Luckiest teams of 2012 season

Notre Dame among teams that got the most breaks this season

Originally Published: December 11, 2012
By Brian Fremeau | Football Outsiders
Stephon TuittJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesStephon Tuitt and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish certainly caught some breaks this year.

Bowl season is upon us, and 70 college football teams will soon have an opportunity to cruise into the offseason riding a wave of enthusiasm or frustration. Some fans are inclined to treat season finales as critical moments that define the near-term trajectory of their favorite program, while poll voters are often inclined to reward bowl victories with favorable preseason position in the fall.

And yet, bowl games don't mean that much, certainly not in comparison to season-long data and multi-year data. Our research at Football Outsiders has found that five years of data has a stronger correlation to next-year success than any other base measure we have tested. A bowl game is part of the equation, and an important one since it provides valuable cross-conference comparisons for our opponent adjustments. But it's only one game of many.

Not only that, but results of individual games need to be broken down further to better understand which teams are best equipped for success next year. Part of that analysis is identifying which teams may have overachieved or underachieved in 2012.

For the most part, the outcome of a game is a good indicator of which team was better on that day, but some games are impacted by good and bad fortune more than others. Some teams have an inordinately strong or weak record in one-possession games. Some teams benefit from turnovers, field position and special teams more than others. Is it luck? Not necessarily, but these can be indicators that a change of fortune is in store for next season.

Here are five teams that were among the luckiest in 2012, and what they'll need to work on to avoid taking a step back next season. (For a look at the five unluckiest teams, click on the link below.)

Note: For an explanation of FEI numbers, which help form the basis of these projections, click here.


1. Ohio State Buckeyes (12-0)

One of our measures of overachievement is based on win expectations, a measure of a team's record as compared with its performance. Most teams play within one game of expected average wins over the course of the year, but there are outliers like the Buckeyes. According to our data, Ohio State won 2.0 more games than a team with its FEI rating against its schedule should have been expected to win. In the last five years, teams that had a mean wins performance at least two games better than expected lost an average of 2.6 more games the following year.

Brian Fremeau

ESPN Insider
• Has been a contributor to ESPN Insider and ESPN The Magazine since 2009
• Creator of the Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI), a measure of college football team efficiency
• Contributor to Football Outsiders and his own site, bcftoys.com