Friday, March 2, 2012

The 2011 - 2012 TFG/RBA Recap

With the 2011 - 2012 season well in the books, let's take a moment to look back at the year.

2011 - 2012 Season
System Expected Actual
W - LWin % W - LWin %
TFG 524.7 - 190.3 73.4 528 - 187 73.8
RBA 522.2 - 192.8 73.0 518 - 197 72.4

This season was notably unpredictable. The TFG system actually tied for the most accurate known prediction system -- as measured by picking straight-up winners -- but was only a tenth of a percentage point ahead of the least accurate winning system over the last 12 years. Anecdotally we saw this through the eyes of one-loss BCS champion Alabama and the lengthy disputes over who should have gotten a shot at LSU in the title game. (We argued that, for once, the BCS got it right.)

As we look back at this season, though, we'll revisit some of the highs and lows through the lens of our various trivia posts.

The State of Parity
In a previous trivia post we attempted to define and measure parity in a league. The definition we settled upon wasn't so much "parity" as it was "disparity": the standard deviation of the expected winning percentages (EWP) of all teams in FBS. The larger this value, the more variance there is between the EWPs, and the greater the spread between the teams; the smaller this value, the more tightly clustered teams are aroudn 0.500. So with another year in the books, let's examine the state of (dis)parity in college football.


This past year actually set a new low in the overall disparity of talent across FBS (0.020547) surpassing the previous low of 0.020669 in the 2007-2008 season; if you'll recall, that year was a bit of a mess for top teams. Thus continues the downward trend in disparity (i.e., a sign of ever-increasing parity in FBS). Realistically what this means is that it will be more difficult to run the table, less likely to see two undefeated teams emerge for a clear-cut title game, and more BCS debates as the overall talent level becomes more evenly distributed instead of hoarded by several top teams.

Biggest Upset
Earlier this year we examined the five biggest post-September upsets since 2003. The bar to get into that club was defeating a 94.4% favorite; in other words, if you had a 1-in-17.8 shot of winning and still pulled it off, you were in. How did this year fare?

Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles (9-1, 5-1 C-USA) at UAB Blazers (2-8, 2-5 C-USA); November 17, 2011.
TFG Prediction: Southern Miss 47, UAB 28 (92.3% confidence)
Result: UAB 34, Southern Miss 31

It wasn't quite 1-in-17.8, but 1-in-13 is still a pretty steep hill to climb. (47) Southern Miss was on a roll, having won eight straight after a 26-20 setback on the road against Marshall. (114) UAB's two wins had come by a combined eight points, but otherwise had been outscored 95-13 by the two ranked opponents they had played (Houston and Florida). The game started as expected, with Southern Miss going up 14-0 before three minutes of game clock has passed. From there, however, fortunes changed. The next seven drives for Southern Miss -- lasting until the 4th quarter -- were an interception, a fumble, a TD, a punt, the end of the half, a FG, and a FG miss. Thirty-nine seconds into the 4th quarter, UAB rumbled into the end zone to cap off a 31-10 run to put them up by a touchdown. Southern Miss struck quickly, tying it up at 31 with ten minutes remaining. UAB methodically picked their way downfield, burning over seven minutes of clock before getting the go-ahead field goal. USM attempted a desperation five-lateral play as time expired, but only made it to the UAB 40 before getting pushed out of bounds. USM went in as a three-touchdown favorite, and left as 3-point losers.

After the jump we'll examine the most improbable winning streaks as well as the biggest swings in team strength, including ugly swandives and beautiful ascents.

Improbable Winning Streaks
Previously we had examined the most improbably post-September winning streaks since 2003. Fifth place went to the 2004 Iowa State Cyclones and their 1-in-188 four-game winning streak. How did this year's improbable streak(s) stack up?

