## Thursday, April 30, 2020

### 2019 Yards Per Play: Pac-12

We stay out west this week where we review the Mountain West's big brother, the Pac-12.

Here are the Pac-12 standings.
So we know what each team achieved, but how did they perform? To answer that, here are the Yards Per Play (YPP), Yards Per Play Allowed (YPA) and Net Yards Per Play (Net) numbers for each Pac-12 team. This includes conference play only, with the championship game not included. The teams are sorted by division by Net YPP with conference rank in parentheses.
College football teams play either eight or nine conference games. Consequently, their record in such a small sample may not be indicative of their quality of play. A few fortuitous bounces here or there can be the difference between another ho-hum campaign or a special season. Randomness and other factors outside of our perception play a role in determining the standings. It would be fantastic if college football teams played 100 or even 1000 games. Then we could have a better idea about which teams were really the best. Alas, players would miss too much class time, their bodies would be battered beyond recognition, and I would never leave the couch. As it is, we have to make do with the handful of games teams do play. In those games, we can learn a lot from a team’s YPP. Since 2005, I have collected YPP data for every conference. I use conference games only because teams play such divergent non-conference schedules and the teams within a conference tend to be of similar quality. By running a regression analysis between a team’s Net YPP (the difference between their Yards Per Play and Yards Per Play Allowed) and their conference winning percentage, we can see if Net YPP is a decent predictor of a team’s record. Spoiler alert. It is. For the statistically inclined, the correlation coefficient between a team’s Net YPP in conference play and their conference record is around .66. Since Net YPP is a solid predictor of a team’s conference record, we can use it to identify which teams had a significant disparity between their conference record as predicted by Net YPP and their actual conference record. I used a difference of .200 between predicted and actual winning percentage as the threshold for ‘significant’. Why .200? It is a little arbitrary, but .200 corresponds to a difference of 1.6 games over an eight game conference schedule and 1.8 games over a nine game one. Over or under-performing by more than a game and a half in a small sample seems significant to me. In the 2019 season, which teams in the Pac-12 met this threshold? Here are Pac-12 teams sorted by performance over what would be expected from their Net YPP numbers.
After reviewing the Mountain West, where the actual standings were quite different from the YPP and APR numbers, the Pac-12 represents a  return to normalcy. No team significantly over or under-performed relative to their YPP numbers. So lets move to something a little more interesting.

When David is Favored Over Goliath
Think back if you can to a different time. It was early December. The holidays were approaching, we were blindly ignorant to the calamity that was headed our way in 2020, and Utah was favored over Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game. The Utes were certainly formidable, boasting an 11-1 record heading into the game, with their lone defeat coming on a Friday night early in the season at Southern Cal. Ten of their eleven victories had come by at least eighteen points and their last three had all come by at least four touchdowns. Still, even a basic college football fan knew the Utes were not an elite recruiter like Alabama or Ohio State. Their baseline talent was in the middle of the pack for Power Five programs. They relied on coaching and development to achieve success more so than raw talent. Yet here they were, favored on a neutral field against a team that had played for two national titles the previous decade. Well, you know how things shook out. This got me to thinking, how often are programs with elite talent underdogs to teams without it and more importantly, how do they fare in that role? The next paragraph will go into detail about how I set about answering that question, so if you are pressed for time or have a short attention span, skip on down.

