Saturday, April 07, 2007

MAC Rewind: SDPI

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 MAC teams in conference play (championship game not included) was 180 points. The standard deviation for points scored was 35.38. The standard deviation for points allowed was 51.08. Ohio scored 197 and allowed 119 points. The Bobcats' offensive SDPI was 0.48= ([197-180]/35.38). Their defensive SDPI was 1.19= ([180-119]/51.08). Their total SDPI was 1.67. This was the second best mark in the MAC in 2006.

First here's the link to the 2006 MAC Standings to refresh your memory.

Now here are the 2006 SDPI Standings:

Central Michigan 2.24
Ohio 1.67
Northern Illinois 1.47
Ball State 1.19
Kent State 0.56
Western Michigan 0.54
Miami -0.59
Akron -0.90
Bowling Green -1.06
Toledo -1.12
Eastern Michigan-1.97
Buffalo -2.03

The two best teams in the regular season met in the MAC Championship Game with the superior team taking home the title. Eastern Michigan and Buffalo were clearly the dregs of the MAC while every other team was at least marginally competitive. Clearly, the West Division was much stronger than the East in 2006. Three of the top four and four of the top six teams (every team that was above average) came from the West.

Best Offense: Central Michigan 1.55
Led by freshmen sensation Dan LeFevour, the Chippewas were a veritable juggernaut in conference play. They were contained in only one game, their lone conference defeat at Northern Illinois where they managed only 10 points. In non-conference tilts, the Chips gave big scares to both Boston College (lost by seven) and Kentucky (lost by nine).

Worst Offense: Eastern Michigan -2.09
The Eagles scored more than 20 points only once in conference play. In their last five conference games, Eastern Michigan quarterbacks threw one touchdown pass and eight interceptions.

Best Defense: Ohio 1.19
The main reason the Bobcats played in the MAC Championship Game was their significant improvement on defense in the second half of the conference season. Through their first three conference games, the Bobcats allowed 21.3 points per game (with at least 20 scored in each game). In their final five conference games, they allowed 11 points per game (allowing at least 20 points only once). Part of that can be explained by schedule, as the Bobcats played Buffalo and Eastern Michigan in the final set. In the MAC Championship Game against Central Michigan and the bowl game against Southern Mississippi, the Bobcats showed they still have a ways to go to bridge the talent gap as they allowed 31 and 28 points respectively in those games.

Worst Defense: Buffalo -2.62
The Bulls actually had an above average offense, but were at the bottom of the MAC standings thanks to a deplorable defense. The Bulls allowed at least 30 points in seven of their eight conference games. Two teams (Central Michigan and Ball State) dropped the infamous double-nickel on the Bulls and two more (Bowling Green and Ohio) broke the 40-point barrier.

Best Team that Didn't Go to a Bowl: Ball State 1.19
The Cardinals had the fourth best SDPI in the league and actually went 5-3 in conference play. However, they failed to win a single non-conference game thanks to scheduling three Big 10 teams (Indiana, Purdue, and Michigan) and horrible luck (lost all four non-conference games by an average of six points).

Worst Team that Went to a Bowl: Western Michigan 0.54
The Broncos were hardly a disgrace to the postseason--they were on par with Kent State, a notch below the top four teams in the conference. Their 6-2 conference record was due in part to a 3-1 record in close games.

Toughest Schedule (ranked by sum of opponent's SDPI): Eastern Michigan 5.49
Eastern Michigan played in the tougher MAC division (West) and in their three intra-conference games they drew the East's two best teams (Ohio and Kent State) while avoiding the weakest team (Buffalo). Schedule also hurt because they could not play themselves.

Easiest Schedule (ranked by sum of opponent's SDPI): Kent State -4.81
One season after going 1-10 the Golden Flashes improved significantly and finished 6-6. Or did they? Kent State played in the easier MAC division and in their intra-conference schedule drew the bottom two teams from the West (Toledo and Eastern Michigan) while avoiding the top two (Central Michigan and Northern Illinois). Overall, the Golden Flashes played the bottom six MAC teams (going 5-1 and winning by an average of 11 points per game). In their other two games, Kent State played the number two team (Ohio) and the number four team (Ball State). They lost both of these games by an average of 17 points per game.

