CrispAds Blog Ads

Statistically Speaking: April 2007

Monday, April 23, 2007

Historical SDPI: The Big East

After running the SDPI numbers for all 11 conferences in 2006, I thought it would be an interesting sojourn through recent football history to look back at SDPI for the six BCS conferences throughout the entirety of the BCS era (98-06). It also gives me an excuse to add some pretty little graphs to the site. Don't know what SDPI is? Click here for an answer. Remember, its performance, not achievement, so years with the highest win totals may not actually be a certain team's best season. And its also only conference play, so any non-conference action, championship games, and bowl game are excluded. We'll continue with a look at the Big East. I'm using the current membership of the Big East, so Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, and South Florida are included as well as former member Temple. After each team's graph, there is a paragraph of commentary followed by the number of first place SDPI finishes or if there are no such finishes, the highest SDPI finish.


Cincinnati

Only two seasons for the Bearcats in the Big East; one poor and one decent. The Bearcats lost a good coach in Mark Dantonio, but netted perhaps an upgrade in the offseason in Brian Kelly.

Best SDPI Finish: 5th (2006)


Connecticut

The Huskies have endured a steady decline under Randy Edsall since entering the Big East in 2004. Several factors have contributed to the Huskies decline.

1) The departure of perennial dreg Temple.
2) The ascension of perennial dreg Rutgers.
3) The league's acquisition of Conference USA powers Cincinnati, Louisville, and South Florida.

In 2004, the Huskies had a solid season that culminated in a bowl win over Toledo. However, they finished ahead of only Rutgers and Temple in the league standings. In 2005, Temple was given the boot, two of the three newcomers from Conference USA (Louisville and South Florida) jumped the Huskies, and Rutgers improved and passed them in the standings. Besides Cincinnati, only Syracuse (under first year coach Greg Robinson) finished below Connecticut in the standings. In 2006, Cincinnati improved substantially and Syracuse was marginally improved. Consequently, the Huskies had to settle for the basement.

Best SDPI Finish: 5th (2004)


Louisville

Louisville's been in the Big East for just two seasons. They were pretty good in 2005 and even better in 2006. That's the kind of ground-breaking analysis you can only get here.

First Place SDPI Finishes: 2006


Pittsburgh

Walt Harris is responsible for the first seven seasons. As you can see, he took the Panthers from a Big East also-ran to respectability, peaking in 2002. The Panthers did win the Big East in 2004 thanks to a convoluted tie-breaker when four teams tied for the title. That good fortune earned the Panthers the opportunity to be crushed by Utah in the Fiesta Bowl and catapulted Urban Meyer to 'hot shit' status. It also earned Harris a bus ticket out of Pittsburgh straight to Palo Alto. Neither he nor the Panthers have benefited from the move. Harris went 6-17 in two years at Stanford before getting canned while the Panthers tabbed Dave Wannstedt as their man hoping to make a splash by hiring a former NFL head coach to lead their program. Despite widely regarded stellar recruiting classes, the Panthers have fallen from the levels of mediocrity they reached under Harris.

Best SDPI Finish: 3rd (2002)


Rutgers

Terry Shea is responsible for the first three seasons and Greg Schiano the final six. Rutgers should be an inspiration for hapless teams everywhere as their rise was as inspiring as it was unexpected. Schiano's teams improved each season with the exception of his first, so expecting a bowl bid in 2004 (in a Big East weakened by defections) was logical. Instead, after opening with an upset over Michigan State, the Knights proceeded to lose the next week to Division IAA New Hampshire. They did win three of their next four to stand 4-2 after six games. However, they lost their final five games to finish 4-7 and douse any hope that Rutgers could someday rise to the middle, much less the top of the Big East, especially with the talented teams coming in. The season opener in 2005 seemed a harbinger that Schiano and perhaps Rutgers football in general were poised to remain in the football proletariat. The Knights were upset 33-30 by an Illinois team that finished 2-9. But something happened on the way to another last place finish. The Knights won six of their next seven before the schedule toughened up (they lost three of their last four) and finished 7-5 with an appearance in the Insight Bowl against Arizona State. Then they took another step in 2006. Although their SDPI hardly belies an elite team, they were still only a play away from beating West Virginia and taking the Big East crown. The most amazing facet of the Knight's 2006 season is that a Louisville team that crushed them 56-5 only one year earlier was defeated in one of the better Thursday night games of the year. As well as being an inspiration to lowly basement dwellers with almost no football history, Rutgers is also an example of patience at work. Schiano did not take Rutgers to a bowl game until his fifth season. Turnarounds take time, and progress is not always straightforward. Rutgers regressed significantly (over half of a standard deviation) in Schiano's fourth season after improving in his second and third seasons. The administration did not fire Schiano and start all over on another rebuilding project. Instead they stayed the course and were rewarded with significant improvement in his fifth and sixth seasons.

