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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Fun With Numbers: The Game of Chicken

I spent much of yesterday writing about non-conference play, both in terms of which conferences have done the best, and which teams have enjoyed the most success.

Dawg Sports followed up with a good post about Georgia's overall level of success, and the Senator takes a look at how next year's SEC slates work out in Georgia's favor, too.

But success is a general term. Beating Texas and beating North Texas are two very different things. Throughout the past half-decade, some teams have done a nice job of trying to test their mettle against the upper-echelon teams, while more than a few others have worried about winning their conference games and shied away from many challenges from far-away foes.

But which BCS-conference teams really have the huevos to challenge themselves routinely in non-conference play? Let's take a look...

(NOTE: All stats include the 2005-2009 seasons, and Notre Dame was counted as a BCS opponent.)

Team
Non-conf
Games
NC Games
vs. BCS
Percent BCS W
BCS L
Win %
Southern Cal
21 17 81% 16 1 .941
Wake Forest
22 14 64% 9 5 .643
Florida State
24 15 63% 7 8 .467
Georgia Tech
24 15 63% 7 8 .467
Syracuse 24 15 63% 3 12 .200
North Carolina
21 13 62% 4 9 .308
Georgia 24 14 58% 11 3 .786
Iowa 23 13 57% 8 5 .615
Miami 23 12 52.2% 6 6 .500
West Virginia
29 15 51.7% 11 4 .733

You may look at that list and assume I decided to simply share the top 10 teams in terms of most non-conference games vs. BCS-level opponents. Indeed, the list is just 10 teams long. But that wasn't just me looking for a nice, round number. That's the complete list of all teams in BCS conferences who scheduled more than half of their out-of-conference games against other BCS-level foes. Ten. That's it.

Now, to be fair, there were a few others -- Penn State, Cal, Louisville, Clemson, Michigan State, Illinois and Washington -- who hit the 50 percent mark right on the dot. Even then, that gives us just 17 teams (out of 65) who played high-level opponents in at least half their non-conference games. Given that only the 2005 season was played under the old 11-game schedule (and that this includes bowl matchups), it seems fair to agree with the "small-market" teams of the world who don't seem to think they're getting a fair shot.

Let's look a bit more at the list above, too.

First off, you might notice that the list includes representatives from the ACC, Pac-10, SEC, Big East and Big Ten. One conference, however, is noticeably absent. Why, it's the Big 12! I guess all those matchups with Iowa State, Baylor and Colorado are intimidating enough that it's not worth going above and beyond out of conference.

Secondly, you might also notice how the numbers in the final column compare to the overall number of games played against BCS opponents. Of the top 10 teams with the most games against high-level foes out of conference, four are under .500 in those games, and Miami is right at the break-even point.

Wake Forest certainly deserves kudos for its efforts -- after all, a small school in a big conference already has its work cut out for it -- but I also don't want to go too far overboard in that praise. Seven of Wake's 14 non-conference BCS-level games were against Baylor, Syracuse and Vanderbilt -- not exactly the murderer's row of collegiate powerhouses.

So if we set aside Wake's achievements (which, I realize, is a tad unfair), we're left with four other teams who have separated themselves as both a.) playing a more difficult schedule than the rest of the country, and b.) succeeding with that schedule: Southern Cal, Georgia, Iowa and West Virginia.

Not surprisingly, all four programs have met with their share of success since 2005, and each has at least one conference title in that span.

In Southern Cal's case, you'd have to be crazy to say the Trojans haven't been one of the three or four best programs in college football in the past half-decade. They're good. But is an arduous non-conference slate really as big a deal as it appears? I'm hesitant to take anything away from the Trojans, but here's another stat I noted the other day: Since 2002, 59 percent of all the top-100 recruits signed by Pac-10 teams went to USC. That's a huge advantage that the Trojans have over the rest of their conference, which simply hasn't been balanced from top-to-bottom each year. Meanwhile, Washington, Washington State, Stanford and Arizona have combined for a grand total of just four bowl appearances in the past five seasons.

It's not that Southern Cal shouldn't be patted on the back for its solid non-conference slate, but it should also be noted that going through the Pac-10 isn't exactly a week-in, week-out battle.

The same is true to varying degrees for West Virginia and Iowa, but in Georgia's case, the numbers all say that the SEC is as grueling as it gets -- and yet it hasn't been grueling enough for the Bulldogs when it comes to scheduling. When you combine the fact that Georgia has played in the toughest conference while playing the seventh-most out-of-conference games against BCS foes (not to mention dates with ranked Boise State and Hawaii teams during that span) and it's not at all unreasonable to say that the Bulldogs have proven themselves against perhaps the most elite schedule in the nation during the last five years, and done so to the tune of a .739 overall winning percentage. Not too shabby.

