So I researched average Pac-10 conference finish in a comment for another thread, and I thought the results were very interesting. Basically, conference finish - on average - is a good indicator of a program's quality. This seems logical - we all play each other every year, it makes a good benchmark.
So I made up a bunch of charts to illustrate trends.
[Edit: BIG note that I should have made clearer on original post. These charts are *inverse* of what you would think. They are the conference finish, so smaller number = better, and being lower on the chart = good. So if you see OSU on the upper left there for a long time, that means OSU was *really bad* for a long time.]
First, a note on methodology. These finishes are from Wikipedia, so their quality should be taken with a grain of salt. Also, I accepted ties - so all numbers are artificially low (cause two teams could have a "2" for a particular year if they tied for second place). Additionally, I filled in the data for 1993-1994 Washington, which modified the numbers a bit from Wikipedia's. It appears that whoever put this into Wikipedia honored UW's NCAA santions and skipped them for those two years. That is bogus for what I'm trying to do here, so I put it back.
Lastly, this is a five year running average. So the data point for "2007" is really an average of 2003-2007, inclusive. The individual points are too noisy to make out trends clearly, and five-year averages are kinda my "memory" of a team - what you did > 5 years ago doesn't have a lot of revelance on today IMHO.
First, the big ugly pic that I'll break down later:
I don't want to go into great detail of this one as it has too much data. The one thing I will point out is the battle for the best team. (Sorry if the years are not clear in the images, I'll do my best to clarify as I go). [Edit: Figured out why the chart was messed up, corrected - ASU and Arizona were not on the big chart at all.]
In the beginning of this analysis (1987), the battle is clearly between UCLA, UW and USC. Then, UCLA fades and it's down to just UW and USC between say 1990 and 1996 (again, this is a lagging analysis so don't get caught up in the individual years stated). At that point, USC starts to fade but Oregon is coming on strong to battle UW. Then, abruptly in 2003 UW bites it hard and never recovers. The battle for first is between Oregon, USC, and a resurgent Cal but USC goes dominant and opens the biggest lead of the whole time period analysed. It is interesting that Cal has opened up a decent lead for the second place contender as of late, with a tight cluster of Oregon, OSU, UCLA, and ASU fighting for third.
So let's break this down a bit more. I did separate charts by traditional rival, not cause that's important but because 5 charts is better than 10.
So ASU has been a little wild, but generally oscillating right around the midpoint. Arizona starts out pretty good but craters. Recently, though, there could be a resurgence (2008 isn't in here yet until results are final, but the trend sure looks to be continuing this year for Zona).
UCLA starts excellent but goes off the cliff, attempts to recover and then back off. What is interesting to me is that Dorrell does not appear to be as bad as you might think. He took over right at that peak (down is obviously good on this chart) and the curve goes downwards, generally, for his duration at UCLA. Interesting...
USC starts excellent, goes mediocre to bad, and then wham! Carroll comes into town and the curve goes just vertical to 1 and stays there. Bastards.
At least the red/blue colors are correct. Google doesn't let you modify 'em, but fortunately I didn't have to play any games.
So Cal. Wow, we sucked. Like brutally.Then in 1990, we get something of a resurgence under Snyder but by 1994 it's over and we build back to mediocrity or worse. Holmoe takes us up towards our brutal past (interestingly, not quite back to it). Then Tedford comes in and wham! a drop as big as USC's but unfortunately higher on the curve: it starts at 8th place and gets us to third before 2007's debacle puts a brake on the party. But before 2007, we were clearly the second-best team in the conference (see the original chart).
Stanford, on the other hand, has seen better days. They balance around the mediocre to poor and then cross our downward trajectory with an upward one of their own. What I find interesting is that according to the first graph, the are competing for the worst record in the conference with UW. However, they might have turned the corner in 2006 - certainly they are competing this year, implying that they are on a downward curve at the moment.
While I should start with Oregon to continue the way I've been doing this, I cannot. The OSU curve is just way too dang impressive. OSU sucked. Like wow sucked. Like owned the top of the chart sucked. And then. Wowsers. More impressive than USC's downward curve. More impressive than our downward curve. From nearly 10th (consistently! this is a 5 year average don't forget - it's tough to get to 10, you have to have sole custody of worst in the conference for 5 years straight to achieve that) right down hard to a mighty fine 4. All I can say is wow. And then they've managed to pretty much maintain that state for another three years (and could improve on it this year, if we don't stop them). So massive props to Erickson and Riley - that is some impressive stuff.
Oregon is interesting for not being so big. They have just been consistently good for many years, and the little change there is goes in the right direction, downwards on this graph. I will note with a little glee that the recent upward trend starts with the 2002 season so there is something to the "We haven't been as good since Tedford left" concept. However, they might have figured things out now though - there is a solid bump downwards, we'll see if they can maintain it.
Lastly, the pain.
UW. You are Oregon State in reverse, but even more so. We all know its true, but to see it this clearly is quite impressive. And not in a good way. They have cratered starting with Gilby's second year and just maintained that cratering. It's actually impressive it's just this straight line to shitsville.
WSU. This is more difficult to read. They've been all over the map - never consistently good, pretty much bad, but with some decent oscillations. There recent sucky upwards curve will only accelerate with this year's debacle.
So I hope you enjoyed those thoughts. I was just impressed with the insights conference finishes can give you - they seem to coincide with general consensus of a program's trajectory quite well.