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Statistically Speaking: March 2007

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Conference USA 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 Conference USA teams in conference play (championship game not included) was 206.75 points. The standard deviation for points scored was 38.90. The standard deviation for points allowed was 43.09. East Carolina scored 188 and allowed 154 points. The Pirates' offensive SDPI was -0.48= ([188-206.75]/38.90). Their defensive SDPI was 1.22 = ([206.75-154]/43.09). Their total SDPI was 0.74. This was the fourth best mark in Conference USA in 2006.

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

Now here are the 2006 SDPI Standings:

Houston 2.54
Southern Miss 1.90
Tulsa 1.70
East Carolina 0.74
Rice 0.38
Marshall 0.32
Southern Methodist 0.12
Central Florida -0.97
UTEP -1.03
UAB -1.07
Memphis -1.50
Tulane -3.12

Conference USA played out according to form in 2006 as the two best teams squared off in the Championship Game with Houston taking the title.

Best Offense: Houston 1.75
The Cougars not only were very good offensively, but also very balanced. Quarterback Kevin Kolb threw for over 3800 yards and 30 touchdowns (with a scant 4 interceptions). Two players had over 900 yards rushing and three had over 600 yards receiving.

Worst Offense: Tulane -1.97
The Green Wave were actually just a shade below average until their last three conference games when they scored 3, 10, and 3 points respectively while averaging just 177 yards per game. During that stretch they averaged 1.6 yards per rush and 4.8 yards per pass.

Best Defense: Southern Miss 1.73
The Golden Eagles held every conference opponent under 20 points except Memphis and Houston.

Worst Defense: Memphis and Tulane -1.14
Both the Tigers and Green Wave were very similar in terms of defensive ineptitude. In their eight conference games, both gave up at least 40 points twice, at least 30 points five times, and at least 20 points seven times. Tulane was able to hold one opponent to single digits (Central Florida managed only 9 points), while Memphis' best defensive showing was against UTEP when they held the Miners to 19.

Best Team that Didn't Go to a Bowl: Marshall 0.32
The Thundering Herd went 4-4 in conference play, but only 5-7 overall thanks to non-conference trips to West Virginia, Kansas State, and Tennessee.

Worst Team that Went to a Bowl: Rice 0.38
The Owls finished 6-2 in conference play and went to their first bowl game since 1961. However, they were an extremely fortunate team. Of their eight conference games, six were decided by 6 points or less, including 3 by a single point. The Owls had a 5-1 record in those close games.

Toughest Schedule (ranked by sum of opponent's SDPI): Tulane 4.96
The Green Wave played in the tougher division in 2006 (West), plus they drew the top team from the East (Southern Miss) and avoided the worst (Memphis). Schedule strength also a bit misleading because teams cannot play themselves and Tulane was far and away the worst team in Conference USA.

Easiest Schedule (ranked by sum of opponent's SDPI): Marshall -4.93
Played in the weaker division and had the fortune of drawing the bottom three teams from the West in their intra-conference schedule (Tulane, UTEP, and Southern Methodist) while avoiding the top three (Houston, Tulsa, and Rice).

Entire Schedule Strength (hardest to easiest):
Tulane 4.96
Memphis 4.13
East Carolina 0.88
Southern Methodist 0.46
Central Florida 0.19
Tulsa 0.03
UAB -0.04
UTEP -0.63
Rice -1.09
Southern Miss -1.36
Houston -2.52
Marshall -4.93

Team(s) Likely to Decline: Rice and Houston
As a Wake Forest alum and fan, I was as delighted as anyone that Rice, another diminutive Division IA school, went bowling in 2006. However, their great conference record masked a team that was both extremely lucky (the aforementioned 5-1 record in close games) and terrible defensively (112th nationally in scoring defense). The Owls also recovered 30 of 49 fumbles in 2006 (combined offense and defense)--over 61% compared to an NCAA average of 50%. Couple those three things with the departure of head coach Todd Graham who bolted for another small school--Tulsa, and you have all the trappings of a team that will seriously regress in 2007. On the other hand, Houston paired a great record with great performance in 2006, but lose a ton of talent. Gone are the starting quarterback, running back, and leading receiver. The team does return four offensive linemen and seven starters on defense, so a bowl bid is an attainable goal, but another conference title is not.