2011 Virginia Cavaliers
Date Away Team       Home Team Plays Odds
2011/10/27  86 Virginia 28 at  24 Miami-FL 21 144 10.2%
2011/11/05  78 Virginia 31 at  68 Maryland 13 171 40.2%
2011/11/12  87 Duke 21 at  70 Virginia 31 170 65.2%
2011/11/19  70 Virginia 14 at  10 Florida St. 13 154 15.3%

Ah, the ACC. Where statisticians and commentators toss their hands up in defeat. This year's improbable win streak comes courtesy of Virginia, where the Cavaliers bookended wins over Duke and Maryland with big upsets on the road in Florida. It all started with a creative win against Miami, which included a fake field goal, a TD pass by a running back, and 78-yard TD reception by the same RB. After that their 31-13 win at Maryland seemed downright boring, and their 31-21 win against Duke was practically routine. The end of their game at Florida State was anything but, as the Seminoles got three shots at a game-winning field goal, including an extra try and five yards in their favor thanks to a "disruptive noises" penalty on the Cavaliers. Ultimately it was to no avail, as UVa escaped with a narrow victory. Unfortunately for Virginia, though, the next week they ran into the buzzsaw of an enraged-and-out-to-prove-something Virginia Tech squad, who dismantled them 38-0. Nonetheless, the Cavalier winning streak is the fourth-least-probable since the 2003-2004 season.

Runners-up: Baylor Bears (six wins; November 5th - December 29th; 1-in-197) and Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (five wins; October 6th - November 5th; 1-in-75).

Biggest Negative Change
Previously we examined those teams that took the most impressive swan dives. So who had that dubious distinction this year? None other than the 2011 Mississippi Rebels.

Mississippi Rebels
Year WinPct SoS Off. Def. Pace
2010 0.533 57 0.615 19 24.1 26 22.8 83 162.8 72
2011 0.261 101 0.684 2 17.0 94 25.8 94 158.4 94

Date Away Team       Home Team Plays Odds
2010/09/11  16 Mississippi 27 at 118 Tulane 13 144 96.0%
2010/09/18  93 Vanderbilt 28 at  28 Mississippi 14 169 90.8%
2010/09/25  55 Fresno St. 38 at  45 Mississippi 55 163 66.1%
2010/10/02  49 Kentucky 35 at  39 Mississippi 42 177 63.2%
2010/10/16  37 Mississippi 10 at   2 Alabama 23 158 8.3%
2010/10/23  41 Mississippi 24 at  23 Arkansas 38 168 27.5%
2010/10/30  15 Auburn 51 at  48 Mississippi 31 159 39.6%
2010/11/06 105 LA-Lafayette 21 at  51 Mississippi 43 145 87.7%
2010/11/13  52 Mississippi 14 at  61 Tennessee 52 160 53.3%
2010/11/20  61 Mississippi 36 at   5 LSU 43 154 13.5%
2010/11/27  40 Mississippi St. 31 at  58 Mississippi 23 178 41.2%


Date Away Team       Home Team Plays Odds
2011/09/03  41 BYU 14 at  58 Mississippi 13 148 55.8%
2011/09/17  51 Mississippi 7 at  95 Vanderbilt 30 156 68.6%
2011/09/24  21 Georgia 27 at  68 Mississippi 13 169 29.1%
2011/10/01  75 Mississippi 38 at  74 Fresno St. 28 168 40.5%
2011/10/15   1 Alabama 52 at  72 Mississippi 7 141 3.0%
2011/10/22  11 Arkansas 29 at  72 Mississippi 24 161 19.4%
2011/10/29  69 Mississippi 23 at  30 Auburn 41 163 16.9%
2011/11/05  71 Mississippi 13 at  83 Kentucky 30 169 52.2%
2011/11/12  65 LA Tech 27 at  81 Mississippi 7 179 45.2%
2011/11/19   2 LSU 52 at  85 Mississippi 3 139 3.5%
2011/11/26  92 Mississippi 3 at  42 Mississippi St. 31 151 21.8%

It's not exactly the case that the 2010 Mississippi squad was anything special. In fact they were excessively average, and went 4-7 against the 19th most difficult schedule in FBS. Their offense was reasonably good -- 24.1 PPH was enough to nip the top 25 -- but their defense struggled in allowing 22.8 PPH, 83rd-best in FBS. This year, though, saw defense regress by a full 3 PPH and offense plummet over 7 PPH. Against an average schedule that would have lead to netting nearly 16 points per game fewer than the previous year, but the Rebels had the misfortune to play the second most-difficult schedule in FBS: Alabama, LSU, Arkansas, Georgia, all top-25 squads. Both their offense and defense were ranked 94th in FBS, leading to a net change in expected winning percentage of -0.278. That wasn't quite good enough to crack the top 5, but it's still an impressive free-fall nonetheless.

