Upsets in the SEC: General Information

November 13, 2008

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.

Overall

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:

upsetsbyyear

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.

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Florida-Georgia Preview: Common Opponents

October 28, 2008

Despite playing in the same division of the same conference, Florida and Georgia have played just two common opponents thus far in the season: Tennessee and LSU. That is mostly because Georgia always plays South Carolina and Vandy at the beginning of the season, while Florida always plays them at the end.

The games against those common opponents for both UF and UGA were played under different circumstances, but I am going to try to pull some insight out of them to help preview this weekend’s game.

Tennessee

The biggest difference between the games Florida and Georgia had with the Vols is that UF got them in Neyland while UGA got them in Athens. Plus, Florida faced Jonathan Crompton at quarterback instead of Nick Stephens, for whatever that’s worth. About the only other thing to mention is that Florida played Tennessee before the collapse of UT football was fully evident, while Georgia caught them reeling at 2-4.

You may recall that the Florida-Tennessee game sparked a lot of debates about the new clock rules. Both teams were intent on controlling the ball and slowing down the game, with a result that neither team reached 60 total offensive plays in the contest.

The 30-6 final score was more indicative of the pace than the way the game actually went. Florida jumped out to a 20-0 first half lead and pushed it to 27-0 before finally settling in to the 30-6 end score. However, Florida punted only once before garbage time, and the Gators had one final drive to run out the clock where they could have scored if they wanted to. If the game had been played at a normal pace with a normal amount of plays, UF could have scored a lot more.

The 26-14 final of the Georgia-Tennessee game was not really indicative of the distance between the teams, but it was indicative of the fact that the Bulldogs never fully put the Vols away until late in the fourth quarter when a field goal pushed the score to its final amount. Tennessee pulled to within six late in the third quarter, and an early fourth quarter field goal for the Bulldogs didn’t completely put the game out of reach mathematically. A nine-point lead with 14:00 to go isn’t that big in college football.

Georgia was a lot more impressive on the stat sheet, and it was Matthew Stafford’s first 300-yard passing game of his career. However penalties, dropped passes, and missed opportunities on defense kept the game from ever getting out of hand. Tennessee was never out of it far enough to lose hope, but if you watched the game you know they weren’t fully in it the whole time either.

We’ve seen two Georgia teams this year: Good Georgia, which mimics the team of the second half of 2007, and Sloppy Georgia, which mimics the team of the first half of 2007. This was definitely Sloppy Georgia.

LSU

As with Tennessee, LSU met the two teams under differing circumstances. This time it was Florida’s turn to be at home with Georgia going on the road to see the Tigers. Florida was the first team to really unmask the LSU defense, putting up 51 points, but Georgia did them one better by putting up 52 after everyone knew the Tiger D was shaky.

Florida’s defense was the big factor in allowing UF to jump out to an early lead. A tipped ball allowed Percy Harvin to score a 70-yard TD of course, a play that kind of knocked the wind out of the Tigers, but it was stuffing the run and forcing punts that made 17 first quarter points possible. Les Miles would say after the game that Florida had gone up by 17 before the Tigers could catch their breaths, indicating that the outburst effectively KO’d LSU for the rest of the game. LSU would pull to within 20-14, but a quick TD drive after that put LSU away for good.

Florida eventually gave up 321 yards in the game and held LSU to 3.1 yards per rush. The Tigers’ third touchdown came after a fumble on a passing play that really shouldn’t have been called given the Gators’ 41-14 fourth quarter lead at the time. This one easily could have been 54-14 or worse.

I didn’t get to see much of the Georgia-LSU game I must confess. After the Florida-Kentucky game I went to a friend’s house to watch more games and, me living in Charlotte and all, the house was full of Hokies watching VT-FSU. I did see a bits of it, and it seemed like every time I flipped over to it, Georgia had the ball and was driving.