To identify the Goliaths (elite recruiters) in this study, I used the 247 Sports Talent Composite for the years 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019. The talent composite uses the recruiting star ratings to give a numerical value to each FBS and FCS team. In 2019, the top team was Alabama with a rating of 984.96 and the lowest rated team was Bryant with a scant 6.30 talent rating. Instead of arbitrarily setting a threshold for what constituted an elite recruiter, I let math do the job for me. Initially I loaded all 130 FBS teams (for 2019) into an Excel spreadsheet and calculated the mean and standard deviation of their talent rating. I classified teams that were +2 standard deviations above average as uber-elite and those that were +1 standard deviation above average as elite. However, a few problems quickly surfaced. While there were only two or three uber-elite teams each season, there were close to 30 teams that qualified as elite. To me, this seemed like too many. Can nearly a quarter of FBS really be considered elite? I don't think so. Thus, I decided to only include Power Five teams (and Notre Dame) in the calculation. Each season there are a few of Group of Five teams that rank ahead of Power Five teams in talent rating (never more than five for any season from 2015 through 2019), but for the most part, FBS teams are segregated along those conference lines. Using only Power Five teams in the analysis yielded the same number of uber-elites, but cut the elites down to about twelve per season. Intuitively, this seems much more in line with how college football actually functions. So, once I had the teams classified as elite and uber-elite, I looked at instances where they entered a game as underdogs against teams in another grouping. In other words, I threw out games where two uber-elites were facing off because obviously one has to be favored (unless the line is a pick), where two elites were playing, where an uber-elite was favored against any team, or where an elite was favored against a non-elite. Confused? Here it is a little simpler. I looked at games where an uber-elite was an underdog (provided they weren't facing another uber-elite) and where an elite was an underdog (provided they were not playing an uber-elite or another elite). In addition to looking at instances of an elite or uber-elite being an underdog, I also categorized some of their underdogs roles as extreme. This included games where they were a three point or greater home underdog, a six point or greater neutral underdog, or a nine point or greater road underdog. Finally, I did not include bowl games in the analysis as those can be rather funky with motivation, players sitting out, and other numerous angles impacting the game.

With the methodology out of the way, I have provided a table listing teams that were either elite or uber-elite between 2015 and 2019 as well as the number of times they appeared in that category. I considered listing out the elite and uber-elite for each season, but thought that would be too messy. If you would like to see that table, hit me up and I can provide it for you.
Eleven teams were either elite or uber-elite all five seasons: Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Southern Cal, and ummmm Tennessee? Well, I'm sure you can spot the outlier. You may have noticed the team that prompted this analysis, Oregon, is nowhere to be seen. I thought they would have classified as elite for at least one season, but alas, the numbers never lie.

So how did these teams fare against the spread as underdogs? Surprisingly, not that well.
As you would probably have guessed, the uber-elites were rarely underdogs to teams not in their weight class. It only happened six times in the past five seasons and the underdogs were 3-3 ATS overall and 1-1 in the role of an extreme underdog. With a .500 ATS mark (in a very limited sample), they did fare better than the elites.
Elite teams covered just under 47% of the time when they were underdogs to the middle and lower classes of college football. In extreme situations, they covered at a similar rate (48%). I am actually a little shocked by these numbers. I expected that elite underdogs would be solid bets. For the past five seasons, that has not been the case.

Here are how the individual teams performed as underdogs.
Southern Cal, Tennessee, and Texas (three historical programs suffering through down times) are the only teams that were underdogs a significant number of times over the past five seasons. Tennessee and Texas actually performed quite well in the role, but Southern Cal, yikes.

If you had bet against all these elite and uber-elite teams in all situations, you would have made a little money (52.4% is the break even point assuming -110 per bet), but that is hardly a significant advantage for this sample size. With the cover percentage of betting against elite underdogs hovering right around the break even line, this is not a trend I would recommend pursuing unless other aspects of your handicap identify an advantage. Oh well, I apologize for making you read all those words and not providing any type of gambling nugget. But, if you are patient, there might be something for you next week. In the business, I believe they call that a tease. See you next Thursday.

## Thursday, April 23, 2020

### 2019 Adjusted Pythagorean Record: Mountain West

Last week we looked at how Mountain West 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 2019 Mountain West standings.
And here are the APR standings with conference rank in offensive touchdowns, touchdowns allowed, and APR in parentheses. This includes conference games only with the championship game excluded.
Finally, Mountain West teams are sorted by the difference between their actual number of wins and their expected number of wins according to APR.
Seven teams saw their expected record differ significantly from their actual record using yards per play and when it comes to APR, the results were quite similar. Six teams saw their APR differ from their actual win total by at least a game and a half. Last week, we discussed some reasons why Boise State, Nevada, and Utah State exceeded their expected record and why Fresno State and New Mexico under-performed. However, a new entrant, Wyoming boasted the largest negative differential between their APR and actual record. Thanks to a fantastic defense, the Cowboys finished just behind Air Force in APR last season. Unfortunately, the Cowboys were 0-3 in one-score conference games and finished 4-4, losing three league games by twelve total points. By contrast, their smallest margin of victory in Mountain West play was ten points.

