CrispAds Blog Ads

Statistically Speaking: February 2009

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Big 10 Review 2005-2008

In addition to the SDPI posts, another offseason interest of mine has been to look at how each IA conference has shaken out since 2005. I chose 2005 as the starting point because that was the year the ACC expanded to 12 teams, the Big East added 3 new members and booted Temple, Conference USA added a championship game, the Mountain West added TCU, the WAC looted the Sun Belt after several of its members joined Conference USA, and the Sun Belt added 2 independents from Florida (FAU and FIU). Since 2005, there has only been one change in any IA conference. That was the expansion of the MAC by a single team with the addition of Temple. We've already examined both the ACC and the Big East, so now we'll turn our attention to every southern man's favorite whipping boy--the Big 10. First here are the cummlative Big 10 standings since 2005.Surprise. Surprise. The Ohio State Buckeyes, who have won or shared the conference title every season since 2005 have the league's best record. Two of their three losses during that span have come to the league's second best team--Penn State. I find it a little odd that only four of the league's eleven teams have an overall winning conference record since 2005. In fact, only Ohio State has had a winning conference record each season. Penn State went 4-4 in 2007, and every other team in the conference has had at least one year with a losing record in conference play.

Now here is each team's home record in conference play since 2005.Not surprisingly, the teams with the best overall record has defended their home turf well. Ohio State and Penn State have both won 14 of their 16 conference home games since 2005. What is a little surprising is that Ohio State has lost only once on the road in conference play. That means they have twice as many home losses as road losses! If you've read the other league wrap-ups, you may remember that the other tops teams are just as good on the road as they are at home. West Virginia has the exact same home and road conference record while Virginia Tech is only one game better at home against the ACC than they are on the road. Perhaps this is an indication that homefield advantage means less to elite teams. That is, they enjoy the proverbial bullseye they take with them on the road and are actually just as likely to fall asleep and lose to a lesser team at home as they are to fall to a motivated underdog on the road. As the other conference breakdowns come, we'll see if this is an actual trend or just a function of the order of the breakdowns. The biggest discrepancy between home and road record belongs to Penn State and Wisconsin. The Nittany Lions are 14-2 in Happy Valley, but a rather mediocre 9-7 away from home. Meanwhile, Wisconsin is 13-3 in Madison (with two home losses in 2008), but a below average 7-9 away from home. Among bad teams, Indiana has the biggest discrepancy as they are a somewhat dangerous 6-10 at home, but only 2-14 away from home.

Now here is how homefield advantage shakes out in the Big 10 (in conference play only) with respect to the nation at large (with rank out of the 11 IA conferences in parentheses).Overall, the Big 10 has been mediocre in terms of homefield advantage. However, it is interesting to note that while the ACC and Big East have had their whipping boys (Duke and Syracuse are a combined 3-27 at home versus conference foes the past four seasons), the Big 10 teams with the worst home records are Illinois and Minnesota at 5-11. That winning percentage is more than three times the mark of the aforementioned Blue Devils and Orange.

Next up is how each Big 10 team stacks up offensively for each season. This is the ranking of yards per game in conference play. There's a lot of ebb and flow for the offenses in the Big 10. Two of the top three offenses from 2005 (Northwestern and Michigan State) ended up being the bottom two offenses in 2006. The next season, they both rebounded to rank in the top three once again. Illinois went from being one of the worst offenses in the conference at the beginning of the Ron Zook era to one of the league's best. Call it the 'Juice Effect'. This table and the subsequent one for defense show which side of the ball Ohio State and Penn State have used to dominate the conference (hint: its not offense). This table also shows a disturbing trend for Michigan at the conclusion of the Lloyd Carr era. Rich Rod was unable to reverse that course during his first season on the job.

