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Monday, August 15, 2011

Putting Crappy Football in Perspective

My team has sucked, but so has yours. It is the nature of college football, and sports in general, that even good programs (and franchises) have bad seasons. Notre Dame, Michigan, Texas and Nebraska have all had losing seasons in the last 4 years. Oklahoma had three straight losing seasons from 1996 to 1998. The Yankees lost 95 games in 1990. Even River Plate, the Red Sox of Argentine soccer, was recently relegated to the second division.

The real difference between good programs and bad programs is that good programs rebound. LSU had 8 losing seasons between 1989 and 1999, but would return to national championship form in less than 5 years. Oklahoma needed only two seasons to go from losing more than winning to a national title. A program should not be evaluated by where it is at any one moment, but where it goes during its highest highs and lowest lows.

Here I focus on college football's lowest lows. Specifically, I am looking at each programs' worst 5 and 10 year slumps since 1970. The chart below lists 116 college football programs by their worst seasons. Higher ranked teams are those whose lowest lows just aren't as low as others. (Ties count as 1/2 a win.)

Ohio State is the clear winner here. While they might not be able to beat the SEC in a bowl game without cheating, they have the luxury of playing the majority of their games against the Big 10. Nebraska, Michigan, Georgia, and Notre Dame join Ohio State as college football's best at not being bad (though Michigan is one non-spectacular season from dropping off this list). No program has managed a sub-60% 5 year slump, and only 7 have managed to avoid a losing record over any 5 year period.

Northwestern, Kent State, Kansas State, and New Mexico State have each managed 5 year slumps of historic proportions, losing more than 90% of their games. These, clearly, are not elite college football programs.

But my real interest here is to put Texas A&M's 21st century struggles in perspective. In yellow are those slumps that are still better than Texas A&M's worst 21st century slumps (2005-2009 and 2000-2009). Again, only 7 programs have avoided slumps worse than Texas A&M's recent 5 year slump. Among the schools that have experienced worse 5 year slumps are Oklahoma (1994-1998),  Alabama (2000-2004), Florida (1977-1981), LSU (1990-1994), Florida State (1972-1976), and Miami (1975-1979), all of whom have won national championships in the last dozen years (USC (1997-2001) and Texas (1985-1989) were both 1 loss away from joining this list). Seventeen programs have avoided worse 10 year slumps than the Aggies between 2000 and 2009.

So, are the Aggies going to win a national championship some time in the next 5 years? I think so, but that's not really the point here. Instead, the point here is that just because the Aggies have struggled recently does not mean they will continue to struggle indefinitely, no more than Oklahoma, LSU, or Alabama have continued to struggle. And when you consider the heights Texas A&M has achieved over the last 30 years, you have to believe that brighter days are ahead, and probably not that far in the future.

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