Phil Steele Blog • August 6, 2015



Close Wins, Close Losses.


Much like the so-called “Sabermatricians” who have revolutionized the way people analyze baseball, I aim constantly digging deeper into the peripheral statistics to uncover clues about a team that are more telling than mere win-loss records.  One core measurement that I have used through the years is a team’s net number of close wins or close losses in a given year.  Although a team might make it through a season with a remarkable record in close games, it is not a sustainable way to win consistently in college football (or any sport for that matter). Put differently, the best way to guarantee success in close games is to avoid them entirely by beating your opponent soundly.

Based upon my studies, I now have 13 years of data regarding close wins and close losses, which are defined as games decided by a TD or less.  Within each year, I look at a team’s NET close wins and losses.  Thus, if a team has 2 close wins and 6 close losses, they would rate as a -4 in net close losses.

In addition, while I use a touchdown or less as the standard for a close game, I will make adjustments when there are extenuating circumstances. For example, if a team trails by 13 points and completes a “Hail Mary” with no time left to lose by 6 points, they would not receive credit for a close loss and the winning team would not be treated as having a close win.

Over the past 13 years, there have been 341 teams that had 2 NET close losses or more the previous year.  Out of those 341 teams, 76.8% had a stronger record or remained the same in the following year. By looking at the chart below, you can see that teams with 3 or more net close losses were stronger or the same 77.6% of the time over this time span, while those with 4 or more net close losses had an 85.9% mark! 

  Stronger Same Weaker % Stronger
Total Next Year Next Year Next Year or Same
Previous Year 4+ Net Close Losses 64 50 5 9 85.90%
Previous Year 3 Net Close Losses 107 57 12 24 77.60%
Previous Year 2 Net Close Losses 170 102 22 46 72.90%
2 or More Net Close Losses 341 209 39 79 76.80%

Massachusetts was the only team last year to have at least 5 net close losses, which makes them the 7th team to reach that mark in the last 7 years.  Here is the complete list of teams with 3 or more net close losses:

  2014 Close 2014 Close 2014 Net
Team Losses Wins Close Losses
Massachusetts 5 0 5
Arkansas 4 0 4
FIU 4 0 4
Pittsburgh 5 1 4
Virginia Tech 5 2 3
Colorado 4 1 3
Nevada 4 1 3

In addition, the following teams all finished with 2 net close losses:

Ball St
Florida Atlantic
Georgia St
Kent St
Louisiana Tech
Miami, Fl
Miami, Oh
San Diego St

Looking at the other side of the coin, we can see that teams with 3 or more net close wins saw their record either stay the same or get weaker in 155 of 195 cases (79.5%). In addition, teams with just 2 net close wins still had a weaker or the same record 271 of 362 times (74.9%).  Here is the complete breakdown from the last 13 years:

    Weaker Same Stronger % Weaker
  Total Next Year Next Year Next Year or Same
Previous Year 6+ Net Close Wins 10 9 0 1 90.00%
Previous Year 4-5 Net Close Wins 68 49 7 12 82.30%
Previous Year 3 Net Close Wins 117 80 10 27 76.90%
Previous Year 2 Net Close Wins 167 98 18 51 69.50%
3 or More Net Close Wins 195 138 17 40 79.40%
2 or More Net Close Wins 362 236 35 91 74.90%

As expected, a higher number of close wins correlates with a higher percentage of having a worse record in the next year.  One interesting historical note: the only team with a 6 or 7 net close win margin to beat the odds and improve was Kansas State, which went from 10-3 to 11-2 in 2012 despite their penchant for relying on narrow wins in 2011 (take heart Seminole fans!).

Last year, there were 29 teams with 2 or more net close wins.  From this set of teams, 21 saw their record worsen (72.4%), 23 had their record worsen or stay the same (79.3%) and only 6 improved (20.7%). Likewise, there were 15 teams last season with 3 or more net close wins, 12 of which (80%) saw their record decline.  In fact, those 12 teams did not just slip slightly in the standings.  Rather, their combined records fell from a combined 112-44 to 82-72, which works out to an average of 4.8 games per team! Two teams did improve after having +3 net wins:  Central Michigan went from 6-6 to 7-6 and Mississippi State went from 7-6 to 10-3.

Below are the teams that benefited from 3 or more net close wins in 2014:

  2014 Close 2014 Close 2014 Net
Team Wins Losses Close Wins
Florida State 7 0 7
Arizona 6 1 5
UCLA 5 1 4
Utah 5 2 3
Bowling Green 4 1 3
Colorado State 4 1 3
Missouri 4 1 3
Navy 4 1 3
North Carolina 4 1 3
Old Dominion 4 1 3
Rutgers 4 1 3
Cincinnati 3 0 3
Illinois 3 0 3
NC State 3 0 3
Northern Illinois 3 0 3
Ohio State 3 0 3

The following teams had 2 net close wins:

Arizona State
Air Force
Michigan State
Middle Tennessee

One final note- last year, the Pac 12 South fielded an incredible five top 25 teams out of 6, with Colorado as the only team to fall short.   The chart above, however, reveals that 3 of those teams benefited from +3 net close wins or more, so the division might not be as successful on the whole as last year.



2015 College & Pro Football Previews
available right now on iTunes & Google Play!

Also Printed  Versions available thru office 1-866-918-7711
Click HERE:
Phil Steele Store

1). it will save you wear and tear on your printed magazine. If you get both you can use it as your mobile version of the magazine and that will keep your actual magazine from getting dog eared and torn up early in the year. The NFL version is also available right now.

2). It’s easy to use and works perfectly for both the iPhone, iPad and Android Devices. The download process may take up to 10-15 minutes but that’s because we have over 350 pages with jam-packed with information!

3). Non-U.S. Customers: The magazine will not be on the newsstands internationally, the only way to get the 2015 College Football Preview is to order through our offices and pay at least $35 (includes S&H) or get it on iTunes or Google Play for just $9.99.

4). It’s only $9.99! On the newsstand, the magazine will cost you $12.99.
5) The NFL magazine has 4 pages on each team and very limited distribution around the country. It is available at Drug Marts in Ohio. You can download it right now to you iPad or iPhone thru iTunes or your Android device thru Google Play. The College magazine is sold out at most spots around the country and you can download it as well.
Please note: after downloading and purchasing the App, please make sure you search for 2015 if the old 2014 cover/edition comes up on your screen.
NFL and College Magazines are available in PRINTED form thru our offices!
Call 1-866-918-7711.
Or order online at the Phil Steele Store. If you order a 2015 Phil Steele College Preview and a Pro Preview together to the same address you only pay for one shipping charge. The first magazine is $12.99 plus $6 for Priority Mail service. Add a second for $10 if delivered to the same address at the same time. OR, take advantage of our 7-6-5 special. Seven 2015 College FB Previews delivered to one address just $65 (and that includes postage! The NFL magazine is just $9.99 plus shipping.

Also the FCS Magazine is 220 pages and available right now for $9.99 Here is what the FCS Magazine looks like and how to order it right now and you can download that to your computer. Click Link for Preview of FCS Magazine: Here