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The importance of season opening wins

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A season opening win makes a 10-win season 4 times more likely.

Eric Francis

Is there a way to estimate the final win totals a team will achieve based solely on its current win-loss record?

When speaking about the entire FBS, we can state with a high degree of confidence that a team that starts the season 0-1 has a 93% probability of finishing with no more than 9 wins.  In fact, one of the most interesting findings when I did this analysis was the importance of starting a season with a win.

The tables below consider almost all teams' season since 2000.  I am missing some data for a few teams' season, so in cases which I did not have full season data I did not use that team's season in the calculations.

Reading down you see the record of a team after the first game of the season.  Reading across you see the total season wins for a team.  Even though teams may play 12, 13, or 14 game seasons based on conference championship games, it provides a good comparison of the importance of opening a season with a win.

If a random team starts out 1-0 it has an 29% chance of finishing season with at 10 wins.  Starting the season 0-1 drops that probability to only 7%.

Teams that have gone 4-0 through the first four weeks of the season have a 59% chance of winning at least 10 games.

Season Wins >
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
1-0 0% 2% 3% 6% 8% 8% 14% 17% 13% 11% 10% 5% 2% 1%
2-0 1% 1% 3% 7% 7% 13% 15% 15% 13% 13% 8% 3% 1%
3-0 1% 1% 3% 4% 13% 15% 14% 15% 18% 11% 5% 1%
4-0 0% 2% 1% 10% 15% 13% 16% 21% 15% 6% 2%
5-0 1% 0% 6% 11% 11% 17% 23% 20% 8% 3%
6-0 0% 2% 5% 9% 15% 28% 26% 12% 4%
7-0 0% 2% 7% 15% 27% 31% 13% 5%
8-0 0% 4% 9% 27% 37% 17% 6%
9-0 2% 2% 26% 41% 21% 9%
10-0 0% 17% 50% 23% 10%
11-0 10% 51% 27% 12%
12-0 54% 31% 14%
13-0 64% 36%
14-0 100%
Grand Total 0% 1% 1% 3% 5% 4% 10% 13% 12% 12% 16% 14% 7% 3%
Season Wins >
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
0-1 2% 8% 10% 13% 11% 11% 8% 12% 10% 8% 4% 2% 1% 0%
1-1 2% 5% 8% 11% 11% 10% 16% 16% 10% 6% 4% 1% 0%
2-1 1% 2% 7% 11% 11% 18% 18% 15% 9% 5% 1% 0%
3-1 1% 3% 7% 9% 18% 19% 19% 12% 8% 3% 1%
4-1 1% 3% 6% 14% 20% 20% 17% 14% 4% 1%
5-1 0% 3% 14% 18% 21% 20% 17% 6% 2%
6-1 1% 7% 14% 18% 22% 25% 9% 3%
7-1 1% 11% 13% 28% 30% 13% 4%
8-1 2% 12% 28% 34% 18% 6%
9-1 4% 23% 44% 21% 8%
10-1 13% 48% 28% 11%
11-1 47% 38% 15%
12-1 77% 23%
13-1 100%
Grand Total 0% 2% 3% 4% 5% 7% 7% 12% 14% 13% 12% 13% 6% 3%

You can view the probabilities for records up through n-10 records here.

When only seasons from teams from the Power 5 conferences are considered, the probabilties are very similar.  Teams beginning the season with a win have a 32% probability of achieving at least 10 wins that season.  Power 5 teams that lose their season opener have just a 9% of at least 10 wins.

Power 5 teams that begin the season 4-0 have a 60% probability of at least 10 wins.

