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Statistically Speaking: July 2006

Friday, July 28, 2006

Bowl Games and the Spread

Look at my greasy hair.

As promised last week for all you degenerates, here are the results for how certain team characteristics predict bowl winners against the spread. If you don't feel like reading the last post, here's a quick refresher. The sample size is every bowl game from the past 6 seasons (2000-2005). I determined how often the team with the better overall record, point differential, conference record, offense (rated by points scored) and defense (rated by points allowed) won the bowl game against the spread. In the interest of staving off premature blindness and causing confusion, I will eschew year by year results and just hit you with the cumulative data.

Better Record: 62-62-3 .500
Better Point Differential: 69-87-3 .443
Better Conference Record: 47-63-3 .429
Better Offense: 64-93-3 .409
Better Defense: 75-81-3 .481

Nothing. Zilch. Nada. Neither characteristic predicts bowl spread coverers (for lack of a better term) with any accuracy. Looks like Vegas wins again. But wait. When you dig a little deeper and separate each category into underdogs and favorites something does show up.

Better Record
Dog: 28-40 .412
Favorite: 34-22-3 .602

Better Point Differential
Dog: 21-64 .247
Favorite: 48-23-3 .669

Better Conference Record
Dog: 24-36 .400
Favorite: 23-27-3 .462

Better Offense
Dog: 24-62 .279
Favorite: 40-31-3 .561

Better Defense
Dog: 30-55 .353
Favorite: 45-26-3 .628

For the most part, in every category except better conference record, underdogs perform very poorly, but favorites perform quite well. Why is this so? I can't really come up with any ideas off the cuff, but the phenomenon does seem to exist. So if hypothetically, the Sun Bowl matches up two teams, and the team with the better record (or point differential, or offense, or defense) is also the favorite, they might be a good play. Of course, past performance is no guarantee of future performance, but if you do use this knowledge to win a substantial, any donations will be accepted.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Bowl Winners Addendum

I am just curious: for the bowls with teams with the same record, what is the winning % of that sub-category based on Better Point Differential, Better Offense, and Better Defense?
-ArmchairGM user

Ask and you shall receive.

When bowl teams have the same record the winning percentages for each category are as follows:

Better Point Differential: 14-20 .412
Better Conference Record: 8-10 .444
Better Offense: 14-20 .412
Better Defense: 21-13 .618

When teams have the same overall record, better defense remains a good predictor of bowl winners (actually increasing from .581 when overall record is discounted). However, the other three measures all decline in their ability to pick winners, especially point differential and better offense. I wouldn't draw any dramatic conclusions from this because the sample size is quite small. What do you think?

Friday, July 21, 2006

Predicting the Winners of College Bowl Games


Ever notice how bowl games seem to be such crap shoots? Take for example the case of the Cal Golden Bears circa 2004. They roll through the regular season with a 10-1 record losing only to eventual national champion USC by 6 points in Los Angeles. Besides USC, the only other close game they played was against Oregon, whom they beat by a single point. They throttled everyone else. Then in the Holiday Bowl against Texas Tech, a mediocre 7-4 team who lost to New Mexico, they get beat by 14 in a game that was not that close. Or how about 2005, when a 9-2 Auburn team whose only setback since Labor Day was a 3 point loss at Death Valley against LSU. In the Capital One Bowl against a 9-3 Wisconsin team that lose to Iowa (7-5) and Northwestern (7-5) and needed a miracle blocked punt to beat Minnesota (7-5) they manage only 10 points and lose 24-10. Is this a common refrain or do bowl games follow some sort of pattern in their results. To find out I examined every college bowl game from the 2000-2001 bowl season to the recently completed 2005-2006 bowl season. I included 5 categories in the study. I looked at how often the team with the better overall record, better point differential, better conference record, better offense (points per game), and better defense (points allowed per game) pre bowl won the game. Here are the results for each season.

