Regression to the Ugly

“Regression to the Mean” is a phrase used in statistics to explain results which differ from that which was expected. If results of an experiment produce extraordinary results, the theory goes, repeating the experiment again and again will bring the results back closer to what would be considered normal.

The best example of “Regression to the Mean” in sports is the dreaded Sports Illustrated cover jinx. Get your picture on the cover of Sports Illustrated, the theory goes, and you will suffer the consequence of poor performance in the immediate future. What the jinx doesn’t take into account, however, is that it usually takes some extraordinary play to merit being placed on the cover of the magazine in the first place, and it is unlikely that such extraordinary play will continue on indefinitely.

When it comes to the Colorado football team, the 2012 season was supposed to be the extraordinary. The Buffs were so bad – so historically bad – that the results produced were anomalous, never to be repeated.

Yet here we are, in 2013, facing many of the same numbers.

In fact, they appear to be on the verge of being even worse.

After the 59-7 mauling by Washington, Buff fans were left to wonder whether any significant progress was being made under the new coaching staff, at least in terms of the defense. The Huskies had over 450 yards of total offense in the first half against Colorado. Washington settled for 628 yards of total offense for the game, mostly because the Huskies stopped trying to score (did anyone else notice that Washington did not throw a single pass in the second half?).

“We didn’t have a chance to win tonight,” acknowledged CU head coach Mike MacIntyre. “I think that is the first time I completely felt like that. We just didn’t tackle and then we turned the ball over in some key areas. We haven’t really done that either. It kind of got out of hand. It was ugly”.

Yes, it was ugly … as in 2012 ugly.

Last season, the Buffs gave up an average of 488.5 yards per game. That number smashed the previous record low for a Colorado team by over 20 yards per game. The old record was 464.4 yards of total offense surrendered per game, a mark set by the infamous 1980 team which went 1-10 (falling behind UCLA 56-0 at halftime in the opener, losing to Drake, losing to Oklahoma 82-42).

The 2012 total blew up a 32-year old record.

Buff fans should have had to wait another generation to witness a similar debacle.

And yet here we are again … Enter the 2013 Buffs.

This year’s team is giving up 485.3 yards per game, just a few yards behind last year’s number. Take out the CSU and Division 1-AA games, and you are left with an average of …

… drum roll …

… 589.5 yards per game.

Yes, in six Pac-12 games this fall, the Colorado defense is giving up almost 600 yards of total offense per game.

The sad sack 2012 defense – the unit which took the field for the worst season in Colorado history – gave up an average of 492.5 yards per game against Pac-12 opponents.

Progress? When your defense – already the worst in the Pac-12 conference, and the worst in 123 years of CU football – is giving up an extra 100 yards per conference game?

We were fooling ourselves.

We thought we saw progress against Oregon State in the Pac-12 opener. Yes, it was a 44-17 final, we argued, but it was only 10-3 late in the second quarter.

We thought we saw progress against Oregon, Yes, it was a rout in the end, but the Buffs led for much of the first quarter (and, until Stanford’s dominating win last Thursday, for more time – over six minutes of game clock – than any other team the Ducks had played this season).

We thought we saw progress against Arizona. Yes, it was a 44-20 final, but it was 27-20 in the third quarter.

We thought we saw progress against UCLA. Yes, it was a 45-23 final, but 21-13 at halftime.

Despite the final scores, we thought that real progress was being made – on offense, defense, and on special teams.

The 2012 season was the anomaly, we assured ourselves. The 2013 team was returning the Buffs back to the pack. Back to, at the very least, mediocrity.

Regression to the mean.

Now, after watching the Washington offense toy with the Buffs’ defense, it appears more that the regression is not back to mediocrity, but back to being ranked 100th or worse in almost every meaningful statistical category.

Is there any light at the end of this dark tunnel?

Perhaps, at least in terms of the sentiment of the players involved.

