Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Summer of Polls Part II: The Year End AP Poll

In Part I of this Putlizer-worthy series on the AP Poll, we looked at the preseason poll from the last twelve seasons. This time out, we will examine twelve years’ worth of data on the final AP Poll. The methodology will be the same. The team that finishes ranked first will receive 25 Postseason AP Poll Points (POAPPP, yeah the acronym could probably use some work), the team ranked second will receive 24, and so on until we come to the 25th ranked team which will receive a single point. While the preseason poll is based on expectations and pedigree, the postseason poll is based on performance. Certainly, some biases still exist. A ten-win Texas will probably be ranked ahead of a ten-win Vanderbilt all else being equal, but performance instead of reputation should account for most of the position in the final poll. Once again, only current Power Five teams are included. Without further ado, here are the top ten teams in POAPPP since 2005.
The top spot is a little surprising to me. I expected Alabama to have a stranglehold on the top spot with four championships in the past twelve seasons, but Ohio State’s dependability wins the day. Eight schools have won national titles in the past twelve seasons and five are represented here. Auburn, Clemson, and Texas are the three champs that have not been consistent enough to break into the top ten. TCU, Stanford, and Wisconsin are the lone top-ten teams to have not won or played in the national championship game since 2005.

Unlike the preseason poll, no team has appeared in every iteration of the final poll. Twelve teams have appeared in at least eight editions of the poll. They are listed below, ordered by number of appearances.
Ohio State missed out on an appearance in the final poll in the bridge year between Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer. They have finished ranked eleven times, with ten of those finishes coming in the top-ten. Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, and Oregon should not surprise anyone with ten ranked finishes, but Wisconsin showing up with the same amount was shocking to me.

Next, I thought it would be useful to compare the POAPPP by conference. This will tell us which school have had the most success in their respective leagues. We’ll start with the ACC.
Not much of a surprise at the top of the ACC standings. Florida State and Clemson have won one national title apiece in the last five years, and along with Virginia Tech, those three teams have combined for 15 of the 24 available slots in the twelve ACC Championship Games. Last week, I forgot to include Notre Dame in the rankings since they were the only Independent school. They are listed here for simplicity’s sake. Look how low Miami ranks in this metric. Hail Mary by Doug Flutie aside, Miami should not rank below Boston College over an extended period of time. Syracuse and Virginia have not finished in the final poll in this time period, but they both finished ranked relatively recently.

Now here are the Big 10 rankings.
Much like they did with the preseason poll, the Buckeyes have also dominated in postseason achievement. Ohio State has more POAPPP than the second and third place Big 10 teams combined. It’s interesting that Wisconsin and Michigan State occupy second and third in place of more traditional powers Penn State and Michigan. The Nittany Lions and Wolverines appear to back on the upswing, but both have a ways to go to catch Wisconsin. Elsewhere in the rankings, take a look at Nebraska. Somewhere Tommie Frazier is probably rolling over defenders at the thought of the Cornhuskers barely having more POAPPP than Rutgers (keep in mind this does include points Nebraska accumulated while a Big 12 member). Indiana has the distinction of being the lone current Big 10 team to not finish ranked since the turn of the century.

Here are the Big 12 rankings.
In a bit of an upset, TCU and not Texas, finishes second in the Big 12. In fact, the Horned Frogs are closer to Oklahoma than Texas is them. Toward the bottom of the list, Kansas has only finished ranked once since 2005, but they made the most of their outlier year, finishing seventh. The Jayhawks are the only Power 5 team with just one ranked finish in that time period to end up in the top-ten of the final poll.

Here are the Pac-12 rankings.
The top of the Pac-12 is not very surprising, but it is interesting that Oregon was able to pass Southern Cal for the top spot. Stanford spotted the rest of the conference a half-decade head start, finishing outside the polls until 2010, but has racked up more than 100 POAPPP over the past seven years. The fact that Utah is ranked fourth is an indictment of the rest of the conference. Utah was a (quality) mid-major for half of the twelve-year time period, but no other mid-level Pac-10/12 squad (UCLA, Arizona State, Washington) managed to eclipse their POAPPP. Washington State finished ranked in the top-ten three consecutive years (2001-2003), but turned to dust just before the time period featured here.

And finally, here are the SEC rankings.
Alabama endured back-to-back 6-6 regular seasons (otherwise known as reasons for celebration at Vanderbilt) in 2006 and 2007, but have otherwise dominated the SEC during this time period. LSU is a distant second with Florida and Georgia also eclipsing the 100 point threshold. This chart shows why Tennessee has had to resort to ‘champions of life’ as they have bested only Vanderbilt and Kentucky in terms of POAPPP since 2005. Speaking of Kentucky, the Wildcats hold the ignominious distinction of being the current Power 5 team that finished ranked longest ago.