2000-01
Better Record: 15-6 (4 bowls matched teams with the same record) .714
Better Point Differential: 14-11 .560
Better Conference Record: 10-6 (9 with same record or Independent teams) .625
Better Offense: 15-10 .600
Better Defense: 13-12 .520

2001-02
Better Record: 13-12 .520
Better Point Differential: 16-9 .640
Better Conference Record: 9-11 (5 with same record or Independent teams) .450
Better Offense: 13-12 .520
Better Defense: 15-10 .600

2002-03
Better Record: 14-11 (3 bowls matched teams with the same record) .560
Better Point Differential: 15-13 .536
Better Conference Record: 9-10 (9 with same record or Independent teams) .474
Better Offense: 13-15 .464
Better Defense: 15-12 (1 bowl matched teams with the same average point allowed) .556

2003-04
Better Record: 14-8 (6 bowls matched teams with the same record) .636
Better Point Differential: 17-11 .607
Better Conference Record: 9-11 (8 with same record or Independent teams) .450
Better Offense: 13-15 .464
Better Defense: 18-10 .643

2004-05
Better Record: 9-7 (12 bowls matched teams with the same record) .563
Better Point Differential: 16-12 .571
Better Conference Record: 10-9 (9 with same record or Independent teams) .526
Better Offense: 14-14 .500
Better Defense: 16-12 .571

2005-06
Better Record: 11-7 (9 bowls matched teams with the same record) .611
Better Point Differential: 14-12 (1 bowl matched teams with same point differential) .538
Better Conference Record: 6-13 (8 with same record or Independent teams) .316
Better Offense: 13-14 .481
Better Defense: 16-11 .593

Total:
Better Record: 76-51 (34 bowls matched teams with the same record) .598
Better Point Differential: 92-68 (1 bowl matched teams with same point differential) .575
Better Conference Record: 53-60 (48 with same record or Independent teams) .469
Better Offense: 81-80 .503
Better Defense: 93-67 (1 bowl matched teams with the same average point allowed) .581

A few things. Its amazing how consistent most of these measures are. With the exception of 2000-01, the better offense has alternated winning slightly more than half and slightly less than half the time. The better record has been either the best predictor or second best predictor every year except for one (2001-02). It appears the bowl upsets mentioned above are relatively rare. The team with the superior record wins almost 60% of the time. These upsets simply stick out in our minds more so than the games that play out like we expect. If you're predicting bowl games, and the teams have the same record, err on the side of the better defense or the team with the better point differential. If you go with the better offense, you might as well flip a coin. If you go by better conference record, then your the guy book makers love. Speaking of which, look for a post next week analyzing the same thing, but this time looking at how bowl games play out against the spread.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Revisiting 2001: A Seasonal Odyssey


Journey with me to the 2001 college football season. Oh how things were different just 5 short years ago. USC was beginning a new era under NFL failure Pete Carroll, Mack Brown still couldn't beat Oklahoma, Florida State had yet to finish outside the top 10 in 2 decades. Heading into Thanksgiving weekend, it looked as if the Rose Bowl's first turn to host the BCS title game would be a historical rematch of Miami versus Nebraska. Then all hell broke loose. Colorado thumped Nebraska by 26 points on the Friday after Thanksgiving. That opened the door for several one-loss teams to step up and assume the #2 ranking in the BCS. The very next day Oklahoma (10-1) was upset by archrival Oklahoma State (4-7). That loss coupled with their earlier loss to Nebraska enabled Texas put Texas into the Big 12 Championship Game. The next weekend, two more one-loss teams would play what amounted to an elimination game in the swamp. Florida (9-1) would host Tennessee (9-1) in an early season game that was postponed thanks to September 11th. Tennessee upset the Gators and looked to be in control of their own destiny heading into the SEC Championship game the next week against LSU. On the same day, Oregon (10-1) quietly concluded a superb regular season by squeaking by archrival Oregon State (5-6). On Championship Saturday, two more one-loss teams went down. Texas was upset by a Colorado team they had throttled by 34 points 6 weeks earlier in the Big 12 Championship Game. Tennessee was also upset in their title game by LSU. This left the BCS standings in absolute chaos. When the dust cleared, a team that didn't even win its half of the conference, would face Miami in the grand-daddy of them all for the national championship. Nebraska edged Colorado by five hundredths of a point (7.23 to 7.28) for second place. Oregon was a distant fourth at 8.67. So who deserved to play Miami for the national title? Determining who deserved to play Miami is not easy. Historically teams that play for the national title cannot have more than 1 loss. That limits the possibilities. Instead I will try to determine which team was the second best in the nation in 2001, not necessarily who deserved to play Miami. In my opinion, there were 12 candidates, some of them much more legitimate than others. We'll start with the best of the non-BCS teams, then examine the BCS pretenders, and finally examine the legitimate BCS contenders. Under each team 8 pre-bowl game statistics are listed: their record (conference record in parentheses), number of points scored and allowed, point differential, Pythagorean record, record in close games (those decided by 8 points or less), record against winning teams, road record, and finally opponent's cumulative winning percentage. This is all followed by a brief synopsis of their season summing up their case to play Miami.