I trust the DawgSports review of the game, because the folks over there do a great job of covering the “Classic City Canines” as they are wont to call them. The major concern of the game was some missed tackles, and that bears out in the box score.

LSU put up 497 yards of offense and averaged 4.6 yards per rush. Many of those yards came after the game was already decided (take your pick – either when UGA went up 38-17 in the third or 45-24 in the fourth), just like many of the Tigers’ 38 points did. Still, it was not as dominating of a defensive performance by Georgia as Florida had against LSU. At the same time this one was a road game for Georgia, whereas Florida got LSU in front of what was by nearly every account the rowdiest Swamp atmosphere in a while.

Nevertheless, this was an appearance by Good Georgia.

Conclusion

Florida definitely had the better showing against Tennessee, and the performances by the two teams against LSU are basically equal (though I’d give Florida a slight edge). The differing circumstances keep the comparisons from being exact, but at least with these two opponents, the Gators have had more success. Georgia, to its credit, has had the good sense to lose to a currently undefeated team rather than a currently .500 team.

The game this Saturday is a completely different animal. There will be no Tigers or Vols in sight (though the random Miami Guy will probably be there). It will just be Bulldogs and Gators, and there’s more coming on that matter later this week.


Didn’t See That One Coming

October 13, 2008

Of all the possibilities for the LSU game, I did not consider a blowout. I thought the teams’ weaknesses overall evened themselves out and that there was no way the final margin would be larger than two scores. It’s not that I pondered it and then dismissed it; the though never entered my mind.

The 51-21 final score is an excellent example of why I don’t gamble. Something I in no way expected happened. Don’t get me wrong; I am more than happy to be wrong. In fact, I am elated to be wrong. When people are drawing comparisons between the way the Gators beat someone to how they beat people in 1996, that’s a good thing.

Because of my weekend schedule, I was only able to see most of the fourth quarter and some highlights. I probably won’t get to see the whole game until Tuesday, and that’s fine. This is a bye week, so without a game on Saturday to prep for it gives me something to do.

There will be no analysis right now, and it’s appropriate for what happened. It’s time to enjoy such a big win, not dissect it to death. For the first time against a great opponent since the ’07 Tennessee game (and depending on how you define “great,” the first time since the national title game) it was Godzilla versus Duck Hunt out there.

Hint: we’re not the ducks.

I’d love to give you the ten reasons why this game was different than the past few, or do a rundown of how the play calling has changed over the course of the season. I can’t. What I can tell you is that it’s great to be a Florida Gator, and there’s no better way to go into a bye week than destroying a top-five team.

Celebrate this one for now, Gators. We’ll figure out the rest of the season later.


Florida and LSU

October 11, 2008

This will be my last full post for a bit since I am traveling this weekend.

Florida and LSU seem like a somewhat unlikely pair for the assigned rivalry in the SEC rotation. Auburn would make more sense for the Gators, but AU has more history with Georgia. I imagine the conference wanted to pair up a couple of good schools who had some sort of history since Florida has no real ties to the Mississippi schools or Arkansas.

The Gators and Tigers first played in 1937, but Steve Spurrier went 11-1 against them and that prevented the series from being a real rivalry. There haven’t been too many real notable games since then, unless you count Florida being the only loss on LSU’s 2003 slate, and they haven’t even played in the SEC title game.

I kind of like it that way, actually. I love the big, fierce environments like what Florida has against Tennessee, Georgia, and FSU, but it’s nice to have a regularly played big game that’s not an out-and-out hate fest. There is some respect there between these two teams and fanbases, and they churn out great games on a consistent basis.

The 2006 game was a classic for a number of reasons, including the unveiling of the jump pass and JaMarcus Russell’s fumbles. Last season was an incredible game from start to finish, even if the wrong team won.

Here’s to a great Florida-LSU game. It almost certainly will be another fantastic game, and there probably won’t be any fights except between the impossibly hammered. Let’s go.


