It’s Friday, the SEC Championship game is tomorrow, football talk is in the air, and time for me to unburden myself of something that has bugged me for a week. Time for Friday fun.
Birmingham News reporter Kevin Scarbinsky wrote in Sunday’s News:
As good as he is, as much as he’s done, Saban still has to prove he can win a great majority of his games when he doesn’t have a decided edge in talent.
This season, in games decided by a touchdown or less, Alabama is 1-2. During his four years in Tuscaloosa, that record is 10-8.
Now look at Gene Chizik’s Auburn record under the same parameters. This year, the Tigers are 6-0 in close games. In Chizik’s two years, they’re 8-3.
This was a small part of a larger article, but someone at the News made it a bigger deal by putting a teaser on the front page above Sunday’s masthead, “In close games, Saban only average.”
Folks, it just doesn’t follow that great teams will necessarily have great records in close games. When really good teams win games, they tend to win by bigger margins – because they are really good teams. When really good teams lose games, they tend to lose by smaller margins. Very good teams tend to have good won-loss records, but their records in close games tend to be not as good.
Just for the fun of it, I looked up the scores of Crimson Tide football games in the 1970′s, a decade in which the Tide won over 100 games (103-16-1). Their record in games decided by 7 points or fewer was 13-9-1 for a winning percentage of 58.7% in those games. In contests decided by more than 7 points the Tide won a stellar 92.8% of the time with a 90-7 record. Was the team lacking because its record in close games was worse than its overall record by such a wide margin (a difference of 34 percentage points)? Of course not.
Scan the baseball standings from season’s end and you’ll see that teams that finished first or second in their divisions tend to have worse records in one-run games relative to their overall records. Teams that finish last tend to have better winning percentages in one-run games than in their records overall. (You can see that here. You’ll have to click on “1-run” at the top of the page for the standing to show teams’ records in one-run games.) The lowly Baltimore Orioles finished 30 games behind Tampa Bay in the American League East. Not only did Baltimore’s record in one-run games (29-21) surpass their woeful performance overall (they won just 41% of their games), but it was better than Tampa Bay’s record in one-run games (29-27), the team with the best winning percentage in the league.
A obvious caveat here is that college football teams’ schedules can vary widely in the quality of opponents, so comparisons of margins of victory are useful only to a point. Still, the point remains that the best way for really good teams to improve their winning percentages in close games is to win by narrower margins.
Auburn is going to Atlanta, we’re headed to the special session, and I hope you are off to a wonderful weekend