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Statistically Speaking: The Worst 10-win Team of the Last Decade

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Worst 10-win Team of the Last Decade

The worst 10-win team of the past decade is a category akin to the ugliest supermodel, and weakest strongman. A few days ago, I said Mississippi State circa 1999 may be the worst 10-win team ever. That was a dramatic overstatement. With neither the time nor the energy to traverse NCAA football’s long and storied history, I decided to take a look at the worst 10-win teams since 1996. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and examine some of these bad-good teams. Under each team, 6 characteristics will be listed: their record, their point differential, their Pythagorean record, their record in close games, their record against teams with winning records, and their opponent’s winning percentage.


Kansas
1995

Record: 10-2

Point Differential: +84

Pythag: 7.91-4.09

Close Games: 3-0

Winning Records: 4-2

Opp Win %: .515 (70-66-1)

In Glenn Mason’s penultimate season in Lawrence, the Jayhawks went 10-2 and won the Aloha Bowl. Kansas played six teams with winning records, but two of them were over Cincinnati and Texas Christian who both finished (6-5), as well as their bowl win over 7-5 UCLA. They did manage to beat 10-2 Colorado, but in their other two games against dominant teams (10-2 Kansas State and 12-0 Nebraska), they were beaten by a combined 82-10 score.


Army 1996

Record: 10-2

Point Differential: +155

Pythag: 9.32-2.68

Close Games: 1-1

Winning Records: 3-2

Opp Win%: .465 (53-61)

In their most recent winning season, Army posted a very solid point differential, but their schedule was very weak. Their opponent’s winning percentage does not include two games they played against non Division I-A opponents Yale and Lafayette. They also beat Duke (0-11), Tulane, and Rutgers (both 2-9). Their best win was over fellow service academy Navy (9-3). In their bowl game, they did give Auburn (8-4) all they could handle before succumbing by 3 points.

Wyoming 1996

Record: 10-2

Point Differential: +180

Pythag: 9.14-2.86

Close Games: 4-2

Winning Records: 3-2

Opp Win%: .429 (60-80)

Another team with a solid point differential, but weak schedule. Joe Tiller parlayed this solid season into a gig at Purdue. The Cowboys best win was over Colorado State (7-5). They did suffer close losses to San Diego State (8-3) and Brigham Young (14-1), but they also narrowly defeated Iowa State (2-9), Idaho (6-5), and Air Force (6-5). Other cupcake wins, albeit by a much large margin, were over Hawaii (2-10), UNLV (1-11), San Jose State (3-9), Western Michigan (2-9), Fresno State (4-7), and Southern Methodist (5-6). Although they were undefeated entering November (9-0), their loss to Brigham Young in the WAC Championship Game cost them a bowl bid despite the gaudy record.

Air Force 1997

Record: 10-3

Point Differential: +89

Pythag: 9.27-3.73

Close Games: 5-2

Winning Record: 4-1

Opp Win%: .493 (69-71)

Air Force had a solid point differential and Pythagorean record, but they played several close games and the only good team they beat was Colorado State (11-2). The other winning teams include non-bowl invitees Rice and Navy (both 7-4), Wyoming (7-6), and the Las Vegas Bowl loss (by 28 points) to Oregon (7-5). They also lost to Fresno State (6-6) and San Jose State (4-7).

Georgia Tech 1998

Record: 10-2

Point Differential: +131

Pythag: 8.46-3.54

Close Games: 4-0

Winning Record: 5-1

Opp Win%: .518 (72-67)

Probably the best of the worst 10-win teams if that makes any sense. Good point differential, but were 4-0 in close games and although they beat some good teams (Georgia, Notre Dame, and Virginia were all 9-3) they lost to Boston College (4-7), got annihilated by the only elite team they played (Florida State beat them by 27 in Atlanta), and four of their wins were over 3-8 teams (Wake Forest, Clemson, Maryland, and New Mexico State).

Miami (Ohio) 1998

Record: 10-1

Point Differential: +175

Pythag: 9.57-1.43

Close Games: 3-0

Winning Record: 2-1

Opp Win%: .384 (48-77)

Good point differential, but a ridiculously easy schedule. Their best win is a 3-point victory over North Carolina (7-5). Beat five teams with 3 or fewer wins including Kent State (0-11) and Ball State (1-10). However, they did play only 4 home games versus 7 road dates which has to count for something.