SEC Power Poll Roundtable #2

October 10, 2008

This round is hosted by Georgia blog Hey Jenny Slater. The compiled roundtable will come sometime next week.

1. What’s your prediction for the matchup in the SEC championship game, and has that changed at all from what you were predicting in the preseason?

Sorry Commodores, but I see the winner of the Florida-Georgia game winning the East even if both lose another conference game. I also see the winner of the LSU-Alabama game winning the West. Today I’d give those games to Florida and ‘Bama, though I could easily see any combination of those plausibly in the game.

My preseason pick was Florida-LSU, so it hasn’t changed a whole lot. It all depends on which Alabama team shows up to play the Tigers.

2. Knowing what you now know about your team, how have your expectations for this season changed? What would constitute a successful season in your eyes, and what would be a disappointment?

The offense has not been at the level I expected it to be at, but I think my expectations were probably a bit high. I discounted the fact that the offense would be changing, and the offensive line has not been near what I expected it to be. I figured with three redshirt seniors and the Pouncey brothers it would be nearly impenetrable, but that has not been the case. Trautwein has been rusty after being out injured last year, Tartt has been injured on and off, Watkins has been inconsistent, and the Pounceys have taken some time to get used to new positions.

There is an elite team under the perceived issues and fans’ pessimism, and I think we might see it yet. I said before the year that since the schedule is easier than last season’s and the team would be better, the expectations begin at 10-2, a game better than 2007’s 9-3 regular season record.

If they go at least 1-1 against LSU and Georgia, they can still meet that expectation with relative ease. The catch is making sure whatever team happened to wear the orange and blue against Ole Miss never surfaces again.

3. If your team has Vanderbilt coming up at some point on its schedule, are you worried? If not, which team should be the most worried?

I personally am not because I cannot imagine the Gators losing to Vandy. The Commodores could have easily won a couple years ago if not for some calls favorable to Florida, but that just adds to it. I probably shouldn’t say things like this considering Auburn lost to them for the first time since the 1950s, but I’m just being honest here.

Florida should be worried since the Vandy winning formula so far is similar to what the Rebels used to win a couple weeks ago. Even so, Vanderbilt has a history of collapsing after hot starts, and the Gators get VU at the end of the season.

4. Other than perhaps Alabama’s season-opening win over Clemson, the SEC doesn’t really have any marquee non-conference wins thus far, and a couple of traditional powers (Auburn and Tennessee) are struggling in high-profile fashion. Is it too early to call this a “down year” for the conference?

I felt like the conference would experience a down cycle before the season began, so no, it’s not too early. Everyone except Florida, Georgia, and Alabama have had to deal with either big changes on offense or general ineffectiveness issues, and then the Gators and Bulldogs go and have lots of injuries.

The defenses around the league have been good overall, though it’s difficult at this point to truly be able to determine the precise good defense/bad offense ratio.

I have tried to phase out battling in the Conference Wars over the last year, since it’s about as useful and fun as banging my head against a wall, but I would give the Big 12 the edge of the SEC for 2008. There’s no shame in that considering how many amazing things are going on out there. It’s just a down year, and everyone gets them from time to time. At least the SEC is not owned by a mid-major, like with the Pac-10/MWC dynamic, and it’s comfortably ahead of the Big Ten, ACC, and Big East.


Florida’s Running Game Against LSU

October 10, 2008

If you’re a Gator fan, you probably already know all this. It was done by request for someone at Bleacher Report, so I figured I’d go ahead and post it here. Just skip to the end for an interesting stat on LSU. If you’re not a Gator, by all means, have at it.

Tebow and Harvin

Any discussion of Florida’s offense, rushing or passing, begins with these guys.

Tim Tebow’s rushing numbers are down since he’s carrying the ball about five fewer times a game than he did last year. The coaches have made a concerted effort to get him to do less freelancing, and that has been the case so far. Even so, he has had a few long runs on scrambles when no one is open.  He will do most designed runs on read option plays, and he’s still the short yardage back.

