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Statistically Speaking: July 2010

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Big 10 Preview

Only 5 weeks (35 days) until the beginning of the college football season! Today we preview the Big 10. If you want a primer on these projections, here's the link to the ACC Preview which gives a short explanation of where these numbers come from. Check back in a few days for the Big 12 Preview.

Big 10 Projections



Illinois
License to Ill
Since the dawning of the BCS era (1998) a handful of teams, 10 to be exact, have endured losing records just one season after playing in a BCS Bowl Game. The Illini, along with Notre Dame, are the only school to have done it twice.

Indiana
Long Line of Losers
It may not come as a surprise to you, faithful reader, that Indiana has the worst conference record of any Big 10 member in the past decade. It may surprise you how many 'disastrous' conference seasons they have had. Let's define 'disastrous' as campaigns that result in one league win or fewer. There were 14 such instances in the last decade. Indiana was responsible for 6 of them.

Iowa
Surprise, Surprise
In the past decade, the Iowa Hawkeyes were one of only 2 teams to have a pair of 'surprise' top 10 appearances. A surprise top 10 appearance means the Hawkeyes began the year ranked outside the top 25, yet finished the season ranked in the top 10 (based on the preseason and end of season AP polls).Perhaps even more amazing is that the surprise top 10 appearances happened in consecutive seasons (2002 and 2003).


Michigan
Worst...Defense...Ever
If you happen to stop by a pub in Ann Arbor and get to conversing with an old-timer about Michigan football and he says something like 'These past few years have been the worst Michigan defenses I've ever seen', he's not just vexing his frustration in some hyperbole.

Michigan St
OK Sparty, Go to a Party
Michigan State followed up a 9-win season in 2008 (their first since 1999) with a lackluster 6-7 showing. They did this despite increasing their offensive production after losing a senior-laden backfield. Why did the Spartans slump despite the offensive improvement? Their defense, in particular their pass defense, was one of the worst in the nation. Michigan State finished 101st in the nation in opponent quarterback rating, 112th in passing yards per game allowed, and dead last in opponent TD/Int ratio.Michigan State allowed opposing quarterbacks to throw 32 touchdown passes in 2009, and only grabbed 6 interceptions. Compared to the other 5 teams on this list, Michigan State was lucky they didn't have an even worse record. The Spartans ranked 65th in scoring defense, allowing 26.3 points per game. None of the other 4 teams on this list ranked higher than 103rd in scoring defense (UNLV) with Western Kentucky and Rice pulling up the rear for all IA teams at 119th and 120th respectively.


Minnesota
Bustin' the Line
Under Glen Mason (coach from 1997-2006 before his ridiculous firing) the Golden Gophers achieved a modicum of success. They went to 7 bowl games, winning 3 of them, and in 2003 notched 10 wins for the first time since 1905. What Minnesota came to be known for under Mason was power football. The Gophers, with a stable of backfield stars who would go on to play in the pros (Marion Barber, Laurence Maroney, and Gary Russell to name a few) running behind some big uglies who would do the same (Jerome Davis, Adam Haayer, and Ben Hamilton again to name a few) the Gophers would have made Woody Hayes proud. However, under Mason's replacement, Tim Brewster, the running game has devolved, and methinks its the offensive line that is to blame.The running game slipped a bit in Mason's final season (2006), and did not see a significant decline in Brewster's first season (probably because he still had a large number of Mason's players). However, since then not only has the running game imploded, so has another portion of the game that is predicated on a solid offensive line.I don't have sack data for any other seasons when the Gopher's were coached by Mason, but as you can see, the team's sack rate actually improved in the first year of the Brewster regime (again with a lot of Mason's players). However, once Brewster had to bring his own guys in, the offensive line functioned more like a turnstile, allowing teams to sack Gopher quarterbacks nearly once every 10 pass attempts in 2009. University of Minnesota, let me humbly offer a suggestion. In this era we live in, reconciliation is all the rage (just look at Bristol and Levi). So, admit you made a mistake and beg Mason to take you back. Heck, even offer to put him on the cover of Playgirl if that's what it takes.