Boise State 1999

Record: 10-3

Point Differential: +153

Pythag: 9.61-3.39

Close Games: 4-1

Winning Record: 4-1

Opp Win%: .472 (59-66)

The Broncos also beat two non-Division IA opponents, further lowering their strength of schedule. Three of the teams with winning records they beat were mediocre at best: Louisville (7-5), Idaho (7-4), and New Mexico State (6-5). They played only 4 road games (the bowl game was played at home on the Smurf Turf) and lost 3 of them. Their losses were to UCLA (4-7), Hawaii (9-4), and North Texas (2-9). Their lone road win was a 6-point victory over Utah State (4-7).

Mississippi State 1999

Record: 10-2

Point Differential: +99

Pythag: 9.15-2.85

Close Games: 5-1

Winning Record: 1-2

Opp Win%: .464 (64-74)

As discussed a few days ago, Mississippi State beat one team with a winning record, and enjoyed a three-game stretch where they won by 2, 1, and 1 points respectively.

Brigham Young 2001

Record: 12-2

Point Differential: +194

Pythag: 9.93-4.07

Close Games: 5-0

Winning Record: 3-2

Opp Win%: .435 (70-91)

In early December 2001, Brigham Young was contemplating suing the BCS because they were likely to be on the outside looking in despite a 13-0 record. One 27-point loss to Hawaii later and the BCS could have sued the Cougars for impersonating a college football team. The Cougars played almost no one of note until their bowl loss to Louisville (11-2). Half of their wins came against teams with 3 or fewer wins. Give them credit for playing 7 road games in the regular season.

Illinois 2001

Record: 10-2

Point Differential: +105

Pythag: 8.13-3.87

Close Games: 4-0

Winning Record: 3-2

Opp Win%: .514 (72-68)

The Fighting Illini parlayed an easy Big 10 schedule (they played two league teams with winning records: Michigan and Ohio State) into a surprise Big 10 title. They lost to Michigan by 25, beat Ohio State, and squeaked by losing league teams Wisconsin, Penn State, and Northwestern by 7, 5, and 6 points respectively. They did manage to beat Louisville (11-2), whom you’ll see later, but lost their bowl game to the SEC Champion LSU Tigers. This season appears to be a fluke, as the Illini have a record of 11-35 since their Sugar Bowl appearance.

Louisville 2001

Record: 11-2

Point Differential: +171

Pythag: 10.32-2.68

Close Games: 2-0

Winning Record: 4-1

Opp Win%: .486 (69-73)

Add a victory over a non-Division IA team to the Cardinals strength of schedule. They did beat a flawed 12-2 Brigham Young team, but their best win in the regular season is either Colorado State or Cincinnati (both 7-5).

Marshall 2001

Record: 11-2

Point Differential: +143

Pythag: 8.90-4.10

Close Games: 3-1

Winning Record: 4-2

Opp Win%: .512 (64-61)

Two of Marshall’s 11 wins were over non-Division IA competition. Three of the winning teams they beat were Northern Illinois and Kent State (both 6-5) and Miami of Ohio (7-5). In their lone game against an elite team, they lost to Florida (10-2) by 35. They also lost to Toledo (10-2) who you’ll read about later.

Syracuse 2001

Record: 10-3

Point Differential: +87

Pythag: 8.73-4.27

Close Games: 2-1

Winning Record: 5-3

Opp Win%: .571 (88-66)

Syracuse’s opponents had a very good record, but this is skewed by Miami of Florida (12-0) and Tennessee (11-2). They lost those games by a combined score of 9-92, showing they were not ready for prime time. The winning teams they beat were pedestrian at best: Central Florida (6-5), Auburn (7-5), Pittsburgh (7-5), Virginia Tech (8-4), and Boston College (8-4). Besides Miami, the Big East was down in 2001, and the Orangemen took advantage by turning in a second-place finish that is not as strong as it looked at the time.

