## Tuesday, June 30, 2009

### Sun Belt 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. This is our last stop on the SDPI train, wherein we will examine the youngest IA conference, the Sun Belt.

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 Sun Belt teams in conference play was 2758.625 yards. The standard deviation for yards gained was 220.3. The standard deviation for yards allowed was 362.97. Florida International gained 2583 yards in conference play and allowed 2731. Their offensive SDPI was -0.80 = ([2583-2758.625]/220.3). Their defensive SDPI was 0.08 = ([2758.625-2731]/362.97). Their total SDPI was -0.72 which ranked 5th in the conference.

To refresh your memory, here are the 2008 Sun Belt Standings.

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

The SDPI standings allign pretty well with the actual standings. Troy and Louisiana-Lafayette (now known as just Louisiana) were the cream of the crop, followed by Arkansas State and Florida Atlantic. North Texas was by far the worst team in the league.

Best Offense: Louisiana-Lafayette 1.81
The Ragin Cajuns had an eye-popping offensive game when they took on state rival Louisiana-Monroe. The Cajuns tabulated 728 total yards and averaged an unheard of 12.1 yards per play. Running back Tyrell Fenroy had nearly 300 yards on the ground (297), quarterback Michael Desormeaux added 149 yards rushing, and receiver Jason Cherry had 92 yards on just a pair of carries.

Worst Offense: Middle Tennessee State -1.49
Outside of an offensive showcase against the moribund defense of North Texas (489 total yards), the Blue Raiders averaged only 324 yards per game against their Sun Belt brethren.

Best Defense: Troy 1.41
No Sun Belt team gained more than 358 yards against the Trojans. The Trojans also proved their worth outside the league, holding Ohio State to 309 yards in Columbus and LSU to 340 in Baton Rouge.

Worst Defense: North Texas -1.59
Probably the worst defense in all the land last season. They did manage to hold Florida International to 347 yards in their best effort of the season, though they still gave up 42 points.

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

Troy
The Trojans have either won outright or shared three consecutive Sun Belt titles, and they stand a good chance at making it four straight in 2008. The league's third ranked offense returns both a senior quarterback, Levi Brown, who took over in the sixth game last season and proceeded to throw 15 touchdowns against just three interceptions, and a running back who netted over 1000 yards on the ground, junior DuJuan Harris. Brown also has his top-target back, junior receiver Jerrel Jernigan, who paced the team with 868 yards last season. The offense should improve upon last season's performance. As a Troy fan, the only concern I would have for the offense is that other teams may leapfrog them. Troy was third in the conference in offense last season, but they only averaged about 11 yards more per conference game than the sixth ranked team (North Texas). Troy was good offensively, but their margin over the other Sun Belt teams is not exceptionally large. At least on offense. On defense, Troy was head and shoulders above everyone in the Sun Belt last season. However, that unit does lose six starters, and in particular, three from a secondary that was 29th in the nation in pass defense and 18th in pass efficiency defense. That side of the ball may experience some growing pains, especially considering the Trojans open with three of their first four games on the road. Troy is as good a bet as anyone to win the Sun Belt, but this is not Boise State we're talking about. It won't be a cakewalk.

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

North Texas
The Mean Green suffered through an embarrassing 1-11 year in 2008, including a winless Sun Belt campaign. Their lone victory was against Western Kentucky (Sun Belt member starting this season). North Texas was quite pathetic last season (easily the worst team in the conference), but there is reason to expect improvement. For starters, the Mean Green boasted (?) a turnover margin of -17 (117th in the nation) and -13 in league play (last). The primary reason for the poor turnover margin was the 17 interceptions they threw (102nd in the nation) and the fact that they lost two-thirds of their own fumbles (16 of 24). This is the third year of head coach Todd Dodge's spread offense, so the quarterback (likely Dodge's son Riley) should be playing with a more knowledgeable cast, and the interceptions should drop. North Texas should also have better luck falling on their own fumbles, so their turnover margin should improve. The defense, statistically the worst in the nation last season in both yards and points allowed, returns nine starters, including the top seven tacklers, so its virtually impossible for that unit not to improve slightly. North Texas won't go bowling in 2008, but they have a realistic shot of matching their win total in coach Dodge's first two seasons combined (3).

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

Louisiana-Lafayette
If the Ragin Cajuns were going to find their way to the first bowl game in school history, last year was the year. A senior quarterback, running back, and wide receiver powered the Cajuns offense to the best mark in the conference. They even challenged BCS-member schools Illinois and Kansas State on the road, before losing by 3 and 8 respectively. The Cajuns did finish second in the conference and were bowl eligible for the third time in four seasons. However, Florida Atlantic was the second Sun Belt team selected for a bowl game, and the Cajuns had to spend the holidays at home. Now those three skill players are gone, and despite the fact that seven other starters return, including all five along the offensive line, it appears as if the offense will decline. The defense, far from a strength last season (sixth in the league), does return 9 starters, so they should see some improvement on that end. The Cajuns have been very competitive under head coach Ricky Bustle, and they may even flirt with bowl eligibility this season, but expecting them to match their five league wins from last season is foolhardy.

