Beginning today and continuing every 3 or 4 days after, Statistically Speaking will bring you the 2010 conference previews. We'll begin with the ACC and hit the BCS conferences in alphabetical order. Then we'll move to the independents, and finally hit the 5 non-BCS leagues. Each preview will list what happened last year, and what I project to happen this year. In addition, after the projections, each team has a little mini-stat write-up on some interesting (to me) topic. If you're curious, the projections are based on last year's SDPI rankings coupled with some regression analysis based on returning starters, turnover margin, and record in close games. The projection system then spits out a winning percentage and I use this winning percentage to compute the Log 5 probability of each team winning the league games on their schedule with adjustments for homefield advantage (the Log 5 probability link is very math intensive be warned). I then add up the probabilities and and the result is the estimated number of conference wins (rounded up or down). One note on the projections. Ties are broken in the order of finish based on the predicted number of wins, not the projected result of the head-t0-head game. For example, in the ACC Coastal Division, Virginia Tech is projected as the division champ with 6.3 wins while Miami is projected as 2nd with 6.1 wins. Thus they are both projected for 6 wins and even though Miami is seen as the favorite in their head-to-head game (homefield), Virginia Tech gets the nod because they are projected for more wins. Enjoy.
The Most Underrated Team of the Decade
Boston College played in a bowl game every year of the past decade. Only 10 other schools can make that claim (Florida State, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech, Florida, Georgia, and LSU). The Eagles won at least 8 games every season except 2000. They went 88-40 for the decade. Yet, they almost never appeared in any preseason polls, and if they did, they were not ranked very high. If you'll pardon the pun, the Eagles certainly flew under the proverbial radar. Perhaps the most telling statistic from the past decade is that the Eagles tied for the second most 'surprise' top 25 appearances in the 2000's. A 'surprise' top 25 appearance means the Eagles did not begin the regular season in the top 25, yet ended the season (after the bowls) ranked there. This is based on the preseason and end of season AP top25 polls.One of those 4 appearances (2007) was also a surprise top 10, as Boston College finished the season ranked 10th in the nation.
What is Clutch? Baby Don't Hurt Me No More
Since 2005, the Clemson Tigers have posted a solid overall record of 41-24. Yet, in a division with relative lightweights such as Wake Forest, Maryland, NC State, and Boston College, and a powerhouse in disrepair (Florida State), the Tigers have managed only one division crown. The culprit? A complete inability to win close games.The Tigers have been the exact opposite of money in the bank in close games the past few years (money in the fire? money in the shredder? money in the stock market?). Their record in non-close games is phenomenal (won nearly 84%). However, in one-score games they have won just a shade under 36%, and in really close games (a field goal or less), they have won under a quarter of them.
Tis' Better to Have Played and Lost
Since the inception of the BCS in 1998, the Florida State Seminoles have played in 6 BCS bowl games. The Seminoles are tied with in-state rival Florida for 4th all-time in BCS bowl appearances, trailing only Ohio State (8), Oklahoma (7), and Southern Cal (7). However, once they've made it to the big stage, the 'Noles have had trouble winning there. Florida State holds the dubious distinction of being tied with Oklahoma for the most BCS bowl losses with 5.The Seminoles also have the worst record of any team with 4 or more BCS bowl appearances. To be fair, their one win (over Virginia Tech following the 1999 season) was pretty monumental as it gave legendary head coach Bobby Bowden his 2nd and final national title.
Something Rotten in the Fridge
When Ralph Friedgen arrived at College Park prior to the 2001 football season, the Terps had endured 5 straight losing seasons and had not participated in the postseason since 1990. Friedgen proceeded to win the conference title in his first season at the helm, breaking up a streak of 9 consecutive conference titles by the Florida State Seminoles. Friedgen didn't stop there. His Terps won 11 and 10 games in his 2nd and 3rd seasons respectively, concluding both with beatdowns of Tennessee and West Virginia in the Peach and Gator Bowls respectively by a combined score of 71-10. It looked like Maryland had made their way into the national elite. However, in the last 6 seasons, despite moderate success, at least by historical Maryland standards, the Terps have posted only one winning conference record and have yet to find themselves ranked at the conclusion of any season. Here's how Friedgen's record shakes out over his first 3 and last 6 seasons.
Another Reason Your Defense Sucks
In his 3 seasons as head coach of the Wolfpack, Tom O'Brien has yet to field a defense that finished better than 11th in the ACC. That is the primary reason the Wolfpack have gone a disappointing 16-21 with no winning records in those 3 seasons. However, one overlooked part of the Wolfpack's trouble has been their inability to generate touchbacks on kickoffs. In the past 2 seasons, NC State has kicked off 134 times. Only once has the opposing kick returner downed the ball in the endzone. For your viewing pleasure, the 10 worst touchback teams since 2008.
In Good Company
Growing up a Wake Forest fan, I grew accustomed to blowouts at an early age. I guess it kept me humble. However, recently Wake Forest has been very competitive, and downright good (historically speaking). In the past 4 seasons, 19 BCS-conference teams have lost 8 games or fewer by double digits. Here is the complete list.That's pretty good company to keep. It's even more impressive when you consider that in the year before current coach Jim Grobe arrived (2000), the Deacons lost 7 games by at least double digits.