Requiem for Rocky
In early 2020, Rocky Long resigned as head coach of San Diego State. You may have missed this in the college football news cycle as Clemson and LSU were slated to play in the College Football Playoff a few days later. Since Long spent most of his coaching career at mid-major jobs west of the Mississippi, many casual college football fans probably don't know who he is. Well, I aim to change that. Over the next 10,000 words or so, my four regular readers will learn the hagiography of Rocky Long.

Long is not dead by the way. He's not even retired. He is the defensive coordinator at his alma mater, the University of New Mexico. He was also the head coach of the Lobos for eleven seasons before relocating to beautiful San Diego. He finished his head coaching career at New Mexico with a losing record, but the Lobos were bowl eligible for seven straight seasons (2001-2007) and he is arguably the most successful coach in school history (at least based on what he did in the Land of Enchantment). But we're mostly going to focus on what he did at San Diego State the past eleven seasons (nine as head coach).

Before we start praising Long too much, let's delve into a mild criticism. Prior to the 2012 season (his second in charge in San Diego), Long opined that August that his team would be more aggressive in their fourth down attempts heading into the season. Did his team become more aggressive in terms of fourth down attempts in 2012? Compared to the previous season, not really.
But whoa, they did get very aggressive in 2013, leading the nation in total fourth down attempts. So Long basically became an amalgamation of Mike Leach and Doug Pederson from then on right?
After being moderate to very aggressive in terms of fourth down attempts in his first three season, Long retreated into a shell for a half decade or so. This metric is not perfect as it is devoid of context (I didn't sift through the play by play to determine how many fourth and shorts San Diego State faced, compare it to the national average, and adjust for situational aspects like time and score), but it shows a pretty drastic shift in thinking. Why? Well, the answer is pretty simple.
The Aztecs gave the ball up on a lot of those fourth down gambles in 2013 and Long apparently decided, like Goldwater, that conservatism was the best path forward.

Oh well. Rocky achieved great success at San Diego State (two Mountain West titles) despite not being at the cutting edge in terms of analytics. But let's give Long credit for something the Aztecs did well during his tenure: play fantastic defense. Long became defensive coordinator at San Diego State in 2009, when he was hired by Brady Hoke (who after a winding road from Michigan, Oregon, Tennessee, and the NFL is now the head coach once again). Prior to Long's arrival as defensive coordinator, the Aztecs had ranked dead last in the Mountain West in yards allowed per play for two consecutive seasons. After a sixth place finish is his first season on the job, they ranked in the top three of the conference for the next decade and have not allowed more than five yards per play to conference foes in the past six seasons.
Long called his own defensive plays in San Diego once he became head coach (in 2011), so he shoulders a great deal of credit for those fantastic numbers. In addition to posting great defensive numbers, San Diego State usually boasted a great running game to compliment it. Three San Diego State running backs were drafted during Long's tenure (Ronnie Hillman, Rashaad Penny, and Nick Bawden who was actually a fullback in college) while Donnel Pumphrey left San Diego State as the NCAA's all-time leading rusher (with an asterisk of course). In addition, since Long took over in 2011, there have been fifteen instances of a running back finishing with at least 250 carries and twenty touchdowns while averaging at least six yards per carry (three quarterbacks have done it -- Jordan Lynch, Lamar Jackson, and Malcolm Perry). I think this arbitrary combination of numbers does a good job of identifying backs with the qualities of both explosiveness and work-horsery. San Diego State backs have two of those seasons.
The only other schools with multiple seasons are one known for their backs and beefy offensive linemen and another that is annually one of the most talented teams in the nation. The running game struggled a great deal in 2019 (though San Diego State still won ten games and received a few votes in the final AP Poll), so maybe Long got out one season too soon rather than one season too late.

Rocky Long will never be a household name among college football fans, but he did great work at two places that did not have a winning tradition when he arrived. His (likely) final act will be attempting to return his alma mater to respectability as defensive coordinator. Will he succeed? The odds are probably stacked against him, but I wouldn't call in a Longshot.

