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Tale of the Tape: Part 2 - Comparing Performance

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In this second installment of Tale of the Tape, we compare Leach's and Tuberville's respective performances. 

In Tale of the Tape Part I we established that the scheduling differences between Leach's Texas Tech teams, Tuberville's Auburn teams and Tuberville's Mississippi's teams were largely insignificant. 

There was little to no difference in the quality of their non-conference schedules. 

Tuberville's Auburn teams played against more ranked opponents than did Leach's Texas Tech teams, but that difference stemmed primarily from playing in the SEC, and accounted for 7 more ranked opponents over a 10 year period.

However, when we examine the degree of difficulty of the ranked conference opponents, we see that Texas Tech faced more challenging competition than did Auburn by virtue of having to play Oklahoma and Texas on an annual basis.

Having established that the opponents faced by the two coaches were more or less equal,  we now move on to compare their performances.

(Updated  March 17, 2010. Corrected bad loss calculation (added loss to Kansas in 2001 as bad loss to Leach's record) and elaborated on the subject of division titles in the conclusion.  Minor grammar adjustments.)

Achievements

Let's acknowledge some basic facts.   

While at Auburn, Tuberville's 2004 team went undefeated, while finishing number 2 in the country.  Tuberville's Auburn teams have captured 1 SEC championship and 4* SEC West division titles (asterisk to be explained later in the post).  Meanwhile, Leach has never won the Big 12 South or the Big 12 title while at Texas Tech.

Table 1: Top 25 Finishes

1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Leach NR NR NR NR 18 20 NR 22 12 21
Tuberville-Auburn NR 18 NR 14 NR 2 14 9 15 NR

 

 When we review the two coaches' relative performance, we see that:

  • Tuberville's teams finished in the Top 10 twice, while Leach's teams have never finished in the Top 10.
  • Tuberville's teams finished ranked 11-25 on 5 occasions (including 22nd ranked Mississippi in 1997).  Leach's teams also finished ranked 11-25 on 5 occassions.
  • Tuberville's teams finished unranked 4 times, while Leach's team finished unranked 5 times. 

Breaking Down Winning Records

In the table below we categorize the coaches’ records against non-conference opponents, conference opponents and bowl opponents.

Table 2.  Records versus Non Conference, Conference and Bowl Opponents

Record Against Non Conference Opponents (winning %) Record Against Conference Opponents (winning %)

Record Against Bowl Opponents (winning %)

Overall Record (winning %)
Leach

31-6

(83.3%)

47-33

(58.8%)

6-4

(60%)

(84-43)

66.1%

Tuberville-Auburn

28-7

(80.0%)

52-30

(63.4%)

5-3

(63.4%)

85-40

(68.0%)

Tuberville-Mississippi

12-0

(100%)

12-20

(44.4%)

1-0

(100%)

25-20

(55.6%)

Tuberville Aggregate

40-7

(85.1%)

64-50

(56.1%)

6-3

(66.7%)

110-60

(64.7%)

 

As we can see, Leach and Tuberville benefited nearly equally from playing an accommodating non-conference schedule. The coaches’ respective conference records show that Tuberville, while at Auburn, slightly outperformed Mike Leach, and that at the bowl level the teams had roughly similar success.

Performance Against In-Conference Opponents

While at Auburn, Tuberville registered a slightly higher winning percentage against in-conference opponents than did Leach at Texas Tech. Tuberville’s aggregate record, due to his less successful tenure at Mississippi, is lower than Leach’s winning percentage.

Tuberville’s winning percentage differential while at Auburn is a function of playing 2 more games than Leach and winning 4 more conference games than Leach over a 10 year period.

Of course, not all opponents are equal.

A common belief is that the competition in the SEC is more challenging than the Big 12; ergo Tuberville’s performance against SEC competition is considered more impressive than Leach’s performance against Big 12 opponents.

Let’s take a closer look at this particular assumption.

Each year Jeff Sagarin ranks the most successful/difficult conferences. In this table, we compare the SEC and Big 12 conferences. According to the table below, for example, in 2008, the SEC was ranked as the most successful/difficult conference followed by the Big 12 at number 2.

