Thursday, September 03, 2020

APR Throwback: The 2007 SEC

Since a new month has started, we are going to switch up our throwbacks to focus on the Adjusted Pythagorean Theorem 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.

To refresh your memory, here are the 2007 SEC standings.
2007 was a pretty memorable year. There were about a trillion teams ranked second at some point in the season, the eventual national champ finished with two losses (although some are quick to point out they were unbeaten in regulation), and Tennessee was relevant in college football (more on that later). The Vols finished tied with Georgia at the top of the SEC East, but thanks to their head-to-head win, advanced to the SEC Championship Game.

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, SEC 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 the standard of determining which teams significantly over or under-performed relative to their APR. By that standard Mississippi State and Tennessee significantly exceeded their APR. Mississippi State finished 3-0 in one-score conference games, beating Alabama, Auburn, and Ole Miss by a combined thirteen points. By contrast, each of their four conference losses came by at least twelve points. In addition, a non-offensive touchdown provided the winning margin in each of those three close wins. Tennessee also finished 3-0 in one-score conference games, beating Kentucky, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt by a combined six points. Like Mississippi State, all their conference defeats came in blowout fashion, with Alabama and Florida crushing the Vols by a combined 63 points.

The Demise of the Tennessee Vols
Despite their middling APR numbers, Tennessee won the SEC East in 2007 and actually held a fourth quarter lead on eventual national champ LSU in the SEC Championship Game. The division title was the Vols fifth in sixteen seasons of divisional play, making them easily the second most successful eastern division team.
Since LSU's fourth quarter comeback, its been all downhill for the Vols, at least in SEC play. In the twelve seasons since that championship game appearance, Tennessee has posted the fourth worst conference winning percentage among SEC teams. In those twelve seasons, Tennessee has a better record than perennial punching bag Vanderbilt, a basketball school, and a team currently riding a nineteen game conference losing streak.
Alabama has pretty much lapped the SEC field, finishing seventeen games better than second place Georgia over the past twelve seasons. But to paraphrase Marc Anthony, I come to bury Tennessee, not praise Alabama. So, for the rest of this post, I'll try to put in perspective how bad Tennessee has been.

Alabama has twice as many undefeated conference seasons (4) as Tennessee has winning conference seasons (2). In fact, the Vols have more seasons of one or fewer conference victories (3) than they have of winning conference seasons. Texas A&M, a team that has played 32 fewer conference games than the Vols have over the past twelve seasons, has more league victories. Missouri, another SEC newcomer that has also played 32 fewer games is just three victories behind them. Tennessee has losing records against ten of the other thirteen teams in the conference.
Nearly one third of their conference victories since 2007 have come against Kentucky and over half have come against Kentucky and Vanderbilt. There have been fleeting moments of competency with the Vols blowing out Big 10 teams in Florida bowl games three consecutive seasons (2014-2016), but their conference record in that span was just 12-12. The 2014 team raised expectations, but the Vols were not able to win divisions in flux in either 2015 or 2016 and once the other two traditional powers in the division got their collective acts together, the Vols were not in position to contend. It's been a rough twelve years, but lets be optimistic. Say Jeremy Pruitt has a successful run in Knoxville and his replacement is, I don't know, Jon Gruden, or Bill Cowher, or Lane Kiffin, or Amos Alonzo Stagg. Imagine over the next twelve years the Vols post a 63-33 conference record (Florida's SEC record since 2008). Then they would have played .500 ball in the SEC over nearly a quarter century!

And Another Thing
One other interesting fact I discovered about the SEC in 2007 was that a pair of teams in the conference (Kentucky and South Carolina) began the season unranked in the AP Poll, yet eventually found themselves in the top ten, only to fall out of the polls altogether by the end of the season. Since the BCS era began in 1998, only sixteen teams have achieved this dubious distinction and the SEC circa 2007 is the only conference to have two teams in the same year accomplish the feat. Here are all sixteen listed chronologically.

So apparently they are going to attempt to play college football this year. There is one FBS game tonight, one FBS/FCS game, a handful of games on Saturday, and one on Labor Day. Next week, the ACC and Big 12 join the fun. Assuming those games are set to go off as planned, look for a gambling picks column next Thursday wherein I provide insight and analysis that is slightly more accurate than flipping a coin. But fear not, if the season gets canceled at any point, I have a number of YPP and APR throwbacks ready to go. As always, thanks for reading and stay safe out there everyone. 

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