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Husker Madness Tournament - The Final Rounds

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A look at the final rounds and whether there's anything to learn from a simulated tournament involving the best Husker teams of the last 32 years when talking about the right size of the college football tournament.

Eric Francis

Last month I introduced the brackets and results of first round games in the Husker Madness Tournament.

Other than some controversy over seeding there weren't a lot of surprises to be had. Because there were only two possible teams playing in each game the results were pretty straight-forward.

This post, which will look at the Elite 8 through Championship rounds, is a bit more thought provoking. If anything, I hope it helps illustrate why even when there are just a couple of dominant teams in a large tournament the final rounds almost always contain some pretty surprising entrants. I think it's also useful to think about what the right tournament field for a college football tournament should be.

Note: The percentage next to the teams below indicates the percentage of model runs that a team advanced to that round. So to advance to the Elite 8 a team must win 2 games.

The Elite 8 Teams


Number 1 seeds 1995 and 1983 continue to dominate here, advancing to the Elite 8 80% and 65% of each model run. #3 1996 made a case that they were seeded too low, upsetting #2 1993 and advancing to the Elite 8 43% of the time. However, this upset isn't necessarily the result of one team being too high or too low...rather it's a result of the interaction of probabilities.

The Final Four Teams


The model loves 1995 and 1983, and they continue to dominate the field, advancing to the Final Four 59% and 45% of the time. 1996 seems to want to play the Cinderella of the tournament, knocking #1 1994 out of the tournament by a narrow margin to advance. Region 4 appears to be have the greatest top to bottom parity with the top three teams by percentage of Final Four appearance much more closely grouped than any other region.

Looking at the most common mix of Final Four teams, one can't help but be struck by how unlikely any particular mix of teams is.


This list is only the 20 most common Final Four fields. Together, the top 20 account for only 24% of the model runs. Of the 1000 model runs, There were more than 450 different Final Four fields.

The Championship Game Teams


The right side of the bracket shows that it has more parity than the left. The left side, Regions 1 and 2, have only five teams in the championship game accounting for 80% of appearances. The right side needs seven teams to reach the 80% level. At this point the cumulative effect of probability mathematics really begins to show. Does anyone really believe that 2011 should be considered one of the two best Husker teams of the last 32 years? No, but eventually, when you play enough games, something completely bizarre and unfathomable happens.

Here's the most common matchups in the Championship Game.


This is a bit more what one would expect. 1995-1983 the most common matchup by a huge margin. 1995 is in the three most common Championship Game matchups, and six of the eight most common. Of these top 20 most common matchups, 1995 appears in more than 40% of them.

It is a bit of surprise that #3 1996 and #2 1984 both advanced to the Championship Game more frequently than 1994.

The Husker Madness Champion

Drum roll please.....


1995 and 1983 are the most common champions, with 1994 a very surprising #8, winning the tournament only 4% of the time, less frequently than 2009.


I'm a big proponent of a college football championship tournament. I firmly believe that the only real way to determine a champion is to have the best teams play each other. However, this little exercise reinforces one very important thing:

As the size of the tournament field increases, the probability of any given team winning, dominant #1 or not, decreases dramatically.

Every game is another chance to fall.

If I take just the 4 #1 seeds and start the tournament at the Final Four round, the differences in probability of winning the championships are apparent.


Compared to a 32-team tournament field, 1995 won 28% more frequently, and 1983, 1997, and 1994 more than doubled, on average, their probability of winning the championship.

The flip side of this is that in the 32-team tournament, there were four other teams who won it all more frequently than 1994 who would never have gotten the chance to compete for the championship in a 4-team tournament.

Remember this when the inevitable discussion of expanding the football tournament field comes up.