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Pythagorean Expectation and the Big Ten, Part 2: The Superlatives

As you may recall from Wednesday morning, we ran each Big Ten season from 2002 through 2010 through the pythagorean expectations model to determine who was the "luckiest" team in the conference over the last nine years.  Explanation on how the computation is done are here, but to summarize: Pythagorean expectations were developed by noted baseball stat geek Bill James as a method of determining how a major league baseball team should do given its number of runs scored and runs allowed.  Change "runs" to "points" and tweak the formula a bit and you have a relatively accurate model for predicting a team's record.  Wednesday, we examined "luck" and found it is due in large part to success in close games.  Today, we hand out the rest of the awards:

Best Team (Overall Play):  

No real surprise here, as the singularly dominant squad of the 00's comes out on top.

Rank Team Exp. W%
1 2006 Ohio State 91.44
2 2010 Ohio State 91.39
3 2008 Penn State 91.36
4 2007 Ohio State 89.39
5 2006 Wisconsin 89.04
6 2009 Penn State 88.43
7 2008 Iowa 88.14
8 2009 Ohio State 87.95
9 2002 Ohio State 87.12
10 2005 Ohio State 85.88

The 2006 Ohio State team that ran roughshod through the Big Ten, beat Michigan by a field goal in the Game of the Century of the Year, then laid an egg against Florida in the national championship game, takes the prize.  With Troy Smith, Antonio Pittman, a couple of pro-level receivers, and ooh that defense, the '06 incarnation of OSU was probably the most talented team to come through the conference since 1997 Michigan.  They scored 443, good for tenth in overall points scored, and conceded a measly 163, which was third-fewest since 2002.  The team was a juggernaut.

Probably the most surprising name in the top five is 2006 Wisconsin, which actually took third in the conference despite a 12-1 (7-1) record and 380-157 for-against ratio, making it the best scoring defense in the conference over the past near-decade.  Of course, their one loss was to Michigan -- OSU wasn't on the Badgers' schedule that year -- and so their 12-1 record meant a trip to the Capital One Bowl against Arkansas.  For your information, 2006 Michigan was 18th on the list.

The sixth- and seventh-ranked teams on that list are great examples of what might have been.  2009 Penn State famously dropped that revenge game against Iowa to start the season, lost another to an Ohio State squad ranked two spots below them, and ended the season with eleven wins and nothing to show for it.  And while 2009 Iowa walked the tightrope all season (they're 25th on this list), 2008 Iowa constantly tripped on its own feet.  Four losses by a total of twelve points left that team fourth in the conference despite a win over then-#3 PSU.  That is the only team in the top 15 to fail to attain a double-digit win total.

Best Team (Conference Play):

Not a lot of change at the top here.

Rank Team Exp. W%
1 2006 Ohio State 94.48
2 2010 Ohio State 91.37
3 2008 Penn State 89.65
4 2008 Ohio State 89.12
5 2007 Ohio State 88.63
6 2005 Ohio State 88.13
7 2002 Iowa 88.06
8 2009 Ohio State 86.61
9 2006 Wisconsin 85.47
10 2002 Ohio State 85.33

Of the top five teams, only 2008 Ohio State failed to win 11 overall, and all five teams went either 8-0 or 7-1 in the conference.  If you throw in 2005 OSU and 2009 OSU (eighth, behind 2002 Iowa), Sweatervest-era Ohio State was one of the most dominant programs in the history of the conference for a six-year period.  Thank God that's over.

The great question of the last decade -- who would have won a hypothetical 2002 Iowa-Ohio State game -- goes unanswered.  In conference play, Iowa holds a slight advantage.  When the rest of the schedule is considered, OSU moves ahead.  It would have been a coin flip game on a neutral site; the home team would have probably won if it had been played in the regular season.  As it is, OSU stopped Larry Coker's hegemony, so we should all be grateful.

Worst Team (Overall Play):

Here's where the fun begins.  Tim Brewster, come on...wait, what?

