Helping Pitt through the Magic of (Pseudo) Science


This is a reader-submitted Fanpost

October 2011. Piscataway, New Jersey. Rutgers is on the sixteen-yard line, ready to put themselves solidly ahead of Pitt. The quarterback snaps the ball, hands it off to the running back, and my wife reaches for the coffee pot. She fills my lucky mug—the one I gave to my grandfather for his eightieth birthday, and later inherited. As the black coffee reaches the mug’s brim, Pitt forces a fumble and recovers the ball. I take a satisfying sip and congratulate Annie on the defensive play of the game—all the way from Highland Park, back in Pittsburgh. It wasn't enough to change the outcome that day, but I knew we were on to something.

That was a little over three years ago. Since then, I’ve gotten a bit lazy with my lucky mug usage—mismanaging my dishwashing cycles, not tracking the big games, having a job, typical fair-weather fan behavior. And Pitt athletics has paid for it. But I’m getting serious now…really serious.

I mean, who are we to allow the weight of a season to rest solely upon the shoulders of the players and coaches. We must bear this burden together. Jamie Dixon is stressed out enough; didn’t you see him pulling his hair out against George Washington? We have to run our own analyses and help where we can.

This season, I pledged to officially turn my rituals from lucky to strategic. My hypothesis: Pitt performs better when I drink out of my mug and (sadly) don’t watch the game.

Let’s define these variables. Obviously, drinking out of the mug as the buzzer goes off isn’t going to do anything. So, my self-imposed stipulation is that I partake on the day of the game by half time. Second, I consider watching the game to be paying enough attention to be able to make an intelligible assertion about the game as a whole. Checking in on the score is not watching the game. Seeing the last couple minutes is not watching the game (look, it’s hard not to watch).

I started tracking games at the end of December, and ran an analysis on ACC games. Despite a limited number of conference games (19), I still wanted to have a fairly even distribution of all the variable combos: mug-watched, mug-didn't watch, no mug-watched, no mug-didn't watch.

Here’s how I measured performance: I started with simple win-loss records for mug and non-mug games. But it was too difficult to account for strength of opponent, or at least not with enough rigor. So, I moved to expected versus actual point differential. I let Vegas tell me the anticipated result by using the spread. This way, if Pitt only lost by two when they were expected to get blown out, it’s still a net positive, and vice versa.

You probably noticed that overall this year Pitt was underwhelming. I blame myself; I was experimenting.

As I was confident would happen all along, 19 games of evidence support my hypothesis. And I have a massive spreadsheet to prove it. Not only that, but using the mug and not watching games was the only variable group where Pitt outperformed expectations. For instance, Vegas expected Pitt to lose to ACC opponents by an average of 0.63 (-0.63 on the chart below) overall, while in actuality, they lost by an average of 3.26 points, representing a -2.63 differential. However, when I did my part—drank from my lucky mug and garnered enough self-discipline to avoid the game—we outperformed the spread by 1.67 points.


I’ll continue to track data on all the games—at least Pitt basketball and football—so I can fine-tune my game and bring my best every week.

So, be a team player. Be dedicated to your rituals. Pitt will be better for it. It’s science.