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

Arkansas State and Western Kentucky

## Wednesday, June 24, 2009

### MAC 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. Only two more conferences left to analyze, and only about 10 more weeks until kickoff :) This week we move to the nation's heartland, and take a look at the Big 10's little brother, the Mid-American Conference. First here are the cummlative MAC standings since 2005.Not surprisingly, the team with two league championships in the past four seasons is number one overall. Butch Jones, who took over at Central Michigan, following Brian Kelly's departure to Cincinnati prior to the Chippewas bowl game in 2006, has actually exceeded Kelly's winning percentage in conference play. Kelly went 12-4 in the MAC in 2005 and 2006 (15-9 if we include his first year in 2004). Butch has guided the Chippewas to a 12-3 conference record the past two seasons. That brings me to my next point. You'll notice six teams have played 32 conference games and six have played 31 (Temple has only played 8 as they joined before the 2007 season). The MAC thought it would be a great idea to have some teams play seven conference games in 2007 and others play eight because the addition of Temple gave the league 13 teams. The league counted only games against division opponents when determining the representatives in the 2007 MAC Championship Game. As Murphy could have predicted, the MAC East champion in 2007 (Miami) was actually a half game behind Bowling Green because they played only 7 league games (5-2) while the Falcons played 8 (6-2). Each team went 4-2 within the division (as did Buffalo). Both schools beat the Bulls and Miami beat Bowling Green so they were crowned division champs. The league corrected itself in 2008, having each school play 8 total conference games and making life easier on statisticians everywhere. Another interesting fact is that Bowling Green, despite owning the fourth best record overall and top record in the MAC East over the past four seasons, did not 'win' the division a single time. The Falcons, in a move they will probably wind up regretting, fired their coach, Gregg Brandon, after last season. It just seems like a stupid thing to do, firing a coach who consistently had the team in contention to win the division (tied for 1st in 2005, tied for 1st in 2006, tied for 2nd in 2008). No, he wasn't as good as his predecessor (you may know him) but he only had one losing season in six years and the Falcons participated in three bowl games under his watch.

Now here is each team's home record in conference play since 2005.Western Michigan and Temple!? are tied for the best home league mark since 2005. I'll give the nod to the Broncos since they have played twice as many games. The biggest discrepancy between home and road record belongs to the Temple Owls and Akron Zips. Temple is a robust 6-2 at home against MAC foes since joining the league in 2007, but only 2-6 on the road for a difference of four games. Akron is a solid 9-7 at home since 2005, but only 5-11 on the road. The most interesting home/road split probably belongs to Ball State. The Cardinals are a ho-hum 9-7 at home, but a league-best 13-2 on the road since 2005 (difference of 4.5 games).

Now here is how homefield advantage shakes out in the MAC (in conference play only) with respect to the nation at large (with rank out of the 11 IA conferences in parentheses).With the exception of 2007, the MAC has found itself in the bottom half of the nation in terms of the value of homefield advantage. Twice the conference's home teams have finished with losing records (2005 and 2008). Overall, homefield has meant next to nothing in the aggregate in terms of wins and losses within the league.

Next up is how each MAC team stacks up offensively for each season. This is the ranking of yards per game in conference play.If there is one thing that is constant in the MAC, its change. Outside of Central Michigan, which has finished either first or second in offense each of the past four seasons, no other team has been consistent. Temple has finished dead last in both of their seasons in the league, but every other full-time member has seen their fortune shift dramatically at least once. Toledo and Northern Illinois are the prime examples of this phenomenon. Toledo owned the league's best offense in 2005, drooped to eighth in 2006, rebounded to second in 2007, and fell back to second-to-last in 2008. Northern Illinois was third in 2005, tops in the league in 2006, fell to ninth in 2007, and then dropped one spot further to tenth in 2008. If you look at Ball State's numbers, its pretty easy to tell when Nate Davis became the starting quarterback.

And finally, here are the defensive rankings for each team. This is yards allowed per game in conference play. Change has been the story on defense as well. Here are just a few examples. Akron had the best defense in the league during their title-winning 2005 season. They dropped to the middle of the pack in 2006, and fell even further in 2007. Western Michigan and Ohio featured the two worst defenses in the league in 2005. They had the two best in 2006. Ball State and Buffalo had the two worst defenses in 2006. In 2007, they were both in the top five. Miami had the best defense in 2007. They had the third worst in 2008. Northern Illinois had the second worst defense in 2007. They had the league's best in 2008. What kind of shenanigans are in store for 2009? Will Eastern Michigan become the standard against which all MAC defenses are measured? Will Northern Illinois go back in the crapper? Stay tuned.

