Connecticut: after a 'breakthrough' season, can teams maintain a high level of success?
Why is there so much skepticism towards UConn entering 2008? Detractors will usually point to one of three reasons:
3. Key stats: #7 in turnover margin despite being #90 in total offense and #37 in total defense.
UConn largely returned to their 2003/2004 formula for success last year: conservative play, good defense, and good player development.
And the results on the field (re: UConn/RU) were much like we had seen in 2003; RU outgaining UConn in terms of total yardage, but struggling in key areas, most notably special teams. I have two main questions about the Huskies this year: is their ability to generate turnovers sustainable, and have teams in similar situations been able to maintain "breakout" years?
The answer to the first question is clearly: no. UConn was #7 in turnover margin last year, following finishes at #70, #41, #90, and #61. UConn arguably had its best seasons in recent memory in '03 and '04, so their improved turnover margin was not merely a function of improved play on the field.
As Rutgers fans learned in 2006, such success is not necessarily sustainable. Rutgers fell from #10 to #93 in turnover margin in 2007. The roster was better on paper, but had trouble replacing a handful of key contributor losses.
Frank Beamer's Virginia Tech program broke through with a 9-3 record in 1993 and never looked back. Kansas in 1995 under Glenn Mason was the definition of a one year wonder, going 10-2 before falling back to 4-7 the following year. Northwestern that same year was at least able to make it to 9-3 in '96, with lingering respectability afterwards. Not so for Michigan State in 1999, which soon lost Nick Saban and returned to its mediocre ways. Iowa State improved from 4 to 9 wins in 2000, following up with a respectable 7 the following year. Hawaii, Washington State, NC State, Cal, UCLA, Wake Forest, and even our beloved 2006 Rutgers season all show similar trends: a lot of the improvement is for real, but a certain regression to the mean is inevitable.
That's the lesson that I take most Rutgers fans to learned from 2007. Arguably, the 2007 roster was more talented than it had been a year before. We didn't lose many players from 2006, but most of the losses were of key contributors. Having a better team doesn't necessarily translate to a better record in the W/L column.
The results are similar even if you look at teams like Oklahoma's 2000 season or USC's 2003. Occasionally, there wil be a 1999 Alabama that utterly collapses. On average though, these so-called breakthrough teams went from winning 46% of their games pre-breakthrough, to 82% during their "breakthrough" seasons, and regressed to winning 64% of their games the next year. That would put UConn at roughly 8 wins for this season. My preseason prediction is rounded down to 7-5, because I think their luck will even out this year, and a lot of their tougher games are on the road. Make no mistake about it though: this is a quality football team that will be competitive in all of their games. They definitely have a chance to steal a game or two, but in that regard, 2007 merely balanced out 2005 and 2006. It would be a mistake to attribute away all of their relative struggles in those seasons, or their success last year.