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2009 Pythagorean Wins

I think by now most of you are familiar with my application of Pythagorean Wins to SEC football. As we've come to realize, Pythagorean Wins is easily one of the best indicators of team quality that we have, and it comes with a long history of being a consistent predictor of future performance as well. With that in mind, let us now take a look at how the Pythagorean standouts from 2008 turned out, and what the Pythagorean calculations from 2009 may tell us moving forward into 2010.

Two teams stood out in 2008 as overachievers, and they were Alabama and Georgia. The Crimson Tide was a bit of a qualified overachiever -- barely meeting the Pythagorean definition of an overachiever largely due to a bunch of garbage time points scored against the Tide, with the standard caveat that any SEC team that goes undefeated in regular season play is likely to be an overachiever -- but the Bulldogs were another story entirely. Despite all of those pre-season number one rankings and ridiculously hyped players, Georgia went only 6-2 in conference play in 2008, but the picture painted by point differentials was filled with even more gloom. Based on Pythagorean Wins, UGA should have been a 4-4 team and by finishing with a 6-2 record were one of the biggest overachiever of the decade.

As the 2009 season unfolded, of course, Alabama didn't experience any regression. The Crimson Tide largely improved in just about every single aspect of the game, and went undefeated in SEC in back-to-back play for the first time in ages. Part of that isn't overly surprising -- again, Alabama was a bit of a qualified overachiever in the first place -- but to the degree that on-field performance comes into play no one ever argued that you cannot beat your projection, only that as a general rule you won't and that on the whole it's a very difficult thing to do. When you have back-ups turn into Heisman Trophy winners, though, all bets are off the table.

Georgia, of course, was another story. Again, they may have gone 9-3 (6-2), but in reality they played more like a 7-5 (4-4) team, and their luck finally caught up with them. That disparity alone was a cause for concern in its own right, but combined with the loss of Matt Stafford and Knowshon Moreno and a ridiculously tough schedule it was the death knell for the Dawgs. Georgia stumbled to an 8-5 finish, complete with losses to Oklahoma State, Tennessee, and Kentucky, and as punishment were sent to Shreveport in late December. In the span of one year, Mark Richt moved from being on the brink of a national championship to being on the hot seat.

Now, with 2009 in the books, let's move on to 2010. Click here for a full-size version of the calculations:


As you can see, in general there weren't many teams that stood out. Some years you have a lot of overachievers and underachievers, and in other years you don't. Consider 2009 as one of the latter. Florida almost met the cut-off to be qualified as an overachiever, but didn't quite make it and even so the 2008 Alabama qualifier ought to be kept in mind. Only Arkansas stood out, barely meeting the cut-off to be qualified as an overachiever.

Moving ahead into 2010, as long as Ryan Mallett can stay healthy the Hogs will likely prove their Pythagorean projection correct. With LSU coming to Little Rock, the Hogs are arguably the second team in the SEC West, and it's not a crazy thought to think they may be able to somehow finagle a trip to Atlanta. At the very least, it's a bit hard to see R-Kansas unable to get to at least 4-4 in conference play.

Finally, to close, a few quick hitters:

  • Both Alabama and Florida went undefeated in conference play in 2009, yet neither were considered overachievers. Can you say bona fide?
  • It was common knowledge that there as a great chasm between Alabama and Florida and the rest of the SEC in 2009, but the point differentials really bring to light how massive that divide really was. Look at the projected wins. There was a bigger gap between the #2 team (Florida) and the #3 team (LSU) than there was between the #3 team (LSU) and the #11 team (Mississippi State). No other team outside of Tuscaloosa and Gainesville was even projected with five conference wins.
  • Interestingly enough, Lane Kiffin and Tennessee came in fourth overall in the SEC with 4.60 Pythagorean Wins. A couple of wins with big margins combined with Kiffin mastering the art of losing respectably resulted in a solid projection. I don't think that necessarily means they were worth a damn last year, but nevertheless that is how the projection came out the way it did.
  • From 2006-2008, each and every year LSU posted a lower Pythagorean projection than the year before. Les Miles and company reversed that trend in 2009, "gaining" roughly 1.8 wins over the year before. You can make many valid criticisms of the Hat, but give him credit here. The offense may have fallen apart, but he made a good hire to re-tool the porous defense and it should be recognized as such.
  • Ditto for Gene Chizik. A Pythagorean projection of 3.57 is nothing to write home about, but it's much better than the 1.97 wins from Tuberville's Last Stand. He reversed five consecutive years of declining Pythagorean projections for the Plainsmen.
  • Vanderbilt... went 0-8, and were projected to go... 0-8. Almost have to admire that. Anyone still questioning that sudden retirement?