Saturday, May 09, 2015

The Second Year Surge

What images come to mind when I mention the word ‘Surge’? Perhaps the word conjures images of a strategy in the most recent Iraq War. Or perhaps a mid-90s soda. Or perhaps it brings to mind an awkward seven foot basketball player. Unfortunately, this is neither a political, soda connoisseur, nor college basketball blog, so when I speak of surges, I am referring to dramatic increases in win totals for college football teams. Of particular interest here is the ‘Second-Year Surge’. Sometimes when a coach takes over a team, his first season is a lost cause as he must deploy players who were recruited for a different system and likely had a different skill set, or in some cases were just plain bad. With his own system in place for a year and some of his own recruits, the team can sometimes make a dramatic leap forward in his second season. Hence the name, ‘Second-Year Surge’. Well, what happens in the third season or the afterglow if you will? After the team improves, does the arrow keep pointing up, does the team plateau, or do they decline? To answer this question, I looked at the results of all FBS coaches who debuted at a school from 2005-2012 and set the arbitrary definition of a ‘surge’ to an increase of at least four regular season wins. This research yielded 22 teams that surged. They are included with the two tables below listed chronologically (I split the table in two so it would be easier to view). The tables include the record in the coaches’ first year, second year or Surge Year, and third year or Follow-Up Year. The Dif column is the difference in the Surge Year and Follow-Up Year. Kent State, Miami, and San Diego State are color-coded differently because their coaches left after their surge, so they were actually coached by a different guy in the Follow-Up Year.

You’re an adult. You can view the table and judge for yourself, but I will throw out some averages for you. In the ‘Follow-Up Year’, the 22 teams that ‘Surged’ declined by an average of 1.98 wins in the regular season. However, if we remove the three teams that actually changed coaches (which we probably should since coaching change represents a great deal of upheaval), the 19 remaining teams declined by an average of 1.71 regular season wins. So we know the average team declined by around 1.7 wins, but what if we look at a different kind of average? Yes, I am talking about one of the most unappreciated averages, the mode.

Using the mode, we see the average team stayed the same the following season. Seven of the 19 teams finished with the same regular season record in the ‘Follow-Up Year’. Three teams declined by either a half or a whole game (a negligible decline in the grand scheme of things). One team declined by two games, two declined by three games, two declined by four games, one declined by five games, two teams declined by an astounding seven games, and only one team improved (but by an amazing five games). Here is a visual look at what I just wrote about.
So the most likely expectation after a ‘Surge’ is for either a similar record the following year or a slight decline. With this in mind, which teams from 2014 ‘Surged’? Glad you asked.
These six teams improved by an average of almost five wins in 2014, with four playing in postseason games. While it may be tempting to pencil them in for even more success in 2015, recent history suggests we should pump the breaks when projecting their 2015 win total.

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