Thursday, March 31, 2022

2021 Yards Per Play: MAC

We are now beginning the second half of our conference reviews. This week, we will examine the Big 10's little brother, the MAC.

Here are the 2021 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 2021 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.
Northern Illinois significantly exceeded their expected record based on YPP, while Toledo significantly underachieved relative to their YPP. Northern Illinois won the MAC West despite posting the worst Net YPP in the division. The Huskies played a preponderance of one-score games in 2021, and won nearly all of them. They finished 6-1 in one-score MAC games, and while the odds were not as much in their favor in non-conference play (1-2 in one-score games), they did beat a Power Five team for the first time since 2017 in the season opener. Meanwhile, Toledo went 0-3 in one-score MAC games. Their three conference losses came by a grand total of eight points while all five of their conference victories came by at least ten points. The Rockets misfortune was also on display in non-conference action, where they lost tight games to Notre Dame and Middle Tennessee State

From Worst to First
Northern Illinois accomplished an almost unprecedented feat in 2021. No, it wasn't winning the MAC. The Huskies appeared in seven MAC Championship Games (including six straight at one point) between 2010 and 2018 (winning four of them). The more unprecedented feat was going from last place in their division (or conference) to first place. Since 2005, it has only happened eleven times in non-BCS/Group of Five leagues.
Northern Illinois joins Miami, Florida Atlantic, and San Jose State as the only non-BCS/Group of Five teams to win their conference outright the season after finishing in last place. The other teams on this list either lost their respective conference title games or finished tied for first in a league that did not yet stage a conference title game.

At this blog, we care about the past, but our goal is trying to predict the future. How did the previous ten teams fare the following season? Well, were I a Northern Illinois supporter, tempering my expectations might be a rational course of action.
Nine of the ten teams declined the following season, with many seeing significant falls. In some cases their are extenuating circumstances. Miami and Southern Mississippi lost their coaches. Central Michigan had to play an abbreviated season due to the pandemic. Coastal Carolina, San Jose State, and Tulsa had to play full seasons after a pandemic impacted or shortened one. However, this is a pretty clear trend. Fresno State was the lone team able to resist regression's mighty pull. These teams all required at least a little good fortune to win their respective divisions after last place finishes. When that good fortune flips to bad, average, or even good, but not quite as good, a decline in record usually follows. Can Northern Illinois continue their hot streak in 2022 or does our old pal regression have something else in store for them?

Thursday, March 24, 2022

2021 Adjusted Pythagorean Record: Conference USA

Two weeks ago we looked at how Conference USA 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 hereIf 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 Conference USA 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, Conference USA 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 a somewhat arbitrary line of demarcation to determine whether or not a team's record differed significantly from their APR. By that standard, UTSA was the only team that saw their expected record differ significantly from their APR. The Roadrunners also exceeded their expected record based on YPP and we went over a few reasons for that last week.

Conference USA Gets No Regard
Conference USA is dying. If you have been paying attention to the latest round of realignment that statement should not surprise you. Conference USA had 14 football playing members in 2021. Six are leaving for the AAC (Charlotte, FAU, North Texas, Rice, UAB, and UTSA) and three are trying to join the Sun Belt in time for this football season (Marshall, Old Dominion, and Southern Miss). I'm not a lawyer, so I won't make a prediction on whether that trio has to return for a lame duck campaign in Conference USA, but it certainly appears the ship is sinking. Conference USA did respond by admitting four schools that have been FBS nomads (New Mexico State), FBS pariahs (Liberty), and FCS powers (Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State), but the league is not on strong footing. The nine teams that are 'committed' to Conference USA football for the immediate future are located in eight different states. While the league does boast two true rivalries (New Mexico State/UTEP and Middle Tennessee/Western Kentucky), for the most part, these are nine teams that are stuck together because no one else would have them. The mass exodus, coupled with the relatively underwhelming additions means Conference USA will likely be the worst Group of Five conference year in and year out (assuming it survives). This is bad for the members that inevitably have good seasons  in the coming years.

I think it would be fair to say the (liberal) media did not respect Conference USA in 2021. Remember, UTSA did not end the 2021 with a ranked finish in the AP Poll despite starting 11-0, beating a Power Five team on the road, and finishing 12-2. How can we gauge the media's respect for a conference? One shorthand for respect is preseason rankings. If a Group of Five conference can place a team in the preseason AP Poll, its fair to say that conference (or at least that team) has garnered the media's respect. In the BCS and College Football Playoff era (since 1998), seven conferences have existed outside the power structure of the major conferences. The five that are currently in existence (AAC, CUSA, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt) and two that have departed from this mortal coil (Big West and WAC). How have they done in terms of getting their members ranked in the preseason AP Poll? Glad you asked.