Season Wins > 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
1-0 0% 2% 2% 5% 7% 7% 16% 16% 13% 11% 12% 6% 2% 1%
2-0 1% 1% 3% 6% 7% 15% 15% 14% 12% 15% 7% 3% 1%
3-0 0% 1% 3% 4% 14% 14% 13% 15% 20% 11% 5% 1%
4-0 0% 2% 1% 11% 14% 12% 15% 24% 13% 6% 2%
5-0 1% 0% 7% 10% 10% 17% 26% 18% 8% 3%
6-0 0% 2% 6% 8% 14% 32% 23% 12% 4%
7-0 0% 3% 6% 16% 30% 25% 14% 5%
8-0 0% 3% 10% 31% 31% 18% 7%
9-0 2% 2% 31% 33% 22% 9%
10-0 0% 20% 43% 26% 11%
11-0 10% 45% 31% 14%
12-0 48% 36% 16%
13-0 67% 33%
14-0 100%
Grand Total 0% 1% 1% 2% 4% 4% 11% 12% 11% 12% 19% 13% 7% 3%
Season Wins > 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
0-1 1% 5% 8% 12% 8% 9% 8% 15% 12% 11% 6% 2% 1% 0%
1-1 2% 5% 6% 9% 10% 10% 18% 16% 11% 7% 4% 0% 0%
2-1 2% 2% 7% 11% 11% 19% 18% 15% 9% 5% 1% 0%
3-1 1% 3% 8% 9% 20% 18% 18% 13% 8% 2% 1%
4-1 0% 3% 7% 14% 20% 22% 17% 13% 3% 1%
5-1 0% 3% 15% 16% 22% 20% 18% 5% 1%
6-1 1% 8% 13% 18% 22% 27% 9% 3%
7-1 2% 10% 13% 28% 33% 12% 3%
8-1 1% 9% 27% 40% 18% 5%
9-1 3% 21% 49% 20% 7%
10-1 10% 55% 27% 8%
11-1 53% 35% 12%
12-1 77% 23%
13-1 100%
Grand Total 0% 1% 2% 2% 3% 5% 6% 13% 14% 14% 14% 16% 7% 2%


Finally, for teams that are ranked at any point in the season, the probability of winning at least 10 games for teams that begin 1-0 climbs to 54% and no team that has been ranked has finished with fewer than 4 wins.

A season opening win makes a 10-win season 3 times more likely.Ranked teams that start the season 0-1 have the same 9% probability of winning at least 10 games.

Ranked teams that start the season 4-0 have a 66% probability of winning at least 10 games.

Season Wins >
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
1-0 1% 4% 3% 11% 14% 13% 15% 22% 10% 5% 1%
2-0 0% 4% 3% 10% 12% 14% 16% 22% 12% 6% 2%
3-0 0% 3% 2% 9% 10% 13% 15% 25% 14% 7% 2%
4-0 0% 2% 1% 8% 11% 12% 14% 27% 16% 8% 2%
5-0 1% 0% 7% 9% 10% 16% 27% 18% 9% 3%
6-0 0% 2% 6% 8% 14% 32% 23% 12% 4%
7-0 0% 3% 6% 16% 30% 25% 14% 5%
8-0 0% 3% 10% 31% 31% 18% 7%
9-0 2% 2% 31% 33% 22% 9%
10-0 0% 20% 43% 26% 11%
11-0 10% 45% 31% 14%
12-0 48% 36% 16%
13-0 67% 33%
14-0 100%
Grand Total 0% 1% 1% 0% 2% 1% 7% 9% 10% 13% 24% 18% 10% 4%
Season Wins >
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
0-1 1% 5% 8% 12% 8% 9% 8% 15% 12% 11% 6% 2% 1% 0%
1-1 1% 4% 4% 10% 10% 10% 16% 20% 11% 9% 5% 1% 0%
2-1 2% 2% 7% 11% 9% 18% 18% 16% 8% 7% 1% 0%
3-1 1% 2% 4% 8% 18% 16% 18% 16% 12% 4% 1%
4-1 1% 3% 4% 11% 20% 19% 19% 19% 3% 1%
5-1 1% 3% 11% 15% 18% 24% 22% 5% 1%
6-1 1% 7% 14% 16% 22% 29% 11% 2%
7-1 2% 9% 11% 29% 34% 13% 3%
8-1 1% 9% 27% 40% 18% 5%
9-1 3% 21% 49% 20% 7%
10-1 10% 55% 27% 8%
11-1 53% 35% 12%
12-1 77% 23%
13-1 100%
Grand Total 0% 1% 2% 2% 3% 4% 5% 10% 12% 13% 15% 21% 9% 3%

You can download the raw data for this analysis here.  Please note that conference data is based on 2014 alignments.