10/08/2009 § Leave a comment
Each year in college football, a handful of teams storm out of the gate with a hot start only to stumble unceremoniously to a mediocre finish. They are the fraud teams, having accumulated an unblemished record through 4 or 5 weeks either by beating up on overmatched opponents or winning close games over teams that are actually more talented.
For this study, I’ve defined a fraud team as one that starts the season at least 4-0 and finishes with at least 5 losses. In the past three seasons, 14 teams have met this criteria, all of them from BCS conferences. These fraud teams tend to have at least one close win (by 7 or fewer points) during their hot start (only 2 of the 14 had no close wins) and their opponents’ winning percentage is usually around 40%. They also tend suffer their first loss to a good team (average record: 4-1). The good news is that these teams have all made bowl games and 8 of the 14 won their bowls, with another 3 losing theirs by 3 points or less.
So, who are this year’s fraud teams? There are currently 11 undefeated BCS conference teams: Cincinnati, South Florida, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Texas, Florida, LSU, Auburn, Alabama. Of those, five (Cincy, USF, Texas, Florida, Bama) have not had a close win yet this season, so for now I’m knocking them out of the running. The remaining six all have early-season resumés that fall in line with the prototypical fraud team. Below is my ranking of those teams, from most to least likely to be a fraud:
1. Wisconsin – With maybe the shakiest 5-0 record in recent memory, the Badgers are a disaster waiting to happen. They have two 3-point wins over Fresno State and Minnesota and two 8-point wins over Northern Illinois and Michigan State. The only team they’ve dominated is 1-4 Wofford of the FCS. In all, their opponents have won 42% of their games. Wisconsin travels to 4-1 Ohio State this weekend for a game that will likely define the direction of their season.
2. Missouri – The Tigers have built their 4-0 start by downing opponents that have won just 33% of their games. Their close win over 1-4 Bowling Green in week 2 is a big red flag. This week they face 3-1 Nebraska.
3. Auburn – The other Tigers are 5-0 with just one close game (their only road game so far), but their opponents have only won 39% of their games. With two more road games in their next three and three ranked teams in the second half of their season, they’re all set up for a classic fraud finish. Could 2-2 Arkansas pull off the shocker this weekend?
4. Kansas – Their closest game was against their best opponent, a good sign for the Jayhawks. Still, their opponents have won just 40% of their games and Kansas is looking at a beastly end-run. After hosting 3-2 Iowa State this week, the Jayhawks will either be playing on the road or against a ranked team for the rest of the season.
5. LSU – Their 5-0 start includes two close wins, over 2-3 Mississippi State and 3-2 Georgia. 2-3 Washington also gave the other other Tigers a run for their money in week one, an 8-point win for LSU. Their opponents have won a respectable 46% of their games however and while LSU probably won’t run the table, they’re likely to avoid the fraud file this year. #1 Florida (4-0) comes to town this weekend.
6. Iowa – The Hawkeyes’ 5-0 opening has a lot of people wondering who this team really is. They’ve put up convincing wins against three BCS conference opponents while just scraping by against FCS Northern Iowa and Arkansas State of the Sun Belt. Their biggest boost comes from the fact that their opponents have won 65% of their games, easily the best slate of the bunch. If they get past 4-1 Michigan this weekend, then they probably don’t lose more than 2 games.