Toledo 2001

Record: 10-2

Point Differential: +110

Pythag: 8.14-3.86

Close Games: 5-1

Winning Record: 3-1

Opp Win%: .418 (56-78)

Holy Toledo! The Rockets played a large number of close games, and won almost all of them. Besides the aforementioned Marshall (11-2), the other winning teams the Rockets knocked off were Cincinnati (7-5) in the Motor City Bowl and Northern Illinois (6-5). Four of their wins were over teams with 3 wins or less, including winless Navy. They also lost to 5-6 Ball State.

Colorado State 2002

Record: 10-4

Point Differential: +86

Pythag: 8.86-5.14

Close Games: 7-2

Winning Record: 4-3

Opp Win%: .520 (93-86)

Nine of their 14 games could have gone either way. They won just about every one. They do have some impressive victories over Virginia and Colorado (both 9-5), but they also squeaked by some run of the mill squads. These include Louisville (7-6) by 3, Nevada (5-7) by 4, Wyoming (2-10) by 8, and New Mexico (7-7) by 8. They also lost to UNLV (5-7).

Hawaii 2002

Record: 10-4

Point Differential: +113

Pythag: 9.05-4.95

Close Games: 3-2

Winning Record: 1-3

Opp Win%: .463 (76-88)

Hawaii also beat a non-Division IA team to further lower their strength of schedule. The only winning team they beat was Fresno State (9-5). They left the islands for only 5 of their 14 games. Two of their wins were over Tulsa (1-11) and UTEP (2-10). They also lost to Brigham Young (5-7).

Marshall 2002

Record: 11-2

Point Differential: +142

Pythag: 9.19-3.81

Close Games: 5-0

Winning Record: 4-1

Opp Win%: .443 (66-83)

The Thundering Herd added a win over a non-Division IA team. In their only encounter with an upper-echelon team, they lost to Virginia Tech by 26. They won every close game they played, including a 5 point win over Central Michigan (4-8) and a 3 point win over Ohio (4-8). The four winning teams they beat were pedestrian at best: Central Florida (7-5), Miami of Ohio (7-5), Toledo (9-5), and Louisville (7-6). Besides Virginia Tech, they also lost to Akron (4-8).

Michigan 2002

Record: 10-3

Point Differential: +96

Pythag: 8.78-4.22

Close Games: 6-2

Winning Record: 6-3

Opp Win%: .602 (100-66)

This team is probably one of the weaker Lloyd Carr coached Michigan teams. The Wolverines played a ton of close games, and despite the fact that their Big 10 schedule allowed them to engage several winning teams; very few of them were elite. Ohio State (14-0), Iowa (11-2), and Notre Dame (10-3), we’ll talk about them soon, skew the strength of schedule. It’s no surprise Michigan lost all three of these games. The other six winning teams they played (and beat) were Washington (7-6), Penn State (9-4), Purdue (7-6), Minnesota (8-5), Wisconsin (8-6), and Florida (8-5).

Notre Dame 2002

Record: 10-3

Point Differential: +73

Pythag: 8.65-4.35

Close Games: 6-1

Winning Record: 6-3

Opp Win%: .563 (94-73)

The quintessential phrase ‘luck of the Irish’ rings true for this team. They began the season 8-0, beating several strong teams, albeit by the slimmest of margins. That all changed when they finally lost a close game to Boston College. They ended the season by showing they did not belong among college footballs upper class, but rather among the proletariat, by losing to Southern Cal (11-2) and NC State (11-3) by a combined score of 72-17. Early on the Irish also struggled to put away mediocre Purdue (7-6), as well as also-rans Michigan State (4-8) and Navy (2-10), winning those games by 7, 4, and 7 points respectively. Proving they were playing way over their heads, the team slumped to 5-7 in 2003.

Texas Christian 2002

Record: 10-2

Point Differential: +139

Pythag: 9.12-2.88

Close Games: 3-2

Winning Record: 5-0

Opp Win%: .434 (66-86)

The winning record category is deceptive. Those winning teams they beat include Sun Belt Champion North Texas (8-5), Louisville (7-6), Southern Mississippi (7-6), Tulane (8-5), and Colorado State (10-4) who was discussed earlier. Their 2 losses were to Cincinnati (7-7) and East Carolina (4-8).