Table 3. Sagarin FBS Conference Rankings (Source: USA Today)

1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
SEC 3 2 4 1 3 2 6 5 1 1 1 (X-1)
Big 12
(X-1) (X-4) 3 2 1 5 4 3 5 3 2 5

Average SEC Conference Ranking
2.63
Average Big 12 Conference Ranking 3.40

Notes:  The items marked with an X show a particular year's ranking, but are not included in the average ranking because, for example, Leach was not a head coach in 1998, so that year is not included in Leach's average, but is listed for posterity.   Unfortunately, I do not believe Sagarin's conference go back to 1996 and 1997 - please let me know if any of you have that data for those years.

Based on comparing the conferences using the Sagarin ratings, it would be logical to conclude that Tuberville has an edge over Leach in terms of having to play more difficult in-conference competition than did Leach.

On the other hand, if we take a closer look at the ranked in-conference opponents which both teams actually played, a different picture emerges.

Table 4. Ranked In-Conference Opponents (based on end of season AP poll)

Number of Ranked Conference Opponents
Average Ranking of Top 25 Conference Teams
Leach 26         8.8
Tuberville-Auburn 33 11.3
Tuberville-Mississippi 13 13.2
Tuberville Aggregate 46 11.8

 

As covered previously in Part 1, over 10 years, Leach's teams played 26 ranked opponents within the Big 12.  The average ranking of those 26 opponents was 8.8 (based on the end of season AP poll).  Over 10 years while at Auburn, Tuberville's teams played 33 ranked opponents within the SEC.  The average ranking of those 33 opponents was 11.3.              

While you should concede that, overall, the SEC has been a more difficult conference than the Big 12 during the respective coaches' tenures, when you look at the ranked opponents played, you are able to argue that the degree of difficulty of Leach's opponents was actually higher than Tuberville's opponents.

Some of you might disagree with this approach.  Some might believe that the Sagarin ratings are a more accurate means of measuring degree of difficulty between conferences.  I am ready to surrender this argument, however, in doing so I would ask that the Sagarin disciples then acknowledge that Tuberville's 13-0 season be discounted on the basis that it occurred, according to Sagarin's ratings,  during the SEC's worst overall year over the past 12 years.

(Personally, I find the Sagarin conference ratings important at an overall level, but not sufficient to answer whether Texas Tech or Auburn faced more difficult competition.  The overall conference rankings also factor, for example, Vanderbilt's relative standing to Baylor. While that is an interesting measure in itself, it is less relevant to the question we are trying to determine here.  Assessing the performance against ranked conference opponents gives us a better basis against which to compare the two teams.)

Performance Against Ranked Opponents

Let's now take a closer look at each coach's record against ranked opponents.

Table 5. Performance Against Ranked Teams

Record Against Top 10 Teams
Winning % Against Top 10 Teams Record Against Teams 11-25
Winning % Against Teams 11-25
Leach 4-17 19.0% 9-25 26.5%
Tuberville-Auburn 6-11 35.3% 18-25 41.9%
Tuberville-Mississippi 0-3 0% 1-12 7.7%
Tuberville-Aggregate 6-14 30% 19-37 33.9%

 

At first glance, these statistics show Tuberville winning in a route. Tuberville has a 30% aggregate winning percentage against Top 10 teams (based on end of season ranking) while Leach has just a 19% winning percentage over Top 10 teams.  Tuberville has a 34% aggregate winning percentage against teams ranked 11-25 according to end-of-season rankings (which includes a 42% winning percentage while at Auburn), while Leach's record scores lower at 27%.

Before we move forward, let's consider a rhetorical question.  Is it more impressive for a 2nd ranked team to defeat an 8th ranked team, or is it more impressive when an unranked team defeats a 5th ranked team?

If you believe that the former is a more impressive accomplishment, then return to paragraph one in this section. You already have your answer and feel free to skip ahead.  However, if you believe in the latter (or are just curious), see the discussion below.

In the chart below we create two definitions called Superior Team and Inferior Team.  A Superior Team is defined as one which has a higher ranking than its ranked opponent  (based on end of season AP Poll).  An Inferior Team is defined as one which has a lower ranking than its ranked opponent (also based on the end of season AP Poll). 