Another poll post has come and gone. If you think about it for a second you can probably guess where I’m headed next. That’s right, in the next post we’ll look at which teams have the biggest differences (positive and negative) between their preseason and postseason rankings. Basically, who exceeds expectations and who fails to live up to the hype. You can do the math yourself from the last two posts or wait for me lay it out for you. Either way, thanks for reading. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Summer of Polls Part I: The Preseason AP Poll

The preseason AP Poll gives us a look into how college football teams are regarded by the national media. It sets an expectation for what will occur in the coming year. Voters base their selections on things like performance the previous season, returning production, staff changes, recruiting, and a host of other criteria specific to each individual. Over time, a team’s standing in the preseason poll is the amount of respect they have or their pedigree. Which teams have the best pedigree over the last decade or so? To answer that question, I developed a simple system for rating teams based on their position in the preseason AP Poll. In a bit of creative inspiration, I called my metric Preseason AP Poll Points or PRAPPP. The way it works is simple: the top-ranked team in the preseason AP Poll receives 25 PRAPPP, the second ranked team receives 24 PRAPPP, and so on with the 25th ranked team receiving a solitary PRAPPP. I decided to look at PRAPPP dating back to 2005 for current Power Five teams. I used 2005 as a starting point for several reasons. 2005 is when the ‘Realignment Era’ began in earnest and it also happens to be when I started this blog and began paying very close attention to college football. I looked at current Power Five teams because the only current mid-majors consistently in the preseason poll are Boise State and BYU. With the backstory out of the way, here are the top ten teams in PRAPPP since 2005.
No big surprise here. If I asked you to guess the teams with the most PRAPPP, you probably would have come up with at least seven of the top ten. These ten teams have all won or played for a national championship since 2005 with one exception.

Since 2005, five teams have appeared in each iteration of the preseason AP Poll. I bet you can guess four of them, but the fifth may surprise you. Anyway, here are the teams with the most preseason AP Poll appearances since 2005.
Georgia, along with LSU, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Southern Cal has been ranked in the preseason AP Poll each season since 2005. Once again, the Bulldogs are the only team without a championship game appearance in that span. I was surprised that TCU has the same number of preseason appearances as Alabama, but the Horned Frogs were one of the most respected mid-majors before joining the Big 12 conference.

Next, I thought it would be useful to compare PRAPPP by conference. This can give us an idea of which teams are the most well-regarded in their respective leagues. We’ll start with the ACC (this includes current ACC teams and the PRAPPP they have generated regardless of the conference they occupied at the time). For teams that have not appeared in the preseason AP Poll in the last twelve seasons, their last appearance is included in parentheses.
The Seminoles, even when they were busy failing to live up to expectations, were a fixture in the preseason poll. Virginia Tech finishing second is somewhat surprising, but remember Clemson’s run of national relevancy is relatively recent. This cumulative ranking also demonstrates how far Miami has slipped in the conference pecking order (of course that may change in the coming years with Richt in charge). Finally, as a Wake Forest alum, it gives me great pleasure to note the Demon Deacons have more PRAPPP since 2005 than NC State.

Now here are the Big 10 rankings.
While the ACC had a more egalitarian top-three with Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Clemson bunched at the top, Ohio State is head and shoulders above the rest of the Big 10. Their total is more than that of Michigan and Wisconsin combined. I was surprised by Penn State’s low ranking on this list considering they have played in three Rose Bowls since the 2005 season. This list also shows that Purdue was once good at football not that long ago and even lowly Rutgers has been ranked in the preseason poll.

Here are the Big 12 rankings.
Oklahoma and Texas at the top of the standings? Who would have thought? The newcomers, TCU and West Virginia, rank third and fourth, but it should be noted they accumulated most of those PRAPPPs as members of other conferences. Down near the bottom of the list, remember Kansas was ranked in the preseason poll for two straight years!

Here are the Pac-12 rankings.
To me, the biggest surprise here is Cal. Remember when they were a nationally respected program under Jeff Tedford? I was also surprised at the lack of national support Utah seems to get despite consistent success in the Mountain West, their memorable Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, and solid play since joining the Pac-12.

