By Duquesne Frog in Numbers Make Me Horned 3
If you liked my last post, you're gonna love this one.
Prior to looking at college basketball team performance metrics from a historical perspective, I started by looking at the same numbers for college football. Using the same fantastic site, College Football Reference, I pulled the yearly SRS (Simple Rating System) and a 5-year moving average for each team over their history and plotted them over time. Unlike the basketball numbers which only go back to 1950, the college football SRS scores have been calculated throughout most of the whole history of college football, even back into the 1890's in some cases.
This first post will look at the conferences that TCU has been a part of. The next post will look at the rest of college football. We'll start the same way we started the basketball post, by looking at the Texas colleges
Here is the history of Texas college football teams going back to 1903, when the first SRS scores for Texas, A&M, and TCU were calculated. According to the SRS metric, the 1947 Texas team is the best team in the history of the state while the Longhorns of the early 1970s was the best program. The 1955 Horned Frogs were the best TCU team by the SRS metric, followed closely by the 1938 MNC team and the 2014 team. Also note that other than the Houston Cougars of the early 1970s, those late 1950's Frogs were the best program in the history of the state that didn't wear burnt orange.
Acknowledging that this is a busy chart, we break up this history into 3 eras. The first couple of decades of the 20th century were dominated by Texas and A&M, but things start getting a little more competitive around the time the Great Depression hits:
There have only been 3 significant eras in which Texas was not the dominant team in the state. The first two, from 1930-1940 and from 1956-1961, were dominated by the Horned Frogs. World War II was bad for every Texas team, except the Longhorns, the only school whose moving SRS trended up during the war. Another interesting trend is that the performance of the private schools seems to be pretty closely correlated during this time. While TCU tended to peak higher than the others, when TCU was good, SMU, Rice, and to a lesser extent, Baylor (they got good in the '50s, not so much in the '30s) were also good. When TCU was bad, all the private schools tended to be bad.
Then comes the protracted dismal mediocrity of TCU football leading up to the dissolution of the SWC ...
This period of time shows most of the third era not dominated by UT, the Sherrill/Slocum A&M years which emerge from the precipitous decline of SMU after the death penalty and the wild oscillations of Houston, caught in a morbid cycle of cheating and draconian punishment. We'll talk a little more about the collapse of the SWC in the next section.
Then we have the post-SWC years:
This era is notable for the slow and steady rise of the Frogs, the bottoming out and then rapid ascent of Baylor, and then the emergence of perhaps a 4th era of non-Longhorn dominance with Baylor, TCU, and A&M outperforming Texas over the last 3-4 years.
Again, since the SWC was pretty much the same schools as above, sans UTEP, UNT, and Texas State, avec Arkansas, and Tech and Houston only appear after they joined, respectively, this will look similar to the above chart.
Perhaps the thing that stands out the most to me is the fact that Arkansas was a non-factor in the conference until 1960 or so. And they had fallen off significantly from their early 80s high before they left for the SEC in 1992. Which indicates that it wasn't the move to the SEC that hurt the Hogs; they had been sliding toward mediocrity for the better part of the decade prior.
The next chart shows the early years. The short tenures of the Oklahoma schools are included, but not Southwestern's sole year as a member. SMU was added as Oklahoma left and TCU was added as Oklahoma State (nee Oklahoma A&M) left. Not surprisingly, the AP MNC teams (1939 A&M and 1938 TCU) were the best teams of this era.
Next we see the true heyday of the conference, from the end of WWII through the early 1960's. From 1947-1961 (and if you ignore Tech who struggled for a number of years after being admitted to the SWC, you can expand the time frame out to 1968), not a single program in the conference had a below average 5-year MAV. By the end of this heyday, Texas and Arkansas had clearly separated from the rest of the conference and the other schools were all in states of relative decline, but until the late 1960's, every program in the conference was better than most. Despite the parity during these years, Texas was the dominant program throughout, save for the brief era of Frog predominance in the late 50s -- the seven best individual seasons during this time were all by the Longhorns, the best being the 1947 team.
Then we come to the end. If you take a snapshot of the early 80s, the conference still looks pretty salty. Texas and Arkansas have come back to the pack a little bit but are still very good. Jackie Sherrill has begun to make A&M relevant, Houston comes into the league immediately competitive, and SMU gets really good. Of course, in hindsight, we know why this all happened ... A&M, Houston, and SMU were all blatantly cheating. But setting that aside, the SWC circa 1980 is still a damn fine football conference.
