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Pac-12 Prediction Project: Looking Back At 2017

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The Pac-12 is a diverse menagerie – a dozen teams across several different climate zones, 12 beautiful stadiums, 11.5 mascots, each fanbase with its own unique culture & traditions & its own unique ways of being annoying.

And now it’s late August - the season looms, each fanbase salivating at the prospect of inflicting woe & destruction upon their opponents. Hope abounds. But this leads to a couple questions for the curious mind:

How good are fanbases at evaluating their teams’ prospects?

Which fans are the biggest homers?

So last August I embarked on the 2017 Pac-12 Prediction Project. I polled the SBN site for each P12 school to get their predictions for the season, the goal being to compare these predictions against the final regular season records. As an added twist, I also polled ATQ for each team’s record to see if we were better or worse at predicting than their own fans.

My plans to publish the results last December were derailed by the fWT fiasco & then the subsequent Vegas Bowl meltdown – it just didn’t feel right. But now our enthusiasm’s been renewed, the 2018 season’s right around the corner, let’s take a dive into this stuff!

Disclaimer: I am someone who dropped out of NYU because the remedial junior-high math classes they made me take were too hard (UO had no such requirement for a BA). I make no guarantees as to accuracy of calculations. They probably are mostly correct though.

Another Note: by “variance” below, I mean the spread of fan voting. High variance, they’ve got predictions all over the map, low variance, they’ve mostly narrowed it down to a few options. There’s probably a better stats term for that, feel free to chastise me in the comments.

Let’s rank the teams from overperforming to underperforming:

Overperformers

Arizona

predicted: 5.7
ATQ prediction: 3.7
actual: 7
variance: high

Coming on the heels of a 3-9 season in 2016, fans in Tucson weren’t expecting much last year. The votes were all over the map (ranging from 11-1 to 2-10) but tended to cluster on the lower end of the spectrum & ultimately averaged out to a losing record. ATQers thought they’d be even worse.

Just goes to show you what a superlative QB coming out of nowhere can do for you. Khalil Tate wrested the starting job from Dawkins & then elevated them to a 6-2 record before their late-season swoon, which was good enough to take them from terrible to average! Still not enough to save Rich Rod’s job.

ASU

predicted: 6.4
ATQ prediction: 4.3
actual: 7
variance: high

Another Arizona team largely picked to be bad outplaying expectations by being average! And a theme emerges - again it wasn’t enough to save their coach’s job. But congrats, I guess?

Washington State

predicted: 8.7
ATQ prediction: 7.5
actual: 9
variance: low

Say what you will about Mike Leach, he’s overcome the natural challenges of coaching on the Palouse to produce a consistently solid team, averaging 8.5 wins the last 3 seasons. In 2017 Cougs fans zeroed in on that range & the team itself rounded up to 9.

However - despite the solid record, blowout losses in the Apple Cup & Holiday Bowl made the season feel like less than the sum of its wins.

Stanford

predicted: 9
ATQ prediction: 8.7
actual: 9
variance: low

Furd wins the whole thing in classic Furd fashion. They only garnered 2 votes (guess the Stanford Fan double dipped), but these split the difference exactly between the real-life result – the only fanbase to exactly nail the prediction.

ATQers also almost got their Furd estimate perfect, just a couple decimal points shy. Under Shaw it’s just a tediously predictable team.

Underperformers

USC

predicted: 10.1
ATQ prediction: 9.5
actual: 10
variance: low

The Trojans also almost nailed it - .1 off – and ATQ wasn’t far behind. Another boringly competent team, although like WSU a couple bad losses (Notre Dame & fOSU) gave them a bad taste for the offseason.

Reed Hutchinson

UCLA

predicted: 6.4
ATQ prediction: 6.7
actual: 6
variance: very high

The Bruins were another team with predictions all over the place. But they averaged out to a crappy-average prediction in Mora’s last season, and that’s what they got. And that’s why Chip Kelly is now coach.

