the top-ten overrated teams. In 2016, pollsters were chomping at the bit to rank Southern Cal in the top-five despite the Trojans not winning their conference and losing by 46 points to Alabama. Southern Cal did close the year by winning nine consecutive games, with seven coming by double-digits, but if Arizona had a similar resume, I doubt they end up third in the country. Other notables from this list include last year’s LSU who are dinged by missing out on an assumed victory over South Alabama that would have given them nine wins, Tim Tebow’s Heisman winning Florida Gators (along with three other SEC teams from 2007 including that year’s national champion) who lost to a team that lost to an FCS team, Charlie Weis’ first Notre Dame squad, and another pair of teams from last season that lost blowouts, but closed the season strong.

And here are the most underrated Power 5 teams since 2005. Keep in mind, in order to make this list teams must finish ranked. So these teams finished ranked, but probably should have been ranked higher.
A rational explanation can be given for the relatively low finish for most of these teams. 2015 Northwestern won a lot of close games, but was blown out in their bowl game. 2010 Virginia Tech lost to an FCS team and was blown out in their bowl game. 2015 Florida won a weak division. 2012 Nebraska gave up 70 points in their conference championship game and then lost their bowl game for good measure. 2012 Ohio State was banned from the postseason. Undefeated teams also throw the model off as only four teams in addition to Ohio State have finished unbeaten (Texas 2005, Alabama 2009, Auburn 2010, and Florida State 2013). 2015 Oklahoma State was blown out in the Sugar Bowl in the last hurrah for Ole Miss. 2006 Boston College played in the ACC in 2006. You get the idea.

And finally here is a list of teams that probably should have finished ranked based on their record, but ultimately did not.
This is basically a list of every Power 5 team since 2005 that finished either 8-4 or 9-4 and did not factor into the final polls. Some of these teams are non-traditional powers that enjoyed solid seasons (Duke, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi St, Wake Forest, Washington State, and Virginia), but others are a little more curious. Not sure which pollsters’ wife Bo Pelini slept with (all of them?), but Nebraska finished unranked three times during his tenure despite 9-4 records. That bias also carried over to his successor. Pollsters may have been rankled by curmudgeon (and later sexual assault enabler) Joe Paterno as his teams finished unranked twice despite 9-4 records. However, the team with the biggest beef appears to be Georgia. The Bulldogs finished 10-3 in 2015 and even won their bowl game, but couldn’t wrangle a ranked finish despite playing in the SEC.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Strangers in the Field: III

The past two years, I have gone to Vegas and made some bets (and won a little money). I went again this year.

Over/Under Win Totals
The premise here is simple. These bets are on teams to either go 'over' or 'under' a baseline win total.

Bowling Green over 4 wins -135 ($30 to win $22.25)
After winning the MAC and losing their head coach in 2015, the 2016 season began rather inauspiciously for the Falcons. In their first four games, the Falcons allowed 221 points (including 77 points twice!), lost two blowout games to fellow G5 teams, and narrowly edged North Dakota of the FCS. That victory over the Fighting Hawks would stand as their lone win until early November. However, despite the poor start, the Falcons did not quit on first year head coach Mike Jinks. They closed the year with a three-game winning streak and actually finished as an average MAC team based on yards per play. The returning quarterback, James Morgan, is just a sophomore, but threw for over 2000 yards last season as a true freshman. The lumps the Falcons took in 2016, should start to pay dividends this season. The non-conference schedule is rough, with only one likely win (South Dakota) and three challenging road games (Michigan State, Northwestern, and Middle Tennessee), but the Falcons play in the easier MAC division (East) and should be able to get to .500 in conference play. That should be enough to push them over this low total. 

Buffalo over 3.5 wins even ($50 to win $50)
Speaking of disappointing MAC East teams. After narrowly missing out on a bowl game in Lance Leipold's first season, the Bulls slumped significantly last year. They finished with just two wins, their lowest total since 2010, and won just a single MAC contest. However, like Bowling Green, they got their freshman quarterback (Tyree Jackson) significant playing time which should pay dividends in 2017. Buffalo's non-conference schedule is significantly less challenging than Bowling Green's. The Bulls have a likely loss at Minnesota and a likely home win against Colgate. The Bulls could be underdogs in their other two games at Army and home against Florida Atlantic, but a split would not shock me. Despite their poor showing last season, the Bulls actually upset Army last season and beat Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton two years ago. If the Bulls manage two wins in the non-conference portion of their schedule, they should be able to find two additional ones in the MAC.