But then things go bad quickly. A&M, Houston, and SMU all get hit with NCAA sanctions and fall precipitously. Texas and Arkansas continue to slide. Then Arkansas bolts to the SEC. Houston miraculously starts getting good again, then gets busted for cheating again, and then gets really bad very quickly.
A few notes about the 1984 TCU team. A common mythology about the Wacker-led Frogs is that the team was on the verge of ascendancy before the NCAA levied the "Living Death Penalty" on the Frogs in 1985. However, based on the SRS metric at least, there isn't a lot of evidence to support either an emerging Frog powerhouse or a sharp decline after the sanctions hit. The 1984 team was the beneficiary of a particularly weak conference that year. TCU had an SRS around 6 (i.e., the Frogs were about 6 points better, on average, than an average college football team), which is good, especially compared to the teams immediately before and after, but not spectacular. The teams with higher SRS that season, SMU, Arkansas, and Texas, were all only a few points higher than the Frogs that year. And when looking at the 5-year MAV, the Frogs had climbed a little from their late 1970s low, but the program was remarkably and consistently mediocre from 1979 through the end of the conference, staying between an SRS of 0 to -5. Compare the Frog's MAV to Houston's over the same time period. Cougar fans could reasonably argue that they suffered two "Living Death Penalties" over a 15-year period, with two performance declines that followed NCAA sanctions that rivaled the decline SMU suffered after the Actual Death Penalty.
Which leads to another point. At the time when the conference collapsed, there were four teams with above average MAVs and four teams with below average MAVs. All politics aside, it was the four above average teams that were invited to the Big 12 and the four below average teams that were left behind. In some alternate universe, if Houston had not suffered the severe NCAA sanctions imposed during the Jenkins era and had remained at least above average for the remaining half-decade, would the Cougars have bumped Baylor or Tech as the fourth invitee to the Big 12? Houston never had the political clout that Baylor had, and probably not even the clout Tech had, but would the legislature have felt pressure to get the other state school invited? Enough to get five Texas teams invited to the Big 12? Or would that have caused Nebraska to blow the whole merger up before it started? If Houston had stayed good, would there have been a Big 12?
All told, the SWC at the time of the collapse was an awfully mediocre football conference. Probably more on par with the MWC conference we played in (perhaps not even as strong at the top as that conference, but probably not quite as weak at the bottom either) than with the current slate of "Power 5" conferences.
But of course, that alternate universe is not ours. In ours, the Frogs then joined the ...
WAC/MWC (preceded by the Rocky Mountain/Mountain States Athletic/Skyline Conference)
As was the case with the basketball charts, the WAC/MWC chart is a holy mess of schools across multiple conferences. Since I was primarily interested in the dynastic strength of programs over time more than a rigorous history of conference membership, I thought it more interesting to look at programs across conferences. So forgive the messiness ...
The first chart shows the conference around the time of TCU's inclusion.
As we entered, BYU was still king with an emergent Colorado State and Air Force. And you can see right off the bat why the "Gang of 5" might have been less than enthused about the teams added to their conference. Rice, TCU, SMU, Tulsa, San Jose, and UNLV all come in in 1996 as well below average teams; of the members prior to that season, only the soon-to-be abandoned UTEP was as bad as the six new teams. The MWC splits after the 1998 season, leaving all the new additions behind and Urban Meyer's Utes begin to ascend, topped off by the best ever WAC/MWC team in 2004. Boise joins the WAC after we leave in 2000, becoming with Fresno, the only good WAC programs for much of the 2000s.
TCU joins the MWC in 2005 and the conference quickly becomes the three-headed Hydra monster of TCU, Utah, and BYU. A declining Fresno leaves Boise as the only good team in the WAC and they join the MWC after Utah and BYU bolt in 2011. The WAC folds as a football conference after the 2012 season and the MWC is left with a declining Boise, and a sharply ascendant Utah State and San Diego State.
