Big 12 Look-Ahead: SDPI
One of my favorite set of posts from last offseason was the conference recap using SDPI. SDPI is a statistic I borrowed from Eddie Epstein that he used in his book, Dominance, to rank pro football's all-time greatest teams. SDPI stands for Standard Deviation Power Index and looks at how teams performed relative to the league average (or conference average in this case) and standard deviation in terms of points scored and allowed. The more standard deviations a team is above the mean, the better they are, and vice-versa. Here is the link to last year's Big 12 post. As you can see, SDPI was a useful tool in predicting some of the rise and fall among the Big 12's teams. In the interest of providing an even better offseason analysis, I will now be conducting another SDPI, this time for yardage. It is calculated in the same manner as the SDPI for points, but will obviously be measured against the conference mean and standard deviation for yards. Think of it this way: Points are the end result and yards are the means to that end. Thus, looking at both sets of data, we can get an even better idea about which teams are likely to improve or regress in 2008.
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 12 teams in conference play (championship game not included) was 249.33 points. The standard deviation for points scored was 69.14. The standard deviation for points allowed was 60.98. Colorado scored 238 points in Big 12 play and allowed 276. Their offensive SDPI was -0.16 = ([238-249.33]/69.14). Their defensive SDPI was -0.44 = ([249.33-276]/60.98). Their total SDPI for points (SDPIP) was -0.60 which ranked 9th in the conference. The mean yardage for and against for all Big 12 teams in conference play (championship game not included) was 3429.33 yards. The standard deviation for yardage for was 524.93. The standard deviation for yards allowed was 411.71. Colorado gained 3077 yards in conference play and allowed 3520. Their offensive SDPI was -0.67 = ([3077-3429.33]/524.93). Their defensive SDPI was -0.22 = ([3429.33-3520]/411.77). Their total SDPI for yards (SDPIY) was -0.89 which ranked 9th in the conference.
To refresh your memory, here are the 2007 Big 12 Standings.
Now here are the 2007 SDPI standings with conference rank in parentheses.
There's not a great deal of difference between the actual standings and either of the SDPI measures. Most teams were within a place or two of where SDPI thought they should be. The two slight exceptions are Oklahoma and Texas Tech. In regards to SDPIP, both finished about where they should have, but in terms of SDPIY, they were a little off. We'll begin with a look at the Sooners. Despite winning the conference, the Sooners are only seen as about the 5th best team by the yardage incarnation of SDPI. If you read my Fiesta Bowl preview, you'll know why. The dynamic and ballyhooed Sooner offense, led by freshman quarterback Sam Bradford, was actually below average in Big 12 play. The Sooners finished 9th in the Big 12 in yards gained, ahead of only Colorado, Baylor, and Iowa State. In Big 12 play, they gained 405 yards per game. If we look at all games, the Sooners finished 19th in the country by gaining 449 yards per game. That number is inflated by non-conference contests against North Texas (668 yards), Utah State (617 yards), and Tulsa (553 yards). The Big 12 was also very conducive to offense in 2007, as 7 teams finished in the top 20 nationally in yards per game. Here are the conference-by-conference breakdown of total yards conference game.
As you can see, the Big 12 was the second most offensively proficient conference in 2007, as the average Big 12 game saw roughly 857 combined yards. It was easily the most proficient of the BCS conferences as the second most prolific BCS conference, the Big East, saw roughly 90 fewer yards per conference game. Moving on to Texas Tech. The Red Raiders were recognized by SDPIY as the league's second-best team, yet managed only a 4-4 record in Big 12 play. How so? For starters, the Red Raiders style is very conducive to gaining yards. They rarely run the ball (246 rush attempts last season--dead last in the nation) and passing gains more yards on average than running. Pretty simple stuff. But, passing is also much more inconsistent than rushing; more often resulting in negative plays such as sacks (which are actually counted as rush attempts in college), incompletions, and turnovers. Head coach Mike Leach also has a tendency to go for it on 4th down (2nd in the nation with 31 4th down attempts in 2007), enabling the Red Radiers to run more plays (9th in the nation in offensive plays per game at nearly 78 per) and thus gain more yards. Texas Tech also finished 10th in the Big 12 in turnover margin (-8 in Big 12 play) helping to explain why they only finished 7th in scoring while leading the conference in yards gained.
Best Offense: Missouri 1.24 (SDPIP), Texas Tech 1.30 (SDPIY)
Both high-powered offenses will be bringing back senior quarterbacks in 2008, Chase Daniel for Missouri and Graham Harrell for Texas Tech, and at least one if not both will be in New York as a Heisman finalist.
Worst Offense: Baylor -2.04 (SDPIP), Iowa State -1.73 (SDPIY)
The Bears may have a chance to rebound somewhat as offensive guru Art Briles moves across the state to Waco.
Best Defense: Kansas 1.32 (SDPIP), Missouri 1.45 (SDPIY)
Kansas was first in points allowed and second in yards allowed while Missouri was first in yards allowed and third in points allowed. Kansas benefitted a great deal from their schedule which we'll discuss shortly.
Worst Defense: Baylor -1.68 (SDPIP), Nebraska -1.61 (SDPIY)
It's not really a surprise to see Baylor at the bottom in some category, but this is quite embarrassing for the once-vaunted Husker defense.
