In his first 22 games as Auburn's head coach, Gus Malzahn lost three times. In his last 15 games, he's lost nine. Yikes.
Some of that has come from simple regression. The Tigers have not played like even a top-50 team this year. But it looks like the karma tank is empty as well. After winning nine of their first 10 one-possession games under Malzahn, including crazy results against Georgia and Alabama in 2013 and Ole Miss in 2014, karmic retribution has been harsh. Beginning with the stunning 41-38 home loss to Texas A&M last November (the one decided by two late fumbles), the Tigers have gone just 3-6 in such games, 1-5 in the SEC.
Percentiles are an effective way of measuring a team's performance (with opponent adjustments) in a single number. You can look at a team's schedule and quickly discern trends, highs, lows, etc.
Alabama's trends are, shall we say, strong. The Crimson Tide have played at the 80th percentile or higher in every game but one (you can guess the one), and after a bit of a dip against Texas A&M, they've improved for three straight weeks, from 80th percentile to 83rd to 88th (shutting down Leonard Fournette without overemphasizing him) to 95th (showing off a new pass rush by sacking Dak Prescott nine times).
I'm more interested in Alabama's opponents, however. The Bama Effect appears to be real. For all the attention Tide fans give to scheduling -- and how it kind of seems like every opponent gets a week off before playing Bama -- opponents should be more focused on getting a break afterward.
Let's look at conference opponents:
- Ole Miss' average performance was in the 97th percentile in the two weeks before Bama and the 41st in the two weeks after.
- Georgia's average performance was in the 86th percentile in the three weeks before Bama and the 41st in the three weeks after.
- Texas A&M's average performance was in the 79th percentile in the three weeks before Bama and the 35th in the three weeks after.
- For the season, LSU was averaging in the 84th percentile before Bama. Last week against Arkansas: 26th.
Arkansas and Tennessee appear to have immunized against the Bama Effect. Everybody else in the SEC: not so much. Alabama's latest victim, Mississippi State, plays at Arkansas this Saturday.
I assumed Baylor's Seth Russell had long ago clinched the nation's pass efficiency title. The junior was lost for the season with injury a few weeks ago, but he was leading in the clubhouse with a nearly insurmountable 189.7 passer rating.
Here comes Baker Mayfield. In a win over Russell's Bears, OU's junior quarterback completed 24 of 34 passes for 270 yards, three touchdowns and a pick. He produced some highlight-reel throws and got another ferocious effort from Sterling Shepard (15 targets, 14 catches, 177 yards, two TDs).
Because of the interception, Mayfield's passer rating was only 160.5 against Baylor. It was his worst performance since the Texas game (146.5), and it's still very good. But it shined a light on the job Mayfield has been doing. Since OU's plodding win over Tennessee in Week 2, Mayfield has been incredible: 74 percent completion rate, 1.2 percent INT rate, 195.0 passer rating.
OU itself has been incredible since the awful trip to the Cotton Bowl on October 10. The Sooners have won five straight by an average score of 55-17, and while the competition level wasn't amazing before the trip to Waco ... well ... Baylor's good. The Bears had won the last two meetings against OU by a combined 89-26 and had never lost at McLane Stadium.
Oklahoma has suffered the worst loss of any team in the Playoff hunt. But nobody this side of Tuscaloosa has been better since Oct. 10, and Mayfield is one of the primary reasons why.
Back to percentiles for a moment: have you noticed how well South Florida has been playing?
- Average percentile performance (2014 season): 25 percent
- Average percentile performance (first 4 games of 2015): 42 percent
- Average percentile performance (last 6 games of 2015): 67 percent
The numbers were catching on to Willie Taggart's improving Bulls, with the way they looked in whipping Syracuse and SMU, beating UConn and ECU on the road and playing a downright awesome Navy pretty close.
South Florida made one hell of a statement on Saturday, though. Up 14-10 on once-beaten Temple, the Bulls went on a 17-0 run to finish the half, and when Temple cut to 11 points midway through the third quarter, USF finished on a 13-3 run.
Against a stout Temple D, Marlon Mack carried 21 times for 230 yards and two scores, Quinton Flowers threw for 230 yards and rushed for 103 (pre-sacks) and Rodney Adams caught seven passes for 147 yards. The Bulls had been hinting at a breakout for a while. On Saturday, they broke out, and the AAC has yet another interesting program to track.
This is Oklahoma State’s 5th win this season when it had an in-game win probability of less than 33% via @ESPNStatsInfo— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) November 14, 2015
Rivalries are created through repetition, big moments and high stakes.