And finally, here are the SEC rankings.
No other conference had more than three teams with a PRAPPP of greater than 100, but the SEC produced five such schools. I was surprised South Carolina ranked ahead of other teams like Tennessee and Texas A&M. Missouri seems to be chronically disrespected by the national media as they have four conference title game appearances since 2005, but just 29 PRAPPP (and no conference titles).

I wanted to do a chart for each conference showing how PRAPPP changed over time for each team, but with ten to fourteen teams included, the charts were hard to read and not very valuable. I still wanted to show some trends, so I made a few charts with no more than three teams and have included them here.

This pretty much sums up the Alabama football program over the last decade. The Tide were an afterthought from 2005-2007 (they did win ten games in 2005, but were not in the preseason poll after a mediocre 2004), but after demolishing Clemson to open the 2008 season amid modest expectations, the Tide have pretty much cornered the market on PRAPPP. Since 2009, the Tide have garnered 191 of a max 200 PRAPPP.
Out west, you can see when Oregon became a legitimate national title contender. After being a fringe preseason top-25 team, the Ducks have been a consistent occupant of the top-ten since 2010. Perhaps Willie Taggart can bring them back after a blip in 2016. Down in Palo Alto, Jim Harbaugh did all the heavy lifting after Walt Harris ran the program into the ground. However, David Shaw has maintained the foundation Harbaugh built and kept the Cardinal consistently in the preseason top-25 and occasionally the top-ten.
These three ‘old money’ programs have seen their share of ups and downs. Texas was a regular tenant in the preseason top-ten, until 2010, but the Longhorns have been ranked in the preseason just twice in the past six years. Michigan crashed and burned under Rich Rodriguez, rose for a moment under Brady Hoke before falling again, and now may finally be back on track under Jim Harbaugh. Notre Dame went from an unranked start under Charlie Weiss to being ranked second in the preseason poll in his second season. Notre Dame has been steadier in regards to preseason ranking under Brian Kelly, but in their best season (2012), they were unranked in the preseason poll.
Tennessee began Philip Fulmer’s final season in the preseason AP Poll, but it would be seven years before they would start a season ranked again. Meanwhile, Clemson was notoriously unpredictable under Tommy Bowden, alternating unranked and ranked starts in his final four seasons. It took Dabo Swinney some time to get the program on firm footing, but the Tigers have been in the preseason poll each of the last five seasons.
Two schools with more famous in-state rivals have seen their profiles rise dramatically under long-tenured coaches. Mike Gundy has seen Oklahoma State ranked in the preseason AP Poll five times in the past eight seasons while Michigan State has been ranked five times in the past six.
Back in George W. Bush’s second term, Cal and Virginia Tech were consistently respected programs. Cal saw their respect erode when the decade tuned, while Virginia Tech continued to be held in high esteem for another three years. The Hokies will probably break their streak of unranked starts in 2017.
Florida and Auburn have seen almost everything. The Gators and Tigers have combined for three national titles, seven division championships, four SEC championships, and three losing seasons since 2005. Despite the recent division titles for Florida, you can see the Gators are still not nearly as respected as they were a few seasons ago. For Auburn, the results are more scattershot, with the Tigers sandwiching top-ten starts between unranked beginnings since Gus Malzahn took over.
Georgia has surprisingly been in every preseason poll since 2005, but the national media has only regarded the Bulldogs as elite a few times (just four preseason top ten starts). You can see South Carolina’s brief time as a nationally respected program which was undone after their face planting as a preseason top-ten team in 2014.
After beginning the year in the AP Poll five times in seven years, West Virginia has started the year as a ranked team just once since joining the Big 12. Pollsters appear to be scared off after the 2012 debacle that saw West Virginia climb all the way to number three before losing six of their last eight games. Pollsters have shown more deference to TCU despite a few disappointing seasons since joining the Big 12.

This concludes our look at PRAPPP. Thankfully, the AP also conducts a poll when the season is over (and every week throughout the year). While the preseason poll is about expectations and reputation, the postseason poll should be about results and achievement. In the next post, we’ll look at how Power Five teams stack up in regards to the postseason AP Poll. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

2016 Adjusted Pythagorean Record: Sun Belt

Last week, we looked at how Sun Belt teams fared in terms of yards per play. This week, we turn our attention to how the season played out in terms of the Adjusted Pythagorean Record, or APR. For an in-depth look at APR, click here. If you didn’t feel like clicking, here is the Reader’s Digest version. APR looks at how well a team scores and prevents touchdowns. Non-offensive touchdowns, field goals, extra points, and safeties are excluded. The ratio of offensive touchdowns to touchdowns allowed is converted into a winning percentage. Pretty simple actually. Once again, here are the 2016 Sun Belt standings.
And here are the APR standings with conference rank in offensive touchdowns, touchdowns allowed, and APR in parentheses. This includes conference games only.
Finally, Sun Belt teams are sorted by the difference between their actual number of wins and their expected number of wins according to APR.
I use a game and a half as a line of demarcation to determine if teams drastically over or under perform their APR. By that standard no team saw their record differ significantly from their APR. Idaho and Georgia State were the biggest over and under-achievers respectively, but we already touched on some reasons for that last week.