Unfortunately, the Big West never had a team ranked in the preseason AP Poll. However, the media respected the WAC despite their East Coast bias.
I was surprised that Boise was only in the preseason AP Poll four times before leaving the WAC after the 2010 season. I was also surprised they only accounted for half of the WAC's preseason ranked teams.

We have covered the defunct conferences, so now we'll take a look at the current Group of Five, starting with the subject of this post, Conference USA.
The total number of teams ranked in the preseason AP Poll is not bad, but the length of time between rankings shows you how much the landscape of college football has changed. Conference USA has not had a team ranked in the preseason poll in nearly 20 years and the last two teams to be ranked in the preseason are now in the Big 12 (TCU) and ACC (Louisville) respectively.

Conference USA is probably the worst and least respected Group of Five league. The only one that can give it a run for its money is the MAC.
Its been 20 years since the MAC placed a team in the preseason AP Poll and that team is not only a former member of the MAC, but a soon to be former member of Conference USA. Their new home, as previously mentioned, is the Sun Belt.
It took two decades, but the Sun Belt finally placed a team in the preseason AP Poll in 2021. And they did it twice. Until very recently, the Sun Belt was typically the weakest Group of Five conference, but thanks to a shrewd expansion strategy that prioritized geography and legitimate rivalries, they could end up as the top Group of Five conference, especially with the attrition at the top of the AAC.
FYI, in 2013, the AAC retained the Big East's automatic qualifier status for a BCS bowl game, but I still think it makes sense to include it here. The AAC has had a team ranked in the preseason AP Poll for six consecutive seasons and will likely make it seven once the poll comes out this summer.

And finally, we come to the Group of Five conference that has produced the most preseason AP ranked teams, the Mountain West.
Before I touch on the obvious, take a moment to appreciate how respected the Colorado State program was in the late 90's and early aughts. The Rams were ranked in the preseason AP Poll in 1998 (as members of the WAC) and again in 2001 and 2003 as members of the Mountain West. While the Mountain West technically has the most instances of Group of Five teams being ranked in the preseason AP Poll, note that nine of those 16 rankings were compiled by teams that currently are, or will soon be in Power Five conferences (BYU, TCU, and Utah).

They say respect is not given, but earned. If that is indeed the case, Conference USA has a lot of work to do to get back in the national conscience. A special season at UTSA barely registered on the national radar. With the Roadrunners and a host of others leaving the league, Conference USA is poised to become the forgotten FBS conference.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Surprise Major Conference Tournament Winners

Welcome readers. This is the time of year where I typically offer you advice for filling out your NCAA Tournament bracket. Novel I know. However, I don't really have any groundbreaking analysis to give other than I would be hesitant to pick Arizona to make the Final Four. See my post on the tourney that didn't happen from two years ago to find out why. Since I don't have any advice, I figured I'd offer a history lesson instead. During major conference tournaments, we often see upsets where teams with no chance to earn at at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament win a game or two and set themselves up to earn their conferences automatic bid. Such a run happened this season with Virginia Tech storming through a down ACC (after surviving their opening tourney game with Clemson) to claim the automatic bid. This caused me to wonder, how often has a team with no at-large ambitions gone on a hot streak and won a major conference tournament? We'll classify teams that earned a double-digit seed despite winning their conference tournament as a team with no at-large hopes. To answer that question, we first need to define what a major conference is. Most would argue, there are currently six major conferences in Division I basketball: The fives leagues that form the Power Five in FBS football (ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC) plus the Big East. Some might argue the American and Atlantic 10 are in the same neighborhood. I would respectfully disagree. However, that only addresses the current batch of major conferences. Since the NCAA expanded the tournament to 64 teams in 1985, some now defunct leagues could rightly lay claim to being major conferences. And that is where our journey will start, with a long forgotten conference: The Metropolitan Collegiate Athletic Conference, or as it was known in its time, simply The Metro.