## 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

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

Buffalo
Let me preface this by saying that the job Turner Gil has done at Buffalo in three short seasons is phenomenal. However, a ton of good fortune went into last season's MAC title campaign. For starters, the Bulls recovered an amazing 2/3rds of their opponents fumbles (26 of 39), aiding them in their turnover margin of +20 (3rd best in the nation). Forcing fumbles is a skill, and the Bulls clearly swarmed to the ball in 2008. However, recovering fumbles is not a skill. Case in point, the Bulls recovered only 8 of their opponents 23 fumbles in 2007. There's a great chance the Bulls won't force as many turnovers in 2009, which means their defense will have to improve in forcing 3 and outs in order to successfully defend their conference title. The Bulls were ninth of 13 teams in yards allowed last season, hardly numbers befitting a league champion. Fortunately for the defense, the top-eight tacklers are back from last season, so some improvement is likely imminent. On the other side of the ball, the offense did not fare much better, finishing seventh in the league despite the presence of Drew Willy, the school's all-time leading passer, a four-year starter, and a free agent signee of the Baltimore Ravens. The Bulls still have plenty of talent on offense, including the leading rusher in school history (James Starks) and the second-leading receiver in school history who also happens to be a likely NFL draft choice (Naaman Roosevelt). However, with 3/5ths of the offensive line gone and a new starter at quarterback, the offense will be hard pressed to improve. Gil has done great things here, and the future is much brighter than it was when he was first hired. However, 2009 looks to be a season when the Bulls have to pay the piper for all the good fortune they experienced last year.

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

Bowling Green and Western Michigan

## Tuesday, June 09, 2009

### WAC 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. This week, we'll go west and meet the Gonzaga of college football, Boise State. First here are the cummlative Western Athletic Conference standings since 2005.There's domination, and then there's what Boise State has done to the rest of the WAC over the past four seasons (heck since they've been in the league). The table below lists each team's cummulative scoring margin in conference play since 2005. That +789 number means Boise has outscored their WAC opponents by more than 24 and a half points per game over the past four season. You can see, both by the record and scoring margin, that the Fresno State program has taken a fall over the past four seasons. They have been usurped as second banana to Boise by both Hawaii and Nevada. Louisiana Tech has had an interesting roller coaster ride over the past four seasons. In 2005, they finished 6-2 in the league (7-4) overall, but did not receive a postseason invite. The following season, the wheels came off and Tech finished 1-7 in the league (tied for last with Utah State). Head coach Jack Bicknell was given a pink slip and the progeny of Vince Dooley (Derek) was hired to coach the team. Tech improved to 4-4 in WAC play in 2007. In their first conference game, they nearly derailed Hawaii's dream season before it got started, falling to the Warriors 45-44 in OT. Tech went 5-3 this past season and won their first bowl game since 1977.

Now here is each team's home record in conference play since 2005.Again, no surprise at the very top. Boise has not lost a home game to a WAC foe since joining the conference in 2001. In fact, Boise has not lost a conference home game since 1998, when they fell to fellow Big West member North Texas on October 10th. Elsewhere in the WAC, Hawaii comes in with the second best homefield advantage. This won't surprise many observers, as Hawaii has a reputation as a notoriously tough place to play. However, what may surprise folks, is that Hawaii has been nearly just as good away from the islands. Their 11-5 road record in the WAC is the second best mark over the past four seasons (behind only Boise's 14-2 record). One unique aspect of the WAC since 2005 is that no team has a better road record than home record. New Mexico State and Idaho both have the same putrid record in Las Cruces and Moscow as they do away from home (2-14 for the Aggies and 3-13 for the Vandals). The biggest discrepancy between home and road record belongs to the San Jose State Spartans. The Spartans are 9-7 at home and 6-10 on the road against league foes since 2005. Of course, this is all relative as no WAC team has performed significantly better at home as compared with the other conferences we've examined.

