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Friday, August 26, 2011

Can the Aggies Reach the Pinnacle in 2011?

As the Aggies try to climb to the top of college football in just two seasons, there is plenty of precedent for such a rapid rise.

Brian Fremeau of Football Outsiders recently presented an analysis on in which he identified "it" teams that he believes will fall short of expectations. First on his list is Texas A&M. Essentially, the argument is that A&M and other programs lack the program depth, measured by his 5 season FEI, to achieve such lofty goals.  Specifically, he notes that no team outside of the top 20 PFEI in the last 10 years has played for a national title. And while the Aggies' 56th ranked PFEI does not overwhelm with confidence, Brian's condemnation of the Aggies is premature.

First, the Aggies don't need to play for a national championship to live up to expectations. Instead, let's focus on a top 10 finish. Consistently ranked at the bottom end of the top 10 in preseason polls, the nation's coaches and media, and Aggieland with them, seem to agree that a top 10 finish is a reasonable expectation for these Aggies. Coming from the Big 12 with OOC games against Arkansas and SMU, 2 losses shouldn't be enough to keep A&M out of the top 10. Only 3 teams from BCS conferences have finished outside of the AP top 10 after losing 2 or fewer games in a season since 2005, and 1of those was Rutgers, which barely counts.

So, how many teams have been able to make the jump from 56th FPEI to 2 or fewer losses. While I have plenty of fancy metrics myself, I've decided to keep it simple and look only at win/loss records - because my dependent variable is measured in losses, a win/loss metric is internally controlled for SOS. So, how many teams have managed to jump from a winning percentage worse than the Aggies over the past five seasons (54.6%) to a 2- (2 or fewer) loss season.

Since 1980, 391 teams have lost 2- games in a season (36 undefeated, 127 one-loss and 228 two-loss seasons). These teams won about 2/3 of their games in the 5 seasons before that season (66.3%), a mark not drastically, but substantially, better than the Aggies 54.6% winning percentage between 2006 and 2010.

But many teams have been able to make the jump to 2- after worse runs than the Aggies. Almost 1/3 of the 228 two-loss teams had worse winning percentages than the Aggies in the 5 previous seasons. The Aggies have already made the jump in 1985, and Alabama made the jump in 2005 in the run up to a national championship.

Nineteen teams managed one-loss seasons after underperforming the Aggies over the previous 5 seasons. Four of the 19 went from losing records to a one loss season in the last decade (Oregon St. 2000; Stanford 2010; Kansas 2007; and Penn St. 2005). Texas A&M's football program is infrastucturally superior to all of these programs, and Aggieland would rejoice after a one-loss season that ends in a BCS bowl game.

And, finally, 4 teams (about 10% of all undefeated teams since 1980) have managed to turn around a losing record over 5 seasons to an undefeated season. Two, Oklahoma in 2000 and Georgia Tech in 1990, won national championships, and the other two, Syracuse 1987 and Tulane 1997, finished in the top 10.

What does this all mean? It means that the Aggies' poor performance is in no way a hindrance to them making a jump into the top 10 this season. And what do many of these teams that make the big jump have in common? A relatively recent coaching change, something the Aggies are now enjoying.

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