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This Is Not Normal

Let's be frank about how bad the fall of the 2010 Texas Longhorns really is.

I am not going to make any comment about the team, its two deep, its talent, or development.

I will also reserve judgment for now on how atrocious it is to put up a (likely) losing record against one of the weakest schedules that Texas has ever played. And I'm not going to reflect on how bad the losses have been, as this team has been blown out repeatedly by multiple scores.

Let's just keep it simple and talk about wins and losses.

All I want to focus on is a simple premise: is it common for a team that is nine months removed from playing for a national title to have fallen this far?

The natural answer, whether it be from an angry Texas fan or a casual observer of college football, would be -- um, no.

But why leave this observation ambiguous; let's see if history has proven it out.


Let's begin with the formal question: how have previous runners-up (2nd place finishers) in college football performed in their very next season? Bearing in mind college football has historically had a haphazard way of selecting its national champion (especially pre-BCS), the easiest way to try and answer this question systematically is to look at the teams that finish each season in the #2 slot.

Because the AP poll, by far, has the longest track record, I compiled all of the #2 finishers from 1936 to 2009 (Texas was #2 in '09). I then compiled the winning percentage (giving half a victory for ties) for the #2 finishers in their immediate subsequent season. For instance, 2005 USC (#2 AP) went 11-2 in 2006.



If Texas fails to defeat either Oklahoma State or Texas A&M (which most would put decent odds on at this stage), their 5-7 record (0.417 winning percentage) would be the 70th worst performance out of 74 runners-up since 1936.

It would be the worst finish (and only sub-0.500 record) among #2 teams since Arizona State went 4-7 in 1976.

Michigan State and two service academies (Army/Navy) are the only other instances, and those happened about half a century ago.

The only "modern" comparison would be 1998/99 Ohio State, which went 6-6 in 1999 after an 11-1 season where Ohio State's national title aspirations were thwarted by Michigan State. This is not a clean comparison, because a) Ohio State did not end up with a losing record in 1999, and b) Ohio State did not play in the national title game in 1998 (Tennessee beat Florida State). Also note that John Cooper was fired one season later (after going 8-4 in 2000).

By the way, the 74-year average (or "normal") winning percentage has been 0.770 (about 9-3).


Barring a major recovery to the season where Texas can stun either the Cowboys or Aggies and win a bowl game, this particular collapse of a #2 team is of historic proportions. It is not normal to fall this far this fast. It suggests this is not a normal "cyclical" retrenchment, but something far more serious.