The chart then assesses the Win-Loss totals against ranked teams when a team played as the Superior Team and the Win-Loss totals when a team played  as the Inferior Team.

Table 6.  Performance against Top 25 Opponents (based on End of Season AP Poll)

Wins as Superior Team
Loss as Superior Team Winning % as Superior Team
Wins as Inferior Team
Loss as Inferior Team
Winning % as Inferior Team
Leach 3 1 75.0% 7 21 25.0%
Tuberville-Auburn 8 4 66.7% 8 20 28.5%
Tuberville-Mississippi 0 0 0.0% 1 12 7.7%
Tuberville-Aggregate 8 0 66.7% 9 32 22.0%

 

As we can see from the table, Auburn and Texas Tech beat the teams they were supposed to beat, and upset a number of higher ranked teams with similar rates of regularity. 

The difference in winning percentage ultimately comes down to the fact that Tuberville's teams were superior to its opponents more often than were Leach's teams, but both coaches shared relatively similar winning percentages as Superior Teams.  When playing Top 25 teams as Inferior Teams, their performance was likewise almost identical. 

In the chart below which examines Tuberville's performance against Top 10 teams, we see separation in favor of Tuberville.   

Table 7. Performance against Top 10 Teams (based on end of season AP Polls)

Wins as Superior Team
Loss as Superior Team Winning % as Superior Team
Wins as Inferior Team
Loss as Inferior Team
Winning % as Inferior Team
Leach 0 0 0.0% 4 16 20.0%
Tuberville-Auburn 3 0 100.0% 5 11 31.3%
Tuberville-Mississippi 0 0 0.0% 0 5 0.0%
Tuberville-Aggregate 3 0 100.0% 5 16 23.8%

 

As the chart shows, in the three instances when Auburn was favored against another Top 10 team, Tuberville's teams delivered on each occasion.

As an underdog, Tuberville and Leach fared similarly, although Tuberville's  Auburn teams were more successful than Leach's Texas Tech teams at knocking off Top 10 teams.

On this metric, we must give the nod Tuberville, especially as this category includes an Auburn victory over the 2006 National Champion Florida Gators. Tuberville's reputation as a Big Game coach might be a bit overhyped (isn't everything by definition?), but there is certainly substance on which to base the claim.

The Bad Loss

If there is anything that has driven Tech fans crazy over the years, it has been Texas Tech's penchant to absorb a bad loss on what seems to be an annual basis.  The most common understanding of a ‘bad loss' is a one which involves defeat at the hands of an inferior opponent.   

While this is true, I also expand the ‘bad loss' definition to include losses to teams by 21 points or more (the equivalent of three touchdowns).  This is a somewhat arbitrary decision on my part, but generally I would struggle to define a 31-10 loss, for example, as an acceptable margin of defeat under most circumstances.  Such a score usually demonstrates a wide disparity of performance between two teams that cannot easily be explained away by an untimely turnover or other such examples which might sway an otherwise close performance. 

For those who wish to increase or decrease the 21 point hurdle rate, I concede that there are plenty of justifiable reasons to do so.

Let's examine the breakdown below:

Table 8.  Overview of Bad Losses

Bad Losses vs Inferior Opponent

 Bad Losses by >21 points

Total Bad  Losses
Bad Losses as a % of all Games

Bad Losses as a % of all Losses

Leach 6 13 19 15.0% 44.1%
Tuberville-Auburn 10 12 22 17.6% 55.0%
Tuberville-Mississippi 0 8 8 15.6% 35.0%
Tuberville-Aggregate 10 20 30 17.6% 50.0%

 

As we can see from the table above, contrary to some widely held beliefs, Tuberville actually experienced more bad losses in his tenure than did Leach by a fairly significant margin.  Tuberville suffered almost twice as many losses against inferior competition, while both coaches experienced a similar number of losses by more than a 21 point margin.  Over half of Tuberville's losses are represented by bad losses, while 44% of Leach's losses are defined as bad losses.   Leach suffered 1.9 bad losses per year, while Tuberville's Auburn teams suffered on average about 2.2 bad losses per year. When you read some of the past critiques of Tuberville's time at Auburn, one of the laments was that Tuberville's teams were susceptible to the bad loss.  These numbers seem to support that criticism.

