COLLEGE FOOTBALL THOR+ RATINGS SINCE 2000

Matthew Holst

It's still the offseason, so while we wait for the college football season to hurry up and get here, let's go ahead and take a look back at the college football landscape over the last fourteen years.

Editor's Note: You could probably figure it out from the post itself, but Matt is indeed the artist formerly known 'round these parts as TitoHawk.  He's dropped that nom de plume, but he's still providing us with his excellent analysis. -- Ross

It's still the offseason and with no college football or basketball to watch, I've been tinkering with spreadsheets in my spare time. Up until this point, I had only calculated my ratings (THOR+) back to the 2007 season for football and basketball. And while I haven't dug into college basketball quite yet, I've spent the last couple of weeks tweaking the model and calculating THOR+ for every FBS college football team since the 2000 season. That is right around 1600 individual teams. That is a lot of teams.

Because Tableau is now available for use on my MacBook, I finally have a better way to display all of this data than in just one really big spreadsheet. In one chart, patterns become visible that were not otherwise noticeable in spreadsheet form. I found it interesting, so I thought I would share.

The chart above plots each FBS (formerly Division I) football team since the 2000 season by their THOR+ rating. The size of the circle signifies how "lucky" the model thought they were. Therefore, a small circle (like 2008 Iowa) means THOR+ feels that the team lost more games than they were expected to, while a big circle (like 2009 Iowa) means the opposite. The chart is divided up by conference, but it starts with the Big Ten because this is a blog about Iowa sports. If you click on a team's circle, it will highlight each season from that team. This allows you to visually see just how bad Indiana has been over the past decade and change. Or, if you click over to the SEC, it allows you to see in chart form the reascension of Alabama to the top of college football under Nick Saban. Whatever floats your boat.

Before pointing out too many more observations, let me explain a few things. First, I have changed the football ratings this year to be more similar to the basketball ones that you may be more familiar with. Similar basketball, the ratings are now based on points per play scored or allowed by each team's offense, defense, and special teams units. Those numbers are then scaled so that a total greater than 100 is above average and a total below 100 is below average. Finally, the numbers are adjusted for strength of schedule.

For example, the 2008 Iowa team had an offensive rating of 117, a defensive rating of 158, and a special teams rating of 116. In English, that means the offense was 17% better than the average 2008 offense in terms of scoring points (thanks, Shonn Greene!), while the the defense was 58% better than the average 2008 defense at keeping points off the board (they were absolute terror monsters), and the special teams was 16% better than average 2008 special teams unit when it came to scoring and denying their opponents from scoring. That all comes out to a THOR+ rating of 135 or 35% better than the average 2008 team.

Got it? Good. Now, let's dig in.

First, Iowa:

Rank Team Year Season Rank Offense Offense+ Defense Defense+ Special Teams Special Teams+ THOR THOR+
1 Iowa 2002 #3 133 139 121 126 284 295 140 146
2 Iowa 2008 #8 118 118 158 159 116 116 135 135
3 Iowa 2003 #11 105 112 146 156 116 124 124 132
4 Iowa 2005 #15 114 124 129 141 95 104 119 130
5 Iowa 2010 #16 108 112 138 140 153 158 124 127
6 Iowa 2001 #14 144 153 117 124 -17 -16 119 127
7 Iowa 2009 #28 82 85 149 151 156 163 116 119
8 Iowa 2004 #29 84 90 133 142 134 143 109 117
9 Iowa 2013 #42 83 88 128 132 149 159 108 113
10 Iowa 2011 #37 105 108 115 118 99 103 109 112
11 Iowa 2006 #45 97 102 111 117 103 108 103 109
12 Iowa 2007 #57 73 71 139 137 99 96 103 101
13 Iowa 2012 #73 58 61 116 120 135 142 89 93
14 Iowa 2000 #69 63 71 97 110 112 126 81 92

Note: "+" means that the number has been adjusted for strength of schedule.

According to THOR+, the 2002 team rates out as the best team of the Kirk Ferentz era -- I think it's safe to assume that 1999 would rate out just a tad bit lower -- at 46% better than the average 2002 team. That team also had the best special teams unit of this time period. Meanwhile, the 2008 team had the best defense out of the last 14 teams, with 2003 not far behind. And, of course, the 2001 team rates out as the best offense of this time period.

Wait a minute, what? Yeah... This would be one rating that I don't totally agree with. That 2001 team ended up having quite a few good players on it and I think they were better than their final record indicated, but I would most definitely not call that year's offense better than 2002. So why does that year's offense rate so high? Because the 2001 team scored a lot of points on bad teams that year, which artificially inflated their offensive points per play. What I find the most interesting about the comparison between 2001 and 2002, though, is how much of an improvement Iowa saw on special teams. They went from being one of the worst in the nation to being one of the best.

As for those middle teams, 2009 and 2004 were both really fun, but they don't rate as high because the offenses just weren't very good. 2004 was the first great running back plague, while 2009 was the year of the Rick-6. But speaking of awful offenses, hello, 2007, 2000, and 2012! We are still only two years removed from the inaugural Greg Davis season, and while last year was better, I'm not ready to give the stamp of approval.

