Who's The Best?
Ah, the off-season. That long, dark tea-time of the soul between Spring Football and Fall Camp. The time that football writers' minds are clouded with panic that they will run out of things to write about.
This rookie writer is no different. Fortunately, as a rookie Nebraska football writer I can always fall back on the one thing that interests every Nebraska fan...the 90s.
Most Husker fans...okay...most every college football fan, agree that the 1995 Huskers were the best college football team of all-time. They ran through their opponents like Mark Mangino through a Golden Corral. They put an epic beatdown on the Florida Gators to win back-to-back national championships.
How do those 95 Huskers compare to say the 94, 97, or 83 Huskers? Again, most agree that they were better, but how much better? Other than gut instinct and fervent argument, is there a way to know?
That's a question that can never be answered objectively. Like any kind of history, the 'facts' are simply assemblages of the most compelling arguments and evidence. There's no way to empirically prove anything in the past. But there are ways to inject some objectivity into the discussion.
One such way is to create a model to simulate the games. If the inputs into a model are reasonable (and I think these are), then the results should be reasonable, and should at least add some useful information to the discussion.
Over at Football Study Hall I'll be publishing the results of my weekly season model. That model aims to predict the final win total of all FBS teams. The primary inputs are scoring offense and scoring defense; the two statistics most closely correlated to probability of winning or losing. It only took a bit of work adapt the model to simulate 1000 games between every Husker team of the last 32 years (1981-2012).
After 1000 iterations, this chart shows the percentage of games won by the 1995 Huskers versus the other 31 Husker teams. It's sorted by lowest win percentage (vs 1983) to greatest (vs 2007).
After computing win percentages for all other teams using the same methodology we have everything needed to put together a simulated March Madness-style tournament involving every Husker teams from the past 32 years.
Here's the bracket. 1995 is the #1 overall seed. 1983 is #2 overall. 2007 is the #32 overall.
Seeds were primarily determined mathematically, with some subjective input from Husker fans who replied to my post on HuskerMax.com asking for opinions on the seeding. Regardless, because the model doesn't use seeding as part of the probability of win, seeding doesn't matter...much. What does matter is the other teams in a region. Not unlike the West Region in this year's March Madness tournament, an unusually difficult or weak region can lead to some surprising results in a tournament format. I tried to balance the regions, but that's always a subjective, and often unsuccessful, activity.
First Round Results
Since there's only two possible teams that can play in each first round game, the next graphic just shows the teams that advanced to the Sweet 16. The box next to each team in the Sweet 16 round is the percentage of games (of 1000) that the team won during the simulation. Subsequent rounds will show more than 1 team advancing in each game.
As should shock exactly no one, the 1995 Huskers won 99.6% of their first round games over the 2007 Huskers. Whether this is a function of how good strong 1995 was or how bad 2007 isn't apparent. 1983, the #2 overall seed, won 89% of it's first round games against the 2004 Huskers. In the other #1 vs #8 games 1997 beat 2002 75% of the time and 1994 beat 2005 73% of the time.
Some near tossups in the first round were #3 1986 over #6 1991 (53%), #4 1985 over #5 1988 (53%), and #3 2000 over #6 2010 (52%).
#1 seeds advanced to the Sweet 16 84% of the time. #2 seeds advanced 69% of the time. #3 seeds advanced 58% of the time and #4 seeds advanced 57% of the time. As is the case in March Madness, the teams in the middle of the brackets, in this case the #3-#6 seeds, are harder to distinguish from each other. I think that the nearly identical win percentages for #3 and #4 seeds means that there is little difference there.
There is only one small inversion between #1 and #2 seeds. 1994, the #1 in Region 4, advanced by winning 73% of the games over 2005. 1982, the #2 seed in Region 1, advanced by winning 75% of games against 2003. Should 1982 have been a #1 seed in instead of 1994? I think a strong case could be made for that considering that #1 1997 advanced with 76% of wins over 2002. #5 1989 advanced over #4 1992 in the only upset of the round. I interpret this to mean that the seed should have been switched.
The Next Rounds
In the next post I'll look at the next two rounds and the make up of the Final Four.
What's your opinion? How often will the 95 Huskers advance to the Final Four? Who has the easiest path to the Final Four?