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The predictive power of second-order wins

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Second-order wins are powerful predictors of improvement or regression in win totals from year to year.

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Last month, as I got knee-deep in my S&P+ ratings redesign, I started tinkering with what I called second-order wins.

There are exponents available for turning college football points into a Pythagorean win percentage, but I'm more interested in another concept: second-order wins. That basically takes the same idea but uses advanced stats of some sort to determine not simply what you did score and allow, but what you should have scored and allowed.

My new ratings are based on margins in categories related to my Five Factors: efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives, turnovers/luck. As I flesh the system out with previous years of data, I'm able to basically use these margins to determine both what was your most likely scoring margin in a given game and, based on the plays that took place, your likelihood of winning a given game.

To further explain the second part of that last sentence, it basically says "If you took all the plays in this game, tossed them up in the air, and had them land in a random order, you'd win this game XX% of the time." It is a single-game win likelihood concept, and with it, we can look at wins and losses not as zeroes and ones, but as percentages. And if you're winning a lot of "You'd have won this game 60 percent of the time" games, you're probably getting a little bit lucky. And as with everything else, that luck is likely to change over time.

Over the last couple of weeks, I've basically been watching the Australian Open and playing in Excel sheets. (What a dream life I lead.) I've pretty much gotten to where I want to be regarding the redesign, so you can expect an unveiling of sorts some time in the next couple of weeks.

In the meantime, though, I wanted to take a look at what 10 years of second-order wins can tell us.

The premise of the second order is easy enough to understand, right? It's basically one more way of looking at unsustainable good or bad fortune. It basically says that playing the way you did, against the opponents you played, you would usually end up with a record of X, and it compares it to your actual record, Y. If one is too far from the other, you're probably going to see some regression (or progression, as the case may be) to the mean.

This is logical, and with years of data in my back pocket now, I can say it's nearly incontrovertible, too.

Like, ironclad.

From 2005-13, 35 FBS teams ended up with an actual win total at least 1.8 games lower than their projected second-order win total. That means they underachieved pretty drastically compared to what the stats would expect. Of these 35, four saw their actual win percentage regress the next year, four stayed the same, and 27 improved. Of those 27, 15 improved by at least 20 percent.

Meanwhile, from 2005-13, 32 teams managed an actual win total at least 2.0 games higher than their projected second-order win total. This means they overachieved compared to what the stats expected. Of these 32, two saw their win total improve the next year, two stayed the same, and 28 regressed. Fourteen of those 28 saw their actual win percentage drop by at least 20 percent.

That's pretty definitive.

50 biggest underachievers according to second-order wins (2005-14)

Year Team Record Second-order wins
Difference Y+1 Win%
2007 SMU 1-11 4.7 +3.7 +0.0%
2009 North Texas 2-10 5.4 +3.4 +8.3%
2013 TCU 4-8 7.2 +3.2 +59.0%
2009 Arizona State 4-8 6.9 +2.9 +16.7%
2010 San Jose State 1-12 3.9 +2.9 +34.0%
2011 Central Florida 5-7 7.8 +2.8 +29.8%
2011 South Florida 5-7 7.7 +2.7 -16.7%
2013 Temple 2-10 4.5 +2.5 +33.3%
2011 Texas A&M 7-6 9.4 +2.4 +30.8%
2006 Florida International 0-12 2.4 +2.4 +8.3%
2006 Illinois 2-10 4.3 +2.3 +52.6%
2014 Pittsburgh 6-7 8.3 +2.3 ?
2013 Hawaii 1-11 3.3 +2.3 +22.4%
2011 Vanderbilt 5-7 7.2 +2.2 +25.0%
2007 Minnesota 1-11 3.2 +2.2 +45.5%
2005 UAB 5-6 7.2 +2.2 -20.5%
2006 UL-Monroe 4-8 6.1 +2.1 +16.7%
2007 Kansas State 5-7 7.1 +2.1 +0.0%
2009 Colorado State 3-9 5.1 +2.1 +0.0%
2005 Arkansas 4-7 6.1 +2.1 +35.1%
2012 Southern Miss 0-12 2.1 +2.1 +8.3%
2006 Miami-OH 2-10 4.0 +2.0 +29.5%
2009 Louisiana Tech 4-8 6.0 +2.0 +8.3%
2005 Washington State 4-7 6.0 +2.0 +13.6%
2007 Northern Illinois 2-10 4.0 +2.0 +29.5%
2012 Akron 1-11 3.0 +2.0 +33.3%
2008 Tennessee 5-7 7.0 +2.0 +12.2%
2011 Miami-FL 6-6 8.0 +2.0 +8.3%
2006 Oklahoma State 7-6 8.9 +1.9 +0.0%
2006 Vanderbilt 4-8 5.9 +1.9 +8.3%
2013 South Alabama 6-6 7.8 +1.8 -3.8%
2006 Duke 0-12 1.8 +1.8 +8.3%
2005 Washington 2-9 3.8 +1.8 +23.5%
2013 Oklahoma State 10-3 11.8 +1.8 -23.1%
2012 Arkansas 4-8 5.8 +1.8 -8.3%
2006 Virginia 5-7 6.8 +1.8 +27.6%
2014 Kent State 2-9 3.8 +1.8 ?
2010 Duke 2-9 3.7 +1.7 +6.8%
2009 Wake Forest 4-7 5.7 +1.7 -18.2%
2013 North Carolina 7-6 8.7 +1.7 -7.7%
2010 UAB 4-8 5.7 +1.7 -8.3%
2005 Fresno State 8-5 9.7 +1.7 -28.2%
2012 Florida International 3-9 4.7 +1.7 -16.7%
2006 Colorado 2-10 3.6 +1.6 +29.5%
2012 Tennessee 5-7 6.6 +1.6 +0.0%
2013 Georgia State 0-12 1.6 +1.6 +8.3%
2014 Colorado 2-10 3.6 +1.6 ?
2005 Arizona 3-8 4.6 +1.6 +22.7%
2008 New Mexico 4-8 5.6 +1.6 -25.0%
2010 North Texas 3-9 4.6 +1.6 +16.7%

