College football teams that saw huge jumps and drops in point differential over the 2018 season

In football, as in all sports, teams are judged by their wins and losses. If you win six games one season, and eight the next, you improved. If you go from six wins to four, you got worse. It isn't rocket science.

Still, sometimes wins and losses can be deceiving. Some teams can follow up a three-win season with a four-win season, and if you don't look closely, you won't realize that team took a major step forward. You just see the one extra win and don't notice what else may have changed from year to year.

On the flip side of that coin, a team might go 11-1 in consecutive seasons but regressed a bit.

There's no one way to judge this, but something I've always liked to look at following a season is a team's point differential. After all, while wins and losses might be what matters most at the end of the day, wins and losses are decided by how many points you score, and how many points you give up. So, as I do every season on my own, once the 2018 season came to an end with Clemson dismantling Alabama, I looked at the point differential (points scored minus points allowed) for each FBS team and compared it to their 2017 point differential to see which teams improved the most, and which suffered the biggest setbacks. Some of the results won't surprise you, while others may cause an eyebrow or two to raise.

We'll start with the 10 teams that improved their point differential the most in 2018.

Team20172018ChangeWins

Cincinnati

-131

230

+361

+7

Utah State

42

329

+287

+5

Florida

-57

195

+252

+6

Georgia Southern

-136

116

+252

+8

Syracuse

-57

172

+229

+6

Kansas

-297

-74

+223

+2

Clemson

276

467

+191

+3

Virginia

-76

109

+185

+2

BYU

-99

76

+175

+3

Ball State

-273

-99

+174

+2

Now, those top five teams shouldn't come as a shock. Cincinnati, Utah State, Florida, Georgia Southern and Syracuse all increased their win total in 2018 by at least five wins. Georgia Southern went from two wins to 10.

But what about that team in sixth? Kansas went from 1-11 in 2017 to 3-9 in 2018. It was only a two-win improvement, yet Kansas improved its point differential by 223 points on the season. Now, granted, Kansas had one of the worst point differentials in the country in 2017 at -297. That ranked 127th of the 129 teams still currently in the FBS. So there was plenty of room to grow, but even so, Kansas' point differential of -74 ranked 99th. It was 12 points below 5-7 Tennessee and 41 points better than 5-7 Florida State. All of which suggests that Kansas was better than its 3-9 record indicates and that things may have been heading in the right direction under David Beaty.

Another surprise in the top 10 is our national champions. Clemson went 12-2 last season, won the ACC and reached the College Football Playoff. This season it went 15-0 and improved its point differential by 191 points. That's a significant gain, as Clemson's point differential ranked 8th last season and 1st this year. Or, another way to look at it, Clemson had a point differential of 31.13 points per game this season compared to 19.71 points per game last season. That's a difference of 11.42 points per game.

Maybe that's the difference between losing to Alabama 24-6 in the semifinal and beating it 44-16.

Now let's take a look at the 10 teams that had the biggest dropoffs in 2018, including Louisville, which is lapping the field when it came to stepping backward this past season.

Team20172018ChangeWins

Louisville

+139

-292

-431

-6

UTSA

+72

-204

-276

-3

Florida Atlantic

+250

-8

-258

-6

Colorado State

+73

-167

-240

-4

South Florida

+177

-46

-223

-3

UMass

+85

-121

-206

0

Florida State

+86

-115

-201

-2

TCU

+204

+6

-198

-4

Virginia Tech

+174

-15

-189

-3

New Mexico State

-5

-193

-188

-4

That's right. Louisville went from 8-5 to 2-10 while its point differential dropped 431 points, 155 points steeper than the next largest drop (UTSA). Louisville's average point differential in 2017 was 10.69 points per game, and it fell to -24.33 in 2018, a decrease of 35.02 points per game. That's five touchdowns. That's not easy to do. In a way, it's almost impressive how much worse Louisville was in 2018.

Elsewhere on the list, we see a couple of teams that shouldn't come as a surprise. South Florida's win total dropped by three, as did Virginia Tech's. TCU went from 11 wins to seven. Florida State could be a surprise, however. The Seminoles fell from 7-6 in 2017 to 5-7 last season. It's a difference of two wins, so it's not crazy to see the point differential drop, but a decline of 201 points seems to suggest the Noles were much worse than their record indicates. Florida State's point differential of -115 in 2018 is tied with New Mexico for 109th. New Mexico went 3-9. UCLA (3-9) and Navy (3-10) finished just ahead of Florida State in point differential this season. UMass (4-8) and Central Michigan (1-11) were just behind it.

How did the rest of the country do? Here's a look at each conference with a note or two on the more significant results.