Northwestern
Not a Bad Decade
If you were a Northwestern football fan growing up in the 1980's let me start by offering you my condolences. For the better part of the second half of the 20th century, the Northwestern Wildcats were a laughing stock in the Big 10. Then, seemingly out of nowhere they won the Big 10 with a perfect 8-0 record in 1995 (just 2 years removed from a winless Big 10 season) and played in the Rose Bowl. They won 7 of their 8 Big 10 games the next season and looked to be on their way out of the mire. However, after those 2 somewhat fluky seasons, the Wildcats closed the 90's by winning just 4 league games from 1997-1999. Still, the team won 27 league games in the 90's, more than double their win total from the woeful 80's. And just when Northwestern fans thought it couldn't get any better, well it did. While the Wildcats failed to enjoy any sensational seasons in the Big 10 this past decade, they did win at least 5 league games 5 times. They also avoided the shame of any winless seasons, something that happened 5 total times in the 80's and 90's. In fact, when taken together, the Wildcats nearly won as many Big 10 games in the past 10 years (38) as they had won in the previous 20 (40).

Ohio State
Playing it Close to the (Sweater) Vest
Ohio State head coach Jim Tressell is widely regarded as one of the most conservative coaches in all of college football. Conventional wisdom has it that his Buckeye teams take very few risks, win the turnover battle, and run the football to win games. Conservative is a very nebulous term, and somewhat hard to define. However, one factor that most football observers would tend agree on as a conservative strategy is punting on 4th down. Therefore, it stands to reason that going for it on 4th down would be considered a more risky approach to football. To see how Tressel's teams ranked in this measure of conservativeness, I looked at which teams attempted the fewest 4th down conversions over the past 4 seasons.As you can see, in this regard, Tressell has clearly earned his moniker as a conservative coach. His Buckeyes have only attempted to gain a first down 43 times in the past 4 seasons on 4th down. What's also interesting about this list is that several coaches, chiefly offensive minded leaders at Cal (Jeff Tedford) and SMU (June Jones) have also been rather risk-adverse when it comes to going for it on 4th down. I'm particularly surprised at SMU. In Jones' final 2 seasons as head coach at Hawaii (2006-2007), the Warriors attempted to convert on 4th down 40 times. In his 2 seasons at SMU, the Mustangs have only gone for it 20 times on 4th down. Perhaps part of it is trust, as Jones may not yet trust his Mustangs to run his system, while conversely at Hawaii, Jones had Colt Brennan running his offense.


Penn State
Exclusive Company
Penn State enjoyed a very good season in 2009. They went 11-2 and defeated LSU in the Capital One Bowl. However, both of their losses (to Iowa and Ohio State) were not extremely close. They lost to Iowa by by 11 and Ohio State by 17. I figured this was a pretty rare occurrence. I went back and looked for all teams since 2005 that won at least 10 games, and lost at least 2, with each loss coming by double digits. It wasn't quite as rare as I thought. 16 other teams have 'accomplished' this feat since 2005. That's not exactly rare. However, when I went back and looked at Penn State's schedule, I also noticed both of their losses came at home. I went back and looked at those 16 other teams to see where their losses came. Only 2 other teams fit the original criteria and had all their losses come at home.

Purdue
Joe Tiller: Ralph Friedgen-Lite
The Joe Tiller era at Purdue was a rousing success. In his 12 seasons, he guided the Boilermakers to 10 bowl appearances (they had made 5 previous appearances in their football history), and their first Rose Bowl berth since 1966. However, looking back on Tiller's tenure, it looks like he experienced a Ralph Friedgen-like meteoric rise in his first few seasons, followed by several years of being only average (which in both cases represented significant progress over their predecessors).I'll summarize the numbers for you. In his first 4 seasons at Purdue, Tiller guided the Boilers to a 22-10 Big 10 record, thrice finishing with 6 wins, and sharing the league title in 2000 (and earning that sought-after Rose Bowl berth). In his final 8 seasons, Tiller's teams went 31-33 in the Big 10, posting only 2 winning Big 10 records and never again winning the league title. There's a plethora of potential reasons for this decline including more teams running the spread making it less unique and easier to defense, other successful coaches entering the league, recruiting falling off, etc. I'm not going to try and dissect those reasons for you. The important thing to remember is that Tiller was the best coach Purdue has had in 3 decades and should probably have a statue built in his honor.