The next chart shows the WAC prior to the failed 16-team experiment. This conference started out as the Rocky Mountain Conference and included Colorado, Colorado College, Colorado School of Mines, Denver, and Utah State. The Colorado schools were all pretty dominant in the early days of the conference but began to decline rapidly as World War II approached and were not invited to the Mountain States/Skyline Conference when it formed in 1938. Utah had the first period of dominance in the early Depression era. BYU was surprisingly uncompetitive and remained so all the way into the early 1970s.
After WWII, Colorado leaves and joins the then Big 7 and is replaced by Montana. In 1963, the WAC was formed, leaving out Montana, Denver, and Utah State and adding New Mexico, Arizona, and Arizona State. ASU is one of, if not the, dominant program in the conference (bumping Wyoming's decade-long run of relative dominance) until they and Arizona leave for the PAC 10 after the 1977 season. UTEP joins in 1968, and after the Arizona schools leave, San Diego State, Hawaii, and Air Force join in consecutive years. At this point, BYU emerges as the dominant program.
Ever so briefly, the Frogs were in Conference USA. CUSA was formed the year after the SWC dissolved, with Houston landing there while the rest of the SWC rejects went to the WAC. Many of the founding members of CUSA were playing as football independents prior to forming the conference, but most had spent some time in the Missouri Valley Conference at some point. A lot of teams have come in and out of CUSA and most of the original members are now in the American Athletic Conference (AAC) which formed after the dissolution of the Big East as a football conference. In the chart below, the schools shown after the formation of the AAC are a hodge-podge of teams currently in both conferences, but I didn't include many of the WAC and Sun Belt teams that moved to CUSA after the AAC split. The chart is busy enough already, and those teams are accounted for in Part 2.
When the conference formed, USM, ECU, Louisville, and Memphis all enter having been consistently average over the previous decade. Cincinnati had been pretty bad in the early 1990s but had pulled themselves up to nearly average by the time the CUSA formed. Tulsa, who had largely been in league with these other schools, went to the WAC initially, but joined CUSA with SMU and Rice after they defected from the WAC.
The first decade of CUSA was dominated buy Southern Miss. Tulane was bad at the outset of the conference, but became competitive in quickly with the Shaun King-led undefeated 1998 team, then quickly faded back into mediocrity. Louisville was becoming ascendant just as they left to join the Big East, culminating with the best ever CUSA season in 2004. The ascendant Louisville years coincide with TCU's brief tenure in the conference, and USM, Louisville, and TCU all battled for conference supremacy in the early 2000, but all three programs were far from world-beaters at the time with SRS MAVs around 5.
In 2005, the conference underwent a wholesale change of members as Louisville, Cincinnati, and USF went to the Big East, TCU went to the Mountain West, and Army went Independent. Tulsa, SMU, Rice, and UTEP came over from the WAC; UCF joined, and Marshall moved from the MAC. From this point, the conference has seen the emergence of Houston, Tulsa, and UCF.
The next chart shows the history of most of the founding members of CUSA before starting the conference. This history includes a very incomplete history of some of the Missouri Valley teams that showed up on their schedules often throughout their histories.
Of all the CUSA founders, Tulsa has been playing "big time" college football the longest, dating back to their inclusion in the Missouri Valley prior to the Great Depression. At that time the conference included former SWC outcast Oklahoma State/A&M and schools like Grinnell, Creighton, Drake, and Washington(Mo). Tulsa largely dominated these early years. As many of these schools began to drop down in classification and Oklahoma State left to join the Big 8, Cincinnati and North Texas appear in the mid 1950s followed by Memphis, USM, Louisville and New Mexico State in the 1960s. Tulane leaves the SEC and starts playing many of these schools in 1966 and East Carolina appears in 1977. Memphis was the strongest team of the group during the 1960s. The 70s saw Memphis, Tulane, and ECU battling for supremacy and the 80s saw the dominance of USM.
Tune in next week when we talk about the Big 6/7/8/12/XII-II and the rest of college football.