Best SDPI Finish: 3rd (2006)


South Florida

Of all the SDPI rankings, this is the one I trust the least. According to SDPI, South Florida was better in 2005 than they were in 2006. One reason for the high ranking in 2005 is the fact that Big East teams play only seven conference games as opposed to at least eight for the other BCS leagues. Smaller sample size equates to greater variation. Each Big East conference game counts roughly 14% more than every other conferences' games in determining rankings (over 28% more than the Pac 10 now that they play nine conference games). And what was South Florida's most famous game in 2005? The 45-14 beatdown of Louisville. That one game bolsters their 2005 ranking by a significant margin.

Best SDPI Finish: 3rd (2005)


Syracuse

Paul Pasqualoni is responsible for the first seven seasons and Greg Robinson the last two. 1998, you may remember, was Donovan McNabb's senior season. After his departure, the Orangemen were mediocre until 2002 when they fell to the bottom half of the Big East standings. They rebounded to edge West Virginia for the mythical SDPI crown in 2004 in a Big East in limbo. However, after a blowout loss to Georgia Tech in the Champs Sports Bowl, Pasqualoni was let go. The results since have not been pretty. The Orange have finished second to last in the Big East SDPI standings in both 2005 and 2006. Was Pasqualoni Bear Bryant? No. But he was a solid coach who was 107-59 (.645) in his career at Syracuse. One mantra athletic directors should follow: Don't fire a good coach unless you have a great one lined up.

Best SDPI Finish: 1st (1998 and 2004)


Temple

Before they were given the boot after the 2004 season, the Owls consistently challenged Rutgers for the Big East basement.

Best SDPI Finish: 6th (2002)


West Virginia

The first three seasons are the end of the Don Nehlen era and the rest are all Rich Rodriguez. West Virginia had clearly slipped a notch at the end of the Nehlen era, giving way to Virginia Tech, Miami, and even Syracuse and Pittsburgh at the top of the Big East. After a rough first season, that included a loss to Temple, Rodriguez has had the Mountaineers at least one standard deviation above average every season since. If the defense can improve, West Virginia is a legitimate national title threat in 2007.

First Place SDPI Finishes: 2003 and 2005

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Historical SDPI: The ACC

After running the SDPI numbers for all 11 conferences in 2006, I thought it would be an interesting sojourn through recent football history to look back at SDPI for the six BCS conferences throughout the entirety of the BCS era (98-06). It also gives me an excuse to add some pretty little graphs to the site. Don't know what SDPI is? Click here for an answer. Remember, its performance, not achievement, so years with the highest win totals may not actually be a certain team's best season. And its also only conference play, so any non-conference action, championship games, and bowl game are excluded. We'll begin with a tour through the ACC. I'm using the current membership of the ACC, so Boston College, Miami, and Virginia Tech are included here. After each team's graph, there is a paragraph of commentary followed by the number of first place SDPI finishes or if there are no such finishes, the highest SDPI finish.


Boston College

Tom O'Brien is responsible for all of these seasons having been the head man at BC since 1997. If O'Brien has been anything, its steady. He's never had a bad season nor a tremendous season. Since 2001, the Eagles have been above average every year save 2003, peaking in their last season in the watered-down Big East (2004) and again in O'Brien's final season this past year.

Best SDPI Finish: 3rd Big East (2001 and 2004), 4th ACC (2006)


Clemson

Tommy West is the first season and Tommy Bowden is every data point thereafter. In eight seasons, the Tigers have been at least one standard deviation above average (which implies residence in the top third of the conference) half the time. Bowden has also kept the program from the depths it experienced in West's final season.

Best SDPI Finish: 2nd (1999 and 2006)


Duke

Duke was awful under Fred Goldsmith in 1998, awful under Carl Franks until 2003, and awful under Ted Roof since then.