Hardest Schedule (based on cumulative SDPI of opponents): Iowa State 5.93 (SDPIP) and 5.13 (SDPIY)
The Cyclones got the shaft in the scheduling department. Not only did they have to face Missouri and Kansas in their own division, but in their games against the Big 12 South, they drew Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Tech. By either measure, those were the 5 best teams in the Big 12.
Easiest Schedule: Kansas -5.48 (SDPIP) and -5.12 (SDPIY)
In their games against the Big 12 South, Kansas was fortunate to avoid Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Tech. By either SDPI measure, they played the 7 worst teams in the Big 12 (Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Texas A&M, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa State, and Baylor). They did not play a single team in the top-5 of the Big 12 until the regular season finale against Missouri.
Looking ahead to next season, the prohibitive favorite should be...
It won't be a cake-walk, not with only 3 conference home games and the departures of running back Tony Temple and tight end Martin Rucker, but Missouri will rightly be the odds-on favorite to repeat as Big 12 North champs. As mentioned earlier, senior quarterback Chase Daniel is back to lead one of the nation's best offenses. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, a threat catching the ball and running it out of the backfield, should improve in his sophomore season. The defense gets 9 starters back, and although it will feel the loss of leading sacker Lorenzo Williams, it will still be very good. Plus with only 3 Big 12 home games, you have to like a road schedule that includes trips to Iowa State and Baylor, two of the league's perennial punching bags.
That's right friends, the Horns, not the Sooners should be the favorites to take the Big 12 South. As mentioned earlier, the Sooners, while far from a bad team, were not the juggernaut they were made out to be in 2007. Both the Sooners and Horns suffer some significant losses on defense. Oklahoma is down 7 starters, while Texas must relace 5 gentlemen in the defensive back 7. Texas also suffered a major hit when running back Jamaal Charles decided to leave early for the NFL. Texas quarterback Colt McCoy had a down year in 2007, producing a pass efficiency rating of only 139.16 after exploding onto the scene as a freshman with a rating of 161.82. If he can cut his interceptions (22 in 2007), he should once again be one of the Big 12's stars and the Horns should be even better. Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford, on the other hand, is coming off an amazing freshman season where he posted an efficiency rating of 176.53. Bradford won't be bad by any stretch in 2008, but it is statistically unlikely for him to improve upon those numbers.
The team(s) that will improve are...
Baylor, Nebraska, and Texas Tech
Saying Baylor will improve does not mean I think they will be good. It just means they should notch a conference victory in 2008 after going winless in 2007. For starters, the Bears nabbed a very good coach in Art Briles. Briles is somewhat of an offensive guru, and since Baylor will likely never be able to recruit the kind of players needed to have a dominant defense, developing a unique, and fun (to entice recruits) offensive system seems to be the only way for Baylor to be competitive. Plus the Bears will probably not finish with a turnover margin as poor as they had in 2007. The Bears were -18 in turnovers in Big 12 play last year. Another team that had lousy luck in the turnover department last season was Nebraska. The Huskers were -14 in turnovers in Big 12 play last year, ahead of only Baylor. This is not to say that was the Huskers only problem. Defensively they were awful. It stands to reason though that the defense cannot be any worse, especially with the hiring of a coach with a good track-record as a defensive coordinator, Bo Pellini. Lost in the abysmal finish to 2007 (1-6 record in the last 7 games), was the improvement by the offense in the final 3 games with Joe Ganz as the quarterback. After averaging about 371 yards and 18.8 points per game over their first 5 Big 12 contests, the Huskers exploded to the tune of 599 yards and 54.3 points per game over their last 3. Of course, they lost two of them as they allowed 76 points to Kansas and 65 to Colorado, but the Huskers are a team to watch in 2008. They shouldn't be able compete for the division yet, but with 8 home games a bowl game is almost assured. And finally we have Texas Tech. The Red Raiders lose only 1 solitary starter from their run and shoot offense, wide receiver Danny Amendola. 8 of the top 10 tacklers are back on a defensive unit that only needs to be decent to give the team a chance to win big. I wouldn't be so bold as to predict a division title for Mike Leach, but a second Cotton Bowl invite in 4 years would not be out of the question.
The team(s) that will decline are...
Any person who read this blog during the 2007 season knows there was not a bigger Jayhawk fan than myself. But alas, facts are facts, and the Jayhawks will not be finishing 7-1 in Big 12 play in 2008. For starters, Kansas was 3-1 in one-score games in Big 12 play last season, so they may see some regression in that department. Secondly, Kansas led the Big 12 in turnover margin in conference play. They were +15 in 8 conference games, meaning they gained nearly two more turnovers per game on average than their opponents. That extreme good fortune will not continue. Finally, their decline will be a matter of scheduling. Last season, Kansas was fortunate to play the 3 weakest teams from the Big 12 South. In 2008, they must play the 3 strongest teams from that division. Texas, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech replace Baylor, Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M. Kansas returns a great deal of talent, and Mangino is a fine coach, so I don't expect them to fall out of the bowl picture. Their season will probably look a lot like Rutgers in 2007. Kansas will probably finish 8-4 or 7-5 in the regular season and be bowl-eligible for the 4th season in a row. Much like Rutgers 8-5 season, it will be seen as somewhat of a disappointment, but considering where the program was just a few years ago, it will in fact be a solid accomplishment.