Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Predicting Won-Loss Records (The Easy Way)

Picking a team's final record in summertime, much less right before the season starts, is tricky business. But there are shortcuts.

One proxy for Won-Loss expectations could be the team's ranking in the Steele preseason poll, which takes into account talent, schedule, and is intended to predict how teams will finish the year (as opposed to a normative model, which is purely statistical, according to Rivalry, Esq.--who breaks out grad school terminology on a blog, anyway??!) . Of course, this won't work perfectly, especially for the teams at the top (it's unrealistic to expect Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, USC and LSU to all go undefeated or 11-1). But broadly speaking, you should be expected to beat the teams ranked lower, and lose to teams ranked higher. Assume the vagaries of injuries and upsets balance each other out, and you have an expected W-L record.

In 2008, Steele ranked Iowa #34. Three opponents were ranked higher (PSU #10, Wisky #21, Pitt #25) and nine lower (Northwestern the closest at #49) for an expected 9-3. The reality was 8-4, with "upsets" (in the Steele preseason sense, not necessarily the literal gameday sense) of Wisky and PSU, a mild upset (they were in the ballpark, rankwise) by NWU and shocking losses to MSU and Illinois (sorry Sarah, that shit should NOT have happened). Given how close all those losses were (4 by 12 points total), 9-3 was a good guess.

Please recover from your stroke. Please don't pick Iowa if Gameday comes to town.

Now look at ND. Steele put them at #19, coming off a 3-9 year (ballsy). Only USC was ranked higher and an expected/definite loss, for an expected 10-1 record. Unfortunately, mild upsets by Pitt (#25) and UNC (#38) plus shocks by MSU, BC and Syracuse dropped them to 6-6. Iowa did about as well as Steele thought; ND drastically under-performed but had the potential to match the prediction.

Not from 2008. Don't care. Awesome picture. Want to see more of this in '09.

How does this look back help us put 2009 in focus? Steele is high on both my teams, with the Hawks at #20 and the Irish at #7. Iowa would be expected to lose to Penn St. (#5) and A State University in Ohio (#10), but four other opponents lurk in the Top 50: Mich State (#29), Wisky (#38), Arizona (#40) and Meechigan (#48). Plus, those four highest-ranked conference teams are all on the road for us. So a "raw" record of 10-2 might be expected in theory, but four conference road losses and a possible ILTCMTS* means 7-5 isn't unreasonable either.

Notre Dame, near the top of the pack, doesn't have much breathing room. Southern Cal is still above them (#3), and only four teams could reasonably cause trouble: Pitt #23, Mich St. #29, Nevada #35, Meechigan #48. That's a 10-1 record, particularly considering we get Nevada (our home opener) and Michigan (probably breaking in a true freshman QB) early, Pitt loses stud RB McCoy, and we get USC at home. The giant question, though: Is Phil over-ranking the Irish?

Finally, a quick look at my favorite MAC team: Frank Solich is three games under .500 (23-26) at Ohio, and I think it would be great for him to get back to even. That means an 8-5 season (7-5 with bowl win, or more likely 8-4 with a bowl loss) would do it.

How does he get there? Using the schedule proxy system, Ohio at #74 is looking at almost-certain wins against Northern Illinois (#96), Buffalo (101), Kent State (106), Ball State (108), Bowling Green (111), North Texas (116), (Fake) Miami (117), and Cal Poly SLO (I-AA school). That's eight right there. Put aside for a moment the fact that Solich has averaged just under six wins a year in his Athens tenure ... we're being lazy, remember? (And if you're asking yourself, wait, both of last year's division champions are ranked in triple digits? ... yes, yes, they are. Welcome to the MAC.)

Temple (#86) and Akron (87) are in the ballpark, and UConn at #73 is a dead heat where you have to give an edge to the home team, particularly early in the year and with a senior quarterback returning.

One of two dudes is going to be the senior quarterback I refer to. While Theo Scott (being played here by wide receiver #7 LaVon Brazill) is probably more talented, how do you root against #8 Boo Jackson? And that hair! (photo credit: TM)

Only Tennessee (40) is a near-certain loss ... but no less an authority on Volunteer football than Scott Miller said they won't be very good at all this year. His direct quote: "We will lose a LOT this season." An early lead by a motivated Bobcat squad could take the fans out of the game, much like the the Ohio State game in 2008. So even with a TCLTCTS** or two thrown in there, the schedule looks favorable for another winning Bobcat season.

If you want to play this game with another ranking list, wait a few weeks for the New York Times list to be complete, and look up your own team. Or of course, buy yourself a copy of Steele.

* Inexplicable Loss That Causes Me to Throw Shit

** Tantalizingly Close Loss That Causes TM to Swear

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