Thursday, June 28, 2007

The SEC is more difficult

Part II - The Pac Ten (or how Auburn got shafted)

In our last piece in this installment we examined the relative competitiveness of the member teams of the SEC versus the Big Ten over the past ten years.

To reprise, the winning percentages of SEC teams for the past decade are -

Georgia 76.19%
Florida 74.60%
Tennessee 74.60%
LSU 69.36%
Auburn 67.74%
Arkansas 58.20%
Alabama 54.92%
Mississippi 54.62%
South Car 46.15%
Miss State 42.34%
Kentucky 39.66%
Vanderbilt 26.55%

Over the past decade, 3 SEC teams have winning percentages exceeding 70%, and five teams have winning percentages better than 65%.

Winning Percentage of “1st Tier” SEC teams (Georgia, Florida, Tennessee) - 75.13%
Winning Percentage of “2nd Tier” SEC teams (LSU, Auburn, Arkansas) - 65.10%
Winning Percentage of “3rd Tier” SEC teams (Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina) - 51.90%Winning Percentage of "Bottom Tier" SEC teams (Miss St, Kentucky, Vandy) - 36.31%

In the last 10 years, the Pac Ten's winning percentages are -

Southern Cal 72.0%
Oregon 67.21%
UCLA 61.16%
Oregon State 57.5%
Arizona State 55.37%
Washington St 55.09%
Washington 51.26%
California 49.15%
Arizona 45.3%
Stanford 40.71%


Winning Percentage of “1st Tier” Pac 10 teams (USC, Oregon, UCLA) – 66.79%
Winning Percentage of “2nd Tier” Pac 10 teams (Oregon St, Arizona St, Washington St) – 55.99%
Winning Percentage of “3rd Tier” Pac 10 teams (Washington, Cal, Arizona) – 48.57%
Winning Percentage of "Bottom Tier" Pac 10 teams (Stanford) – 40.71%

The “Tier” comparison here is imperfect, as the Pac Ten has only 10 teams, as it’s name would suggest (Note Big Ten with 11 teams - Exactly who is the smarter conference?).

Despite the lesser amount of teams, the top 3 Tiers have been relatively non-competitive over the past decade in comparison to either the SEC or even the Big Ten.

In the past decade, “1st Tier” Pac 10 teams have had an 8% worse winning percentage than either the SEC or Big 10.

For the “2nd Tier”, Pac 10 teams are 9% worse than their SEC peers, and 2.5% worse than the Big 10.

For the “3rd Tier”, the Pac 10 is 3.5% worse than the SEC, and roughly equivalent to the Big 10.

The vast difference between the top tier of the Pac 10 versus either the SEC or Big 10 is made even more incredible by the recent success of USC. Without USC’s latest winning streaks, this difference would be even wider.

Despite USC’s recent dominance, 3 SEC teams have a better winning percentage over the past decade than the Trojans (Georgia, Florida and Tennessee). The 2nd most winning Pac 10 team, Oregon, has a winning percentage just less than the SEC's 4th most winning team in Auburn.

As for Pac 10 challenger California, their past decade winning percentage (49.15%) places them firmly between that of Ole Miss (54.62%) and South Carolina (46.15%).

Until this past season, Pac 10 teams played an 8 game conference schedule similar to the Big Ten’s. As of 2006, Pac 10 teams now play every conference opponent (yet, this still resulted in a “split” title between 7-2 USC and Cal this past year).

While making the conference arguably more competitive in having to play all conference opponents, it still does not rise to level of competition in the SEC (or Big 12 and ACC for that matter) that requires the top teams to playoff for a conference title.

How Auburn Got Shafted

The 2004 regular season ended with 3 undefeated teams – USC, Oklahoma and Auburn. Due to the ever changing vagaries of the BCS poll system, the final BCS poll looked thus –

1. Southern Cal (1) .9770
2. Oklahoma (2) .9681
3. Auburn (3) .9331

As a result, Auburn was shut out of a chance at a BCS title.

Why Auburn was shut out was essentially a result of their poor preseason rankings. In the initial AP Poll that year (the AP was still part of the BCS at that point), USC was ranked 1st and Oklahoma 2nd. Auburn, which was ranked 17th, essentially never could overcome the early preseason rankings of the other two undefeated teams, and was thus shut out of the title game.

It was a manifestly unjust result when one takes into account the paths the teams took to that point.

Prior to the title game, the winning percentages of opponents faced in 2004 for the 3 teams were –

Auburn - 60.0%
Oklahoma - 56.9%
USC - 54.7%

Not only had Auburn faced the highest quality (mostly SEC opponents), they had faced and defeated the most ranked teams. During the season the teams faced the following ranked opponents (with ranking at game time) -

Auburn

LSU – 4th
Tennessee – 8th
Georgia – 5th
Tennessee – 15th (SEC Championship Game)

Oklahoma

Texas – 5th
Oklahoma St – 20th
Texas A&M – 22nd

USC

Cal – 7th
Arizona St – 19th

Much was made that year of the gaudy numbers USC put up against many opponents, while (as is typical of the SEC) Auburn played some close games. Seemingly forgotten was the close games USC had against Cal (23-17), Stanford (31-28) and UCLA (29-24).

