The predictive power of second order wins
Bill Connelly, the editor of Rock M Nation and the head honcho over at Football Study Hall, is using the offseason to work on a revision to his flagship advanced football metric, S&P+. Connelly starts off his review of the 2014 season with a bang by looking at second order stats (efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives, and turnover/luck) to predict the likelihood of winning any individual game. Or, as he puts it in his article, the predictive power of second order wins:
"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.
The most underachieving Tennessee teams of the last decade (2005-2014)
That may sound great, but what does it actually mean in practice? Well, consider Connelly's retrospective review of the most underachieving teams of the past decade, and guess which Tennessee team is in the top twenty-five.
If you picked Will Shelton's personal Waterloo, the 2008 Tennessee Volunteers, you'd be right. Former head coach Phillip Fulmer's final team tied for eleventh in the underachiever rankings by wasting an elite defense with a completely new and unproductive offense, missing their win projection by a solid two wins. It's important to note here that this is not a projection of how well a team could have played with different coaching or players -- this is a projection of how many games a team with the exact same statistics would be likely to win if the games were played over and over and over again. That's right, the 2008 Vols should have won at least seven games, even with Dave Clawson as the offensive coordinator.
If you picked the 2012 Tennessee Vols team led by the All Dumpster Beer Bottle Throwing Champion Tyler Bray, you'd be right again. The 2012 Vols, aka Who Thought Hiring Sal Sunseri Was a Good Idea, managed to underachieve by more than a win and half, which was painfully obvious to those of us who watched that wretched season.
Did the 2014 Tennessee Vols underachieve?
So, let's go back to our original question: did the 2014 Tennessee Vols underachieve?
No, at least not according to the advanced stats. In fact, Tennessee was one of only four teams to finish with the exact number of wins predicted, along with Fresno State, Virginia Tech, and BYU. If that seems unlikely, consider that the Vols could have won the exact same number of games, but with a different composition of opponent wins had things gone only slightly differently. For example, Tennessee played well enough to beat both Georgia and Florida, only to lose, while making their own breaks against South Carolina and Vanderbilt.
Overachieving teams in the SEC who are likely to regress: Missouri (-1.7), LSU (-0.7), South Carolina (-0.5), Mississippi State (-0.5), and Texas A&M (-0.5)
Underachieving teams in the SEC who are likely to improve: Florida (+1.0) and Arkansas (+1.1)
Teams in the SEC less than one-half game away from their actual record: Auburn (-0.2), Vanderbilt (-0.2), Ole Miss (+0.1), Kentucky (+0.2), Alabama (+0.3), and Georgia (+0.4)