Georgia Southern enjoyed a successful, perhaps the most successful, transition from FCS to FBS. In their first two seasons in the new classification, the Eagles went 18-7, won an outright conference title, won a bowl game, and played three Power 5 schools to within one score on the road. Despite their success, head coach Willie Fritz made what amounts to a lateral move (or perhaps even a downgrade) to Tulane. In his stead, the Eagles made an interesting hire. They tabbed Tyson Summers, a Georgia native, who spent just one season in Statesboro. That one season (2006) happened to be the worst in school history. Summers also came from the defensive side of the ball, as he had most recently been the defensive coordinator at UCF and Colorado State before coming to Georgia Southern. Summers did keep the run-first option the team utilized to great success under his predecessor, but the performance left a lot to be desired. After averaging over six yards per carry in both 2014 and 2015 and scoring 109 combined touchdowns on the ground, the Eagles averaged under four and half yards per carry and scored just 24 rushing touchdowns in 2016. This decline in production contributed to a 5-7 record in Summers' first season where the Eagles had to upset Troy in their final game just to get to five wins. Summers enters 2016 on the proverbial hot seat. So what are his chances of surviving and getting the Eagles back to a bowl? To answer that question, I looked at all first year coaches since 2006 who oversaw a decline of at least three regular season wins and an increase of an least three regular season losses. That query produced a sample of 38 coaches. How did those coaches perform the following season? The results are summarized below.
Overall, the teams improved by an average of about two regular season wins the next year. More than two thirds of the teams improved the next season, and only about ten percent saw a further erosion of their record. More than quarter of the teams in the sample improved by at least three games, so there is hope for a large positive shift in fortunes for concerned Georgia Southern fans. However, I don't want to give those fans a false hope. There is decent, perhaps good, chance that Summers is not the right man for the job. Of that sample of 38 coaches, 29 are no longer with their teams. Of those 29, only five had a winning record at the end of their tenure with the team. If we include the coaches who are still active, 9 of 38 have winning records with their team. There are some success stories to point to like PJ Fleck, Skip Holtz, and Butch Jones, but while the odds of Georgia Southern improving in 2017 are good, the odds of them retaining Summers for the long haul may not be.

Thanks for reading my 2016 YPP and APR posts. Its been almost 20 weeks since Clemson upset Alabama, but we still have about 14 more weeks before college football season kicks off in earnest. Over the summer, this blog will add new content, but it won't be as frequent as the weekly updates you have (hopefully) been enjoying. I have some studies in the queue on polls and their accuracy and biases so if that interests you, check back every now and then. I'll also be making another Vegas trip and documenting my college football investments. Once the season starts, I'll continue with my weekly picks column and perhaps add more original posts here and there as the spirit so moves me. Have a great summer. I know we can get through the rest of this long offseason together.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

