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A sports analysis blog hosted by lovable, furry old Duquesne. Come here for DUSHEE missives and other sundry wonkish thoughts.

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Duquesne Frog

football_eclipse_american_football_t_shi

 

Last week, in Part I, we discussed all of TCU's past lives; as a team in the state of Texas, and in the SWC, WAC, and Conference USA.

 

This week, we will focus on TCU's current conference, the rest of the "Power 5," and a few other conferences like the Big East and the MAC.

 

And away we go ...

 

Big 6/7/8/12/XII-II

 

TCUs current conference was always closely intertwined with its old one.  The Oklahoma schools started in the SWC before Oklahoma founded the Big 6 and Oklahoma State turned the conference into the Big 8.  Then when the SWC went belly up, half the conference merged with the Big 8 to form the Big 12.  In between, Texas and Oklahoma remained each other's primary rival, often to the chagrin of their in-state rivals.

 

The first chart shows the history of the conference after the expansion to 12.

 

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At the time of the expansion, Nebraska was dominant, playing elite MNC-level football.  Colorado was at a peak but was about the start a slow decline after the McCartney era was exposed and Bill Snyder was getting Kansas State to a pretty elite level.  A&M comes in as the best program of the Texas schools but is in decline.  

 

Then around 2002, Nebraska and Kansas State begin to decline and Texas and Oklahoma begin to rise and those two schools dominate the conference for the next decade.  It is at this point that Nebraska, Colorado, A&M, and Missouri leave, resulting in the entry of TCU and West Virginia.  Texas falls off while Oklahoma State and Baylor emerge as contenders with Oklahoma remaining pretty elite.

 

The 2005 Texas team ekes out the 2008 Oklahoma team as the best single season in the Big 12 history.  The 2014 Frogs are the highest rated team in the Big XII-II's short history.

 

The history of the Big 6/7/8 prior to the addition of the Texas schools appears below.

 

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The Big 6/7/8 started out as the original Missouri Valley Conference, with Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa State as charter members with Drake and Washington (Mo).  Kansas State and Grinnell would join shortly after, and Oklahoma joined as Drake, Washington, and Grinnell dropped out of "big time" college football.  From 1928-1947, the conference was six teams.  The addition of Colorado (from the precursor of the WAC, see Part I) in 1948 made the conference seven, and Oklahoma State in 1960 (from the Missouri Valley) formed the Big 8.

 

During this entire time, the conference was pretty well dominated by two teams -- Nebraska and Oklahoma.  Nebraska dominated the first three decades up until WWII.  After the war, Oklahoma took over as the dominant team for two decades.  Then after the OU-NU hegemony was challenged for a few years by Missouri and Kansas in the early 1960s, Nebraska and Oklahoma vaulted to super-elite status in the late 1960s and remained there for the next two decades when Oklahoma fell apart after Barry Switzer left to coach the Cowboys and Colorado started to emerge.

 

The clear heyday of the Big 8 was the decade of the 70s when NU and OU were out-of-this-world good and even the perennial bottom-dwellers Kansas State and Iowa State put together decent programs.  Note that aside from this period, Kansas State was consistently atrocious from WWII until about 1990 when Bill Snyder came aboard.  The 1973 Oklahoma team was rated the best in conference history, but pretty much any Nebraska or Oklahoma team from 1970-1974 could have been considered one of the best of all time.

 

PAC12 (previously the Pacific Coast Conference/Athletic Association of Western Universities/PAC-8/PAC-10)

 

The schools that would become the PAC-8 started out in the Pacific Coast Conference with Idaho and Montana.  The plot below shows the conference during the PCC years.

 

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Throughout these years, Idaho and Montana struggled to be competitive, generally always comprising the bottom of the standings.  USC emerged as the dominant team in the late 1920s and early 30s, but then came back to the pack prior to WWII.  From that point on, the conference was very evenly competitive with Stanford, Cal, and UCLA all vying for championships most years and many of the other teams, at least briefly, becoming competitive.

