Bowl season is just around the corner, 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 unluckiest in 2012, and what they can build on to improve next season (for a look at the luckiest teams, click on the link below).
Note: For an explanation of FEI numbers, which help form the basis of these projections, click here.
1. Michigan State Spartans (6-6)
The Spartans faithful may have been slightly spoiled by back-to-back double-digit winning seasons in 2010 and 2011, and a step backward in 2012 was to be expected after heavy personnel losses in key positions. But no fan base could have prepared itself for dealing with so many games slipping right through their fingers. Michigan State limped home to a .500 record overall and a 3-5 Big Ten conference record. The combined margin of defeat in those five conference games was a mere 13 points.