A chief concern of Boise State Bronco fans is and always will be the unerring sucktitude of the WAC.
Conference pushovers cost BSU more national respect than anyone will ever know, and blowout after blowout fail miserably to prepare Boise State for games against bigger and better teams.
At least, that's the prevailing wisdom.
But does it hold up against the almighty pie chart?
In the spirit of finding out just how battle-tested these Broncos really are, I took it upon myself to chart exactly how often the Broncos were in close games. You've heard of time of possession. Well, this is time of closeness or time of anxiety or time of .. I don't know, I'm kind of waiting for a sponsor for the whole thing.
Here's how the stat works. Using some parameters from Football Outsiders, I determined close games by the following rules:
- First quarter: If the scoring margin is within 24 points or less, the game is "close."
- Second quarter: If the scoring margin is within 21 points or less, the game is "close."
- Third and fourth quarters: If the scoring margin is within 16 points or less (i.e., two possessions), the game is "close."
With these rules in mind, I went through each game on the Broncos' 2008 schedule, applied a formula, took a Video Professor course on Microsoft Excel, and voila - the 2008 Boise State close games pie chart. Mmm, pie.
Here are the stats behind the chart:
|Games||Total time||Close||Blowout||Pct of close|
Out of the Broncos' 13 games last fall, only 65 percent of actual game time was deemed to be close. Only twice were the Broncos involved in games that were never out of hand - at Nevada and the P-Bowl versus TCU. San Jose State came close, too, keeping it a game until the final minute. Naturally, New Mexico State was least competitive of the bunch, but what a thrilling first 20 minutes those were.
Of course, this statistic means very little when there's no bigger picture perspective. Do most teams only have close games about two-thirds of the time? Is the WAC really awful? Why am I still doing math when I've been out of school for five years?
To find out the answers to the former, I crunched the numbers for TCU, a supposedly hardened, veteran bunch who play in a much more competitive conference with tough games week in and week out.
Or so I thought. The difference between Boise State and TCU? About 26 minutes.
TCU was in close games 68 percent of the time, which may as well be the same as the Broncos. They played tight with the Broncos, Utah, Colorado State, and Stanford, and the rest of their results were lopsided on a creepily similar WAC scale. Half of their conference games were over by halftime. Sound familiar?
What the numbers prove is that the WAC schedule doesn't hurt the Broncos' close-game toughness as much as you might expect. Theoretically, it doesn't matter what conference you play in if you are clearly head and shoulders above the majority of your competition.
The big six conferences might tell a different story, though, and to find out, I tested Oregon's close game percentage.
The Ducks had a whole 80 extra minutes of worry time compared to the Broncos, which equates to nearly six quarters. Three-fourths of their time on the field was played with the game result in doubt. And this includes dates against Utah State and Washington State.
The big question will be how this all relates to the 2009 season, and how this plays out when the Ducks and Broncos face off in September. Boise State is a young team. They only have a couple of guys left from the 2006 Fiesta Bowlers, and the rest of the roster is pulling experience from blowing out conference opponents. Will it be enough? Will it even matter come September 3 and beyond? Will Oregon's greater experience in close games make a difference? Are these numbers even accurate?
To answer those questions: who knows, probably less than I think, hard to tell, and judging from the chart below, super accurate.