Best SDPI Finish: 8th (2000 and 2002)


Florida State

That's about as clear as a trend can be. The first three seasons are with Mark Richt as offensive coordinator. Immediately after he left following the 2000 season, there was an immediate decline from Ruthian powerhouse to Molitorian autocracy where the Seminoles remained for the next four seasons. Then the bottom fell out in 2005 and 2006 when Florida State entered their Erstadian phase. Will one man, Jimbo Fisher, be the savior for the Nole program and return them to their perch atop the conference standings?

First Place SDPI Finishes: 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003


Georgia Tech

The first four seasons are George O'Leary and the final five are Chan Gailey. O'Leary had the Jackets above average every season with him at the controls, while Gailey has turned the trick only once. This past season was on par with Tech's best under O'Leary (1998 and 2000) despite having Reggie Ball quarterbacking the team.

Best SDPI Finish: 2nd (1998 and 2000)


Maryland

The first three seasons are the messy end to the Ron Vanderlinden era. If nothing else, Vanderlinden certainly left 'The Fridge' some good players to work with as his best work came with the old regime's players. After a three-year run in the top third of the conference, the Terps have struggled to regain their footing finishing below average the past three seasons. Believe it or not, the Terps were not as good as their 5-3 conference record in 2006 record would indicate.

Best SDPI Finish: 2nd (2001, 2002, and 2003)


Miami

The Canes started out as a solid Big East team and kept improving under Butch Davis. When he departed in 2001, the team held steady under Larry Coker for two seasons before falling off a touch in 2003. Coker kept the team near the top of the new ACC for two seasons before falling on hard times (relatively) in 2006 thanks to an impotent offense.

First Place SDPI Finishes: Big East (2000, 2001, and 2002)

Best SDPI ACC Finish: 2nd (2005)


North Carolina

The Tar Heels were decidedly mediocre under Carl Torbush, which is a pretty damning reflection on him. Clearly the Tar Heels had talent during his tenure (1998-2000) since Mack Brown had just left town following consecutive 10-win seasons. His successor, John Bunting, for all his faults (not starting Willie Parker foremost among them) could coach talent. His first season (2001) was by far the Tar Heels best in the BCS era. That also happened to be the senior season for most of the players Mack Brown had begun recruiting. However, things turned ugly quickly as the Tar Heels fell into Duke-level suckitude in 2002 and 2003. They rebounded to post an average season in 2004 and before dipping again in 2005 and bottoming out in 2006.

Best SDPI Finish: 3rd (2001)


NC State

The first two seasons are Mike O'Cain's penultimate and final years and the remainder are the duration of the Chuck Amato era. O'Cain's firing is understandable, though not necessarily justifiable, after his team's poor showing in 1999. Amato's teams improved steadily through his first three seasons, so it was not unreasonable to fancy the Wolfpack as a legitimate threat to win the ACC in Phillip Rivers senior season (2003). NC State fell off a bit in 2003 and continued falling off for the next three seasons. Interestingly, their bowl winning season of 2006 was actually worse than 2004 when they finished 5-6. That's what happens when you swap Ohio State for Southern Miss in the non-conference schedule. Chuck Amato without Phillip Rivers is like Wham! without George Michael. NC State's average SDPI with Amato and Rivers: 0.385. NC State's average SDPI with Amato and without Rivers: -0.83.

Best SDPI Finish: 3rd (2002)


Virginia

The first three seasons are the end of the George Welsh era. The rest are Al Groh's handiwork. It does appear the program was in the midst of decline in Welsh's final few seasons. Still, the man coached one of the finest public institutions for 19 years and suffered only two losing seasons while guiding them to 12 bowl games. And the coup de grace, Virginia had never been to a bowl game before his arrival. Groh bottomed out in his first season in Charlottesville, but immediately brought the Wahoos back into relative contention. They regressed again in 2005, but appear to be heading back in the right direction.

Best SDPI Finish: 3rd (1998)


Virginia Tech

They might not have the rep of the Seminoles, but the Hokies run in the BCS era is second only to the Seminoles in any BCS conference. The Hokies have been above average every season. They have been at least one standard deviation better than the average of their league counterparts eight times in nine seasons. They have been two standard deviations above average four times and three standard deviations above average twice.

