One way to look at team strength, taken from Eddie Epstein’s fantastic book Dominance, is to look at teams points scored and allowed relative to the league average and standard deviation. The more standard deviations they are from the mean, the better (or worse they are). For those unfamiliar with what standard deviation is here’s the wikipedia link. In the coming weeks, I will be looking at each Division IA conference and ranking each team in regards to their Standard Deviation Power Index in conference play. Keep in mind, the SDPI does not adjust for schedule strength for conferences such as the ACC where each team does not play each other and it ignores special teams which can play a significant role in both points scored and points allowed.
If you want the meat of the article, skip this next paragraph as it just gives an example of how the SDPI is calculated. The mean points scored and allowed for all Big 10 teams in conference play was 186 points. The standard deviation for points scored was 52.90. The standard deviation for points allowed was 70.08. Penn State scored 135 and allowed 117 points. Penn State's offensive SDPI was -0.96 = ([135-186]/52.90). Their defensive SDPI was .98 = ([186-117]/70.08). Their total SDPI was 0.02. In the 2006 Big 10, that was good for fourth best.
First here's the link to the 2006 Big 10 Standings to refresh your memory.
Now here are the 2006 SDPI Standings.
Ohio State 3.59
Penn State 0.02
Michigan State -1.50
The 2006 Big 10 was the epitome of football stratification. Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Michigan were head and shoulders above the rest of the league. In fact, the difference in SDPI between Michigan (3rd best) and Penn State (4th best) was greater than the difference between Penn State and Michigan State (9th best).
Best Offense: Ohio State 2.25
Before he melted down in the BCS Championship Game, Troy Smith was a beast in Big 10 play, throwing 20 touchdown passes and just 5 interceptions en route to winning the Heisman. Of course, don't forget the other fabulous skill position players: Antonio Pittman, Ted Ginn Jr., and Anthony Gonzalez to name a few.
Worst Offense: Northwestern -1.15
After averaging 31.6 points per game in Big 10 play in 2005, the Wildcats averaged only 15.6 per game in 2006. Only 3 times did they score more than 10 points (Michigan State, Iowa, and Illinois). Perhaps not coincidentally, they won two of those games.
Best Defense: Ohio State 1.34
Gave up only 92 points in conference play, with 39 coming in the season finale against Michigan.
Worst Defense: Indiana -1.66
5 of their 8 conference foes broke 30 and all 8 broke 20.
Best Team that Didn’t Go to a Bowl: Illinois -1.07
Despite finishing in the Big 10 cellar, the Illini were actually the 8th best team in the conference.
Worst Team that Went to a Bowl: Minnesota -0.51
After a miserable start in Big 10 play (0-5 and outscored by an average of over 20 per game), the Gophers won their final 3 (all by at least 10 points) to become bowl eligible.
Toughest Schedule (ranked by sum of opponent’s SDPI): Northwestern 4.22
Wildcats played the top 6 SDPI teams in the conference and 8 of the top 9. Only way the schedule could have been tougher would be to replace Michigan State with Minnesota.
Easiest Schedule (ranked by sum of opponent’s SDPI): Ohio State -5.40
Played the bottom 6 SDPI teams and avoided Wisconsin. However, their schedule rating is so low primarily because they didn't have to play themselves. Dominated the league, so take their schedule rating with a grain of salt.
Entire Schedule Strength (hardest to easiest)
Penn State 2.08
Michigan State -0.30
Ohio State -5.40
Team(s) Likely to Decline: Ohio State, Purdue, and Indiana
Buckeyes simply lose too much to repeat as Big 10 champs. Have to go on the road to Michigan and Penn State in 2007. Every 3 years, Buckeyes seem to fall down a notch--2001 7-5 before consecutive 11+ win seasons, 2004 8-4 before consecutive 10+ win seasons. Time for the Boilermakers to pay the piper. After avoiding Michigan and Ohio State in 2005 and 2006, while compiling only 5-6 and 8-6 records, the Boilers get them both to go along with tough road games at Penn State and Minnesota. Hoosiers actually finished tied for 6th in the Big 10 with 3 conference wins, but according to SDPI were actually only better than Northwestern. Despite nearly becoming bowl eligible, Hoosiers have farther to go than most observers believe.
Team(s) Likely to Improve: Illinois and Michigan State
The Illini had terrible luck in close games last season (1-4) and were actually the 8th best team in the conference. Couple that with a few strong recruiting classes and the Zooker will have them back in a bowl game for the first time since their Sugar Bowl appearance in 2001. Spartans were also a tough luck 1-4 in close games so expect some improvement in that area. Also not coached by a complete maniac so they have that going for them.