Central Florida under 7.5 wins -115 ($30 to win $26.10)
Scott Frost certainly impressed in his first season as a head coach. The Knights improved by six wins in the regular season, going from winless to bowl eligible and earning Frost a well-deserved contract extension. Can Frost get the Knights to improve again? I'm betting against it. For starters, the Knights had nowhere to go but up after their horrendous 2015 season. Even a generic coach could probably have guided a team with Central Florida's underlying talent (remember they won the Fiesta Bowl just three and a half years ago) to four wins. In addition, while the Knights did more than double their point production from 2015, they still finished last in the American in yards per play. With nine starters back and Frost's offensive resume, improvement can be expected, but that will probably be undermined by regression on defense. The Knights ranked second in yards allowed per play in the American last season, but return just four starters from that side of the ball. Thus, I would expect a relative wash and another 4-4 American record. Couple that with a somewhat challenging non-conference schedule (Georgia Tech and @Maryland), and I see Central Florida maxing out at seven regular season wins. 

Georgia Southern over 5 wins +110 ($30 to win $33)
Unlike Scott Frost, Tyson Summers did not endear himself to his school's fan base in his inaugural season. After winning 18 games in their first two seasons as an FBS program, the Eagles suffered their first losing season since 2009. Their dynamic run game averaged nearly 150 fewer yards per game and over two yards worse per carry. To say Summers is on the hot seat heading into 2017 is an understatement. In my 2016 Sun Belt APR piece, I did a little research on head coaches that struggle in their first season relative to expectations. On average, those coaches improve by about two regular season wins in their second season and almost 60% improve by at least two games. Doing so would put the Eagles over this low regular season win total. The Eagles face two P5 road games in non-conference play (Auburn and Indiana), but also have two very winnable games (New Hampshire and @ Massachusetts). The Eagles do have to play three of the Sun Belt favorites in 2017 (Appalachian State, Arkansas State, and Troy), but there are plenty of potential wins remaining on the conference schedule. If this number was five and a half, I would have been hesitant, but with the number at five, this should be a push at worse. 

Illinois over 3.5 wins +120 ($30 to win $66)
Illinois was a confounding team in 2016. The Illini were not 'good' by any stretch, but their yards per play numbers suggested a middling Big 10 team, not a team that won just two conference games. I'm not a huge fan of the Lovie Smith hire long-term as his resume as an NFL head coach did not involve a great deal of forward thinking (something that is probably required to win consistently at Illinois), but I think the Illini can strive to be bad in 2017 and not terrible. The Illini do not play any P5 teams in non-conference play, but could still be 1-2 once Big 10 action starts (likely underdogs to Western Kentucky and @ South Florida). If that comes to fruition, the Illini would need three league wins to hit the over here. They do have five league homes games with one likely win (Rutgers), three where they should be a slight underdog with a decent chance to pull off an upset (Nebraska, Indiana, and Northwestern), and one where they should be a heavy underdog (Wisconsin). Illinois will have to pull off an upset or two, but I don't think four wins is too much to ask here. A big key for the Illini will be the health of wide receiver Mike Dudek. As a freshman in 2014, Dudek led the Illini with over 1000 receiving, but has missed the last two seasons with ACL tears. If Dudek stays healthy and is able to recapture his 2014 form, the Illini could surprise in 2017 (and by surprise I mean not suck).

Marshall over 5 wins -130 ($30 to win $23.10)
I believe 2017 will serve as a referendum on the Doc Holliday regime in Huntington. After a three-year run that included a conference title, a top-25 finish, 33 wins, and three bowl victories, the Herd slumped to 3-9 in 2016. The three victories represented their lowest win total since 2007. His previous success has bought him a little time, but Holliday had better get the Herd back to a bowl in 2017 if he wants to remain head coach. When conducting a postmortem on the 2016 season, it is clear Marshall earned all of their losses. They were not exceptionally unlucky in any regard, as the formerly prolific offense finished dead last in Conference USA in yards per play. The defense was not quite as bad, but was certainly not a strength. The offense should see moderate improvement as quarterback Chase Litton begins his third year leading the Thundering Herd. Marshall does lose their top-four receivers, but has a pair of transfers from P5 programs (Miami and UCLA) coming in to provide reinforcements. Worse case, the Herd should be in the middle of the pack offensively in Conference USA. Defensively, the Herd's main problem last season was their inexperience. Marshall returned just three starters and allowed their most points per game since 2012. This season, they bring seven starters back and should return to the top tier of Conference USA defenses. So we can expect some improvement in league play, but what about the non-conference schedule? There is only one P5 team (@ NC State) and two home games against MAC schools (Miami and Kent State), along with a road game against Cincinnati. The Herd should be able to split those games then if they can get to four conference wins, that would push them over this number. 