How's this for stakes: in six of the last seven years, a top-10 team has lost Oregon-Stanford. How's this for moments: the lower-ranked team has won four of the last five and five of the last seven.
The last seven meetings between the Ducks and Cardinal have been even (Oregon has four wins to Stanford's three) and unpredictable. They have created narratives (Stanford has an Oregon problem! Oregon has a Stanford problem!) and helped decide national title races. Aside from maybe Alabama-LSU, I'm not sure there's been a more important rivalry.
Saturday's game was close, too. That's not always the case. Stanford held a 23-21 halftime lead before the Ducks surged. Taj Griffin's 49-yard catch and run gave Oregon a 35-23 lead, but Stanford rallied. It was 38-30 when a muffed snap ruined a game-tying opportunity for the Cardinal with two minutes left. Stanford forced a three-and-out to get one more chance, and following the typical #Pac12Refs intervention (a shaky defensive pass interference call), Kevin Hogan found Greg Taboada for a four-yard touchdown with 10 seconds left. But the two-point conversion pass fell to the turf, and Oregon survived.
Colorado did something familiar Friday night against USC: lose a tight conference battle. The Buffaloes hosted and played suffocating early defense, holding the Trojans to three punts, a turnover and two field goals in the first half. They still led 17-6 midway through the third quarter, but USC scored three touchdowns in seven minutes to sprint ahead by 10 and eventually win, 27-24.
The details of each game are different, but the result is usually the same. In three years under Mike MacIntyre, CU is now 1-8 in Pac-12 games decided by one possession -- 0-1 in 2013, 0-4 in 2014, and now 1-3 in 2015. Granted, the Buffs are also just 4-16 in all other games against FBS competition, but growth has been a constant tease for CU, now 4-7 and assured of a 10th straight losing season.
Congratulations to Maryland quarterbacks Perry Hills, Caleb Rowe and Daxx Garman for converging to throw the most catchable interceptions of all-time.
Passes defensed = interceptions + pass breakups. On average, INTs are going to account for about 21-23 percent of PDs. Some of this can depend on whether you're playing man or zone defense, whether it's safeties (facing the ball) or cornerbacks (more likely with their backs to the ball) getting their hands on passes, etc. But the range still usually ends up gravitating toward 23 percent.
In 2015, Maryland opponents have picked off 28 passes and broken up just 34, a nearly 50-50 ratio. That's ... not supposed to happen. Now, having 62 passes defensed is a lot. On defense, only five teams have gotten their hands on more passes than that. Still, on average, you would expect 62 PDs to produce about 13-14 INTs. Not 28.
The result: the Terps are almost breaking the turnovers luck scale. On average, turnovers are worth about five points in terms of field position lost and gained. Comparing actual turnovers to expected turnovers, you could posit that the Terps are losing about 8.8 points per game to turnovers luck. Granted, only two of their eight losses have come by fewer than 16 points, so this luck hasn't impacted the win-loss record much. But still, the luck has been nearly unprecedented.
Bottom 5 teams in terms of turnovers luck
128. Maryland (-8.8 PPG)
127. Cincinnati (-5.0)
126. Virginia (-4.9)
125. UL-Lafayette (-4.6)
124. Charlotte (-4.5)
Only five teams are worse than minus-4.4, and Maryland's double that. Last year, Georgia State was the most unlucky team in the country with a minus-5.8 PPG average. Maryland is three points worse.
That's AP No. 6 Iowa's ranking in S&P+. Why? I explained here why the numbers hate Iowa, UNC and Washington State (and why you shouldn't worry about it). A Hawkeyes portion:
Iowa's the easiest to figure out: the Hawkeyes have mastered the art of close wins. (That, by the way, could be an art, and could be sheer randomness. Just ask Auburn.) But if we believe the rankings of the teams they've played, it gets easy to believe Iowa might be more of a No. 28 than a No. 5.
- No. 41 Minnesota: Iowa led by five with two minutes left before a touchdown sealed the win, then won by five.
- No. 42 Pitt: Iowa won by a last-second field goal at home.
- No. 44 Illinois: Iowa led by three points with four minutes left before turnovers and field goals increased that margin to nine.
- No. 65 Indiana: Iowa led by one with 10 minutes left before pulling away.
- No. 66 Iowa State: A tie in the fourth quarter before the Hawkeyes pulled away late.
Combine that with the fact that Iowa's most impressive performance (against Northwestern) is less shiny thanks to the Wildcats' fade, and you've got a profile of a team that is good and plays some of its best football late. It's also a team that's only actually played like a top-10 team maybe once or twice.
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