Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

Most Recent FO Features


» 2018 Free Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Is Kirk Cousins the best free-agent quarterback in recent memory? Should Trumaine Johnson or Malcolm Butler have gotten the larger contract? And what makes a free-agent contract good or bad, anyway?

08 Oct 2010

VN: The Worst of the Worst

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.

Wazzu's World Class Funk (Worst Funk Band Ever)

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.

Team Streak Years Avg.
Rec. vs D1 Teams
Duke 3 1924-26 .095 5-15
Wake Forest 5 1927-31 .060 7-15-2
N.C. State 3 1929-31 .082 5-19
Mississippi State 4 1929-32 .070 2-18-1
Virginia 4 1934-37 .086 3-24-4
Chicago 4 1936-39 .068 1-21
Maryland 3 1939-41 .071 3-16-1
Kansas State 7 1942-48 .044 4-50
Kansas State 8 1959-66 .066 8-68-1
Wisconsin 3 1966-68 .067 3-25-2
Wake Forest 3 1972-74 .055 4-28-1
Northwestern 8 1974-81 .052 9-78-1
Virginia 3 1976-78 .049 4-27-1
Oregon State 3 1979-81 .063 2-31
Northwestern 3 1983-85 .051 7-26
Kansas State 3 1987-89 .044 0-29-1
Washington State 3 2008-10 .047 2-26

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.

F/+ Rankings

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)
Rk Team F/+ Last
Change S&P+ Rk FEI Rk
1 Alabama (5-0) +37.5% 2 +1 300.0 1 .297 1
2 Ohio State (5-0) +30.8% 1 -1 289.9 2 .212 5
3 Miami (3-1) +27.6% 3 +0 276.7 4 .211 6
4 Arizona (4-0) +23.7% 7 +3 276.8 3 .133 20
5 Boise State (4-0) +22.9% 9 +4 255.6 7 .220 4
6 Florida (4-1) +21.3% 4 -2 266.0 5 .138 18
7 Iowa (4-1) +21.2% 11 +4 258.4 6 .173 10
8 Oregon (5-0) +21.1% 6 -2 242.7 15 .246 2
9 Stanford (4-1) +20.8% 5 -4 244.2 14 .234 3
10 TCU (5-0) +18.9% 14 +4 252.3 9 .157 15
F/+ Top 25 (After Five Weeks)
Rk Team F/+ Last
Change S&P+ Rk FEI Rk
11 Auburn (5-0) +18.8% 8 -3 249.9 10 .165 12
12 South Carolina (3-1) +18.3% 17 +5 249.2 11 .160 14
13 Nebraska (4-0) +18.2% 10 -3 247.8 12 .164 13
14 Missouri (4-0) +18.1% 16 +2 254.6 8 .130 21
15 Oklahoma (5-0) +17.9% 18 +3 237.9 20 .206 7
16 Virginia Tech (3-2) +17.5% 15 -1 239.5 17 .190 8
17 LSU (5-0) +16.1% 13 -4 238.0 19 .169 11
18 USC (4-1) +15.8% 12 -6 233.3 27 .186 9
19 California (2-2) +15.6% 22 +3 247.2 13 .115 27
20 Arkansas (3-1) +13.6% 21 +1 233.8 24 .139 17
F/+ Top 25 (After Five Weeks)
Rk Team F/+ Last
Change S&P+ Rk FEI Rk
21 Clemson (2-2) +13.1% 19 -2 238.3 18 .107 30
22 Michigan (5-0) +12.9% 26 +4 230.6 31 .142 16
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).

F/+ vs AP

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.

"What The ...?" Team of the Week

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.

Upset Watch

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.

The Playlist

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.

Closing Thoughts

As a Missouri fan, I have just one closing thought: Charles Johnson didn't score on fifth down either.

Posted by: Bill Connelly on 08 Oct 2010

34 comments, Last at 11 Oct 2010, 5:10am by Kevin from Philly


by ChrisH :: Fri, 10/08/2010 - 2:46pm

I'm just amazed that Oregon State, 1979-1981, and a combined record of 2-31 over those 3 years, didn't fall into the bottom 12% each year. Of course, they improved to 1-9-1 the next year, and only made me wait the first 21 years of my life to have a winning season.

by Bill Connelly :: Fri, 10/08/2010 - 4:18pm

Hmm...actually, my query didn't catch them for some reason. They were .092 in 1979, .059 in 1980 and .036 in 1981. Guess I need to update the list!

by ChrisH :: Fri, 10/08/2010 - 6:15pm

My dad will be happy to know those teams are as horrible as he remembers them being (I was 1-3 years old, so thankfully I don't remember any OSU football before 1988).

by Travis :: Fri, 10/08/2010 - 2:48pm

Just wondering - how did 1991-1996 Temple (2-9, 1-10, 1-10, 2-9, 1-10, 1-10) manage to avoid the list of worst stretches of all time?

by NY expat (not verified) (not verified) :: Fri, 10/08/2010 - 2:57pm

I think the "major conference" constraint is the reason

by Travis :: Fri, 10/08/2010 - 3:01pm

Temple was in the Big East from 1991 to 2004 until they got kicked out for being uncompetitive.

by CuseFanInSoCal :: Fri, 10/08/2010 - 5:00pm

Technically, but the Big East football conference didn't start playing a full conference schedule until 1993.

by Bill Connelly :: Fri, 10/08/2010 - 3:36pm

In 1991, they were in the .140 percentile, and in 1994 they were all the way up into the lofty .290 range. So they barely missed the list by the skin of their teeth.