Good at Basketball, Bad at Football
While David Cutcliffe may yet change the course of football at Duke and have the Blue Devils back in the postseason for the first time since 1994, its not hyperbole to say Duke has been very bad at the game of football for the better part of the past 2 decades. Their suckitude has not been limited to games against other Division IA teams either. Since 2005, only 3 teams have lost multiple games to non-IA teams, and Duke is the only one that hails from a BCS conference.The Blue Devils have lost twice to Richmond, falling to the Spiders in 2006 and again in 2009. In addition, if you happen to be an athletic director for a school reading this blog, you may want to avoid scheduling New Hampshire and North Dakota State. The Wildcats from New Hampshire have beaten 4 IA teams since 2005 (Army, Ball State, Marshall, and Northwestern) and the Bison from North Dakota State have won 3 such games (Ball State, Central Michigan, and Minnesota).
Hiding a Bad Defense
I have a soft spot in my heart for Paul Johnson, and by extension, any team he coaches. When his option attack is clicking, its a thing of beauty. Since I live in ACC/SEC country, I get a chance to watch his team a great deal throughout the season. In 2009, I watched Georgia Tech's first 2 conference games (Clemson and Miami) and came away with the feeling that his defense was sorely lacking. The Tigers dug themselves into an early hole in Atlanta, but thanks to a handful of big plays, fought their way back, only to lose on a last second field goal. In their next game, the defense could not stop Miami until they were already multiple scores behind, eventually surrendering 454 yards in what would end up being their only conference loss. I also watched their epic pinball battle with Florida State, their game against my alma mater (Wake Forest), the rivalry game with Georgia, and the ACC Championship tilt with Clemson. The Yellow Jackets played well against Wake, but in the other games, their defense was average at best, but often terrible. Thus, when I ran the SDPI numbers in the offseason, I was surprised with how well Georgia Tech rated out. Their defense ranked 4th in the ACC in 2009, surrendering about 330 yards per game in conference play (a little more than half a standard deviation above average). So clearly, this was another case of cold, hard statistics more accurately capturing a team's ability than the human eye. Or was it? Here's another measure of ACC defense. This time instead of ranking a team by the yards they give up, they are ranked by the average number of yards per play (conference games only).When we evaluate the defenses in terms of yards per play, Georgia Tech ranks a more intuitive 8th in the ACC. As you can tell, their defense was also below the ACC aggregate average of 5.48 yards per play. However, the most interesting facet of the Georgia Tech defense from my standpoint is the number of plays they faced. ACC teams ran only 461 plays against the Tech defense, thanks to Tech's offensive style of play where the clock rarely stops running. This was by far the lowest number in the ACC. Virginia Tech, who faced the second fewest plays, was still on the field for over 40 more plays than the Yellow Jackets. At the other end of the spectrum, Georgia Tech's defense was on the field for 106 fewer plays than Virginia which led the league in defensive plays. 106 plays represents nearly 23% of Georgia Tech's total plays. Compared to the Virginia defense, the Georgia Tech defense effectively played only 3 quarters of football against ACC foes in 2009!
Not Getting What You Paid For
When they ACC raided the Big East in 2004, the thinking was by adding Virginia Tech and Miami they would become a super-conference. Each season at least one, and possibly two or three teams, would be in contention for the national title. It hasn't quite worked out that way, and one of the primary reasons has been the fall of Miami into mediocrity. The Hurricanes were the crown jewel of the ACC expansion, but as the table below details, they have the fewest conference wins of either of the 3 newbies.The Hurricanes are nearly 2 seasons worth of games behind Virginia Tech in the league standings, and they have fewer wins than Boston College despite having an extra year in the league! Miami has yet to win a conference or even a division title since joining the ACC in 2004.
Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead
For all intents and purposes, Florida State's dynastic stranglehold on the ACC ended in the early afternoon hours of September 22nd 2001 at Keenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Wake Forest fell to Maryland in a closely contested 27-20 game that I attended, so I was unable to watch what unfolded, but when I returned to my dorm I could not believe the score that flashed across the screen. The Tar Heels, 0-3 heading into the game, unleashed a fusillade on the 2-0 Seminoles, winning 41-9. Heading into that game, Florida State had appeared in 3 consecutive national title games, boasted a 71-2 ACC record (70-2 over their first 9 seasons, and 1-0 in the current season after waylaying Duke to open the year). Including that game, Florida State is a much more pedestrian 46-25 in the nearly 9 seasons since versus the rest of the ACC. I certainly do not contend that North Carolina's amazing win somehow gave other ACC teams confidence that Florida State could be beaten. Florida State's sag in recruiting and the strengthening of the rest of the ACC would be much more plausible reasons, but the win by the Tar Heels is symbolic of the veneer of invincibility being utterly destroyed.
The Welsh Army
Everyone knows George Welsh dragged Virginia out of the football abyss in the early 1980's. Prior to his arrival, the Cavs had never played in a bowl game and no coach had left Charlottesville with an overall record above .500 since Frank Murry in 1945. Welsh turned Virginia into an annual top-25 threat and even shared 2 ACC titles (1989 and 1995). However, another important factor in his favor was his ability to occasionally beat in-state rival Virginia Tech. In his 19 seasons at Virgina, Welsh was 9-10 against the Hokies. In his last 14 seasons after righting the ship, he was 8-6 against Virginia Tech. His successor, noted curmudgeon Al Groh, beat Virginia Tech exactly once in 9 seasons. Heading into 2010, the Cavs have lost 6 straight and 10 of 11 to their in-state rivals.
A Passing Trend
Under Bud Foster, Virginia Tech always has one of the best defenses in the nation. In fact, since 2005, they have been the preeminent pass defense. In the past 5 years, Virginia Tech has held opposing quarterbacks below a cumulative 100 passer rating for the season an amazing 5 times, easily tops in the nation in that span.