ACC

Team20172018ChangeWins

Syracuse

-57

+172

+229

+6

Clemson

+276

+467

+191

+3

Virginia

-76

+109

+185

+2

Boston College

+37

+76

+39

0

Georgia Tech

+17

+56

+39

+2

NC State

+91

+116

+25

0

Miami

+105

+121

+16

-3

Pitt

-32

-30

+2

+2

North Carolina

-63

-79

-16

-1

Duke

+82

+28

-54

+1

Wake Forest

+91

-6

-97

-1

Virginia Tech

+174

-15

-189

-3

Florida State

+86

-115

-201

-2

Louisville

+139

-292

-431

-6
  • Somewhat remarkable that Miami went from 10 wins to seven and its point differential improved, no?
  • Pitt had a point differential of +1 before the ACC Championship and its bowl loss and won the ACC Coastal, which says everything you need to know about the ACC Coastal in 2018.

Big Ten

Team20172018ChangeWins

Maryland

-156

-2

+154

+1

Michigan

+83

+205

+122

+2

Nebraska

-128

-15

+113

0

Iowa

+108

+174

+66

+1

Minnesota

-9

+31

+40

+2

Illinois

-193

-161

+32

+2

Michigan State

+59

+20

-39

-3

Purdue 

+61

+7

-54

-1

Indiana

+18

-42

-60

0

Ohio State

+310

+236

-74

+1

Rutgers

-124

-215

-91

-3

Northwestern

+119

+14

-105

-1

Penn State

+320

+172

-148

-2

Wisconsin

+278

+92

-186

-5
  • Maybe Matt Canada deserves a head coaching job somewhere?
  • Anybody who saw Ohio State's defense most of the season isn't surprised by its drop.
  • Kind of puts Northwestern and Penn State's seasons in a different light, doesn't it?

Big 12

Team20172018ChangeWins

Kansas

-297

-74

+223

+2

West Virginia

+40

+157

+117

+1

Baylor

-139

-28

+111

+6

Texas Tech

+27

+75

+48

-1

Texas

+107

+73

-34

+3

Oklahoma

+253

+211

-42

0

Iowa State

+108

+50

-58

0

Oklahoma State

+203

+77

-126

-3

Kansas State

+93

-35

-128

-3

TCU

+204

+6

-198

-4
  • I'm not sure what it means -- if it means anything -- that the only two Big 12 teams to finish with winning records while improving their point differential were West Virginia and Baylor.
  • Texas improved by three wins yet its point differential decreased by 34 points.

Pac-12

Team20172018ChangeWins

Washington State

+59

+185

+126

+2

Arizona State

-13

+57

+70

0

Utah

+83

+121

+38

+2

Oregon State

-268

-235

+33

+1

Oregon

+91

+123

+32

+2

Cal

-8

+15

+23

+2

Colorado

-21

-2

+19

0

UCLA

-54

-114

-60

-3

Stanford

+135

+71

-64

0

USC

+90

-11

-101

-6

Arizona

+90

-15

-105

-2

Washington

+262

+140

-122

0
  • The good news for the Pac-12 is that seven of its 12 teams saw an improvement. Unfortunately, only two of those improvements were significant.
  • The bad news for the Pac-12 is that two of its three worst teams were its champion Washington and the program that is supposed to be its shining beacon, USC. Washington's -122 point drop ranked 110th in the country while USC was 106th. What's crazy is that Washington suffered such a drop while winning just as many games (10) in 2018 as it did 2017.

SEC

Team20172018ChangeWins

Florida

-57

+195

+252

+6

Kentucky

-35

+127

+162

+3

Texas A&M

+26

+139

+113

+2

Vanderbilt

-81

+24

+105

+1

Missouri

+74

+145

+71

+1

Alabama

+352

+413

+61

+1

Mississippi State

+144

+200

+56

-1

Tennessee

-111

-62

+49

+1

LSU

+108

+138

+30

+1

Ole Miss

-21

-27

-6

-1

South Carolina

+46

+37

-9

-2

Georgia

+285

+261

-24

-2

Auburn

+215

+153

-62

-2

Arkansas

-89

-157

-68

-2
  • Compare Florida State's drop in its first year post-Jimbo with Texas A&M's gain in its first year with Jimbo.
  • Georgia's drop isn't a major concern. You'd like to see improvement from year to year, but Georgia's average point differential per game only dropped 0.36 points.
  • Arkansas' 68-point drop was worst in the SEC, but ranked 97th in the country, which means its was better than roughly a quarter of the FBS. Overall, the SEC's numbers were very strong compared to other conferences.

