The last few years, first at the PFR Blog and later at Smart Football, I’ve tracked the college football season with a modified version of the Simple Rating System. The SRS thrives on interconnectivity — we need each of the teams to play each of the other teams as many times as possible. You can’t create a predictive version of the SRS until after several weeks of results: an objective strength of schedule can’t be created until the system seems how teams perform against multiple teams.
But we can see how teams performed in week 1 compared to expectations, by comparing the actual results to what the SRS would have predicted if the same teams had instead met at the end of the 2011 regular season. For example, the 2011 Pittsburgh Panthers had an SRS of 39.9, while the 2011 Youngstown State Penguins — an FCS team but a very good one — had an SRS of 28.0. With YSU heading to Pittsburgh, we would project Pittsburgh to win by 14.9 points, factoring in three points for home field.As it turns out, the Penguins beat the Panthers by 14 points, meaning YSU surpassed “expectations” by 28.9 points. At least according to this unusual definition of expectations. But that wasn’t the biggest upset of the weekend, and not just because Pittsburgh was mediocre last year. In 2011, YSU handed eventual FCS National Champion North Dakota State their only loss of the season — in Fargo — last November. No, the biggest upset of the weekend came at the expense of the 13th best team in the SRS last year…. to a team playing its first game at the FBS level.
You may recall that the Houston Cougars started last season 12-0, and were in the running for a BCS Bowl berth before losing in the Conference USA Championship Game to Southern Mississippi. Since then, Cougars coach Kevin Sumlin jumped to Texas A&M while star quarterback Case Keenum finally exhausted his eligibility. Regression was expected — assumed, even — but to see the Cougars lose to Texas State was astonishing. Texas State plays in San Marco, Texas, located roughly halfway between San Antonio and Austin, and joined college football’s highest ranks this season. The Texas State Bobcats were an FCS school last year and went 6-6; against their only non-FCS opponents in 2011, the Bobcasts lost 50-10 to Texas Tech and 45-10 to Wyoming. And coming into the game, Texas State was a 34.5 point underdog. Update: This morning, Houston offensive coordinator Mike Nesbitt “resigned”, and head coach Tony Levine announced that Travis Bush will now handle the play-calling duties.
Here were the biggest “upsets” of week 1 according to the 2011 SRS. The final column shows the difference between the actual results and the expected score:
[table id=131 /]
Again, obviously not all of these were upsets. Boise State was expected to decline following the loss of Kellen Moore and a stellar senior class, and actually covered the spread in their loss to Michigan State. But this helps to at least give a hint of what were some possible upsets. The Pac-12 only went 2-2 in their games against the Mountain West this weekend, as Colorado and California came out flat against Colorado State and Nevada. In addition to McNeese State’s victory over MTSU, there was a 4th victory by an FCS school over an FBS team: but it doesn’t register as an upset on the SRS meter. Tennessee-Martin defeated Memphis 20-17 on a field goal in the final seconds; while UT-Martin was a 9.5 point underdog according to Las Vegas, they actually finished 6 points higher than Memphis in the SRS last year.
Impressive wins by Favorites
We can use the same formula to look at the most impressive wins by the SRS favorites in FBS games. Subjectively, it’s hard to top what Alabama did to Michigan on Saturday Night; if it’s possible for the #1 or #2 team in the country to look better than we thought, the Crimson Tide did just that this weekend. But looking at simple arithmetic…
[table id=132 /]
Urban Meyer’s debut was about as good as he could have hoped, thumping a Miami of Ohio team that was solid in 2011. Notre Dame, excellent at disappointing its fan base, destroyed Navy in Saturday’s early game in Dublin. Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez had perhaps the best passing game of his career over Southern Miss, who is replacing head coach Larry Fedora (now in North Carolina). Baylor was only a 7-point favorite against SMU in its first game After RGIII; based on their success last year, the SRS projected Baylor as a 20-point favorite. Still, the Bears blew out Southern Methodist 59-24, in an effort to prove that they weren’t a one-man program. Not every school was as fortunate…
San Jose State, a projected 32-point loser in Palo Alto, nearly pulled off a huge upset in Stanford’s first game After Luck. The Cardinal needed a
last second fourth-quarter field goal to win, 20-17. Northern Iowa, a 25-point projected loser to Wisconsin, lost 26-21, a sign that the Panthers should be in for a good year. Maryland needed a 4th quarter touchdown to defeat William & Mary, 7-6, despite being a projected 15.5 point winner. In other depressing ACC news, Wake Forest got a scare from Liberty — a team they were projected to beat by 16.7 points — but won 20-17.