Bullish on Success?

Sky-rocketing TV ratings. An all-out love fest. A team full of returning skill players and an offensive line ready to take their place as one of the best in the country. Despite what many deemed as favorable a schedule as can be, RU stumbled midway through the 2007 season and currently stands at what many would call a disappointing 7 up and 4 down, including an even .500 in Big East play.

Fans have a tendency to focus on the near-term success or failure of their team. Not just Rutgers fans, but all fans.  Take LSU fans, for example, whose loud boo birds were effortlessly heard over the audible airwaves as halftime intermission dawned on their contest against then-unranked Arkansas on Friday evening.  This is nothing new in college or pro-sports.  Fans, invariably, are as good to their teams as the last pitch, snap, or basket.

This is what makes fans distinct from coaches.  In particular, it is what makes fans distinct from program architects. I use the word architect with a purpose, as it denotes a broader, longer-term vision that we as fans don't train ourselves to observe.  It doesn't make fans better or worse than coaches, simply different. But what it does, is preclude us from seeing the long-term tendency of a program.

The purpose of this note is to take a look at whether, and if so by how much, the 2007 season has modified the long term progress of the Rutgers Football program.  Are things still on course? If not, how have they shifted and how does this modification (if any) compare to the rest of the Big East?

For the purpose of our analysis and for the purpose of achieving some measure of objective conclusion, we'll have to make a few simple assumptions.  First, we'll have to define the time scale by which a program's trend may be defined. It is often said that a new coach and his system should be given no less than 4 full years to begin turning around a flailing ship.  All this does for our purposes is set a minimum threshold of 4 years. We'll set, somewhat subjectively, a maximum time threshold of one decade – this should allow for more than enough of a trend to be established (2.5 + full recruiting classes).

The definition of a program's success is not measured by a single year's performance. Rutgers fans, for example, are all too familiar with the degree of disrespect offered by some of their conference brethren at the offering of a program's apparent arrival from a single 11-win season.  The measure of a program's success (or lack thereof) must remove the high-frequency variability that may be falsely established from a single season (whether a major success or a resounding failure) and maintain only the longer-term trend.  We attempt to duplicate this approach by calculating a three-year running mean, rather than strictly looking at annual variability. 

An investigation over the past decade (1997-2007) will necessitate records (whatever those may be) starting in 1995.  We'll look not at wins or losses per se, but at ‘games above .500' – this measure includes a mixture of both wins and losses.

Let's begin by taking a look at the Rutgers trend over the past decade (see image below [Figure 1] - please click on image for a better view).  Figure 1 shows that for the better part of half of the last 10 years (the initial half), Rutgers Football hovered at the depths of college football, lingering at about -6 to -8 games below .500, on average.  Coach Schiano's arrival, was not met with a further regression but with a continuation of the status quo.  Figure 1 indicates that 2002 served as an initial turning point, with improved on-field performance for the next two years. This was followed by a rapid rise, beginning in 2004 and has continued through today.  This significant shift in the program's trend was aided by an end to the then-characteristic consistent losing seasons, often 8 or 9 (or more) games below .500 and is in large part aided by a consistent (three consecutive years of above .500 football) reversal in the program's performance. It should be mentioned that as a result of smoothing out the high-frequency variability, this trend analysis does not define 2006 as the program's high mark, but observes the previous 3 years as a continued ascension that lasts through 2007.  Including a 4-year window, rather than 3, would not change these conclusions.

 

An architect is a visionary, and though Coach Schiano, the Rutgers staff, and fans alike, may not be as enthused about the 2007 campaign, it is readily obvious that the direction of the program has continued its rapid, upward trek. How does, however, Rutgers compare with the rest of the Big East?

We'll begin to answer this question by looking at the 'old-school' Big East schools initially. Figure 2 (see image below - please click on image for a better view) shows the exact calculation as performed for Rutgers but also includes the decade-long trend for West Virginia, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse.  There are two characteristic trends to notice.  First, West Virginia and Rutgers, over this time period, display a significant upward trend.  In contrast, Pittsburgh and Syracuse both display an opposing trend.  Syracuse's trend is nearly linear and shows its origins as far back as one decade ago, now reaching the levels previously held by Rutgers.  Since the arrival of Coach Wannstedt, Pittsburgh has seen a declining trend similar in nature to that of Syracuse.  The sharpest increase of the four schools, belongs to Rutgers, while West Virginia's status is that of an elite program, though it may be readily argued that the longevity over this time period has not been established.

Figure 3 (see image below - please click on image for a better view) shows the Rutgers trend once more, but also includes the same analysis for Louisville, Cincinnati, and Connecticut.  The four trends below may not be so accurately separated into distinct pair of groupings as each shows individually distinct trends.  First, Louisville, even counting this year's results appears to be the most stable, winning program of all Big East members.  During this time, Cincinnati has fluctuated up and down though has remained at or near the .500 mark, for the most part.  Connecticut, which is a relative newbie to Division 1A football, shows a clear success during its final days as a 1-AA member during the initial third of this decade-long period.  Their arrival into the 1A football world is marked by an abrupt decline but an almost equally abrupt re-emergence to previous success. 

Note: For the purpose of this analysis, USF, which played its inaugural football game in 1997, was excluded.

Note: All calculations include records up to, but not including November 24th, 2007.


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