Thursday, January 18, 2018

2017 Adjusted Pythagorean Record: AAC

Last week, we looked at how AAC 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 2017 AAC 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, the AAC 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 had a record significantly different from their expected record. With nothing of note to write about there, let's move on to something a little more interesting.

On New Year’s Day, UCF defeated Auburn in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl to wrap up an undefeated season. Some naysayers may speculate that Auburn lacked motivation in the game. And that is a valid point.  It was certainly business as usual for UCF with no outside distractions. The victory was notable since it marked just the fifth time since 2005 than a mid-major (non-BCS or Group of Five) team finished the regular and postseason without a loss. It also marked the first time any team accomplished that feat in the playoff era (since 2014). How does UCF stack up against those other four teams? I’m glad you asked. Let's dive into a quick and painless analysis of each team based on their in-conference YPP and APR numbers, their SRS, and how their wins stack up. Moving chronologically, we’ll begin with 2006 Boise State.
Surprisingly, the Broncos do not even rate as the best WAC team in terms of YPP. Hawaii had a ridiculous offense in 2006 (arguably better than the 2007 version) and despite their defensive shortcomings, they edged Boise in Net YPP. In APR Boise rated out ahead of their secluded conference mates. The SRS, which stands for Simple Rating System, is a quick and dirty way to rate college football teams based on margin of victory and strength of schedule. For more, check out this link. It is far from the final word on team ratings, but it a good measure of team strength. Boise’s rating implies they were about 14 and a half points better than the average FBS team on a neutral field and this number ranked tenth in 2006. I used top-50 SRS wins as a proxy for the good teams Boise beat and bottom-100 SRS wins as a proxy for the terrible teams they beat. As the table indicates, about a third of Boise’s wins came against either the very worst of FBS or an FCS team. This table and the ones to come do not make any distinction between FCS team ratings and lump them in with the FBS chaff. Prior to beating a good, but hardly great Oklahoma team in a riveting Fiesta Bowl, Boise’s best wins came at home against Hawaii and Oregon State. The Broncos did garner a pair of solid road wins and their five top-50 wins is not a bad showing.

In 2007, Hawaii finished the regular season unbeaten, but were humbled in the Sugar Bowl by an SEC team. In 2008, another unbeaten mid-major returned to the Sugar Bowl to face an SEC power, but the results were a little different.
YPP and APR crown TCU as the Mountain West’s best team in 2008, but Utah beat them on the field in a low-scoring Thursday night classic. The win against the Horned Frogs was their fifth of the season that came by a touchdown or less. Many, myself included, thought that clutch play would evaporate when the Utes faced the Crimson Tide, but Utah jumped out to a 21-0 lead and held the Tide at bay when they cut the deficit to four points in the second half. Outside of Alabama, the Utes beat three top-50 teams in the regular season, including another top-ten team in the aforementioned Horned Frogs. The Mountain West was the strongest mid-major conference in 2008, but it still featured a few lightweights, with two teams ranking in the triple digits. Utah did not win a single true road game against a top-50 opponent, but you can’t blame them for not trying. They opened the year in Ann Arbor against Michigan, but the Wolverines went just 3-9 and also lost at home to Toledo.

In 2009, a pair of mid-majors finished the regular season unbeaten. In the Fiesta Bowl, Boise State and TCU faced off with the Broncos scoring an upset win.
Unlike 2006, the Broncos rated out as the top WAC team by both YPP and APR. Only Nevada, with Colin Kaepernick befuddling defenses with The Pistol, prevented the Broncos from sweeping the statistical accolades in the WAC. The Broncos opened the 2009 season with a home win against an Oregon team that would end up winning the Pac-10, but did not face another team inside the top-50 until their bowl game with TCU. The Broncos only faced four truly terrible teams, but a down year in the WAC meant there were no additional opportunities for marquee wins. Thankfully for the Broncos, their reputation preceded them. Memories of their undefeated 2006 season and dramatic victory against Oklahoma plus their undefeated 2008 regular season were fresh in the minds of voters. Otherwise, they may not have gotten a shot to prove how good they were against TCU.

After losing three total games in the 2008 and 2009 seasons, TCU finally completed a season with a zero in the loss column. In the process, they snagged a bid to the Rose Bowl and finished ranked second in the final AP Poll.
TCU swept the statistical honors in the Mountain West, finishing with the best offense and defense by both YPP and APR. The Mountain West was strong once again in 2010, and this certainly contributed to TCU’s high finish in the polls, with three teams ranking in the SRS top-40. The Horned Frogs also had a sneaky good win in non-conference play against Oregon State. The Beavers may have finished 5-7, but four of their seven losses came against Boise State, Oregon, Stanford, and TCU (all teams that finished in the AP and SRS top-ten). However, even with their Rose Bowl victory against Wisconsin, the Horned Frogs did not beat a single SRS top-ten team.

Following TCU’s victory in the Rose Bowl, there was a dry spell for mid-majors. Part of that is because two formerly unbeaten mid-majors (TCU and Utah) got called up to the big leagues, joining the Big 12 and Pac-12 respectively. There were a few near misses, as Boise finished with one loss in 2011 (in agonizing fashion to TCU), UCF lost a single game in 2013 (though the Knights were technically in a BCS conference), Houston lost to Connecticut in 2015, and Western Michigan lost their bowl game to Wisconsin in 2016. However, UCF finally broke through with an undefeated campaign in 2017.
Memphis did edge UCF in Net YPP thanks to a slightly better defense, but the Knights beat the Tigers on the field twice, so there’s that. Their victories against the Tigers were their best wins until the bowl tilt with a top-ten Auburn team. The Knights did miss out on another potential quality win as their game with Georgia Tech (39th in the SRS) was canceled due to weather issues. Even without that game, the Knights stack up favorably wins wise with the other mid-majors on our list.

So which mid-major was the best? I’d be inclined to favor the 2010 version of TCU thanks to their dominance of a solid Mountain West (that Net YPP above three is hard to ignore). Still, you wouldn’t be remiss in pointing out that while they did have some good wins, they did not really beat any elite competition.

And finally, before we go, I just want to include the most recent unbeaten power conference (BCS or Power Five) team. Florida State ran roughshod over their schedule on the way to a national title in 2013, but there wasn’t a great deal of heft on it.
Florida State’s Net YPP, APR, and SRS numbers are phenomenal, but look at those wins. Prior to the ACC Championship Game, they had just three top-50 wins, with their victory against a down Florida team barely qualifying. They didn’t beat a top-ten team until the bowl game, yet I don’t recall hearing anyone wanting to exclude Florida State from what was then a playoff featuring only two teams. Unlike the unbeaten mid-majors, Florida State only faced a pair of truly awful teams, but outside of name recognition, was Florida State's 2013 schedule that much different than UCF's?

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