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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.)

NC Games
vs. BCS
Percent BCS W
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:

BCS games
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:

BCS games
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:

Cincinnati 19
Boston College
Rutgers 18
Texas Tech 17
Wisconsin 17
South Florida
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
Percent of
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
Percent of
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!


Ginny said...

This blog post was awesome. Anytime you want to write a post that insults Florida and backs it up with numbers while making us look good is fine with me. Really does say a lot about what Mark Richt's done with our program.

Unknown said...

This is the kind of stuff I'd like to see ESPN do once in a while. Number-crunching for quantitative reporting, as opposed to bloviating and sensationalization. I guess we'll just have to settle for the world(wide-web)-renowned David Hale for now.

Anonymous said...

Great analysis, and a very informed post David. You are right, kudos to those schools who make the season more interesting, and may the voters begin to punish those who don't (Florida, Texas, etc.) Glad UGA is one of the standouts, particularly given our neutral game revenue situation.

If everyone would stop punishing those who don't "get the break" of a MNC opportunity, and yes, it is a lot about luck/timing, UGA would be recognized for what they have done during CMR's tenure. (You have to remember there is NO national champion, and never has been so to question their credentials is silly.) To approach USC's record under Carroll while competing in a MUCH more difficult conference is quite an accomplishment. Not knocking PC, at least he recognized he needed some quality competition, puts him way ahead of other pretenders, but I wonder how many conference losses he would have had in the SEC. Also, you are right to give credit to GT for playing some good OOC games. Ridiculous for those who criticize UGA for playing Colorado, Clemson, ASU, Ok ST, etc.

Anonymous said...

First my word verfication was "NORAD". Look out Dick Chaney! Bombs away! heehee

Second, how about Road games w/ BCS w/ winng record .500 or better @ end of year? To take out the teams that played Iowa State home & home

Anonymous said...

This is really great stuff to read. As a collegiate sports writer (glory days which I've long since abandoned), I know the time and effort it takes to this kind of actual reporting.

Like Ginny said, the quantitative analysis is a refreshing break from the "coverage" you see on TV. I'm talking to you Skip Bayless, Herbstreit and maybe the worst - Woody Paige.

No one cares about which team one of these lazy check collectors "feels" is going to win.

Fratt Stinchcomb said...

My favorite was the last line. Gotta love the nerds.
Also, you need to get in touch with the people at Syracuse and tell them to take it easy on scheduling. Dont be one of those teams that gets paid to get beat. Ha.

Anonymous said...

What sticks out most to me is UGA's fans and administrtion's willingness to help Florida play most of their games in the state of Florida. (shaking my head).

Anonymous said...

What sticks out most to me in all the above is the "whiney contingent" of UGA fans who embarrass the rest of us by failing to recognize we are at NO disadvantage in this game. So because some surveyors/legislators drew a mythical line dividing the two states 40 miles north of the stadium means we shouldn't be able to play football under otherwise equal conditions? Same rules, same size field, same refs, same weather, and half the tickets? What the hell do we need? We seem to be able to compete just fine in competitors' stadiums under much worse conditions in other road games. Perhaps our players have begun to adopt the whine. Better tell FSU, move that home game from Tally, you don't want to play Florida in Florida, too tough! Jeez. Yeah, let's give up one of CFB's great traditions because you can't afford a ticket or a hotel room. Grow a pair.

Anonymous said...

Vaya con huevos, David!

Anonymous said...

10:55 if there was no advantage to Florida playing most of their games in the state of Florida, why do they do it? Further while some you South GA folk are a few miles from Jacksonville, Athens is not. “As you know, Florida hasn't left its home state for non-conference games since the first Bush administration.” Interesting, right around the time Florida started rising to national prominence.

Cojones said...

I hate it when some anon. jerk from FU gets on here and tries to even the ship, but it's a good point it makes. Can you redo a couple in your crunchmeter and tell us how it changes appreciably in any table(to consider it an away game half the time)?

It was fun to read through and determine with clarity in one's own mind that these weren't tilted too much, but the mental gymnastics were fun unto themselves. It confirms your suspicions of why we cheer for the Dawgs while the reasoning may seem ephemeral sometimes. My word verification is forse and you have supplied the sustitute "c" to make it with us (apologies to the Star Wars fans for the convoluted link to the Dawgs).

Not bad for a good 'ole Yankee.