 

In 1959, the California schools and Washington rid themselves of the Oregon schools, Washington State, and Idaho (Montana had left the PCC in 1949) and formed the AAWU.  Washington State was let back in the club in 1962 and the Oregon schools in 1964 when the conference became known as the PAC-8.  For the purposes of continuity, the following chart, which shows the conference from 1960 on, doesn't reflect these rejections and readmittances.

 

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With the official formation of the PAC-8, USC reemerged as the dominant program through the early 1980s (by which point the Arizona schools had moved over from the WAC, see Part I) followed by strong years from UCLA and Washington in the late 80s and 90s.  Note that the USC program at the time of the Sun Bowl was going through its lowest point since the early 1960s.  One of the many ways in which the football gods were smiling on us in 1998.  The Trojans once again re-emerge as the dominant team of the mid-to-late 2000s and then Oregon leveraged that Nike money to get good in the current decade.  Utah and Colorado join in the 2011 season with Utah being solid, middle-of-the-pack and Colorado mostly battling with Washington State for the cellar.

 

Aside from an extended two decades of bad play from Oregon State at the end of the last century, the PAC has been a pretty competitive conference throughout.  The best ever single season was the 1972 USC team and the highest program marks were reached by the Pete Carroll USC teams of the mid 2000s and the USC teams of the early 1930s.

 

SEC (previously the Southern Conference)

 

If you thought the 16-team WAC was the most insane conference ever devised, you probably weren't around for the Southern Conference, which was the precursor of both the SEC and the ACC.  The teams that founded both of those conferences plus a whole bunch of other teams played together in the Southern Conference, which at its greatest extent was a TWENTY-THREE team conference.  It is not immediately obvious how scheduling was handled during this time; there were no official divisions but it does seem like the schools who would become the SEC mostly played each other and the schools that became the ACC mostly played each other.  Some schools played eight conference games; others played four.

 

The chart below shows the ridiculous history of the Southern Conference up to the time when the SEC split in 1933.  I don't expect you to be able to figure out which squiggle belongs to which school.  Just trust me when I tell you that the top squiggles chronologically are Vanderbilt (yes, Vanderbilt was once good in football), Auburn, Georgia Tech, Alabama, and Tennessee.  The 1917 Rambin' Wreck was the dominant single season team of the era.

 

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The conference at this time also included schools like Tulane, Sewanee, Washington and Lee, and the Virginia Military Institute.  The last two of these teams were left out of the SEC  but remained in the Southern Conference along with most of the teams that would become the ACC.

 

Next we see the early years of the SEC.  Sewanee hangs on until 1939, battling Mississippi State for the cellar.  Tulane is initially quite competitive, with a 5-year MAV that generally hovered just below Alabama, Tennessee, and an emerging LSU up until WWII.  After the war, Tulane falls off, replaced by Georgia and Georgia Tech, the latter of which became the clear dominant team in the mid-1950s.  Mississippi, which was a clear bottom-feeder in the Southern Conference caps off a slow ascent and becomes the top program in the conference in the late 1950s and early 60s when Alabama takes over. 

 

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It is at this point that Georgia Tech and Tulane leave the conference; Tech still very competitive (Tulane not as much).  It is also at this point that Kentucky, Vandy, and Mississippi State set up shop as the bottom programs in the conference, a distinction they will maintain through most of the remaining history of the conference.

 

large_SEC3.png

 

Alabama remains the dominant team of the 70s and early 80s when the retirement of Bear Bryant marks the beginning of their decline as a program (although still good enough to grab an MNC for Gene Stallings in 1992).  During Bama's decline, Florida, Ole Miss, and Georgia rise until the early 1990s when Florida and Tennessee pull ahead of the rest of the conference where they will stay for about a decade.  South Carolina and Arkansas join the conference at this time, staying firmly middle-of-the-pack throughout their history.

 

As we all know, Alabama has re-emerged as the dominant team in the conference over the last half decade, during which time A&M and Missouri join the conference, also shoring up the middle of the conference.