Now, does saying Georgia played a few more tough games than its competition make up for the fact that Florida has two national titles in that span, while Georgia has two four-plus-loss seasons? Obviously not, but it does go to show that some of the criticism about Mark Richt's performance has been vastly overstated.

Moving on...

When discussing the overall percentage of games that a school schedules against BCS opponents, I included bowl games in the equation. Of course, those games aren't scheduled, and while a program deserves credit for winning them, it doesn't deserve credit for playing them. So, who's doing the best and worst jobs of scheduling tough games?

The list of the best teams isn't much different from our initial list:

Team
Scheduled
BCS games
Percent
Southern Cal
12 75%
Georgia Tech
12 63%
Wake Forest
12 63%
Syracuse 15 63%
North Carolina
11 58%
California 8 53%
Florida State
10 53%
Georgia 10 53%
Washington 8 50%

Hey, kudos to Georgia Tech, by the way. UGA fans may make fun of their nerdy compatriots, but at least they're doing their best to play the part of the tough guy.

Also, as a note, here's the complete list of teams from BCS conferences who scheduled at least 10 games against other BCS-level foes from 2005-2009 (i.e. at least two per season): Syracuse (15), Southern Cal (12), Georgia Tech (12), Wake Forest (12), North Carolina (11), Connecticut (11), Louisville (11), Florida State (10), Georgia (10), West Virginia (10), South Florida (10) and Pittsburgh (10).

Keep in mind, too, that the Big East, due to its 8-team conference, plays more non-conference games per season than anyone else.

Now let's look at the worst:

Team
Scheduled
BCS games
Percent
Texas Tech
0 0%
Wisconsin 2 10.5%
Arizona 2 13.3%
Texas 3 15.8%
Oklahoma State
3 15.8%
Minnesota 3 15.8%
Kansas 3 15.8%
Indiana 3 15.8%

Those are the only eight teams in the country to schedule fewer than 20 percent of their non-conference games against BCS-level foes, and four of them come from the Big 12. Texas Tech, in the past five years, has failed to schedule a single non-conference game against a team from another automatic-bid conference. Embarrassing.

(And to make matters a bit worse for Texas Tech, they're the only team in the nation that has played seven games in the past five years against FCS opponents. Only five others have even played six -- Cincinnati, Rutgers, Ole Miss, Kansas State and NC State.)

Ten other teams have scheduled big-boy foes 25 percent of the time or fewer, and that list begins with a couple of SEC teams -- LSU and Alabama -- and also includes Arkansas, Mississippi and Mississippi State, so the SEC shouldn't exactly be pointing fingers either.

I'm not sure whether you want to call it a coincidence or not, but while the Big 12 and SEC have had the weakest non-conference slates during the past five years, they have also provided seven of the 10 representatives in the BCS national championship game during that span. Food for thought.

Some more numbers...

Who has fattened up on lower-tier teams the most of late? Here's the list of most wins vs. non-BCS, non-conference foes during that span:

Team
Non-BCS
Wins
Cincinnati 19
Boston College
18
Rutgers 18
Texas Tech 17
Wisconsin 17
South Florida
17
Texas 16
Kansas 16
Arkansas 16
LSU 15

Again, it's worth noting that the Big East plays more non-conference games, so it stands to reason they'd have a few teams show up on this list.

Also, there's that old Pat Hill notion of playing any team, any time, anywhere, and it's the "anywhere" part that interested me. So, who has gone on the road to play the most non-conference games during the past five years? (Note: True road games only, not neutral site games.)

Team Road NC
games
Percent of
Total
Southern Cal
8 50%
South Florida
12 50%
Cincinnati 11 44%
Oregon State
7 44%
Vanderbilt 8 42%
Duke 8 42%
U Conn
10 42%
Stanford 6 40%

Those eight teams are the only BCS-conference squads to have played at least 40 percent of their non-conference games on the road since 2005.

Here's the other end of the spectrum -- every BCS-conference team to play fewer than 20 percent of their non-conference games in a true road stadium:

Team Road NC
Games
Percent of
Total
Auburn 1 5.3%
Alabama 1 5.3%
Florida 2 10.5%
Arkansas 2 10.5%
Michigan 2 10.5%
Arizona State
2 13.3%
NC State 3 15.8%
LSU 3 15.8%
Penn State
3 15.8%
Kansas 3 15.8%
South Carolina
3 15.8%
Texas A&M
3 15.8%

(UPDATE: South Carolina has actually played four road games -- North Carolina, NC State and two against Clemson. That's a typo on my end. Many apologies to the Gamecocks.)

Now that's just embarrassing for the SEC. Of that list of 12 teams, six are from the SEC. Heck, even Texas Tech, who doesn't exactly challenge itself with top opposition, has still played six games on the road.

