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Statistically Speaking: The Best Losing Team of the Past Decade

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Best Losing Team of the Past Decade

A few weeks ago I analyzed the worst 10 win teams since 1995. Now I want to do the opposite or something like that. What were the beast teams with losing records during the same time span? Here are my best guesses. 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.

Purdue 1995

Record: 4-6-1

Point Differential: +13

Pythag: 5.81-5.29

Close Games: 1-4-1

Winning Records: 1-5-1

Opp Win %: .593 (75-51-3)

1995 was Jim Colletto’s penultimate season in West Lafayette. It had the potential to end with Purdue’s first bowl bid since 1984. However, the Boilers extremely poor record in close games doomed them to yet another losing season. The highlight of the season was probably the finale the Boilers drubbed rival Indiana by a score of 51-14. Mike Alstott rushed for 264 yards and three touchdowns in his final college game. Purdue would continue their losing ways the following year, slipping to 3-8 in 1996. However, Joe Tiller arrived in 1997 and the Boilers have been a consistent winner in the Big 10 since.

West Virginia 1995

Record: 5-6

Point Differential: +43

Pythag: 6.69-4.31

Close Games: 0-3

Winning Records: 0-5

Opp Win %: .472 (58-65-2)

One of the close losses suffered by the West Virginia Mountaineers was to the aforementioned Purdue Boilermakers on Labor Day Weekend by a 26-24 score. Although West Virginia benefited from a relatively easy schedule, they did not catch any breaks in close games going 0-3. They lost to every team with a winning record they played, and defeated all but one of the teams on their schedule that finished with losing records. Losing seasons were not common under legendary head coach Don Nehlen and the Mountaineers would actually flirt with perfection the following season beginning the year 7-0 before falling to Miami on a blocked punt in late October and finishing 8-4.


UCLA 1996

Record: 5-6

Point Differential: +12

Pythag: 5.74-5.26

Close Games: 1-2

Winning Records: 1-5

Opp Win %: .609 (78-50)

The Bruins went 4-4 in the Pac 10 in 1996, but thanks to their non-conference schedule, finished out of the bowl picture. Two of their three non-conference games were road showdowns against Tennessee (10-2) and Michigan (8-4). The other was a home date against Louisiana-Monroe. Replacing Tennessee and Michigan with some hyphenated opponents would have meant a postseason invite. Something was indeed Bruin in Los Angeles as the UCLA improved to 10-2 in 1997 and won the Cotton Bowl.


Alabama
1997

Record: 4-7

Point Differential: -2

Pythag: 5.45-5.55

Close Games: 0-4

Winning Records: 2-5

Opp Win %: .609 (78-50)

The Crimson Tide began the year 4-3, but lost their final four contests to finish 4-7 in Mike Dubose’s inaugural season. Their last 4 games were against Louisiana Tech (9-2), Louisiana State (9-3), Mississippi State (7-4), and Auburn (10-3). The Tide lost to Louisiana Tech by 6 and Auburn by 1 point. Despite their paltry win total, Alabama proved they could play with anyone by defeating Southern Mississippi (9-3) and Mississippi (8-4). Alabama improved to 7-5 the following season despite being outscored by their opponents. Dubose was on the hot seat heading into the 1999 season, when Shaun Alexander helped lead Alabama to the SEC Championship, postponing Dubose’s imminent departure.


Colorado
1997

Record: 5-6

Point Differential: +5

Pythag: 5.61-5.39

Close Games: 2-3

Winning Records: 2-6

Opp Win %: .662 (88-45)

Colorado was the victim of a horrific schedule in 1997. They faced an amazing 4 teams with at least 10 wins (they beat one of them), including the two national champions. If you’re curious, those teams were Colorado State (11-2), Kansas State (11-1), Michigan (12-0), and Nebraska (13-0). Overall, Colorado faced 8 teams with winning records, and played well against most of them. They knocked off Colorado State and Wyoming (7-6) and lost to the Huskers by a mere three points (their closest game point-wise all season although the Missouri game did go to overtime thanks to Matt Davison’s heroics). Colorado rebounded and won the Aloha Classic with an 8-4 record in 1998.


