If you’re one of those folks who’ve been consoling themselves with the thought that Georgia was this close to being 10-2 in the just concluded regular season, you’re probably not going to be comforted by this Team Speed Kills post on Pythagorean expectation for the SEC in 2017.
PE, in case you’re wondering, “measures total points scored and points allowed multiplied by the number of games played to get a projected win total (Pythagorean wins)”. It took the bowl game to accomplish it, but Georgia barely finished in the black in net scoring in 2016, and based on that should have finished just shy of seven wins.
Now, the post’s author goes on to define the spread between Pythagorean and actual wins as “luck”, but I think it’s a little more nuanced than that in some cases. Good coaches can steal a win here and there; bad coaches can snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. (I’ll leave it to you to decide where the credit lies for Georgia +1.3 win spread.)
As 2016 is in the barn, what’s of interest is what PE says for next season. As you can probably guess, our old friend regression to the mean is in play.
In short, winning more games than your Pythagorean Expectation tends to mean a team will decline the following season, while falling short of expectations tends to mean a team will improve…
… Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Tennessee may all take a step back next season, and it would likely come at the hands of resurging Vandy and Missouri teams.
Yeah, well, let’s slow down and unpack this a bit for a sec. First, play the caveat.
Pythagorean projection is just one tool for projection. It doesn’t encompasses an unlucky streak of injuries or turnover margin, or account for early departures and new coaching hires, but it’s historically been a more significant way to base future assumptions beyond simple wins and losses.
Urp. Georgia didn’t suffer an unlikely streak of injuries last season. The Dawgs finished +8 in turnover margin, tops in the SEC (with one game left for Alabama). Both of those would feed into an unfavorable regression story for next season.
On the other hand, we know the story about early departures and it’s very favorable. Georgia has already taken its lumps on the new coaching hires front, and as we saw in this Bill Connelly post, second year coaching time is usually the right time. So those factors would seem to cut against regression to the mean.
Also working in Georgia’s favor next season is yet another fairly soft schedule. Maybe things will change — they often do — but from this early vantage point, it doesn’t appear to be loaded with an abundance of ranked opponents.
The wild card, of course, is the relative talent levels of teams in the SEC East. Georgia, as I’ve already mentioned, has that quartet of returning juniors that’s unmatched by any other team in the division. Tennessee, in fact, is losing some monster talent early to the NFL draft, and there are other SEC East schools, like Florida and Missouri, also losing contributors. The other part of this is where the 2017 recruiting class wind up in a month.
Obviously, a lot can happen in a month, but right now…
… the Dawgs are lapping the divisional field. And, no, even if things held as they project, not every one of those studs would play next season, but you’d have to think Georgia’s odds of finding significant contributors in the next freshman class are better than any other East program’s, simply based on sheer numbers.
Honestly, you can say we’re looking at a half empty/half full glass for 2017, and I get your point. I still think the two biggest factors for Georgia stepping up are Jacob Eason and Kirby Smart mastering their learning curves and nobody can say for sure how that goes. But it’s not hard to argue that the program will be facing something of an uphill struggle against regression to the mean; it’ll be up to Smart to come up with enough improvement in other areas to overcome that.