The Luckiest and Unluckiest College Football Teams of 2018
USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Scott Frost and Pat Fitzgerald
- Luck can swing a college football team's record in a big way given the small sample size of games.
- Factors like turnovers, close wins, and fortunate timing can help or hurt everyone.
- We've compiled a list of the luckiest and unluckiest teams so far this season, and whether some might correct themselves down the stretch.
In sports, you can’t be a fraud forever. You will get exposed if you’re playing above your head — whether it’s the following week, later that season, or even the next year.
Here’s a look at the teams that are over and underperforming with two weeks left in the college football regular season and bowl games just around the corner. While oddsmakers factor underlying metrics into their lines, there could still be a few spots to fade or back these teams down the stretch.
Football Outsiders Second Order Win Total (SOW) is a great way to find lucky and unlucky teams. As FO defines it, the metric “compare[s] the advanced statistical components of a given game, and the single-game win expectancy they create, to the actual results of the game.”
It then adds up the win expectancy for all games to determine how many a team should have won based on its true performance and if luck were completely equal.
Things like turnover luck, wins in close games and timely offense usually aren’t sustainable and can affect a team’s SOW.
The Most Fortunate Teams in College Football
Regression doesn’t always come for fraudulent college football teams in a given season. The schedule is too short to guarantee it. But you should be aware of these over performing teams, because more often than not, their luck will run out this season.
Army had the highest differential in Second Order Win Total last season, and the Black Knights are back this year. It’s no coincidence.
Don’t blindly fade Army because it has outperformed its underlying metrics. It always does. You will regret it.
Ohio State was lucky to escape against Penn State and Nebraska. It got trounced by Purdue. Even the TCU and Michigan State games weren’t givens.
While Michigan has been rolling through most of its schedule, Ohio State has needed some good fortune. That’s why the Wolverines will be favored in Columbus for the first time since 2005.
The Wildcats went 0-3 in non-conference play, including a home loss to Akron, and clinched the Big Ten West with two weeks remaining. What a weird season.
This is Pat Fitzgerald’s worst team statistically since 2011. It’s been out gained in total yardage this season, which is a big reason its Second Order Win Total differential is so high. The offense has been incredibly inefficient, but has come up with timely plays, while the defense has been great against the run. Northwestern also has the fewest penalty yards per game.
The Cats close the season at Minnesota (they’re 1-point dog, so regression is already factored in) and vs. Illinois, and will be a big dog against either Michigan or Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game. This is a team I’ll be looking to fade during bowl season.
You may have missed your chance to fade Texas, as the Horns are just 1-3 against the spread after beating Oklahoma. They’re a 3-point dog at Iowa State this week.
The Longhorns have three losses and a brand name, but they haven’t turned in true quality performances outside of that win over the Sooners. Loss to Maryland? Beat Tulsa by a touchdown? Baylor by six?
This Texas team has been overvalued all season.
The Unluckiest Teams in College Football
The Huskers are right on track under Scott Frost. It’s not reflected in a 3-7 record, but it has shown over the past few weeks.
They have four losses by five points or fewer, and the underlying metrics paint Nebraska in a much better light.
The Hurricanes have lost four straight, but had a win expectancy of at least 59% in three of those games.
Poor quarterback play is hurting Miami, especially in crunch time. And I don’t see that correcting itself in the last two weeks of the season.
The Boilermakers lost their first three games by a combined eight points, and that corrected itself in the middle of the season. Now, they’re this weird team that has high highs and low lows — a demolition of Ohio State followed by an ugly loss to Michigan State, then a win over Iowa and a blowout loss to Minnesota.
The Trojans have tons of issues, but they’ve been the recipient of some poor turnover luck and a few close losses. That might be coaching and penalties — USC ranks bottom 10 in penalty yards per game.
In four of its five losses, USC either outgained its opponent or was within 30 yards. I think there’s actually a little value on the Trojans this week.