Pitt is just four games over .500 in the five years of the Pat Narduzzi era, checking in at 30-26 after the Panthers’ 35-34 win over No. 15 UCF on Saturday, which marked the Knights’ first regular season loss since November 2016. Three of Narduzzi’s 30 wins were at No. 3 Clemson in mid-November of 2016 – roughly two months before the Tigers won the national championship – against No. 2 Miami in the regular season finale in 2017 and most recently, against a UCF team that was 27-1 in its last 28 games.
With respect to Pitt’s on-field success that happened before anyone reading this column was born – eight of the Panthers’ nine claimed national titles were before 1940 – Pitt as we currently know it might be one of the most consistently mediocre Power Five programs in the country. I mean, the Panthers went 7-7 last season so not much else needs to be said.
Have you ever heard of a college football team playing in its conference championship game and a bowl game, and only finishing with seven wins?
But that’s what makes Pitt’s Week 4, just like its Week 13 in 2017 and Week 11 in 2016, so incredible.
Pitt hasn’t won more than eight games in a decade and it hasn’t won fewer than five games in a season in more than two decades, so for a program that has yo-yoed along the fine line of bowl eligibility (lately they’ve eclipsed it more often than they’ve fallen short of it), three potentially College Football Playoff-impacting wins in the last four seasons is an incredible feat.
We’ll call these Chaos Wins.
(For what it’s worth, FiveThirtyEight projected UCF to have roughly a 14 percent chance of making this year’s playoff if it went undefeated again this season, so while it was extremely unlikely the Knights would’ve qualified, they had a non-zero percent chance.)
That means 10 percent of Narduzzi’s wins at Pitt have been huge. Not just wins over top-25 opponents or over a rival but wins that potentially changed the national college football landscape.
We’ll call that 10 percent figure his Chaos Win Percentage™, calculated as Chaos Wins/Total Wins at School.
Given Pitt’s recent success in some really, really big games, I was curious what other coaches have a high Chaos Win Percentage.
We’ll define the parameters as active Power Five head coaches who have won less than 60 percent of their games at their current school (because chaos doesn’t ensue if Clemson or Alabama beats a top-10 opponent but chaos happens if Purdue or Boston College does) and who have won at least one game that did change or potentially could’ve changed the national title race.
This, of course, is somewhat subjective but essentially the goal is to identify programs whose place in their conference’s hierarchy is middling, or worse, that have recently won at least one game where if the school hadn’t pulled off the upset, its opponent potentially could have made the playoff. In some cases, the opponent did make the playoff, like Clemson in 2016 after it lost to Pitt.
To identify Chaos Wins that happened prior to the College Football Playoff era, we tried to find teams that theoretically could’ve finished in the selection committee’s top four if the playoff existed and if the higher-ranked team hadn’t lost the game in question. A team can be ranked while earning a Chaos Win but it must be ranked at least 10 spots lower than its opponent.
It’s worth noting a win over a team that’s highly ranked at kickoff doesn’t count if the opponent finishes with a much worse record than its early-season ranking would indicate. For example, Mississippi State’s win over No. 8 Auburn last season wouldn’t count because the Tigers finished the regular season 7-5. They were far from the nation’s No. 8 team, let alone a playoff contender.
Coaches in their first season at a school weren’t eligible for this analysis.
Without further ado, here are the active Power Five coaches with the highest Chaos Win Percentage at their current school, as defined above. I included UCF and Washington’s losses this season as Chaos Wins for their opponents because the two schools could’ve been playoff contenders if they hadn’t suffered the losses in question.
1. Matt Campbell, Iowa State: 21-20 (.512); at No. 3 Oklahoma in Week 6 2017, vs. No. 4 TCU in Week 9 2017, vs. No. 6 West Virginia in Week 7 2018 | Chaos Win Percentage: 14.2%
2. Justin Wilcox, Cal: 16-13 (.551); vs. No. 8 Washington State in Week 7 2017, at No. 14 Washington in Week 2 2019 | Chaos Win Percentage: 12.5%
3. Pat Narduzzi, Pitt: 30-26 (.536); at No. 3 Clemson in Week 11 2016, vs. No. 2 Miami in Week 13 2017, vs. No. 15 UCF in Week 4 2019 | Chaos Win Percentage: 10%
4. Jeff Brohm, Purdue: 14-15 (.482); vs. No. 2 Ohio State in Week 8 2018 | Chaos Win Percentage: 7.1%
5. Dino Babers, Syracuse: 20-21 (.487); vs. No. 2 Clemson in Week 7 2017 | Chaos Win Percentage: 5.0%
6. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern: 97-72 (.574); at No. 8 Iowa in Week 10 2009, vs. No. 21 Stanford* in Week 1 2015 | Chaos Win Percentage: 2.0%
7. Mike Leach, Washington State: 52-40 (.577); vs. No. 5 USC in Week 5 2017 | Chaos Win Percentage: 1.9%
*Stanford went 10-2 in the regular season, won the Pac-12 Championship and finished at No. 6 in the final CFP rankings in 2015
One Chaos Win can lead to a huge contract extension the next offseason and multiple wins in consecutive seasons can lead to a coach receiving attention from an NFL team.
It has become a borderline annual tradition at Pitt, which means we should probably go ahead and put Notre Dame on upset alert next season, as well as a preseason top-15 Tennessee team in 2022 that’ll be coached by [redacted] and travels to Pitt for a non-conference game.