The Metro was a small conference in 1985. It consisted of eight members that played FBS football as Independents: Cincinnati, Florida State, Louisville, Memphis (then known as Memphis State), South Carolina, Southern Miss, Tulane, and Virginia Tech. The conference produced a Final Four team in 1985 (Memphis) and the national champion in 1986 (Louisville). The Metro would last until 1995 at which point it (sort of) merged with another major conference to form a new major conference. More on that in a moment. Between 1985 and 1995, the league only had one tournament champion that would have been unlikely to make the tournament had they not won the title.
In 1987, Memphis was on probation, so the league did not send a team to the NCAA Tournament. In 1995, the final year of the league's existence, Louisville entered the conference tournament with a mediocre 16-13 record, but won the title by beating another team with no at-large chances (Southern Miss) to earn the automatic bid.

I mentioned The Metro (sort of) merged with another conference after the 1995 season. What conference was that? The Great Midwest of course. The Great Midwest existed for all of four seasons (1992-1995), never had more than seven members, but always sent at least three teams to the NCAA Tournament. Cincinnati won all four of the conference tournaments and never received a seed lower than 8, so we can assume they would have been in had they not earned the automatic bid.
When The Metro and The Great Midwest merged, Conference USA was born. In the early years, the league appeared to have been engineered in a lab by a pandering right wing politician as it operated with three divisions named, you guessed it, Red, White, and Blue. That divisional set up lasted just two seasons before the league cribbed from baseball and reconfigured to American and National. For the first ten years of its existence, Conference USA was a major conference. The league routinely got multiple teams into the tournament and produced legitimate title contenders in Cincinnati, Louisville, and Marquette. However, conference expansion, driven by football, poached the league's best members and by 2006 it was like a lesser version of the current West Coast Conference, with Memphis playing the role of Gonzaga until John Calipari left for Kentucky. Between 1996 and 2005, Conference USA averaged 3.8 NCAA tournament bids per season and always put at least two teams in in the tournament. Since 2006, Conference USA has sent multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament in a season just four times and has not done it since 2012. In those first ten years, a legitimate Cinderella never won the conference tournament. St Louis (2000) and Charlotte (2001) both received 9 seeds, but they probably would have gotten in had they lost in the conference finals.
Two other defunct conferences can lay claim to being major conferences during their day. And they also (sort of) merged. The Big 8 was a football power in the 1980s, with Oklahoma and Nebraska routinely turning in top-ten finishes. They were also pretty good at basketball. Oklahoma received four 1 seeds between 1985 and 1990 and Kansas won the national title in 1988. With that kind of power at the top, its no surprise there was only a single Cinderella tournament champ between 1985 and the final year of the conference in 1996.
Missouri, no doubt auditioning for their eventual move to the SEC, was on probation and ineligible for the 1991 NCAA Tournament despite winning the conference tournament. Two years later they won nearly as many games at the conference tournament (3) as they did in all of conference play (5) to nab the automatic bid and a 10 seed.

After the 1996 season, driven by football, the Big 8 absorbed four teams from the dying Southwest Conference (Baylor, Texas, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech) to become the Big 12. While the Southwest Conference had some schools with name cache, its basketball performance left a lot to be desired. Between 1985 and 1996, on three occasions, the Southwest Conference sent just one team to the NCAA Tournament! Most damning was that it happened two times in five seasons after their dominant program, Arkansas, realized the ship was sinking and left for the SEC. As you can tell from the seeds some of the conference tournament champions received, the dearth of bids could have been even worse.
Was the Southwest Conference really a major conference in the late 80s and early 90s? Based on the number of bids and the seeds a few of their conference champs received, you could argue they were closer to the Missouri Valley than...

The Big 12. The conference has not really had a true Cinderella with faint at-large hopes run roughshod through the conference tournament.
Kansas in 1999 and Iowa State twenty years later earned the lowest seeds of a Big 12 tournament champion. That Kansas team finished tied for second in the regular season behind Texas and while Iowa State was a mediocre fifth in 2019, they were still likely to earn a bid had they not won the tournament.

As I was compiling the numbers for the ACC, I was shocked the conference has only produced two true Cinderella champions since the NCAA field expanded in 1985.
NC State entered the 1987 ACC Tournament with a 6-8 conference record (17-14 overall), but upset Duke in the first round, drew a bad Wake Forest team in the second round that had just upset Clemson, and then edged top-seeded North Carolina in the final. Wolfpack fans likely though the Cardiac Pack were back and expected an NCAA Tournament run similar to the one they went on in 1983. Alas, it was not to be as NC State fell to Florida in the first round of the tournament. You could make the case for two other Cinderella runs. Two seasons after winning the national title, Maryland finished 7-9 in the ACC in 2004, but reeled off wins against three Tobacco Road teams (Wake Forest, NC State, and Duke) to claim the tournament title. The Terps were rewarded with a number 4 seed in the ensuing NCAA tournament, implying they may have been in had they lost their ACC Tournament opener. Finally, last season, Georgia Tech won the ACC Tournament thanks in part to a Covid forfeiture in the semifinals by Virginia. However, the Yellow Jackets received a 9 seed, indicating they probably would have still been in had they played and lost to the Cavaliers.