Runners-up: Kentucky Wildcats (-0.238) and Auburn Tigers (-0.205).

Biggest Positive Change
On the flip side, previously we looked at the biggest one-year improvements. This year our "most improved" also hails from the SEC. It helps, in this case, to play in the SEC division that doesn't have LSU, Alabama, and Arkansas.

Vanderbilt Commodores
Year WinPct SoS Off. Def. Pace
2010 0.200 105 0.575 36 11.6 118 20.2 58 168.4 35
2011 0.509 62 0.611 16 19.4 70 19.1 47 161.4 72

Date Away Team       Home Team Plays Odds
2010/09/04  61 Northwestern 23 at  94 Vanderbilt 21 167 43.0%
2010/09/11  13 LSU 27 at  88 Vanderbilt 3 146 18.0%
2010/09/18  93 Vanderbilt 28 at  28 Mississippi 14 169 9.2%
2010/10/02  81 Vanderbilt 21 at  59 Connecticut 40 161 25.8%
2010/10/09 112 Eastern Michigan 6 at  89 Vanderbilt 52 161 81.8%
2010/10/16  76 Vanderbilt 0 at  31 Georgia 43 144 16.8%
2010/10/23  18 South Carolina 21 at  87 Vanderbilt 7 174 19.2%
2010/10/30  92 Vanderbilt 14 at  21 Arkansas 49 164 7.9%
2010/11/06   8 Florida 55 at  98 Vanderbilt 14 188 6.1%
2010/11/13  99 Vanderbilt 20 at  51 Kentucky 38 180 16.0%
2010/11/20  51 Tennessee 24 at  99 Vanderbilt 10 166 19.5%
2010/11/27  98 Wake Forest 34 at  99 Vanderbilt 13 180 48.7%


Date Away Team       Home Team Plays Odds
2011/09/10  54 Connecticut 21 at 102 Vanderbilt 24 157 26.3%
2011/09/17  51 Mississippi 7 at  95 Vanderbilt 30 156 31.4%
2011/09/24  79 Vanderbilt 3 at  24 South Carolina 21 147 12.2%
2011/10/08  86 Vanderbilt 0 at   1 Alabama 34 140 1.3%
2011/10/15  17 Georgia 33 at  97 Vanderbilt 28 170 12.6%
2011/10/22  84 Army 21 at  93 Vanderbilt 44 163 56.7%
2011/10/29  14 Arkansas 31 at  82 Vanderbilt 28 166 18.9%
2011/11/05  79 Vanderbilt 21 at  11 Florida 26 158 11.4%
2011/11/12  78 Kentucky 8 at  74 Vanderbilt 38 156 56.2%
2011/11/19  64 Vanderbilt 21 at  54 Tennessee 27 157 43.7%
2011/11/26  67 Vanderbilt 41 at  74 Wake Forest 7 164 53.3%
2011/12/31  61 Vanderbilt 24 vs  40 Cincinnati 31 176 39.4%

File this under "a big leap from atrocious to mediocre." The Commodores had no offense last year. At 11.8 PPH they were the third-worst in FBS, meaning their average 20.2 PPH-allowing defense just couldn't hold the score low enough for the Vandy offense to eventually meander its way into the end zone. This year that changed. The Commodores found a respectable offense that was able to score 19.4 PPH, a full 7.6 PPH better than last year. The defense nudged up slightly, giving Vandy a net benefit of 8.7 PPH over last year. That was good enough for a 5-6 record in FBS during the regular season, and a close loss to a superior Cincinnati team in a New Year's Eve bowl. Their net adjustment in expected winning percentage was +0.309, just enough to edge the UTEP Miners and the Texas A&M Aggies for the fourth-best improvement over the last eight years.

Runners-up: Michigan Wolverines (+0.278) and Houston Cougars (+0.239).

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