It’s December, a time of reflection if you’re a college football blogger. Bill Connelly looks back on the hits and misses from his preseason projections here. The basic data was the subject of an earlier post I linked to, but Bill’s commentary is worth an added note.
Georgia, as we saw in the first piece, went through one of college football’s biggest drops in advanced stats, but wasn’t alone in that department. Bill looks for some similarities among the underperformers and finds this:
You can find some themes here, too. Six of these teams (BGSU, Baylor, Georgia, Syracuse, Rutgers, Georgia Southern) were led by first-year coaches, as were Illinois (off by 26 spots), Virginia (26), and Maryland (25). Sometimes even good coaches just don’t get all the pieces in the right places in the first 12 or so games.
Another commonality: Most of these teams have had great seasons recently. Bowling Green won 28 games from 2013-15 before losing Dino Babers to Syracuse. Oregon was in the national title game in 2014. Georgia won 50 games from 2011-15 but decided that wasn’t good enough and made a change. Baylor won 50 from 2011-15 but headed into 2016 with an interim coach after Art Briles’ swift downfall. Marshall won 33 from 2013-15. Sometimes your slope for regression to the mean is pretty stark, especially if you also have a first-year coach.
One more correlation worth mentioning: Eight of these 18 teams were among the top 25 in 2016 recruiting, and nine were among the top 28 in two-year recruiting. There is a strong correlation between good recruiting and good play, but it’s scattershot. It doesn’t affect each team the same in the short-term, and for all the predictive value recruiting can have (the top six teams in two-year recruiting are among the top 11 in S&P+, as are seven of the top nine in five-year recruiting), there will be misses.
That goes for all projection factors. Recent history wasn’t helpful in projecting Oregon’s or Georgia’s S&P+ rating…
Advanced stats have expectations, too.
The interesting part is where he looks for correlations among the overachievers.
What do these teams have in common? First of all, 12-of-13 are from Group of 5 conferences. Colorado is the only exception.
Second, seven of the 13 are led by coaches in either their second or third seasons in charge. Three others are in their fourth. Only Memphis (under Mike Norvell) was led by a first-year guy, and only ODU was led by a guy who’s been around at least six years.
If you’re going to take a leap, your second or third season is probably when you’re going to do it.
The experience stuff seems pretty obvious. And when you think about it, the non-P5 stuff does, too. Those aren’t typically your heavy hitting programs when it comes to recruiting and that’s going to show up in Bill’s preseason projections.
What does that say about Mike Bobo, whose CSU program finished the regular season with the greatest improvement in S&P+ ratings this season and who cut his teeth recruiting well in the SEC wars? It says to me that if he keeps it up, he’ll wind up treading the Jim McElwain path to bigger and better times.
There’s hope in that experience factor for Kirby Smart, of course, and, while there’s no guarantee, it certainly doesn’t hurt that at this early point he appears to be even more skilled in hauling talent to Athens than Bobo was. But there’s also Bill’s final word to consider.
Of the current S&P+ top 10, nine were projected in the top 11 at the start of the season, and the only outsider (Louisville) was projected 18th. The current six best have spent exactly one week outside of the top 11. There was, and will always be, chaos and turmoil in the middle, but the top of college football fell into place mostly according to plan.
In other words, to be the best you… uh, gotta be the best. Maintaining at the top seems to be easier than the climb to get there, at least in 2016. Grab your backpacks, peeps.