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 WAC teams in conference play was 231.22 points. The standard deviation for points scored was 100.54. The standard deviation for points allowed was 71.73. San Jose State scored 192 and allowed 172 points. The Spartans' offensive SDPI was -0.39 = ([192-231.22]/100.54). Their defensive SDPI was 0.83 = ([231.22-172]/71.73). Their total SDPI was 0.44. In the 2006 WAC, that was fourth best.
First here's the link to the 2006 WAC Standings to refresh your memory.
Now here are the 2006 SDPI Standings:
Boise State 2.01
San Jose State 0.44
Fresno State -0.02
New Mexico State -0.44
Utah State -2.29
Louisiana Tech -2.36
SDPI is probably more biased against high-scoring offensive teams that against stout defensive teams since theoretically you can score an infinite number of points, but its impossible to allow less than zero. Still, you can make a cogent (though possibly incorrect) argument that Hawaii was the WAC's best team. They are a notoriously poor road team that lost only one conference game all season; on the road to the conference champion (who is notoriously tough at home) by a mere seven points.
Best Offense: Hawaii 2.06
No surprise here. Colt Brennan and Co. scored more than 100 points more than the second best offense (Boise State).
Worst Offense: Utah State -1.08
Only scored 15 offensive touchdowns in a league not renowned for its defense.
Best Defense: Nevada 1.24
For all the accolades heaped upon the 'Pistol' offense, the defense carried the Wolfpack to another bowl berth.
Worst Defense: Louisiana Tech -1.59
Every WAC team except Idaho scored at least 34 points on the Bulldogs.
Best Team that Didn't Go to a Bowl: Fresno State -0.04
Bulldogs done in by their tough non-conference schedule (0-4 record against Oregon, Washington, Colorado State, and LSU) and inexplicable loss to Utah State.
Worst Team that Went to a Bowl: San Jose State 0.44
This distinction does not mean as much in the mid-major conferences where usually every bowl-bound team is deserving. Still, the Spartans were clearly a notch below the league's triumvirate.
Schedule Strength: No need to rank schedule strength since everybody plays everybody in the 9-team league.
Team(s) Likely to Decline: San Jose State and Boise State
The Spartans were and still are a great story under Dick Tomey. However, they were much closer to Fresno State and New Mexico State in SDPI ranking than Nevada, Boise State, or Hawaii. They do return their starting quarterback, running back, and 3/5ths of the offensive line, but they lose their top two receivers. The offense was also below average last season, and the unit that carried the team loses six starters. Expect a brief step back before more progress is made. Boise State is obviously due for a decline after their cinderella season. Jared Zabransky, both starting receivers, and the starting tight end are gone as are six defensive starters. The Broncos must also travel to both Hawaii and Fresno State so another WAC title is a dubious proposition.
Team(s) Likely to Improve: Fresno State and New Mexico State
After a trying 7-game losing streak culminating in three consecutive throttlings at the hands of Hawaii, LSU, and Boise State, the Bulldogs rebounded to win 3 of their last 4. Accoring to SDPI. they were bunched in the middle of the conference pack with San Jose State and New Mexico State, far below the top three, but also far above the bottom feeders. With a year of seasoning, Tom Brandstater should improve on his sophomore campaign and bring some consistency to the Bulldogs offense and they should return to a bowl game. Also don't expect another loss to Utah State. Hal Mumme has had two seasons to install his chuck n' duck offense at New Mexcio State and the Aggies should compete for a bowl game this season. They were a tough luck 0-4 in close games (0-2 in conference play) last season so should see some improvement in that department.. Quarterback Chase Holbrook returns for his senior season to try and out-stat Colt Brennan. Don't forget, although this is only Holbrook's second year at New Mexico State, he played for Mumme at SE Louisiana in 2004.
Best Chance to Crash the BCS: Hawaii
The Warriors get their main man Colt Brennan back after a brief flirtation with the NFL. They do lose their starting running back and two receivers to go along with three starting offensive linemen, so protection may be an issue especially against the better teams. The Warriors only lose three starters from the best defense in the June Jones era. However, keep an eye on how the defense performs minus defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville who is now the head coach at Portland State. All things considered, this is the Warriors best chance for a bowl game off the Islands. Thus far, the non-conference slate consists of a Mountain West also ran (UNLV) on the road and a mid-level Pac 10 team (Washington) at home. Boise State and Fresno State must come to the Islands so the game that must be circled on all Hawaii fan's calendars is 11/17 at Nevada. Of course, a great deal also depends on who the other three non-conference opponents turn out to be.