FanPost

Northwestern is the most consistently underrated team in the country and I can prove it with numbers

USA TODAY Sports

(From the fanposts: PROOF.)

We all have our ways of dealing with the offseason. Since I can't go on secret tarp finding missions, I tend to play with numbers. I've been bothered by the preseason predictions having Northwestern in solidly 4th place in the division (even if listed as a "darkhorse" contender, whatever that means). To me, Northwestern seems underrated just about every year, but I assumed it was a bias on my part.

However, thanks to a site that has preseason predictions going back 20 years, I could directly test this perception. The process was simple enough. I took the average of all those predictions, compared it to the actual result, and scaled the difference to the range of -100 to +100, where -100 would mean the team was a unanimous favorite to win their conference\division outright and finished dead last while +100 would be the opposite. 0 means the team finished exactly where they were expected. (No team has ever pulled off either extreme feat. The closest were 1995 Northwestern at +95 and 2010 Texas at -93.)

Looking at the individual seasons, Northwestern has 5 of the 11 most underrated teams in the Big Ten in this period (1995, 2000, 2004, 2005, 2008). 1995 and 2000 are first and third out of all seasons in a BCS conference, sandwiching 2006 Wake Forest. All told, 9 of Northwestern's last 20 seasons have been +25 or higher, against only 2 at -25 or worse.

Summing up all the seasons, positive and negative, we get the following chart:

Name Net Error Total Error Avg prediction Avg results
Northwestern 286 618 73 59
Kansas State 196 537 45 36
Stanford 189 621 62 53
Texas Tech 170 323 55 47
Wake Forest 143 412 78 71
Georgia Tech 138 445 44 37
Iowa State 130 425 81 74
Oregon State 123 434 63 57
Washington State 117 395 75 69
Oregon 113 484 36 30

The most important column is the first one, which is the sum of all seasons 1993-2012 (positive and negative). As you can see, Northwestern has by far the largest positive net, much more than any other school. Hence, my perception was correct.

"But crazy internet guy," you may be thinking, "I have all these objections that invalidate your conclusion..."

---"Don't the different division sizes make the comparisons impossible?"

No, the scaling process corrects for that. Looking at the top 10, there are several teams that have mostly played in 10+ team setups and several that played in smaller arrangements.

---"Being picked for last every year makes being most-underrated easy."

That's where the last two columns come in. They are the average predicted finish and average actual result, scaled to the range 0 to 100 (where 0 means 1st place). Obviously, a team picked to finish first cannot be the most underrated, but the other than that restriction there's a wide variety of teams. Wake Forest, Washington State, and Iowa State are skittering along the bottom. Texas Tech, Stanford, and Oregon State are in the middle, while Georgia Tech, Kansas State, and Oregon are all upper half teams.

---"Obviously our primitive forebears of the 90s couldn't get much preseason information from their carrier pigeons. The predictions have probably gotten better recently."

They've actually gotten worse. Here are the top 10 from just the past 10 years.

Name Net Error Total Error Avg prediction Avg results
Northwestern 210 272 74 54
Stanford 172 221 68 50
Cincinnati 153 361 54 39
Georgia Tech 149 191 45 31
Vanderbilt 110 161 93 82
Wake Forest 109 314 71 60
Kansas State 104 355 55 45
Mississippi 94 229 76 67
Baylor 87 123 90 81
Oregon State 86 247 49 41

In words, Northwestern was a net +210 2003-2012 compared to a net +76 1993-2002.

---"A linear model doesn't accurately capture the relative difficulty in covering different places. It would be better to fit a gaussian to the empirical results and blah blah blah..."

Basically, this objection claims that it is easier to go from 3rd to 2nd than from 2nd to 1st. I'm not sure that's true, and I don't think it would make a substantial difference. There's some other possibilities incorporating asymmetric results as well (i.e. harder to go from 2nd to 1st than 1st to 2nd).

---"The amount Northwestern has been underrated is not very much."

Over the last 10 years, it works out to just over 2 spots in the conference standings per year in the 11 team Big Ten. While that may not seem like much, it's something that should trend to zero, especially over two decades. As I said before, it's also substantially more than any other school in the country.

---"Isn't Illinois hilarious?"

Most overrated teams in the last 10 years:

Name Net Error Total Error Avg prediction Avg results
South Florida -164 296 45 61
Florida State -142 247 9 23
Texas -130 159 17 30
Miami (FL) -113 261 28 40
Illinois -106 285 66 77

EDIT: By popular request (one guy in the comments), here are all the BCS teams over the last 10 years.

Name Net Error Total Error Avg prediction Avg results
Northwestern 210 272 74 54
Stanford 172 221 68 50
Cincinnati 153 361 54 39
Georgia Tech 149 191 45 31
Vanderbilt 110 161 93 82
Wake Forest 109 314 71 60
Kansas State 104 355 55 45
Mississippi 94 229 76 67
Baylor 87 123 90 81
Oregon State 86 247 49 41
Indiana 69 127 94 88
Connecticut 60 161 58 52
Iowa State 59 272 78 72
Boston College 58 246 48 42
Syracuse 52 255 79 74
Mississippi State 52 120 87 82
UCLA 51 249 52 46
Oklahoma State 32 150 54 51
Penn State 31 236 38 35
Arizona 23 131 67 65
Duke 21 64 95 93
Michigan State 20 284 51 49
Texas Tech 20 174 59 57
South Carolina 17 147 48 46
Oregon 15 164 24 23
Louisville 12 232 41 40
Missouri 11 157 34 33
Minnesota 9 131 74 73
North Carolina 7 245 59 58
Texas A&M 5 219 58 58
Kentucky -1 115 82 82
Washington State -4 143 80 80
Rutgers -7 271 56 56
Virginia -13 262 61 62
Clemson -15 291 33 35
Wisconsin -16 248 29 31
LSU -16 146 16 18
Virginia Tech -20 173 12 14
Nebraska -21 254 24 26
Maryland -25 204 65 68
Arkansas -27 171 53 55
Colorado -28 237 59 62
West Virginia -28 204 17 20
Purdue -29 246 54 57
Oklahoma -34 122 8 11
Georgia -35 174 17 21
Florida -37 135 17 21
TCU -51 217 16 21
Kansas -54 269 70 75
Ohio State -68 161 8 15
Auburn -69 291 35 42
Iowa -69 225 37 44
Tennessee -70 263 39 46
Southern Cal -76 120 4 12
Washington -77 189 67 74
California -79 235 38 46
Arizona State -80 343 43 51
Utah -80 240 20 28
Michigan -89 179 27 36
North Carolina State -92 233 58 68
Pittsburgh -100 159 31 41
Alabama -102 209 29 39
Illinois -106 285 66 77
Miami (FL) -113 261 28 40
Texas -130 159 17 30
Florida State -142 247 9 23
South Florida -164 296 45 61


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