“Is the worst team KU football has ever had?”
For those wondering … Bill Connelly has a stat for that.
Connelly, Analytics Director for SB Nation, has been working to improve advanced numbers in college football for more than a decade. His “S&P+” — derived from play-by-play data — is considered among the best statistical rankings and even has a 52 percent success rate against the spread through eight weeks.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
He’s worked to improve historical data too. Using his advanced stats from 2005 on, and points scored and allowed before that, Connelly has created a way to compare teams of different eras.
The verdict for KU football? In Connelly’s system, an average team would rank in the 50th percentile. This year’s Jayhawks are in the 4.3rd percentile among FBS teams — fourth-worst in the program’s 117-year history and ahead of only the 2015, 2010 and 1988 teams.
That’s a start, but it also doesn’t show the complete picture.
One concern for KU fans has been that more progress was expected in coach David Beaty’s third year. Beaty did raise the team’s level from the first year (2.5th percentile) to the next (17.9), but 2017’s numbers have indicated a step backward.
“There was progress last year, and I expected to see more this time around,” Connelly said. “Instead, you’ve seen near-total regression to 2015 form.”
That has included ugly performances on both ends.
For the offense, it has mostly been centered on the last two games. Connelly keeps track of offensive performances week to week, and KU has registered “null” in each of its last two contests — shorthand for a zero-percentile performance.
To give some context: “Null” has only appeared nine times on Connelly’s spreadsheet for an offense this year, and three of those instances were by FCS teams.
KU is the only school to accomplish it twice.
“That they’ve come in back-to-back weeks certainly suggests a bottoming out that might be hard to recover from,” Connelly said.
Defensively, KU’s struggles haven’t been as glaring lately, but they’re still clear when looking at the season as a whole. Connelly’s numbers pin this as the fourth-worst defense in school history.
“The defense is good at invading the line of scrimmage for sacks and stuffs, but any time that doesn’t happen, they get completely torched,” Connelly said. “And the offense seems to have nice open-field weapons in (Khalil) Herbert and (Steven) Sims but can’t get them into the open field. They seem to have crafted the identity they wanted, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t have enough talent.”
Programs have rebounded from depths lower than this before. The best example is KU’s opponent Saturday, as in the four seasons before Bill Snyder was hired, Kansas State’s percentiles were 4.2, 4.1, 4.3 and 3.1; each of those is lower or equal to what KU has posted this season. So maybe there was something to Snyder’s comment this week that “I don’t know that there is any program that has been or will be in the situation that was at Kansas State at that particular time.”
Still, the numbers lead to a troubling place when looking to the future for KU football.
The Jayhawks’ 4.3 percentile mark might not be the worst compared to previous KU teams, but it also is not good when looking at college football as a whole.
In fact, only two Power Five teams this decade have failed to hit the 5th percentile in Connelly’s numbers: 2010 Kansas, which went 3-9 … and 2015 Kansas, which didn’t win a game.
It’s not a stretch, then, to say at this point, KU football looks to be stuck in nearly the same place as when it first tried to rebuild after Mark Mangino’s departure some eight years ago.
KU football’s worst teams
According to Bill Connelly’s percentile rankings:
*Through seven games