Will the fourth quarter matter more in 2010?
Working on a season preview story for Monday, and in crunching numbers from last season, I came across an interesting trend: The fourth quarter really didn't matter much to USF football last season.
Whoever was ahead after three quarters in all 13 USF games in 2009, that team went on to win the game. And in those 13 games, there was just one game where the lead changed hands in the fourth quarter -- at Connecticut, where USF rallied for the lead with 40 seconds to go, only to see the Huskies march into field goal range and kick the game-winner as time expired.
The Bulls had so few close games -- the margin entering the fourth quarter was at least six points in every game -- that USF doesn't have much familiarity with games going down to the final minutes. Wins by six or fewer points (or in overtime) over the last three seasons? The Bulls have just four -- none last year, Central Florida in OT, Kansas by 3 and Connecticut by 4 in 2008, and Auburn in OT in 2007.
Skip Holtz, on the other hand, is somewhat addicted to close games and, to his credit, thrives in them. How many wins by six or fewer points (or in overtime) did his East Carolina teams have in the past three seasons? FIFTEEN! That's five last season -- Appalachian State by 5, Central Florida by 5, Marshall by 4, Southern Miss by 5 and Houston by 6 -- to go with two tight losses, falling to SMU by 7 and in overtime to Arkansas. Then there were six close wins in 2008, including back-to-back overtime wins against UCF and Marshall. Add in overtime wins against UTEP in 2007 and Southern Miss in 2006, and Holtz is 4-2 in overtime games over the past four seasons.
Of course, that might not translate to his USF days, but especially in Big East play this season, it's reasonable to think the Bulls will be playing more relevant fourth quarters in 2010. I've been spoiled, one way or another, with game stories that were mostly over with an hour left in the game, and with three Big East kickoffs being prime-time weeknight deals, it'll make for some fun deadline work this season.