Like the ACC, the Big East has had a lack of legitimate Cinderellas.
Providence finished tied for third in 2014 and may have been excluded had they dropped the Big East Final to Creighton. And of course, last season saw one of the most improbable runs in major conference tournament history. Georgetown entered the Big East Tournament 9-12 overall and 7-9 in the Big East. The Hoyas then won four games in four days, including a beat down of Creighton in the final to garner a 12 seed.

The Big 10 did not begin holding a conference tournament until 1998. In the quarter century since they have staged the event, they have had two somewhat surprising winners, but both likely would have gotten in the NCAA Tournament even with a poor performance in the Big 10 Tournament.
Iowa was 7-9 in Big 10 play in 2001, but won four games in four days to earn the automatic bid. The 7 seed they earned in the NCAA tournament indicated they were likely in as long as they didn't drop the conference opener to last place Northwestern. Michigan was a more respectable 10-8 in Big 10 play in 2017 and despite some aeronautical adventures, they also managed four wins in four days to capture the league tournament.

The Pac-12 (then known as the Pac-10) started its conference tournament relatively late in the game (1987) and only contested it for four seasons before putting it on hiatus after 1990. The conference obviously realized the money they were missing out on and resumed it in 2002. In the twenty tournaments the conference has held since it was rebooted, six have been won by teams that did not harbor legitimate at-large hopes heading into the conference tournament.
The biggest surprise was probably Oregon State in 2021. The Beavers entered the tournament 10-10 in Pac-12 play (and just 14-12 overall) before winning three consecutive games to grab the automatic bid. Their hot streak continued in the NCAA Tournament as they also won three straight to advance to the regional final for the first time since 1982

And finally we come to the SEC, where the biggest major conference tournament Cinderella run occurred. And all it took was an act of god
Aside from Georgia's magical run in 2008, Auburn, Arkansas, and both Mississippi schools have garnered surprise NCAA Tournament bids after winning the SEC Tournament. Georgia received the lowest NCAA Tournament seed (14) of any major conference tournament winner and helped Dennis Felton cash checks for a few more months before he was eventually fired midway through the following season.

Sorry if you swung by expecting a bracket breakdown or some advice on who to pick in a first round upset. But if you stuck around, I hope you leave with a little more knowledge and an appreciation of all the surprise major conference tournament winners. We'll be back to our normal posting schedule next week, with a look at the Adjusted Pythagorean Record in Conference USA. See you then.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

2021 Yards Per Play: Conference USA

After revisiting three consecutive power conferences, we return to the Group of Five. This week we examine Conference USA.

Here are the 2021 Conference USA 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 Conference USA 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 2021 season, which teams in Conference USA met this threshold? Here are Conference USA teams sorted by performance over what would be expected from their Net YPP numbers.
Eventual conference champ UTSA and Charlotte overachieved, while UAB underachieved based on their YPP numbers. The Roadrunners were 2-0 in one-score conference games (3-0 if you include their victory over Western Kentucky in the CUSA Championship Game). The 49ers were also 2-0 in one-score conference games, but failed to parlay that decent luck into anything of significance. I'll also note that Charlotte had a worse per play defense than a team that did not win a single conference game (FIU). Charlotte allowed over seven yards per play to seven of their eight conference opponents. They managed to hold Rice to only 6.08 yards per play in their best defensive performance of the conference season. Meanwhile, UAB put up phenomenal per play numbers in Conference USA action, but dropped two games by less than a touchdown, including a loss to the aforementioned Rice Owls and a last-second defeat at UTSA that gave the Roadrunners the division crown.