2016 Yards Per Play: Sun Belt

Nine conferences down, and now we move to our last FBS conference! Where did the time go? This week, we examine the Sun Belt. Here are the Sun Belt standings.
So we know what each team achieved, but how did they perform? To answer that, here are the Yards Per Play (YPP), Yards Per Play Allowed (YPA) and Net Yards Per Play (Net) numbers for each Sun Belt team. This includes conference play only. The teams are sorted by Net YPP with conference rank in parentheses.
College football teams play either eight or nine conference games. Consequently, their record in such a small sample may not be indicative of their quality of play. A few fortuitous bounces here or there can be the difference between another ho-hum campaign or a special season. Randomness and other factors outside of our perception play a role in determining the standings. It would be fantastic if college football teams played 100 or even 1000 games. Then we could have a better idea about which teams were really the best. Alas, players would miss too much class time, their bodies would be battered beyond recognition, and I would never leave the couch. As it is, we have to make do with the handful of games teams do play. In those games, we can learn a lot from a team’s YPP. Since 2005, I have collected YPP data for every conference. I use conference games only because teams play such divergent non-conference schedules and the teams within a conference tend to be of similar quality. By running a regression analysis between a team’s Net YPP (the difference between their Yards Per Play and Yards Per Play Allowed) and their conference winning percentage, we can see if Net YPP is a decent predictor of a team’s record. Spoiler alert. It is. For the statistically inclined, the correlation coefficient between a team’s Net YPP in conference play and their conference record is around .66. Since Net YPP is a solid predictor of a team’s conference record, we can use it to identify which teams had a significant disparity between their conference record as predicted by Net YPP and their actual conference record. I used a difference of .200 between predicted and actual winning percentage as the threshold for ‘significant’. Why .200? It is a little arbitrary, but .200 corresponds to a difference of 1.6 games over an eight game conference schedule and 1.8 games over a nine game one. Over or under-performing by more than a game and a half in a small sample seems significant to me. In the 2016 season, which teams in the Sun Belt met this threshold? Here are Sun Belt teams sorted by performance over what would be expected from their Net YPP numbers.
Idaho, in their penultimate season before moving down to FCS over-performed relative to their expected record, while FBS newcomer, Georgia State under-performed. Idaho finished with the best in-conference turnover margin in the Sun Belt at +11 and was a solid 2-0 in one-score conference games. That little bit of good fortune coupled with a powerful passing attack helped the Vandals win six conference games for the first time in school history. Georgia State can also blame turnovers for their poor record. The Panthers posted an in-conference turnover margin of -9 (which was not quite good enough for last place) and were also shoddy in the kicking game, making just 7 of 13 field goals in Sun Belt play.

If you were looking at the disparity between Sun Belt teams’ records and their expected YPP records and thought: ‘Hmmm. Georgia State sure did miss their expected record by a wide margin. I wonder if it was the widest margin ever.’ Well, I am here to answer that question. Here are the top (or bottom) ten mid-major teams since 2005 ranked by the largest disparity between their actual record and their expected record based on YPP.
Some notes on the table:

  • In an interesting statistical coincidence, 2016 produced the two teams that missed their expected record by the widest margin. Utah State and Georgia State, along with SMU in 2007, were the only teams to miss their expected record by at least .400 (a little more than three wins in an eight-game conference season). 
  • Georgia State actually appears on this list twice, which is perhaps one reason why Trent Miles is no longer coaching the team. 
  • Four of the ten teams on this list (Georgia State, SMU, New Mexico, and FIU) ended up losing their coach either via firing (sometimes at midseason) or resignation
  • Chris Petersen’s best Boise State team probably does not belong on this list, but the Broncos were so dominant (+3.68 YPP in a pretty good WAC) that the regression analysis believed they should have won more than all their games.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

2016 Adjusted Pythagorean Record: SEC

Last week, we looked at how SEC teams fared in terms of yards per play. This week, we turn our attention to how the season played out in terms of the Adjusted Pythagorean Record, or APR. For an in-depth look at APR, click here. If you didn’t feel like clicking, here is the Reader’s Digest version. APR looks at how well a team scores and prevents touchdowns. Non-offensive touchdowns, field goals, extra points, and safeties are excluded. The ratio of offensive touchdowns to touchdowns allowed is converted into a winning percentage. Pretty simple actually. Once again, here are the 2016 SEC standings.
And here are the APR standings sorted by division with conference rank in offensive touchdowns, touchdowns allowed, and APR in parentheses. This includes conference games only with the championship game excluded.
Finally, SEC teams are sorted by the difference between their actual number of wins and their expected number of wins according to APR.
I use a game and a half as a line of demarcation to determine if teams drastically over or under perform their APR. By that standard LSU significantly under-performed relative to their APR. There is not a lot of mystery as to why that is the case. LSU won five conference games. Four of those wins came by an average of 24 points. The other was a narrow victory over Mississippi State. Their three losses came by a combined 21 points, with the 10-0 loss to Alabama their largest margin of defeat.