Ole Miss over 5.5 wins -130 ($40 to win $30.80)
Oh boy. I knew this bet was risky before I made it. The Rebels already self-imposed a bowl ban and were under NCAA scrutiny before I made this bet. And then, two days after I made it the head coach resigned for (ahem) misdialing an escort service from his university phone. The lesson as always: use a damn burner phone. So obviously, motivation could play a major role in how this team performs in 2017, but here is why I thought it was a good bet at the time. The Rebels have a tissue soft non-conference schedule. Outside of a tricky road trip to Cal (where they will probably still be favored), the Rebels face South Alabama, UT-Martin, and Louisiana-Lafayette. That's two Sun Belt foes and an FCS team for those scoring at home. Many casual football fans may not know this, but the Rebels' permanent cross-division rival in the SEC is Vanderbilt. While the Commodores won last season, Ole Miss should send a fruit basket to the conference headquarters every holiday season to show their appreciation. So, Ole Miss faces Vanderbilt in one of their cross-division games. Care to guess who the other is this season? Kentucky. Unless the SEC expands southward and adds FAU and FIU, Ole Miss hit the jackpot in terms of SEC East opponents. Finally, while Ole Miss dropped their last two games to finish 5-7 last year, they did get quarterback Shea Patterson some valuable experience in both defeats. The Rebels are an archetypal wildcard in 2017 and this year could go a multitude of ways. Maybe they rally around each other and ride an 'us against the world' wave to a solid season or maybe an early-season loss at California takes the fire out of the team and they limp through SEC play going through the motions. Either way, Ole Miss will be one of the most interesting teams of 2017. 

SMU over 5.5 wins -110 ($30 to win $27.30)
SMU is ready to make the proverbial leap in Year 3 of the Chad Morris era. The former Clemson offensive coordinator and Texas high school coach has quickened the pace in Dallas with the Mustangs averaging about nine more plays per game under his guidance than they did in 2014. However, success and efficiency have been slower to come around. The Mustangs have finished just tenth in the American in both 2015 and 2016 in yards per play. Of course, this represented a massive improvement from their inept 2014 showing, but the Mustangs have not revived the 'Pony Express' moniker yet. That should change in 2017 with SMU returning nine starters on offense and bringing in transfer quarterback Rafe Peavey to challenge incumbent Ben Hicks. The Mustangs are also poised for a strong start with four of their first five games coming at home, including non-conference clashes with Stephen F. Austin, North Texas, and Arkansas State. A sweep of that trifecta and a likely loss to TCU would have the Mustangs halfway to a bowl bid and an 'over' hit with a whole conference campaign to go. SMU has won eight games over the past three seasons and I would not be surprised if they matched that number in 2017. 

Texas-San Antonio under 6.5 wins even ($30 to win $60)
Call this a hunch that regression's ubiquitous pull will even catch up to the vaunted Roadrunner. In his first season as head coach, Frank Wilson helped UTSA double their win total from 2015 and guided them to their first bowl appearance in school history. The accomplishment was impressive, particularly considering the Roadrunners faced three challenging non-conference games (@ Colorado State, Arizona State, and @ Texas A&M). UTSA won five conference games despite middling numbers (ninth in yards per play and sixth in yards allowed per play), so improvement in the product, but a setback in the record would not be surprising. UTSA only has two challenging non-conference games this season (Houston and @ Baylor), so a repeat of last year's conference record would push them over this number. Methinks regression from the Roadrunners and improvement elsewhere in Conference USA (Rice and UTEP) will see UTSA top out at 6-6 and potentially miss out on a second bowl appearance altogether. 

UNLV over 5.5 wins +125 ($30 to win $37.50)
Like Chad Morris at SMU, I think Tony Fernandez has some 'third year magic' up his sleeve in Sin City. The Rebels have improved their win total (overall and conference play) in both of his seasons at the helm and the Rebels were practically an average Mountain West team last season based on yards per play despite their losing record. If the Rebels do get to a bowl in 2017,it will be on the back of the offense. That side of the ball returns nine starters while the defense undergoes wholesale changes with just two starters returning. The pivotal game for this team will probably come in the season's second week at Idaho. With Howard in the season opener and Ohio State and BYU coming later in the non-conference schedule, the Rebels desperately need the win against the Vandals. Earning two wins in non-conference play will make getting to the requisite six wins much easier. The schedule makers did do the Rebels a few favors in their cross-division games as they avoid both Boise State and Colorado State (favorites in the Mountain division). Couple that with occupying the easier division (San Diego State is a prohibitive favorite in the West, but the other five teams are virtually interchangeable) and UNLV has a realistic path to a bowl bid even if they lose to Idaho. 

