Hot Reads: Over and Underrated Teams at the Three-Quarters Pole
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Hot Reads: Over and Underrated Teams at the Three-Quarters Pole

November 07, 2018

I did a spot check of teams' Pythagorean win totals back when we hit the midpoint of the season. Now that we're 75 percent done with the regular season, and Nebraska picked up a couple of wins, it seemed like the right time to revisit those numbers.

Three games ago, the Huskers were an 0-6 team with a scoring differential that suggested it should've had about 1.4 wins. That was the fifth-largest positive differential in the country and little bit of basic backup for the popular sentiment that Nebraska was better than its record suggested.

The Huskers are now fourth nationally here at the three-quarters pole, and they eclipsed the threshold that typically indicates good things for the following season:


You calculate a winning percentage based on points scored/allowed, then compare that to the actual wins. Most teams are going to fall within a normal range of plus/minus 1.5 Pythagorean wins of the actual total. But for the teams that exceed that number either way (+/- 1.6 wins is typically two standard deviations) — i.e. they won or lost more games than they probably should have — have more/fewer wins the following year about 65-to-68 percent of the time.


Air Force and Nebraska are the only two holdovers from the midpoint top five. Auburn, Memphis and Georgia Tech fell back in the rankings and were replaced by . . .

Air Force 3 5.26 2.26
Miss. St. 6 7.96 1.96
Miami 5 6.91 1.91
Nebraska 2 3.87 1.87
Tulsa 2 3.69 1.69

That probably won't soothe the anger of Miami fans, but the 5-4 Hurricanes have an interesting slate the rest of the way playing at Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and then hosting Pittsburgh to end the season (with a chance to play spoiler?). 

Mississippi State has bounced back a bit and is starting to look like the team many thought it would be at the start of the season, though a trip to Alabama and a big loss could knock the Bulldogs down a few places here.

As for the bottom five, they've all reached the -1.6 threshold, too, and it's still not that exciting of a group.

NIU 6 3.87 -2.13
USF 7 4.91 -2.09
SDSU 7 5.06 -1.94
Notre Dame 9 7.09 -1.91
ULM 5 3.11 -1.89

After starting 7-0, South Florida has been blown out in back-to-back weeks by Houston and Tulane. The Bulls finish at Cincinnati, at Temple and home against UCF meaning there's a good chance they'll end the regular season on a five-game losing streak.

But the notable team here is Notre Dame, No. 3 in last night's new CFP rankings. Close wins over Michigan (in Week 1), Ball State, Vanderbilt and Pitt are what's dragging the Irish's expected win total down. On paper Notre Dame has a pretty clear path to 12-0. The Irish have to face struggling versions of Florida State and USC with a game against Syracuse in between. The game against the Orange will draw the most attention as a potential upset spot, but I wouldn't be totally shocked if the Irish lost any one of the remaining three. The Irish have earned their spot in the rankings to this point. Are they the third best team in the country?

No, I don't believe so.

Back to Nebraska for a second, the Huskers have only been this far behind their expected win total twice since 2007. The 2015 team, Mike Riley's 6-7 squad plagued by close losses, was 1.76 wins behind its projection and "improved" by three wins the following season. (Quote marks here because I don't think Nebraska actually got better, but it's win total did.)

The 2009 team, however, is tough to top in terms of win differential. That year's Huskers went 10-4 with an expected win total of 12.45. In retrospect, that offseason might have been the zenith of the Bo Pelini era. Or maybe it was five weeks into the 2010 season. Probably the latter. Either way, the 2010 team also won 10 games for no change from the previous season. And the program kind of got stuck there. 

When all signs pointed to an improvement, Nebraska remained flat and — unless we're talking about Michigan State, which bounces back and forth on an almost annual basis from over- to underachieving, –– it can be hard to regain that momentum.

We'll take one more look at these numbers after bowl season to get an early sense of which teams will be the offseason darlings. Last year's list is holding up OK, minus the ACC teams.

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