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Pythagoras, NC State, and Vanderbilt

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Special thanks to the Football Outsiders for the fancy statistics.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

At the beginning of the season, the general consensus was that NC State could be a lot better in 2016 than 2015 but without said improvement showing up in the record due to a meteoric rise in schedule difficulty. Bill Connelly's five factors of college football, or S&P ratings for short, confirm this narrative. NC State finished just 6-6, but, according to Connelly's metrics, the Pack are the best 6-6 team in college football and the 28th best team overall. Even with one less regular season win than last year, State's current ranking is a significant jump from 36th in 2015 and the high-water mark under Dave Doeren. Basically, if we're to believe Connelly's analysis, we pretty much have ourselves a top 25 program, just without the shiny wins and top tier bowl game that come with such a lofty perch.

You can expect your participation trophy in the mail in time for Christmas.

At first glance, Vanderbilt appears to be in a similar boat as the Wolfpack. The Commodores are also 6-6. The Commodores suffered some heartbreaking defeats in close games. They lost by seven to Auburn, Florida, and Kentucky. They were downed by a mere field goal against South Carolina. Like State, which has "name" wins against Notre Dame and at North Carolina, Vanderbilt has a road win over Georgia on its ledger and closed the season with wins over Ole Miss and Tennessee. The Commodores best win was arguably at Western Kentucky, a 31-30 triumph over a 10-win team that Connelly pegs as the 14th best in the country.

But Bill Connelly's computer does not like Vanderbilt. Despite impressive wins and competitive losses, the Commodores rank as just the 75th best team in S&P overall ratings.

NC State, based on Connelly's second-order wins, a stat similar to the Pythagorean record in baseball where a team's runs and runs allowed are used to determine how many wins and losses it should have, should be a 7.5-win team. Basically, with just a little bit of luck, State's an 8-4 team based on its stats. Instead, whether due to bad luck, Doeren's game management, the team's kicking woes, or all of the above, State finished -1.5 wins below its statistical expectation. We were 8-4 between the lines but 6-6 on the scoreboard. Only Michigan State, Notre Dame, Texas, and UCLA were unluckier among power five programs.

Vanderbilt, on the other hand, was among the most fortunate teams. The Commodores were a 4.5-win team according to second-order wins, so they exceeded their statistical profile by a win and a half to earn the privilege of a trip to Shreveport and Chimp Haven. Only two other P5 schools were more fortunate.

In the end, you essentially have an 8-4 team playing a 5-7 team...or 7-5 team against a 4-8 team. State's three wins better on paper. Sadly, they do not play the game on paper. If the Independence Bowl goes as the season has gone, there's a very good chance Vanderbilt gets outplayed but finds a way to win anyway.