 

The best ever single season for the SEC was the 1971 Alabama team and 1975 marked the pinnacle of the Alabama program, although another few strong years from Nick Saban might get the most recent incarnation of the Tide in the same rarefied air.

 

ACC (preceded by the same Southern Conference)

 

For the first three decades in the history of the ACC, refer to the first chart in the SEC section above.  Trust me, they're in there.  After the SEC splits, the Southern Conference becomes a little easier to digest.

 

large_ACC2.png

 

You'll note that at the time of the SEC split, the top programs in the Southern Conference were most of the ones that left, with the notable exception of Mississippi State.  In the vacuum left by the SEC schools, Duke and UNC rose quickly, and in particular Duke (yes, Duke) was the dominant force in the Southern Conference up until the ACC formed in 1953.  Schools were added to the conference in the wake of the SEC split including Wake Forest and then Virginia left after 1937 only to return after the ACC formation.  Once again, the newly formed conference split from the poorer performers as Davidson, Richmond, Virginia Tech, the Citadel, VMI and Furman, many of whom had been added with Wake Forest back in the late 1930s.

 

Compared to the other 'Power 5' conferences, the ACC has easily the least auspicious beginnings.  Maryland emerges as the first dominant team in the ACC but falls off quickly and then the conference slides into a pretty mediocre state.  Duke, NC State, and UNC all take turns as the "top" program in the conference but by 1970 (the year South Carolina leaves and goes independent) the ACC has more teams with below average MAVs than above average.  If I were to tell you in 1970 that between the ACC and SWC one conference was going to collapse and the other was going to become one of the five elite conferences in college football, I think most people would have put their money on the ACC for the collapse.  But the conference made some very strategic moves that the SWC didn't make. Like ...

 

large_ACC3.png

 

... making wise expansion choices.  The ACC initially added Georgia Tech in 1983.  Georgia Tech was not immediately a big player in the conference and Maryland, UNC, and Clemson all made big improvements in play in the late 70s and early 80s.  Then everybody except Clemson fell off and the conference started looking pretty mediocre again until they scored Florida State who would thoroughly dominate the ACC from 1992 until their next expansion move in 2004.  This move was the first of two death blows the ACC landed on the Big East, grabbing Miami, Virginia Tech, and BC.  This immediately added two teams that would become mainstays at the top of the conference, even if Miami would never replicate their Big East success.  Then they ACC landed the second blow, adding Pitt, Louisville, and Syracuse.  Combined with Duke and Wake showing some improvement of late making the bottom of the conference not look so atrocious, the ACC is now a clear "Power 5," even if arguably the weakest.

 

The best ever ACC team was the 1993 Florida State team.

 

B1G

 

The Big 10 began with seven teams in 1896 (shown below back to 1892 because the data was there) -- Purdue, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Northwestern, and U of Chicago.  Indiana and Iowa joined in 1899 and Ohio State in 1912, giving the league ten actual teams until Chicago left in 1939.  The chart below shows the conference for this era.  The conference was pretty equitable during its first 5 decades with Purdue and Minnesota dominating the 1890s, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Chicago the 1900s, Minnesota the 1910s, Michigan the 1920s, and Minnesota, Purdue, Ohio State and even Northwestern all vying for supremacy during the Depression.  Only Indiana never really maintained a competitive program at any point of the conference's early years.  Clearly, by WWII, the University of Chicago was struggling to remain competitive.

 

The 1940 Michigan and Minnesota teams edge out the 1917 Minnesota team as the best single-season teams during this era.

 

large_B1G1.png

 

Once Chicago drops, the Big 10 had nine teams for 14 years until Michigan State was added in 1953.  It's not only the modern Big 10 that can't seem to maintain the correct number of teams. 

 

After WWII, Michigan has the first extended era of dominance from 1942 through 1952.  Parity reigned again through most of the 50s and 60s with Michigan State, Ohio State, Iowa, and Purdue all staking a claim to the top program in the conference during the period.  Once again, Indiana is really the only program never to get consistently into the upper echelon during this period. 