## Thursday, April 16, 2020

### 2019 Yards Per Play: Mountain West

This week we head west to try and rid some of our east coast bias. Welcome to the Mountain West review.

Here are the Mountain West standings.
So we know what each team achieved, but how did they perform? To answer that, here are the Yards Per Play (YPP), Yards Per Play Allowed (YPA) and Net Yards Per Play (Net) numbers for each Mountain West team. This includes conference play only, with the championship game not included. The teams are sorted by division by Net YPP with conference rank in parentheses.
College football teams play either eight or nine conference games. Consequently, their record in such a small sample may not be indicative of their quality of play. A few fortuitous bounces here or there can be the difference between another ho-hum campaign or a special season. Randomness and other factors outside of our perception play a role in determining the standings. It would be fantastic if college football teams played 100 or even 1000 games. Then we could have a better idea about which teams were really the best. Alas, players would miss too much class time, their bodies would be battered beyond recognition, and I would never leave the couch. As it is, we have to make do with the handful of games teams do play. In those games, we can learn a lot from a team’s YPP. Since 2005, I have collected YPP data for every conference. I use conference games only because teams play such divergent non-conference schedules and the teams within a conference tend to be of similar quality. By running a regression analysis between a team’s Net YPP (the difference between their Yards Per Play and Yards Per Play Allowed) and their conference winning percentage, we can see if Net YPP is a decent predictor of a team’s record. Spoiler alert. It is. For the statistically inclined, the correlation coefficient between a team’s Net YPP in conference play and their conference record is around .66. Since Net YPP is a solid predictor of a team’s conference record, we can use it to identify which teams had a significant disparity between their conference record as predicted by Net YPP and their actual conference record. I used a difference of .200 between predicted and actual winning percentage as the threshold for ‘significant’. Why .200? It is a little arbitrary, but .200 corresponds to a difference of 1.6 games over an eight game conference schedule and 1.8 games over a nine game one. Over or under-performing by more than a game and a half in a small sample seems significant to me. In the 2019 season, which teams in the Mountain West met this threshold? Here are Mountain West teams sorted by performance over what would be expected from their Net YPP numbers.
Seven teams saw their actual record differ significantly from their expected record based on YPP. Boise State, Nevada, and Utah State exceeded their expected record while Colorado State, Fresno State, New Mexico, and San Jose State under-performed relative to their YPP numbers. Close game record does a good job of explaining the over-performance. Boise State, Nevada, and Utah State combined to go 8-1 in one-score conference games. And while the Broncos went undefeated, the Wolfpack and Aggies were blown out in most of their league losses. Of Nevada's four conference defeats, three came by at least 26 points while both of Utah State's conference losses came by at least 24 points. For the underachievers, Fresno State and San Jose State can blame close games, as they went a combined 2-6 in one-score conference games. New Mexico didn't play any conference games decided by less than eleven points, but they did have the worst in-conference turnover margin of -11. However, Colorado State is the real odd duck, or Ram if you will. They had the third best per-play differential in the conference, but won just three of their eight league games. They were only 0-1 in one-score conference games and their turnover margin was underwater (-4), but hardly debilitating. I couldn't really come up with an explanation for their struggles. As it stands, Steve Addazio will likely be the beneficiary of their positive regression while Mike Bobo will have to settle for working for Will Muschamp.

Largest Average Discrepancy
You may have noticed this past season's Mountain West featured an abnormally large number of teams that saw their actual record differ significantly from their expected record based on YPP. With YPP data going back to 2005, I wanted to see if it had the largest average discrepancy (by absolute value). It did, narrowly edging out a conference from fifteen years ago. Before we get to splitting decimals though, here are the other conferences that with the largest average disparity between their teams' actual record and expected record based on YPP.
The Sun Belt looked a lot different in 2011 than it does today. The conference had only nine teams, making it the smallest of our top five. With only nine teams, the high variance is also slightly less impressive as a few large outliers can have out sized influence on the average. However, even though the conference was only nine deep, more than half the teamssaw their expected record differ by more than .200 (the standard I use to rate a difference as 'significant').
If your memory of college football seasons runs together, 2015 was the year Michigan State stole a conference title and playoff bid from Ohio State. You can actually read the YPP recap here.
The Mountain West holds two of the top three spots on our list. This one is also recent enough that you can actually read the YPP recap here.
Then known as the Pac-10, the conference of champions is our surprise runner-up. The average difference was just .0001 less than this past year's Mountain West, our overall winner for largest average discrepancy.
In its twenty year history, the Mountain West has had better years, but none where the standings and per play differentials were so mismatched. Put that on a trophy!