Non-BCS

BYU
Record: 12-1 (7-0)
Points Scored Points Allowed: 608 396
Point Differential: +212
Pythagorean: 9.54-3.46
Close Games: 5-0
Winning Records: 3-1
Road Games: 6-1
Opp Win%: .399 (59-89)

I left them out of the discussion earlier, but the Mountain West champion Cougars were actually undefeated heading into their season finale against at Hawaii on December 8th. Prior to the showdown with Hawaii (who finished 9-3), some BYU administrators had publicly contemplated suing the BCS if an undefeated Cougar squad were left out. After the game, such talk was moot. BYU scored 45 points which is good. However, they allowed 72 which isn't so good. In that game, Hawaii quarterback Nick Rolovich threw more touchdown passes (8) than Heisman winning quarterback Eric Crouch (7) had thrown all season. It was fitting BYU lost their final contest by such a large margin against the best team they would play in the regular season. They played a ridiculously easy schedule, and struggled to put away some bad teams. They beat UNLV (4-7) by 4, New Mexico (6-5) by 4, Wyoming (2-9) by 7, and Mississippi State (3-8) by 3. Their best win was over Utah (8-4). A BCS appearance by BYU would have likely been both a blowout and most undeserved.

Fresno State
Record: 11-2 (6-2)
Points Scored Points Allowed: 525 300
Point Differential: +225
Pythagorean: 10.27-2.73
Close Games: 2-2
Winning Record: 4-2
Road Games: 6-1
Opp Win %: (.489) 74-78

The Bulldogs weren't really a contender for the #2 spot in the BCS rankings, but I left them on here for 2 reasons. Foremost, they beat a team we'll discuss later, Colorado, in the Jim Thorpe Classic during the season's first weekend. Secondly, they were probably the best non-BCS team in 2001. Although the Bulldogs did defeat 3 BCS teams in 2001, 2 of those teams were having down years (Oregon State finished 5-6 and Wisconsin finished 5-7). Still give Pat Hill credit for his scheduling cajones. Unfortunately, 2 late October losses to Boise State and Hawaii prevented Fresno from even winning the WAC. Still, its fun to play the what-if game. What if Fresno managed to knock off those 2 teams and stood as the only other undefeated team besides Miami when the regular season ended? Would there victory over the Buffaloes allow them to jump both Nebraska and Colorado or would their weak schedule do them in?

BCS Pretenders

Maryland
Record: 10-1 (7-1)
Points Scored Points Allowed: 390 210
Point Differential: +180
Pythagorean: 8.94-2.06
Close Games: 3-0
Winning Record: 6-1
Road Games: 3-1
Opp Win %: .473 (61-68)

Under rookie head Ralph Friedgen, the Terraphins doubled their win total and won the ACC outright. Their success was the product of a down ACC (every other team had at least 4 total losses), some good luck in close games (3-0), and the victories by North Carolina and NC State over perennial league champion Florida State. The Terps were handled by 21 in Tallahassee, but did not stumble again in ACC play. The Seminoles on the other hand lost to both the Heels (in a stunning 41-9 rout) and the Pack. Maryland was a good team in 2001, but nowhere near elite status.

Illinois
Record: 10-1 (7-1)
Points Scored Points Allowed: 356 238
Point Differential: +118
Pythagorean: 7.94-3.06
Close Games: 4-0
Winning Record: 3-1
Road Games: 4-1
Opp Win %: .488 (62-65)

Aside from the fact that their head coach was not in his first season, the Illini owe much of their success to the same factors as Maryland. A down Big 10 (no other team had fewer than 4 losses), some good luck in close games (4-0), and some upsets over the league's best team helped the Illini capture the Big 10 crown. After being handled by the Michigan Wolverines in late September 45-20, the Illini looked to be playing for second place. However, the Wolverines lost to Michigan State by 2 in early November, and followed that up with a loss to Ohio State at the end of the month by 6. Illinois kept winning and took the Big 10 title outright. Like Maryland, they were good, but not elite.