Utah State over 4.5 wins even ($40 to win $40)
Utah State was one of the most unlucky teams in the nation in 2016. The Aggies had the statistical profile of a bowl team, but finished 3-9 thanks to four losses by a touchdown or less. All signs point toward a rebound in 2017, and the Aggies don't even have to qualify for a bowl game to cash this ticket. Non-conference action will be tough with two P5 road games (Wisconsin and Wake Forest) as well as a home date with in-state rival BYU. The Aggies do get a little respite with Idaho State, but 1-3 is a realistic proposition in non-conference play. That being said, once conference play starts, the Aggies will probably be substantial underdogs in just two games (Colorado State and Boise State), but it should be noted both those games are in Logan and two years ago the Aggies beat both those teams by a combined 41 points. Even assuming the Aggies lose all five of those tough games, I think they can win four of the remaining six (they avoid San Diego State in cross-division games) and hit the 'over' here. 

Wake Forest under 5.5 wins -145 ($40 to win $27.60)
Dave Clawson has a history of ramping things up in his fourth season in charge. His fourth year teams at Fordham, Richmond, and Bowling Green combined to go 29-11. So why bet against this solid trend? Take a look at that schedule. The Deacons open with Presbyterian, but that is the only sure win on the slate. The other non-conference games come against Utah State, @ Appalachian State, and @ Notre Dame. The Deacons will probably beat Utah State, but losing the other two would not be a surprising development. And then there is conference play. When the Deacons won the ACC eleven years ago, Clemson and Florida State did not have their acts together. Now they do. Plus in the interim, the division swapped Louisville for Maryland, who just happens to return the Heisman Trophy winner. Even NC State appears to be on the upswing. And the two lesser teams in the division (Boston College and Syracuse)? Well, Wake Forest has to play both of those teams on the road. Plus, while I don't expect Boston College to be significantly better than last season (when they beat Wake by the way), Syracuse could see significant improvement in Dino Babers' second season. In cross-division play, Wake must travel to Georgia Tech and host Duke. The cross-division games could be worse, but of their eight conference games, Wake will probably only be favored in one (Duke) or two (@ Boston College). The Boston College game is probably the biggest game of the year. It comes immediately after the scrimmage opener against Presbyterian and its easy to see the season going right off the rails should the Deacons lose that game. Even if they win, I think the ACC is too deep for Wake to qualify for a second consecutive bowl.  

Games of the Year
Typically betting lines are set on Sunday for games beginning the following week. However, sportsbooks set a few 'Game of the Year' lines for certain games that are months away from occurring. The home team in these games is listed in bold.

September 9th
Boise State +6.5 Washington State -110 ($40 to win $36.35)
If you go looking for undervalued mid-majors, Boise is typically not your first stop. The Broncos are a known national brand, having spent at least one week in the polls during each of the past fifteen seasons. However, I think this visit to Pullman is an exception. There has not been a lot of buzz around Boise this year thanks to their underwhelming bowl performance. As a solid favorite, the Broncos were crushed by a Baylor team playing for a lame duck coach entering on a six-game losing streak. Bowl performances are notoriously flaky so its best to just look at the regular season numbers for the Broncos. 2016 was a typical Boise performance. The Broncos ranked second in the Mountain West in yards per play on both sides of the ball and were a solid second overall (to San Diego State). They did lose twice in conference play, but both defeats came by a combined nine points. In non-conference play, the Broncos beat Washington State and BYU at home and won at Louisiana-Lafayette and Oregon State. With a little better luck, the mid-major story of 2016 could have been which group of Broncos were more deserving of a New Year's Six Bowl bid: Boise State or Western Michigan. As it was, Boise State underachieved and the Broncos enter 2017 with little hype. Since Chris Petersen left following the 2014 season, Boise State has remained a thorn in the side of P5 opponents, posting a 5-2 overall record (3-2 away from the Smurf Turf). Washington State has steadily improved in five seasons under Mike Leach, which is tough considering they play in a division with Oregon, Stanford, and Washington (otherwise known as the last eight Pac-10/12 champions). If they could manage to hold serve against FCS schools, the national media might start paying attention to the Cougars before November. Washington State has sandwiched bad starts and finishes around fantastic play in the past two seasons. In 2015, the Cougars lost their first and last regular season games, but in between went 8-2. In 2016, the Cougars lost their first two and final two regular season games, but in between won eight games in a row. This gambler for one, would enjoy another slow start by Washington State. Both teams have prolific and efficient offenses, but despite playing in the Mountain West, Boise has a better defensive pedigree. With them catching nearly a touchdown here, I'll take that defensive acumen over the homefield advantage. 