Rank Team Exp. W%
99 2005 Illinois 11.91
98 2003 Indiana 13.47
97 2003 Illinois 16.86
96 2002 Northwestern 19.63
95 2002 Indiana 21.55
94 2008 Indiana 21.68
93 2006 Northwestern 25.11
92 2010 Purdue 28.91
91 2005 Indiana 29.11
90 2008 Michigan 30.06

If you're wondering, why yes, I did increase the list to 10 teams just so I could include a Michigan squad.  What we learned: Ron Zook inherited a clusterfuck at Illinois...and proceeded to field the worst team of the decade in his first season.  The fact that he won nine games and made the Rose Bowl two years later truly is a miracle.  Also, Big Ten Network talking head Gerry DiNardo was an unmitigated disaster at Indiana, with two of the five worst teams of the 00's coming in under his watch (and his successor's first team finishing ninth).  Missing from the list is Tim Brewster's 1-11(0-7) 2007 Minnesota team; that squad's numbers we're terrible, but they also faced an incredibly weak non-conference schedule to make that happen: Bowling Green, Miami (OH), Florida Atlantic, and North Dakota State.

Worst Team (Conference Play):

Again, a bit of reshuffling but not a lot of new names.  As Huey Lewis once said, "Bad is bad."

Rank Team Exp. W%
99 2005 Illinois  4.22
98 2003 Illinois 7.83
97 2008 Indiana 7.85
96 2003 Indiana 8.80
95 2002 Indiana 15.82
94 2005 Indiana 16.96
93 2002 Northwestern 16.99
92 2006 Northwestern 17.57
91 2010 Indiana 17.86
90 2004 Illinois 20.78

Congratulations, 2008 Northwestern!  Your bumbling, incompetent, completely inexplicable, five-turnover loss to 2008 Indiana is -- BY FAR -- the worst loss in the conference in the last nine seasons!  The 2003 and 2005 Illini went winless, and the two Indiana teams following them on this list probably should have followed suit (if it weren't for the fact that 2003 Illinois landed on Indiana's schedule that year for an anti-Game of the Century, 2003 Indiana would have).  But 2008 Northwestern was ranked #22 heading into its game with the third-worst team of the time period in question, and it wet the bed.

Of course, that 2008 Northwestern team also beat Iowa.  Don't get us started.


The best Iowa teams of the last nine years, in order based on expected overall winning percentage:

Rank Team Exp. W% Exp. Over. Rec. Exp. Conf. Rec.
1 2008 Iowa 88.14 11-2 6-2
2 2002 Iowa 81.90 11-2 7-1
3 2003 Iowa 79.60 10-3 5-3
4 2010 Iowa 77.90 10-3 5-3
5 2009 Iowa 72.49 9-4 5-3
6 2005 Iowa 72.33 9-3 6-2
7 2004 Iowa 68.35 8-4 6-2
8 2006 Iowa 58.33 8-5 4-4
9 2007 Iowa 49.20 6-6 3-5

Nothing interesting about that list, right?

In 2005, someone at CBS ranked Iowa preseason #2 based solely on the fact that Ferentz could quite clearly do no wrong.  In looking at those numbers from 2004 (+81 margin of victory, no running game to speak of), it makes total sense.  Forget 2009.  Forget the rest of the last nine years.  The 2004 Iowa Hawkeyes were the greatest smoke-and-mirrors team in the history of the program, and the season-ending Capital One Bowl win, capping a third-straight 10-win season, sits barely below late October 1985 in program high points.  The thought that three teams that failed to win ten games were clearly better than the miracle of 2004 seems preposterous on its face but is backed up by the numbers.

I'm happy this list is how it is.  I'm happy that 2008 Iowa was truly the best Hawkeye team of the decade, and that 2010 was actually better than 2009, and that 2005 should have gone better.  I'm happy because it means my eyes were not deceiving me and my brain did not stop functioning during those seasons.  Those were better teams than the record showed.  Those three teams were simply star-crossed, whether because of injuries or turnovers or special teams or clock management or just bad luck.  I can live with this list, because the eyeball test seems to prove it's probably correct.