From this viewpoint, the 2014 TCU squad was likely to have a pretty good season no matter what this year. Gary Patterson's offensive coordinator upgrade, combined with a lovely amount of returning experience, made it even better than "pretty good."

50 biggest overachievers according to second-order wins (2005-14)

Year Team Record Second-order wins
Difference Y+1 Win%
2011 Kansas State 10-3 6.2 -3.8 +7.7%
2014 Florida State 13-1 9.5 -3.5 ?
2009 Wyoming 7-6 3.8 -3.2 -28.8%
2010 Auburn 14-0 10.9 -3.1 -38.5%
2009 Georgia Tech 11-3 8.1 -2.9 -32.4%
2006 Auburn 11-2 8.2 -2.8 -15.4%
2005 TCU 11-1 8.3 -2.7 -7.1%
2014 Bowling Green 8-6 5.3 -2.7 ?
2013 Oklahoma 11-2 8.4 -2.6 -23.1%
2011 Wyoming 8-5 5.4 -2.6 -28.2%
2012 Toledo 9-4 6.4 -2.6 -10.9%
2012 Middle Tennessee 9-3 6.4 -2.6 -13.5%
2005 West Virginia 11-1 8.5 -2.5 -7.1%
2005 Central Florida 8-5 5.6 -2.4 -28.2%
2009 Northwestern 8-5 5.6 -2.4 -7.7%
2009 Ohio 9-5 6.6 -2.4 -6.0%
2013 Rice 10-4 7.6 -2.4 -9.9%
2008 Navy 8-5 5.7 -2.3 +9.9%
2010 Connecticut 8-5 5.7 -2.3 -19.9%
2006 Kentucky 8-5 5.7 -2.3 +0.0%
2006 Maryland 9-4 6.7 -2.3 -23.1%
2010 Miami-OH 10-4 7.8 -2.2 -38.1%
2007 Mississippi State 7-5 4.8 -2.2 -25.0%
2006 Oregon State 10-4 7.8 -2.2 -2.2%
2005 UCLA 10-2 7.9 -2.1 -29.5%
2013 Auburn 12-2 9.9 -2.1 -16.5%
2009 Navy 10-4 7.9 -2.1 -2.2%
2005 Oregon 10-2 7.9 -2.1 -29.5%
2011 UL-Lafayette 9-4 6.9 -2.1 +0.0%
2012 Ohio State 12-0 10.0 -2.0 -14.3%
2012 UL-Monroe 8-5 6.0 -2.0 -11.5%
2006 Boise State 13-0 11.0 -2.0 -23.1%
2007 Virginia 9-4 7.0 -2.0 -27.6%
2008 Buffalo 8-6 6.0 -2.0 -15.5%
2014 Arizona 10-4 8.0 -2.0 ?
2013 Nebraska 9-4 7.1 -1.9 +0.0%
2008 Michigan State 9-4 7.1 -1.9 -23.1%
2007 Northwestern 6-6 4.1 -1.9 +19.2%
2012 Notre Dame 12-1 10.1 -1.9 -23.1%
2005 LSU 11-2 9.1 -1.9 +0.0%
2007 Arizona State 10-3 8.1 -1.9 -35.3%
2013 UL-Monroe 6-6 4.1 -1.9 -16.7%
2009 Texas 13-1 11.1 -1.9 -51.2%
2006 Indiana 5-7 3.2 -1.8 +12.2%
2011 Arkansas 11-2 9.2 -1.8 -51.3%
2005 Wisconsin 10-3 8.2 -1.8 +15.4%
2012 Louisville 11-2 9.2 -1.8 +7.7%
2005 Nevada 9-3 7.2 -1.8 -13.5%
2014 Utah 9-4 7.2 -1.8 ?
2007 Houston 8-5 6.2 -1.8 0.0%

