Here are the 2020 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 (typically fewer in 2020). 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 2020 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.Stanford hosted Colorado. Meanwhile, Arizona State and UCLA significantly underperformed. The Sun Devils and Bruins were on the other end of the close game spectrum, posting a combined 1-6 record in one-score conference games.
Can You Count to 70?
If Kevin Sumlin was a dead man walking prior to the Territorial Cup rivalry against Arizona State, Herm Edwards put him out of his misery (metaphorically of course, we wish Kevin Sumlin nothing but the best as he enjoys all his buyout loot) on December 11th. The Sun Devils scored the games first 42 points and led 63-7 late in the third quarter before showing some mercy and only winning 70-7. Thanks to College Football Reference's fantastic Game Finder, I can proudly inform you that Arizona became just the twenty third Power Five/BCS conference team this century to give up 70 points to a conference opponent (in regulation). Compared to those other twenty two teams that had a steroid aided home run number put on them, how bad was this shellacking?
Arizona became the fourth Power Five/BCS team to give up 70 points to a conference opponent that did not finish with a winning record (Arizona State finished 2-2 in the pandemic shortened 2020 season). Here are the other teams that managed this feat.
We're cheating a bit here as Arizona State was likely to finish with a winning record over a full season, but at 2-2, the math checks out. Still, its hard to argue against Rutgers having the worst showing among these four teams in allowing 80 points to Rich Rod's first West Virginia team that outside of Rutgers only managed to beat a pair of MAC schools.
Arizona also became the fifth Power Five/BCS team to give up 70 points to a conference opponent at home.
Those other teams that gave up 70 points at home were either involved in a competitive shootout (Texas Tech led Oklahoma State in the fourth quarter and was within three points with under five minutes to go) or lost to College Football Playoff contenders (Washington made the playoff in 2016 as did Clemson is 2020 and Michigan missed it by a few inches). Meanwhile, Arizona State finished 2-2.
When the quality of opponent is combined with the venue, Arizona may have posted the worst conference defeat of any Power Five/BCS team this century. And if they didn't, they were a close second behind Rutgers.