Five different teams from last year's DVOA top eight rank in the bottom half of the league through four weeks of 2014. What can we learn from other teams with similar starts in the past?
08 Oct 2010
by Bill Connelly
Just when I had begun to enjoy and appreciate Nick Saban as an emotionless cyborg, he has to go and a) try to be funny on Gameday commercials and b) do something like this. He's simultaneously getting meaner and nicer, and I don't know how to handle it. Anyway, we have discussed the best team in the country plenty of times; let's take a few moments to look at one of the worst.
For a while last Saturday afternoon, it looked like Washington State might have put itself into position to upset a UCLA team which appeared to have fallen asleep after its win over Texas. Tied at 28-28 early in the fourth quarter, the Cougars had a first-and-goal at the UCLA 1-yard line. Three rushes for no gain and an incomplete pass later, Wazzu had turned the ball over on downs. In the end, UCLA made the plays and Wazzu lost a 42-28 contest. It was just the third time in the Cougars' last 20 conference games that they stayed within 14 points of their opponent. It's doubtful anyone was in the mood for moral victories, but remaining competitive had to be rather refreshing for the Cougars, even in a loss.
Washington State will one day climb out of the epic funk into which they slipped during the past couple of seasons, but progress is likely to still be iffy at best in 2010. If their current rankings hold, they'll have finished with an S&P+ ranking of 118th, 120th, and 108th out of 120 teams in the last three seasons. For a major conference team, that is incredible. As means of comparison, lowly Eastern Michigan of the MAC has placed 109th, 119th and 117th (to date) in that span.
This level of play made me curious about other terrible stretches from major conference teams. Below is a list of teams from the last 100 years who finished in the 12th percentile or worse (in terms of S&P+ or, pre-2005, the Est. S&P+ rating used for this summer's Top 100 countdown) for three straight seasons while playing in what constitutes a major conference.
|Rec. vs D1 Teams|
In the last 30 years, only historically terrible Northwestern and Kansas State squads matched what Washington State is in the process of accomplishing. Something similar to this three-year streak has only happened eight times in the last 50 years. The Cougars have absolutely improved this season, especially on defense, but "improvement" is relative. There is still a long way to go in Pullman. Also scary is that most of the streaks on this list are either three to four years, or seven to eight. Wazzu needs to pull out of the tailspin soon, or they might be in it for a few more years.
I almost feel bad about bringing this up, actually. Washington State fans have tasted success in the last 15 years, and their dedication has been proven with things like the Gameday flag. They do not necessarily deserve what has happened to their program ... but it has happened.
Once again, the F/+ rankings strike just the right compromise between the outliers of both S&P+ and FEI. One notable thing this week, however, is that the top four teams according to S&P+ are so far ahead of Nos. 5-120 that, in Arizona's case at least, they overpowered their more conservative FEI ratings to remain in the F/+ Top 4 as well.
|F/+ Top 25 (After Five Weeks)|
|2||Ohio State (5-0)||+30.8%||1||-1||289.9||2||.212||5|
|5||Boise State (4-0)||+22.9%||9||+4||255.6||7||.220||4|
|F/+ Top 25 (After Five Weeks)|
|12||South Carolina (3-1)||+18.3%||17||+5||249.2||11||.160||14|
|16||Virginia Tech (3-2)||+17.5%||15||-1||239.5||17||.190||8|
|F/+ Top 25 (After Five Weeks)|
|23||Oklahoma State (4-0)||+12.8%||28||+5||233.3||26||.125||23|
|24||Florida State (4-1)||+12.1%||38||+14||232.1||29||.118||26|
|25||Oregon State (2-2)||+12.0%||43||+18||233.2||28||.111||29|
26. Michigan State (5-0), 27. Notre Dame (2-3), 28. Texas (3-2), 29. Utah (4-0), 30. UCLA (3-2), 31. Pittsburgh (2-2), 32. Illinois (2-2), 33. West Virginia (3-1), 34. Wisconsin (4-1), 35. Penn State (3-2), 36. Nevada (5-0), 37. North Carolina (2-2), 38. N.C. State (4-1), 39. Ole Miss (3-2), 40. Kentucky (3-2), 41. Mississippi State (3-2), 42. Virginia (2-2), 43. Georgia (1-4), 44. Kansas State (4-0), 45. Arizona State (2-3), 46. Texas A&M (3-1), 47. South Florida (3-1), 48. Georgia Tech (3-2), 49. Texas Tech (2-2), 50. Houston (3-1).
Fell out of Top 25: UCLA (from 20th to 30th), Texas (23rd to 28th), West Virginia (24th to 33rd), Virginia (25th to 42nd).
Though it will often produce the same teams on both lists, I think we will continue looking at which ranked teams (according to the AP) are over- or under-valued based on their F/+ rankings.
Air Force (AP Rank: 25th, F/+ Rank: 54th). Considering what I mentioned in my Four Truths column last week, about how explosiveness wins games, it makes sense that a run-heavy team like Air Force might tend to be undervalued. In whipping BYU, beating Wyoming and Navy, and scaring the daylights out of Oklahoma, the Falcons have done everything that could be asked of them with that schedule. We'll see what kind of staying power they have -- after a gimme against Colorado State, they get San Diego State, TCU and Utah in successive weeks.