Naturally, Bill Snyder is the biggest trend-wrecker in the business. That 2011 Kansas State team was strangely fantastic at getting lucky and/or making the one single play it absolutely had to make. And then the 2012 team won the Big 12.

But KSU did have Collin Klein back the year after its strange 2011 run. Florida State won't have Jameis Winston back in 2015. And while there's obviously almost nowhere to go but down from 13-1, this suggests the regression could be worth a few games. And I guess this is a warning to fans of Bowling Green, Arizona, and Utah, too.

Other teams that overachieved by more than 1.0 games: UCLA (1.8), Northern Illinois (1.7), Missouri (1.7), Rutgers (1.5), Ohio (1.3), Hawaii (1.3), Colorado State (1.2), Ohio State (1.2), Wyoming (1.2), North Carolina (1.1), USC (1.1), and Michigan State (1.1).

On the flipside ... congrats, Pitt fans! You got yourself a new, exciting head coach, and he's probably going to have a strong first season! Same to you, fans of Kent State (underachievers by 1.8 games), Colorado (1.6), San Diego State (1.6), UMass (1.4), Stanford (1.4), East Carolina (1.4), Miami (Ohio) (1.3), Washington State (1.2), Boston College (1.2), San Jose State (1.1), Miami (1.1), Arkansas (1.1), Central Michigan (1.1), Indiana (1.1), and Louisiana Tech (1.1).

