Evenly played college football games can come down to luck, perhaps hinging on a single play. With a small number of games, inordinate good or bad fortune causes wild swings in win-loss records and perceptions. A classic example is Mark Dantonio’s Michigan State. The Spartans won 22 games in 2010 and 2011, with an improbable 8-1 record in one-score games. In 2012, they went 2-5 in such games in Big Ten play, losing 10 points combined in regulation. A moderate decline in raw performance had an apparently massive impact.
Multiple teams experienced such swings in 2013. In some cases it saved jobs and earned coaches raises. In others it saw coaches get fired or get placed on the hot seat. This is not disparaging what teams accomplished or crediting what they did not accomplish. But one-score records are worth keeping in mind when projecting forward to 2014. You want to project from the raw performance, not the result.
Auburn Tigers: Fortune swung the Tigers’ way in 2013. Auburn went 6-0 in one-score games. They beat Georgia on a deflected miracle catch. They beat Alabama on a fluky special teams apocalypse. Winning 11 games was impressive. But, it could easily have been eight or nine.
Mississippi State Bulldogs: The Bulldogs lost a 24-20 game to Auburn. But four one-score wins later in the season saved Dan Mullen’s job. Mississippi State beat Bowling Green and Kentucky by seven points combined. They won overtime games with Arkansas and Ole Miss to close the season and reach a bowl game.
Nebraska Cornhuskers: The Cornhuskers survived a 37-34 opener against Wyoming. Three Big Ten wins against Northwestern, Michigan and Penn State, by a combined seven points in regulation salvaged a decent 8-4 mark and another season for Bo Pelini in Lincoln.
Duke Blue Devils: David Cutcliffe won 10 games. Four of them were close calls. The Blue Devils lost a 58-55 shootout with Pittsburgh but a 38-31 win over Troy got them back on track. One-score wins at Virginia Tech, at Wake Forest and at North Carolina got them to the ACC title game.
South Carolina Gamecocks: This Gamecocks team was not as good as the ones that came before. But South Carolina still won 10 games. They survived in one-score wins against UCF and Kentucky early. Though they lost 23-21 at Tennessee, they made up for it with comeback wins over Missouri and a depleted Florida team.
Florida Gators: The Gators probably should have been a miserable, underwhelming 6-6 team. They lost the Miami game 21-16 after committing six turnovers. Florida did not show up until the second half against Georgia and blew a first half lead against South Carolina. The Gators also lost 26-20 to Georgia Southern.
Iowa State Cyclones: Paul Rhoads’ team took a dip from their customary 6-6. Much of that was just bad luck. The Cyclones lost one-score games to Northern Iowa, Iowa, Texas, Texas Tech and TCU. Though, Iowa State did pull out an overtime win over West Virginia to close the season.
Northwestern Wildcats: Northwestern’s season went off the rails after losing to Ohio State. It should not have gone so far. The Wildcats lost four Big Ten games in a row to Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and Michigan by a combined six points in regulation. That included Michigan’s insane fire drill field goal at the end of regulation. Just a gut-wrenching season in Evanston.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons: Wake Forest had a good defense, and probably should have finished a bit better than they did. The Demon Deacons dropped a 21-19 game to UL Monroe early. They lost by a touchdown to Duke and blew late leads against Miami and Vanderbilt. Better fortune might have kept Jim Grobe from resigning.
Arkansas Razorbacks: Karma. Bret Bielema’s team lost all three of its one-score games. Arkansas dropped a 28-24 game at Rutgers early. They came back strong after a November bye week but blew fourth quarter leads against both Mississippi State and LSU.
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