After running the SDPI numbers for all 11 conferences in 2006, I thought it would be an interesting sojourn through recent football history to look back at SDPI for the six BCS conferences throughout the entirety of the BCS era (98-06). It also gives me an excuse to add some pretty little graphs to the site. Don't know what SDPI is? Click here for an answer. Remember, its performance, not achievement, so years with the highest win totals may not actually be a certain team's best season. And its also only conference play, so any non-conference action, championship games, and bowl game are excluded. We'll continue with a look at the Big East. I'm using the current membership of the Big East, so Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, and South Florida are included as well as former member Temple. After each team's graph, there is a paragraph of commentary followed by the number of first place SDPI finishes or if there are no such finishes, the highest SDPI finish.
Only two seasons for the Bearcats in the Big East; one poor and one decent. The Bearcats lost a good coach in Mark Dantonio, but netted perhaps an upgrade in the offseason in Brian Kelly.
Best SDPI Finish: 5th (2006)
The Huskies have endured a steady decline under Randy Edsall since entering the Big East in 2004. Several factors have contributed to the Huskies decline.
1) The departure of perennial dreg Temple.
2) The ascension of perennial dreg Rutgers.
3) The league's acquisition of Conference USA powers Cincinnati, Louisville, and South Florida.
In 2004, the Huskies had a solid season that culminated in a bowl win over Toledo. However, they finished ahead of only Rutgers and Temple in the league standings. In 2005, Temple was given the boot, two of the three newcomers from Conference USA (Louisville and South Florida) jumped the Huskies, and Rutgers improved and passed them in the standings. Besides Cincinnati, only Syracuse (under first year coach Greg Robinson) finished below Connecticut in the standings. In 2006, Cincinnati improved substantially and Syracuse was marginally improved. Consequently, the Huskies had to settle for the basement.
Best SDPI Finish: 5th (2004)
Louisville's been in the Big East for just two seasons. They were pretty good in 2005 and even better in 2006. That's the kind of ground-breaking analysis you can only get here.
First Place SDPI Finishes: 2006
Walt Harris is responsible for the first seven seasons. As you can see, he took the Panthers from a Big East also-ran to respectability, peaking in 2002. The Panthers did win the Big East in 2004 thanks to a convoluted tie-breaker when four teams tied for the title. That good fortune earned the Panthers the opportunity to be crushed by Utah in the Fiesta Bowl and catapulted Urban Meyer to 'hot shit' status. It also earned Harris a bus ticket out of Pittsburgh straight to Palo Alto. Neither he nor the Panthers have benefited from the move. Harris went 6-17 in two years at Stanford before getting canned while the Panthers tabbed Dave Wannstedt as their man hoping to make a splash by hiring a former NFL head coach to lead their program. Despite widely regarded stellar recruiting classes, the Panthers have fallen from the levels of mediocrity they reached under Harris.
Best SDPI Finish: 3rd (2002)
Terry Shea is responsible for the first three seasons and Greg Schiano the final six. Rutgers should be an inspiration for hapless teams everywhere as their rise was as inspiring as it was unexpected. Schiano's teams improved each season with the exception of his first, so expecting a bowl bid in 2004 (in a Big East weakened by defections) was logical. Instead, after opening with an upset over Michigan State, the Knights proceeded to lose the next week to Division IAA New Hampshire. They did win three of their next four to stand 4-2 after six games. However, they lost their final five games to finish 4-7 and douse any hope that Rutgers could someday rise to the middle, much less the top of the Big East, especially with the talented teams coming in. The season opener in 2005 seemed a harbinger that Schiano and perhaps Rutgers football in general were poised to remain in the football proletariat. The Knights were upset 33-30 by an Illinois team that finished 2-9. But something happened on the way to another last place finish. The Knights won six of their next seven before the schedule toughened up (they lost three of their last four) and finished 7-5 with an appearance in the Insight Bowl against Arizona State. Then they took another step in 2006. Although their SDPI hardly belies an elite team, they were still only a play away from beating West Virginia and taking the Big East crown. The most amazing facet of the Knight's 2006 season is that a Louisville team that crushed them 56-5 only one year earlier was defeated in one of the better Thursday night games of the year. As well as being an inspiration to lowly basement dwellers with almost no football history, Rutgers is also an example of patience at work. Schiano did not take Rutgers to a bowl game until his fifth season. Turnarounds take time, and progress is not always straightforward. Rutgers regressed significantly (over half of a standard deviation) in Schiano's fourth season after improving in his second and third seasons. The administration did not fire Schiano and start all over on another rebuilding project. Instead they stayed the course and were rewarded with significant improvement in his fifth and sixth seasons.
Best SDPI Finish: 3rd (2006)
Of all the SDPI rankings, this is the one I trust the least. According to SDPI, South Florida was better in 2005 than they were in 2006. One reason for the high ranking in 2005 is the fact that Big East teams play only seven conference games as opposed to at least eight for the other BCS leagues. Smaller sample size equates to greater variation. Each Big East conference game counts roughly 14% more than every other conferences' games in determining rankings (over 28% more than the Pac 10 now that they play nine conference games). And what was South Florida's most famous game in 2005? The 45-14 beatdown of Louisville. That one game bolsters their 2005 ranking by a significant margin.
Best SDPI Finish: 3rd (2005)
Paul Pasqualoni is responsible for the first seven seasons and Greg Robinson the last two. 1998, you may remember, was Donovan McNabb's senior season. After his departure, the Orangemen were mediocre until 2002 when they fell to the bottom half of the Big East standings. They rebounded to edge West Virginia for the mythical SDPI crown in 2004 in a Big East in limbo. However, after a blowout loss to Georgia Tech in the Champs Sports Bowl, Pasqualoni was let go. The results since have not been pretty. The Orange have finished second to last in the Big East SDPI standings in both 2005 and 2006. Was Pasqualoni Bear Bryant? No. But he was a solid coach who was 107-59 (.645) in his career at Syracuse. One mantra athletic directors should follow: Don't fire a good coach unless you have a great one lined up.
Best SDPI Finish: 1st (1998 and 2004)
Before they were given the boot after the 2004 season, the Owls consistently challenged Rutgers for the Big East basement.
Best SDPI Finish: 6th (2002)
The first three seasons are the end of the Don Nehlen era and the rest are all Rich Rodriguez. West Virginia had clearly slipped a notch at the end of the Nehlen era, giving way to Virginia Tech, Miami, and even Syracuse and Pittsburgh at the top of the Big East. After a rough first season, that included a loss to Temple, Rodriguez has had the Mountaineers at least one standard deviation above average every season since. If the defense can improve, West Virginia is a legitimate national title threat in 2007.
First Place SDPI Finishes: 2003 and 2005