First Place SDPI Finishes: Big East (1999), ACC (2004, 2005, and 2006)


Wake Forest

Jim Caldwell is responsible for the first three seasons and Jim Grobe the remaining six. Caldwell coached a bad Deacs team, an average Deacs team, and a terrible Deacs team. Grobe has had the Deacons competitive since Day One, always hovering a little above or below average with the exception of 2004 when Wake was unluckier than Joe Btfsplk, going 1-6 in conference games decided by seven points or less. They saved up some karma from that season and cashed it in in 2006 when they were 4-0 in those same games (5-0 if the all important ACC Championship Game is included). This allowed them to win the league despite being only about the fifth best team.

Best SDPI Finish: 5th (1999, 2002, and 2006)

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.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Sun Belt 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 Sun Belt teams in conference play was 131.75 points. The standard deviation for points scored was 49.87. The standard deviation for points allowed was 27.54. Troy scored 177 and allowed 136 points. The Trojans' offensive SDPI was 0.91= ([177-131.75]/49.87). Their defensive SDPI was -0.15 = ([131.75-136]/27.54). Their total SDPI was 0.75 (not 0.76 due to rounding). This was the fourth best mark in the Sun Belt in 2006.

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

Now here are the 2006 SDPI Standings:

Middle Tennessee 2.89
Louisiana-Monroe 1.29
Florida Atlantic 1.10
Troy 0.75
Arkansas State -0.52
Louisiana-Lafayette -0.81
North Texas -1.67
Florida International -3.02

After squeaking by Florida International in the opener 7-6, the Blue Raiders dominated the league, winning their next five conference games by at least 14 points. However, they technically did not win the league thanks to a one point setback to Troy. The Trojans also finished 6-1 in conference play, but were not nearly as dominant.

Best Offense: Middle Tennessee 1.45
After scoring only seven points in their opening win against Florida International, the Blue Raiders averaged 32.8 points per game over their last six Sun Belt contests.

Worst Offense: Florida International -1.56
The Golden Panthers were shut out twice, held to single digits five times, and peaked with 22 points scored in conference play.

Best Defense: Middle Tennessee 1.44
In Rick Stockstill's first season, the Blue Raiders dominated the Sun Belt on both sides of the ball. They never allowed more than 21 points in any conference game.

Worst Defense: Florida International -1.46
In Don Strock's final season, the Golden Panthers were dominated by their Sun Belt opponents on both sides of the ball. After somehow holding Middle Tennessee to seven points in their first game, no Sun Belt opponent scored fewer than 17.

Best Team that Didn't Go to a Bowl: Louisiana-Monroe 1.29
The Warhawks were a pretty good Sun Belt team (second best) that was beset by bad luck (more on that later).

Worst Team that Went to a Bowl: Troy 0.75
The Trojans were much better than the four teams below them in SDPI, but were extremely lucky to win the Sun Belt. They also caught a break in their bowl matchup, playing Rice who was vastly inferior to Middle Tennessee's opponent--Central Michigan.

Schedule Strength: No need to rank schedule strength since everybody plays everybody in the 8-team league.

Team(s) Likely to Decline: Middle Tennessee and Arkansas State
The Blue Raiders were far and away the Sun Belt's best team in 2006. They do return 8 starters on defense which is vital since they are losing their starting quarterback and running back. They should still be in contention for the Sun Belt title, but not be anywhere near as dominant as last season. The Arkansas State Indians finished 2006 with a 6-6 record and a 4-3 mark in Sun Belt play despite being outscored (both overall and in conference play). The Indians were 4-0 in close games, so they could easily have gone 2-10 or 3-9. Expect some regression in close games in 2006 and a losing Sun Belt record.

Teams(s) Likely to Improve: Louisiana-Monroe and Florida International
Despite ranking second in the Sun Belt in 2006 in SDPI, Louisiana-Monroe finished just 4-8 overall and 3-4 in conference play. The Warhawks were 0-5 in close games in 2006. They lost close conference games to Florida Atlantic, Arkansas State, and Troy, but they also played some BCS schools tough on the road. They lost by two points at Kansas and at Kentucky. They bring back nine starters on offense (including quarterback, running back, and all five offensive linemen) and six on defense. The Warhawks are a real dark horse to win the Sun Belt in 2007. To be true, the Golden Panthers were awful in 2006, finishing 0-12. However, they paired extreme futility with poor luck as they were also 0-5 in close games in 2006. Another winless season is not in the cards for 2007.

Best Chance to Crash the BCS: No one. The talent must significantly improve in this league (the coaching talent is already there in some places) if anyone is to ever crash the BCS.
Free Website Counter
Free Website Counter