Two weeks ago in the APR write up of the Pac-12, I looked at how well Pac-12 coaches over or under-performed relative to their APR and expected YPP records. In that post, I only looked at the Pac-12 since it expanded to twelve teams (2011-2016). Taking inspiration from Senator Blutarsky who noted Jim McElwain exceeded his YPP significantly in his first two seasons at Florida, I decided to do the same with the SEC. However, since it just means more in the SEC, I decided to go back as far as I have APR and YPP data - 2005. To qualify for inclusion on the leaderboards, coaches had to have at least three full SEC seasons under their belts in the twelve year period from 2005 through 2016. This criteria produced 27 coaches ranging from greats like Saban and Meyer to forgotten men like Croom and Dooley. Finally, before we get to the actual tables, just a housekeeping note. For coaches who did not finish a season (see Les Miles in 2016), I used the full season difference and credited them with the percentage they coached. For example, LSU was 1.88 games worse than expected in APR in 2016. Miles coached two (of eight) conference games so he receives 'credit' for negative 0.47 wins (-1.88*.25). The rest go to Ed Orgeron who receives 'credit' for negative 1.41 wins (-1.88*.75). Without further adieu, here are SEC coaches ranked by the average number of wins per season they exceeded their APR.
Chizik only coached for four seasons, so sample size is obviously an issue here. His national championship team was almost three wins better than their APR and his next team finished .500 in conference play despite an APR of only about two wins. His other two teams were pretty neutral in regards to their APR, but that sixteen game run puts him in front. Pinkel and Tuberville had similarly short tenures (remember this only includes Tuberville's stint on The Plains from 2005-2008), but fielded several teams that were better than their APR. For coaches with a significant tenure, Miles and Richt exceeded their expected records by about two fifths of a win on average. At the other end of the spectrum, you will find a plethora of Vanderbilt coaches consistently under-performing their peripherals. James Franklin, Bobby Johnson, and especially Derek Mason all occupy space in the bottom quartile. Houston Nutt coached at two schools during this time period and while his three Arkansas teams under-performed by about half a win per season, his four Ole Miss squads were even worse as they averaged more than a full win less than their APR!

Now let's look at Yards Per Play. Here are the SEC coaches ranked by the average amount they exceeded their expected record based on YPP. Keep in mind while APR was based on wins (i.e. +.500 equals half a win greater than expected), YPP is based on winning percentage. Thus, Tommy Tuberville's +.135 translates to a little more than one win (.135*8 = 1.08) per conference season.
Once again, we see some familiar faces at the top. Chizik and Tuberville were first and third respectively in APR and are second and first in YPP. Miles is once again the longest tenured coach in the top five while Richt is closer to average here. The bottom of the list also looks very similar with Ed Orgeron bringing up the rear. If you look back at the APR numbers, he was also fifth from the bottom there. I was a big fan of Orgeron's hiring last season, but these tables give me pause. On the one hand, Orgeron's teams have under-performed in each of his nearly four full seasons in charge. In addition, while the 2016 team was not totally his, keep in mind LSU was a consistent over-achiever, at least relative to their peripheral stats under Miles. On the other hand, Orgeron went a decade between head coaching jobs and in between appears to have matured while also guiding another team to a solid finish after a mid-season firing. Perhaps we shouldn't judge 2016 too harshly with all the turmoil surrounding the program. However, if 2017 plays out like 2016 did, with LSU blowing out five conference opponents, while losing a semi-competitive game to Alabama and two other close games in the SEC, not only will we have further evidence of a trend, Orgeron will find himself squarely on the hot seat.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

2016 Yards Per Play: SEC

Hard to believe, but we only have two more conferences to review. This week, we head south to the SEC. Here are the SEC standings.
So we know what each team achieved, but how did they perform? To answer that, here are the Yards Per Play (YPP), Yards Per Play Allowed (YPA) and Net Yards Per Play (Net) numbers for each SEC team. This includes conference play only, with the championship game not included. The teams are sorted by division by Net YPP with conference rank in parentheses.
College football teams play either eight or nine conference games. Consequently, their record in such a small sample may not be indicative of their quality of play. A few fortuitous bounces here or there can be the difference between another ho-hum campaign or a special season. Randomness and other factors outside of our perception play a role in determining the standings. It would be fantastic if college football teams played 100 or even 1000 games. Then we could have a better idea about which teams were really the best. Alas, players would miss too much class time, their bodies would be battered beyond recognition, and I would never leave the couch. As it is, we have to make do with the handful of games teams do play. In those games, we can learn a lot from a team’s YPP. Since 2005, I have collected YPP data for every conference. I use conference games only because teams play such divergent non-conference schedules and the teams within a conference tend to be of similar quality. By running a regression analysis between a team’s Net YPP (the difference between their Yards Per Play and Yards Per Play Allowed) and their conference winning percentage, we can see if Net YPP is a decent predictor of a team’s record. Spoiler alert. It is. For the statistically inclined, the correlation coefficient between a team’s Net YPP in conference play and their conference record is around .66. Since Net YPP is a solid predictor of a team’s conference record, we can use it to identify which teams had a significant disparity between their conference record as predicted by Net YPP and their actual conference record. I used a difference of .200 between predicted and actual winning percentage as the threshold for ‘significant’. Why .200? It is a little arbitrary, but .200 corresponds to a difference of 1.6 games over an eight game conference schedule and 1.8 games over a nine game one. Over or under-performing by more than a game and a half in a small sample seems significant to me. In the 2016 season, which teams in the SEC met this threshold? Here are SEC teams sorted by performance over what would be expected from their Net YPP numbers.
Arkansas was the lone SEC team to significantly over-perform relative to their expected record. Arkansas was not particularly lucky in terms of one-score games (1-1) or turnover margin (-6) in SEC play. No, the Hogs had the profile of a one win conference team thanks to an abysmal defense. The Hogs allowed nearly eight yards per play to SEC opponents and really had only one good defensive showing. They held a limited Florida offense to ten points and under five yards per play. If we remove that game, the Hogs allowed over 8.2 yards per play to their other seven conference opponents. Two teams averaged north of ten yards per play against Arkansas and six conference opponents averaged more than seven yards per play against them.