November 4th
TCU +2.5 Texas -110 ($20 to win $18.20)
The biggest worry I have in this game is the 'look ahead' factor. TCU has Oklahoma on deck, while Texas just has their revenge game with Kansas to look forward to after this one. TCU is playing at home against a 'big brother' type rival whom they have beaten four of five times since joining the Big 12. In fact, they have won three in a row in this series by a total of 103 points. Texas is favored in this game thanks to their hiring of Tom Herman in the offseason. While Herman did good things at Houston, all four of his losses as coach (including three last season) came as a betting favorite on the road. I think TCU wins this game outright, so them catching any number of points provides value here. 

November 4th
Iowa +16 Ohio State -110 ($20 to win $18.20)
For Ohio State, this is the dreaded 'sandwich game'. In between this visit to Iowa City, the Buckeyes host Penn State in a revenge spot and then host Michigan State. I think they won't bring their 'A' game to take on the Hawkeyes. While the Buckeyes have been successful overall as a double-digit road favorite under Urban Meyer, going 14-1 straight up, they are just 6-9 Against the Spread (ATS). Iowa has only been a double-digit home underdog three times in the last thirteen years, and while they have won just one (last year versus Michigan), they have covered each time. 

November 11th
TCU +15 Oklahoma -110 ($40 to win $36.35)
I think Oklahoma is due for some regression in 2016. While the Sooners were statistically the best team in the Big 12 last season, their profile did not necessarily befit a team that wins all their conference games. The offense was superb, ranking first in the offensive-friendly Big 12 in yards per play, but the defense ranked just fourth in yards allowed per play. That is above-average, but hardly elite. If the Sooners have any sort of offensive regression, which is a definite possibility thanks to the surprise retirement of Bob Stoops, a few of those blowouts could get closer and some of those close games could flip the other way. Oklahoma has won four of the five contests with TCU since the Horned Frogs joined the Big 12, but every game has been decided by seven points or fewer with an average margin of just 4.2 points. Before last season's shootout, TCU held Oklahoma to under six yards per play in their first four meetings. I think that historical trend continues with TCU keeping this one close. 

November 25th
West Virginia +20.5 Oklahoma -110 ($40 to win $36.35)
Since promoting Tony Gibson to the defensive coordinator position prior to the 2014 season, West Virginia has quietly become one of the better defensive teams in the Big 12. In their first two seasons in the Big 12 with Gibson not coordinating the unit, the Mountaineers finished ninth in the conference both times in yards allowed per play. They also allowed nearly 41 points per conference game! Since Gibson's promotion, the Mountaineers have finished second, third, and second in yards allowed per play and given up about 27 points per conference game. The two touchdown per game improvement has allowed the Mountaineers to go from 6-12 in their first two seasons of Big 12 play to 16-11 over the past three. Of course, West Virginia has yet to beat Oklahoma since joining the conference and on the national stage with the conference title on the line, the Mountaineers were bludgeoned by 28 points last year in Morgantown. However, the final score was a bit misleading as West Virginia turned the ball over three times and actually outgained Oklahoma by almost three yards per play. As I mentioned in the previous write-up, Oklahoma is probably due for some regression with the coaching change. I don't think West Virginia has the goods to upset them in Norman, but I think they keep this game within three touchdowns. 

November 25th
Utah -1.5 Colorado -110 ($50 to win $45.45)
Colorado was one of the biggest surprises in all of college football last season. After ten consecutive losing seasons and just ten wins in Mike MacIntyre's first three seasons, the Buffaloes won ten games, spent a few weeks in the top-ten, and played for the Pac-12 title. Now comes the hard part, sustaining that success. The Buffaloes lose eight starters from their defense which ranked second in the Pac-12 in yards allowed per play. That coupled with some natural regression should preclude any thought of consecutive division titles. The fact that this game is in Salt Lake City, a place where the Utes are 10-3 over the past two seasons (and 46-16 over the past decade), and the very low spread makes this a must play for the home team. 

Conference Champion Bets
I decided to put a few dollars down on a team to win their league.


TCU to win the Big 12 +1000 ($10 to win $100)
I expect TCU to improve upon their 6-7 record from last season and I expect Oklahoma to come back to the pack a little. If the Horned Frogs finish in the top-two, they will qualify for the Big 12 Championship Game and have a chance to cash this ticket.

Miscellaneous Bets
This is a college football blog, but there were a few other events I wanted to bet on.