Now here is how homefield advantage shakes out in the WAC (in conference play only) with respect to the nation at large (with rank out of the 11 IA conferences in parentheses).After two seasons of slightly above average home performances, the WAC has slipped toward the bottom of IA in homefield advantage. Overall, the league ranks eighth since 2005. This is a sign that the better teams tend to win no matter where the game is played,

Next up is how each WAC team stacks up offensively for each season. This is the ranking of yards per game in conference play.Until 2008, the most consistent offense in the WAC belonged to the Hawaii Warriors. Think the departure of June Jones may have had something to do with their slide? On the mainland, the most consistently good offenses have been those at Boise and Reno. It's a little surprising that Boise has never lead the league in total offense. The most consistently bad offense has been that of Idaho. The Vandals have finished second to last in total offense each of the past four seasons. If you had taken the pulse of the New Mexico State program after the 2006 season, one would have thought it was quickening. Hal Mumme had just completed his second season in Las Cruces and the Aggies had finished behind only Hawaii and Boise in offense. Surely his air raid attack would wreck havoc on the rest of the conference. However, his charges dipped to the middle of the league in 2007, and then bottomed out in 2008, finishing ahead of only offensive luminaries Idaho and San Jose State. Not surprsingly, Mumme ball has been laid to rest. One can only hope Brendan Frasier can revive it.

And finally, here are the defensive rankings for each team. This is yards allowed per game in conference play.This is where Boise State has made their mark in the WAC. The national media likes to emphasize the skill position players and the high-octane offense Boise has run as the key to their success (not to mention their numerous gadget plays like those employed in the Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma), but the defense has been the dominant force in their foray through the WAC. They have boasted the league's best defense three years running, with a silver medal thrown in for good measure in 2005. They are the only team to have been in the top half of the league's defensive rankings each season. What's happened to Fresno State? After owning the league's best defense in 2005 (the year they gave Southern Cal all they could handle), the Bulldogs have been either mediocre or awful defensively. Dick Tomey, who popularized the 'Desert Swarm' defense during his time at Arizona, still knows a thing or two about that side of the ball. After a rough go of it in his first season (2005), his Spartans have been in the top four defensively each of the past three seasons. Also note the uptick in Hawaii's defensive ranking when Greg McMackin returned to the coordinator duties in 2007 (he became the head coach in 2008).

## Tuesday, June 02, 2009

### WAC 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. This week, we'll examine the Western Athletic Conference, home to the Gonzaga of football, the Boise State Broncos.

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 WAC teams in conference play was 2986.44 yards. The standard deviation for yards gained was 610. The standard deviation for yards allowed was 384.39. Louisiana Tech gained 3091 yards in conference play and allowed 3002. Their offensive SDPI was 0.17 = ([3091-2986.44]/610). Their defensive SDPI was -0.04 = ([2986.44-3002]/384.39). Their total SDPI was 0.13 which ranked 3rd in the conference.

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

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

As you can see, Boise State thoroughly dominated the league. The difference in their SDPI and that of second place Nevada (1.64) was greater than the difference between third place Louisiana Tech and eighth place Nex Mexico State (1.07). Outside of the top of the league (Boise and Nevada) and the very bottom (Idaho), the league's members were bunched very tightly last season. That means minor improvement from teams like New Mexico State or Utah State, coupled with some regression from teams like Louisiana Tech or Hawaii could turn the conference upside down in 2009.

The 'Pistol' offense ran roughshod over the WAC last season. Nevada gained at least 500 yards of offense against six of their eight conference foes, failing to do so only against Boise State (385) and Hawaii (481).

Worst Offense: San Jose State -1.50
The worst part for the Spartans is that the terrible offense hamstrung the second best defensive unit in the WAC. San Jose State managed to finish 6-6, despite featuring an offense that was held under 300 yards in six of their eight conference games. If not for Herculean efforts (by their standards) against Utah State and Idaho (802 combined yards), the Spartans would have barely averaged over 200 yards of offense in the conference.

Best Defense: Boise State 1.84
The Broncos boasted the league's best offense by a mile, finishing a whole standard deviation above second place San Jose State. No WAC foe gained more than 385 yards against the Broncos, and the only teams to top 400 yards were a pair of top-10 finishers (Oregon and TCU).

Worst Defense: Idaho -1.93
Idaho was more than one and a half standard deviations below the second worst WAC defense (New Mexico State). Yardage wise, they allowed about 80 more yards per game in conference play than the Aggies.

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

Boise State
No surprises here. Boise has won or shared six of the eight WAC titles that have been awarded since joining the league in 2001. They have never lost more than two conference games in any season, and have never fallen to a conference foe at home. Quarterback Kellen Moore, an inexperienced freshman last season, is now a seasoned veteran with a win at Oregon and an undefeated WAC championship on his resume. The backfield does lose Fiesta Bowl hero Ian Johnson, but Johnson split time last season with Jeremy Avery in a committee running game, so there should be no considerable dropoff there. The Broncos will be without the services of receiver Jeremy Childs who entered the NFL draft with one year of eligibility remaining, but was not selected. The defense also loses two of its top-three tacklers in defensive back Ellis Powers and linebacker Kyle Gingg. Unfortunately though, if you're looking for intrigue in the WAC in 2009, it won't be coming at the top of the conference. Look to the middle and you'll be in luck.

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