Year Team Record Second-order wins
Difference
2014 Florida State 13-1 9.5 -3.5
2014 Bowling Green 8-6 5.3 -2.7
2014 Arizona 10-4 8.0 -2.0
2014 Utah 9-4 7.2 -1.8
2014 UCLA 10-3 8.2 -1.8
2014 Northern Illinois 11-3 9.3 -1.7
2014 Missouri 11-3 9.3 -1.7
2014 Rutgers 8-5 6.5 -1.5
2014 Ohio 6-6 4.7 -1.3
2014 Hawaii 4-9 2.7 -1.3
2014 Colorado State 10-3 8.8 -1.2
2014 Ohio State 14-1 12.8 -1.2
2014 Wyoming 4-8 2.8 -1.2
2014 North Carolina 6-7 4.9 -1.1
2014 USC 9-4 7.9 -1.1
2014 Michigan State 11-2 9.9 -1.1
2014 Boise State 12-2 11.0 -1.0
2014 West Virginia 7-6 6.0 -1.0
2014 Illinois 6-7 5.1 -0.9
2014 Georgia Tech 11-3 10.1 -0.9
2014 Penn State 7-6 6.3 -0.7
2014 LSU 8-5 7.3 -0.7
2014 UTEP 7-6 6.3 -0.7
2014 Kansas State 9-4 8.3 -0.7
2014 Old Dominion 6-6 5.3 -0.7
2014 Central Florida 9-4 8.4 -0.6
2014 Air Force 10-3 9.4 -0.6
2014 Navy 8-5 7.4 -0.6
2014 Toledo 9-4 8.4 -0.6
2014 Clemson 10-3 9.4 -0.6
2014 Nevada 7-6 6.4 -0.6
2014 Duke 9-4 8.4 -0.6
2014 TCU 12-1 11.4 -0.6
2014 Wake Forest 3-9 2.4 -0.6
2014 Marshall 13-1 12.5 -0.5
2014 NC State 8-5 7.5 -0.5
2014 South Carolina 7-6 6.5 -0.5
2014 Mississippi State 10-3 9.5 -0.5
2014 Texas State 7-5 6.5 -0.5
2014 Texas A&M 8-5 7.5 -0.5
2014 UL-Lafayette 9-4 8.6 -0.4
2014 Oklahoma State 7-6 6.6 -0.4
2014 Houston 8-5 7.6 -0.4
2014 Western Kentucky 8-5 7.6 -0.4
2014 Baylor 11-2 10.6 -0.4
2014 Minnesota 8-5 7.7 -0.3
2014 Middle Tennessee 6-6 5.7 -0.3
2014 Arizona State 10-3 9.7 -0.3
2014 Eastern Michigan 2-10 1.7 -0.3
2014 Southern Miss 3-9 2.7 -0.3
2014 UAB 6-6 5.7 -0.3
2014 California 5-7 4.7 -0.3
2014 South Florida 4-8 3.8 -0.2
2014 Auburn 9-4 8.8 -0.2
2014 Vanderbilt 3-9 2.8 -0.2
2014 Cincinnati 9-4 8.8 -0.2
2014 Northwestern 5-7 4.8 -0.2
2014 Oregon 13-2 12.9 -0.1
2014 Washington 8-6 7.9 -0.1
2014 Rice 8-5 7.9 -0.1
2014 Tulsa 2-10 1.9 -0.1
2014 Tennessee 7-6 7.0 0.0
2014 Fresno State 6-8 6.0 0.0
2014 Virginia Tech 7-6 7.0 0.0
2014 BYU 8-5 8.0 0.0
2014 Appalachian State 7-5 7.1 0.1
2014 New Mexico 4-8 4.1 0.1
2014 Memphis 10-3 10.1 0.1
2014 Nebraska 9-4 9.1 0.1
2014 New Mexico State 2-10 2.1 0.1
2014 Ole Miss 9-4 9.1 0.1
2014 Maryland 7-6 7.2 0.2
2014 Ball State 5-7 5.2 0.2
2014 SMU 1-11 1.2 0.2
2014 Kentucky 5-7 5.2 0.2
2014 Connecticut 2-10 2.2 0.2
2014 Iowa State 2-10 2.3 0.3
2014 Alabama 12-2 12.3 0.3
2014 UL-Monroe 4-8 4.3 0.3
2014 Arkansas State 7-6 7.3 0.3
2014 Iowa 7-6 7.4 0.4
2014 Purdue 3-9 3.4 0.4
2014 Oregon State 5-7 5.4 0.4
2014 Syracuse 3-9 3.4 0.4
2014 South Alabama 6-7 6.4 0.4
2014 Buffalo 5-6 5.4 0.4
2014 Army 4-8 4.4 0.4
2014 Georgia Southern 9-3 9.4 0.4
2014 Georgia 10-3 10.4 0.4
2014 North Texas 4-8 4.5 0.5
2014 Akron 5-7 5.5 0.5
2014 UTSA 4-8 4.5 0.5
2014 Notre Dame 8-5 8.5 0.5
2014 Tulane 3-9 3.5 0.5
2014 Louisville 9-4 9.5 0.5
2014 Temple 6-6 6.6 0.6
2014 Oklahoma 8-5 8.6 0.6
2014 Michigan 5-7 5.6 0.6
2014 Troy 3-9 3.7 0.7
2014 Florida International 4-8 4.7 0.7
2014 Wisconsin 10-4 10.7 0.7
2014 Georgia State 1-11 1.7 0.7
2014 Western Michigan 8-5 8.8 0.8
2014 Texas Tech 4-8 4.8 0.8
2014 UNLV 2-11 2.8 0.8
2014 Texas 6-7 6.9 0.9
2014 Idaho 1-10 1.9 0.9
2014 Virginia 5-7 6.0 1.0
2014 Florida 7-5 8.0 1.0
2014 Kansas 3-9 4.0 1.0
2014 Florida Atlantic 3-9 4.0 1.0
2014 Utah State 10-4 11.0 1.0
2014 Louisiana Tech 9-5 10.1 1.1
2014 Indiana 4-8 5.1 1.1
2014 Central Michigan 7-6 8.1 1.1
2014 Arkansas 7-6 8.1 1.1
2014 Miami-FL 6-7 7.1 1.1
2014 San Jose State 3-9 4.1 1.1
2014 Boston College 7-6 8.2 1.2
2014 Washington State 3-9 4.2 1.2
2014 Miami-OH 2-10 3.3 1.3
2014 East Carolina 8-5 9.4 1.4
2014 Stanford 8-5 9.4 1.4
2014 Massachusetts 3-9 4.4 1.4
2014 San Diego State 7-6 8.6 1.6
2014 Colorado 2-10 3.6 1.6
2014 Kent State 2-9 3.8 1.8
2014 Pittsburgh 6-7 8.3 2.3