Once again, here are the 2016 AAC standings.
school history, but was a bit fortunate to go 7-1 in league play. The Bulls finished 3-0 in one-score conference games and will probably need a little defensive improvement to remain near the top of the east division next season. On the other end of the spectrum, Tulane did not become a triple-option machine in Willie Fritz’s first season in charge. They won only a single conference game, matching their conference win total from 2015, but were a bit unlucky. They were 0-2 in one-score games and were -4 in net non-offensive touchdowns with three defensive returns returns turning a tight contest against Central Florida into a laugher.
Regular readers of this blog know one of the things I am most interested in is a coach/team’s record in close games. Since the college football season is so short, close games play an outsized role in determining how we evaluate and remember certain seasons. What I had been meaning to do for many years was determine if certain coaches possessed an ability to win close games. While I believe that close games involve a great deal of randomness, I think coaches can have a modest (though probably less than what the media and most fans attribute) impact on these close games both positively and negatively. In the interest of furthering this research, I looked at every coach who was active at the beginning of the 2016 and who had coached at least ten years as a head coach at the FBS level at the end of the 2016 season. In other words, if a coach had at least ten years of experience prior to the 2016 season and was fired before it was over (Les Miles), they are included. Similarly, if 2016 represented their tenth year on the job and they made it to the end, they are also included (Butch Jones). I chose ten years as an arbitrary cut off point so that each coach would have a significant sample size of close games. Certainly one or two years into a coaching career is not enough data to evaluate whether or not a coach possesses (if it exists) an ability to win close games. I chose ten because it was a nice round number and because it produced 36 coaches who met the criteria which I thought was a decent enough sample. So what did I find? Glad you asked.
It does appear that winning close games is a repeatable skill, at least to some extent, and not merely a sequence of random coin flips. However, judging by the names at the top of the leaderboard, perhaps these close games should serve as a sort of indictment against these coaches. Take Meyer and Miles for example. Meyer is 29-11 in one-score games as a head coach at Florida and Ohio State while Miles was 40-20 in one-score games at LSU. I didn’t dig through all the data, but I would assume Meyer and Miles were favorites, and perhaps large ones at that, in a majority of those one-score games. Thus, they probably had more talented teams and probably should not have been in as many one-score games to begin with. Think of winning these one-score games as more relief (pulling one out of the fire) than cause for celebration (winning a close game against a better opponent). Just something to chew on.