Team(s) Likely to Improve: Memphis and Southern Methodist
2006 was a year of change for the Memphis Tigers. They lost both their starting quarterback and superstar running back (DeAngelo Williams) from the previous season. This season they return both their starting running back, Justin Doss, who may be light years away from DeAngelo Williams, but is still a productive college player, and quarterback Martin Hankins. Hankins had a solid season in his first year as a starter (60% completion rate with 18 touchdowns and 13 interceptions) and should improve as he enters his senior year. The defense will be hard pressed to be any worse than last season and the schedule also improves with the Tigers avoiding Tulsa and Houston from the West, while picking up Tulane and a Rice team that should not be as strong as last years incarnation. The cherry on top is that the Tigers will surely improve on last season's 0-5 mark in close games. Down in Dallas, the Pony Express may have the league's most exciting player in sophomore quarterback Justin Willis. As a redshirt freshman in 2006, all Willis did was throw 26 touchdown passes against a paltry 6 interceptions in helping the Mustangs to their first non-losing season since 1997. The Mustangs also bring back four starting offensive linemen and six starters on defense. However, the rub is in the schedule as they draw what likely will be the league's top three teams (Southern Miss, Tulsa, and Houston) on the road. If they can steal one of those games, they will be heading to a bowl game for the first time since 1984.

Best Chance to Crash the BCS: Tulsa
This was a tough call between Tulsa and Southern Miss. Both schools avoid each other in the regular season, so should they play each other, it will be in the Conference USA Championship Game. In conference play, Tulsa gets their strongest competition (Houston and Southern Methodist) at home and the road slate is relatively light with trips to Rice, Tulane, UTEP, and Central Florida. In non-conference play they travel to Army and Louisiana-Monroe, two teams they should handle. Their home non-conference schedule is a different beast as they will take on BYU and in-state rival Oklahoma. Still, better to play the Sooners in Tulsa than Norman. The Golden Hurricane return their senior quarterback Paul Smith who should shine under new coach Todd Graham. However, they do lose four offensive linemen and and six starters on defense, so an undefeated season in conference play (which barring an upset over the Sooners is likely the resume needed for a BCS bid) is unlikely. Southern Miss (who plays at Tennessee) and Tulsa probably have similar chances of crashing the BCS, which is to say fans of neither school should fret about making other New Years' plans.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Mountain West 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 Mountain West teams in conference play was 189 points. The standard deviation for points scored was 64.31. The standard deviation for points allowed was 53.52. Utah scored 232 and allowed 171 points. The Utes' offensive SDPI was 0.67 = ([232-189]/64.31). Their defensive SDPI was 0.34 = ([189-171]/53.52). Their total SDPI was 1.00 (not 1.01 because the values given earlier were rounded). This was the third best mark in the Mountain West in 2006.

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

Now here are the 2006 SDPI Standings:

BYU 3.41
TCU 2.17
Utah 1.00
New Mexico -0.34
Wyoming -0.35
Air Force -0.49
Colorado State -1.31
San Diego State -1.85
UNLV -2.24

BYU dominated the Mountain West in 2006. They were challenged only once, in the season-finale against arch rival Utah, which they won on the games final play.

Best Offense: BYU 1.99
Senior quarterback John Beck led the Stormin' Mormon attack that broke 30 points in all but one conference game.

Worst Offense: Colorado State -1.18
After a 4-1 start, including wins that looked very good at the time--Colorado and Fresno State, the Rams lost their last 7. They were held to single digits in 3 of those games. For the season, the running game averaged under two and a half yards per rush.

Best Defense: BYU and TCU 1.42
The Cougars and Horned Frogs allowed just one opponent each to break the 30-point barrier.

Worst Defense: UNLV -1.76
Every conference opponent scored at least 20 points, and five managed to score more than 30.

Best Team that Didn't Go to a Bowl: Wyoming -0.35
Unfortunately for the Cowboys, there is no Wyoming Bowl. The 'Pokes finished ahead of New Mexico in the standings, and slightly behind them in SDPI.

Worst Team that Went to a Bowl: New Mexico -0.34
From the numbers (and postseason performance), its pretty clear their was a steep drop-off after the top three teams in the Mountain West.

Schedule Strength: No need to rank schedule strength since everybody plays everybody in the 9-team league.

Team(s) Likely to Decline: BYU and TCU
The top of the league should be open next season. Gone from the Cougars are quarterback John Beck and his 32 touchdown passes as well as Curtis Brown and his 1000 rushing yards. Plus tight end Jonny Harline has moved on as well (ask Oregon what kind of matchup problems he creates). The Cougars do lose only three defensive starters, so that unit should still be superb. Forget about another undefeated conference season though. TCU seems to be the chic offseason pick to win the Mountain West and perhaps crash the BCS. They lose a lot of experience too, particularly under center where Jeff Ballard must be replaced. Their leading receiver is also gone as is the right side of the offensive line and the entire defensive backfield. TCU is more likely to go 5-3 than they are to go 8-0.

