Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Twitter-ific Preview: Mountain West and WAC

It's almost time, can you feel it? We're just a little more than 3 weeks away from kickoff of the 2009 college football season, so its time for my iron-clad predictions for each conference race. Since Twitter is all the rage with kids now, my predictions will come in scrumptuous, bite size blurbs. Rest asured though, a lot of thought, effort, and excel spreadsheets went into these predictons. After the predictions, I'll give you an interesting fact about each team you may not have known, followed by a short statistical prose about a player or team from the particular conference I happen to be previewing. Theres something for everyone here. If all you want is some nuggets of insight, you can be happily on your way, but if you want a more polished look at the conference feel free to stay and read the whole thing. I'm doing this Noah-style, as we'll go two-by-two until the season starts. This week, we examine the Mountain West and the WAC.

Mountain West Prediction

Mountain West: Muy Interesante

WAC Prediction

WAC: Muy Interesante

Which Utah Team is Better? 2004 or 2008

The long and arduous offseason is an excellent time to reflect on the season that was. 2008 was unique in that it ended with a team from outside the 6 BCS leagues ranked as high as #2 in the nation in some polls. The Utah Utes finished the season 13-0 with a victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. 4 season earlier, Utah also finished undefeated (12-0) with a victory over Pitt in the Fiesta Bowl. Which Utah team was better? Let's break it down by the numbers and decide. We'll start with SDPI. I won't go into detail explaining it again, as there are numerous posts on this blog dealing with the subject. Here are the yardage SDPI rankings (Mountain West games only) for Utah in 2004 and 2008.The 2004 version of the Utes was stronger than the 2008 version against their conference brethren. In 2004, the team with the second highest SDPI in the league was BYU. Their rating of 0.90 is more than 1 full standard deviation below Utah's. In 2008, Utah did not even have the best SDPI in the league. That honor belongs to the TCU Horned Frogs who posted an SDPI nearly double that of the Utes at 2.92. If you feel like reading my previous write-up of the Mountain West in 2008, the link is here. If we stopped here we would have to give a huge edge to 2004 Utah. But let's look at some other stats.

In 2004, Utah's 12 opponents finished with a combined record of 61-76. They faced only 4 teams that finished the season with winning records. None of those 4 teams (Texas A&M, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Pitt) finished better than 8-4. The 2008 team played 13 games, but one of those was against IAA Weber State. If we leave the Wildcats out of the equation, the 12 IA teams Utah played finished with a combined record of 78-73. Utah beat 6 teams that finished with winning records (Air Force, Oregon State, Colorado State, TCU, BYU, and Alabama), including 3 that finished with at least 10 wins (TCU, BYU, and Alabama). Here are teams that finished the season ranked in the t0p-25 that were beaten by Utah in 2004 and 2008.As you can see, the 2008 Utah team had a much tougher schedule and pulled some much bigger scalps. They defeated 2 legitimate top-10 teams, while the 2004 team beat one fringe top-25 team.

Another way to measure schedule strength is to look at 2nd order wins. 2nd order wins are wins by teams that you have beaten. Here are the 2nd order top-25 wins (teams that finished in the top-25) for both Utah teams.Both teams have 5 2nd order top-25 wins, but clearly again the heft belongs to the 2008 team. The 2008 team has 4 2nd order wins in the top-15, including a top-5 2nd order win, whereas the 2004 team has one solitary 2nd order win in the top-15. Here's a break down of the 2nd order wins. In 2004, Utah beat North Carolina, who upset later Miami. Utah also beat New Mexico and Texas A&M, who both went on to beat Texas Tech. They also beat Arizona, who upset their rival Arizona State. Finally, they defeated Pitt in the Fiesta Bowl. The Panthers had beaten Boston College earlier in the year. In 2008, Utah beat Oregon State, who had previously knocked off Southern Cal. They beat TCU, who had already defeated BYU and would go on to defeat Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl. Finally, in the Sugar Bowl, Utah upset Alabama, who had previously defeated both Georgia and Ole Miss.

Lastly, here are some sundry statistics.As you can see, the 2004 team was much more dominant, winning games by an average of 6 points per game more than the 2008 team. The 2008 team was involved in 5 games decided by 7 points or less, including 4 decided by 3 points or less. They won all 5. No team came closer than 14 points against the 2004 team. The 2004 team was much better offensively, with future number one pick Alex Smith running Urban Meyer's offense to perfection (it will never work in the SEC). The 2008 team was much better on defense with second round pick Paul Kruger causing nightmares for opposing offenses with a team-leading 7.5 sacks. The final column is Pythagorean Win %, which is calculated by dividing the square of the points scored by the sum of the squares of the points scored and points allowed (actually to the power of 2.37 to be exact). The Pythagorean Win % rewards better defenses, as you can by the small difference in winning percentage despite the large gap in point differential.

So who's better? Well, if you totally ignore schedule strength, the 2004 team is the pick. They were never challenged all season and were clearly the dominant force in the Mountain West. However, schedule strength is vital to correctly ranking teams. Going undefeated in the Sun Belt is nowhere near as difficult as going undefeated in the SEC. For that reason, I have to give the nod to the 2008 team. Despite possibly not being the best team in their conference, the fact that they beat 2 top-10 teams as well as a host of other solid teams is impossible to ignore. Perhaps if the BCS had given us what we really wanted, an Auburn/Utah Sugar Bowl in 2004, we might know just how good that Utah team was. Unfortunately, the Utes were matched up against the weakest BCS team from that season, and we can only wonder how sweet that Sugar Bowl could have been.

A Brief History of the WAC

If you pulled a Rip Van Winkle or Captain America and took a long nap or just chilled in suspended animation beginning in the fall of 1995 and just woke up a few minutes ago, lemme tell ya, the WAC you know is no more ;(

In 1995, the WAC consisted of 10 teams--Air Force, BYU, Colorado State, Fresno State, Hawaii, New Mexico, San Diego State, Utah, UTEP, and Wyoming. Prior to the 1996 season, the WAC added 6 more teams (UNLV, TCU, Rice, SMU, Tulsa, and San Jose State) and split into two divisions. The conference hosted a championship game for three seasons (1996-1998), but by 1999, half the league had had enough. Air Force, BYU, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV, Utah, and Wyoming split to form the Mountain West. The remaining 8 teams soldiered on as the WAC, and prior to the 2000 season added Nevada to bring their membership to 9 teams. TCU bolted after the 2000 season, but the WAC, in perhaps their shrewdest manuever extended an invite to a relatively unknown program that played their home games on a blue field--Boise State. The WAC also added Louisiana Tech that season, givng them 10 teams. This formation lasted an eternity (4 seasons), but prior to the 2005 season, Rice, SMU, UTEP, and Tulsa left to join Conference USA. The WAC responded to this exodus by adding 3 teams from the dregs of IA football--Idaho, New Mexico State, and Utah State. This incarnation of the WAC will begin its 5th season of play shortly, thus making it the most stable version of the WAC in the last decade and a half. If you were scoring at home, only 2 teams remain from the 1995 version of the WAC (Fresno State and Hawaii).

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