Wisconsin
Sticking to the Script
Since taking over for Barry Alvarez prior to the 2006 season, head coach Bret Bielema has continued Wisconsin's recent history of winning. Bielema has amassed a 38-14 record in 4 seasons (20-12 in the Big 10) and had the Badgers finish in the final polls 3 times. However, what's even more amazing is that the Badgers have not changed their offensive philosophy at all.Under Alvarez, the Badgers earned a reputation (and rightly so) as a team that won by running the football. Bielema has not changed that formula. In the past 6 seasons (Alvarez years highlighted in red), the Badgers have run the ball between 61.8% and 63.1% of the time, an amazing run (pardon the pun) of consistency.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Big East Preview

As promised a few days ago, I proudly present to you the 2010 Big East preview. If you want a primer on how these projections were produced, here's the link to the ACC Preview that gives a little background information on the system. For the rest of you, feel free to dive on in. Check back in a few days for the Big 10 Preview.

Big East Projections



Cincinnati
Bearly any Fumbles
Cincinnati led the nation with only 2 fumbles lost in 2009. While they were lucky to only lose 2 fumbles for the entire year, they also finished first in fewest fumbles committed (11). In addition to this, Cincinnati was also very bad at forcing fumbles last season. Their opponents fumbled only 12 times all season (3 teams finished with only 11 opponent fumbles). All this meant that games involving Cincinnati featured the fewest fumbles in 2009.


Connecticut
UCONN Do It
The Huskies have experienced quite a journey over the last decade or so. They have risen from the ranks of IAA to IA Independent status to BCS conference member. Since joining the ranks of the haves (Big East) in 2004, the Huskies have been money in the bank in games against the have-nots, both straight up and against the spread (ATS).

Louisville
Down in Flames
When Steve Kragthorpe took over for Bobby Petrino following the 2006 season, Louisville and their fans were riding high. The Cardinals had just won the Orange Bowl, finishing the season ranked 6th in the nation (and just a blown lead against Rutgers from playing for the national title). Louisville returned 13 starters in 2007, including a senior star-studded quarterback in Brian Brohm, and began the season ranked number 10. The Cardinals opened the season with a 73-10 drubbing of overmatched IAA Murray State and climbed to number 8. That's when the good times stopped. Louisville won only 12 games against IA teams over the next 3 seasons, did not participate in the postseason, and gave Syracuse 2 of their 3 conference wins in that span. Not surprisingly, Kragthorpe was given the axe after completing his 3rd season. Not only did Louisville fall a long way from their perch in the Bobby Petrino-era, they posted the biggest decline in overall winning percentage when comparing the 3-year span of 2004-2006 to the 3-year span of 2007-2009 (the entirety of the Kragthorpe-era) by an extremely large margin.


Pittsburgh
Most Improved
Entering his senior campaign in 2009, Pitt quarterback Bill Stull had thrown 360 career passes for the Panthers netting 2619 yards with a pedestrian TD:Int ratio of 11 to 10. In 2009, Stull threw 321 passes, gaining 2633 yards with 21 touchdowns and 8 interceptions.


Rutgers
Knight and Day
Prior to the 2005 season, Rutgers had participated in one bowl game in their history. They have now gone to 5 straight bowl games, winning 4 of them. However, perhaps more impressive than this feat is the amount by which they have improved in the Big East. Since 2005, Rutgers is 20-15 against their conference brethren (third best record in that span). In the 12 seasons starting in 1993 (when the Big East officially began play) through 2004, the Scarlet Knights won 12 conference games, or an average of one per season.