AAC

Team20172018ChangeWins

Cincinnati

-131

+230

+361

+7

Temple

-9

+102

+111

+1

East Carolina

-241

-175

+66

0

Houston

+53

+88

+35

+1

Tulsa

-98

-66

+32

+1

Tulane

-20

-9

+11

+2

Memphis

+170

+154

-16

-2

UCF

+298

+267

-31

-1

SMU

+15

-58

-73

-2

Navy

+54

-111

-165

-4

UConn

-172

-339

-167

-2

South Florida

+177

-46

-223

-3
  • If you're a South Florida fan, this can't make you feel good about the direction things are headed.
  • UCF's overall point differential dropped, but like Georgia's, it's not a significant drop. UCF's average point differential per game fell 2.38 points per game, which isn't crazy considering it had one more loss this year.
  • Houston's 70-14 loss to Army had quite the impact!

Conference USA

Team20172018ChangeWins

Charlotte

-223

-59

+164

+4

FIU

-37

+122

+159

+1

UAB

+28

+180

+152

+3

North Texas

+7

+136

+129

0

UTEP

-300

-181

+119

+1

Old Dominion

-132

-61

+71

-1

Rice

-234

-222

-12

+1

Southern Miss

+61

+70

+9

-2

Middle Tennessee

+11

+18

+7

+1

Marshall

+88

+83

-5

+1

Louisiana Tech

+66

+22

-44

+1

Western Kentucky

-18

-81

-63

-3

Florida Atlantic

+250

-8

-258

-6

UTSA

+72

-204

-276

-3
  • Both North Texas and UAB took big steps forward in 2018 and held on to their coach.
  • UTEP, like Kansas, took a big step in the right direction despite not seeing it in the win column.
  • Lane Kiffin. Yikes.

Independents

Team20172018ChangeWins

BYU

-99

+76

+175

+3

Army

+113

+196

+83

+1

Notre Dame

+166

+171

+5

+2

New Mexico State

-5

-193

-188

-4

UMass

+85

-121

-206

0
  • A problem with point differentials is that one game can skew so much. Army won its bowl by 56 points. Notre Dame lost its by 27. That's an 83-point difference, and they finished separated by 78 points.

MAC

Team20172018ChangeWins

Ball State

-273

-99

+174

+2

Kent State

-268

-153

+115

0

Buffalo

+44

+121

+77

+4

Eastern Michigan

+32

+64

+32

+2

Miami (OH)

+4

+31

+27

+1

Ohio

+193

+201

+8

0

Toledo

+142

+128

-14

-4

Akron

-82

-99

-17

-3

Bowling Green

-152

-188

-36

+1

Western Michigan

+59

-33

-92

+1

Northern Illinois

+91

-35

-126

0

Central Michigan

+12

-148

-160

-7
  • It seems on brand for the MAC that its two most improved teams finished a combined 6-18 while its conference champion finished the year allowing 35 more points than it scored.

Mountain West

Team20172018ChangeWins

Utah State

+42

+329

+287

+5

Fresno State

+129

+287

+158

+2

San Jose State

-336

-184

+152

-1

Nevada

-69

+54

+123

+5

Hawaii

-134

-60

+74

+5

Air Force

-12

+54

+66

0

Boise State

+135

+173

+38

-1

New Mexico

-134

-115

+19

0

UNLV

-35

-102

-67

-1

Wyoming

+77

-16

-93

-2

San Diego State

+137

-20

-157

-3

Colorado State

+73

-167

-240

-4
  • The Mountain West took one of the more straightforward approaches this year, with two of its best teams also being two of its most improved in point differential. I'm sure Texas Tech fans are hoping Matt Wells can bring these same results to Lubbock.

Sun Belt

Team20172018ChangeWins

Georgia Southern

-136

+116

+252

+8

Appalachian State

+172

+284

+112

+2

Louisiana-Lafayette

-142

-32

+110

+2

Texas State

-196

-95

+101

+1

Coastal Carolina

-124

-78

+46

+2

UL-Monroe

-85

-62

+23

+2

Troy

+170

+113

-57

-1

Arkansas State

+145

+61

-84

+1

South Alabama

-80

-175

-95

-1

Georgia State

-53

-162

-109

-5
  • With both Scott Satterfield and Neal Brown leaving for new jobs, these numbers should give both Georgia Southern and Louisiana-Lafayette fans a reason to be optimistic about 2019.
CBS Sports Writer

Tom Fornelli has been a college football writer at CBS Sports since 2010. During his time at CBS, Tom has proven time and again that he hates your favorite team and thinks your rival is a paragon of football... Full Bio

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