 

large_B1G2.png

 

By 1970, several Big 10 programs have taken severe downturns, including Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, and most notably Northwestern which goes from a MAV of 15 in 1962 to -10 by 1980, about where the U of Chicago was when they dropped out of the conference 40 years before.  In a trend of one- or two-team dominance that is noticeable in most of the major conferences in the 1970s (Texas and Arkansas in the SWC, Oklahoma and Nebraska in the Big 8, Alabama in the SEC, USC in the PAC-10), the Big 10 is dominated by Michigan and Ohio State throughout the decade.  The 1947 Michigan team, 1973 Ohio State team, and 1944 Ohio State team were the best of the era.

 

Ohio State, and to a lesser extent Michigan, come down to the pack a little in the 1980s as Iowa, Illinois and Michigan State improve.  In the 90s, the conference becomes a three-headed monster with the admittance of Penn State in 1993 (making the Big 10 eleven), the resurgence of Ohio State, and continued elite play of Michigan throughout the decade.  The new millennia sees Penn State decline leaving Ohio State and Michigan at the top.  Michigan finally starts to decline in the late 2000s, replaced by Penn State and Wisconsin as Ohio State's primary competition over the last decade.  Wisconsin's resurgence in the 1990s is stark, going from bottom-dwellers (with Northwestern) in 1990 to top-tier status in two decades.  During this time, Northwestern, Illinois, Minnesota, Purdue, and of course Indiana are never particularly competitive.

 

Also during this time, the conference adds Nebraska (2011), Maryland (2014), and Rutgers (2014).  Only Nebraska is above average since joining.  The 1994 Penn State team is the top team of the era.

 

large_B1G3.png

 

Big East and the Eastern Independents

 

The Big East started as a basketball conference in the 1979 but in 1991 became a football conference.  The conference was formed from the Big East basketball schools that played D1-A football (BC, Syracuse, and Pitt) and from a number of other eastern independents (Miami, WVU, Rutgers, VaTech, and Temple).  Notre Dame, while never football member of the Big East, is included here because they were among the eastern independents from which the conference was born and played in the conference in other sports.  Army and Navy are also included in these charts for any years where they weren't parts of other conferences (e.g., Army in CUSA starting in 1998)

 

large_BE1.png

 

The conference was immediately dominated by Miami, coming into the conference at their zenith.  Lou Holtz had Notre Dame riding high at this point as well.  By 2000, Miami had come down a little and Syracuse and Virginia Tech emerged as serious contenders.  Then in 2004, the Big East's two bellwethers at the time, Miami and Virginia Tech left for the ACC, followed by Boston College the following year.  Those schools were replaced by UConn (a Big East basketball school moving up to play D1-A football), and Cincinnati, Louisville, and South Florida from CUSA, but the death spiral had begun.  WVU emerged as the class of the conference during these final years before leaving for the Big XII-II after the 2011 season.  Pitt, Syracuse, and Louisville leave for the ACC the following year and the conference folds.

 

The 2001 Miami team was the best single season in Big East history.

 

Prior to the formation of the Big East, most of the eastern schools, particularly in the north and mid-Atlantic where the ACC and SEC didn't have a footprint, played as independents.  In some respects they were in a de facto conference as most of these schools played each other on a yearly basis, or nearly so, but they never officially formed.  Not until the Big East.

 

The military academies and Penn State had SRS numbers dating back to the 1890s.  Army is the dominant team in these early years, followed by Pitt and Notre Dame starting around 1915.  Knute Rockne had Notre Dame as the dominant force in the northeast during the 1920s and early 30s when Pitt emerges again just before WWII.  The war drives Pitt into a prolonged funk that lasts until they recruit Tony Dorsett and Dan Marino but launches Notre Dame and the military academies, particularly Army, to stratospheric heights.