Table 9. Bad Losses (21 points or more)

Leach

Tuberville-Auburn

Tuberville-Mississippi

2000:  Nebraska (50)

2001:  Texas

2002:  Ohio State

2002:  Colorado

2002:  Oklahoma (30)

2003:  NC State

2003:  Missouri (30)

2003:  Oklahoma (30)

2004:  Texas (30)

2005:  Texas (30)

2006:  Missouri (30)

2007:  Oklahoma (40)

2009:  Texas

 

1999:  Tennessee

1999:  Arkansas

2000:  Florida (30)

2000:  Florida

2001:  Arkansas

2002:  Arkansas

2003:  LSU

2003:  USC

2006:  Georgia

2007:  Georgia

2007:  Wisconsin

2008:  Alabama (30)

 

1995:  LSU

1995:  Florida

1995:  Auburn (30)

1996:  Tennessee (30)

1996:  LSU (30)

1996:  Alabama (30)

1998:  Arkansas (30)

1998:  Mississippi State

 

 

 

 

 

Of course when we look at defeats by a margin of victory greater than 21 points, we see that Leach's teams were slightly more susceptible to the spectacularly bad loss (i.e. losses by greater than 30 points or more).  On this basis, Leach's teams suffered defeat by 30 points or more on 8 occasions, while Tuberville's teams suffered such defeats on 7 occasions (twice while at Auburn and five times while at Mississippi).

Of Leach's 8 spectacular defeats, he suffered losses by 30-39 points 6 times, a loss by 40-49 points on one occassion, and a loss by 50 points or more 1 time (these particular losses and the margin of victory are denoted above, i.e. 2002 Oklahoma (30) represents a loss to Oklahoma by 30-39 points).

All of Tuberville's 7 spectacular defeats were decided by 30-39 points. 

Why were Leach's Texas Tech teams more subject to spectacular losses than Tuberville's Auburn teams?

One explanation could be that Leach's teams were more grossly outmatched by its opponents on those handful of additional occasions.  In the case of Texas Tech's loss to Nebraska in 2000, this is probably true.

Another explanation (and in my view more likely) is that by the nature of Leach's offensive philosophy, Leach's teams were susceptible to slightly higher rates of lopsided defeats due to the risks that he was willing to take to overcome early deficits that other coaches are not.

One only needs to watch a Leach-coached bad-loss to see the difference in coaching styles. Most coaches usually accept at some point that a comeback is unlikely, and largely stick to the core game plan.  The loss might still be considered ‘bad', but by burning the clock and shortening the game, other coaches in a similar position are less liable to endure a spectacular loss.

Opposing coaches, recognizing that a losing team has waved the white flag, will likewise limit the game plan in acknowledgement.   Leach's teams, in contrast, continue for the most part to take the same risks whether winning or losing. 

Recognizing that Leach has no intention of conceding a loss, being somewhat mindful that Tech's prolific offense has the ability to comeback from early deficits, and possessed with the knowledge that a Leach-coached team refuses to relent when it is in the process of overwhelming its own opponents, opposing coaches see no reason to offer a Leach-coached team similar leniancy.

Personally, I think a bad loss is a bad loss whether by 25 points or 40 points just as I consider its corollary, a ‘convincing win, ' a convincing win whether by 25 points or 40 points.  I appreciate that others may disagree (which is why I also supply the data for their counterargument).

Bad Loss - Inferior Opponents

Defining a bad losses to an inferior opponent is more subjective than defining a bad loss based  on a pre-defined margin of victory. 

The after taste of a bad loss also tends to linger based on perceptions prior to a game's outcome. 

If a team is expected to win overwhelmingly, based on pre-game expectations, yet loses instead, such a loss for most sports fans is still considered a bad loss, even if the victorious team in question proves over the course of the season that it was indeed the better team based on its overall record and end of season ranking.