Milwaukee Brewers to win World Series +1500 ($10 to win $150)
At the All-Star break, this would have looked pretty good. The Brewers were up 5.5 games on the Cubs. Milwaukee has hit a bit of tailspin since the break and as of this writing, while they have a one game lead, they are actually behind the Cubs in the loss column. Personally, I think the Brewers will fade unless they are able to add another bat to plug the gaping hole at second base, but figured they were worth taking a flyer on.

Minnesota Twins to win World Series +3000 ($10 to win $300)
By any statistical measure, the Minnesota Twins are not a good baseball team. Yet, there they are in late July, trailing the Cleveland Indians by 1.5 games in the AL Central (and 2 games back of the second Wild Card). The World Series seems destined to be a showdown between the powerhouses in Houston and Los Angeles, but the baseball playoffs are often unpredictable and very random. If Minnesota gets in, this lottery ticket will be worth hanging on to. Plus, it wouldn't be the first time Minnesota won the World Series while actually being a pretty bad team.

Tampa Bay Rays to win World Series +5000 ($10 to win $500)
Not sure how the Rays have much worse odds than the Twins, but I'll take it. Tampa Bay is only 3.5 games back of Boston in the AL East and tied with the Yankees for the Wild Card. They field well (fourth in the majors in Defensive Efficiency) and actually have an above average adjusted OPS despite ranking in the middle of the pack in the American League in runs scored. The Rays are probably the most likely of these three teams to make the playoffs (despite the long odds on the betting ticket), and once they get there, anything can happen. 

Reckless Parlay(s)
I made two reckless parlays instead of one this year. However, I decreased the number of teams, so this should pretty much guarantee it hits. All games must be correct for the parlay to pay out.

Parlay 1:
$10 to win $110

Game 1: August 26th 
Massachusetts +1 Hawaii
Hawaii travels across the country to play a Minutemen team that...will probably still be bad, but that's a long flight.

Game 2: September 1st
Utah State +29 Wisconsin
Utah State was better than their record last season and will prove it here by losing by less than four touchdowns.

Game 3: September 2nd
Florida International +17.5 Central Florida
The Butch Davis era kicks off with a 'rivalry' game against the overrated Knights. 

Game 4: September 2nd
Middle Tennessee State +6 Vanderbilt
This could be Rick Stockstill's best team in Murfreesboro and they are playing at home against a beatable SEC opponent.

Parlay 2:
$10 to win $110

Game 1: August 31st
Buffalo +27.5 Minnesota
Buffalo will be much improved in 2017 and the PJ Fleck era at Minnesota will begin with a closer than expected win.

Game 2: September 1st
Charlotte +12.5 Eastern Michigan
No one was happier to see Eastern Michigan break a three-decade bowl drought last season than me. However, they should not be giving double-digits to nearly any FBS program. 

Game 3: September 1st
Florida Atlantic +14 Navy
Lane Kiffin and his Owls have had all offseason to prepare for the option. Hopefully he has not spent all his time posing with coeds and trolling Ole Miss

Game 4: September 2nd
Marshall +1 Miami (Ohio)
Marshall typically plays very well at home, going 29-7 in Doc Holliday's first six seasons before last year's surprising 3-4 home record. The Herd are undervalued this season. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Polling Differences: Addendum

Per request, this is an addendum to the most recent post regarding Power Five teams and the difference between their finishes in the postseason and preseason AP Poll since 2005. Previously, I used net difference between their postseason and preseason cumulative finishes, but a reader requested I use percentages instead. I have done just that. Obviously, larger numbers equal more improvement. Numbers less than one indicate a team has under-performed relative to their preseason positioning in the AP Poll and vice-versa.

