## Tuesday, June 16, 2009

### MAC SDPI

One of my favorite set of posts from the past two offseasons has been the SDPI recap/early preview. Don't know what SDPI is? It stands for Standard Deviation Power Index and is a tool Eddie Epstein used in his book Dominance to rate pro football's best teams. The basic idea is to look at how far above or below average (by standard deviations) a specific team is relative to their conference brethren. Since each team plays the same number of conference games, it can give us a good idea about who the best team was within the conference. However, it cannot tell us which conference is better. But the purpose of these posts is not to determine which conference is superior, but rather project ahead which teams in a conference will be contenders or also rans in the upcoming season. In the first post on SDPI two years ago, I calculated SDPI based on points scored and allowed within conference play. Last season I used points scored and allowed as well as yards gained and allowed. This season, I'm sticking with yards only. The yardage version of SDPI has a better correlation with future performance than points, and including both last season made the post seem (at least to me) quite muddled. Of course, this is by no means, the end all be all rating system, but it can give us an idea of which teams will improve and decline in 2009. Only two more conferences left. Our penultimate review will be the Mid-American Conference.

If you want the meat of the article, skip this next paragraph as it just gives an example of how SDPI is calculated. The mean yardage for and against for all MAC teams in conference play (championship game excluded) was 30777.46 yards. The standard deviation for yards gained was 376.11. The standard deviation for yards allowed was 302.15. Kent State gained 3344 yards in conference play and allowed 3019. Their offensive SDPI was 0.71 = ([3344-3077.46]/376.11). Their defensive SDPI was 0.19 = ([3077.46-23019]/302.15). Their total SDPI was 0.90 which ranked 4th in the conference.

To refresh your memory, here are the 2008 MAC Standings.

Now here are the 2008 SDPI Standings sorted by total SDPI, with conference rank in offense, defense, and total SDPI in parentheses.
The big head-scratcher here involves the eventual league champion Buffalo Bulls. On a down-to-down basis, the Bulls were about the fourth best team in the MAC East. However, they created a ton of turnovers (MAC best turnover margin of +10 in conference play), completed a Hail Mary to beat Temple, and outlasted Bowling Green in overtime to win the division. In the MAC Championship Game, they capitalized on a spate of Ball State fumbleitis (ran two fumbles back for touchdowns) and won their first conference title as a IA school. Speaking of Ball State, they were clearly the class of the conference, riding the top offense and third best defense to an undefeated regular season, including a 22-point beating of the Big 10's Indiana.

Best Offense: Ball State 1.59
Prior to their bowl game meltodown against Tulsa, Ball State failed to gain at least 400 yards in any game just once, when Toledo held them to 355. Heck, they gouged Buffalo for 503 in their MAC Championship Game loss, but could not overcome four lost fumbles and an interception.

Worst Offense: Temple -1.58
The Temple offense was bad, but without quarterback Adam DiMichele it was awful. In the five conference games DiMichele played in, the Owls averaged 338 yards of offense (would have ranked 11th in the conference), but in the three he missed, they averaged 264 yards.

Best Defense: Northern Illinois 1.76
Ball State put a hurting on the Huskies (529 yards of offense) and Central Michigan moved the ball reasonably well (430 yards), but the Huskies held five of their six remaining conference opponents to under 300 yards.

Worst Defense: Eastern Michigan -1.48
This is sad since Eastern Michigan had an offense capable of getting them to their first bowl game since 1987 (fourth best in the league). No surprise that when they matched up with Central Michigan (second best offense and second worst defense in the conference) the final score was 56-52. The victor may have been a little surprising though.

Hardest Schedule (based on cumulative SDPI of opponents): Miami 2.70
The Redhawks faced the four best statistical teams in the MAC (Ball State, Bowling Green, Northern Illinois, and Kent State) along with the eventual league champion (Buffalo).

Easiest Schedule (based on cumulative SDPI of opponents): Bowling Green -2.95
The Falcons avoided the league's best team (Ball State) and had the good fortune of facing three of the bottom four teams (Eastern Michigan, Toledo, and Miami).

Entire Schedule Strength (hardest to easiest)
Miami 2.70
Toledo 2.21
Eastern Michigan 2.06
Kent State 1.11
Akron 0.81
Central Michigan 0.60
Northern Illinois 0.48
Western Michigan -0.22
Buffalo -1.11
Ohio -1.52
Temple -1.67
Ball State -2.50
Bowling Green -2.95

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

East: Look to the bottom of last year's standings
Ohio won the MAC East in 2006 one season after finishing with a 3-5 conference record. Miami won the division in 2007 after a 2-6 campaign in 2006. Buffalo, last year's East champ, did have a winning record in the league in 2007, but prior to that, they had not won more than two conference games since joining the MAC in 1999. Keep an eye out for some combination of Akron, Ohio, Kent State, or Miami. I'd be inclined to give the nod to Ohio.

West: Central Michigan
After two straight MAC West titles (and two wins in the MAC Championship Game), the Chippewas ceded control of the division to Ball State last year. Those Cardinals lost their coach, quarterback, and four starters along the offensive line. Without those key pieces, its hard to envision a repeat. On the other hand, Central Michigan returns a three-year starter at quarterback, senior Dan LeFevour, from the league's second most prolific offense (Ball State was first). LeFevour has already thrown for the most yards in school history, and with a monstrous season, he could pass Timmy Chang for most yards of total offense in NCAA history (a little over 5200 behind). LeFevour is a dynamic dual-threat quarterback (a Tim Tebow light), having thrown for over 9000 yards and 74 touchdowns in his career to go along with over 2200 yards and 32 touchdowns on the ground. LeFevour has his top three receivers from last season (Antonio Brown, Bryan Anderson, and Kito Poblah) back to throw to. Neither topped 1000 yards, but each had at least 532. The only concern any Chippewa fan should have about the offense is that fact that three starters depart along the offensive line. Even if the line takes some time to develop, the plethora of talented skill position players should keep the Chippewa offense near the top of the league. The other side of the ball is where Central Michigan must improve if they have designs on winning the division. The Chippewas had the second worst defense in the league last year, and they ranked 106th nationally in pass efficiency defense. Of course, that kind of defense does not necessarily preclude a conference title as they finished 106th in the same category in 2007. The major difference was that in 2007, they grabbed 18 interceptions and last season they only managed 8. As mentioned ad nauseum on this blog, extreme performances are unlikely to be repeated, so there's a great chance Central Michigan manages more than 8 interceptions in 2009. The defense should grab more interceptions and should also be a little better as 10 starters (including the top-13 tacklers) return. If the defense can just become mediocre, Central Michigan should roll to the MAC title.

The team(s) you should be buying are...

Eastern Michigan and Ohio