By FrogAbroad in FrogAblog 0She stands tall and fair and impossible to overlook in the Managua airport’s duty free shop. Her ash-blond hair and heaven-blue eyes cause more than one head to glance a second, a third time in her direction. Her name is Evelina. She’s 18 and Nicaraguan, but bears only latent genes from her tropics-born mother. Instead her features carry the memory of her East German father, long-returned to his homeland. Perhaps her delicate cheek bones and milky complexion are the only memories her mother has of her lover, one of hundreds of military advisors whose tour of duty brought them to this hot and dusty outpost. Evelina is a woman-child born of a brief union between a soldier chilled by loneliness and a woman burning with a desire to escape a nation destroyed by war and political intrigue. Her hair is pulled back and fastened with a black bow, exposing her ears and throat, emphasizing her whiteness next to her light bronze coworkers. She is tall and slim, nearly a head taller than her Latin companions, an especially beautiful flower standing a bit more lovely than the others in their little garden. Evelina sells watches and perfumes and T-shirts and American liquors to departing international travelers. I sit observing her from the chairs in front of her shop. I see her watch the departing passengers standing in line to board their plane. I wonder how much of her heart leaves with them. Does it seek someone like herself? Does it seek a country where she does not stand out so emphatically as being different? She shares a joke with Marvina, their laughter mingling on its way to where I sit. Marvina’s laughter is like thick, sweet honey, Evelina’s like water bubbling from a cold spring. Even as her lips grace her admirers with a smile, there is a distant look in her eyes. How cold is the loneliness of her own heart every time she looks in the mirror and thinks of a father she never saw? What are the passions that burn within as she works in a menial job, earning barely enough to pay her tuition as she seeks to escape the same desperation that entrapped her mother? I feel drawn to her, to ask her these questions, to listen to her open her heart. But...no…for now I hear my flight called. I rise from my watching-place and cast a final glance her way. Good-bye, fair Evelina. May you someday follow your heart to find whatever it is you seek.
By FrogAbroad in FrogAblog 0The Summer of 1980 was by far the hottest, evilest heat I've ever experienced. I remember that summer well. I was riding for Will Speck, the owner of the Draggin'-S brand down northeast of Bandera. The grass was brown and dry and brittle...Will told all us hands he wanted no smokes outside the ranch house so's to lower the chance of a sudden fire. Lots of the boys took up chewin' because of that "no smokes" rule, but it didn't last too long because we were all too dry to spit.
Anyway, one really hot, hot day I was ridin' the fence to patch up any breaks the stock caused from trying to get into the next field to look for moisture. It was miserable with hardly any shade except for this one old tree leaning out over the creek, which was now nothing but a dry creek bed. So I ease my horse--a pretty little mare called Dynamite Chica 'cause she was little but could blow up mighty big under a careless rider--I ease Chica down into the dry creek bed and we stop under the shade of that one tree. Well, I dismount and loosen the cinch to give Chica a bit of breathin' room and lean back against the rocky sides of that creek bed to wipe what little sweat I could produce from out of my hat. There were the usual noises out there, 'way off from town--the wind blowing through dry grass and leafless tree limbs, the whirring whine of the cicadas, all those were normal, but...there was something else I couldn't quite place. It was like something scraping on hard ground or rock, sort of metallic-like.
So bein' naturally curious I start looking around for what's making that noise. I figured at first maybe an old tin can was blowing around in the breeze, but the sound was from down low, in the creek bed, where there wasn't much wind. I keep looking and finally I saw it...something that made my jaw drop.
Comin' right down the middle of that rocky creek bed was one of those green and yellow and black striped lizards. And the scrapin' sound was sure enough metal on rock, 'cause that lizard was draggin' a canteen.
Yeah...that Texas summer of 1980 was sure enough one to remember.
By FrogAbroad in FrogAblog 2This was a joke told many years ago by Will Rogers which I borrowed and turned into a poem. I now post it to FrogAblog, and dedicate it to Baylor administrators, coaches and fans.
When A Feller Oughta Keep Quiet
Let me tell you `bout a mountain lion a `way out in th' west.
When it come to killin' cows an' sheep, why, he must've been th' best.
A reg'lar varmint legend of widespread renown,
He was the scourge of ranchers for a'hunnerd miles around.
While passin' through a cattle ranch he killed hisself a bull,
He ate an' ate, an' stuffed hisself until he was plumb full!
Then to celebrate th' feast, or maybe cuz he was bored,
That fat ol' mountain lion rared back and roared…an' roared…an' roared!
Now all the caterwaulin' that th' mountain lion had done
Caught the ear of a passin' cowboy, who pulled out his trusty gun.
