Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Seriously, how bad is Colorado?

There was a series of MGoBlog posts last year titled "GopherQuest," which was only a quest in a sense that Minnesota was apparently on a quest to be the worst team (relative to the competition) in Big Ten history. Srsly; there were numbers to back that up until which point Minnesota arose from the dead to beat Iowa at the end of October and then, for no particular reason (other than Ron Zook being Ron Zook), beat Illinois by 20 in the last game of the year.

This is relevant because this year's version of Colorado is probably worse; I mentioned this the other day but decided it was worthy of its own post because of the pure awfulness of the numbers.

Just from an early-season-comparison standpoint, Minnesota's nonconference schedule last year included an inexplicable two-point loss to USC in the opener, a loss to a really, really bad New Mexico State team, a win (!) over Miami (Ohio) and a 13-point loss to North Dakota State. That's bad. Colorado this year has lost by a touchdown to Colorado State (which went out the next week and lost by two touchdowns to North Dakota State), a two-point loss to Sacramento State (which had just lost by 40 to a still-awful New Mexico State team) and a 55-point loss to Fresno State that was 48-0 midway through the second quarter. I mean ... yeah.

But the question isn't really whether Colorado is worse than last year's version of Minnesota, which somehow ended up with three wins (Colorado almost can't do that this year with nonconference play done); the question is this: Seriously, how bad is Colorado? What I'm interested in are some opponent-adjusted performance numbers that can be compared to those of other teams to help answer that question.

The raw numbers are as bad as expected: Colorado is 113th in total offense, 105th in scoring offense, 106th in total defense, 112th in scoring defense, 104th in rushing offense, 114th in pass efficiency, 94th in rushing defense (woo), 119th in pass efficiency defense and 94th in turnover margin.

Considering that those stats have been accumulated against (a) two non-BCS-conference teams and one average FCS team and (b) an assortment of teams that have compiled blowout losses to the likes of North Dakota State and New Mexico State, the adjusted numbers probably shouldn't be much (if any) better.

So ... here are Colorado's FEI numbers (as a reminder, FEI strips out garbage-time possessions and adjusts for schedule strength as well as fluky things like good drives that end with turnovers by including per-play and per-drive yardage and field position in its formula): 106th in offensive efficiency and 101st in defensive efficiency. For reference, the offensive efficiency of -.715 means Colorado's offense is about as far below average as Oregon's is above average, and the defensive efficiency of .460 means Colorado's defense is about as far below average as Texas A&M/Kansas State/ASU are above average. There are a couple problems with the to-date FEI numbers, though, with the first being that they aren't entirely adjusted for opponent quality until Week 7 (to make that number meaningful since everybody starts at 0-0) and the second being that games against FCS teams aren't included, so that craptacular loss to Sacramento State isn't factored in at all. So those numbers aren't totally credible yet.

The only advanced numbers that'll be inclusive of that Sacramento State loss are Sagarin's, which aren't of as much value as FEI's for the exact opposite reason FEI's are valuable: They're based almost entirely on results and opponent quality rather than actual performance data. But they are what they are, and what they are is inclusive of FCS teams/info.

153. Colorado       51.62       0-3       58.79 (134)

Key: The number to the far left is the actual ranking (51.62 is the value that produced that ranking); the number to the far right is the strength-of-schedule value/ranking.

Reaction: Yeesh. FYI, there are only five non-provisional FBS teams statistically worse than Colorado, and all of them are the dregs of the dregs. Statistically, Colorado is by far the worst major-conference team in the country.

Interestingly, the only team that's close in terms of both FEI and Sagarin is Washington State, which is 96th in FEI and 90th in Sagarin and just so happens to be Colorado's opponent this week. After that, the schedule gets, like, a lot harder. All of the following eight teams are currently ranked in the top 35 in both rankings except for Washington, which might actually be the third-best team in the Pac-12 but hasn't really indicated it thus far (in part due to the misfortune of playing LSU).

And that brings me back to the original question, which isn't "how bad has Colorado been statistically through three games" but "how bad is Colorado relative to its peers (both current and historical)?" The answer to the second question is obviously related to the first (especially since that's all the data that's available right now), but some projection/comparisons are necessary. And projection/comparisons based on the aforementioned remaining schedule is pretty horrifying.

FEI has a "remaining mean wins" calculation that includes the to-date FEI data laid across each team's remaining schedule to come up with basically an expected number of wins. Colorado's remaining mean wins: 1.0. And that's optimistic seeing as how (as mentioned above) FEI doesn't factor in the Sacramento State loss. A winless year looks likely barring massive improvement at ... I dunno ... something.

As for what that means in a historical context, the baseline for Pac-10/Pac-12 awfulness has to be the '09 Washington State team; the '08 one was comparably bad but got a couple wins, one of which was against winless and Jake Locker-less Washington in the last game of the year. The '09 team won one game (that against SMU in overtime), didn't lose any conference game by fewer than 13 points, got collectively outscored 462-144 and got collectively outgained by 3,161 yards. To make that a little more interpretable, Washington State's "average" result that year was a 39-12 loss featuring a yardage differential of 512-249 -- and those numbers were worse when filtered down to just the conference games. Also, Wazzu finished 117th in FEI that year thanks to an offense that was an 118th, a defense that was 96th and special teams that were 120th (out of 120). That team was cramazingly bad.

Is Colorado that bad? Maybe. The loss to Sacramento State would be worthy of some arbitrary number of cramazing points, but the overall data would render the comparison between that game and a win over a crappy 2009 SMU team largely insignificant. As of right now, Colorado is, on average, getting outscored 40-20 and outgained 480-290; as was the case with Wazzu in '09, those numbers will undoubtedly get worse seeing as how Oregon and USC aren't Colorado State and Sacramento State.

To get to an '09 Wazzu level of awfulness, Colorado would need to be 28 percent worse in terms of scoring margin and about 38 percent worse in terms of yardage differential in conference play than it's been through three games. Seems plausible given the upcoming quality-of-opponent increase, especially since the one game thus far against a not-totally-terrible team (Fresno State) ended 69-14 and with Colorado getting outgained 665-278.

So yeah, it could happen. Might as well, IMO; better to be historically terrible and get noticed (by me, at least) than be just regularly terrible. Right?


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