Central Florida
1997

Record: 5-6

Point Differential: +71

Pythag: 6.84-416

Close Games: 0-4

Winning Records: 1-4

Opp Win %: .590 (69-48)

In just their second season of Division IA football, Central Florida, behind quarterback Daunte Culpepper, nearly enjoyed a winning season. Since they had no conference affiliation, the Golden Knights were forced to take to the road for seven of their contests. Their road odyssey included trips to Mississippi (8-4), South Carolina (5-6), national champion Nebraska (13-0), Auburn (10-3), and Mississippi State (7-4). They lost to Mississippi by a single point, to South Carolina by two points, and to Mississippi State by seven points. They even gave the Huskers a run for their money before losing by 14. Their schedule did include a home data against a non-Division IA team (Samford), otherwise their schedule was quite strong. The highlight of the season was probably a 34-17 win over Toledo (9-3) in the finale. Culpepper stayed in school and in 1998 Central Florida went 9-2, but was left out of the bowl picture.


LSU 1998

Record: 4-7

Point Differential: +58

Pythag: 6.71-4.29

Close Games: 0-5

Winning Records: 2-7

Opp Win %: .621 (82-50)

Fresh off a 9-3 season that culminated with an Independence Bowl win over Notre Dame, great things were expected for the LSU Tigers. LSU began the season 3-0, but would only win one of their final 8 contests. Lady Luck was not on their side. 5 of their 7 losses were by a combined 19 points. Their schedule was also very difficult as they faced 5 teams with at least 9 wins. Unlike most of the other teams on this list, LSU did not improve the following year. They fell even farther to 3-8 and Gerry DiNardo was given his walking papers.


Oklahoma
State
1998

Record: 5-6

Point Differential: +7

Pythag: 5.65-5.35

Close Games: 0-3

Winning Records: 1-5

Opp Win %: .545 (72-60)

Coming off an 8-4 season and an appearance in the Alamo Bowl the Pokes looked to be in fine shape under head coach Bob Simmons. Entering his fourth season, Simmons had improved the Cowboys record each season during his tenure. Coupled with returning quarterback Tony Lindsay who had taken the helm the previous season as a freshman and the Cowboys looked to be well on their way to a successful season. However, a 2-4 start doomed the Pokes to a losing season. The main difference in their booming 1997 campaign and the disappointing 1998 season was the schedule. In 1997 they avoided Big 12 North heavyweights Kansas State and Nebraska and were also fortunate because perennial power Texas fell on hard times (4-7). In 1998 they played both Kansas State and Nebraska as well as a revitalized Texas team (9-3).


Auburn 1999

Record: 5-6

Point Differential: -3

Pythag: 5.42-5.58

Close Games: 2-2

Winning Records: 2-6

Opp Win %: .639 (76-43)

In 1998, the Auburn Tigers had almost as many coaches (2) as wins (3). 1999 marked the maiden voyage of former Mississippi head man Tommy Tuberville on the Alabama plains. The Tigers improved by two wins to 5-6 and had their schedule not been so tough (7 of their opponents had at least twice as many wins as losses), they could have gone bowling. As it was, Tuberville certainly set the program back on the right track.


Notre Dame 1999

Record: 5-7

Point Differential: +17

Pythag: 6.36-5.64

Close Games: 3-4

Winning Records: 1-6

Opp Win %: .601 (86-57)

1999 was a year of streaks for the Fighting Irish. After opening the season with a blowout of Kansas, the Irish lost 3 in a row, and then won 4 in a row, before finally losing their final 4 games. For the most part, Notre Dame beat the teams they were supposed to and lost to the teams they should have. Their best win was over Bob Stoops’ first Oklahoma team that finished 7-5. Their worst loss was to a 5-6 Pittsburgh team.


Arizona 2000

Record: 5-6

Point Differential: +17

Pythag: 5.95-5.05

Close Games: 1-3

Winning Records: 0-4

Opp Win %: .570 (73-55)

After beginning the season 5-1, the Wildcats lost their final 5 games. Three of those games were against Oregon (10-2), Washington (11-1), and Oregon State (11-1). Arizona kept the first two games close losing to Oregon by 4 and Washington by 3. Ultimately, the five-game losing streak cost head coach Dick Tomey his job, and the Wildcats have not had a winning season since. Draw your own conclusions.


Colorado 2000

Record: 3-8

Point Differential: -32

Pythag: 4.73-6.27

Close Games: 1-6

Winning Records: 1-6

Opp Win %: .626 (82-49)

Colorado was doubly unlucky in 2000. They finish could not catch a break within games (going 1-6 in close games) nor between games; facing seven teams with winning records including 4 with at least 10 wins (Colorado State, Washington, Kansas State, and Nebraska). They also faced two more teams with 9 wins (Texas and Iowa State). Thankfully, they avoided the eventual national champion, Oklahoma Sooners. Colorado bounced back in 2001, winning the Big 12 and participating in the Fiesta Bowl.


