How Have No. 1 Teams Fared After Loss?
by Trevor Whenham - 10/16/2008
Twice this year I have become reasonably convinced that the No. 1 team in the country is, by a solid margin, the best team in the country. Both times those teams have promptly gone out and lost against a team they really should have been able to beat. Ouch. The latest team to prove me wrong is obviously Oklahoma. I'm past the immediate frustration of their loss, though I haven't yet decided which team will take their place in my mind. Of more immediate interest is trying to figure out how Oklahoma will react to losing their No. 1 status. They find themselves up against Kansas on Saturday. To get an insight into how the Sooners will fare, it makes sense to look back at how teams in similar situations have reacted when they have fallen from grace in the last two years.
USC - The Trojans lost their top perch in a horrific way. They had Stanford at home, and though the 39-point spread was high it wasn't so ridiculous as to scare off the public. Needless to say, it was a real shock when the Cardinal won. That 24-23 loss was perhaps the worst game that the team has played under Pete Carroll, with the possible exception of this year's Oregon State no-show. That loss was a lot to bounce back from, and the Trojans didn't make it look easy. In their first game back they hosted Arizona, another struggling team. They were favored by 21, but only squeaked out the game by a touchdown. In the next two weeks they destroyed Notre Dame but then lost to Oregon. Their inconsistency revealed the real story of the season last year, and showed that their No. 1 ranking wasn't particularly with merit.
LSU - LSU capitalized on USC's struggles to take over the top spot, but it didn't go well for them. Kentucky was a 10-point underdog despite being at home, but the Wildcats took the game to overtime and then came out ahead. That loss was frustrating, and it took more than a week for the team to shake the effects of it. In the next game, LSU was favored by 10.5 to Auburn. They won, but much like USC it was a lackadaisical effort that wasn't good enough to cover the spread. The Tigers only covered twice in their last six games, but we'll come back to that in a second.
Ohio State - The Buckeyes were the next team to give supremacy a shot. Their reign came to and end with a loss to Illinois in which they showed themselves to be completely incapable of containing Juice Williams. That was in their second to last game of the season. They rebounded by winning and covering against Michigan in one of the worst, least interesting football games ever played.
LSU - The Tigers climbed back to the top again, and again it didn't go well. They lost to Arkansas as 13-point favorites in a crazy shootout that ended at 50-48. The next week they beat Tennessee to win the SEC, but they just won by a touchdown - the same margin as the spread.
Missouri - The Tigers were the next No. 1, but they barely got time to enjoy it. Their first game on top was the Big 12 Championship Game. For the second time in the season, they were unable to keep up with Oklahoma. They had to wait for a month for a chance to play their next game, and by that time they had obviously been able to positively channel their anger - they crushed Arkansas in their bowl appearance.
So, in 2007 we had five chances to see how a team would rebound from losing as No. 1 and dropping down in the polls as a result. Those five teams were 2-2-1 ATS, though one of those covers is a different case since the team had a month to recover and get their minds on the right track.
Georgia - The Bulldogs were the preseason No. 1, and they came into the season with very high hopes thanks to heavily hyped superstars at QB and running back. This is a different situation than what we have seen before, though, because Georgia dropped out of first without losing. They dropped because they played a total cupcake to start the season, while USC played, and annihilated, Virginia. In Week 2 Georgia played a Central Michigan team that has the potential to be dangerous, but Georgia wasn't caught off guard. They won 56-17, and easily covered the 24-point spread.
USC - The Trojans lost their top spot thanks to an uncharacteristically awful performance against Jaquizz Rodgers and the Oregon State Beavers. You might have though that this was a sign of deep problems for the Trojans, but that sure didn't prove to be the case. They came out the next week and rolled over Oregon in a performance just as dominant as the one against Ohio State in the week before the Oregon State debacle.
That's 2-0 ATS for teams bouncing back from losing as the top seed this year. In the last two years these teams are 4-2-1 ATS, and 3-2-1 ATS coming back and playing again in just one week. That's far from an overwhelming trend, but it does indicate that we don't necessarily have to worry about the Oklahoma mindset in the coming week. They may come out of their loss in a funk, but that's certainly not always the case. In other words, there is no short cut here, so get handicapping.