Pitt’s destiny is to win no fewer than five games and no more than eight, and send one playoff-contending opponent’s postseason hopes into oblivion every year or two.
1st & 10
- We’ve previously contextualized LSU’s passing renaissance under quarterback Joe Burrow and new passing game coordinator Joe Brady. Saturday provided the latest example as No. 4 LSU scored 28 points in the first quarter of its 66-38 win at Vanderbilt. It was the first time the Tigers had scored at least 28 points in the first quarter of a game since – get this – November 1, 2003 against Louisiana Tech. On a related note, I will never get back those 20 minutes that I spent digging through inept LSU offenses on Sports Reference. It’s not like LSU hasn’t scored 28 in a quarter in 16 years – it once won a season-opener against Arizona State 35-31 after scoring just seven points in the first three quarters then 28 in the final frame – but this is a program that even in non-conference “buy games” and blowout wins, hasn’t scored four touchdowns to open a game in almost two decades.
- Speaking of impressive single-quarter offensive outputs, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields threw or ran for six (!) touchdowns in the second quarter of the Buckeyes’ 76-5 win over Miami (OH). Regardless of the competition, that’s incredible. Ohio State scored 24 seconds into the quarter, 22 seconds after that, five minutes and 27 seconds after that, three minutes and 31 seconds after that, two minutes and 52 seconds after that, and finally, one minute and 21 seconds after that. Miami’s drives in the quarter went: interception, 3-and-out, fumble, 3-and-out, fumble. It takes two to tango, and for one team to score 42 points in a quarter.
- Florida State’s home crowd on Saturday didn’t look too different from Kansas’.
- Both of Wisconsin’s starting safeties – Eric Burrell and Reggie Pearson – were ejected from the game on the same drive in the Badgers’ 35-14 win over Michigan, which means the Wolverines may have been lucky to even score their two touchdowns and the ejections could be a development to watch in Week 5, when Wisconsin hosts Northwestern. Both players will be suspended for the first half. The targeting call on Burrell felt incorrect in real time and when watching ensuing replays, based on how Michigan quarterback Dylan McCaffrey slid, while the targeting penalty against Pearson was the kind of hit that requires such a penalty to exist in the first place.
- Speaking of McCaffrey, who suffered a concussion on the hit from Pearson, the Wolverines’ backup quarterback attempted eight passes against Wisconsin and he led the team with three carries for 21 rushing yards. If Michigan’s offense under Shea Patterson and offensive coordinator Josh Gattis hasn’t improved by the time McCaffrey clears concussion protocol and can return to the field, the Wolverines could potentially make a quarterback change, as they did in the second half in Madison.
- The “Is the backup better than the starter?” discussion isn’t a new one in football, especially at quarterback, but fans of No. 21 USC could potentially engage the rare “Is our third-string quarterback who tried to transfer from the school maybe better than our backup, who might be better than our starter who was lost for the season with a knee injury?” storyline. JT Daniels, who was the No. 2 pro-style quarterback prospect in the 2018 recruiting class and started as a true freshman last season, suffered a season-ending ACL injury against Fresno State, paving the way for Kedon Slovis to fill in admirably – 60-of-77 passing for 732 yards, 9.5 Y/A, five touchdowns and four interceptions so far this season. But it was Matt Fink, who replaced the injured Slovis on Saturday and completed 21-of-30 passes for 351 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in a road win at No. 10 Utah. Fink considered transferring after finishing third in the team’s quarterback competition. It’s hard to engineer a roster with three game-ready quarterbacks, especially in the age of graduate transfers and the transfer portal, but USC has somehow pulled it off and jumped out to a 3-1 start and top-25 ranking despite a challenging opening schedule.
- FOX’s Gus Johnson shared a nugget Saturday that Wisconsin spent just $32,000 to build Camp Randall Stadium, which feels like the most Wisconsin-level ROI in history.
- Anyone who watches college football regularly is aware that, yes, sometimes defensive players fake injuries to slow down an opposing offense. But Notre Dame had one of the most blatantly fake injuries in its 23-17 loss at Georgia on Saturday night. Safety Alohi Gilman literally dragged linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah to the ground as both players looked towards the sideline and if you’re still not convinced it was fake, look at this angle, which shows cornerback Shaun Crawford almost falling to the ground, thinking he was the one who the sideline told to fake an injury.
- Oklahoma State had one of the worst fake field goal attempts you’ll see this season. Even if the pitch had been on target and caught, it probably would’ve resulted in a loss of three or four. Best case, maybe OSU gets back to the line of scrimmage. But there’s no way that play was picking up the six yards the Cowboys needed.
- Click here for the Twitter search results for “Ole Miss touchdown” and you’ll find assorted screenshots from the Rebels’ two-yard completion to Elijah Moore that was controversially spotted at the 1-yard line on the second-to-last play in their 28-20 loss at home to Cal. It doesn’t matter which screenshot you choose to peddle, they all show that the play probably should’ve been called a touchdown, let alone reviewed. John Rhys Plumlee was stuffed on 4th & Goal and the Bears escaped with a road win. Ole Miss interim AD Keith Carter released a statement on Twitter that the school is “extremely disappointed” with the late-game officiating and the official SEC Officiating account retweeted its own tweet from Saturday morning that listed the officiating crew affiliations for all of the conference’s Week 4 games to make sure Ole Miss fans knew that it was Pac-12 refs, not SEC refs, who were responsible for the goal-line spot.