Team(s) Likely to Improve: Colorado State and Air Force
Two former WAC/Mountain West powers should return to respectability, if not the top of the conference. Colorado State was much better than its 1-7 conference mark last season and should improve on that number with 7 starters returning on defense and an offense that can't possibly be any worse. Air Force was a tough luck 2-5 in close games last season (2-3 in conference play) so with a few fortuitous bounces, they could be back in a bowl game for the first time since 2002.

Best Chance to Crash the BCS: Utah
The Utes probably won't go undefeated in conference play, which they would likely need to do to crash the party, since they must travel to both BYU and TCU. However, those two teams simply lose too much to be legitimate threats to appear in a BCS bowl. Utah does have a rough non-conference slate with Oregon State, UCLA, and Louisville all on the schedule. The Louisville game is a likely loss, but the Utes could conceivably take the other two (Beavers on the road and Bruins at home). Still, the Mountain West will more than likely not provide college football fans with their second BCS participant in four years.

Monday, March 12, 2007

WAC 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 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:

Hawaii 2.55
Boise State 2.01
Nevada 1.53
San Jose State 0.44
Fresno State -0.02
New Mexico State -0.44
Idaho -1.39
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.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Pac 10 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 Pac 10 teams in conference play was 201.8 points. The standard deviation for points scored was 57.64. The standard deviation for points allowed was 44.38. Cal scored 280 and allowed 173 points. Cal's offensive SDPI was 1.36 = ([280-201.8]/57.64). Their defensive SDPI was 0.65 = ([201.8-173]/44.38). Their total SDPI was 2.01. In the 2006 Pac 10, that was second best.

First here's the link to the 2006 Pac 10 Standings to refresh your memory.

Now here are the 2006 SDPI Standings:

Southern Cal 2.29
Cal 2.01
UCLA 0.67
Oregon State 0.54
Oregon 0.11
Arizona -0.08
Washington State -0.12
Arizona State -0.77
Washington -0.80
Stanford -3.84

With the exception of the top two and the bottom feeder, the Pac 10 was extremely balanced. The distance between the 3rd best team and the 10th best team was about the same as the distance between the 2nd and 3rd best team.

Best Offense: Cal 1.36
Jeff Tedford's Golden Bears were the most potent offense in the Pa 10.

Worst Offense: Stanford -2.22
Despite the presence of pro prospect Trent Edwards for half the season, the Cardinal could not put together a consistent offensive attack. They were held to single digits in 5 of their 7 conference games.

Best Defense: Southern Cal 1.60
The defense kept the Trojans on top of the Pac 10 while their new skill position players honed their craft.

Worst Defense: Stanford -1.63
The Cardinal double dip in both categories. Only held one team (Washington) below 20 points.

Best Team that Didn't Go to a Bowl: Arizona -0.08
The Wildcats were roughly the 6th best team in the conference and actually finished bowl eligible.

Worst Team that Went to a Bowl: Arizona State -0.77
As was normally the case under Dirk Koetter, the Sun Devils failed to live up to preseason expectations. They were much closer to Washington in terms of performance than Washington State.

Schedule Strength: No need to rank schedule strength since everybody plays everybody in the 9-team league.

Team(s) Likely to Decline: Oregon State
The Beavers lose their senior quarterback, Matt Moore, and should also see some regression in the luck department. They were 3-1 in close conference games, 5-1 overall. Hard to come up with any other teams that look like solid bets to decline, although some certainly will. Every other Pac 10 team has their fair share of positive and negative indicators. The Beavers are the only team where the negatives significantly outweigh the positives.

Team(s) Likely to Improve: Washington State and Arizona
Improvement is a must for these two squads if their respective coaches want to breathe easier. Washington State, which finished 8th in the SDPI rankings, was just as close to fourth place as they were to 9th. They return their starting quarterback, so with a little bit of luck, they should improve on their 4-5 conference record in 2006. Mike Stoops should finally have the Wildcats in a bowl game in his fourth year in the desert. The Wildcats return their starting quarterback, prize recruit Willie Tuitama, who must improve on his disappointing 2006 campaign. The Pac 10 is probably the hardest conference to project going forward because the middle seven teams were all bunched so close together. From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.
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