LSU
Record: 9-3 (5-3)
Points Scored Points Allowed: 371 268
Point Differential: +103
Pythagorean: 8.20-3.80
Close Games: 2-1
Winning Record: 4-3
Road Games: 3-1
Opp Win %: .567 (80-61)

Despite 3 conference losses, the Tigers won the SEC by upseting Tennessee in the championship game. Clearly not the best team in the conference, they lost at home to Florida by 29 points.

Colorado
Record: 10-2 (7-1)
Points Scored Points Allowed: 396 280
Point Differential: +116
Pythagorean: 8.33-3.67
Close Games: 2-1
Winning Record: 5-2
Road Games: 3-1
Opp Win %: .589 (86-60)

Despite the fact that they won the Big12, Colorado was not the best team in the conference, and definitely not the second best team in the nation. Before upsetting Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game, they had lost to the Longhorns by 34 points. In 4 of the 6 BCS conferences, the best team clearly did not win (ACC, Big 10, Big 12, SEC).

BCS Contenders

Oregon

Record: 10-1 (7-1)
Points Scored Points Allowed: 374 240
Point Differential: +134
Pythagorean: 8.15-2.85
Close Games: 5-1
Winning Record: 3-1
Road Games: 5-0
Opp Win %: .508 (64-62)

Finally a deserving BCS champion. The Ducks did have some good luck in close games (5-1), but were clearly the best team in the Pac 10. Still, their point differential was not that great and their schedule strength was pretty weak. I'm not including the bowl game because this writing is intended to be a summation of the regular season. However, they did trounce Colorado by in the Fiesta Bowl.

Nebraska
Record: 11-1 (7-1)
Points Scored Points Allowed: 449 189
Point Differential: +260
Pythagorean: 10.63-1.37
Close Games: 0-0
Winning Record: 5-1
Road Games: 3-1
Opp Win %: .546 (77-64)

Ah the team that started this whole mess. Before their loss to Colorado, this looked like the Nebraska of old. They hadn't really been challenged except by Oklahoma in a game they eventually won by 10 points. Of course, besides Oklahoma, the best team they had played prior to Colorado was either Iowa State (7-5) or Texas Tech (7-5). That coupled with the Colorado curb-stomping keeps prevents them from landing the #2 slot.

Oklahoma
Record: 10-2 (6-2)
Points Scored Points Allowed: 387 166
Point Differential: +221
Pythagorean: 10.58-1.42
Close Games: 1-1
Winning Record: 4-1
Road Games: 3-1
Opp Win %: .510 (73-70)

The defending champs had their chance until an unthinkable slip up at home against Oklahoma State. Oklahoma had a solid point differential and defeated Texas, but the slip up to a team as bad as Oklahoma State seals the argument against them. Those Cowboys finished 4-7 and their other victories were over Louisiana Tech (7-5), Baylor (3-8) and non-Division IA Northwestern State.

Texas
Record: 10-2 (7-1)
Points Scored Points Allowed: 470 164
Point Differential: +306
Pythagorean: 11.09-0.91
Close Games: 0-1
Winning Record: 4-2
Road Games: 5-0
Opp Win %: .510 (73-70)

The beneficiary of Oklahoma State's upset over Oklahoma. The irony in everything is that Texas was likely headed for a BCS bowl if Oklahoma hadn't been upset. Instead they got a rematch with a Colorado team that previously beaten by 34 in the Big12 Championship. A win there could have propelled them to the Rose Bowl. However, the upset loss relegated them to the Holiday Bowl. A very good point differential keep them in the conversation despite the upset by Colorado.

Tennessee
Record: 10-2 (7-1)
Points Scored Points Allowed: 355 234
Point Differential: +121
Pythagorean: 8.74-3.26
Close Games: 4-1
Winning Record: 6-2
Road Games: 5-0
Opp Win %: .594 (85-58)

Before their loss to LSU, the Vols only blemish was to Georgia by 2 points. That was the only close game the Vols would lose. They scraped by LSU the first time by 8, beat South Carolina (9-3) by 7, beat Kentucky (2-9) by 2, and narrowly escaped Florida in the Swamp by 2. The Vols are a solid candidate, but their relatively small point differential keeps them out of the #2 slot.