## Thursday, April 09, 2020

### 2019 Adjusted Pythagorean Record: MAC

Last week we looked at how MAC 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 2019 MAC standings.
And here are the APR standings with conference rank in offensive touchdowns, touchdowns allowed, and APR in parentheses. This includes conference games only with the championship game excluded.
Finally, MAC teams are sorted by the difference between their actual number of wins and their expected number of wins according to APR.
Conference champion Miami significantly exceeded their expected record while their division rival, and arguably the best team in the conference, Buffalo, under-performed relative to their APR. The reason both teams significantly over or under-performed is simple: record in close games. Buffalo finished 0-2 in close conference games, losing by a single point to Ohio and three points to Kent State. Their five conference wins all came by at least nineteen points. Meanwhile, Miami was 4-0 in one-score conference games, including three wins by exactly three points.

Worst Conference Champions
Miami has won the MAC ten times in their history and a few of those title winning teams have been really good. However, their last two championship teams have been among the worst, at least in terms of their Adjusted Pythagorean Record within the MAC. The 2019 team finished 6-2 in conference play, but scored exactly as many touchdowns as they allowed against MAC competition. Almost a decade prior, in 2010, the Redhawks finished 7-1 in the MAC, but scored just two more touchdowns than they allowed. As I have APR data for each FBS conference going back to 2005, I decided to compile a list of the 'worst' conference champions by APR. I decided to look at outright conference champions only, so the 2010 Connecticut Huskies are off the hook as they finished in a three-way tie atop the Big East in 2010, but held the tiebreaker over Pitt and West Virginia thanks to head to head wins. We'll start with mid-major conferences. Here are the four worst outright mid-major champs by APR since 2005.
Three MAC teams appear on this list with Akron joining the two Miami teams. East Carolina checks in as the only mid-major team that was actually underwater in conference play. Now here are the four worst outright major conference champions.
The ACC eclipsed the MAC by sporting the four worst major conference champs since 2005. Virginia Tech in 2008 (the year almost every ACC team finished within a game of 4-4) is the lone major conference champ to finish underwater in league play.

As you may have guessed, these eight teams all entered their respective conference title games as moderate to significant underdogs (with the exception of Virginia Tech in the hyper parity of the 2008 ACC). They each managed to pull off upsets to join this esteemed list.
Thanks for reading. We'll be on our seventh conference next week when we recap the Mountain West.

## Thursday, April 02, 2020

### 2019 Yards Per Play: MAC

We are halfway through our offseason recaps. This week, we examine the MAC.