And finally, here are the defensive rankings for each team. This is yards allowed per game in conference play.Why did Michigan fall from perennial bowl team to also-ran in 2008? The defense fell apart. As we noted earlier, the offense had been in a steady decline at the end of Lloyd Carr's tenure. However, the defense remained among the best in the conference and kept Michigan near the top of the league standings. When the defense degenerated and the offense remained stagnant, the Wolverines fell to the bottom of the standings. The Buckeyes have owned the defensive side of the ball throughout Jim Tressel's tenure, and when the offense cooperates (see the number one ranking in 2006), an undefeated season is sure to follow. Besides Ohio State and Penn State, the rest of the conference has seemed to alternate strong defensive showings with mediocre to weak performances. That is of course, with the exception of Indiana, Minnesota, and Northwestern. The Hoosiers have finished last in defense once and never fared better than eighth in the conference in yards allowed. Minnesota has finished last twice, with their best placing being seventh. Northwestern has yet to finish last, but they have been between seventh and tenth each season. This is somewhat ironic considering they are coached by a former linebacker.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Big 10 2008 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. We've already looked at the ACC and Big East, so now its time to turn our attention to the midwest and examine the Big 10.

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 Big 10 teams in conference play was 2813.64 yards. The standard deviation for yards gained was 385.46. The standard deviation for yards allowed was 447.15. Iowa gained 2917 yards in conference play and allowed 2452 Their offensive SDPI was 0.27 = ([2917-2813.64]/385.46). Their defensive SDPI was 0.81 = ([2813.64-2452]/447.15). Their total SDPI was 1.08 which ranked 4th in the conference.

To refresh your memory, here are the 2008 Big 10 Standings.

Now here are the 2008 SDPI Standings sorted by total SDPI, with conference rank in offense, defense, and total SDPI in parentheses.

Penn State was clearly the best team in the Big 10 last season, posting the second best offense and number one defense in the conference. However, what really jumps out, at least to me, is the high finishes by both Illinois and Wisconsin. According to SDPI, the Illini and Badgers, who both finished 3-5 in conference play, were among the top three teams in the Big 10 in terms of performance on a down-to-down basis. However, that performance did not translate to achievement on the scoreboard. Illinois finished first in the Big 10 in yards gained, but only fourth in points scored thanks a defense that rarely gave the offense good field position by forcing turnovers (last in forced turnovers with 12 in conference play) and a special teams unit that ranked 93rd nationally in punt return average and 63rd in kickoff return average. Meanwhile, Wisconsin saw a disconnect on the other side of the ball. Their defense ranked a respectable fourth in the conference in yards allowed, but a deplorable ninth in points allowed. The offense contributed to the poor showing of the defense by leading the conference with 22 turnovers. Opposing Big 10 kickers also torched the Badgers, making all 13 of their field goal tries. Further down the standings, we see that Minnesota, despite their bowl appearance after a winless conference campaign, still has a long way to go to achieve mediocrity and that Michigan was very bad last season.

Best Offense: Illinois 1.57
The Illini moved the ball well against everyone. They topped 500 yards of offense three times in league play, but amazingly lost one of those games (Minnesota) thanks to three turnovers.

Worst Offense: Minnesota -1.46
Remember the Glen Mason era, when the Gophers could pound the ball with the best of 'em? Minnesota cracked the 100-yard rushing barrier in just two conference games, and averaged only 78 yards per game and 2.56 yards per rush in conference play, easily the worst in the Big 10.

Best Defense: Penn State 1.20
Until Southern Cal dismantled them in the Rose Bowl, this really looked like one of the best defensive units in the nation. Only three conference foes eclipsed the 300-yard mark, and only Illinois was within sniffing distance of 400 yards (372).

Worst Defense: Indiana -2.14
The Hoosiers were definitely the anti-Penn State. Only two Big 10 teams failed to gain at least 400 yards against the Hoosiers woeful defense.

Hardest Schedule (based on cumulative SDPI of opponents): Indiana 4.55
Believe me, this is the only spot where the Hoosiers have a shot at finishing number one. The Hoosiers faced eight of the top nine teams in the Big 10, and the only way the schedule could have been more difficult would have been to swap in Ohio State for Minnesota. Of course, it also helps that the Hoosiers had no way of playing themselves as they were easily the worst team in the conference.

Easiest Schedule (based on cumulative SDPI of opponents): Purdue -4.02
The schedule was set up to send Joe Tiller out a winner, but fate (and poor special teams which we'll get to later) intervened. Purdue played the three worst teams in the conference (Minnesota, Michigan, and Indiana), and not surprisingly, their two conference wins happened to come in those games.