Utah 2000

Record: 4-7

Point Differential: +27

Pythag: 6.29-4.71

Close Games: 0-4

Winning Records: 1-2

Opp Win %: .465 (59-68)

Before Utah was led out of the wilderness by Urban Meyer, they were a middling Mountain West team that could not catch a break. The Utes were in the vicinity of victories in four of their defeats. Although their schedule strength is relatively weak, they did lose three times to Pac 10 schools (Arizona, California, and Washington State).


Arizona State 2001

Record: 4-7

Point Differential: +13

Pythag: 5.73-5.27

Close Games: 0-1

Winning Records: 0-5

Opp Win %: .551 (70-57)

Former Boise State head man Dirk Koetter, revitalized the offense in his inaugural season in the desert. However, the regressed and the Sun Devils struggled through a 4-7 season. Close games were not the culprit for the Devils’ struggles. Most of the Sun Devils’ games were blowouts. In their 4 wins their average margin of victory was 30.5. In their 7 losses, their average margin of defeat was 15.6. Remove the 2 point loss to Washington and the average jumps to 19.5. The Devils’ offense continued to improve in 2002, but the defense continued their laissez faire approach to tackling and the team improved to only 8-6.


Oregon State 2001

Record: 5-6

Point Differential: +28

Pythag: 6.17-4.83

Close Games: 1-3

Winning Records: 1-4

Opp Win %: .576 (78-50)

After their 11-1 2000 season that included a thrashing of Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, the Beavers were saddled with great expectations. Sports Illustrated even ranked them number 1 in their preview issue. It took only one week for those dreams to be dashed. In the first game of the season, the Beavers were ambushed in Fresno and the world was introduced to David Carr and Pat Hill. After that humbling defeat, the Beavers could not get back on track. They began the season 1-3, and despite winning four of their last six games, they could not qualify for a bowl game. Beside Fresno (11-3) the Beavers also faced Washington State (10-2) and Oregon (11-1) in a strong Pac 10. Proving they were better than their record, Oregon State improved to 8-5 in 2002.


Illinois 2002

Record: 5-7

Point Differential: +39

Pythag: 6.84-5.16

Close Games: 2-3

Winning Records: 2-5

Opp Win %: .555 (86-69)

After a surprise Big 10 championship in 2001, Ron Turner’s Illini fell on some hard luck in 2002. If you’ll remember, the 2001 incarnation if the Illini was on the worst 10-win teams of the last decade list, so this year’s version really wasn’t dramatically worse, just a lot less lucky. The Illini began the season 1-5 before rebounding to win 4 of their last 6 to finish strong. However, the bottom fell out in 2003 as the Illini slumped to 1-11.


Alabama 2003

Record: 4-9

Point Differential: -2

Pythag: 6.45-6.55

Close Games: 0-6

Winning Records: 2-9

Opp Win %: .679 (114-54)

The Crimson Tide had an unbelievable difficult schedule in 2003. They played 11 teams with winning records, and amazingly almost have the teams they played (6) won at least 10 games. The Tide were also agonizingly close in most of their losses as well, going 0-6 in close games. Alabama rebounded in 2004 finishing 6-6 before breaking through in 2005 and going 10-2.


Arkansas 2004

Record: 5-6

Point Differential: +58

Pythag: 6.75-4.25

Close Games: 1-3

Winning Records: 0-6

Opp Win %: .617 (79-49)

The Hogs suffered their first losing season under head coach Houston Nutt. They were certainly capable of playing with the big boys, at least at home. They lost by 2 to Texas (11-1) and by 6 to Georgia (10-2). Road games were a different beast as they were only able to slip by Mississippi State (3-8) by 3 points.


Kansas 2004

Record: 4-7

Point Differential: +27

Pythag: 6.20-4.80

Close Games: 1-5

Winning Records: 1-6

Opp Win %: .598 (79-53)

Despite the fact that they finished 4-7, 2004 was still a historic year for the Jayhawks. They beat in-state rival Kansas State for the first time since 1992. With a little bit of luck (they were 1-5 in close games) and perhaps some better officiating (against Texas) the Jayhawks may have made three straight bowl trips under Mark Mangino.


NC State 2004

Record: 5-6

Point Differential: +46

Pythag: 6.73-4.276

Close Games: 2-4

Winning Records: 1-5

Opp Win %: .564 (66-51)

The first year of the post-Phillip Rivers era resulted in Chuck Amato’s first losing season as a head coach. The Pack went from scoring over 37 points per game to a mere 24 per game. Aside from the narrow victory over Virginia Tech, the Pack could not break through against good teams either, posting a 1-5 record against winning teams. Despite an even poorer performance from the offense in 2005, the pack improved to 7-5.