by Rocco :: Fri, 10/08/2010 - 3:56pm

So is it safe to say VT is to FO's college rankings as the Eagles are to DVOA?

by Will :: Fri, 10/08/2010 - 5:59pm

Until VT loses to someone other than Boise State (FEI doesn't count the James Madison game), they'll continue to rank too high in this list.


by cfn_ms :: Fri, 10/08/2010 - 6:07pm

I don't think so. It's not a fundamental issue w/ their style of play or the type of stats they put up, but rather an issue w/ not counting the AA game. If you pretend it didn't happen, then 16th place looks completely reasonable (gave Boise a tough game, won by double digits twice on the road, including at a fairly good NC St team).

by Bill Connelly :: Sat, 10/09/2010 - 12:13pm

I do think there's something to the "style of play" argument -- they finished fourth in F/+ last season (Texas was fifth) despite three losses, eighth in 2007 (11-3), fifth in 2006 (10-3) and fifth in 2005 (11-2). They almost always finish high despite some losses ... so there's something the ratings really like.

by cfn_ms :: Sat, 10/09/2010 - 1:27pm

they tend to have a tough schedule, and they've had plenty of blowout wins and close losses (that was definitely the case last year). It's not something like "they get lots of long play-action plays" or anything similar, at least I think it isn't.

by cfn_ms :: Fri, 10/08/2010 - 4:17pm

You're comparing Wazzu's less than 3 year stretch to a number of periods much longer. I'd at least guess that if you took the worst 3-year stretches from NW 1974-81, or K St 1942-48 / 1959-66, you'd get something that looks worse.

It's also plausible that their final 2010 rating will be better than whatever it is now.

In other words, while obviously they're pretty bad, and seem to belong on this list, I'm not ready to agree with having them "#1".

by Bill Connelly :: Fri, 10/08/2010 - 4:19pm

I wasn't insinuating that they were #1 ... they're just the most recent.

by cfn_ms :: Fri, 10/08/2010 - 4:25pm

The commentary wasn't, but the table explicitly showed Wazzu as the worst on the list, unless I'm misreading it somehow.

by gohuskies (not verified) :: Fri, 10/08/2010 - 4:54pm


The table is sorted chronologically, not by worst seasons ever.

by cfn_ms :: Fri, 10/08/2010 - 5:01pm

doh. well that was dumb of me.

by sswoods (not verified) :: Fri, 10/08/2010 - 9:30pm

K-State on there three times. Wow. And also the two worst "avg percentile" stretches. That makes what Bill Snyder has done there all the more impressive.

by Bill Connelly :: Sat, 10/09/2010 - 12:09pm

Yeah, the fact that that awful '87-89 stretch wasn't their worst stretch of all-time is amazing. Snyder might not have much magic left for this second go-round, but that's forgivable -- he used quite a bit the first time around.

by ppabich :: Sat, 10/09/2010 - 1:37am

Where does San Diego State rank? I noticed Mizzou was ranked 16th, and in all reality SDSU had the game won. If SDSU wins that game are they ranked much higher?

by Bill Connelly :: Sat, 10/09/2010 - 12:08pm

SDSU is currently 68th ... 48th in S&P+, 90th in FEI. Projections are still hurting them, but if they keep playing like they are, they'll rise pretty quickly when the projections are officially phased out soon.

by ppabich :: Sat, 10/09/2010 - 5:52pm

Thanks, as an Aztec fan this season has been a long time coming.

by Bill Connelly :: Sat, 10/09/2010 - 6:07pm

As a Missouri fan, I have great respect for SDSU right now.

by NHPatsFan (not verified) :: Sat, 10/09/2010 - 8:07am

I can't remember what happened to Northwestern in '82. Did they win a game? Otherwise that's a 12 year continuous epoch of suck.....

Also... no Take 5 by Brubeck? for shame....

by Bill Connelly :: Sat, 10/09/2010 - 12:07pm

Yeah, I was trying to stick with what was actually on my iPod (no Brubeck), but...that was certainly a pretty obvious one.

And in '82, Northwestern went 3-8...wins over Minnesota and Michigan State. They weren't good, but they were certainly an improvement over the previous years...then they fell back to 2-9 in '83 and '84...

by JonFrum (not verified) :: Sat, 10/09/2010 - 3:18pm

Underappreciated? Dave Clark 5.

by Mr Shush :: Sat, 10/09/2010 - 8:07pm

Underappreciated: It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere . . .

by Kevin from Philly :: Mon, 10/11/2010 - 5:10am

Can NOT be appreciated enough: "Five O'clock World" by the Ventures.

by FireOmarTomlin :: Sun, 10/10/2010 - 9:37am

AHAHAHAH @ the tide

steamrolled by a mediocred spurrier carolina team.

fark off overrated SEC dogshit.

Men are more ready to repay an injury than a benefit because gratitude is a burden and revenge a pleasure.

by FireOmarTomlin :: Sat, 10/09/2010 - 7:11pm



by lionsbob :: Sat, 10/09/2010 - 7:48pm

FireOmarTomlin is perhaps the worst poster on here. Apparently every top 10 team has to win by 60 points.

by Mr Shush :: Sat, 10/09/2010 - 8:14pm

It's really tough to say - there's just not enough connectivity, and the computer rankings love Big Johnson, for some reason, while the voters and their short memories are probably over-rating Shah8 at present. Whatever happens, one of these posters is going to be watching the championship flamewar at home. It's times like these that you really see the merit in arguments for a playoff system.

by FireOmarTomlin :: Sun, 10/10/2010 - 10:00am