Entire Schedule Strength (hardest to easiest)
Indiana 4.55
Michigan 4.43
Ohio State 1.29
Michigan State 1.06
Minnesota 0.43
Iowa 0.13
Penn State -0.15
Illinois -1.84
Wisconsin -2.16
Northwestern -3.80
Purdue -4.02

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

Ohio State
I know statistically the Buckeyes were only fifth in SDPI, and this was likely the worst Buckeye team since 2004. However, Ohio State was one Terrelle Pryor fumble from winning their third straight outright Big 10 title and playing in the Rose Bowl. Pryor put up good numbers as a true freshman, rushing for over 600 yards and posting a passer rating of 145.62, which would have ranked 21st in the nation if he had enough attempts to qualify. Pryor should improve in 2009, and even if he never achieves the zenith most recruiting gurus think he will, he is an obvious upgrade over Todd Boeckman. Next season, the Buckeyes must play the four teams that finished above them in SDPI (Penn State, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa). Each of those teams save Penn State must travel to Columbus. And speaking of Penn State, while the Lions were clearly the best team in 2008, attrition will likely prevent them from being the best team in 2009. The Lions will be breaking in a new quarterback to replace departing senior Daryll Clark. The Lions will also be without their top three receivers from 2008 and three of their top five tacklers. Winning in State College will be no gimme for the Buckeyes in 2009, but Penn State will likely find themselves on the wrong end of a few conference games as well.

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

Illinois, Purdue, and Wisconsin
I discussed earlier how on a down-to-down basis the Illini were the second best team in the Big 10 last season. But as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. See if you can guess from the table below during which season Illinois went to the Rose Bowl and during which season they missed a bowl game entirely. As you've probably already guessed, the more statistically dominant season is the one where the Illini did not make it to postseason play. The biggest difference between the six win conference season of 2007 and the three win conference season of 2008 is turnovers and random chance. The Illini were +7 (second in the Big 10) in turnover margin in conference play in 2007 and 3-1 in one-score conference games. In 2008, they were -4 (eighth in the Big 10) in turnover margin in conference play and 1-1 in one-score conference games. Both those trends have a good chance of reversing themselves in 2009 and the Illini should return to a bowl game. Another team that was better than their record indicated in 2008 was the Purdue Boilermakers. In Joe Tiller's swan song, Purdue performed from down-to-down at about their usual rate. They were fifth in the conference in offense and fifth in defense. Unfortunately, their punt coverage units let them down. Purdue gave up three punt return touchdowns on the season (two in conference play) and was dead last in the nation (120th) at covering punts, allowing 16.7 yards per return. That's not to say Purdue was unlucky in covering punts, they were plain bad, but performance in special teams is not as consistent year-to-year as performance on offense and defense. That's great news for new head coach Danny Hope and all Purdue fans. One area where Purdue was exceptionally unlucky was at recovering their own fumbles. Purdue fumbled only 12 times in 2008 (tied for sixth in the nation for fewest fumbles), but were only able to fall on two of them. Purdue was last in the nation in percentage of own fumbles recovered. Unlike special teams, fumble recovery is totally random, so you can bet Purdue will have better luck corralling loose balls next season. With better special teams play, some improved luck, and a competent quarterback under center, Purdue should be back to a mid-level bowl game next season. We've already touched on some of the reasons Wisconsin is poised for a rebound in 2009, but another factor to add to the equation is their poor luck in close games in 2008. Wisconsin was involved in four one-score Big 10 games in 2008, and was victorious in only one. The Badgers lost by two points to Michigan, three points to Ohio State, and by a single point to Michigan State. Their luck in close games should improve and if quarterback Dustin Sherer makes any progress in his senior season, the Badgers could be a darkhorse contender for the Big 10 title.