In the previous posts, I began with the top and bottom ten and then went through each conference individually. I am going to reverse that formula here and begin with each individual conference and then finish with a caveated top ten. We’ll go alphabetically as always and begin with the ACC.
You can probably tell why I started with individual conferences. Thanks to sample size issues, the numbers can be a bit wonky. Wake Forest has exactly one ranked finish in the past twelve seasons, but thanks to continuously being ignored by the national media (and rightfully so), ranks second in the ACC in percentage increase. However, in my opinion, Clemson has the more impressive accomplishment. The Tigers have actually over-performed relative to their preseason prospects despite being burdened with pretty high expectations. And of course, if you paid attention in high school algebra, you know the other problem with using percentage increase instead of net – dividing by zero. Technically Duke and NC State have exceeded their preseason expectations by infinity (at least if you try to take it to the limit one more time), but I digress. Let’s just move along to the Big 12.
I don’t have a problem with Kansas State appearing at the top of this list as they always seem to defy preseason expectations. However, wonky issues with sample size also put their Sunflower State brethren near the top as well. Moving to the Big 10.
Here we have more wonkiness at the top with Northwestern grabbing the pole position. Penn State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin have been impressive in consistently out-performing their preseason expectations despite also consistently having some preseason expectations. Ohio State has basically broken even despite massive preseason expectations. And finally, Purdue, along with Virginia, is the only Power 5 team to not finish a season ranked despite at least one ranked start in the preseason poll. Here is the Pac-12.
Based on how many postseason points they have accumulated under Kyle Whittingham, I would rank Utah as the most overachieving Power 5 program. They are technically behind Boston College, but the Utes have nearly 40% more postseason points and the Eagles have not finished ranked since 2007. And finally, here is the SEC.
As I mentioned last week, Alabama has not only been super-elite since 2005, they have also exceeded their preseason expectations. That is very tough to do. The other over-achievers in the SEC are the perennially underrated teams in Starkville and Columbia respectively.

Since using percentages can make the data a bit wonky, I am going to list the top and bottom teams with a few caveats thrown in so that teams are compared to similar teams. It makes no sense to compare Alabama, a perennial top-ten team with Vanderbilt, a team that has not been in a single preseason poll in the time period examined here. So with that out of the way, here is the first grouping. The following table sorts elite teams by the percentage difference in their standing in the postseason and preseason AP Poll. Elite is defined here as having at least 100 preseason AP Poll Points. Those parameters yield fourteen teams and while some may not really be ‘elite’, attaining triple digits in preseason points seemed like a good arbitrary cutoff.
Not only is Alabama great, but for teams that enter each season with lofty expectations, they do the best job of exceeding them. Oregon and Clemson are the only other two elite teams to have exceeded expectations in this time span and Ohio State has basically broken even. Every team below Ohio State with the exception of Oklahoma has fired/forced to retire/exiled to the Phantom Zone at least one coach in the past twelve seasons. It seems with great power comes great responsibility.

This next grouping is what I would consider ‘good’ teams. These teams have accumulated at least 60, but less than 100 preseason points since 2005. This arbitrary cutoff yielded a nice round number of teams (ten).
For teams just outside the elite, TCU and Stanford have been the gold standard. The Horned Frogs and Cardinal have combined for four Power Five conference titles since 2012. The other two ‘good’ teams to exceed their preseason projections are Michigan State and Wisconsin. The Spartans and Badgers have combined to win or share six Big 10 titles since 2010 and at least one of them has appeared in every iteration of the Big 10 Championship Game. Look away Nebraska and Tennessee fans. Pretend it is still the 90’s and things are great.

Before we get to the top over and under-achievers regardless of preseason points, I wanted to list the five teams that accrued postseason points despite never appearing in the preseason poll during this time period. These teams have out-performed their expectations by infinity.
This is mostly a function of one good or decent year with no national expectations since 2005.

Now here are the top ten teams by percentage difference between their postseason and preseason point totals regardless of the total number of preseason points they received.
The top eight teams on this list are pretty similar. No team is a consistent national power, but they have each had their share of time in the spotlight over the past twelve seasons. However, the last two teams on this list seem to be different. Both Penn State and Washington can claim national relevancy (and titles) since the mid-80’s. Both teams finished in the top-ten last season and appear to be trending in the right direction under quality head coaches. If we revisit these numbers in five years or so, I think Penn State and Washington may find their way into the elite sphere.

And finally, here are the teams with the worst percentage difference between their postseason and preseason point totals.
Virginia and Purdue have not finished ranked despite receiving a little bit of love in the preseason polls, but for my money, Cal has been the biggest underachiever among Power 5 programs the past twelve years. The hippies from Berkeley have held on to just a quarter of their preseason poll points and have just two winning seasons since 2010.

When all is said and done, I think the addendum ended up being longer than the original post. Oh well. I hope you enjoyed it. In the next post, we’ll look at the most overrated teams (postseason poll) of the past twelve seasons.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Summer of Polls Part III: Polling Differences

