I have been running some numbers lately on upsets in games between two SEC opponents. I have restricted it to just the past five seasons for reasons I’ll get into in a later piece, but it has to do with limited data availability more than anything else.
Since what constitutes an upset can be subjective, I have defined upsets using the following assumptions:
1. You are what your record says you are.
I bring out this old chestnut from Bill Parcells to say that teams’ final records are what I used to judge them. Specifically, it was their win total for the year. I know that it’s not always an accurate way to gauge the difference between teams since their non-conference and inter-division slates can differ.
However, no one in the league generally kills themselves in their non-conference scheduling, and division opponents rotate while the quality of the teams varies as well. It’s fairly random, and I can accept that.
2. Teams with the same final win count plus or minus one are basically the same.
Is there really a difference between two six win teams? How about a six win team and a five win team? Or a six and a seven win team? Of course there is because no two teams are identical, but chance does play a role in football.
If teams are within one win of each other, then I say the difference between them is not significant enough to call one winning over the other an upset. When teams that are within a win of each other played, I classified those games as tossups. It is only from the mismatches, where the difference of the final win totals of the two teams was two or greater, that I classified games as upsets.
These are not perfect rules, but I think they are acceptable compromises. You have to draw the line somewhere because analyzing every game is not feasible.
In the 225 SEC mismatch games of the past five full seasons, there were 22 upsets. That is 9.78% of them, so about one in every ten SEC mismatches turns into an upset. There was no real pattern as to whether home favorites or road favorites got upset, as 12 of them were home favorites losing and 10 were road favorites losing.
Most people think of upsets as being close, last-minute wins by the lesser team against the better team. That is not really the case, as only 12 of the 22, or 54.55%, of the games were decided by a touchdown or less. Essentially, that’s random.
Despite the conference being known for parity (i.e. teams “beating each other up”), fewer than a quarter (23.47%) of the conference games were tossups. In addition, only 2007 saw more than four real upsets:
The low of two upsets in 2004 is largely due to Auburn going undefeated. When the conference champion loses, it’s almost always via upset according to my accounting methods here. Therefore, an undefeated champ (2004) will cause there to be a lower number of upsets, and a two loss champ (2007) will cause there to be a higher number.
The other culprit causing 2007 to have more upsets was South Carolina. Early wins over eventual eight-win teams Kentucky and Mississippi State count as upsets because the Gamecocks collapsed to a 6-6 final record.
You could argue whether they were truly upsets or not, considering how hot SC was at the beginning of the year, but you can’t really measure “hot” objectively and as I said you have to draw the line somewhere. I can’t discount those games without analyzing every other one. No thanks.
Frequent Upset Participants
Some teams are more likely to be involved in upsets. If you’re a Florida fan like me, you’re probably nodding your head and for good reason: the Gators head up the list along with Kentucky and South Carolina.
6 Upsets: Florida (3 wins, 3 losses), Kentucky (3 wins, 3 losses), South Carolina (5 wins, 1 loss)
5 Upsets: Georgia (1 win, 4 losses)
4 Upsets: LSU (0 wins, 4 losses)
3 Upsets: Auburn (2 wins, 1 loss), Miss St. (2 wins, 1 loss), Tennessee (1 win, 2 losses), Vanderbilt (2 wins, 1 loss)
2 Upsets: Alabama (1 win, 1 loss), Arkansas (1 win, 1 loss)
1 Upset: Ole Miss (1 win)
You can thank Ron Zook for Florida being at the top, as four of UF’s upset games were under his watch. At least he had a 3 wins/1 loss ratio, though the one loss was the game that got him fired. Urban Meyer presided over two upset games, and both were losses (South Carolina 2005, Auburn 2006).
Kentucky finds itself up there thanks to dueling with fellow traditional bottom-three teams of the SEC East South Carolina and Vanderbilt. It has an upset win over and an upset loss to Vandy and two upset losses to South Carolina. The only other series of games with more than one upset was Florida and Georgia. Upset wins over Arkansas (2002) and LSU (2007) round out the Wildcats’ slate.
I have covered South Carolina’s existence at the top fairly well.
I bet folks would have expected Mississippi State to be involved in more upsets, given Sly Croom’s reputation, but the two games where an opposing coach got Croomed (Zook in ’04, Shula in ’06) were the school’s only two true upset wins. Same goes for Arkansas, since Houston Nutt has a reputation for winning a game he shouldn’t every year. Turns out the upset win over LSU last year was his only true upset of the last five seasons.
Ole Miss’ win over South Carolina in 2004 marks the only upset it has been involved in over the past five seasons. Under David Cutcliffe and Ed Orgeron, the Rebels won the games they should have won and lost the games they should have lost. Score one for Nutt in 2008 though if Ole Miss fails to finish within one win of UF this season, an overwhelmingly likely scenario.
A Preview of Coming Attractions
Considering that Alabama dropped in both the BlogPoll and SEC Power Poll this week, folks apparently weren’t overly impressed by the Tide’s narrow overtime win over LSU. When the opposing quarterback throws four picks, one of them for a touchdown, and you only win by six in overtime, you’re not going to impress a lot of people.
But it was on the road! But it was in Tiger Stadium! But it was the Saban Bowl!
Alabama will finish with greater than one win more than the Tigers, and that’s likely true even if the hosts had won, so an LSU win would have been an upset on my parameters. That made Alabama a true road favorite.
For games that have been kicked off between 3:30 and 5:45 (inclusive) over the past five seasons, road favorites have a .913 winning percentage. Alabama had a better than 90% chance of winning based on that, and it took them to overtime to seal the deal.
The overall attitude of not being overly impressed is probably justified. Alabama should win that game nine out of 10 times under the circumstances. They didn’t give a performance that meshes with that stat. Now in games with a road favorite, the probability of a close game is 56.52%. That lets them off the hook some since it was slightly better that pure chance that a close game would occur.
But seriously… four picks, one a pick-six, and you need overtime to beat an overmatched team? Well, I suppose three turnovers of your own and two missed field goals will make that happen. Sometimes you don’t need fancy stats to diagnose a game.