 

large_BE2.png

 

After the war, Notre Dame and the academies come back to Earth (albeit Notre Dame more slowly) and by 1960 the northeast is lacking in many good programs.  Syracuse and Penn State are the best of a tepid lot.  Rutgers, as always, is terrible at this time.  Then in the late 1960s, Ara Parseghian returns Notre Dame to elite status while Penn State, Pitt, and Florida State all emerge by 1980 into serious national contenders.

 

The 1943 Notre Dame team was the greatest team of the Independent era and arguably the best of all time.  I'm not sure why Notre Dame got so much talent during the war when so many other non-military academy schools struggled, but alas they did.

 

SBC/CUSA

 

The Sun Belt, much like her other "mid-major" brethren, has been turned over, almost entirely by the ACC/Big East/AAC/CUSA/WAC upheaval of the last few years, and so their chart is also a bit of a mess.  The SBC was created in 1976 but didn't become a D1-A/FBS conference until the 2001 season. with Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Middle Tennessee, New Mexico State, North Texas, Idaho, and Louisiana-Monroe as the founding football members.  Utah State and Troy joined in the following two years.  Then the shuffling started.

 

In 2005, Utah State, Idaho, and New Mexico State left to join the WAC after the MWC pilfered the WAC to replace TCU, Utah, and BYU.  The Sun Belt adds Floridas Atlantic and International, then Western Kentucky in 2009.  Eight years later, the SBC sheds MTSU, FIU, FAU, and UNT when all leave to go to CUSA after the AAC forms with mostly CUSA teams.  Western Kentucky follows suit a year later.  New Mexico State and Idaho return after the WAC collapses and are joined by Texas State, Appalachian State, South Alabama, Georgia Southern, and Georgia State during the 2013-2014 seasons, most of whom playing their first FBS football.

 

So the chart below has all of these teams, plus the teams that are still remaining in the current version of CUSA.  It is a mess.  Make what you will of it ...

 

large_SBC.png

 

MAC

 

And last but not least, we take a look at the history of MACtion.  The MAC was formed in 1946 and became a D1-A conference in 1962 with Ohio, Miami (OH), Western Michigan, Toledo, Kent State, Bowling Green, and Marshall and the seven initial members.  Marshall was booted after the 1969 season then Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan, Ball State and Northern Illinois were all added between 1971-1975.  During most of this time, the conference was led by Miami, interrupted by a brief meteoric rise and fall of Toledo around 1970.

 

After 1980, the conference as a whole started a slow decline with no program having a better than average MAV from 1982 until 1997.  During this time Central Michigan, Bowling Green, and Miami all vied for the top spot in the conference.  Northern Illinois left after the 1985 season, replaced by Akron in 1992.  Then in 1997, Northern Illinois and Marshall returned, with Marshall immediately becoming the top team in the conference until the left again to go to CUSA in 2005.  Buffalo was added in 1998.  The conference then had brief experiments with Central Florida, Temple, and Massachusetts from 2000-2015, during which time conference play improved and NIU, CMU, and Toledo emerged as the top conference teams.

 

The best ever MAC program was the Ben Roethlisberger-led Miami Red Hawks in 2003.

 

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Duquesne Frog

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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

 

Texas Schools

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.

 

large.Texas.png

 

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:

 

large.Texas4.png

 

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 ...

 

large.Texas3.png

 

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:

 

large.Texas2.png

 

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.

 

SWC

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.

 

large_SWC1.png

 

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.

 

large_SWC2.png

 

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.

 

large_SWC3.png

 

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.

 

large_SWC4.png

 

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.

 

large_WAC1.png

 

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.

 

large_WAC2.png

 

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.

 

CUSA/AAC

 

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.

 

large.CUSA1.png

 

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.

 

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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.

Duquesne Frog

In 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.

 

Texas Schools:

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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.

 

Southwest Conference:

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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.

 

WAC/MWC:

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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.

 

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Conference USA/American Athletic:

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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.

 

Big 7/8/XII/XII-II:

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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 t