A few years ago, I penned this Pulitzer-caliber post about Les Miles and his uncanny inability to cover the spread (or more accurately his team's inability to cover the spread). Since we are looking at the SEC this week and since Miles' SEC career is over, I decided to reexamine his performance against the spread relative to his conference contemporaries. Let's get degenerate.

Miles coached at LSU eleven full seasons and parts of a twelfth beginning in 2005. In that span, 22 other coaches have spent at least four seasons as SEC head coaches. The following table lists those 23 coaches ranked by their winning percentage against the spread (ATS) in conference games (championship and bowl games excluded). I cheated a little and included Ed Orgeron even though he does not quite have four full seasons under belt since he did succeed Miles at LSU.
A few observations.

  • Despite being forced to pay a premium as the most recognized team in college football, backing Nick Saban and Alabama has been a winning proposition for gamblers. Since coming to Tuscaloosa, Saban has covered over 58% of the time against SEC opponents. 
  • Look at the three Auburn coaches since 2005 with the exact same ATS records. Eerie. 
  • While he never quite had the reputation in gambling circles of Miles, Mark Richt didn't exactly inspire a lot of ATS confidence for Georgia backers. 
  • Miles had a winning ATS conference record in just one season, but it was quite a doozy. His 2011 team went 7-1 ATS. If we remove that outlier year, his ATS conference record drops to 29-49-4 (a .372 winning percentage). 
  • While Miles does not quite bring up the rear, his career is more than double the length of the two men with a worse conference ATS wining percentage. 
  • And speaking of the guy in last place, he may join Miles in the unemployment line soon if the Aggies continue to struggle relative to their expectations.
So we know Miles was not good at covering the spread, but what if we break things down further. How did his teams perform in different roles. The following table lists LSU's performance ATS versus SEC foes under Miles in the role of favorite, double-digit favorite, and underdog.
Miles was a little better as a favorite, but you would have still made money betting against him in both roles. If nothing else, his teams were consistent as there was not a great deal of difference in their ATS numbers as a standard favorite and a double-digit favorite.

Let's look at one more angle. How did his teams perform ATS at home and on the road against SEC opponents?
So much for that Death Valley aura. On the road, his teams were basically a coin flip to cover, but the Tigers were horrible at home under Miles, covering just over 36% of the time. In fact, in the first four years of his tenure at LSU, his teams covered just once in home conference games!

Miles entertained college football fans for over a decade in Baton Rouge. He brought us a two-loss national champion, one of the best teams to not not win the national title, the Tennnessee Waltz Game,  tried to call a timeout on a change of possession (this was one season before the ill-fated rule that mandated the game clock start when the play clock started between possessions went into effect so maybe he was just ahead of the curve), a lot of grass eating, and of course, the final play (thus far) of his coaching career. I could never tell if he was a college football genius or the football equivalent of Homer Simpson living a charmed life despite being overwhelmingly incompetent. The truth was probably somewhere in the middle, but regardless, college football won't be as fun with him not around.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

2016 Adjusted Pythagorean Record: Pac-12

Last week, we looked at how Pac-12 teams fared in terms of yards per play. This week, we turn our attention to how the season played out in terms of the Adjusted Pythagorean Record, or APR. For an in-depth look at APR, click here. If you didn’t feel like clicking, here is the Reader’s Digest version. APR looks at how well a team scores and prevents touchdowns. Non-offensive touchdowns, field goals, extra points, and safeties are excluded. The ratio of offensive touchdowns to touchdowns allowed is converted into a winning percentage. Pretty simple actually.