Here are the MAC standings.
So we know what each team achieved, but how did they perform? To answer that, here are the Yards Per Play (YPP), Yards Per Play Allowed (YPA) and Net Yards Per Play (Net) numbers for each MAC team. This includes conference play only, with the championship game not included. The teams are sorted by division by Net YPP with conference rank in parentheses.
College football teams play either eight or nine conference games. Consequently, their record in such a small sample may not be indicative of their quality of play. A few fortuitous bounces here or there can be the difference between another ho-hum campaign or a special season. Randomness and other factors outside of our perception play a role in determining the standings. It would be fantastic if college football teams played 100 or even 1000 games. Then we could have a better idea about which teams were really the best. Alas, players would miss too much class time, their bodies would be battered beyond recognition, and I would never leave the couch. As it is, we have to make do with the handful of games teams do play. In those games, we can learn a lot from a team’s YPP. Since 2005, I have collected YPP data for every conference. I use conference games only because teams play such divergent non-conference schedules and the teams within a conference tend to be of similar quality. By running a regression analysis between a team’s Net YPP (the difference between their Yards Per Play and Yards Per Play Allowed) and their conference winning percentage, we can see if Net YPP is a decent predictor of a team’s record. Spoiler alert. It is. For the statistically inclined, the correlation coefficient between a team’s Net YPP in conference play and their conference record is around .66. Since Net YPP is a solid predictor of a team’s conference record, we can use it to identify which teams had a significant disparity between their conference record as predicted by Net YPP and their actual conference record. I used a difference of .200 between predicted and actual winning percentage as the threshold for ‘significant’. Why .200? It is a little arbitrary, but .200 corresponds to a difference of 1.6 games over an eight game conference schedule and 1.8 games over a nine game one. Over or under-performing by more than a game and a half in a small sample seems significant to me. In the 2019 season, which teams in the MAC met this threshold? Here are MAC teams sorted by performance over what would be expected from their Net YPP numbers.
Bowling Green was the lone MAC squad that saw their actual record differ significantly from their expected record based on YPP. The Falcons exceeded their expected record which is not a great sign when they won just a quarter of their conference games. How did the Falcons manage to exceed their expected record despite winning just two conference games? Well, the Falcons played competent defense in two games (outside of their victory against FCS Morgan State) all season. They held Toledo and Akron to 13 combined points. In their other six conference games, they allowed an average of over 51 points per game and 8.3 yards per play!

The People's Champ
On the surface, Western Michigan's 2019 season doesn't look that special. While the Broncos were bowl eligible for the sixth straight season, they only managed a 7-6 record and failed to beat either of the flawed Power Five teams (Michigan State and Syracuse) on their schedule. However, if you look a little closer, you can see they accomplished a somewhat rare feat. In their conference opener, they pounded Central Michigan. Two weeks later, they pounded Miami of Ohio. Why are these two results rare? Because the Chippewas and Redhawks ended up playing in the MAC Championship Game. Yes, the Broncos beat both division winners, making them the eighteenth team to accomplish that feat in FBS history. If you want to know a little background behind the other seventeen, keep reading. We'll start with mid-majors and move up to the major conference teams.
Before he was setting the bar too high at Texas A&M and running Arizona into the ground, Kevin Sumlin got his start at the University of Houston. His first Cougar team handled East Carolina and Tulsa with ease, beating both when they were in the lower reaches of the AP Poll. The Cougars particularly crushed the Golden Hurricane, winning 70-30 and inflicting Tulsa's only regular season conference loss. Houston was actually poised to win the division entering their regular season finale, but arguably the best Rice team of the last fifty years beat them to give the division to Tulsa.
Brady Hoke's third Ball State team beat Northern Illinois and Akron, but went just 2-4 in their other MAC conference games to finish all alone in fifth place in the MAC West. 2005 was just before the bowl boom as the conference actually finished with seven bowl eligible teams, but only two participated in the postseason. In fact, after being upset in the MAC Championship Game, Northern Illinois did not receive a postseason invite.
There is some true Tommy Bowden level shit going on here. Clemson beat both ACC Championship Game participants by multiple scores in 2006, but lost to Boston College early in the season thanks to a blocked extra point and to Maryland late in the year when they managed just four field goals despite nearly 400 yards of total offense. That loss gave the division and eventual conference title to my alma mater, Wake Forest.
Ohio State was ineligible for postseason play in 2012 thanks to some tattoo shenanigans that occurred under Jim Tressel. Thus, their undefeated season was for naught. The Buckeyes dominated Nebraska (their only regular season conference setback) and edged Wisconsin. The Badgers went just 4-4 in Big 10 play, but qualified for the conference title game because Penn State was also ineligible for the postseason (for more nefarious reasons).

Michigan was rolling for much of the 2016 season, opening 9-0, including victories against both Penn State and Wisconsin. The victory over the Nittany Lions was particularly gruesome, with Penn State mustering just ten points (in a season where they averaged nearly 40 per game). It was the last time Penn State would taste defeat in the 2016 season until their Rose Bowl classic with Southern Cal. Michigan dropped a close game to Iowa, but still controlled their own fate in the division and College Football Playoff when they faced Ohio State. A controversial spot helped Ohio State win and gave the division to Penn State.
A year after winning the national title, Texas was still pretty good. They extended their Big 12 winning streak to twenty game by opening 6-0 in league play. However, they dropped their final two games in divergent fashion, losing a shootout at Kansas State and managing just seven points in a home loss to the rival Aggies to give the division to Oklahoma.