Table 10:  Bad Losses versus Inferior Opponents

Leach

Tuberville-Auburn

Tuberville-Mississippi

2001:  Kansas

2002: Iowa State

2004: New Mexico

2006: Colorado*

2007: Colorado

2009: Texas A&M*

 

2001:  Alabama*

2003:  Georgia Tech

2005:  Georgia Tech

2006:  Arkansas

2006:  Georgia

2007:  South Florida

2007:  Mississippi State

2008: Vanderbilt

2008: Arkansas

2008:  West Virginia

 

No losses to inferior opponents

As Tech fans, we know that bad losses to inferior opponents are pretty self evident.  The losses to Colorado in 2006 and Texas A&M in 2009 are marked with asterisks to demonstrate losses by 21 points or more (rather than counting such losses twice, I consider losses to inferior teams a greater sin than losing by a wide margin, hence losses to inferior teams of any sort are reflected in this category).

I did not include the 2009 loss to Houston, because I personally believed before the season that it was going to be difficult game coming after the Texas game, being on the road and playing a quality team.   I appreciate if others feel that the game should be included here.

Tuberville's losses require a bit more explanation, mainly because as Tech supporters, most of us are less familiar with his record.  I justify attributing Tuberville's bad losses as follows (figures in parentheses represent final season records, followed by end-of-season rankings):

 

  • 2001, losing 31-7 to a then 4-5 Alabama (7-5, NR).
  • 2003, lost 17-3 to unranked Georgia Tech (7-6, NR) on the road as a pre-season #6 team,
  • 2005, losing the season opener 23-14 to unranked Georgia Tech (7-5, NR) at home as the #16 ranked team
  • 2006, losing 27-10 to then unranked Arkansas (10-3, #15) at home as the #3 ranked team
  • 2006, losing 37-15 to then unranked Georgia (9-4, #23) at home as the #5 ranked team
  • 2007, losing 26-23 to South Florida (9-4, NR) at home as the #17 ranked team
  • 2007, losing 19-14 to Mississippi State (8-5, NR) at home
  • 2008, despite a #10 preseason ranking, Auburn would lose to then #19 ranked Vanderbilt (7-6, NR) on the road (the first time Auburn had lost to Vanderbilt since 1955)
  • 2008, losing 25-22 to Arkansas (5-7, NR) at home as the #23 ranked team
  • 2008, losing to then unranked West Virginia (9-4, #23) on the road
  • As we can see from the discussion above, Tuberville's teams actually were more vulnerable to the bad loss than were Leach's teams over the years. 

    Division and Conference Championships

    This should be an easy one. 

    Leach's teams never played for the Big 12 Championships nor won the Big 12 South outright.  Conversely, Tuberville's Auburn teams won 4 SEC West crowns and 1 SEC Championship.  End of discussion right?

    Let's take a closer look. 

    First of all, let's examine Auburn's 4 SEC West crowns under Tuberville.

    Auburn won 2 outright SEC West championships with a 6-2 conference record in 2000, and with a perfect 8-0 conference record in 2004. 

    In 2002, Auburn tied for first place in the SEC West division, along with Arkansas and LSU, each finishing with 5-3 conference records.  However, that year the conference's best team was actually Alabama which finished with a 6-2 conference record, but was ineligible for the title due to previous NCAA sanctions.  Furthermore, Arkansas, by virtue of a tie-breaker, having defeated both Auburn and LSU, would ultimately go on to represent the SEC East in the 2002 SEC Championship game.

    In 2005, Auburn again tied for first in the SEC West with LSU, each finishing with 7-1 records.  However, LSU defeated Auburn in head-to-head competition and represented the SEC East in the 2005 SEC Championship game.

    To claim that Auburn won 4 SEC West titles is a stretch by most sensible interpretations.  I doubt there are many Tech supporters who believe Texas Tech, having tied Oklahoma and Texas for the best record in the Big 12 South in 2008, find consolation in that achievement given that it was Oklahoma, based on the Big 12's tie breaking formula, which represented the Big 12 South in the Big 12 Championship game.

    Auburn's two outright division championships in 2000 and 2004, as well as Auburn's SEC crown in 2004, however, are without question impressive accomplishments. 