Arkansas 2005

Record: 4-7

Point Differential: +12

Pythag: 5.78-5.22

Close Games: 0-4

Winning Records: 0-6

Opp Win %: .630 (75-44)

The Hogs make the list two seasons in a row. In the last two years Arkansas has gone a cumulative 1-7 in close games and has yet to beat a team with a winning record (0-12). If one team is going to come from nowhere to shock the world in 2006, the smart money is on Houston Nutt’s boys.


Connecticut 2005

Record: 5-6

Point Differential: +61

Pythag: 7.11-3.89

Close Games: 1-1

Winning Records: 0-4

Opp Win %: .478 (55-60)

After a successful initial season in the Big East in 2004, the Huskies nearly fell to the bottom of the league in 2005. Like Arizona State circa 2001, close games were not to blame for the Huskies poor record. Nearly every game they played was a laugher one way or the other. They won their 5 games by an average of 31 points. Their 6 losses came by an average of 15.7 points.


Pittsburgh 2005

Record: 5-6

Point Differential: +24

Pythag: 6.11-4.89

Close Games: 0-3

Winning Records: 0-5

Opp Win %: .552 (64-52)

2005 was a banner year for Pittsburgh football. Unfortunately, it was the pro team that enjoyed the fruits of a championship. In his first season, head coach Dave Wannstedt suffered some terrible luck (0-3 in close games) and some terrible defeats (losing to Ohio and Rutgers). With Tyler Palko returning for his senior season, and with the fortune of hosting nearly every tough game on the schedule (Virginia, Michigan State, Louisville, and West Virginia), the Panthers may rebound quite well in 2006.


Washington State 2005

Record: 4-7

Point Differential: +22

Pythag: 5.90-5.10

Close Games: 1-5

Winning Records: 1-5

Opp Win %: .598 (70-47)

Hard luck does not begin to describe the Cougars season in 2005. Not only did they finish 1-5 in close games, those 5 losses occurred in a span of 6 weeks. Despite the best efforts of Jerome Harrison (1900 rushing yards) Washington State could not catch a break.

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

Point Differential: +71; Central Florida 1997

Pythag: 7.11-3.89; Connecticut 2005

Close Games: 0-6; Alabama 2003

Winning Record: 2-9; Alabama 2003

Opp Win%: .679 (114-54); Alabama 2003

So who is the best of the losing teams? I have to say Alabama circa 2003. Their schedule was ridiculous and their luck was horrendous. Colorado from 1997 is a close second thanks to having to play both national champions. Your thoughts?

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I ranked Central Florida in 97 has having the 240th best schedule of losing teams over the last 11 years. You've got to be kidding even listing them.

6:11 PM  
Blogger matt said...

I suspect your method of ranking teams is higly dubious. :)

6:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's see. Central Florida beat Eastern Michigan (a team who's beaten opponents went 9-35), Idaho (who's beaten opponents went 22-36, including 2 division II teams and a division I-AA team), Kent State (who's beaten opponents went 9-24), Samford (who's beaten opponents went 21-55 with 6 I-AA teams and 1 division II teams). The only decent win was over a MAC team (9-22 against non-conference I-A teams) who despite an impressive win over Purdue still managed to lose two game by 20 or more points. One of those losses were to a 5-6 Ball State team by 32 points. Ball State's 5 wins were against teams that finished 18-38, including a I-AA team. Maybe they should be on your list.

If you can't find over 100 teams with a losing record better than 97 Central Florida then you haven't looked.

7:32 AM  
Blogger matt said...

I'd make the argument that playing 7 road games with stops at Ole Miss (8-4), Auburn (10-3), Mississippi State (7-4), and the national champion (Nebraska) is a pretty decent schedule. Central Florida acquitted themselves nicely in every game except for the Auburn one. Their wins beside Toledo were not great, but their losses were for the most part closely contested against BCS schools save for two. I didn't say they were the best by any means, just that they were one of the top 25 or so.

9:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what about the 2005 purdue team lots of talent and picked to possibly when the big ten untill tillers dumb ass tried to start running the ball. They would fall behind then start passing the ball to late to catch up. If he would have stuck to what has worked you would have saw a much better team and result. I blame it all on tiller not sticking with what has gotten them up towards the top in the big ten. But the defense was supposed to be the best they ever had returning all or almost all starters from a big ten leading defense.

11:24 AM  

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