They Just Kept On Giving
Lefty Loon has made a list of the best losing teams of the last decade.
NC State 2004
Point Differential: +46
Close Games: 2-4
Winning Records: 1-5
Opp Win %: .564 (66-51)
The first year of the post-Phillip Rivers era resulted in Chuck Amato’s first losing season as a head coach. The Pack went from scoring over 37 points per game to a mere 24 per game. Aside from the narrow victory over Virginia Tech, the Pack could not break through against good teams either, posting a 1-5 record against winning teams. Despite an even poorer performance from the offense in 2005, the pack improved to 7-5.
As much as it hurts to recall the 2004 season, that year remains intriguing from a statistical standpoint. Often when a team overperforms or underperforms its pythagorean record, the difference is attributed to luck. Based on the Pack's point differential in 2004 (+46), which suggests State should have gone 7-4, it certainly looks like the team was unlucky. But I think those of us who watched all of the games that season (bless our hearts) would agree that something else was mainly responsible for the losing record.
NC State's recipe for underachievement: 2.9 turnovers per game. Thirty-two in 11 games. TA McLendon and Jay Davis were a couple of mistake-prone peas in a pod. Only four teams turned the ball over more often: Nebraska, UNLV, Rutgers, and Washington.
Making matters worse--and this is where some bad luck factored in--was the defense's inability to force turnovers. NC State had just 15 takeaways, good enough for 105th in the nation. It's the only season under Amato that NC State has had fewer than 20 takeaways. If we instead go by takeaways per game, 2004 remains the worst of the Amato era.
Knowing all that, it's not hard to see how NC State had a losing record despite a +46 point differential. By the way: UNC, which went bowling and ended up 6-6, had a -63 point differential. Like the Pack, Carolina only forced 15 turnovers; the difference was that the Heels only gave the ball away 19 times.
NC State improved in both turnover categories last year, not surprisingly. The Pack forced 24 turnovers and also committed 24. Aided by a more friendly turnover margin, NC State's scoring defense improved despite the fact that its total defense regressed. With turnovers less of a factor in deciding games, NC State actually had the winning record that its positive point differential suggested it should have had.