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

Michigan State and Minnesota
After posting much better numbers than their 3-5 conference record would indicate in 2007, the Spartans reversed course and finished well above where a team with their middling numbers should hae been expected. The Spartans went 6-2 in the Big 10 despite being outgained by about 36 yards per game in conference play. Their offense, despite the presence of Javon Ringer was the eighth best in the conference, and the defense was also eighth in yards allowed. So how did Michigan State manage to win all those games? For starters they were 2-0 in one-score games. Their one-score games also happened to occur against Iowa and Wisconsin, two of the better teams on the schedule. Their turnover margin was another reason for their success. While they were only -1 for the season in conference play (sixth in the Big 10), once we remove their two blowout losses to Ohio State and Penn State, that margin jumps to +6. The only other conference game in which they had a negative turnover margin was against Purdue. Michigan State was already outclassed against the Buckeyes and Lions, so the turnovers merely served to make their beatings more embarrassing. However, against teams of similar or less ilk (Indiana, Iowa, Northwestern, Michigan, and Wisconsin), the extra turnovers allowed the Spartans to win despite their failings on a down-to-down basis. In 2009, the Spartans will be breaking in a brand new backfield as both Ringer and quarterback Brian Hoyer have exhausted their eligibility. The offense, which wasn't that good to begin with, will probably remain near the bottom of the conference. The defense will likely see some improvement as four of the top five tacklers return as does the best playmaker on the line, defensive end Trevor Anderson. The Spartans luck will likely find some balance between their devine providence in 2008 and their poor fortune in 2007. Expect their conference record to strike some counterbalance between 2007 and 2008 as well, but the Spartans are by no means Rose Bowl contenders. Until November, it looked like the Golden Gophers had turned the proverbial corner. At the end of October, they were 7-1 (3-1) in the Big 10, and memories of a winless conference season in 2007 were forgotten. Then the Gophers dropped their last four conference games and were bludgeoned by Kansas in their bowl game. What happened? The turnovers stopped coming. To be fair, Minnesota did not play as well on offense or defense over their last four conference games, but being outgained on average by about 62 yards per game is not the mark of a team that wins 75% of its games. All told, Minnesota was last in the conference in offense and ninth in defense. The offense has a great chance at improving with players such as quarterback Adam Weber and receiver Eric Decker, but the Gophers have a long way to go on both sides of the ball to be average.

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

Michigan
Yes Michigan really was that bad in 2008. Only Minnesota posted a worse offense, and only Indiana performed worse on defense. Michigan has a long way to go to get back to where they were, but unlike Minnesota and Indiana, they have a brand name, and a proven coach. Rich Rod's first team at West Virginia went only 3-8. His next six teams never won fewer than eight games. Michigan may well miss out on a bowl once again in 2009, but in the long run, Rich Rod will right the program.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Big East Review: 2005-2008

In addition to the SDPI posts, another offseason interest of mine has been to look at how each IA conference has shaken out since 2005. I chose 2005 as the starting point because that was the year the ACC expanded to 12 teams, the Big East added 3 new members and booted Temple, Conference USA added a championship game, the Mountain West added TCU, the WAC looted the Sun Belt after several of its members joined Conference USA, and the Sun Belt added 2 independents from Florida (FAU and FIU). Since 2005, there has only been one change in any IA conference. That was the expansion of the MAC by a single team with the addition of Temple. A few weeks ago, we looked at the ACC since 2005. Now, we shall turn our attention to the league that the ACC pillaged and allegedly left in ruins--the Big East. First here are the cummlative Big East standings since 2005. West Virginia has thoroughly dominated the league since 2005. Their record is five games clear of second place Rutgers, and interestingly, they are the only team to have a winning record in conference play in each season since 2005. It also pays to mention here that the Big East has done pretty well for itself since being left for dead following the exodus of Boston College, Miami, and Virginia Tech. The conference has won three of its four BCS bowl games since 2005, two of them as heavy underdogs. In addition, if not for one gaffe by its eventual conference in champion in 2006 and again in 2007, the Big East winner would have been playing for all the marbles in early January. Big East teams have also posted a respectable 13-7 record in bowl games since 2005. How has the Big East been able to maintain a BCS-worthy level of success since losing three of its marquee programs?
1. Its members have hired good coaches (for the most part).
While Rich Rod was hired before the the exodus, he is an example of an excellent coaching hire as he put the Mountaineers in position to contend for not only a conference, but national title as well. Brian Kelly is another up-and-comer who may eventually prove to be too big for Cincinnati, but for the time being, he has been an upgrade over Mark Dantonio (though that is in no way an insult to Dantonio). Randy Edsall is another solid coach, who has guided Connecticut as they have transitioned from IAA newbie to BCS conference team in only a decade. And who can forget Greg Schiano, who has done his best Bill Snyder impression, and made Rutgers a legitimate threat to win the conference. Of course, there have been some questionable hires as well (Greg Robinson, Bill Stewart, and Dave Wannstedt to name a few), but for the most part, the positions have been filled with competent men.
2. They grabbed the right teams from Conference USA.
Cincinnati is a large state-supported institution in a football crazed state. Louisville was arguably the best team in Conference USA when they were poached by the Big East. South Florida may have been a reach at the time as they were only 4-7 in their second season of play in Conference USA, but the Bulls, like the Bearcats, are a large state-supported school in a football hotbed.
3. They gave Temple the boot.
The Owls have very little in the way of gridiron history, so throwing them out was addition by subtraction.

