Wednesday, March 15, 2017

2016 Adjusted Pythagorean Record: Conference USA

Last week, we looked at how Conference USA teams fared in terms of yards per play. This week, we turn our attention to how the season played out in terms of the Adjusted Pythagorean Record, or APR. For an in-depth look at APR, click here. If you didn’t feel like clicking, here is the Reader’s Digest version. APR looks at how well a team scores and prevents touchdowns. Non-offensive touchdowns, field goals, extra points, and safeties are excluded. The ratio of offensive touchdowns to touchdowns allowed is converted into a winning percentage. Pretty simple actually.

Once again, here are the 2016 Conference USA standings.
And here are the APR standings sorted by division with conference rank in offensive touchdowns, touchdowns allowed, and APR in parentheses. This includes conference games only with the championship game excluded.
Finally, Conference USA teams are sorted by the difference between their actual number of wins and their expected number of wins according to APR.
I use a game and a half as a line of demarcation to determine if teams drastically over or under perform their APR. By that standard, no team owned a record significantly different from their APR. Even though no teams deviated from their APR substantially, one team in particular drastically under performed what was expected of them in the preseason. From 2013-2015, the Marshall Thundering Herd went 20-4 in Conference USA games, won a pair of division titles, and captured the 2014 league championship (while managing a finish in the final polls). Most people, including myself, expected Marshall to once again compete for a division title in 2016. However, the Herd collapsed and finished (tied with Florida Atlantic) in the basement of the East division. In terms of their play on the field, the Herd were not particularly unlucky either. Their YPP and APR numbers befitted a team that struggled to win games. Now the question is, does Doc Holliday have a rebound in store? Holliday has already turned the Marshall program around once before, posting a 33-8 record from his fourth through sixth season after managing a middling 17-20 record over his first three seasons in charge. However, the 3-9 record Marshall compiled last season was by far the worst of his tenure and the worst for the program since 2007, so perhaps Holliday’s days are numbered in Huntington.

To get an idea of what we can reasonably expect from Marshall in 2017, I looked at all mid-major (non-BCS and Group of Five teams) that saw their conference win total decline by at least four games from one season to the next (Marshall fell from 6-2 to 2-6) and looked at how they did in conference play in the season following their collapse. This query yielded a relatively large sample of teams (25) and the results are summarized in the following table.
If I was a Marshall fan, I would have some guarded optimism based on these results. For the best case scenario, Marshall could look west to the Air Force Academy. After six consecutive bowl appearances under Troy Calhoun, the Falcons cratered to a winless Mountain West season in 2013. However, Calhoun was able to pull the Falcons out of their tailspin and has taken them to three straight bowl games. Worst case scenario is probably Tulsa or North Texas. Tulsa began the Bill Blankenship era with fourteen conference wins over two seasons, but slumped to 2-6 in his third year. The Golden Hurricane did not improve in his fourth season and he was not granted a fifth. Over in Denton, Texas, Dan McCarney slowly built North Texas into a bowl team by his third season. The Mean Green came crashing back to earth in his fourth season and his fifth season began with five consecutive losses before he was relieved of his duties.

Those cases represent the extremes. The average team improved by almost exactly two games in conference play. Such theoretical improvement would get the Thundering Herd to 4-4 in league play and have them in contention for a bowl bid. Whether or not that is enough to save Holliday’s job is another story. For a team that was recently competing for division and conference titles, it may not be.

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