Two seniors, linebacker Derrick Webb and safety Parker Orms, have been through it all. No class in the history of the school has lost more games than this senior class, and yet, at least outwardly, the team is not giving up on the season.

“We should be pissed off and I definitely am, but it’s also a bright side to this season and that’s how I look at it,” said Webb. “As bad as things have gone this year, we still have three games left this season that we’re very capable of winning. As bad as things have been this season – the good points, the low points – we still have the opportunity to go to a bowl game and that’s a blessing to think about after today. My mindset is that we keep getting better throughout the week and get ready to beat Cal like coach said. We’re going to make a run for these last three games, we haven’t given up at all”.

Added Orms: “We’re mad, we’re frustrated but we have three games left. We can’t just cry about it, we have to go out there and play. You can just see it in the locker room, guys are mad, guys are frustrated but you can’t let frustration take over. You just have to go out there and play”.

There will be a great deal riding on next weekend’s game against Cal. The Bears are 1-9, with a defense which is giving up 44.5 points per game. The Buffs are 3-6, with a defense which is giving up 40.5 points per game.

Between the two teams, there are four victories – CU’s win over Colorado State, and a combined three wins over 1-AA teams.

Not exactly a matchup of titans.

To the victor of the Colorado/California game will go the end of a school-record conference losing streak (CU is at 14 at counting; Cal at 12 and counting), and “bragging rights” about being the 11th-best team in the conference.

To the loser of the Colorado/California game will go … well, let’s not go there.

We’ve regressed far enough.

7 Replies to “Regression to the Ugly”

  1. We seem to have a quality coach but until we stop competing with New Mexico State for recruits we won’t see gains. Need to lock down in-state athletes first. Wisconsin is the model for us. Same kind of players in-state. But look at this years class so far and we’re hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. Not a good plan. But I still donate and root…we’ll get there!

  2. What we’re seeing is a painful bottuming process similar to the early 80’s. The extreme negative sentiment and blowout losses will last a few years until we get much better recruiting classes. I am confident that Mac 2,like Mac, will slowly turn the ship around with recruits who are not only more athletic, but also of this staff’s choosing.

  3. Saturday night was ugly. No doubt about it. As ugly an effort as we have seen from this group all season – and in the immediate aftermath of what was a good effort at the Rose Bowl vs. UCLA it left me more than a little surprised.

    The kids in the room have to continue to have one another’s back and continue to buy into what the coaches are doing. If they cease doing that then this season is over. Those of us not in the room who comprise the fan base need to stand down this week – at least in my opinion. Saturday presents the Buffs with the best chance they have – and have had – all season of winning a Pac-12 game. Home vs. Cal. Cal appears to be even slightly behind us in Year One of their new coach’s program.

    Let’s suppress the “blow everything up” reflex for at least one more Saturday. Let’s stay behind the kids who are suiting up for the Buffs and the coaches who have been here less than one calendar year trying to unring close to a decade’s worth of horrible-sounding bells.

    Show a little faith. It is far too early to make any determination whether that faith shall ultimately be rewarded.

    1. 1) Saturday night: Agree we were out run, out physicalled and out played.
      2) The kids: I love these kids. They chose to play for CU. But they are outclassed when it comes talent in the PAC 12.
      3)Let’s suppress: Like I said I love the kids and bless their hearts for being “tryers” . The bottom line is that we suck this year.
      4)Faith: I have faith that the coaches and players are doing everything they can to win football games. It’s just after seven years remaining positive is difficult. If I could see some improvement game to game then it would be easier.

      I am a Buff until the end but it hurts to watch a once top 20 team fall so far and not hit the bottom yet.

      GO BUFFS

  4. UW was ranked #15 recently. 4-year starter at QB. 5 years practicing their system. Game at their new $400 M stadium. You don’t trot out a frosh qb in his 3rd game and do much better. Fans are overreacting and not showing especially for a half-decade of hard work by Sark and Price!!!

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