Percy Harvin has played only one game this season where he was fully healthy: the Ole Miss game where he racked up 82 yards on 10 carries. First he was recovering from his offseason heel surgery, and then he sprained his ankle at Arkansas. He put on some strength in the offseason, moving up to around 205 pounds from about 185 last year, and that has allowed him to fight through defenses and break tackles.

It will be difficult for Tebow to get much on the read option plays thanks to LSU’s great defensive line. His ability to scramble will largely be determined by how LSU uses their linebackers; if they’re blitzing and Tebow gets away, he could have some nice gains.

Harvin will get as many carries as his ankle will allow him to. He will likely be effective because, well, he’s always effective. There’s a reason he averages an absurd amount of yards per touch: the guy is good. He won’t run wild like he did against the Rebels, but he’ll get his yards.

Rainey and Demps

Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps are a couple of small backs who are lightning quick.

Rainey is a shifty type. He can spin and juke his way to large gains on nearly every play if he can find a hole. The offensive staff has used him in some puzzling ways though. Three times in the past two games they’ve sent him up the middle on 3rd-and-1, and all three times it has not worked.

Demps is a track star as many know, the holder of the national high school record in the 100 meters. He doesn’t do the fancy things that Rainey does; he hits the hole and speeds away. Demps is always all by himself at the end of his big plays because he almost always runs vertically. In terms of straight line speed, no one can catch him.

These two have a chance to be real difference makers. The trick will be getting them into space, because they will not find success between the tackles thanks to their small stature. Even on their long runs against Arkansas, they first bounced out to the outside rather than going through a hole in the middle.

If Florida can find a way to get them in running lanes, they’ll play a huge part against LSU.

Moore

Kestahn Moore is the only power back on the roster available. Emmanuel Moody is out with a sprained ankle, and Mon Williams is still experimenting at linebacker full time. If the Gators want tough running from someone other than a quarterback, Moore’s the man for the job.

Given his past history with fumbling, especially against LSU, it’s doubtful we’ll see him carry the ball too many times. However he is the best guy on the roster at protecting the quarterback, so we could see him more as a blocker than a runner.

Overall

LSU sports the No. 8 ranked rushing defense in the country, but it also has the No. 44 ranked pass defense. Florida has established itself as a “use the run to set up the pass” team, but that may need to be reversed given the Tiger D’s performance so far.

Regardless, if Florida can’t run the ball, it won’t win the game. These are the guys who will be called upon to make it happen.


LSU Game Preview

October 9, 2008

I did this in conjunction with the LSU Football Community Leader on Bleacher Report, Justin Goar, and you can read his side of this here.

Game Preview:

This game is far more critical for Florida at this juncture of the season than it is for LSU. The unexpected loss to Ole Miss has made it so another conference loss prevents the Gators from controlling their own destiny in the East. Granted, Vandy won’t run the table and a loss for the Commodores will give UF that control back even with a loss to LSU, but the margin for error becomes razor thin with a defeat on Saturday.

It could have some significance in the court of public opinion as well. Some people, including Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel, have begun beating the “Urban Meyer’s shine is wearing off” drum. A win here would definitely help boost his image, even though it shouldn’t need it after producing a national championship and a Heisman winner in his first three years.

LSU on the other hand, has very little to lose in my opinion. A loss only jeopardizes the Tigers’ national title chances, and given how seldom teams win two in a row, a repeat was always doubtful in my mind. A loss on the road at night with a freshman starting quarterback falls squarely in the “understandable” category, and even then running the table from here would keep LSU right in the race for the crystal football.

The one catch is that LSU hasn’t looked all that great so far. The blowouts over Appalachian State and North Texas were nice. However they needed a dramatic comeback to beat Auburn, something that sounds less appetizing every day now. The win over Mississippi State was not overly impressive either given that the Bulldogs scored 24 on them whereas they didn’t manage a single point against those same Auburn Tigers.

