WAC overachievers and underachievers via the confusing metrics of math


Applying advanced math to WAC previews is a little like applying reading comprehension to a Bleacher Report article. I mean, why?

Fortunately, I don't let little questions like "why" stand in the way of my writing about Boise State football. Today, I wanted to take a look at Pythagorean wins and how they might impact the 2010 WAC standings. Get your thinking caps on, everyone.

Pythagorean wins defined by people smarter than I:

Pythagorean Theorem: Measurement of wins based on points scored and allowed. Used to predict future success. "Points For" squared divided by the sum of "Points For" squared and "Points Against" squared. A coefficient of 2.37 is used for football. Original formula by Bill James for baseball analysis.

In English words, Pythagorean wins basically compare points scored with points allowed, assuming that these numbers are the best predictor for actual team performance. If you consistently blow people out, Pythagorean wins will love you. If you consistently get blown out but win a handful of games by three points, Pythagorean wins will hate your guts. With that in mind, here's the WAC:

Team Points For Points Against Pythagorean Wins Actual Wins Difference Overachiever rank
Idaho 425 468 5.76 8 2.24 1
NMSU 149 411 1.08 3 1.92 2
Boise State 591 240 12.52 14 1.48 3
Hawaii 296 383 4.57 6 1.43 4
SJSU 165 414 1.22 2 0.78 5
Fresno State 440 369 7.84 8 0.16 6
Nevada 497 371 8.67 8 -0.67 7
USU 349 408 4.90 4 -0.90 8
LaTech 350 309 6.88 4 -2.88 9

Let's draw some conclusions.

(Keep in mind that exceeding Pythagorean wins means you got lucky and probably won't do it again. Failing to reach your Pythagorean projection means that you lost a lot more often than you should have and will probably be better next year.)

Idaho is terrible, this is a fact

The Vandals won eight games in 2009 when they should have won six, tops. Their Season of a Lifetime was so tenuous that they actually got outscored by 43 points over the course of the year. Do you know what kind of teams do that? Overachieving ones. And do you know what kind of teams do that and are then picked to do it again the next year? Overrated ones.

New Mexico State is worse than expected, this is depressing

Somehow the Aggies found a way to win a full two more games than they should have. Football God must owe DeWayne Walker money or something.

Louisiana Tech should have been bowl eligible, this is why Derek Dooley is coaching Tennessee?

According to Pythagorus, the Bulldogs scored and prevented scoring well enough to win seven games last year. According to the standings in my Phil Steele, the Bulldogs won four games. Where did things go wrong? I don't know, but perhaps you should ask the man in cha-... oh, that's right, he's coaching Tennessee now.

Allow me to put Boise State's Pythagorean wins in perspective

First off, you are not supposed to win 14 games in a season. It just doesn't happen. So when you do win 14 games, it is understandable that the gap between Pythagorean wins (expected wins) and actual wins should be enormous.

It isn't for Boise State. The Broncos managed to outscore their opponents at a high enough rate to make 14 wins seem entirely plausible. Their win difference only ranked third in the conference and was a full three-quarters less than frontrunner Idaho. Pythagorus would spin around in his geometric grave if he saw this.

Your turn

Got anything to add? Glad there is a measurement to prove just how bad Idaho is? Share your thoughts in the comments if you'd like.

HT to SBN blog Roll Bama Roll for the chart idea

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