He took his aim.his shot was true.an' to that cat's su'prise,
Th' cowboy shot hisself a lion! Smack between th' eyes!
So the moral to my story, with no "if" "and" or "but,"
Is when a feller's full o' bull. he'd best keep his mouth shut!
By Duquesne Frog in Numbers Make Me Horned 2In a Numbers Make Me Horned first, we're going to turn away from college football and DUSHEE (although not team performance metrics) and try to put this most recent TCU basketball season in some perspective.
A running gag among some on this board, there has been a revisionist tendency by some to elevate the Billy Tubbs years as putting TCU among the elite programs in the country. It was, by some measures, the pinnacle of TCU basketball, challenged only by the brief run of success had by the Killer Frogs of the mid-1980s. But that pinnacle consisted of a single NCAA tournament bid, followed by an unceremonious 1st round exit at the hands of a 12-seed Florida State team, and two NIT bids.
The Frogs have made the NCAA tournament seven times (1952, 1953, 1959, 1968, 1971, 1987, and 1998), but four of those times were in the 1950's and 60's, when the NCAA tournament was arguably less prestigious than the NIT. The 1953, 1968 and 1971 teams were 16-9, 15-11 and 15-12, respectively.
This season was the Frogs' seventh NIT bid (1983, 1986, 1992, 1997, 1999, 2005, 2017).
Then there were all the years in between. Since 1950, the Frogs have had 19 seasons of single digit wins
So how special was the 2017 Frogs NIT run in the program's history? How does it compare to the other teams in the conference and in the state? Just how dismal has TCU basketball been otherwise?
To assess this, I went to College Basketball Reference and used their SRS metric (Simple Rating System), which uses a similar approach as DUSHEE, to plot team performance as a function of time. SRS, like DUSHEE, provides a relative performance compared to an average team (SRS = 0). College Basketball reference only has SRS calculated back to the 1949-1950 season.
Then, in addition to a marker for each team's performance in a given year, I plotted a 5-year moving average (MAV) for each team as an indicator of program strength during the time the senior class was at the school. Thus the MAV value in a given year, say 2000, is the average SRS score of the 1995-1996, 1996-1997,1997-1998, 1998-1999, and 1999-2000 seasons. By following the MAV curve, you can qualitatively assess when a program is ascendant, declining, or keeping performance level. Because I'm plotting the MAV in the last year of the 5-year envelope, it will often appear that the MAV is lagging the actual year-to-year performance.
This plot is the collective basketball history of most of the Texas D-1 schools since 1950, the bold purple line showing TCU's MAV. From 1955 until 1984, TCU was a below average D-1 program during that three decade period. For a 5-year stretch in the late 1970's, TCU and Rice needed binoculars to be able to see the rest of the state; and the rest of the state, particularly outside of Houston and UTEP, wasn't all that spectacular. That's just how bad TCU was during that stretch.
But the Frogs did become sharply ascendant during the end of that period, becoming solidly middle-of-the-pack in the state in the late 1980s (Jamie Dixon's tenure as a player) before a slow decline through the mid-1990s. Then Tubbs made the program sharply ascendant again, briefly challenging Tom Penders' UT teams as the best program in the state before another steady decline into another decade of mediocrity from 2005-2015.
But if you look at the tip of that peak during the Tubbs' era, and look for the little purple triangles that mark the year-to-year SRS scores for TCU around that peak, you can see that the peak is largely driven by one single year, the 1997-1998 NCAA team. Based on the SRS metric, that team had the highest score of any team in the state from 1985 forward, and behind only the 1968 and 1983 Houston teams since 1950. Also note that this past season's TCU team has the second highest SRS score of any TCU team, the only other TCU team to exceed a single season SRS over 15.
Houston and UTEP dominated the state from the mid-1960s until almost the mid-1990s, when Texas became the most consistently high-performing team in the conference, which it held until about 2012. SMU showed some early dominance in the 1950s and Baylor has emerged the top power in the state over the last few years.