(To be fair, Alabama has played two neutral site games in Atlanta during that stretch -- one against Virginia Tech and one against Clemson.)

Worth noting: Auburn's only true road game in non-conference play since 2005 was its date at West Virginia in '08, which the Tigers lost. Florida has played just two true road games -- both at Florida State, and both wins. As you know, Florida hasn't left its home state for a non-conference games since the first Bush administration.

(And in case you're wondering, here's the complete list of Florida's out-of-conference competition aside from bowl games and its annual showdown with FSU: Miami, Louisiana Tech, Wyoming, Central Florida, Hawaii (in Game 1 after Colt Brennan left), Southern Miss, Western Carolina, Florida Atlantic, Troy (twice), Western Kentucky, The Citadel, Charleston Southern and Florida International. Oh, and FSU is 0-5 in its annual game with the Gators during the last five seasons, too.)

Among SEC teams, only four played at least five road non-conference games (i.e. one per year) during that span: Vandy (8), Mississippi State (7), Ole Miss (5) and Georgia (5).

One other interesting Georgia note: Arizona State has played just two road non-conference games since 2005, one was against Georgia. Oklahoma State has played just three BCS-level non-conference games since 2005, and two were against Georgia.

Two other fun notes to end on:

-- No team won five bowl games from 2005-2009. Nine teams won four: Rutgers, Florida, West Virginia, Georgia, California, Texas, LSU, Penn State and Southern Cal.

-- One team did manage to lose five bowl games during that stretch. Guess who... yup, Georgia Tech!

9 comments:

Chess said...

The public demands discussion of the most recent LOST episode, The Substitute!

Left to Right said...

I'm enjoying the "Fun With Numbers" series, but I have one possible criticism regarding the Monday posts which compared player rankings as recruits against their actual production as a college player.

I think it skewed the results to assign a 1 star ranking to player who suffered a career-ending injury or who was dismissed from the team. This methodology, which turns these "washout wildcards" from 4 and 5 star rated recruits to 1 star rated players, would seemingly significantly pull down the final player ratings by position.

And to me, this overly penalizes the Georgia coaching staff. It is difficult for a coach to project which recruits are going to engage in behavior meriting dismissal, and it is impossible for a coach to project which recruits are going to suffer career-ending injuries. Including such "washout wildcards", lowers the overall player rankings and makes the Georgia coaching staff look worse than is warranted. (Although granted, each UGA coach was being judged by the same standards, and thus the relative underperformace of certain assistants holds true.)

ramon.torres88 said...

David,
Please write this one down for media days:
"Corch, is the reason your team always schedules bottom-dwellers for non-conference games instead of actually leaving the state of Florida to play a decent team, because it might induce a stress attack that would force you into an early retirement- I mean, day off?

Just the facts... said...

Your data is incorrect in this post. You have included bowl games in your totals, which are not scheduled, regular season non-conference games. Remember that PAC-10 teams play 9 conference games per year. For instance, USC has only played 11 regular season non-conference games in the last 5 years. 7 of those 11 were against foes from BCS conferences. They are 7-0 in those games. Use the Stassen.com "compare record against all conferences" engine for each team & it shows the site & date of each game, grouped by conference. Then you can determine the record of scheduled non-conference games. USC will probably still be #1 on your list, but there are going to be a lot less teams when remove the bowl results from your analysis. I'd be interested to see how the new results turn out if you feel up to researching this properly. It's going to take a good deal of work, but I think you'd be just as interested in the results as I.
In & of itself, these figures are interesting, but the premise of the post seems to be "who has the cajones to schedule x, y, & z?" so you should only count scheduled games.

Just the Facts said...

I just did Georgia. They have played 15 non-conference games in the regular season. 10 of 15 were against foes from BCS conferences. UGA is 8-2 vs BCS foes in the regular season. That's darn good. Kudos to UGA. They have been one of the more courageous schedulers in the SEC (Tennessee also schedules well IMO).

Anonymous said...

In addition to beating FSU every year Florida beat Miami in '08 and plays USF this year.

I would say Florida's non-conf schedule is better than Georgia's this year.

ConnGator

Anonymous said...

South Carolina played four nonconfernce BCS road games. Clemson in 2006 and 2008, UNC in 2007 and NC State in 2009.

David Hale said...

JTF -- The numbers in my post include both stats with all NC games and just the scheduled ones. The second table I included has NC regular season games ONLY. The difference between your numbers and mine is that I included Notre Dame as a BCS conference team, despite their Independent status... so that's the difference for USC (which has played 13 non-conference regular-season games, BTW -- 3 each year from 06-09 and 2 in '05).

David Hale said...

Anon -- you are right on South Carolina... I had the numbers correct initially, but in transferring them over to the table I used, I must have ended up with a typo. The numbers are correct for the SEC overall, but in the individual stats, I screwed up South Carolina.