For the entire season, the average points scored by/against each team was –

Auburn 32-11.3
Oklahoma 34.8-16.8
USC 38.2-13

Oklahoma, to its credit, played a conference championship game. However, through an interesting twist of fate that year, they played perhaps the worst team ever to reach a conference championship – Colorado, who at 7-4 was no match at all for Oklahoma.

Auburn, on the other hand, played 9-2 Tennessee (who would end 10-2 on the season) in a rematch game. Tennessee’s 2 losses were close games to Auburn and Notre Dame.

Despite all the ample evidence that Auburn had played a far tougher schedule, the BCS gave the “glamour” teams of USC and Oklahoma the nod. The end result was an embarrassing BCS title game with USC winning 55-19.

Could Auburn have beat USC that year? We will never know. But Auburn was arguably more deserving than either USC or Oklahoma to play in that game.

And, we can safely say that with Auburn’s stout defense surrendering only 11 points a game, it would have been far more competitive.

Next - The other conferences

UPDATE

Our blogging friend the Sunday Morning Quarterback takes a note of exception (with his unique and compelling brand of sarcastic humor) to our assessment that Auburn was snubbed in 2004 for the mythical national championship.

First of all, I am no Auburn fan. Not even close. But I stand by my assessment above.

SMQ points out Auburn’s (admittedly) weak out-of-conference schedule that year. However, my point was and continues to be that if you play in a conference like the SEC, your out-of-conference schedule becomes relatively meaningless.

And, conversely, if you play in a conference as weak as the Pac 10, your conference schedule is essentially meaningless.

In 2004, Auburn played the following 3 out-of-conference pansies (with their 2004 records) –

UL-Monroe 5-6
Citadel 3-7
Louisiana Tech 6-6

However, Auburn also played 4 ranked conference opponents, whereas USC played only 2 ranked opponents during the regular season.

In 2004, USC’s out-of-conference opponents were (with records) –

Virginia Tech 10-3
Colorado State 4-7
BYU 5-6
Notre Dame 6-6

Then, USC played these toughies in conference

Stanford 4-7
Washington 1-10
Washington St 5-6
Arizona 3-8
UCLA 6-6

Virginia Tech can be said to be roughly equivalent to a LSU, Georgia or Tennessee that Auburn played in conference (and they played UT twice). However, USC’s in-conference schedule, due to its absurd easiness in 2004, was the virtual equivalent to an out-of-conference schedule for Auburn.

In 2004, Oklahoma played these out-of-conference teams –

Bowling Green 9-3
Houston 3-8
Oregon 5-6

As well as these in conference patsies –

Kansas State 4-7
Kansas 4-7
Nebraska 5-6
Baylor 3-8

Then, as pointed out, they also played a ridiculously weak 7-4 Colorado team for their conference championship.

So, even despite Auburn’s contests against those 3 out-of-conference patsies, they ended the year with the 5th hardest ranked schedule per the NCAA. Oklahoma ended up with the 11th hardest schedule, and USC the 18th. (Note – this ranking included the Oklahoma verses USC game in its statistics, so their final ranking was influenced by the cross effect of having played an undefeated team. Yet, it still falls far short of Auburn’s. AND, Auburn’s ranking does not include Citadel as a Division I-AA team).

Now, USC had an incredible team in 2004, and it is quite possible no one would have beaten them.

However, the practice of stressing out-of-conference schedule strength is sleight-of-hand in cases where teams play in weak conferences to begin with. In 2004, USC faced but 2 ranked in-conference opponents (a 7th and a 19th), and Oklahoma 3 (a 5th, a 20th and a 22nd)

Auburn faced 4 ranked conference opponents, all 15th or better (a 4th, a 5th, an 8th and a 15th).

Plus, were the non-conference opponents of USC or Oklahoma really that impressive in 2004? With the exception of USC v Virginia Tech, none of the 10 total non-conference opponents of the three teams was particularly impressive. And, had USC not played Va Tech, their overall schedule would have been laughable, and far lower ranked than the 18th overall they ended up.

Finally, as an example of how tough SEC schedules are, even though Florida played 4 out-of-conference opponents last year (relatively respectable Southern Miss and FSU, and laughable Central Florida and Western Carolina) – the strength of their conference schedule made them a clear number 1 per the NCAA for toughest schedule, with opponents that had 9 total more wins, and 4 percent higher win percentage, than the 2nd toughest schedule in Michigan (67% versus 63%). Not to mention, 6 teams (half) of the SEC played among the top 12 toughest schedules in college football last year (Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU).

Which brings me around to my original point: out-of-conference schedules are meaningless if your conference is considerably tougher than anyone else’s.

3 comments:

Duhhh said...

> The “Tier” comparison here is imperfect, as the Pac Ten has only 10 teams, as it’s name would suggest (Note Big Ten with 11 teams - Exactly who is the smarter conference?)

There's no mystery there. Illinoise isn't really in the Big 10 any longer. They still show up for games, but they don't get a paycheck. They just go home, having been beaten silly, complaining that someone stole their Swingline stapler...

Jason said...

Does that mean the fighting ron zooks are going to burn down the big house?

I'd pay good money for that at least.

Anonymous said...

Heavens to Mergatroid but that was illuminating.

Counting 50% win teams as patsies to support the "weak conference=weak out-of-conference" lacks substance.

Overall, quite good.

I give it four cleats out of five.