Iowa 2004

Record: 10-2

Point Differential: +81

Pythag: 8.20-3.8

Close Games: 5-0

Winning Record: 6-2

Opp Win%: .582 (82-59)

Iowa skated through their Big 10 schedule through the thinnest of margins. They defeated Penn State (4-7), Purdue (7-5), and Minnesota (7-5) all by 2 points. Out of conference they beat Iowa State (7-5) by 7 and in the Capital One Bowl they knocked off Louisiana State (9-3) by 5. In their 2 losses, they were soundly thumped by Arizona State (9-3) and Michigan (9-3) by a combined score of 74-24. Like most teams that win a lot of close games one year, the Hawkeyes regressed the next season to 7-5 by going 0-3 in close games.

Navy 2004

Record: 10-2

Point Differential: +96

Pythag: 8.29-3.71

Close Games: 4-0

Winning Record: 1-0

Opp Win%: .354 (40-73)

Head coach Paul Johnson helped Navy to a 10-win season in 2004. It was probably the worst 10-win season on this list, but I don't think you will hear too many Navy fans complain. Navy played one team with a winning record all season, New Mexico (7-5) in the Emerald Bowl, whom they defeated. They also beat 2 non-Division IA teams. Their losses were to Notre Dame (6-6) by 18 points and to Tulane (5-6) by 32 points.

Tennessee 2004

Record: 10-3

Point Differential: +83

Pythag: 8.36-4.64

Close Games: 6-1

Winning Record: 4-2

Opp Win%: .549 (84-69)

The 2004 incarnation of the Tennessee Volunteers are probably the luckiest team on this list. They were an amazing 6-1 in close games, losing only to Notre Dame by 4 points. Their other 2 losses were both to Auburn (13-0) by 24 and 10 points respectively. The blowout win over Texas A&M (7-5) in the Cotton Bowl raised expectations heading into 2005, but like most teams that win a lot of close games one year, their luck changed the following year. The Vols finished 5-6 in 2005, highlighted by a mediocre 3-3 record in close games. Incidentally, one handsome devil predicted the fall of Tennessee.


UCLA 2005

Record: 10-2

Point Differential: +59

Pythag: 6.95-5.05

Close Games: 4-0

Winning Record: 4-1

Opp Win%: .482 (67-72)

An early November game against Arizona (3-8) says all there is to say about UCLA. Coming off a narrow win over Stanford (5-6) and standing 8-0, the Bruins were stomped by the Wildcats by 38 points. Two weeks later, the Southern Cal Trojans demolished them 47. UCLA was a decent team that lucked onto a 10-win season. They are certainly destined to sink like the Titanic in 2005.

Here’s the tail of the tape. Below is the worst of each team in each category (or best in terms of close games which indicate a fair amount of luck).

Point Differential: +59; UCLA 2005

Pythag: 6.95-5.05; UCLA 2005

Close Games: 5-0; Brigham Young 2001, Marshall 2002, and Iowa 2004

Winning Record: 1-0; Navy 2004

Opp Win%: .354 (40-73); Navy 2004

I have to anoint the 2004 edition of the Naval Academy as the worst 10-win team of the last decade. They played one team with a winning record and had an awful strength of schedule (especially when you include their 2 wins over non-Division IA teams). As far as the worst 10-win team from a BCS conference, well that honor goes to the 2005 UCLA Bruins. Your thoughts?

3 Comments:

Blogger STR said...

this is about as long as the book of Psalms.

11:28 AM  
Blogger Mr. A said...

While Navy may be the "worst" team on your list, certainly the 2004 season was a great accomplishment for a program that had fallen by the wayside in years past. Under PJ, winning has become a staple at Navy, and even though frequent complaints about our schedule are made, the team really has accomplished some major deeds, considering the obvious restrictions on the program from a recruiting standpoint. This year we return 18 starters to what was an 8-4 program, and of course the dangerous triple option attack lead by Head Coach paul Johnson.

Good post overall.

6:47 PM  
Blogger matt said...

Mr. A, I totally agree. I love the fact that Navy is successful under Paul Johnson. In fact, you can make the argument that he is the best coach in NCAA football right now.

8:29 PM  

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