One thing I love is when the numbers back up what the eyes see. And one thing you'll notice with the ratings, just like with your eyes, is that Iowa under Kirk Ferentz almost always has a very good defense and special teams (recent string of being fooled by fake punts and field goals not withstanding). It's the offense, on the other hand, that tends to be a crapshoot. Only 8 of the last 14 seasons have seen Iowa with an offense that has rated out higher than the norm. And the 2006 team only beat that norm by 2%. I say "only" because that's just barely above 50% of the time, and Greg Davis as the offensive coordinator doesn't exactly instill confidence in me without Vince Young or Colt McCoy at quarterback. Anyway, my point is: Kirk Ferentz is an old school defense-first type of coach. He grew up idolizing Joe Paterno and Penn State, and what's incredible to me was just how identical the average ratings from 2000-2011 (the last season Paterno coached) were for both Iowa and Penn State.

Team Coach Year Season Rank Offense Offense+ Defense Defense+ Special Teams Special Teams+ THOR THOR+
Iowa Kirk Ferentz 2000-2011 #28 102 107 129 135 121 127 115 121
Penn State Joe Paterno 2000-2011 #29 97 102 135 141 119 126 115 121

Those are each team's averages from that time period, and the resemblance is uncanny. Ferentz had the better offense, while Paterno had the better defense, on the whole. Special teams was essentially a wash, and so was the average THOR+ rating. Weird.

Now that I've discussed Iowa a bit, let's look at the best and worst Big Ten teams during this era.

Rank Team Year Coach Conference Season Rank Offense Offense+ Defense Defense+ Special Teams Special Teams+ THOR THOR+
1 Ohio State 2006 Jim Tressel Big Ten #2 156 163 142 148 187 196 152 159
2 Penn State 2008 Joe Paterno Big Ten #5 144 147 140 141 231 236 149 151
3 Ohio State 2005 Jim Tressel Big Ten #3 116 133 139 159 194 222 132 151
4 Wisconsin 2011 Bret Bielema Big Ten #4 183 188 116 118 74 76 145 149
5 Iowa 2002 Kirk Ferentz Big Ten #3 133 139 121 126 284 295 140 146
6 Penn State 2005 Joe Paterno Big Ten #4 128 140 139 153 96 105 130 143
7 Penn State 2002 Joe Paterno Big Ten #6 133 141 137 145 119 126 134 142
8 Purdue 2004 Joe Tiller Big Ten #7 123 129 140 146 171 178 135 140
9 Wisconsin 2013 Gary Andersen Big Ten #10 128 133 138 140 147 153 134 138
10 Ohio State 2013 Urban Meyer Big Ten #11 170 174 113 115 28 28 134 137
11 Ohio State 2002 Jim Tressel Big Ten #9 110 117 154 163 105 112 129 136
12 Michigan 2000 Lloyd Carr Big Ten #9 138 143 129 134 96 99 131 135
13 Ohio State 2010 Jim Tressel Big Ten #7 134 133 148 148 80 80 136 135
14 Iowa 2008 Kirk Ferentz Big Ten #8 118 118 158 159 116 116 135 135
15 Iowa 2003 Kirk Ferentz Big Ten #11 105 112 146 156 116 124 124 132

The top 15 includes a lot of Ohio State, which is as about as surprising as death and taxes, really. And THOR+ credits the 2006 Buckeye team as being the best Big Ten squad of this time period. More surprising to me, though, is that Michigan only had one team make the list. And to continue the weird coincidence, our beloved Hawkeyes and their mirror image in State College both had 3 teams make the list.

I'm not going to lie though. As much as I like looking at the best teams, I also really get a kick out of looking at the worst:

Rank Team Year Coach Conference Season Rank Offense Offense+ Defense Defense+ Special Teams Special Teams+ THOR THOR+
1 Illinois 2005 Ron Zook Big Ten #118 58 65 37 41 -85 -76 37 43
2 Indiana 2003 Gerry DiNardo Big Ten #110 49 51 66 68 84 87 59 61
3 Minnesota 2010 Tim Brewster Big Ten #109 88 93 48 57 -57 -54 59 66
4 Indiana 2002 Gerry DiNardo Big Ten #106 74 77 48 50 98 103 65 67
5 Indiana 2008 Bill Lynch Big Ten #109 79 77 74 70 35 34 73 70
6 Indiana 2011 Kevin Wilson Big Ten #112 68 69 65 67 93 95 69 70
7 Illinois 2012 Tim Beckman Big Ten #111 60 64 65 72 98 104 65 70
8 Illinois 2003 Ron Turner Big Ten #104 57 61 73 79 86 93 66 71
9 Purdue 2013 Darrell Hazell Big Ten #107 58 64 62 74 96 106 63 71
10 Indiana 2010 Bill Lynch Big Ten #99 91 89 62 58 69 68 77 74
11 Northwestern 2002 Randy Walker Big Ten #98 86 90 50 53 87 91 71 74
12 Northwestern 2007 Pat Fitzgerald Big Ten #97 87 85 66 62 96 94 79 76
13 Indiana 2005 Terry Hoeppner Big Ten #97 89 96 72 77 -23 -22 73 79
14 Indiana 2006 Terry Hoeppner Big Ten #93 80 83 44 46 237 248 77 80
15 Purdue 2010 Danny Hope Big Ten #93 66 67 89 91 105 107 79 81