South Florida
The Missouri Compromise
I know, what the heck does a pre-Civil War law passed all the way back in 1820 have to with the South Florida Bulls? Well, allow me to explain. South Florida is in a unique situation in the Big East. When the end of the calendar year arrives (October, November, and December) the Bulls have an issue their fellow sunshine state universities do not. That is of course, they must annually play in cold weather games. Think about it. Every other year, South Florida must travel to New Jersey (Rutgers), Pennsylvania (Pitt), Kentucky (Louisville), West Virginia, Ohio (Cincinnati), and Connecticut. Their other road contest that occurs every other year is in up-state New York, but that game is indoors. In addition, the fact that the Big East has only 8 teams (thus only 7 conference games), means these games nearly always occur later in the year. The other BCS schools in Florida (Florida, Florida State, and Miami) do not have to deal with the weather issue. The farthest north Florida potentially has to travel late in the year is to Kentucky. Florida State has to travel to Massachusetts every other year, and occasionally must trek to Virgina (Virginia and Virginia Tech). Miami travels to Virginia once a year (as their Virginia and Virginia Tech roadies are split up) and must occasionally journey to Massachusetts. However, for those teams its not virtually guaranteed that those games will be late in the year, and more importantly it represents only a small percentage of their road games. Now that we've identified South Florida's unique situation, how have they performed since joining the Big East in 2005 in those games? The table below lists South Florida's record in outdoor road games in the 'Northern' United States on or after October 1st and their record in all other road games. For the purpose of this study, the 'North' is differentiated by the line drawn during The Missouri Compromise.That's a pretty big difference eh? But schedule strength can account for some of this, so lets dig a little deeper just to be sure. The 'Northern' outdoor road games are all games against Big East foes. The other road games include road games with the resident Big East whipping boy, Syracuse (because it occurs in a climate controlled dome), and the rest are non-conference games, ranging from cupcakes (Western Kentucky and Florida International) to national powers (Auburn, Florida State, Miami, and Penn State). If only there were some way to account for schedule strength. If only a weekly prognostication tool put out by an unbiased third party could rate the teams and determine who was favored and to what extent. Thankfully, Las Vegas and plenty of offshore sportsbooks do produce such a number. Its called the betting line. This next table shows how South Florida has done against the spread (ATS) in both types of games.As you can see, their performance outdoors in the 'North' has not been much better ATS, and their performance in all other road games has been just a shade worse. I think the most damning indictment of South Florida's performance outdoors in the 'North' is this. In 8 of their 15 'Northern' outdoor road games, South Florida has been a betting line favorite. They have won exactly one of those games straight up (1-7 record). Of course, they haven't been huge favorites in those games, as only 2 lines have been by a touchdown or more (the largest line of 9 points against Pitt in 2007 is the only game South Florida has won straight up), but they have been favorites nonetheless. In the 'other' road games, South Florida has been a betting line favorite 10 times. They have not lost a single one of these 'other' road contests. Who knows if this trend will continue under new coach Skip Holtz, but it is something to consider if you find yourself contemplating wagering your mortgage payment on South Florida late in the year.


Syracuse
Orange You Glad It Wasn't Close?
In the present edition of the Big East (since 2005), Syracuse has by far the worst record in league play at 4-31. The second worst team in that span is Connecticut. However, the Huskies have gone a respectable 14-21, meaning they are 10 games clear of the Orange. Perhaps the most amazing dimension of their suckitude has been how non-competitive the Orange have been. Of their 31 league losses, 28 have come by more than a touchdown and 16 (more than half) have come by at least 3 touchdowns. Of their 4 wins, only one has come by more than 7 points (an 18-point shellacking of Rutgers this past season).


West Virginia
Getting Bullied
Since the present incarnation of the Big East began play in 2005, West Virginia has been the league's preeminent program. The Mountaineers have finished above .500 every season in league play, and have won a pair of conference titles. Their overall conference record of 27-8 is tops, and 4 games clear of second-place Cincinnati. The Mountaineers also have a winning record and positive point differential against every team in the conference except South Florida.
Somehow the Bulls, who are a mediocre 17-18 in conference play since joining the Big East, have been the only team to have West Virginia's number.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

ACC Preview

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.

ACC Projections



Boston College
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.


Clemson
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.


Florida State
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.


Maryland
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.

NC State
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.

Wake Forest
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.


Duke
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).


Georgia Tech
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!


Miami
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.


North Carolina
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.


Virginia
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.


Virginia Tech
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.
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