    Winning the Big 12 South Division

    Since we are on the subject of division championships, it is worthwhile seeing if we can answer Chancellor Hance's and other critics concerns about Leach's inability to defeat Texas or Oklahoma on a more frequent basis, and about Leach's inability to win the Big 12 South championship. 

    While the sentiment might be the correct one (I, for one, concur in principle), perhaps the better question is, "what does it actually take to win the Big 12 South Division?"  Does winning the Big 12 South Division require the same effort as winning, say, the ACC Coastal Division, the Conference USA West Division or, more specifically, the SEC West Division?

    There are 12 conferences in the FBS (Division I).  Of these conferences, 5 conferences are separated into 2 divisions.  These conferences are the Big 12, SEC, ACC, Conference USA and the Mid American conference.

    In the following discussion we attempt to establish the degree of difficulty which Big 12 South teams face to win the division.

    Let's examine the national rankings of the top finishers in the Big 12 South division and the SEC West division during Leach's and Tuberville's respective tenures.

    Table 11. Big 12 South and SEC West Top 3 Finishers (and end of season rankings)

    1999

    Alabama (8)

    Mississippi State (13)

    Mississippi (22)

    2000

    Oklahoma (1)

    Texas (12)

    Texas A&M (NR)

    Auburn (18)

    LSU (22)

    Mississippi

    2001

    Oklahoma (5)

    Texas (6)

    Texas A&M (NR)

    LSU (7)

    Auburn (NR)

    Alabama (NR)

    2002

    Oklahoma (5)

    Texas (6)

    Texas Tech (NR)

    Alabama * (11)

    T-Auburn (14)

    T- Arkansas (NR)

    T-LSU (NR)

    2003

    Oklahoma (3)

    Texas (12)

    Oklahoma State (NR)

    LSU (2)

    Mississippi (13)

    Auburn (NR)

    2004

    Oklahoma (3)

    Texas (5)

    Texas Tech (18)

    Auburn (2)

    LSU (16)

    Alabama (NR)

    2005

    Texas (1)

    Texas Tech (20)

    Oklahoma (22)

    T-LSU (6)

    T- Auburn (14)

    Alabama (8)

    2006

    Oklahoma (11)

    Texas (13)

    Texas A&M (NR)

    Arkansas (15), 10-4

    Auburn (9), 11-2

    LSU (3), 11-2

    2007

    Oklahoma (8)

    Texas (10)

    Texas Tech (22)

    LSU (1)

    Auburn (15)

    Arkansas (NR)

    2008

    Texas (4)

    Oklahoma (5)

    Texas Tech (12)

    Alabama (6)

    Mississippi (14)

    LSU (NR)

    2009

    Texas (2)

    Oklahoma State (NR)

    Texas Tech (21)

    Average Ranking of Division Winner

    4.3

    7.9

    Average Ranking of Top 2 teams

    7.9

    12.2

                                                                                                        

    As we can see from the table above the average ranking (according to end of season AP poll) of the Big 12 South division winner during Leach's tenure was 4.3.   In contrast, the average ranking of the SEC West's division winner during Tuberville's tenure was 7.9. 

    By this comparison, we can see that in almost all instances, winning the Big 12 South over the past decade has required the division champion to be one of the Top 5 teams in the country on an annual basis.  

    The Big 12 South winner's highest AP ranking occurred twice when two teams finished number one - once in 2000 when Oklahoma won the National Championship and once in 2005 when Texas won the National Championship. 

    The worst finish for a Big 12 South division champion occurred in 2006 when Oklahoma finished number 11 in the AP final polls.

    The best AP poll finish for a SEC West division champion occurred in 2007 when LSU, the SEC West division champion, was crowned National Champion. 

    The worst AP poll finish for a SEC West division champion occurred in 2000 when Auburn, as the 18th ranked team in the country, secured the division title.

    However, as the above table indicates, the challenge in the Big 12 South is not just overcoming a single Top 5 opponent. 

    Over the past 10 years, the top two finishers in the Big 12 South have achieved a combined ranking of 7.9.  Over the past 10 years, Texas and Oklahoma have finished in the top two slots on 18 of 20 occasions - 90% of the time.