The Struggle is Real
The college football system is stacked against Group of Five teams. The stars had to align perfectly for Cincinnati to get into the College Football Playoff in 2021. But I'm not just talking about the playoff. Its hard for Group of Five teams to finish in the AP Poll even if they have sterling won/loss records. In the College Football Playoff era (since 2014 and excluding 2020 for obvious reasons), Group of Five teams that win ten games have been shut out of the final AP Poll numerous times. Are these teams better than Power Five teams that have an extra loss or two? Probably not, but an AP ranking serves as a nice reward for Group of Five teams that have successful seasons. Its something for their fans to look back on fondly. Does a finish in the lower reaches of the AP Poll matter to Auburn? It may help their coach reach an incentive bonus, but their fans are probably disappointed by such a result. While I can't do a whole lot to convince the AP writers to rank more deserving Group of Five teams, I can point out that every Power Five team that has won at least ten games has finished ranked since 2014 (with one exception). Meanwhile, a ton of Group of Five teams have been left out in the cold. Here are all the teams that have finished with exactly ten wins since 2014 and not finished with a cute little number beside their name. You'll notice that one of these teams is very much not like the others.
Scroll through the conference affiliation and one team sticks out. Georgia won ten games in Mark Richt's final season (including their last five), but did not finish ranked in the final AP Poll. They are the only Power Five team to accomplish that feat in the playoff era. If you look at this table, you might think Air Force has the most ten win seasons since 2014 that did not include a ranked finish. And you would be wrong. Remember, this table lists those teams that won exactly ten games and failed to finish ranked. A few Group of Five teams have won eleven games and finished unranked.
Appalachian State is your Group of Five leader with four seasons of double-digit wins that did not coincide with a ranked finish. The Mountaineers did finish the 2019 season ranked 19th in the AP Poll, but they had to win 13 games to get there. Had they won only twelve, they may have joined this illustrious club.
Last season's UTSA Roadrunners are the only team in the playoff era to win at least twelve games and finish unranked.

Thanks for reading. Next week, we take a short hiatus from our conference recaps to focus on the impending NCAA Tournament.

Thursday, March 03, 2022

2021 Adjusted Pythagorean Record: Big 12

Last week we looked at how Big 12 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 hereIf 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 Big 12 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, Big 12 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 a line of demarcation to determine whether or not a team significantly over or under-performed relative to their APR and by that standard, Texas was the only Big 12 team that significantly under-performed. The Longhorns lost six consecutive Big 12 games after starting conference play 2-0. The primary culprit was close came performance. Iowa State blasted them 30-7 in Ames, but the other five losses all came by eight points or less.

Sonny Dykes and Late Season Swoons
Last week, I offered some reasons for optimism for TCU fans heading into 2022. This week, I'm making a full heel turn and offering reasons for pessimism.

Sonny Dykes has been a head coach for eleven full seasons for three different teams. He has spent time in the Group of Five (Louisiana Tech and SMU) and the Power Five (California). During that time, his teams have shown a remarkable tendency to start off with great records in the first half of the season only to wheeze to the finish line. Here are his records at all three stops against FBS opponents sorted somewhat arbitrarily based on the Gregorian Calendar.
Note this does not include his first bowl game as SMU head coach when he took over for Chad Morris after the regular season concluded in 2017. If it did, his November to January record would be one game worse. From August to October, his teams have won about 56% of their games against FBS competition. However, post-Halloween, his teams have won just over 41% of their games. What about the competition, you say? Perhaps the competition ramps up in the season's stretch run. Well, this trend also holds when we look at how his teams perform against the spread (ATS).
From August to October their ATS record is practically identical to their straight up record. Once again, post-Halloween, there is an even larger drop off in their ATS record.

Another area where Dykes' teams have struggled in his career is when they have garnered the respect of the liberal cadre of journalists and found themselves in the Associated Press top 25. Dykes has been able to get all three of the schools where he has coached into the AP top 25 which is no small feat. Outside of Dykes' tenure, Louisiana Tech has only been ranked one other time in school history and under his tutelage, SMU was ranked in parts of three straight seasons (2019-2021) after not having been ranked since 1986. However, once they reached the top 25, it was time to abandon ship.
While his teams posted a winning overall record once they entered the polls, they did not live up to expectations.
Those ATS numbers are horrendous and his teams have performed poorly as both favorites and underdogs. Keep an eye on both of these trends as TCU enters a new era after two decades under Gary Patterson's leadership. TCU has only been in the top 25 for one week in the past three seasons. They lost that week to Sonny Dykes and SMU, so TCU fans will be overjoyed if Dykes can return the Horned Frogs to the top 25. They just might want to put their money on the other team if and when that happens, especially if its late in the season.