Thursday, May 17, 2018

2017 Adjusted Pythagorean Record: SEC

Last week, we looked at how SEC 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 SEC 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, SEC teams are sorted by the difference between their actual number of wins and their expected number of wins according to APR.
As with YPP, no SEC team saw their APR differ significantly from their actual record although Texas A&M came close. The Aggies finished 4-1 in one-score conference games, with their quartet of victories coming by 23 total points. Outside of their ‘close’ loss to Alabama (when they cut the deficit to eight with seconds remaining), their other three conference defeats all came by at least two touchdowns.

Back around Columbus Day, you probably could have gotten decent odds that Barry Odom would not be coaching Missouri in 2018. After an uninspiring 4-8 debut, the Tigers were 1-4 in his second season with their lone win against an FCS opponent. Overall, the Tigers had three victories against FBS teams and just two conference wins under Odom’s guidance. The Tigers would lose their next game against Georgia, although they were somewhat competitive against the eventual national runners up, scoring 28 points against a stout Georgia defense. Following that defeat to the Dogs, Missouri would not lose again (in the regular season), pulverizing their last six foes by an average of 30 points per game! Their regular season finale against Arkansas was close, but the other five wins all came by at least four touchdowns. So Missouri is naturally an SEC East darkhorse heading into 2018 right? As the esteemed Lee Corso might say: Not so fast, my friend.

Missouri was quite dominant in their last six games of 2017, but let’s pause and consider the quality of opponent. The Tigers won non-conference games against Idaho and Connecticut, two teams that combined for seven wins in 2017. In addition, the four conference opponents the Tigers slaughtered did not sniff the postseason. Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt combined for a 5-27 SEC record with three of the wins coming against each other (Florida and Vanderbilt over Tennessee and Florida over Vanderbilt). Outside of Arkansas, the Tigers did not struggle to put these teams away, but this is about as easy a closing slate as you could ask for in the rugged SEC. Contrast this with Missouri’s five-game losing streak. That quintet of teams all qualified for the postseason, with Auburn and Georgia winning their respective divisions. South Carolina won eight regular season games and both Kentucky and Purdue eked out bowl eligibility. If you change the sequencing by swapping say Tennessee with Georgia or Idaho with South Carolina, the narrative of a hot finish is not nearly as strong.

Even if the narrative is not completely accurate, Missouri still accomplished something pretty amazing. How many other teams have closed with six straight wins after a 1-5 start? By my count, only one.

Rutgers opened the 2008 season looking for their fourth consecutive bowl bid. The once moribund program was now a force to be reckoned with in college football (sort of). Alas, the Knights began the season 0-3, managing only 40 combined points in losses to Fresno State, North Carolina, and Navy. Rutgers pummeled an FCS school in their fourth games, but lost their next two to West Virginia and Cincinnati respectively. Rutgers held on to beat Connecticut in an ugly 12-10 crapfest, but bowl eligibility seemed out of reach. Discounting the 38 points they scored against Morgan State, Rutgers had averaged just over 13 points per game in their first six FBS contests. Then they flipped the proverbial switch. After edging Connecticut, the Knights won their last five games with ease. The offense put at least 30 points on the board in each game and Rutgers won those five contests by an average of 29 points per game! Unlike Missouri, the Knights also managed to win their bowl game, turning a 1-5 start into an 8-5 finish and third consecutive bowl win.

Despite some key offensive losses (a senior quarterback and a pair of NFL caliber receivers), in a transitional Big East, Rutgers got some preseason love in 2009. In his Norman Mailer sized preview magazine, Phil Steele even predicted a conference championship for the Knights. Record-wise, Rutgers improved in 2009, winning eight regular season games (and getting to nine with their bowl victory), but their schedule was very soft. They beat a pair of FCS teams, Florida International, and Army for half of their regular season victories. In Big East play, they managed just a 3-4 mark and were never in contention for the league title. In a more formidable SEC, Missouri will have the luxury of tempered expectations. The Tigers do bring back a talented quarterback, but lose their offensive coordinator as well as their leading rusher and receiver. Derek Dooley was brought in to be the new offensive coordinator and his hire does not inspire the utmost confidence. 2017 was the worst season for both Florida and Tennessee in a generation, so the window for a real breakthrough under Barry Odom could be slamming shut. Betdsi currently has Missouri’s over/under win total at 6.5. On the surface, this seems low considering how the Tigers finished the 2017 season, but upon further examination of the schedule and the dearth of quality teams the Tigers faced after mid-October plus the fact that Florida and Tennessee (and even Vanderbilt) are unlikely to be as bad as they were in 2016, this number seems right on the money.

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