Now here is each team's home record in conference play since 2005. West Virginia has defended its homefield very well, with an 11-3 record (tops in the league), but it should also be noted they also have the exact same record on the road! Every team except Syracuse has a winning record at home. The biggest discrepancy between home and road record belongs to the either the Connecticut Huskies or the Louisville Cardinals. Connecticut is a solid 8-6 at home since 2005, but only 3-11 on the road (with two of the wins coming this past season against basement dwellars Louisville and Syracuse). Louisville has gone 10-4 at home since 2005 (9-1 before their disastrous 1-3 home record in 2008), but only 5-9 away from Papa John's Stadium.

Now here is how homefield advantage shakes out in the Big East (in conference play only) with respect to the nation at large (with rank out of the 11 IA conferences in parentheses). As you can see, with the exception of 2007, the Big East has consistently been one of the most home-friendly conferences. From 2005-2008, they rank behind only the Big 12 in homefield advantage, with home teams winning nearly 60% of the time in conference showdowns. If we remove the record of the moribund Orange from Syracuse, that number climbs to 66.2% (nearly two wins for every one loss).

Next up is how each Big East team stacks up offensively for each season. This is the ranking of yards per game in conference play.Even with the loss of offensive guru Bobby Petrino following the 2006 season, Louisville has remained among the most prolific offenses in the league. The reason for their decline will be revealed in the next paragraph. The influence Brian Kelly has had on the Cincinnati offense is readily apparent as they have finished in the top three in offense in the conference during both of his seasons as head coach despite starting a new quarterback in 2007 (Ben Mauk) and several new quarterbacks in 2008. One remarkable fact is the consistency with which several teams have finished in the final offensive rankings. Syracuse has been dead last each season, Pitt has been fifth three times in four seasons, Connecticut has finished seventh three times in four seasons, and South Florida has fnished third or fourth each season.

And finally, here are the defensive rankings for each team. This is yards allowed per game in conference play.While the majority of the offenses in the Big East have been very consistent, the defenses have been the exact opposite. One season after finishing last in the conference in defense (2006), Pitt regrouped and posted the best defense in the league. Connecticut nearly equaled that feat by posting the second worst defense in 2007 (thank you Syracuse) and rebounding to feature the league'e best defense in 2008. Cincinnati has also gone from terrible (2005), to good (2006), to below average (2007), and back to good again (2008). Rutgers has also seen their defense go from a strength (2005-2007) to a relative weakness. However, the biggest dropoff has been from the Louisville Cardinals.The Cardinals allowed about 100 more yards per game to Big East foes than they did in 2005. It also doesn't help that their turnover margin has been trending downward at the same time.It's been a perfect storm of attrition, injuries, and turnovers that has Steve Kragthorpe squarely on the hot seat in 2009.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Big East 2008 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. Last time we looked at the ACC. In this post we'll examine the Big East and see what the conference has in store for 2009.

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 Big East teams in conference play was 2379.88 yards. The standard deviation for yards gained was 321.16. The standard deviation for yards allowed was 302.12. Pitt gained 2425 yards in conference play and allowed 50 Their offensive SDPI was 0.14 = ([2425-2379.88]/321.16). Their defensive SDPI was 0.43 = ([2379.88-2250]/302.12). Their total SDPI was 0.57 which ranked 3rd in the conference.

To refresh your memory, here are the 2008 Big East Standings.

Now here are the 2008 SDPI Standings sorted by total SDPI, with conference rank in offense, defense, and total SDPI in parentheses.