Entire Schedule Strength (hardest to easiest):
Eastern Michigan 5.49
Buffalo 4.58
Toledo 2.07
Western Michigan 1.99
Miami 1.44
Akron 0.21
Northern Illinois -0.07
Ball State -0.90
Bowling Green -2.14
Central Michigan -3.88
Ohio -3.98
Kent State -4.81

Team(s) Likely to Decline: Ohio and Kent State
The Bobcats have made great strides under Frank Solich, but were extremely lucky to take home the East Division crown in 2006. They had the second easiest schedule in the league, avoiding the league's top team (Central Michigan) at least until the MAC Championship Game and facing both of the league's basement boys (Eastern Michigan and Buffalo). Their offense, particularly the passing game was sub-par. In 2007, the Bobcats will be without departed senior quarterback Austen Everson, the only quarterback who produced near average results in 2006. They will again be forced to rely on their defense which loses five starters including all three starting linebackers. Ohio could also easily lose three of their four non-conference games which would put them significantly behind the 8-ball before conference play even starts. The only sure win of the four games should be against Gardner Webb. In the other three, they play Louisiana-Lafayette, a winnable game, albeit one on the road, at Virginia Tech, a certain loss, and a home contest against Wyoming, which could go either way. A final factor working against Ohio is simple regression in the luck department. Ohio was 3-0 in close games last season. Any fall off in that department, and the Bobcats will not be back in postseason play. The scheduling gods were also extremely benevolent to Kent State last season. The Golden Flashes played the league's easiest schedule and still only managed a 5-3 conference record. Worse yet, they were somehow crushed by Buffalo, the league's worst team, 41-14. The Golden Flashes do return most of last season's 6-6 squad (8 starters on offense and 7 on defense), however the schedule also toughens up as they draw both Central Michigan and Northern Illinois from the West Division. The non-conference slate remains tough with trips to Iowa State, Kentucky, and Ohio State spread out around a sure win over Delaware State. Getting to six wins will be extremely tough for Kent State in 2007.

Team(s) Likely to Improve: Miami and Toledo
Believe it or not, the 2-10 Redhawks were just a notch below average in the MAC in 2006. Their schedule was middle of the pack (5th toughest), but they were only 2-5 in close games. The Redhawks return senior quarterback Mike Kokal who enjoyed a solid season despite throwing only 25 career passes before 2006. Couple that with 8 returning offensive starters, 7 returning defensive starters, a residence in the weaker half of the MAC (scheduled conference games against Temple and Buffalo), and a non-conference slate that isn't too tough (winnable home dates against Cincinnati and Syracuse, a winnable road game against Vanderbilt, and two likely losses at Minnesota and Colorado) and you have the perfect recipe for a bounceback season. At Toledo, Tom Amstutz suffered his first losing season, but still boasts a 50-25 in six seasons at the school. Amstutz's team was not significantly unlucky, as they were the 10th best team in the MAC last season. Still, they were closer to the seventh place team (Miami) in terms of performance than the eleventh place team (Eastern Michigan). The Rockets struggled in 2006 in part because they had to replace quarterback Bruce Gradkowski. Clint Cochran and Aaron Opelt didn't come close to approximating Gradkowski's performance in 2006, but the important thing is they won't have to in 2007 for the Rockets to have a successful season. Toledo returns 7 offensive starters and 8 defensive starters and Amstutz has proven himself to be one of the finer coaches in the game. Don't expect another season below .500 in conference play or overall.

Best Chance to Crash the BCS: Toledo or Central Michigan
These two teams should battle for the MAC West crown and should also be the favorites should they find themselves in the MAC Championship Game. The Rockets have the more favorable non-conference schedule (hosting Purdue, Iowa State, and Liberty while trekking to Kansas), but must travel to Central Michigan once conference play begins. Central Michigan on the other hand, must travel to Kansas, Purdue, and Clemson in non-conference action so neither team is likely to crash the BCS, but these are your best options.


Anonymous said...

The detailed analysis of how the Bobcats are going to fall of the track is lacking information. The defense does lose 3 starters at LB but Solich rotates his two deep to keep his defense fresh. Depth is the clear difference between the Bobcats in 2006 and other MAC schools. The Bobcats simply wore their opponents down and appeared to be pulling away as games progressed in the 4th QT. Central Michigan and Southern Miss did win with more talent. There is no reason though that Ohio's defense cannot be as good as 2006, and the loss of QB Everson makes little difference. Ohio has a QB transfer from Jeff Tedford's program over at Cal who looks to challenge for the top spot under center.

Further, I think you are overrating the Bobcat non conference schedule. Louisana is a decent team but the Bobcats will be too physical for them. MAC schools have fared well against the Sun Belt. Wyoming plays @ Ohio and in between games with top 20 Boise State and TCU. It possible the Bobcats lose 1 out of those two but I doubt both.

matt said...

I hope you are correct. I would like nothing more than to see Frank Solich turn Ohio into a MAC power. Still, whenever you break in a new quarterback, even if they are a transfer from a program with the recent quarterbacking reputation of Cal, there are bound to be bumps in the road. Solich will still rely primarily on the running game I believe, but Ohio's margin of error is very thin. if they ever fall more than one score behind, it is nigh impossible for them to come back.

As far as the non-conference schedule, Louisiana-Lafayette is a winnable, but hardly guaranteed game. Same with Wyoming. While a split is likely, it would not be a total shock if Ohio lost both. If that were to happen, Ohio would need to go at least 6-2 in conference play to garner a bowl bid.