One year before playing for the national title, Texas was still pretty good. They knocked off both Oklahoma and Missouri on their way to a 12-1 season. Alas, their lone loss (to Texas Tech), made the Big 12 South a three-way tie at the top with each team posting a 1-1 record against the other two. The Big 12 used BCS standings to split the baby and Oklahoma was granted the division crown despite losing to Texas by ten points on a neutral field.

Mike Sherman's (remember him?) penultimate Texas A&M team opened Big 12 play with losses to Oklahoma State and Missouri (sandwiched around a then non-conference loss to Arkansas). Then the Aggies rolled off six straight wins. Another three-way tie at the top of the Big 12 South ensued, with Oklahoma State joining the Aggies and Sooners in the pole position. Once again the BCS standings gave the division to Oklahoma despite a multi-score loss to a team from the Lone Star State.

No divisions? No problem. The return of the Big 12 Championship game also saw the return of the People's Champ. Iowa State beat Oklahoma and TCU in very different games. They staged a rally and won a shootout in Norman and held TCU without an offensive touchdown in Ames. Despite those two victories, the Cyclones finished 3-4 against their other conference opponents (2-4 against other Big 12 teams not named Kansas).
As is the case with a few other entries on this list, Southern Cal was postseason banned in 2011. Despite this handicap, the Trojans closed the season strong, beating Oregon and UCLA in back-to-back weeks. The victory against their cross-town rivals was particularly brutal. With that momentum, the Trojans were ranked number one in the 2012 preseason. I didn't check to see if they lived up to those expectations.

Coming off an appearance in the inaugural College Football Playoff, Oregon stumbled out of the gates sans Marcus Mariota. The Ducks dropped two of their first three conference games, including a legitimate curb-stomping at the hands of Utah and were just 3-3 overall halfway through the season. They won their final six games, highlighted by wins against Stanford and Southern Cal in back-to-back weeks. The victory against Stanford was extra sweet as it likely kept the Cardinal out of the College Football Playoff.

Southern Cal lost three of their first four games, including their first two conference games before they rallied behind quarterback Sam Darnold. After a last-minute loss to Utah, the Trojans won their final nine games and were responsible for the only regular season conference losses for both Colorado and Washington. If only Clay Helton has started Darnold sooner.

Befitting a team coached by the eccentric Mike Leach, 2017 was a weird season for Washington State. The Cougars began the season 6-0 and were ranked in the top-ten. They would finish unranked. Including the bowl, they dropped four of their final seven games with each loss coming by at least three touchdowns. However, even in that late season swoon, they managed to edge Stanford at home to go along with their earlier home upset of Southern Cal.
Like Urban Meyer at Ohio State, Terry Bowden began his career at Auburn with an undefeated campaign marred by a postseason ban. The Tigers edged a Florida team whose only other loss came to eventual national champion Florida State and beat the reigning national champion Crimson Tide. Alabama finished with a weird as hell 5-2-1 conference record and were the only other non postseason banned SEC West team to finish with a winning record.

Peyton Manning could never beat Florida, but he did guide Tennessee to their first division title because the Gators lost to LSU and Georgia. After dropping the game to the Gators, Tennessee would not lose again until the Orange Bowl against one half of the eventual national champions, Nebraska.

Jackie Sherrill's last good Mississippi State team beat a solid Auburn team and an under the radar good Florida team. Florida's only other losses in 2000 came to teams that were good enough to win the national title (Florida State and Miami). Outside of those two big wins, the Bulldogs went just 2-4 in their other SEC games.

Ron Zook's claim to fame (other than somehow getting Illinois to the Rose Bowl) is beating Nick Saban's first national title winning team. He also beat Georgia for good measure. Outside of Florida, Georgia's only other losses in 2003 were both to LSU. Once in the regular season and again in the SEC Championship Game. I would be remiss if I did not note Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee finished in a three-way tie atop the SEC East. I assume the BCS standings were the tie-breaker that lifted Georgia to the division crown, but I could not find evidence to confirm this.