Cincinnati and Rutgers were effectively tied at the top of the league, with the Bearcats owning the top spot by the slimmest of margins. Cincinnati did it with great balance, boasting the league's third ranked offense and second ranked defense. Rutgers had the league's best offense (by a wide margin), but a slightly below average defense. SDPI also shows how close together the middle of the conference was clustered. The teams ranked third through sixth (Pitt, South Florida, Connecticut, and West Virginia) were all within six tenths of a standard deviation. It should be no surprise then, that four of the six games between these four teams were decided by six points or less.

Best Offense: Rutgers 1.42
In their first three conference games, the Knights averaged 273 yards per game and scored 39 points (1-2 record). Over their last four conference games, the Knights averaged 504 yards per game and did not score fewer than 35 points in any one game (4-0 record). The most shocking offensive statistic in the Big East is that West Virginia, with Pat White, finished sixth in th league in offense!

Worst Offense: Syracuse -1.96
The Orange averaged 306 yards per game over their first four league games (still would have ranked last in the conference), but over their final three games they broke the 200 yard barrier only once and average a paltry 175 yards per game.

Best Defense: Connecticut 1.09
If only they had a passing attack to compliment the defense and running back Donald Brown.

Worst Defense: Louisville -1.75
Yes even worse than Syracuse. In fact, these guys were more than half a standard deviation worse than the Orange. After playing decent defense in their first four conference games (allowed 334 yards per game), injuries and fatigue caught up with the Cardinals as they allowed 525 yards per game over their final three.

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

There is no prohibitive favorite.
If the Big East is anything in 2009, it is a league in flux. League champion Cincinnati loses a pair of talented 1000-yard receivers, the G-Unit if you will, in Marshwan Gilyard and Dominick Goodman, as well as their top-5 tacklers and number one sack man (defensive end Connor Barwin) from a defense that was the second best in the league. Connecticut will be without the services of workhorse running back Donald Brown (first in the nation in rush yards and second in rush attempts in 2008) who departed left early for the NFL. Louisville loses a solid senior quarterback in Hunter Cantwell from an offense that was the second best in the Big East last season. And of course, it bears mentioning that the defense will have to improve substantially to be mediocre. Like Connecticut, Pitt is also victimized by a running back leaving school early for the riches of the NFL. LeSean McCoy (1488 rushing yards) is gone, and his backup, the diminutive LaRod Stephens-Howling, has exhausted his eligibility. Rutgers must break in a new starting quarterback in 2009, but the biggest loss is likely junior receiver Kenny Britt (averaged 130 yards receiving in the Scarlet Knight's 7-game win streak to end the year), another early entrant to the NFL. South Florida may be poised to make a run at the conference title, but it should be noted they have yet to win more than four conference games since joining the Big East. West Virginia loses one of the best collegiate quarterbacks ever, and is still coached by Bill Stewart. And Syracuse, well they suck. If you are trying to pick a favorite for next season, take a seven-sided die (sans the Orange of course) and give it a throw.

