## Saturday, April 05, 2008

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 Conference USA post. As you can see, SDPI was a useful tool in predicting some of the rise and fall among the Conference USA'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 Conference USA teams in conference play (Championship Game excluded) was 267.75 points. The standard deviation for points scored was 52.79. The standard deviation for points allowed was 54.96. Rice scored 308 points in Conference USA play and allowed 340. Their offensive SDPI was 0.76 = ([308-267.75]/52.79). Their defensive SDPI was -1.31 = ([267.75-340]/54.96). Their total SDPI for points (SDPIP) was -0.55 which ranked 8th in the conference. The mean yardage for and against for all Conference USA teams in conference play (Championship Game excluded) was 3619.25 yards. The standard deviation for yardage for was 437.64. The standard deviation for yards allowed was 531.93. Rice gained 3702 yards in conference play and allowed 4176. Their offensive SDPI was 0.19 = ([3702-3619.25]/437.64). Their defensive SDPI was -1.05 = ([3619.25-4176]/531.93). Their total SDPI for yards (SDPIY) was -0.86 which ranked 9th in the conference.

To refresh your memory, here are the 2007 Conference USA Standings.
Now here are the 2007 SDPI standings.
It's pretty clear that in 2007, the UAB Blazers were in a class of ineptitude all by themselves. In SDPIP they were more than one standard deviation below the second worst team and in SDPIY they were more than two standard deviations below the second worst team.

Best Offense: UCF 1.54 (SDPIP), Tulsa 1.89 (SDPIY)
Tulsa gained the most yards in Conference USA play, but UCF scored the most points. Why?
1. UCF scored 4 non-offensive touchdowns (punt, kickoff, fumble, or interception returns) in conference play while Tulsa scored but 1.
2. UCF made 12 of 13 field goal attempts in conference play while Tulsa made only 4 of 6 attempts.
3. UCF was +5 in turnover margin in conference play while Tulsa was dead-last at -9.

Worst Offense: UAB -2.08 (SDPIP) and -2.06 (SDPIY)
Neil Callaway's maiden voyage was a long one. The Blazers were a very feast or famine offensive team. In 4 of their conference games, they scored 32 points and gained 1102 yards; never scoring more than 10 points nor gaining more than 338 yards. In their other 4 conference games, they scored 126 points and gained 1614 yards; never scoring fewer than 26 points nor gaining fewer than 343 yards .

Best Defense: Southern Miss 1.54 (SDPIP), UCF 1.62 (SDPIY)
Southern Miss was very close to netting the SDPI clean sweep as the league's best defense last season. They allowed 7 more yards than UCF in Conference USA play.

Worst Defense: UTEP -1.55 (SDPIP) and -1.25 (SDPIY)
When you're worse than Rice and SMU, there are problems.

Hardest Schedule (based on cumulative SDPI of opponents): UAB 5.91 (SDPIP) and 6.14 (SDPIY)
The Blazers played in the tougher division and in their intradivision games they drew the two best teams from the West (Tulsa and Houston).

Easiest Schedule: Houston-4.45 (SDPIP) anf -5.55 (SDPIY)
The Cougars played in the the easier division and avoided the best team from the East (UCF), while drawing the worst (UAB).

Looking ahead to next season, the prohibitive favorite should be...

East
Southern Miss
Things are set up quite nicely for Larry Fedora as he takes over for Jeff Bower. The Golden Eagles were easily the second best team in the East last season despite their 4th place finish. They were markedly better based on yards and points than two of the three teams that finished ahead of them (East Carolina and Memphis). They do lose two signal callers to graduation, Jeremy Young and Stephen Reaves, but their team pass efficiency rating of 114.90 ranked 88th in the nation and ahead of only two teams in Conference USA (Tulane and UAB), so the loss may not be as pronounced. Perhaps more importantly than the quarterbacks they lose, are the offensive skill players that return. Junior running back Damion Fletcher is back after a 1500 yard season. Seven of the top eight pass-catchers are back, including sophomore receiver Torris Magee and senior tight end Shawn Nelson, the top two pass-catchers from 2007. On the other side of the ball, the Golden Eagles have some major personnel losses on the defensive line with Matthew Chatelain and Martavius Prince both departing (combined for 14 sacks). However, linebacker Gerald McRath, arguably the team's best defensive player, returns. The real reason to like the Golden Eagles in the East though, is the attrition at the other alleged contenders. Defending champ UCF loses their stud running back Kevin Smith and his 2500+ yards as well as starting quarterback Kyle Israel and two stars off the offensive line, center Kyle Smith and tackle Josh Sitton. Their best defensive linemen, Leger Douzable and his 7.5 sacks, is also gone so the Golden Knights should fall back to the pack. Memphis loses its starting quarterback and running back as well. Plus the Tigers were actually outscored in conference play despite their 6-2 record. 5 of those 6 wins were by 3 points or fewer. It's likely the Tigers will not be as fortunate in close games in 2008. As for East Carolina? We'll get to them in a moment.

West
Houston
Like Larry Fedora at Southern Miss, another rookie coach, Kevin Sumlin, likely has the best team in the division. According to the yardage version SDPI, Houston was actually the best team in Conference USA. They were also very balanced. They gained the second most yards and allowed the third fewest points. Unfortunately, most of those points allowed came in a 56-7 beatdown at the hands of Tulsa. Things will probably be a little different in that game this season primarily because it is in Houston instead of Tulsa, but also because while Tulsa loses their senior quarterback Paul Smith, the Cougars bring back two competent quarterbacks in sophomore Case Keenum and junior Blake Joseph. Do-everything running back Anthony Aldridge is gone as are the top two receivers, but the defense should remain stout while the offense works out its kinks. 8 starters return to one of the best units in Conference USA, led by defensive end Phillip Hunt and his 10.5 sacks. Look for the 2008 Conference USA Championsip Game to be a rematch of the 2006 contest won by Houston over Southern Miss 34-20.

The team(s) that will improve are...

Marshall, SMU, and Tulane