    In contrast, in the SEC West over the past 10 years, the top two finishers have achieved a combined average ranking of 12.2.  The larger number reflects a more significant drop-off in the quality of the competition between the SEC West's top two teams.

    For the record, the average ranking of the SEC East champion was 6.3 from 1999-2009 - think Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.  The average ranking of the SEC East's top two finishers was 10.7 (indicating a slightly higher degree of difficulty than the SEC West).

    Likewise, in the Big 12 North, the average ranking of the Big 12 North champion was 11.9 from 2000-2009.  On three occasions from 2004-2006, the Big 12 North division champions finished the season unranked.*

    The level of competition in other divisions does not compare with that which is faced in the Big 12 South.  No other division requires defeating the equivalent of two Top 10 teams on an annual basis. To compare Leach's inability to win one at least one division title over the past 10 years to the Big 12 North division championships won by Gary Pinkel at Missouri or Bo Pelini at Nebraska blatantly ignores the differences in degrees of difficulty between divisions. 

    To put it another way, if Texas Tech had been a member of the Big 12 North, and only had to face either Texas or Oklahoma once a year instead of twice a year (or in some cases not at all), one can easily envision Texas Tech winning the Big 12 North division title on multiple occasions over the past decade. 

    When we compare the SEC West and Big 12 South teams here, we see that the two most consistently dominating teams for 10 years have been Oklahoma and Texas.  Texas has been consistently dominant (1 national championship, 6 Top 10 finishes, 3 finishes ranked 11-25), while Oklahoma has finished just one season ranked outside of the Top 25 (1 national championship, 6 Top 10 finishes, 2 finishes ranked 11-25). 

    In contrast, during Tuberville's tenure, Alabama finished in the Top 25 just four times and LSU finished in the Top 25 a total of six times.   Georgia, which is actually a member of the SEC East , was Tuberville's only consistently dominant competition during his tenure finishing in the Top 25 during each of Tuberville's 10 years at Auburn (despite playing in different divisions, Auburn plays Georgia every year as part of the oldest rivalry in football dating back to 1892). 

    During Leach's tenure, Texas and Oklahoma were consistently better teams, and Tuberville now assumes Leach's previous unenviable task of playing two such teams, usually on an annual basis, just to escape the division.   When you look at Texas Tech's in-conference rivals, how can a knowledgeable football fan (or certain chancellor) be overly critical of Leach's performance against two of the top teams over the past decade, both of which have won national championships?  That comment continues to boggle my mind.

    As Leach experienced, and Tuberville will soon learn for himself, winning the Big 12 South division is a challenge like no other in college football.  We as fans can sometimes be guilty of underestimating the uniqueness of Texas Tech's challenge and the challenge of all Big 12 South teams for that matter.

    For Texas Tech to win the Big 12 South, the goal appears to be a simple one: finish the season as a Top 5 team.

    If Texas Tech is unable to win the Big 12 South but still hopes for an at-large BCS bid, then it is required to finish the season as a Top 10 team.  Texas Tech must also hope that either Oklahoma or Texas finishes ranked 11 or below while also hoping that the gap between Texas Tech and its nearest ranked division opponent is sufficiently wide enough to enable a bowl selection committee to ignore one of its larger, wealthier traditional rivals and justify selecting Texas Tech instead.

    Of course, the other strategy is to hope that Oklahoma and Texas both have down years and that Texas Tech outperforms both schools in such an event.   That has not been the case for the past decade, and based on performance, recruiting trends, enduring coaching tenures and the like, does not appear to be likely going forward either.

    *(Note that in calculating the average rankings for each conference, I assigned a score of 25 for any team which was not ranked at the end of the season.  Of course in the case of the Big 12 North, SEC West and SEC East, this approach actually inflates the average rankings of the top 2 division leaders as reflected here, particularly for the Big 12 North.  I don't include a combined average for the top two teams in the Big 12 North, because with so many unranked teams accounting for the top two slots, the measurement is not meaningful. In the Big 12 South, only one year included a non-ranked team among the top 2 finishers - Oklahoma State in 2009 which finished second.)

    Conclusion

    As we can see from this discussion, there is little which seperates Leach and Tuberville in terms of performance.   The discussion indicates that both coaches are nearly as impressive as each other.