If it wasn't a surprise that Ohio State dominated the top 15, it shouldn't be any less shocking to find this list populated mostly by Illinois, Indiana, Purdue, and Northwestern. And if you happen to be skeptical of numbers, I hope it eases your mind a bit to see that two of the three worst teams from this conference in the last 14 years were coached by none other than Ron Zook and Tim Brewster. Honestly, I'm kind of surprised to only see Tim Brewster on this list only one time. Of course, Iowa also lost to that 2010 Minnesota team in a season that will forever haunt my memories. Moving on.

To wrap this up, I would like to end with similar lists for the entirety of FBS college football.

Rank Team Year Coach Conference Season Rank Offense Offense+ Defense Defense+ Special Teams Special Teams+ THOR THOR+
1 Texas 2005 Mack Brown Big 12 #1 192 212 134 148 151 166 164 181
2 Florida 2008 Urban Meyer SEC #1 185 205 148 153 134 149 165 178
3 Kansas State 2002 Bill Snyder Big 12 #1 172 176 154 158 279 286 173 177
4 Florida State 2013 Jimbo Fisher ACC #1 185 186 153 153 208 210 173 174
5 LSU 2006 Les Miles SEC #1 153 164 146 157 228 245 156 168
6 USC 2008 Pete Carroll Pac-10 #2 151 164 161 164 188 204 158 167
7 Florida State 2000 Bobby Bowden ACC #1 159 175 161 177 49 54 151 166
8 USC 2004 Pete Carroll Pac-10 #1 152 170 151 168 114 128 148 166
9 LSU 2011 Les Miles SEC #1 136 156 165 169 177 203 152 165
10 Florida 2007 Urban Meyer SEC #1 182 205 107 116 162 183 148 165
11 Alabama 2012 Nick Saban SEC #1 156 172 153 157 139 153 153 164
12 Florida 2001 Steve Spurrier SEC #1 169 184 138 150 104 114 150 164
13 Miami (Florida) 2001 Larry Coker Big East #2 149 161 162 175 99 107 151 163
14 Oregon 2010 Chip Kelly Pac-10 #1 151 169 141 146 188 210 149 162
15 USC 2005 Pete Carroll Pac-10 #2 187 210 108 122 81 91 145 162

I find it hilarious/maddening that the offensive coordinator for the number one team on this list is now the offensive coordinator for my favorite college football team, and I'm not at all excited about it. It also annoys me that a head coach that appears on this list twice is now the head coach at the Big Ten powerhouse school. Bleh.

Rank Team Year Coach Conference Season Rank Offense Offense+ Defense Defense+ Special Teams Special Teams+ THOR THOR+
1 North Texas 2008 Todd Dodge Sun Belt #120 68 65 0 -12 -92 -97 26 19
2 Eastern Michigan 2010 Ron English MAC #120 79 73 1 -18 10 10 40 29
3 Eastern Michigan 2013 Ron English MAC #125 71 66 18 2 -17 -18 41 32
4 Louisiana-Monroe 2000 Bobby Keasler Independent #114 33 29 28 24 110 95 37 32
5 Florida International 2013 Ron Turner CUSA #124 36 33 49 34 42 38 42 33
6 New Mexico 2011 Mike Locksley MWC #120 47 45 29 20 50 48 40 34
7 Eastern Michigan 2009 Ron English MAC #120 69 63 28 12 2 2 46 37
8 Massachusetts 2012 Charley Molnar MAC #124 40 38 47 40 14 13 41 37
9 New Mexico State 2013 Doug Martin Independent #123 76 71 31 17 -51 -55 46 38
10 Washington State 2008 Paul Wulff Pac-10 #119 50 53 15 25 13 13 32 38
11 Temple 2005 Bobby Wallace Independent #119 41 45 25 27 60 65 36 39
12 New Mexico State 2010 DeWayne Walker WAC #119 43 41 39 32 67 65 43 39
13 UTEP 2002 Gary Nord WAC #117 67 63 21 20 1 1 42 39
14 Idaho 2013 Paul Petrino Independent #122 60 58 27 21 31 30 43 40
15 Buffalo 2000 Craig Cirbus MAC #113 66 58 28 25 42 37 48 42

Eastern Michigan: Woof.

And that's about enough. In separate upcoming posts I will take a look at offenses and defenses, and break those down a little more than I did here. Until then, play around with the chart and hopefully find something interesting. And, of course, feel free to post your observations.

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