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SEC Expansion Blues - Part 2: Where do the wins come from?

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The addition of two blue-bloods and a 9-game conference schedule is going to make the wins a bit tougher to come by for programs like Mizzou

Academy Sports & Outdoors Bowl - Texas v Missouri Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Last week I went full-on-negative-Nate on the SEC’s annexation of Texas and Oklahoma, calling the move the opening salvo to a domino-effect of moves that could very much elevate the elite programs into a new stratosphere of competition and leave programs like Missouri in the dust.

But that’s, like, in the future, man. At least ten years down the road, right? So what about now? Missouri will have to play these teams at least a handful of times before the inevitable college football ubermensch-conference is constructed, so what does the move do to the on-the-field product?

Well...the short answer is “not great”. Let me explain:

First, how to Texas and Oklahoma fit into the SEC from a quality standpoint?

One of the best measures on grading a program heading into a season is to take a look at how that team performed over the past five years. SP+, as I’m sure you all know, measure the quality of a team in a given year, and is meant to be forward-facing and predictive, less reliant on on-the-field results and more reliant on how a team performs in wins and losses. I took the 5-year SP+ finishes for all 16-now-SEC teams, ranked them from highest to lowest, and put in their win totals at the end. Here’s how it shook out:

5-Year SP+ Performance

If it wasn’t for that 2016 rebuild Georgia would be the 2nd-best SEC team over the past five years (and will probably be so after the conclusion of 2021). As it is, Oklahoma moves to the SEC and immediately becomes the 2nd-best SEC program, with a 25.0 SP+ average and 56 wins over the past five years (Alabama is the only team with more at 65).

Texas, on the other hand, comes in as the 8th-best SEC program with an average rating of 12.2 and 37 wins. As a comparison, Mizzou’s tumultuous past five years places the Tigers only three spots below the Longhorns, with a 7.8 rating and 30 wins. As extra salt in the wound, Texas is right behind Texas A&M’s 15.6 rating and 41 victories over that same time frame.

So, as expected, Oklahoma enters as quality of team between Alabama and Georgia while Texas becomes the median performer of the new SEC.

Second, how do the recruiting efforts of the Longhorns and Sooners stack up to the best recruiting conference in the country?

Obviously victories are the most important thing in college football but recruiting is a close second. I ran the five-year recruiting averages of all sixteen teams (again, with win totals at the end) to see where our new SEC brethren rank. The order might surprise you:

5-Year Recruiting Rankings

Texas, the new perfectly-average SEC program is the 4th-best recruiting team in the 16-team SEC, 12 spots below LSU Swamp Monster factory and barely above the nutty-star-chasing Auburn Tigers.

Oklahoma, the 2nd-best program in terms of quality and wins over the past five years, is the 6th-best recruiting team in the country, just a hair above a Florida team that has been in a five-year recruiting funk (for Florida, anyway).

(And, as an aside, that 20-spot gap between Missouri and Kentucky sure is something, huh?)

You have to be able to recruit at elite levels to have a chance at consistently winning games in the SEC and both OU and UT seem to at least have that aspect down. However, it will be interesting to see how these former XII powers fare in the “winning games” department when they are not the clear-cut top two rosters in the league and, instead, are the 4th and 6th most talented rosters in a league where the next five closest teams below them recruit almost as well as they do.

Next, how does this projected Missouri team stack up against the projected 16-team SEC for 2021?

I know that Oklahoma and Texas don’t play in the SEC right now but what if they did? What would the win probabilities look like for each 16-team SEC member before the 2021 season kicks off? Here’s how SP+ sees Missouri faring against the other fifteen teams based on five-year average:

SP+ Win Projections for Missouri

I understand the ridiculousness of the statement I’m about to type, but just to put this into perspective: if the 2021 Missouri Tigers played a 15-game schedule featuring only the other SEC teams, they would be projected to win 5.47 games. Out of 15. It’s not great, but Missouri doesn’t play 15 games and certainly doesn’t have to play them against only SEC opponents.

We don’t know how the SEC is going to organize or schedule games going forward. The most-likely option is pods, but what if they keep the division format? That most likely reshuffles division allegiance and puts Missouri in the West with the seven other most-westerly teams of the conference. So what do the win totals look like in that scenario?

SP+ Win Projections for “New SEC West”

2.28 wins in 7 games is pretty bleak stuff so let’s hope that’s not the direction the league offices decide to go!

Luckily, the propaganda arm of the SEC - the SEC Network - floated a “possible pod” scheduling option. So let’s see the win totals that this Missouri team would have against each pod!

SP+ Win Projections for each pod

It’s not great that Mizzou’s home pod features the lowest win totals but it’s also three teams instead of four so that somewhat plays into it. Also...breaking news...Texas and Oklahoma are pretty good.

But how do the win totals of a pod system compare to just the straight conference schedule of 2021? Is it really that much different? Glad you asked! I took Mizzou’s 2021 conference schedule and the projected win totals then compared that to a sample pod-based conference schedule to compare. Here’s what that looks like:

SP+ Win Projections of 2021 Conference Schedule vs. Possible Pod Schedule

In this case, Missouri wins 3.42 games in an 8-game conference schedule and 3.88 wins in an 9-game conference schedule. Is that a huge difference? Not really. But keep in mind, Missouri’s quality will adjust over time, as will the rest of the conference, so this isn’t an indicator of long-term win probabilities, just a snap shot of the current situation.

So should I feel good or bad?

I would say you should feel good that this Missouri team doesn’t have to play Oklahoma and Texas right now! Drinkwitz needs to keep recruiting like he has been and develop that talent properly to deploy an effective SEC team that can go toe to toe with all the blue bloods in the conference. It would also be a good idea to schedule some super easy, non-P5 non conference games to bolster the win totals and make going to a bowl easier. Three easy wins out of conference means you just need to win three conference games to go bowling...and, oh yeah, Missouri is basically projected to win three SEC games so that jives.

But this isn’t just a 2021 Missouri problem; some of the best Tiger squads of the past 20 years would struggle with this scheduling. Here’s how 2007, 2008, and 2013 would stack up in the same scenario:

Our best teams ever would still be losing 2-3 games per year in this sort of conference. So, yes, I reiterate my point: let’s schedule some easy non-conference games, eh? I love the idea of playing Kansas and Illinois again, but at some point, those programs will become competent and Missouri certainly can’t risk an out-of-conference loss with a 9-game SEC schedule. I know it doesn’t provide much entertainment but, if it were me, I’d find the most cash-strapped programs in the most cash-strapped G5 conferences and schedule them out for the next 20 years. If I’m seeing anything other than Akron, Rice, and Louisiana-Monroe on the docket then Missouri is just making it harder for themselves to reel off wins.