Cal

predicted: 5.81
ATQ prediction: 3.2
actual: 5
variance: high

Everyone knew they wouldn’t be very good, and they weren’t.

Washington

predicted: 10.8
ATQ prediction: 8.6
actual: 10
variance: low

When I first launched this project, of course my hope was that the Fuskies were going to statistically be the worst underperformer, that all their Bow Down arrogance and Coach Pete fellatio would come crashing down in grand fashion.

This didn’t quite happen. They were a very good team. But… UW fans did predict closest to a playoff-worthy 11 wins (if you round up), and when you get to that level even a .8 underperformance is the difference between a chance at the championship and a relatively meaningless bowl (that you then lose anyhow). NO SOUP FOR YOU, HUSKIES!

Utah

predicted: 8.9
ATQ prediction: 7.3
actual: 7
variance: medium

Utes fans thought they were primed for a solid campaign as one of the Pac’s best teams, but they just could not beat the other good teams & could not close out tight games. I think they might have had the most 1-possession losses in the league.

With better end-of-game execution and/or luck they might have nailed that 9 win prediction, but it was just one of those seasons in SLC.

Oregon

predicted: 9.2
actual: 7
variance: very high

Now for the Good Guys! The new coaching staff was a great unknown this time a year ago, but us sweet summer children had a ton to be optimistic about - Taggart looked like the real deal, recruited well, said all the right things, etc. He was gonna be a transformational coach for us. RIGHT???

Even so, Oregon votes were all over the place (and I edited out the trolls who put up a bunch of 0-12 votes). We still wound up averaging an optimistic 9+ wins, which overshot reality by more than 2 games. One could argue that Herbert’s injury was the difference there, one could also counter that we weren’t really competitive at all in the losses he was out for. Hard to say.

Was a tough season to predict, just like this one.

Colorado

predicted: 7.7
ATQ prediction: 6.5
actual: 5
variance: high

Buffs fans were hoping their successful 2016 season wasn’t an outlier, even with the loss of Mr. “I’ll Fix Your Defense” Leavitt. They were wrong. Combined with bad injury & turnover luck, a disappointing year.

Oregon State

predicted: 6.5
ATQ prediction: 4.6
actual: 1
variance: medium

Oh, Beavs. All they wanted was an average season of incremental improvement, nothing fancy. 6 wins & they’re happy.

What they got was a profoundly distressing dumpster fire in which their coach essentially paid $12 milion to bail on the team midway thru. They lost every game except a nailbiter against Portland State, who were winless at the FCS level. And really they should have lost that one.

One of the worst Pac-12 seasons since the mathematically-impossible-to-top 2008 Fuskies, and by far the worst underperforming team of the Pac-12 Prediction Project. Sorry for your stuggles, little bro.

Some Observations:

  • None of the top teams really fell flat, although USC & the Fuskies were a hair under their fans’ predictions which had big implications for the postseason. There’s just not much room for error.
  • In the same vein, no legitimately good team came totally out of the blue. Most you can say is that a couple that we thought would suck, were okay.
  • All the good teams had very little variance in votes – their fans were confident they’d be good and that’s how it bore out.
  • Fans overrated their own teams by an average of 1.02 wins.
  • Ducks fans overrated Oregon by more than twice this average. We were one of 3 fanbases (UW & USC) to predict more than 9 wins for our team, despite breaking in a new coaching staff. We have a rep for being homers and it’s probably deserved.
  • ATQers underrated other teams by an average of .45 wins, which actually seems pretty close.

Essentially although there were some exciting games, in the big picture the Pac-12 was super predictable. This I feel represents college football in a nutshell – the on-field product is exhilarating but when you examine it as a whole there’s not nearly as much suspense as there could be. Too many foregone conclusions, zero real surprises.

What do you think? Thoughts on the season as a whole, or these results specifically?

Do you think the predictability of 2017 was an outlier?

Any suggestions for future versions of this project?