Florida will win if: the Gators play “Florida football.” I put that in quotes because I mean it how Meyer defines it: winning the field position battle, playing great on special teams, and beating the other guy on the lines. Outside of the Ole Miss game, Florida has done well with the first two. The third part has been more troublesome.

The offensive line has been hit hard by injuries at left guard, which has thrown off the play of senior left tackle Phil Trautwein too. It also had some shuffling going on before the season. Sophomore center Maurkice Pouncey was a guard last year, and his twin brother Mike, the starting right guard, was an emergency defensive lineman after practicing at center for most of the year. The defensive line has been better that last year, though it’s hard to be worse, but it has not been consistent with getting pressure.

It’s unlikely the offense will click back into “destroy” mode, as it had been in 2007, against LSU’s defense, so the special teams will have to have another great game. Brandon James will be the man of interest in that respect, and he will help with the field position battle too. Punter Chas Henry has been quietly outstanding as well, so the same thing applies. Kicker Jonathan Phillips has been perfect so far, but don’t expect him to be attempting anything beyond 40-43 yards.

Florida will lose if: they can’t stop the run. Charles Scott has been stellar this year, and an inability to stop the run played a huge part in LSU’s comeback win last season.

Florida’s defensive line has been improved as I mentioned, and relatively unknown guys to the national stage like Lawrence Marsh, Terron Sanders, and Justin Trattou will need to step up alongside the more known quantities, Jermaine Cunningham and Carlos Dunlap.

They will also need help from the linebackers. Brandon Spikes has been fantastic, but Dustin Doe is out recovering from surgery for a double hernia. The Gators get backup Ryan Stamper, who was out hurt against Arkansas, a utility guy who is able to play all of the linebacker positions. He excels in run coverage, so that’s a good thing. The third ‘backer is A.J. Jones, who has yet to really distinguish himself but is making more plays this year.

Even after Jarrett Lee’s performance in the comeback over Auburn, I’d rather force LSU’s inexperienced quarterbacks, both of whom will see the field on Saturday, to win the game instead of Scott. Good memories of JaMarcus Russell turning the ball over and bad memories of Jacob Hester picking up fourth down conversions probably drive that as much as anything.

The X factor: Kestahn Moore.

He is widely seen as the goat of the 2007 game thanks to his fumble, but he rushed for more than five yards a carry and was very effective. Once he got benched, UF could no longer control the ball or the clock, opening the door for LSU’s win.

This season his role has been diminished thanks to the emergences of Emmanuel Moody, Chris Rainey, and Jeff Demps, and he missed the Arkansas game with a pulled hamstring. He will be healthy for this weekend though.

I don’t expect him to get many carries, despite his success last season, but he can play a big role anyway. He is Florida’s best blocker among the backs and receivers, and if given the chance he can be the guy to have Tebow’s back. Blitzes have caused problems for Florida thus far, but Moore can pick them up with enough regularity to buy time and avoid sacks.

This is a pure speculative pick; I can easily see Meyer not even putting him on the field but for five or six plays. What I am saying is that if he is used to get those extra rushers and provide backup when someone on LSU’s defensive line inevitably beats one of UF’s offensive linemen, Florida’s offense could have one of its best days.

Tebow needs time to throw, and Moore can provide him with that.

Prediction: Florida 23 – LSU 20

I am an incurable optimist when it comes to the Gators, so you can take that forecast with however much salt you want. However I saw the offense starting to form a real identity for the first time this season against Arkansas, and it was not solely a function of the Razorbacks having a questionable defense.

The absence of Bo Pelini, the inexperience under center, and environment in the Swamp at night are all negatives for the Tigers. I am by no means counting the Bayou Bengals out as you can see by the score prediction, but I think with Florida needing this one more than LSU does, the Gators will find a way to get it done.