This chart has a lot of the same data as the previous chart, but includes only the SWC teams for the years in which the teams were actually in the conference. So Tech arrives in 1961, Houston doesn't arrive until 1977, and Arkansas, which wasn't included in the previous figure, disappears after 1992, four years before everybody else disappears. Perhaps the most interesting thing to note here is how awful a basketball conference the SWC was during most of the 1960s and 1970s. From 1968-1973, there was not a single SWC program with an above-average SRS 5-year MAV. And even into the 1980s, only the addition of Houston and the ascendancy of Nolan Richardson's Hogs made the conference look halfway respectable. Arkansas left on a very high note; its 1990-1991 team had, by far, the highest SRS score (27.3) in the conference from 1950 on.
As we all remember, after the demise of the SWC, we joined the new and "improved" 16-team WAC, which shortly after we joined broke apart into the MWC and the Leftovers WAC. This hybrid chart shows all the teams that were in the WAC prior to the MWC split and then the teams that joined the WAC after the split; thus after 1998, this chart shows all the teams in both conferences. Thus TCU shows up twice, from 1996-1997 through 2000-2001 as a part of the WAC, and then from 2005-2006 through 2011-2012 as a part of the MWC. The "WAC Folds" line marks when the WAC ceased to exist as a football conference; I recognize that the WAC still has life as a basketball conference, but a man only has so much time to account for so many basketball teams. Note that during this time, while Utah, Tulsa, BYU, UNLV, UNM, and Fresno all vied for the best program in these conferences, the 1997-1998 TCU team has the highest single season SRS score. In fact, even if you take the WAC back to it's predecessor days (next chart), that TCU team had the highest SRS in conference history, dating back to 1950. Higher than Rick Majerus', Keith Van Horn-led, Final Four Utes, higher than Bill Self's best Tulsa team.
Conference USA/American Athletic:
This chart, like the WAC/MWC one, shows multiple related conferences on one chart; the teams that formed the original CUSA, the core of which formed the eventual American Athletic Conference, leaving behind a gutted and transformed CUSA. I didn't try to add all the new teams in the modern CUSA. This conference was always dominated by three teams, Cincinnati, Louisville, and Memphis. TCU was already on the way down from their 1998 peak and was never really a factor in this conference.
Our current home. TCU and Tech have battled for the cellar of the Big XII-II throughout our short time in the conference, but both teams appear to be sharply ascendant. This chart goes a long way to show just how good a basketball conference this is right now. Going back to the very first chart with all the Texas teams and the current TCU program is squarely middle-of-the-pack. In the Big XII-II, we are, by this metric, the worst team in the conference, and with Tech, the two worst programs by a significant margin.
The other interesting thing to note, going back historically, is that from 1950 to 1980 or so, while Kansas was (with Kansas State) the best program in the conference, it was only by nature of a fairly weak conference. Kansas really didn't become a true national power (by the SRS metric, at least) until it and (Billy Tubbs-led) Oklahoma began to rise in the late-1980s. Then, unlike Oklahoma, Kansas has stayed at an elite level over the better part of the last three decades. No one has really come close to Kansas' supremacy since OU's decline in the early-1990s.
The best ever Big XII team based on SRS? The 1987-1988 Oklahoma team coached by one Billy Tubbs. The SRS metric seems to really like Billy, Chuck ...
Completing TCU's basketball journey to date, let's take a look at some of the other major conferences' histories.
I figured I'd start with our coach's old conference, to give a sense of what he and Ben Howland did with the Pitt program prior to coming to TCU. The Big East formed as a basketball conference beginning with the 1979-1980 season with members from a number of other conferences. At the time of its formation, Notre Dame (which didn't actually join the conference until a few years later), Syracuse, and Georgetown were the top teams until the mid-1990s. At that point, UConn became and remained the top program in the conference until about 2005 when a bunch of teams, including Pitt (bold blue line), Louisville, Villanova, and WVU all reached about the same consistent level until the football schools all left the Big East after the 2012-2013 season. Aside from a brief rise from 1985-1990, Pitt basketball had not been anything other than a pretty average program, and sometimes terrible (around 1970).
Those John Wooden UCLA teams were pretty good.
The late-2000s Florida team is the only program to be able to say it was clearly better than Kentucky over the last seven decades.
The ACC started out as kinda a crappy basketball conference. From 1970 on, however, pretty salty.
Perhaps the most evenly competitive of all the major conferences. Illinois, Ohio State, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin , and even Purdue have all had at least a brief claim to be the best program in the conference. Only Northwestern has been consistently mediocre over the last seven decades.
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