    Leach and Tuberville have roughly similar winning percentages across the board.

    Tuberville holds a slightly higher winning percentage against conference opponents, but Leach's degree of difficulty was higher than Tuberville's degree of difficulty based on the quality of actual ranked opponents played.

    Tuberville has a higher winning percentage against Top 10 opponents, while Leach and Tuberville have roughly similar records against teams ranked 11-25 (although Tuberville's Auburn teams significantly outperformed Leach's teams against opponents ranked 11-25). 

    However, all success is relative.  As favored opponents against top 25 teams,  Leach and Tuberville performed similarly. As underdogs against top 25 teams, Leach and Tuberville likewise performed similarly. 

    Tuberville's teams were nearly twice as likely to suffer a loss to an inferior opponent than were Leach's Texas Tech teams. Texas Tech under Leach and Auburn under Tuberville suffered losses by excessive margins at a similar rate. 

    Over half of Tuberville's losses can be defined as bad losses, while about 44% of Leach's losses can be similarly defined, although Leach's teams, by virtue of style of play, are more susceptible to spectacular losses than are Tuberville's teams (or most other teams for that matter). 

    As the head coach of Auburn, Tuberville distinguishes himself from Leach based on his ability to defeat Top 10 teams on a more frequent basis than Leach. Tuberville's tenure also shows some distinct advantages over Leach's tenure.  He has won an SEC Championship.  He has won the SEC West division on at least two occasions. Leach has never played in a Big 12 Championship nor has he won the Big 12 South.  

    The key point in assessing the degree of difficulty in winning the Big 12 South is to emphasize that Leach's inability to capture the division title is hardly due to lack of ability. The Big 12 South, during Leach's tenure, simply happened to be significantly more difficult than all other divisions in college football. Teams ranked less than 11 did not win the Big 12 South during Leach's tenure. 

    In the Big 12 North, teams ranked less than 11 in the AP Poll won the division title on 7 occassions (3 were not even ranked).   During the year that Kansas tied for the Big 12 North division in 2007 and finished 7 in the final AP Poll, it never had to play Oklahoma or Texas.  Missouri, the other Big 12 North co-champion in 2007, also did not play Oklahoma or Texas in the regular season.  When Missouri, then ranked number 1,  finally faced Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship game, it was slaughtered 38-17.

    When we compare the Big 12 South's degree of difficulty to the SEC West, the Big 12 South has proven to be a more challenging division overall.  I am not discounting Tuberville's achievements, but a reasonable person cannot hold Leach's lack of division titles against him either given the circumstances.

    Over 10 years, not once have I heard Leach complain about Texas Tech's situation.  That's the job. When he does ultimately land another head coaching job, free of the Big 12 South yolk, we are very likely to see Leach's teams achieve a number of division and conference titles.

    Based on many comments here at the DTN and elsewhere, a common sentiment is that Leach could not take Texas Tech to the next level and now we have a coach in Tuberville who can.   One of the aims of this post is to quantify what it actually means to ‘take it to the next level.'

    Many of us now hope that Tuberville will be able to achieve what Leach was unable to accomplish in his tenure at Tech - which is to win the Big 12 South division, capture the Big 12 championship and play for a national championship.  Tuberville himself has set the same goals. Some of us are more hopeful than others.

    For Texas Tech to capture the Big 12 South title, it is effectively required to finish the season as one of the Top 5 teams in the country. 

    Similarly, based on the performance of Big 12 South teams over the past decade, for Texas Tech to win an at-large BCS bid, it would have to finish the season as a Top 10 team while significantly outperforming either Oklahoma or Texas.

    For Texas Tech, by virtue of playing in the Big 12 South division, to achieve any one of these distinctions, completing no less than a near flawless season seems to be the minimum requirement. 

    Since commencing competition in the SWC in 1958 and the Big 12 in 1996, Texas Tech has reached this level three times: 1973 (11-1), 1976 (10-2), 2008 (11-2).  In all three instances, Texas Tech failed to capture an outright conference or division crown. 

    Wreck 'em!

    ___________

    Tale of the Tape: Part 3 - How They Did It