Utah (AP Rank: 10th, F/+ Rank: 29th). Oddly, the F/+ rankings like Pittsburgh now, but they're still slow to warm on the Utes, who beat the Panthers in overtime to start the season.
Nevada (AP Rank: 21st, F/+ Rank: 36th). Another team that has done everything asked of them so far, Nevada is being punished mostly by a schedule that has featured the teams currently ranked No. 113 (Colorado State), No. 109 (UNLV), and No. 84 (BYU). Their win over Eastern Washington is almost their second-most impressive win of the season (and that is only slight exaggeration). The win over California helped, but they need to play tougher teams to keep up. Unfortunately, next up is No. 117 San Jose State.
Wisconsin (AP Rank: 20th, F/+ Rank: 34th). Your preseason F/+ No. 19 Badgers are failing to take advantage of opportunities (they should have beaten Michigan State by about 10 last week) and string together back-to-back solid quarters. They've got potential and experience, but it hasn't come together just yet.
Virginia Tech (AP 'Rank': 34th, F/+ Rank: 16th). (Cue self-deprecation.) Go figure. FO likes Virginia Tech.
Miami (AP Rank: 13th, F/+ Rank: third). Jacory Harris' crazy interceptions don't get punished too severely in the S&P+ system, so that helps. What helps more? Incredibly good defensive play. The Hurricanes rank third in Defensive S&P+, second in Success Rate+, third in PPP+, second against the pass, fifth against the run, and first on standard downs. They occasionally give up a few too many big plays on passing downs, but the aggressiveness appears to be paying off on both sides of the ball so far. Hard to take them 100 percent seriously while Jacory Harris is throwing occasional careless passes, but it is what it is.
Missouri (AP Rank: 24th, F/+ Rank: 10th). More than anything, Illinois' strong performance against Ohio State helped the Tigers stay in the upper echelon of the rankings during their bye week, as it made their season-opening win over the Illini look more impressive. Needless to say, however, "Hope Illinois continues to play well" probably isn't a strategy that will work all season.
USC (AP 'Rank': 28th, F/+ Rank: 18th). The Trojans appear to still be benefiting from preseason projections, but even so, this is still a solid team right now, no matter how many "Death of Troy" articles we are seeing.
I almost went with Illinois here, but I discussed them a bit on Tuesday. Instead, we'll say the most oddly ranked team this week is California. The 2-2 Golden Bears took a blowout loss to the "over-appreciated" Nevada Wolf Pack, but they still rank 19th. How? It is primarily because of two games: 1) their 52-7 destruction of Colorado, which obviously looks a bit more impressive after the Buffaloes' defeat of a still-decent Georgia team, and 2) their near-win over an Arizona team that the S&P+ rankings love. The Bears rank 13th in Defensive S&P+, powered mostly by solid success rates (seventh in overall Success Rate+, fourth against the pass, 14th against the run). They are leveraging teams into passing downs, and it is working out reasonably well for them. Cal has a very good opportunity to prove its worth in the next two weeks. UCLA comes to Berkeley this weekend, then the Bears take on a solid, but clearly beatable, USC team in Los Angeles.
Virginia over Georgia Tech. Spread: Georgia Tech -10 | F/+ Projection: Georgia Tech by 0.6. Virginia was, to put it kindly, less than impressive against Florida State last weekend. Also unimpressive: Georgia Tech's four-point win over Wake Forest. Things are not coming easily for the Yellow Jackets this year, though one would think they'd still pull out a win at home.
Clemson over North Carolina. Spread: North Carolina -1.5 | F/+ Projection: Clemson by 1.5. FO has been high on Clemson all year, and if their loss to Miami says more about Miami's defense than Clemson's offense, then they still might be a decent team. This trip to Chapel Hill will tell us a lot.
Arizona State over Washington. Spread: Washington -2 | F/+ Projection: Arizona State by 2.0. The F/+ rankings are slow to hop on the Washington bandwagon. The win over USC just canceled out the awful mess that was the Nebraska loss. Meanwhile, ASU has been competitive in tight losses to Wisconsin, Oregon, and Oregon State. They're shooting themselves in the foot too much, but they could take the Huskies down.
Rutgers over Connecticut. Spread: UConn -5 | F/+ Projection: UConn by 1.6. Without a doubt, Rutgers needs this game if it's going to make something of this season. A home loss to Tulane is unforgivable.
Because this weekend marks the 20th anniversary of the Fifth Down...
"2+2=5 (The Lukewarm)," by Radiohead
"5 On a Joyride," by Cody ChesnuTT
"5-4=Unity," by Pavement
"51 Phantom," by North Mississippi Allstars
"54-46 Was My Number," by Toots & the Maytals
"Five Short Minutes," by Jim Croce (great, great song)
"The Keys To Life Vs. 15 Minutes of Fame," by Atmosphere
"Obviously 5 Believers," by Bob Dylan
"Section 5 (Middle of the Day," by The Polyphonic Spree
"Small Talk At 125th and Lenox," by Gil Scott-Heron
"Take 5, D," by The Minutemen
And, of course, everything by Jurassic 5, MC5, Five for Fighting, Five Way Friday and Hi-Five. That's right, Hi-Five.
As a Missouri fan, I have just one closing thought: Charles Johnson didn't score on fifth down either.
34 comments, Last at 11 Oct 2010, 5:10am by Kevin from Philly