Hard to believe, but we are now halfway through our conference recaps. Next up is the MAC. Here are the 2017 MAC standings.
pair of one-point wins and a three-point win against Ohio that ultimately gave them the division title. Both teams also scored in unconventional ways, as they combined to score seven more non-offensive touchdowns in MAC play than they allowed. Northern Illinois finished +4 (scored five and allowed one) while the Zips finished +3 (three scored and none allowed). Finally, Akron led the MAC in in-conference turnover margin (+10) on their way to their first division title since 2005.
Speaking of division titles, you may have noticed Akron won the MAC East despite being ‘underwater’ in terms on their Net YPP. How often do teams with negative per play differentials win their divisions? I’m glad you asked. I have YPP data back to 2005, so I fired up the Excel spreadsheet and perused the data to find out. Since 2005, there have been seven such instances (including Akron in 2017) of mid-major teams finishing with negative in-conference YPP numbers and winning their division. They are listed chronologically in the table below.
and East Carolina in 2008 are the only teams to win their respective conference championships. This cohort has also performed quite poorly in their bowls games, winning just once in seven games. And finally, the teams tend to decline the next season, although there are some notable exceptions in East Carolina and Bowling Green. The Pirates repeated as Conference USA champions in 2009 while Bowling Green improved dramatically in their second season under Dino Babers en route to a MAC title in 2015. However, despite those examples of improvement, I would expect the Zips to perform closer to the average underwater division champ and experience at least a modest decline in 2018.
To satisfy my own curiosity, I decided to look at major conference (BCS and Power Five) division winners that finished underwater. Surprisingly, since 2005, there were actually more division champs from major conferences that finished with negative in-conference YPP differentials. I figured the more egalitarian nature of mid-major conferences would produce more underwater division winners, but at least in this thirteen year sample, that did not occur. And interestingly, none of the underwater division champs got that way via technicality. I figured UCLA in 2011 or Georgia Tech in 2012, winners due to postseason bans of their division mates, would be on this list, but they actually posted positive Net YPP numbers.
closed the deal in 2006 and the 2008 ACC Championship Game pitted two underwater teams, so one of them had to prevail, but overall the division winners are 2-6 in title games and 2-6 in bowl games. The major conference division winners did not decline as much as their mid-major counterparts on average the next season, but we are dealing with a pretty small sample size here, so I wouldn’t draw any major conclusions from that. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for an underwater major conference division champ in 2018.