- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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This week, we told you that ESPN.com stats guru Brad Edwards picked Wisconsin as one of five teams that was better than its 2012 record and therefore looks like a sleeper pick in 2013.
Edwards has also gone the opposite route in identifying five teams that he thinks were worse than their record indicated last season, and his list includes two Big Ten double-digit win teams from 2012: Ohio State and Northwestern.
He is once again using an advanced metric called Extra Points Added that also accounts for the strength of each team's opponents. The Buckeyes and Wildcats were teams that played above their stat lines. That doesn't necessarily mean they will backslide in 2013, but Edwards says they will likely have to play better than they did last season to equal or surpass their win total.
Of Ohio State, he writes:
"EPA numbers tell us that Ohio State was not only a notch below fellow regular-season unbeaten Notre Dame in 2012, but the Buckeyes weren't even close to being a top-10 team. OSU did not rank in the top 20 of adjusted EPA for offense, defense or special teams. Considering that Ohio State won half of its games by seven points or fewer -- and that four of those narrow victories were against teams that didn't have a winning regular-season record -- this shouldn't be all that surprising."
And of Northwestern:
"Northwestern didn't play a single team ranked in the final top 20 of adjusted net EPA, and the Wildcats went 2-3 against teams ranked in the 21-40 range. From an EPA standpoint, Northwestern was just above average in all three phases of the game. Perhaps the larger mistake made by the voters last season was assuming the Big Ten was on a level similar to that of the Big 12 and Pac-12. According to EPA, it was not. The Wildcats were the sixth-ranked Big Ten team in adjusted net EPA and ranked around 40th in the nation. The sixth-ranked teams from the Big 12 and Pac-12 ranked around 20th."
Hmm. Well, you could certainly argue that Ohio State was not a dominant team last season, despite its 12-0 record. The Buckeyes struggled defensively in the first half of the season, needed big plays late to put away a mediocre Cal squad at home, and held off Indiana 52-49. They also needed a miracle to beat Purdue in overtime at home, won in overtime at Wisconsin, and squeaked by Michigan State on the road by a single point.
But what the numbers can't possibly show was the grit of last season's Buckeyes team, or its knack for making winning plays, especially by guys like Braxton Miller, John Simon and Ryan Shazier. With the exception of the Purdue game, none of their victories really seemed fluky.
It's also not surprising that the numbers don't love Northwestern, whose statistics in most areas from last season won't overwhelm you. Yet the Wildcats were in every single game and had a chance to go undefeated if more things went right for them in the fourth quarter. Nebraska and Michigan needed epic comebacks to beat Pat Fitzgerald's team, and Northwestern convincingly dispatched Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl.
The argument about the strength of the Big Ten is debatable, though the league is a little light in evidence to prove it wrong right now. Still, both teams don't face a ranked opponent in the nonconference schedule this year -- and share a same foe in Cal -- and will have their toughest games in the league. Northwestern's biggest concern is a schedule that includes crossover games against Wisconsin and Ohio State, and a three-game stretch where it plays at Nebraska and vs. Michigan and Michigan State in November. The Buckeyes lose some great leaders off last season's team, but still have the talent and schedule to be just as good. It's just hard to go undefeated once, much less twice in a row, no matter what the numbers say.
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