Florida
Record: 9-2 (6-2)
Points Scored Points Allowed: 482 155
Point Differential: +327
Pythagorean: 10.3-0.70
Close Games: 0-2
Winning Record: 5-2
Road Games: 3-1
Opp Win %: .557 (73-58)

Florida was good in 2001, very good. In Steve Spurrier's final season they whipped Marshall (11-2) by 35. They won at LSU by 29. They won at South Carolina (9-3) by 37. They beat Florida State (8-4) by 24. Unfortunately, the bounces in close games did not go their way. They lost to Auburn (7-5) by 3 and to Tennessee by 2. 5 points separated Florida from an undefeated season. Despite their 2 losses, in my opinion Florida was the second best team in 2001. They had the highest point differential of any team besides Miami, they played a tough schedule and dominated several good teams, and their losses were close games to good team. Would they have beaten Miami in the 2001 Rose Bowl? Probably not, Miami was on another level in 2001, but Florida had the best chance of any other team.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

It's How You Finish


How important is ending the season on a winning note? It seems logical that teams that finish the season strong would have momentum in recruiting and a general good vibe among their fans for the following season. These factors combined with the standard maturity of college athletes after another semetser at school should equate to marked improvement for the team the following season. But is this logical progression true? Let's find out. To answer this question, I looked at how each BCS conference team finished the season in 2002, 2003, and 2004. I then looked at their record the following season (2003, 2004, 2005). To define finishing the season, I used each game played on or after November 1st. For most teams this was a sample of between 3-6 games. Of course better teams play more games after November 1st thanks to bowl games and conference championships. I then ran a regression analysis to determine how well the winning percentage in these closing games predicted each teams winning percentage the following year. Here are the R squared values for each of the three seasons.

End of 2002 Predicting 2003: .3432
End of 2003 Predicting 2004: .2976
End of 2004 Predicting 2005: .1445

There seems to be something to this logic. The way a team finishes the season does have at least a limited impact on their performance the following year. Is there a better way to judge how a team finishes a season? In order to access whether there is, I will run the same analysis, but instead use net points instead of winning percentage to predict the subsequent season's winning percentage. Net points are simply the amount of points a team has scored more or less than their opponents. A positive differential indicates the team in question has outscored their opponents, while a negative differential means they have been outscored. For example, if a team goes 3-1 from November first onward they have a winning percentage of .750. However, if their 3 wins are by 7, 3, and 4 points, and their loss is an annihilation by 40 points, then their net point total is -26.

End Net Points 2002 Predicting 2003: .3297
End Net Points 2003 Predicting 2004: .3256
End Net Points 2004 Predicting 2005: .2515

Again their appears to be at least a marginal relationship between a team's closing net points and their winning percentage the following year. This relationship is much more consistent than actual won/loss record in the season's final few games. Further validation that teams are a function of their points scored and allowed more than their won/loss record. However, the effect of finishing a season strong should not be overstated. As noted in an earlier post, a team's record for the entire year and Pythagorean record for the whole year are better predictors of their record the following year (at least for 2004-2005).

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?

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Consistent Part Deux

About a month ago I blogged about consistency in the Big 12 conference. Now I'm going to examine consistency in the Pac 10 for the same time span (1996-2005). Amazingly in that 10 season span, every team in the Pac 10 has won at least 10 games (or won the conference) and had a losing season. If Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were alive today and football fans, they would surely enjoy Pac 10 football. Here are the 10 teams ranked by standard deviation of seasonal winning percentage from most consistent to least consistent.

Oregon .1528
Stanford .1741
Arizona State .1742
UCLA .1767
Oregon State .2032
Arizona .2109
California .2178
Southern Cal .2203
Washington State .2379
Washington .2479

The Ducks rate as the most consistent team of the past 10 years. However, their standard deviation would only rate as the 7th most consistent if they played in the Big 12. In one of sports nice little coincidences, the Ducks won 6 games in 1996 and increased their win total by exactly one game until 2001 when they peaked with 11 wins. The Huskies of Washington rate as the least consistent having gone from perennial contender in the late 90's to doormat the last two seasons. Southern Cal may be a heavy favorite to win their fifth consecutive conference title, but if the Pac 10 has been anything in the past decade, its anything but predictable.
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