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

Connecticut and South Florida
Yes Connecticut loses their star running back Donald Brown and senior quarterback Tyler Lorenzen. However, three starting offensive linemen return to block, likely for either sophomore Jordan Todman (averaged over 6 yards per carry in limited action last season) or senior Andre Dixon who was slated to be the starter in 2008 (2nd Team All Big East in 2007 with over 800 yards rushing). The running game should suffer a bit of a decline, but conversely, even without Lorenzen, the passing game has nowhere to go but up. As a team, the Huskies ranked 110th in the nation in completion percentage, 106th in yards per pass, 117th in touchdown passes, and 117th in quarterback rating. And let's not forget the defense, which was statistically the best in the Big East in 2008. Five of the team's top-6 tacklers return, so despite the loss of both defensive ends (Julius Williams and Cody Brown combined for 17 sacks in 2008), the defense should remain among the best in the conference. Despite beginning the year 5-0, and finding themselves ranked as high as number 10 at the end of September, the South Florida Bulls managed only a 2-5 record in Big East play. They failed to win a conference game on the road, and managed only a split of their four conference home games. Half of their league wins came against moribund league doormat Syracuse, and the other was a squeaker over Connecticut. So why do the Bulls stand a good chance at improving next season? As mentioned previously, between the top (Cincinnati and Rutgers) and bottom (Louisville and Syracuse) of the league, there wasn't a whole lot of difference between Pittsburgh, South Florida, Connecticut, and West Virginia, at least on a down-to-down basis. In fact, based on SDPI, the Bulls were the fourth best team in the conference. Unfortunately for South Florida, they were beset by a poor turnover margin (-6 in conference play, ahead of only Louisville) and just plain bad luck (1-3 record in one-score conference games). Both those trends should improve in 2009 and give the Bulls a winning record in Big East play and a shot at the conference title. And that conference title shot may well come down to the play of senior quarterback Matt Grothe. Grothe is a little overrated, as he is nowhere near the caliber of uber-stars and Heisman contenders like Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy, and Sam Bradford, but he is an above average quarterback. In my opinion, the biggest knock on Grothe is that he has not improved. The table below lists Grothe's key passing stats in his three seasons as a starter. See if you can pick out which seasons are his freshman, sophomore, and junior campaigns.Year A is his sophomore year, Year B is his junior season, and Year C is his freshman campaign. Basically Grothe is the same player he was when he entered South Florida, albeit now his arm shoulders a larger burden of the team's offense. If Grothe can cut down on his turnovers (12 of his 15 interceptions in 2008 came in Big East play), and maintain his solid completion rate, the Bulls could very well rise to the pinnacle of the Big East.

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

West Virginia
Bill Stewart is a hard guy not to pull for. In an age where many coaches (I'm looking at you Bobby Petrino) are out looking for number one, Stewart realizes what an honor and privilege it is to coach college football and be paid handsomely to do it. Unfortunately, I'm not sure he is good at what he does. Stewart took over a West Virginia squad that brought back a talented senior quarterback (Pat White) along with a sophomore speedster (Noel Devine) and proceeded to produce the sixth best offense in an eight team league. The defense also regressed (fifth in the conference), but this was somewhat expected as only four starters returned from the 2007 unit. Believe me, West Virginia was very lucky to go 5-2 in Big East play last season. Their biggest ally in 2008 was their turnover margin (first in Big East play at +11). Five Connecticut turnovers turned a close game (West Virginia trailed 13-7 at half) into a 35-13 Mountaineer romp and five Louisville turnovers allowed West Virginia to emerge victorious from a 7-all halftime tie to win 35-21. Does West Virginia deserve credit for forcing those turnovers? Absolutely. But, this fact remains, teams with a good turnover margin one season tend to see that margin reduced the next season and vice-versa. Add to that, the fact that White will be absent from the Mountaineer backfield and West Virginia should have its first season of more than two conference losses since 2001.

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

Pitt and Rutgers
As mentioned earlier, LeSean McCoy's departure leaves a gaping hole in the Pitt backfield. Even with McCoy, the Panther offense was only the fifth best in the conference. Without him, the onus of the offense falls to quarterback Bill Stull who has yet to prove he is anything more than an average (at best player). Pitt's defense did finish third in the league in 2008, but it was still well below the top two units at Connecticut and Cincinnati. In addition, four of the top-5 tacklers from that unit are gone, so we'll have to wait and see if Wanny's recruits are ready to step in. After beginning the season 1-5, with the lone win coming against IAA Morgan State, the Scarlet Knights streaked to the finish line by winning seven in a row, only two of which were by fewer than 18 points. The main difference in the streak? The play of senior quarterback Mike Teel who went from terrible to offensive player of the year. Seriously. Take a look at the numbers. If you prorate the final seven games over a whole season, Teel is easily the best quarterback in the conference. Alas, Teel and his top-target, wide receiver Kenny Britt, as well as receiver Tiquan Underwood (494 yards in 2008) and tight end Kevin Brock (300 yards in 2008), will be gone in 2009. The Knights also lose their leading tackler on defense (linebacker Kevin Malast), a pair of strong defensive tackles who led the team in sacks (Jamaal Westerman) and tackles for loss (Pete Tverdov), and the only gentlemen in the secondary with multiple interceptions (Jason McCourty and Courtney Greene). The Knights have a lot of pieces to replace, but after seeing the job he did in righting the ship, not just after the 1-5 start in 2008, but overall, its hard not to have faith in Greg Schiano.
Free Website Counter
Free Website Counter