College football may be the sport with the most passionate fans. And nothing gets those fans more fired up than a lopsided bowl win over a good opponent. But, how telling is a blowout bowl win when prospecting forward? To answer this question, I looked at bowl games after the 2002, 2003, and 2004 regular seasons. Any BCS team that beat another BCS team by 20 or more points was considered to have blown their opponent out. I then looked at their record the following year to determine if the good will generated by their bowl blowout had any effect on the following season.
There were 8 bowl games that fit the BCS blowout criteria:
Texas Tech over Clemson 55-15 in the Tangerine Bowl
Pittsburgh over Oregon State 38-13 in the Insight Bowl
Virginia over West Virginia 48-22 in the Tire Bowl
Wake Forest over Oregon 38-17 in the Seattle Bowl
Maryland over Tennessee 30-3 in the Peach Bowl
NC State over Notre Dame 28-6 in the Gator Bowl
Oklahoma over Washington State 34-14 in the Rose Bowl
Southern Cal over Iowa 38-17 in the Orange Bowl
In the 2002 season, these 8 blowout winners had a combined record of 79-30, good for a .725 winning percentage. The following season, these teams had a combined record of 71-33, good for a .683 winning percentage. Of the 8 teams, only 1, Southern Cal improved the following year. They went from 11-2 in 2002 to 12-1 and national champions in 2003. 3 teams declined, NC State from 11-3 in 2002 to 8-5 in 2003, Wake Forest from 7-6 in 2002 to 5-7 in 2003, and Pittsburgh from 9-4 in 2002 to 8-5 in 2003. Oklahoma finished 12-2 in both 2002 and 2003. Texas Tech, Virginia, and Maryland all declined by 1/2 a game (Texas Tech and Virginia from 9-5 in 2002 to 8-5 in 2003 and Maryland from 11-3 in 2002 to 10-3 in 2003), but that is particially because they played 1 fewer game the following season.
There were 3 bowl games that fit the BCS blowout criteria:
NC State over Kansas 56-26 in the Tangerine Bowl
Iowa over Florida 37-17 in the Outback Bowl
Maryland over West Virginia 47-7 in the Gator Bowl
In the 2003 season these 3 blowout winners had a combined record of 28-11, good for a .718 winning percentage. The following season these teams had a combined record of 20-14, good for a .588 winning percentage. Iowa improved the following year. They went 10-3 in 2003 and improved slightly to 10-2 in 2004. NC State declined from 8-5 in 2003 to 5-6 in 2004. Maryland had a similar fall from 10-3 in 2003 to 5-6 and no bowl in 2004.
There were 4 bowl games that fit the BCS blowout criteria:
Georgia Tech over Syracuse 51-14 in the Champs Sports Bowl
Ohio State over Oklahoma State 33-7 in the Alamo Bowl
Tennessee over Texas A&M 38-7 in the Cotton Bowl
Southern Cal over Oklahoma 55-19 in the Orange Bowl
In the 2004 season these 4 blowout winners had a combined record of 38-12, good for a .760 winning percentage. In 2005, these 4 teams had a combined record of 34-14, good for a .708 winning percentage. Ohio State improved from 8-4 in 2004 to 10-2 and Fiesta Bowl champs in 2005. Tennessee declined from 10-3 in 2004 to 5-6 this season. Georgia Tech finished 7-5 in both 2004 and 2005. Southern Cal finished 13-0 in 2004 and 12-1 this season, a small decline considering they played for the national title.
Of the 15 teams in this study that romped over other BCS teams in their bowl games, only 3 improved the following year. 6 declined and 6 had the same record (pretty much) the following year.
What about the flip side of the blowout coin? Nothing can kill morale faster than a cross country drive to see the ole alma mater followed by a 3 and 1/2 hour long massacre. Now lets examine the what happens to teams after being routed in their bowl games.
In the 2002 season, these 8 bowl losers had a combined record of 70-34, good for a .673 winning percentage. The next season, they had a combined record of 68-35, for a winning percentage of .660. 3 teams improved the following season. Clemson went from 7-6 in 2002 to 9-4 in 2003. Oregon went from 7-6 in 2002 to 8-5 in 2003. Tennessee went from 8-5 in 2002 to 10-3 in 2003. 3 teams declined. West Virginia went from 9-4 in 2002 to 8-5 in 2003. Notre Dame went from 10-3 in 2002 to 5-7 and out of the bowl picture in 2003. Iowa went from 11-2 in 2002 to 10-3 in 2003. 2 teams posted the exact same record the following season. Oregon State went 8-5 both years and Washington State went 10-3 both years.
In the 2003 season, the 3 bowl losers had a combined record of 22-17, good for a .564 winning percentage. The next season, they combined for a 19-16 record, good for a .543 winning percentage. Neither of the 3 teams improved. Kansas declined from 6-7 in 2003 to 4-7 in 2004. Florida and West Virginia had relatively similar records. West Virginia went 8-5 in 2003 and 8-4 in 2004. Florida went 8-5 in 2003 and 7-5 in 2004.
In the 2004 season, the 4 bowl losers had a combined record of 32-17, good for a .653 winning percentage. The next season, they combined for an 18-27 record, good for a .400 winning percentage. All 4 teams declined. Syracuse went from 6-6 in 2004 to 1-10 this past season. Oklahoma State went from 7-5 in 2004 to 4-7 this past season. Texas A&M went from 7-5 in 2004 to 5-6 in 2005. Oklahoma went from 12-1 in 2004 to 8-4 this past season.
Of the 15 teams in this study that were routed in their bolw games, only 3 improved the following year. 8 declined and 4 posted the same or similar records the following year.
So what can we learn from this endeavor? For starters, a huge bowl win over a BCS opponent does not neccesarily portend a breakthrough season the next year. Several possible reasons exist for this. The loss of key senior contributors. For example, the 2003 NC State team that finished 8-5, lost star quarterback Philip Rivers and finished 5-6 th next year. Luck is another factor. Many people do not realize just how much of an impact random chance has in determining the outcome of a single football game. A fumble that bounced a fortuitous way or an interception that was dropped all influence the outcome of an individual game. Teams that win a lot of close games one year don't necessarily continue to do it the next year. In 2004, Tennessee finished 10-3 and was 5-1 in games decided by 7 points or less. In 2005, they finsihed 5-6 and were only 3-3 in such games. Perhaps even the plexiglass principle is a reason for this decline. Additionally, if a BCS team is blown out in their bowl game by another BCS team, they are more likely to decline than if they had blown the other team out. However, they appear to be just as likely to improve as their victorious brethren. The teams that decline drastically the next season seem to fit into several distinct categories. Fire/lose their coach (Syracuse and Oklahoma State in 2004). Lose a ton of talent to the NFL (Oklahoma in 2004). Extremely lucky (Notre Dame in 2002). Probably shouldn't be in a bowl anyway (Kansas 2003). In the 2005 bowl season, the only game that fits this criteria is the Peach Bowl. LSU handled Miami 40-3. LSU fans should not be printing those 2006 national champions or 2006 SEC champions T-shirts just yet if history is any indication. Similarly, Miami fans should not be hanging Larry Coker in effigy either. Miami certainly does not fit into any of the 4 previous categories for blowout losers, so a precipitous decline is unlikely.