In the first two posts on the AP Poll, I looked at the preseason poll and the end of season poll and calculated which teams accrued the most ‘points’ in each over the past twelve seasons. I awarded 25 points for teams ranked first, 24 for teams ranked second, and so on with the 25th ranked team receiving a solitary point. Now comes the next logical step: determining which teams have exceeded expectations the most and which teams have failed to live up to their lofty preseason projections. The methodology is quite simple. Just take the number of Postseason AP Poll Points (POAPPP) each current Power 5 team has accumulated and subtract their Preseason AP Poll Points (PAPPP) from that number. Positive numbers indicate teams that have over-performed and negative numbers indicate teams that have under-performed. So with the methodology out of the way, here are the top ten teams that have over-performed relative to their preseason ranking since 2005.
Congratulations Kyle Whittingham. Despite receiving almost no preseason love during his tenure in Salt Lake City (ranked 19th in the 2009 preseason poll), the Utes have racked up 49 points in the postseason AP poll over five ranked finishes. Missouri, with four conference title game appearances since 2005, is a close second and former mid-major TCU ranks third. It is interesting to note that the top three teams in this metric all upgraded to better conferences during this time period. You could have probably guessed most of the remaining teams on this list. For the most part, they are solid programs that are underrated nationally (Boston College, Kansas State, Wisconsin, and Mississippi State) or a non-traditional power that has exploded onto the national scene thanks to some great hires (Stanford). However, it is a bit surprising for Penn State and Alabama to appear here. The Nittany Lions have finished ranked in the top-ten four times in the past twelve seasons (2005, 2008, 2009, and 2016), but in two of those seasons (2005 and 2016) they were not ranked in the preseason poll at all and in another (2008), they were only ranked 22nd in the initial poll. For Alabama, this only serves to further Nick Saban’s legacy. As you may remember from a previous post, Alabama ranks fourth since 2005 in preseason AP Poll points. Yet, they have exceeded even that lofty standard with their final rankings. As we will see in a moment, most other preseason darlings have not been so fortunate. Speaking of, here are the top ten teams in failing to meet their preseason poll expectations since 2005.
This list features six teams (Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida State, Texas, LSU, and Southern Cal) that were in the top ten of total preseason AP Poll Points, with the recently retired Bob Stoops grabbing the pole position. That makes perfect sense. Teams that receive a large number of preseason points obviously have the most to lose. The teams that should really be shamed by this metric are Cal, Nebraska, and Tennessee. Those three all accrued 69 preseason points or less and still managed to make this list. For comparison’s sake, while Oklahoma lost 65 points from their preseason total, they still managed to hold on to more than 70% of their total points. Meanwhile, Nebraska and Tennessee only held on to about a third of their preseason points and Cal kept only a quarter of theirs. As with the past two posts, we will now examine the difference in POAPPP and PAPPP by conference. We’ll start with the ACC.
Outside of Boston College, no ACC team drastically exceeded their preseason expectations. And for Boston College, this is a function of three consecutive ranked finishes a decade ago. The Eagles have not finished in the final poll since 2007, but they have only appeared in a single preseason poll (2005). Clemson has done a good job of living up to their relatively lofty preseason expectations. Among teams with at least 100 preseason points, only the Tigers, along with Oregon and Alabama, have a positive differential. The rest of the conference is just not that interesting from an analytical perspective.

Now here are the Big 10 rankings.
Joining Penn State and Wisconsin as the only Big 10 team with a double-digit positive differential is Michigan State. If I had done this look back prior to their forgettable 2016 campaign, the Spartans would have ranked even higher. Michigan State began last season ranked twelfth and thus lost out on 14 points when they finished 3-9. While Ohio State does have a slight negative differential, they have pretty much finished in line with expectations on average, holding on to more than 98% of their preseason points.

Here are the Big 12 rankings.
I feel like West Virginia has a reputation for not meeting lofty expectations, but the numbers do not appear to support this claim. This undeserved reputation is most likely due to the 2008 and 2012 seasons when West Virginia began the year ranked eighth and eleventh respectively. The Mountaineers finished near the bottom of the poll in 2008 (23rd) and outside the poll in 2012, but in the other ten years, the West Virginia outpaced their initial standing in the poll.

Here are the Pac-12 rankings.
The Pac-12 owns the distinction of being the only conference to have five teams post a double-digit positive differential. Washington State is one of only six teams (Indiana, Iowa State, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Syracuse) to not appear in either the preseason or postseason AP Poll since 2005.

And finally, here are the SEC rankings.
Are SEC teams overrated by the preseason poll? Nine conference teams produced negative differentials between their preseason and postseason rankings. Traditional powers like Florida, Georgia, and LSU produced negative differentials thanks to being consistently ranked in the preseason poll. However, mediocre teams like Arkansas, Ole Miss, and South Carolina also produced negative differentials.

This concludes our look at differences between the preseason and postseason polls. In the next post, I’ll run a regression analysis between team record (Power 5 only) and final poll ranking. I’ll use the resulting formula to rank the most overrated teams of the past twelve seasons and determine which teams probably should have finished ranked. Until next time, thanks for reading.