Last week we looked at how AAC teams fared in terms of yards per play. his 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 2021 AAC 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, AAC 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 when determining whether a team significantly over or under-performed relative to their APR. By that standard, Tulane was the only AAC team to significantly under-perform. They also under-performed relative to their YPP numbers and we discussed some reasons why last week.
Multiple Undefeated Teams
The AAC became the first Group of Five conference to place a team in the College Football Playoff in 2021, but they also accomplished something almost as rare and a little more under the radar. Cincinnati was not the only team to roll through AAC play with an unblemished record. After losing their opener to Texas Tech, Houston closed the regular season by winning eleven consecutive games. The Cougars fell to the Bearcats in the AAC Championship Game, but finished tied with the Bearcats at the top of the AAC regular season standings. How often do multiple teams from the same conference finish with pristine, undefeated records?
Having multiple teams from the same conference finish with undefeated league records is a rare occurrence, but something that is more likely to happen in this day and age of bloated conference memberships. For most of the twentieth century, all conference opponents played each other ensuring there could be at most, one unbeaten standing at the end of autumn. However, as conferences have expanded, for the most part, conference schedules have not. This trend is poised to continue as the SEC will soon have a sixteen-team league or roughly double the size of most conferences that played last century (with a few exceptions). We're likely to see more conference seasons with multiple undefeated teams in the future. But back to our original question: How often has it happened (at least in this era of college football)? In the BCS/CFB Playoff era (since 1998), it has only occurred eight times, and two of those deserve pretty big asterisks.
This is actually the second consecutive year the AAC has had two teams finish the regular season without a conference loss. Cincinnati and Tulsa were scheduled to play last season, but Covid got in the way, preventing the regular season matchup. As such, both teams finished with identical 6-0 league records and met in the AAC Championship Game. The Mountain West also saw two teams finish with unbeaten conference records in their abbreviated 2020 season. Boise State and San Jose State played eleven regular season Mountain West conference games and won all of them en route to their showdown in the Mountain West Championship Game. If you look at the other seasons on this list, you'll notice they nearly all came in conferences that used divisional formats. If we ignore the two pandemic shortened seasons we just mentioned, that means the AAC was the first non-divisional conference to boast two unbeaten teams in nearly twenty years! 2002 was a very odd year for the Big 10. Ohio State ended up winning the national championship with an amazing run in close games. Meanwhile, Iowa [checks notes incredulously] averaged over 37 points per game and had a Heisman trophy finalist (on the offensive side of the ball)! After losing to Iowa State in non-conference play, the Hawkeyes won all their Big 10 games (six of them by double digits) and famously tore down their opponent's goal posts in the regular season finale. Alas, there was no Big 10 Championship Game in 2002, so they had to share the title with Ohio State.
The AAC should take great pride in becoming the first Group of Five league to put a team in the College Football Playoff. However, the bigger needle thread may have been producing two unbeaten teams in conference play without the benefit of divisions separating them.