Once again, here are the 2016 Pac-12 standings.
And here are the APR standings sorted by division with conference rank in offensive touchdowns, touchdowns allowed, and APR in parentheses. This includes conference games only with the championship game excluded.
Finally, Pac-12 teams are sorted by the difference between their actual number of wins and their expected number of wins according to APR.
I use a game and a half as a line of demarcation to determine if teams drastically over or under perform their APR. By that standard Stanford exceeded their expected record and UCLA under-performed relative to their expected record. Last week, we went over some reasons regarding UCLA poor record, so let's focus on Stanford. The Cardinal were not particularly lucky in on-score games, as they played in just one and lost it to Colorado. Of course, while the final score may not say so, their game against UCLA for all intents and purposes was a one-score affair. The Cardinal scored late to take the lead and then scored a defensive touchdown on the final play of the game for a misleading final score. Its just too bad Brent Musburger was not calling the game. What about turnover margin? No, Stanford was middling in that regard, posting a -1 in-conference turnover margin. So how did Stanford manage to drastically exceed their expected record? The answer lies in their two games with the Washington schools. Over an eight-day stretch in late September and early October, Stanford lost to Washington and Washington State by a combined margin of 64 points. These two blowouts dragged down their scoring margin and tarnished their overall profile despite them winning six of their other seven conference games.

I have been blogging about Yards Per Play and APR for FBS conferences for nearly two years now and I have data going back to 2005. With that in mind, I wanted to see if some coaches had any particular knack for exceeding or failing to exceed their expected record based on YPP and APR. As many coaches have come and gone in the twelve seasons I have data, I decided to just look at Pac-12 teams (for obvious reasons) and just look at teams since 2011, when the conference last expanded. I arbitrarily decided to only look at coaches who coached for at least three seasons so that no one-year wonders are unfairly represented. Obviously, using three years and beginning in 2011 means we miss out on quite a few notable Pac-10/12 coaches including Pete Carroll, Chip Kelly, and Jeff Tedford among many others. Perhaps a future post will be more inclusive. Anyway, here are all Pac-12 coaches since 2011 who have coached at least three seasons in the conference ranked by the average number of wins per season they exceed their APR.
I placed an asterisk by Steve Sarkisian as I elected not to count any of his games from 2015, when he was relieved of his duties after three conference games. APR and YPP numbers are done at the season level, so it made sense to ignore the three games he coached in 2015. Stanford had the largest positive difference of any Pac-12 team between their APR and actual record in 2016 and that is nothing new. Since 2011, David Shaw leads all Pac-12 coaches in average number of wins by which he exceeds his APR. Todd Graham is a distant second, with the recently fired Mark Helfrich third, and Rich Rodriguez fourth. On the other end of the spectrum, Jim Mora, Sonny Dykes, Chris Petersen, and Mike MacIntyre have averaged more than half a win fewer than expected based on their APR. Some of this can be blamed on small sample size as Washington was nearly two and a half game below their APR last season which significantly skews the data considering Petersen has only been in Seattle for three years. Similarly, UCLA has more than two and a half games worse than their APR in 2016 which negatively impacts Jim Mora's overall numbers.

Let's now turn our attention to Yards Per Play. Using the same criteria previously outlined, here are the Pac-12 coaches sorted by the average amount they exceed their expected record based on YPP.

Keep in mind while APR was based on games (i.e. David Shaw's +.603 means his teams exceeded their APR by six tenths of a game on average), the expected record based on YPP is based on winning percentage. Thus, Todd Graham's +.142 translates to about 1.3 games over a nine game conference season (.142*9). Once again, Graham and Shaw are at the top of the list. And again, Mora, Dykes, and Petersen are near the bottom, while MacIntyre has been more average by this measure. As I mentioned earlier, sample size is an issue when looking at these numbers.

So what do these numbers mean? Is Chris Petersen overrated as a coach because his teams appear to under-perform their records based on things like YPP and APR? Maybe there is something systemic to his teams that make them under-perform. Or maybe this is all 'noise' and the result of one bad season in a sample size of three. I would think Washington fans would be happy with his teams under-performing in these metrics as long as Washington continues to contend for Pac-12 titles and College Football Playoff appearances. On the other hand, David Shaw and Todd Graham do seem to always have their teams winning more games than we might otherwise suspect based on their per play averages and the amount of touchdowns they score and allow. Many factors influence which teams win football games, but it appears, at least on the surface, that David Shaw and Todd Graham have found something on the margins that allow their teams to win more than we might otherwise expect.